This year, World Mental Health Day was celebrated on tuesday October 10th under the theme Mental Health at the Workplace.
Over at the Gbm Foundation for Epilepsy and Mental Wellbeing, we raised awareness both online and through traditional media. In my capacity as Country Director, I shared my personal essay of mental health as related to me then while I was working in a multinational telecommunications company. You can read that post right here.
If I were to answer the above question today, I’ll say for me such a workplace is one where everybody feels safe addressing their mental health challenges. And you gentle readers and followers, what would be a mentally healthy workplace for you?
Hello World, very honoured to be wrapping up my interviews with authors who have written on mental health, with one I fondly call Granny. I was so delighted to talk with her on phone when I visited the US in 2015, and I was so happy when she liked the memoir I mailed her.
I have done a modest review of Jill’s heart breaking memoir on my blog, and it is my honour to interview her too. I don’t know how a mother handles her only son’s mental illness and survive his loss, I see my mum dwindling between striving and surviving but I am not in her mind. I hope Jill tells us a little how because she is one of those brave mothers!
1) The Profile
Let’s Start with a brief introduction of yourself – your background – and a tiny bit from your life before mental illness struck:
I was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 1939 and had an enchanted childhood. I studied teaching in Cape Town where I met and fell madly in love with Alec. We married, and immediately, our relationship was a loving and caring one consisting of give and take. After our baby, Doron was born, we left family and friends to fly off to Israel, the country of our dreams.
(Doron means ‘a gift’ in Hebrew.) The real name of her Son refered to in the memoir as David
About your Memoir, why did you write it all those years later and with many names changed as you say?
Because I had never written before. But, I wrote notes every night on what had occurred each day from the time that Doron became ill which was during his arbitrary military service although in retrospect, there had been some signs previously. It took time but the book called ‘Weep for Them’ was born and published – the hardcover edition in 1998 and the paperback in the same year under my pen-name Sarah Ben-Dor. Neither were translated into English as I simply could not face rehashing that excruciating experience all over again.
Years later, after we’d lost our son, I had so much more to add, that I consulted with my husband and two daughters and asked for their permission to write an updated book in English, using my real name this time. They agreed. But I had to change the children’s names as well as my husband’s while writing because that made the whole process a little less painful for me as I was reliving the 16 years of Doron’s illness all over again.
2) The Soul Journey
What is your take about mental health?
When our Doron was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, I had heard little about the subject and had never met a mentally ill person. Today, I am older, wiser, read whatever I can on new developments but, to date, am not convinced that there is something that could have helped our son who proved to be medication-resistant for so many years. I pray that somewhere, someone will be able to help all those who might be suffering the way Doron did. I never felt guilty about causing his illness as I had read that parents cannot cause schizophrenia.
Did your feel guilty for your son’s deteriorating mental health? If yes what did you think or do, if no please explain some to us.
A few older psychiatrists pointed the finger of blame at me, but fortunately, I had read enough to know that I was innocent of that, at least. I had to do something so, I approached the Israel Mental Health Association ENOSH, and asked for permission to start a support group for parents of mentally ill children in our neighborhood, in English, as Hebrew is not our mother-tongue. They let us use their facilities and offered assistance but frankly, most of us, 22 in all, did not want to hear another professional at that stage. We met regularly twice a month and became like one large family. We could speak openly about anything to do with our ill child, confident that we could trust one another to be honest and not to speak to anyone else about what was said. I felt safe with them, so much so that they became like an extended family.
Parents cannot cause schizophrenia.
Mothers cannot cause schizophrenia. I want every single parent to know this:-
I bet you all part 2 tomorrow is equally soul searching, captivating and near gut wrenching – stay tuned
Are you a propagator? I mean are you a narcissistic with a boderline personality and co? These are all mental illnesses and some help can be found if only you seek it in all genuiness.
If we don’t stop the cycle at some point be it as victims or propagators, then that is enabling and keeping the generations chained in that trauma. A hurt soul can only hurt another soul – until one finds light, love, peace and happiness through Self-Awareness, Self-Acceptance; Self-Love; Self-Help; Self-Care … the brokeness continues
Some reflections from my searching soul… have a warm weekend
How do I even start to review this book? Here is my modest 5/5 review left on goodreads after reading it in 48 hours just because there were other important things to do too:
I may not have a story identical to Linda’s to the extent that it wasn’t my mum, but I identify very much with her childhood. Linda’s is a story above all of survival in the midst of extreme trauma and near loss of one’s own sanity. That she survives and even thrives, to get to the point of working to help people in similar situations or even worse, speaks volumes of the resilence imbued in our human nature. Her’s is equally a sad story of painful traditions sometimes corroborated by religion, but it ends with a lot of hope. This book will definitely make a very good read.
