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Monday, January 30, 2006

A Strange Day

Yesterday was a strange day. There was too much going on around me and I needed to disconnect in order to process all the busy jangled thoughts and emotions. To the eyes of the observer, I was a quiet pool of tranquility in a sea of mixed sorrows and blessings. Inside, I was indeed very still, but I think that underneath that stillness, there was a churning. Just as the heart withdraws the circulation of blood from the extremities in times of emergency, I had withdrawn my connection to the external world.

My little sister and I waited almost all day to hear if our mother was being released from hospital after a less than smooth gall bladder removal which had seen her stay extended from a planned 24 hours to 13 days with a prospective replay in six weeks time to catch the giant stone that got away. This was the culmination of an intense period of anxiety as she put off every opportunity to have the operation done. Such a black Irish stubborn streak in so seemingly gentle a woman, reminds those of us who splinter against it that immovable objects like icebergs are indeed largely below the surface.

Earlier that morning, I had heard that a man I had known for almost thirty years, a work colleague just a few years older than me, had died the day before. He had felt ill over the Christmas holiday, collapsed just after New Year's Day and was dead three week's later from a silent but deadly cancer of the kidneys and liver. I had worked with him and his wife; we had socialised together and when our company collapsed and was taken over, I had made one of my last acts the safeguarding of his position. Their lives revolved around their grown children and the delights of their grandchildren. Nothing else was important in their lives other than one another and now she faces the long years ahead without him.

A few hours later, I learned that the wife of a friend was dying of cancer of the brain. I cannot even begin to imagine how this already melancholy man will survive her absence. During all the long years I have known him, I have scooped him out of the pits of depression on several occasions. Now I can only pray and hope that he will come through this darkness.

Later in the afternoon, my older brother told me about his best friend, a boy we both grew up with, now a very successful businessman in Australia. He faces heart by-pass surgery this week and by coincidence at the same Perth hospital where another friend's brother battled bravely for his life for six months after a heart transplant. I was involved almost daily in pulling together an international prayer and healing circle to support him and it was immensely sad when he passed just before Christmas. Then we cannot hold back the tides of death when it is time, although our acceptance of this can come a little tardy and after much pain.

So, yesterday was a day of internal ruminating. I was not aware consciously of all this processing going on. I simply drifted through the day in an almost surreal detachment. I was disconnected from external life while the assimilation of all this took place. Oh, there was also my visit with my schizophrenic brother whose current delusion is that he is about to die from spinal disconnection due to osteoporosis. When I tried to draw the reality of medical fact into the conversation, I was greeted with calm but hostile disdain. Ah, well, I tried.

Yes, indeed, yesterday was certainly a good day to be disconnected, to feel life wash gently over me without even getting wet. It was rather like being anaesthetised yet somehow still conscious. I could feel the scalpel cut but I didn't feel any pain.

It was later in the evening when I became joined up again, when all the pieces of this day's jigsaw fell back into place. It began with my practice of gratitude. No matter how awful the day might have been, or indeed how awful it looks to become, I have always found a few moments to take stock of all that I have to be blissfully happy about it my life. It puts all the icky dark grungy stuff into perspective and often as not dissolves it. Lest you think I am as delusional as my brother, I live in the reality of the moment, I simply chose to focus on what is good about my life rather than wallow in the mire. Why would anyone chose to be miserable when they can be happy?

I took a few moments to collect my scattered thoughts and to simply allow gratitude to fill me up. This is a short selection of what I gave thanks for yesterday.

Today I am so very grateful for:

Bringing my mother home from hospital after 13 days

Seeing the look of relief on my 83 year old father's face as she walked through the door of their home

The nurses, doctors and support workers who gave the gift of their long years of training to make this possible

My mother for her stubborn quiet Irish courage which sometimes drives me nuts in the nicest of ways

My husband, Jim, for loving me and for the joy I find in loving him

Our son, Jan, for his compassionate heart, his shining soul, his sparkling mind and for simply being who he is

My sister-in- law for all the help she brings to many

My little brother for all his obsessive fears, troubled mind and delusions. He is who he is and I am grateful for the love he brings to my life.

