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Strict Standards: Declaration of JParameter::loadSetupFile() should be compatible with JRegistry::loadSetupFile() in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/libraries/joomla/html/parameter.php on line 512

Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/advancedmodules/advancedmodules.php:28) in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/admintools/admintools/badbehaviour/screener.inc.php on line 9

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Strict Standards: Declaration of JRouterJoomsef::parse() should be compatible with JRouter::parse(&$uri) in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/components/com_sef/sef.router.php on line 361

Strict Standards: Declaration of JRouterJoomsef::build() should be compatible with JRouter::build($url) in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/components/com_sef/sef.router.php on line 361

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Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/mmbackground/mmbackground.php on line 98

Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/hotlogin/hotlogin.php on line 88

Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/ganalyticstrcode/ganalyticstrcode.php on line 32

Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/administrator/components/com_ganalytics/util/dbutil.php on line 56

Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/jdownloads/jdownloads.php on line 164

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Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/system/jdownloads/jdownloads.php on line 174

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Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/billbmn/public_html/wcmi1/plugins/content/fb_tw_plus1/fb_tw_plus1.php on line 43

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Yvonne’s story - WhatCausesMentalIllness.com
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Login

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FAQ  


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Word Cloud  


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Latest Additions  


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Glimpses

Yvonne’s story

Details

Yvonne’s story

Tales of the Town Madwoman:

Yvonne Smith’s story as told by her son, Andrew Dickinson.

Yvonne was born in the year war broke out, and is therefore a contemporary of former PM John Howard and broadcaster Phillip Adams. Her father went off to war before she turned two and returned four years later. One of her earliest memories was wondering; who was that strange man sleeping in her mother’s bed?

No-one could ever say for sure just where that seething and lifelong hatred towards her father came from, but it probably dated from that time and strengthened from that memory. Yvonne was a dark and moody child. A photo taken when she was three or four clearly shows this. She is seated, legs wide apart, squarely facing the camera with a look of the most sullen rage.

Yvonne was a very bright schoolgirl and a raven-haired beauty. A school photo taken when she was fourteen shows just why she won a local beauty contest at the time. She felt boxed in and crushed by small-town life in the 1950s. She demonstrated flair and skill by taking and developing endless reels of black and white photographs. Books were Yvonne’s escape, indulgence and great pleasure. Perhaps along with movies, they gave her a view of the wider world out there.

Soon after leaving school, she started as a nursing assistant at the local hospital, which was to be her pathway to greater things. But she left a baby unattended one day, for which the penalty was summary dismissal.

Evidently swallowing some pride, she then worked as a switchboard operator at the local telephone exchange. Hard to imagine such a job in these days of mobile telephony, but many young women made a living by asking people to whom they wished to speak, then manually plugged cables into sockets to connect the calls. Naturally, this meant they could listen in on calls, which meant that they found out all the gossip first.

Though it wasn’t in anyone’s plan, Yvonne’s life course was set by the arrival in town of a handsome and easygoing footballer, Eddie. Wild and rebellious, Yvonne allowed herself to be sweet-talked by Eddie onto her parents’ lounge room carpet. Three months later and having not kept in contact, Yvonne nervously approached Eddie at the pictures to say that she was pregnant.

The wedding was hastily arranged. The honeymoon was a sea cruise (Adelaide to Perth), which Eddie enjoyed hugely but Yvonne only sullenly endured. Yvonne knew it was a mistake, and had decided to stay in Perth while Eddie returned to the town to coach the footy team. But it was not to be. Yvonne’s parents convinced her to return home.

Eddie doted on his son, telling anyone who would listen that he was going to be a footy player like his Dad. Andrew (that’s me!) gave his parents a huge shock by contracting double pneumonia and almost dying at fifteen months. Yvonne reacted by becoming extremely protective of the sickly child. Unhappy in the marriage, Yvonne focused much of her energy onto Andrew. Not long after, around age three, Andrew’s dazzling intelligence clearly evident, he began drifting away from his father. Too sick to play any sport, his father found little in common with the son he’d so previously fawned over.

Andrew’s reaction to his new baby sister was less than encouraging. When asked what should be done with her, he said “throw her down the stairs”. Yvonne became more and more depressed. Had it started as the then-poorly-understood post-natal depression?

Andrew’s problems were Yvonne’s problems. Yvonne thrived on these challenges. Campaigns energized her. Standing against the world was great. None could stand in her way. Sometime in the late 1970s, when her children were in high school, Yvonne had a breakdown and was committed to the state mental asylum.

This was the time when Yvonne’s frustrations boiled to the surface. She began talking publicly about getting a divorce. Eddie would later claim that the breakdown was the start of such thoughts. Things may not have been great before, but they were getting by. Yvonne’s daughter (name withheld) was stunned. Despite the obvious simmering tension, always present, she had thought family life was happy.

Yvonne’s diagnosis was Manic Depression. She was prescribed Lithium, which she loathed. She had several rounds of shock treatment, which had no measurable effect, neither positive nor negative. Manic episodes followed in quick succession. When high, Yvonne spent over the limit on her credit card, buying things for people in her favour, often without them having to ask. Remember, in the early 1980s, credit cards were still fairly new in Australia, and few people went over their limits. After coming down, Yvonne went to court, claiming the bank was negligent to extend her credit while manic. She won the case.

