The other trailer park refugee

My sister, T, may be the one i should credit with the phrase “Trailer Park Refugee”.  We were drinking beer with my children in a ski lodge a few years ago and she said “Your mom and I are refugees, but the trailer park’s got long arms”, as my offspring listened attentively to her tales of hillbillism and stupidity.

T also got out.  It was essential in her becoming a productive and accomplished member of society.  She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 26, as she was completing her PhD program.  It is a marvel that she wrote her entire doctoral dissertation in a week, while on a manic high.  It was accepted a few months later with only minor revisions. 

To say that she is brilliant is an understatement.  To say that she brings her own brand of “special” to my trailer park family is an even greater understatement.

Her breakdown came as a surprise to the family.  She was arrested for walking out of the university bookstore with an armload of books.  Explaining to the bookstore security guard “Look, Fella, I NEED these for my dissertation!  What’s wrong with you?” wasn’t a sufficient reason to allow her to shoplift about $700 in merchandise.

Landing in the psychiatric ward at the university hospital, the staff responded as they do to all cases when a patient is “acting out”.  They slugged her with enough Thorazine to stop a charging rhinoceros.  It took about six months of the standard “test and tune” protocol* before they ever got around to a diagnosis. 

She was released after a month, returning to live with Mom and Dad while she recovered.  Her research and doctoral program provided a purpose, and she used that to bootstrap herself back to work.  She graduated, Summa Cum Laude** a few months later, and decided to do her post-doctoral work locally to help with the recovery.

Along the way, she acquired a new partner***, K. We were tolerant, K seemed supportive of T and was helping her regain her independence, so no one really paid all that much attention.  Until T started preaching the gospel of Mahikari**** – a new-age spiritualistic movement.  At first, it seemed to be helping T maintain focus.  Before long, however, she was explaining to us that her disease was due to impurities in the family history, and that we all needed to help so she could be cured…

Mom and Dad were pretty freaked out by all of this.  Torn by their desire to support their daughter and appalled by the fact that their brilliant child was spewing unabashed horseshit, they were vexed.  They sent T up north, to visit me, and see if i could help them unravel the mysteries.

This was in late 1986, and i had just given birth to The Girl.  T showed up one afternoon to visit, and i welcomed her into my home.  We talked about the medical challenges, about her work at the university, and about what it was like to be a new mom.  Normal “sister” talk. 

Doting on my daughter, she started explaining that her blue eyes were the critical link to the past.  i explained that my daughter’s eyes had absolutely nothing to do with family history, other than from a genetic perspective.  T was adamant that my 3 month old daughter was the most important link to cleansing the family history of impurities…

Oh, i let this go on for perhaps a half an hour before i politely said “there is no way in fucking hell you are going to subject my child to a ‘purification ceremony’.  We aren’t going to have her baptized in the christian faith, much to the disappointment of our families for fucksake, so why would we ever allow any other organized religion to mess with her?”

It was then that my brilliant sister mentioned the horrible abuse that we’d both been subjected to by our parents, and why that was at the core of her mental disorder. 

daisyfae:  Abuse?  What abuse?  i was there, T, and if we got hit, it was because we deserved it… community standards at the time meant all kids got hit with paddles and belts…

T:  It was the verbal abuse.  The horrible emotional abuse!  Did you know that Dad said I was ugly?

daisyfae: What?  He’d never say that…

T:  When I was in high school, he told me that it was very important that I get a good education because I’d never catch a rich husband…

daisyfae:  He told me the same thing!  That wasn’t abuse.  He was encouraging us to be independent!  And it kinda got me to stop getting drunk during lunch period…

T:  Yeah, but you married well in spite of your looks!

