The Right Conversation

From an Indian-Pakistani descent, I grew up in a considerable ‘western’ but cultured family. I lived a torn life knowing that I belonged here but was never truly from here. My grand-parents were walking reminders of where I came from and the sacrifices made to pave the path for my future. At the same, I was used to the British way of life, a life that my grand-parents had to adjust too. Coming from an Asian-cultured background, there were certain things that are overlooked, or ‘not spoke of’ if you will. There was never a safe time in telling your parents about your mental health. There was no parental sympathy growing up because regardless of how you felt, your grandparents went through the worst for you. The term ‘mental health’ was never recognised and stressfully overlooked. This was easily the most destructive act of thinking that my family ever subsided in. A way of thinking that left a harmful and long-term effect on my immediate family.

Just over a year ago, my mother suffered from a manic episode of psychosis. This meant that due to previous trauma in her life, she began to develop short-term signs of paranoia and hallucinations, severe depression, and chronic anxiety. I like to believe that my mother was one of the lucky ones. Her purity has always been too tangible to touch and yet this is still my mother’s only flaw. Here tells a necessary story of my mother’s psychosis, and how traditional and restrained cultural values were to blame. A reoccurring problem in middle-aged women and women of colour.

My mother was always proven to be the soft-hearted one in the family. She loved dearly, she prayed regularly, and she always put her children first. She beamed with daylight throughout the seasons. She smelled like everything that was right. Her love so warm and strong, she holds me from a million miles away. She is and has always been the better version of myself, a woman that I dreamt to be.
I have been back and forth in writing this piece. A topic that I never wanted to speak about, let alone write about. However, I like to believe that we made a safe haven to have these conversations in hopes that someone might be listening, for all the right reasons.

“I’m not crazy”. I remember the first time my mother’s mind started to unravel. She took a flight to China, where she became a victim of racial discrimination before she even touched the mainland. My mother, who drenched herself in innocence and prayer, could only ever see the good in people, and this was her weakness. Sadly after her trip to China, she was never the same. As a daughter, I wish I did a better job of protecting her from the hatred that she was never accustomed too.

She lived abroad, where my father worked daily. I’d receive daily phone calls to warn me about the people she believed were coming for her, and every night she would check on me, in fear that they were coming for me too. Anyone holding a phone was a threat to her, and everyone in passing was following her. My mother had a routine now, she would check every room she went into for hidden cameras and changed every lightbulb that flickered. She became so afraid to live in our society that is so ruled by technology that she no longer wanted to live in it. She felt unsafe in her own home, unable to sleep at night. She trusted no one, not even her doctors.

She spoke to me about her thoughts, about what was happening in her imaginative world. She told me about the man standing outside her window. The white van that followed her everywhere she went. At times she could be so convincing, to the point where I refused to believe that there was anything wrong with her. I was petrified, and so was she. She stopped looking at me and began to look past me. She was no longer fussing over me, there was no more conversation being passed, only silence in-between her breakdowns. Something had changed in my mother’s eyes, and I began to mourn her living self.

My mother sought comfort in her daughters. She would tell me about the split life she was living and I believed her every word, and when she told me she wasn’t crazy, well I believed that too. At times I would feel sorry for her, I wanted to place her in a box away from the world where no harm could come. More so, I didn’t understand how she got here. She was always my lighthouse, but during this time she was merely existing in darkness and I knew there was nothing I could do.

When I was nineteen years old, I lost the only brother I ever had to suicide. I had been down this road before, and I was fearful that history was starting to repeat itself. Losing someone so tragically, well that never truly leaves you. It changes you, and the way you see the world. I feared that maybe one day I would lose my mother the same way. As I said, she was one of the lucky ones.
I came from a culture where it was too taboo to speak about your mental well-being. There was no ‘tell me how you feel’ where I came from. No science behind it all. Just palms of prayer making their coarse to God’s ear, which apparently was enough. My relatives played the game of ‘who did it better’, and anyone who was considered ‘unstable’ was seen as the crazy one. The one with the bad omen. The one to avoid. This way of thinking is why my family suffered. We were raised to withhold our feelings and to never let anyone see our weakness, no matter how weak we felt. A flaw that can commonly be seen in Asian, and African culture.

After much delay in my mother’s diagnosis, we found out that she suffered a mental breakdown that resulted in an episode of psychosis. The silver lining in all of this is that we knew it was temporary. This was the outcome – years of oppressed trauma that was never dealt with. A noticeable issue in Asian culture is how childhood trauma is commonly ignored due to the cultural stigma of hiding your weakness.
Dr. Mary V. Seeman published a clinical report in February 2010 which discusses the different factors that can lead up to psychotic breakdowns in middle-aged women. In the report, she discusses a case very similar to my mothers. A University Professor who was taken to the ER after she had convinced herself of being chased by Nazis. Dr. Seeman says, “After age 40, women are more likely than men to develop psychosis because of gender-specific medical and psychological precipitants.” She goes on to explain the factors such as, low hormone levels, psychological stress towards the brain, and sleep deficiency that plays a part in developing a psychotic illness after the age of 40. Psychosis can include paranoia or delusions, disordered thoughts, and speech, or depression and anxiety. Some may be fortunate enough to get past their episode and live a healthier life, however, some can be victims of reoccurring episodes.

What made my mother’s condition more harmful than it was, was the lack of education that my family and family members deemed. Even to this day, my Grandmother does not understand my mother’s diagnosis, all she merely knew was that my mother was ‘unwell’. My extended family treated her episode as a common cold. They were not aware of the seriousness, nor the support that she needed. They were simply waiting for it to pass and made sure to steer clear of her in case of catching a case.
My whole life, I watched the media shape up a specific type of image that was aimed at those who were mentally ill. They forced this picture of “crazy”, and what it looks like. An image of leather straps and white jumpsuits. They taught us how to think, and showed us a society of what estranged thinking can do. I know people to this day who fear those with mental disorders, and who will avoid them at all costs. This is the fault in our society, this is the change waiting to happen. My mother feared that type of rejection. She refused to seek help in angst that people would no longer look at her as a human being, but label her as someone less-than. With the right support, my mother overcame her episode of psychosis and is on the road to recovery.

For some-time, I was ashamed to tell people about the severity of my mother’s condition. Maybe due to the hardship of how I was raised, or maybe to avoid the natural reaction of self-pity. Nor did I want the awkward response to a subject that no one felt comfortable talking about. But now, I want her story to be told, hoping that it would help somebody else. This is what I was missing in the early days of my mother’s episode. The right conversation.

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