Ko Takitimu, ko Mataatua, ko Te Arawa ōku Waka
Takitimu, Mataatua, Te Arawa are (the names of) my ancestral canoes
Ko Ngati Ranginui, ko Ngaiterangi, ko Te Arawa ōku Iwi
Ngati Ranginui, Ngaiterangi, Te Arawa are (the names of) my ancestral tribes
Ko Pirirakau, ko Ngati Pikiao, ko Ngati Whakaue ōku Hapu
Pirirakau, Ngati Pikiao, Ngati Whakaue are (the names of) my ancestral sub-tribes
Ko Poututerangi, ko Rakeiao, ko Te Takinga ōku Marae
Poututerangi, Rakeiao, Te Takinga are (the names of) my ancestral meeting-houses/places
Ko Egan Bidois taku ingoa.
My name is Egan Bidois
I’m finding it quite interesting to be typing this blog offering on the evening of Monday 6th February—Waitangi Day here in our country of Aotearoa New Zealand. A national day of remembrance—commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi way back on Feb 6th, 1840.
Like most people, I spent the day as a national holiday, hanging out with family, having a day off work and kicking back doing little more than spending time together. For others they may have been working today. And for others there would have been little cause for celebration, but cause for discussion and at times heated debate as to why we as a country would seek to celebrate it at all.
It is no secret that the Treaty of Waitangi is seen through a multitude of often quite polarised and polar-opposite lenses. It is a document that is considered to have formed the foundations of this country—of how we as people, cultures and understandings, might come together and live as one. To be a collective yet also respectful and embracing of each other’s inherent differences too. The reality is, some 177 years later, we as a country are still on our collective journey towards whatever destination that looks like. Also, like so many over recent days, I’ve watched and read the various discussions and debates on social media—so too the back and forth, the bickering and the berating, the finger-pointing, the facts, the potential facts, and more than a few (to use a more current term) ‘alternative facts’ being bandied about as to ‘but Māori did/do this’, ‘but Pākehā/non-Māori did/do that’ and so on, and so on, and so on. Another reality is that next year will likely be more of the same.
Now, to be clear, I am by no means seeking to neither deny nor diminish the fact that those discussions and grievances have a legitimate basis. Remember, I’m Māori, my own people as referenced within my Pepeha/short genealogy above most certainly felt the sting of colonisation and oppression following on from the signing of the Treaty. We still do on many levels. What I find interesting are the seeming similarities between the discussions and debates of people’s experiences and perspectives of our country’s Treaty, and people’s experiences and perspectives of our country’s treatments within our mental health system. Both topics inspire, at times, some pretty heated debates.
To be fair, I love passionate debate. I think it’s so incredibly awesome that people hold something so precious to themselves that they will so very vehemently—passionately—go at it on behalf of their position. It beats apathy any day. One of the near inherent issues that comes with that, however, is passionate discussion and debate can at times turn poisonous. That’s where collective benefit starts getting a bit bumpy. That’s where we cease talking with and start talking at. It is also where division and defensive denial builds and breathes.
My own personal experiences of the mental health system and the treatment/s I received?
I won’t get into that as, honestly, it’s a horror story—and it’s not like there are a scarcity of those stories already out there. Anyone who wishes to know any specifics can just ask me, or Uncle Google. My story/stories are out there already. Involvement in national and international initiatives to reduce or, preferably, eradicate the use of seclusion, as well as treatments such as Electroconvulsive Therapy, and to eliminate the ill-treatment and abuse of people who committed no crime bar being deemed ‘unwell’. It is also to raise awareness, basic humanity and humanistic approaches towards people experiencing times of crisis. It’s a barrow I’ve pushed for decades, and one pushed with a passion born from having been there, felt it, smelt it, know it oh-so-well. Reality. Reality is there are also more than a few fellow brothers and sisters of the system who are no longer with us today because to them death was a better option than to live another day within it.
Such an interesting word.
A word that also gets stripped from your valid and validated vocabulary once tagged with lovely titles like ‘Paranoid Schizophrenic’. Yeah. I still burn.
I still have my anger, my rage and resentment—my poison.
And I assure you that has a very legitimate basis.
But—and maybe it’s just part of my ‘delusional belief structure’—my last psychiatrist, all those years ago, kept banging on about—but I don’t believe that people inherently have ill-intentions. Oh for sure—people can and do a whole bunch of crappy things to a fellow human being, but I don’t believe that people are born ‘bad’. So too I don’t believe that systems for the most part are set up with the initial intention of doing bad things. I firmly believe that the vast majority of people, and systems, at the very least began with the best of intentions. When and where they then start hightailing off on some other trauma-inducing tangent, however, is the question. Much like I don’t believe that the Treaty of Waitangi was initiated with anything other than the best of intentions.
The problem, however, is that people, occasionally, can be right pricks too.
And here is where we find ourselves. Subjected to pains of the past, pains of the present, potential pains of the future. Potential. Not definite. Not a given. Not guaranteed. Potential.
For me personally, potential is where the real rub resides. For every person is born with potential beyond anything they or anyone else could possibly imagine. For me the only variable is how that potential is nurtured—or negated.
