I was born in a small town in Florida during the late 1940s. My mother had undiagnosed and untreated schizophrenia and my father was a man of some power within the community who was rarely home and whom I could never please. I had a brother who was five years older and was also rarely around.
I remember very little of my childhood until I was 12 years old – only two memories of my own remain.
My earliest memory is of finding my mother huddled on the floor in front of my bedroom with all the doors inside the house closed. She would be crying and shaking in fear from the demons that were after her. When I came home for lunch from school in 3rd grade this was an almost daily occurrence. I would fix a can of soup or a peanut butter sandwich and have to go back to school, knowing only fear, wondering what was wrong. I was certain I must have done something terribly bad and wrong in order for her to be like that.
The next memory I have is when my mother would keep me from school and force me to ride in the car with her. I would hide behind the passenger seat, on the floor of the backseat, while she sped, ran red lights, and cut in and out of traffic. I was so frightened. If the police stopped her they would call my father and tell him that she was out again.
When I was around 6 my father told me my mother was “weak” and it was my responsibility to “take care of her.” This command left me in a hopeless situation. I tried, I really tried, but I was unable to make her happy or to stop the demons from attacking her. Once, she locked herself in my bedroom with me and started stabbing in the air with a large, very sharp knife. I hid under the bed in terror of being killed.
Next door to us lived a boy who was a few years older than I was and he forced me to play “mother and father” with him. At the time I called it “poking.” I would go over to play the game Chutes and Ladders and we would end up on the bed, naked, with him on top of me. I did not know what to do. He told me I must not tell anyone what we were doing or I would get in trouble.
All of these things left me very depressed from an early age. Also, depression and mental problems ran through my mother’s family and I had several aunts and cousins who were considered “strange.” I have wanted to kill myself from the time I was around 5. I can remember wanting to die that far back. When I was around 10 I tried to cut my eyes out with a razor blade but the pain was too bad. I saw no way out of a life that was a living hell.
At some point during this time period, my brother started coming into my room in the afternoon or early evening to kiss and fondle me. He told me he was “practicing for when he had a girlfriend.” At about that same time period someone would come in after I was supposed to be asleep and fondle me. I was so afraid that I kept my eyes tightly closed and pretended to be asleep. I always felt so dirty and ashamed. I did not know what led people I loved to do things to me that did not feel good. These memories did not come to me until I had been in therapy for over a year. At one point I had asked my therapist about my lack of memories of my early childhood and he had advised me not to try to remember and he was right. The memories would have been better left forgotten. When I asked him who it was that came into my room he replied that it could have been any one of my family members – or all three of them at one time or another.
When I was 12 my mother was first taken away to a mental hospital where they gave her electroshock therapy. She was there for several weeks and when she returned she was so heavily sedated she was non-emotive and there was just “no one home.” At this point I really had no parent and my brother did what he could to take me away from the house.
Over the years my mother would go on spurts when she would stop taking her medications and I was in fear for my life when I would go over to visit her and I would have to spend the night in her efficiency apartment with her. I would not sleep all night lest she think I was a demon and take a knife to me.
When I went away to college I started to drink heavily and to do drugs. During my first summer home my father stopped coming home and told my mother he wanted a divorce. She cried all day, every day, and I could not take it and moved out to live with a friend. More guilt piled up on me. While I was at college that first year I was given Librium by the medical office on campus for my depression and I took several psychological evaluations because of the state of my mental health.
I started therapy with my current therapist in 2004 when my mother had once again stopped taking her medications and had to be involuntarily committed. I went into a tailspin of anxiety and depression and was seriously contemplating suicide as a viable alternative. When I drove across the state to see her in the mental health ward it broke my heart to have her beg me to let her out but I had to tell her no. When she was released from that facility she was moved to a halfway house until the drugs could build up enough in her system. I spent a night there with her because, despite everything, I did love her. It was the worst night of my life. Her room had no lock on the door and I go into a panic if I am either locked in a room and can’t get out or in a room where I cannot lock anyone else out. My therapist was so wonderful – he called me as I drove down and again while I was down there.
When I was in my early 40’s (I am in my late 50’s now) my father was arrested for soliciting what appeared to be an underage prostitute but was actually a female police officer. They had video of him picking up young prostitutes. I remembered when I was a young child our housekeeper had not wanted my father to be alone with her daughter and she always wanted me to ride with my father when he drove her home. Every now and then my father would come home and say he had gone by her house and given her some money and it makes me think he was also molesting her daughter who was my age.