It was right around this moment that i threw her out of my house.  Screaming at her, while holding my freaked out 3 month old daughter.   “Little Sister Hits Her Limit.  Film at 11:00”

Mom and Dad were amazing throughout this process.  They agreed to allow the “priest” come to the house and perform a cleansing ceremony.  They figured that if T believed it would help, then perhaps it might be useful.  T paid the “priest” for his services, and several members of the group came to visit Mom and Dad.  Dad and Mom later regaled me with the story of the “cleanse”.

The “priest” walked the house, swinging incense, chanting, posing and meditating.  My Dad finally hit his limit, and began following the man around with a rosary, reciting his incantations in Latin. 

i don’t have many regrets in life, but i’d have given anything to be an unclean fly on the wall of the house that day…


* Mom was a psych nurse at the time.  This was – and i believe still is – the standard method of “triage” for many people who arrive at a psychiatric hospital.  The slam them with anti-psychotics to keep them under control, then slowly wean them off the meds to see if they can figure out what the fuck the underlying problem was… have we made progress since the 1800’s?  Sure.  But one has to wonder if there ain’t a long way left to go…

** Highest academic honors.  For the third time – having graduated Summa Cum Laude for her Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees as well…

*** T was a lesbian from birth, in my opinion.  i learned of this fairly early, and in a rather harsh way, but the rest of the family eventually figured it out and no one really gave a shit… We were much more freaked out a few years later when she decided to marry a Palestinian man she’d met driving a taxi in San Francisco at the height of the Persian Gulf War… But that’s another story….

**** Mahikari may be a fine spiritualistic practice.  Not judging the concept/followers.  Just taking a bit of exception to the assholes who took money from my sister and promised to “cure” her of her bipolar disorder…

25 thoughts on “The other trailer park refugee

  1. I really hope there is a book in your future. Better yet, a movie.

    Wait, better stick with a book. The movie would be so freaky they’d reject it in a heartbeat for being too unbelievable.


  2. There’s nothing like family. It says something that you are all (more or less) able to maintain a loving bond. My ex was a psych nurse, and I totally agree with your thoughts on the state of care.

  3. Sweet, sweet thorazine. I once performed a cleansing ceremony on my apartment using the Weather Channel and nag champa incense, i walked around spouting absurd weather predictions and harassing evil spirits. did i mention i was also off my head on mushrooms at the time?

  4. Wow. Just so I understand correctly, you’re the younger sister, right?

    This has to be a dicey situation that’s tough to deal with. On the one hand, mental imbalance can be hard to sort out for the person. It’s when they start going off-road to figure out the source of it, and begin deferring it through spiritual alternatives and back histories that seems way, way off from the source of the problem. That’s when it becomes one of those “everyone is to blame” scenarios which really isn’t fair. Particularly the genetics stuff…okay, mental disorders can be passed on from generation to generation, but your daughter’s eye color is the source of her problems? Really?

    This sort of thing has to test your patience at holidays. I like how most of this is written matter-of-factly, however. Good stuff.


  5. sometimes it’s hard to see where the smarts end and the crazy begins. It’s almost like the crazy helps the smarts. It is a serious medical condition if it’s not controlled properly. (crazy not smarts)
    You’re a great wonderful sister for trying and giving the smarts a chance but recognizing the crazy before it went too far.
    Your father would have a cracked me up. I bet you the “priest” is certain he now knows where the craziness came from.

  6. God, I hate religion. (Ha. See what I did there?) If the good Lord actually paid any attention to this idiot planet, he’d probably turn it into a cinder for all the terrible things that have been done in the name of “spirituality.”

  7. rob – thanks. there’s more. lots more where that came from… i can do bits and pieces at a time. been wrung out all day from just this one. weird how that works.

