Updated: Jul 1, 2020
| This is the 292nd story of Our Life Logs |
My parents had me on June 27, 1952. I grew up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the third of five children. My childhood was full of laughter, smiles, and love. One of my fondest memories is swinging so high on the playset in our backyard that the metal poles would come out of the ground. My feet reached for the clouds as the sticky summer air flung my hair around me. I thought back then that nothing could bring me down.
I dealt with adolescence gracefully and always kept a good head on my shoulders. If I didn’t like a situation, I changed it. I was sure of myself and who I wanted to be.
When I turned 18, I just wasn’t interested in sitting inside a classroom. I was a dreamer. I was a doer. I felt that being out in the world would teach me so much more. I knew I’d be held back, so I dropped out. My sister Gloria had moved to Virginia with her husband. She made it sound so much bigger than little old Mississippi, so I packed my bags to head on to my next grand adventure. I soon found work at a nuclear power plant. I dated a few guys from work but didn’t settle down until I met Gary.
Gary had a great smile and an air about him that drew me in. We dated for six months before we married on Christmas Eve that same year.
Along the way, my dreams began fading. The expectations of life created stress, and on top of all that, our marriage wasn’t great. The love was there, but then again, so were our screaming matches. I lost myself in the hardships.
Despite the downs, we got by and welcomed our baby boy Kevin in 1974, and our baby girl Natalie in 1980. I was so happy to be a mother. I loved their laughter, and their loud outbursts never ceased to make me grin. I wanted them to have the same free-spirited childhood I had. Thankfully, Gary was loving to our children.
But by 1981, I wasn’t the carefree fun-loving girl from down south anymore. Something was wrong, and I feared it stemmed from my marital problems. I began having constant headaches that I assumed were stress-induced. I went to the doctor who ran some tests, but nothing seemed amiss. Unsure of any other potential cause, they diagnosed me with depression.
As the months went on, I was given dozens of pills that came with a litany of side effects—the ones you see in those scary drug ads: chills, headaches, nausea, insomnia, confusion, exhaustion. Consequently, my depression worsened. I was submerged in darkness, going through the motions of life. I’d get up and make breakfast. I’d kiss my kids and tell them that I loved them, but I didn’t feel love anymore. I knew I did, deep down, but the pull to be a mom was gone. In fact, I didn’t want to be at all.
In 1987, I began hearing voices in my head. Sometimes the voice said it was God speaking directly to me, and other times it was the Devil. These voices had me praying to God to help me—to save me. I would go for days with hardly any sleep, cleaning maniacally and barely eating.
One night, the devil voice told me that Gary and my son Kevin were demons. It said I needed to kill them to save myself and my daughter Natalie. I whisked my daughter behind my back and began screaming at them to get out of the house. Natalie stood stock-still as I clawed my husband with my nails and screeched at my son.
Gary called the police and had me taken away to the local mental hospital. When the doctors asked me why I thought my husband and son were demons, the devil voice rang in my head, “You better not tell or your kids won’t get into heaven.” I was rigid with fear and refused to answer so they locked me in a secluded room. I cried myself to sleep, not knowing what was happening to me.
When I was released from the mental hospital, I had a new diagnosis: manic depressive disorder. I was given an entirely new pill regimen and the name of several psychiatrists to follow up with. Later that year, nothing seemed to be changing, so I went to see a new doctor. What was found completely blew me away.
An MRI revealed that I had a tumor on the right side of my brain stem. It was pushing so hard that it was cutting off the blood supply to my brain. The doctors deduced that was why I had been hearing voices and enduring so many ups and downs. It all made sense to me, and when they scheduled a surgery to remove it—as odd as it sounds—I was excited. Now I could attribute my mental illness to this brain tumor. I thought that once they removed it, I’d be cured.
But, when I woke up from the surgery, I didn’t feel like “the old me.” The voices were still there—although I later learned this was a side effect of PTSD—and I didn’t look like myself.
I know it sounds foolish, but I had believed that I’d go back to the person I was in every way, shape, and form. Sure, the headaches had stopped, but I couldn’t speak or feel the right side of my face.
Gone was the pretty carefree girl I’d known since childhood. Now, the right side of my face drooped noticeably—a complication the doctors assured me would correct itself. My right eye was hazy with a film, as I’d recently had a failed corneal transplant (another complication from the brain tumor). My once-thick, curly hair was shaved into a patchy mess. My body had grown stiff and I’d put on quite a bit of weight from all the medications and lack of energy over the years. I didn’t recognize the person I had become, and I resented the woman I saw in the mirror.
I don’t remember much of my recovery. I can best describe it as living in a fog. As my head began healing physically and emotionally, I came out of my gloom. I vowed to get better in every possible way I could. Removing that tumor might not have put me back to normal, but I was determined to find myself again.
I began praying to God, asking him to enter my heart, and it was like a light switched on in me. I felt the presence of God and he gave me the strength to begin weaning myself off the prescriptions I’d grown to rely on over the years. Without them, I felt healed—like myself for the first time in a long time. When I told my psychiatrist this, he tried to argue that it was just a rush of serotonin because my hormones were unbalanced as I continued to recover, but I ignored him. I felt better than I had in years.
I’d love to tell you that here is where I got my happy ending, but that took time. Anything good does. I was doing well working on fixing myself, but I couldn’t fix Gary. I tried. I tried to get him to talk to me about his anger and why he drank himself into oblivion, but he’d just turn defensive and blame me. We’d always end what started as a conversation by screaming. What Gary didn’t realize was that I wasn’t the same woman he married anymore.
I still loved Gary despite everything, and I stayed with him up until he passed away in 2013 from kidney failure. When he died, it was the first time in years I had to make it on my own. But when I thought back on how far I’d come from in the last 30 years, I knew I could make it. With Gary gone, I felt the freedom to completely embrace the inner strength I’d tapped into after my surgery.
Gone is the anger and sadness I felt so shrouded in. It took the darkness of my past to find the light in my life today.
This is the story of Shirley Blakely
Shirley currently lives in Virginia. She endured years of physical and mental abuse from her husband. She was misdiagnosed with several mental disorders in her early adult years, only to find out she was actually suffering from a brain tumor. Shirley found healing and happiness in her faith in God and the love of her family. She has found a way back to a healthy mind and does her best to smile every day. Shirley spends her time with her children and grandchildren, cooking and laughing as a family.
This story first touched our hearts on February 22, 2019.
| Writer: Stacy Clair | Editors: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |