All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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25 Songs, 25 Days: Rise Again

Day 03: A song that reminds you of one/both of your parents

Rise Again | The Rankin Family

rankinfamily

My father is a music aficionado.

There is nothing he doesn’t know about acid rock, prog rock, folk rock and art rock. He knows his Abba from his abbandonatamente. His geschwind from his Gershwin. And if you were to ask him who was number 1 in the charts on the 21 January 1973 he’d be able to tell you. Not just in the UK, but the US, Australia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan as well!

Because of my father I became a fan of The Eagles, Queen, Kansas, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Bryan Adams. Yet out of all of the great music my father introduced me to; from Heart of Glass to Booooom, Blast  & Ruin, from Chasing Rainbows to Life on Mars, the song that will always remind me of him is one I shared with him.

After arriving in Australia I saw the opportunity to introduce my father to a selection of artists he may never have heard of. A world of music from the other side of the planet that would rival those he had introduced me to. Cue My Friend the Chocolate Cake, Archie Roach, Lisa Miller, This Is Your Captain Speaking, Kavisha Mazella and Laura Imbruglia.

Amidst all these CDs was a record (as in a record, of an event, the event, of people, playing music, in a room) from a country that wasn’t Australia. And it was this record my father picked to praise during one of our telephone conversations.

And from that record, there was one song that he proclaimed to be one of the best he’d ever heard.

And it is this song I have chosen to share with you today. For whenever I hear it I think of him and the gifts he gave me.


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Day 06: Five people who mean a lot to me

The sixth day of the 10 Day Blogging Challenge asks for five people who mean a lot to me.

friendship

(in no particular order)

1. My support worker

After spending many years dealing with my mental health and homelessness on my own, it took a long time for me to build a trusting relationship with my support worker, but now that I have I can’t imagine life without her assistance. It can’t be easy being the support worker to someone as messed up and complex as me, especially given my non-existent self-esteem and distinct lack of any self-belief, but week after week she commits herself to doing all she can to push me into doing everything I can to achieve that most allowed and mythical of mind-states; recovery.

2. My family

It would be impossible to choose any one or two members of my family to put onto this list, so I’m breaking the rules and lumping them all into one entry. Whether it be my mother and father’s regular phone calls, the daily updates of my brother and sister-in-law’s Facebook accounts or the endless soap opera that is my sister’s life, my family have always been there to turn to in times of trouble and distress, and for that, I will always be eternally grateful.

3. Emilia

I first met Emilia through her connection to the Hearing Voices Support Group and her work at Gateway Community Health, the mental health organisation I frequent. Being a peer worker, with a similar history and outlook on life to my own, it is wonderful to have a friend who understands some of the experiences I’ve been through and accepts me for being myself, something very few people throughout my life have ever done.

4. Samantha

Even though she has long since left this world, Samantha’s friendship has always meant the world to me. After a succession of friendships that were decidedly one-sided, it was a pleasant change of pace to be around someone who accepted me in spite of my mental illness(es), occasionally eccentric actions and difficult to be around episodes.

5. The mental health blogging community

For seven and a half years I’ve been part of one of the brightest, most accepting and down-right inspired blogging communities in the world; the mental health blogging community. Without the support of you – my dear readers – this blog would have collapsed and burned a long time ago, so I thank you for putting up with my inner-most thoughts and occasional ramblings. Without your support, I don’t know where I’d be! :)


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Day 06: Do you have a family history of mental health issues?

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My sister was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and OCD when she was twelve years old; illnesses that began when she was nine years old as a result of a leotard (and subsequent comments from her class-mates) she had to wear during a school-play. Following her diagnosis she was hospitalized for many years and – despite periods of relative normality – she continues to suffer from her illnesses to this day. She is currently homeless, somewhere in the UK, battling for the treatment and support she deserves.

In addition to this, both my parents have battled their own mental health demons and numerous relatives I’m too young to have met had their issues to deal with, including a Great Aunt who spent most of her life in a psychiatric institution as a result of (if memory serves) post natal depression.