I remember my parents being told that I—their son, their baby boy, their youngest child—would never be well again. Would never be able to return to university. Would never be able to work, beyond maybe some menial part-time supported employment. I remember my parents being told I would require a lifetime of multiple medications simply to manage me and mitigate the inseparable risks of my ‘Paranoid Schizophrenia’, that I’d require close oversight by ‘specialist’ mental health services for the rest of my life—and that actually, quite likely a life of constant hospitalisation is wholly inevitable.
I remember that soul-shattering look in my parent’s eyes.
The look of a person’s, or a parent’s, hope being killed off.
Of potential, of promise, of future being forced from them and from myself.
There are also some cultural realities for us as Māori.
One of them is held within this whakatauki/saying:
“Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi—engari he toa takitini ke!”
“My strength/presence/personhood/warrior-hood is not that of one single person—but of thousands (innumerable) instead!”
Essentially I never stand alone. The person you see, or support, or uplift, or judge, or diminish is never just me. Never just one. What you do to me, you do to my entire ancestry. For I am just one of the most recent physical embodiments of them. A singular link in a timeless chain. The countless warriors, chiefs, healers and helpers, cooks and cleaners, everyone.
To cast judgement upon me is to cast judgement upon every single one of them from our understandings.
So too, my/our healing pathway forward needs to be considered from that understanding. It needs to be considered from a perspective of ‘who are all these people standing before me?’. Forming any therapeutic relationship with me is forming a therapeutic relationship with all of them—for all of them influence and impact upon who I am right here, right now.
It sounds like an almost impossible task! Yet it isn’t. It’s actually pretty simple.
Talk less, listen more. Don’t listen to answer—listen to understand.
You have two ears and one mouth—even your own physical body since birth has afforded you a clue that shutting up rather than talking might just be more beneficial.
If I had been listened to, then the hospital staff would have realised that what they were viewing as extreme decompensation was actually me fighting for my sanity. That those ‘wild gesticulations and violent screaming’ was me performing haka/traditional Māori dance to centre myself through condensing, consolidating and then calming the waves of wairua/spiritual energy flowing over and through me. That those ‘repetitive mutterings’ were me reciting karakia/prayer to keep myself safe within those experiences. That wasn’t ‘word salad’ as my nursing notes put it—that was te reo (Māori language) I was speaking!!! It didn’t require a 5-man-/staff-takedown and immediate forced sedation and a five-day seclusion—it probably required someone with some knowledge of our native language (you know, te reo, one of the official languages of our country) to recognise that.
My ‘conducting satanic rituals’ was actually me performing a whakawetewete (cleansing/settling) in the room of a previous patient who’d suicided rather than face another day in that hell-hole. It was my attempt to bless and settle the pained energies circling around in their room after the staff laughed and refused my request that a Kaumatua/elder come in and bless/cleanse the room. My ‘incomprehensible anal fascination’ was me refusing to use a couch cushion as a pillow as it had been used to sit upon, with people’s bums, and was being given to me to use as a pillow for my head—the most tapu/scared part of my entire body. My ‘disorganised shuffling in his chair’ was me adjusting my position so that my back wasn’t turned to anyone who entered the room and joined in on that assessment (deliberately displaying one’s back to someone is seen as a sign of disrespect). The ‘momentary catatonic presentation’ during meal times was me respectfully remaining standing and not moving until those patients older than me had found the place they wished to sit down, and waiting until they were seated.
If I had been listened to. If I had been understood. If my whakapapa/direct ancestry had been taken into account. If I had been supported by a fellow Māori they would have realised that I am not simply that Westernised clinical term ‘Schizophrenic’. Rather I was born a slightly different breed, another term, another ‘title’ or ‘tag’ if you will. Matakite.
Mata = face/eyes
Kite = to see, all-seeing
Matakite = the all-seeing eyes/face.
Someone who experiences the wairua/spiritual realms. Someone who bears witness and on various levels engages and interacts with spirit. A person whose primary existence is within the spiritual world/s and this physical world is simply secondary.
They would have realised that the presenting disharmony within me was merely the accelerated emergence and growth of my spiritual self. They would have realised that I didn’t need medication but mentoring. I didn’t need seclusion or sedation but spiritual safety. I didn’t need committal under the Mental Health Act but a commitment to support me along the path towards who and what I was always born to be. But hey—when you see and talk with things that others can’t see or hear. When you look at someone and listen to someone and know already what the truth is despite what they’re telling you. When others begin to slightly understand and suspect that their dirty little hidden secrets aren’t so hidden to you, then you become a risk. A threat. An outsider. A freak.
Being a ‘freak’ is something I’ve lived with since birth. Always ‘the other’.
Well not always—as I’ve found compassion and companionship over the years with those who share these understandings. Others in every culture who understand the basis from which I speak. But I still burn. I still have my anger, my rage and resentment—my poison.
But, I also have my hope, my understanding, my love and unwavering belief that every person can bloom into their own bounty of greatness. And to be honest, it’s not even so much about supporting the person to bloom, but rather, being conscious that we ourselves don’t consciously or unconsciously cast shade upon their future flowering.
Stand beside. Stand back.
Listen. Learn. Use those two ears more than that one mouth.
Be the refreshing rains when needed, the nurturing nutrients when needed, the fertile soils when sought. And be blessed to bear witness to their growth. The seed was already planted in their placenta. Just help it to grow.
“E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea.”
“I will never be lost, for I am a seed sown in Rangiātea.”