The Fourth House
by – Sheri de Grom

In Memory of Teddy 1993-2004

In Memory of Teddy 1993-2004

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.


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

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

One Is A Lonely Number

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. I’m so sorry Sheri & believe me when I say, I understand. My husband Vinny suffers from Chronic Depression & Bipolar Disorder. It’s like living with two different men & a constant fear of what the day will bring. Health care is very inadequate for his needs. Mainly because we don’t have the money to seek proper healthcare. However having read this post, I’m not sure it would do any good. What I have found out, from taking him to counseling, is that many famous people suffered from this mental disorder & battled it privately some even leading to death by their own hands. My idol musician, Kurt Cobain took his life at 27 years old. Virginia Woolf, Richard Dreyfuss, Mel Gibson, Earnest Hemingway, Vivien Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, Edgar Allen Poe, Frank Sinatra, Vincent van Gogh. These are but a few. When I read the list I was taken aback. You feel so isolated when your dealing with these things and wonder if anyone can possibly understand what your going through. As a caregiver even. We will pray for you & Tom; for his health & for yours as well Sheri. As his caregiver, I’m sure your physical & mental health has taken a toll as well. I know mine has. It’s heartbreaking to see someone you love deteriorate, physically & mentally. God watch over you both & keep you in his loving arms.

    • I was on my IPad last night and saw you had left a message and I hadn’t replied to your comment. Totally unacceptable for me. You are correct in that many famous people (artist in all domains and others too) have suffered from bipolar disorder and many have also taken their own lives. I’ll be doing a series on suicides but it is a bit down the road. I’m sure we both know how accidents often are attempts to cover the pain going on in the mind of the men we love. Even more frustrating, there’s not a darn thing we can do to make the pain go away.
      Many of the artist with bipolar disorder both famous and not famous destroy themselves with alcohol and illegal drugs along with other high risk behaviors. We know what happens when high risk behavior is mixed with the medications a bipolar individual already consumes in order to remain steady.
      I have no idea what I would have done if I hadn’t planned ever so carefully for our health care. I really wanted to leave government work when Fort Ord closed in 1994. But, the bottom line was that I already had in ten years to my retirement and no one in the civilian sector could insure Tom. I could make more than I was making working for the government but what’s a bigger salary if you don’t have insurance.
      One of the best investments I made was to hire a retired insurance executive and I paid him to examine all of the different federal insurance plans and to let me know which one would be the best for us (to cover the maximum for Tom in other words). He selected Blue Cross/Blue Shield and I’ve never been sorry. I still pay the full ‘retired’ premium today although that system is really messed up with Medicare interfering.
      With the combination of BC/BS and Tricare (Tom was active duty military for 20 years) we’ve had 100% coverage from day 1.
      I had to fight like crazy to get 100% coverage. When BC/BS told me they only had to pay 50% on psych I sued them as an individual and won. In the meantime I started working with the late Senator Kennedy and we passed the parity law wherein all federal insurance plans had to pay at the same rate for mental health services as they pay for all other medical services.
      I was the most alone during the years I worked for the Federal Government. I know it sounds crazy but we couldn’t let anyone know about Tom’s illness. I had the highest of security clearances and I’d be taking the chance of losing my job. If I lost my job, I’d lose the only thing I could call mine.
      As a caregiver, yes the mental and physical health take a beating and more often than not, there’s only one person in the house allowed to have an illness, and it’s not you. You are on First and always will be. I’m convinced I’ve survived because I’ve had therapy through the years and been able to dump my frustrations, ask questions or simply had a friendly ear I could trust.
      Is there by any chance there’s a medical school anywhere near where you live? In my advocacy work, I’ve been successful in placing 3 adults in a medical school program and they’ve had top notch care. The cost is zero.
      Medical schools like to have bipolar patients over 50 because there’s not literature or scientific studies to quote. The literature tells you that a BP patient life expectancy is 55 but Tom is 66 and today he’s been in his jewelry studio producing for his shop.
      I know this is long and rambling but, if there’s anything I can do to help make things even a tiny bit easier for you, e-mail me at and I can either call you or you can call me. Sheri

  2. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    I had not know that statistic, that the mentally ill receive less quality of care. That really struck out at me in this article. Highly disturbing, as it only makes it all worse.

    Wonderful post, Sheri. Your intimate experience with this, to share it, I appreciate you being open with it. Many wouldn’t be.

