I once had a precious uncle. He lived with my grandma until she passed away. He played an old acoustic guitar, wore coke-bottle glasses and sung us silly songs when we were kids. He had a dark room full of literature and one cent coins.
He occasionally called me at work or late at night and we’d talk about the lack of a God or Karl Marx. Most of it went over my head. He was smart and funny and warm. He also had schizophrenia.
He died in Perth almost two years ago now. I sometimes forget this. I miss his smile. I even miss the stories about impending wars in Western Australia and an untrustworthy psychiatrist with one testicle and a penchant for communism.
He used to tell family members what they were in a parallel life. My mother was a nuclear scientist. My brother-in-law a revolutionary. I was a lawyer. One of my sisters was an actress. We found that so unbelievably funny “why am I the bloody actress and mum gets to be the scientist?!”.
We knew when he was due for his meds. A hint of aggression would start creeping into conversations. There were occasional heated arguments. He had chauvinistic leanings but he was a product of his time and more progressive than many of his generation.
At 61 he’d run the gamut of psychiatric care in this country, from over medication in Royal Park to a lack of continuity of care in Perth. Trust was gained then taken away. He went missing for almost three weeks. I’m not sure how much authority cared.
There have been times when I’ve been so angry over the state of mental health care in Australia. There have been times I’ve been thankful we don’t live in other places where they hide people away in cells.
I don’t know if my uncle was aware he had schizophrenia but he was the one who taught me it meant a broken mind. From the Greek skhizein ‘to split’ + phrēn ‘mind’. I think about the broken minds sometimes. I wonder if they’re okay. If they have homes to go to, family who care or have given up hope.
I don’t like the way media can sometimes stigmatize people with schizophrenia as crazy and dangerous. It’s not always true. Sometimes they are a precious part of our childhood too.
Did you know you can report media items that stigmatize mental health to StigmaWatch?