My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in April of 2004 and had surgery in May. She died two weeks later as the cancer had totally eaten up the organs in her body and had spread throughout her. At that time my brother told me that when we were growing up she was very violent and would throw things and swear and he felt terrible for he was old enough to ride away on his bike, leaving me to bear the brunt of her anger and mental illness. His best friend refused to come to our house as he was afraid of her. I had no memory of these episodes and the words of my therapist still are with me – it would be better not to remember.
In addition to my therapist, whom I now see every week (down from twice a week) I also have a psychiatrist whom I see once a month and who also does therapy with me. I am on Lexapro, Seroquel, Xanax, and Depakote. I am relatively stable at this point although I still have a great deal of difficulty being out in crowds (or in being alone). I still suffer from anxiety and depression despite the therapy and drugs.
My therapist has become my lifeline as he has always followed through with every promise he has made to me. He has given me his email address, home phone, cell phone, etc. so I can reach him at any time in the event I reach a point where I am a danger to myself. I have promised to call if I have to. If I call the office he always returns my call as soon as he can. I would not be alive today if he had not rescued me from myself.
I am still depressed and frequently anxious but I know that my therapist will be there for me. Last year I went into kidney failure and we started talking about end of life issues but he talked me into seeing a doctor who got me stabilized and I am now as “normal” as I can be with kidney disease. I have rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure and the drugs for that had killed 35 percent of my one kidney so I can no longer take the medications for the arthritis. We are now gradually getting back to working on my mental health. I had a talk with my psychiatrist over whether or not I was angry at my therapist for talking me into going to a doctor about my weakness and thus literally saved my life.
We are still dealing with the trauma of my guilt and shame – I still blame myself for anything that goes wrong. Recently, I had a nightmare where a giant demon had me on a raised platform and told thousands of people surrounding me that I was bad – that everything that had happened was all my fault and I was to blame for the pain in the world. My therapist was wonderful with this – he explained that the demon was my fear and that it was all a lie. I was not to blame and nothing was my fault. No child is at fault for being sexually abused and no young child can protect a mother who is dangerously schizophrenic. He said that he is so impressed with how much I have accomplished in my life despite the obstacles that have been in my way.
I truly think that the combination of the weekly (and for a while twice weekly) therapy sessions and my phone calls to him (sometimes every week and always returned by him when he gets a moment without a patient) combined with the monthly psychiatric therapy with my psychiatrist and the drugs have kept me alive and sane. The knowledge that my therapist cares about me and wants nothing other than for me to be happy, alive, and fully functional (he has no ulterior motives, in other words) has been what is starting to turn me around. I have learned to feel joy for the first time in my life. I have learned to meditate and now do yoga on a regular basis. I have reached out to other women (all of whom are also wounded from childhood) and am able to drive to visit them (even as far away as 250 miles). I have found fulfillment in my job. I have learned that helping others helps me. I pass on my therapist’s advice to my best friend every week – her husband died of cancer in January after a one-and-a-half year struggle. Another of my friends also attends the same therapist and we talk about our sessions together and that also helps.
If I had to give any advice it would be what I have been told – if I were to have any other child in the room with me who was been or had been through a childhood like mine – suffering from abuse, fear, danger, and ostracism by neighborhood kids who would stand outside and taunt my mother and me – it would be that it was not the child’s fault. The child is a victim. Although my therapist tells me this over and over, I still am not totally convinced that this pertains to me – but he is right that I would never blame the child. I would hold that child and tell her or him that the people doing that to the child are the ones who are bad, not the child.
It has been a long and arduous journey and I am still not out of the woods – but I know that with the caring of my therapist and psychiatrist and the love of my husband that I may, someday, reach a point where I realize that I do want to live. I am 59 years old now so I guess it should happen sooner rather than later since I do not know how much time my kidney will continue to function. I have turned down dialysis and transplant options. Perhaps this is another (passive) way to commit suicide but I feel that this should be my decision. My therapist talked to me for several weeks about the choices and finally backed down on trying to coerce me into dialysis and agreed that I have a choice in what medical procedures are performed on my body and I have a right to say “no.” I suspect, though, that if the time comes, he is going to be back to trying to talk me into living. We will have to wait and see.
So this is my story. Not as bad as some people’s childhood and certainly not as good as most. I am alive and I guess that is enough for now.
Story, P. (2006). A Long and Arduous Journey. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/a-long-and-arduous-journey/
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.