Then there is my ‘other family’ – my tribe – that is made up of all the bloggers I religiously follow and the wonderful people who frequent Free Voices Speak Out and the other support groups I attend; all of whom battle their own mental health issues on a day-to-day basis; all of whom understand only too well the pain that mental illness can cause to someones life.

But even though all of my family’s lives have been affected by mental health, none of us have rested on our laurels.

During the mid-1990s my parents established MH Carers; a local charity for the carers of people with Mental Health issues. This involved fortnightly meetings, inspirational speakers, day trips, evening excursions and monthly newsletters; all to ease the burden of those whose lives had been affected by the mental health of people they cared for. This charity ran – funded by grants and donations – until late last year, having helped thousands of people affected by mental illness.

In spite of her illness, my sister has written of her struggles with mental health, whilst my tribe frequently speak publicly of their battles in an effort to raise awareness of what people with mental health problems have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve long been immensely proud of my family’s continual efforts to raise awareness of mental illness and their attempts to help others affected by it. It’s all too easy to withdraw into our own worlds when it comes to mental health, but my family (be it by blood or by tribe) understand all too well that talking about mental illness is the only way we can normalise it and in turn, eliminate the grotesque stigma attached to it.


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The pleasures and perils of writing about family and friends on a mental health blog

For those thinking I’ve bailed on my Mental Health Month Challenge, you’re wrong. At the very top of the PDF outlining the daily prompts for this challenge is a wonderful line that states: ‘you get two “Get Out Of Post Free” Days. Use Wisely!’

Whether I’ve used them wisely over the last two days is yet to be seen as I now have none left. But let’s not worry about this just yet, let us instead focus on today’s prompt…write about how you choose to write about others in your blog (friends, family etc.).

Writing about my family and friends

My family...

My Family…

The lost blog post…

Although I began writing this blog in 2007, I stopped writing it in mid-2008 when I threw my attention toward rebuilding my life in Alice Springs. Being employed after eighteen months of isolation was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and in order to better my chances of success in a ‘normal’ life I had to let my blog go, which became one of the biggest regrets of my life as I would not return to it until late 2009.

After months of living a homeless non-existence I returned to my blog for a series of posts celebrating its two-year anniversary. I wrote posts detailing the continued effect that the abuse I received was having on me, I wrote about my homelessness for the first time and of psychiatric appointments I’d had months earlier.

Although I’ve never really mentioned this before (as it makes me sound completely insane), I have no memory of writing and publishing any of these posts!

When I returned to the blog earlier this year I read through all I’d written and stared in complete disbelief at the atrocious writing I’d committed in my name.

Certainly, the post about Stephanie was wonderful, but the vast majority of these posts are atrocious crimes against writing, even though the information contained within them is true. None more so than a post called Fourteen Beautiful Souls, which is one of the single greatest examples of hypomanic writing that has ever been published on this blog! Thirty-five rambling pages of A4 that chronicle some (but not all) of the most important people in my life.

When I read this despicable post back for the first time I wanted to vomit. Without doubt it is one of the negative highlights of my shameful life and one of my biggest regrets. Although, given I can’t remember writing it, is it right to regret doing it?

Of all the major posts I’ve written over the last five years this is the only post I refuse to re-publish. I still have it, nestled somewhere as a draft in my posts menu, but what I did in that post broke all the rules concerning ‘other people’ that I’d established for myself when beginning this blog in 2007.

The five rules…

1. I will not write about the lives of other people unless they have given me permission to do so.
2. I will only write about other people if it is vital to the topic at hand.
3. I will at all times use a pseudonym when writing about other people.
4. I will be respectful, compassionate and non-abusive when writing about other people.
5. No identifiable photographs. Period!

Since returning to the blogosphere earlier this year I have been careful not to break these rules again when writing about other people, something I will only do when necessary in order to avoid the unintended pain my Fourteen Beautiful Souls post caused.

Kathryn

I had wanted to write about my sister for as long as this blog has been alive. But back in the early days my sister was a regular reader and contributor to this blog and I didn’t want her to read about the effect her illness had on my life. So, not wishing to cause her any pain, I avoided writing about her in detail, choosing only to drop the occasional sliver of information as and when necessary to fill in my back story.