    • The numbers are indeed frightening. It’s much easier for physicians to say everything is a result of a mental illness than to work with a patient until they have the correct diagnosis. I believe every individual with a chronic mental illness must have an advocate. The advocate must have a hands on approach for all aspects of medical care.
      When I decided to blog about our trials with obtaining the best care possible for my husband, we talked about it together at length, and decided the only way our story could possibly make a difference for anyone was if I was as open and honest as I knew how to be.

      • WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

        That’s wonderful, Sheri. It is very VERY worthwhile that you take this approach. We don’t need another voice that will not reach the truth that each person suffering so, knows.

  3. Sheri,
    I am praying with you…YOU are a valiant woman! No need to respond to my reply—you have your hands full! and they are full of LOVE! May blessings find you and Tom!

  4. This was a tough one to read, Sheri. My “Anniversary Date” is actually the first week in December, 1993, when I had my first and only manic break (although I’ve struggled with depression regularly since then). It remains the lowest point in my entire life. I ended up in the hospital at the end of that week. We had already bought a cut Christmas tree, but my wife had to wrestle it into the stand and decorate it without me. The day I got home from the hospital the tree fell over because my wife had hung all of the ornaments on the front and sides that she could reach, making the tree top heavy. She went out and bought an artificial tree.

    I would love to correspond with Tom (via postal mail) if you think it would help, even if he is not up to responding. I so empathize with him! If you DO think it would help for me to write to Tom, send me your postal address ( Tom could “vent” all he wanted with me, and I have come up with VERY creative ways to cheer up friends and loved ones when they’re down. A physical (as opposed to virtual) mailbox can be a magical conduit. I have cared about Tom’s well-being since I first heard your mutual story. I do hope Tom agrees to letting me write.

    Coming up with humorous titles and captions for my photos in my weekday photoblog is not just my contribution to the world, but is also my personal WAR with depression. Some days it’s a down-and-out, tooth-and-nail, hard-fought battle to be funny, but I have NEVER missed a weekday post since I launched the blog on November 1, 2010.


  5. Wishing you and Tom a peaceful and happy holiday season. I love reading your posts, it’s always great seeing a new post from you.

  6. Simona says:

    ▐▬▌αρρу Evening ♥

    • Thank you Simona. I hope your days are going well. I’m trying to figure out what happened to my save button on the blog I’m working on. Everytime I move away from the blog, everything disappears. I’m getting a little grumpy and must find my happy face soon. I always spend the evening hours with Tom and he can read my face as if all of my emotions were written out in long hand and given to him before my arrival.

  7. jbw0123 says:

    Bravo for openly discussing the challenges of chronic illness, mental and physical — which aren’t as separate as the words ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ sound. Here, here to your call for quality medical care. Hope the holidays bring you some measure of joy and peace.

  8. Brenda says:

    Tom sounds like a very special person, not deserving of any kind of stigma. My cousin gets depressed when the days get shorter, and it can take into March before she is feeling positive again. I wonder if doctors don’t believe her. If they think it’s in her head and don’t treat it properly. I hope you find peace and joy this season. Thanks for visiting me at friendlyfairytales! Brenda

  9. Denise Hisey says:

    Sheri, I love your advice about staying in therapy. It is impossible to navigate such difficult water as mental illness without a trusted and steady professional on board.

    • Denise – You are so right. I’ve had therapist over the 20 + years that I’ve used solely to help me get through the day to day living of managing Tom’s bipolar illness. Some were good and some were oh so wrong for me. I never had a problem with moving on to a new therapist and did just that when I felt they were not longer a help to me. Along the way I’ve also had a few great therapist that have helped me work on things I could do that would improve my own life. I have a pending blog about the mental health care Tom and I currently have and it’s top notch. They are 100% the reason we elected to retire in Arkansas. We were simply passing through (well sort of) when Tom had an attack and we’ve been here ever since (8 years).

  10. robertsonwrites says:

    I have nominated you for the Sunshine Award. Please check for the details! Congratulations on your award!!

