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About the Author
Natasha David was just 31 when her husband died after struggling for many years with mental health problems. The ensuing trauma plunged her into debilitating depression and anxiety. She investigated many routes in her search for recovery, ultimately becoming a certified kinesiologist. Having practiced this and meditation, she's been able to write the difficult story of her road to recovery. Natasha believes love and compassion can overcome any trauma.
Read an Excerpt
The Highs and Lows of Loving Someone with a Mental Illness
By Natasha David
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Natasha David
All rights reserved.
I picked up the ringing phone at my office with a distant view of the city haze on the far horizon. It had been a busy day, typical of the hustle and bustle that went along with putting together a monthly magazine.
The voice on the other side of the line was instantly recognisable, although distant and halting.
"I'm calling to say goodbye."
The words sent a chill through my spine.
"What do you mean – 'goodbye'?"
Silence on the other end of the phone, but I could hear quiet sobbing. I knew this man, or boy as he still was in many ways, fresh out of his teens. I had discovered his age not long after we had met. I was twenty-three. He was nineteen. "NO WAY!" I said, in utter disbelief. He seemed much older than that, both in looks and demeanour. I made him take out his licence to prove it, and he obeyed, laughing, his eyes dancing in the charming way he had when he was having mischievous fun at my expense. I gave him back the licence saying "Great. I'm a cradle snatcher." Laughing, but shaking my head at the thought I was actually dating a teenager.
"I'm on the rooftop of the Madison Hotel."
My heartbeat rising rapidly now, panic setting in, "What are you doing there?"
"I'm going to jump."
By now, I was grabbing my things, stuffing them into my bag in utter panic, wanting to keep him on the phone, talking to him, making sure he was not going to do this terrible, stupid thing, seemingly out of the blue.
I can't recall the rest of that conversation verbatim, but he had been calling his family and giving them the same message, I could hear the frantic beeps on his end of the line, of them trying to get through to him as well, so I instructed him to do absolutely nothing until I got there, hoping that would be enough, and hung up.
Back then, I didn't own a mobile phone, something that would be unthinkable in today's age. The thirteen-minute train ride to the city was the longest I have ever had to endure, terrified out of my wits as to what I might find, or not find, on the top of that hotel when I got there.
* * *
So, who was this man? And how did we get to this point?
It all began six months earlier at a party of a mutual friend. It was September 1996, the year following my graduation from university. I had been drifting a bit that year, not really knowing what I wanted to do with my degree, wanting to travel but not having the money to do it. Wanting to study overseas in France, but not getting the marks in my French language course to pass the strict entry requirements to their universities, and biding my time seeing "what came next". I had recently landed the job at a major Business-to-Business magazine company.
I hadn't been dating, I was despairing that I'd ever really meet anybody that understood me and my particular quirks, and resigned to the fact that the guys I liked didn't seem to like me, or vice versa!
The party was on a Sunday evening, as the crowd all worked in hospitality, making Monday the start of their weekend. I was almost ready to take my leave, in preparation for an early start to my working week, when he walked through the door.
"JOHN!" everyone cried out on spotting his happy, beaming face, and everyone lined up to be bear-hugged by this magnetic person.
I lined up behind everyone else.
Flinging out my arms for a hug, I echoed the cry "John!" with a smile, and he reciprocated with a "HELLLOOOO!" I received a massive bear hug, followed by: "Who the hell are you?"
In that instant, I ditched any idea of going home at a reasonable hour, and stayed out with John until 5 a.m. at the seedy suburb of Kings Cross, going from pub to club, talking non-stop and laughing in the same measures. I recall my exact thoughts that night, I don't care how this man will fit into my life, but I want him in it.
It seemed he felt the same, and we had the perfect opportunity to exchange numbers when he explained he was looking for a place to stay. It just so happened there was a place at the boarding house where I lived, a fact I eagerly disclosed. He called the next day. "Do you know who this is?"
He needn't have asked.
Moving in a week later, we spent about a month hanging out at "Melrose Place" as my friends and I that lived there dubbed our inner-city block of boarding rooms with its outdoor shared laundry and metal fire escape which served as both a place to meet and gossip, as well as a place to sit silently and admire the city lights. The building was populated by our youthful shenanigans and our habit of dropping around each other's tiny flats at all hours of the day or night.
He was handsome, light-hearted and fun to be around; the embodiment of a youthful Adonis. He would often appear in the hallway of our shared floor at the boarding house on his way to the shared bathroom wearing merely a towel around his waist, leaving me and my friend swooning in his wake. We grew to enjoy each other's company so much that it almost killed me not to know whether he felt the same way.
