Can someone do my psychological readings
Can no longer: Let go of life
They are streets as children draw them. Houses line up nicely. A shrub there, a tree there, the gardens tended, the cars in small garages. There is a bus stop right in front of the house of the Niedersüß family in the Rehhofsiedlung between Salzburg and Hallein. It's a peaceful place in the middle of green fields.
"We built the house ourselves," says Geraldine Niedersüß, "we wanted our children to be able to play in the garden," she remembers back in the 1980s. The British German studies student Geraldine met her husband Rudolf from the Upper Austrian Mühlviertel during a stay abroad in Vienna and fell in love with him. When she finished her teacher training in Bristol, she moved to Austria and got married. In 1980 their first son Oliver was born.
A normal life
It's a completely normal life. Rudolf Niedersüß, a business economist, got a job in Hallein, Philipp was born in 1982, and Rebecca in 1988. Geraldine stays at home with the children, teaching them their mother tongue. That was 40 years ago. And while back then the house in which she sits today was full of life, today it has become quiet. Everything is tidy, seems to have its place. Only a large grandfather clock in the corner strikes every hour and reminds us that time has passed since then - but the memory of it does not.
Geraldine Niedersüß brings tea and bread, sits bolt upright on the sofa, puts her hands on her lap. In accent-free German, she plunges into the past three decades of her life. A life that turned out very differently than she once imagined. It's about Philipp, her second son, who suddenly had problems at school at the age of twelve. His teachers were the first to pay attention. Up to the second grade of high school he had been a preferred student, a sportsman. Shortly before Christmas he stopped taking part in class. The family consulted the family doctor and was relieved to hear that Philipp was "healthy as hell". Nevertheless, he couldn't get out of bed in the morning. A psychologist from Hallein was supposed to help, said that it was an "exception in puberty". He was allowed to stay at home for two weeks. This turned into three months in which he skated up and down the street of the Rehhofsiedlung for hours. Puberty, a difficult age, it will pass, the parents thought.
Extreme mood swings
And it actually got better again - but then worse again. After all, not only at school, but also at home. Philipp was always "our puppy", says Geraldine and smiles. But he showed his happy side less and less. Instead, sudden mood swings dominated her son. "It was as if a curtain was being drawn down over our Philip," she says, and remembers how he then went into his room, where they found him crouching on the floor in the corner. His mother, who now - in retrospect - knows what was going on with her son back then, puts herself back in those years of uncertainty. Remembers the visits to the doctor, the conversations, the word depression and how overwhelmed you were with all the medical terms. When Philip's condition didn't get better, it was decided to have him checked out at the child psychiatry in Salzburg. "But during the holidays", that was important to Philipp himself.
He was given medication that made him apathetic. "The doctors said it was our job to get him off the horizontal," recalls the mother, referring to five years of daily struggle to get him ready for school: wake him up, get him up, get dressed, have breakfast. Often his brother Oliver would drag him to the bus stop. How does a family deal with such a stressful situation? Geraldine Niedersüß: "We got used to the situation and continued to hope every day that it would get better soon."
Hope on principle
The psychiatrists at the Christian Doppler Clinic in Salzburg were not particularly helpful, say Geraldine and Rudolf in retrospect. There were nicer and less nice ones, but you were always at the mercy of her words. Five years of hope that an exceptional puberty will pass: This is how the family coped with everyday life.
Nobody talked about the possibility that Philip might suffer from schizophrenia in the first few years. Instead, they kept asking his mother the same questions: How was the pregnancy? How was the birth Were there any traumatic experiences? Abuse? "We kept racking our brains for ourselves," says Geraldine when her husband comes out of his study into the living room. A stooped man who exudes great calm and looks lovingly at his wife, whose hair has turned white in contrast to his. The two are between their mid and late sixties, but you can't tell what a difficult fate they have behind them because they manage to maintain their composure and "are no longer afraid of the terrible", as they put it.
The question of guilt was terrible. You remember a nerve-wracking search for a cause. One doctor said that the death of Geraldine's mother and her grief phase were the trigger for Philip's problems, another psychiatrist blamed the bilingual upbringing of the children.
Diagnosis and therapy
The family would not find out that the final diagnosis was schizophrenia until five years after Philip's disease broke out. "If we had already known then what we know today," says Rudolf Niedersüß in a low voice. Schizophrenia is a brain disease, the exact causes are still unknown. The doctors left the Niedersüß family in the dark about this. Maybe so as not to rob them of hope. "That is completely wrong," says Philip's father, who has been involved in a self-help group for the relatives of the mentally ill for 15 years and has now accompanied many other families. He is convinced that as a patient and family member, one has to face the facts; that it is about accepting the disease in order to be able to adjust to the good and bad phases. "That helps a lot," he says. He knows from his own experience: It takes time to accept that it is mostly an incurable disease.
So also with Philipp. During his high school days, he repeatedly spent weeks in psychiatry and was given medication that did not help him, but which he took anyway. He was a good patient, knew something was wrong with his thoughts. He kept talking about the "clutter in his head," his mother remembers. She is all the more proud to this day that he completed a highly gifted course and later passed the Matura in 2000.
A hopeless disaster
These confused thoughts could break in on him at any point in time. "He wanted her away," says his mother, taking a sip of tea. He was even hoping for the effects of electroshock therapy suggested by a psychiatrist at the clinic because he thought the electricity would help his brain. The disappointment when it didn't get better was huge.