  11. Sheri, beautiful lady, your losses are only postponements but, you will both be recompensed BECAUSE you chose the greater good, the fruit that yields all joys throughout eternity ~LOVE so, despite these sacrifices I testify that neither of you will regret or will it weigh on your hearts in “I should’ve or could’ve.” I love you soooo much! Gorgeous tree! Faithfully Debbie

    • Debbie, How are you my special friend? It’s really cold here and I miss going out into the garden but have other activities that need attention. I wasn’t ready for winter to hit, I had more mulch to put down and additional iris to plant. God will take care of them until it’s my turn to return to the garden. A dear friend has planted four large planters for me plus hung a nice size trough on my back garden fence. It was planted all summer but I’m allowing it to rest now and will replant in the spring. I’m sending hugs and know you are aware of sacrifices. You’ve made so many yourself. With love, Sheri

  12. Jane Sadek says:

    Sheri, I think age is also a factor unless the doctor specializes in geriatric medicine or hospice. As patients age, the physicians find more and more to blame on old age, because if it’s just old age they can’t be blamed for it. Only when the doctor really appreciates life can they see past the age number and strive to make each year the patient’s best year.

    • Hi Jane, We haven’t hit the age barrier yet. That’s probably due to the fact that there are so many other physical things wrong with Tom, they can blame any number of those facts for what’s going on now. However, I well understand what you are saying.
      When my father was diagnosed with cancer at age 87 and had surgery to remove it, his regular doctor told him the chemo would make him so sick they might as well just skip it at his age.
      I was living on the east coast at the time and still had friends at NIH so decided to call in a favor. The largest grant for cancer research was being let to a team of doctors about 60 miles from where dad lived. The team was only allowed to take on 40 patients and dad didn’t meet any of the qualifing criteria. I flew home and in the interview the docs told my father, “you know you could die immediatly when we put the needle in your arm.” Dad’s response, “If God wants me when you put the needle in, then that’s when I’ll go. However, if he wants your formula to work, I’ll live because He isn’t finished with me yet.” I’ll always remember that conversation dad had with the docs. They said they had never had anyone with such spunk and my father lived 10 more years and the cancer foundation called him their poster boy.
      If I hadn’t insisted we find a new doctor for dad, yes, his age would have been the determining factor and he would have received no further care. But, my father was a ‘living’ kind of man.
      I’ve fired many doctors over the years because they don’t care. It’s just as easy to fire a doctor as it is a housekeeper – and I’ve never had to fire a housekeeper. They have always been grateful for a job.
      I say – if you or your loved one isn’t getting the care you believe you or they deserve, fire them and go find someone who does care. The care you receive may not be in your local area but arrangements alway seem to work themselves out.
      The same as many mentally ill patients don’t get the medical care they need so they die 25 years before their peers, how many elderly people have 10 or even 20 years to live except their doctor told them there was no use to try. Doctors no longer know best.

      • Jane Sadek says:

        My Dad was resistant to change, any change, and I could not get him to discuss finding a new doctor. As long as Dad’s blood pressure was regulated and the prostrate numbers were OK, the jerk doctor wouldn’t even discuss things like quality of life. He’d just say I hope I’m in as good a shape when I’m that age. I know Dad spent his last five years in pain from a cracked vertebrae, his appetite was non-existent and he generally felt miserable. So you know what. I hope that doctor feels just like my dad did – for a long time – and I hope his doctor tells him just what he told my dad. Not forcing my dad to change doctors is my single regret from the last few years. My goal was to respect my dad, but I feel like I let him down instead.

        • Jane – You did the best you could with what you were able to do. Our parents aren’t often easy to persuade that ‘we’ just might know a better alternative. Dad was wonderfully compliant and he had such a strong will to live. On the other hand, my mother had some of the most progressive care available yet she didn’t always follow her doctor’s orders and it shortened her life. I lived abroad much of the time my mother was ill, expecting my brothers to pick up the slack. Of course, I realized later that what I expected didn’t happen and I wasn’t taking any chances with dad. Mom was the stubborn one and wanted to do things her way and even if my brothers had stepped in with mom, it still might have gone the same way it did.

      • Sheri–When my maternal grandmother was in her 80s, they decided not to do cataract surgery because of her “age.” She lived to be 104, spending the last years of her life virtually blind. Just think, at age 70 she had one-third of her life yet to live!

        • John – What a crime. My grandmother lost her sight at age 40 and continued to live on ‘the farm’ she and my grandfather had homesteaded together in 1912. She finally agreed to move to ‘town’ around age 85 but with much resistance. Her bargaining chip was she would go if she could have her own color television for her house. She refused to live in an apartment. I always loved visiting her when I was home and calling her on a weekly basis. She knew more about what was going on in the world than just about anyone else I talked with. She passed away at 96 and still very much her own woman.

          • My grandmother lived on her own until age 95. The only reason she had to give up independent living then was her failing eyesight.

