“I Have Some Pills!”(Part I)


            “Alliance Empowerment Coalition, Anne speaking,” I say.

            The woman on the other end of the line doesn’t say much.  She is stuttering, groping for words.  I ask her name and she says she’d rather not give it.  “Okay,” I say, “not a problem.”  Her voice is slightly familiar.  I know I have talked to her before, but not often and not recently.  There’s a little bit of The Bronx in her voice, or maybe a trace of Brooklyn, but mostly there’s pain.  She’s hurting.  She says she doesn’t know if she’s sick, or mentally ill.  She says it with the awkward formality of one who has been taught “appropriate” language.  She does not say she feels crazy, or is terribly sad; she wonders if she is “mentally ill.”

            Early on, she asks me if I’ve ever thought about suicide.  That raises a flag, but it’s a small pink flag, not a big red one.  Everyone wants to know if you’ve thought about suicide; it’s a common question on the support line.  I don’t know what I say to her.  My answers depend on the tone of the questioner—maybe, “Yes, I’ve thought about it,” maybe, “Sure, lots,” maybe “Thought about it and tried it.”

             “What can I do for you tonight?” is my standard opener.  I try to ask questions and listen to answers to get a fix on where she’s at.  

            She tells me her boyfriend’s just left, so I wonder if we have a problem with being rejected, abandoned.  I can’t remember what she said.  Can’t remember the sequence of questions and answers.  What I do remember is the despair.  The heartbroken, desolate, despair of the perpetually mentally ill.

            She tells me that she’s a vegan, but the day program she goes to won’t give her a vegetarian menu.  “Have you ever been to see a dietician?  Maybe she could order them to give you what you need,” I say. 

            “No,” she tells me.  “The diabetics and like that—they just tell them to bring their own lunch.”

            “Can you do that?” I ask.

            “You mean cook?” she asks, sounding puzzled by the concept.

            Her parents are divorced.  She was sent into foster care when she was fourteen.  A neighbor called Child Protective and said her father was abusing her.  She says it was just a regular family fight.  I wonder what kind of family it was that had fights that ended with a kid being put in foster care.

            I ask her if she is a spiritual person.  She gets very edgy, defensive:  “What do you mean?”

            I mean, honey, do you have anything to hang onto?  A church?  A concept of God?

            She tells me bitterly that she hates that stuff, that every night for two years she went to a program and they kept talking about their higher power.  “There is no higher power,” she says angrily.  “We just made God in our image.  There’s nothing.”  For this woman there is, indeed, nothing.

            She is suffering, crying.  “What’s the point; what’s the point?” she sobs.  She can’t work, hasn’t been able to—forever?  She’s on Social Security Disability and has no money.  Her boyfriend—“He’s not, you know, like, in control.  He waits for me to figure things out.”

            “You wish he’d take charge and make decisions?” I ask.

            “Yeah,” she says numbly.  Anything, anything, just to have somebody else say, “Here, do this; don’t do that.  Then you’ll feel better.”  She has a terrible need to have somebody know what to do to make all this pain stop.

            I ask her if she’s ever felt this way before.  “Yes,” she says.

            “How did you get through it then?” I ask.

            “I don’t know,” she says.  (To be continued)

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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