Mental Health Care – Who Needs It?
The Fourth House
  By – Sheri de Grom

I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. It couldn’t be possible. Yet when I looked up and saw the determined look on my husband’s face, I knew he was serious.

Tom calmly stated, “You need to attend four therapy sessions before I can come home.”

December 7, 1987, was my husband, Tom’s, first mental health hospitalization. I was having a difficult time wrapping my head around his even being in the hospital.

What the … he couldn’t be talking to me but he was. We were the only two people in his hospital room and we’d walked to the private garden outside. The night air was cold but I always loved the crisp aroma of pine mixed with the dampness of the fog drifting up from the bay. His small balcony overlooked Monterey Bay. Here we were, enjoying Tom’s hospital room with a million-dollar view. My mind raced; shouldn’t we be sharing a cocktail and not discussing who’s going to see a shrink?

Returning to his room, I smoothed my skirt and walked to the end of his hospital bed. “Tom, why are you so insistent that I get therapy? You know I can’t risk my top secret clearance.

“Whose idea is this therapy business? Is your doctor putting you up to this?

“I don’t understand the logic here.”

How naïve I was. Those were the days when it was easier for me to believe every house had a white picket fence and was covered in pink roses all year round. In reality, I knew nothing was further from the truth. I saw so many ugly things in my world of work. I liked my fantasy of white picket fences.

“Sheri, the idea is mine. We have a difficult road ahead of us and I believe you’d benefit from talking to someone.”

I hadn’t told anyone, other than my best friend, Catherine, that Tom was in the hospital, and I certainly hadn’t told anyone the details of his admission. Our friends and my colleagues knew Tom had been ill for over a year but I’d been vague about the facts. I couldn’t give in to Tom’s request.

“What makes you think you’ll be here long enough for me to have four appointments with a shrink, even if I agree to such a thing? Besides what makes you think I need to see someone? I have to think about this. It’s a lot that you’re asking.”

Fussing about Tom’s room, with the pretense of tidying up, my mind rambled along as if on buckled railroad tracks. I couldn’t pretend to pick up things forever. The patient in a mental health lock-down unit isn’t allowed to have much in their room. How many different places could I move a Styrofoam cup, water pitcher and a few magazines?

“Tom, I just have to have space to think about therapy. I’ve twenty-seven cases to review before tomorrow for the state’s attorney general and it’s late. If it’s okay with you, I think I’ll go home.”

I reached across his bed for a goodnight kiss. I’d often wondered how we managed to live through what we already had and still kissed goodnight with our love and passion for each other intact.

Lightning crackled as I left the hospital. A storm had blown in over the last forty-five minutes. Another December rain was upon us and the force of the wind matched my state of mind. I wanted to scream, to rage at the weather gods. I needed the thunder to roll, and then it did.

Stigma regarding mental illness was prevalent in our Monterey, California, community and I couldn’t afford to lose my top-secret clearance with the federal government.

I was the one on first. Everything was now up to me. I was in charge of our family and my rapidly advancing career.

Each blog within ‘The Fourth House’ series is a true and accurate representation of twenty-seven years within the confines of what represented the best mental health care available in the United States.

Please join me next time when I discuss how to survive the elusive question number twenty-one if you’re faced with acquiring a top secret security clearance or updating your present status.


Traumatic Brain Injuries – Part 3 of 5 – In the Name of Modern Medicine – ECT Sheri's Garden

Traumatic Brain Injuries – Part 4 of 5 – The Aftermath of 55 Years of Memory Loss

The Wrongs of Psychiatric Care – Part 1 of 2 – A Blind Date With My Husband

The Wrongs of Psychiatric Care – Part 2 of 2 – A Blind Date With My Husband

When It Is Not Mental Illness – Part 1 of 2

Our Lives Disappeared                                                                                                                                                       Late Blooming Roses                                                                                                                                               My Garden

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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  1. Pingback: THE CAREGIVER AND HER THERAPIST | Sheri de Grom

  2. findingmyinnercourage says:

    I am intrigued! You’re bravery for speaking so candidly about mental health speaks volumes! Where I came from growing up mental health was such a hush hush subject and oh my goodness what would the neighbors think. Sheri, I am learning so much from you, your journey is heart wrenching but yet so valuable! Your willingness to share these intimate personal experiences is breathtaking. Keep blogging I need you! XOXO

  3. Reblogged this on Reason & Existenz and commented:
    Always a good read on her experiences with good info for those of us who are dealing with or have friends/family dealing with diverse mental health issues. Thanks Sheri for all you put into your blogging.

    “…Those were the days when it was easier for me to believe every house had a white picket fence and was covered in pink roses all year round. In reality, I knew nothing was further from the truth. I saw so many ugly things in my world of work. I liked my fantasy of white picket fences…”

  4. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    Excellent again, Sheri. I was shamed when I had my breakdown 2011 (my son found me “blue & puffy”) and attempted suicide – so ashamed I didn’t tell work, said I’d had an accident, returned to work, left the job, started again elsewhere. I hid and hid and hid. At the time, my sister said “Just tell your boss you need counselling – or professional appointments, and to make time for it”. I didn’t. I feared losing my job, asking them could I start late one day a week and make it up, and my job is my keep of my son. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. HOW MORE WHOLESOME LIVES WOULD BE if we were allowed this time to tend to ourselves. Yes, sure I keep working, earning… but what of ME INSIDE.

