Between the ages of 13 and 15, I was a patient in a nuthouse. Many, many years later, I obtained a copy of the official notes from that time. I was disappointed that there wasn’t much about my therapy nor my day-to-day life on the ward. But there was a lot, one could say far too much, about my mother’s interview(s) with a social worker. Although not what I was interested in, it proved to be quite an eye-opener. For one thing, I learned that she hadn’t really loved my father. She wanted to get married and he proposed so she went for it.
I had honestly believed my parents loved me equally with my sister. This turned out to be untrue. My mother, especially, had ambivalence, to say the least, in her feelings about me. At one point, both my parents described my sister as the prettier one although I was obviously a beautiful baby by any objective standards.
It seems I was a trial to my mother from the womb. She had a “difficult pregnancy” and a caesarean. A nurse helped her for about a week but she was then fired for showing signs of psychosis. After she left, I’m told, I cried a lot. I remember her vaguely. I also remember my crib in a large room which later became the dining room. My granny (on my mother’s side) lived with us until her death. After she died, I was given her room, a large, sunny room overlooking the street. I loved my granny a lot. She was the only one who gave me unconditional love and her lap was like heaven. I was therefore surprised to read that, according to mommy dearest, I hadn’t been close to my grandmother. I can’t even begin to imagine where she got that. When I was told of her death, I thought it was like going to sleep. A hospital was where one went to do this. I thought you just lay down on a bed and waited to die the way one waits to sleep. I asked my mother what would happen if you can’t die (the way you sometimes can’t fall asleep). And I would ask her if she was dead yet as I was clearly confused about the whole process. Other than that, I didn’t feel any particular way about it.
When my sister grew old enough, she joined me in our large front room. Every night, I recall standing up in bed and looking at the interesting shadows on the walls. We had lots of plants in the windows through which the lamplight caste the shadows. Once in a while, a car would pass. The moving headlights made all the shadows move and shimmer. I awaited these moments as something special. I made up stories about the shadows which I shared with my sister although I can’t remember any of the stories now. Somehow, I ended up asleep every night without a problem.
My mother told the social worker that I had no sexual curiosity. I find this odd since my sister and I masturbated regularly, her on her bed and me on my own. We weren’t at all secretive about it so she had to have known. After this period, my sexuality went into Freud’s well-known “latency period” which lasted until puberty.
When my sister was born, I developed “symptoms” such as blinking and stammering. I also insisted they “throw her out the window.” So I was taken to a psychiatric nursery school. I kid you not. I was 3 years, 10 months. They said I “live(d) in a dream world,” according to mommy. Quite true. I day dreamed intensively during my entire childhood. My mother only breast-fed me for 13 days when she ran out of milk. Interestingly, they wrote, “any rejection of Frances by the mother seems to serve also the purpose of elimination of any pathology within herself. It appears that by isolating Frances, she attempts to isolate her own emotional problem.” No wonder I related so powerfully to the lines in Marilyn Manson’s song, The Man That You Fear, “you poisoned all your children to camouflage your scars.” I had long been aware of my mom’s defensiveness in denying any blame for any problems I might have had. She even told me that a doctor had reassured her that I could have been born “that way.” I despised her for her weakness. The notes from that psychiatric toddler’s school also said I had, “a far away, dreamy look, which shows a degree of self-absorption and overwhelming fantasy life written on (my) face.” I also spoke in which they considered “word salad.” I seemed “emotionally much younger” than my biological age. I showed “a great deal of lability” and would “shift from one mood into another one.” I think it’s rather common for a first child to regress for a while out of jealousy of the second one. I also showed “a great deal of confusion as to (my) own identity particularly in relation to (my) sex image, a great deal of preoccupation with sexual differentiation.” Interesting when compared with my mother’s claim that I had no sexual curiosity.
