Tuesday, April 29, 2008

'The Man' Tales - Back Inside

Before getting on with this post, I would like to thank Deborah over at Dnd and Lisa Marie over at Lisa's Chaos for the awards they so generously bestowed on me. Thank you both for thinking of me when handing these out. I have posted them on my sidebar with pride once more!

I would also like to thank Crazycath for pointing me towards the correct terminology for the electric shock treatment that was given on the ward. When I wrote the post I couldn't think of the correct terminology - I could only remember that I was threatened repeatedly with shock treatment. Crazycath has it correctly when she told me that it was ECT - or Electroconvulsive Therapy - that was administered on the ward. The IV connections that the patients had in their arms allowed for easy administering of anesthesia instead of having to start an IV every couple of days. I know that my aunt did not have this kind of shock treatment during her early days as my uncle told me in detail of watching her being given shock treatment while she was awake. I have no idea - and really who would - if all that shock therapy contributed to her brain tumour, all I know is that it certainly changed her.

For anyone who is interested in ECT - I am including this link to Wikepedia's description of it.

When I returned to the hall I felt an immediate peace and was glad to be back where it was safe from the outside world. I can’t say what my fears of the outside world were, and even today I can’t exactly say, but I have been affected by this experience and still deal with it daily. I don’t often leave the safety of the barn except to do things with which I am familiar. But that is getting ahead of myself once more.

After I had been back on the ward for a week and my medications had been adjusted and I had grown accustomed to my new room, my doctor decided it was time to deal with the problem of my mother. When he first suggested this I cried and cowered in my chair, shrieking that I couldn’t. He took his time with the issue and eventually called my mother during one of our morning sessions. He got the response I knew he would get and was not pleased at all with the conversation. My mother knew I was in the hospital from the staff that came to visit. She also knew that she wasn’t allowed to visit or call me in the hospital. My fear of my mother was so great that I needed extra medication every time she was mentioned.

My doctor and mother met in his office without me. When he told me he was planning this I was almost uncontrollable. I paced and wrung my hands, wept and worried myself to the point of throwing up. I was wild-eyed and frantic. When he told me the meeting had finally taken place, I sat frozen to my chair, afraid that I was going to be turned over to her or chastised by him for something in my past. I felt like a small child and that I had been bad.

When he told me that she had at first been cold and trying to stare him down, I thought I would wet my pants like a little girl. I knew that look and those tactics. But they had eventually talked and I looked at my doctor with eyes as big as saucers and thought how brave and smart he must be to face my mother and come out the winner.

I was given the task of writing a letter to my mother. In this letter I was to tell her all the things she had done that upset me or hurt and how I felt about her. I worked at this letter for two weeks and when I was done I presented it to the doctor. When he told me I was to give it to my mother, I was terrified! There was no way I could show her how she made me feel and I tucked it away in the bottom of my nightstand.

Then he asked me to write a letter to anyone I could think of that had hurt me and that I couldn’t deal with. I wrote a letter to my younger sister. When I was finished, I presented it again to the doctor for his review. We took those two letters and worked on the problems I had written about. Eventually I learned a lot about myself from them and about the people who affected me the most.

One afternoon, shortly after visiting hours began, my mother appeared in the doorway of my room. I had been in the hospital for six months and had not seen her for the entire time. I looked up and saw her standing there, looking the same as she always did, except for the look on her face. Her eyes were sad and full of tears and I stared at her, speechless. She came into the room and sat beside me on my bed and put her arm around my shoulder and hugged me. I cried hysterically to the point where I had an asthma attack. While I fumbled with my inhaler, my mother went and found a nurse and they gave me some fast-acting medication for my anxiety. Mom sat beside me, holding my hand until the tears finally stopped and I was able to take a normal breath again. When I had quieted enough to be able to hear, she said “I’m sorry”. I leaned into her, unable to speak, yet somehow safe once more.

Friday, April 25, 2008

'The Man' Tales - Reality Hurts

Sometimes at night, the nurses came and shut our doors and told us to stay in bed. In the morning a breakfast tray would be unclaimed and left to grow cold on the racks that brought our food to us. Sometimes I noticed the missing person; sometimes I didn’t remember them at all. I didn’t realize what was going on until years later when I attended the funeral of a friend’s daughter who had been on the same ward. But that is a story for later.

I learned things on that ward that I might never have learned on the outside. I didn’t know that people cut themselves, or why. It was usually young girls with their arms bound with bloodstained gauze who chatted animatedly and manically. For the longest time I just looked at them without realizing what they were doing to themselves. One day I asked a girl why she had bandages all over her arms and she told me she had to get the demons out of her body so she tried to cut them out. I stared at her in astonishment, trying to imagine how that must feel mentally and physically. Another girl told me she knew she had snakes inside her and she was trying to get them out. Sometimes there were guys with bandages, but more often than not it was a young girl. Their nurses never left their side during mealtimes when they had the use of utensils. Yet somehow they managed to still cut themselves and they sported their bandages proudly. When the bandages were removed their arms and legs were scarred and I wondered if they would ever heal.

