A Message from the Writer
Dear Readers: The following is, in no way, intended as “airing laundry,” or to draw pity, but to evoke, as my Mom certainly would, a positive response and to inform. Domestic abuse, and the “closeting” of mental illnesses, by the well meaning, and even its victims, are gritty facts that need to be addressed head on. The upside is I’m lucky – there were no ShelterCares to help us or to bring attention to our plight then. There aren’t enough now. Because of her I sought treatment. She brought me this far… – Saraswati Amrita Patel
“The mere survival in everyday life, while trying to heal from sexual abuse in childhood days, requires a thousand times more energy than any normal person without that experience needs to make a successful career. And the society still has more appreciation for a successful career person than for a survivor.” -Anneke Lucas
Anneke’s story was/is an international outrage. It needs to be told, but not here. I agree with her. I’ll add that other conditions could just as easily be substituted – other serious forms of domestic abuse, chronic mental illness, chronic homelessness, and addiction. I’ve chosen mental illness and domestic abuse for this column. When my grandfather dropped me off at school that day, the feeling that not seeing my mother alive again, being a real possibility, was as strong as ever. I’d been staying with her parents: my parents were “separated,” a bitter divorce looming. I felt powerless due to my age. She’d just been released from a psych unit three weeks prior, for a two-week stay. When the principal called my fourth grade teacher, on the intercom, requesting me and my belongings – I knew. My grandfather went to check on her. It’s nearly Christmas. The car was running in the garage, door shut, with a hose running from the exhaust to the interior. Only one pill on the floorboard. He survived a heart attack two days later.
Another Memory: the summer before, and Mom, on her vacation, taking me to Hannibal, Mo., to see Mark Twain’s birthplace and home, and on to Springfield, Ill. to see President Lincoln’s. Both were men of letters. Both predicted their own deaths – Lincoln, in a dream he shared. Twain was right – “I came in with Halley’s Comet…and I expect to go out with it.” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is “The Great American Novel” and the Gettysburg Address – moving to say the least. I was going to college (with my mother’s help I was the first kid to read in first grade)! My Mom worked her tail off to help get The National Catholic Reporter up and running, and was it’s Copy Editor. I would later learn that it went over quite well – a paper run by practising Catholics – about the Church – outside of its authority, and unbiased. NCR has been reporting about allegations of clerical sex abuse for the last forty years.
After being informed of my newly deceased mother’s new locale (hell) by her uninformed mother in law, I began to suspect she left a note, which my family flatly denied. It was as though she never was. At age 19, I went to a police station in suburban Kansas City, and found my Mom’s last written work, etc. at a very convenient time. My own issues were beginning with extreme depression. I was in college full-time and lived at home. I could only hear “It’s not inherited!!!” screamed at by an intolerable “Little Caesar,” so many times, and was now expected to work (my Survivor’s Benefits ran out). I left it all. A word about clinical depression. My mom cried a lot. My lows of Bipolar 1 depression aren’t amenable to medication. I only take meds for mania and anxiety. You tough it out. “Bad trip” doesn’t cover it, and if I hear one more person tell me their revelation that “Everyone has depression!”… It can be mentally excruciating. Try answering a phone after smacking a finger, real good, with a hammer. It’s distracting. Major mood disorders average around a 15% suicide rate, with a reduction in life expectancy of 10 – 20 years.
It wasn’t the note – lucid, it verified what I’d suspected, but along with a list of personal belongings and several reports was the detective’s. I now had evidence of her condition, something no one discussed much less knew about. Her only other hospitalization was at age 18, maybe not so significantly the year she married my father, I would later hear from my aunt. I had a list of her medications (she had emptied bottles in the car with her). Two benzodiazepines (Serax and Librium) for anxiety. A sedative (Tuinal) for sleep. I don’t know of any others. I never heard the word “lithium” used growing up, or “therapy” for that matter. Postmortem, a diagnosis is next to impossible. Our med regimens are similar but, her’s prescribed by her MD. I too experience insomnia, and anxiety – a very common bipolar comorbid. I take a sedative, a benzodiazapene, and an anti-psychotic. My Mom had wonderful parents and an uneventful childhood. Mine was more turbulent. If she had Bipolar 1 it probably would have been noticeable. We’ll never know. I’ve had myself diagnosed for PTSD. I’m not complaining, nor did my mother, but for me that makes three affective disorders if you don’t count some eating weirdness that comes and goes (Mom too was super thin).
It wasn’t until age 45 that I had a chance encounter, with a hypomanic patient, when I was an acute care tech (Bipolar ll and cyclothymia don’t have the psychotic feature). I had to use my days off, and my vacation, for really bad days, experiencing mania and mixed episodes and “knowing” it was insomnia and vicious depression. I did this about four times a year. Mom worked most of her adult life – I tried. Only a year at a time, in a pact with the Creator, before symptoms could affect my job performance, or I imploded. This disease ends with me. I wouldn’t wish mine on an enemy much less a child.
The good news is no one dies – we move on and sometimes, I believe, look after our loved ones. Mama Ji, you taught me to be good, smart, intuitive, compassionate – and not to abide fools. Never saw you buzzed, b****, or whine. You’re the better woman!
In loving memory of Parvati, (Mother Goddess), Saraswati (Goddess of learning and the arts), and Patel (head/chief person) 1929-1966.
P.S. – My goals, when writing, are readability, something of a style, and (mostly) addressing causes. Sorry if I was a little sober minded this time. As for my mother being a spokesperson for ShelterCare? She’d have liked that. – S.A. Patel