Friday, September 30, 2005

Being Bennett

Alan Bennett is a writer I love for his humanity, sense of voice and sheer audacity. Perhaps if my fairy godmother waved her wand at me and asked me which writer I'd most like to be, I'd choose to be Bennett for those very qualities. (Yes, even over Annie Proulx!)

I didn't manage to catch all five of hisTalking Heads monologues serialised by the BBC, but they were extremely funny and well observed. I love his long short stories The Clothes They Stood Up In and The Laying on of Hands, as well as his account of an elderly lady who parked her van in front of his house and proceeded to live there for several years.

Now Bennett has a new book out, Untold Stories, about his mother's mental illness. Reading this extract from the Telegraph struck a chord, became my mother too began to imagine that there were spies everywhere (tapping the phone, intercepting the mail, everything a plot against her or her family - even my husband losing a legal case across the world in Malaysia was her fault according to her warped logic).

Bennett's mother suffered from depression, a condition which Bennett says is largely ignored by the medical profession:
Depression, which is much the most common mental illness, doesn't even qualify as such and mustn't be so labelled, perhaps because it's routine and relatively unshowy; but maybe, too, because it's so widespread not calling depression mental illness helps to sidestep the stigma.
It makes me deeply angry that any kind of mental illness carries a stigma because it makes it so hard for suffers to seek the treatment they need. This is a corner I would love to fight myself, and I'm glad that Bennett is writing about it.

Postscript:

More on Bennett's new book from the Guardian.

14 comments:

Anna said...

The stigma of mental illness, today as ever, takes place because very few cures have been found. Understand: they cannot comprehend what is going on. It is only since the fifties that medical research has started studying the chemically very complex human brain while any other bodypart was were well known. It is always the old story: we reject what is beyond our grasp. And if we cannot afford to reject it, then we create a special meaning, a special place 'to stuff' our shortcomings.

bibliobibuli said...

Depression, Anna, is very treatable. I have a friend who has a vey much happier life now because of drugs. Often the illness is as much physical as mental - manic depression which I know quite a bit about is basically caused by a chemical imbalance (shortage of lithium) ...

I think that the idea of mysterious causes for mental illness is part of the reason why those suffering are so often stygmatised, I think.

dz said...

can we havea spelling bee like the one i emailed you?

also, treating depression is a multi pronged task as it involves not only drugs, but counselling etc. have a relative and friends that suffer from clinical depression, and one thing i admire about them is their outlook on life, no matter how shitty it is. it's all in your mind, to be heal or not.

wah. do i sound like a new age guru?

back to work...

Anna said...

Prozac and lithium have done wonders for depression!Did you know that 10% of depressions are inherited (chemical imbalance). In this case, you could be the most positive person in the world, it will not help. What about autism, schizofrenia etc Is it an inherited chemical imbalance or is it self induced by not being able/not wanting to cope with life issues?

bibliobibuli said...

Clinical depression and manic depression is heritary for sure though quite what the trigger is, no-one quite knows, so life experiences play a part. I wrote about manic depression before here when I wrote about a friend both blessed and cursed ...

Yep, dz, self-help and the right attitude can help enormously.

Anna, autism is a neurological disorder rather than a mental illness ...

bibliobibuli said...

dz - i like the idea of a spelling bee provided that it isn't too serious - I guess this will have to be done in "real life" since on my blog it would be a bit odd as in "dz, how do you spell pyjamas?" Okay then where and when??

Erna said...

At my last place of work, my previous history of depression was used against me by some collegues. They found out from an old blog of mine and used the knowledge to attempt to undermine my reputation, even going so far as to suggest I was too 'unstable' for my job.

So it's little wonder that people who suffer from major/clinical depression (like I did)choose to keep quiet about it.

bibliobibuli said...

Erna - so sorry that this happened to you ... shame on the people who used your illness against you.

Anna said...

Erna, so sad indeed. If I were you I would teach them a lesson. It is awful to use an illness to get rid of someone. Anna la Siciliana

dz said...

erna and all, people can be vicious. i'd like to blame it on ignorance but.... as they say, 'manusia!'

the fact that you're alive, kicking and writng shows you are heading somewhere. are they?

wah. i really sound like a new age guru.

Anonymous said...

I won't leave my name because too many people who read your blog, know me. I suffer from heriditary OCD - four out of six of my siblings have it - and depression is part and parcel of the whole OCD game. It's not just about wanting to wash your hands all the time or arranging spoons all day; and for some sufferers, it can cripple. I watched my sister fall to it first, then a few years later I was diagnosed myself. I am particular about who I come clean to, about my OCD, precisely because of the stigma. I told my best friend and she wanted me to see a bomoh to scare the demons away.

I'd love to do the same as what Bennett did, but with OCD, because there is so much misconception about it, and because if I suffered as much as I did, there must others who are going through a lot worse. But it probably means me having to come clean about my affliction - and I'm not quite ready for that yet, I don't think.

ANNA said...

What is OCD? What are the symptoms? Can you live a 'normal' life? Is there any cure? Is Malaysia staffed with 'good doctors' about this? Is it painful? Do you need to be 'confined' if you are having a crisis? I think we are afraid of mental illness because it is difficult to reach the person who is suffering from it. It is very frustratring not to be able of being of any help! And then when we get involved, it is hard to be patient and not have any expectation about positive outcome. So, the sufferer, hang on, if you can. Because I have seen a few talented people gone to waste. Some, at least, have managed to have a 'satisfying' life. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and instead of me going all clinical I suppose you can read more about it here

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/healthinformation/ocdmenu.cfm

- the website's pretty comprehensive.

There seems to be no cure, apart from literally zapping out the diseased part of the brain; but most people with OCD lead seemingly normal lives, because it's a hidden affliction. There is no need for confinement, although the lack of control over one's action often predisposes sufferers to depression, which often leads to self-confinement, really.

As for good doctors, I see a pretty decent therapist; am sure there are more.

bibliobibuli said...

anonymous - thanks so much for telling us. I am interested to read and know more, so thanks for the link. In the end the only way to change the way in which society views those with mental illness is to educate folks ... easier said than done. Maybe the best way to do this is to write. Or to make honest films.

I understand how hard it is to tell other people ... and I'm sorry for you that your friend told you to go and see a bomoh.

Trying to understand a friend with manic depression I know that I have come to see the world a little differently and to put myself in his shoes. But he didn't tell me what was wrong and I had to work it out for myself ... and he told me I'd got it right.

I still don't know how to persuade him to see a therapist or even if it really might help him, but am so afraid of him crashing at times. Again it's a pretty hidden affliction because he just seems strange and moody and a little "fragile" to those who haven't worked out what's wrong. What's tragic is that I think he's only ever just about coping and he has so much potential to fulfil, particularly if he can harness the highs and work doggedly through the lows.

You see, hey, I'd love to know how to help and support but there isn't much I can do.