Visiting my mother in the Psychiatric Hospital
Visiting my mother in the psychiatric hospital was very confusing for me. I had no idea what to expect that first visit, and I didn’t understand why she had to be there. I am sure that the adults tried to explain things to me, but the stress and anxiety kept my brain from understanding.
As I walked into the hospital the first time, it was a surreal experience. It was always dark outside when we go to visit. I would try to figure out which window was my mom’s—wondering if she was watching out the window waiting for us. Maybe we were even staring at each other, me in the car, and she in her room.
We visited her several days a week. Each time I would ask her when she would be coming home. There were times that we couldn’t go on a scheduled day. If she had a rough spell. Or some of the other patients were having a moment, and they had to close the ward.
My Mother, But Not
My mother, heavily medicated, wasn’t my mother while she was in that place. She talked so slowly like she searched for the words, but they were just out of her ability to retrieve them. She would get so frustrated that she couldn’t find the right word. It was the medication, she would say. She couldn’t think straight.
I didn’t get it; how can medication make you not be able to retrieve words? As I am on medication and before I was on the right medication, I looked at the world through a fishbowl. I remember looking at this strange and yet familiar person and trying to figure it all out.
The people there looked like regular people, my mother looked like my mother, but there was something about them that was different. I could sense the difference. I expected them to look different, like when someone has a physical ailment. They would look sick. But these people did not. My mother, outside of her flat affect, didn’t look any different. But she was.
Visiting the Psychiatric Hospital
I started to understand the more I visited. Seeing the other people who were there on a semi-regular basis, I began to notice some differences. There was one patient that I remember to this day. Her name was Tara. She took a liking to me. And I to her.
My Friend Tara
Tara was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. I believe that she was in her mid-twenties at that time. At first, Tara would wave from a distance, and then as I visited more often, she would come closer. One time she pulled my baseball cap down. She smiled, and we both laughed. It was an odd friendship, but I looked forward to seeing her. She always had a smile for me.
The orderlies observed her around me. I didn’t understand why the orderlies would hover as they did. Then one day, I didn’t see her. I asked my mom, and she told me that Tara had to be sedated and was in the padded room. She had her period and had run out of her room with no pants on, flinging maxi pads around.
On my next visit, she wasn’t there at all. I asked where she was. Tara’s parents had her permanently committed to the state mental hospital. It seemed a death sentence to me, the way my mom said where she had gone. It sounded like a place no one ever returned. I never saw her again. I still think about her and wonder what happened to her.
The Wallet Gift
After that, visiting my mother at the psychiatric hospital became pretty routine. We would all sit awkwardly around the table in the dayroom. I know that I was trying to think of things to say. I mean, how can a kid be expected to make small talk with their mom, who tried to kill herself? I have no idea, but it was expected of me by the adults in my life. And I would try, but there is only so much one can do.
One day when I arrived, she gave me a gift. They had an arts and crafts room there. It might have been part of their therapy, and I am not sure. She presented this brown wallet to me. It was more of a change purse, really, but to a kid’s hands, it was a wallet. The leather was soft, and there was a darker brown leather woven around the edges holding the wallet together.
I was very mixed about that gift. It felt like something a kid would make, not my mom. They were not allowed any sharp implements (for obvious reasons), so she was limited with what she could do. But it was that I felt obligated to like it. And I didn’t.
Taking Care of Feelings
I think this was about when I realized that I had to walk on eggshells around my mother. That part of my new role was to take care of her emotions and make her feel good. My father, nudging me to accept the gift, told me to say that I loved it. And so, I did.
That started years of trying to please her and make her happy. Or at the very least, to not upset her. But, like then, I never could do enough to make her happy. And then I stopped trying. It was a no-win situation for me.
I think it was also this experience that makes me so effusive when I receive a gift from someone. I will get excited about a gift whether or not I like it. My husband pointed that out to me recently. I just realized, writing this story, that it all started from that time. It all started from visits to my mother in the psychiatric hospital when my father told me to sacrifice my wants and needs for others.
Huh, it was the beginning of becoming a people-pleaser.