By Patsy Gifford
Key Themes: autobiography and poetry, paranoid schizophrenia, mental hospitals, treatments, strength, recovery
My story is the personal account of my life through a middle-class background, achievements, tragedy, happiness and personal struggle with my father’s Victorian-type attitudes and beliefs, as well as living with the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 22, and subsequent years of mental hospitals and treatments.
The assumptions of “being different” and the difficulties I encountered throughout my life have been put down to “being born” with schizophrenia. To many I was “an illness”, not an ordinary human being which I found difficult to cope with.
From adolescence to middle-age I have been isolated with the causes of my illness but with the help of some wonderful friends and a very caring and supportive Counsellor, I have now begun to unravel the mysteries of my mental illness, and this book I hope, will tell a truthful, meaningful and therapeutic account of my life.
My early years were happy with plenty of love and security. Brought up in Corstorphine, a residential area in Edinburgh, I was accustomed to comfort and kindness from my family – freedom and a good education at a private school.
My adolescence and teenage years were blighted by abuse (mental and sexual) and I was put on tranquillisers at the age of 14 or 15. My sister fell pregnant at age 17. She was 5 years older than me and my Dad totally rejected her for many, many years.
I became really ill at the age of 21 following a split with a boyfriend and my family and spent several months in a mental hospital in a catatonic state.
I married at 23, but spent more time in hospital during the next 20 years or so. I had two children during my marriage, Robin and Julie, and felt undermined by my mother-in-law for many years.
In 1993 I left Rosslynlee Hospital, mostly due to medication and the support of Bill, my old lecturer and friend who wrote to me during my darkest days. My recovery was a long and exhausting process stretching over 15 years and I still continue to grow. …….. but that is a further story.
About the Author
Patricia was born in Edinburgh in 1948. She attended James Gillespies School for Girls. At the age of 15 she left school but later earned some recognition as a writer and poet. She achieved all grades with LAMDA in the speaking of verse and prose.
She worked as a bank clerk for eight years. In later life she passed the National Certificate in Community Care but her love of writing drove her on to studying newspaper journalism and she worked as a freelance journalist for some years. Pat has published three books of poetry.
She has 2 children by her only marriage. In her spare time she collects antiques and works as a volunteer in the church café in her home town. Coping with her illness was a big challenge to her but she was determined not to stop trying to achieve her goals as a writer wife and mother. Finally after nearly 40 years she discovered the real reasons for her illness and now lives happily on her own surrounded by friends and supporters of her “new self”.
I looked out of the dormitory window. I could not picture myself out there. I did not want to go outside – to a world without love, without hope, without caring. Yet I didn’t want to be inside either. Not in my head. Not in my weary mind. It was so scary. So I just stood there, alone, gazing, but not seeing anything.
How had I landed here of all places? At 22 years old I should have some purpose, some hope. But no. A mental hospital was my “refuge”. It felt like a prison surrounded by shark-infested water.
That was nearly 36 years ago and I’m still here, but in a beautiful wee house and I have found purpose. I have found hope and I’ve found love. Not romantic love, but lots of different kinds of love. From caring friends, the Orchard Centre, my son Robin, daughter Julie, and Jesus.
Really my story begins in 1948 – year of the birth of the National Health Service – also the year of the Great Borders Flood.
I was born in a private Nursing Home in Drumsheugh Gardens, not five minutes from the main shopping centre of Edinburgh.
You would be forgiven for thinking I would turn out to be a snob, but it didn’t work out that way. I emerged into the world aided (apart from Mum’s strenuous efforts) by Sir John Wade, a notable surgeon who had served in the Medical Corps on the front line in France, during the First World War. Sir John owned Pilmuir House in Haddington, a beautiful stately home. It’s gardens are still open to the public today.
After I was born and the umbilical cord cut, a penny was stuck against my belly button so that it would not protrude in later years. That penny with elastoplast still attached remained in the top drawer of my family’s dining room cabinet until long after I left home to get married.
Mum in her early years was brought up by a friend of the family whose name was Meenie Calder, the illegitimate daughter of a young loomweaver. Meenie’s father disputed parentage but finally it was ruled that he was the father.
Meenie was very aware of her dubious status and was very strict with my Mum and my Uncle Willie (her brother). Meenie died just around the time when Mum married Dad and they moved from Brechin to Edinburgh.
Mum’s real mother, Agnes Lemon, died in Canada and Mum and her brother (Uncle Willie), were sent over by boat from Canada to Brechin in Scotland with just a nanny to accompany them. They were brought up in a one-bedroomed flat in River Street, Brechin with other members of the family and Auntie Meenie. Mum’s father, William Allan lived in Canada for a short time after his wife’s death and was in the Canadian Army. He never got in touch with his children except to hand over his Army payroll book to Meenie. Some time later he died in Glasgow, an alcoholic.
My father was brought up in King Edward Street, one of the prestigious streets of Fraserburgh. His father owned a fish-curing factory which did well until the First World War when the Germans blockaded the Scottish fishing boats. Grandad lost all his money through this and his business collapsed. Grandma was very strict. She took over the purse strings. The maids were dismissed and times were hard. My Dad was thought not to be as brainy as his sister Maggie or brother John, so he didn’t get the chance to go to university as they did. Auntie Maggie and Uncle John both trained to be teachers. Uncle John became the local domnie of a small country school at Culsalmond, near Insch in Aberdeenshire.
Dad joined the bank, trained at the college, and remained there all his working days. He served in Israel and Egypt during the war but never had to fight. He told us that he narrowly escaped being on the beaches at Dunkirk, which was just as well, since he couldn’t swim a stroke! He was extremely cautious with money. Latterly, in his final years, he lived in near poverty while his money built up in stocks and shares. He left a quarter of a million pounds in his Will, and gave my sister and myself a monthly income for the rest of our lives.
I can remember an incident which took us all by surprise when my Dad worked in the branch at Marchmont. A man came into the office and walked up to my Dad who was a teller at the time. The stranger had a gun in his hand and demanded money. Dad attempted to talk to the gunman, who said he would give my Dad to the count of five and then he would shoot. Dad said “Here you are then” and opened the drawer. Dad grabbed a rubber stamp and without hesitation, threw it at the window. The window shattered and the gunman ran off.
By this time the Manager had been alerted and the police arrived. Dad went in the police car round the nearby cemetery or park but the gunman was not caught.
The first we kids knew about this incident was the following morning when Mum brought us the newspaper. There was a picture of Dad on the front page shielding his face with his hands and the caption “Shy bankteller foils gunman”. Dad was presented with a gold watch for his bravery.
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