Mental Illness, My First Memory

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When I was a little kid, my grandmother came and stayed with us from time to time. She would sleep in our yellow room. The yellow room was our guest room on the opposite side of the house as the kid’s rooms. The yellow room had it’s own bathroom and it had a blue and white quilt on the bed and a bed skirt. There was a chest at the end of the bed that housed family heirlooms like my hospital “going home outfit”, love letters from my Dad, an old telephone, countless pictures and toys.

When my grandmother would come to stay, she would bring a lot of stuff with her. She brought her portable office, as she would call it. It was a plastic kaboodle type of thing that had anything you could think of. Sewing items, pens, a calculator, etc. She would bring this everywhere she went. My grandmother didn’t drive so when she wanted to go shopping, we would take her. When we picked her up, she filled our family car with books. Twenty, sometimes thirty books in one shopping trip.

Sometimes when my grandmother came to visit, I would sleep in the yellow room with her. I made a pallet on the floor next to her bed. One time, I looked under her bed and saw hundreds of newspapers. My grandmother had excess. Whether this was newspapers, books or animals. My grandmother had a lot of stuff.

My grandmother would take me to yard sales in our neighborhood. She would leave with lots of items. Mostly..books. My grandmother was quirky. She would let me dye her hair for her when I was only 8. She let me be myself.

My grandmother would wear a mask anywhere we would go. The fumes in the car bothered her.

My grandmother had lost her husband in 1998.

I was 7.

I remember the funeral.

It was one of three funerals I have ever been to.

This one was open casket.

It was terrifying to see my grandfather like that.

My grandfather was only 58. My grandfather dying really effected my grandmother. After his death, my grandmother was put on some medication (Valium, I think). This wasn’t her first time on medication, but that is not my story to tell. I wasn’t there for my father’s childhood.

My grandmother was an interesting woman. As a kid, she would ask me to “tell her my dreams” and to make sure “I am writing down my dreams”. She would ask me “What have you dreamed about lately?” and I would tell her. Looking back now, I wish I had written down all of my dreams like she had, that would be a very special keepsake.

When I would visit her house, there was a lot of stuff. There were rooms filled with boxes of stuff, books stacked to the ceiling, stuff in the yard.

As the years went on, my grandmother started moving more and more items onto her property. My grandmother had a lot of locks and appliances that didn’t work. My grandmother didn’t invite people to her home and would meet them at the gate if they were picking her up. My grandmother was barricading herself in.

My grandmother was very well read but my grandmother didn’t like doctors. My grandmother believed that most everything could be cured by drinking a concoction, exercise and water.

My grandmother got sick in 2013.

She didn’t tell anyone that she had been feeling bad.

Once she was in the hospital, she never left.

She denied having cancer.

My grandmother died a few weeks later.

I didn’t get to see her.

I didn’t get to have a private call with her about how special she was to me.

When we went out to her land to look at what needed to be cleaned up, it was very emotional. It was hard to see how she was living.

It was hard to see that she was burying items in the ground and then planting plants on top of them. It was hard to know she hadn’t let anyone in her home in 7 years. I got to pick a few items to keep. I chose her women’s bible, a dress and a strangely patterned piece of fabric.

Later on, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I opened up her bible and it was book marked to a page. I don’t remember the passage but it eluded to abuse and not tolerating it. I broke up with my child’s father shortly after. Interested in the full story? #LoveDoesn’tHurt

My grandmother’s name was Betty Jane. I named my daughter Penelope Jane, after her.

My grandmother had hoarding disorder. Notice how I didn’t say my grandmother was a hoarder? My grandmother was a person who happened to have a hoarding disorder.

Genetics are interesting when it comes to mental health. I remember as a kid I thought that my possessions (stuffed animals, toys) would be mad at me if I gave them away or threw them out. As an adult, I look back on this and realize that being connected to things is probably genetic. I have had to “put this in check” as an adult; I don’t hoard things but sometimes I catch myself being overly concerned about possessions.


Do you have an early memory about mental illness? Do you have any mental health concerns that your parents or grandparents had as well? Comment below!


Want to read more? You might like these related posts:

My therapist told me to get a life

Gaslighting. What is THAT?


Like stories about memories? Check out my most read blogs #MeToo and Traumatic Boarding School Experience: Full Story


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