From Art to Antidepressants

The best part about the recovery center was that my mother was there, and alive, which was the only thing I could accept.  The next best part was that she was happy there.

The west side of the long one-story brick building was the arts and crafts room.  Big windows and wide glass doors offered patients a clear view of the pretty Pine trees that surrounded the hospital. 

I remember taking afternoon naps in my parents bedroom while my mother was away, which seemed like forever to me.  I cried when I looked out of her bedroom window where I could see my grandmother’s front porch.   I loved that porch, but without my mother, nothing was the same.

The few visits we made to see her were like gold to me.  Nothing was more valuable than my time with her, especially after that awful night when the ambulance came to our home.

The long wooden table where my mother’s spirit and creativity thrived appeared enormous… and a wonderful fantasy land for a child’s mind.

“This is what I’m making,” she told me as she showed me her end of the long wooden art table.  I could tell it was her work area.  Her art pieces and tools were colorful and organized.  Her first project included small figures, some not yet painted, which became my older brother’s Chess set.

My mother speaks fondly of her short time there.  She talks about how she was completely withdrawn until she finally expressed anger in a group therapy session.  She speaks of the kind counselors and how each of them had been through similar experiences as she had.  She talks about the art and crafts she made, the nurse whom she came to like and the good friend she made during her stay.  We don’t often talk about this time in our lives, but once in a while, the subject comes up.  Like the vitamin she remembers taking.

“You should ask your doctor about that vitamin,” she’ll tell me.  “It would make you eat and gain weight.  It was a big black pill,” she’ll say, but I’ve never met a doctor who knows what kind of vitamin it might have been.  I know it was not an antidepressant.  She said they didn’t give her medication.  Just that one vitamin a day.  Clearly, it was the people, Mother’s art and time for herself that helped her heal.

My very favorite of the crafts she created while there was a village of elves.   An odd formation of drift wood served as the foundation, as Earth is for us humans. 

Elf reading and relaxing in the wood

Elfin Oak

She had crafted and painted each elf into a unique character.  They lived in a magical fantasy land, but it was easy for me to pretend their world was as real as mine.

The elves had everything they needed.  Families, food, stores and friends, all of which my mother had meticulously created.   Their faces were full of joy.  The village was surely a happy place.  One elf carried a bucket of water and another a bundle of sticks.  The child elves played with toys.  Life seemed to work in the village of elves.   I dreamed of living there.

For some reason, even though I’ve asked several times throughout my life how it happened and have been told, the details of how the village was destroyed have never stuck in my mind.

One day after school, I discovered the village on the ground beside our front porch steps in more pieces than my eight year old mind could process.  I don’t like to think about that.

On my bookshelf, as I write, there are two emerald-green ceramic praying hands that she made during her recovery.  I cherish the hands, even though I usually keep them behind other objects and books because they still, sometimes, remind me of what happened that night she had to go away. 

My mother finally came home, but our lives were never the same afterward.  My parents eventually divorced and I went to live with Mother.

I think about the wonderful crafts my mother has made since then.  I have a framed picture of a little girl wearing a hat and holding a kitten (a cross-stitching pattern from a cover of the Saturday Evening Post) that took Mother an entire year to complete and nearly that long to save the money for the frame.  I adore and love my gift.  She made each of her children, after we grew up, a different picture.  I like mine the most.

My mother is a talented creative person.  I still have a red velvet evening gown she made for my Barbie doll.  She made our childhood clothes.  She made my cheerleading uniform.  It was the early ’70’s and short skirts were popular, so she shortened mine a little to make it more stylish.  I loved telling everyone that she made it.

She also made two of the most beautiful prom dresses for my sisters that I’ve ever seen since, but my sisters say they were the only girls at the prom who were not wearing spaghetti straps.  I was too young to understand how this made any difference, since they were the most beautiful dresses I’d ever seen in my life.

Mother worked every day hand-stitching pearls and sequins on the dresses.  One was a light pink and the other a shimmering pale green.  My sisters were beautiful and in those dresses, they were prettier than any of my dolls.

I watched and anticipated with great excitement the day I would see my pretty sisters in those dresses.   Unfortunately, my daddy had a shotgun waiting for their dates when they pulled into our driveway.   My sisters had to run in those elegant dresses out our back door through the cow pasture to meet their dates at the other end of our road.

So, you see, my mother had a hard life, which is how she ended up at the treatment center.  She was almost lost to us that night, before the men in the white coats came to save her life.  One of them bent down,  looked into my eyes and said, “Your mother is going to live.  You saved her life.”

I wish there were still places like the recovery center under the Pines where people could go when they are in great despair.  Nowadays, when you go to a hospital for a mental or emotional problem, unless you can afford a private place, you are treated more like a prisoner than a patient.

Your rights that have been taken away will be put in your face if you dare stray from compliance or attempt to have a say in the matter of your treatment; a say that somehow rubs a doctor or nurse in the wrong way.

It’s all about which drug they can get you on as quickly as possible.   Things have changed, that’s for sure.

I think there are definitely good changes — yet many are to change what should never occur in the first place, such as the patient abuse going on within the confines of our modern-day psychiatric institutions/hospitals.

Other outdated approaches need to be reinstated, such as personal exploration through art and friends, which I believe can be as beneficial as any type of treatment and without bad side-effects.   Science has told us they have seen that friendship changes brain chemistry. 

The ‘staff’ who worked at the mental health treatment centers were true counselors in the sense that they were recovered alcoholics or had survived a breakdown.  They had been where their patients were, so they understood.

Today, the former oasis under the Pines is remodeled.  They don’t have the big arts and crafts room anymore.   And vitamins?  I don’t hardly think so, as my mother would say.

 

Thank you for visiting Dogkisses’s blog.

PHOTO IMAGE of Elfin Oak via Flickr by StarrGazr

About the image, from Wikipedia:

The Elfin Oak is a 900-year-old tree stump in Kensington Gardens in London, carved and painted to look as though elves, gnomes and small animals are living in its bark.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by sarahbelll on March 29, 2010 at 3:47 PM

    I just like the approach you took with this topic. It is not typical that you simply discover something so to the point and informative.

    Like

    Reply

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