One Is A Lonely Number
The Fourth House
By – Sheri de Grom

As I struggled to maintain my own sanity while working a demanding job and being Tom’s sole caregiver during the years we lived in Washington, DC, my journal became my best friend. There, I could confide anything.

An early entry reads: ‘I know my career success at Fort Ord, California, has preceded me to DC and the Department of Defense expects me to hit the ground running. They don’t care about anything but my cleaning up various departments. Will my success at Fort Ord, California, be detrimental to me now? How can I possibly keep up that pace in metropolitan DC? I know no one here and have no connections. Who can I trust?’

My best friend, Catherine, had been such a stabilizing force in Monterey, CA. Did I really think I could manage everything on my own without a sounding board I trusted?

I’d learned much about bipolar disorder from 1987 to 1993 and I also learned there weren’t any magic answers to what Tom and I were facing.

Tom’s descent into bipolar hell knew no boundaries. It traveled with us wherever we went. Both his mania and his depression were equally deadly. For me, the woman at his side, it seemed as though he’d all but vanished, leaving little more than the shell of the man I’d once known.

Another journal entry during the same time frame reads: ‘Sometimes I feel such penetrating sorrow and suffering. It’s like an endless funeral. It’s a different type of grief, yet I’m caught in this tunnel of complete and incessant, unpredictable agony. Worse there is no departure service, few hugs, and even fewer condolences for my perpetual loss. My deprivation cuts to the essence of my soul, yet no flowers or cards of encouragement arrive. Future plans become faded memories. The daily roller coaster of living with bipolar disorder precludes making long-range plans. Bipolar disorder steals Tom’s and my lives indiscriminately.

When riding a wild wave of mania, the ocean wall holding back that last crashing wave breaks loose and the dark despair of depression suddenly sucks me under, all light and hope disappearing amid the desolation of desperation and hopelessness.’

I’d armed myself with ammunition in getting Tom the best mental health care possible. Thankfully I’d had a generous relocation package included in my move to DC and I’d built in extra days for me to interview doctors and other care providers for Tom. This process will be the topic of another post.

I’d worked tirelessly to stay in our home in California. I loved my work, our community of long term friends, knowing who I could trust with the most intimate details, knowing who to call when Tom needed help.

One-hundred percent of my security disappeared as we pulled out of our California driveway that fateful day. It still brings tears to my eyes and a clenching of muscles around my heart. How could we leave? How could I do this? I hated myself.

I’d been saying goodbye for well over two months as attorneys and others I’d worked with in the community called and asked to take me to lunch. Judges, criminal investigators, and friends I’d made through therapy groups and individually called for one last meal. How could I eat when I might never see these individuals again?

Coming from a place of fear and insecurity, I told Tom that if I accepted the transfer with promotion to DC, he could never go into the hospital again. I was horrified at the thought of being alone in DC and I also knew my work would demand my full attention.

How could I have said such a thing to the man I loved? Afterwards, I proceeded to beat myself up—both   in and out of therapy—until I became physically ill because I knew my words had hurt Tom, although he never said one word about the inexcusable comment.

Once I came to my senses, I wondered who I thought I was to tell him that his disease could not deter me from my professional advancement.

I’d convinced myself I had gained the knowledge to help Tom control his bipolar disorder. When I look back on that insane attempt to control our reality, I realize how I had set us both up for failure.

Bipolar disorder is a killer. Families and friends battle the relentless beast time and time again. It has the power to trap those who live with it and those who love someone with it deep in its inescapable maze.

I’m convinced unconditional love is the best defense against mental disorders and also the best medicine. However, I know Tom requires professional help and it’s my responsibility to ensure he receives the best care possible.

I’ve also learned I must take care of myself and that means continuing therapy. Living with depression and mania on a regular basis isn’t easy but with a trusted therapist of my own to lean on at times, I’ve weathered some frightening storms and discovered interesting things about myself in the process.

Thank you for reading with me. Upcoming Fourth House blogs include: Sharks at My Grave, An Afternoon with Sid, Finding Psychiatric Care, and others.

I’ve also heard from soldiers providing personal experience with burn pits and will be following up on my original Burn Pit blog. You may read it here.

And for those of you that aren’t familiar with my Morti & Me series, you may read them

Morti can be a silly cat.

Morti can be a silly cat.

here, here, and here.

My heart is filled with joy. I didn’t know how my Fourth House series would be received and each of your supportive and uplifting comments have touched me in so many different ways. They’ll keep me blogging about our very personal story and how our unconditional love has remained intact.

Thank you.


