Sorry it's so long.
I’ve just spent the last week in what could be called my home town if I ascribed to that particular parochial bullshit or even slightly liked the shithole. It wasn’t a bad trip except for the utter uselessness of Virgin Blue and the whole being in an oversized small town thing. Oh preserve me from small town mentality – especially when there are a couple of hundred thousand people in the town!
I probably should start with the flight. The first one – the one that didn’t actually happen, the fight that I was supposed to take ought to have left Sydney at six-thirty in the morning but was cancelled. It would have been rather nice to have known this before I turned up at the airport at five. It would’ve also been good if I’d been rebooked for a flight that didn’t entail a five hour wait. Still, such is life and I’ll never get those long, boring, sleepless hours of my life back again so there isn’t much point in whinging too much. Oh, in case you were wondering, the sole reason I arrived so early for my original flight was that I wanted, really very badly, a window seat. I loathe flying if I can’t look out the window. As a consequence of this I loathed both my flights and have a slightly bruised left arm. How I love flight whatever-the-fuck-they-call-themselves.
But I’m not really posting about that or anything much else that happened on the trip – I mean really, my life, big yawn. I’m writing because of something someone told me that has stuck in my mind ever since. This was something told to me that made me feel, though unintentionally – it certainly was not her plan, like a complete louse who does not deserve the wonderful friends that she has. I’ve been so solitary and closed off for such long time now that I wonder that anyone speaks to me at all. They do though and this shall probably remain one of the great mysteries of my life. Please do not think that I’m joking.
My friend has not had the easiest of lives. I know that it’s very easy to say that and that it often has no real meaning. I also know that I have led a very privileged life. I’ve always been very much loved and people, in loving me, have always looked after me. Really looked after me – even now most of my family and friends will baby me. She hasn’t had that – not the babying which is just a bit weird but she’s never had much security in the love of her parents. They do love her, I know they do, she knows they do but their relationship was quite brief and her mother has a stunning array of personal problems. It ma seem awful but I don’t know all that much about my friend’s childhood and I am probably her oldest friend and one of her closest. We were teenagers when we met and we mostly didn’t discuss those things. She told me a little and none of it was much fun. Well, it wouldn’t have been, would it? This isn’t really her story either, my friend’s that is, it’s really a story about her mother – it involves her a lot but it’s not her. My friend’s mother is manic depressive or whatever that is in present parlance. She’s also an alcoholic – a real one. She’s a real manic depressive too. What do I mean by real? Diagnosed, committed, shocked, wrecked, broken, tentatively okay but never ever cured and so often let down. Her problems have been apparent the whole of my friend’s life – before that I don’t know, before that she was very young, before that she hadn’t been through so very much. She has good times and bad times. The bad times, I think, have become less common as she’s gotten older. I think the grandchildren have helped plus her very stable daughter and her fantastic family.
This is a family I’ve known for quite some time. One way or another I usually know how my friend’s mother is. My friend’s son and my nephew attend the same daycare and she’s practically part of the family. She both sees and speaks to my family more than to me – not a surprise as I am so very slack.
I remember in high school, I’m not sure if it was the start of year eleven or year twelve, the first day of school she came to see me as we were starting class late –I wasn’t nearly ready so instead of talking then we met up later at school. Those holidays must have been awful for her. She’d been away staying with her grandparents in another town; I think her mother must have been with her for a while because when her mother returned to their house she found that her partner had committed suicide. Actually managed it this time – he did a revoltingly thorough job too. The mother, unsurprisingly, ended up in hospital – the same hospital that she’d been in fuck knows how many times before, that she’d been treated in, probably mistreated in, shocked and what-not. I may make too much of this place but their mental health unit had a shocking [no pun] reputation. Worse than most. My friend’s mother must have been in hospital for months at that point, my friend had to stay with her aunt for the duration. I think that was one of her worse times. Up and down, of course, since then but not so bad that I remember. I think she’s had other stays since then but mostly she’s been able to get the help she needs or, more probably, just enough help to get her by.
It’s a fairly small town and in the depths of Queensland so you really don’t expect much. This is Australia after all and it is no longer the fashion to care about or give care to people. We’re all aspirational, you know, we’re doing it for ourselves; we don’t need help and if we did we’d certainly pretend that we didn’t. If we do need help and admit to it we’ve started to reach the point where we don’t expect much. If, for example, you’ve a mental illness and have a clinical history the size of several books of yellow pages you shouldn’t really expect to be able to see a psychiatrist when you can no longer cope. You make an appointment for some time down the track. What’s a couple of months after all? How bad can it really be? You try to put yourself in the hospital because it really is that bad. Oh but there isn’t a bed. Too bad. Isn’t that an awfully rational act anyway?
You can feel a certain amount of desperation. That rational-irrationality, a handful, a bottleful, another bottleful or two of pills, and a call to the ambulance. That just screams of really wanting to die, doesn’t it? When you live alone and call your own ambulance?
The ambulance arrived as my friend was on the phone to her mother. I guess she sounded okay at that point. Certainly, there was little my friend could do for her mother – alone in her house with two little children whose father was off fighting terror on foreign soil. I do wonder if she appreciated the irony of that? My friend is one of the calmest people I know and she knew, from experience, that once the ambulance reached her mother that the situation was under control. Later on she phoned the hospital – the psych ward specifically - to ask about her mother. They had no records and suggested she try emergency – hospitals can take such a long time to process people. When she spoke with emergency she was told that her mother wasn’t there, she’d been moved to ICU. It seems that this time she’d very nearly succeeded at death whatever her intention had been. She was in ICU and an induced coma for some time. Her family was told that she was likely brain-dead and that they didn’t hold hope even if she came out of the coma.
This story has, inasmuch as can be, a happy ending. My friend’s mother came out of her coma and she was okay – hell, she’s even getting the psychiatric help she needs. She’s taken up smoking again though despite an absence of nearly a year. Can’t say I fault her though, I suspect she needs it. This story doesn’t have a moral, it doesn’t have all the facts, it’s biased by the writer, and suffers from any number of faults but it is the most depressing thing I’ve heard all year. What I find even more depressing is that my father doesn’t, wouldn’t have these problems. He sees his psychiatrist every however-long-it-is regular as clockwork - free. The problems he has aren’t necessarily ones he was born with and they weren’t formed by his environment – not his regular environment anyway. But for that stupid war he may never have had any but the slightest of problems yet help is thrown at him. My friend’s mother’s problems are manifest and manifold and stem mostly, as I understand, from genetics and her own imperfect self but she cannot always get the help she needs. It seems a little cruel.