We noticed that whenever anyone took the urge to dress themselves properly and make themselves look good for the day, they were sent home. Inevitably they screamed and cried and everyone got in on the act, not wanting them to leave. I saw people dragging their bags through the door as they cried and held out their arms to their friends and the nurses, begging to stay; scared to be going back out into the real world. It kept many of us in sloppy clothes or pajamas so we wouldn’t get kicked out. We may have been crazy but we weren't stupid.

It seemed safe on that hallway. We didn’t have to accept responsibility for anything or anyone. We let them do to us what they wanted so we wouldn’t be sent home. We were a sad mixture of just about every type of mental illness and we accepted each one mindlessly.

As time progressed, I was allowed to make crafts a couple of times a week instead of going to the group session. I looked forward to this change as it kept my hands busy. Sometimes we went up to the top floor of the hospital and used the exercise room that was there. Some nights they took us swimming on the bottom floor. This made me the happiest. I was the one who went around and talked people into swimming when I learned that if there weren’t enough people going it would be canceled. I have always been happiest when I am swimming and even though it was a small pool, I was content.

I lived in sweat pants and t-shirts and didn’t realize that my medication was putting weight on me. By the time I left the unit I had gained 60 pounds. This was not uncommon at all and everyone moaned about their weight gain. Depression and weight go hand in hand. We got more depressed as the pounds increased, so they increased our medication which put on more weight. I was just another statistic.

D visited often during the week and Cid came down nearly every weekend. When I was taken off ‘close observation’ I was often allowed to go home for the weekend. If I didn’t make it back in time on Sunday evening my bed would be given away and my things packed up. This threat made me nervous all weekend and by Sunday afternoon I would be watching the clock and reminding them every minute of the time. It didn’t matter to me that they were both trying desperately to keep me calm and entertained – trying to bring my mind back to reality. All I could think about was the safety of the hall.

After five months – my doctor released me. Cid and D were ecstatic that I was getting out. I spent a week at home, terrified of everything. By the end of it I had worked myself into such a state that I begged to be taken back to the hospital. I was such a pitiful mess that I never noticed the pain in the eyes of the two men who loved me as they checked me back in to the hall.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

'The Man' Tales - Awakening?

The nursing staff tried to make our Christmas a little better by putting up (very high) decorations and bringing in some baked goods. Someone came around with stuffed toys and we each got to choose something out of the bag. I got a small stuffed cat that purred when you turned it upside down. It helped with the hole that came with missing my cats and just something to cuddle.

It was during this time that I noticed the drooling girl. I first became aware of her in the lunchroom as she sat drooling and staring off into space. Her psychiatrist was the replacement doctor I had while mine was off in Egypt. This doctor had her medicated to the point where she was nothing but a zombie. We later learned that he had damaged her heart with the amount of drugs he had her on. When he cut back on the meds she became coherent and we became inseparable.

D had returned from his Christmas holiday with his family and had registered for a computer course at the college that was located about a mile and a half from the hospital. He carpooled with a fellow from our little town and often walked over after school to visit for the evening and then caught the last bus home. Secretly he was taking lessons from this fellow on driving a standard/manual car and eventually he was able to drive my car back and forth and visit more often.

Once my psychiatrist returned from Egypt, things changed drastically for me. I had to participate in afternoon group sessions every day. These sessions involved everyone in the hall and we were herded into a large room and given lessons on ‘life’ or mental illness by the ward nurses. The group sessions made me so nervous I almost pulled my hands off. By this time the whispering had turned into rasping as my hands had dried out from all the wringing. One day, as we sat in our circle, someone shoved a bottle of lotion into my hands and everyone applauded when I applied it and the sounds disappeared.

With the proper drugs in my system, my thoughts of suicide diminished to the point where I wasn’t considered a huge risk to myself and I was finally allowed off the hallway. That first time I pushed through that locked door, I panicked. I was immediately lost and scared and I ran back to my room and huddled under the covers. After that I took my inseparable friend with me and we set off on my quest to find the morgue. My suicidal thoughts made me fascinated with death and the need to find the morgue haunted me and burned like a small flame deep inside my brain. We spent countless hours searching for it after visiting hours had ended. The nurses and our doctors lied to us and told us there wasn’t a morgue in this hospital. I refused to believe the biggest hospital in the middle of central Alberta didn’t have a morgue. But they insisted it was in a separate building somewhere in the city.

