Liven Your Space - A Resource for Healing from Mental Illness
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Getting Religion - Part XI, The First Day Home

I was home, lying on my bed, the same bed and the same bedroom I'd slept in as a young girl.  As I stared blankly at my grandmother's handmade quilt, I remember thinking how much I wanted to get up, to get out of the house, to take a walk as my doctor had told me I should. "Betsy you have to exercise.  You have to get better" he had said.  But nothing wanted to move.  The body I'd traveled in from San Francisco wasn't mine any longer.  While the voices I'd experienced for months before the hospital had gone away, the drugs had left me feeling lifeless: heavy, numb, separate from my foggy mind's desire to cooperate with my doctor. 

Finally, the weight of the haze broke.  It was a beautiful spring afternoon. I dressed, paused in front of the mirror to brush my fake red hair, and slowly walked down the stairs to the familiar small kitchen at the back of the house.

"I must call the doctor in Richmond," my mother said.  True, I thought; the notion of losing my job terrified me.  I only had three months to get well. I'd been told that by management.   

Instantaneously, the burning fear of lost lives rose inside me: memories of Aunt Lena moving in and out of the State Mental Hospital; of her son going AWOL from the Korean War for suspicious, perhaps mental health reasons; of my father's suicide in the 60s; of his drunken violence and desperate anger throughout my childhood tearing at my small core.  At that moment all those particulars were flooded by a dark wave. The swell of panic filled my chest.  Was it not for the medication and the persistent words of Dr. Wong, I wonder if a reclaiming of my own lost life might have been swept away.  Right there, in my mother's kitchen, I wondered if a life of broken pieces might be lost for good.  

My mother lifted the phone off the wall and began dialing the number given by Dr. Wong, a Dr. Fowler who was a psychiatrist and a Southern Baptist like my grandmother. The quiet conversation, just above a whisper, recounted my recent events: what had happened to me and the need to move quickly.  By the end, Dr. Fowler suggested an appointment with a doctor closer to Warrenton, Dr. Zigmund Lebensohn off Connecticut Avenue in D.C.  She made a second call and after a short exchange looked relieved.  Dr. Lebensohn could see me that week.  

With the loud clacking of Dr. Scholl's wooden sandals confirming my steps, I made my way down the asphalt driveway. I stopped at the street and was abruptly suspended. It was time to take a walk after months of floating in space: to go left towards Warrenton's small town shops or right towards the in-town bypass by Frost Diner.  I knew both directions and the three mile circle they made like the back of my hand. As a girl I'd wandered the cross streets freely, hello-ing the people along the way, sensing them registering my family's history and mine as we casually smiled and chatted.  Now I was paralyzed. The minutes passed. Without knowing why, I turned left and began what felt like my first deliberate walk uphill. 

To be continued ...


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