Archive for July, 2013


(I started writing these blog posts at the start of this year and then buried the documents aside in a folder, unsure that I should publish their content. After getting back from London last week they came back to mind and I made the decision to open them and read them, which lead to some edits and additions. I’ve decided to publish them on WordPress, although I’m not entirely certain why, perhaps as a better explanation that only touches upon the complexities of the situation we are dealing with when it comes to having a mother with Borderline Personality Disorder and severe depression as well as a diagnosis of dementia.)

ALL ABOUT OUT MOTHER. Well, not all… (Part Two)

I’d made the conscious decision not to go down to London during our two weeks off work in the summer. Nicholas and myself went on our first trip to the Isle of Arran, off the coast of Ayrshire, for a few days camping. We came back to Glasgow with nothing particularly planned. “Let’s go out for something to eat and see a movie.” Braehead was decided upon, we thought we’d give Pizza Express a go, we had some sort of money off vouchers. When we got there the place was packed, seems everyone else had the same vouchers that we did. “Do you have a booking?” “No.” Well, that idea was out of the window.

“Shane, mum’s in hospital.”

One of my sisters sent me a text and that was all it said.

I took a deep breath. You’d think I would call, but a part of me said “It’s just a text, if it was serious she would’ve called. I’ll text back.” I stared at my phone waiting for a reply. We grabbed something to eat in the IKEA restaurant. I’m sure the cinema tickets were pre-booked and so we wandered back over. “Inception” isn’t the most complicated film in the world, but it requires some concentration once they start travelling into different levels of subconscious dream-state malarkey. Well, as we sat there I didn’t take in a jot. I waited for a text back that would hopefully state everything was ‘okay’ and ‘under control’, that it was something minor, that she’d twisted her ankle or something along those lines.

In the months before this I hadn’t kept a lot of contact with my mother. I shall explain.

In the years previous she stopped receiving outpatient therapy. She’d either given up, or been told that ‘they could no longer help her as she was making no progress’. Further along the line she also left/was forced out of her voluntary job. It’s a little unclear as to just what happened.

The reason she had given us was that she had taken offence to being ‘pulled up’ in regards to going beyond her call of duty. My mother loved interacting with the public that came into the children’s outpatients department where she worked a snack and drinks counter. Often she would be asked about appointments and delays and off she’d go asking questions to those who would’ve known about such things. The head nurse apparently took a disliking to my mother’s perceived ‘interference’ and mentioned it to the voluntary co-ordinator, a relatively new manager that she had never liked anyhow.

With great disdain my mother always made the point that most of the other volunteers would rather “sit there and knit, crochet, and not look up from their magazines”, and “if that was what the voluntary services were looking for then they may as well have installed a machine”. I could sympathise with her view.

Just as when the tranquillisers disappeared from my mother’s system, she had now lost another crutch, her one reason to head out, to see and interact with people. Of course logic should dictate that if you had lost the voluntary job you had enjoyed for many years that you would head out and find yourself one of the hundred others waiting to be filled out there. There are plenty of organisations desperate for helpers, especially in as busy an area as South East London and not a five minutes stroll down the road from her home was an office which dealt with getting willing volunteers into roles that would suit them. We prompted her over and over to go in search of something new but she was locked into a track of negativity and despite our pleas she retreated into herself.

The problem was that at the same time I was suffering the toughest years of depression that I had faced so far in my life. Battling daily thoughts of suicide, self-harm and the desperate urge to disappear for good was not helped by a mother who would mirror those exact feelings back onto you, when all you wanted was a mother who could somehow guide you, or support you through these thoughts and emotions.

Sounds selfish? Maybe it is. I quickly found that when I was in a bad frame of mind, being exposed to others who exert extreme negativity would drive me further into dark places. I have had acquaintances that had the same effect and I had no choice but to cut them out of my life. Can you do that with your mother? Not really. If I called her, or she called me, the conversation would start without pleasantries and end up with the phone being handed over to Nicholas as I veered off into territories of anger, frustration and upset.

All I wanted, all my siblings and I ever wanted was a mother. The kind of mother you’d seen and heard of others having. Maternal figures that supported, encouraged, comforted. Pillars of strength that fed their children with positivity and self-confidence. Somehow we had all scraped into adulthood with so little of this behind us. And by this point we were all retreating into our own worlds, battling ourselves and our respective demons, desperately trying to become the adults we thought we should be, and reclaiming the childhood we all collectively never had.