When we finally discovered the morgue and we realized that these people who were supposed to be ‘helping’ had lied to us – well – not only was it disappointing – but it also confused us. Our helpers were liars. It threw both of us into a tailspin and our progress forward towards mental health was halted for a bit. How could we trust anyone but each other?

As I became more stable myself, I started noticing others on the hallway besides the drooling girl. I was in the lunchroom when I first became aware of the people who had IV connections dangling from their arms. To me, these people seemed to come and go. In reality they spent a lot of time in their beds, and it was only when they felt well that they came into the lunchroom or entertainment room. I would see them being pushed down the hallway in a wheelchair and through that door at the end. Later I would see them being pushed back up the hallway and into their rooms. A couple hours later they would appear all happy and animated. They were like big dolls with a huge windup screw on their backs and they would eventually wind down again and slump over. Then they were pushed back down the hallway and off the ward. The cycle never stopped.

When my doctor threatened me with electric shock therapy it suddenly dawned on me what was happening to these people. Their shock treatments juiced them up until they wound down again and needed another boost. My doctor tried to make me believe the shock treatment opened paths in the brain. I was terrified and had to be sedated every time he mentioned it. My aunt had received over 80 shock treatments in her life and had just died of a brain tumor. When we watched ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ – well – I knew I would rather kill myself than let them do that to me.

My sanity flew in and out of the sealed windows and my doctor threatened to send me to Ponoka which is the province’s mental hospital. I cowered in my chair and begged and cried and made promises, almost throwing myself at his feet. At night as I lay in my lonely bed, I sobbed. Lost and alone

Monday, April 21, 2008

'The Man' Tales - Christmas in the Hall

That cruise ship waited for me for at least three months. What it was doing in the middle of the dry prairies never entered my mind. I just knew that it was there for me. The man with the accent couldn’t see it when I pointed it out to him – but it was plain as day for me. Although he couldn’t see it – it certainly surprised him that I believed it was there.

The man with the accent told me that he was going away for a while and that someone else was going to look after me. Even though I could barely understand him, the thought of having to deal with someone new frightened me. The new doctor didn’t know me or understand my hands like the doctor with the accent. And while my doctor went off to Egypt for a month, the new doctor loaded me down with drugs and left me to deal with the hall. The only thing the increased drugs did was make me less frightened by turning me into a brainless blob.

The days melded into the hall, the lunchroom and the entertainment room. Occasionally I would be sought out and herded to the entertainment room where the only phone for the residents was found. I would sit and listen to voices I thought I recognized while I cried and cried. I cried as I listened to the voices expressing love and I cried for the loss of myself. Cid and D called every single day, sometimes two and three times a day, and I sometimes remembered who they were, and sometimes I forgot.

D was stuck back at the barn without a car. Having never learned to drive a standard or manual car, my little red sports car sat in the driveway taunting him. Occasionally he managed to catch the bus in to the big city so he could visit. But, for some reason, the head male nurse took an instant dislike to D and would kick him off the unit if he arrived a few minutes before the official visiting time of 3pm. The nurse didn’t care that an extraordinary effort was made for the visit in the first place. He just didn’t like D.

On weekends, Cid would drive down from Edmonton and spend the day with me. Sometimes he went further south and picked up D and the two of them would come to visit. They would sit and pat my hands and hand me Kleenex, or walk me up and down the hall. Eventually I remembered them as the men who loved me and I didn’t stare up at them as total strangers. I know my brother came to visit a couple of times, but he couldn’t deal with the loss of his sister and it was too hard on him. Other visitors are vague but I know they were there. I just can’t remember much about it.

My mother was not allowed to visit.

When the doctor came back from Egypt, he reduced the amount of drugs I was on, taking me from that somnambulistic stage to a more animated zombie stage. The morning meetings with him resumed and he began to delve into my history and what had caused this meltdown. He took me off ‘close observation’ although I was still not allowed off the hall without approval from him. These conditions came with the promise that I not injure myself, and if I felt like I might, I had to promise to tell someone. I did this daily, sometimes many times a day. I just wanted to end it all and be free of the anxiety and depression and the guilt.

When Christmas rolled around, Cid asked for permission to take me off the unit for a couple of days. D had bought tickets before my meltdown to return home to Ottawa for the Christmas season and it was decided that he would do that as I would only be allowed three days off the unit. I know he felt guilty leaving me, but in my state it didn’t matter. I didn’t have the mental capacity to care or notice that he didn’t come to visit. Instead, Cid picked me up and took me to his mother’s.

