Mental Health/Bipolar Disorder/Journal Notes
by: Sheri de Grom
NOTES FROM MY JOURNAL – MONTEREY, CA
CHRISTMAS EVE – 1991
I departed Tom’s hospital room at 10:30 p.m. after his last medication dose for the day. I kissed him goodnight as he stared straight ahead. The light had gone out in his eyes and the shadow of his smile was gone.
What happened to Christmas? What happened to us? Tom and I were meant to be together and now we faced the fourth Christmas IN A ROW with him in the hospital. Please, this couldn’t be our destiny. We were meant to be together, not apart.
I had an uneasy feeling as I left Tom’s room that night. Stillness filled the lengthy corridors. Not a single Christmas decoration could be seen. The silence hung heavy, thick with tension. Were there stifled screams locked inside the lungs of lonely, frightened patients behind closed doors? I’d left the mental health unit several minutes ago but the eeriness lingered.
I normally didn’t allow myself to operate on autopilot, but numbness overtook me. I always reminded my team to never, ever let their guard down. Reprieves were deceptions. The world of those we investigated became completely out of control. We were in the business of turning people’s lives into chaos. They were to take nothing for granted and always be vigilant.
Many prominent citizens along the Central Coast considered our team their personal enemy. A current Veteran Affairs investigation had started simply enough when we’d run a routine paper trail to verify that nursing homes were being paid inappropriately for care provided veterans or not paid at all. The veterans, in turn, were to receive quality care and their pitiful $30 monthly allowance. Little did we know we’d end up with a multi-billion dollar fraud case plus thousands of medical and physical/mental abuse cases on behalf of those veterans.
The Veterans’ Affairs Administration had long passed their ability to manage long term-care patients and they contracted privately-owned nursing homes. Unfortunately, little oversight was built into the program and abuse by both family members and private facilities had reached a shameful crescendo.
Many veteran disability checks were sent to a bank account where the family member had signatory authority. When the check arrived each month, the family didn’t pay the nursing home for care provided or give the veteran the cash allowance that was rightfully his. Instead, the money went to support drug habits, lavish lifestyles, fast cars, or to increase an existing income.
The veterans didn’t know why the nursing home wasn’t being paid nor could they understand why their families weren’t coming to see them. The patients would try to do odd jobs around the facilities to help pay for the occasional haircut and the patients that were able would help care for the ones that were unable to care for themselves.
I was reminded of how easy it would be for Tom to fall prey to a situation where someone was supposed to be watching out for him and greed would take over. I vowed never to put him in such a vulnerable situation. I had to make time to set up a trust for Tom and I couldn’t put it off. Tonight, I didn’t want to think about anything except how Tom and I were going to get our lives back.
The fight had drained out of me today. My legs didn’t want to propel me further and I ached everywhere. I needed a good soak in the hot tub. A massage would be nice too. But, that wasn’t going to happen.
A moment later a long, lean shadow slipped along a curved portion of the central corridor I needed to pass through. Sheri, GET A GRIP! For heaven’s sake, at least fifty people were moving about, what was my problem? When had I become afraid of shadows? And, then the shadow stepped away from the wall and became my deputy, Mike.
“Hey,” I said. “How long have you been here?” I took in a deep breath and tried to stand straighter. My body hurt as if I’d taken a beating.
Mike stepped forward holding his arms open wide and I walked straight into them. I set my briefcase down and wrapped my arms about him. I let out a deep sigh as he closed his arms around me. Tucking my head under his chin I caught the scent I’d become familiar with over the years.
I wanted it to be Tom holding me. I wanted the trace aroma of Tom’s woody aftershave comforting me. Most of all, I wanted Tom promising me everything was going to be okay. But, he hadn’t been able to promise me anything for a very long time.
In a cracked voice, I told Mike, “I can’t take this. Tom’s gone and I don’t know where. I don’t know what to do or who to trust.” Gasping for breath, “I don’t mean you, Mike. I know I can always depend on you.”
“You’ve always got me, boss.”
We sat awhile but I had to get home. It was Christmas Eve after all. Mike knew what Christmas meant to me and his sixth sense had picked up on how fast I was deteriorating.
I couldn’t imagine ever being comfortable in my own skin again. My world continued spinning and I didn’t know how to control it. I had changed along with Tom’s illness. My insides ached as if long fingers had reached in and rearranged my organs. The sensation made me suck in my breath. If only I could turn the clock back. Would I be able to breathe again?
