Uncle Mal

 

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?

 

Comments

  1. Catherine RodieBlagg says

    Beautifully written Carli. I had a complicated friendship with a schizophrenic – looking back now it sounds really dodgy, I was only 16 and he was in his 30’s. He ran a pirate radio station from his flat and I helped out and even dj’d a couple of times. Sometimes he was amazing. Sometimes he would cut his arms and sit in silence for days.
    Thank you for the link – good to know x

    • says

      Oh that’s incredibly sad. From what I know it’s very difficult to get the medication right for each individual, hopefully he’s in a better place now x

  2. Norlin Mustapha says

    Well, my mum has schizophrenia. But she doesn’t think she has it. Conversations with her are ..interesting, albeit frustrating sometimes. In Singapore the stigma against those with mental problems/issues are a lot worse than in Australia. I’ve had to learn to deal with my mum’s episodes. And trust me it was a huge learning curve, especially after realising you were the one to cause her relapse for encouraging her to stop her meds. In my defence, I was clueless that the meds she was taking wasn’t sleeping pills but for her condition. No, people with schizophrenia aren’t dangerous. They are just…different…in a sense they think differently. And I hate it when people have this misconception that those who are living with it have split personalities, which is so far from the truth, no thanks to how they are portrayed in the media.

    • says

      In many ways we’re incredibly fortunate here. I was never responsible for looking after my Uncle’s medication but I know how challenging that could be for other family members so don’t ever feel bad. And thank you so much for sharing your mum Norlin x

  3. says

    I am a firm advocate of anything that can be done do decrease the stigma placed upon mental illness & disorder in our society. The misconceptions surrounding MI are still there, but tools such as stigmawatch and posts and discussion about it, like this, go so far to help educate and change this fact. A beautiful and heartfelt post, so full of truth x

  4. Magenta says

    Beautiful article Carli. We have had a couple of brushes with mental health clinics in both QLD and Vic and I have to say the system in both states is appalling. A close friend of mind took her own life recently after months of ‘revolving door’ style treatment. The mental health system is a disgrace.

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