M 23 Mar 2020, Irony of Covid-19

Dear Lynne, Thank you for the card. ‘Thinking of you’ and then I’m thinking of you, which helps a lot because then I’m not thinking of me. What kind of lousy, where does the mind, go, what type of

Dear Lynne

Thanks for the card. Funny, I was thinking of you too–and wondering if you had been off to see Marta in Spain–as things started to fray. Covid has us on holiday, trapped, sort of. There’s laundry, groceries, dishes, reading, email, News feed on the phone–repetitive, alarming, society slow to get a grip–now there are people purposefully breaking lock-downs. Mental.

And all the while thinking of Gemma. This time last year she was taking Bio 12, in order to become a Lab Tech through VCC. She had signed up during an Open House at Vancouver Community College, then delayed it a year. She got 2 anatomy courses in the fall, in case she wanted to go into Occupational Therapy–but then thought an easier course, a shorter career post-secondary.

Last summer was Cluculz Lake (I couldn’t figure out why Eating Disorders Outpatient Clinic hadn’t nabbed her before or after her spring course ended. Her answer was that there wasn’t a bed at 4NW St. Paul’s but there would be after Cluculz.

How convenient, I thought it, so god knows why I didn’t pry, and just say. Or maybe I did. Always an answer.

And, looking at horizon thinking, why didn’t I drive to Prince George Regional instead of hitting the highway! I think I believed the St. Paul’s Hospital explanation, knew we were on the edge, and felt ‘Fast!’ to Vancouver.

I was brainless. And then St. Paul’s admission, but “no visitors” as a strategy. I phoned (and cell phones did a lot of harm–use Facetime!, don’t text or chat, ask hospital for bedside phone #!) But we knew routine at 4NW so well.

I argued, but only once, “I’ll come and see you,” hopeful and happy, things going the right way towards recovery, but she was annoyed and firm. I think I could’ve worn her down but for some reason I never bugged her again to visit, trying to be supportive? I can’t say. Texting, calling. Staying busy. The condo was for sale, we had an offer on a house in Salmon Arm, a yard, a garage, a workshop, a fresh beginning, though she had said, “No, I won’t be joining you there,” a misguided attempt at shifting-gears for life and recovery.

Then after six weeks she “got out,” she called, “Want to go for a drive?” I picked her up at her place, 7th and Cambie. At two lbs a week there would be a visible change. I drove over and she came out and I was shocked, speechless, thinking, “I want my money back–you aren’t any better!” I said, “Does St. Paul’s know what they are doing?” Just out for a pass, have another two weeks. What I didn’t know was a year earlier she had a self-admission and argued about finishing lunch on day 10, and a dietitian said, Finish, or Feeding Tube, or Discharge? And anorexia chose discharge.

Sam said, “I never heard of that admission,” but remembered her friend Clara (now living in Montreal unfortunately) helped Gemma take her stuff on the bus for that admission. I was working, a couple months until retirement, Sam was on the Coast, seasonal work painting. Ten days later she was on the street, headed back to her bachelor. We didn’t know. And she never went back.

Mental Health is really hard to understand. Fear I guess. Truth is what we believe. We default to assuming, fiction with trimmings is fact.

Gemma was a lit’ major. Do you know much about metaphors? What do you think of this, “It (the eating disorder) is like having to let go of a log in order to swim to shore.” Me, I see this rapid flowing river. So, long ago, she asked me, Would you let go of the log? I said I could perfectly understand hanging on to that log. Wrong answer. It’s not a river, it’s a lake. How am I to know. One has to let go of addictive behaviour and swim to shore!

So it turns out (now this would be funny if it wasn’t so dreadful) she told her therapist I was in agreement, it is too hard to let go of anorexia. Her therapist apparently thought I was, too. She carefully explained (according to meeting notes–$150 and they forward meeting notes after a therapy appointment), the therapist said, Well, your mother loves you and doesn’t want to see you hurting.

If the therapist had asked us to attend appointments? I could have cleared up the river versus lake miscommunication! I drove Gemma to some of those appointments. I thought the therapist was busy helping Gemma find a way free of her fears. Instead her form of therapy sort of sought issues that might be propelling the disorder. Like? Dumb parents. And Job #1, first you’ve got to eat. Seldom did they discuss food. After years with this therapist, she finally said to Gemma, You seem to be afraid I might have you pink slipped (committed) but Gemma, you need to know I would never do that.

Problem was, Gemma wanted someone to prevent her from continuing–she must have been surprised, dismayed, terrified, to learn, the therapist was not keeping her safe and accountable.

I wasn’t on the same track as Gemma. Neither was the trusted therapist. Gemma quit after a couple more weeks. That was in March. The therapist wrote, You are taking a break from therapy, I will inform the dietitian (weekly meal plan, collaboration, $65). So, therapist left Gemma in the hands of the dietitian. Gemma was a fan of the dietitian’s podcast, “Eat Cake,” about staying fed and healthy, science and nutrition.

Gemma made it to late April with dietitian, made and cancelled appointments (over and over). After Gemma died the dietitian was upset and consoling, trying to figure it out. She said she knew Gemma was afraid (to be hospitalized; and to be a disappointment in their trusting relationship). She could not follow the meal plan. Though we all knew that she always had a plan to follow the plan, starting tomorrow or next week.

