Sunday, 14 August 2011

A Shocking Way To Treat A Mad Woman.

We found mum in the lane, lying curled up in the snow. It is blowing a blizzard. The temperature is well below freezing. She is dressed in only a flimsy cotton nightgown.
I had gone to her room to check on her, after my girlfriend Pauline, had remarked on the number of pills she had been taking. It is a good job I did. If I had not done so, or if Pauline had not mentioned the pill taking, it is an absolute certainty that my mum would have frozen to death on that bleak winters night, well over forty years ago.
It says a lot about my mothers personality that I had not noticed anything amiss earlier. She often behaved eccentrically. It strikes me also, that she only attempted suicide when we were there to find her. But still, it was a risky strategy if it was just a call for help, and certainly not the actions of someone in their right mind.
A painting of a mad woman by Theodore Gericault.
Pauline and I had only arrived that afternoon. We were going to stay the night and head back home the next day. It was really just a visit to introduce mum and Pauline to each other. We are way out in the remote Scottish countryside. The nearest neighbour is over a mile away. It is not a good place to have an emergency situation.
I was so glad that Pauline was there. She was able to stay with mum, while I made the long trek through the wind and snow, to the nearest phone box. Where somehow, despite my frozen fingers, I managed to find the Doctors number in the directory. He says he will come as soon as he can, and tells me to call an ambulance.
By the time I arrived back at the house, mum had recovered enough to become nasty and threatening. Pauline was extremely frightened of her, and I did not recognise this wild woman as my mother. Her eyes were black with hatred and rage, and she seemed intent on getting back out into the snow. As I struggled to hold on to her and calm her down, I hoped that the Doctor or the ambulance would not be too long. She had become extremely strong. It was obvious that she was completely mad.
The rest of that night is a blurred memory. All I do know is that mum was sedated and taken away in the ambulance, and I was asked to sign a paper sectioning her under the mental health act.

Electric shock treatment.
They are going to give mum electric shock treatment. As her next of kin I am required to sign a form giving my consent. They do not allow me time to consider, and assure me that it will be beneficial to her. I sign the form. I am advised that I should not visit for a while, until the treatment is finished.

A few days later I go to visit her in the mental hospital. She is sitting up in bed when I arrive. As I approach  she starts to clap her hands like an excited little girl, "have you come to see me?" she asks.
"How are you feeling mum?"
She stops clapping, and looks at me suspiciously, "you're not a real Doctor."
"Mum, it's me, John."
She holds a finger to her lips, "shush," she whispers. She takes two hair clips from the bedside locker, and carefully attaches one to each of her ear lobes, "Aerials," she says conspiratorially, glancing around, "I can hear everything they are saying."
"Is there anything you want me to bring you, mum?"
She looks back at me blankly, through dull black eyes, as she carefully adjusts the hair clips, so that they are now attached to the tops of her ears. "You can't be too careful." she tells me.


  1. Aaah, bless her.
    And bless you for being able to talk about it.
    Jane x

  2. Your mother's condition might explain her past actions in regards to her son. She seems, at least in this piece, to be a tortured soul.

  3. I can't imagine how difficult that must have been. I have to agree with Emma also.

  4. At first I thought your Mum suffered from Bi-polar Disorder...but now am unsure.
    It is amazing what a child will endure and end up being a productive human.
    You have the op to help others.

  5. This was so reminiscent of my childhood and early adulthood. Surprisingly we survived it, John.

  6. Ever seen the movie "Keeping Mum". Hilarious! Rent it. I thought of it right away after your first line. A bit more upbeat.

  7. I don't know what to say. That old saying keeps coming back to me though, out of adversity grows strength.

  8. I feel bad for you after reading this, and worse for her. It must have been one of the worst times in both of your lives.