Towards the end of 1992, I was 21 years old and had recently qualified as a registered nurse. Not really interested in a “proper” job I signed up with various agencies and asked for the more unusual assignments, such as the one-to-one nursing of psychiatric patients who were in the hospital for surgery and such like. In December I had an opportunity to go and work with a young schizophrenic man as a live-in carer. What I was not aware of was the small detail that I was the 19th live-in carer employed by the family that year alone. I only lasted 6 weeks before I resigned from my position.
At this point, I had no previous experience of schizophrenia other than a few points of contact via the psychiatric student nurses. I could never quite understand how exactly these people were supposed to be ill. During this time with M, I learned much about the behaviours that encircle the condition referred to as “schizophrenia” and I kept a diary for much of this time. In a letter I sent my friend and colleague during this time I referred to an experience I had had the previous night:
I asked M why he suffered from mental illness in my ever tactful manner. His answer was quite revealing and sad.
“My mother always wanted a son” was what he told me. But why was he ill?
“My mother always wanted a son.” He repeated and admittedly I was confused.
“Did she get one?” I asked.
“She never knew me. Dad sent me away to boarding school when I was 7.” Evidently this was against his and his mother’s wishes. When he finished school at 17 his father left home saying
that he wanted nothing more to do with the family – especially the children.
“I always told her that one day she’d have to pay.” He said quietly. The schizophrenia seemed to be a punishment to his mother for allowing it all to happen.
Now the question arises of what happened in those in those two years between his father leaving and the beginning of his overt schizophrenic symptoms?
“My mother got her son.” He told me.
30th December 1992.
I’m fascinated. I find myself in the company of M. – a 29-year-old man afflicted with a strange mother, however, this affliction seems to be interpreted by a few as “schizophrenia.”
I arrived at 7 pm last night to be greeted by the mother who took me to M’s house, which was filthy. It had no fridge, no bed linen, no soap, and toiletries, washing up liquid, washing machine or vacuum cleaner. There’s a distinct lack of furniture upstairs and there are no fittings, nowhere to hang a towel or coat.
“I just don’t understand how it gets so filthy.” She says.
10am today. Phone call: “Is the house still dirty?” She enquires.
I am told that M has a friend K. coming to stay for the week, a girl whom I am also asked to look after. She is coming today at 3pm. M tells me that they met in an acute psychiatric unit – he warns me to be careful because she tends to be a bit unpredictable. Oops, she just arrived, 5 hours early!
During this phone call from the mother I am informed that my charges and myself are to go to the mother’s for lunch and again later in the day for tea.
11am. Phone call: Best if I just come for lunch and not for tea. Just M and K should go for tea.
12noon. Phone call: “Is M out of bed yet?” – no.
1pm. Phone call: “Where are you?” – M won’t get up, says he’s “too weak.”
2pm. Phone call – M. answers it: Mother will bring lunch to us at his house. I do not know what’s happening about tea.
But I tell you what, K’s parents are as odd as K is. They have left the house and M and K are downstairs swapping stories of how ill they have been.
5.45pm. Phone call: “Is the kitchen clean yet?” To be honest, I nearly laughed. I am ordered to go to the mother’s house for “supper.” She’ll pick me up in 10 minutes.
45 minutes later she arrived to pick all three of us up. Her house is simply amazing. Grandiose simply will not do justice to such a building and not unlike myself the mother obviously has a talent for finding enough clutter to fill every conceivable bit of space. Not one single room looks like it hasn’t been turned over in some bizarre burglary. I must admit that the mother did prove to be a remarkably nice lady; it is just a shame that she is so obviously hopeless. After dinner, we eventually, after much fussing and changing of minds, went out to a pub where a friend of hers was singing.
M’s behaviour changes remarkably depending on his environment. At his mother’s house, he is a shy 3-year-old. In the pub both M’s mother and another one her friends flirt with me outrageously whilst M is a sociable and outgoing 29-year-old. At home with me in his house he is a pain in the arse, playing the sick role admirably.
It is becoming evident that my indifference to this behaviour is not right and doesn’t seem to help. I think I got a hint of how to handle it last night whilst waiting for a taxi to go home after the pub. K went all a bit peculiar and adopted a strange look in her eyes and moved strangely. I jokingly quipped that if she should look at the taxi driver that way at this later hour she was likely to “scare the shit out of him.” M laughed along with me and K’s behaviour immediately changed for the better. I should emphasise that the laughter was not at K but at the inappropriateness of my comment that clearly came as a bit of a shock. I guess people do not usually say these things to schizophrenics.
Both M and K were up by 1pm. The mother had arranged for her Dave her gardener to pick all three of us up so that we’d all go out for lunch and spend the day out and about. Dave arrived at 1.15pm and Diana the cook arrived at 1.20pm with three lunches she had been ordered to bring for M, K and me.
I decided for the sake of some sort of consistency that we would still go out for lunch since
both M and K were ready for such. Dave wholeheartedly agreed – the poor chap never normally knows whether he is coming or going.
