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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My sister Ellie Savidge started it rolling.  (The last name is different because in my family the names have been changed to project the innocent. But as Ellie says, I am her bio-brother.   My name was not one of the ones changed because  I am not one of the innocent.)  Ellie posted this picture on Facebook of her with our bio-mother, Kathleen Drake. Our mother spent years in the psychiatric wards of Western State hospital and then  various locations for long term care.  Ellie didn't start with the background story, but rather wanted to provoke response.  She posted:

"You and I wake up in a psychiatric ward together. Using 4 words, what would you say to me?
Note: If you comment, you must copy and paste this to your status, so I may comment on yours as well.. Be a good sport and play along... 4 words is harder than you think......!!"
I have organized some of the responses here, not necessarily in order, nor all of them, and here response and mine.  I'll add what I can of how my mothers illness has affected us. 

Ellie Savidge  "You're up the river."
Tom Drake  "What ? I am lost!" (Tom lives back east and is deaf.  Eille is deaf with a little hearing and works as a translator for the deaf.
Joseph Drake (me) : "Me got me at last!"
Cythia Wallace:  "Let's get outta here!"  also "I'm with you-Bonus!" 
Lisa Perron "Wishkah where, what....How?"  and also "What the heck, where am I??"
Kathleen Buckner Morris "Well, that was fun!"
Mary Shaw "Why am I here?"

Then Ellie commented extensively to let all the readers and participants in on what was going on. I have done a slight amount of editing, since Facebook is a bit informal.  She warns us at the begging athat the commentary becomes serious at the end. 

"This has been a fascinating exercise which was a good one for me. When I posted this, I didn't think fully of the impact it would have on me. I just posted it because I liked the thought of thinking about what I might say in only four words and to challenge my own fears about mental illness. This posting all started out light and then made me think seriously about some stuff. This experience is very real for some people.

My bio mom (in picture with me here) was in the state psychiatric hospital for a many years before being transferred to long term care center, and in reality, there were scary times for her when she was aware enough (which is why I like Cynthia's lines, "let's get outta here" and "I'm with you-Bonus!" because the comments made me think of the thought of knowing someone was there with you might be comforting).

Also, I have learned from talking with people and reading personal stories that there is another perspective of psychiatric wards in hospitals -that they are sometimes a place of feeling safe/a time out for some people (I'm not talking about the state hospital). There are people who are struggling to balance their meds, to get their heads back together, to be in a safe place when they don't trust themselves. In general it is a very difficult place to be and many people don't want to be there.

Many of these comments above from people actually feel very real to me. Some of them reflect a fear that is in the back of our sub and unconcious minds, and they are true and real thoughts.

Lisa's "Wishkah, what,"- is so perfect of an example of a real, honest confusion- then "what the heck, where am I??".Both  thoughts going to exactly what might be known as an important place in your life (the Wishkah is the valley area outside of Aberdeen, Wash and also known for being the home place of Kurt Cobain-for me it's my home in my heart). Kathleen, my bio mom, does that in her ramblings. She goes into her own world of what was important to her.

I think the one that hit me the hardest is from my bio brothers Joe and Tom above. The reality of our fears when you know there's genes in the family..and humor helps us be comfortable with something that we often are not comfortable with. (I'm not saying you guys aren't comfortable! I'm just realizing another perspective)
How we use humor in a sensitive way is an important part of the whole picture.(Just to be clear-I'm not criticizing anyone here. I'm processing my thoughts)."  

Then Ellie added:
"At the time my mom was in the state hospital, it was a different time (1950's and 60"s).  Today she would probably not have ended up there and life would have taken a different path.  She might not have felt so alone sometimes in the hospital. She still would have had her mental illness, but hopefully would have been correctly diagnosed with appropriate treatment, giving her a difference experience. I did not grow up with her and am now learning more about her experience, a mind opening thing for me.

I know that I can only imagine some of her experiences, but to read many of these comments really were good, very thought provoking for me.  I learned a lot from a simple thing and I did not expect this to become a little bit serious for me!!

I also have to admit, posting my thoughts on Facebook in this exercise is a little unnerving for me, and at the I do want to share my thoughts about this "simple exercise". It gave me a whole new awareness and broadened my perspective.

I apologize if this commentary became a little too serious and uncomfortable for some people. I just figured would open us up a little and maybe give us some more perspectives.

Geez! If I ever woke up in a psych ward at some point my  four words "bug on the ceiling" would give me a smile if I had that awareness. And I wonder what it really would be like to wake up next to someone you know and think the same thing.  Dana said "how.....?" and Mary's "why am I here" "

An additional note :) I really love the times I visit my mother, Kathleen, and she is the sweetest soul I know-I learn from her in her own world.

I commented,  " Some of her ramblings aren't as incoherent as they seem on the surface. For example one day several of us were visiting her and she started talking about a Manual. Everybody but me thought she was making him up. But I had meet him and knew he was a fisherman on the Seattle Waterfront who had dated her before Dad did and had maintained a friendship with Tom & Eileen Hall. Bits of the past suddenly become present for her."  
Then Ellie responded, "I totally have that experience with her too and it blows my mind!! She finally realized I was her daughter, then shut it out. I will tell you more later." 