This is what is said on the Amazon: On the surface, her childhood seemed normal–even idyllic. Linda grew up in the iconic immigrant community of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, with her parents and a gifted older brother. But she spent her days at home alone with a mother who suffered major bouts of depression. At such times, young Linda was told, “Your mother…she’s not herself today.” Those words did little to help Linda understand what she was witnessing. Instead, she experienced the anxiety and hyper-vigilance that often take root when secrecy and shame surround a family member who is ill.
She’s Not Herself: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness is a journey to make sense of the effects of multi-generational traumas. Shapiro is ultimately able to forgive (without forgetting) those who left her to fend for herself–and to provide readers with the wisdom of a seasoned psychotherapist who has examined human vulnerability in its many disguises and has moved through it all with dignity and hope. The result is a memoir of love, loss, loyalty, and healing.
I share three soul searching quotations before urging You in search of healing from similar trauma, to treat yourself to this – at least for the season.
1) “ I hold on to the belief I consider to be most valuable: the need to honour the parts of ourselves that are healthy, the parts that are strong, even when unpredictable situations – our own physical or emotional stressors or those of our loved ones – catch us off guard.
2) Learning to accept my own dark side while honouring my strenghts, I began to understand the healing power of forgiving and was more determined than ever to … merge life’s sweetness with its sorrow, reconciling its meaning with its mystery. Only then was I able to move beyond trauma – as I believe it is possible for others to do – with grace and dignity.
3) In order to confront my demons and not drown in my sorrows, the challenge for me was to learn to forgive – first my family and then myself. I reached out for professional guidance, to break the…cycle of despair, and that’s what I believe everyone in such circumstance must do eventually.
Thinking most especially of my friend Linda, and wishing Thumbup so much good tidings too.
This is the house whose fence I jumped over to go fend for food. The one with the red roof. The one where Gaby and I became prisoners in our own room. The one where I sneaked in a stove and kerosine and al so I could cook some rice for us. This is indeed that house where mum almost pushed down the gate in her desperation to see my kid sister. The house where all seemed tended on the outside and yet such explosions simmered within its walls.
Yes this is that house which now hosts the offices of: Transparency International. Irony or what?
I gathered the courage on a recent visit to that city, to walk that neighbourhood and purge some more stuffs out. My walk took me to That School:
That School I can never remember Dad coming to for any reason whatsoever. Go figure out the kind of Dad we had.
P.S He finally got to calling me today, and I candidly told him where I was emotionally and mentally as far as our relationship was/is concerned.
That uppermost apartment was where we lived with our mum at the time. I remember vividly the day I packed my brother and I up and got our dad to drop us off there. I was bigger and bolder by then and had had enough of living with him and his wife of a typical ‘stepmother attitude’. Only my cunningness had saved us so far. I knew we were not going back there again, and although we never discussed that, I guess dad knew or never cared by then anyway.
That apartment was 2 bedrooms and oh we were a typical African family in there. Mum, kids, aunty, cousins and all. There was so much love, joy and fun until one fateful night!
This was our oga Landlord’s church. It’s actually next gate to ours, and opposite our balcony at the same time. Imagine the noise and action and even people you saw or who saw you! One of such people was a wayward son of his who probably escaped any exorcist powers his dad may have claimed to had.
I knew he was up to no good, and I hated the way he and his friends looked at me when I walked the street. Neither were their sounds any funny. One fateful Tuesday night, while I was in another city with my elder sister, that guy and his gang broke into our apartment at around 2 am. They even had women in their gang. They turned the house upside down and stole even food. The women tried Mum’s clothes and hats, taking whatever they wanted. It was raining cats and dogs and needless to call any police!
It was then that this guy started asking for me. He said he wanted to teach me a lesson. My dear brother who thought he could man up to this guy, stood up but immediately got a slap which sent him sleeping for several more hours into the next day.
When they left, mum knew we just had to leave that neighbourhood.
I also remember our Nigerian neighbours below with whom we had formed a family. They had lost their dad in that same apartment. All in all, it became a haunted street, and even our favourite cafeteria below, couldn’t take me back there for a long time to come!
So on my return home last month, I went back there to face it and purge it all out of me.
I promissed to share the second part of my F3 with you, and it is in all account one of the most sensitive topics of my memoir and even entire life. Indeed, even F2 was difficult to face.
