“Trauma is hell on earth. Trauma resolved is a gift from the gods.”Peter A. Levine
In The Rose Garden is a completed short story in the dramatic fiction genre. It follows the main protagonist, Mal, and her crippling anxiety and depression surrounding her mother’s mental decline and hospice admission. Writing this piece of work was challenging after losing my own mother in 2020. I feel that death and dying, a process we all encounter, needs to be talked about more openly in society and I hope this piece brings solace to those who have lost chronically ill loved ones.
Both of my hands are gripping the edges of the bathroom sink firmly and with purpose. My breathing is slightly erratic, and I feel that my heart may jolt out of my chest and fall into the tiny sink below. Is this it? Is this really happening?
I look up, and I stare ahead. Directly in front of me is a golden-framed mirror, dirty with the glare of old age. I am drawn to my bulging arm muscles in the mirror, tired from holding so tightly. I follow my protruding muscles up my arm and stop at my collarbone. It, too, is tightened by the weight of my aching jaw. I move my focus there. My jaw is clenched, and my forehead is scrunched tight where my third eye should be. At this moment, I have a sense that this body is constantly stressed, consistently tight. I can see and feel how badly I am holding my emotional and physical pain.
In the mirror, my usually round face looks pale and sunken in. My eyes have no spark or sense of optimism in them, and I look tired. My hair is brittle and thin, and I put it up in an untidy bun and ignore its oily shine. I grab my toothbrush, hardened from lack of use, and start the process of brushing. I tenderly open my mouth, which reveals bacteria-ridden teeth, the perfect home for countless cavities. I wince at the discomfort of my bleeding gums and toothaches. How did I let it get this bad?
I start crying and lay my face in my hands and let the warmth of my hands soothe and ground me into the present moment. I let my tears flow and flow until I decide I don’t want to feel anymore.
I throw my toothbrush in the sink, put the toilet seat down, and sit on its cold surface. I look around to try and ground myself. The whole bathroom is covered in ocean blue and white mosaic tile, and there is a cream-colored claw foot bathtub in front of me. On the wall facing the large rectangular window opposite me is a framed photograph my mother took of her garden in the early morning hours, the day I was born. Her garden outside is now lifeless, I think.
I eventually make my way over the mirror again and frown. I am wearing an oversized t-shirt that flows all the way down to my knees. The shirt has a few stains and spare strings hanging from the left sleeve. I pull at the strings mindlessly one after another until I have the last string wrapped so tightly around my finger that I start to lose feeling in the tip. I wince and snap out of it. I let my finger unravel from the string. This minor release sends calming signals throughout my body, and I stop holding, clenching, and scrunching. I sigh.
Thinking about acting on more urges, my body starts to shake from the panic and the adrenaline pumping throughout. Anxious thoughts spiral throughout my mind. This is what you get for pushing your feelings down with self-harm! I think. I have been dissociating from the pain, from the terror. Who could blame me?
I notice my breathing increase in intensity as I stare in the mirror. I’m feeling more fatigued than earlier, and I feel faint. I sit down on the toilet again and try putting my head between my knees. When that fails to work, I run over to the sink, splash-freezing cold water on my face, and dry it off with the end of my shirt. I look in the mirror again.
I can see the bathroom door in the reflection. I look back at myself.
“She needs you,” I say sternly to myself as if I needed more convincing.
I take a deep breath. I keep trying to convince myself that I’m going to be okay and that I’m going to survive these anxious feelings. Since I was a little girl, I have struggled with anxiety, and a part of me believed growing older would solve the anxious tendencies.
Mom always told me that growing older was like roses. Getting older can feel agonizing most of the time, like a million pricks of tiny thorns. Other times, she would say, growing older can be like rosebuds, magnificent and full of love like you’ve never imagined. That was back when Mom was normal, and that was when Mom knew my name. She lost that sweet gift years ago.
I am still standing facing the mirror, facing my own reflection. You look like Mom right before she got really sick, I think. You have her eyes. Their reflection in the sunlight is like a light show, with one color chasing vibrantly after another. The green and blue in our eyes mix together like yin and yang.