But good and bad phases still alternated. The time after high school graduation, for example, was such a good phase, after which Philipp and his brother Oliver moved to England to study in 2000. Philipp had chosen economics at the University of Leicester - and was slowly settling in. "But then it started with his fixations," recalls the mother. Suddenly he couldn't stand the word "macroeconomics" in lectures, but he kept hearing it every day. Philipp switched to "politics".
But a month later - Geraldine Niedersüß still knows exactly that it was October 26, 2000 - he called home in despair. He pleaded into the phone that he would throw himself from the tallest tower in Leicester if he wasn't allowed to go home. Even today there is panic in Geraldine's voice. Within an hour she organized plane tickets and begged her sister in England to go to Leicester to see Philipp. When she wanted to tell her son about this, she couldn't believe that only an hour later he was boisterous and exuberant and told that he was celebrating the Austrian national holiday with his university colleagues.
Outside determined by votes
When she finally picks him up from the airport in Munich and drives him home on the dark autobahn, he talks confused things. That he is a bad person, that he deals with bad things, that the economy only brings bad things to the world. When Geraldine interjects that one can also do good with money, Philipp says: "Now a voice tells me that what you are saying is not right." Up to this point, Philipp had never spoken of voices. Geraldine knew that this was a sign of schizophrenia with a loss of reality, a sign of psychosis, a symptom that psychiatrists had mentioned over and over but which she did not understand in terms of its meaning. Not yet. Because Rudolf Niedersüß only happened to read the word schizophrenia as Philip's diagnosis in his file after years of illness.
The time after Philip's return fades in his parents' memories. He switched between closed psychiatry and his room in the Rehhofsiedlung. He was given heavy medication, became lethargic, and put on weight. "Do you see the window cross, it flies towards me," he explained to his father about the perceptual disturbances that tormented him. Some objects seemed to "slip away" for Philip.
Unlike other patients, the medication brought him little relief. "He suffered so much!" Says his mother. He was often unable to sleep for days. His memory began to deteriorate as a result of the medication: "Mom, I can't get to know a girl because I would immediately forget her name again," said Philip one day in despair - and withdrew more and more from the world. He sat at his computer a lot and ended up doing cryonics, the technology of freezing his organs so that they could be resuscitated in the distant future. Such ideas dominated his mind day and night. Nothing could calm him down, not even his father.
Everyday life in extreme situations
After three years the first suicide attempts: Both parents remember exactly all the painful details of these attempts and talk about them very openly today. But they both also notice that many today do not want to - or cannot deal with death. So what does a family do if their son just can't stand life anymore? The Niedersüß family continued: Geraldine as a teacher, her husband went to the office in the morning. In the evening they cooked and did the housework. Everyday life gave structure - and stability. When Philipp was in the clinic, his parents would visit him. And then the terrible thing seemed to be over. Philipp wanted to work.
A social project was found so that he would be busy for a few hours, with a daily structure, that would be good for him. After registering in Hallein, Philipp found out that he had landed at number 177 on a waiting list, and a year later he had moved to number 71. A hopeless disaster for someone in his unstable condition. The worst thing, the parents say, was that Philip noticed himself becoming increasingly insane.
When, after reading the book Maybe your drug is your problem, he wanted to stop his medication because it didn't help, his parents agreed. Under medical supervision, he would be very slowly phasing out over the course of a year. Because conventional medicine did not help, the Niedersüß family also looked for other ways, such as the help of shamans. Over the years a fortune has been spent on some of these alternatives: "You will do whatever you can to save your child, no matter what," says Geraldine.
The terrible thing happens
When she came home from work one day in February 2005 and Philipp was not at home, she initially thought nothing - until she found a note in his room with which he consciously said goodbye.
"Everyone in the family mourned differently," says Geraldine very calmly about a time of incredible despair. "It was important to me to cope with my everyday life," she says and is glad that she had the strength to do it. Her husband decided to continue his work in the self-help group for relatives of the mentally ill. He took his wife with him. "That's when we noticed how much experience we had gained and how valuable it can be for other people affected."
And as if the death of a son wasn't enough, Philip's brother Oliver died 13 years later. He, too, had returned from England shortly after Philipp, dropped out of his studies and had a job. At some point it became clear, says Geraldine, that he drinks too much alcohol. Philipp always said: "Oliver has the same thing as me, but a few beers help him." It is not easy for Geraldine to tell about Oliver's addiction, the withdrawal attempts and relapses. "Intellectually he was vastly superior to us," remembers his father, showing the notebooks in which Oliver wrote down his thoughts. They are valuable mementos. "But it was an accident, not a suicide," emphasize both parents, an accidental overdose.
It is very quiet in the house in the Rehhofsiedlung. Over a chest of drawers hang the photos of a family that no longer exist: "To love means to be able to let go," says Oliver's funeral. On the note that Geraldine found in her son Philipp's nursery in February 2005, it read: "I can no longer stand this retrograde amnesia, I went to the Salzach."
Live with death
In the past, says Geraldine, she used to be shy and reserved. The death of her children changed her. Today she talks about her fate, shares her story, "so that mental illnesses lose the nimbus of a self-caused blemish". Their daughter Rebecca is getting married next year.
When Rudolf Niedersüß talks about schizophrenia in school classes as part of educational campaigns, the class is as quiet as a mouse, and many of them have someone in their family or circle of friends to whom that applies. Making life worth living for the mentally ill has become Rudolf's life's work. Much has improved in psychiatry, he says. Self-help has created a network between patients, relatives and doctors and thus supports affected families. But there is still a lot to do: "It mustn't be that our boys' lives were pointless," both say. Then the clock strikes loud and clear again in the quiet of your living room. (Karin Pollack, 9.9.2018)
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