Random Analytica

Random thoughts, charts, infographics & analysis. Not in that order

Tag: Mental Health

16. Mefloquine Dispatches: Caravaggio, October 2012

It is 2012.

I am starting to get noticeably sick but I don’t know what from. Not all the physical symptoms have arrived. My tinnitus was always present but mild. I put the vertigo down to heat, bad ankles or alcohol. My teeth and gums are still good. My face hasn’t gone red as yet. The fine tremor in my hands hasn’t started. I spasm in my sleep but the terror of having been given epilepsy is in my future.

The black dog never goes away. It has been with me since at least 1999. It was accepted by the Army although they blame me for its occurrence. Over the years my family has become inured to its silent damage. My marriage hasn’t collapsed but the writing is on the wall.

I am watching the new Simon Schama series the Power of Art. We get to the episode dedicated to the life and works of Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio.

I don’t know the first thing about Caravaggio. Some people are turned away from him. He is unstable yet he has a power to turn art into majesty. He pioneers the art form of chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and shadow. He is constantly in trouble. He drinks too much, prefers to sleep in cheap rooms and hang out with his cronies, who are little more than local bully-boys.

His art reeks of the dirt, sweat and blood of everyday life. In Young Sick Bacchus he makes God human. The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew is portrayed as the brutal murder it would have been. The victim lying on the floor on the cusp of shadows, his assailant highlighted with blade in hand ready to finish the killing. It’s all too real for the Catholic Church.

Caravaggio kills a man in 1606 in a duel but it is actually little more than a cold blooded murder. He is exiled and tries to paint his way out of trouble. In a cruel twist of fate he is pardoned but imprisoned on his way home. He gets out of his prison but misses his boat. He dies walking back to Rome with the painting of David with the Head of Goliath. It is a gift for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the Prince of the Catholic Church who has pardoned him.

I am captured by this painting. Caravaggio is Goliath. He has painted himself as a villain. The young David is surrounded by light. I finally get art because I see an artist I understand. I totally get Caravaggio. It helps explain what is going wrong in my head.

I too am Goliath. 

As Simon Schama noted in his documentary:

In Caravaggio’s time it was believed that artists were given their talent by God to bring beauty to the world and to put mortal creatures in touch with their higher selves or souls. Caravaggio never did anything the way it was supposed to be done.

In this painting of the victory of virtue over evil it’s supposed to be David who is the centre of attention, but have you ever seen a less jubilant victory? On his sword is inscribed “Humilitus Occideit Superbium”, that is, humility conquers pride. This is the battle that has been fought out inside Caravaggio’s head between the two sides of the painter that are portrayed here.

For me the power of Caravaggio’s art is the power of truth, not least about ourselves. If we are ever to hope for redemption we have to begin with the recognition that in all of us the Goliath competes with the David.”

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Image: David with the Head of Goliath (1601)

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

13. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs, 2000

I make the call. It is a Friday afternoon. Late but not yet knock off time.

I’m trying to get through to my Delegate. The Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs has assigned me a delegate to investigate my claim for Depression. When my mates find out about this they avoid me. I’ve largely disconnected from the military by this time. The Army does not talk about mental health in 2000.

I’ve been trying to get help. The screams that I hear at night as I go to sleep don’t make any sense. I’ve been through my military documents, then my medical documents. Like the Army I miss the deployment and the omission. Six lines and a sign-off hastily written on the back of another soldier as we race on toward the Hercules readying for take-off.

I am paying for my own psychiatrist. He is expensive but wants to do more work. I have to work to keep a roof over my head. I’m selling my house to fund it all. There is no Non-Liability Health Care in 2000. There is no care once you leave the Army even if you can hear the screaming. You have to fight and scrap for every bit of assistance. The process is not just brutal, it’s a fucking meat-grinder. It has been chewing up sailors, soldiers and aircrew since 1976.

A man answers the Commonwealth Department of Veterans Affairs phone line. It is not my delegate.

“Can I get through to G* please”.

“No mate, everyone has gone home for the day”.

“Ok, I’ll call back next week then”. I am still of the opinion that government departments like this are designed to serve people like me.

“Mate, don’t bother. I know who you are. You have been ringing all the time. Your claim has been dismissed. There is nothing wrong with you. You can try to appeal it but your just bunging it on. We know your type”.

With that he hangs up the phone.

I don’t call back. The door has been shut firmly in may face. It will take me nearly two decades to regain the courage to start the DVA process again.

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If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.

