Death of a Citizen; Birth of a Christian


In the homeless shelter, I was required to apply for Social Security Disability (SSD).  In July 1991 I was declared totally disabled and awarded SSD; with that came Medicare and Medicaid.  Transitional Living Services got me out of the shelter and put me in a HUD-subsidized apartment building.  Intermittently I got Food Stamps and, later, HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program).  I had become a wholly owned subsidiary of the state—and the county and the federal government.

I have little memory of the decade of the 90’s.  I know where I lived, what church I went to, who my psychiatrist and therapist were, and where I was hospitalized—which was everywhere.  Mostly St. Joseph’s Hospital, but also Upstate Medical Center, a teaching hospital; Community General, a community hospital; Hutchings Psychiatric Center, a state hospital; and the National Institute of Mental Health, the anteroom to hell.  However, I have no recollection of how I spent my days.  Did I get up in the morning or stay in bed till noon?  Did I go out or stay in?  Did I own a car or take the bus?  I don’t remember.  I was a “psychiatric patient,” herded around in groups, led by case managers, not considered competent to make decisions or do things on my own.

And I was submissive.  God help me, I was totally submissive.  I did what I was told, no matter who told me.  High school dropouts who were earning minimum wage were giving me orders and I was accepting them.  I still had a car but no longer was well enough to drive to Pennsylvania to visit my sisters and they did not come to visit me.

In the 1980’s, a psychiatrist poisoned me with unmonitored lithium, thereby causing a rare kidney disease from which there could be no recovery.  By the late 1990’s I no longer was bathing with reasonable frequency.  I blamed myself for being lazy but after an occupational therapist provided a shower chair, I realized that I just had been too tired to stand up and shower.  I had chronic fatigue syndrome and the county began to authorize home health aides who were paid by Medicaid.

In addition to the kidney disease and chronic fatigue, I also had acquired spinal arthritis, diabetes mellitus and about ten other chronic illnesses.  And there was the depression.  Always, the depression.  I frequently was hospitalized and always because I was suicidal.  Outpatient, I went to the psychiatrist once a month, the therapist twice a week, and took the antidepressants every day.  I was a Psychiatric Patient.  That was my identity.  Everybody told me so.  I knew it and I accepted it:  sickness was my destiny.

My medical ills became so bad that I had to start using a wheelchair but my apartment building was not wheelchair accessible to I moved to the Bernardine Apartments, which were part of the Loretto geriatric center.  I was 54 years old and my life was over.  I had no family or friends.  My church had dropped me.  The only people I saw were paid to be with me.  I was mostly bedridden.  My life consisted of taking drugs, having drug reactions, being ambulanced to the ER, getting IVs and catheters and then being admitted to inpatient psychiatry.

It was not a life worth living so I decided to renounce it.  In the hospital, I made the decision that I no longer would take any medications—no antidepressants, sleeping pills, kidney medicine or medicine to treat the illness caused by the kidney medicine.  Henceforth, physicians prescribing pharmaceuticals were out of my life.  All healthcare decisions would be made between God and me.  If he wanted me to live, he would find a way to make it happen.  If he wanted me dead, I was prepared to meet him on his terms.  My psychiatrist and psychologist affirmed that I was of sound mind, albeit depressed, and had a right to renounce drugs.  I went home to die but a funny thing happened.

I got better.

Physicians prescribing pharmaceuticals had been killing me.

One of the things that happened was that I went through cold-turkey drug withdrawal.  Unbeknownst to me, the pills I had been taking for sleep—Ativan—were a narcotic and, following doctors’ orders, I had become addicted.  And the damn doctors couldn’t figure that out.  I was told that the reason I wasn’t sleeping (I only had slept twenty minutes in three days) and my blood pressure was through the roof was because I was having anxiety attacks.  Wakefulness became my lot in life.  Nights and days ran together without distinction.  I would sleep a few hours, daytime or nighttime, and then be awake for a while.

I didn’t have cable television so there was nothing to do in the middle of the night except read.  I read the Holy Bible.

All my life, I had longed to be a Christian.  In my youth, I had tried to read the bible but it was the King James Version and I had an undiagnosed learning disorder.  King James and William Shakespeare both were speaking a foreign language.  Now I had in hand the Revised Standard Version of the bible, which made sense.  Propped up in my hospital bed in the darkness of darkest night, I read the bible.

And was amazed.  It wasn’t at all what I thought it was. I was churched—I had gone to church every Sunday morning for most of my life—but what I was reading in the bible was not what I had heard in church.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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