This story is by Marion Bolton and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Growing Pains of an Emotional Cripple.
It is not how green the country is, nor how quaint the houses and villages are, as we pass through them on the way to church. It is the grim, grey building that stood austere and forbidding, at the end of an uninviting drive that is seared into my memory. It is the image of the Mental Hospital, that haunts me to this day. The windows were black and, in the left-hand corner, a white face with black, sightless eyes stared out at a 6-year-old girl, and the face was my mother’s. I shook. We walked from the car to the entrance where we stopped. The building towered above us blocking out the sun. Then, with a deep breath, Dad looked at me.
“Ready?” he said. I nodded as I hung on to his hand, squeezing it as tight as I could. We walked into the building. He wrapped my hand in his and it was firm and reassuring. On the floor the brown, polished lino squeaked beneath our feet as they measured the distance from the entrance to the day room. The smell of boiled cabbage assailed us as it lingered unappetisingly in the air. I baulked. I didn’t like cabbage at the best of times, and when boiled to within an inch of its life like this had been, it churned my tummy. The day room was cavernous like a cathedral. Its high ceiling made the four or five patients look tiny, even to a 6-year-old. In a chair by the window, crying, was my mother. I looked at her, and felt a damp patch beginning between my legs, I squeezed harder, trembling. Please don’t let me wet myself, please don’t, I mouthed, and shrunk back pushing into my dad, my cheeks on fire.
At school, the taunts of my pals filled my head and I learnt to feel ashamed of her.
‘Your mum’s in the nut house,’ said some.
‘She’s a nutter,’ shouted others.
Their jibes went through me, causing me to run and hide deep within my shame.
Life was never the same for me after that. It wasn’t until she went into the hospital that the other children knew that my mum was epileptic. I knew what a fit was but I didn’t understand why it affected me. But I came to understand that it stopped us going away and I blamed her. Dad would try and tell me that it wasn’t her fault and she couldn’t help it, but I, in my youthful wisdom, knew this wasn’t true.
“She did it on purpose!” I would shout at him and, sobbing loudly, stomp up the stairs screaming at the top of my voice. I thumped the wall, kicked the door open, and slammed it shut.
“I hate her! I hate her!” I shouted and threw myself on the bed.
Gradually, the sobs subsided and I lay there, breathing heavily. Dad came in, sat next to me, and gently stroked my head, talking softly to me, soothing me. I sat up and he hugged me closely and I felt comforted. In my bitter disappointment I had behaved badly. I came, in time, to understand that, but it took me a long time to really believe that she couldn’t help it. She went back into hospital a number of times and each time there would be the grim, grey building with black windows and the white face filling me with fear. Its image was always there hiding in the recesses of my mind, ready to reveal itself in my consciousness whenever my mum was ill.
For a long time I never saw her having a fit for a number of reasons. Mostly it was because she had them during the night but also she would have them while I was at school or out playing so it came as a shock when one day I came in from playing and Mum was sat in a chair her face red, a nerve twitching just above her left eyebrow. Her eyes stared, glassily, and her lips constantly smacked against each other, as they do if someone is eating with their mouth open.
“Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” I shouted, thumping her arm as hard as I could. “Stop it!” I was still shouting and thumping her when my dad came in. I was crying. I didn’t know what was happening.
“It’s alright, love. She’s having a fit. She’ll be alright soon. You go and play and when you come back it will all be over. I’ll get her into bed and she can sleep.” This led to another spell in hospital to try and stabilise her medication. The grim, grey building reared its head again still haunting my every moment. It was at this time I learnt my mum had a breakdown when I was two or three and the effects of the breakdown had got entwined with the epilepsy. In my young mind, the fits and their after effects got associated with the foreboding hospital and the fear engendered by each of them became inexorably linked.
I would like to say it got easier, but it didn’t. I lived my life with a level of fear that I don’t know how I would have survived if it had not been for my father’s care and understanding. It got easier in some ways. Medical improvements and understanding got better and the world’s attitude towards mental issues gradually changed, but there was always further to go.
When I left home to go to college, I felt a certain amount of release, I didn’t have to live at home and I was able to put some distance between me and my parents. I found that it was difficult to approach people. I was quiet and introverted and people didn’t want to try and make friends with someone who was largely unresponsive. I had few friends, though I did have a boyfriend, Peter. At the end of college we married, and eventually had three kids.
It was when we had the children that I started to worry that I might be ill like my mum although I wasn’t epileptic. That had been checked in my early teens. But I was concerned that I may have a breakdown and I didn’t want the children to live with what I had lived with. One day, Peter came home and said he had been offered a promotion, but we would have to move, how did I feel? It would mean having to make new friends, but the education system was better, and in the end we moved. I found myself in a place I did not know, with three young children and a husband who worked long hours and was often away. I stayed in but no one came. The phone never rang. No one invited me for coffee. Mums and dads stood at the school gate and chattered in groups; no one made space for me to join a group. I came home from taking the children to school but still no one came. I found it all very stressful. One day I got up and I had a fizzing feeling in my stomach. Peter was getting ready for work.
“Peter, don’t go. Please don’t go.” I said.
“What’s the matter?”
“ I don’t know. I feel strange. My head feels disconnected from my body it sounds as if it’s a long way away,” I said. And then things began to be confused. My mind felt like it was going haywire, and Peter told me later I was behaving strangely. He was talking but it sounded gibberish. Why was Peter speaking nonsense? I couldn’t understand him. From there things moved fast. Peter called the doctor and then an ambulance arrived. Peter and the doctor ushered me into it.
“Where’s Peter he’s not well? Why am I here? It’s Peter, he’s ill,” I said, but no one listened. I was crying uncontrollably.
The hospital was a grim, grey building that stood austerely, forbidding, at the end of an uninviting drive. The windows were black and in the left-hand corner a white face with black, staring eyes looked out, and the face was mine.