    TAG – no book, or movie, likely. i’m just working my own therapy out here. besides, i’d be REALLY pissed off when they tried to cast Rosie O’Donnell to play me in the movie version… grrr…

    chris – sometimes i wonder if the love comes through when i write this crap. i admire my sister. there are people justifiably on disability for bipolar to the degree she has it, and she has managed to doggedly manage her disease for over 2 decades…

    kono – makes me wonder if psycilicibin would be a better answer than thorazine… at least it’d be more entertaining for the patient…

    sonny – yes, i’m the baby. i write these as much as a NATO Observer as i can. it’s not about what i feel, it’s about telling the stories, as objectively as i can remember them, so i can do a more effective post-game analysis. it’s hard. but it helps, so i’m still trying to do it…

    hisqueen – i’ve gotten better at seeing the signs for when she’s going off balance. more importantly? so has she. through the years she’s built up an arsenal of management tactics and techniques that help her self-regulate. it’s remarkable. but about every 4 years something happens. and i end up kicked into play… this was the first. there are a few more to be documented…

    unbearable banishment – she was looking for answers. she didn’t have to look any further than her family tree, in fact, as the bipolar gene came through Dad… more stories for the future… damn. i’m gonna be doing this for awhile…

    lynn – thank you. just beating up my past in the ether, and telling the stories for my children, who read this…

    jimmy – although i don’t have the same tales of savage and raw life on the streets as you, for me, getting these things out – even one thought nugget at a time – is helping. there’s more. and it’s ugly. and i’ll be out here awhile….

    uncle keith – you know, i’m not sure the added absurdity would have been noticed… you walking through the scene, pointing your willy at everyone involved? nah… would have been in the noise, i’m afraid…

  8. Thankyou for sharing, I have family with the same problem, though not as severe and it can be an interesting ride at times. I admire your ability to be able to write about it so well 🙂

  9. You are brave to write this stuff out. It’s hard to relive difficult memories in such detail but as you say, it can be helpful in sorting it out in one’s head. I see you as a great example of strength and perseverance. Thanks for that and for making me laugh too.

  10. nicole – it’s difficult to watch. but i’m sure it’s more difficult to live with it… i’m trying to just do historical reporting, with mild runs of editorializing… it helps.

    spinach pie – not brave. it’s necessary. i feel better when they’re out. it helps me organize my thoughts and sort out why this or that incident has bothered me for so long… not strong at all, just sorting my demons… but thank you!

    uk – bring it! assless leather chaps would help…

  11. My wife’s mother has been committed to a facility twice and received electro-shock therapy for her bi-polar. My wife has some scary stories to tell from her childhood and her mom doesn’t remember most of what she did during her manic highs. I think that my wife made it to adulthood and to her current age by talking to people that she can trust, about it and with there being no secrets that have to be kept about what happened or about the illness in the family it makes living with the past and present a lot easier. My mother-in-law in on medication now that seems to keep everything under control.

  12. alljoedirt – welcome to the park… my sister has had to be very careful with her medical records. she is a world-recognized expert in her field of business/research, and has accomplished great things — but she lives in fear that the stigma of mental illness (even effectively managed) will someday bite her. Sadly, we’re not ready yet as a society to deal with it as openly and directly as we could… Other than Mom, who worked psych nursing for decades, no one else in my family really understands the disorder… glad that your mother-in-law is in balance, and it seems that your wife has a very healthy perspective on the difficulties of her childhood. that’s rare….

    • I know that she struggled with the fact that a lot of people thought that her mom was “mad” and they never realized that she was suffering from an illness and it was something that could only be controlled by medication. Her mom’s illness has had an impact on how she is as an adult and how she is as a person. I think that we are quick to judge people on our ideas of “normal” and if somebody doesn’t fit that idea then…
      I think that we all suffer from some sort of mental illness to be able to live in these times and I worry sometimes that I am unwell and that the rest of the world is “normal” 🙂

  13. alljoedirt – i agree that we’re all carrying our own demons… if you get to a certain age and have none? i’m wondering if you’ve lived much of a life!

    rassles – how did it make you feel? i’m surprised that my sister and i had such opposite reactions. i took it as good, honest, practical advice and she was devastated that daddy said she was ugly…

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