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Grappling with Issues in a Small Town

Being raised in a small town with a state mental hospital across the creek from where I lived was scary enough as a child, but having a birth mother as a patient there for the first seven years of my life was confusing and scary. Having a wonderful grandmother who cared enough to raise us as a mother, father, and supportive grandparent all in one helped me as I grew.

As a young child my aunts and uncles were very hard on me, constantly telling me I would be the death of my grandmother and saying “you’re just like your mother, you’re evil.” This type of talk lowers a childs self-esteem.

Like most children I liked to run around the neighborhood visiting people and seeing who had new puppies to play with. One day I didn’t get home fast enough and my uncle came looking for me saying “if you want to play with the dogs, we’ll treat you like one.” He then tied me to the front tree and brought my dinner out to me in the front yard. After he left the neighbors told Mama to call him back to untie me or they would call the authorities. He came back and said how terrible I was for making him look bad.

Since Mama was in poor health there were times we would go to bed not knowing where we would wake up, because during the night she would have to be hospitalized for a mini-stroke, causing confusion and fear in my sister and me. These were more times of being told “you’re killing your grandmother, you evil little girl.”

I had always been afraid of thunder and lightning. This is a normal fear for all children, but as I got older, to teach me not to be afraid my aunt chained me to a metal swing set on the top of a hill during a storm. It didn’t work. To this day I have night terrors and am abnormally afraid of storms.

Mama would find me under our lilac bush many times , unable to tell her what I was doing because I was dissociating and was one of the others so I would not feel the pain.

When I was in the second grade I was physically abused by my teacher. She got angry because I was doing short division instead of long division. She took me up to the front of the class and pulled down my pants, smacking me in front of the class. When I got home Mama wanted to know what had happened because one of my classmates had told his mother and she called Mama. They both went to the school and told what happened and the teacher was fired that day. This caused trauma to me until the third grade, when I had a wonderful teacher who knew what was causing me to shut down and would hold me on her lap and teach me math.

Most of the neighbors were very kind and supportive of me as I grew up knowing how I was treated by my aunts and uncles.

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When I got to high school, I was very overwieght because Mama was trying to take away my insecurities with comfort foods. The kids, even my own sister, were very mean, calling me names.

I was told that this was considered bizarre child abuse by my aunts and uncles. After my sister left home to marry, I quit school at 16 to take care of Mama. After two years my uncle decided to place Mama in a home and he allowed me to stay in his home. I was there until his wife told him she saw me talking to my birth mother in town.

After staying with my birth mother for two months, I attempted suicide because I wouldn’t sleep with her husband. This was my first hospitalization and I lost count after 181 days. I know I spent my 21st birthday there including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Part of my treatment was receiving 26 Indocon Treatments.[DOC–I DON’T KNOW WHAT THESE ARE — I ASSUME SOME KIND OF ELECTROSHOCK?]

I was released against doctors’ approval because my mother demanded my release and since she signed me in she signed me out. The administrative doctor, with the help of the unemployment office got me in the Job Corps in New Mexico. He said to go as far from her as possible because she was part of my problem.

During the time I was in Job Corp, I met my first love or so I thought. We traveled across the states hopping freights and hitchhiking. We were together for four months when the honeymoon was over and the beatings began. After one and one-half years of abuse I finally got away from him and traveled to Boston, Mass., where I was again hospitalized. I was befriended by a cult group and they helped me get released. I was with this group for over a year and was told to leave the group because there was trouble happening so I came back to Erie, Penn .

I got connected with Stairways Behavioral Health and St. Vincent Hospital, received therapy and got my self-esteem back over many months of therapy, and support. I met my husband through Stairways and we have had a roller coaster ride for the last 30 years, I would never trade the life we have together.

After working for seven years at a consumer-run drop-in-center, I started running a consumer-owned clubhouse, where the people come to work and live, not simply exist.

I have also been involved with our County Mental Health Treatment Court.

I have had a very difficult road that I traveled well and hope to help my peers whereever I can.


Grappling with Issues in a Small Town

Personal Story

A personal story contribution is a story told by someone who is living with mental illness, a caregiver or family member, or a professional who treats mental illness. We believe in the importance of the patient's voice, and those most impacted by the effects of mental illness. These stories are a vital part of the mosaic that makes up the complexity of living with mental health concerns.

APA Reference
Story, P. (2020). Grappling with Issues in a Small Town. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 7, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.