” Narcissistic abuse can take many different forms, but the basics of narcissistic abuse is always the same. It would appear that all the narcissists discuss their ‘cruel tactics‘ at their ‘voodoo yearly Narcissistic convention’ (to put it this lightly). In my case I married a woman who turned out to be narcissist. However, before I understood what was going on, there were already two innocent children involved, and we were supposed to be a family.
When the children were young, they were not a big threat to their Mom, and to her Narcissistic image. Although it was not clear in the beginning, afterwards it became clear that the narcissistic mother also was practising the ‘Munchen by Proxy syndrome‘ on the children. This was one form of child abuse, and besides the making up of all kind of medical problems for both of the children, and convincing doctors to prescribe all kind of medicines, this woman bought all kind of medicines without a prescription, to give to the children.
When it came to eating and feeding the children, the younger child (her golden child), was allowed to eat everything he wanted, while the girl, (her scapegoat) was not allowed to eat anything at all, because she was supposedly allergic to all kinds of different products. Although she claimed that both of the children had the same allergies, she allowed the boy to eat anything he liked, up to several hamburgers a week, until he became so fat that he was bullied at school by other children. The daughter was made so scared about eating, because everything could cause an allergic reaction. She finally ended up in the hospital where she needed enteral tube feeding, because the eating trauma pushed the child to stop eating at the age of just six. She stayed in the hospital for 3 weeks, but the enteral tube feeding had to continue for 6 month, and the treatment for PTSD syndrome took another year.
After a court order forced my wife, and the mother of my children to leave the house, the children needed to learn how a normal meal looked like. After barely three months, my daughter has eaten over 50 new different food items, all of which she was supposedly allergic to according to her mother.
Although the boy was never tested for allergies, the boy was suffering from the same allergies as his sister, according to their mother, and yet was allowed to eat anything he liked. At 11 years of age the boy turned into an obese teenager, who was too fat to even do any sports. It takes great effort to get him moving and to even start eating healthy things. He probably also suffers from some yet to be diagnosed behavioural and mental condition.
Although now the abuse by their mum has largely stopped, it is going to take a long time before these teenagers are going to understand what they can eat and what is healthy for them to eat and what quantities are good for them.
A new life for the entire family is starting once more. Without the narcissist around, everybody is starting to realise that they have been abused, and that they have experienced all kind of traumatic incidents, for years in a row, every day.
Both of the children refuse to have any contact with their mother. Since the court ruled that there should be a 6 hours visit every two Sundays in a month, between the children and their mother, the children have become even more determined to go no contact with her once the divorce procedure is over. Unfortunately the system is not prepared enough to understand that there are situations where no contact is the best option in a given scenario.
The mother has had the opportunity for over 14 and 11 years to show her children what she can do for them, and yet all what the children have come out with is so much loathing of her person and sometimes each other.
If you ever meet anybody in your life that tells you that they never want to talk to their mother or father, don’t tell them that it is their parent and they should love their parent. This causes only more traumatic experiences for children. Please show some empathy towards these people, that is the best you can give to people who suffer from traumatic experiences caused by a Narcissistic parent. I can therefore understand and empathise with Marie’s narration of her childhood. She was rightly her father’s golden child, and she has suffered so much as a consequence, enough to decide to go no contact with him”.
Healing is possible but it’s a journey which may take a whole life time if we are not lucky. As I shared last week about my healing journey from domestic abuse, this only started when I decided to go against convention and call it as such. This is therefore what I am doing with my entire healing journey from a very traumatic childhood, one which largely contributed to my brother’s mental demise and death.
It wasn’t until very recently, that I put my hand sort of on what had been going on in my family of birth. I think I could somehow scientifically figure out what was wrong with dad. I was also dare I say lucky to have met someone who had lived a similar traumatic experience from a spouse! I was very honoured that he agreed to write a 3rd foreword to my memoir. It is a true life story, and I’ll share his foreword in two parts. Do come back then for F3 (b) in two days.
I agreed with apprehension and yet deep relief when Marie asked me to write a foreword for her memoir on the subject of narcissism. Given that I am still fighting hard to get my life and those of my two kids on track after such a very traumatic experience with a spouse I have come to realise was and is a narcissist, you would understand my mixed feelings.
Most people who haven’t been used as a narcissistic supply, and have never been involved with Narcissism, are not aware of the impact that Narcissistic people can have on their families, children, spouse or even themselves.
Although in an abusive and very challenging marriage, I had never heard about Narcissism until I was in my forties and my wife started to accuse me of being a Narcissist. Since I was not aware of what she was accusing me about, I needed to understand what or who a Narcissist is. So I went on the Internet and started searching.