            • John – I think our grandmothers lived 100 years before their time. Just think what they might have accomplished in the Senate or House. I can easily visualize each of them tossing out the individuals that have no idea what’s actually happening in America. They wouldn’t have to ‘watch’ the news and see starving children around the world. They would personally know the devastation of two World Wars and the great depression. They would have intimate knowledge of which families in the county needed assistance (not hand-outs) to feed everyone in their household and on and on.

  13. sue marquis bishop says:

    Sheri you are a romantic at heart. Creating special moments makes life worthwhile. A picnic on the king bed. Great idea. Sue

    • Of course and you can not imagine what a romantic man my Tom is – there’s a blog coming up on that very topic. I’ll let you in on the secret but don’t tell, okay? You know that Tom is a jewelry designer and makes most of his own creations. Well, about 3 or 4 years ago little silver hearts in different shapes and designs started showing up around the house. One might be under my pencil/pen cup and I’d never find it unless I picked the cup up for some reason or he’d put one under my pillow and if I happened to run my hand under my pillow that night, I’d find my silver heart. He’s very creative about hiding them in places I’d never know to look so there’s no need to go look. I probably have 300 or so at this point – and I can’t help but smile each time I see them. I found one just the other day that he said he’d hid well over two years ago!

      • sue marquis bishop says:

        Wow. He has a tender and loving nature. A clue as to why you fell for him. My best to both of you. Sue

  14. atempleton says:

    I would hope/expect? medical experts to listen to a patient’s caregiver or advocate if the patient can’t speak up for himself or herself. Otherwise, valuable information will go uncollected and unprocessed. I guess that shows how much I know about the situation. Am looking forward to hearing about holiday times past before your troubles began.

    • You know, I don’t think of this as troubled times. I have what many dream of from the first day they learn of true love. I spend everyday of my life with a man that loves me unconditionally. I think of this time as ‘days of our life.’ Tom and I have had wonderful experiences around the world, we’ve lived all over the U.S. and our memories are full of love, light and excitement.
      I started writing the Fourth House Series because I’ve had so many people ask me how Tom and I have stayed married when the chances of that marriage lasting are so slim. Only 10% stay married.
      We don’t want to become another statistic. I’ve come to understand that 99% of the medical profession is in their position to earn a good living and really could care about the rest of what’s going on. However, we’ve also been fortunate in meeting many of the 1% along the way and have some of them in our camp at the present time.
      Trigger Memories are difficult to live with and move through. They change your life forever and I have my own. The bottom line is that at the end of the day, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than right here at Tom’s side.

  15. Sheri, although I am certain writing these posts must cause you great stress and sadness, I am equally certain that you know how much this helps others. So many live in the dark, in a dark question mark they can never truly understand. You shine a light and answer the question. No, things will never be normal again.

    Funny, because Christmas always triggers my memory of the middle one, the one we lost to mental illness. I hear the carol by Elvis “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and I see his face the year he surprised us on Christmas Eve. I can see my mother’s face light up brighter than the tree. I can see her face the years he didn’t show up, the year he left us.

    I’ve used his anniversary Dec. 1st as a catalyst for pulling the best memories I have of each of them. It has been the only way I can live with what happened. There is nothing either of you can do to change the anniversary, the reaction, the trigger, but I am confident that you will find a way to create a safe place, a haven for Tom to find himself in other ways and at other times.

    My wish for a Blessed and peaceful Holiday … My hopes that you find a way to shield him from this and my belief that all good and bad things have an end 🙂

  16. Holiday triggers are tough ones. Hard to escape that date. I wish there were something I could do but these things leave me feeling helpless. I grew up around mental illness, with my schizophrenic brother, who was in and out of institutions from an early age through to the present. I don’t know that this even qualifies me to begin to feel what you feel, but I can say this, I sure wish it were different for both of you. Sending love and good thoughts your way. Thank you for these post. Love, Paulette

    • Paulette – I often feel helpless and I live one on one with the disease 24/7 for 25 years. My best weapons have been learning everything I can about Tom’s disease and never allowing ‘the system’ to tell me what’s the best they have to offer. I did that one time and they stole 55 years of his memory. I don’t think I could ever make a decision that was that bad so I take full responsibility from that day forward.
      From what I know about schizophrenia, it is also a difficult disease to treat and often, the same as with bipolar disorder, the classic medicines that are known to treat thousands, often won’t work for a select few.

