In this pandemic, we might suddenly realise that the conditions we live in cause people to experience mental health illnesses

Sunitha‘s #MadCovidDiaries 19.10.2020

TW: Bereavement

This week has been pretty difficult – my uncle died on Saturday. He’d been in hospital and it wasn’t the first time that we’d been waiting to see how his recovery would proceed after he’d been in hospital. In some ways, I’m grateful as the pandemic protected me from seeing him in the hospital and remembering him in that way. However, I also wished that I could have been there to support my mum especially towards the end even if I don’t particularly love the idea of waiting for someone to die. Obviously, nobody really enjoys it but they do it for the sake of their loved one so that they’re not alone at the end. When I am considering my own mortality, I guess I don’t want to be alone but I don’t want my family to be traumatised by waiting for what might be the inevitable. In the world where I get to dictate such things, I would really like to go out in a bang with no suffering to myself at all.

In all fairness, I wanted to write about my uncle today, how in spite of all his faults and he had many as we all do, I genuinely love him and I will miss him. It makes me sad that maybe he wasn’t at peace in his head when he died, that he was unable to get to a point in his life where he felt content with where he was. He struggled to conform particularly in an academic family like mine though he was intellectual and had vast knowledge. His behaviour was sometimes intolerable but as we’d lived together at my grandparents’ when I was in my early twenties, we’d got used to each other, even if sometimes his presence involved his random shouting, him blasting his radio or just wandering into my room when he felt like it. The beauty was that over that time, we had shared some quality time together and in every interaction, it helped me grow to accept that he was unable to change. In a different time, in a different family, I think he would have got the help and support he needed, but sometimes, that’s just not how life works. It’s also not to say that my family are terrible or anything, but that as a whole, they are unable to see mental health illness for what it is, an illness.

I’m realising that is beyond them, and my mum cemented this today when she mentioned how one of them had said that they believed that being diagnosed with anxiety has made me more anxious. From the perspective of this person, they genuinely feel as if this is something that makes sense and unfortunately, I recognise this is an opinion shared by other people. There is a general view that those with mental health illnesses are weak, unable to handle life, broken, defective. I’d go on but it feels as if it is redundant and we’ve all heard these things before. This narrative feeds into how we are cared for, how we are viewed by society and even our families. If two people in a couple had cancer for example, no one would say, maybe they shouldn’t be together. Instead, they would ask how they could support them better, what organisations might help them or advocate for them to get better health care. The blame that is associated with having a mental health illness needs to stop as whilst there may be a genetic component, environmental factors and trauma have a far bigger role to play. Instead of thinking people in our society are defective, perhaps we need to examine what is wrong with our society, given that we are suddenly dealing with an increase in people with mental health illnesses. Interestingly, in the pandemic, we might suddenly have realised that the conditions we live in, cause people to experience mental health illnesses and honestly, capitalism has failed in creating a nurturing space for people to grow and prosper. 

Returning back to my uncle, given the right conditions, I genuinely believe that he would have been a different person entirely. His empathy and kindness knew no bounds and he always had a special place in his heart for me, probably because I mostly had patience and time for him. This was only because I felt as if I was struggling just in the same way that I saw him struggle in the context of my family. He loved to think of himself as the black sheep, which he definitely played up to but in some ways, I feel exactly the same as him. When he asked me about whether I would marry my partner, I turned around and said probably not, though it didn’t mean that I didn’t love him. I think he just wanted to know that I had someone in my life that I loved and that someone loved me, more importantly, he wanted to know that I was happy. Though a lot of people think he was a poor judge of character, I think the truth was that he saw the best in everyone and he always had time for them even if he was battling his own demons. Even though he self medicated with alcohol and his anger would sometimes make me anxious, it was the smell more than anything that acted as a trigger. Having grown up with one alcoholic, I found being around him or even talking about him, take me back to my childhood. Yet, I always loved him.

So whilst I love writing or rather I have begun to love writing through this blog, as with him, music is what feeds my soul. He loved a lot of different music and when he was younger, he had a beautiful voice, though there were still remnants of it in his older age  For my mum and I, there’s one song that always reminds us of him, River by Bruce Springsteen. So as I write the last paragraph, I’m going to listen to the song, hoping that at least I will be able to shed a few tears, the catharsis that is music. To all that he could have been, but ultimately, all he wanted was acceptance from those around him. In my mind, all that matters is that he was someone who loved deeply and authentically. Imagine if society valued this over these arbitrary successes, imagine how wonderful a place this world could be. When we live, we focus a lot of energy on achieving based on society’s metrics but I think that every single person on this planet, touches the lives of others in some way, even if we may never know it. To me, he made a difference to mine with his kind soul and his sincere nature.

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