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TITLE: Chapter 2 of "Something not quite right" - A true story of dealing with mental illness and God’s healing
By Luke Zimmermann
08/02/11
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Read Chapter 1 first - see notes there.
CHAPTER 2 A Gift from God
Fairfield, Western Sydney, Australia 1988

When our son Mitchel was born in Fairfield Hospital at midday on the eighth of October 1988, God put a big rainbow in the sky to celebrate his arrival. Jenny had been convinced that it was going to be a girl and we were so relieved when the labour was finally over that we wrapped our new-born up in a towel and didn’t even check the sex until we heard the nurse ask: “Is it a boy or a girl?” I liked the fact that she didn’t just tell us. I am sure she would have noticed. I unwrapped the baby and my eyes popped wide open: “It’s a boy!” We were so surprised that it was a boy that we didn’t actually have a name for him. Within the hour, Jenny’s mum arrived and said that she had actually got a few male names prepared just in case. “What about Mitchel or…….” Nobody seemed to hear the other names because we all liked Mitchel straightaway. The nurse, who only heard part of the conversation, immediately wrote the name “Mitchel” on the card and we were too tired to protest. The name stuck and was never changed. Later we found out that Mitchel meant ‘gift from God’, a name we really liked.

Our son was not an easy baby. He was very restless and kept us up at night in an almost regular pattern: he’d sleep for one hour and then he’d be up crying for an hour and a half. In that time he was breastfed and his nappy changed. We then spent up to an hour calming him down by rubbing him on his back. He usually and finally settled down after a big burp. It was an exhausting routine and since I always tried to be the supportive husband, Jenny and I did this together. One day we took Mitchel to the doctor after he had been up for three nights in a row. He just wouldn’t settle down and we were exasperated. At the baby clinic, we saw a young doctor and explained the problem. He looked at us with a smirk on his face and said: “Your first one, is it?” His patronizing tone infuriated me but I said nothing. I was too worn-out to respond. We ended up going home with no solution, only some useless advice like “try to relax”. In the meantime, I was working full-time as a teacher and after six weeks of sleepless nights, I broke. I was standing in the kitchen and was about to cook some dinner, when I just started crying. I was so exhausted, I couldn’t go on. Jenny let me sleep through the night that night and I felt like a different person the next day. It wasn’t until a year later that we learnt about colic and realized that Mitchel was suffering from severe colic.

I was so supportive that I was doing the washing, cleaning, cooking and anything else that had to be done. Jenny did some shopping, but spent most of her time in the rocking chair holding Mitchel. They would listen to Hare Krishna chanting all day long. It was one of the only things that would settle Mitchel down.

For the last six years Jenny and I had been delving into spiritual matters. We had started with meditation, then Buddhism, Hinduism and were now deeply involved with a famous Indian guru. Even Time magazine featured an article about him with the title “God on earth”. I was convinced he was, because he performed so many miracles and if someone had that much power, he must be from God. Through meditation, I had become calm and peaceful inside and felt much happier than I had ever felt before. Because of this, we had expected our son to be peaceful too. Nothing was further from the truth and he became a great concern to us and was Jenny’s main focus during the day and mine at night.

We were up at five every morning, when Mitchel was ready to start the day. Jenny would do washing and hang it out while I spent time with Mitch, make breakfast and lunch and get ready for work. I had to take the train to the centre of Sydney, which took about an hour door-to-door. When I came home from work, I’d take the washing off the line and fold it, spend some time with Jen and Mitch and start cooking. Everyday was different. One day Jenny would clean and tidy, the next she wouldn’t do anything because she’d be totally absorbed in her own thoughts. After dinner, I’d wash up and did other chores that needed to be done. It did occur to me that Jenny was not doing very much, but she told me that she was so tired all the time and that Mitchel needed so much attention. It seemed to me that Jenny was not enjoying being a mum. She didn’t look good, almost as if she had never recovered from giving birth. She didn’t look after herself and didn’t seem to care what she was wearing anymore. She had lost a lot of weight and was quite skinny again. Socialising became a chore for her, too. She was no longer involved in the conversations and withdrew more and more. She often had excuses for not wanting to meet people and even for not wanting to do anything. The excuses were usually very “spiritual”.

Jenny: I truly loved being a Mum but, indeed, I wasn’t enjoying it the way that I had imagined I would. I was very busy just coping with how I was feeling and this took up the better part of the day.

The birth had been tough. The labour and the contractions were excruciatingly painful and I realized with intense knowingness that I didn’t want to do this. I was afraid, so terribly afraid, and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t stop it, control it or make it go away. I wanted so desperately to have a baby and yet I was scared beyond belief.

