Perched up high #236

Disability, mental health and recovery are interchangeable and they shouldn’t be just measured by economic ideas only. It should just be feeling better, feeling hopeful, feeling valued and accepted – they should be the measures.

It’s been a long time since I posted and I want to apologise for that big pause. Right now, where I live, we are in day 236 of lockdown.

In the park near me the blossoms are slowly returning to stark and spiny branches. Earlier this week this park was dominated by overhead police helicopters and sirens and yells from the nearby union office. We had a 5.8 earthquake. I really don’t want to dwell on that set of events!

Pictured below is one of my local parrot population, perched up high on a top branch, well away from the others, just like I have felt for the last 2 years. Consciously isolated, part forced, part chosen.

So much has been shelved for me. This project has ground to a halt.

I got a brief respite with being able to perform 4 nights of musical comedy performance for the Midsumma Festival. But I’ve lost my comedy production business because it could not achieve any turnover and lost festivals and gigs meant it was best put on hiatus.

But I wanted to report, I’ve learned to play basic piano and this has helped with the mental prison of these lockdowns.

I am not experiencing frequent suicidal ideation, like 2020 presented for me.

But the only reason I could do that was because I was on WorkCover, after a workplace completely broke my mental health. Lockdown has slowed my recovery greatly, but also, probably helped in some senses as I couldn’t push myself too hard.

In my thirties I refused to acknowledge trauma and take time out to heal at all. In my forties, I got better at it, in my fifties I probably haven’t got a choice!

And what I am reflecting on today is just how many of us, carry trauma and untreated mental health, because the system means we can’t afford intense periods of therapy.

Or put aside recovery because we are too afraid of the discrimination we might encounter if we take stress leave or go on WorkCover when there is demonstrated mental injury.

Mental health is episodic. I want to copy and paste that a 1000 times down this page.

It’s not a death sentence, but untreated, it can lead to increased frequency of episodes, which become longer in duration and may lead to the topic of this blog. Suicide.

So, in the midst of what has been some terrible episode of community mental health for many; I’ve been able to access continuity of care, something I have not had for 48 years of my life to date (I turn 51 this year).

I am fortunate, but don’t confuse this with too much privilege. I manage 2 chronic illnesses and I’ve had recent diagnosis of one more of those that mean I have a long road ahead of me. But I don’t feel like dying as much as I did.

A sense of hope can be hard to find. But the bigger issue for me is still the war we must fight with shame.

So, if shame is weighing on you, move to higher ground (metaphorically). Concentrate on making yourself safe. Whatever that safety looks like.

I’m going to get real here. If your people in your life damage your mental health, if your life is plagued with put downs and gaslighting and other forms of abuse, put yourself first. That might mean really hard decisions, but you’ll be better for it.

A key stressor is often not just the mental illness that many of us have as a baseline, but how other people treat us. Some of us can’t escape that, and I acknowledge that many, particularly those of us managing disabilities, this becomes an almost impossible venture.

I used to joke, that “before you get diagnosed, just ensure you are not surrounded by assholes”. Of course this is flippant and not accurate, but it’s a good place to start. But a better place is both that and regular and continual access to quality therapies that work for us (whatever they may be).

Recovery isn’t a bad word. Disability isn’t either. But they aren’t some continuum or a binary or a competition.

Disability and recovery are interchangeable and they shouldn’t be just measured by capitalist or economic ideas only. Your worth, isn’t just if you can work again or not again, or if a career shift or change is needed (like I’ve had to). It should just be feeling better, feeling hopeful, feeling valued and accepted – they should be the measures.

Recovery can be partial or full. Recovery can mean being comfortable with what you manage from an overall health perspective.

Sometimes recovery can come out of times and places where we least expect it. So, even if we can only imagine having the room to fly and perch like this bird can, we can sure do our best to find time and space to heal…whatever that looks like.

And from my perch, I’m going to keep raising awareness and pushing back for more mental health services, so maybe one day we can all afford the kind of continuity of care we need.

Big loves to you all. Pandemics suck.

John the brewer

Exploring how I first came across my ancestor John Brady’s death in 1888 and his erasure from history. Was this mental health stigma in action? Do we as a culture just erase uncomfortable mental health history?

Okay, some posts a bit light and some serious and technical, this is how ‘The Deadline‘ rolls. Content warning: discussions of death and mental health (‘insanity’) that may be distressing for some.

So in my family there was this enigma about our founding ancestors, John and Bridget Brady (nee Lynch) that I was curious about. And with genealogy I find starting with how people finished a good place to start, so death certificates first and gravely work backwards. Sorry for the puns.

And John and Bridget’s story is a lesson in confirmation bias. Basically we knew they had pretty hard Irish migrant lives in the Victorian goldfields and they had both had alcohol related deaths. They, in my Dad’s language ‘drank themselves to death‘, so I am blundering along, assuming death by things like liver and kidney ailments.

