What watching ET taught me about fear

Tonight I decided to introduce my kids to a movie classic – ET.  I had vague memories of a very cute Drew Barrymore playing with the Extra Terrestrial and thought my space-Leggo mad kids would love the movie too.

Less than 10 minutes into the movie, all three kids were hiding under the quilt… terrified by the sight of the weird, bald little alien.  I kept reassuring them it would get better, but when ET seemingly died 45 minutes later and all three kids had tears rolling down their faces, I was kicking myself for my choice of movie.

ET Movie

Who knew the lessons ET can teach?

At the end, my eight year old turned off the TV, turned to me and said: “Mum, you’re banned from making us watch any more movie ‘classics’ made before 2007! I’m never watching that movie ever ever again!”

His strong words reminded me of some I’d spoken myself eight years ago after his birth, when I had gone through an awful experience in a public hospital’s psychiatric ward.  I swore never to go back to that place – and for a long time I couldn’t even drive past it without feeling physically sick.

And yet, things change. Things that seem scary somehow suddenly no longer hold the same fear.  As the years tick by, the anger and fear are still there – but somehow less vivid.  And the bitterness begins to fade.

Two days ago, I walked back through the doors of that psychiatric ward.  This time, I didn’t arrive in the back of a police divvy van.  I wasn’t held down by police and injected with tranquilizers.  I wasn’t leaving behind my precious week-old baby. And I wasn’t declared mentally insane and kept behind locked doors.

This time, I drove to the hospital on my lunch-break and walked through the front doors by choice.  I put one foot in front of the of the other until I arrived at the reception desk.  I took a few deep breaths, smoothed down my jacket and tried to look as sane as possible as I asked for the Head of Nursing, who had promised to take me on a tour.

My husband couldn’t quite understand why I went back.  He said nothing could force him back there.  And I understood why.

The best way I can explain my need to go back there is that I wanted to face the thing that frightened me most.  I’m not a brave person normally (to be honest I found some scenes in ET a little scary myself).  But I wanted to see if visiting that psychiatric ward all these years later would help me see things differently.

As a mum, I help my kids to face their fears.  I talk them through it… trying to show them that what they’re most scared of (in this case, being attacked by a alien on the TV) is actually not all that scary.

I thought it was time to listen to my own mum-advice for once.

Mariska xx

Stay tuned for my next post – seeing if psychiatric wards have changed in the past eight years.

 

 

 

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Am I brave enough to face the past?

I’ve never thought of myself as brave person.  I’m the type  who ducks and covers my face when someone throws me a football (or a set of keys).  I’m not fond of putting myself in dangerous situations… you’ll never find me posting a photo on Facebook of myself sky-diving and I shudder at the thought of getting surprise hot-air balloon ride tickets for my birthday.

I’m all for exploring new countries – but my idea of a fun holiday does not include bungee jumping, white-water rafting or eating snails, scorpians or other unidentified objects.

But something’s happened this week that has made me muster up all my bravery.

I’ve spoken before about the most horrific time of my life… being taken from my home in a police divvy-van eight days after the birth of my first baby and being locked up in the high-dependency unit of Maroondah Hospital’s psychiatric ward .

Many of you reading this will have endured similar things: the mistreatment at the hands of “carers”, the scariness of being in a mixed ward with mentally unstable men, the loneliness… desperately trying to get people to understand you, but being met with looks of fear or annoyance.

Which is why when the Head of Nursing at Maroondah’s psychiatric ward invited me this week to meet her in a fortnight for a tour of their new facilities, I found myself feeling the opposite of brave.

When I asked my ever-supportive husband if he’d come with me, he flatly refused.  I can’t say I blame him.  Instead of enjoying the first six weeks of our first baby’s life, we both endured a type of hell-on-earth which we wouldn’t wish on anyone.

While his wife was declared insane and committed to a locked ward, my husband juggled his shock of what had happened with the needs of a tiny newborn.  While most new mums struggle to get out of the house at all, my husband bundled up our baby son and brought him into a psych ward so I could have 30 precious minutes cuddling him.

When I finally came home, we were both so traumatised that we couldn’t stand to hear what the other had been through.  It took six months of counselling to finally accept what had happened and move on.  Still, for the past 8 years, my stomach has still felt sick whenever I’ve driven past the building where the psych ward is located.

So, why would I even consider going back?

Because I’ve now realised that unforgiveness and bitterness was only hurting one person… me.  I’ve made a conscious decision to forgive the staff in that ward for the way they treated me.

And to be honest, I’m also a tad curious.  The head nurse told me that things have improved “out of sight” since I was a patient there.  The ward now has a separate mood-disorders wing for women.  And she gushed in her email about the array of activities that patients can now take part in.

Part of me is skeptical that things have improved.  But I need to know that they have – because I couldn’t live with myself if others are still living in the hell-hole that I escaped.  When I left that ward, I promised to be the voice for those who couldn’t speak up for themselves.

And so, in two weeks, I’ll walk alone into the building that is the place where I lived through the most horrible moments of my life.  I’ll put one foot in front of the other – and I’ll smile and be courteous to the staff.  But I won’t be looking at the fancy new ward or plethora of activities to see if things have improved.  I’ll look into the eyes of the patients.

Mariska xx

Have you ever had to be brave – to face something or someone in your past?  Has the experience made you stronger?  Any tips for how to muster up bravery in situations like this?

Behind this Bipolar Mum is two awesome fathers

Today Australians are celebrating Father’s Day.  Dads across the country are being woken up by tiny hands thrusting a plate of eggs and bacon under their nose.  And millions of men are re-stocking their drawers with new socks and underwear.

I have two reasons to celebrate Father’s Day: my husband (a Dad to our three munchkins) and my Dad.  Both are shining examples of everything that fathers ought to be:  patient, loving, caring, encouraging and Godly role-models to their children.

Growing up, our family of four kids never doubted our father’s love.  As a pastor, he worked from his home office – so he was there to make our school lunches, drive us to school and hear about our day when we returned.  I remember lots of walks up to the local shops together in my teenage years – with him offering his fatherly wisdom.

It wasn’t until I was older – and my best friend’s parents divorced, that I realised how blessed I was.  That not everyone had a Dad like mine – who actually wanted to spend time with his kids.

Now days, as an adult, lots of people tell me that my dad and I are similar in many ways:  we both love homemade pizza, have a flair for writing, enjoy speaking in public, and have a tendency to stretch the truth ever-so-slightly to make a better story.  I’m also told that I’m most like his side of the family in looks.

There’s something else that I inherited from Dad’s side of the family: a genetic predisposition for mental illness.  While it skipped Dad, I discovered at the age of 18 that I had more than his family’s olive skin.  Its never occurred to me to blame Dad or his family for this… or to curse my genes… it’s just the way I was created.

As a parent myself now, it does sometimes worry me that I might pass this legacy of mental illness onto my own children.  It’s the reason why I’m the ambassador of a mental health research project. I’d love to see Bipolar Disorder and other mental illnesses “cured” by the time my kids become teenagers.   But if it’s not (and with my oldest heading towards nine years old, the countdown is truly on) – it will be ok.

When I recently asked my psychiatrist what would happen if one of my children inherited Bipolar Disorder, she told me that they would be lucky.  Not lucky to have Bipolar (I wouldn’t wish that on anyone) but lucky to have a mother who had lived with the illness – and was able to show them that it’s possible to still live life in all its fullness.

Mariska xx

Do you have a father or father-figure who has meant a lot to you?  Would love to hear about how they have influenced you and your life.