  17. ksbeth says:

    the system is a travesty and it is a tragedy that people who suffer from mental illnesses do not receive the same care as people with other illnesses. they are many times the ones least able or motivated to communicate what is wrong to doctors and because many docs do no know how to work with these patients and their challenging issues, they do the minimum and get out. it must be very hard, and scary and sad and maddening all in one. i am so glad that you have stuck with therapy for yourself and i wish you both a lightened load on every level for the coming year ) beth

    • Thank you, Beth. I thought you might find this thought interesting. A psychiatrist told me today, “Don’t list Tom’s psychiatric medications whenever he sees a new doctor. He’ll receive much better care.” I’d thought of doing that before but had always been hesitate to try it for fear someone would prescribe something that would harm Tom when the meds combined. Happy holidays to you and yours.

      • ksbeth says:

        sad, but a good point. maybe once he’s prescribed whatever the doc suggests for his medical condition, you can check with the psych doc to make sure that it is a safe combo. he will most likely receive better med care –

  18. Elyse says:

    Dear Sheri,

    I’m having trouble thinking of something helpful to say to easy that weight that both you and Tom are shouldering. But I don’t have any words. Except perhaps that you are not alone. As I get older I find that there are many people who have more burdens than joy at this time of year. Christmas is always a struggle at my house, too, as it is the season of passing in my family — my relatives tend to go out with a bang on major holidays. Ho ho ho.

    Anyway, I always read your posts and follow you. I admire you for your strength, your love for your husband and your wisdom.

    Peace to both of you.

    • Elyse – Thank you for stopping by and reading with me. I think Christmas became a burden when we allowed the commercial component to enter into the equation. The gifts seemed to get more expensive and children seemed to dictate to their parents what they expected on the Christmas tree. We need Christ back in Christmas before any of us will have a truly blissful holiday.
      Tom’s had a relatively good day today and for each of those I say thank you, ten-thousand times over.

  19. Sheri, reading this left my heart aching for you and Tom and tears in my eyes. I can only imagine how difficult this has all been on you both. May God give you both the strength. I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Kitt – Thanks for stopping by. Bipolar disorder is a strange and mysterious beast and it loves to take up residence in a marriage and toss you about as if you weren’t meant to be there in the first place. My take is that Tom and I knew we were meant to be together from the first night we met. We’d both told others that love at first sight could never happen. Let’s face it, who goes on a blind date when they are already engaged to someone else and falls honestly in love. My engagement ended the following morning and Tom has been on first ever since. I can still see the twinkle in Tom’s eye when he told me he could ‘never put all of his eggs in one basket again,’ and I merrily replied, ‘Not a problem, I normally answer the phone when I’m home but if I don’t, please don’t bother asking me where I’ve been. . .’ And, well the rest is history. We are approaching our 28th anniversary. Yes, Tom is ill and yes, it is a lot of work. However, the bottom line for me is that we are together and when he’s awake we spend the time together. He might not feel up to talking and that has to be okay also. Sometimes I read aloud to him and others we sit in silence and listen to songs we used to dance and sing along with. There is indeed much for me to be thankful for this Christmas.

  20. No brilliant words. Just prayers, hugs and love.

    • David – Thanks. My primary goal is to allow others to understand what it is like to live with mental illness, especially when it’s with someone you love and want to spend the rest of your life with. I believe so many marriages fail because individuals enter into them blindly without an understanding of what’s on the ‘other side.’
      I also hope others will gain a grasp of how they can protect those they care about or love by using the few systems we have in place. It’s only when we as consumers ‘require’ laws be upheld that the medical professionals will go that extra step.

  21. Powerful. Honest. Sound advice~* therapy for both parties * Hugs to you, my friend. Prayers for both of you. ♥ paula

  22. Sheri, I can relate to the frustration of lack of care for mental illness as I have family members who suffer. My sister was under financial care with a public trustee and the treatment she received was inhumane. There was no dignity involved. As far as discussion with doctors and other professionals involved, it is ridiculous when confidentiality prevents proper communication from those that CAN express what is going on. It really is mind blowing but at the same time, SO many people are unaware of the void in care until they themselves suffer or have a family member suffering. You would think that when 1 out of 3 people suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime, there would be reasonable assistance. Lives are left to deteriorate. It is so sad and so unacceptable.
    I pray that you continue to find the strength for yourself and your husband.