We went out for lunch and spent much of the afternoon on Hayling Island playing in the amusement arcades. M really came alive, he keeps stating that he cannot even think, let alone concentrate on anything yet in the arcade he was able to play some of the more complicated “shoot ’em up” video games. On the star wars game he really became very excited and beat me on every game we doubled up on.
Dave: a big man, ex-army and a proud Scotsman of unshakable character really shines in his love for M. M is clearly like a son to him and is treated as such. It is really warming to see such a relationship.
1st January 1993.
11.45am – I try to encourage M to get out of bed. K gets up.
12.30pm – I try again suggesting that we were waiting for him to get up so that we could go and get some lunch.
1.15pm – another try.
2.15 – I’m getting hungry and irritable. M finally gets up but is moaning continuously and
blaming me for waking him up. We go into town and the day continues in a similar vein.
The mother strikes again.
At about 3 pm today M and K went for a walk and by 5.30pm they hadn’t returned and I had visions of them wandering aimlessly lost in Nowhereland with M still moaning and K threatening to kill him just to shut him up. Finally M ‘phoned to let me know that they were at his mother’s house and that they would all be back shortly to pick me up to go out for an Indian meal.
6.30pm. Another ‘phone call: “Mum said” that just he and K would be going out for a meal, can I try to fix my own meal. No problems I say and without hesitation, I put a pizza in the oven.
730pm. M ‘phones: “Mum says that” they are getting a takeaway and they’ll pick me up a chicken korma.
8pm. M, K and the mother arrive. She launches into an immediate house inspection, “Coats must not be left downstairs. They are to be left in the bedrooms!” She is really angry about this. Yet, upstairs there are no cupboards, no hooks and no chairs. The coats are taken off the chairs in the hallway and put onto the floor of the uncarpeted spare room.
Next she rages, “Meals must always be eaten at the dining room table!” and she thrusts a tub of pinkish powder into my hands. She tells me aggressively that M needs his vitamins. Unfortunately, she says, the hospitals won’t give them to him – “They seem to prefer bad health to good health.”
She tells me to give him a heaped tablespoon of this powder 4 times a day and, much like he were a dog she adds, “they seem to do him so much good.”
This powder turns out to be ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and minerals:
1 gram delivers about 2550% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.
1 tablespoon delivers 10200% of the recommended allowance.
1 tablespoon 4 times a day is equal to 40800% of the RDA. Now I understand why M always has such bad diarrhoea.
She sees my reservations and says patronisingly, “We really must sit down sometime, so we can have a chat and let me talk to you about what’s really best for M.”
I realise that I can do little good for M – As long as the mother is alive, M will never
“recover”. Sadly, she is the <deleted> for a leading <deleted> charity for
schizophrenia research and patient rights and is very much respected. She is very much obsessed with the mega-dose vitamin idea – that vitamin C reduces hallucinations in LSD users and as such it must be useful in schizophrenia and beneficial to M. I’m quite certain the vitamin C and LSD correlation is merely nothing more than a popular drug culture myth.
Last Monday, K’s parents came to collect her. We (M, K, K’s parents and the mother and me) all went out for lunch where both mother delighted in swapping anecdotes about their children’s psychotic episodes. Throughout they behaved as though both M and K were not present.
Clearly not happy with what he was hearing M began to complain that his ears were hurting and left to go and stand outside for a while to “cool down.”
“Of course,” the mother tells me, “M has such sensitive hearing; the noise really bothers him.”
Both mothers then debated for my benefit (a registered nurse) how the medical and nursing professions were brainwashed into thinking that schizophrenia is a personality disorder and is not really a chemical imbalance (which is blatantly untrue). And through all this K’s dad never spoke and come to think of it, apart from a “hello”, I never once heard this unfortunate man ever say anything at all.
Then it happened. The question came.
“How are you getting on with M’s vitamins?” I must admit, I was in mortal terror at being
outnumbered by the enemy. I should have just lied, but I felt too much on the spot so after
floundering for a moment or two I foolishly said, “Ahhherrrr.ohhhh.errrrr I meant to talk to you about that.”
….and in 1, 2, 3, seconds and the whole world exploded. With rage and fury like I have never before witnessed the mother rendered me into a “narrow fucking minded, brainwashed fucking idiot.”
I think the entire public house came to a standstill at this point and I was the central focus of it all.
Apparently, I was “out of date” and a “medical dinosaur” who had not bothered to
read the latest research by the pyramid sale company who supplied her the with vitamins. (The day I went to her house, I looked in the bathroom cabinet where she had stocked over 60 different tubs of these vitamins from the same company.)
It was evident from both these mothers that their child’s “illness” is their very focus in life.
It is as if the illness makes them able to function as mothers, where maybe before their
“illness” they were not “real” mothers. Both offspring were treated as though they were a sick pet.
They were treasured and loved but only so that they could serve a function that satisfied the owners need to belong. The will of the child has been broken only to be rebuilt to serve the mothers need, their every decision and motive is decided for them by the mother who always “knows best.”
Unable to relate to society or become in any way independent by breaking free from the mother’s bonding, the rationale is sought to reconcile the broken will and unable to control their own lives, this will is directed inwards in a way that attempts to reconcile both the love and hatred they feel for their mother. This is just horrible.