My paternal grandmother had severe paranoid schizophrenia. When she began going through this it was back in the forties, when mental illness was way more of a mysterious, frightening, shameful thing. My grandma was in and out of institutions. A person could be expected to be committed for a year or more, even a lifetime. Common treatments for schizophrenia at the time were insulin coma therapy, electroshock therapy, and even lobotomy. My grandma, fortunately, did not have to undergo a lobotomy, but she went through at least fifty or more electroshock treatments before they stopped being popular. In the early 1950’s, Thorazine was introduced as the first medication to treat mental illness, and caused my grandma to develop permanent tardive dyskinesia (involuntary movements… she would constantly hop around, bounce her knees and feet while sitting, and thrust her tongue in and out.). . .
The main point of this story is, in some way what happened to me was like a reflection of what had happened to my grandmother decades earlier. . . But one thing that was similar was the way people thought of me. I remember my mom warning me that my friends from the neighborhood, whom I’d hung out with before I ran away, might be scared of me now. I remember how, whenever I said or did something my parents thought odd or illogical, they would look at me hard and ask, “Have you been taking your medication?” After spending my childhood hearing my parents ask my Grandma that same question, it made me sick when they said it to me, and I would shout at them to never say those words to me again. I often sensed that people in my family were watching me, waiting for me to do something insane. I perceptively noticed two things… one, that my family members did not like to speak of my running away, the hospital, or my subsequent diagnosis with a mental illness, especially in public; and two, that they believed, by never speaking of these things, they were somehow protecting me or doing me a favor.
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