Thus far in life, I am yet to encounter anything more complex, twisted, and beautiful than that of the schizophrenic mind. Fifteen of my eighteen years were spent living with my grandmother who lived with us. My mother became her legal guardian before I was even born, so I grew up sharing a residence with my grandmother who spent her life in constant communication with judges, professional athletes, British royalty, famous actors, and musicians all due to her crippling schizophrenia.
Born in Adrienne, West Virginia in May of 1941, JoAnn Morrison came into this world and lived a relatively normal life until her early twenties. As a teenager she was loved by all her peers and teachers because she was so cordial and beautiful. Living in the small Cumberland Gap town of Middlesboro, Kentucky at the age of 17, my grandmother won a statewide beauty pageant and the title Black Diamond Coal Queen. A few short years after graduating, she was married to her high school sweetheart (my grandfather). The two were somewhat regarded as small-town royalty, she the beauty queen, and he the two-sport collegiate athlete who was also extremely intelligent, earning a business degree with honors. They coexisted in a fairytale romance until things began to crumble after my grandmother’s first pregnancy.
Although everyone revered my grandmother’s beauty and benevolence while growing up, those closest to her always detected a slight mental difference. After her first pregnancy, that difference turned into crazy. I have read that sometimes there can be a connection between the onset of schizophrenia and large life-altering or traumatic events; i.e. grief, divorce, rape, bankruptcy, pregnancy, etc. I believe in my grandmother’s case, possibly her first pregnancy created chemical changes during a developmental time in her early twenties. These changes might have been enough to open the flood gates to a full-blown mental illness. My grandfather can recall times where they would be lying in bed and he would wake up to her screaming and being completely inconsolable. Shortly after she became increasingly delusional, frequently making false accusations about him that supported her ever-growing irrational need for a divorce. My grandfather tried to hang on, but the union, once so perfect, was now inexplicably doomed.
As a child my mother can more or less remember raising herself (probably more than less) because my grandmother was so detached, distracted, and overburdened by the demanding voices of constant invisible visitors. Although my grandmother was not maternal to her own children, she was nurturing in her own ways in her own pursuits. As a result, she created immense beauty with her artistic talent and personal passions. She was an avid gardener and loved giving life to flowers that were as beautiful as she had been in her youth. She was a talented painter and poet as well. She also had an immense love for all animals: cats, birds, dogs, insects, anything with a pulse, so long as it was not her own blood it seemed. My mother can remember a time where my grandmother spent a whole day nursing a baby robin back to health, giving it her undivided attention from sunrise to sundown. As a child, my mother remembers thinking, Why doesn’t she care about me like that? My grandmother had very little money toward the end of her life, but she was innovative and resourceful. She would use scraps, trash,,second-hand anything and create gorgeous recycled art for her garden, for her walls, for gifts. She could see beauty where the rest of us only saw garbage.
I grew up with three adults in my house: mom, dad, and grandma. I can remember from about four years old, standing outside my grandma’s door listening to her have very interesting conversations with the radio. She also talked to the birds, her cat, and her flowers. When she wasn’t gardening or feeding the birds, she was writing in her composition notebooks. Her writings were scattered thoughts that were physically scattered across the pages as well, written at all different angles in every vacant space of the paper. When I was nine my grandmother enlisted my help in making her a bedframe out of stacks of her fully written notebooks. She had filled enough to make a frame and put a mattress – a full-size bed – on top.
My grandma died my freshman year of high school. She died of multiple physical health issues, but these would have never existed had she not been in bad mental health. She was creative, gifted, beautiful, and constantly misunderstood. I’m happy I got to spend fourteen years of my life with her. I love and miss you Grandma. “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” (Fredrich Nietzche).