I don’t think he knew what he was getting into when he decided to do that. His mother certainly had no idea what to do with me and as she spoke more Italian than English – I think it was just plain awful for her. I cried continually and wrung my hands nonstop. Cid did his best to keep me calm but I was terrified of the unknown – of his mother, of being off the hall. I was terrified of the countryside flashing by as he drove us to Lethbridge and back. I’m sure he was grateful to get rid of me when he brought me back to the unit, like handing a crying baby back to its parent, but I know he had tried hard. Most of the time was spent with his arms around me, shielding me from my terror, calling my name to try to reach me. And even now, all I can remember is how terrified I was of everything.

When he got me back to the unit, I almost ran to my room and huddled in my bed. Safe.

Poor Cid.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Saturday Post!!

First of all I would like to thank Irene for the two awards she has honored me with this week. I have posted them on my sidebar with pride and am terribly humbled that she has awarded me one that says I Cheer Her Up!! (in spite of my subject matter right now) Thank you Irene!

As you have noticed, I have not posted much this week. Not only has it been a busier than normal week for me - what with my picnic with Joy from A Spot of T....and thanks Joy! I needed that day of laughter desperately!

I have found it almost impossible to continue with the story. I have pecked away at my next post, but it is hard to type when you are wringing your hands. And the whispering noises coming from those hands is bothering me, making me anxious. Every single word I write is making me anxious and I am trying my best to deal with it. I know I can and I must as this is like the Reader's Digest condensed version of The Wailings (my book in progress).

Pitiful excuses I know - but the truth. The next post will be out soon - I promise. I will quit running away from it and get the words onto paper. I will stop listening to my hands and use them for typing instead. So - if it looks like I am struggling - believe me - I am.

Monday, April 14, 2008

'The Man' Tales - In The Land of the Unknown

The next day the vultures came to my room and got me out of bed. They listened and knocked continually as they stood outside the bathroom door. Eventually they led me to a little room where the man with the accent was sitting and looking through files. Somewhere in my memory I remembered the accent and the dark circles around his eyes, but I didn’t know who he was. What I soon discovered is that I still couldn’t understand him.

Instead of trying, I spent my time staring out the window. I didn’t recognize anything. I thought I had been transported to a foreign planet by aliens and perhaps I was being interviewed by the head of command.

I wrung my hands harder, afraid.

The sound they made as one washed over the other fascinated me. It was dry and rasping and whispered strange words into the air. If I wrung them harder - I could feel the energy of my anxiety warming my stomach. I felt as if I could almost direct the flow of my anxieties into my hands and wring it all away.

I worked at it.

Those dark circled eyes stared at me and through me. I checked the corners behind me but there was no one else in the room. They stared some more. Eventually he wrote something in the file and let me out of the room.

And suddenly, I was lost again.

The vultures took me to a large bathroom and forced me to undress. They ran the water and tested it, making sure I wouldn’t get scalded, and then they put me under the shower and made me wash myself. It had been a long time. Somehow I had forgotten about washing. In fact, I was told later I hadn’t bathed in almost two weeks. When I was finished, I promptly forgot that it was something I was supposed to do.

I wandered the hall again, lost and alone. There were many others that wandered that hall with me and we would bump into one another in surprise, so lost in our own little worlds that we didn’t see each other.

As long as I was in sight of one of the vultures, they didn’t hover in my face. But as soon as I entered a room, they were there. I couldn’t understand it. Why did they have to follow me around like that? What did they want? It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that I was on ‘close supervision’. I was considered to be a threat to myself. And much later I was told that I had been suicidal before they had admitted me.

I didn’t know any of that.

Meals were delivered to the hallway and we joined in one large communal room to eat them. In the beginning I never noticed just how many people were in that room. I was just happy to be able to eat something once more. One of the vultures sat beside me while I ate because of the utensils I was using. I thought she wanted my food and I hunched over it while I shoveled it into my mouth.

While the light faded out of the foreign sky, I sat listening to my hands as they talked, and stared out the windows. Slowly the lights came on in the buildings that surrounded me, and I suddenly had a revelation. I wasn’t on a foreign planet! I was waiting for a cruise ship! I could see its lights in the distance and I knew they would be coming for me to board it. Obviously dress for this cruise was casual. My pajamas and housecoat were what was required. And everyone else on that hallway? They were going on the cruise as well!

Recently Stephen King published Lisey’s Story. In that novel, he takes us to a place where there are depressed or mentally ill people sitting and watching a ship – waiting for it. When I read this – I wrote to Mr. King and asked him if he had done research on this. Had he found that this was a common thought among those who were suffering mentally? Unfortunately he has never answered me. But how I would love to know!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Another Award Winning Sunday!

Awards have been flying around the world fast and furiously this past week - and I have received my fair share of them. So without further ado I would like to thank the following for their lovely thoughts and contributions to my sidebar.

