SARAH MARTIN is an experienced theatre nurse and part of an extended family of medical professionals. Dear Psychosis, is Sarah’s debut book and is an account of her family’s experience following their daughter’s first-ever psychotic episode. It is a story of recovery, hope and the power of family. Read on for an extract.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
What would you do if you received a message from a stranger telling you that your daughter, who is travelling alone in Turkey, is having some sort of mental health episode?
Dear Psychosis, is a confronting, dramatic and no-holds-barred account of a family’s experience following their daughter’s first-ever psychotic episode in Istanbul, and her later diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
To some, it may be a warning, to others a story of hope. Most of all, it shows how the love and care given by strangers and family alike paved the way for their daughter’s recovery and inspired the family to break the silence around mental illness.
Dear Psychosis, is a powerful story that needs to be heard.
What happens when you can’t protect your children from something
that is so hidden that no one can see it?
In 2015, our daughter Alice had her first episode of psychosis.
The rug was pulled out from under our feet and the blindfold
ripped unceremoniously from our eyes when mental ill health
was flung at our front door. We didn’t ask for it to come inside,
but it did.
It sat at our table uninvited and unwelcome.
We would come to imagine this Dear Psychosis as tentacles
slowly wrapping themselves around our daughter, and sometimes
around us too.
Why her? Why Alice? Why?
The answer was we had no idea.
When our children turn a certain age, we realise that they need
to spread their wings, fly and broaden their horizons. Sometimes
they fail and pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get on
with it, and occasionally they don’t. I wonder if it is how we deal
with these moments that ultimately shapes their life?
When the mental health train struck, we became silent in our
grief. Of what we as a family had lost, but most importantly grieving
that Alice herself was slowly disappearing.
We were going in oblivious, with no clue as to what was ahead.
It didn’t take long to be envious of friends and families that
seemed to have it all. The beautiful, perfect families. Even if they
had flaws, they were still perfect in my eyes.
On the few occasions we went out in that first year, Shane and
I remained silent about the battles we were fighting at home. Dealing
with it together, with a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and a concoction
of drugs to keep Alice well.
No one knew.
No one knew or could help us because we were scared to share,
for fear of Alice being judged. In my mind the life that I had
mapped out for her was over.
Her brain was shut down and the strangeness had started.
She had voices in her head.
Conspiracy theories abounded.
The television was listening in to us.
She thought she had been implanted with a microchip in Istanbul
and that it was still in her.
She could not read or write.
She could not draw in those adult colouring-in books, and certainly
in those early days she could not have a conversation without
it being completely delusional.
These delusions led to tricky conversations. You might not realise
until halfway through it, that you weren’t actually having the
conversation with her that you thought you were. It was often hard
to define things she said as fact or fiction, or the two would be
jumbled together. We could sometimes find the essence but, in all
honesty, we would give up after a while and would try and divert
the conversation or mindset.
I would say, ‘I don’t understand what you are talking about, can
you explain again?’ Often followed up with, ‘Let’s go outside for a
walk or cup of tea.’
That simple chat you thought you were having, never, ever,
The diversion would either be met with indifference or anger.
When she became angry, she would throw verbal grenades at
- This could go on for a few minutes or become a rant that lasted
for quite a while.
When these verbal grenades came our way, I could not see the
light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, my only vision was of her
having no life at all.
In those moments, I often could not stomach it, and would tell
her she needed to stop talking as we were going nowhere. Inside,
my heart was breaking for her and for all of us.
The sadness I felt was often intense and overwhelming.
Still, Shane and I essentially kept silent about what was happening
at home. Too scared to share our story, our grief, and our
heartbreak for what the future might be. It looked so very bleak.
Spoiler alert – this story does have a positive ending.
We needed good healthcare, the perfect psychiatrist and psychologist
for Alice, medications, house rules and routine, routine,
It may not be what I envisioned for us as a family when we
started having children, but to be blatantly honest, none of our
kids fit the mould. They all march to the beat of their own drum
and have always thought outside the square. They would never
have walked a straight line regardless of what we did.
So, what led me to writing a book? A narrative non-fiction
book at that!
It started out as a cathartic bout of writing for me, a mother
whose daughter was lost within the unexpected consequences of
mental health, psychosis, bipolar, anxiety and depression, with
often only my husband to talk to.
On any given day, I could be a nurse first and a mother or wife
last, that’s just the way it is, isn’t it? As we grow up, our roles change
depending on who or what needs us the most.
Like many others that have gone before us, and sadly to those
who are coming after us, we needed the gift of hope.
Writing ended up being my therapy. An outlet where I could
voice, without burdening or, dare I say, worrying or boring the
small number of family and friends we had shared our ever-so-secret
Expressing what was going on in our everyday life, uncensored
and directly from the heart, soon became my mission and
I would be lying if I didn’t say that the year after Alice’s first
psychosis was the hardest time I have ever had in more than 50
years of life. Emotionally I was blown around like a sunflower in
the wind. Roots holding firm, but frightened that I would break
with the weight I felt that I was carrying on my shoulders.
My words began to multiply. Six months after our return from
Istanbul, it became clear that I had more than an article but not
enough for a book.
I started to think that perhaps I, no, we could write and share
our journey with families and caregivers going through something
similar. Most importantly, I wanted these families to believe in hope
and know they are not alone. On a broader scale, my wish is for
healthcare workers, doctors and nurses read it, to look at the other
side of the coin. To see what is really happening in the homes of
their patients, and thus create positive change. To treat the whole
family, and to share in the wisdom and knowledge of those of us
who have been in darkness.
I asked Alice if she felt she could put pen to paper but it wasn’t
until a year after her return from Istanbul that Alice emailed me the
words that she had written. To be honest, I was not expecting her
to recall much, and if she did, I was doubtful that I would be able
to add it to our book. What Alice gave me was an amazing insight
into her psychosis. Her words are confronting, frightening, and
fascinating. A no-holds-barred account of what she went through
while in Istanbul and then back at home.
I then asked our oldest son, Jesse, who was studying medicine, to
add his words. To recount the week that he spent with us at the most
critical time in Istanbul. To add further crucial observations and insight,
not only of Alice at that time, but of me too. Our writing then
turned into page after page of our story and this book was born.
Mental illness is silent and often invisible, as people (and we were
those people) are reluctant to ‘out’ themselves or their loved one due
to perceived repercussions that sadly exist in our society today.
By reading or listening to us, you are not only helping break
the silence on mental illness, but you are assisting us in making as
much noise as possible.
This book is NOT a self-help book.
What it is, is a story. It is our story.
Why is it so important that it is told?
If we don’t share our experience …
The silence. Will. Continue.