The gas was good and I even had to fight Luke for the mask once. He was going through his own feelings of anxiety and helplessness. We had had breathing classes but now it was the real thing and I wasn’t coping. In desperation Luke yelled “scream!” and I did. Finally I felt relief, so I screamed and screamed and couldn’t stop screaming. It felt so good. I had an intense feeling of well being and power. I felt like I had conquered the world. Years later I realised that the screaming had broken through the boundaries in my mind that had been in place all my life. They were now gone. On the one hand, this had been a very liberating experience and made me feel incredibly powerful; yet on the other hand, it made me feel extremely helpless.

Our son was born and, with his eyes wide open, he checked out the entire room and the people in it.

Initially, when I arrived home from the hospital, I had constant diarrhea. For days on end I was walking around with a towel between my legs in case of any accidents. It wasn’t until my sister-in-law suggested something from the pharmacy that I realised that I was living in my own little world and wasn’t coping at all well.

A lot of the time when I wasn’t busy with Mitchel, I was in a trance of sorts. I would sit in the rocking chair looking at the wall in front of me. I suddenly became aware of choirs of angels; they were so beautiful and then along with them came visions of the end of the world graphically displayed. The sight of all the fire and brimstone I imagined would be very scary; however, for some reason unbeknownst to me I was in fact totally detached from it all. The scenes were so real that I felt I could reach out and touch them. Why I saw this and for what purpose, I had no idea at all.

These visions had started when I was pregnant with Mitchel and still working. As with most pregnant women in the late stage of pregnancy, the need to pee had become increasingly persistent. One day I went to the toilet and as always I took the first cubical. Whilst relieving myself, I became fixated on a spot on the marble door in front of me. Suddenly I felt my hand stretch out and the marble door turn to jelly. I stuck my hand right into the door. Just then someone came in, I pulled my hand back and my train of thought and focus was gone.

As a new mum, I was always looking for ways to keep Mitchel happy and content. Apart from listening to chanting and classical music, rocking in the rocking chair and rides in the car, we went for long walks while he slept in the baby pouch against my chest. On these walks I would spend my time thinking about many different new age concepts and how to continue with my personal development. I really hungered for more self-awareness, especially now that I was seeing all these things that I had no way of understanding at all. I became progressively self-absorbed. I truly believed that God had chosen me to do some kind of major deed for him. All the while Mitchel would receive great care not only because I loved him so much but also because I believed he was indeed a wonderful gift from God and was also destined to do great things.

While walking I would think about some of the self-help courses we had done. One in particular was about reflection. In the course we were told that what you see in others is what you are yourself. I took it one step further. I argued with myself that if we were reflections of each other then we were also reflections of the beauty around us. From here I began to believe that everything I looked at was a reflection of myself. Whether it was beautiful or ugly, however I perceived it, that was me. This was the real beginning of my confusion.

Slowly but surely everyday I began to see more intricate patterns of the capacity of what my brain could do. It went on and on until one day I realized that I could actually see things before they happened. That’s when it got really scary. I began to see lots of different things happen which were not good. There were car accidents, dogs and cats being run over by cars, and on and on. From that point on, life became unbearable. I realized that because in the new age we were taught that we create our own reality I began to believe that I was creating all of this mayhem and the fact that it wouldn’t stop happening meant that I must have been very bad. I was constantly feeling guilty about every single detail of life. If I saw it then I must have created it.

My whole life I had been good and now it seemed I had become the opposite and felt incredibly tormented by this burden. I saw earthquakes in the future and thought that I must have created them. A simple newspaper report of an earthquake having occurred would make me cringe and sink within myself, feeling responsible. The whole world was on my shoulders and I began to be afraid. I thought I must be going mad. Yet I would not go to a doctor in case they locked me up.

I lost the ability to cook. Knowing the difference between rice and vegetables and how long they each took to cook was beyond me. But thank God I had Luke. He took over. He went to work by day and when he got home, he did what I couldn’t do. He stayed by my side and supported me through severe post-natal depression. We didn’t know this at the time. I could simply have gotten medical help and all would have been well but I was afraid that I would be committed to the “nuthouse” and so I didn’t go to a doctor but chose to go through it totally on my own.

All of this made me incredibly protective of our son. I saw to his every need and became totally engrossed in care, play and nurturing him as a mother.

