Friday, September 22, 2006

Appealing qualities

Mr Man has been really worried about his friend recently. Although I obviously don’t enjoy seeing him worry, it’s really nice to see that he’s thinking about someone else.

It almost seems too long ago to remember, but even before the onset* of his symptoms I don’t recall him ever worrying about another person. Although he was quite sociable and friendly towards others, he always maintained a certain amount of emotional detachment; he just didn’t seem to want to get involved in other peoples lives. He never really had any close friends; he didn’t seem to need them. Once he was home he was happy to just shut the door on the world. Of course when he became ill he started to become more and more withdrawn and he found it increasingly difficult to mix with other people. He became self absorbed; and that’s not meant as an insult to him at all, it’s just simply the nature of his illness. His thoughts and delusions are all consuming, and the hallucinations make him tire of company.

It’s been a slow process, but he’s really starting to see outside his own world now. It’s really hard to explain what it feels like when you see that for the first time. He’s always been very protective of me, and a lot of his delusions revolved around him believing that I would come to some sort of harm; but to see him care about someone else, and in a rational way, is quite touching. In a lot of ways it’s like getting to know a side of him that I’ve not known before - a very appealing side.

The first time I saw it was probably with my friend about 18 months ago. After her husband had cheated on her Mr Man became very protective of her. I really haven’t ever seen him show this much care for anyone before, other than myself of course. Putting his own feelings aside, he would invite her in, make her a cup of tea, and then ask her if she would like him to leave us to talk in private. That sounds like such a small thing doesn’t it? I wish I could put into words what this really means. Back then he wouldn’t invite anyone into our home; he would just open the door and look at the person, waiting for an explanation for their being there, and he's still like this now sometimes. Once I had peered over his shoulder and invited them in, maybe he would disappear upstairs without a word, not wanting to have to “put up with” anyone. But when my friend came round, for those few minutes her feelings were more important to him than his own - and it showed. Maybe it wasn’t so much his actions, as his demeanour. He was happy to put her first.

Over the months since then he has shown his concern for her in many ways. She is the one person that is always welcome in our home, and who he is always happy to go to visit with me. If we’re going out for a meal he’s always happy for her to come along too, and is often the one to suggest it. He agreed to buy her a necklace that I chose, he’s given her a phone, and if she ever needs financial help his answer is always yes before I’ve even finished asking him. I can’t stress how different this is to how he normally is with other people. He’s not usually generous towards people (besides me) with his affections or his money! In fact he doesn't even like helping out family members, and if I ever say I'd like to buy one of them a gift, his usual response is "What for?" It doesn't worry me at all that he is like this towards her; like I said I find it very touching, and it shows a very appealing side of his personality. He heard the way she sobbed when she had just found out about her husbands unfaithfulness, and it has obviously brought out a very caring and protective side of him.

Now he’s worrying about his friend, who we’ll call Darren. Darren was a patient in the psychiatric ward at the same time as Mr Man, the first time he was admitted. Mr Man recognised him from years ago when they used to work for the same company, which gave them common ground at the outset. While other patients came and went, Darren and Mr Man both stayed in hospital for nearly 6 months, even being discharged on the same day. They became good friends, although not what I would call close friends. But 4 years later they still speak regularly via the internet. What makes their friendship work is that neither expects anything from the other, recognising that they both have limitations when it comes to forming friendships. Neither becomes offended if the other doesn’t feel like talking, as they both have times like this; neither feels embarrassed to say or to hear “I don’t feel too good”; and neither feels the need to constantly focus on their symptoms as the topic of conversation – it’s understood, and it’s unimportant. Basically I suppose they just make each other feel “normal” for want of a better expression.

Darren was due to come round for a meal a couple of weeks ago, for the first time in about a year. When he didn’t show, Mr Man tried ringing him but there was no answer. He was becoming increasingly worried about him, but I tried to reassure him that Darren was perhaps having a bad day, and maybe didn’t feel up to making contact to let us know that he couldn’t make it. Eventually he received a message from him via the internet, and as I suspected, he wasn't feeling well. Since then Mr Man still hasn’t heard from Darren though, and he’s been very worried about him. He’s tried leaving messages online for him, ringing and texting him, but he’s had no reply. Usually in a situation like this his response would be “He doesn’t like me, I won’t bother him anymore”, but instead he has been able to recognise that Darren’s needs may be greater than his own, and was concerned enough about him to contact the Community Mental Health Team to ask them to check on him.

To me this seems like a huge step forward. It means that he's starting to look outward, instead of inward, and this is affecting his relationships with people in a positive way. It may only be two people, but it's a start.

Incidentally, Darren has come to no harm; his mother is keeping an eye on him.

*Perhaps the correct term would be “worsening” of his symptoms, rather than the “onset” of his symptoms, as he recalls hearing voices since his teens. Maybe the fact that he was already experiencing symptoms is the reason for him being quite insular. But I use the term “onset”, as this is the time that his mental illness first became apparent to me and to others.

The order of these posts may seem confusing to some, as I had started “at the beginning” from when Mr Man was first admitted, and now have jumped back to the present day. I will return to 2002 eventually, and continue from where I left off, but this will take some time as obviously it is very upsetting and I need to feel strong enough emotionally to “go back there”.

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