After reading a first article about Narcissism I did not recognised my own behaviour, I was only reading things that I had seen, recognised, tried to discuss, tried to change, in the behaviour of my wife. I then had a moment of revelation. I was not the mentally ill person in the family, but I started to realise that my wife was the one having a mental illness. At that moment I could not read much more, it just was to confronting to me.
During the summer period of 2014, after 14 years of marriage, the violent behaviour of my wife became worse each day, at that moment it was not clear what was going on. One day my wife took an axe and smashed the front and tail lights of my car, while the children were around and watching the whole episode. Both of the children started to talk about the incident at school with some teachers, and after several days I was invited by the directors of both their schools, to have a talk about the behaviour of my wife. At one of the schools I was told that my wife was having a mental problem, and that the school had already organised a safe place for both of my children. They told me to take immediately action, otherwise they would!
During the coming days, I contacted a lawyer and asked him to use all legal instruments to get a divorce from my wife. After I made this decision I started to realise that I was actually in an abusive marriage which had already endured for over 14 good years. It was then that I returned with rage to read all I could about Narcissism. Finally I was reading for over 5 hours a day about this mental illness.
This mental illness of my wife almost killed me, but I was not ready to die yet, I had to take my responsibility to teach my children about a life without abuse. I have to finish the project that is called raising children, with an end date of August 2021 when they would have all turned 18. Like in any project you have to constantly update a risk log and initiate actions to minimise the risk. In this case the risk is all kinds of Narcissistic abuse, one of the best counter measures is go no contact with my ex-wife, although it is almost impossible to go no contact when you have children together, at least the contact should be minimised. To be continued…
When l resumed lectures this year, I was what you will call an old student. I could easily identify fresh students and among them, Rebecca caught my attention.
She is from South Sudan
I felt the urge to reach out to her and become her friend. I knew how lonely I felt as a new student with no one to talk to on campus. She also made me feel there was a ‘deep story’ past her look.
When I first tried, Rebecca was cold. I didn’t give up. I tried again in the form of talking about life in school and studies in general. She is also taking the same course as I am and as fate will have it, we both took the same ‘FDR’ (research method) lectures.
Rebecca offered to drop me home one night as we left school and that was the ice breaker. She talked almost all the way. She told me she was from South Sudan and then she stopped talking.
Who doesn’t know of South Sudan?
I wondered not why she stopped talking after that, but why it still mattered so badly to her. Afterall, she had also told me she fled that country over twenty years ago when it was all still Sudan. She had equally survived her way through to France, learned french, completed her studies, gotten married, had two kids, and picked up a job with the liaison office in Paris.
But, we must not forget that the horror of a war leaves on long after it is over. And yet, although that civil war with Sudan is over and South Sudan gained its independence, Rebecca still has family there and they live through the current ‘carnage’ in their country. Some have died she says and some cousins are missing.
South Sudan is still making highlights, currently competing with Central Africa Republic, Congo Kinshasa and the others in their ‘bruteness’.
Rebecca’s Courage and survival is remarquable
In addition to all what I said about her fleeing to France and learning French, Rebecca survived an abusive marriage and soon found herself with two kids on the street. She decided to find a job in Brussels but for one whole year, she commuted from Lille to Brussels every day just to earn a living.
She met her current husband and they now have two kids. Well, it isn’t all fairy tale. Rebecca’s husband just relocated to Canada where he got a job. My friend Rebecca is raising four children, working, going to school, and trying to stay updated about her family back in South Sudan.
Rebecca says she is inspired by me
One day, Rebecca phoned me and invited me to lunch. What a pleasant surprise. We agreed to meet in the notorious Matonge area (a not so famous black neighbourhood in Brussels);
Rebecca who had earlier bought my book, told me I inspired her so much that she wanted to write her own story too. She says there is still so much to unwind from in there, but with a friend like me and her determination, she knows she will get there.
In the meantime, I am the one who finds her a strong and courageous woman. She is my heroine and I am glad I reached out to her back then.
Dear gentle readers and followers of mine, what says thou? Sharing is caring, we never know who may be touched!
My thrilling life as an author, coach, consultant & mental health advocate…
This blog is to encourage others that is being victimize, been a victm, or were a victim that they no longer have to live in hidden. I want to share words of encouragement to them and let them know they can come out of their situtaion alive no matter what there abuser is telling or has told them over the years. Some individuals have left their abuser but they are still living in afraid or living in in jail mental; the victim have to get his or her life back. Living behind the wall in public isn't well for them. They have to make a stand for themselves and regain what they lost in that relationship. It will not happen within a week or probably a month. First of all its a learning process, admit to what they lost, and let go of the shame, pride, and bitter. Its up to the victim to want to be a Survior not the abuser.