I leave the vanity, turn, and lean towards the bathtub. I turn each faucet on just enough to produce my ideal water temperature. Mom bathed my sisters and me in here every night before tucking us in and singing us to sleep. I was terribly afraid of the dark as a young child and would sneak into her room shortly after being bathed and tucked in. I would quietly grab my favorite blanket and rush down the hallway, dreaming only of being in my mother’s arms.
Every time I would swing open my mother’s door, I would hear her rustle in the sheets. She would always turn over, grab her glasses, and turn on grandma’s vintage lamp on the side table next to her.
“Cricket?” she would say drowsily. “What do you need, sweet girl?”
It was always about what I needed, what my sisters needed, what her late husband, my Dad, needed. She never asked for anything from anyone and was a selfless saint. Why did I never ask her what she needed? I think. Did she want me to ask her?These thoughts bring tears to my eyes, and I start to undress before I am forced to feel the pain once more.
I step into the tub and let all of my thoughts wash off as water slowly surrounds my body. I turn off the tap water, lean back, and close my eyes. The warm water slowly starts to relieve muscle pain, fiber by fiber. I close my eyes and pretend all is well, and I don’t want to let this distracting feeling pass. When it does, I step out, grab a towel and dry myself off. Then, I slowly start to get dressed to make inevitable peace with my ultimate fear.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“Mal, I need to get these boys home!” My sister Chrissy’s voice beams through the door, and she sounds desperate.
I hesitantly open the door. My heart starts racing, and my hands are shaking. I want to turn around and retreat into my safe place where nothing is talked about. I notice my sister’s eyes are red, puffy, and bloodshot. She has a baby bottle in one hand and tissues in the other.
“I gotta go, I’m sorry. I’ll be back soon; they just need to get out of here. I don’t know what I was thinking – this is no place for children.”
She turns away from me and leads me through Mom’s long hallway filled with years of dusty family pictures. I keep walking behind her to Mom’s room, where Mom is lying comatose, “dreaming,” as Chrissy would call it. “She’s in a state of being here and there, Mel and she’s not really opening her eyes. Don’t expect her to be with it.” I was shocked at her blatant honesty. But Chrissy was a nurse, and I trusted her judgments.
Cal and Elijah, my two little cousins, blast by me, chasing one another into the living room with tremendous laughter. My sister starts packing up the boy’s backpacks and is doing her best multitasking.
“The hospice nurse said we have anywhere from 24 to 48 hours left with her” She holds back her tears. “I didn’t think it would happen so fast, you know? I-I need to get the boys home. I’ll beback in an hour. Do you need anything? Are you going to be okay alone?” She looks like a deer in headlights.
Please don’t leave, I think, as she continues packing the boy’s backpacks with toys, diapers, and snacks. I can see her shaking with anxiety, and the boys are gathering around her now, distracting her from my disgruntled look.
“Uh… I’ll be okay.”
“Okay. I love you, Mal.”
“Love you too.”
I know I can’t hide anymore with their departure, and I look over at my mother in the hospital bed. This woman doesn’t look like the vibrant mother I once had. She is lying on her back with her head propped up on her pillow, facing the bay window. She is frail, and her complexion has turned from the usual pale white she inherited from her Irish parents to a tint of yellow and gray. She’s lost weight since I last saw her, and I notice her fingers are curled into her palms on both of her hands. This isn’t my mother.
I walk over to the edge of the bed where her head is facing. She has her eyes closed and looks like she is thinking deeply. She is occasionally restless and starts moving around lightly without any prompting.
“Hi, Mom. It’s Cricket.”
Silence. I had never talked to my mom and had her not respond. What a sad realization.
I started to cry, and I gently grabbed her hand and put it in mine. Her hand is colder than usual, and her skin is brittle and dry. I look back up at her face. She seems confused yet peaceful. I wonder where she is right now. What is she doing? Does she know I’m here?
This is the second week of mom being on Hospice. She had developed various chronic health conditions over the years that only worsened with her progressively worsening alcohol addiction. How can such a loving and pleasant woman have such dark demons? She hid her addiction from us kids until she couldn’t anymore.
After all of us were out of the house, she fell into her addiction harder than ever before. What was worse was that Mom had never developed the life skills needed to function in relationships with others. So she chose to battle her addiction alone.
