Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

Patricia grew from strength to strength. After a few months she left the Avril Elizabeth home for the disabled and started grade 10 at school. She was quite behind with her work and was tutored until she had caught up with the other pupils. She adapted and did fairly well at school. Patricia went on to complete her 10th grade. Well at least she almost completed it. A month before her final exams she relapsed and experienced a full blown psychotic episode. She told the vice principal of the school that she was a detective and she was investigating criminal activity in the school. The vice principal handled her with care and admitted her to hospital.

I can still remember the gossip, how everybody was discussing this freak at Sunward Park High. It was really embarrassing for me being her brother, and people were even treating me differently.

Sadly Patricia always seemed to develop a resistance to the medication. The illness always evolved and formed a new strain. She had been diagnosed with so many different forms of the disease to the point that nobody knew what her exact condition was. Thankfully Patricia was given a pass on her grade 10 because of her previous annual results. 

At the same time I was in grade 8. I achieved well at school and when I was fourteen I experienced a long period of depression. This was the first time I had ever felt this way and it was a dark and cold place with very little relief found in whatever I did to try and escape it. It was a difficult time for me and my school grades depreciated. I tried to cope with the overwhelming heaviness that I was trying to overcome, but soon felt that it was far easier to just give up.

It was an intense pain at the pit of my stomach like an overwhelming heaviness dragging me down. It wasn’t a case of feeling sorry for myself because my life could not have been more perfect at the time. It was as if my focus was taken from the daylight and placed in a black tunnel of doom. I felt hopeless and longed for my death.

My mother was gravely concerned. She could detect the first signs of mental illness dragging me down to the pit. She took me to see a psychologist and he talked me through my feelings. The dog could have barked me through my feelings for all that was going to help. The psychologist said that he did not want to medicate me; he first wanted to see if things would improve.

I can remember that the depression lasted for exactly eight weeks and just as suddenly as I felt that way the depression lifted and vanished. It was like a chemical imbalance that radically altered my mood.


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So Patricia had spent many months in Weskoppies. She had deteriorated even more and was at the point where all she did was sit and stare into space. The doctors told my mother that it would be best for her to forget about the fact that she had a daughter and leave Patricia be. She was the equivalent of somebody that was brain-damaged, who would never amount to anything.

My mother would never accept that though and insisted on the hospital releasing her daughter. The doctor asked my mother to reconsider, but she would hear nothing more about it.

It was a tough time for all of us as a family now that Patricia was home. I was petrified that she would go all crazy on us again and rip up the furniture. That was not going to happen though; Patricia was close to catatonic that she could barely move a limb. She literally sat in a chair all day long and stared at the ceiling.

My mother was in a desperate situation and tried everything in her power to bring Patricia around, but it was hopeless, she would not respond. My mother had to help dress and bath her in the beginning, until eventually she could at least do that much.

There was nowhere to take Patricia during the day and my mother had no idea what to do with her. My mother had to go to work and she did not like the idea of leaving her at home. So she decided to take my sister to the Avril Elizabeth home for the disabled.

The staff at Avril Elizabeth did not take too kindly to the idea of my sister spending time there, but my mother begged them to have her. They agreed on the grounds that if there was any trouble Patricia was to leave immediately.

So that was where Patricia stayed during the day. The first few months my sister did very little other than stare into space. There were several good nurses on staff at the home and they encouraged Patricia daily to try and help them with a few small things.

Gradually Patricia responded to the patient love she was shown and started helping out at the home with a few things.

As the time passed Patricia slowly progressed back to her normal self. She started assisting with the mentally handicapped children and before very long she became an asset to the home.

My brother, Grant suffered with cerebral palsy and also attended at the Avril Elizabeth. My mother used to fetch Patricia and Grant from there in the afternoon and Patricia would always go on excitedly about how she had helped the children.

So when the doctor tells you that there is no hope for your son or daughter, always remember that the hope that you have for your children is all the hope that they will ever need.

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Patricia spent months in a lock up ward at Weskoppies hospital. I had not seen her for quite some time and still felt glad that she was gone. Home was a far more comfortable place now that she wasn’t going on with her nonsense.

After about a month my mother convinced Tracy and myself to come along and visit Patricia. We were both quite reluctant at first, but we finally agreed. On the way to the hospital I could feel that my tummy was filled with butterflies and I was feeling quite scared.

It was over an hour’s drive to the other side of Pretoria. We entered the premises through a large set of gates. The surrounding fence was covered on top with barbed wire and the institution looked like a prison.

