April 2, 2015
Norman Bales, Editor
THREE STABLE YEARS
by Norman Bales
Many years ago Robert Burns plowed up a mouse's nest and found the inspiration for a poem that has survived all succeeding generations. Part of it comes out this way (translated from Burns' Scottish dialect. "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." So it has been with our series on mental illness. It's been so long since we started it that we gave some thought to aborting the series altoghter, but we think the topic is too important for an untimely end. We can't promise you our plans won't go awry again, but we'll make an effort to complete what we set out to do. Norman and Ann
The Two Rubys in My Life (09)
by Norman Bales
In this post, I'll return to the narrative about my mother's mental illness. In the previous post I reflected on her rather lengthy hospitalization at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, Texas, where she was treated for a psychiatric disorder.
She returned home sometime in the summer of 1948 and remained in stable mental condition until sometime in 1951. There were probably signs of mental instability along the way, but I was certainly too na´ve to see them, and I don't think my father recognized them either.
There were two reasons we didn't pick up on any indications that trouble might be brewing. For one thing, we wanted to believe that the problems she had experienced up until that time were now behind us. There may have been an "elephant in the living room" but we didn't want to see it, so we didn't. Secondly, she always passed through periods in which she found it difficult to look on the bright side of things. Had we been in touch with a mental health professional on a regular basis, we might have been told she was suffering from clinical depression, but we didn't know what that was. We thought it was reasonably normal to get the blues, and there were things going on in our lives that were somewhat discouraging. Without a doubt that must have aggravated her mental condition.
From my point of view, those years were enjoyable. Like any teenage boy I was passing into puberty. I was in the process of leaving childhood, but still not responsible enough to be able to claim the privileges of adulthood. Somewhere along the line I picked up a bit of folk wisdom which suggests that a boy becomes a grownup about seven years after he thinks he is and about seven years before his father thinks he is. It seemed to work that way for my father and me. I wanted to do a lot of things my father thought I wasn't old enough to do.
During those years I was involved in the 4 H club and FFA. I was on the county dairy judging team, and qualified for the state contest to be held at Texas A and M in College Station. I didn't think there was any way my father would let me go, but the county agent assured my father that he would be responsible for me, and I went. At one point, however, he threatened to send the whole team home. I mention that because it is one illustration of the fact that my mother's emotional disturbance did not prevent me from doing what most young people do in the process of growing up. We tested the limits of authority.
I also remember my mother and I having a conversation about girls. We were hoeing weeds in the field when she brought up the subject. It sort of made me nervous, but she knew that I had reached the point in life when I had an interest in the opposite sex. She invited me to talk with her about it. I was thinking, "You don't talk to your mother about girls." That's the only time I remember the topic ever being discussed between the two of us. It's unfortunate that I wasn't mature enough the handle it well. I assured her that I was indeed interested in girls, but I never told her that I didn't have the slightest idea how to go about asking a girl for a date.
I probably missed some great opportunities to develop closeness with my mother during those years. I know she was proud of me and my accomplishments, and these were the years that she was capable of enjoying them. It would not be until the last three weeks of her life that we were to have the kind of mother and son conversation that both of us would find fulfilling, but that's another story and it will have to wait for another time.
As I look back on those years they were the most stable of her life beyond her 35th birthday, I have come to realize that her response to crisis was quite different from the reaction of most people. I first became aware of it when a tornado struck near our home. That story is next.
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