I also added, "Yes, thank you Ellie. I know I used self-deprecating humor. I think that was because I didn't think anyone who didn't know all the relationships would understand if I said something serious about it. But I'm really proud that you posted this photo. Can I reprint your comments on a blog of mine?"

Mary Shaw commented,   "Ellie, I remember you mentioning about your bio mom being in the hospital and getting adopted and growing up. It's never easy to go through but you made it through! Love ya sister!!"

Cynthia Wallace also said,  "Ellie, what an incredible honor you share your experiences/thoughts/musings with us! I'm really impressed with your openness and your courage to be on this journey. Thank you because what you say gives me a new perspective on my experiences with mental illness in my family. 
Re: the bug on the ceiling , here is a story - Ari (one of my 2 1/2 yr old sons) is afraid of/fascinated with bugs. Last night in bed he played out his fear with me by saying (signing really) there was a bug in his nose.  I looked & said I didn't see a bug.  Then he said there was a bug in his hair, then there was a bug on my nose, you get the picture. We played this little game until it was fun/funny for him. I really like that he uses metaphor to talk about his fears (he never said he was scared I could just tell) and that he can play with it until he's comfortable. That's kind of like what you are doing, Ellie, you introduced a "game" and it became something that you played with in your mind and become more comfortable as you do it. Its clear this has deeply touched you. How wonderful!
And for Joe - repost anything you like from me "

 (And sorry Cynthia I did a little minor editing on punctuation and the like.  I can't help it.  I used to edit newspapers.)

Mindy Joy said " Ellie ,  this is an incredible commentary. You have a good feeling to share with everyone on Facebook to show that we are not the only one with this kind of life crisis/experience. I agree with Cy. Smiling."

Ellie wrote to Tom, who didn't recognize her from the picture at first, "Yes, really a huge change since the last time you saw her.  She still remembers her Tommy who is deaf, when I ask her names of her children." 

Finally let me add a little bit.  When I was a child, and my mother went to Western State, my sister Mary and I went to live with our Grandfather Frank La Fortune. The other siblings (or bio brothers and sisters) went elsewhere. My Grandfather took Mary and I to see mom regularly.  the trip from Seattle to Western State in Fort Steilacoom  by of Tacoma was often quite stressful.  After a while even taking Dramamine to control the knotted stomachs didn't work.   We both loved our mother but hated to see her suffering. So our Grandfather took to taking us to the Brown and Haley candy factories retail store in Tacoma as part of the trip.    Even then reflecting on here suffering in my life has always caused me stress and unhappiness.  I think it has done the same for others of my siblings. But we love her and we have good memories of her also.   Thank you Ellie for this exercise, and I hope it is meaningful for the reading public.  If you want to leave comments about the substance of the article, mental health, or just what four words you would say if you woke up at Western State, please do. 


  1. Hi Joseph, One bit of a clarification. This question was posted on facebook already and I just copied it and re-posted :)

    Another clarification-Tom didn't recognize Kathleen from the picture (wasn't sure if that was clear in your sentence)

    and Brown and Haleys!! yumm...

  2. Later my sister Mary Guven added her four words " "Hi. I'm your doctor." and a friend of mine, Miles Partman added, "What the hell happened."

  3. I sent this via email to many of my contacts:
    It started as the coincidence of an internet game and a picture of my mom and my sister and it has evolved for me. My sister Ellie Savidge (in my family names were changed to protect the innocent and since I'm not one of the innocent my name stayed the same) posted a picture on Facebook of her and my mom. My mother has suffered most of her adult life with mental illness yet her face looks like a radiant angel. Ellie is one of the people in my family suffering from deafness. Under the picture she posted a question from an internet game : "You and I wake up in a psychiatric ward together. Using 4 words, what would you say to me?" People began to answer the question, only a few of them aware of my mom's status. Then Ellie gave extended comments & I added to explain about mom. Then I asked Ellie if I could copy to my blog & I did. It has stayed on my mind these last 3 days and will not going viral, it's had 389 hits. I'm thinking this is for mom, her 15 minutes of fame. And maybe for Eillie and Tom who suffer with deafness. o I am asking you to do 3 things. 1) Read the blog post at...& maybe comment either w your own 4 word answer, something about mental illness or something else of interest. 2) Say a prayer for the mentally ill and another for the deaf 3) Forward this to at least 10 people and or post the blog post to your Facebook page or Blog Before you say no to this last one take a look at my Mom's angelic beaming face.

  4. Interesting discussion on related topic on Facebook

    Prior blog post by me on this topic:

  5. regarding what was said in my email, my sister Mary suggested caution before using the word suffering, since people I consider as suffering due to mental or physical condition may not see it that way. Let me say then that we all suffer and may dedicate that suffering for some purpose which may lead to our ultimate happiness & that of others. What we perceive as someones suffering does not preclude their also being happy or becoming happy.