After Larry left for Vietnam, my psychiatrist in Lubbock, Texas, told me I could get better faster if I went to The Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. When he discharged me from the Psychiatric Unit at Methodist, Hospital in Lubbock, I moved to Seminole to live with Mother until a room was available at Menninger. Laura, almost two years old, stayed with her babysitter in Lubbock. My Clinical Depression was so severe I couldn’t take care of her.
Mother was a teacher. She left me in bed every morning when she went to work until she came home for lunch and insisted I join her. She tried to help me as best she could, but I was immobilized by depression. After Mother went back to school, I drove to the Dairy Queen, ordered a mound of burgers, fries and several chocolate malts. I gorged as much as I could until my compulsion to purge took over. It moved me to exhaustion, and I would crawl back into bed and fall asleep until the next meal and the cycle began again.
Monday through Friday, I called the Menninger social worker assigned to my case hoping someone had been discharged leaving a bed available for me even though I had been told the wait time was approximately five weeks. I also called a friend of my grandmothers. I needed to hear her tell me over and over that Menninger was a good hospital and could help me. She was the only person I knew who had been a patient at The Clinic.
Finally, the day of our flight to Topeka came. I had written Larry and told him the doctor recommended that I go to The Clinic. I assured him Laura would be in good care since she would stay with the Woodrow’s, her regular babysitter’s and longtime family friends. In typical Larry style, he was his supportive self. “If only he could come home, I would be fine.” I told myself over and over. But, I said nothing.
During the entire flight, I worried constantly. I worried about leaving Laura, about the possibility that Larry might be killed in Vietnam and I would lose him like I’d lost Daddy when he died of a heart attack when I was a child. My thoughts served up every possible worst outcome I could imagine. What if I was beyond help like some of the people in the state hospital mental hospital in Big Spring not far from Seminole? What if I couldn’t get better?
Mother and I took a cab from the airport in Topeka to the local Holiday Inn. The next morning, The Clinic sent a cab for us. The receptionist explained we were early and suggested we might like to walk around the campus. As we walked down the manicured sidewalks, I noticed most of the people were walking in groups or pairs. Mother was impressed with the greenhouse. Her flower beds at home were magnificent. She loved gardening and appreciated that everyone seemed to be working, not lying in bed all day. I resented that she didn’t understand why I stayed in bed.
Mrs. Johnson, an aide on the unit where I would live, appeared immediately after we returned from our walk. I worried what was next as we followed her to a small conference room. As we entered, a slender gray-haired man rose from an oblong table. “Good morning.” Dr. Roberts greeted us with a warm sure handshake. “Please sit down. I’m Dr. Roberts. I’ll be your house doctor.” When he asked me to tell him about myself, I diminished how close to the edge I felt and my constant fear and dread. I didn’t tell him how lost and uncertain I felt and how I lived in a gray hopeless world. I didn’t mention my nose and how it burned all day long like an anxiety thermometer. I told him I was there because I wanted to get better. I wanted to meet Larry for R&R and I wanted to take care of our baby.
Without warning, he told me to say good-bye to Mother and asked Mrs. Johnson to take me to the ward. I felt my legs grow numb as I told Mother good-by, hugged her quickly so she wouldn’t see me cry and asked her to tell Laura I loved her.
Mrs. Johnson led me to the ward and unlocked the door with the dangling keys she carried on her wrist and said, “This will be home while you’re here. Your room’s down this hall.”
I had asked to come to Menninger. I wanted to get better but as the heavy door slammed behind me, my own internal voice screamed, “What have done, you idiot? You must be crazy!”
Years later I look back on that slamming door and realize Menninger was my last hope. In that moment, I wanted to scream, “Just lock me up!” as it raced through my mind over and over.
Over the years, I’ve remembered that October day many times. I am still overwhelmed with gratitude and always will be. Walking through that heavy door as it slammed behind me was the first real step toward my recovery.
Surrender is so hard and at times counter-intuitive to wanting to feel in control. For me, it made all the difference in my life’s future.
To find local resources, take a first step for yourself, or help a loved one find great care and support, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website: www.nami.org.
Throughout the month of May, NAMI and participants across the country are raising awareness for the importance of mental health.
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