When we look at our parents, we hope that we’ll inherit the best of them – looks, personality, brains… but when that parent has a mental illness your expectations are rather diminished.
Scientists have discovered a gene which may help explain the causes of mental illness. The gene is called ABCA13. It is estimated that the genetic variants identified could account for about 2% of the risks of schizophrenia and 4% of bipolar.
My mother is a sufferer of mental illness, she’s had every drug known to man pumped into her, ECT, the whole nine yards and she has graciously passed that gene on to me – as well as her frizzy hair – I might add. I would say generally my illness is dormant but then it flares up and picks a fight with my happy gene and invariably wins. At times I feel this is akin to poison in my veins or being a member of a very sacred club that only admits pedigrees of mental illness. A bit like the Kennel Club, all in the breeding.
There is no shame in having mental illness – it happens. The only shame is of those who confuse being peed-off to having mental illness – not the same, luv. Everyday, you are literally sitting on a mountain top waiting for it to erupt and spew lava. Like most sufferers I can actually feel an attack happening, it’s like a switch and it can last days, weeks, then it becomes dormant. It can happen when I am driving, shopping, in a room full of people. Many a time I have pulled the car over and sobbed.
So what do we do about this blue gene? You can’t pick it like a spot, put a plaster over it, the only solution is to make peace with it, accept the inevitable, and accept that you will have attacks, start talking to yourself, feeling anxious and a desire to be alone with your self-loathing. If you’re a devotee of psychiatry or pouring over self-help books, maybe that can ease the pain. Eventually you’ll find that there isn’t an answer, only you can manage it to an acceptable level, otherwise it will destroy you and the tools of psychiatry and self-help books will help you get there but it needs to come from within.
Recently I read about a group of people who meet up and take bracing swims in the cold sea to alleviate the depressive feelings. I actually tried it and to be honest I think the shock of the icy waters just wiped out any depressive feelings and I felt strangely happy. Realistically, nobody can do that every time they feel an attack imminent, so instead of paying money to sit in front of a faceless person with a constant eye on the clock, I would like to see more drop-in centres with trained professional at the helm, where you can just go in and share with others how you’re feeling over a cup of coffee. Most of the time an attack makes you feel isolated, being with others and sharing your state of mind can be cathartic. How much would that cost the Government? Sitting at home and letting the demons suffocate you is where you walk a dangerous path. Suicide is the second biggest causes of death. Are the Government with their lack of funding even aware of this? Only last week, a judge passed judgement that a women was too middle-class to suffer from depression.
These people are supposed to have a modicum of intelligence, yet they can place labels on certain classes.
Social media has contributed to many feeling inadequate. I will confess something shameful… I was working at an event and one of my colleagues was getting married. She was showing every minute detail on her phone, the expensive designer dress, the hairstyle, the professional makeup artist booked, she was crowing on about how she and her mother were going to an expensive spa before the big day and I wanted to shout, “enough already!” Is that shameful? I have an aversion to selfies, I don’t even have the foggiest how to take one and I find them self-absorbing, but as my father once said to me, “empty vessels make the most noise.” Her happiness was grating on me. I wanted to tell her that actually my mother won’t be dabbing her tears at my wedding, she won’t be there, besides one wrong look from the vicar and he’s liable to have his crown jewels chopped off. If I ever married, it’ll be me, the man, my father and the ring bearer, my little dog and not a Swarovski diamond in sight, thank you very much!
One consolation is that we keep very good company. Vincent Van Gogh, an artist whose mental illness kept him a prisoner is now revered the world over. Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Vivien Leigh and lastly Marilyn Monroe: all these people had special qualities, immensely talented but all suffered from mental illness yet two of them completed suicide.
Until the Government realises the grave effects of inherent mental illness to sufferers and make help more accessible instead of this elitism taking over, then we must continue the good fight. The Duchess of Cambridge is now the patron of the mental illness charity: Heads Together, with her brother-in-law, Prince Harry, who made the news last week, talking about his battles with depression. Let’s hope they make a difference.