In 1999, while I was studying Anthropology at the University of Queensland, my Aunt Anne handed me the Brady family tree she had been working on. It was a pretty good effort, but I had access to the Pioneer Index for Victoria from 1836 – 1888 from the university. This is the one of the source indexes that websites like Ancestry.com use. Given learning about genealogy is part of anthropology it was a perfect opportunity.

Anthropology has a tradition of participant observation (immersing yourself in your research with people) in the production of ethnography. It requires a certain level of introspection and techniques to position yourself in the research so as to avoid objective/subjective disasters. This project is an exercise in autoethnography.

So the exercise of learning about the first Irish-Australian ancestors on my father’s side was exactly an example of the need to think carefully about my assumptions. Given that a number of family members have struggles with alcohol, a lot of that has been almost an accepted part of the lineage. My father hated alcohol with a vengeance and was quite vehement that alcohol destroyed families and I saw my parents have a beer once a month at best.

Doing family tree research (for yourself or anyone else) requires a lot of moments of unpacking confirmation bias. What’s confirmation bias? Probably best if I give a fictional example. A long told family story about a female ancestor reveals they loved to smoke Tabaco in a pipe, and this was considered quite unladylike and contributed to her death. Some have said lung cancer because there is a recent family member who died from lung cancer. There is a family photo of her in the 1860’s with the pipe in her hand, rested at her side. You find her death certificate and it doesn’t shed much light, but her headstone reads ‘died of foul air’ on it, and you think that confirms the family story of complications from smoking Tabaco. But the ‘smoking killed her’ family theory may well be confirmation bias and it’s important to step back and look a bit closer.

The expression ‘died of foul air’ or ‘bad air’ is related to an old defunct disease theory – known as Miasma theory and usually relates to infectious disease and the idea that various fumes were causative (that we now understand to be bacterial). Your ancestor has died in her late 30’s and you start to look at the history of where she died and find a tuberculosis outbreak in the area at that time. Your ancestor lived in a community without much medical care and it’s unlikely she would have had a proper diagnosis to be put on her death certificate. But it’s also likely that TB was was the cause of her death and having smoked Tabaco a complicating factor.

So, this leads me back to John and Bridget and the moment during my examination of family history that changed everything for me – John’s death certificate.

Image description: Image is death ledger from October 29th, 1888 at Kilmore Shire. John Brady. Brewer. Male age 49 years. Result of inquiry – Death from a wound in his throat, inflicted by himself while in a state of insanity. Inquiry held Oct 31st 1888, Patrick O’Neill J.P.

I first looked at this certificate in 2000 and put it down to process it until I picked it up in 2020 again and The Deadline project was born. I was going through a period of intense suicidal ideation and treatment for that twice a week and I was trying to understand my experience.

Here’s some of the feelings it brought up (written in my dark take on the world!):

  • The nature of the self inflicted wound to the neck. Holy hell. That’s committed. What on earth would drive you to that?
  • A state of insanity. How does one do insanity in a field (Dad said he died stumbling around in a field)? Do you discuss this with the cows? When was he found? Who found him? Did someone witness the state of insanity? What did it look like?
  • What warning signs were there? Why didn’t anyone listen? Did he talk about it?
  • Was he medically unwell too? How did they define insanity? How did they conclude this?
  • Is this my future, is this inherited? What the heck!
  • And finally, THE NEXT CLUE to follow…he was a BREWER! Let’s find the old Kilmore Brewery. There was a lot of gold rush pubs (I knew this from earlier research) but unlikely to be more than one brewery.

So my journey to understand how John the brewer (not to be confused with John the Baptist, because our John was most definitely Catholic) to came to be in a field in a state of insanity began and unpacking exactly what ‘a state of insanity’ meant in 1888; began in earnest in January 2020.

So you and I, Dear Reader, are going to go on a dark journey and next we will take a look at the Kilmore Brewery. And at times I am going to drink Gin in very small amounts and read to you bits of info and I may podcast or video that, because as my dear friend Rene will tell you, I am a piss weak drinker.

And here’s one small spoiler alert – the history of John Brady’s ownership of the Brewery is referred to only once in official histories (or missing altogether) and less than a line long, although it was a significant timeline of events for the town. While I understand his death is sensitive for religious, social and legal reasons but why forget him altogether? Shouldn’t we have honoured his life anyway?

Was this mental health stigma in action? Do we, as a culture, just erase uncomfortable mental health history as well the persons contributions?

It’s enough to make me drink (but I promise you in moderation). Laterz. To the brewery we go. See you there.

IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH, HAVING A PERSONAL CRISIS OR HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE, CONTACT LIFELINE ON 13 11 14

YOU CAN CALL THEM 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK FROM ANYWHERE IN AUSTRALIA.

LOOKING FOR INFORMATION OR SUPPORT SERVICES ON ALCOHOL OR DRUGS AND NOT SURE WHERE TO BEGIN? CALL THE AUSTRALIAN DRUG AND ALCOHOL FOUNDATION 1300 85 85 84 TO SPEAK TO A REAL PERSON.

WTF is the deadline?