10. Mefloquine Dispatches: Acceptance, 2019

My acceptance story actually started a month ago when I penned my first letter. My Request to Darren Chester. I’m not sure if he read it or not. I honestly don’t care. I laugh and I cry as I write my stories. I write for myself.

I have some AMAZING people helping me with this.

I used to hate the RSL. I didn’t understand the sub-branch setup when I first go in. I got dragged in by a job services provider. I had slept in my car the night before. I was so embarrassed by my situation I didn’t return for a year. I was off the grog by then. Was holding down a part-time job in a bottle-shop. Lived by myself in a cabin. Was restoring my relationship with my kids.

My RSL advocate is an ex-Navy man. He was on the HMAS Melbourne after it had sunk two of our own ships. The HMAS Melbourne was indirectly linked to 161 allied sailor deaths. Plus all the trauma afterwards. His hands shake. He has a condition which makes him shake to some degree all the time. Yet, he chooses to come in and help out veterans like me. He takes extra time too. All of his folders are fatter than other advocates because he does the due diligence. After I first meet him I kick-off in his small office. He still invites me back again. The second time I’m shaking like a leaf. It’s my pattern. He gets it.

Then there is my GP. She is an older lady. Has an amazing brain and a thousand stories. She is still a country GP in a world that doesn’t respect the connectivity that a Doctor can have with a community. She first worked with veterans in the 1970s before there was even a DVA. One of her first patients was gassed in the trenches of WWI. Changes of light would kick him off. He died screaming because the systems we have were set up for the projection of war power, not the assistance required for the men and women who stand on the wall. She has had her own struggles. She gets it.

She points me toward a Psychologist. I didn’t go to him for help on this. I thought I might have some PTSD but I’m unsure. He listens quietly at times. Interjects with his own stories as well. He sees the PTSD but also something deeper. The second time I see him I am shaking so much it takes me an hour to calm down. He is like me but older. He flew into Vietnam as a specialist at the end of that war. He jumps out of a chopper on a hill and still carries the bursitis today. He has a girl’s name! Everyone mistakes him for a girl when they first write it down. Think on that for a moment. He soldiered in Vietnam with a girl’s name! How tough is this guy.

When I finally pinpoint the Mefloquine I immediately admit myself to the local ER [Emergency Room]. I’m ready for the long sleep but I’ve made a promise to be there for the kids. My ER doctor is a combat veteran. What are the chances! Of all the doctors I get when I find out about this I get a combat vet. I tell him my suspicions. He takes me seriously. He shipped into Timor Leste in 2006 with Op ASTUTE. I know nothing about this operation. I avoid all things East Timor. He tells me they dropped mefloquine in 03’ because it was sending everyone crazy. That line alone saves me. I start to dig. Then I start to dig deeper.

My psychologist points me toward a psychiatrist. We don’t know who to choose because my thing is a bit of an outlier. I get an older gent who moves heaven and earth to get me a bed. When we first talk I’m on a different planet. I look at the puzzles he has adorning his rooms in fascination. At a much later date I meet another psychiatrist. He is originally from Pakistan but calls Australia home now. He takes the time to read my stuff. Talks me down. Explains why it is important to accept that my condition has a mental health element. They are both the smartest men in the room and yet they don’t get it, not yet anyway.

Yesterday I sat down with my first ever Occupational Therapist. She is young but not too young. She is professional. Her partner is an ex-AJ [Army Jerk]. His time was spent in the Sands. Didn’t do the malarial zones. Has had his battles too. I tell her I’m glad. It means I don’t have to explain absolutely everything. She writes copious amounts of notes as I rattle of my disjointed tale. She explains the process, where we go from here. We agree to not use the word rehabilitation. There is no cure for what I have. It’s all management from here.

I’ve accepted that I won’t be cured. The disease has already done too much damage to the person I once was. The person it has created is interesting though. He can be intense, he can talk too much. When he kicks off he can be a terror but most of the time he just quietly sits at the back of the room or at home when he muses and writes. He has accepted the disconnection. Enjoys the silence. Or the music when he has the headphones on. I think I can do something important with this. I don’t know what it is yet but I don’t want to go to the grave SCREAMING. Not like my old troop sergeant. He was such a good bloke.

I don’t want to be one of those veterans who screams at the injustice of it all. Hell, when I signed up possibly dying for your country was part of the GIG.

It’s been a long time since I signed that paperwork in 1989.

I know everyone’s experience with quinoline is different. There are no first prizes here for suffering. We are all on our own journey and doing the best we can.

My new journey started this week. I have stopped screaming. I have accepted my fate and will make the best of what I have left.

 

If you or someone you know needs help, please phone Lifeline on 131 114, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.