When I finally got a reply it was clear that I would need to travel down to London. I packed and the next day we drove south. For the entire journey all I contemplated was just how we, as a family, would deal with ‘this’. When we got down there it was evident that some sort of crisis point had been reached. My mother seemed to be in the midst of a complete mental breakdown. Terms such as ‘minor heart attack’ were being swirled around, she had grotesquely thinned down from the last time I’d seen her earlier in the year and was confused beyond recognition.

Five very different siblings forced together due to a stressful situation, some that had no contact with each other for more than a few years, made for melting pot that was tense at best and explosive at worst. I think it’s fair to say that in the midst of this situation no one coped particularly well and I was in no way immune to this. Each day was broken up by sudden emotional outbursts, be it tears, anger, screaming, shouting, or a bubbling sense of resentment. There were many moments when silly things would be blown out of all perspective. But in retrospect I’m also surprised with how ‘well’ I coped, what with being not long being free of anti-depressants, away from home, and away from the rock that is Nicholas (he eventually had to drive back to Glasgow to go back to work). Some have even suggested that the epilepsy-related episodes I started to take in the time afterwards are a delayed reaction to the stress throughout this period.

My three sisters took the brunt of the after-care that followed our mother’s hospitalisation. Over the next few years they wore themselves down to the bone, suffering mentally and physically as they took it in turns to look after our mother in her home. Often one would finish their working week and spend their days off sleeping on the sofa, trying to keep our mother fed and medicated, and at the same time they gave up nearly all of their personal time and their social lives. I cannot begin to fathom the toll it took over the following two years.

Looking after someone who suffers with a severe mental illness on a 24/7 basis is never easy. Whilst a dementia diagnosis was the chosen route the professionals were taking, we were still dealing with the mental health issues we had always co-existed uneasily with. Now it seems someone had taken an emotional calculator and multiplied everything negative in our mother’s head by a thousand.

My first time back down in London to help look after my mother was amongst the most traumatic experiences I have had in my life. A handful of months after she had been discharged into the family’s care, she was still confused, hallucinating, having sleepless nights. The confusion manifested itself with her calling for her mother in her sleep, being terrified of figures she saw walking around the house that were not there, not quite knowing who we were and calling us by various other relatives names.

“Who is you mother?”
I laugh, because in these such situations you find yourself laughing at the most awkward moments.
“You are my mother.”
“Was your mother there when you were born?”
Now laughing confusedly, “Yes, you were mum. You had to be.”

Every day was a battle against your own lack of sleep whilst desperately trying to get our mother to eat, bathe, interact. One morning, maybe about 7am, she suddenly became determined she was being held against her will. At the front door she was screaming through the letter box “Help, help, I’m being held against my will.” No one teaches you how to deal with these situations. My sister insisted I go upstairs whilst she tried to calm our mother down. As I climbed the stairs, exhausted after yet another night of barely any sleep, my mother called up to me begging, “Don’t leave your mother, please, help me.”

The memories of these moments and times leave permanent scars.

Things did get better for a short while and a handful of further visits were, at times, marginally easier. She started going to a day centre a few times a week which in one moment she loved, and in another she hated. But as the long-term care continued to take it’s toll, it eventually became apparent that alternate arrangements would have to be made.

A rare moment of responsiveness and reaction from my mother whilst we were looking after her in her home. I was using YouTube to play her songs that she used to sing in clubs in Calcutta whilst she was just a teenager. She always sang with such a quiet, meek voice.

Mum, February 2011: A rare moment of responsiveness and reaction from my mother whilst we were looking after her in her home. I was using YouTube to play her songs that she used to sing in clubs in Calcutta whilst she was just a teenager. She always sang with such a quiet, meek voice.

With those suffering Borderline Personality Disorder, abandonment issues are a major problem. My understanding of BPD is only partial, in fact it would seem the psychiatric world has no definitive solutions for this immensely complicated condition. It was evident that her abandonment issues stemmed back to her father leaving the family home when she was just a young girl, I suppose this could be seen as the earliest cause of her mental health problems. Her father doted on her and it was evident that as a child she loved him dearly. When he left, possibly due to the fact that he was 1) an alcoholic, 2) running up huge debts due to gambling, 3) a womanizer, her and her sisters were left in the care of their mother, my ‘nana’, who was, by my mother’s description, ‘distant’ and ‘cold’ in the early years of her life. The few experiences I can remember with my ‘nana’ in the later stages of her life were quite the opposite, but remember there was almost forty years between my mother’s childhood and mine, and people change.

