A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a review of the latest biography of Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. It ended up being read by several thousand readers; many of whom commented on the honesty of the post. I take a great deal of pride in the fact that this is an honest blog. People frequently message me to comment on the authenticity of my writing. That is why I have at last decided to write about an aspect of my life, which for a long time I have kept hidden.
It took a lot of strength and possibly even courage to write this post. I am not posting this in a bid to gain sympathy. I feel slightly uncomfortable and I have many doubts as to whether I should reveal this intensely private aspect of my life. However, I do think that the time is now right to do this for several reasons. Firstly, I want to do this for the simple reason that I need to get it off my chest. Secondly, I want to raise awareness of something that few people discuss or comprehend. Finally, and most importantly, it will be immensely beneficial to see if anyone else has had a similar experience with a relative or loved one.
As we get older, we start to see our relationship with our parents change. When they move into later life, our parents begin to face illness caused by an aging body. They may need help or at least support in carrying out daily tasks. In short, it is as if we take on the role of parents to our own parents. Lockdown impacted significantly on both of my parents. I am sure that for many elderly people in particular, it made them realise their vulnerability and how they needed to be within easy distance of their close family in case something happened. My Dad has recently developed a condition in which he is unable to walk beyond a hundred metres. It is not a serious condition but until we discover what is causing this, then he needs our support.
My mother’s health has also taken a significant decline and over lockdown she experienced a stroke, possibly two. When I became aware of this, and as soon as lockdown restrictions were lifted, I went to visit her to see what support I could offer. She had nominated me as her next of kin and so I was able to speak to her doctors at the Stroke Clinic and discuss what she needed to do to try and prevent another stroke. She had to take a lot of medication and make changes to her diet and exercise.
My Mum and Dad are still married but for reasons that will soon become apparent, my Mother lives in a bungalow around the corner from my Dad. Entering my Mum’s bungalow is much akin to going back in time. She has no proper kitchen, no telephone or internet and just piles and piles of miscellaneous items everywhere including bags containing bits of paper, tins, photos and games and toys from my childhood. I visited my Mum on a Sunday, and we sat in her lounge discussing what help she needed. I took various items with me to try and help such as homemade soup and a pill-case to encourage her to take her medication. I promised to come back in a week or two’s time and to call her daily on one of the many disused mobile phones she had lying around; one that she had not tried to smash up. My Mum appeared very vulnerable and clingy and for the first time she was frightened of being alone. Although considering she had just had a stroke, she did look remarkably well. It was a most pleasant afternoon and the three hours I spent with her went quickly. As I made my way to leave, my Mum saw me to the door. She waved me off and then commented “You do know your Dad tried to kill me, don’t you?” I paid little heed to this. I just brushed it off, smiled and left.
The next time I visited was different. My Mum appeared very shaken and bedraggled and took a while to let me in. She had not bothered to get dressed and she looked as if she had just got up. The blue veins on her forehead were protruding and her eyes had an intense stare. Last time she had offered me a drink of coffee but there was no such welcome this time. We sat in her lounge again and I asked her how she was. She was much less vulnerable and confidently told me about how she had managed to sort out some admin and found her National Insurance number. I had brought her a new box file to keep all her documents together. She was pleased with this gift. She then told me that she had something to show me. She moved towards a bookcase as if to search for something but then suddenly realised she had nothing to show me. She turned and looked me straight in the eye. “Look Elisabeth, I know you’re fifty-one and tell me to mind my own business, but I need you to stop what you are doing with Adrian. There’s crooks all around here and they are up to all sorts. It is all centred around the Cobblers on Aspley Lane. It’s all going on.”
I knew what this meant as I have had this for the majority of my life. She continued, “Him next door is part of it. Yesterday, a man smoking one of those things (a vape) came past my house pretending to walk his dog. I know what that meant.” I began to feel tears slowly trickling down my face. They were tears of frustration. I had somehow naively assumed that the stroke might have stopped all of this. But it had not. We were back to the place we had been so many times before, my Mum’s paranoid schizophrenia.
I tried to rationalise, telling her that I knew it seemed so real to her, but it was not true. There were not people conspiring against her in the village. She continued to press on with her theories. She believed I was having an affair with Adrian (I do not know anyone called Adrian.) She spoke of family members who had given birth to babies that were not their husband’s children. All the time going on about “this business” and how she needs me to realise what is really happening. “You think I’m crackers, don’t you?” she challenged me. “But if I’m so crackers then how come I can write this?” My Mum showed me the ‘books’ she has written; a bursting A4 folder with pages of writing. Most of it about someone seeing the “truth.”