Our Lives Disappeared With Bipolar Disorder

Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy – Barbaric Torture for the Patient and Family

The Aftermath of 55 Years of Memory Loss

The Wrongs of Psychiatric Care – Part 1 of 2

Sheri's Garden

Sheri’s Garden

The Wrongs of Psychiatric Care – Part 2 of 2

Medical Care Discrimination – Physical vs. Mental

Mental Health Care – Who Needs It? – Part 1 of 3

Mental Health Care – Who Needs It? – Part 2 of 3

Mental Health Care – Who Needs It? – Part 3 of 3

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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58 Responses to ONE IS A LONELY NUMBER

  1. cindy knoke says:

    sorry consumers….

    • Cindy – Thank you for coming by to visit me. You must have had a marathon of reading. Finding the right mental health care is scary, you cannot simply go to the yellow pages and allow your finger to drop down on a name. Any name. With Obamacare entering the equation, it’s said consumers will at last have parity. The real question to ask, how many doctors and other professionals in the private sector accept assignment of insurance of any kind and especially government sponsored medical care. As of last week, more than 50% of all psychiatrist in the United States demanded cash payment before treatment.

  2. cindy knoke says:

    Your blog is remarkable and critical to mental health literature. both for consumes of mental health care and providers.

  3. HAVE FAITH says:

    Many a times I make analogy of depression with a dilapidated aircraft (what we call in Hindi : durghatna grast viman) ..
    But I move on feeling motivated by this idiom by Dr.Carlos Aureus(Professor of Literary Crticism at Philippines): ‘you write best when you are depressed’…
    So cheers 🙂 ..

    • I’m not sure how I missed so many special comments. I must have been asleep at the keyboard. I really do appreciate your stopping by to read with me. I believe I understand your analogy of depression to a dilapidated aircraft. It makes sense to me on many different levels. It’s as though I can see the plane trailing smoke as it falls from the sky and then for just a few seconds a weather pocket carries it along and all seems well. I think I’d equate those weather pockets to psychiatrist reaching into their empty prescription bag to look for a free sample or two, maybe they’ll lift you up for awhile but because the whole patient/plane hadn’t been treated the entire body of the person/plane before it was flown, the pills won’t work and the deep, dark hole of clinical depression sets in.

  4. tersiaburger says:

    I look forward to reading the Tom and Morti post… You write beautifully, and your unconditional love is so inspirational.

    • Tersia – Today I decided to do some housework on my blog and was totally shocked when discovering I had gracious comments such as yours and hadn’t yet responded. Please accept my sincerest apologies with a promise to do better next time.
      My computer went to la-la land a couple days before Christmas and hopefully the new one will arrive some time this week. In the meantime I’m getting by with my iPad and occasionally my husband’s PC. I’m always a bit fearful of his computer as he has so many new jewelry designs on it and I live in fear that I could dump everything. My IT guy assures me he’s backed everything up securely just in case I do something I didn’t mean to do, but you know how that goes.

  5. Thank you for sharing a bit of your reality with us. I can’t imagine what you are going through but your words make my heart ache for you. Sending healing hugs your way.

  6. What a lovely and moving post. “Worse there is no departure service, few hugs, and even fewer condolences for my perpetual loss. My deprivation cuts to the essence of my soul, yet no flowers or cards of encouragement arrive. Future plans become faded memories.” How true and devastating this rings. Thank you for sharing and bless you and your husband. Last, but not least 🙂 thank you for following me on Cold and allowing me to discover your blog as well..

    • Victoria – I enjoy roaming around on your blog and felt I would be cheating myself if I didn’t follow you. I’m not sure of the blog I was on and reading comments and you had commented on that particular blog and your words rang sincere and with real honesty. I thought to myself, I’m going to follow this person and just maybe she’ll follow me back. However I was also willing to continue to read your blog even if you didn’t follow back because if I didn’t read, then I would be cheating myself. Have a wonderful weekend.

  7. likeitiz says:

    This is a lovely post. I admire your realism and honesty about all this. What a full plate you have! Unconditional love is a long arduous commitment. I admire your resolve and your recognition that you do need to take care of yourself too. To els, there may not be much left of you to provide the care.

    I am reminded of the character played by Laura Linney in the movie “Love Actually.” It’s one of these old feel good light rom-coms it like to go to once a year during this season. In the movie, Laura has a brother with what appears to be schizophrenia. She is quite devoted to him, even to the extent that his constant need to contact her disrupts a potential relationship with a co-worker she has had a crush on.

  8. Denise Hisey says:

    Sheri, the hard work you’ve done shines through with every word. I admire your willingness to mention things like needing to take care of yourself, knowing you both need help, and having fear. It normalizes those things and helps break down walls. You are a voice of reason in a sea of chaos that is called mental illness.