My older brother for the deep friendship which has endured through all the years of our adult lives, pretty good for two kids who fought like two cats in a bag.

For the bright blessed beauty of a crisp sunny day

For the stunning sunset that set the Clyde Valley alight as we came home from the hospital

For my little sister who helped me bring our mother home

For the work that she does in helping troubled children find secure roots in the world

For Julie Jordan Scott and the magic of her circle where dreams are born into reality and magic is everyday

For me simply being me. For the grace of being comfortable in my own skin. For looking in the mirror and smiling at my reflection. For loving myself just the way I am.

For absolutely everything and all the everythings I don't yet know. I am celebrating them right now.

What a difference a few moments contemplation of gratitude brings. I feel so centred, so blissfully at peace. Love entered my heart, my mind, my soul. Every fibre of my being resonates with love. Love beams out into the world from the big grin on my face, in the tenderness of my worlds, in the flow of healing energy from these hands. Nothing exists but this love. Nothing touches or troubles me in my cocoon, wrapped around in a divinity of love. All is in perfect order and all is well. I feel on fire with that deep sense of joy and freedom that love brings with it. I am sure you can feel me glowing from wherever you read today. I am suffused in love, like the sun rising to warm and bless the earth.

This is my heaven. Love is truly all there is. No darkness can withstand its fiercely gentle glow.
Gratitude is the key. It opens the door to love.

Here is my bliss, my paradise. Here is the glory of the divine, the enchanted blessing of life lived in love.

Here is the transcendence of the human spirit.

Here is the heaven that I chose to dwell in.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Gift for Babcia.
In memory of my grandmother, a quiet heroine of the Second World War.

As the snow softly gathers in the folds of Mother Earth's skirt, I find myself thinking of you, the Polish grandmother I never knew. In the bitter cold Siberian winters, when you fought for your life and the lives of your children, did Christmas come or did it slip away in the icy night of your exile?
I wonder what your laughter sounded like, Babcia? I never got to hear that sound or to know your voice. I wonder what it was like? Was it soft and musical like mine? Was it filled with wonder at the beauty of the earth even as you were surrounded with death and misery in those long forced marches?
Babcia, grandmother; I never got to call you by that name or any other. You were never to brush your grand daughter’s hair, as long and dark as yours. You never had the chance to smooth out its tangles or to do any of the other things a grandmother does so lovingly.
We were lost to one another from the moment Hitler declared war on Poland. You were fated never to see me from the day that his monstrous ally, Stalin, stole you away from your homeland. The soldiers came like thieves in the night and with their guns they forced you out of your home into the cattles trucks with your three children.
In those vast snowy forests of Siberia, as you laboured, half-starved, to keep your children alive, did you ever dream of their unborn children? Did you pray to God to keep them safe and healthy so that those dreams might come true one day? Well, dearest Babcia, your prayers were answered. Each of your three little ones survived; each of them married and had children of their own. I am one of them and I wonder how I can miss someone I never knew, how I can feel my heart ache for a face I never saw, a voice I never heard, a touch I never felt.
You kept the flame of life alive in each of those children and I am here today because of your love, your courage, your sacrifice. I wish you were here to hold me and to wipe away the tears that I shed as I write this, tears of sadness and lingering regret for one I have never known and never will know. Yet there is a soul knowing and that is what I have for you.
My father and my aunts tell me that you were a wonderful mother, intelligent, loving, and compassionate. They are a reflection of all that you were here on this earth, little grandmother, and I am a reflection of the reflection of you. As long as I walk this earth and the seed of my seed follow me, you too will live on.
You would find your great grandson, named for you and your son, a constant source of delight. He is already the philosopher that your husband was, the caring, passionate man whose charisma swept so many people to him. You would see his magic sparkling in my Jan’s eyes. You would hear him in the wonder of his eloquence. You would know that the man you loved lives on in his grandson. You would love him as I do.
It is almost Christmas day. How many Christmases have passed since you were last given a present, Babcia? It is over sixty years since you perished in the hospital in Teheran, far from home but finally free. You gave your food to your children, You gave your life so that they would live. You died knowing that your children were safe but that you would never see Poland again, never feel the embrace of your husband, never see the spring flowers shooting up through the earth, never know the grandchildren you already held in your heart.
This year Babcia, I will give you a gift. I will make a little spring garden for you and whenever a bulb sends up a pale green shoot through the darkness of the earth, it will be in remembrance of your spirit, the triumph of love in a world filled with hatred. The daffodils will be your golden medals for courage. The snowdrops will symbolise the purity of your soul. The forget-me-nots will be my promise to you.
Your life, your love and your dying deserve to be remembered, Babcia. This gift will be your memorial; it is yours little grandmother. It blooms for all that we never had together; for all that I carry within me that is yours; for the eternity that we have been apart and for the eternity that we will share together. It blooms for the love of grandmother and granddaughter. Thank you for the gift of my life.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Living Loss - Cannabis Psychosis
(First published in "Out of the Chrysalis" 17/5/2004. Updated for this Blog)

