The Fourth House
by – Sheri de Grom
Many mentally ill individuals have an anniversary date imprinted not only in their memory but also in their soul. That date signifies a specific time that triggers reoccurring past events.
For Tom and ultimately myself, that date is December 7, 1989, the date of his first mental health hospital admission.
Tom’s first hospitalization lasted through Christmas and well into the New Year. Since then, we’ve never had what I consider a ‘normal’ holiday season. Instead, we’re forced to celebrate in a way that doesn’t trigger negative memories for Tom.
It’s only while writing this post that I realize how much I’ve given up.
For many years I didn’t understand why our holidays fell apart or why Tom always ended up in the hospital. Our previous Christmas celebrations had seemed magical. What was I doing wrong? Was Tom overwhelmed with custom jewelry design orders? His mastery of one-of-a-kind designer pieces had spread and his client base had grown by leaps and bounds. He didn’t just design the masterpiece, he also utilized many lost art techniques in making each piece. His designs and the originality of his work qualified his work to belong in a designer’s show case. Ten of his designs have since become museum acquisitions.
Tom, ever the perfectionist, spent an unbelievable number of extra hours on each project when it was already perfect beyond expectation.
Tiffany’s Jewelry came calling at the end of the second anniversary year and wanted to contract Tom for five original designs for them each year moving forward. They didn’t want designs for the holiday season only. They also wanted five designs for what they called their true love line and another for Mother’s Day. They would provide the production labor, but they wanted Tom’s original designs for platinum, 18 carat gold and precious gems.
If I hadn’t taken the issue of my having a therapist seriously, I might never have known that Tom’s downward spiral during my favorite time of year didn’t have to do with Christmas at all. I might have become consumed with the frustration eating away at me and a tear might have appeared in the fabric of our marriage.
Fortunately, I’ve remained in therapy and, as a result, I’ve been able to work through the grief of letting longstanding traditions go. I’ve worked hard to find viable replacements. Each year I’m required to dig deeper to find my Christmas and not damage Tom.
Today when others ask me how we’ve stayed together in a marriage with a ninety-percent failure rate, I don’t hesitate in telling them that both parties in the marriage must remain in therapy.
Unconditional love is always present for Tom and me but I also must have the support of a qualified professional I can trust. A therapist who doesn’t judge or criticize but allows me to grow and seek new levels of understanding about myself.
I’ve come to expect that in the fall of each year Tom will become more and more depressed. He’ll remain in bed longer during the days and have a tough time finding a purpose when he does get up.
As the anniversary date looms, Tom becomes more withdrawn and nothing interests him. I’ve often wondered if he’s in effect mourning the death of his previous ‘normal life.’
Tom’s mental status has been more difficult for me to gauge this past year due to his being physically ill for over a year and we still don’t have an accurate diagnosis. I know most of what I’m witnessing is not psychological and his symptoms frighten me.
My original post regarding our battle surrounding Tom’s current medical condition may be read here. I’ll be posting a follow-up to that blog soon. He continues to have blinding headaches and tells me it feels as though lighting is striking over and over at his right temple. He also has days on end when he can’t eat due to continuous nausea. His body remains at war with itself. I pray, “Please, God, please give this man I love comfort and peace.”
Tom’s legs have weakened to the point where he must use the walker full-time and he’s understandably frustrated. If he doesn’t have the walker or other support (like me or the wall) to hang onto, he falls. It’s not normal for a man to continue to lose ten to twelve pounds every month. Did I tell you, I’m afraid?
It’s difficult for me to have highly skilled specialists treat Tom’s medical symptoms aggressively when he uses a monotone voice and stares vacantly at the floor. I know how bad he feels but I also know the doctors want him to answer the questions they are asking. They don’t want to hear from me, the caregiver. It’s not fair but unfortunately that’s how our medical care is structured.
The mentally ill patient is ignored by the medical community time and time again when the patient is the most vulnerable.
At least fourteen studies have shown that a patient with serious mental illness receives worse medical care than “normal” people. Last year the World Health Organization called the stigma and discrimination endured by people with mental health conditions a world-wide human rights emergency.
I recognize Tom’s depression is pulling him down plus he continues to be physically exhausted from the toll his medical symptoms have on his body. Most days he sleeps sixteen to eighteen hours a day.
I’ve scoured the internet searching for answers looking for other advocates of individuals with mental illness but haven’t found useful information. What I’ve learned is from a large controlled study in England (2006-2008). I wanted more current statistics for inclusion in this blog and not one high-ranking individual in ten different governmental agencies could provide me a single published paper on the topic. Each of the ten agencies was established to assist the mentally ill and they are funded by tax dollars.
Given my experience in scouring the United States for the best medical care for Tom, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the statistics I found in the exhaustive report from London: “Morbidity and Mortality in People with Serious Mental Illness,” a review of studies published in 2008 provides an overview of recommendations and general call to arms by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. The take-away: people who suffer from a serious mental illness and use the public health care system die 25 years earlier than those without one.
I’ve observed there’s no real difference in the way mentally ill patients are treated who has full pay insurance than individuals that rely on public health care. Tom is covered at 100%. I don’t say this in order for you to say what the heck, he should be able to get all the care he needs, it’s simply not true.
An additional component I read in the report is that although the mentally ill do commit suicide, they do not rank as high as physicians and many other professions. Suicide is a factor because patients feel helpless and think they are dragging their loved ones down with them. But, suicide is not the primary cause of death as hundreds of other reports would have us believe.
The mentally ill that die early due to lack of physical medical care make up sixty percent of recordable deaths in the United States. These individuals die of preventable or treatable conditions. This list does not factor in any mental illness or any treatment of mental illness. First on the list is cardiovascular disease. Additionally, many of the same population have out-of-control diabetes. Sadly, the diabetes is often the result of an anti-psychotic drug that only seven years ago received a black box warning that it could cause Type II diabetes. By the time the warning came out, it was too late for Tom. He was already diagnosed as a diabetic. (More on this subject later)
Diabetes is a disease that many of us struggle with and requires a great deal of planning and having your own equipment for testing blood levels is critical. Additionally, eating the proper food is paramount to living successfully with the disease.
I still haven’t found the reason as to why sixty percent of our mentally ill die of preventable or treatable conditions. This is an unacceptable number.
The eruption of mental illness in any family is a catastrophic event and ours was no exception. I’d had no previous experience with the pain associated with a brain disorder and the constant organizational skills a mental illness requires of the caregiver.
Tom and I will be sharing our thirtieth Christmas this year. It will be vastly different from the ones we celebrated all those years ago before mental illness arrived and took up residence in our home.
I hope to bring you a blog that discusses how our Christmas once was celebrated and how bipolar disorder has changed the complete season. Please join me for additional ‘Fourth House Series’ blogs. Upcoming titles include: Sharks at My Grave, Conversation with Sid (Tom’s father), Mental Illness and Guns, Tom’s own writing explaining his bipolar disorder and the list marches one.
I also have an investigative blog regarding the ‘Burn Pits’ in Afghanistan and I thought it was ready to post until I started hearing from soldiers actually stationed in Afghanistan.
Another investigative blog concerns the gutting of our national defense. Soon our national defense will rate as low as our educational system and both are equally sad.
I have so much I think about and love to research and wonder how much do the American people I communicate with on a daily business see on a news cast.
I send out a thank you for supporting me. Merry Christmas everyone.
INDEX TO PREVIOUS FOURTH HOUSE BLOGS: