Thin Blue Lines and Out of Minds

I swim. The water is translucent. It wasn’t a week ago; it was peagreen soup sludge and warm when I got home. I Mind the water when it’s peagreen sludge and warm. I prefer it gin-clear, the depths illuminated by sunshine, the surface brittle as a mirror. Not for the aesthetics, not because the spirit clean-clarity renders it more inviting but because when it’s simmering broth I can’t see where I’m going and am inclined to whack my head against the side.

So I swim in pleasingly pure-again water because I have tipped salt into it all week and adjusted the pH and fiddled with the chlorinator and skimmed the surface more vigilantly than Sylvester in the cut-off gumboots might normally, and because Husband has donned a mask and done battle against sides bearded in green algae with a yellow toothbrush and now I can plough up and down and see where I’m going.

I Mind hitting my head.

Mind. Mind. Mind.

Innuendo and implication and I swim and I think and I think and I swim. And I empty my thoughts into the water and hope they won’t muddy it.

For my thoughts are taut and in turmoil and wrapped and knotted.

Mind’s logo is a clever one. A tangled line, in blue disarray, straightens out to articulate the word – Mind – with reassuring legibility. Calm restored after a disconcerting scribble.

I write to Mind.

I really hope you can help me, I say.

It’s not me who is ill, it’s my Mum. And I don’t know what to do next. We have done a hundred GP and psych appts. We have tried dozens of drugs. Now her regime is being manipulated again. I find the mental health clinic that she sees difficult to communicate with.  She is isolated and unable to make decisions, of course: the nature of the beast. And I don’t know what help to ask for next.   I don’t know if there are options out there that we aren’t seeing? Making use of? What can she do when she cannot call a  helpline number  (because she does not have the courage to make a telephone call, because putting on a wash is the central focus, the biggest achievement, of her day, and I understand why).

What else could I implement remotely to ease her situation? My mum well and my mum ill are two quite different people; that’s the whole shattering tragedy of this illness. Is there some alternative, gentle, easily accessible support that she could avail of in this fragile and vulnerable state?

Is there anything I haven’t thought of that I could have?

And I wonder if they register the desperate note of my tone.

Or whether my message is spammed?

Here’s the thing. I need to keep Mum’s illness at the forefront of my Mind; I do it partly as some kind of paltry and pathetic prophylaxis; if I remember the susceptibility of all our psyches, perhaps I will protect my own? But more than that, I need Mum to know that out-of-sight does not mean out-of-Mind. Ah. The bitter, sad, sad irony of that assertion: for she is out of her Mind. With despair and desolation and despondency.

And I am almost out of mine with worry.

Mind. Mind. Mind.

And that thin blue line jags and pulls and ties itself into tight little knots all over again which I know will be nearly impossible to pick apart.  The task will require patience and fortitude and time. Lots of time.

I speak to my friend K. My mother’s illness is news to her. And Depression is new to her. I don’t know if she registers the enormity of my gratitude when she does not shirk from it. When she reacts to my teary ‘I am worried, what shall I do?’ with exactly the right mix of compassion and practicality. Like my friend C, her smile  in London, thousands of miles away, is delivered to my screen courtesy of Skype. I watch her expression change when she asks, ‘How’s your mum?’ And I tell her. For she is another rarity: somebody who does not look at their shoes when I articulate just how mum is, without pulling punches. Without euphemizing the condition so that it might be more socially acceptable. Like a cold.

Sometimes. Sometimes when I write of Mum’s illness there is a shiver of something like anxiety. Is this mine to be writing about? Yes, says K, emphatically. Is it disloyal of me to out her illness with such vociferous energy? Should I cloak it in innuendo? Smother it with secrecy.  Wrap it up in the cotton wool of what consitutes politely evasive conversation? But even as I pose those questions to myself I know what the answer is.



I don’t describe Mum’s illness, I don’t delve and dig and poke about Depression’s psyche, because I wear my heart of my sleeve, because I seek sympathy, because it prompts some perverse sort of literary inspiration.  I don’t even do it as a noble effort to tug the veil of stigma from the crown of mental illness:  to Raise Awareness. Alas, I am not famous enough to make a difference. Were I Stephen Fry or Ruby Wax I might be better heard.

