Welcome to MENTAL

A collection of stories ON mental health experiences

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“Brother didn’t like me when we were growing up.”

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SURFCASTER

HEMERA

Hemera was a giant. I always thought he was when I was a kid growing up. Six-foot-one and 20 stone. He had no neck, and huge thighs. He wasn’t fat, he was stocky, built like a front row prop. He was only a little bit older than the rest of us, but still, he was like a full grown man. The irony of it was that he had the personality of a seven year-old child. A child with a mental disorder.  

Hemera always hung around when the kids got together to play or go swimming. He’d keep a safe distance, but still be close enough to seem like he was part of the gang. He never seemed to know anyone, or belong anywhere. Everyone in the township of Gisborne knew him. He was a vagabond. A transient. The actual only street creeper there was in Gisborne.  You’d always see him down at the river along Port side leading to the ocean. Seeing Hemera dawdling along the street aimlessly or hanging out at the river was usual. And mostly everyone accepted him. He was part of the woodwork.

Growing up I’d heard people saying he wasn’t right in the head. Mental Hemera. They were right of course. But I never saw him do no one any harm. However, I did see him flip out once, when we were swimming, he got too excited and started swinging his arms violently in circles yelling “Wah, wah, wah, wah”….. over and over again. An adult was there and had to calm him down. I guess he was keen with anticipation and was trying to say “water”, and showing his excitement in an overly zealous and heightened way. Whatever it was, it gave me a huge fright; I’d never seen anything like it before. I was a bit scared of him after that.

Going to school, I’d travel from one end of Gisborne to the other. It would take me about half an hour to an hour depending. And yes, I’d always see Hemera wandering around, before and after, there he was, kind of, almost walking with you, but not really.  

On the weekends, if the kids got together to play, he’d turn up out of nowhere for a little while, and watch, then disappear again. He’d do this thing where he’d be walking along with purpose, head facing forward, as if on his way to some important destination. Then suddenly he’d stop in his tracks, like he’d just remembered that there was actually nowhere to go.  He’d stand cast for a while, flinching and muttering, then he’d start walking the other way, hesitating, before seemingly just giving up, and flopping down onto the curb side of the road, contemplating the universe that is possibly happening in the gutter. His legs strayed straight out in front of him, head bowed, fiddling with a stone or an ant.

Hemera.  

As time went by, and I got older, I started to notice that he wasn’t around so much. Looking back, I hope it was because someone scooped him up and gave him a place to stay. Back then I never thought anything about it, bad nor good, it never occurred to me. But now when I look back and I feel so sad, and sorry for him. He had nowhere to go and no one to belong to. I’m sure that state healthcare back in the 70’s was nothing to write home about either. How I wonder what became of him.

 

 

MY BIG BROTHER

Brother got a brand spanking new Surfcaster for Christmas 1973, from our Grandparents on our mother’s side. I got a book. I didn’t know why at the time. As a child, I felt hurt, and just calculated that maybe they didn’t like me. But they loved my brother. That never changed.  The good news is, becoming adults we learn and understand why things were weird when we were kids. It all pans out.

Brother didn’t like me when we were growing up. I was Dad’s pet. My father was very hard on Brother. But spoilt me. So naturally Brother built up anger and resentment toward me. I loved him so much, and just wanted to be cool like him.  But he never wanted me around. Fair enough - I was a dumb, flaky younger sister.

So on the day that he told me to get my bike and put his fishing tackle bag on the carrier (“we’re going fishing”), I was over the moon. I was so happy that he wanted me to come. And down to the river we went.

I never knew the first thing about fishing, but was so keen to help and do anything to please him. But as per a ditsy girl, I was useless and had to take direction from him as to what to hold and how to throw and how to bait.

My stress levels would go up doing anything like that with Brother. I’d always do it wrong or drop something and he’d always get angry at me and yell at me, and sometimes punch me up, only if Dad wasn’t there. I could see it was starting to look like the fishing trip was headed that way.  

