Far be it from me –

Guest Post by Stuart A. Wooding: Pride, Prejudice, Families, Mental Health and Suicide

on March 5, 2012

Pride, Prejudice, Families, Mental Health and Suicide

 

I’m going to discuss myself and a close friend. We have both attempted suicide during spells on psychiatric wards. We are the lucky ones. Several dozen friends made in psychiatry didn’t fail and are now tragically dead. Our hospital has a high block of which friends have jumped to their death and a nearby tube line is often closed due to a body under the train, not to mention drug overdoses and self-harm.We didn’t fail due to a lack of seriousness but owing to our incompetence. The loss of life by comrades made and ‘forged’ on a psychiatric ward prepared my mind-set for my own attempt and has rendered me indifferent to ‘discomfort’ but compassionate towards suffering. Suicide belongs to know particular social class and this first hand realisation has rendered me indifferent to an individual’s particular class or circumstances.

Both of our attempts can be traced to Pride, Prejudice and Shame in our respective families with respect to mental health. We, as many other mental health patients, were ostracised and disowned by our parents upon diagnosis. He was literally disowned and divorced and ended up as a heavy drinker, the user of prostitutes and is ‘guilty’ of several suicide attempts. He is going to remain anonymous. His case is tragic as he is a gentle, kind, educated individual who has a long international professional work record. My rejection by my family firstly left me astonished, then angry and finally desperate. It took two decades to come to terms with the desperation and right in the middle I attempted to hang myself. At the time I ‘calculated’ that it was the only solution to isolation and desperation.

My family have skeletons in the cupboard (schizophrenia and chronic dyslexia) which were carefully closeted away but explain the long unexplained periods during which my father was away from homewhen I was a child. I only discovered as an adult, after a review of my medical records that he had been in psychiatry. Perhaps the existence of such skeletons in conjunction with their desire to front as a respectful middle class family, rose from working class roots, conforming to societally acceptable middle class norms lead to their brutality in my regard. Things got so extreme that my father hit me with such violence with his walking stick over my back from behind that it broke in two. I had to go to my GP for medication and he offered to report my father to the police but in my naïveté I declined.

My father attempted to have me placed under a Guardianship order which would have included me, in his design, being designated to a ‘structural’ home for life with him responsible for my affairs. He was naïve. He needed but couldn’t get psychiatric consent. It was at this turn of events that he became literally violent in my regard but, I did retain control of my finances. Much to his shame my friend still has his monies rationed by his daughter. This is clearly humiliating and results in unhappiness.

 

I had resided and free-lanced in Italy for over ten years before returning to the UK, at my parent’s request, for treatment. I’m naturally gregarious and had a rich Italian social life. In the UK I had no friends and this in combination with my family’s attitude and my isolation in psychiatry meant that I was completely isolated and dependent on state benefits. The latter situation not only resulted in poverty but also fundamentally injured my self-esteem and pride. In fact I refused state benefits for several years and existed on capital. This rapidly depleted as I resorted to staying in hotels rather than acceptingsocial housing. I felt a failure. Failed jobless Japanese business men do it and commit suicide but it’s put down to shame and not seen as the result of a psychiatric disorder

My friend has a long history of well remunerated professional employments in Africa and North America. He was also ‘dragged’ back to the UK for treatment. He, like me, complicated his own situation by periods of self-denial resulting in downward spirals of illness, combined, like me, with bouts of heavy drinking. He, like me, was cut off from his own off-spring by his family and psychiatry. In both of our cases repairing the damage done has required extreme patience and perseverance. Neither of us has drunk for many years and we are both medication compliant.

When I attempted suicide it seemed the only option. I was cool, calm and collected and actually under observation on a psychiatric ward during the weeks prior to the attempt. I ‘rationally’ decided that hanging represented the best option and went about smuggling into the hospital sufficient rope. I then waited until the staff was occupied with tasks not related to my observation and left for the designated spot – a sparsely used park with a high swing onto which I hung. My attempt failed. My reaction at having failed was joy. My in-expert knot slipped under my body weight. It happened at spring time and I fell unconscious to the ground onto concrete. The tactile sensation of warm rain on my face slowly awoke me and filled me with the joy of life and the desire for it.

I went to my parents’ house for refreshment and love but they shut the door on me when they saw the burn marks around my neck. I was forced to return to hospital where I was subjected to all of the indignities of suicide control. It was horrendous. I was body and locker searched and injected with drugs that knocked me out for days. Even my razors were denied me. There then followed what is technically called 24 hour close observation. In short I wasn’t even allowed to sleep without a nurse in the dormitory observing me- an indignity enough to drive one to suicide. I should have paid a visit to the Samaritans.

My friend still exhibits intellectual sharpness but is ‘disquieted’ and passive. He is quite a lot older than me and has always been an employee. I’m a natural entrepreneur and am back at work with a now healthy relationship with my daughter and grandchildren. We are both lucky in the sense that we failed when many others are dead. However, whilst my work has been concomitant with an ever expanding social life in my case, his life consists of bribing friendship in drop-ins by being the ‘sucker’ who is always good for a free cigarette and small not returned ‘loans’. He is taken advantage of.

Both of my parents lost one of their parents when they were young. They raised four siblings in a family framework riddled with insecurity. We were a dysfunctional family headed by a schizophrenic father. I’m the eldest and have the diagnosis of affective bipolar disorder. The others suffer dyslexia and other psychological problems about which they are firmly secretive. I have a sister who never calls and I’m still denied knowledge of my brother’s home telephone number. I fell ill at the age of 46 and my family exhibited only stigma, shame and prejudice in my regard.

