Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Auntie Beehive's Hard Life


My Auntie Beehive had a very hard life. The first symptoms of schizophrenia appeared in her teens. However, living on a prairie farm in the middle of nowhere, her mental illness went unrecognized and untreated for years. But after a major psychotic break suffered as a young wife and mother, she was sent to a mental institution. A mental institution during the late 1940s and early 1950s. You know what that meant, of course. Crude, ineffective drugs. Electroshock treatments -- lots of them. Ultimately, psychosurgery.

A lobotomy cuts brain circuitry to the prefrontal cortex, home of the personality and executive functioning ability. Lobotomies were pretty mainstream treatment until the development of effective anti-psychotic drugs in the modern era. In Auntie Beehive's case, the treatment worked quite well. She was one of the lucky ones who returned home and remained relatively stable.

Auntie Beehive told me once that the lobotomy's main effect on her was to flatten her personality and emotions. She didn't experience highs, lows or extremes of any kind, no matter what the situation. She just felt an unchanging middle-of-the-road sameness about everything. Auntie Beehive let me feel her lobotomy scars on each side of her head behind her temples. Her skull hadn't healed evenly and there were noticeable ridges in those spots.

But her hair hid those ridges from sight -- yes, the beautiful beehive that was her pride and joy and over which she fussed so much. No one begrudged her that small vanity. She had earned it.

20 comments:

mxtodis123 said...

Aw, the poor thing. It was so hard on those with mental illness back in those days. No one had ever heard medications to keep the illness stabilized. They treated them just as they treated your aunt.
Mary

faerwillow said...

~i can't imagine such treatments, we watched a show quite awhile ago about mental institutions back then and thank every being for what is now...my mother suffers from bipolar and i am blessed that they have come miles in treatment...no lobotomy or crude treatments, just a few years of trying different medications to find the right one to stabilize her moods...a road hard on all. so happy to hear she was able to return home and live...and without a doubt she had every right to wear that beehive with pride! warm wishes and brightest blessings~

turquoisemoon said...

You know...my mom suffered from depression back in those days. Her "treatments" were awful. Thanks for sharing and remembering!

Paul C said...

One wonders about the advances in neurotherapy today and what doctors might think about these procedures from yesteryear. Interesting post.

Sarah said...

Oh my ...I can't imagine the hell of that kind of treatment..the earlier part of the century offered up to folks like your dear Aunt! Terror is the word that comes to mind! I am glad that she was able to function after and it seems happy with it all!! She sounds like an amazing woman!!
I am loving hearing about her!!
Hugs, Sarah

Wendy said...

I always watch shows about supernatural experiences especially with ghosts/spirits and the most haunted places are abandoned "insane asylums" and prisons. I have bipolar two disorder and still get scared thinking of how I might have been locked away and had some atrocious operation like your poor aunt did. Thank god for her wonderful beehives ;)

Cora said...

All I can say is "wow". For a person to have gone through what she did and come out the other side still functioning is a miracle.

madtexter ☺☺☺☺☺☺ (corey james) said...

That's crazy (no pun intended). It's incredible how today's modern medical advances will seem barbaric in 50 years. 100 years from now people will probably look back on the use of radiation/chemotherapy as a way to cure cancer and think how insane we were to poison ourselves just to get better.

'Auntie Beehive'? Nickname, I suspect, but a fantastic one at that!

luna petunia said...

Isn't that sad. Mental Health has come a long way but what we do not know about the brain & the mind is still astounding.

inannasstar said...

I wonder if 50 years from now we'll look back on our "innovative treatments" and think the same?

I'm so sorry for your aunt and everyone who suffered at the hands of those quacks.

Blueberry said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing that story and the others about "Auntie Beehive".

Ambermoggie, a fragrant soul said...

Brings back memories for me:( My sis had a breakdown at 15 and had electric shock treatment. I'd left home but went back for a spell til she was stable. We are only talking late 1960s BTW:(

BugginWord said...

I complain about a lot. It's kind of my thing. But I'm so glad to be living in the time that I am. The horrors of our societies medical history make my head hurt.

Laura said...

Such extreme treatment, but the best they could do. I'm so glad that over all she had a pretty good life. Even with all the incredible improvements in medical care these days there a still some pretty risky, painful, scary procedures...Science has made great strides in understanding the brain, but there is a long way to go.
Debra thank you soooooo much for your generous donation today...I was so surprised and feel so blessed to have connected with you.

gentle steps dear one

jaz@octoberfarm said...

sounds like a bad kennedy story. now people are just lobotomized with drugs. she was SO lucky to be able to come home and live a relatively normal life. this is the happiest i have ever been about beehives....go auntie beehive!!!

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

Goddess bless your aunty..

L said...

Barbaric treatment of the mentally ill in those days. Sadly the stigma is still present. Glad they're deinstitutionalising mental illness, and reintegrating those affected back into the community.

Sarita Rucker said...

I still can't believe how they used to treat people with mental problems. I mean, I can believe it, but it's so unthinkable.

I'm glad your auntie got through it relatively ok, and much better than most others! It sounds like she's been through LOT.

Beadwright said...

This is a story of many in those days especially women. Thanks for telling it so beautifully
Nicole/Beadwright

Rue said...

I would love to still see beehives. People should be more creative with their hair!

She is so fortunate that she had a life after that kind of surgery. Scary stuff back then.

I have a neighbour who had to have shock treatments - I couldn't believe they still do them! I think it's kind of a last-resort though.