This morning, as I drove back from my son's school through leafy country lanes shining with the inner light of spring,I was so overwhelmed with sadness that I had to pull over and cry. Nature fills me up with a sense of the divine, of dimensions of bright radiant beauty. It calms me and conversely elevates me to a state of near bliss. I drink it in with a hunger for its healing. It has always been so. So why did it reduce me to tears of the deepest darkest sorrow this morning?

I was thinking about my little brother, my brown eyes sparkling, much loved brother, third youngest of our tribe. I was thinking about how he no longer sees the beauty of the morning, no longer connects to the deep sweet reality of nature, no longer vibrates with the sheer joy of being alive. Our brother has been lost to us for 15 years following his descent into the hell of drug induced psychosis. He is now42 and his journey into the darkness began at the age of 15 with the sharing of a joint with a few of his friends. Out of all the millions of people in the world who have safely taken this drug, there are some who have a genetic predisposition to an entirely different biochemical reaction which leads to dependency and in this case, schizophrenia. There is currently no test that predicts this outcome, so that first joint is a game of Russian roulette with our lives.

My brother grew up to be a respected, talented business man,in line for the position of CEO of his company. He married his soul mate and he had two beautiful daughters. He lived in a lovely home and was surrounded by supportive loving family and friends. He had a fine mind, a healthy body, a mischievous sense of humour and a magically attractive personality. He was also addicted to cannabis from the moment he smoked that first joint. As his mind became accustomed to it, he took it in ever increasing quantity. His wife knew; some of his friends knew, but no one else in the family knew. It was not until he was in his thirties that we started to see the first signs of trouble.

His work became erratic and he was demoted. He stayed up late at night and his sleeping patterns became disrupted. He would alternate between almost manic highs and a horrible bitter victim mentality, resenting everyone around him, blaming everyone but himself for the state of his life. One morning, he started to express himself in a way that I had never heard before. Alarm bells rang and the family discussed what was going on. The consenus was that he was stressed because of his work situation, his deteriorating marriage; I thought it was more than this but like the others I was not yet ready to face the reality of mental illness.

Then I received a call from his wife, panicked and frightened. He had been up all night, continuously smoking hash, playing his music so loudly that no one could sleep in their home or in his neighbours. He was watching the television and telling her about the messages he was getting from people on screen. He was to tell the world that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and that the end of the world had come. She was Eve and he was Adam and they would start the world anew. I told her to take the girls to her mother's house and I would get help.

