THE BREAKDOWN: The sound of lives falling apart

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THE BREAKDOWN: The sound of lives falling apart

We were away when it happened but watched it from a distance.

It was early 2022 and even in Sweden and Scotland the unravelling of our distant country was evident: the screaming and shouting, accusations and anger, schisms and divisions, inchoate rage, smoke and fires . . .

By the time we got back in April after three months away it was to a country we didn't recognise: ram raids, sirens in the city, a police helicopter night after night, entrenched positions and hatred, fury directed from the keyboard to the world at large or specific people . . .

After a while it became clear. The country had had a nervous breakdown.

A nervous breakdown, a mental breakdown.

Those were the words I heard adults whispering when I was about 11 after I'd gone into my parents' bedroom one morning before school.

IMGP6608My father and Dr Adams were on either side of my mother's bed and she was in tears. When she saw me she started howling, “Oh, the boy, the boy!” and I was hustled out.

I can't remember much other than my dad saying, “Mum's very tired” and I suppose I just went to school.

Nothing after that was said directly to me, Mum just slept – I guess – and the bedroom door was closed for a few days.

Various women from the Jewish family came around: Aunty Hettie, Aunty Doris, Aunty Ruth, Aunty Sylvia, Aunty Renee.

Their husbands -- Uncle Paul, Uncle Jack, Uncle Harold, Uncle Phil--  sometimes sat in the lounge with Dad. They would have a whisky and talk in whispers.

That was where I heard it: “a complete mental breakdown, “a nervous breakdown”.

Dr Albert (Butt) Adams and Dr Victor McGeorge – who was a near neighbour – would come by sometimes and go in and see Mum and then . . .

Then it seemed life resumed.

IMGP6622The cabinet by the mirror in the bathroom, which was always full of bottles, plastic containers and potions, got crowded. In later years my younger sister Barbara and I would joke about “the medicine cabinet”: Valium, phenobarbital, diazepam, temazepam . . .

We could name them all.

I never understood much of this although a few years later when the Rolling Stones sang Mother's Little Helper and 19th Nervous Breakdown I had a decent idea of what they were talking about.

The reasons for my mother's nervous breakdown were never discussed, in fact – and this was typical of my family – none of this was ever mentioned again.

And life resumed.

Mostly however I remember my Mum and Dad as great entertainers with large gatherings at the house: the Jewish family (pictured), “the boys from the boats” who were their friends – captains, officers, crewmen – from the Rangi boats; Rangitiki, Rangitoto, Rangitane which went back and forth the Britain as we had done; the friends of Ronnie Wickens who flatted downstairs and the included glamorous model Leanne Bilson, hairdresser Ted Dolores, Jean Sell who'd been married to restaurateur Bob Sell, Max Cryer a few times . . .

againOur house was always alive and lively.

There were endless summers at Stanmore Bay, school, Beatlemania, the Rolling Stones, teenage parties and drinking McWilliams Sweet Sherry.

morefamily_4_copyLife resumed.

But I sometimes wondered what prompted the nervous breakdown: maybe there had been hidden stresses in the marriage, maybe there were things beneath the surface an uncurious boy like me couldn't understand.

But behind the laughter and normal life perhaps Inside there was a deep fracture.

And then it happened again.

In 2022 the stresses fractured, shouting and tears, angry words and sometimes angry actions.

A difference of opinion became an entrenched position of hatred, people stopped talking to each other.

Everyone was complaining or claiming their position and rights, even those who had enjoyed the privileges of the welfare state: “You were always spoiled with a thousand toys but still you cried all night.”

The medicine cabinet filled up, at times it seemed every media commentator was a doctor or analyst.

“They just don't appreciate that you get tired. They're so hard to satisfy, you can tranquilize your mind. So go running for the shelter of a mother's little helper.”

But this breakdown is severe, too deep and wide for any treatment, the patient is out of the bedroom and shouting in the street. The words are incoherent, the photo is blurred, the path is dark and out of focus, the sky is a slate grey sheet pressing down on the beautiful world below.

blurredAs an adult I'm not that uncurious boy.

I want to know what is going on, but no explanation is forthcoming, no medication will heal or calm.

Life can't resume.

“You better stop, look around. Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes . . .”

Inside there is a deep fracture and the flesh has ruptured.

“You better stop, look around . . .”

My country has had a complete nervous breakdown.


These entries are of little consequence to anyone other than me Graham Reid, the author of this site, and maybe my family, researchers and those with too much time on their hands.

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Your Comments

Chris - May 21, 2023

Pressure. I’m sure there are a lot of factors. But i think a lot of the anger, hate etc has always been there, it’s just that pressure is bringing it out. Pressure always brings out the worst in people. Financial pressure is a big one, i’d say the primary one, that alone would probably be enough. But there’s pressure from quite a few other things at the moment, both real and imagined. A lot of people need to get offline and touch grass. Maybe winning the world cup will improve the national mood!

Ross - May 22, 2023

Learn from yesterday.
Live for today.
Dream for tomorrow.

dom yates - May 23, 2023

Thanks G, you are a great teacher. Heartfelt words from hard experience lovingly shared. Family and people who care smooth the rough seas. And that's a good thing. Confronting with indignation is not the best way. Thank heaven for aunties. And when they're not around, put on the headphones, sweet tunes, some stormy weather & wander a coast worth exploring.

David Trubridge - May 29, 2023

Wise words and your family story sounds eerily familiar. But I am not sure it is fair to say that the whole country had a nervous breakdown. Surely it was just a fractious segment of society? I know, live and work with many people who are still just as sane. But I also know people--or at least i thought i knew them, until they started saying weird things--who did flip.

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