Mental Health in 1969 — October Memoir Challenge
This is my seventh post, for age 7, of the October Memoir and Backstory Challenge hosted by Jane Anne McLachlan. My previous posts: Baby Speed Eater, Two Tales, Curls, Most Magical Christmas, Kindergarten, and Places.
One week after my 7th birthday, I wrote this paper for school.
On the same day, my mother was in the psychiatric unit of Deaconess Hospital writing a letter to me and my brother:
Monday, May 19, 1969
Dear Joy and Dale
I love you so very much.
The treatments and medicines the doctors give me here make me sometimes forget things, but I’ve never forgotten that I have you two beautiful children and that you are very special to Daddy and me.
I don’t know when I can come home but I do know that I’m getting better because the doctor told me I would be transferred to the second floor as soon as there is a room for me. The people on the second floor aren’t as sick as the ones where I am now.
There is a little church right here in the hospital which I was able to attend yesterday.
Isn’t it nice that Grandpa and Grandma Weese could come and help take care of you? I’m so glad they are there, especially since I can’t be.
Take good care of yourselves. Be good for Daddy, Grandma, and Grandpa, and keep on remembering that I love you bunches and bunches.
Among the treatments she received was electroshock therapy although, of course, I didn’t fully understand that for many years later. I did understand that my memory of my childhood was often more accurate than hers.
Those 1960s perfect family photos were sometimes people wearing masks.
My initial draft of this post stopped with this picture, but then I read Nightmares – Year 5 by Susan Hawthorne who is participating in the October Memoir Challenge at her blog Time Floats On. I want to at least make an attempt to address how my mother’s problems and occasional hospitalizations combined with my dad’s emotional distance impacted me. I habitually minimize it, so be patient with me. There are layers of truth, here, some of which I have yet to uncover.
Today, let’s go with this layer of truth. I knew I was loved and that was good. But I had it, in writing, that just because someone loved you didn’t mean they could take care of you. I didn’t fear abandonment. I expected it. At any given moment. My contingency plans had contingency plans. The up side of this coin is self-reliance. The down side is an inability to live in the present and a lack in what turns out to be an important relationship skill: accepting help from others.
Oh Joy, so true about the inability to live in the presence and to accept help from others.
There are so many layers to life, aren’t there? At the age of 62, I am still unwrapping new layers and learning new things about my family and myself.
I accept that as a good thing, but wish I could unwrap a little faster 🙂
Wow. And you never know how close others are to you. I was on the other side of St. Louis, a 9-year-old who wouldn’t meet you for another four decades, but now on your side.
Oooh! Yes, mixed bag, isn’t it. These were the times before Oprah. You didn’t talk about things. And who do you confide in? I relate all too well. My dominant character trait is hyper-vigilance. But help from others, a chronic problem. So glad to walk this path with you and other in Jane Ann’s challenge.
Oh, Joy. This is a remarkable post. What you said about the facade of the “happy” family is so true. So far, I’ve stayed away from some of the more complicated stuff (I didn’t experience anything like this, though). A beautifully written piece.
Very well written, Joy, and on a subject that is not easy to write about. You showed lots of insights and sensitivity toward mental illness. I especially liked the statement you made about the photo not telling the whole story! How true.
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I’m probably the same age as your Mother. That’s me, with a different hairdo in your photo, but I didn’t have shock treatments until 1991. In March I published Mom’s Crazy: Her Bipolar Memoir, you might find it interesting to have a look at the other side. I plan to offer it free on Kindle this weekend. I just stumbled on your post this evening by following you on twitter. In 1970, the year my memoir starts, I’m living in Atchison, Kansas, with my husband and two children.
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Childhood can be pretty tough when you can’t do anything about what’s going on around you. I also have abandonment issues. To this day, I can’t walk in the front of a group or even just one other person. I’m always scared to death that I’ll turn around and they’ll be gone.
You are very brave and strong, digging through your past and posting it here. There are things in mine I’d just as soon leave there.
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