She told me that her mother and father would beat her and her siblings if they were too loud while playing or accidentally misspoke. She and her siblings were terrified of their home. Mom said the beatings were the only time the siblings felt like they were getting adequate attention from their parents.
“I thought they hated me,” she told me once while we shared a cigarette on the front porch. “It wasn’t until the end of my mother and father’s lives that they told me they loved me. On their death beds.” I remember looking at her in awe. She talked about her losses so eloquently, and she seemed so glamorous taking a puff of a Marlboro. She knew smoking and drinking would kill her in the end, and she didn’t care. When she smoked, it was like she would try to breathe in pain and blow it away, over and over again. When she drank, she drowned her pain, over and over again.
Then out of nowhere, Mom squeezes my hand with tremendous strength. I jump and realize I have been daydreaming for too long. She starts becoming more and more restless and picking at her blankets like she is trying to move them up near her chest and then decides last minute to move them down. It was like a pattern.
“Are you okay Mom?” I whisper. I try not to be too loud.
“Yes.” She mumbles with her eyes still closed.
She startles me, and I jump at her response. I haven’t heard her talk for days. She continues picking at the blanket and is still lying with her eyes closed, her head occasionally turning side to side. I can’t help but think she is uncomfortable.
Chrissy is a night nurse who told me of numerous accounts of deathbed phenomena from her friends’ days as hospice nurses. She said to me that patients could become restless and despondent, and patients will stop eating and drinking and will withdraw into themselves. So, I expect to see some things that I can’t really explain and some things that I was uncomfortable with. Chrissy told me she once had a radio turn on when a patient took their last breath. I never believed her, and I’m unsure if I do now.
Like an angel from heaven, I hear a knock at the door and see a familiar face. Laura, my mother’s hospice nurse, is peering around the corner. I know she will help administer a dose of medication to help Mom. I become a little less afraid now that I’m not alone.
“Hello!” she pumped the hand sanitizer machine that was hanging on the wall three times and entered with a smile. How can you be so happy?
“Hey Laura.” I look over at her quickly and try my best to smile.
She places her giant black nursing bag on the large table across from my mother’s bed. I can feel her looking at me, but I pretend to be on my phone.
She walks over to my mother’s bedside and checks and charts her vital signs. I look her up and down just to focus on anything but the reality of my mother dying. She is wearing dark green scrubs with shamrocks. Fitting, I think. Her hair is auburn and very curly like she gets perms on a regular basis. I had only known her for two days. She had been Mom’s hospice nurse for the entire time she’s been on the program, and Chrissy mainly had dealt with her, as my depressed self had not been reachable by phone for weeks.
I completely disappeared from everyone when I found out Mom had only weeks to live. I was suffering from depression far before she became sick, and now it felt different than it had always felt. It ate me alive, and it took everything I had to get out of bed most mornings.
I wanted to die, and I tried to die. I tried everything in my power to leave this place. But I failed, and now, I’m here, in a place between wanting to die and being afraid of dying. Now that it was right in front of me, I wanted no part of it. And that meant the suffering was just going to get worse, and I am not sure I could survive that.
Laura visits with Mom repositions her smoothly and tells me she left Mom’s nighttime medication in the cabinet and to let Chrissy know where it is. I thank her for stopping by and am relieved that Mom seems more relaxed, and she is quieter now after her routine dose of medicines. So, I sit down in my chair, and for the first time that night, I feel my body and mind relax enough to close my eyes and rest. Chrissy would be back any minute, and then, I could go back to my room and back to pretending this wasn’t happening, even if only for an hour.
Unbeknownst to me, I fall into a deep sleep. The next thing I hear is my mother calling my name.
“Cricket! Cricket! Oh dear…erg..Cricket! Wake up sweet girl!”
I bolt awake. I shoot up so fast that I am in a half-standing position. I can’t believe my eyes. Mom is awake. She sits up in the hospital bed, smiling ear to ear, with her frail arms slightly stretched out towards me.
“M-m-mom?” I go to her, grab her hands, and kiss them. “What is happening? Are you alright? You – I don’t understand!”
Mom chuckles and looks surprised at the look of bewilderment I was giving her. “Well, honey, I am just fine! I feel great! Do me a favor will you? Grab me some coffee from down the hall, Cricket? My favorite kind – the mocha dark roast! I need it for my trip!” Mom is still holding my hands tightly and with intent. I wasn’t sure what trip she was referring to, but I had heard much stranger things out of her mouth when she was in love with alcohol, so I let it go.