“We are dealing,” the narrative continued, “here with a child who shows a variety of pathology related to symptoms such as fears of noises, of smells, of dogs, with like symptoms…” A toddler afraid of dogs and noises is showing symptoms of pathology? “In addition, an inability to relate herself to the external world except on a rather narcissistic level. Primarily, we deal here with a conflict which indicates an interference of the maturation progress to a degree where we have a very poorly established ego structure, and therefore a tendency toward regression and a lack of super-ego formation.” They also said I had “an extremely disturbed mother” (sorry, mom). My mother took me out of that school because it was full of very aggressive boys (“biters, kickers, etc.,” my mom). That’s what I remember primarily about the place. Lots of chaos. One time, a big, fat boy hit me and the staff mentioned that he was having a bad day. Poor boy.
They disapproved of my parents decision to remove me. “The fact that this child is deprived of a therapeutic contact certainly makes the prognosis particularly dubious.” The “prognosis” given by the nuthouse was “guarded.” I guess that was an improvement.
The notes by the social worker who kept interviewing my mom require particular attention as they involve a highly distorted picture of an experience in school. The principal of my elementary school was a politically ambitious termite who sought to further his reputation to making the kids donate money to veterans. This man hated kids as evidenced by the way he talked to us in Assembly. He harangued us for money to his cause by describing his image of us selfishly spending our pennies on candy and movies instead of helping him get ahead. His voice was alive with loathing as he proposed a hypothetical situation where we had the money in our pockets and had to decide what to do with it. His voice quivered with rage when he listed ways we might actually enjoy our money on kid diversions. The message was that kids had no right to have fun. This was just beneath the standard of how a kid should live.
I’ll also never forget what he did to a boy in my class. This boy wasn’t a very good student. He was kind of a low achiever. We were having a rehearsal for a graduation ceremony. We had to line up. This principal placed that boy in the front of the line, saying, “thereby fulfilling the biblical prophecy, ‘the last shall be first.'” What a mean thing to say in front of the whole graduating class. Adults probably have no idea how much kids notice about their behavior. But we do notice. I did, anyway. My father, to his credit, understand the situation perfectly. My mother, according to what she told the social worker, did not.
According to my mother, the class decided to raise money for veterans. Yeah, right. A bunch of little kids got this idea all on their own. It was the principal. My teacher put a lot of pressure on all of us to donate. I refused as a matter of principle. Instead of seeing this as a sign of strong character, my mother depicted it as a symptom of social maladjustment. According to her, “a group of the girls had waylaid (me) in the hall and were mauling (me) when (a teacher) interfered.” Nice story. But it is 100% fiction. The kids never showed any interest in the project, far less wanting to beat me up for not being part of it. Since my mother is dead, I will never have to chance to confront her about this lie (or, let us be kind, delusion).
I was a tomboy until adolescence. One night I dreamed I was climbing my favorite rock but I had two pairs of legs. On one, I was wearing my sneakers. On the other, I had my school shoes. A perfect Freudian symbol of my conflict between my carefree days as a tomboy and the woman I was becoming. Apparently, I chose womanhood as my interest in cloths became girly. I was still a bookworm. How my reading fed my fantasy life is already described in my autobiographical blogpost. So I spent the years ages 13 through 15 in a nuthouse. I was “suicidal” at first (although I was just acting out another fantasy). Maybe the way I transitioned to living in my dreams to living in reality was by acting out some of these dreams. When my fantasy life led to a decision to kill someone, I acted on that decision without a qualm. The oddest thing about the whole episode was the fact that nobody ever asked me why I did it. Nobody. Not even my shrink. It really disturbed him as well as a lot of people, especially my mother. “She has shown increasing hostility toward patient’s visits home on week-ends, and once remarked to assigned social worker that her reputation had been ruined by the patient, and she could no longer accept her back in the household. By February, 1958, the mother had arranged to move into a more expensive apartment with fewer rooms, with the idea that the patient would not be allowed to return home. She also stated tearfully, ‘I no longer consider Frances my daughter.'” I can’t really blame her since the girl I tried to kill was a daughter of one of her closest friends. But she never carried through with her plans and I returned to the family home after my discharge (with a “guarded” diagnosis).
We moved to a small town where I finished high school. She died during my high school years. The months preceding her death were characterized by a lot of weeping on her bed. This only made me angry. It seemed all my life I had been a thorn in her side. That got old long before her final year. She died of lung cancer which isn’t surprising because she smoked like a chimney.