Sweet Irene, SITH, Mean Mom, Lehners in France, and finally, Crazycath who MADE me an award and said some pretty nice things too while awarding it!

Thank you all for thinking of me when you are handing these out. I get all goofy and humbled and everyone knows that. I really don't know how to take a compliment gracefully - but I'm trying. Just don't say it to my face.

I have been amazed at the comments my latest posts have been receiving! I know that depression and mental illness is something that was always kept hidden away from the world and that many horrendous institutions still exist out there.

I use to be incredibly ashamed of the fact that I needed to be locked away because I couldn't control my mind. I was ashamed of my weakness! If anyone asked me about that period of my life - I sidestepped and evaded the question. Now, 10 years later -I'm telling it like it is!

To all of you out there who have suffered from any of this - Please! Talk about it! We have learned that the talking is what helps the most.

I am more than grateful for everyone who is sharing their experiences with me. I have been emailed and one woman came to my door and thanked me for my blog and told me it has changed her life!

The pain that comes - from mental illness or at the hands of a beater - needs to be told! We need to tell the world - to expunge our pain and get it out of our bodies and mind! And we don't need to be ashamed of it! We all suffer from something.

If this blog is the place to vent - then do it! If you can't do it publicly - email me! Our stories need to be told!

And for those of you who have offered me a pat on the back and a huge hug! Thank you for all of those as well! I still struggle daily - and love and affection helps to keep me sane.

If you think that this blog would be helpful to someone who is suffering - by all means show it to them! Helping others is the reason I am telling it like it is!

Thank you all for your continued readership. Even if you don't comment - I appreciate your visits.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

'The Man' Tales - My First Day

I didn’t know that my world was flat. But I found that out when I tipped over the edge of it and fell into the unknown and emptiness that welcomed me with open arms.

As I have said, by the time D and N went through those locking doors at the end of the hall – I had indeed tipped over the edge. I don’t know if it was them walking away and leaving me there that did it – I would like to think it wasn’t – but it happened.

I had a complete and total mental breakdown.

Not one that I went into screaming and wailing – but a quiet mental meltdown that stranded me in nowhere land. By the time the nurses (vultures) arrived with my pajamas and housecoat, I didn’t know where I was or who I was. Certainly not who these people (?) were who were forcing me to undress (what was the matter with my own clothes?)

In moments I forgot entirely about D and N and I only knew that I was sitting on a bed somewhere and everything smelled like antiseptic.

Those people made me change and took away my clothes and gave me some pills. When I went to the bathroom, they followed me. I could never pee let alone evacuate my bowels with anyone present, so I sat there and stared at the person. Eventually she stood outside the door and continually knocked and asked me if I was all right. That was slightly better, but the thought of them listening to me pee mortified me and I couldn’t.

My crying had subsided mostly into a whimper, but I couldn’t stop wringing my hands. That action made it hard for me to do anything for a long time as I just couldn’t stop. Eventually I noted that I was in a room with three other beds and I wandered out of there, only to get immediately lost.

I did not know where I was. I did not know who I was.

I know it sounds impossible to forget who you are, but believe me it does happen.

I stood against the wall and cried, dropping my Kleenex around me when it fell out of my wringing hands. Those (vultures) continually checked on me and made me swallow pills. Then they checked my mouth to make sure I had done so and eventually led me back to my room – pointing out my name on the little card by the side of the door. I didn’t know who they were talking about.

Everywhere I went, even just to sit on the bed they said was mine, they followed me. Sometimes I understood their language, sometimes I didn’t. During those times I just ignored them. When I looked into the polished steel that was suspended over the bathroom sink – I saw a stranger. So I ignored her too.

Mealtime on that first day soon revealed that I was indeed a freak and that they didn’t have any food for me. Intolerant to gluten, and with the kitchen closed, I went hungry and wondered what I had done to be punished so.

Eventually they gave me some more pills and helped me into bed. I cried and cried, wringing my hands under the blankets, hungry and alone in my own little world. All through the night they came in to the room and checked on me.

The woman in the bed beside me got up at 3am and talked to herself. I felt it was my duty to help her and I got up too and together we went into the lunchroom and worked on something she had devised in her own world. I didn’t have a clue what it was then and I don’t now. But much like a religious leader - I felt compelled to try to heal her with my words. Eventually I wore out and the (vultures) took me back to the room once more after I started crying that I was lost. I forgot about my neighbor instantly as I huddled in my blankets and wondered what tomorrow would bring in this strange new world.

My blank mind rested.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

'The Man' Tales - I Arrive

I will be forever grateful that D called N and they conspired to take me to emergency. Without their intervention, I would be dead.