The Deadline is video, podcast and blog project, taking you on a darkly humorous boutique distillery tour that crosses representations like “Who do you think you are?”, “Time Team”, “Drunk History” with “What we do in the Shadows”.

If you have to torture yourself to listen to this. It’s basically what is written below, but it’s just for value add and I hate my voice, so there’s that. So, yeah.

The Deadline is video, podcast and blog project (and eventually community theatre project), taking you on a darkly humorous boutique distillery tour that crosses representations like “Who do you think you are?”, “Time Team”, “Drunk History” with “What we do in the Shadows”.  Let’s talk about what is hidden in our family history closets and mock the crap out of the government policy and the inane and outdated social conventions that drive stigma and taboo.

Now before you go ballistic about how “you can’t laugh at that!”, people often laugh through trauma as a way to cope. And we won’t be laughing at people’s experience unless it’s something a family member found funny and is prepared to share with you…and you are not that wanker whose going to tell them they can’t laugh at this are you? We will mock the hells out of the system along the way.

If you would like to read a bit about how community arts and good mental health practice here’s a little taster for you:

Keller, S.; McNeill, V.; Honea, J.; Paulson Miller, L. A Look at Culture and Stigma of Suicide: Textual Analysis of Community Theatre Performances. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019, 16, 352. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/3/352#cite

About the author of this site: I’m Jacci Pillar, a presenter somewhere between Louis Theroux and John Safran but a lot queerer than both.  “The Deadline: Of Death and Gin”; is a hybrid arts project that combines autobiography, anthropological ethnography and comedy. 

Why do this? It all started with a family history of laughing about “things you shouldn’t laugh about” in order to heal through some big family crises. My family has been plagued with mental health and addiction issues, often hidden with such ferocity it was comical. Then I began unwrapping the family history in 2005…

Two founding ancestors of a Brady lineage in Australia, John and Bridget were goldrush brewery owners in Kilmore, Victoria, Australia.  (Irish-much?) John died in 1887 from “a wound to the throat after being in a state of insanity”.  His wife, Bridget, died a few years later with an enlarged liver, a typical drinker’s death.  My great grandmother, Jane Brady, was left to die in Sunbury Mental Hospital in 1945, and while her connection of the original lineage is unclear, this is because of the erasure of mental health histories and social stigma. Jane and extended family claimed to be direct descendants of a John and Bridget, but other family members dispute this. Jane’s records are vague and require more investigation.

Regardless, the Deadline is not about family history, it’s about family secrets and how and why they shouldn’t be secret and it’s about understanding social history. How family secrecy doesn’t help us heal, demonizes and excludes people and reinforces dangerous stigma about mental health and addiction.

RESEARCH IS SAYING THIS TRAUMA COULD BE both INHERITED and a result of experience, WHICH LED ME TO ASK, AM I DOOMED?

Image is a gif of the character Bernard from BBC series Black Books (played by Dylan Moran). He is spinning around from bookshelf and saying “You don’t beat around the bus do you?”

We all talk about good mental health but then hand our depressed relative a drink in the corner at Christmas and hope they’ll go away.  Let’s face it, we’ve all got that Uncle or Aunt.  For my family that person is me. 

If you’ve ever rung a suicide hotline late at night, you’ll realise lack of funding mean you are more likely to get on hold music than rapid help. 

The voice message should say “Please try and restrict your suicidal thoughts to between the hours of 8.30am and 4.30pm, when we have the resources to deal with you.  We are sorry for the inconvenience.  Have a nice night.

Research has also shown how stigma, shame and lack of services, push people to further harm.

If we want people to keep living so much, why are we literally killing people with shame? 

Could modern mental health and addiction services be like the self-fulfilling bungled social policy of promises unmet, the ultimate spin.  “The Deadline” takes a personal look at what we’ve learned anything in the last 200 years.  

Worse, could the idea that we inherit our trauma be taken on board by people so deeply that it replaces ideas like fate and destiny? Or self-fulfilling prophecy?

I sincerely hope not!

Take a journey with me through The Deadline, from my great great grandfather’s 19th century brewery to now – using comedy, history, family stories,  picking researcher’s brains and gin! Don’t forget the gin!

Content will include literary blogposts and some little film and podcast projects as we get out to Kilmore and Sunbury later this year and do some history investigation like:

  • Interviews with experty type people
  • Interviews, oral histories and stories from other Irish-Australian families with similar intergenerational mojo
  • Interviews with people who perform about dark topics
  • Whatever else I think of.

Weekly posts and updates as the project develops coming soon…

IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH, HAVING A PERSONAL CRISIS OR HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE, CONTACT LIFELINE ON 13 11 14

YOU CAN CALL THEM 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK FROM ANYWHERE IN AUSTRALIA.

LOOKING FOR INFORMATION OR SUPPORT SERVICES ON ALCOHOL OR DRUGS AND NOT SURE WHERE TO BEGIN? CALL THE AUSTRALIAN DRUG AND ALCOHOL FOUNDATION 1300 85 85 84 TO SPEAK TO A REAL PERSON.