Tag Archives: mental illness

Platitudes and Analogies

There are times I feel so alone with these diseases and conditions.  It’s usually when I’ve been around “normal” people for too much time.  They just don’t get me and I’ve ceased to try to make anyone understand.  Sometimes I’m in a good space, sometimes not – but it is good to know I’m not the only one going through these issues.  I can get too wrapped up in my symptoms, people  tend to say things that don’t ring true for me.  I’m searching for some good analogies that get me through the tough times. See if they ring any bells for you.

When the going get tough – the tough get going. Don’t shrug your shoulders at that.  We are a tough lot.  We have t be.  Nobody can wave a wand and make the symptoms of our lives of our lives go away.  Medical Science has a way to go.  We suffer in silence or not, but WE are not the ones who have to go through this.  All the platitudes “normies” give us will not sufficiently calm us when we are in a rough place.  God bless them for trying, they just don’t understand what’s going on beneath our skin.

You can do it one step at a time. This is true. We can’t get out of bed and negotiate our days without moving exactly one step at a time.  Nevertheless, when our insides are racing and we can’t think a rational thought, when all we see before us is struggle, racing thoughts, nightmares and silent screams, you might want to backtrack, not move forward.  It is hard to bring ourselves to center.  We can do it, but not without skills and understanding.  And as much as we can, utilize the support people in our lives.  These are the people who understand where we are coming from.  Things will get better one step at a time.

You are the only one who can heal yourself. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?  However, we know we need help . . . even when we can’t reach out and get it.  I think it’s a phrase people say to absolve themselves of responsibility for ourselves.  We want to be self-sufficient, that is where frustration builds.  But sometimes we need outside intervention.  And though we are the ones who have to do the work inside ourselves, sometimes we need direction.   On the other hand, we are the conductors of the symphony of our thoughts, feelings, and actions that make up our lives.

Practice Joy.  When I am in the midst of adversity, joy is just three letters with no meaning.  I can struggle through the morass which can surround my life, but joy is something I rarely experience.  BUT, when I do, I rejoice in it and don’t take it for granted.  I don’t know how to practice it.  There is an artificiality in the word Practice.  I either wake up in a good place or I don’t.  Restarting the day sometimes helps, like when I look out the window and feel sunlight caressing my face on an otherwise gloomy day, its heat tickling my skin. Joy is a blessing always to be appreciated.

Nevertheless, there is always HOPE.  Nothing lasts forever.  Another Platitude but one of Truth.  We can put one foot in front of the other and each footstep gives us a new opportunity to step out of bad spaces and, at the very least, come to center.  With help, spiritual guidance, and the support of those who understand, we can change our circumstances. One Day At A Time.

 

When do you say Goodbye?

She was by turns feckless or feral.
ferocious, fickle, self-centered.
Twelve years spent in her company,
unable to respond or defend.
captive, as she came to visit
several weeks at a time,
several times a year.

Schizophrenic, Bipolar –
voices keeping her company
more than her devoted husband.
Her only caregiver –
he wore himself down
to bare nubbins.
And I worry now he will soon
follow the same path.

She appropriated my life
told me there was a cancer in me
she had to cut out.
Humiliated me in front of family
relatives, her friends – while they lasted.
Spoke in a foreign language
my husband wouldn’t teach me,
about me, in front of me,
my knowing the words were directed ,
about me, in front of me.
Told my children she
was their real mother.

She died last night,
first came mourning,
now rage . . .
It’s been 20 years since I have been
her daughter-in-law,
since I have seen her except
when my children married,
or graduated from schools.
And even in these years I treated her
with a consideration and kindness
rarely shown to me.

This woman who made my life
miserable, terrifying, unstable –
who did so much to ruin my marriage –
twisting, turning truth,
confusing my children,
angering my husband so he wouldn’t
speak meaningfully to me for months.

Who twisted my children’s
understanding of Mental Illness,
refused medication or therapy,
made her husband of 60 years’
life one of horror and despair,
beating and berating him,
listening to those damn voices . . .

After all this time, and I mourn
for her, for my children,
for her husband and my ex-one.
Mourning the woman she was
and could have been
if she had accepted her diagnosis.

Listening to her voices . . . .
Still feeling a relative,
Mourning the loss,
even as the rage pours in.
Some nightmares you never forget.

Lillie, Earth’s Angel

Being alone, truly and completely alone, should not be a burden carried by a human being for long. I’m not so sure we were born for it. Our lives are such fragile existences just as they are – it only takes one blow to unhinge the mechanisms which hold us together. There are few who can survive for long in such conditions. I was lucky enough to have known a woman who had survived essentially alone in a cacophony of insanity for forty years.

In her late twenties, Lillie immigrated from Sweden to marry the love of her life. Two weeks after she married, he died. A new foreigner, not able speak the language, not knowing a single soul, she had a nervous breakdown and committed to the Wingdale Mental Hospital. She was put to work washing floors. Just as she was getting better, she fell and broke her hip. Arthritis quickly set in to immobilize her.

My mother was a charge nurse at Wingdale State Hospital in Wingdale, New York. It was a facility where the elderly and mentally unbalanced were housed until the 1970’s when the government dismantled them and dumped most of the inpatients onto the streets, ostensibly to be cared for by the communities in which they lived. In reality, few received the necessary care. Mom worked in the wards for the elderly insane women. It was there she met Lillie when Lillie was in her sixties or seventies.

Mom was appalled by the conditions these women suffered – cold water showers on mental gurneys that was essentially waterboarding. Bed sores from not being turned. Diapers not changed for hours, indigestible food. She reported all the aides and began a campaign to close down the facility, writing up to Rockefeller, then governor of New York. She eventually succeeded.

While Charge Nurse on that floor, she arranged for a private room for Lillie, wading through a multitude of paperwork to do so. Until then, and after, she brought me and some women from the church to visit her regularly. She was given a radio to hear music and connect to the outside world. The thing is, Lillie spent all her time praying for us, for people she heard needed help from the Lord. There was nothing in her that thought for herself.

Mom wanted to remove her from the hospital, even thinking of bringing her to our home if a good residential home could not be found. Just as Mom got permission to release her, they found she was riddled with cancer and only had a couple of months to live. The Doctors felt it would be too much of a shock on her system to release her.

I remember Lillie as a being of light, an angel on Earth. I say that not for its poetic value or to milk emotion. It’s a fact. No one could live forty years in an open ward of a state hospital for the mentally challenged, with nineteen other women, and amid constant clamor, no one to talk to and still stay sane. Not only that, but to pray continually for others, never herself.

She certainly didn’t get mental stimulation from the aides. How did she do it? Monks and other religious individuals who live in isolation do it when they are either by themselves or living in a community designed to support mutual silence. But Lillie – what did she have? I will never be able to completely convey the atmosphere of the open ward . . . those rows, one piling on top of the next, with its toothless crones strapped to their beds, holding their dirty cloth dolls, caterwauling at ear-splitting din. They were all in hospital gowns with stringy hair and vacant eyes above mouths that either cried or raged. Could you do it? Would you last a week? A month? A year? It is an environment that none of us should ever face. We have to be more aware and more willing to act so the Lillie’s of the world don’t have to wait forty years for salvation.