In which I discourse more on madness

First, thanks to everyone who commented on the last post, and for all the support generally. As a quick update, Stage 2 of Project ‘It’s not just mum being mum, she really is mad’ is now complete. The crazy old bat dear landed back in the UK on Tuesday and the wheels have started turning to get her to a psychiatrist here. Pity my sister, y’all. Not only was she in Crete (an island for which we have both developed a fairly deep-set loathing) for longer than I was, but my parents are now staying with her and Stage 3 of the project remains to be scoped. I will, of course, help wherever I can, but a not-that-small part of me is relieved that I don’t have room in my flat. Truly, my entire stock of patience and sympathy is scattered somewhere along the road to Heraklion. I must hope that duty can fill in until the gentler sentiments are renewed.

I’m still thinking about how disorienting it was to spend a few days with someone whose reality is fundamentally fractured. In fact, it’s the second time this year that I’ve been in a situation where what another person is saying is so far removed from my own conception of the current situation that my horizon has momentarily tilted towards the vertical. We are all, I think, familiar with that sensation of being off-kilter, like the feeling you get when you can’t find something: ‘But I know it was here a moment ago.’ If only for a few seconds, we are 100% convinced, beyond argument or doubt, that the thing, whatever it was, was there, wherever there is. And then we find the missing object in the kitchen instead of on the table, remember how it got there and reality reasserts itself.

What if reality didn’t come back? It is the fragility of a reasoning mind that I find so terrifying. Although, of course, the unreason that I observed was only so when judged by my plane of reality; from my mother’s alternate perspective, paranoid in an unfamiliar environment that seemed full of threats, her actions were consistent with a logic specific to her circumstances. Who is to say when one’s perception of one’s circumstances has pushed one beyond acceptable limits? One morning my mother was screaming: short, shrill screams that sounded like a peacock. I said ‘You sound just like a peacock’, and even as I watched us, I thought, ‘I know one of us is mad, am I sure it’s her?’

My sister and I are now engaged in the guessing game of ‘When did it all start?’. Even to each other we acknowledge that this is a fruitless activity, because really, no one’s behaviour stands up to scrutineers looking out for oddness when the measures are entirely subjective. Else the plots of every other Victorian novel would fall apart. But an additional fear is that, as yet, there is no clear diagnosis, so is a sudden mental collapse our own inheritance to look forward to? I watched as my mother hesitantly reached out her hand to a light switch, drew it back, reached out again, and then shuffled away to sit down, stand up, ask for tea and decline it in the same breath. Later, when I got halfway across a room for something, changed my mind and turned the other way, changed my mind again and went back, I seemed to recognise the pattern. In my case, indecisiveness was the result of stress, lack of food, lack of sleep, too much to think about. Of course. Of course?

I think I will be more precise in my use of the word ‘unreasonable’ now that I’ve seen what it really means. I will certainly be more watchful of my own insistence on points that are ultimately meaningless.


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I've run out of books. Again.

6 thoughts on “In which I discourse more on madness”

  1. Eloquent post, though I suspect it was far from easy to write. My thoughts are with your family as you try and negotiate this difficult path with your mum. x

  2. You know I feel for you. It is the strangest sensation to be with people whose perception of reality is altering in an unstable way. Hang onto your sense of sensible selfhood – and you are a very sensible, grounded person, that’s easy to see from your writing. I admire the way you’re finding ways to learn from this, if that doesn’t sound too awful – I hope you know what I mean. And fingers crossed that a satisfying solution for your mum appears in the next few days.

  3. The uncertainty about where madness ends and sanity begins is something that preoccupies me greatly. I won’t transfer all my thoughts on that scale on to you, because it won’t help, but y’know know you’re not alone in feeling the world flip over as you consider constructs of sanity. Once again, good luck to you and your family. Diagnosise will hopefully give you a way to move forward.

  4. What a beautiful and thoughtful post. These are trying times, but your mum is lucky to have a daughter who cares as much as you do.

  5. I am still so sorry that in order to ponder the sorts of questions I often ponder in a lovely remote way, you have to be dealing with this new reality in your life and all the difficult repercussions. I hope you get your mother settled soon (somewhere not in your poor sister’s place) and that you get some rest and peace. I’m urging 2011 on for you, as we can see, it’s time to get rid of 2010, which followed step with 2009, and did not provide you with the fabulous year you deserve, but rather dumped a lot of horrible crap on you. 2011 had better be ready to dump fabulousness!

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