‘What if the stars in heaven, gradually disappear, one by one and the only thing that is left is a black hole’. - Robin
Robin’s Polish grandmother was born in 1918 in the town of Auschwitz which then was still an unknown town. When in 1939 the Second World War breaks out, she is forced to work for the Germans. Robin’s grandfather is Dutch and after his parents are caught hiding people in their house, he and his elder brother are deported to Auschwitz where their job is to lay out flowerbeds at the borders of the camp. These newly laid- out gardens are the jewels of the camp, according to the SS. Here, during the most cruel years of the twentieth century, he meets Robin’s grandmother. After the war, through the Red Cross, they both end up in the Netherlands, and in 1948 Robin’s mother is born. In her teens, during a holiday in Poland, she is admitted to a mental hospital. At the age of 23 she becomes pregnant with her daughter Mira. First she wants Mira to be adopted but after Mira is born she decides to keep her. Eight years later Mira’s baby brother, Robin, is born.
In October 2013 Robin calls in sick at work. A few days earlier his girlfriend broke up their relationship and since then he has not slept. ‘I could only think of her and yearn for something which was out of reach’. Robin cannot stop these thoughts and is not able to concentrate on anything. ‘The days were becoming longer and longer, minutes seemed like hours. I ended up in a deep black hole from which I could only stare at the ceiling for hours on end.’ Robin decides to see his GP and the latter refers him to the open ward of the PAAZ which is the psychiatric department of Rijnstate hospital in Arnhem. On his first visit there the alarm bells sound. Robin is no stranger to them because as a child he used to come here for his mother who had a serious personality disorder, and also for his bipolar father and later on for his sister Mira. Robin is prescribed various medicines and the physician on duty recommends admission into the open ward of the PAAZ. However Robin is reluctant because he was there for his parents too often. For years Robin has hardly seen his sister Mira. Because of their complex history and harrowing conditions at home, they both developed their own survival strategy and have become strangers to one another. Robin often went fishing with his friends to escape home, Mira on the other hand, had to take care of her mother and her little brother after her father had left. However, the distance between brother and sister disappears the moment Mira takes loving care of her brother when he is on the downward path. For six weeks Robin lies on the couch in Mira’s home. He is assailed by suicidal thoughts and eventually he decides he no longer wants to be tormented. He is admitted to the secure ward of the PAAZ and he stays there for four weeks. His sister and friends visit him every day and after six weeks Robin is allowed to go home. However, once at home, he is having panic attacks but gradually he learns to control them. Six months after his admission Robin starts to work again and two years later he is working fulltime. Meanwhile Robin is trying to help other people at the PAAZ by telling them about his own experiences. Mira recently got her degree in Art and Design and her aim is to become a graphic designer. She also hopes to be able to support people who have the same kind of problems as Robin and herself.
During the conversations Hanne van der Woude had with Robin and Mira, she realized that many people are unaware of the stories behind psychiatric patients. People tend to judge them too quickly. Robin did not want to be identified when he was being photographed because this could jeopardize his career. Van der Woude understands his decision, but thinks it is sad that we are living in a world in which it is hard to admit that you are vulnerable or ‘weak’, which is a relative notion because how can anyone be stronger than those who manage to cope after such a disturbing past.
ieneke Hulshof, Mister Motley