I called two of my brothers and we went round to his house together. Those hours are burned on my mind forever. In place of my gentle, mischievous little brother, there was a wretched, delusional, wild eyed, mad man. I vividly remember how painful it was as we waited for our family doctor to arrive; how torn I felt signing the certification that would commit him to a psychiatric hospital; the struggle we had persuading him to come with us in the car rather than be taken away in an ambulance. We sat with him. we held him; we listened to his ranting all the way to the bleak psychiatric hospital on the edge of the most god forsaken wind blasted moorland. It seemed like the entry to a kind of hell and that precisely reflected the emotional hell we were also entering. It took six months to stabilise his condition so he could be released but even in the hospital, he continued to access and use cannabis. He was told that he still had the possibility of a full recovery if he stopped but he couldn't overcome his addiction. Within the year, we were going through the same nightmare and this time we lost him forever. He is now diagnosed as a severely paranoid schizophrenic; he has been unable to work since; he cannot concentrate long enough to read or to pursue a hobby; he has lost his wife who stayed by him for many years until she accepted that she needed to create a life for herself and their daughters. He has little or no quality of life. He is often very afraid and he still continues to be addicted to cannabis which he now argues is a sacred herb which enables him to do his healing work.

Medication damps down the full force of his delusions; it stops him accosting strangers in the street telling them that he is their saviour; it stops him visiting sick people or their relatives to distress them with his statements that they have been cured; it stops him from frightening himself and others with the wildness of his behaviour. The price we all pay for this amelioration of his symptoms is a sad, pale, distant shadow of the brother we love. The medication numbs him and dulls down his response to everything; his world becomes a flat, featureless, grey landscape. This lasts only as long as he is on a legally enforceable order which ensures he takes his medication. As soon as this expires, he refuses to take his meds and we see the same hopeless, pain-filled cycle repeat itself. Sometimes he goes to hospital voluntarily and sometimes it is in an ambulance after a difficult process of persuasion; sometimes it is handcuffed in the back of a police car after a nightmarish chase which distresses everyone involved, including the officers for whose kindness and sensitivity I normally have the highest praise.

When he is in hospital, he is difficult and disruptive, agitating other patients and distressing their relatives with his insistence on "healing" them. The hospital has to increase their security when he is in hospital because he is highly intelligent and arranges to have his cannabis smuggled
in which he then shares with other patients, even those who do not normally use it. Unless he is on close observation, he escapes at least once on each hospitalisation, leading to police knocking on my elderly parents' door in the middle of the night. Then we begin a well rehearsed pattern as family and friends search his usual haunts. On one famous occasion, we had to return a stolen car which he used to get away from the hospital. We then endured a court case at which he was declared unfit to plea due to his insanity. Our parents are 83 and 77 respectively; his girls are 18 and 14. What price do they pay?

He lives alone; he is permanently unemployed; he lives on state benefits and if he did not have his family, he would be another derelict sleeping rough. This is an enormous price to pay for a recreational drug.

The block to my heart connection has been my need to tell this story, to reach into the minds of at least some of the young people who might be thinking that cannabis is harmless. So many of my own generation smoked it and they find it hard to accept that it has the potential to create such devastation. How then do they explain to their children that they are at risk if they follow in their parents' foot steps?
I do not take a judgemental or moralistic stance on this. I believe in freedom of choice with this one rider; it must be fully informed choice. Don't just look at all the people who have been unharmed by this drug; come visit my poor, mad brother and see what your future might hold. I spent two hours with him on Saturday and came away feeling as though I had been drained of my life blood. Yes it is just a small chance that you will be the one to have this predisposition; yes it is statistically low; yes it is unlikely .... but you will never know the outcome unless you take the chance and having taken the chance you have pressed the trigger and there is no turning back from the outcome. My brother pulled that trigger at the age of 15 and we entered a circle of hell with him. It's your choice. Chose with wisdom and love.
Do not smoke cannabis in your early teens. Your brain is still developing and you risk permanent disruption of the dopamine receptors, leading to mental illness.
Do not touch illegal drugs of any kind if you have a familial history of mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, but do not think that no family history safeguards you. We had no prior know incidence of schizophrenia in our family.
Stay clear of drugs. You do not know what effect they will have specifically on you. This is playing Russian Roulette, only the bullet does not just blow your brain away, it destroys the hearts of everyone who loves you.

Please print this and circulate it to your children and to their friends. Reprint it freely wherever it will reach even one person who might be helped by it. As for me, I have entered my heart space and told my story. Now I can breathe again.