I stood by and looked on as Brother baited his line, and cast his new Surfcaster into the river mouth. Great cast - the line went far; it was amazing to watch him do it. He found a flimsy hole to rest the rod in and told me to hold it while he baited the other fishing rod up. So I held it there, daydreaming about lollies and fresh air. Then Brother needed something from the bag on my bike, so I rushed to get it for him. I so very much wanted to please him. I went about grabbing it, and took it to him. I stood watching him bait the second rod up, and he kind of showed me what to do. He grabbed the line, and walked towards the pier to show me how to cast the rod.  

We got to the edge of the wharf, but before I knew what was happening, my head was hitting the ground, and my mouth and teeth were eating stones. All I could hear was Brother yelling and screaming at me. I was in absolute shock, I tried to get up off the ground but I couldn’t because he just kept beating me down, yelling at me. Then I felt like a burning whip on my back, one after the other, and realised that he was whipping me with the other fishing rod.  I was scrambling towards the edge of the wharf, along the stony ground to get away from him, but I couldn’t, because he was on me.

I got to the edge of the wharf, still on the ground with Brother over me, when I realised what had happened. He pointed to the river, and I saw his brand spanking new Surfcaster that he got for Christmas from our Grandparents, floating away. And I knew, what an idiot I had been to forget to hold onto it. But I never registered for a minute that it would fall into the river.  I didn’t think. I guess I was just too wrapped up in trying to please him.

He screamed at me, “get in and get it!” This river is no creek, but a deep, wide river, with a strong current. Strong enough to carry the Surfcaster off and away quite quickly. I knew it was dangerous. I didn’t want to go and get it. I was young and wasn’t a strong swimmer.  Brother grabbed me by the hair and scruff of the neck and threw me over the side of the pier. My leg got caught at the top and was wrenched. I fell down the side of the wharf into the water, and was trying to hold on and climb back up. But Brother, pushed me back down. I kept trying to climb out of the water, but Brother got his foot on my head and tried to push and kick me back down into the river.

Suddenly, out of nowhere I heard a voice say, “leave her alone! You’re drowning her”.  And Brother was hurled to one side. I looked up and I saw a big brown hand reaching for me. I grabbed it and as I was pulled up out of the river, I saw who it was. It was Hemera holding his hand out to me. I was crying and in shock. Brother still tried to grab hold of me again and angry at me.  But Hemera pushed him aside again, and said, “don’t do that to her, leave her alone now”. Brother had no choice but to stop.

My Big Brother was an athletic, strong young man. Number 8 in the first fifteen. A force to be reckoned with. But he was no match for Hemera. He listened and stood down. Hemera was so calm, and so strong, he flung Brother aside like he was a leaf. I’ll never forget that as long as I live. Hemera asked me if I was alright and walked away.

Suffice to say, I struggled onto my bike and sprinted away as fast as I could. That night, my mother came into the bathroom while I was having a bath, and said to me, “what the hell is that on your back?” I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then I remembered Brother whipped me with the fishing rod. Red welts, in lines. He got a strapping from my Grandfather for it.

I grew up with Brother doing that to me. He violently abused me, sometimes in small was, sometimes real hidings. All when Mum and Dad weren’t there.  Growing up, it was evident that Brother had anger issues. So much so that he wasn’t very liked by friends and family. He was always overly emotional, dominating and unpredictable. He would fly off the handle at the drop of a hat. My early years were spent on egg shells, in a war zone, fighting for my life.

When Brother was 45 years old, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  He was given treatment, and now is a totally different person. He is the absolute opposite to what he was when we were growing up.  Quite a few years after he started his treatment, he came to me, and apologised to me for all the beatings, for all the torture, pain and abuse he’d inflicted upon me. We cried together. It was the most profound and healing turning point in both of our lives. Now we are very close and have an amazing loving relationship.

 

Dedicated to Hemera, whom I never saw again.

“Your life will be different because every day people are talking more about mental health."

“I remind myself every day of how lucky I am to have a rhythm in my heart and a pair of lungs that fill with air."