A fingernail through history.

A few weeks ago, I discovered my son had grown one very long thumbnail. I found him bent over, examining, and stroking it.“What in the name of God!” I shrieked.He sat on his hands before I could reach for it. I waited patiently on his explanation. Bracing myself for the latest invention. A nose picker I thought.“It’s just in case. “He piped up. “In case, I get locked, or stuck in a room, and I can’t get out. This will help me. “Nature and Nurture appeared over his shoulders. “He has it, inheritably” said Nature. “Excuse me,” said Nurture. “I do believe she is making him.”I have always thought that my poor mental health was something that happened due to external factors. Things that I did not process or address. Events that I attempted to delete. My son has my nature, and with the fingernail theory reveal, I began to worry.A week later, I spent time with my aunt. She has suffered with mental health problems on and off, all of her life. In her 60s now, she can still remember her 6-year-old self, and “the feeling”. Unsure how to put into words how she felt she simply said she felt sick. In the late 50s, there was no clear definition or recognition of mental health issues. Asylums were commonplace, as was electro – convulsive therapy. These institutions housed thousands together, regardless of gender, age, or individual needs. Admittance could result in a life sentence. The birth of the NHS in the previous decade had kept these institutions separate. It was not until 1961 that Enoch Powell started to lead the way to Care in the Community. Recognising these institutions as the prisons, they were. When my aunt describes that first memory, she vanishes from my living room. Frozen in terror and time, truly believing that she is going to die. On the phone to my mother a few days later, she remembered her sisters “feeling” well. Planned days out cancelled. Her sister hiding under the bed, terrified she was about to die, my Nana, pleading with her to come out. Everyone has a different explanation of the feeling. For my aunt it is black and stands behind her. My feeling starts far off behind my left shoulder. Like an imaginary friend, creeping closer and closer. To think of this on a 6 year old, the terror and the inability to put that into words is terrifying. “Ma Donnelly was the same”, said my mum down the phone.“Planning nights out, getting there, that feeling coming over her, and away up the road”.“We all knew her as “bad with her nerves”.For not the first time I wished I could have met my great grandmother. Did something happen to her for this feeling to emerge? Or was it perhaps the uncertain time she lived in, bookmarked by two wars? Was it always there? A pre – determined matter of genetics?Did she have the feeling?Did she grow one long thumbnail?Yesterday we went swimming. As my son prepared for his 200th cannonball launch, he discovered the carefully curated thumbnail had broken off. He screeched from his launching position, informing me of the most recent development. I froze and waited to see his reaction.“Oh well”, he shrugged, and dived into the pool. The water quiet for a second before his dark wild hair reappears. Happiness framing his face, and soothing my sou

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