I remember the exact moment it happened. We went out to see a movie at the Dendy, Martin Place. The film was Beautiful Thing, and to this day it holds a special memory for me, such a sweet film about falling in love with unexpected people and under unusual circumstances. I guess that set the scene to fall in love.
We walked back to the bus stop on George Street, and as we did he reached for my hand, and entwined my fingers in his. As we waited for the bus in comfortable silence, he enveloped me in an embrace, very different from one of his bear hugs, and I recall the scent of his skin underneath his hooded jacket. He was like that. Sweet and endlessly affectionate.
After that day, we were virtually inseparable. Friends loved being in our company, because of the fun-loving nature of the relationship, our sociability and our endless rounds of joking around, easy-going natures and obvious ease in each other's company. We were the golden couple.
My best friend interviewed me as part of her Film and Television graduation project, which interviewed a variety of women of different ages about love. I willingly participated, answering quite honestly, "Love is about giving yourself to the other person, completely, wanting what is best for them, wanting only that they are happy. It's about sacrificing everything for their happiness."
And I honestly believed it.
I had not experienced romantic love before, and now that I had found it, I wasn't letting it go. I knew he was young. I knew he was estranged from his family for reasons he didn't seem to want to divulge at that stage, and I knew that he lived a party lifestyle, going to endless clubs, attending notorious dance parties on the Sydney clubbing scene of the late 90s. I knew he was taking recreational drugs, and living a generally unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyle. I knew his career prospects or even ambitions were not lofty at that stage. For others looking on at the relationship, with me as a well-educated, well-travelled and ambitious hard-working career woman, it might have seemed like an odd pairing.
What did I care what other people, even family and friends, thought about us? I didn't. Stubborn, I was.
* * *
Since the day I was born I exhibited an independent streak. Determined to do it "by myself", in every situation.
Family legend has a few stories that illustrate my fierce independence and unwillingness to ask for any help. At age four, I took it upon myself to walk a little friend home, across the busy street with trucks and lorries that hurtled past. "Don't worry," I told my mother when I was collected from my friend's house following what I can only assume was a frantic call from my mother to hers, "the cars stopped for us."
I was told I was not allowed to cross the road by myself until I was six. I had to be given specific goals, or I'd ignore their claims that "you can't do that" altogether. This trait has followed me well into adulthood, and exists to this day.
Another time, I instructed my mother not to accompany me on the bus only days after starting kindergarten, stating, "I can do it myself," only to get off the bus one stop early, becoming extremely disoriented and getting lost. I can still feel the sting of disappointment with myself when the lovely lady whose door I knocked on called my mother to come and walk me home. Absolutely ashamed of letting myself down, and in front of others as well. To me, being vulnerable or admitting I can't do something is like a little death of a part of myself.
Not only independent, but I 'knew it all'. Add to that a liberal dose of being a 'Susie McFixit', always lending a hand to others with their problems, probably in a subconscious attempt to avoid looking at my own. And stubborn? There was a reason my parents often called me 'Mary Mary, quite contrary' after the little girl of the nursery rhyme whose garden grew with silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row.
At the time I met John, I had been living out of the family home for four years, supporting myself by working two jobs in the family business and a local Italian restaurant, paying my way through university and graduating free and clear from debt, all too ready and willing to start a responsible life of career-building and setting down roots in Sydney, rather than following my underlying travel itch, something that still goes fairly unscratched, even to this day. Looking at it objectively, one might say I was ripe for the picking to get deeply involved in a co-dependent relationship with someone who was very loving, yet incapable of a true partnership without substantial propping up on many levels.
However, when I look at my next few relationships following John, I see so many of the same patterns emerging that it would be unjust for me to lay the fault of our relationship becoming what it was at the feet of his illness without accepting my part as well.
Looking back on those early months, I had absolutely no idea of the tsunami about to hit me. The first time John said "I love you" was at the graduation of my best friend, the one with the film about Love, which was held ironically enough at the former mental hospital at Balmain. It came out as an outburst, followed by him running around on the lawns outside the grand buildings, arms outstretched like a plane, yelling "I love you, I love you, I love you" while I laughed.
Research has shown that the initial stages of falling in love show the same pattern of brain activity as mental impairment. In other words, our judgement is impaired, and temporary insanity sets in. So, our temporary insanity set in on the site of a former insane asylum.
