Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Missing persons and runaways. Since Jill Meagher's murder, I have felt very unsettled every time the Victoria Police Twitter feed mentions a missing person. There seem to be two sorts of missing people: old people who go wandering off and are quickly found (except for a sad occasion when an old man was found dead – they thought he had 'had a fall' and cracked his head); and younger people who vanish in an out-of-character way that makes me suspect mental illness.

The younger people are more likely to turn up dead: murdered like Jill Meagher, or Sarah Cafferkey; or found dead by suicide. The police bulletins often mention that they have "a medical condition which requires daily medication", which I often interpret to mean that they are mentally ill and on psychiatric drugs.

But just as often, they turn up alive. Recently two Melbourne women went missing at much the same time, and both turned up shortly afterwards. Sandra Pevitt, 45, told her partner she was visiting her doctor and then never returned to her Werribee home. She made no contact with family or friends, and her car was also missing. But a week later, she was found in the Great Ocean Road resort town of Anglesea, seemingly "going about her business".

Similarly, playwright Katie Dircks, 30, went missing on a Friday night after leaving work at the Melbourne Theatre Company. She emailed a friend on Saturday morning, but made no other contact and missed a family birthday event. After a massive social media push from her friends, some of whom are my friends, she turned up safe and well on the Tuesday, in Tasmania

This week a young woman, Amelia 'Milly' McLeod, went missing from Parkville, where she was being treated at the Royal Melbourne hospital. The hollow-cheeked photo they used screamed 'eating disorder'. She was quickly found in the city, but it turns out this isn't the first time she's gone missing. In December 2010 she vanished from her Coburg share house and turned up in Kiama, NSW.

I feel so sad and helpless for the families of people with addictions and mental illnesses, who have to give them fresh start after fresh start, see them through cycles of medical treatment and relapse, and to balance protecting them from self-harmful impulses and being understanding and supportive of their autonomy to make their own decisions. It was a feeling I got strongly from Kate Holden's memoir of her heroin addiction, In My Skin.

Also, I have personal experience of these things, which I will not go into here.

But I am interested in how someone might feel so desperate that they would want to just press the eject button on their life and start up afresh elsewhere. I have regularly felt this way myself. Stupidly, the thing that stops me from abandoning my life is Graham. I couldn't leave him behind, but the idea of being on the run with a cat is ridiculous.

His carrying case is so heavy, and I have lost the wheelbase to the All Terrain Cat Vehicle (my theory is that I left it on the front porch and either someone stole it or my housemate thought it was rubbish and threw it away), and anyway, people would soon notice a woman toting a cat in a ridiculous contraption.

A few nights ago I actually had an anxious dream about how I was whitewater rafting with Graham. I had him tucked down the front of my shirt. I wanted to go to a festival/concert at a coastal swimming pool at the mouth of the river, but even though I got there, and the location looked great, I was afraid that once the loud music started, Graham would run away. So I went back. 

Anyway. I can't run away from life. Not as long as I have Graham. But at times I still yearn to do it. I actually have an essay in the forthcoming issue of Island (issue 131) about female writers and mini-breaks in the country, which are as far as I get to starting afresh.

For a while now on Facebook, I have been following the search for missing Geelong man Daniel O'Keeffe. Dan, who had a history of depression, walked out of the family home on 15 July 2011, and has never made himself known since, although there have been several 'sightings', much as you might sight Bigfoot.

I sympathise with the urgent efforts of Dan's family to find him, which have got more and more frantic as time has gone by. If one of my brothers went missing, I might just as easily allow the search for him to dominate my life. But if I were Dan, I might feel a little persecuted. Maybe Dan doesn't want to be found. Maybe he has pulled off the great eject-button stunt and is actually much happier now.

Earlier this year, in my role previewing feature film submissions for MIFF, I watched an Australian documentary called Missing in the Valley of the Gods. It's about a young Australian, Ryan Chambers, who went missing in India six years ago on a spiritual quest. Now his middle-aged parents head to India to search for him. It's a spiritual quest for them as well.

Some missing persons cases have an ending, but it's the open cases that remain hazy and blurred. At what point do you draw the distinction between a mental illness and a desire for another kind of life? And when does a parent, or a sister, give up hope… or put their hope in the hands of the universe?

I have often thought that if I wanted to escape I would go to Launceston (whoops, now you know where to look!)

Also, last week I was listening to a patient, thinking, "hmm...you seem a bit mad." Then they said, "So I was at Flinders st station with my cat," and that really clinched it for me.
I've often wanted to cast everything and everyone off and simply run away and start over. Having a history is sometimes like a dead weight. And there is a feeling that one can't do things because it's not sufficiently in character to appease the people one knows and that regardless of change they always push you into the same mould.
This just came in on the Victoria Police Twitter account:

"Police are continuing to search for missing Camberwell man James De Sousa.

"The 22-year-old went missing from his Canterbury Road home between 8.30 and 10.30am on Monday.

"Police have been able to confirm that James accessed his bank account around 10am that same day.

"His bank card was used to purchase camping equipment and a map of the Yarra Valley.

"Police and family members are concerned for James’ welfare as he suffers from a medical condition which requires daily medication."

Clearly James has decided to escape to the wilderness.
I now feel a little worried for James.
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