  9. Sheri, I believe your faithfulness and capacity to LOVE, in your determination to find a green valley amid the still waters, and never forsake or doubt your soul’s wisdom after experiences that have and keep shaping your growing spirit ~I assure you that you will never be in the dark! God is not a Father of confusion ! You are an instrument of good in God’s hand! The worth of a soul is great! Oh, I love these flowers Sheri! I love You ! Faithfully Debbie

    • Debbie – How I wish I could sit by you and discuss so many things. I thought about you so many times yesterday and I love that you appreciate my gardens. I often believe they are the sanity God grants me. On the days I’m unable to go into the gardens, I’m inwardly a mess. I’d planned to write an e-mail to you yesterday to ask how you are doing. Please know you are always in my heart and in my prayers.
      I’d hoped to plant the remaining iris but it’s not going to happen today as it’s raining. I must get them in the ground soon as winter is starting to roll in.
      BTW – what is your favorite color and what is your favorite flower. I know we love them all. With love and friendship forever my dear friend. Sheri

  10. atempleton says:

    Hard to hear someone going through such unremitting agony. Glad your writing provides some solace. Hold on to the unconditional love.

  11. Jane Sadek says:

    Sheri, I have a nephew with this disease. It’s so heart-breaking to watch and when you’re just the aunt (by marriage, at that) there’s little you can do. After years of trying to get the family to address the matter I had to take a giant step backwards. It had almost cost me my marriage. I can’t tell you all the things we’ve done for him, but eventually he always decided he didn’t need his meds anymore. He’s an adult, but his mother enables him to ride the roller coaster without intervention, because we wouldn’t want to do anything drastic now, would we? What a waste of an otherwise charming, handsome, bright young man.

    • Jane – Thank you so much for stopping by. You are the guardian angel trying to look out for this young man but not only is his mother enabeling him but he’ll never have the opportunity to have any chance at a ‘normal’ life. You are so right when you talk about the otherwise charming, handsome, bright young man and it breaks my heart knowing help is available. You are such a caring person and I know how determined you are when you know things can be changed for the better. It would be wonderful for the mother or any family members to attend NAMI’s 12 week Family Support class. I know there’s no need for you to go as the mother doesn’t want your help but things could be so different for that young man.

  12. JK Bevill - Lost Creek Publishing says:

    That Morti is something else!

    • You are so right. Morti was indeed something else. He was 18 when Tom came into my life and up until Tom, Morti had never met a man he couldn’t get rid of (that’s how Morti saw it anyway). Morti and Tom went through several paces before everything was okay with Morti. Think I’ll have to write a blog about that one of these days. Tom had never had a cat.

  13. spunknbrains says:

    Sheri, thank you for liking my posts in my virtual world blog, my heart aches for you as I read your story, knowing the effects of mental illness first hand having a nephew who has a mental illness that lives with me. It’s been a tremendous challenge finding him the necessary medical help and even harder when the laws do not allow for intervention unless he does something that requires the baker act. Many blessings to you.

    • I readily admit I don’t know much about about creating virtual worlds but I do know what I like when I see the use of beautiful colors and dynamic designs.
      How I wish your nephew wanted the help that’s available. I’ve never had to fight Tom on this issue. He knew his world was falling apart, he simply didn’t know why. We also have a contract between the two of us that if I say it’s time for him to go to the hospital again then that’s what we do. Thankfuly he hasn’t had to be hospitalized since 2005. We have the best doctor ever and Tom is on the least amount of medication he’s ever taken.

      • spunknbrains says:

        I appreciate your words. It makes it tough to help him in this situation.. though I’m thankful he’s in a safe place. We all wish for him to see he needs the medical help. His mental illness puts him in a place where he doesn’t recognize he needs help most times, though we remain hopeful.

        Thanks again for your thoughtful reply.

  14. My hat’s off to YOU, Sheri. How you managed to carry the load on your shoulders as long as you did is a miracle. No, one person cannot be everywhere and do everything perfectly. I believe you’re too hard on yourself. You were overwhelmed and frazzled, and most likely worn down. What we say under those conditions isn’t what we mean. All of your emotion shows in your wonderful writing.

    • Hello, Tess. My journey continues with Tom’s disease but more importantly it continues with Tom’s love. What I hope to achieve with this series is to let others know that with love, understanding and the help of the medical community a quality of life can still be maintained. Far too many individuals are thrown away simply because it seems to difficult to go the extra mile. My wedding vows included, “in sickness and health.” I thought about the vows and when you’re healthy it sounds like a real easy vow to keep. If I accomplish nothing else with this series of blogs, I hope I can show at least one person they should reach out their hand to help instead of pushing away.