Borderline Personality Disorder sufferers often believe that the people in their life are going to abandon them and so they push them, testing their will to see if they really will get up and leave. They push them to their limits and beyond and then, when the string eventually breaks it reinforces the BPD sufferer’s initial suspicions that they would eventually be abandoned. I once noticed a book about BPD that was titled “I Hate You, Please Don’t Leave Me”. I bought it and gave it to one of my sisters to read, but the title was a perfect encapsulation of the constant push-pull relationships that BPD sufferers and those around them endure.

We had endured it all our lives.

The months turned into a year and our mother had not responded positively to the round the clock care that she had received from the family. She once again plummeted into a deep level of depression. And no one could continue with the current care arrangements, it’s not exaggeration to say that it was systematically destroying all of those involved. It was decided that a care home was the only option. Can you imagine the mental complexities involved with placing someone with severe abandonment issues, who happens to be your mother, into a care home?

A manager from my workplace who had an understanding of what we were going through once told me in no uncertain terms that “The day will come when you will all have to make the decision to put your mum into a care home. It will be the most difficult decision you will ever have to make in your life, and you will never, ever get over it. But, it is what you will have to do and it’s a decision you’ll have to take for her benefit, not your own.”

We recently travelled to London and of course took whatever opportunities we could to visit family, including my mother. It’s been well over a year and it doesn’t get any easier seeing her in a home that’s not her own. It gets so much more difficult. I have defence mechanisms that automatically come into play when going to see her. I never expect a greeting, a motherly hug and kiss, and it’s easier to cope by expecting nothing pleasant at all. That sounds very negative on the surface, but then expecting anything else simply makes it all the more difficult when none of the things you wish and hope for never come to fruition.

There were some wonderful moments, meeting my brand new great-nephew was a somewhat awe-inspiring instance. Even installing a new printer for my dad before going out for a simple meal with him and just popping around to my sisters’ homes for a cuppa and a chat gave me moments of familial enjoyment. It’s those littlest of moments that over the years we had completely lost touch with. Being so many miles away doesn’t help.

But I also found that we’re all desperately trying to run away from what is always there in the background. I talked to one of my sisters and we discussed how we seemingly avoid interacting with other members of the family because when we do it only stirs up all the things we’re trying to bury somewhere so deep down that we’d never find them again. When I came home to Glasgow I went straight to the cupboard where a long unfinished bottle of gin had sat gathering dust, just to make everything blur out of my mind’s focus, to make it easier to sleep at night. But of course there are better, more productive distractions. I’ve been immersing myself in writing, and thoroughly enjoying it. I wonder if it’s all a form of sadistic escapism? Creating characters with bigger problems than your own, just to take away from your own, real-life issues.

If only I could plot out a happier conclusion to my mother’s woes. All we ever wanted for her was to have some sense of happiness that could pull her free from the darkness in her mind. It doesn’t matter how many miles we try run away from it all, I don’t think we’ll ever give up on hoping that for her. And for ourselves.

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(I started writing these blog posts at the start of this year and then buried the documents aside in a folder, unsure that I should publish their content. After getting back from London last week they came back to mind and I made the decision to open them and read them, which lead to some edits and additions. I’ve decided to publish them on WordPress, although I’m not entirely certain why, perhaps as a better explanation that only touches upon the complexities of the situation we are dealing with when it comes to having a mother with Borderline Personality Disorder and severe depression as well as a diagnosis of dementia.)

ALL ABOUT OUR MOTHER. Well, not all… (Part One)

The first time I clearly remember receiving a hug from my mother was as she was leaving to go to hospital. Everyone was stood in the hallway of the family home. I was barely in my teens, maybe eleven years old. As she had her arms around me I could feel her laughing heartily, her frame shaking and I could hear gasps of hysterics. I laughed back, my brain not quick enough to work out why we were laughing in the first place, but as she pulled away I realised that she wasn’t laughing, not at all. She was hysterically crying. And in an instant I was crying too.

Let me try and recall just how this all panned out.

If my memory serves me right this was a few days before the New Year came in. She had stuck Christmas out with us, and as I’ve said in blog posts before, Christmas in my family was a tense affair, even at the best of times.

