Party in My Head – Suellen Green
 

Party in My Head

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Written by Suellen Green in 2010

Party in My Head:

Schizophrenia – the illness, the sufferers and the effects on families

 

Today is May 14th, 2010. It is almost 7:00pm. At this time 6 years ago, my brother Jeff was still alive. He would not be for much longer. Today is the anniversary of the day that Jeff, like many before him, and after him, decided that he’d battled the demons of schizophrenia long enough. After nine years of a living Hell, Jeff Green ended his life at the end of a rope. It was May 14th, 2004. He was 30 years old.
The word schizophrenia comes from Greek, literally translating as “split mind”1 which may go some way to explain the popular misconception that sufferers have a split personality.   Dr Eugine Bleuler, who coined the phrase, was referring to a split in the brain between perception and reality2. Anne Deveson, broadcaster, film maker and mother of a son who was struck down by schizophrenia at the age of 17, describes it as:

A disorder in the brain which distorts the way a person thinks and experiences the world. This creates a loss of distinction between the inner and outer world3

 

Schizophrenia is a complex illness that is very difficult to diagnose. There are no tests that can be done to definitively establish the existence of the disease, and the cause is still unknown. Diagnosis can only take place after a long period of time, sometimes years, during which time a psychiatrist will monitor a patient, interview them regularly, and eliminate other reasons for symptoms4. Jeff was clearly ill for 2 years before he got the definitive diagnosis of schizophrenia.

 

Symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders and speech abnormalities. Secondary symptoms include the inability to express emotion normally, loss of motivation and enjoyment, and social isolation5. Some of these symptoms are related to each other. Jeff became housebound as the paranoia induced by his hallucinations and delusions made him afraid to go out. He couldn’t bear crowds, so the long time family bonding time of going to the footy became impossible. He became so isolated that the only people he ever saw were family members and medical professionals.

 

Schizophrenia, which affects 1% of the world’s population, is a word that still strikes fear into the hearts of people as there is so much confusion and misunderstanding about this debilitating illness.  Contrary to popular belief, people with schizophrenia are not especially violent, in fact the opposite is quite often true, as they tend to withdraw and isolate themselves from other people6. The media sensationalises the issue, for example, highlighting the illness as a factor in a particular crime, when it is a very small percentage of crimes committed by sufferers. Movies are often vehicles for misconceptions too. Popular culture emphasises the negatives of being ill with this disease, dismissing the fact that it is an illness.  Currently in Australia there is an advertising campaign for a new energy drink called “Insane Energy”. The website for the drink invites us to:

“Come in, sit down. Are you cold? Would you like a…. jacket? Don’t mind those wrist straps.”7

 

With the media depicting people with schizophrenia as either scary or funny, the very real tragedy of the disease is often overlooked. One in a hundred people will develop the disease, but it doesn’t end there; many other people will be affected by it in some way, most of these, the loved ones of sufferers.

 

Deveson also wrote a book about her family’s experiences with the disease. She explains that initially there was terror in both not understanding what was wrong, and Jonathan’s erratic behaviour being frightening for his mother and younger siblings. There was still the erroneous idea at that time (late 1970’s-early 1980’s) that schizophrenia was the result of bad parenting, so at a time when Anne was trying to come to terms with her son’s illness, she was also feeling blamed for her beautiful boy becoming a madman. The family also had to cope with the stigma of mental illness, people thinking Jonathon was bad, not mad, and a mental health system that had little support for families. Anne had to spend a lot of time, money and energy on dealing with Jonathan, which left her feeling guilty for abandoning her other children, and them being angry with her. She also felt conflicted about whether or not she wanted him home. Life was so hard when he was there, but what mother doesn’t want her child home, especially one that needs her so much? Jonathan eventually died of a drug overdose, aged 24.8

 

The guilt, the despair, and the terror are all things I can relate to. Jeff’s illness first became obvious to us in 1995. The slow realisation that my brother was ill had a profound impact on me. The fear that he would be one of the unlucky ones that never recovers had me writing his life off in my mind. Hindsight now shows that those fears were founded. He never was able to work again, he never did get a girlfriend, get married, or have kids. His life was essentially over at 21. Jeff may have died in 2004, but in reality, we lost the brother and son we had known long before then. It was like another being had taken over his name and his face. The boy I grew up with would never have destroyed a dictionary because it was sending him evil messages or walked all the way from Balwyn to Mordialloc, half way without shoes, because he felt like taking a walk. The nine years after his first psychosis were full of hospital visits, reading books trying to understand, and being really uncomfortable not knowing what to do or say when he was so definite about things that were pure delusion. Mum usually pandered to them, Dad tended to not believe he was ill and I just didn’t know what to do.

 

In the documentary, Spinning Out, an unnamed mother was told that statistics are 10-15 % of schizophrenics commit suicide, so you need to be prepared for that. Her response was:

“… when you see that statistic coming, you don’t say ok statistic come on in, he’s not a statistic, he’s a human being, he’s our son.”9

Party in my head by Jeff Green

 

Things will never be the same,

they think it is a game.

What’s happening to my mind,

wanting them to go away,

tell me they’re here to stay,

keeps happening all the time.

 

There’s a party in my head,

and I’m not invited.

There’s a party in my head,

and I’m trying to fight it.

 

Craziness aint no virtue.

Sometimes it won’t do,

to be as normal as you can,

voices are r-rated

and things debated,

what about my life as a man?

 

There’s a party in my head,

and I’m not invited.

There’s a party in my head,

and I’m trying to fight it.

 

People with schizophrenia are just people, but they tend to be pretty creative people. Jonathon was an excellent artist, whose talent was never realised; my friend Richard McLean is also an excellent artist, whose talent has been realised with exhibitions, jobs as an illustrator and books he has published. Jeff wrote songs. One of the songs he wrote was a real insight into his illness. He called it “Party in my head”. I wish I knew the tune, but that’s just another thing that’s lost forever.

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Barham, P. (1993) Schizophrenia and human value  Free Association Books London

Deveson, A (1991) Tell me I’m here  Penguin Books Australia

Deveson, A (1993) Spinning Out (Documentary)  Anne Deveson Productions

Kidman, A (2007) Schizophrenia – A guide for families  Biochemical & General Services

Lachenmeyer, N (2002) The Outsider – A journey into my father’s Struggle with Madness  Hill of Content Publishing

McLean, R (2003) Recovered, not cured  Allen & Unwin

Mueser, K & Gingerich, S (2006) The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia  The Guilford Press

Snyder, K ( 2007) Me, Myself and Them – A firsthand account of one young person’s experience with Schizophrenia  Oxford University Press

 

 


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