Tag Archives: mental illness

dear friendlies…final

It was only one month ago I wrote part two of this series thinking it to be the last. I mark this one final -a somewhat hopeful plea for 2020.

Today, I got a call from my sister who had been contacted by the care center where our mother resides telling us that she had passed away this morning. The duty nurse last saw her at 3 am when she popped her head out of her doorway and into the hall. The nurse says she told her that it wasn’t yet time to get up and mom dutifully went back to bed, where she was found having passed away in her sleep later in the morning. I can just picture her popping her head out-Hey I’m here! Perhaps she just wanted to say a final goodbye.

My mother’s story is a long and complicated one. Her life was made more arduous by a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia as a young woman in the early 60’s. I have written variously of it over the years and some of you have corresponded privately with me on the ravages that mental illness has taken in your own families. I always say that we were fairly spared the worst that it can be. She was taken in and committed to a mental institution around 1960. I can remember the day, though I was only 4 at the time. Sister was only 2, her memories of mom less clear. An ambulance arrived, mommy was escorted to the car. We were crying-we didn’t really know what it meant except that we were told she was not well. There had been instances that even as a 4 year old, I was able to discern as signs that things were not normal in our house. Apparently, it came to a point where my dad was forced to have her committed for everyone’s safety, including her own. Fortunately, in those days, there was a place for those suffering from mental illness to be housed, to get treatment, and to be safe. We were able to visit occasionally on weekends when “she was doing ok”. I recall there was a lovely garden that we would walk in during our visits. She was there for 10 years. Mental institutions at that time were known for their experimental and sometimes abusive treatment of patients. Not everyone came out the other side, she was fortunate. We never knew what she may have endured nor did she ever want to speak about her experience there.
In the intererum, my dad remarried, we gained 4 siblings, a stepmother and moved to Japan in 1965.
Upon her release into a halfway house, we had returned for a visit to the US and had a short supervised visit with her. Details I can clearly remember from that day were that she made us round ice cubes and put them in our milk. Other things from that visit blur. She had written to us at least weekly since 1965. So here she was, the woman behind the letters (always signed, “Your Very Own Loving Mother, Sharon L Carter”) in the flesh! I somewhat viewed her as a curiosity during this visit. She was not “cured” of course, just transitioning. Later during that same US visit at a friend’s house, we watched the first moon landing on TV. It was 1969. And, I was 11.
Then, back to Japan we went!

Upon returning from Japan in 1972, we passed through California and had a short visit with her in the main public square in Chico ,where she had moved to live with her mother, our Nana. Again, after reams of letters since the last meet-up, here she was again, in the park, in the flesh. Our mom, doing ok, having transitioned into small town life with her mother to look over her. She had made it through the institutional system with her health intact, her mental well being improved and a growing ability to operate within society given her subdued mental illness. I was 14 and wasn’t quite sure what to think. Mind you, we were just returning to the US after having lived in Japan since 1965. Everything was unusual to us at the time. After about an hour or two visit- we were off again-this time to Virginia!
After a stint in Virginia, it was 1975 and back to California where I stayed, ending up at UC Davis which was close enough to Chico to afford myself weekend visits to see both my Nana and mother. By this time I had read a number of books on mental illness (favorite was The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut), I’d seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and had volunteered to work with UCD students who had mental illness, lived on campus and were attending college. I was a bit more aware of what she had gone through this time around. I was 17. Yet still, she was a stranger to me really and over the next 50 years of long distance communications and more frequent visits I got to know her a bit. As those who have paranoid schizophrenics in their lives know, they never really trust which proved very difficult as she aged, needed help, and couldn’t accept it.
She was able to live on her own after her mother passed away. She worked in a warehouse, cleaned houses for extra pocket money, acted as a personal aid to an elderly woman and long time friend of her mother’s, volunteered as a Foster Grandparent for the Chico schools, and went every year to Bidwell Park with her binoculars to participate in Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count. She had a BA in Education from Chico State and taught elementary school for a brief time before she married and had children. The Foster Grandparent program was really a pleasure for her. Plus she enjoyed the free lunches!
Over time however, as is often the case with schizophrenia, hoarding becomes an issue. Such was the case for Sharon and especially so once Nana was no longer there to keep a lid on it. My sister and I dealt with it numerous times, clearing out her house completely after having it declared uninhabitable. Eventually it became clear that she was unable to continue living on her own and we found a path forward to having her conserved and placed in a locked care unit. She was safe, cared for, and still loved from afar. Every phone conversation I had with her over the past several years since she was moved, ended with her telling me that she was “getting out of here tomorrow”. She told me she had a new cat and even a dog! (she thought) waiting for her, not sure where she gotten it from though. Ha!
She would have been 90 in January- well past the expected lifespan of those diagnosed with schizophrenia early on in their lives. She was remarkably persistent, smart, independent and she was,
-our very own loving mother.
Sharon L. Carter
passed in peace November 9, 2020

