Mentality And Reality

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 14, 2024

Recently a lady whose opinions I respect happened to see one of my epigrams, which says, “Just when I nearly had the answer – I forgot the question.” To me, this was simply a short, funny thought – but to her, it immediately brought to mind some of her “patients” or “clients,” who are afflicted with what’s known as “dementia.” I say, “afflicted with” rather than “suffer from,” because in many or most cases, the suffering is largely borne by the people, especially close family members, who have to deal with the demented one on a regular basis.

It’s really a form of insanity, particularly associated with the aging process. What we call Alzheimer’s Disease is one type of it.

Only now do I realize that most of the people on my mother’s side of the family, those who lived long enough, became demented in their last years. Fortunately, the same was not true on my father’s side, which I seem to take after.

My mother herself was a classic case. She was able to live alone in an apartment in Los Angeles for more than a dozen years after she became a widow. And she had support from such agencies as “Meals on Wheels.” But when I went to visit her, I would often find her refrigerator full of uneaten meals she’d been given, which I then had to throw out. It was, of course, more than sad to see such a vibrant personality as my mother had been, deteriorate so steadily and irremediably.

But, as I approach my own 90s, the best that can be said for my mental condition is that, according to some who know me best, I still “have all my marbles.” (Incidentally, it’s interesting how many expressions such games as marbles have given us. Another, is, “This time it’s for keeps.” You could play a game of marbles just for fun. But, if you agreed in advance to play “for keeps,” whatever marbles you won from your opponent, you could keep.)

If indeed I still am in good mental health, it may at least in part be attributable to all the mental doctors and facilities to which I have been exposed in the course of my life. The story begins in England. During a routine medical examination at school, something prompted me to ask if they also provided psychiatric care. To my surprise, I was immediately given an appointment. (This was a time when the new British National Health system generously provided many services free.) Over the next few years, I not only saw several different doctors, but for two or three months I was actually a resident patient at the Maudsley Hospital, one of Britain’s founding institutions of advanced mental care.

I was having a “nervous breakdown,” in the middle of my History course at the University of London. The chief symptom was an inability to study or concentrate. One cause was my desire to move away from home for the first time. I was still living with my parents in a suburb of Northwest London. The only alternative accommodation I could find was a room in an apartment with another family – a move strongly opposed by my parents. Since I could still reach my College by ordinary urban transit, I didn’t qualify for any Government Assistance. 

Another factor in the trouble was that, at the age of 20, I was a “late bloomer” in terms of sexual maturity. I had no female friends, and hadn’t yet even had a date.

All this led to my becoming an in-patient at the Maudsley – which was at least one way of getting away from home – and it really worked. I never moved back home but secured a place in a student hostel. I was able to resume my studies and graduated with a respectable B.A. degree.

One final episode in this exciting chronicle occurred right here in Santa Barbara. It taught me this lesson: Don’t even discuss any thoughts about suicide with your psychiatrist, unless you’re ready to be transferred immediately to your local equivalent of a Booby Hatch – i.e. the nearest hospital with a “Psych Ward.” It’s a very uncomfortable place, specially designed to keep you under constant observation – and away from anything that might help you harm yourself. I spent several days there.

This was all many years ago – and the best result was that they put me on a very effective “anxiety pill,” which I still take. It’s called Ativan.  


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