On Going Mental

Yesterday one of my oldest friends called me… from the “inside.”

Well, to put it more clearly, she called from an inpatient psych ward.Photo by AndyBullock77 from Flickr

My friend and I have known each other now as long as we have not known each other… longer actually. And since she met her husband about 3 weeks after I met her, that friendship is just as solid.

When my girlfriend called, I didn’t understand what she was talking about. She was euphoric, chortling.

She seemed absolutely relieved and ecstatic to be where she was.

However, as I listened to her, this didn’t surprise me. Often when we are together, her thoughts bounced around like a pinball… eventually they’d land somewhere that made sense and I’d get a chance to catch up.

Anyway, even when they didn’t — which was the case yesterday — everything she said to me was perfectly clear. 

In this case, she was erratic. She had finally “reconnected” with an old boyfriend/soulmate. She wanted me to read the Bible… or at the very least, she wanted me to watch for empirical signs of “meaning” in the animated Tinkerbell movie. “Which one?” I asked. She wasn’t sure. Oh and could I send her another blank journal to fill?

Later, when I listened to her husband’s morose story about the last year with her (they live far away, so we see each other rarely), I thought — Oh my love… oh my sweet darling … where did you step off the path?

My friend used to take photos and paint. She used to ride her bike, and wear thrift store clothes and pay with cash or checks for everything. She’d eat oatmeal for a week if she didn’t have the money to buy bread and ham. The elaborate life of credit and gym memberships and preschools didn’t exist in any remote corner of her mind.

Now she’s a “grown up” and she lives in a suburb of a huge sprawling city. She’s a partner in an established family. She works. The last job she held had her commuting 1.5 hours on a train — one way. She loves to work, but her creative mind doesn’t jive with the wildly linear people she seems to always ram up against.

She works out at the gym daily. It was the only thing that makes her feel sane and in control. And she has 2 children to raise (because, after all, she’s the MOM), even though she really never wanted children.

Last year, she got pregnant again. I was surprised when she told me. But I thought maybe the idea of being a Mom had finally softened in her. I know regardless of her initial feelings, she adored her beautiful children, even if she was terrified of herself as a parent. She did everything possible to make their lives insanely healthy. Organic everything, homemade all the time… I learned what quinoa was from her because her kids ate it daily.

If saying that you are in a “psych ward” might sound like saying “I’m in hell” or “I’m in a Thai prison,” would you please call me? Because I disagree. I doesn’t sound that way at all to me. Don’t you remember how much simpler life was when you were 5? Or 10? Before the onslaught? Even just in college, taking classes and working a bit?

Then something happens.

I know it did for me. Maybe it’s work, or maybe it’s family, or age, but it seems like there’s a threshold of tolerance. And if we don’t take care of ourselves, we pass over that threshold without a thought. Pile on the responsibilities and the “sure I can help with that” until before you know it… something gives.

I so so love my family, but they are an enormous energy suck. If I let them, they’d never stop asking for things. Or “not doing” things that get left for me to do. And if I let myself, I’d never stop feel badly about what I didn’t get done today, what I didn’t do right by them. I’d keep on spinning it over in my mind at night.

I hurt my leg a week or so ago and I’ve been hobbling around. It hurts alot and I’ve been testy and not myself. I’ve been trying to rest it and elevate, but it still hurts! And I don’t realize how this impacts my kids. Kiki said today: “Oh I can’t wait till Mom smiles again!”

I was stunned.

I don’t know what to do or say, really, to help my friends and their children. They are so far away. The task of unwinding from such brutal personal handiwork is long and tedious.

So I’ll ask you all to think about them for a minute, with compassion.

And then, I’ll wish for you to think about yourself, too — overstretched as you are — in the same way.

 

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Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She teaches and speaks about the rhetorical impact of beautiful writing. A recent transplant to Connecticut, she calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home.

 

  6 comments for “On Going Mental

  1. Tammy L
    January 25, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Oh girl. I can so relate to this story because I just started my mental health rotation this semester and spent a full day in a forensic psych ward. IT was eye opening and broke my heart all in one swoop. Mental health is something everyone who is “healthy” takes for granted, but what most do not realize is that it only takes one big life stressor to knock you from “healthy” to “illness.” I’ll definitely say a prayer for your friend, for you and for me. Love you!

    • January 27, 2013 at 7:08 am

      Thanks Tammy… I think we really do take for granted the strain we put on our mind … and I KNOW we don’t give our emotional sides the relief they need.

  2. January 25, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    We are all so fragile. Our brains are a mystery. I hope your friend finds her balance again.

    • January 27, 2013 at 7:10 am

      Yes, NOF… It’s a gift to be fragile, but it’s hard to remember it is true! When you think about how hard it would be to walk on a tight role or even on a balance beam! Balance is not easy! Much easier to fall over!

  3. February 18, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Hi, Elizabeth. I followed you over here from your post on Satya’s site, Writing our Way Home. Your comment was so well written, so clear what women have thought but been afraid/ ashamed/ embarrassed/ (pick your own verb) for generations to say about raising small children. Much of it is isolating and a dull routine. Some–lots, actually, especially when looking back–is heartbreakingly rewarding. Anyway, I thought you said it well, so I came over to your blog to see what else you had to say. Lots, I see. I have subscribed as yours is a voice I’d like to hear from often. Keep it up so I can read beautiful writing. And, as far as raising kids goes, it does get better… until it gets worse. But, for all of it, you will never be the same again. Namaste.

    • March 5, 2013 at 7:28 pm

      Thank you Sarah for your comment. I don’t get to post as often as I like to, because I take time on my posts, and time isn’t always available to me right now, except in stops and starts. I have only recently started to feel confident in my role as a parent… I think it does take a long time for any mom or dad to get their feet under them, regardless of the approach they take. Ours is quite odd. See you around.

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