I decided I had to leave. You might think I am heartless in doing this, but the honest answer is that when my mother is in the midst of one of these episodes then, there is no reasoning with her and believe me, my Dad and I have tried. For much of my life, my Mum has been making up theories or her own truths about what my Dad and I are supposedly doing – much of it has a weird sexual nature to it and is reminiscent of the film from the Seventies, “The Wicker Man.” She believes that the village where she lives, is full of witches who control everything that happens. If they do not like someone then they will force them to leave. We have had the story of a man forced to impregnate a woman in the local pub in front of a circle of witches brandishing torches; an old man giving women engagement rings in return for oral sex; women having illegitimate children; men trying to have affairs with my Mum; my Dad having affairs with women he works with or says hello to in the street. All of it is highly offensive. My brother died of sudden death in 2013 and as much as I feel genuine sympathy for my Mum losing her child, it was the worst kind of death he could have had, since there was no explanation and unsurprisingly, it made her paranoia even worse. She now believes my brother was killed by Facebook because he knew “the truth.” She never mentions that my brother did not have anything to do with her for ten years prior to his death because he could not deal with her paranoia.
You might wonder why no doctors are involved and why my Mum has had no treatment for her condition. The main reason is that my Mum does not believe that anything is wrong with her. After our last meeting, I sent her a letter asking her to see someone. She ignored it. I called her and asked her once again to seek help, yet she believes that my Dad and I are conspiring against her and making all of this up. My Dad and I have discussed the situation a great deal, especially with her doctor and other medical professionals. If we were to have her sectioned, then my Mum’s paranoid beliefs, that the authorities are conspiring against her, would become a reality and give more fuel to the paranoia. She may benefit from time in a psychiatric unit and from medication. However, as soon as she returns to her life, then she will stop taking any medication. My Mum grew up in the fifties, at a time when mental health difficulties were brushed under the carpet. This may partly explain her unwillingness to seek out help.
Growing up with my Mum certainly had its difficult times. Yet children have an incredible ability to accept things and to believe, as I did, that a parent’s behaviour was perfectly normal. I thought everyone’s mum hid in wardrobes and took Valium. I thought everyone’s mum had such violent mood swings. My Mum mainly suffered from manic depression during my childhood and it was probably only when my brother and I became teenagers that the paranoia began to take hold of her. She could be incredibly lovely and great fun, but her behaviour lacked consistency. You never knew how she might react. She fell into a pattern of life as the paranoia took hold. She would start a new job or a course; for a brief time, she would excel and enjoy it, but before long everyone was conspiring against her or sending her subliminal and mainly sexual messages. She would end up leaving citing sexual harassment, or bullying. I recall her once telling me a lecturer had said good morning to her one day and she “knew exactly what he meant by that.” I remember her calling at my house the morning after a party I had held for my friends. She was convinced that people were holding me a hostage in my own home as I had not come to the door as quickly as I usually did. “No Mum.” I explained, “I’ve had a party. I’ve got a bit of a hangover and I slept in.” There was also the time she turned up at my work terrified, having walked about five miles on foot to tell me that someone had dropped a plastic bag in her front garden and was clearly trying to kill her. I will often make light of the situation to others as sometimes laughing at the absurdity of her beliefs is the only way I know how to deal with it. My children also brush off a lot of my Mum’s behaviour with the phrase,” Oh it’s just Grandma being Grandma.” One time she came to see us off as we were going on holiday. She gave the children an envelope with pocket money in it. She seemed really happy until I mentioned where we were going. “No!” she shouted. “Look at this!” It was a small pyrex bowl. “See. It’s full of paedophiles. Don’t go!”
My Dad recently told me to watch an episode of Reported Missing from BBC1. This episode dealt with a paranoid schizophrenic, who was continually going missing in an effort to hide from being discovered. I found so many similarities between the son of the man with paranoid schizophrenia. He wanted to help his Dad, but he was beginning to realise what a difficult, almost impossible situation he was facing. That is exactly how I feel. It is as if the paranoia acts as a glass wall between my mother and I and prevents us from having a relationship. My emotions are incredibly mixed because I do feel that I should be there for her but at the same time, I can no longer deal with the paranoia as it is so inherently offensive to me and my Dad. I do not like the way my Mum talks about my Dad trying to kill her. He is a very gentle man and he’d never hurt anyone. But what if someone were to take it seriously? Furthermore, an additional consequence of my Mum’s condition is that she is inherently selfish. She is consumed with her own beliefs and needs.
I have only given a brief glimpse into my Mother’s condition, which has been going on now for over thirty years and there have been many and far more serious episodes. As difficult as this issue is, I do not want anyone to feel sorry for me. I am certain that many families have their own problems and I have been blessed with other family members, who have more than made up for not having a Mum. However, I do feel that unlike many other mental health conditions, which are fortunately more accepted today, we still have a long way to go in accepting and understanding paranoid schizophrenia. It is seen as a negative and at times, violent condition. As challenging as my Mother’s condition has been, she did do some things for good and her condition has led me to be truly clear on the relationship I wish to have with my own children. In addition, it has taught me to be more empathetic of what others may be struggling or dealing with in their lives.
I would love to have a Mum in my life. I avoid using the word ‘normal’ as normality is not always an appropriate measure of any relationship. I think I was forty before I finally accepted that I would never have a mother in the same way that I have a father. Over the past ten years this has made me grieve for a relationship that could never be. It would be nice to be able to spend time caring for my Mum in her old age but then again, it would be quite nice to be a few stone lighter and perhaps a little bit taller. We have to accept what we are given and make the best of it, no matter how difficult.