I finished reading your PhD thesis *Virginia’s Story last night. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read it in the first place – I feel it was meant to be, like a chance encounter!
While taking in Virginia’s words, I had a little cry, because so much of what she is crying out for – dignity, personhood – is what I so wanted for my mother, Doreen. She never did receive much of that respect in her life; not from hospitals, men, or from family. This was my chief motivation for writing ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar? – A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations of Defeated Mothers’.
By the time I had the chance to really know my mother, it was too late; the drugs and ECT had taken their toll. Much of what she had experienced in psychiatric wards and throughout the manic, psychotic, and depressive phases of her life, was passed on to me by my brother, Kevin, who lived with her until he was married. After that, he spent time with her either at his home or at her council flat in Wellington, otherwise he spoke to her daily by phone. I tried to obtain her records from Porirua Psychiatric Hospital, but they would not release them to me because I was not listed as her next of kin. However, as I reveal in Whatever Happened To Ishtar?, Doreen’s psychiatrist did phone me and answered most of the questions I asked of her regarding Doreen’s psychiatric history. Obviously, she did not volunteer information, so I only have knowledge of a small section of my mother’s official records of the times she was confined at the hospital.
Even though I was never admitted to a psychiatric ward, I came close to a mental breakdown when I was a young woman and my marriage was failing. I can well understand, therefore, Virginia’s desire to leave her marriage, which was draining her physical and mental strength. I also experienced what it was like to be denied personhood and dignity, when I was a child and teenager. I was branded and often humiliated by my Lebanese extended family because of who my mother was; her bipolar disorder and her Italian descent. What I hated most was the way they branded her a “sharmuta” (prostitute) when she was nothing of the sort and could not defend herself. There are many parallels in my, Doreen’s, and Virginia’s stories. I regret so much that Doreen only took Kevin with her when she left Dunedin for Wellington, and abandoned me. I believe that as her daughter, I may have been able to empathise more with her, and given support to my brother. Sadly, I will never know for sure what the outcome would have been in that scenario. Thank goodness Virginia at least had a loving daughter to look after her welfare.
I was very interested in what you had to say in your thesis about biographies vs autobiographies; about creativity and whether or not bipolar disorder is actually a mental illness. Many brilliant artists as you know, exhibit facets of the disorder. I read a medical paper recently which suggested that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are symptoms brought about through the brain evolving, which of course it has been doing for thousands of years. An interesting theory.
I intend to contact Bipolar networks in Australia, and perhaps give talks about my and my brother’s experiences with Doreen and her disorder. If you have any contacts here, I would be grateful if you could pass their name or names on to me. Alternatively, members of bipolar networks can contact me via this blog and request a copy of the book .
At your suggestion, I called at the office of the Bipolar Network after our meeting and donated a copy of ‘Ishtar?‘ which they were very pleased to receive. I told them they could purchase more copies at University Book Shops. Although the Public Library acquisitions officer requested to buy copies directly from me when I met with her to promote my book, I told her the normal process was that the library purchase copies through University Book Shops.
Thank you once again for taking the time to meet with me, and for buying copies of my book for the Dunedin University Book Shop.
Bipolar Disorder Blog (The Crazy Rambler)
*Names have been changed for privacy reasons