Mental illness is something that has affected everyone at one time or another, either themselves or someone they know. I have anxiety, and I want people to understand what that’s like. I think some people believe they are fighting alone, that no one knows their struggle. It would make my characters interesting and shine a light on an issue we sometimes ignore. What is it like to be in the mind of someone who thinks differently?
My brother has severe paranoid schizophrenia. He believes his delusions are real, and they are really bizarre sometimes. He lives in fear and mistrust. He lived in my mother’s basement, wallowing in filth, becoming a danger to himself and others. If he hurt someone, it would be because he thought he was protecting himself. Aliens had taken over my mom, she was trying to poison him, she was a nazi child abuser. The only person left who truly cares about him, and he would insist she should be arrested for holding him prisoner. I worried all the time when he lived there and I went to counselling for nightmares of him attacking me and my family. News stories of unmedicated schizophrenics murdering people didn’t help, where are all the stories of these people holding their lives together and being somewhat productive members of society? Will there ever be an effective treatment to bring back the people you remember inside?
It got to the point where my mom went to the courthouse and got a warrant to have him taken out of her house by police. He resisted and injured one of the officers, so he was sedated by paramedics and brought to the hospital in an ambulance. He stayed a while in the mental ward, getting a new prescription and medical team. My mom got him his own apartment, a fresh start. I worry less about my family, but I am still very uncomfortable around him. It also brings up all these feelings of guilt and shame that I can’t fix him and I’ve given up trying.
Several years ago I recorded some of his delusions after he went on a drinking binge that cancelled out his meds:
I am Mary, but I don’t actually exist. I might have been the first woman he met.
“No you would have met Mom, and the nurses, and probably Oma before you met me.”
My younger brother is married to a ghost woman. Ghosts are everywhere between you and the light. When the government allows the ghost women to become real, he will be immortal.
“Can men be ghosts too?”
“I am a ghost.”
“Are you feeling violent? Are you angry?”
The most physical thing he ever did was move his right foot back, at the same time as put his balance on his left foot, and you know what they call that? They call it dancing. He invented it, just tonight.
He is the King of Beasts. When he evolves he will become a new animal. See that spider? That is him. He is all spiders, all spiders are him. Oh, he’s also Pope John. And he doesn’t need to go to a hospital because he will teleport there and walk home. It’s 1984.
“Tell me right now! Have you ever met a woman named Katrina in Calgary? Answer me!”
I had to call 911.
The EMS gave him some Ativan, hopefully he will sleep tonight, and get meds sorted out tomorrow.
“Do you have any pain?”
“Yes, my right arm is tingling.”
“OK and do you have that often?”
“No it started just now.”
A few minutes later…
“How’s that arm?”
“Oh the tingling went away. Do you think my heart moved to the right side of my body and I am having a heart attack?”
I suppose I want to shock some readers with the truth, expose what mental illness is really like and not just assumptions of it. I am working on a piece called “Morbidity” in which a death-obsessed woman is going through the last days of her life struggling with disorders like anxiety, agoraphobia, insomnia, hypochondria, depression, etc. Spoiler alert, the ending is that she is a ghost in purgatory. I feel like it is something I will hesitate to share when it’s complete, it will leave me vulnerable, the stigma of mental illness.