Posted in Mental Health, Self Care

Getting Back to the Garden

“We have to get back to the garden” was my mother’s mantra yesterday. “We have to get back to the garden, then I can have a cigarette, and then you can get your work done.” (I’m here in Oregon with a laptop and a report to write.) 

Forest Grove, Oregon (that last syllable is “gun” not “gone”). “The garden” is the nice little fenced-in outside area at the Tuality Forest Grove Geriatric-Psychiatric unit, where my mom had her last hospital stay. The hospital-based psychiatric units in this area (one assumes they are similar nationwide) are akin to prison: no shoe-strings, no bathrobe ties, no food brought in from the outside. No smoking. No access to fresh air.

The geri-psych unit at Tuality is kinder, gentler. You get to keep your shoe-strings and your bra. There is a pile of donated jammies, so if you arrived sans your own, someone else’s clean, gently worn flannels await you. Best of all is the aforementioned garden: a place to breathe fresh air, sit in the sun, have a smoke.

For about the last week I’ve known my mom was headed to the psychiatric unit, and I’ve been petrified that there would be no bed available. No bed available means spending 48-plus hours in a hospital emergency department with my manic mom, waiting for a bed to open up somewhere, anywhere — not just in the Portland area but in the whole dang state (Oregon is bigger than you think—9th largest in area in the US).

So imagine my joy when:

(1) The emergency department physician at Tuality Forest Grove told me he thought my mom needed to be admitted. In the past, even that part has been a struggle. Either the physician wants to ignore the obvious (knowing how rare the psych beds are?) or my mom has refused treatment—then ended up in court in handcuffs with a judge ordering hospitalization. This time–easy peasy. (Though exuberant me raised both arms in the air as though the Dodgers had just won the World’s Series.)

(2) We learned that there was space in the geri-psych unit at Tuality. Oh, rainbows of hallelujahs! Oh, broken health care system that silly-puttied together a space for my mom! In a matter of hours (not days! not days!) we were ushered into the geri-psych unit, happy to help the charge nurse complete the reams of forms needed to admit a patient (Oh Oregon trees! Save yourselves! Resist so they make the whole system electronic!).

In her mania, my mother is recounting all her regrets; her lost loves, how the condom broke, how she lost (or someone stole) the gold watch her father gave her for her eighth-grade graduation when she was in the hospital the first time (Bellevue, 1951). I am front and center in the blast zone of repressed memories.

Back to the garden, indeed:


Go Dodgers!


This is a personal blog. Expect a potpourri of stuff.

10 thoughts on “Getting Back to the Garden

  1. What a vivid picture you write: “I am front and center in the blast zone of repressed memories.” Here’s wishing you that elusive balance between being engaged and disengaged, so that you may take them in, to store some for later, and to feel a sense of personal safety in the midst of the barrage.

  2. My mom checked herself into a hospital for depression when I was a teen. I don’t recall manic behavior at all, more suicidal then anything. When your mother is in this “place” is her mania pleasurable to her or is she agitated (running a head loop)? Is there a chance that your mom can get better? new meds of promise on the horizon etc…I’m sorry K.

  3. Your mother looks at peace in the garden. I’m so pleased to hear that she was admitted to a facility that allows her outdoor access.

    Susan K gives good advice.

    You are brave and strong and beautiful!

  4. I’ve been waiting for this post, thinking of you and, believe it or not, wishing I was with you. You’re so close to where my mother lived and died (McMinnville). Not that I want to go through it again, but somehow I wish I could be an extra backbone for you. You strike me as one of those people who has always been “the strong one;” everyone expects you to hold up just fine. And of course you will. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to fall apart every once in a while and let someone else handle it all?

    You write with brilliant clarity. Your photo presents the smoke-screen between your mother and her world.

  5. “You strike me as one of those people who has always been “the strong one;” everyone expects you to hold up just fine. And of course you will. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to fall apart every once in a while and let someone else handle it all?” – Petrea

    I concur, P. I can relate to your thoughts. And, I too, wouldn’t, “want to go through it again.” Kelly, remember you aren’t alone or unique in your experience.

    Life is series of hello’s & goodbye’s….

  6. Well, it just sucks, and most people would turn their back on the situation. But you’re doing something so generous, kind, time-consuming, gut-wrenching, and without any real reward in sight. Wonder how you got that way?

    Hello and goobye. And hello.

  7. Thanks to everyone for your support & encouragement.

    @SAK – Indeed—finding the right balance is paramount.

    @PasAdj – The mania starts out being fun then becomes terrible. Racing thoughts, can’t focus, can’t stay still…It appears hellish. I’m not sure what meds she’s on at the moment. Nothing is as good as old-fashioned lithium but the side effects are sucky. It takes a while for the meds to get the brain to rights.

    @SusanC – Yes, that garden is a lifesaver. One of the nurses told me that they may stop letting patients go there. I’m going to write a letter singing its praises! Thanks for putting wind-flutter in my cape of helpfulness.

    @Petrea – Ah, very perceptive of you. That’s exactly what my mother said when I was taking this photo—“Do you want to see my smoke screen?” You’re so kind to offer spinal support. You’re right – I’m sort of the Unsinkable Daughter Kelly. I do try to take a break here and there…today for example. I’m home, and my mom says that I should go see “Burn After Reading.” So sod the report I need to write for work (for today anyway). Laemmle Theatre, here I come!

    @Cafe Observer – How prescient of you with the mention of hello’s and goodbye’s, what with The Scout’s father dying and all. Today is my day to ‘fall apart’ – that means dishes, laundry and a movie with popcorn.

    @altadenahiker – Love your “it just sucks” because you are so correct. The hardest thing isn’t giving my time, it’s seeing my mother suffer so much. How did I get this way? My mom and dad got divorced when I was 14. I stayed with my dad, a depressed alcoholic. I’ve got ACA cred.

    @suebob – Thank you, and thanks for reading. Wish I could have been at Q of S’s for the Veep debate–would have been nice to see you. Will see you in November though!

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