A fine madness, or maybe not. Fedoralady’s very personal take on it all.

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This is a story of madness, in both the jocular and more literal sense.

For example, our ISP has become notoriously unreliable over the last few weeks and frankly, it’s driving me a tad—crazy.

They also provide our land line phone, which went dead as a doornail today. Not even a hopeful crackle and not a storm cloud in sight. Retrieved my cell phone so that I could touch base with Benny and let him know, and of course, the cell battery was dead. Thank goodness Hubby brought home a recharge for the wi-fi hotspot.

I felt so out of touch with the world earlier–disconnected. I could have walked outside and screamed my head off and the only ones who would have heard it would be my two dogs, who would presume Mama had officially become the mayor of Crazy Town.

Speaking of crazy, mental health has been on my mind lately, what with the news that our Richard is going to play Francis Dolarhyde, a cannibalistic serial killer in six episodes of the upcoming season of “Hannibal.”

I admit I have a certain fascination with abnormal psychology. I like reading and watching stories of true crime and trying to learn what makes some people became psychopaths and sociopaths. Is there some sort of defective gene involved, a sort of “bad seed,” or is it the environment? Nature or nurture or a combination of both?

It’s been said here in the south we don’t hide our crazy relatives, we bring them out to the front porch, give them a glass a sweet tea and show them off.

 

My paternal family could easily be described as “eccentric.” There was the boy-crazy aunt who used to dye her hair to match the color of her current automobile. Another aunt, a pharmacist who self-medicated herself into bliss, eventually did a strip tease in the middle of the nursing home hallway, announcing with gleeful relish, “Well, NOW I guess they will pay attention to me!” My grandfather over-indulged in food and other women and never tried to hide his vices. Oh, the stories I could tell about Big Daddy. And yes, he was called Big Daddy. Tennessee Williams, you ain’t got nothing on me. 

And then there’s Uncle Comer, who was committed to the state insane asylum. Yes, a genuine crazy uncle.

I have a copy of an old family photo, with all the Killoughs, the nine living children and my grandparents, posed together in front of the big Victorian farmhouse, c. 1922 or ’23. Among the offspring, some twenty years between the oldest and youngest, there stands a bespectacled blonde boy, neatly dressed in a suit and tie for this formal photo. He’s handsome and a bit solemn. For me, there’s no hint of what was to come, the unreasonable outbursts and frightening violence. The need to “put him away.”

Daddy, who was much younger than his brother, used to talk about Comer’s periodic furloughs home. What he remembered most was when it was time for Comer to return to Tuscaloosa.

Comer got so upset when he knew he had to go back. It took four or five of Daddy’s strongest field hands to wrestle him into the car,” Daddy would say, the pain of the memory evident in his faded blue eyes. He had a lifelong fear after that of institutionalization, just as he feared fire following that big house burning to the ground when he was a teenager.

There were flashes of—something, some imbalance, something disconnecting—in my own father from time to time, and,as we learned, in his younger brother Dan, the baby of the family. There was never anything on the scale of Comer’s behavior, but we knew it was happening when the look came into Daddy’s eyes. When we saw that darkening, that anger and—emptiness. Thundering rage and that strange emptiness.

Those moments were frightening and confusing for all of us. When they passed, regret and melancholy would wash over my father, who is so very many ways was such a good man and a good daddy. It took me years to really come to terms with the contradictions that were my father. 

I have always had this fear in the back of my head that it would happen to me one day–the disconnect, the imbalance. I have a temper I have worked on controlling for much of my adult life. Would I, someday, fly into uncontrollable and dangerous rages and hurt people I loved?

I have made it 54 years and stayed out of jail and the mental ward thus far.

Still, that gnawing fear keeps nibbling away in a corner of my mind. Maybe it always will.

In the meantime, I read, I watch and I try to understand what makes some of us go more than slightly mad. And I lament the stigma that mental illness still carries with it in the 21st century. I wonder if modern drugs and therapies could have helped my uncle. 

I will be very interested to see Richard Armitage’s take on a flesh-gnawing serial killer (thankfully, I don’t have one of those in my family. At least, not that I know of). Maybe he can bring something to the table (sorry, pun not intended, but I do have a slightly dark and twisted sense of humor) that will help me see things more clearly. Who knows? Whatever the case, I am certain he will wow me with his performance. Life has dealt me a fair share of disappointments, but RA is not one of them. 

