Photographic memory

This weekend we have been staying with my parents and on Sunday night, my mum dug up a load of old photos to show my other half, childhood holidays mainly. The photos charting the change from toddler to child, child to teenager.

Three photos got me.

One of me and my sister holding hands when we were about 3 (me) and 6 (her) wearing our matching stripy t-shirt dresses. We are holding hands. The other two were of me and my sister when we are 15 and 18 respectively on holiday in Cyprus.

In one she has her arm around my shoulders and she is gazing at the camera, I am looking up at her, adoringly. She is so beautiful and calm, with a mona lisa smile. In the other we are lying on a bright white sandy beach asleep with our heads almost touching on a crumpled beach towel.

As my mum handed them to me she said, ‘You two always did love each other so much.’

This was the last family holiday we had before my sister suffered a severe breakdown and was caught in the jaws of schizophrenia. She was sectioned, taken from our family home and locked for many months into the local psychiatric unit, in her first of many hospital stays.

For the first few weeks my sister slept in a corridor divided up into ‘bedrooms’ by heavy green and brown curtains. She was locked in with people that I, a fairly hardy Hackney girl would have crossed many roads to avoid if I had met them on the street. Shouters, screamers, silent rockers; All confused, drugged and unhappy.

So on Easter Sunday, my feelings took a nostalgia trip and the bright grief and pain returned for the evening. I remember thinking that my beautiful sister had died and something else was moving her now leaden, drugged body around, making it do and say horrible things. I can remember thinking that, but I had forgotten how it felt.

She has been so well for the last few years, at least 3 without a section or hospital visit and my recovery has followed hers.

But after looking at those photos, I slipped into the grief again like it was comfortable old jumper. I’d forgotten the feeling of crying quietly lying on my back in bed with the tears falling sideways and filling up my ears.

I had forgotten how easy being unhappy all the time had felt.


  1. Hey beautiful lady. There are so many things that we never realise about each other. Won’t say anything glib, because your post really moved me.Just glad your sister has had a few clear years, and wish her many more. Glad too that you have forgotten what sad is all the time and that there is sunshine and good things to replace it.You bring a lot of sunshine to a lot of people xxx

  2. What happened to your sister happened to one of my closest friends at Uni, a bright and beautiful young woman who got a double first and then three years later could barely hold her syntax together. Twenty years on she has achieved a kind of fragile equilibrium, but it continues to be incredibly hard on all those around her. I feel for you. ‘Look to the living, love them, and hold on.’ Douglas Dunn.

  3. Wow, Jenny. That’s powerful. As you will know from our chats, it resonated right through, round and in me. I have tears in my eyes as I write. It makes me wonder, as I often do, why you are not writing THAT book. You are so gentle in your style that my heart is already open, exposed and melting by the time I realise the enormity of what I am reading.

  4. Thanks for your lovely comments. I wasn’t sure about this post as it was a bit personal, but I’m glad I did it

  5. It really moved me too. I don’t really know what to say as David has pretty much covered it.xx

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