    • Yes, it’s amazing how many haven’t an idea of what it’s like to be mentally ill or to live with a family member that is. If you can get your sister to sign a medical power of attorney and have it notorized, this would allow whoever she names to speak with doctors, administrators and on and on. Tom and I drew one up when he first became ill and each time my career has moved us, we’ve updated the language requirements for that particular state. We have several other legal documents drawn up for specific issues but the medical power of attorney is probably the most important of them all. The individual that honestly loves the mentally ill individual and wants the best for that person is the one that should have the medical power of attorney. Hospitals and physicians normally don’t like for those other than their patients to have the power to make medical decisions but it sure makes a world of difference in not only the patients life but your as well. I’ll be doing a blog later on about a series of documents Tom and I use that protect each other should the need arise.

  23. Prayers for strength and endurance in this battle of yours and Tom’s. It’s dizzying at least!

    Why so much mental illness going around now? Is it chemicals, environment, or what?

    Hugs, my friend. And I’m holding your hand whenever you need it. 🙂

    • Jeanne – Thank you my friend. I thought someone was guiding me through the night as I was awake several times. I had to get up numerous times with Tom and then his dog started in and that was 3 trips outside in our icy weather. I did however manage to go back to sleep and that’s most unusual for me. It was indeed as if someone pulled the warm covers over me, tucked me in and whispered ‘sleep tight.’ I slept straight through until my alarm went off this a.m.
      I’m blessed ten thousand times over that I can care for Tom at home and not be running back and forth to a care facility every day. The days and months Tom has been hospitalized have honestly been some of the worse days of my life. At least with Tom at home, he’s not drugged all the time and almost every day we are able to talk some and occassionally, not often but occassionally, I’ll see the twinkle in his eye that represents the Tom I knew all those years ago before bipolar disordered entered our lives and took up residence.

  24. Mae Clair says:

    Sheri, your blog posts always leave me with such a strong impression, and I continue to be amazed at all you and Tom have been through. What a talented man with his jewelry designs! I am glad you have memories of Christmas that are filled with all that is good and festive. I know love will never leave your household or your heart, despite Christmases ahead that may not be as glittery as those in the past. I lost a close colleague to suicide many years ago and, yes, he was bipolar. Sadly, in his case, alcohol consumption and financial setbacks compounded his illness. A good man who couldn’t find a solution. Tom is blessed to have you at his side.

    • Mae – Thank you for stopping in and commenting my friend. It’s a given that alcohol and bipolar medications don’t mix but if someone has made up their mind they are going to commit suicide it’s very difficult for the lay person to turn them around. Tom and I developed a formal contract early on and we both signed it and made it part of our legal documents file. If I believe he’s becoming suicidal or even remotely a danger to himself, I can say, “Tom, it’s time to go to the hospital.” At that time, I know he’ll not argue with me. He’ll dress for the hospital stay and I’ll pack his bag for the appropriate items he’ll be allowed to have at the hospital.
      It’s never an easy decision to make and one that leaves me drained for days and even weeks on end, but when I’m in doubt of my ability to keep Tom safe, I follow through with the hospital admission. It’s really the only choice anyone can make.
      There’s debate about how to get admission for someone admitted to a mental health facility and I’ll be posting on that subject later but briefly: as long as the patient utters the words: I don’t want to live, the hospital is required by law to evauate for suicide potential. Once the hospital has admitted the patient for observation and treatment for suicide prevention, the hospital is required to treat the patient for 3 days and that’s not with just medication, the patient must be integrated into group and individual therapy.

      • Mae Clair says:

        So good that you have that agreement between you and that you both stand by it. I’ve heard of that 3- day rule you mentioned. My sister has worked in the outpatient mental health wing of a hospital in an administrative capacity for over 30 years and had often shared the setbacks caused by funding cuts. I think it must be so important to have someone you love to rely on.

        • Mae – If a mentally ill individual doesn’t have someone to fight ‘the system’ for them, they really don’t have a chance of surviving the illness that haunts them. More than once I’ve had to look up and provide the case law to a hospital administrator to make them understand just how serious I am about the quality of care I expect Tom to receive and to let them know I am aware of what can and cannot happen on the mental health ward. The interesting issue is that everything the full-pay patient such as Tom receives, the homeless person is also, by law, entitled to receive.

  25. Oh wow. What a powerful post Sheri. I thought about sharing it with friend Ellen but think I’ll talk to her about being aware of the anniversary syndrome. My military friend with PTSD has the same reaction around Remembrance Day and also the anniversary of his first major meltdown in the field. Very precarious times for him every year. His parents only understood it after reading his memoir.