Gemma’s pretend admission had one strange but joyful wrinkle. She continued to sneak out, to volunteer at Banfield Extended Care Home. Staff and patients there worried about her but didn’t want to say. She volunteered, serving Thanksgiving lunch (pureed a lot of squash, to wheelchair patients) the day that she died! She loved working there. I think it fit perfectly with something I read–with anorexia one seeks to feel special and to feel mastery. Staff and patients at Banfield appreciated her cheerful, capable abilities, volunteering with flowers, a cooperative activity “helping” patients arrange flowers for their room, day-old that Whole Foods let her wheel up to the care home (did she move the flowers the three blocks?), and then with “home style breakfast” at first once and then at least twice a week. She loved working there. But she outdid herself, natural consequences. Fell asleep that night.

She was so mixed up by that time. She must have thought we were all crazy. I think she wanted us to see and do something for her. Take her, argue, but be firm. Wrest control and get it done. Like she fights except if you fight (too).

She’d say, “Do I look sick to you?” I’d say, “Yes, you look like someone who belongs in a hospital.” I needed her to go and I told her and she said, Yes, okay, working on it. But she was allergic to hospital, ashamed she couldn’t control her own impulses. Thrown out for not obeying. But it wasn’t “her” choice.

We took a drive to Squamish in May, Sam, me, and Gemma. We stopped at the visitor centre for snack. A stranger, about her age, came to our table to say, I’ve been where you are. We chatted, thanked and assured this young lady that Gemma had a professional team working with her. I thought she was doing ED Outpatient clinic pre-admission program (East Hastings clinic) and from there they had sectioned Gemma at least twice in past years. But now I don’t think she was. The girl drifted off to say hi to a fellow, a mutual acquaintances to do with rock-climbing. If I had known, we should’ve driven right to Lions Gate Hospital. But, reassured at that point that it was all in-hand. Did she say so or did I just think that? An adult, she assured us it was in the works–or was I reassured by residual assurances and could have questioned everything on that day? An angel with a message but sense of anguish, treading carefully, told by unreliable source what to think, “It’s all taken care of,” patience is all, meant I didn’t recognise God, knock knocking.

Then July was Cluculz Lake for a week. A week at home, then we could join my brothers’ families for a week at Parksville, cousins and their kids–“Is it okay with you if I don’t go to Parksville?” Of course, of course. She conjured up an admission (East Hastings Clinic was her route in a few times before, in such bad shape, committed in an emergency, or a self-admission, so it was reasonable to my weak mind that she would be admitted). “There isn’t a bed but there will be after Cluculz.” I spent a few days at Parksville, and she was admitted. Then I came home and called to go see her, but deflated entirely, I knew she had said no visitors, but I figured she’d have forgotten, and be glad to see me. Her Jul-Sep “admission,” fiction.

Sam phoned her every evening after work from Gibsons camp, I texted her enthusiastic newsy bits from temp work, office jobs, purposeful, sometimes dull. Both of us, Sam and I, felt conversations were a bit one-dimensional. I was a bit Polly-Anna in conversations. In the past, if I had thought about it, she was relieved and happier when she was settled in hospital. The pressure to obey anorexia was off, control taken. But we were walking on eggshells, stilted, effort to be cheerful on my end, but not newsy on her end. After six weeks she was home. She called and I picked her up from her place, excited, anticipating seeing her, on her road to recovery. I was so alarmed (jokey notion, Do they have a money-back guarantee? I want my money back!)

In the late afternoon, evening I think we went to Maple Wood farm, as we had done before, we had only a little time to see cows, goats, pigs, chickens, before they closed. Then (I think it was the same evening) we drove to see the work Sam had done, painting the Shakespeare mental health building, behind Lions Gate Hospital. I got out of the car, “Come and see inside the building, the work Dad did.” No. I walked around the bushes and up the ramp, peered in the windows, realising I didn’t have my purse and phone, they were in the back of the car. I walked up the path past the bushes, in view of the front of the car, now and looked around, wondering what the names of the streets were. Did it flicker through my mind to call 911? I would need to describe where to find us, at the east side of the hospital building, names of the cross streets.

I had it in my head to show her the sign on the new building, “HOpe Centre,” a photo with that sign. I asked her to get out of the car, see the sign, Hope Centre? See the building Dad painted for Robbie? Get out of the car, have a look? Pleasant street, nice “house” of offices, to show off Sam’s work. I figure she thought I was trying to trick her. Maybe I was. She argued, “Mom! I’m tired. What’s wrong with you? I just want to go home!” said Anorexia.

Prickly people are the ones that need us most–when Sam’s mother died in 1994 we somehow made it to the early service in Gibsons, a sermon by the interim priest. I thought it was about my own mother, but it was meant to remember–it fit perfectly. Gemma’s words hurt me–I had been snarly with my own mother about things–must be mother-daughter natural thing–breaking the bonds wouldn’t be possible unless we saw things differently. Not knowing Gemma had not been in hospital at all, I felt I was stumbling around, my fake cheer and sincere hopefulness. Gemma, Gemma, look at this, oh look at that. Words taken personally and they hurt me, and I didn’t know she was hurting and I didn’t know how to ask, What is going on for you?

