At the turn of the 20th century, Russian peasants rose and made a simple enough request:
Bread and land.
The ruling aristocracy thought that was pretty cheeky. A revolution began. The world changed.
In December of 2014, I also made a simple request:
Bread and, perhaps, a jug of milk.
I ended up in the psych ward for a month.
Bread is a powerful symbol. The staff of life. Sometimes, it’s the last straw.
Here I believe, ends any reasonable commonality between myself and Russian peasants. Ah, but that is a significant commonality, bread. It motivates people. It moves history, public and private.
One cold Sunday afternoon in darkest Alberta (For me, that’s Edmonton), I prepared for my kids to return from their father’s house across the city (where people don’t beg for bread, as a rule, and they only see the inside of the Food Bank when they bundle up their rosy-cheeked kids to volunteer so that they can learn life lessons from the poor – cautionary tales for the voluntold).
I had not asked for help from the Food Bank that week. I was wondering how I was going to feed my kids when they returned to my humble little home in the hood. I was still unable to work because of a breakdown and subsequent medical leave in 2013 which had immersed me into 18 weeks of full time group therapy (once I had finally emerged from two months of curling up in a ball in my bed, generally unable to move).
Those were tough times, financially and emotionally. Clearly.
Spoiler alert – my life is much better. But that’s another story for another day.
I had food in the house. I always do. But the staples like rice, beans and pasta required planning and preparation. These were beyond me at that time. When I did have money to shop, I would leave the store sometimes with nothing, panicked by food that I refused to buy because of a heightened fear of additives. Too much sugar, salt. There was something called GMO. Everything was poison. I couldn’t feed that to my kids! I’d feel the familiar attack coming on, and I’d get the heck out of the store, empty handed.
The Food Bank made choices for me. All I had to do was screw up the courage to call. They are a great organization. But only if you can call them. When I’m in the Abyss, I can’t always manage it.
On Sunday, December 8, 2014, I hadn’t called. There was no bread for school lunches. The Abyss was opening up and I could feel the ground underneath me giving way.
Luckily, I’m resourceful, even at my worst.
I texted Ex and asked him to please bring me a loaf of bread. Also, if he wouldn’t mind, a jug of milk.
The children arrived home to me as usual. Everything was as usual. I received no answer to my text, and no bread or milk. I couldn’t confront Ex, because at that time he would not come to the door. He claimed he was afraid of me after I tossed a backpack at him one day, which hit him in the back. I use the word tossed deliberately, in the hopes of conveying the true seriousness of the alleged assault. I was breaking down already. There it is – I’m no saint. But I’m not the devil either.
Well, when that sort of thing happened among the Russians – you know, when the peasants threw stuff at aristocrats, who responded, at best, by trying to ignore pleas for change – we all know what happened (murderous world changing stuff, etc.). When it happened to me, the world seemed as if it wasn’t even aware of my plight. I hate it when that happens. It’s unbearable. No wonder the peasants were so upset.
I don’t remember how I spent the rest of that Sunday evening.
Monday morning. I’m beyond identifying, much less understanding, my emotions. There’s just a dark cloud. Somehow, I get my kids up and ready for school. I drive them safely there. I see them off. They have no lunches. It’s a bright, cold, sunny day. There may have been hoar frost. I love hoar frost. Which matters not at all, but there it is.
I call my ex and leave a message saying that he needs to pick up the kids at the end of the day because I am going to the hospital. Oh, and they will need lunches.
When I get to the hospital, I tell the triage nurse my thoughts. I tell her what I want to do. I’m shaking, and rocking in my chair. I can’t look at anyone. A psychiatrist comes to see me (eventually). She talks nonchalantly, suggesting that maybe shock therapy would help. I say that I think that sounds fine. I curl up on a couch, like a kitten beside her as she speaks to me. Purr. I phase everything out.
I’m waiting for a bed. Perhaps the seemingly offhand mention of electrical shock therapy is a ruse to separate the really sick people from the – What? Bored housewives? People who just randomly think it would be cool to drop everything and face the stigma of admitting mental illness? In truth, I find the nurses and doctors comforting. But the stigma is pervasive, even among those who dedicate themselves to helping. It’s systemic. At any rate, I seem to have convinced them that they should do something with me. They wake me up from my nap on the couch. I’m not sure why. Maybe I snore too loudly. I am waiting for a bed.
There is no room at the hospital I chose. I am waiting for an ambulance to take me to the Royal Alex. Finally, I’m driven across town to the hospital that will be my home and sanctuary for a month. I’m relieved, then and now.
The ward is still a sanctuary, although I only return now as an outpatient. When I walk down those halls to my psychiatrist’s office, I feel that same sense of safety and relief. It is December now, and I still move through life warily, hoping the bottom doesn’t suddenly fall out. I’ve come a long way. Most likely, it won’t.
But if the bottom does fall out, I know there is always the psych ward. Even if there is no bread.
Well, as long as there’s a bed for me.