Our courtship was full of incredibly sweet tales, in the beginning. He was incredibly romantic, and made plans that belied his meagre paycheque, and made me feel like a princess. I recall being taken on the Manly ferry, told to "wait and see" what he had in store (something that I could never do, impatience was a strong point of mine!)
He had organised with a local deli to prepare the most delicious feast I had ever seen. Working in his family's deli for many years, he knew to order the most exotic, delicious tasty treats for this very Aussie girl who had been brought up on meat-and-three-veg at home. I had already been instructed in the finer points of luxury lifestyle by an extended family with tendencies towards "only the very best", and was eagerly anxious to further this experimentation in my new relationship.
We laid out our spread of fresh bread, variety of cheeses, exotic fruits, stuffed vine leaves and other antipasto delights, and fresh pastries as dessert, picnic-style underneath a shelter on Manly Beach, opposite the rolling waves, watching an electrical storm about to roll into shore. It was an evening that delighted all the senses, the smell of the ocean and storm brewing in the air, the sight of the lightning, sound of thunder, taste of our meal and an intense feeling of love, warmth and companionship within each other's conversation and company.
Those sweet early days were short-lived and much missed. Perhaps the length of time we stayed together was an attempt to recapture the earlier, happier months, before the dark cloud of illness cast its shadow across everything we did.
* * *
I jumped into the elevator of the hotel, pressed the button for the top floor and prayed that I'd be able to find the stairs leading up to the roof. I was paranoid about any staff I encountered, sure they would stop me from getting there. I don't know why I didn't ask for help, or even alert the police to the situation. Back then I believe I had an instinctive protective streak that didn't want to include anyone in our problems that extended far beyond what was reasonable.
I found the stairs, was not stopped by the staff that watched me run by them, and ran across to the hunched figure sitting in the middle of the roof.
I can't recall the contents of that conversation, I was far too distraught. I do recall his avoidance of my eyes. It was as if he'd given up on himself so completely that to acknowledge anyone's presence would have been a burden on them. He spoke about his family trying to reach him, and not wanting to respond. I could only imagine how frantic they must have been.
I was already in denial, this can't be happening, going through bargaining, please save him, I'll do anything if you help me get him off this roof alive, were the thoughts that kept me going, talking to him and trying to reach him through his pain, assuring him that, "Everything will be okay, you just need help".
He described his pain as simply not wanting to be here anymore. It was all too much, and he was sick of dealing with it. With what? People who were out to "get him" or "help him", people talking about him, and the whole world being against him.
Even now, snatches of what he had already told me about his background come back to me in snippets. Times and dates now mean nothing to me, around this time. The lost friends, the mistakes he had made, a large sum of money he had won then frittered away, vicious bullying and physical abuse suffered at the boarding school he attended for the last few years of his high-schooling years, feeling like he had made the wrong choices in life at such a young age, the pressure of conforming to expectations on him. He had already been committed once already to a hospital for treatment, and didn't want to go back to that. I assured him he didn't need to, that he could stay with me, and I would take care of him (Florence Nightingale-style). He agreed on those terms to accompany me back to the street level and we found ourselves at the Glebe Community Medical Centre where doctors and nurses spoke to us about diagnosis and treatment.
The nurse who saw John immediately said, "You poor love! No wonder you are feeling so down, your whole body is as stiff as a board!"
And it was, he was carrying so much tension and stress that every single muscle had locked up. He was prescribed a cocktail of drugs to sort out his body and mind.
We were told he was experiencing a psychotic episode that may or may not result in full-blown schizophrenia. The word struck terror into both of us. We were told that it would be at least 6 to 12 months before we would know for sure. Looking back, I now believe in that moment both of us decided that he was "not going to have it", come hell or high water. Thus began the denial.
We were told there was a community outreach program, staffed by volunteer nurses, who would visit us at home once a week to check up on his progress.
My only impression of access to mental health care and treatment at a time neither he nor I could afford private doctors or psychologists or psychiatrists was that the frontline staff were doing their best with a very stretched budget and resources, but the overall effectiveness was woefully inadequate. We only had access to emergency-room and community-based care. Neither of which were personalised with continuity of care (you took a number and were seen by the next available doctor or nurse) nor deep enough to get to the core issues of why we were facing this. At no time were we referred to specialist care, owing to the inability to pay the expensive costs of treatment.
Suicide watch became my full-time job the following year.
Excerpted from Marrying Bipolar by Natasha David. Copyright © 2015 Natasha David. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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