    Great post.

  5. Tanya says:

    You’re very brave for speaking so candidly about mental health! American society has only recently begun to realize that mental illness needs to be addressed openly, not hidden away out of shame.

    • Tanya – I was waiting to reply to your comment with hopes that once I approved your post it would move on over to the blog. However that hasn’t happened yet and I wanted you to know I sincerely appreciate your support. For years I’ve wanted to share with others that relationships can work wherein one partner has a serious diagnosis and wasn’t sure how to make it happen. The publishing industry turned me down numerous times and I’m not interested in self-publishing. Thank you so much for reading with me and for your support.

  6. Sheri–This is so painfully poignant and so very well written.

    • Thank you, John. I debated with myself for a long time about how much I was going to share and how. I knew if I was going to possibly help anyone, I had to tell the truth. There’s one more post coming in this particular series but I had to take a week break. The blogging of such intense personal information digs to the pit of my soul.

      • WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

        That you debated a while, Sheri, and then came out with this – I am very grateful you shared it. Very, very grateful.

        • I’ve had time to explore your blog and am horrified by how your company treated you. I don’t know what your disability laws are when it comes to employment but if you were in the U.S. this would be a fighting case. You were discriminated on so many fronts and nothing was done. This is completely inexcusable. I am so sorry this happened to you. Have you been able to find employment since then or have you decided to try something new? My heart hurts.

          • WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

            Thank you Sheri – for your care. I appreciate you’ve looked at my blog, at the story.

            I was utterly devastated and did seek legal advice, and was told by the lawyer that they paid me sufficiently that IF I won an Unfair Dismissal case, after paying his legal fees, I wouldn’t likely be better off. He said he would represent me, yes, but he didn’t think the $ difference would be great.

            I was wholly willing to expose them, yet then thought of my son and me and of ‘moving on’. If they didn’t pay me 3 months, I would have definitely done something strong.

            The lawyer said although they had someone in my place a week later, they could say “She’s there because we had a sudden influx of work but in reality we’re now having one PA to two principals, not one PA per principal” – and would a judge believe them…. hence declare it NOT an unfair dismissal? I also learned that receiving RETRENCHMENT monies attracts less tax than receiving an UNFAIR DISMISSAL payout – so again, doing the sums it seemed not worth the fight.

            I had many days without work and was totally kilter. I have worked all my life. It was very depressing, very difficult.

            I two weeks ago started in full time employment a 20 minute drive from home. Not even near the city. Now all I need to do is “stay well”.

            Again, sincere thanks.

  7. Lynn Garrett says:

    Hey, Sheri,

    My new address is

  8. cindy knoke says:

    I want to read part II……where is it? I’m impressed with your hubby’s assertiveness. It is sometimes unnerving how well my husband knows my strengths and weaknesses…..and he still loves me!!

    • Hello Cindy – I’ve just now returned to my office to continue work on Part II. Tom gave me so much to think about that night so long ago. His intuitive sense of my sensitivities is one I’ve not allowed many to penetrate over the years. Mental health issues would not be a welcome addition to my clearance packet. Part II will be posted this coming week.

  9. tersiaburger says:

    I actually saw comments on two of my blogger friends blogs and decided to pop in and see who you are and what your blog is about. You write beautifully and I and hooked. I shall follow your and Tom’s journey. I wish you well!

    • Tersia – Thank you for joining in as we discover together just how important it is to recognize what mental health really means and how two people can survive this third party in their marriage with unconditional love. I know I’m on the right journey when someone let’s me know they’ve seen others commenting on our path – often painful and other times pure joy. It’s the conversations that will take the stigma out of mental illness. Sheri

  10. This event must’ve shaken your inner soil! I don’t really know about the 4th house matters etc.. but do you feel after all these yrs, that Tom was right in his suggestions? I did answer your email dear~ What gorgeous roses! Beautiful fire! Always praying for you and Tom. Faithfully Debbie

    • Debbie – Thank you for stopping by to visit. The fourth house refers to the fact that one in four houses has someone living inside with a mental illness affecting the other members of the family. The number is prbably much higher now because we are now entering our 13th year of war. To answer your question, Tom was spot on with his suggestion but it’s taken years of searching to find my nitch. And, as always, thank you for the prayers. I read your e-mail just before bed last night. The roses are a Heritage antique – Tom planted a single bed of 12 with one creamy white and one fire orange in the center. When everything is in bloom it’s a truly amazing site.

  11. Sheri, coming from the dark ages when mental health was never discussed, I can say that some open communication and some family support would have reduced the pain my parents suffered. Their golden child was flawed and no one ever explained a thing. What you are doing is so needed 🙂

  12. Glad to see your post Sheri. Unfortunately, the stigma of mental illness in society is still great and it is very definitely stigmatized in the military, where, if you’re not deployable you’re not employable. A new author friend has found that out but he’s turning his medical discharge as a new chapter in his life to help those with PTSD get treatment!