I do it because in articulating it, spelling it out to myself, I hope that I might understand it better. In communicating my own confusion and concern I might learn from others as I might extend my own meagre interpretation of black dogs and blue days. And in verbalizing it I hope that a small part of mum will always know she is not out of Mind and perhaps eventually we will drag some semblance of order and coherence from our own chaotically indecipherable line.

But for now I would ask, what can I do? What have I not thought of? What would you do? What next? I need to know.

I cannot galvanize mum. She will do that herself once Depression has slunk off and taken its ball-and-chain weights and long shadows with it.  But we can do something different. We can galvanize an ether-born effort to try to understand better. And in so doing, some tiny answers, something we mightn’t have thought of before, something startling for its simplicity may come bobbing to a surface made a little brighter because waters are sieved of stigma and innuendo and plain old misunderstanding.  And even if they don’t, just knowing there aren’t any easy answers, just knowing the pain is so huge and deep and harrowing and heavy for those who live with mental illness will make a momentous difference.

And momentum is what we need for now.

For if we are honest about mental illness, perhaps it will allow itself to be honest with us; perhaps some of its complexities might be revealed in clearer waters?


Send this post to somebody who might care about mental health.

And if you’re really brave, send it to somebody who doesn’t yet.

23 Responses to “Thin Blue Lines and Out of Minds”

  1. Alcoholic Daze (Addy) Says:

    Just catching up with the last ten days. So glad Hat got into her first choice, but sorry to hear about your mum. Not sure I can offer any practical solution. Just hope someone reading this post is an expert who can offer some help both to you and your mum.

  2. Geraldine Says:

    All you can do is wait and , if you can , minimise any collateral damage .
    Love , even while this is rejected or ignored . And be there .
    And look after yourself too .

  3. Geraldine Says:

    Sorry , I meant “be there” in the current sense of always being ready with emotional support rather than actually being in the vicinity .

  4. Rob Says:

    Sometimes the odd prayer can help… Here’s one called the “Act of Surrender”: –

    True, strong and loving God,
    Supreme Healer,
    Knowingly and deliberately I now make the decision
    To abandon myself entirely to Your wise and powerful love.
    This day and forever I surrender to You
    My mind with all its powers,
    My body with all its parts,
    My feelings, pleasant and painful,
    And especially my will.
    Take my life under Your care
    And take my will into Your own.
    Rule me and possess me and use me.
    Do what You like with me.
    Only give me this one grace,
    Never to lose faith in You,
    Never to fear for myself,
    Or to complain of the way You treat me.

  5. Mwa Says:

    Having struggled with depression in the past before, I just wish I’d had someone to be as concerned and willing to help think it over as you.

    Sorry I have no answers for you.

  6. Mwa Says:

    Well, maybe I do. The only thing that ended up really helping me long-term was mindfulness training. I couldn’t have done it in the depths of depression, but it helps me not get back into it as easily, has changed my life completely for the better. So not the help you need right now, but maybe after this episode…

  7. Miss Welcome Says:

    Please don’t take this as advice because I’m not advising you. I can only share what path I’ve walked with my own two feet.

    In addition to my own depression (and my mother’s, though she is well now on medication), I lost my brother to suicide. I was always the one in the family who took care of things. I felt the full burden of the family’s weight on me. But I was living in Taiwan when it happened – there was nothing I could have done. I grieved heavily for two years and thought I would never feel joy again (I got my own depression diagnosed in that time), and ironically, perhaps, started to trust God as a result and realize that he’s the only one who can carry the weight.

    My heart aches just as deeply as it did before when those around me suffer. It can be a crushing weight. But I don’t carry the burden because I just can’t …. and it’s not mine to bear.

    Thinking of you in your heartache.

  8. Potty Mummy Says:

    As you know, we also have experience with this in my family. I can’t offer any advice – god, how I wish there was a magic bullet – but I’ve put you up as BMB of the Week in the hope that maybe somebody else out there might be able to help. Oh, and also because you are an amazing writer too, obviously…


  9. Miss Footloose Says:

    Mwa mentioned mindfulness training. It has done wonders for me. Try it for yourself, for you. You need to take care of yourself. I wish you strength.

  10. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Addy, thank you: you’ve been in my thoughts. You and Kay. X

    thank you Geraldine: i think being there is important: metaphoricallly in my case. not giving up. me on her. or her on herself. thanks for reading.

    thank you Rob, that’s rather beautiful

  11. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Mwa: thank you. mindfulness training, which Miss Footloose (thank you Miss F) has endorsed as being useful too, isn’t something i’ve heard about so cyber-scurrying off to find out all about it.

    thank you Miss Welcome; i am very sad to hear about your brother, i’m sorry.

  12. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Potty: thank you. that’s all: just thank you. and am glad you are no longer locked up in your own metaphorical dark kitchen cupboard x

  13. R. Sherman Says:

    No comment, other than my thoughts and prayers are with you and her. It’s trite and cliche to say, “I’ve been there and done that,” but I’ll say it anyway. Know, some of us read your entries and nod vigorously in affirmation, because we see someone who’s “one of us,” one who’s been there, too. It’s not much, trying to be a hand to hold in the ether of cyberspace, but perhaps it’s something.

  14. Plan B Says:

    I’m here on Potty’s recommendation and I will be visiting regularly. Not because I can help. I’m afraid, despite that black dog also stalking my family, I too don’t have an easy answer – and I, indeed, have not been brave enough to write about it either.. But I will be thinking of you, and hoping that someone out there can, and will, help.

  15. janelle Says:

    ah pole sana a! wish i lived closer to you so i could just pop ’round and swim lengths with you and sit over coffee and listen …thinking of you and your ma. really really. lots love XXXXX j

  16. S Says:

    I’m sorry to hear about what your mother is going through. I don’t have much to offer but have you considered electric shock therapy? I know it sounds horrific but it’s done under anaesthesia and can be very effective in cases where drug treatment is not working. I any case I wish her a full and speedy recovery.

  17. nuttycow Says:

    Thank you for this post RM – you’re right, of course, depression isn’t something we should shy away from. Depression is not something that happens to weak people, or a certain type of person, or very few people. It’s common and non-judgmental. It’s a good thing that you talk so candidly about your mum and how it effects you. If just one person can read it and realise that they’re not alone, then it’s worked.

    You’ve inspired me to pen a few words…

  18. The black dog « Parlez-vous moo? Says:

    […] of my favourite writers have touched on the subject today and so I thought, since I’m not a complete […]

  19. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    it is something Mr S. It is. thank you.

    I’m not brave PlanB. I just can’t sit still. in case shadows catch up with me. thank you for visiting.

    dear janelle, how i wish you were closer too x thank you.

    thank you S. alas she has done that – many years ago – not a happy experience, that alone will continue to put her off. but i do understand the treatment is gentler now – and can be very effective. thank you for that.

  20. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Nutty: it’s a wonderful read. honest and real and warm and compassionate. i had goosebumps reading it. for somebody so young (for you are girl, you are! x) and for somebody whose brush with it was relatively shortlived, you learned so much and you articulate that experience beautifully. thank you x

    PS and you are right: you didn’t fail. nobody fails anything when they try. N was briefly very lucky but Depression is a big, big beast.

  21. Kit Says:

    All I can say is I don’t know. I don’t know anything about depression myself, for which I am thankful, but your post is beautifully written and does raise awareness, even though that isn’t your aim. Thank you for sharing and I hope your mum finds her way out of the cloud soon.

  22. Voyager Says:

    I have no answers, but lots of compassion for your family and what heartache the didease causes.

  23. Limner Says:

    Speaking from the inside, you blew my mind.

    If I could, I would stand next to you and whisper excerpts from my life into your ear. I’d take you by the arm and gently lead you away from the very idea of your mother, for awhile. Just for awhile, because you need distance from depression as much as your mom does.

    I’d walk with you up the side of this dark mountain, and have you look down. You might see, if you looked carefully, the shadow of your mother’s disease beginning to cling to and darken your light. It happened to me when I was you. It infected my daughter when she was you. RM, my heart aches for your mom, you, Hat, and everyone who suffers from the dark D.

    Just love your mother as you do. Find comfort here, it’s offered freely. Pray, and don’t forget to listen for answers. Share with us your joy, your pain, your mother’s gains, lapses . . . stories of you and Hat living and loving. Try not to let your mother’s disease become your disease. She wouldn’t want you to.

    Keep writing it out, girl. And call on us when you need to lean. I, for one, will always be looking in on you and yours. Take good care of yourself.

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