Sometimes Only on One Wing

Life and Illness over a 40-year Span

Rhea Alexander

Reprinted from "Seniors' Mental Health" issue of Visions Journal, 2002, No. 15, pp. 26-27

My name is Rhea. I was born in Fort St. John in 1933. I’ve spent most of my life here in Fort St. John with my parents and siblings. I moved away on a number of occasions, but the support of family and friends always brought me back home.

My first breakdown was in September 1959, when I was visiting my sister and her family in Sitka, Alaska. This was my first attempt at suicide. I had swallowed cleanser, but luckily my nephew found me before it was too late. My husband and brother-in-law then came and picked me up and brought me home. Back in Fort St. John, I waited for 2 weeks before I was admitted into Riverview Hospital, in Port Coquitlam. At the time I had very little medical history for the doctors to work with. My stay at Riverview lasted for four months, where I was given shock treatments as well as insulin treatments.

When I returned to Fort St. John, I left my husband and moved in with my sister, bringing my five-year-old son with me. In 1963, my husband and I made a second attempt at our marriage. This only caused more problems to my health, since I had to deal with him having affairs with other women, and in 1964 I had another breakdown while I was 5 months pregnant with my second son.

I returned to Riverview, this time for a period of 6 weeks. However, while I was in there, they were unable to give me shock treatments because I was pregnant. Instead, the doctors worked with me to bring me out of my depression with counselling and by altering my medication.

When I returned to Fort St. John, I moved in with my sister and her family. I was very depressed at times, so she would take over and help me look after my sons when I was not well enough to do it myself. I owe a lot to her and my family as they stood behind me through thick and thin.

In 1966, I became pregnant with twins. Being single and already having two children, I decided to give them up for adoption to my cousin in Dawson Creek. After giving up my babies, I became deeply depressed and attempted to take my life again, this time by overdosing on my medication. I was admitted into the hospital in Fort St. John for a short period of time, where I was given counselling and watched closely by the medical staff.

After leaving the hospital, I moved into a house that my mother had given me in her will, and over the next nine years, I lived there on my own, with my two sons. As they were growing up and going to school, I worked outside of the house when I could, but not for long periods of time. I kept in close contact with my doctor and saw a psychiatrist when he or she came to Fort St. John.

At one time, I was taken off of tranquilizers. This lasted for a couple of years until one of my doctors felt that I needed the medication again. In hindsight, I feel bad that I went on them, since I’ve never been able to be completely off them again.

In 1977, I married a man I had known when I was a teenager. Our marriage lasted for nine years, and during that time I went through stages of depression and my general health was very poor. After a bitter divorce, I moved in with my sister Greta. I was able to deal with my depression and tried to keep my life as uncomplicated as possible.

In 1986, I moved to Kamloops to stay with a friend, but being away from my family and friends sent me back into depression, and I was once again hospitalized. I spent approximately 3 weeks there and have very little recollection of my stay at the Kamloops hospital. After I left, I moved to Enderby where I lived for 3 years with my sister and her husband.

Still having problems with depression, my family decided I still needed more medical attention, so I was taken to the Vernon hospital where I stayed for six weeks. While I was there, I worked with a psychiatrist, and I was given a number of shock treatments. But after returning to Enderby, I was still feeling very confused and disoriented.

When I went downtown with my sister, I couldn’t remember where any of the stores and buildings were located. I was gradually able to regain some of my memory back, but there are still parts of my past that I can’t remember to this day. While still in Enderby, I tried living out on my own again. However, this lasted a very short period of time, as I was feeling homesick for my family in Fort St. John.

For the past three years now, I have been back living with my sister and nephew in Fort St. John. I meet with a psychiatric nurse weekly who checks my blood pressure and medications. I see a psychiatrist periodically and keep in close contact with my doctor if I’m not feeling well.

I am living my life day by day, dealing with spells of depression and sometimes feeling very tired and exhausted. Sometimes it is hard for me to remember things and I get confused putting my thoughts together. I keep busy with my grandchildren and by helping out other family members as much as I can.

There have been some things that have helped over the years: one thing I was told which really helps is to hold my head up high no matter what happens. I also like a good joke and this also helps me, if I’m able to laugh. I’ve been taking medication and counselling over the years, and this has kept me going, even if it was only on one wing.

I would like to thank all the doctors and psychiatrists, and anyone else who helped me deal with my illness over the past forty years, including my family and friends. I’ve met many nice people while going through treatment, and some became very good friends who I’ve kept over the years.

 
About the author
Rhea lives in Fort St. John
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