The full background to this point in time could fill a reasonably sized book or ten. Before my earliest memories kicks in my mother had suffered some sort of meltdown. She took to her bed, she had stomach pains, she had ripped up the passport that had “brought her to this place” (I always remember her old passport being in bits). A doctor was called. “That is one very depressed woman” he told the family that was present.

And that is why my mother had been on tranquillisers as far back as I could remember. Lorazepam is one of the names I distinctly recall, but I’m certain that for approximately ten years she was on a steady dose of various benzodiazepines, of which she became medically and mentally addicted to. She suffered severe depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, none of which were tackled in any productive manner other than the pills she had been constantly prescribed. She functioned on the most basic of levels. She made dinner, cleaned the house and got me off to school most mornings. She occasionally erupted in bouts of vitriolic anger and upset.

After so many years of being stuck in a rut she was encouraged (I can’t remember the how or who that prompted this) to sue the health centre and the general practitioners that had allowed this continued dependency on benzodiazepines well into the early nineteen-nineties. The health centre took offence and literally barred her and our entire family from their practice. The legal proceedings weren’t followed up on, and we all had to change GPs.

I clearly remember the fretting that ensued as the new GP refused to continue feeding her dependency on tranquillisers. He stopped them in an instant and started her on beta-blockers, I believe to minimise the withdrawal effects. And so, my mother was now without her crutch. Years of (partially) suppressed rage and emotion erupted. This moment could be considered one of many pinnacles, I remember it well, physically, I was in centre of the storm.

Lying on the sofa, the GP had been called for a home visit. By god the pain was excruciating. I was in sheer agony. Embarrassingly there was a problem ‘down below’, but no one had a clue what (I feel I should add here that it was later found to be ‘inflammation of the lining of the bladder’, something the doctor said mostly affected old-aged pensioner males). The GP came in and as he examined me I winced under his prods and presses. The examination was over, some sort of conclusion was reached, maybe I had to go to hospital or I was to get some pills, I can’t remember which. And then suddenly my mother exploded.

“I’m not letting you out of this house until you write a letter to send me to the Maudsley.”

She was angry, vicious and deadly serious.

The Maudsley is the keystone psychiatric establishment that operates in conjunction with most mental health services across South East London. In the kitchen the GP talked to my father and one of my sisters in regards to just what was going on here. My mother, despite demanding this hospitalisation herself, begrudged that they had agreed that yes, there was an issue and that yes, it needed to be tackled. She was and still is a woman of extreme contradiction.

At that point, or soon after she went to the hospital. Somehow she’d made the decision to come back to make Christmas dinner for the family. And then she was admitted into a psychiatric ward in Hither Green hospital. I remember visiting and being utterly terrified of this place. Hither Green, now shut down and derelict, was an old Victorian hospital with very eerie corridors. Some patients in her ward were volatile and I can clearly remember us sitting ‘calmly’ as another female patient in the nearby vicinity tried to smash the Perspex windows in the ward with a chair.

Then New Year’s Eve arrived. My Uncle, Aunt and cousin came to stay with us, perhaps to try and make it all as ‘normal’ as possible. There was music (probably switching through the various London radio stations every time a song came on that no-one liked), nibbles, the adults had drinks, people danced, but of course it was all very far from ‘normal’.

A few days before I had watched my mother walking out of the home in a hysterical state. When the clock struck midnight I watched my father stood in the middle of the living room, and perhaps for the first time, maybe the only time I can remember, he was sobbing. He’d always been a ‘man’s man’, he rarely showed vulnerability and was emotionally closed. I had to be prompted by my uncle to hug my father. Crying, I walked up to him and put my arms around him. I don’t think I’d ever hugged my father before that.

Everything changed after my mother came back from the hospital. My father moved out. My mother received occupational therapy which managed to achieve the impossible and break her decade long agoraphobia. She attended ongoing one-to-one therapy sessions. She ended up getting a job as a volunteer in the hospital that she had stayed in and once in a while when I was off school I’d go along with her, helping old aged patients play games of bingo or walking around the grounds of the hospital, taking photos of those creepy corridors.

I guess you could say that this was the best period my mother had. She went out, she enjoyed her job, and she learnt how to run a household in regards to bills and such. Believe me, she wasn’t ‘fixed’, but looking back I’m still astounded that, considering the years previously, she’d ever gotten out of the mire.

It wasn’t to last.