“I Picked Up the Chain”

Mental illness is not a choice, no one chooses to have it, but this true and insightful story puts an […]

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Mental illness is not a choice, no one chooses to have it, but this true and insightful story puts an interesting angle on one young man’s story and subsequent life with this disease.

“Even though my depression started at a young age, I was not always the main focus of concern, sadness and shame in my family because of my mental illness. For the first ten years of my life, my mother and her health were the chief worry in our home. Mom’s closest relatives had all died and this bereavement and loss caused her terrible sadness and depression. She also suffered from physical ills and insomnia, all made worse by the unsympathetic physicians who saw her as “hysterical.” She was bed-ridden for much of my childhood, and some of my earliest memories are of trying to comfort her by reading my comic books to her and picking dandelions in the back yard to bring her bouquets.

Nothing was ever explained to me about what was going on with her, and of course, my young imagination imagined the worse: Was she going to die? Was it, my fault?

Going to school full time as a first grader was hard, and it was tough to leave her alone. Not because I was ‘spirited’ or ‘scared’ or had ‘separation anxiety’ like so many thought, but because with Dad at work, and my only sibling already in third grade, there would be no one there to look after her and keep her safe. So one day in class, I just stood up, got my coat and went home. I did it so nonchalantly that hardly anyone noticed and it was almost ten minutes before anyone went looking for me, I made it home just about when the phone call from the school came and my mother was furious–embarrassed at her ‘weak’ son. I saw that she was OK, then went back to school, all in silence.

I was punished by both my parents and the school, but I never said a word about why I had gone home. It was my job to take care of my mother and keeping quiet was somehow part of it.

It didn’t happen very often, but, every now and then, I just got up and went home to check on my morn. A couple of times later that first year, three or four times in second grade, and a few more times in third grade. My parents were mortified and the punishments got more severe. What my school and father didn’t know is that my morn was fighting an increasing depression, that, for some reason, only I was able to see, or perhaps acknowledge, and the times I chose to go home were the mornings when she was especially down. But I never spoke a word about it. For some reason it was a secret, and so I protected my mom in that way, too.

My parents finally hit their limit and, when in the third grade I did it once more, they decided that I must have some psychological defect that they needed to break me of, and ordered counseling for me at a local hospital. They also told my teacher, principle and the school nurse about it, none of whom could keep a secret, which meant that the next day everyone at school knew that I was being sent to therapy.

Our.playground was connected to both the grade school and the junior high school and, as I walked onto the yard on my way into class, some of the older 7th and 8th graders started pointing and shouting : “Hey everybody, look out! Here comes the Psycho! Here comes the Psycho! Runaway! Here comes the Psycho!” I looked around to see what they were talking about, but didn’t see anybody, and thought this must be a new game. “Look out! Here comes the Psycho! Here comes the Psycho!” I didn’t know what ‘psycho’ meant, but it sure sounded funny, so I started running and yelling too: “Look out! Here comes the Psycho! Here comes the Psycho!”

My cousin, an infinitely older sixth grader came over and grabbed me. “What are you doing?” she yelled at me. “Look out! Look out!”, I cried. “Here comes the Psycho!”

“Shut Up” she said. “You’re the ‘Psycho.'”

And because I loved her so much, I carried the role and title of ‘psycho’ from that day on, so that somehow, I hoped, my Mother would never have to.”

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