I have just finished reading the most fabulous book by Rahla Xenopoulos entitled, A Memoir of Love and Madness. Rahla has a bipolar disorder (manic depression) and she is the proud, loving mother of triplets. The book ends when her triplets were born, so it isn’t about parenting or about children. It’s specifically about her experience of her own madness and the grueling, relentless rollercoaster ride of mood swings that are sometimes way out of her control.
Rahla’s book is a must read, particularly for those people who find themselves to be dismissive, judgmental or insensitive to mental illness. It gives us a window into the mind of someone who has plummeted into the depths of despair and soared to ecstatic heights of bliss as her mood fluctuates wildly up and down. But balancing the horror and torment of her emotional instability, Rahla writes so beautifully about the great loves in her life, the joy, the passion and the laughter. The book is outrageously funny and entertaining at times, and it helps us to understand the bittersweet complexity of a life lived so dangerously close to the psychological edge.
After reading this book, I’m left feeling great respect for those people who live with chronic mental illness. Their lives can be an ongoing, relentless test of endurance and tenacity. But also, I’m struck by the fact that Rahla was a gifted, wanted, valued child of an extremely loving family (although perhaps not an entirely sane one). And yet despite being so loved, she developed a severe mental illness. She continues to be adored and supported by the people who are close to her. Despite her condition, Rahla’s heart flows over with love and she has a generous, vibrant, magnetic spirit.
Rahla has this to say about being a parent when your own mental health is seriously compromised:
“From the little I know…
I think every family should have extended support but if you’ve got a chemical disorder you really need the extra support. We’ve tried to instill in our children the knowledge that Jason and I are their only parents but there are other people, grandparents, aunts, uncles and beloved friends who adore them and if or when I get sick there are people, holding them. People who are able to give love as well as lifts.
Ignorance is the greatest enemy of illness, we learned that with AIDS, if you can’t be honest about the condition you have then no one can help you. If you’ve got children and a chemical disorder then you have to accept that there are going to be times, for their sake when you’ll need help. Find a good doctor you can trust and listen to him/ her.
Prioritize, if you want to be a good parent the chances are you can’t drink alcohol and take medication or party late at night. Work out what keeps you stable and stick to the routines that work. Be responsible about what works, take the medicine, do the exercise, have the early nights, stick to the routine. Don’t try go it alone.
I suppose, in the end, one of the toughest things is the whole ‘self love/ inner child thing’ we’re all so consumed with guilt and loathing which actually isn’t ok. It’s such a corny old line but if you’re not loving yourself then the chances are you’re not setting a great example.
And lastly, LAUGH OUT LOUD! Enjoy as many moments as life affords you.”
Rahla’s new book, ‘Bubbles’ is about the life and mysterious death of Bubbles Schroeder, the Johannesburg ‘good time girl’ who was murdered in 1949. The book will be launched by Penguin at The Book Lounge in Cape Town on 23rd. May, 2012.