The Day My Mother Went Insane
When I was sixteen, I saw my mother lose her mind as she looked directly into my eyes. After years of mental deterioration, she’d finally succumbed to her demons, accusing our maid-her dearest and closest companion-of poisoning her coffee with strychnine. As she looked through me, she said it as calmly as if she were describing a soft breeze on a summer’s day. It had been just the two of us for ten years since my dad left, the details of their messy divorce splattered across the OKC newspaper. “Mom let’s go to the hospital. You’ll be safe there.” It was the first of three times that I would put her in the psychiatric wing of an Oklahoma City hospital. It was like watching a horror movie and being trapped in it at the same time.
“You Need Therapy”
After the first time that I took mom to the hospital her psychiatrist told me: “Let’s go ahead and set up a schedule for you to get therapy.” “Me?!” “It’s my mother who is sick, not me!” This was in 1967, and the idea of any kind of psychiatric therapy had a significant stigma. My mother’s greatest fear was that people would think she was crazy because my father tried to use that as a reason to gain custody of me during the divorce when I was six. Living with my mother’s fear that people would think she was crazy certainly influenced me.
Now, I was the one who had to take her to the psychiatric hospital. I was the one who ‘turned the key.’ Therapy for me?! No way. I dismissed the thought of my own therapy and did the best to go on with my life, completely dismissing the thought that I might need help. I had to get on with my life. I was in the last couple of years of a tough prep school, and I needed to focus despite the difficulties with my mother. That night I drove home to a pitch-black house as the power, phone and utilities had all been shut off. Mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted I fell into bed, cried just a bit, and drifted into the restful sleep I had sought for so many months, probably years.
Moving on with My Life…Or So I Thought
The next morning, I contacted the agencies and companies that we owed money, set up payment plans and did my best to continue with my life. I never once thought that I needed therapy, nor that I had any emotional issues connected with the traumas of my life for the last ten years. Afterall, I was the responsible one who took on the challenges in front of me. After high school I went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from university, married my high school sweetheart and received a master’s degree with Honors from a prestigious DC school of international studies.
About ten years into a career in the international wine trade I had my first anxiety-panic-attack driving to pick up my boss. I felt as if I’d been shot with a double-barreled shot gun as I pulled the car over to gain my composure.
I was dogged for the next 35 years by the double-headed serpent of anxiety and depression.
By the time I was I was a corporate vice president of a West Coast wine company I was in tears, running every morning before work to fight the onslaught of my emotions. Whenever I would travel for business, I would go into my children’s’ rooms before dawn and hug them as tears streamed down my cheeks because I hated the thought of leaving them as I drove in the early morning darkness to SeaTac airport in Seattle. I had finally decided to see a psychologist for a couple of years to get some relief. “Ben, you’ve done everything you can to control this anxiety and depression, and it’s not working. I want you to try medication.”
The ‘Fun House’ World of Antidepressants
And so, I began my 20-year journey into the world of ant-depressants. I know that for many people they can offer help, especially when you are as desperate as I was. Honestly, I think the jury is out on them.
Here was my experience. After three weeks the first drug-Zoloft-kicked in like a rocket ship. I genuinely thought the drug was a miracle: “So this is what it feels like to be normal?” I realized then that I had been in a state of anxiety and depression for years. I had no idea what ‘normal’ really was. All my fears left me. I felt brave, organized with the ability to accomplish things at work and home. Later I found out that the drug had imparted a condition called hypomania: a low-level form of manic behavior. After 30 years of building a career, arriving at the highest level of my profession I was asked to resign. My family and I left town in disgrace. Fortunately, I was able to start over at 50 years old with one of the most respected global companies in the world. However, my anxiety and depression continued as I ran through a cavalcade of antidepressants and therapists for the next eighteen years, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Honestly, nothing worked. I was assigned to lead our team in Paris for two years as a reward for my career performance during my time with the company. I was treated like a prince. We had a wonderful apartment in the Marais section of the city with all expenses handled. My office was a huge, modern affair with a large outdoor balcony overlooking the city.
Yet, I still carried the anxiety with me even with retirement well in my sights. I tried one more kind of therapy: inner child work from the psychologist, John Bradshaw. While that therapy was a breakthrough for me, it still didn’t dispel the anxiety. Two years later I retired.
The day I retired the anxiety left and the depression lifted. It felt like the final scene in the movie: A Beautiful Mindwhen the famous scientist, John Nash, accepts the Nobel Prize, telling the audience: “My quest has taken me through the physical, the metaphysical, the delusional — and back.“ Over 50 years I had been through each of John Nash’s phases plus gut-wrenching anxiety and depression. I didn’t win any prizes except one and that was more than enough: peace. It’s been three years and it’s never returned, not even for a minute. It’s as if it never happened or like an illness that, as I look back, I can’t even remember the suffering symptoms.
There is a Path through the Woods
So, what did I learn? First, childhood and adolescent emotional trauma deserve intensive psychological therapy at the time of the trauma. Second, arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible so you can walk with the fear and eventually through it one day, sometimes one hour, at a time. When you look back on how far you’ve come, know that baby steps will lead to adult steps. You will survive the path of the ‘walking wounded,’ in some cases, to become a warrior. Welcome home to the one who will always be there: You!