how writing helped me communicate to someone’s anguish

There’s been some tough times going on lately.

For the purposes of this piece, for protection I will refer to the subject in the third person.

A contact of mine suffering a mental health condition for much of their adult life, recently had another ‘episode’. This has been reoccurring with increasing frequency over the past few years, including several hospitalisations, some committed under the Mental Health Act.

I’ve been involved on the periphery, the situations, I’ve often felt at a loss to assist with – their family lives a long distance away from me. We were once very close. During the years they raised their family, and I patiently received phone calls or rants about mainly mother- in-law issues. I decided I’d limit contact to protect myself. As the years went by and the episodes of mental illness increased, I avoided this person more. My excuse was cowardice in part, to protect myself from the repercussions of their rebuttals. I can’t interfere, I said to myself. I’m powerless, but can choose to support one of their siblings whom I’m close to, or offer to care for the person’s child. I did the former. After each episode blew over, their immediate whanau picked up the pieces and carried on. It wasn’t discussed, my contact became full of remorse.

This time was different. They phoned me in the early stages. I listened, occasionally challenging their comments, but also supporting them. In the past I had been too terrified to speak my truth. This time they listened at first.

Then things ramped up. They fully embraced social media. I couldn’t just turn a blind eye this time. It was in my face, day in day out. E mails — copying in double-digit numbers of their contacts, Facebook posts advising on health, demands for us all to follow their example; gurus who could solve all with diets, nutrition, natural therapy. Methods that surpassed psychiatric drug therapy. They disclaimed the presence of a mental health diagnosis, it was all caused by their ‘fight/flight’ responses to stressors or triggers in their life.

Messenger, Instagram, e mail, texts, Facebook – the posts continued. Random rants, some hurtful, offensive, unpleasant. Not personally towards me, a general outpouring to the world. Then as it often does, it turned nasty toward their birth family members – all the wrongs ever committed, blame and years of resentment.

The shaken innards of a bottle of poisonous champagne exploding forth once the cork has been released.

Then one day I saw beyond the words. The words absent from the page. I saw and felt their hurt. The fear that where they had tread before might reoccur — claims of mistreatment in the facility. Anger masked as sadness. Anger masked as fear. From all that past hurt.

I decided to abandon my fear and cowardice. I wrote an e mail reply to one of theirs. I acknowledged their hurt and fear and family members’ past misdoings.  Pointed out their strong points, what was loveable about them, how their family, like all humans is flawed but that they are the ones who are there after the shit hits the fan. I wrote how their current behaviour might be leading them along the same path that they had previously travelled on, yet were desperately wanting to avoid following again.

The results were mixed afterwards. First, a lucid ‘thanks for caring’ response. Then a full blown account of their life and how they were doing, fine thank you very much. They forwarded my e mail to their parent and siblings who in turn reached out to thank me. Their very elderly father confided in me. Their sibling had confided in me earlier.

Later, the abuse escalated, and this was when I decided I had to block the person from my social media and all contacts.

This event as confirmed for me, yet again, how my writing course has changed so much in my life. Embracing the unknown, taking the plunge to dog paddle in deep water, floundering but not drowning. 

This contact underwent a hospital assessment and now receives ongoing support from the MH services. Their marriage is over. I still haven’t unblocked them. I will when I am ready. I don’t regret my actions. When the time is right we will reacquaint.

All will work out in the end.

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