Once upon a time, she was the life and soul of the party.
Years later, she seemed soulless and unresponsive.
My Auntie Ann suffered from issues of mental health.
Sadly, my Auntie Ann passed away on Friday.
I wanted to tell Auntie Ann's story.
Although her full story I do not know. In the recent years, her words were minimal; she was subdued and silent.
Mental health issues had well and truly got her.
From having a sparkle in her eye, she quickly changed to hiding her eyes. Depression, anxiety and probably schizophrenia grabbed her vivacity. From being happy and bubbly, outgoing and smiley, to...well let's say ....several psychiatric hospital admissions.
She didn't want to be alive.
She was paranoid.
She was sad.
Having two sisters who look very similar to me, my Auntie Ann would say “Mell, Nats….oh its you, Tracy!” I would sit beside her and ruffle her hair just as I would with my gran. I would try to bring the life and glow back to her. I would tell her about my travels and she would ask about my studies in attempt to figure out ‘what I was going to be when I grow up.'
My Auntie Ann loved a wee gin. As a teenager, I did not. My first taste of gin was a sneaky swig of the remnants of my Auntie Ann's miniature stash. She stay with us from time to time and would enjoy a tipple or two. She also liked a game of bingo. She was a very kind and charismatic woman who truly cared about her family and would have done anything for them.
For Mental Health Awareness week I really stepped out my comfort zone by writing about issues of mental health. As I wrote each day, I would think about my wee auntie hoping that she was feeling well. I would think, “I better give my Auntie Ann a phone”.
This may be very outlandish but last weekend, I was overcome by a strange feeling. A strange feeling that something bad was going to happen. I tried to avoid this feeling and not think about it. Soon after, there was an ambulance on my street and I thought “it must have been that!” Then there was the horrible incident in Manchester and I thought “maybe it is that!” Nevertheless, I still couldn’t shake the feeling and I still did not call my aunt.
On Thursday evening when I was away on a writing retreat, I ‘taught’ a yoga class to my fellow PhD students and I got a strange pain in my chest. I made note that this was indeed peculiar and then carried on the practice. On Friday, I was informed that my Auntie Ann had started to get chest pains on the Thursday evening and then, sadly, died of pneumonia.
I do not profess to be a ‘psychic’ but I do believe that my gran is my little angel who plants messages with me. Psychics have told me to try tune to messages as I have a 'gift'. I am not sure that is true.
I wanted to write this blog in memory of my Auntie Ann and devote time to acknowledge the struggles she endured with mental health issues.
My Auntie Ann was a brave and beautiful woman. Sadly, her mind often got in the way of her smile and stunted her happiness. Her mood and coping fluctuated and although she tried various methods of treatments, her mind was too stubborn. The mental health problems were just too powerful.
My cousin Kimberly is making ribbons for Mental Health Awareness to give to people at my Aunt’s funeral. That is a gift she is giving. My yoga teacher recently raised money for Mental Health Awareness. That is a gift she is giving. My aunt would have gifted her last penny to any family member. The gift she gave, however, was just being herself. She was a beautiful and loving human being who, despite often feeling in darkness, would make the room light up.
This is my gift to you and a gift to my aunt. I ask you to cherish time with loved ones, to take time to understand those with mental health issues, and to seek support when things get tough. Only by raising awareness of mental health will we break the stigma attached to it. Only by learning and understanding issues of mental health will we be able to support our loved ones. Cherish, learn, and support.
Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.