Supposedly one person in a hundred is schizophrenic and if their experience is anything like that of Kate Richards as described in her incredible Madness: A Memoire it is amazing that so many people are able to make it through the day. There are also many different forms of madness so a fairly high proportion of people we meet all the time must be mad in one way or another. She herself says that she first entered into madness at around 15-16 but did not know she was in any way unusual until she was in her twenties.
Aside from her own personal experience, which is quite astonishing, is the array of medical and therapeutic facilities that are available in Australia to assist people such as her. I cannot recommend the book more. If these issues interest you, this is a book really worth your time.
Interesting in particular for me are her descriptions of the various psychiatrists she had to deal with who she found aloof and distant. And to tell the truth, it is the kind of work that you would need nerves of steel to undertake. You cannot reason anyone out of their psychoses nor can you be sure they will take their meds.
Here is an an excerpt from her book which gives you some sense of what this kind of madness is like and the kinds of frustrations that must come from trying to help such people. Aaron is her psychiatrist.
In the evening I visit my doctor, Aaron. ‘How are you?’ he asks, as usual. I stand in front of him with my hands on my hips, sticking my pelvis out and then I start giggling and I can’t stop, I keep giggling and now tears are seeping out from the sides of my eyes and smudging the mascara I put on this morning for the first time in years. I’m rocking back and forth on my feet, laughing and crying in equal measure. Aaron doesn’t say anything; he reaches over to the phone on his desk and rings the Mental Health Team at the local hospital.
‘Are you taking your medication?’ he asks, mid-conversation.
‘Of course,’ I say. I have no idea where the bottle of tablets is – somewhere in my bedroom, probably under the bed where the cats sometimes pee.
He hangs up the phone. ‘Are you sleeping?’
‘Thorough waste of time.’ I sit down. ‘I do miss dreaming though. You know Freud thought that dream-life was just as important as waking-life for the illumination of the psyche. I think I agree with him, well I do at this particular moment, God, your taste in art is awful, Aaron.’
‘Kate,’ says Aaron. ‘I would like you to take one of these – now.’ He pulls a blister pack of tablets out of his top desk drawer. His desk is old, made of some wood with lines and whorls and stained dark chestnut.
‘What’s this?’ I ask.
‘It’s an anti-psychotic. Also good for hypomania.’ He stands and says, ‘Just stay there a minute.’ I sway from side to side on the chair. Aaron gives me a glass of water and a round, white tablet.
‘How much?’ I ask.
‘200 milligrams,’ he says.
I stare at it. The tablet is changing shape in my palm. It’s circular, then oval, then it expels a part of itself and becomes two tablets.
I stare at Aaron. ‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m trying to stabilise your mood.’
He waits, leaning on his desk with his arms crossed. The creases in his shirt catch the light and shine. I smile.
‘Take the medication, please.’
The tablet is furry round the edges where it has mixed with my sweat. I put it in my mouth and take a swig of water and swallow down its bitterness.
‘Thank you,’ he says. ‘The Mental Health Team are going to visit you later tonight.’
‘Excellent,’ I say and stand up and bow so that my forearms touch the ground. ‘It has been a pleasure doing business with you, Sir.’
Aaron almost smiles.
Madness is like being captured by terrorists, only worse. And the patient is often their own worst enemy.