“I-I sure! I’ll be right-“
“Oh! Cricket!” her eyes widened.
Mom looked like she was looking through me.
“Your father is here.”
I almost faint, and I have to sit down. First, Mom is awake, and now this? I look over, and Mom isn’t paying any attention to me. She is looking in the corner of the room. She points and says enthusiastically, “It’s your father! See! Oh, Gene. I’ve missed you so much! Look, Mal is here! Say Hi Mal!”
I look in the corner and see nothing. I am dazed and frightened. I call Chrissy multiple times, with it going to voicemail every time. Where is she?
“Mom, Dad died years ago. After Lola was born, remember?” Lola is her middle child and lives overseas. I redial Chrissy.
It is like I am not in Mom’s room with her. She keeps chattering away with Dad about their lives together, my Dad’s family, and us children. She tells him what he missed. Sometimes, I can’t understand what she is saying. I watch and listen in amazement, and I am almost too stunned to move or speak.
I try calling Chrissy again. By now, it is 5:00pm, and she has been gone for almost two hours, with no callbacks.
Suddenly, Mom looks over at me.
“Cricket. Remember when you used to come into my room late at night when you were scared?”
“Of course, Momma.” I am again looking at her with a puzzled look.
“I prayed every night for months that I would feel loved and needed by someone after Dad died and you babies grew up. I thought you all would leave me.”
I start to cry. I got up from the chair and walked over to Mom’s bed, and crouched down to her level. “Mom, I love you so much.” She took my hand and used the other to gently touch my cheek, fresh with tears.
“Do not feel bad Cricket, this was just a part of my life. Now, you used to come in late at night, when I would feel the loneliest. In more than one way, you saved me. You gave me a reason to keep going.”
I noticed Mom was becoming noticeably weaker in her tone of voice and grip. “Even as you grew older, you would be in the kitchen late at night snacking, or up talking to boys…” I chuckled with tears still streaming down.
“You don’t have to talk, Momma.” Tears were flowing in buckets now. She shot back quickly, always needing the last word.
“You were my partner in crime, Crick!” She tries her best to squeeze my hand and talk louder, but her voice is cracking, and she is declining. Before I could think of what to do, she looked at the opposite corner of the room, pointed, and smiled. Her eyes lit up.
“Oh, it’s beautiful. Look, he’s come back with my mother and my father! Oh Cricket, this is wonderful. They are saying they love me, Crick!” I keep stroking her hand, letting her interact with my Dad and grandparents. After a few minutes of visiting with them, her eyes slowly started closing, and just like that, she was back to dreaming. I slowly let go of her hand, make sure she is still breathing, and sit back on the chair.
The palms of my hands start sweating. My heartbeat starts racing, I feel nauseous and lightheaded. Things began to get fuzzy. My body simply cannot hold all of my emotions anymore.
I run down the hallway to the bathroom, before everything, including emotions, spill onto the carpet of Mom’s floor. I get sick in the toilet and try sitting down to regain balance to my senses.
I try slowly breathing in and out, but my breaths are too shallow from crying. I can feel myself starting to have a panic attack. Mom needs you, Cricket, I think as I put my phone on speaker, dial my sister, undress, and hop into the shower.
Chrissy isn’t answering, and I feel like I will die right there. Mom is all alone, so I have to keep calm and get back to her. I turn the cold water on and stand directly underneath the showerhead for a minute.
The water is freezing! I learned in therapy that cold showerscalm you down from panic attacks so I focus on the cold water pelting my back, until I feel composed enough to see Mom again.
I turn off the shower, dry off, and look for my anxiety medication in the cabinet. I take some, get dressed, and try calling Chrissy again.
“Mal! I am so sorry! The boys got sick on the way home and-“
My sister says nothing.
“She’s close, Mal. I’m coming – I will be there as soon as I can okay? I’m coming.”
I chuck my phone on the floor and jog back down to Mom’s room.
“Mom I’m back I’m so sorry! Chrissy is coming!”
Once I enter the room, I feel that something is different.