She sounded reasonable, her impatience wasn’t out of place if she was tired and had to get dinner at home (she wouldn’t accept invitations, go out or have us in). She wanted to go home.

Seventeen months from being kicked out of St. Paul’s (day 10 of a 3-months admission). And a thousand opportunities to get to the bottom of things. “What would Jesus do?” and “Let us pray.” Gratitudes?

End of September was girl’s night at Whistler at Susan’s place. I worked Friday, went to Lynette’s for dinner, Kim and Susan came over. Susan went home, the three of us had a sleep over. We made a nice breakfast, and drove north on Cambie, past Gemma’s. I experienced a minor impulse, “If I turn left I’d be at Gemma’s.” But the thought was maybe a flicker. Resisted, this was a little time off. No reason to falter. IF my brain were functioning, a reason to stop by Gemma’s was to stage “an intervention” where we four call Gemma, “We are outside. We’ll take you for a drive?” and take her to a hospital. A choice between three, 3 blocks to VGH, 10 minutes to St. Paul’s, 25 minutes to Lions Gate Hospital which is only 20 minutes from the condo.

No plan formed in my weak brain. We continued through the city and up to Whistler for 3 nights, Saturday to Monday. Through the weekend I texted Sam in Gibsons, and Gemma at hers, relaying what was going on, for me.

Nightmare. On Monday we drove back from Whistler. I dropped Susan at home, then took Lynette and Kim to Lynette’s, removed things from the car. They took trips inside while I parked. But then I got groceries for Sam downstairs at the grocery. Kim and Lynette had to find me there, so I could drop Lynette at an appointment. With Kim I stopped on impulse by Gemma’s and phoned her from outside to cheerfully ask if we could visit. She was pleasant and open to the idea of us coming up. But Kim protested, she hadn’t had lunch. So Gemma and I agreed to meet later for a drive. I took Kim all the way home, so we could make soup from good leftovers. Then I drove Kim to Lynette’s.

Picked up Gemma for a drive. It crossed my mind to head downtown, but office tower canyons and I decided to drive to Southlands instead. Gemma had visited at a coffee place with Sierra earlier, before Sierra’s appointment with the dietitian. Gemma seemed tired. Gemma got light-hearted, with a game, “Would you rather be a …?” But I was on edge, grumpy, conscious of being silly. It crossed my mind, “Another game … like Truth or Dare, something grown ups could play.” But I didn’t say it. That would have been the perfect game! We drove and I noticed she wasn’t seeing anything. I didn’t ask, “What’s on your mind.” I thought I knew. She was being stubborn. Something with treatment was wrong. She had to focus on recovery.

Heading back we got to Marine and Cambie. “Just tell me that you understand me and support me. Trouble with you Mum, you never validate feelings, you always just counter what is said.” I had heard this one before. Sam and Gemma found fault, when they tell me their experience of a situation, but I say, “Well, maybe something else was going on for that other person,” like a cranky customer, or Sam getting road rage at someone or finding a store clerk or wait-staff not up to his standards of serving properly. “You always take someone else’s side. Can’t you just agree for once?” I often countered by characterising my impulse as wanting to sooth the situation, “I find it important to try to socialise you guys. You tell me your take-on it, but I immediately see the possibilities from someone else’s point of view, and I feel it helps to suggest you consider …” “Yes, but it’s so maddening! Just agree sometimes. We only want to be heard!”

Cautious on a tightrope. Irritability is a marker of anorexia (hungry, after all). Don’t take words personally, be strong, not sad. Prickly people need us the most. I wasn’t up to the task. Not even close.

Gemma wanted me to tell her, I love you, I support you. But my mind was shredded. She wants me to agree with the anorexia?! To not be mad and find other visions of the near future, she wants me to support “her” with anorexia, and to see it from anorexia’s view! We were both anxious and sort of crying, despairing by then. I was at about 73rd on Cambie, I turned east, “I don’t understand, I don’t understand.” I had an impulse to park the car. Stop, just stop. But I felt I couldn’t stop, don’t stop. Something wrong with stopping, this is urgent. She said quietly, in a kind of frail, scared voice, “Where are we going, I thought we were going home?” “Oh, I thought I’d just add a few streets to the drive, I always like to see what else there is, areas I’m unfamiliar with, see what’s there.” So I didn’t pull over. Didn’t call 911. I drove her home. We hugged good-night. I worked Tuesday, texted her Wednesday regarding the Thanksgiving lunch at Banfield for the bandits, and she replied that it had been busy, pureeing squash. Sam found her on Friday. We figure she turned on her phone with relaxing sounds to fall asleep on Wednesday. Her pills were lined up, ready to take in the evening.

It is March, 2020. In the age of Covid-19, perspective is that people can get sick and die. We need to use social-distancing. People are dying alone. If she got this far, she would see the irony in it, having suffered her isolation, now everyone can see her point of view, validate and know enough to understand.


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