It is no coincidence that when McLean Hospital diagnosed me a chronic case with poor prognosis and recommended a long stay in a state hospital, it was not long after my parents had stopped pouring money into my mental health care, and turned instead toward my father’s three-year journey with cancer that would lead to his death in April 1997. McLean, and everyone else, had milked my parents dry, or let’s just say everything they wanted to give up. My mom was sick of it, I suppose, and probably resentful. So McLean had little use for me anymore, and once they finished using up my lifetime Medicare days, they weren’t very friendly.
My parents, meanwhile, had their own little life. My mom said on the phone to me, “Dad’s main problems are with mobility and function.” Function? I wondered why she didn’t just call it piss and shit. After a lengthy period of euphamizing in every way she could, she finally consulted with the medical profession and they got him some medication to help him with bladder control, and Depends with embarrassment. For the first time in over thirty years, she found herself changing diapers, and still hating it just as much. Or did she?
This became a complaint every time she got on the phone with me, in a very offhand way. She coyly explained one day, “I control his diet so that he only makes a bowel movement every other day! Less cleanup!”
McLean Hospital, of course, had ceased giving me good care, so I was very, very sick, and it took years before I realized what was going on with my parents. My mom had my dad under complete control. It was almost as if he was helpless, all his body functions regulated, always watched, always controlled and monitored. She made sure he took all his meds. He might as well have been in a locked ward on a “one to one” with the Nurse from Hell.
They say he asked not to go into a nursing home. I wonder if he said this himself, or if my mom put these words into his mouth. Before he died, he was in a hospital for a bit, probably less than a week. I forget which one. Maybe Brigham and Women’s. Then a nursing home, a nice one, for ten days, where he died, somewhere between one and two in the morning. I’m glad my mom wasn’t with him at the time.
During the last ten days, my mom showed off her athletic ability by cross-country skiing to the nursing home from her home. I think she was trying out some of her freedom. I think the nursing staff understood this, too.
A bunch of us went to see Dad in those last days. He was kind of out of it. Then again, so was I, in my own way. I felt hopeless because the people at McLean had turned their backs, and I didn’t realize that it was all because of money. But I didn’t say anything to anyone in the family about that.
Dad lay there with his eyes closed. He didn’t say anything or do anything. His arms and hands were puffy and I was afraid to touch him because I didn’t know what his skin would feel like. My mom pranced around the room and waved her arms, speaking to the nurses in a sing-song voice. They responded to her in whispers. “Yes, Mrs. Greene,” they said.
My mom called me in the mornings, early, in the days following his death. Or I called her. I don’t know why. These conversations were pretty much hi and bye, but I didn’t have anyone else to talk to.
That was April. In August, I took an overdose. My mom never found out. McLean sucked out the last of my private hospital Medicare lifetime inpatient days, and then set me loose after three days. They sent me back to their shit residence, which was soon to close down. They made some excuse. Blamed me, of course. I started on another suicide plan and almost completed it.
I’m glad I’m the hell out of there.
At some point I made the promise to myself that I’d never let my mom change my diapers again. Once was enough. I do remember toilet training. Most adults don’t remember back that early. I remember my parents standing over me in our yellow bathroom, all of us staring at my soiled underwear, my shame, their disgust. Yelling all around. Booming, scary voices. Never again! Never again! Never again!
I’m sure it happened over, and over, and over, just like I’m sure it happened to my dad when he spent his last year dying. I can only imagine.
Now, my mom is so out of it that she can’t be alone anymore. She can’t take care of herself. I think she needs someone to help her bathe and dress. She can’t clean the house and she can barely walk. My brother took over the finances completely because she neglected all her bills. Only a few months ago she was riding her bicycle around town. Weird how these things happen.
Part of me is very happy about this, though. Thrilled. She has lost control. She can’t even do her own food. Well, well, mother. Isn’t it about time you stopped controlling other people’s bodies? Isn’t it about time you got a taste of what it feels like to be controlled? Locked up, maybe? I think my brother is rather thrilled to be arranging for the nursing care.
In three days, April 10th, it will be the anniversary of my father’s death…I guess fifteen years. Lots of stuff happened in those fifteen years. His kid got married, he gained a granddaughter, and a grandson graduated high school and went on to college. A son got tenure and both sons got promotions. Me? My bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, five books written, two of them published.
Yeah, Dad, I told McLean where to go and started a new life. The saddest part about it was that you weren’t alive to see me do it. I told them I didn’t need their locked wards anymore. I didn’t need them to tell me I was “chronic” and that I had a “poor prognosis.” You didn’t see me break free of their bonds. You didn’t hear me tell them to fuck off. Well, I told them. And I’m going to tell the world again.
Maybe you will hear me screaming, loud and clear, very soon. I don’t need their locked wards. I don’t need their state hospital. I don’t need coping skills or stress balls or bubble bath, you can take all that and shove it. Freezing an orange is a waste of food, I don’t use that as coping skill thank you. The crisis team can now go take a long smoke break and all us mental patients will go on parade and show off our Tardive Dyskinesia in the streets. Look at how that one flaps his tongue! Freaks!
Yes, Dad, I am breaking free. I won’t let Mom control me. I will speak out and tell others to speak out. I believe that if you see something that you know in your heart is wrong, you should take action against it, even if it means doing something unconventional or unusual. I’ve done some rather offbeat things because I believed that in doing so, I was saving others. If you were alive today, maybe you would understand my actions, but maybe not.
We did not always agree. In fact, I’d say, most of the time, we disagreed. Most of the time, you were the one who was right about stuff. You were more mature. You were wiser. You were a better thinker. You took more time to think things through and didn’t jump to conclusions the way I did.
When I was in my thirties, I used to ask you guys for approval all the time, and then curse myself for being so childish. Was it my illness that had caused me to become so dependent on you two? Was I doing it to please you, to reassure you that you still had a little girl, someone you could control? Was I doing it because I was lonely and had no friends, no one else to turn to? I can still picture your nods and smiles, the exchanged looks with my therapist, the winks, the approval.
I guess I’m kind of on my own now. If you were alive today, you’d see what was going on with my brothers and me, the way they more or less don’t even know I exist, and I’m sure you’d be disgusted. Or maybe not. I don’t know and I’d really better stop putting feelings into your heart or words into your voice. The way things are is the way things are. I’m going to tell the world again. I’m going to tell them I don’t need their state hospital. I’m not “chronic” and I’m not “poor prognosis” and I don’t need the mental health system lingo buzz words hollered at me over and over and over like I didn’t hear them the first time.
Dad, they told me if I hold a frozen orange, I would feel better, and I told them I refused to freeze an orange, because this ruins it as a piece of food, thereby wasting it. Oranges are expensive as well, I added. Would I feel better, for instance, squeezing a California orange, or a less expensive Florida orange? The person leading the group told me maybe it was time to give someone else a chance to speak. I said, maybe you just want to shut me up. Later, I wrote in my journal that they could take their coping skills and shove it.
No one will shut me up, Dad. I promise. We may not have always agreed. So you taught me. Disagreement is all the more reason to never, ever, shut up.