past entries… there are probably more





feeling the warmth

it has been a bit of a struggle to write this first post since returning. i had to give myself a little space so i could have some perspective on the trip north from which to write this.

seems that winter most definitely arrived while i was away, both here and there. while at this very moment i can’t tell the whole story (for reasons of time and sanity-my own-trying to look forward and not backward) but i will begin by saying my mom is safe today and we work day by day on this. so many people have a part in this it is hard to know where to start but many, many thanks to all you who sent their love and energy, wisdom, wishes and concerns as well as the many shared personal stories via email and through comments here on the blog.
it was a testament to prayer and energy in action.

part of returning here has involved several days of continued work on her behalf from a distance as well as picking up the pieces around here. there is a lot of picking up to do. mentally and physically. after the enormous task of cleaning out her place-really, against all odds and belief- it was once again transformed into a home. i have concluded it is likely the biggest physical task i have accomplished (along with sis of course) and kinda rivals this.

a supreme thanks to phil as well for steadfast support, subbing out gigs and driving ol’ Posey (the volvo wagon-previously owned by an artist gal into her 80’s who only drove her on sundays) there and back and for the many other things only those who were there will ever know. his birthday occurred on the way back home so we celebrated at a favorite eatery along the way- at the beach of course!

one thing i will say is that just keeping our focus on her safety as our
main concern throughout everything is what carried us through.
the big picture ruled supreme and no details were allowed to stand in the way. it continues to be so.

once i was in the cleaning mode i continued when i got back home-after the absence it was definitely needed and cleaning things up always has a therapeutic effect on me. so with that done i start in slowly.

stirred the indigo vat- it had become completely deranged. ahhh….there it is again- life and work all mixing together as one. i’m bringing it back to life now, nurturing and stirring it, checking it, adding to it, warming it. maybe tomorrow i can get in a dip or two. i did manage to bring back a couple of things that belonged to my grandmother that seemed suitable for indigo. i’m looking forward to a little ceremonial indigo dip…

speaking of feeling the warmth- i put the gas oven on low and have been drying some of the beautiful persimmons that were kind enough to wait for my return. even the backyard squirrel (nicknamed “pesky”) knew enough to leave me some.

their natural beauty also warms me.

i also have to thank those of you who placed prepaid custom orders at the Houston show as well as a couple of you who ordered some things on etsy in the midst of all this and have been patient enough to wait for me to catch up. i will be in the studio making your pieces with a new perspective starting today!. for those of you to whom i sent refunds on your orders, thank you for understanding and i hope you will have occasion to order again sometime. i’ll be here.

even though i am working on just what is in front of me at the moment (lest i get to overwhelmed) the backyard is crazily mixing winter with spring.
-and the scent of it is intoxicating!

(take deep breath, smell the narcissus, feel the sun’s warmth)

((oh and ps…..lest we forget amid all this love and light, our mentally ill brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers are simply not getting the help they need. nor are their families. while we fight foreign wars, bail out millionaires, are awash in cheap trinkets, they suffer the unlucky circumstances of organic brain disorders such as schizophrenia. there are no easy answers to mental illness- especially those with the most severe and difficult types, but certainly we can do better than we are currently doing. most certainly. ))

and so it goes…

i’m not having a lot of desire for blogging right now-just a desire to expose the reality of the situation should someone somewhere down the line find it helpful in their own situation. this is not an effort to elicit pity, empathy or anything else- just an example of how we as a society seem to be chipping away at our own humanity.

cute as a bug isn't she? putting a face on the subject...

