Tuesday, 16 June 2015

despair roamed the slaughterhouse: @dchristmas thesis background; you abandoned me, love don't live here anymore

After a 3 month hiatus, busy with other writing and co-collaborations, I've returned to study Dr Christmas's MD thesis.  Page 5, section 2, Background.  [Although I nearly got diverted again by language used in the Abstract Conclusions: the use of "appear to be" and "may" as if it's mostly conjecture and possibilities]

The quote at the start by Anne Sexton is interesting:

on PoetryFoundation.org
"God went out of me

as if the sea dried up

like sandpaper,

as if the sun became a latrine.

God went out of my fingers.

They became stone.

My body became a side of mutton

and despair roamed the slaughterhouse."

Anne Sexton (1928 –1974)
"The Sickness Unto Death

I hadn't heard of this American poet before. Some have compared her with Sylvia Plath.  Unfavourably: "The occasional poem is too blatantly derivative of Plath's work, aping both her tone and metaphorical mode" The Times Literary Supplement (from enotes)

"Sexton suffered from post-partum depression, and after the birth of her first daughter she suffered her first breakdown and was admitted to a neuropsychiatric hospital. Other institutionalizations followed. Sexton struggled with depression for the remainder of her life. She committed suicide at age 46." Poetry Foundation 

Like Sexton I experienced postnatal mental health issues, a psychosis or altered mind state due to the pain of labour.  Forced childbirth brought on by chemicals in a drip through induction.  I was clinically depressed when on antipsychotics and the depression only lifted when I tapered the drugs, myself, and got off them all.  After psychotic episodes in 1978, 1984 (postnatal) and 2002 (menopausal).

I found it very difficult to function on antipsychotics.  They lowered my mood, took away the joy in life, the hope.  I remember describing it like being in a tunnel with no light at the end of it.  In 1978 after the birth of my second son, when he was about 13wks old, I had a breakdown, aged 25 (about the same age as Anne Sexton, having married at 19 like her).

We were living on my in-laws' farm.  There were various stressors, not least the fact that my mother-in-law was mentally unwell herself, had a manic depressive illness, due to losing babies.  It couldn't have been easy for her having me in the house with a new baby.  Not easy for either of us.  And so I went a bit mad.  Not sleeping.  Altered reality. Psychiatrists came to the house and said my condition was due to "hormone imbalance".  I wondered why they couldn't give me some hormones to sort out the balance.

Instead I was persuaded to go voluntarily into Hartwoodhill psychiatric hospital.  I wouldn't swallow the pills so was held down and injected with Chlorpromazine.  Despite being a "voluntary" patient.  I have always known that voluntary means something else in a psychiatric setting.  On the 3 occasions I entered psychiatric wards as a patient I did so voluntarily.  And was forced.

Despair roamed the slaughterhouse.  You abandoned me, love don't live here anymore.  The song that was playing on the radio in the ward when I was a mental patient in 1978:

I managed to avoid ECT during that first psychiatric inpatient stay in 1978 because I knew what it was, my mother having had many courses of it, against her will in Murray Royal Hospital, Perth, during the 1950's and 1960's.  A treatment for psychoses, back then.  I ran out of the hospital in my pyjamas, with my husband, to escape it.  Had to come back in again because of drug withdrawal side effects.  Muscle spasms in my neck.  Very alarming to my relatives on the farm.

That winter of discontent, 1978/9, was a cold one.  The water froze in the pipes on the farm.  We got water delivered in a tank.  Life was grey, hard.  My oldest son had turned 2 in the October, my baby 4 months old, and I was a mental patient.  Had to stop breast-feeding because of the drugs, was bound up to stop the milk, and I resented it.  A year on the drugs and no more, was the hope that kept me going.  I kept it to myself, the thought, didn't tell the psychiatrist.  I let him think that I was compliant.

I remember going sledging in the snow on the farm, with my sister-in-law and our bairns.  Some light relief.  There was always someone around to be with although I was sequestered on the farm, no car, wasn't driving.  When Spring arrived I began to wake up and see a chink of light at the end of the tunnel.  The Chlorpromazine had been reduced by the psychiatrist to 4x25mgs.  From 4x100mgs when in the hospital.  I was about ready to break free.

June 1979 and the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston, Edinburgh.  My husband worked with the Milk Marketing Board and attended each year.  I went along with the boys and remember it as an enjoyable day.  The sunshine, the live music from bands, the food, the machinery, the animals, the smells, the crowds, the crafts, the grass, the flowers. 

It was around this time that I came off the Chlorpromazine then told the psychiatrist, who wasn't pleased.  But I wasn't bothered.  I'd taken back control of my life and was getting back to myself.  The depression had receded with the tapering of the antipsychotic.  I'd got through the winter and was looking forward to the summer, the changing seasons.  I was a stronger person for having survived psychosis and psychiatric treatment.  The experience of withstanding and overcoming had given me confidence. 

I had to do it all over again in 1984/5, after the birth of my third son, when experiencing a psychosis in the maternity hospital and then going voluntarily by ambulance in my nightdress into the psychiatric hospital.  By this time in my own house, in Rigside, Lanarkshire.  Forcibly drugged but no ECT on offer.  One flew over the cuckoo's nest no doubt had an effect for I didn't see patients lining up for the shock treatment like I had in 1978.  [see blog post 'memories of peer support in the psychiatric system circa 1984']

In this blog post about Dr Christmas's MD thesis I've got no further than the Anne Sexton poem which led to my reading more of this mother's story then sharing my story.  Two mothers.  Different stories yet things in common.  Experiencing depression.  Despair.  Hope.  Survival.  Loss. 

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