Mike wrapped my cold hands in his warm ones. “Sheri, you’re not alone. I’ll always be here to help you through whatever this damn disease throws your way. You know I’m your friend first and partner second. “
Tom had often teased that Mike and I behaved like an old married couple. In the early years of our working relationship, we’d been together twenty-four/seven. We were both workaholics and our skill levels complemented each other. We knew people talked, but we didn’t care then and we didn’t care now.
Booming thunder met me as I left the hospital that night. Fierce winds and lightning lashed the starless sky. I waited for the Santa driving trolley to take me to my car. I didn’t want Santa, I wanted Tom.
Driving home, I listened to soft jazz on the radio. Again, Kenny G’s soprano sax and his rendition of ‘The Shadow of Your Smile’ haunted me. I wanted Tom’s fun loving smile, not a mere empty shadow.
The raindrops pounded the car. I wondered how high the small brook in front of our house had risen. I was in no mood for hauling out the sandbags.
I wanted to scream or throw something but I was just too damn tired. How much more could I take?
# # #
Rounding the curve of our drive, I pulled the car close to the front door and parked. I wanted to squeeze my eyes shut and crawl inside myself. I wanted calm but it wasn’t happening.
Lightning crackled. The air smothered me. The December storms matched my state of mind. Damn it. I wanted to scream, to rage at the weather gods. I needed the thunder to roll and then . . . I looked down. Farley’s little body trembled. He was without his beloved master. Burying my face in his hair, I let the uncontrollable tears flow. I wanted to promise him that his master would be with us soon and he’d be the man we knew. But, I could make no such promise. Not now and maybe never.
Farley had spent the day at my office, although I wasn’t there. Often when I was going to be away from home all day, I’d drop Farley off at my office and everyone would pamper him the entire day. He always knew he could go from office to office and steal cheerios from desk drawers and then return to Mike’s office to sleep in his basket. Mike loved to pretend he didn’t like little fuzzy dogs but oh, what a fun relationship they had. When Farley saw Mike approaching, he’d take off running and fly into his arms.
It was only natural that Mike turned Farley over to me at the hospital. After all, he was a member of my family.
Looking toward our house a shiver ran down my spine. The front door hung wide open. Black terror enveloped me. Had I forgotten to close the door in my haste to get Tom to the hospital? Again I shuddered at the thought.
I grabbed my trench coat and bundled Farley in it. Tossing my heels in the back, I held Farley close and, barefoot, sprinted across the drive, up the slippery stone steps and into the house.
Setting Farley down and after today’s events, I defied anyone to push me further. Infuriated with myself, I moved through the house, moving back and forth, and sweeping from side to side as I moved from room to room. Shadows crept in from outdoor lighting allowing me to see. Satisfied that I had left the front door open, I flipped the three light switches just inside the door and the entire house and outlying property lit up.
Morti, my twenty-two year old tabby, meowed with force. I must have left the door open, but had I? Morti didn’t like change; I’d missed his dinner hour and the house was cold.
I wished I could change into comfy sweats but I had to feed the cat or he’d never quiet down. I gathered all twenty-five pounds of orange fur into my arms. He responded to the attention by purring as loud as some freight engines I’d heard. I clung to his warmth and comfort.
“Hey, Morti. How are you?”
He looked at me as if to say, now what do you think?” He opened his mouth and I expected a howl but once I opened his cat food, he had no time for idle chatter. Pouring his daily allowance of whipping cream in a china saucer, I thought he’d be content. No such luck. Perhaps when I had a fire going he’d relax.
Farley hadn’t eaten either, but he had the patiences of a saint. I poured food for him, changed the water bowls and headed off to build a fire. Dry wood stood by the fireplace. Tom had always taken care of this task, but in the past few months, I’d been forced into chores he’d once performed.
Morti still fussed in the kitchen, but I couldn’t take care of anything else for another minute. I was beat. The house echoed with the despair I felt. Tom wasn’t home and I didn’t know when he would be. Each hospitalization seemed to take him further away from me.
Falling in love with Tom had changed my life. I no longer wanted to be the fiercely independent woman who cherished being alone and answering to no one. Would I have to go back to being that woman? I didn’t like change any more than Morti did.
Roaming through the house, overwhelming sadness cloaked me. My mind slid backward in time. I dropped to the flokati rug in front of the fireplace and watched the shadows of the flames dance on the ceiling. Christmas decorations glittered throughout the house, the pounding rain on the roof soothed my shattered soul and I drifted back in time. Effortless, considering today’s events . . .