Gran

May 12, 2007 at 11:29 pm 1 comment

I’m feeling rather down at the moment. Slept a ridiculously long amount of time yesterday (and unusually for me, managed to get back to sleep after being woken by a phone call from my brother). I’m finding it difficult to concentrate on things for long, but that’s OK, because most things seem fairly pointless anyway. I’d guess this crashing down into a blah nothingness is the result of the now fairly insignificant levels of citalopram and its metabolites in my plasma.

I was going to write about my grandmother and some of the weird secrets of my family. Let’s see if I can get my thoughts in line long enough.

Gran, my maternal grandmother, came to live with us when I was three years old. Her husband, my grandfather who I barely remember, had died from various respiratory problems. Without him to look after her, she couldn’t really cope on her own, so my mum asked her to move in with us. Strangely, given that she lived with us for years, I don’t have too many memories of her. I remember that as a child, I used to like going through her sewing box, with its buttons and beads and old coins. I remember the way she would express mock-disapproval at something with an exclamation of “Oh, I say!”. If she approved of one of my sister’s boyfriends, she would remark that he had “good legs”.

And I remember the night of the Great Big Revelation.

I would have been 9 or 10 years old. I’d watched A Nightmare on Elm Street the previous day. I wasn’t the kind of child to get scared at horror movies, which is presumably why I was allowed to watch mostly what I liked. I was always the one who’d stand at the mirror saying “Candyman” five times while my friends hid behind the sofa. A Nightmare on Elm Street got to me, though. It was one of two things I’d watched on TV that had scared me at all. (The other one was a horror drama called Ghostwatch which aired on Halloween, 1992 and was very easy to mistake for a live documentary. Especially when you’re 10.)

So I was awake and wondering whether, if I went to sleep, a malign supernatural force would suck my body into the bed and unleash a geyser of rather fake-looking blood. When this failed to occur, I quickly forgot about Freddie Kreuger (who, it should be said, was much scarier and less comedic in the first film than in the many dire sequels). And I heard raised voices downstairs. Like any 10 year old, I listened in. I may have been hoping it was my parents finally deciding to get divorced, but alas, this wasn’t the case.

Gran had been acting a bit strangely for a while. I wasn’t really aware of this at the time, but so far as I can gather, she was going through phases of confident and frenetic activity, massive shopping sprees and the like, followed by phases of deep and dark depression where she would refuse to go out and believe that various people were plotting against her. My keen-eyed readers will be sure to be muttering about bipolar disorder at this point, and they’re right. Gran was eventually diagnosed with manic depression, was prescribed lithium and was in and out of a psychiatric/geriatric hospital for a while. I seem to recall that she had at least one course of ECT.

On the night of the Great Big Revelation, she was particularly upset and didn’t want my mother to call the doctor. In her distraught frame of mind she let slip a secret that she’d been keeping for fifty years. She’d kept it well and nobody suspected. My aunt, my mother’s sister, was adopted. My parents weren’t sure if she was making it up, so later on we went to the Archives in London and looked at the original birth certificate, which provided confirmation. While we were there, my mother looked up her own records, which show that she was Gran’s biological daughter. There are, however, enough discrepancies and general strangeness to make this somewhat suspect. She was born fairly soon after the war and some of the people involved would have had the contacts needed to falsify the records. It’s not certain either way and those who knew the truth are dead now.

It’s still a secret, which is my mother’s decision. I’ve told friends about it and am comfortable discussing it under the cloak of anonymity here. At this late stage, though, there doesn’t seem much point telling my aunt about it. Her biological mother, if she could be traced, is almost certainly dead now, and decades have gone by. It’s also possible that my aunt has found out independently and doesn’t want to discuss it.

Even though the diagnosis of manic depression came at a very late stage in her life, gran was always somewhat high strung and prone to worry. I suspect she had those problems for much of her life, but was protected and shielded by her husband. Bipolar disorder seems to have a fairly strong genetic component to it. I have a relative who was diagnosed as bipolar – if I’m actually related to her.

With my mother’s own health problems and gran’s problems becoming more serious, she moved into a nursing home. It was located close to us and she was visited there often and seemed to be reasonably happy. She died, mostly of old age, nearly ten years ago.

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Goodbye Stitches, Citalopram Football as an Unwelcome Alarm Clock

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. joanie  |  May 12, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    preceding your gran story with the nightmare on elm street is quite interesting. perhaps, you regard mental illness in the same way.

    hopefully, the doctors will not fail you. i suspect your experimental tendencies (as an experimental chimp) will help in failing at failure. does that make sense?

    thanks for sharing this little story.
    take care.

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Hi, I'm James. I'm a 26 year old guy from England with bipolar disorder (currently well controlled). I also have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder (not so well controlled). This blog has charted my journey from mental illness, through diagnosis and, recently, into recovery. It's not always easy, but then, what is?

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