Once inside the premises we headed across to my sisters ward. The ward itself was a lock up with high fences and barbed wire. A woman opened the entrance gate for us and she looked quite rough. She could have been mistaken for a man.

We walked inside the building towards the dormitory area. The rooms were dark and smelled quite miff. The beds had been neatly made but it appeared as though there was a shortage of space and the beds were almost positioned on top of each other.

Patricia appeared from the corner of the room and looked like a scarecrow. I remember jumping back in fright. She had lost a great deal of weight and her face was pale. She was very heavily medicated and she was drooling at the mouth. She grabbed hold of my mother and started sobbing. I felt sorry for her and placed my hand on her shoulder.

The female warden escorted us outside and locked the dormitory door. She joked with my sister about her having visitors. My sister forced a shaky smile.

According to Patricia the warden was actually a patient as well, and she was also a lesbian. That didn’t make much sense to me. It was only a few minutes later that I realized that Patricia was very sick and was not making any sense at all. She seemed so far gone; I thought there was absolutely no hope for her. She looked much worse off than she did when she was first admitted. A side of me felt glad, as I was not ready for her to come home.

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I was spending an afternoon at a friend’s house after school and my sister Tracy was also visiting a friend. When I arrived home late that afternoon my mother was busy vacuuming the carpet. Patricia was home and lay on the couch with her feet up against the wall. She was behaving strangely as usual and swore at me as I walked inside the lounge.

Quite suddenly I noticed that the curtains had all been cut in half. I was so nervous around Patricia I never noticed it at first. Then to my horror I noticed that all three of the windows in the lounge had been smashed. Like somebody had missed the main centre window trying to break in, and had smashed both of the side windows by mistake.

Patricia insisted that somebody had broken into the house before she had come home and that it was already in a mess when she arrived there.

To make matters worse the lounge furniture had also been slashed to pieces with a scissors. It was sheer vandalism and my mother knew very well that Roslyn had convinced Patricia that that was the right thing for her to do in her twisted way of thinking. I was feeling really afraid and had no idea of what to make of my sister’s strange behaviour.

Tracy arrived home shortly after me and she looked horrified at the sight of the lounge. She confronted Patricia about what had happened but Patricia flatly denied having anything to do with the mess. My mother was unsure of how to handle the situation and decided to report the incident to the police. They arrived about half an hour later and my mother told them that her daughter was very ill.

Patricia disappeared into her bedroom, realizing that she might be in serious trouble. In her mind we were all plotting against her, and she believed that we wanted to see her destroyed.

One of the policemen knocked on her bedroom door and asked if he could have a word with her. She screamed out loudly telling the policemen to go to hell. This was when they realized that she was not well.

The policemen in charge immediately phoned for an ambulance and they must have arrived at our house in about fifteen minutes. Patricia was dragged out of her bedroom literally kicking and screaming. One of the policemen joined her inside the ambulance to try and keep her calm. I felt quite sorry for the poor man, my sister was a handful.

The ambulance siren sounded deafening as the vehicle rolled out of our driveway.  Patricia was off to Weskoppies mental institution, a hospital where patients were locked up for their own protection. I breathed a big sigh of relief as I watched her go.

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I argued with my mother and demanded that she must take my sister away from us. I told her that Patricia was mental and that she might even try and murder us. My mother was obviously upset and told me to keep quiet. We waited in anticipation for Patricia to return home. I wanted to run away, but there was nowhere for me to go.

Patricia never returned home that afternoon and my mother was starting to panic. Patricia had made a new friend a couple of weeks back and her name was Roslyn. My mother had heard that Roslyn had recently been looked up in jail for petty theft and other minor offenses. She was a big woman in her mid-twenties and she was a bad influence on my sister in her current state of mind. My sister was only a teenager.  It was bad enough that Patricia was full-blown psychotic, now she was mixing with the unstable people as well.

The term psychotic tends to place fear into a person when they are not educated about mental illness. Usually when a person is gentle by nature, the worst that they do when they are mentally ill (psychotic) is become verbally abusive and violent. Violent meaning they may break things. Or they may overdose on tablets with the belief that they are invincible. A common occurrence with people that are schizophrenic or bipolar is that they may even develop the God complex during an extreme high. They believe that they are superhuman, and that way they become a danger to themselves. I am no expert on the topic; I only speak from personal experience.

My mother was desperate and searched the neighbourhood for my sister. After a couple of hours she spotted Patricia outside a small shopping complex up the road from us. She was sitting next to Roslyn and my mother could hear the swear words flying. My mother felt as though she was the enemy and called Patricia to come with her. Roslyn whispered something into her ear and they both grinned.