    We’re having a lovely snowstorm today. Not too much but it sure looks like Christmas. Read about the ice storm in Texas. Who woulda thunk! Let alone bad weather over just about the entire country. The weather people haven’t seen anything like it before!

    Hope you are well stocked and able to stay off the road. Hugs! Mary

    On Mon, Dec 9, 2013 at 1:59 AM, Sheri de Grom wrote:

    > sheridegrom – From the literary and legislative trenches. posted: “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 ultimat”

    • Hello, Mary. I’d love to have my head in the sand and pretend things will be different every Christmas but I know they won’t be by the time Thanksgiving rolls around.
      Yes, we were hit hard with a solid blanket of ice but by today the roads were more or less okay. We’re suppossed to get hit a second time but hopefully the storm will go around the edge of the state.
      I’d never understood the signifigance of the ‘trigger date’ until a doctor told me it was just as dark for a mentally ill individual as it was for any one with a number on their forearm during the War. I’ve been told by several psychiatrist that I’ve trusted that ‘trigger dates’ or ‘memory dates’ are much like an endless nightmare and the individual cannot find their way out of the situation.

  26. I am so…I don’t know what the word would be… lucky that I get to read your blogs about your life, Tom’s life, and your life together with his illness. You enlighten me every single time I read your posts. I am in awe of your strength and your love for Tom through all of this and your intelligence to plow through all the bull**** to find the answers – if they exist at all. Your tenacity is overwhelming. Tom is so lucky to have you at his side. Yet through all these posts I still can feel your love for him – paramount to everything that happens and everything you do for him. You are an amazing woman.
    I am fairly speechless.

    • Patti – My life would not be complete without Tom. We’ve had joyous times together, times of wonder when we saw something too beautiful to put into words, and then other times when the two of us lingered over dinner for 3 hours or more. Just this weekend I had out one of our many photo albums and we talked about a vacation (totally spur of the moment) we had taken for a full week in Santa Cruz at the most beautiful Bed and Breakfast sitting on the strand. As you know, Santa Cruz is not that far from Monterey and we had a marvelous time. No one knew where we were except the house sitter and she knew not to contact us unless it was a dire emergency. We’ve been blessed to have been able to take so many of these fun trips all over the world. Sure we’d like to have more of them – but if that doesn’t happen, I’ll accept having Tom in my life every day even if I do have to push extra hours into my day to accomplish many tasks.
      Thank you for reading with me.

  27. Sherri, I am amazed at your strength, and pray for you both daily. I too research mental illness as my youngest daughter is bi-polar, borderline schizophernic and though I see her seldom,(chance meetings at market, in which she runs from me like a jack rabbit) I see the physical toll it is taking on her body and want so badly as her mother to help so I read everything I can about it in hopes she will return someday. Sorry didn’t mean to make it about me just wanting you to see that I understand. I am so sorry you both must got through this, prayers for you daily and tons of love and hugs {{{xx}}}

    • Len – I’m sorry your daughter is mentally ill. It’s hard enough to manage the disease when the patient is compliant about medications and all that’s required to stay as well as possible. When you add borderline schizophernia to the mix, you have a very difficult disease on your hands. I wish for both you and your daughter that she will someday accept your help. Is there any chance of a compromise?
      I considere myself blessed in that Tom is reasonablly good about taking his meds and like many diagnosed bipolar men – he’s not a sex addict, alcholic or illegal drug user. I consider myself truly blessed to have Tom in my life.

      • Yes you are truly blessed my friend and of such high spirits, or so it seems I am sure there are times you wish you could just scream or take a big slug of something to rewind life.
        Unfortunately, my daughter stays away from all family none of us know where she or my grandson are, only once in a great while we see her at a stop light or the market but she is very good at “disappearing” It scares me for her but especially the seven year old. I have contacted CPS, Family Services to no avail they cannot divulge if he is in foster care or with her etc. We all feel as if our hands are tied.

        • Len – I so understand where you are coming from and my heart aches for you. I’m twenty thousand times blessed in that I know where Tom is. My biggest fear is always that sometime when I’m sleeping he’ll be unaware of what he’s doing and walk out the door and be gone forever. Not because he wants to be but because in a single fragment of a moment he’s had a psychotic break and a reliable universe no longer exists for him. I’ve had our home alarm system rewired. It’s not because I’m afraid someone will break in, it’s so I’ll know if Tom opens the door at an inappropriate time. Normally I don’t have to worry about such a thing, but I don’t dare allow those times to pass me by.
          I know you worry constantly about your daughter but then to have your grandson with her is tough to handle. There are far too many elements you cannot control for this child’s life to come anywhere near ‘normal’. My prayers to you my dear friend on this cold winter day.