I look at Mom, staring up at the ceiling with a fixed glare. She isn’t moving, and I know then and there that she is gone.
I run over to her and start sobbing. I lay my head on her chest one last time.
“I love you, I love you, Momma.”
I call Chrissy, who is down the street from Mom’s house. She can’t make out any of my words, and she hangs up instantly, knowing what has happened. When she comes in the front door, I kiss Mom goodbye, walk back to the bathroom, shut the door, and collapse onto the floor. I let out a cry that I’d never heard before. Everyone needs to know my pain.
After twenty minutes of uninterrupted sobbing on my hands and knees, I pick myself up. I grab onto the sink with purpose and with both hands, and I stand tall. I started here and ended here, I think. I look in the mirror again, in some sort of grief-stricken stupor. In the mirror, I see a glimmer of red on the right side. Then I turn and look out the window into Mom’s garden.
I see a single red rose popping through the weeds and swaying in the wind. Weeds surround the single flower to protect it from harm. I can faintly see tiny thorns starting to protrude from the stem, forming further protection for itself. I see buzzing insects swirling throughout the backyard, looking for places to make their home.
Mom’s garden is reborn.
Mom is reborn.
I am reborn.
desperate child inside
your grief is mine
ours to share
ours to hide
we barely survive, semi-failure to thrive
through magic of sorts
an occurrence so rare
we untangle from the deceptive snare
we choose to stay alive, to revive
we choose to live past twenty five
I spend a lot of time wondering what dying feels like. What dying sounds like. If I’ll burst like those notes, let out my last cries of pain, and then go silent forever. Or maybe I’ll turn into a shadowy static that’s barely there, if you just listen hard enough.Jasmine Warga
They say reaching out is brave. I’m not sure who ‘they’ are, but a part inside of me hates them for assisting me in digging up my demons.
Back and forth, my mind flip flops between isolating for my own protection and dialing up my supports on my phone.
I feel liberated from these dark thoughts while discussing my demons with professionals. So then, why do I isolate further? Why do I place myself so far away from them, looking for someone to come to me???
Someone to come to me.
Someone to save me.
Someone to make effort to help me.
Someone to care for me.
Someone to parent me.
sitting, playing, silently listening
chest tightens, shoulders freeze
here she comes again
i sit with her, listening, helping, playing
she soothes me with anger and rage
I finally feel something, not sadness
I finally feel
Borderline Personality Disorder is a personality disorder that affects how a person feels about themselves and how they interact in relationships with others.
People with the disorder often have a strong fear of abandonment, struggle to maintain healthy relationships, have very intense emotions, act impulsively, and may even experience paranoia and dissociation (Legg & Gladwell, 2019).
BPD is a very debilitating disorder to live with. Like many personality disorders, BPD is a disorder that is full of stigma. The more we talk about the disorder, the less stigmatized it can become!
People diagnosed with BPD deserve support and understanding.
So, how can someone with BPD cope with the daily struggles surrounding the disorder?
Building up skills, habits and routines can be helpful with preventing and treating BPD symptoms.
Here are some things that have helped me cope on a daily basis:
-petting an animal
-have a soothing hot shower
-drinking my favorite beverage
-moisturizing with lotion
-speaking with people I love about how I’m feeling
-get under the covers, weighted blanket, etc.
-hug someone, hug myself
-listen to instrumental music with headphones
-light candles, create a warm environment
-ask for or give myself a massage
-using breathing techniques
-eat balanced meals/snacks
-drink enough water
-keep my appointments
-take my medication
-speak with others, do not isolate
-make and state clear boundaries
-apologize when it is warranted
-remove myself from situations when feeling rageful or too unregulated
-create and maintain healthy and fulfilling relationships with others
-watch favorite movies
-watch new series/films of interest
-take a drive
-play video games
-take a walk
-reach out to partner
-call crisis hotline
-take a cold shower
-create a crisis plan !!
-cry it out
-take meds as needed
What helps you cope?
Hey Today I wanted to share 6 coping tips to try the next time we feel anxious or uneasy. Coping Skills Grounding Sit up straight, put your feet on …Anxiety coping skills
In this blog post I will talk about why I think mental health awareness is not enough on its own, as well as discuss the importance of mental health …The importance of mental health acceptance