Monday, November 05, 2007

Mad as a meat axe (how mad are meat axes?)

My brother Paul* and his girlfriend had their baby girl, Jaya, last week. We went down to visit them in hospital yesterday.

Paul is quite mad. He's never really what I would call on the same planet as the more mundane of us mortals but 36 hours of sleeplessness and the excitement of a new baby seem to have moved him to a new level.

He's found the solution to nuclear warfare. It's something to do with the twelfth dimension and Einstein getting part of the equation wrong when he split the atom. He hasn't showered for days and his teeth have a patina of old food built up on them. He smells like a homeless person - stale cigarette smoke, stale body odour and bad breath.

Melanie, his girlfriend, seems blissfully oblivious. She's one of those dreamy people who floats through life thinking the best of everybody. She seems to believe Paul's pronouncements about his brilliance and the imminence of his discovery by the scientific community. And, of course, she has the baby now.

Of course, he's not mad enough to be in hospital. Hospital, as you probably know, is quite difficult to arrange, as the person in question needs to be either an imminent risk to themselves or to someone else by virtue of mental illness (from which point we go into all the definitions of mental illness, which I won't here).

I've spent what seems to be a lifetime working in mental health services, and I'm painstakingly sloughing that identity, so I try not to mention it. (I went into mental health about fifteen years before my brother was diagnosed, so I hasten to point out that my career was not based on some codependent desire to find a cure for him). I've spent a lot of time doing rights stuff for people with mental illnesses. The right to make decisions, even if they are not the decisions that the rest of us would think are the most appropriate - decisions about how to live, how to dress, what to spend money on, other things the rest of us take for granted. The right to live a bit mad, without having to be medicated into agreeing with the majority consensus of the rest of the community.

My brother having a baby has been the biggest challenge to my right-on politics. Is my response merely privileged middle-class assumptions and class snobbery or a reasonable belief that every child should be nurtured and cherished, given the best environment possible? Maybe it's simply magical thinking on my part - some misguided belief that having a child would be enough to make him realise that he needs to change.

Of course it's not simply the delusions; not at this stage of her life anyway. What are a few wacky ideas, repeated over and over and over again in an enthusiastic tone, to a week old baby? It's the smoke filled house and the overflowing ashtrays and him holding her close to his appallingly smelly body. It's the way he gets angry if someone implies they don't believe him. The bile he heaps on Melanie for holding him back on his path to greatness. It's the strange way he stares off into space until someone tells him to do something specific. And of course it's the ever-present scotch, cigarettes and dope.

Mum flew up for the weekend to help out. Naively, she cleaned the house from top to bottom and left Paul a list on how to keep it clean from now on. A list of what to do in each room, once a week ("Wipe over venetian blinds with damp cloth. Rinse out rubbish bin and sprinkle bicarb soda in bottom. Wash sheets.") She also found the bong and threw it out, she told me in a defiantly shamefaced tone (That'll stop him smoking, I'm sure).

It's a problem of moral relativism: who am I to talk when all over the country there are people horrified that people like me plan to bring children into homes where there are blatant displays of lesbian affection? Many people would argue that my situation was worse.

Look at little Jaya, lying there, just completely trusting this world she has been born into.

*As always, all names have been changed


ThirdCat said...

"wipe over venetian blinds with damp cloth" makes sense in the context of Elizabeth Stone's quote.

I've got a half-written story about cleaning venetian blinds somewhere - they seem to come up a lot.

Mikhela said...

Oh, please finish the story and post it - how I would love to read a story on cleaning venetian blinds.

elsewhere said...

Godh, look even I only clean the venetians once a year.

Mikhela said...

Yes, I thought venetians were naturally a beige colour, myself

suszoz said...

My mother would take down the venetians and lie them out on the grass and wash them with a hose, once a year. It was a big deal.
I have friends who have tow little kids who smoke heavily. They only smoke outside, but still, they smell of it a lot and the kids must do a lot of passive smoking. It's a hard thing to watch.
Maybe someone could suggest to your brother (or his girlfriend) that he not smoke indoors, or would that be impossible?

suszoz said...

um, they have two kids and it's the parents who smoke heavily, not the kids.

Mikhela said...

Susoz I think that's a good suggestion - finding something manageable rather than focussing on the whole thing - although I still run into the problem of 'how much is it my business?'

Michelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deborah said...

That baby looks a bit worried, to me, like she's putting off opening her eyes. I do that.

Mikhela said...

Yes, I find sticking my fingers in my ears and humming 'Lalalalalala' tunelessly also helps.