I went along willingly enough when they told me they were taking me for a little ride, and I cried the entire time. Like a lost child I let them hustle me into the waiting room where the nurses immediately hustled me into that little green room with the fish-eye in the door. I sat and cried while N and D patted my hands and knees or hugged me hard. The hugging made me cry harder and somewhere deep inside I knew I was out of control but I simply could not stop.

I barely noticed when the doctor arrived, except for the fact there was another person in this small smelly room and he was staring at me. He stared at me for so long that I started to ignore him and concentrated instead on my crying. It was just easier to do. D interrupted my reveries and caught my attention when the doctor wanted to ask me questions, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was of Egyptian descent and his accent confused me in my watery state. I constantly turned to D for his interpretation of what was being said, only to slide back into my own little world and my tears. The effort was just too much.

When I was asked to bare a hip so they could sedate me, I didn’t care. N and D made room on the couch for me to lay down on as I slowly gave way to the sedation and my sobs turned into little whimpers. When they arrived with a wheelchair to take me away, I didn’t care. The sedation helped me slip away, and by the time we arrived at the psyche ward, I was almost to the point where I tipped over the edge of the world and into the unknown. I remember N and D wiping their eyes as they said their goodbyes, and I wondered who was causing their tears. I believe that by the time they reached the locking doors of the ward, I had already forgotten them and myself.

Even though this happened back in 1998, it is still an incredibly hard memory to revisit and relive, and this is all I can do for today.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Please Hold......

Just a small apology for not continuing on with the story as quickly as I usually do.

Writing this next post is far more difficult than I thought it was going to be - or maybe on some other level I did know and that is why I posted The Morgue first.

I spent a total of nine months on the psyche ward. I was let out for short periods after about month four, but I always ended up back in there. Life on the outside was just too hard for me.

However - I'm getting ahead of myself here.

I have to take my time writing this next post and the many to follow - so that I can say it in the proper words. There are far too many people out there who are depressed or suffering from some sort of mental illness. And they need to hear this part of my journey. Really hear it.

And for those of you who are lucky enough to have never suffered from this - I want to be able to take you there with my words so that you will be able to understand and empathize with those who suffer (often silently) with this terrible affliction.

Please be patient.

Friday, April 4, 2008

'The Man' Tales - My Story

Today I am posting a short story I wrote about that time in my life as it portrays it perfectly. I'm not sure how to label this post - it is true so does that make the short story fiction? I really don't know.


The man of my dreams sat on my right holding my hand. The woman I had played ‘Maid of Honor’ to, sat on my left, holding my other hand. I sat in the middle, pegged down like a tent in a strong wind. A small man with indeterminate ancestry sat in front of us, his dark eyes searching my soul. The surrounding room was small and muffled with a fish-eye in the door, while the pale green walls that were meant to soothe the psyche mixed discordantly with the faint smell of antiseptic. I could hear the whisperings of cushioned feet passing on the other side of the door and the incessant sound of someone crying. The small man rubbed the dark circles around his eyes with both hands and resumed his staring. I stared back like a deer caught in the headlights. Words burbled out of his mouth and I turned towards my dream man with a questioning look on my face, my own mouth wet and slightly askew. Raising my eyebrows I shook my head slightly. I couldn’t understand the man’s heavy accent and the crying was beginning to get on my nerves. The man burbled again and I looked down into my wet lap with embarrassment at my inability to understand him. With a final soul-searching stare he stood and left the room, leaving us sitting awkwardly. The crying sound that wrapped around us seemed to emanate from the walls and descend like fog from the ceiling. A wingless angel appeared and put something sharp into my hip, then vanished through the fish-eye. In a little while the crying eased off and I closed my eyes, overcome by the tranquility of silence and the drug.

It was the crying that put me in there in the first place. It had been going on for days and I just couldn’t stop. With red swollen eyes and chapped nose I wandered up and down the long sterile hall dropping sodden Kleenex like cookie crumbs. Nameless creatures hunted me continually and then stood ominously by as I swallowed baby-colored pills. Time stood still and my mind wandered away, sometimes ricocheting off the other wraiths who drifted down the long hall, sometimes not. Then one day in a moment of brief respite, the oppressing clouds parted and I noticed the girl. She sat with her legs crossed under her, her blank eyes staring into space, while a long line of drool reached from her lower lip to disappear somewhere below the table. She had silver skeletons and jeweled crosses woven into a skinny braid that hung down beside her pretty face. Somehow these were relevant, but at the time I didn’t know how. I sat down in front of her and offered her a watery hello. She continued to stare into space while a bubble formed on her lip and began the long slide to her knee. I knew right then and there that we were going to be friends for life, and we became inseparable, the crying woman and the drooling girl.

