Personal Issues

by Megan Frampton on December 17, 2012

The recent events in Newtown, CT, have brought stark clarity to some issues that need addressing.

There’s been almost as many people talking about the need for more mental health care assistance as there have been for changing gun control laws, both of which are valid discussions.

The mental health question affected me more than gun control ever did–growing up in the Bleedingest Heart Liberalest Household Ever, in the Northeast, gun control was nothing more than something to get aggrieved over.

But mental health–that was something we knew about firsthand.

When I was in college, my dad let my uncle Paul come to live with us after suffering a nervous breakdown. Paul held a Ph.D from Harvard, and undergrad degrees from Brown and Yale. It wasn’t that he wasn’t smart, clearly. He was also a paranoid schizophrenic. He was okay, if still kind of odd, when taking his medication, but of course feeling ‘normal’ made him think he could go off his meds, and then he thought he was behaving normally, even when he was not.

He lived nocturnally, and survived on diet Coke and sweets. He was particularly unpleasant to me, and I grew to really dislike him, and living there. In fact, I gave an ultimatum to my dad: Either he goes or I go.

Paul stayed. I left, and went and spent school vacations with my mom, a situation neither my mom nor I wanted (it was a horrible experience, and if I wrote memoirs rather than fiction, I might go into detail). I was devastated that he would choose Paul over me.

Years later, my dad and I were having one of those heart-to-hearts that happen after both people are theoretical grownups, and he told me a health care worker had delivered another ultimatum to my dad: Either he stays with you, or he’ll end up on the streets. There was no help, at least not enough, help that could be given to Paul at that time. It was up to the family to take care of him, or let him deteriorate.

That was in the early ’80s, and it doesn’t seem as though things have changed. My heart hurts for people who are lost and without help. I am resolved to try to do something, even if it’s just something as minor as signing a petition. I am glad Paul had my dad, but so many other people don’t.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Synde December 17, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Beautiful heartfelt post . I getnwhere you are coming from as I grew up with a bi polar mother in the days of shock treatment.. Nothing pretty about any of it

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Jenn Bennett December 17, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Really good post, Megan. Thanks for sharing this.

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HJ December 18, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I understand and agree with your points about support for those with mental health problems. But the first thing I thought was – did your Dad explain why he didn’t tell you at the time what the heath worker had said to him? You weren’t a child; you were in college, and would have understood. I think it would have made all the difference to you – you may not have felt that he was choosing your uncle Paul over you, but that actually he had no choice.

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Megan December 18, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Thanks for the comments. HJ, I thought the exact same thing when he finally did tell me, but my dad was incredibly conflict-averse, like me, and I don’t think either one of us ever talked openly about the situation until years later. So I said something like, ‘uh, things are bad, I might have to go live with Mom until things are better,’ and he didn’t want to address it at the time, so just let me go.

He told me later he knew I could withstand it, whereas Paul couldn’t. Which I understood–and would have understood at the time, but we just didn’t talk.

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Carolyn Jewel December 24, 2012 at 4:40 pm

My mother had a sibling who died just days before she was born. The family story was that he died in a shooting accident. (His gun caught in the fence when he was going over it…) Much later, when my sister began researching the family history, my aunt (who was Mormon) sent my sister his death certificate. It was plain it had been tampered with. My sister requested the original and found that the cause of death was listed as suicide. My aunt had altered her copy, which was what she sent to other her relatives. Anyone who questioned her about got a huge dose of fear-based denial.

That’s the power of the stigma of mental illness. It’s 85 years since my mother was born, and 25 since my sister began delving into the family tree. Not all that much has changed. It’s shameful that we do so little to help those with mental illness and, it often seems to me, even less to understand the causes and treatments.

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