I’m now working as a Managing Director of my own company – Stuart Wooding Associates Ltd – after a period of freelancing in the mental health arena. I have also begun to repair the damage my parents and psychiatry did to my relationship with my daughter and grandchildren. So I enjoy my ‘own’ happy family. The road there has been riddled with pain, hurt and confidence building. My father, at the age of 91, passed away two years ago. In the latter years of his life I was his Carer as he suffered advanced dementia after two strokes. Paradoxically the stigma he had subjected me to enabled me to look after him as he was in a state of self-denial and self-stigmatization and my mother used to cast his problems in terms of insanity – literally taking the ‘micky’ to his face. In the end, life ‘defeated’ him.  I remember him with affection, as before his death we did reconcile but, as an incontinent baby. Sadly I don’t miss him as the affection is tainted with too many bad memories.

My mother has developed her own dementia and at the age of 86 is still in a state of self- denial. For a couple of years I was her Carer. She was very demanding, both practically and in terms of affection. She now lives several hundred miles away and is looked after by the sister who does talk to me. My mother, however, remains full of the need for affection and we speak every day. I do it as much as a safeguard against trouble mongering as out of affection. I’m delighted to report that I’m now well on the road to recovery and will be, in fact, discharged from secondary to primary services this year. The basis of my business is all that which I have learnt about psychiatry and psychiatric survivors and users the hard way.

My friend and I share a lot but are also quite different. We share just how brutal life can be on a psychiatric ward. The indignity, pain and shame of being man-handled by nursing staff and spending long periods in the isolation room with only the most primitive of provisions for toiletries. We both verified the sole destroying boredom of life on a psychiatric ward with the continual scrounging of cigarettes, now exacerbated by the smoking ban, and the theft of personal effects. We both verified that many nurses are indifferent to the well-being of their clients and are quite capable of ‘doctoring’ their nursing notes, in the isolation of the nursing office, rendering the once weekly ten minute meeting with one’s psychiatrist ridiculous and only a source of further frustration and anger. It took us both time but we did both learn to ‘parrot’ that which the psychiatrist wished to hear.

On the road to recovery my mother is my most significant obstacle. She plays an insidious game of continually asking, in the ‘same’ sentence “are you busy” and “are you alright?” In fact, our family is patriarchal and she is not sincere, resenting the challenge my well-being represents. She almost wants me to fail so she can re-play the role of Rescuer which in her mind only amounts to financial payouts.  My brother and sisters are evermore friendly in my regard and this only increases her dilemma and malignant impulses.

I was assigned the mental health label in 1991. As noted, my parents immediately ostracised me as in their mental construct I brought only shame. As mentioned, they even attempted to sever the relationship between me and my daughter.  In my isolation, I lost my own identity – spiritual, political, intellectual, social and economic. It wasn’t until 2006, when I was assigned a Care Coordinator who encouraged me to work on my strengths that I had the courage to re-seek my identity. I shall be forever in her debt.

I’ll never be symptom free but I now know how to control them and have now re-established my identity. I’m a Humanist, a Social Democrat and have been trained how to think at Cambridge University. I make no distinction based on race, creed or gender. My economic success is such that I passed the inheritance left me by father directly to my daughter. In this vein, I want, much to her bewilderment andconfusion, nothing from my mother as she gives nothing without gain and bribery. What are at stake are both my identity and my re-found healthy relationships and role with my brother, sisters, daughter and grandchildren – not to mention my well-being, independence and my business.

 

I have no desire to ‘destroy’ my mother as I realise that her lost role provokes unhappiness, loneliness and illness. In fact, whilst I telephone her every day I also welcome the now several hundred mile distance between us. I do resent the fact that I only discovered that my father’s absences from home when I was a child were due to his treatment for schizophrenia. A fact recorded on my medical notes but still denied by my mother. No doubt it explains why my mother’s mocked my father’s dementia. My mother is the victim of her own upbringing in which any departure from that which society accepts as the norm is to be hidden, denied and lied about even if the risk is isolation and suicide.

I hope that I have clearly shown how the treatment by our respective families, combined with some of the worst aspects of psychiatric detention, resulted in a state of hopelessness in which suicide seemed the only viable option. I would now like to finish by underlining that the ‘system’ is a system of pot luck in which I have been more fortunate than my friend. The system is dependent on the good well and honourable intentions, or less, of the individuals who compose it. As mentioned I had the good fortune of a Care Coordinator – an Occupational Therapist – who not only recognised my potentialities but also set about kindling them encouraging me to re-discover myself. My friend has not had this good fortune and is largely left to his own devices, drifting aimlessly through life. I have had my current Care Coordinator for about five years. Prior to this I had a laid back Social Worker and prior to this a bully boy nurse.

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9 responses to “Guest Post by Stuart A. Wooding: Pride, Prejudice, Families, Mental Health and Suicide

  1. […] This was created for Judith Haire’s blog as a guest post.  To see a orginal post greatfully go http://judithhaire.com/2012/03/05/guest-post-by-stuart-a-wooding-pride-prejudice-families-mental-hea…. […]

  2. Enjoyed reading through this, very good stuff, thanks . “All things are difficult before they are easy.” by John Norley.

  3. Hello there! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on. You have done a wonderful job!

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