Yesterday I watched the film ShockHeadSoul at uni – they do some awesome extras during half-term week. It was put on by our Clinical Psychology course leader. If you have never heard of it, the film is based on the memoirs of Daniel Paul Shreber. Shreber was one of the earliest diagnosed cases of what was then called Dementia Praecox, what we would now call Schizophrenia. He is so interesting for a number of reasons. What grabbed be the most is his family background. His father was famous for his books and ideas on childrearing. I have not yet read these (I intend to) but from all accounts he was beyond strict, possibly quite abusive. I say ‘possibly’ because I don’t know the facts, and even now I could only read second or third hand accounts – this was going on in the mid 1800’s. Daniel Paul Schreber had an older brother who’s mental illness ended with suicide, and Daniel Paul himself went through depression-related illness until finally succumbing to psychosis in 1893.
I don’t want to give it all away myself. I think if you are interested in the child abuse connection to adult mental illness then you just need to get your hands on this movie. I have seen it on Amazon, along with his memoir, which I need to read very soon. Start with this trailer.
It really took my breath away to see the result of what I understood to be a childhood of abuse, followed by an early adulthood of putting so much pressure on himself, likely as a result of his upbringing. Many people question why he didn’t crack until his 40’s. I think it is not really a question of age, more the simple fact that he just reached his breaking point. The way that each person reacts to psychological suffering is so individual, it’s as unique as your fingerprint.
Watching this also reminded me that just because I’m in my 30’s now, and just because I escaped my abusive parents when I was 16, doesn’t guarantee that I’m home and dry. The damage that childhood abuse does stays in your brain/mind for your whole life. As I wrote in my own memoir, the brain is forming it’s permanent synaptic connections between the ages of 0 and 7 years. When you are little you believe whatever the grown-ups tell you, and those beliefs of course remain permanent synaptic routes. This is why you never quite loose that disapproving/nagging/guilt-inducing voice in your head, no matter how old/successful/respected you become. I was glad to be reminded of this, because I still need to work on taking care of myself. Despite escaping the ‘family home’ (*shudder), and despite coming through my 20’s in one piece, I still push myself to near exhaustion quite regularly. Part of me longs for a break. I really do want to give myself a break. But the nagging/guilt-inducing/disapproving voice in my head tells me I’m not good enough yet. I don’t deserve a break. On one hand it is this voice that has pushed me to work hard, and this is a good thing. This is the reason I have never given up on myself. But it is also the same voice that doesn’t let me celebrate my victories, or put my feet up and have a lazy day off. So this film reminded me to take care of my health. If I don’t take conscious control of this voice, it could take unconscious control of me. But don’t worry, I am on the case!
Take care of yourselves guys, you only have one mind/brain/soul.