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Because of “the medication”?

December 3, 2009

image: freeimages.co.ukThis was a post originally written because my sister had misunderstood something about our mother’s mental health. This is a revised version.

Yesterday morning I noticed my sister’s status on Facebook indicated she was seriously upset about something, so I had a chat with her on IM later in the day and she told me that our mother had tried to commit suicide again. It turns out that this was not what happened this time, but I’ve chosen to re-write this post to raise awareness and in the hope that it may help someone or their family recognise the signs and seek help before it’s too late.

It turns out that my mother had realised something was seriously wrong with her medication (anti-depressants, among other things) so had asked my father to take her to hospital, and upon their return had chosen to keep most of the details from my sister as she had some things going on in her life… and didn’t want to bother her.

My mother’s motto and — if I have anything to do with it — her future gravestone will say: I didn’t want to be a bother. Along the lines of Spike Milligan’s I told you I was ill.

This behaviour sounds delightfully self-effacing and British, but the problem is that it can cause actual harm. By not treating her as an adult, my sister naturally did what our mother (unintentionally) taught her to do as she was growing up: fill the gaps with the worst possible scenario, and she freaked. Past history means that it’s not an unreasonable assumption to make. From my perspective, I’m on the other side of the world, didn’t know what to do and began to react badly, too, finding out towards the end of a week in which I had a university assignment due (adult student). Obviously an assignment pales in comparison to the health of a family member, but when you discover the health is no worse than it was the day before… perspective changes.

This is clearly not a situation in which you can confidently point a finger and say who’s to blame; it’s a distinctly unfunny comedy of errors. To prevent a repeat, I’ve asked my father to promise to clearly communicate what’s going on to me, and he’s agreed. Sad that such a protocol had to be established for something as simple as communication, even though we all regularly speak on the phone. Families, eh?

To provide some background, my mother says that her most recent psychiatric diagnosis is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), of Vietnam War infamy, which she says explains the depression of recent years and the alcoholism she’s had for as long as I can remember.

During her pregnancy with my sister in 1988, my mother dropped a bombshell: not only would I soon cease being an only child, but I was to become a middle child. She had me when she was 18, but she had also had a son 3 years before I was born, and her mother had forcibly taken him away from her. He’d been adopted out, and it remained one of those family secrets you hear about.

The following year we met my older brother and then began the getting to know you process, soul-seeking and questions, and various ups and downs. By his accounts, growing up on a farm was tough and he’d always known he was adopted, and it had gnawed away at him. Perhaps it was these “Why was I sent away, but not you?” questions and sense of injustice that made it insurmountably difficult for anyone in the family to establish a lasting relationship with him, despite every one of us trying for both his and my mother’s sake. Either way, a few years of roller-coaster ups and downs with him, and he’d eventually broken contact with each of us in turn.

A couple of years ago I got home from work to find the landline ringing and my dad on the other end. My first reaction was, ‘Hey, Dad. Who died?’ He laughed that nervous laugh. My older brother had been found dead of a heart attack in his flat a couple of days earlier by his adopted sister (with whom he’d also broken contact).

Since then, and perhaps understandably, my mother went downhill and she finally went to seek counselling after being badgered. This is apparently when the diagnosis of PTSD was given: brought on by the forcible removal of her newborn child (by her own mother), meeting up with that child 20-odd years later (and “realising” he was no longer an infant), his problems preventing him becoming part of our family, and then for him to die angry and alone. Regardless of the diagnosis and discovery of the root of her issues, therapy was not something she wanted to do and she stopped going at the first opportunity, and hasn’t been back since.

Shortly after this is when she tried to kill herself. To hear her recount it, she got up in the middle of the night to raid the fridge (something she and her brother have done since they were kids), discovered there was no leftover cooked meat, so raided the medicine cabinet instead. Simple as that. She wasn’t even aware she was doing it.

So a psychiatrist and her doctor have been working on medication combinations and, although she has tried to give up smoking and drinking a few times, she is back on both. Since then, my father and sister have played tag-team to ensure she’s not left alone when the sun is down. I can’t help: I live 9,000 miles away.

The doctors said the suicide attempt was due to a change in medication. You hear stories of antidepressants driving people to zombie-like attempts at suicide and that the person doesn’t remember it (if they survive), and this seems to have been one of those cases. Apparently it happens. To your mother and mine. In 2009.

With the latest incident, it’s fantastic that my mother had enough self-awareness to realise something was wrong and headed to the hospital to get it rectified. It turns out that two of her medications were cancelling each other out as she become accustomed to one of them. Left unchecked it would almost certainly have led to another medicine cabinet raid, or similar.

It’s the 21 century and this is happening all around the world, in affluent countries, in people you would think have good lives. How has this come about? Even if it is a genuine reaction to trauma, grief, brain chemical imbalance or mixed/ineffective medication, it’s been 40 years since mankind walked on the moon, we spend trillions fighting people to decide whose imaginary friend is best, and yet we still have people in zombie states trying to kill themselves.

This is my mother for fuck’s sake.

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