(FYI My uncle died from complications after an appendectomy while he was still a young man and still an inmate at the asylum. My grandfather went to Tuscaloosa and asked to see his body to thoroughly check it over and make sure the death was from natural causes.)

About fedoralady

I'm an LA native--Lower Alabama, that is. My husband of more than 30 years and I live here on a portion of my family's former farm with two gorgeous calicos and a handsome GSD mix. My background is art education, and over the years I've been a teacher, department store photographer, sales associate and a journalist. My husband, his business partner and I have Pecan Ridge Productions, a video production company, for which I shoot & edit video and stills and manage marketing. I also still write part-time for the local paper. I love movies, music, art, photography and books, and my tastes in all of them are eclectic.

13 responses »

  1. You certainly have an interesting collection of relatives, Angie! 🙂

    I have a couple of borderline cases in my family too… I was joking just yesterday that I seemed to have escaped the nutty genes (well, most of the time, though I have my moments…)

    There is a big push here in the UK to try to reduce the stigma of mental illness, but there’s still a way to go.

    • I am finally getting to responding to these comments. I have had a #@$! of a time with our internet, including several weeks of relying on hot spot Wi-Fi that didn’t allow me full access to internet for .whatever reason . . . yes, Helen, I have a very “colorful” cast of characters in my family, really on both sides–although it’s only from my dad’s side that we’ve had one certifiable. There is still such a stigma against any type of mental health issue. We can talk all we want to about our bad hearts or diseased gall bladders or knee replacement surgeries but anything wrong upstairs? Somehow that’s a no-no

  2. I’ve got a couple of borderline relatives, and some professional associates who are way over the border. RL mental illness is often tragic.
    The insanity of fictional serial killers otoh is of no interest to me. I don’t know that it does anything to aid in removing the stigma of RL emotional and mental problems. The opposite probably.
    As I’ve said elsewhere, this is the one RA role you couldn’t make me watch.

    • Btw, I want to thank you for such a novel way of looking at this casting. Most people are only talking about whether it will be good for RA’s career.

    • I guess I am just a glutton for punishment, Cill–I will watch him in anything (haven’t missed anything he’s done yet that I had access to, including the debacle (for me at least) that was Spooks 9. As for fictional serial killers removing the stigma of RL mental issues—no, probably not. Perhaps it glamourizes it to a certain degree, if that is possible . . .

  3. Thanks for sharing your story. Mariel Hemmingway did a documentary called Running from Crazy that you would appreciate. While neither of us have had the problems to the severity that family has, I can identify with you. Mental illness runs through my family too.

    • Judiang, I know you have also had issues battling depression, as have I. I always have had this streak of melancholy in me, but developing FMS/CFS really famed the flames . . . if you hurt deeply enough for long enough and suffer from lack of sleep all too frequently, hey, it is going to tend to depress a gal. I think it’s inevitable. I would like to see that documentary by Mariel. The Hemingway family certainly has had its share of mental health issues.

  4. “A Rose for Emily” crazy? We don’t have institutionalizations in my family but we sure do have self-medication up the wazoo … what I find myself thinking at the moment is about the fascination of the 80s (and these books) with serial killers.

    I tend to think there’s always something that makes it “worth it” — I mean, I watched however many episodes of Ultimate Force …

    • I really think everything I have watched RA in was worth it—even, dare I say, “Cleopatra” . . . 😉 Maybe the fact I am so cognizant of my family’s mental health issues makes me less likely to actually go bananas . . . ?? Who knows.

  5. I agree with Mary K Barnes, I think that everyone has someone in their family with mental illness. I know we have even if they all don’t want to think so.

  6. Oh, yeah, the family is full of “nuts and chews”, but not to the extent that any have been institutionalized. One is not truly street legal, but we know that and act accordingly. While I was working, I saw both nature and nurture in psychotic breaks, such as a schizophrenic with brain damage caused by abuse. The stigma may be fading in this century as more is understood, but humans always fear what they do not understand, whether it is actually dangerous or not.

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