However, earlier this year I realized through conversations with a psychologist that it was important to deal with this hitherto untouched part of my life. So not wishing to break rule (1) I phoned my parents to ask their permission to write about my sister and her illness.

I couldn’t ask Kathryn personally as we haven’t spoken for many years and probably never will again, but if I was going to write about this part of my life, I wanted to be sure to do it right.

Fortunately, my parents understood and with their help filling in forgotten facts, the (as yet unfinished) trilogy of posts dealing with my sister was finally written.

My Sister and Me (1): Childhood
My Sister and Me (2): Anorexia Nervosa

My Family

As for other members of my family, aside from the occasional reference, I have barely written about them in detail. Certainly I have mentioned that some members of my family also suffer from mental health issues but I am cautious not to be too precise or revealing. Not only do I not want to offend people, but it would be unfair for me to discuss their lives on this blog, healthwise or otherwise.

The only other occasion I can recall writing about a member of my family was during the Unsent Letter’s series back in August. Although it was clear that the letter was being written to my nephew, there were no names or personal information given so his identity should only have been recognizable to my family.

Unsent Letter: In the end, what we regret most are the chances we never took

But as always when writing about other people, the nervousness was omnipresent throughout the writing, editing and publishing process, never more so than when I’m writing about my (old) friends.

Samantha

Long-time readers of my blog will be asking one question…why did Sammi not begin to be mentioned until earlier this year?

The answer is two-fold:

1) She was mentioned in past posts, albeit in an indirect manner, as far back as 2007. (She even had a couple of her own posts published on my one-time sister blog Eliminate the Stigma of Mental Illness and wrote many comments across all the blogs I’ve had over the years)

2) Because of the nature of our friendship (which was more complicated than most) she requested that she not be written about until she was comfortable with me sharing our friendship with the wider world.

Due to her untimely passing, Sammi was never able to give me that permission directly. So the decision to write about her (and our complicated friendship) was not taken lightly. I had long wanted to tell the tale of our friendship and ultimately decided that the time was finally right to do so.

As long as I followed rule (4) to the letter!

One Night in Adelaide (Mature Content)
I will never forget her
What would you change about yourself?

My Friends

Time, my own failings, mental health and the fact I’m a worthless arsehole rendered me isolated many years ago. But even though I no longer have the friends I once did doesn’t mean that I ever stopped caring about the people who once meant the world to me, and in a way still do.

The primary reason I nearly vomited when reading back Fourteen Beautiful Souls was due to the sheer amount of personal information I shared in that post. Not just about who these people were but my own feelings toward them. It was disrespectful, unfair, a massive breakage of trust and something I will deeply regret until the day I die.

It’s true that from time to time these people are mentioned on the blog, some more than most, but I do so only because I need to. Not to hurt them, embarrass them or humiliate them, but because for a long period of time these people were the reason I would get out of bed in the morning.

These people made me into who I was, who I am and who I will be in the future, so in writing about my life’s journey it is important I share how they touched my life.

I would love to write more posts about these people. Posts that celebrate their awesomeness in the manner I have written about Sammi. Tales of backpacking adventures, drunken escapades, heartfelt conversations and moments of pure bliss, pain and regret – but I can’t as I don’t want these people to be (any more than they already are) associated with this weird, confused loner who is but a shadow of the person they once knew.

Unlike Samantha, who will never read what I write about her, there is a chance (albeit minimal) that these other people will.

And I just don’t want to cause them any further pain and embarrassment.

The future…

Talking about mental illness is one of the most personal things you can do. As I said recently, it is not something that should be considered brave and courageous (merely normal), but it is something that should be an individual’s choice.

Stigma and discrimination is just as alive as it’s always been when it comes to mental health, so in addition to not wanting to upset anyone, this factor has always been high in my mind when writing about other people on this blog.

Not just in terms of their own health, but in terms of being associated with my own.

So whenever I write about my friends, my family and other people who have touched my life on this blog, I will continue abiding by the five rules I laid out all those years ago. Rules that I have occasionally broken, but never once out of malice or with intent to cause harm.