When Patricia arrived back home it went from a bad dream to a nightmare. She was extremely paranoid and afraid of us. Believe me we were much more afraid than she was. I was shaking with fear. She would scream and swear at us and smash her dinner plate against the wall. Then when she had had enough of us she charged out the front door. My mother screamed after her, demanding that she come back. My mother was desperate and did not know how to deal with her behaviour.

Patricia marched off to her friend Roslyn again, and this time my mother didn’t try and stop her. The next day we all went to work and school, my mother didn’t sleep at all the previous night, she was in a state of shock. We were all confused and did not know how to deal with things. 

“Living a life of integrity is one of the greatest missions we can undertake.” Greg Anderson

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Several months had passed and all was well in the sunny Southby residence. Patricia was back at school and managing OK. The rest of us kids weren’t so worried about my sister’s grades, our only concern was that she behaved normally and didn’t miff out on us again. There was no concern about that happening though, she and I were tearing each other’s hair out by the roots as usual and life was reasonably full of laughs and fun living.

Sadly things did not last long in sunny Southby paradise. One morning my parents noticed that things were not quite right with Patricia. She spent a lot of time moaning to herself about goodness knows what, and she had my mother fairly concerned.

That afternoon she walked up to the corner of our garden and started pulling up my mother’s plants and tossing them into the neighbour’s garden. Unfortunately the neighbour was around and he complained bitterly about my sister’s actions. He attempted to pick up the damaged flowers and toss them back over our wall. My sister reacted strongly against his defence and swore at the poor man harshly. My mother heard all the cursing and shouting from the house and ran outside to see what my sister was up to. My mother moaned loudly and demanded that my sister get back into the house. The neighbour just stood staring at Patricia completely gobsmacked.

Patricia screamed and cursed my mother to the grave without even giving an explanation her daft actions. Then she stormed into the house and marched into her bedroom and slammed the door.

Needless to say, my eldest sister and I felt very afraid. It was one thing for my sister to sit, mope and stare at the floor, but to lose her cool over absolute nonsense was something never seen before.

The house went very quiet for about an hour or so and the rest of us quietly discussed Patricia’s strange behaviour. That must have been a terrible mistake though because a while later she stormed out the bedroom and accused us all of plotting against her like evil spies. It was the most frightening experience for me as a boy. It suddenly seemed as though my sister was possessed by the evil one and she was going to do the unspeakable to us.

My mother tried to reason with her without any success. It only seemed like she was putting petrol on the fire and creating an enormous bonfire of rage to flare up. We were all quite unaware of how to deal with her in her state and only later we learned that the best bet would be to remain calm.

From being the brother that always argued I went quiet and turned deathly pale. I did not know this person anymore. What happened to my sister?

The next moment Patricia turned away from us as if she had been scared off in some way. She dashed outside and scrambled through the gate. My mother yelled after her, but she was already half way down the street.

I breathed a sigh of relief, so glad to see her go.

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Now it was a Sunday afternoon and my mother insisted that I come along and visit my sister in Tara hospital. I was very reluctant to go and insisted that I wanted to stay at home. But my mother told me that we needed to stand together and support Patricia in her time of need.

Just as I expected the institution where my sister was staying at was horrible. It had a miff smell about it and the people walking past stared at us and looked strange, while others gazed at the ground as if we were aliens that had just arrived to come and ship them out.

Finally we entered one of the wards and my sister was sitting next to a tray of sandwiches staring at the floor like she had been at home. Her hair had been combed back nicely by one of the sisters but she looked dopey and obviously heavily medicated.

She walked down the corridor with us to take a seat on an open piece of grass. She never said much really, she only cried and asked to come home. My mother held her hand and told her that it wouldn’t be long before she was released.

Sadly the following week things got suddenly worse. Patricia had climbed up a two story building and had jumped off onto the paving below. Her intention was to commit suicide but she had broken her leg instead.

Sadly her recovery was a slow one and she spent many months in hospital care.

Finally she was released from Tara. She still seemed very heavily medicated and was not at all like the sister I had been quarrelling with my entire life through. She was calm and distant and did not talk much at all.

My mother explained to us that it was all part of her depression and that things would improve.

And they surely did, a few months later my sister was arguing with me again like God had intended her to. She was full of life and I was very happy to have my old sister back. Our entire family lived in the hope that she would remain stable. I guess we were entitled to be optimistic, living in the hope that everything would be just fine.

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” Ray Bradbury

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