Luke: At work things were intense and stressful. I was working as an English language teacher in a Japanese owned college. It was a place where foreign students came to study English from anything between two weeks and one year. The business was booming especially after the Australian government agreed to issue student visas to the Chinese. I was promoted to programme coordinator which involved supervising language programmes and staff. The owner and managing director, Mr Jay Honda, was thrilled of course. His secretaries were counting enrolment fees in the form of cheques and cash for hours everyday. Literally millions of dollars were pouring in. However, Mr Honda had never been a good communicator and was, like most Japanese, extremely self-conscious about speaking English, especially in front of his senior staff. The fact that we were all English language teachers made it even more stressful. Every time he joined us in a meeting, which was not very often at all, he seemed very nervous and some of us noticed alcohol on his breath. One day, he walked into a coordinators’ meeting and said in a strong Japanese accent: “In sree mons, twelve hundred Chinese students come. Organise it!” and walked out. We were stunned and first had to check with each other whether we had understood correctly what he had said. Was he for real? Twelve hundred Chinese? Couldn’t he give us some more detail and direction? What was wrong with him?

Somehow we managed to organise the programmes and the college grew from one hundred and fifty students to fifteen hundred in the next three months. Most of these Chinese spoke no English at all and we were all on a steep learning curve to try and cope with this influx. In the meantime, the more money Mr Honda made the weirder his behaviour. During the Christmas party in the Hilton hotel, he gave a speech. He thanked us all for our hard work and gave us some information about the company. It was hard to focus on his words because he had a piece of bread in his hands which he was pulling apart; he stuffed little pieces of bread in his mouth and slowly chewed on it while he continued to speak. It seemed to me that he was quite unaware of what he was doing and I felt some compassion for him. On the other hand, it was hard not to laugh. It wasn’t until years later that I wondered if he was suffering from some kind of mental illness.

Mr Honda became quite abusive when the smallest thing went wrong. He would call individual teachers into his office and give them what we started to call “a Japanese treatment”, which usually ended up in yelling. All this created an enormous amount of stress among the staff. One day I got my turn. He took me into a classroom and asked me to open the cupboard. There were a few books in there that belonged to the college. In a patronizing tone of voice, he told me to read the stamp on the cover and then lectured me for ten minutes on the cost of these books and that I should make sure they were not left lying around the college. The fact that the cupboard was locked was dismissed as irrelevant. The whole discussion was quite bizarre and I decided to just let him rave on until he was finished. That took about forty minutes. After half an hour I went quiet and eventually Mr Honda ran out of things to say. I left the classroom furious about the treatment I had received but there was nothing I could do.

Mr Honda started to drink more and more. One day a television crew arrived at the college to interview him about the growth in the industry but he was nowhere to be found. His secretary, with the film crew in-tow, walked all around the college and checked all the rooms. The camera was rolling. They finally found Mr Honda deep asleep with a bottle of whiskey next to the bed in the sick room. It was ten in the morning and this was not good news for the business. The rumor was that it took some fast talking by the general manager and a substantial amount of money to keep this story from going to air.

It was an exciting time, too. I had a new job and learnt a lot of new skills. I had to learn computer programmes, manage teaching staff and run meetings. I spent a lot of time working through my shyness and forced myself to participate in meetings. As a non-native speaker, I was also self-conscious about speaking English in front of the teaching staff but I had no choice. I started with small irrelevant comments like “Can I open the window? It’s hot in here” and slowly built up to longer and more relevant contributions to the meetings. It was a liberating process.

After four years in this job, Jenny and I decided we needed a change. I was sick of the rat race and wanted an alternative lifestyle. We were going to move up north, to the country, buy a house and start a business. This was a dream we had had since we left Holland. The Australian government had stopped issuing Chinese student visas after the slaughter at Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Colleges all around Sydney were closing down and numerous teachers were laid off. Our college was also shrinking rapidly. I had a choice: if I became a union member, I could stay in my job but would be demoted to teaching. If I did not join the teachers’ union, I would be laid off and receive a redundancy payment. I choose the latter and left the college exactly two weeks before we had to vacate our house. We had sold our house and put all our possessions in storage and would have it transported to our new location, eight hundred kilometers north of Sydney, as soon as we had found a house.

Two months later, I received a letter from my old colleagues that the college had closed down unexpectedly. Teachers arrived for work one day to find the doors permanently closed. Mr Honda had disappeared. It was a carefully orchestrated scam. The day before the college closed, the secretary was still taking money from students who wanted to extend their courses or enroll for the first time. Most of the money was transferred into a Swiss bank account and Mr Honda had fled the country. All staff were owed salaries. I felt incredibly lucky I had taken the redundancy package.
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