  15. May you be blessed as you share your story.

  16. Sheri … I agree with Sue … these should be developed as a book. Wonderful addition to an already great series 🙂

  17. cindy knoke says:

    This is just beautifully written and incredibly moving. Of course your part III never appeared in my reader, damnit, so I am going to read it now out of sequence.
    Bravo. Bravo!

    • Cindy – Hello and how nice to see you. I also continue to have reader problems. Thanks for hunting me down which is what I have to do for your blogs. As a therapist you already know that when reading or joining a conversation about most any mental illness it doesn’t matter much if you participate out of order. I hope you know how much I appreciate your reading with me.

  18. Sheri, your word are powerful, thoughtful and will be enormously helpful to anyone facing similar challenges. Keep writing. And thank you.

  19. I too believe that unconditional love is ultimately the greatest medicine, but it’s not the only. I love this love story. Thank you so much for sharing your self and your life message.

    Xo Sheri

    • Sheri – I’m honored that you are reading with me. Without a doubt, all the love in the world wouldn’t help Tom if he weren’t receiving the best medical care we could find for him. I am so fortunate in that Tom is willing to take his medication and never goes off of it on his own. Neither does he drink or take street drugs. I know this is a true blessing. Many times over the course of his illness he’s been prescribed wrong medication or higher dosage than he should have had and now his body is taking the brunt of the medical comunity trying to decide what would be the best course for him.

  20. I’m listening, dear friend. . . 🙂

  21. I appreciate how you work through your inner thoughts on the page, share it with us, and then “click” ~ you figure out the next step. You are stronger than you know and give great guidance to so many. ♥

  22. Mae Clair says:

    Once again I’m amazed by all you’ve faced with Tom and how love has pulled you through. Your story with him is an inspiration that never fails to reach my heart.

  23. gpcox says:

    It breaks my heart to hear what both you and Tom went through. Two people who are always thinking, not only of each other, but so many others. You are a woman to be greatly admired.

    • GP – Thanks and yes, Tom and I have been through some really tough times because of his bipolar disorder and it breaks my heart to see him suffer. On the flip side, Tom and I belong together. The night of our blind date all those years ago in 1983, I knew to clear my calendar. I was meeting the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Neither one of us wanted to go on a blind date and we went anyway just to get our mutual friend to stop bothering us.

  24. ksbeth says:

    sheri, your posts are so cuttingly honest and open. you are not afraid to say it exactly as it was and is and for that i applaud you. what you write will help many others, i am sure of that. each post becomes more poignant and meaningful in it’s own way.

  25. …..Our minds are not the cognitive command rooms or centralised emotion-processing headquarters that we imagine them to be…
    I really agree with Sue…you’re helping the people in the same situation bringing your testimonial…

    Wish you a quiet week ahead
    warmly, Luana

  26. Another wonderful read, I love reading your posts. I’m in a writing rut lately and can’t get out of it. I love Morti’s zen pose, that is too cute.

    • Hi there, PLGCM. On the way to yet another doctor apointment this a.m. I thought about some of your music recommendations and found the station on Sirus that fit my listening style. Hubby slept all the way to the appointment and the return trip home and I sang myself silly.
      I put that particular picture of Morti in his favorite position although we eventually had to give in and have a custom made pole for him when he became full grown.

  27. sue marquis bishop says:

    Sheri, are you working on these posts to develop as a book? I can see how your story will help so many others.

    • Sue – Hello. It’s so nice to see you here. You asked about a book. I wrote a non-fiction manuscript from 2000 through 2004. I was also speaking at national conferences for multiple physician groups, National Health Institute, National Alliance of the Mentally Ill and so on. I thought it would be a good time to query publishers as a result of my speaking engagements. I prepared the complete non-fiction book proposal and sent it out to over 200 editors/agents, pitched the manuscript at writer conferences and on and on. With each rejection the language was always the same. ‘If you were a mental health care provider or a celebrity then we’d take the manuscript. However, you’re just a wife. It didn’t matter that I had a string of past doctoral letters after my name. Bottom line, I’m not interested in self-publishing so decided to blog our experiences and hopefully I could encourage others to hold on and be patient with the person they love. Thank you for reading with me. Sheri

      • sue marquis bishop says:

        Sheri, I think there is a market for it. Don’t give up on publishing yet. I have done number of things for NIMH. Was hearing officer for NIMH national hearings in 90’s. Grant reviews,etc.

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