...and friends

…and friends

If anyone does remember the Fourteen Beautiful Souls post (hopefully not) and were hurt by its content, I humbly and sincerely apologise.

I am not saying I don’t remember writing it to give myself a convenient excuse or avoid taking responsibility, but because I genuinely have no memory of writing it. It was a mistake, and like all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, one I’ve been (and will continue to be) living with for the remainder of my life.

 


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October; a month during which several things happened

The place, Melbourne.

The year, 2007.

October; a month during which several things happened.

A revelation that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given it’s quite normal for several things to happen in every month; something would be seriously amiss if they didn’t.

But in this particular month, several things happened in my life.

For starters, my sister turned twenty-seven. On the same day, I tried to hang myself after walking 50 kilometres into the middle of nowhere. These events, I should point out, were unrelated. I ogled the finest police posterior I’d ever seen, cooked the greatest jacket potato in the history of the world and decided to write a blog.

This would be one of those life changing moments people often talk about.

Following the decision there was much umming and ahhing about what to call it and, whilst walking through Carlton Gardens, I settled on the name Geoff. Shortly after I decided that this was a poor name for a blog about mental illness, so opted forAll That I Am, All That I Ever Was instead.

I put fingers to keyboard to write a post called My War against Mental Illness. An introductory post that discussed in far too intimate detail the secret life I’d lived. A life chock full of self-harm, depression, suicide and social anxiety; a life that my parents no doubt suspected, but knew little of fact.

After spending days perfecting this post and making Geoff – sorry All That I Am, All That I Ever Was – look as pretty as I could I launched the blog, took mobile to hand and set off into the damp night to make a rather tough call.

After finding a cracked green milk crate I sat in the drizzle and smoked a cigarette, my mind awash with how best to form the sentences I needed to speak.

I’d spent days writing personal accounts of how and when I’d thought of ending my own life; hours perfecting paragraphs detailing moments of self-harm, self-doubt and self-loathing and yet as I ploughed through cigarette after cigarette I couldn’t come up with a single syllable of how to tell my parents that everything they thought they knew of me was wrong. Even their work in the mental health industry wasn’t enough to calm my nerves over their possible reaction.

With damp fingers I rolled another cigarette and dialled the number. For several long minutes I talked with my father about John Howard, the political dilemmas being faced by Uzbekistan and Jaffa cakes. We debated the age-old ‘who would win in a fight, polar bears or raccoons?’ before arguing over whether the Pussycat Dolls could take P!nk in a no-rules jelly wrestle.

It was whilst I was politely informing him P!nk would kick their gelatine covered asses that I knew I was merely stalling.

So I took a deep breath of nicotine and went for it.

“Dad, I’ve started a blog,”

In the three days it had taken me to decide on these five simple words I’d imagined every possible response he could give. Everything from the simple what about? to have you thought about how best to monetize it? to will there be pictures of wildebeest? But, as always, he was able to surprise me.

“A what now?”

“A blog, dad?”

“A bog?”

Yes, dad. I’ve created a quagmire of dead plant material in central Melbourne. The council really don’t mind, they said they actually preferred it to Fed Square. I took another lung full of smoke and tried again. “A BLog, dad,”

“A what now?”

Six cigarettes and a lesson on what a blog is later, I was finally able to tell him what it was about. As I explained (and smoked, oh lord did I smoke!) he listened.

He listened to me tell him there were things I’d written about that he, and mum, didn’t know; things that probably wouldn’t make them very happy. Things that might upset them or make them angry I hadn’t said anything.

And if he was thinking of any of these things he never said it.

What he did say, as a comment on My War against Mental Illness was:

“Brilliantly written, one of the most honest and frank pieces I have ever read in my 14 years in supporting people with mental ill-health. You are right, this is a war that most people don’t know anything about it’s happening day in day out the whole world over and few people take any notice, unless they find themselves caught up in it as a sufferer or a carer. Let’s hope that with the ever-increasing numbers of people suffering from stress related mental problems that things improve for everyone.”