so currently, we don’t know where she is. apparently, she has been released to her own devices. this, we only know because one of the other patients in what we believe to be the “day room” at the psyche hospital said that’s what the head nurse said to say. (mind you, when you call to talk to someone there, the patients appear to be answering the phone. you might or might not get your person to come to the phone- at least on one occasion i ended up talking to someone who thought she was my mom).
the arrangement had been that they were to call us when they were releasing her so we could continue to follow up. we have no idea why the call was never made.
we can’t reach that person at this time. more voicemail.
previously they planned to release her to a shelter in her town where she had “agreed” to stay until we could get there and finish making her house habitable.
the shelter does not answer phone calls. takes messages and will “get back” to you. the shelter is called the jesus center. last message i left i said jesus wanted them to return my call. still, no luck. (note: it helps to keep your sense of humor)

interestingly, we did find out (finally-can’t figure out why it took so long for the so-called professionals to let us know this) that in order to get her conserved she needs to be involuntarily committed twice in order to get the ball rolling on that one. one down, one to go. i don’t think it will take too long at this rate. the really irrational and distressing part of all this is that it seems that we actually have to put her in harms way first.
i can’t really figure out who should be the patient here any longer- her, them, or me!
here are a couple of other interesting links documenting struggles not unlike this one:

the positive? we understand they did treat an unusually long toenail while she was there.

on another note, i did bring along some stitching to do for the indigo vat should life decide to return to something resembling “normal” in the future.

one day at a time.

moonwalking…read at your own risk

speaking of walking forward but moving backward- noticing that direction is perception.

snapped this on a walk in the neighborhood the week before i left-


i’ve been making my own version of some cloudy indigo moons- will have more available just as soon as i can…

i haven’t yet mentioned how this whole trip to Houston started out. just needed to get past it all and work through it.
the week prior to leaving for Houston, it became abundantly clear that a planned post-show trip up to northern CA to check in on my mom was going to have to be turned into an emergency trip- right now!
(fortunately, i don’t have a *real* job- which for some people translates into not being responsible-it really is amazing to me how some people view what i do for a living even after 30 years of doing it-sorry folks )
unable to get any cooperation from agencies or authorities (adult protective services and the police department) i caught an impromptu flight north, grabbed a rental car and a cheap motel and started looking for her in the neighborhood where she resides. reports by neighbors of her sleeping outside her abode in the cold and rain, of talk of suicidal thoughts, an imminent eviction due to a severe hoarding compulsion complicated by her paranoid schizophrenic disorder and recent car accident that curtailed her ability to show up for her various volunteering activities were manifesting in an imperfect, perfect storm.

i can’t begin to explain the next course of events which ultimately resulted in my sister and i being able to get her temporarily into a psychiatric facility (you simply would not believe the hoops through which one must jump in order to have this occur even when all roads lead to this). i really have to thank a young woman named Tonja from the the CA Department of Housing and Community Development for believing me and seeing the predicament we were in for taking action afforded her agency and pressuring the other agencies (who actually had the duty to act but were extremely resistant to all reasonable actions- citing budget concerns….)
i am eternally grateful to her. i rushed back to LB to head out to houston with a day to pack and in a tizzy but i arrived- only to leave my sister to perform the rest of the mop-up.
she also took on the task of communicating with all the players while i was away and we talked nightly -usually after midnight – now both on TX time, to form the next plans and brainstorm a possible “solution” (not that there is a solution, mind you, just an approach). thanks sis!
with all this going on in the background of my show it made for many late nights and early mornings in Houston kept me extremely busy but one night i did manage to have dinner with some great gals- new friends that felt like old ones. we traded some reading lists…thanks carola, diane and joyce-it was a great evening!

again, more thanks and gratitude to those who helped me out and bolstered me up along the way-(and especially to phil for keeping everything at home in good order while i was gone and for putting up with my crazy life!!). it really made a world of difference.