  13. It’s so wonderful that you are willing to share these intimately personal experiences, Sheri. I’ve learned a lot through your posts, and I’m sure you’ve given aid and comfort to others who face issues such as yours.

    • David – Good Morning. My mantra prayer when I’ve always been at a loss and had no other words has always been, ‘God’s Will Be Done.’ I did literally years of soul searching and talking with God about what I should do with Tom’s and my struggle to maintain our relationship. He has the most severe type of bipolar disorder. Blogging has offered me a platform to show others that marriages can survive this horrendous disease but there must be more than love. As a country girl – I call it ‘grit.’ I also hope to show others how the media so wrongly portrays mental illness.

  14. I love following this story and I love that it’s a true one and I love your writing.
    I anxiously await the next installment.

  15. What a pickle to be in. I hope mental health has a better rap now than in 1987. I Iook forward to part 2.

    • Unfortunately we still have the same attitude toward mental health. Although military leders are giving mental health lip service, for anyone on a career track, they know not to use military mental health services on base or with Tri Care. The high number of suicides among active duty soldiers is often reflected in their desire not to inflict shame on both their military unit and their families.

  16. NotDownOrOut says:

    I am intrigued by the trade-offs here and look forward to hearing how you managed them. It’s unfortunate that the stigma is there, much less that it can be acquired by association. It makes you wonder how many people have turned down much needed treatment for dependents to avoid possible adverse career consequences for themselves. Maybe all of us should have a few sessions to de-stigmatize the medical treatment. Sort of like an inoculation.

    • Hello, Cheryl – I read just this weekend that at sometime in everyone’s life, they would benefit from therapy. Sometimes, on a military base, you’ll find a book club that serves almost like a therapy session. There’s not a mental health professional involved but the wives are so tightly connected, they feel they can say anything and not run the risk of being exposed. The slightest misbehavior on base by a family member reflects on the soldier. A specific incident I remember when I was married to my 2nd husband had to do with using the base library. It was a wonderful library and I used it a great deal during my post-graduate days. I knew never to return a library book late because if the book was more than a week late, a notice was sent out to the soldier’s command. The general public has no idea what our service men and women put up with on a daily bases that makes absolutely no sense. The bottom line for me is the military mentality regarding mental health will always reign. I believe everyone in the United States could be in therapy and it would still carry stigma.

  17. Mae Clair says:

    How appropriate a storm rolled in with fury when you bottled such frustration inside. As always, these posts are riveting and heart-wrenching, Sheri. I’ve learned so much from your journey.

  18. atempleton says:

    Will certainly continue reading. I’m curious if anything has changed since 1987 regarding security clearances and mental health issues. I would like to think it has–at least somewhat for the better.

  19. Jane Sadek says:

    Good for Tom. I like him better all the time.

  20. ksbeth says:

    you were really juggling so many agendas here, i cannot imagine how challenging this time must have been. unfortunately illness, of any sort, appears when it chooses to do so, and our lives are forced to accept it after a time. the extra challenge when the illness is emotional or mental illness is that the stigma exists on top of all of the ramifications of the illness itself. this is very well written and honest.

  21. mooonalila says:

    A very interesting telling. Suffering bipolar disorder myself, I’m often concerned about my family, and I wish they could talk to someone in times of crisis… Not because I want to make them responsible of what happens, but because I think it could help them a bit.

    • Julie – You are so right in that your family would benefit in having someone they could talk openly and trust at the same time. Depending on where you live, I taught a free 12 week class called ‘Family to Family.’ Each of the instructors are screened by NAMI and undergo 6 months of rigorous training. It’s a terrific way for families to talk not only to a trained facilitator but to also meet and make friends with other families facing the same issues. I believe you would benefit as well as your family. Take good care of yourself and if I can be of any help with finding a Family to Family group for your parents, etc. please let me know.

      • mooonalila says:

        I’m very touched by your words. You do a wonderful work, I can see that.
        I’m afraid things are not so developped where I live though : I am in France, Brittany… It was difficult enough to find a decent psychatrist and hospital for myself ! Bipolar disorder isn’t know and treated everywhere yet in here.
        The other difficulty comes from my family itself : my loved ones are reluctant to meet other people – doctors, nurses nor other families… I tried to convince them, but in vain.
        Is it scare ?
        Anyway, the most important thing is that I feel better for eight months, I have never felt so well for such a long time, and it gives me hope for the future.
        I wish you the best, and to your loved ones.

        • Julie – I’m glad you found a psychiatrist you can work with plus a hospital where you feel safe. I’m so sorry you had to do all of that by yourself. I so wish you had the support of your famly. That’s a common situation in the US as well. Many individuals are left to their own devise. Your doctor must have hit on the right combination of medication for now. I sincerely hope that it continues to work for you for a long, long time. Don’t be afraid if the meds need to be tweaked from time to time. Tom’s have been changed many times over the years. You are in my prayers and if you need to reach out – feel free to e-mail me. My e-mail address is listed at the top of my blog.

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