All those days and weeks and years of bottling up my feelings had been for nothing. If I’d said something earlier, maybe my life now may be different, but I was scared.

I didn’t want to admit the problems I knew I had, I wanted people to respect and accept me – not judge and abuse me; something I was paranoid they would do if they knew of the things I’d done and felt.

That’s the problem with mental illness. The world teaches us to hide it, to never admit the things we feel in fear of being ostracised, isolated, judged or abandoned.

Although not as omnipresent as it was five years ago, the stigma against those who suffer from mental ill-health still casts a shadow.

Hopefully, if people keep speaking up, in five years time it will have vanished completely.

~ This post originally appeared on my sister blog, The Voice of Our Song on 16 May 2012 ~

In two days time I celebrate the fifth anniversary of All that I am, all that I ever was.

Although I haven’t been blogging continuously throughout this period (due to homelessness, psychosis and wildly unstable mental health) I feel it is important for me to celebrate this occasion. Some may consider it arrogant, some a little self-serving, but given the distinct lack of happiness from my life over the last five years, I don’t care. Where others get to celebrate birthdays, engagements, weddings and numerous other special occasions when they have friends and ‘a life’; I get to celebrate one of the few things that has kept me alive over the last half a decade.

This blog is my child, my friend, my companion, my counselor, my lover and my home. How can I not celebrate it’s birthday?

For those who have been following my blog the last fortnight has seen a stark depression take over its content. I do apologise for this, even though I know I shouldn’t. This downturn of mood is part and parcel of having to deal with the daily pain and complication of unsupported mental illness. However frustrating it’s been – it could be a whole lot worse!

Throughout the last several days I have been planning (and writing) a special series of posts to mark the fifth anniversary of this blog. Debuting on Sunday, they will reflect on the last five years of my life from the point of view of the primary themes that I write about; including the stigma of mental health, homelessness, social isolation and recovery.

I will also be launching a brand spanking new blog challenge – one that I am deeply passionate yet extremely frightened of – as well as instigating a few minor changes that I hope will improve the quality (and your enjoyment) of my little corner of the world-wide web.

After the heartache of the fifth anniversary I suffered through last week; it’s nice to have this brighter anniversary to look forward to :)

NOTE
Over the next two days, in anticipation of Sunday, I will be importing the missing posts from my old blogging days so as to fully archive all (existing) writing into this version of the blog.

When I began this a few weeks ago, inserting these backdated pages saw a flurry of emails being sent to my wonderful subscribers. As I haven’t been able to figure a way to stop this from happening, I apologise in advance if I spam your readers/inboxes over the next 48 hours :)

 


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My Sister and Me: Anorexia Nervosa

Last year, a psychiatrist informed me that when I was twelve years old I should have understood the complexities of my sister’s mental illness, and thus it was my fault I allowed it to affect me the way it did.

I should have known that when she was screaming at me to fuck off and die it was her mental illness.

I should have known that when she refused to be in the same room as me it was her mental illness.

I should have known that when she was throwing a rock at my head it was her mental illness.

You know, when I was twelve.

Even though no-one really explained to me what was happening other than ‘Kathryn was unwell’.

Even though in the early 1990s discussion of mental illness just didn’t happen.

Even though I’d never even heard the term anorexia nervosa let alone know of how it affects someone.

But hey, I should totally have understood what was happening!

You know, when I was twelve.

So, for everyone under the age of twelve years old, here is a brief explainer of anorexia nervosa. Everyone else can just skip ahead, because according to a psychiatrist you should already know all there is to know about anorexia nervosa and how it affects someone.

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by severe starvation and dramatic weight loss. People suffering from anorexia nervosa develop an intense fear of gaining weight and often experience high body image distortion, mistakenly believing that they are overweight no matter how underweight they actually are.

Physical warning signs of anorexia include: noticeable thinness and continued loss of weight, obsessive exercise, losing or thinning of hair and cessation of periods. Whilst behavioral and psychological warning signs include: wearing big or baggy clothes, making excuses to avoid meal times, obsessive measuring of body parts and weight checking.