As time passed I began to realize there was more to a day besides the long hall, the pills, and the sessions with the man with the heavy accent. During those first couple of months I thought I was waiting to board a cruise ship decked out in hospital pajamas and housecoat. However, once that delusion subsided I slowly became more aware of my surroundings. I watched with mounting horror the stream of residents happily whisked through the heavy doors at the end of the hall, returning with their heads lolling on their shoulders, their tongues protruding slightly. As the second hand swept around the bald face of the clock, they would eventually emerge with jerking smiles, slowly speeding up as if they had been electrically juiced. On movie night we sat stuffing salty popcorn into our laughing mouths as Jack Nicholson played us on the idiot box in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. The dawning knowledge didn’t help. The psychos wandered aimlessly while the vultures circled nearby, their little white cups filled with pills for every conceivable ailment of the mind and body. The rituals never varied as every morning I sat with the man with the heavy accent and talked, and every afternoon I sat in the circle of the mindless and was talked to. These sessions were like hawks caught on a thermal, the words hovering in the air, unable to find a stable surface to settle on.

My obsession started innocently enough when my lifelong morbid fascination with death suddenly surfaced after the mysterious disappearance of a ward mate. This fascination sprouted and took a strong hold on the barren landscape of my brain and in a moment of inspiration I decided to enlist the help of the girl. I found her in the lunchroom chewing on her seventeenth croissant. A slight adjustment to her medications had stopped the drooling and put everything edible in peril. With snacks nearby we huddled for days in corners and on our beds trying to devise a plan to escape the hall and begin the long arduous search for the dead body repository. In the end it simply came down to asking the man if we could leave the confines of the hall. After three long and vacuous months of life in a corridor a simple stroke of the pen finally released me from ‘close’ observation. The freedom to discover what lay beyond those heavy doors that had been part of my prison was now mine. After all the planning and anticipation, my first venture was accidental and solo. I had wandered off the hall, completely forgetting about the girl and our secretly laid plans. After all, according to what passed as my brain, it was just another day. My mindless wandering soon turned into mayhem and the fast pace beyond the doors terrified me. Luckily my little plastic bracelet helped my rescuers return a sobbing and frightened lost person in pajamas and slippers to ‘the hall’ where the circling vultures had miraculously turned into hovering angels who administered the calming medications. As a result, it took about three days to stop that damn crying again, then it was right back to the drawing board. This time I didn’t forget the girl.

Together we discovered by trial and error that evenings in a health institution are much quieter than the rat race that prevails during the day. We bided our time effectively and patiently. I guarded my food while the girl ate. As evening fell we would leave our destination clearly marked on the out-board with felt pen–“Out On A Quest”. We thought we were brilliantly evasive and full of subterfuge. At first we avoided the stairwells and searched the halls around the only home our tortured brains could remember. These forays proved incredibly daunting as the surrounding halls held back offices filled with files and paperwork and standing at the entrance to this labyrinth one’s gaze melted to a vanishing point at the other end. As I stood at this maw my quest suddenly felt futile, but my obsession would not let me give up. By day the girl fortified herself with food while I strenuously exercised my brain making little dolls out of empty cans and lace. When visiting hours ended and the fluorescent silence descended, our search would begin again. We would creep through the doors at the end of the hall and edge our way carefully along the hallways followed quietly by that eerie hum that huge machinery makes.

We drifted through the sterile surroundings peering closely at the nameplates on each door. Names such as Day Surgery and Outpatients we recognized in our altered states. However, with a simpleton’s fear and pounding hearts we hurried past Endoscopy, not daring to peer through the door’s little window. We climbed a staircase that wound upwards from floor to floor and came across a door that was marked Interspace. Goggling at each other in the dim light we pressed our ears up against it and reeled as the silence roared back at us. Had we stumbled on the place where they put the psychos who disappeared from the hall from one day to the next? Did windmills turn in the dark? My trusty squire wobbled unsteadily as we gulped air to strengthen ourselves. Afraid that we would be the next to vanish behind this mysterious door, we fled back to the hall, the quest suspended. What can I say–we were loony and we were getting nowhere fast.

As days piled upon days my mind chewed endlessly on my need to find the morgue. I could imagine the subdued lighting reflecting dully from the stainless steel walls, their huge gliding drawers filled with the cold cadavers who tossed up stiff on the outside world. White-coated attendants with green slippers would move soundlessly around gurneys, scalpels poised, their intent almost murderous. I tried to imagine where they would take me once I lay under that sheet.

