Saturday, 18 October 2014

Mental illness

I had a dream last night. In the dream I was living in a beautiful house. The house was surrounded by a wonderful garden and there were amazing views of the sea and a stunning coastline.My initial feelings in the dream were that I could not believe I had been given this incredible place to live; I walked from room to room admiring everything and I couldn't wait to explore the garden and walk along some of the paths by the coast.
Then, looking out of one of the windows up a country lane, I saw a black spectre making its way toward the house. Spectres usually glide but this one was walking purposefully like it was on a practical mission and had tucked up its dementor-like robes so that you could see it had legs. This sight was so incongruous that, at first, I laughed out loud, but then I felt a sense of dread because I realised it was coming to my beautiful house and coming to get me. Very soon the dream turned into a nightmare as I tried to evade the spectre. I would look up to find  it beside me as I read or washed up dishes. It would reach out and touch my arm or my side and, wherever it touched, my flesh would go cold and numb and turn purplish blue. I tried to block the spectre by locking doors or building barriers but no physical barrier could keep it out.
The next part of the dream, I was looking in the mirror in the morning, and all the places the spectre had touched had  become discoloured and were beginning to putrefy. I then decided that, in my next attempt to evade it, I would go out to the garden which had a rose garden through a pretty arch. The rose garden contained some truly beautiful specimens in crimson, flame, yellow and pure whites and it was heady with scent and summer sun. I felt that I would be safe there. To my horror, the spectre followed and laid its arm around my shoulder in a comradely manner while I was trying to admire the roses. In desperation I noticed some steep steps down to a harbour and sea wall, the sea looked deep and surprisingly choppy given the summer weather but I wondered if I could escape the spectre by plunging into the sea or whether, there too, it would overwhelm and drown me.
This was the point when I woke from the dream and I knew at once that it was about a  case that happened at work last week. I can't say more than that as the details are obviously confidential. The symbolism of the dream seemed to me to translate to the idea that you can be in wonderful circumstances ( the sumptuous house) with good prospects ( the view) but that mental illness can still come out of the blue and lay its chilling fingers upon you. I want to say that I am not at all concerned about my own mental health, if anything, after a childhood marked by some difficulties and some emotional and mental illness in my early adult life, I have experienced what I would describe as post traumatic growth. The dream, I think, was a salutatory reminder that mental health issues can affect anyone, and that I should not be complacent or dismissive when others cannot seem to find a way to escape them because that may be their personal experience. The rise in mental health problems in adolescents is something that I am aware of through my work, and it troubles me deeply and often frustrates me. I think the dream may have been an exercise in empathy.


  1. Post-traumatic growth is a much better means of over coming the darkness of life than dwelling on the negatives. I felt a pang of envy when I saw the picture of your son at JC as I did when my friend’s son went up to Queen’s a year earlier. Although not always the case, it is a pretty sure bet that children who get to Oxbridge tend to have had considerable investment made in them by their parents. My school career for my parents was basically free child care – they themselves did little to invest in my formation and education. It is tempting to excuse them and say they didn’t know any better, yet, my parents were my age now (50) when I was at secondary school and (my father in particular) very good at investing time and effort into the welfare of other people’s children (even today, my father is held in great affection by a generation of children whom he taught martial arts – taking them the length and breadth of the country at weekend for competitions and exhibitions, whilst to me (and my mother) he was a shadowy figure, who only put in guest appearances in our lives).
    Yet despite my anger and hurt concerning this emphasis on ‘Angel in the Street: Devil in the Home’ parenting I have got on with my life. Oddly enough, now I see a good deal of ‘me’ in my great-niece, who is in her second year at Uni (only she and I in the entire family have been to university). She was on the child protection register, physically assaulted by her father (an alcoholic) and should, according to the stats and trends, have been on a road to following in the same steps as her parents. This has not been the case, she is, like me, an example of post-traumatic growth. She has built on past hurts and moved on.
    I have worked with a good number of people with mental health problems and those who have been dealt a cruel hand by life. I am often saddened by the low self-esteem of many. Their lives become a sacrament of their view of themselves. How we perceive ourselves is the key to how we move on in life. With young people I always try and show that they are valued. Spectres are best exorcised by belief in the self.

  2. I think what you say is true, however, I am not sure I could have achieved post traumatic growth without sympathy and TLC from others, in particular my husband. I was undoubtedly really affected by sexual abuse which ran from the age of four (my first memories of it) until thirteen and it is shown that that generally has serious detrimental affects on self worth, ability to trust etc. There are different ways to cope, one is anger and a "this will not define me" stubbornness which is great, another is an ability to let go and put things in perspective- that always sounds terrible because you could argue how can you put something like abuse in perspective? A faith helps enormously with that, I think. I don't find it so difficult if someone has had terrible experiences as there is at least something for them to work at and confront, what frustrates me is those who see no point in life and yet they, apparently, have everything they could need from loving parents to good prospects. I suppose you never really know what has happened to them, but in the worst cases, people will block any attempt to help but I honestly don't think it is generally contrariness; sometimes they are just too ill to reach.