~ For more comprehensive information on anorexia and eating disorders please see The Butterfly Foundation ~

Part 2: Anorexia Nervosa, cause and effect

“There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.”
~ Laurie Halse Anderson ~

Kathryn received an official multiple diagnosis of anorexia nervosa and obsessive compulsive disorder at the age of twelve. This diagnosis was made by psychiatrists at Great Ormond Street Hospital after my sister had been admitted to a local psychiatric children’s unit. At the time it was rare for someone so young to be diagnosed with this illness, especially as it had begun to manifest at the age of nine.

At the worst of her illness my sister’s weight was 4 stone. For those not familiar with this measurement, four stone is around 25kg (or 56 pounds). This was also her target weight, with a number of her OCD rituals having to occur in groups of four (twisting the door handle four times, opening and closing the door four times etc.) which she felt would assist in her reaching this goal weight.

My memories of this early period of my sister’s illness are few and far between, and what memories remain are on the negative end of the spectrum. I have often mentioned how I believe this period to have had an impact on the development of my own illnesses (especially the anxiety and self-harm) but like the psychiatrist said, this is impossible.

As my sister’s anorexia developed it became impossible for me to be in the same vicinity as her. If I entered a room that she was in she’d become uncomfortable and resort to screaming at me to leave. Similarly, if she entered a room I was in the reaction was much the same. She wouldn’t talk to me, she couldn’t cope with me talking to her and physical contact was an absolute no-go under any circumstance, including surface contact (e.g. if I had just opened a door she wouldn’t be able to open it until someone else had.)

The reason behind all of this was because I was overweight and she had decided my fat was contagious. Or rather her illness had decided.

When it came to going to Great Ormond Street Hospital I had to spend the night at my Aunt and Uncles who then drove me to London separately from sister as it would have been impossible for us to be in the same car.

On another occasion, when my parents took me to visit my sister at the psychiatric unit, Kathryn threw a stone at me as she was unaware they were bringing me along and wanted me to fuck off.

Whilst the verbal abuse still rings in my ears, especially the occasion she told me she wished I would just fuck off and die.

And writing all this back I find it completely reasonable that a twelve-year-old boy with no knowledge of mental health issues should have understood what was going on. I am of course being sarcastic. For even though specific memories of those years have been blocked, I can still remember the utter isolation, confusion and pain I felt as a result of how my sister was treating me.

She was my sister. I loved her. I was worried about her. I wanted her to be well. I wanted to help her.

I didn’t understand what was happening and why she was treating me like this. How could I have known?

After her diagnosis Kathryn remained at the local children’s unit with the psychiatrists from Great Ormond Street working hand-in-hand with the unit’s team in order to help my sister recover – or so we thought.

Even though my family and I didn’t know it at the time, the psychiatrists at the unit (you won’t have heard of it) had refused to work with Great Ormond Street (an internationally renowned children’s hospital) as they thought they knew the best way to treat her – even though they’d never treated someone with anorexia as young as my sister. They also refused to allow family therapy meetings as they thought this would bring no benefit whatsoever. What they did do to help my sister, I don’t know, all I can remember is that a few years after being admitted she was discharged and went to live with my Aunt and Uncle as she couldn’t cope being in the family home.

By this point in time I hadn’t seen my sister for nearly three years. I was coming on sixteen, struggling with being bullied at school, whether or not I should disclose I was self-harming, endlessly worrying about my sister, confused over what was happening to her and trying to study for my GCSEs whilst being so anxious I couldn’t talk to anyone or think straight. I had no friends to speak of and certainly no-one who knew of my sister’s condition – for want of a more original stereotype, releasing this information would have been like throwing kerosene on a bonfire!

One Sunday (I believe it was a Sunday) whilst I was studying for exams my parents received a phone call; my sister had taken an overdose of tablets and been rushed to hospital. For weeks I could think of nothing but this. School work was out. Studying was out.

My sister had tried to kill herself…but according to the psychiatrist I should have understood why she’d done this, and again, it was my fault at the tender age of fifteen that I’d allowed it to effect my thinking as much as I did.