A great campaigner, Yvonne was fearless and unopposable when manic. She turned against the church in 1977, convincing her serious and thoughtful son to become an atheist. This horrified her devout parents, and may have been calculated to do so. Yvonne campaigned against the church, her father and her husband. She campaigned on behalf of the downtrodden in the town, took trips to Adelaide where she stayed in women’s refuges, read widely and caused chaos and did good works, though more the former than the latter.

Yvonne’s daughter, always Daddy’s girl, rebelled in every possible way, moving out of the town at the earliest opportunity and starting on a string of ill-advised relationships with ill-advised men.

During one of her confinements, Yvonne asked her son, then at University, to speak for her at a Mental Health Review hearing. Andrew, though well versed in his mother’s sometimes exasperating and contradictory behavior, was nevertheless stunned by the position she took at the hearing. Having briefed him to plead that she had improved; she changed course mid-hearing and said she wasn’t quite ready to leave just yet.

But Andrew’s surprise was greater still as, for the first time, he read her file. The records covering the late 1970s and early 1980s were known. But the first entry was in 1968. Yvonne had consulted an eminent shrink about suicidal thoughts. Andrew confronted his mother with this revelation. She said that the only things which stopped her from taking a bottle of sleeping tablets were him and his sister, then aged six and four.

When depressed, Yvonne often discussed with her children ways to end her life. She made a number of unsuccessful attempts. Divorce proceedings were long and very drawn out, largely due to Yvonne’s hysterical antics and frequent contradictory demands. She adamantly refused a 50-50 split, always wanting a bit more, yet the length of the settlement negotiations cost both parties far more than if they had settled for less earlier. Yvonne set about destroying the family business, in which her parents were partners.

She raged against members of every church in town, though some who did good works were spared her considerable wrath. After the divorce, she moved into a Trust house. Meant to receive a divorcee’s pension, she instead was put on the widow’s pension, a mistake she gleefully accepted and never bothered to correct. Her love of books exploded. She bought them by the box at garage sales. Her small Trust house was stacked floor to ceiling with books. She gave away stacks of books to the local council and school libraries, until they reached capacity and banned her from further donations.

Yvonne’s manic episodes tapered off as the 80s wore on, and her depressive episodes grew longer. Her daughter returned home with a young daughter, and took on the burden of caring for her mother. Yvonne doted on her eldest granddaughter. When not depressed, the two were often seen riding on her bike together.

Husband now gone, Yvonne’s shouting matches with her father grew in intensity and frequency. She weaved paranoid fantasies about his evil schemes. An irritable old bugger with a fearsome temper, Yvonne’s father engaged in these arguments with a mixture of enthusiasm and bewilderment.

Her depressive episodes grew still longer. Apart from obsessing about suicide, the worst aspect of depression was fading concentration. Yvonne was unable to read, deprived from her great pleasure. Surrounded by thousands of books, all she could read was a paragraph of something light or switch on some drab TV program.

Andrew stayed in Adelaide to work and to stay away from his difficult mother, and spoke with his sister at more or less regular intervals about mum’s condition. News was always the same. While on good terms with the eldest daughter, mum was driving the newer granddaughters away, with her constant depressing talk of ending it all.

Yvonne and her daughter had never gotten along well, but the strain was starting to show. Yvonne was banned for months at a time from visiting.

For no apparent reason, Yvonne perked up a bit in the late 1990s. She decided to catch up on the schooling she’d missed as a teenager. So she went back to school. Literally. Her favourite granddaughter cringed as grandma sat in the same class! But it didn’t last. Soon Yvonne was off her food again, getting no sleep, alternating between losing and gaining weight.

Andrew moved to Sydney, where mum would be no longer able to drop in unannounced and generally unwelcomed. He had kidded her that she was crowding his love life (which was generally pretty woeful). His sister reported that mum went downhill faster after that.

Yet the end, when it came, was a surprise. When Yvonne’s daughter phoned to report her death, it wasn’t suicide. Yvonne was found collapsed on the floor. She had died in pain, and may have taken 12 hours to slip away. It was a time of much angst. The coroner returned an open verdict.

Andrew and his sister had opposing views about the best course of action. Andrew was philosophical. Mum had long wished to end it all. Death was her often-expressed and sincere wish. His sister was torn. She wanted to get to the truth. No matter how forlorn, she had always hoped for a cure or at least some improvement. The coroner’s finding contained a strong inference that a mistake in the dosage of Yvonne’s latest medication may have contributed to the untimely death. This explanation made sense, and the sister could not understand why this was not the finding. She pursued the case for two years. She started smoking again. Even though mum drove her round the bend, she didn’t deserve such an ignominious end.

Yvonne’s daughter eventually came to accept that nothing more could be done, and that the case was hopeless. Her great fear, that she too would become like Yvonne, has recently been magnified.

As her favoured son, I hope that telling her story and working as a Peer Support Worker can, in some small way, help those who struggle with the daily reality of living with Bipolar.

GLIMPSES © 2007 For permission to use the content of this manuscript please contact Nicci Wall at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or fax +61 3 5222 6847

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