A time came when I was almost ready to give up. It seemed we had searched every possible inlet and outlet. However, defeat wasn’t part of the plan so I had to keep trying. With a renewed resolution I found my friend, hauled her away from the refrigerator, and we crept out once more. With deliberation we returned to the bowels of the massive machine that continued to hold us within its gut. Walking down the now familiar path I suddenly noticed something we had overlooked before. Like iron to true north we headed straight for a nondescript door. Morgue was written on it in plain letters. With an enormous gratified sigh I turned to my companion to celebrate. As I threw my arms about her, something past her shoulder caught my eye and directed my vision to the nameplate on the door in the opposite wall. It read Cafeteria. Of course. It all made sense to me now. I cried with relief.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

'The Man' Tales - One Straw Too Many

Click on the pic to enlarge!

The first picture shows the store with the temporary sign still up. Eventually a lovely sign was painted onto that feathered front. When the store closed, one of those beautiful chandeliers ended up in my dining room. I cherish it as my parents bought it in Montreal for their very first store. And Yes - that is D at the temporary counter before the beautiful oak counter was installed. The needlepoint you see is one my mother did. I taught her how to do needlepoint on this project, helped her buy every single skein of wool and pick out the frame. Where it ended up is another story.

Before we began this massive renovation, D and I took a holiday with my best friend from Guelph and her two small children. When they got off the plane in Calgary, we bundled them into my two door sporty car and headed off to one of the most westerly parts of Canada – Tofino, British Columbia. This meant fitting five people into a two-door vehicle. Grant it, two of them were small – ages four and five…but one was tall with long legs.

My friend had never approved of my dating a younger man, and she seemed to resent this new person in our friendship. I knew she had always hoped I would stay single so when her turn came, I would be waiting with open arms for her to join me on the front porch with our rocking chairs.

This caused a rift between her and D. In fact, the rift was so large that I was caught between the two and was constantly trying to keep each of them happy. My girlfriend refused to listen to anything that D had to say. As the holiday continued, it got to the point that if D spoke – she acted like nothing had been said. As she stated ‘she wasn’t going to listen to anyone 21 years younger than her’.

Now I have been friends with this person for over twenty years, and I felt obligated to make her holiday a happy one and to also keep our friendship intact. On the other hand, I had a new love in my life and I thought she should be happy for me. And I thought the new love in my life should also like my girlfriend. Or at least I hoped he would.

But when silences prevailed throughout the car and I was the one who had to keep the peace, it became difficult. She never once offered D the front seat and got angry when D begged that we pull over so he could stretch his legs. She never even offered to pull the seat forward so he would have more room, instead he could barely walk each time he got out of the car.

The word Fiasco sums that holiday up nicely. By the time I put her and her children back on the plane 10 days later, I thought that pressure valve was going to blow. Instead, we turned around and started on this renovating project. A silence of a number of years settled over the friendship from the East and it upset me incredibly. We eventually worked it out. However, to go from talking every couple of days to nothing is hard to do and to get use to. However, I had other things on my mind in the beginning that only added to my stress.

Those six weeks of renovating did not get me out of my duties at the store that was still open and operating. I spent many days running back and forth when I was called on to settle problems that arose in the first location. There wasn’t a phone yet in the new location and invariably someone would pound on the locked doors and ask me to come and help. I would stride through the mall, covered in plaster and paint in my raggedy work jeans and then try not to get anything dirty as I eased my way into the backroom. Many of the problems involved the building of the new store; problems that my mother could not have solved on her own. However, the payroll was still my job and still had to be done and many other functions that had always been under my control.

When the new store finally opened, new problems came with it and they mostly fell on my shoulders. I could understand my mother not being able to carry it all especially since Dad was no longer alive and she couldn’t ask him. When the winter stock arrived, it only added to the pressure. To facilitate a larger showroom, we of course had to have a smaller workroom. When the new stock arrived, boxes and boxes of it, it was a race to get it out of the workroom so we could breathe. I spent more 18-hour days trying to get it all tagged and into the system.

At the end of my last 18-hour day, I drove home to a patiently waiting D and fell into my bed and rose later than usual the next morning. In a panic, I raced to the store and arrived at 11am. My mother took one look at me and said “It must be nice to be able to wander in here whenever you please.” I looked at all the neatly tagged coats hanging on the racks and the missing boxes. I stood there with my head hanging with exhaustion – and something inside me snapped. Picking up my coat that I had just removed, I put it back on and walked out the back door.

Getting in my car I started to cry and I cried all the way home. And then I couldn’t stop. I cried for days – without stopping. When my mother came to the door three days later, D wouldn’t let her in. While I sobbed hysterically in the dining room, he told her that her presence wouldn’t be the best thing for me at the moment. She informed him she would never forget this and left. I continued to sob hysterically. Eventually D called my friend ‘N’ and the two of them took me for a little drive to the big hospital in the big city. The saying ‘better late than never’ fits very well here.