It baffles me that, nearly twenty years later, I still cannot remember this period other than the pain and confusion I was feeling for my sister, yet according to a trained mental health professional, I had no reason to feel such pain and confusion in the first place so it has no consequence on anything that happened to me.

I remember my sister’s screaming sessions, sometimes going for hours. I remember her banging her head against the door at such force it shook the house. I remember her getting thinner and thinner until it looked like she would just disappear in front of me. I remember her turning on the charm and perfection whenever doctors or psychiatrists questioned her to make them think nothing was wrong, before flicking the switch back to chaos the moment they left. I don’t want to remember my sister’s pain, nor the pain it caused me, as it physically hurts to do so. In all honesty I’ve never really processed this period, and now I know it’s my fault, I don’t think I ever will.

Four years after I’d last seen her, my sister returned to live in the family home. She was a lot more stable than she’d been the last time she was living with us but it was obvious things would never be the same again. Although she could be in the same vicinity as me, even hold down conversations with me, it was difficult for me to get past all that had happened, although as always, I tried.

By now I was more aware of what was happening. I had read up on mental illness (focusing on anorexia, OCD, self-harm and depression) courtesy of the local library and my parents had established a charity called ‘MH Carers’ with assistance from National Lottery grants. Although I didn’t completely understand mental health, I was far more knowledgeable of it than I had been in my pre-pubescent youth; not only in terms of what was happening to me, but also in what was happening to Kathryn, and more importantly, how I could help.

For a year or so my sister and I would spend a lot of time with my brother and his girlfriend. The four of us would go on weekend breaks to visit relatives, take day-trips to Chessington World of Adventures (where my sister and I would reminisce over the robin incident) and just talk about things.

It was around this time that I began reading my sister’s writing, and vice-versa, reminding me of those long-ago homework sessions of our childhood. She would correct my grammar; I would give her plot advice. We’d talk novels, television shows and for a little while we almost became proper siblings again.

At the age of sixteen Kathryn moved out of the family home and took a flat in a nearby town. After work, I would often visit her, discussing everything from how my day had been to the latest Shakespeare play she’d been enjoying. I particularly remember a fiery debate about Hamlet; which we would go on to watch at the cinema together when Branagh’s version was released.

Following my decision to go backpacking Kathryn and I kept in regular contact; emails, letters and postcards were exchanged whilst lengthy phone calls were made from such random locations as the top of the Wallace monument, an isolated phone box on Mull and an even more isolated phone box in Glenfinnan.

By the time I traveled to Canada our phone calls would last upwards of two hours covering everything and anything we could think of; Eddie Izzard, the philosophy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, how cute Oz was, what to do in the event of a bear attack and my questionable sanity were all fair game.

She seemed to have stabilised herself and was working toward a better future – educating herself with multiple courses from the Open University, having stories and articles published in various publications – whilst I was making headway in rectifying my own issues. In fact, for a while there, I thought the worst was behind us.

Then, in 2001, contact stopped; no phone calls, no emails, no letters, no nothing.

For six years I heard nothing from her other than snippets from my parents.

Then, in 2007, she attempted suicide…again.

Other entries in this series…
Part 1:
Childhood, the most beautiful of all life’s seasons
Part 3: COMING ON FRIDAY 21 SEPTEMBER 2012

 


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My Sister and Me – Childhood; the most beautiful of all life’s seasons

“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more,”
~ Jane Austen ~

Kathryn is a writer. She is a philosopher, an academic and witticist. She is a woman with a voracious appetite for literature, who dines on Shakespeare and Pynchon with a side salad of Homer before washing it down with a refreshing glass of Bronte.

Kathryn is an actress. She is an artist, an activist and a raconteur. She is a woman with an eidetic memory; who can recall grammatical mistakes from fifteen years past, quote passages from Dante and recite King Lear in perfect rhythm.

If you asked her who said: “A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others”, or what book began with: “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day”, she could tell you before your heart had the chance to beat.

If you asked her who said: “Everyone’s getting spanked but me,” she would tell you with a smirk on her face, a grin that would only get wider if you asked her what started with the line: “There’s moments in your life that make you, that set the course of who you’re gonna be.”

