The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 01 Aug 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Hell

Hell is subjective. Everyone has their own hell and they seldom translate. Someone’s hyper normal middle class reality, where all the surfaces are clean and the television goes on at 8:30 may be someone else’s definition of a nightmare. Equally, and just for the sake of balance, I’ve worked with homeless people who were in a much more clear version of hell, eternally living through the period of time until they could get hold of whatever drug they were on or buy the next can of lager. That’s a very visceral hell indeed. But let me tell you about mine.

My hell was the people around me not understanding my mental illness. At first reading, this seems fairly minor, much like feeling as though you’re too tall or too short, or have painted your living room the wrong colour. When you are mentally ill, however, people not understanding you can have dramatic consequences as your reactions are hopelessly wayward.

I left my wife, who is bipolar, because caring for her was slowly killing me. Instead of recovering by myself or with friends, I moved in with someone else, which proved to be disastrous. She decided that because I was no longer in a relationship with a bipolar person, I no longer needed to take anti-depressants. The results were dramatic and disastrous. I became so ill that I had to return home which she had decided was because I was selfish and only thinking about myself. My parents agreed. I was being selfish and only thinking about myself. They told me they were disappointed in me and my dad, barely able to deal with his own emotions, let alone anyone else’s, went berserk.

While we might have looked like a normal family from the outside, I was indeed in hell. It was a hell that was made entirely from other people’s expectations of me. My girlfriend at the time thought that I should be a certain way. When I showed myself incapable of living up to this ideal, I was passed on to my parents, for whom I should have lived up to pretty much the same ideal. Nowhere in this ideal was there space for uncertainty, for doubt, for introspection or, indeed, for mental illness. It was something that happened to other people, to weak people, to people who couldn’t pull their socks up and get on with things.

Before I flipped, finally, into serious illness, my mum told me to think of my granddad, who had gone ashore on D-Day. He wouldn’t have surrendered to weakness and nor should I. The only thing that saved me, that saved my life, was my ex-mother in law, someone from whom I had no right to expect anything, intervening in my care. Without her, I planned to go up to the local train station and, as a train was arriving, throw my neck under one of the rear wheels so that it would sever my head without distressing the driver. Such was my thinking.

Yesterday, I got talking to a woman who had worked for Women’s Aid. She had been married to a controlling, abusive husband and, after a false start, had left him when she became pregnant. I can’t possibly hope to understand what level of bravery this must have taken, but the reward was that her daughter has grown up happy, healthy and with an incredibly strong role model who made all the right choices when life seemed to be running against her. And the one thing that we both talked about was how we made excuses for the people who had hurt us.

I’m not saying that I was abused, at all. But what I do find interesting is that while my parents hurt me, I always try to find excuses for their behaviour. My dad was brutalised by my granddad. My mum’s dad was controlling. They had grown up without an accurate understanding of what parental love was. And so on. I’m now at a point when I can say that I understand these things happened without finding anything within them that excuses how I was treated when I most needed help and support. You don’t treat another human being like that, least of all your own son.

My journey out of hell took a long, long time. I read a lot of books in which the person who had depression seemed to be ill for six months, and then to be pretty much fine. Don’t believe it. If your depression is accentuated by how you live, then it’ll last, in its sharpest and most horrific form for as long as there’s something there which you need to change. This changed happened slowly, with a hundred ways out that I thought were the answer but which turned out to be dead ends and many people who I wanted to offer me a way out, but who were human beings, just like me. If you’re in your own hell, for pity’s sakes, hold on. Just for a minute. And then another minute. And another minute.

At some point in the holding on, stuff changes. And then it changes back, and you’re desperately ill again. But one of the changes sticks. Then, some while later, another one does. It takes months and years to get anywhere you want to be and your life gets better in tiny increments. When you change, and this is the hardest part, the people you had with you at the start of the journey might not understand where you are or what you’ve become.

There’s nobody closer to me, in a biological sense, than my mum and dad. I’m half of each, if we’re talking about DNA. But for all the rungs of the ladder that led out of my hell, from qualifying as a Street Pastor to becoming a Quaker, have either mystified my parents or met with overt hostility, which hurts, as though any deviation from the person they’d rather I was is to be resisted. I’m still, just, a writer, which is something my mum said I may need to stop doing if I want to get better and I know that there’s no alternative to being the person I am, because I’ve seen what the alternative looks like. This is all we have.

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