i have been thinking more and more on how to imagine my way into her mind- a mind so completely different from my own. this is the challenge at the moment. it seems it may be the best hope for finding an effective way to communicate to her certain things that hopefully will improve her ability to retain a certain amount of (at least perceived) independence while keeping her safe in the most humane way possible.
jeeze- we have simply GOT to do a better job with how we treat and handle the mentally ill.
they are so vulnerable, so often victims, generally marginalized in our society, but in the end they are human beings! i think we better wake up to the fact that mental illness is on the rise and part of it is our own doing. i still say i am convinced that my mother is one of the “lucky” ones. she is just shy of 80, has lived on her own for the last 21 years, has taken no medications for probably 35 years, has no (none!) other physical or medical needs (other than some dentistry) and likely outlived every other patient that was in Western State when she was confined there for over 10 years in the 60’s and 70’s. i truly think there are some things to be learned from her experience that could help others. each case is so unique (imagine-we are all individuals!) but yet we are often trying to treat them as if they are not- as if one size fits most (it seems to benefit big pharma best this way-not to mention the $ medical/social service system we have in place-it seems related to how we want to treat education these days.)
one reviewer of the above book said so eloquently:
“Humans beings find it so tempting to scapegoat, and many of our mentally ill are just that. This is what human sacrifice looks like in the 21st century. A ray of hope it seems lies in the practices in Finland that Whitaker describes. With the mental patient viewed as a canary in a coalmine, a indicator of a problem in the functioning of society with blame squarely mantled on no specific individual, but as a problem in the way people interact, and the solution as one in which the community should share, with the open communication of people’s stories, including listening with respect when someone veers into what we conventionally call psychosis.”
of course there are others who disagree…
-and then there are television shows that see mental illness as entertainment-this is the society we have created.

now i am back and picking up the pieces, clearing the way to travel back there next week and meet up with my sis so we can take the next steps. unfortunately, they are making noises about releasing her without creating a conservatorship so this will be another challenge. like i’ve said before, she is a survivor and we are her daughters.
it will be a real thanksgiving, no matter what transpires.

(p.s. *work* is on hold for the moment-life beckons. i have canceled the SF show and must get to those who signed up with their refunds. give me a couple of days to get that all squared away- as for any unshipped orders- those too are moving slowly- hope to get some out today- email me if you have any concerns )

the moms in our lives

it now seems to be no mere coincidence that i grew up as the child of a mentally ill mother. fortunately, the time and place (early 60’s in WA) was right and the family recognized the need to have her institutionalized for the benefit of us all. fortunately for my mom it was the safest place she could be over the following decade as the paranoid schizophrenia took its toll on her and robbed her of the life both she and my grandparents had envisioned for her- and of the relationship she herself had envisioned with her two young daughters, potential grandchildren and more.

i bring this up for a couple of reasons. of course being mothers day, we honor our mothers in whatever size, shape, color or mental state they come. and although this day in the US continues to be one of the most commercially successful holidays where small and large tokens of appreciation are exchanged, no gift can quite compare with the gift of a mothers love over time, space and distance- even when the distances it must bridge are those tangled in the confusion and chaos of mental illness.
love endures, it really does.
in hundreds and hundreds (possibly 1000’s) of often confusing letters over the decades, she writes into the void expressing her thoughts and concerns (there are many!), keeping me posted on the day to day happenings in her life as she sees them- always ending each one with “Your Own loving Mother” then signs her full name including middle initial. as if each one is an official document.
she will be 80 next year and spends her mornings 5 days a week as she has done over the past 15 or so years as an assistant in a kindergarten classroom in No. CA helping children learn to read and write. we are very fortunate that she has lived a full, if somewhat unusually difficult, life. i am grateful for that. through her loss, i learned to appreciate my own motherhood in ways that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

may is also mental health awareness month- for what it’s worth. there are many kids out there who are not as fortunate as i was. who have to deal with the ups and downs of living with a mentally ill parent and have challenges to meet on a daily basis that are often confusing, hurtful, and even downright scary.
it seems while we have loads of new medications that can be used to treat these illnesses, the support system for administering them to the mentally ill is very lacking. i always feel that we were fortunate in that when my mother was ill, it was the norm to institutionalize them for treatment. now we just write out the scripts and turn them back to the families to deal with- often with terrible outcomes. how many of the homeless are mentally ill? i don’t know what the answer is but i do know that there are plenty of kids out there in need of support and on this mothers day, i am thinking about them too.

( a good read- The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut was a book i stumbled on in high school when one day at the bookstore i could no longer find any Kurt Vonnegut books i hadn’t read. again, no coincidence. the anniversary republished version has a new forward that is worth rereading the book for if you read this many years ago)

happy mother’s day to all the moms out there-a day early, as i will be attending to various “mom events” tomorrow. enjoy-