Kathryn is one of the most incredible women I’ve ever known.

She is homeless.

She is mentally ill.

She is a stranger.

And I’ve wanted to write about her since first beginning this blog in October 2007, but the words would never come. If I didn’t love Kathryn as much as I do perhaps it would be easier to write about her; of her achievements, of her life, of everything that makes her who she is. But I do love her, more than words can describe, for big brothers always love their little sisters, no matter what.

These are some of the hardest words I’ve ever had to write; this is the story of my sister and me.

1. The most beautiful of all life’s seasons

“Did you know that childhood is the only time in our lives when insanity is not only permitted to us, but expected?”
Louis de Bernières ~

When I was but an innocent child I saw it my duty as a big brother to educate my sister in the ways of the world. Whilst having a bath one cool summer’s evening I pointed at my sister and informed her that she shouldn’t worry, when she got older she would grow a penis too. Given I was four and oblivious to the field of anatomical studies I didn’t use the word penis, just the word ‘it’, and she nodded at me with a slight smile that seemed to say ‘you’re a blithering idiot’ before throwing a rubber duck at my head.

As first memories of your sister go this has it all; embarrassment, sibling love, humiliation, rubber ducks and a rather random anecdote that will bring head shakes to those who hear it. At the time we were just carefree, innocent children, unaware of the demons that existed in the world. We spent our days sitting around watching Saturday morning cartoons, playing in the park, throwing mud at each other and generally making our parent’s life as miserable as possible. We were kids; it was our job to be as mischievous and naughty as we could.

If we wanted to dig up the garden looking for buried treasure, we would, and if I wanted to cover my sister in worms to make her squeal while we searched, then I did. Just as she would throw mashed potato at me for no reason other than she felt like it. We were siblings, teasing goes with the territory.

But no matter how much I teased her, I was always there to protect her. Whether that was accompanying her to school because she was afraid of Moss Monsters or receiving lines in detention for hitting someone who dared insult her. She was my little sister; I would have done anything for her.

We were vacationing together, my sister and I. For the life of me I don’t remember why my parents and elder-brother weren’t with us, but for a week we hung out with our Nan and cousin. On one occasion we visited Chessington Zoo (in the days before it became the World of Adventures) where upon arrival our Nan became ecstatic about seeing a robin in a tree. With all the elephants, bears, penguins, giraffes and hippopotami that resided beyond the entrance our cousin cracked us up by saying “We haven’t come all this way to see a robin.”

Whilst later that same week my sister chose a book she wanted as our bedtime story. A rather cliché story of children enjoying a day on the beach became a confusing, David Lynch-esque nightmare when our Nan failed to grasp the concept of the ‘Choose your own adventure’ format. Instead of allowing us to choose the fate of these two children, our Nan simply read the book cover to cover and upon finishing declared to us that it was the worst book she’d ever read as it was complete nonsense.

This is how my sister and I were when we were children; normal. One minute concocting grand schemes of world domination involving buckets of tadpoles and our pet cat; the next having our said plans foiled by mum’s slipper. One day we were re-enacting heartfelt scenes of sibling love we’d seen in Neighbours; the next we were creating scenes of such domestic hostility they wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in that Antipodean soap opera. Kathryn would give me advice on how best to play my role as the Ugly sister; I would help her with her times-tables; she reciprocated with my grammar (something she always had a better grasp on) so I would offer assistance with her history (something she always had a better grasp on as well!)

In those halcyon days we were just Addy and Kathryn; brother and sister. But all that changed around the time of my sister’s ninth birthday, when she was cast in a school play and had to wear a leotard as part of her costume. Three years later, at the age of twelve, Kathryn was admitted into a psychiatric hospital after being diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and obsessive compulsive disorder.

She was still my little sister, the girl I’d played with, laughed with and planned world domination with.

But I was no longer her brother, I was contagious.

To be continued…
Wednesday 19 September:
  My Sister and Me (Part 2)
Friday 21 September: My Sister and Me (Part 3)