          • God bless you Sherri you have truly been a blessing to me with your kind words. I am glad you had your system reworked for Toms protection, the sense of comfort that brings is priceless I am sure. the diseases of the mind are so hard to understand.

  28. Dear Sheri. Nothing I can do to lessen your load, but I wish I could. I send you hugs instead, and positive vibes to boost your energy.

    • Good Morning, Tess, I’m not normally up this early unless Tom needs something but today my little dog, Miss Priss, must go to the vet. I’m praying for good news. She’s a shih tzu and at 14 has been my steady rock so many times.
      A favorite college student of mine (I claim her as my granddaughter) needed an escape from her campus appartment yesterday as they’ve been iced in for 4 days. We’ve had fun, talk, snacks and an all around good time. She’ll stay through today and help me with chores I haven’t had time to do as a one woman marching band. Thanks for your warm thoughts and warm energy boost – always appreciated. I have on my Good Bless America sweatshirt today and will wear it proudly no matter where the day takes me.

  29. gpcox says:

    So much (still in this days of technology) is completely unknown about the brain. We do know it is often stronger than we ever realize. Sheri, you have proved that fact over and over to all of us and I for one am proud to know you. As always, my best to Tom.

    • Thanks for your never-ending support. I didn’t make it to the VA last week due to our ice storm but several of us have put together enough new military related plus mom-ficction readings for the veterans to have 47 new books in their library. We’ll be searching for and hope to place all of the same titles in books on tape.
      One of the best comments that came out of the Veteran’s special day for Thanksgiving is a comment from a veteran, “The house, upon entering, took me back all those years ago when my mom fixed our Thankgiving meals.”
      Anothern veteran was asked if he would like to help with meal preparation. (He’d been a former military 1ST on the cullinary program. I’m sp pleased we put the program together.

      • gpcox says:

        Sounds like all is going according to plan and the veterans are thriving because of it – they have you to thank – just as I always do. My best to Tom.

        • G.P. I didn’t make it to the veterans’s hospital as planned due to our ice storm. However we’ll be going Thu. I plan to spend the entire day to coordinate Christmas activities for the 37 Veterans that have now joined our group. I have you to thank for giving me another purpose in life and something that I look forward to doing. Tom will be able to sleep in his doctor’s office on a sofa (how cool is that) until I feel I’ve accomplished what I plan to do on Thu. How cool is that. This is the doctor that we’ve been with, for Tom, since the midnight ride down the famous pig-tail running through the ozarks. This doctor has been a savior not only for Tom but for me, time and time again. The doc is the reason we cannot leave Arkansas. He’s the best doctor we’ve ever had for Tom and I’m not about to move away from him. He’s kept Tom out of the hospital for several years and all I have to do is pick up my phone and call his private cell and he calls me back within 30 minutes. I’ve never had that kind of care for Tom anywhere we’ve lived and sometimes the doc will call just to check in to see how we are doing.

          • gpcox says:

            That type of medical commitment renews my faith in the profession. It makes me feel better to know Tom is receiving such thorough care. So happy to hear about the new 37 veterans joining your group – don’t thank me for all that, it is your great commitment that accomplished so much.

          • sue marquis bishop says:

            Sheri, I am so happy that you have found a caring physician that understands there must be a working partnership between pt, dr and family caregiver. A huge blessing. I’m thankful you have that kind of support. You and Tom deserve it. Sue

  30. Gallivanta says:

    Thinking of you with warm, supportive wishes.

    • Thank you Gallivanta. I’ve now added you to the blogs I follow. I’ll be integrating the list this weekend. I’m delighted to follow your blog. Tom and I used to love taking our ‘Out of Africa’ picnic basket out on weekends (complete with all the finery you expect in such a basket – my best friend and maid-of-honor) put it together for us as a wedding gift knowing how much we enjoyed finding just the right locaion to enjoy being together. Your garden settings and perfect lighting remind me of many such places and you’ve given me a wonderful idea.
      Today, while I’m running errands, I’ll pick up odds and ends and tomorrow Tom and I will have our own picnic right here in the middle of the king size bed. We’re covered in ice so far too cold to venture out but with lots of fresh flowers and candles, it’ll be the perfect setting.

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