Her name was * Betty and I worked with her when I was eighteen years and she was about twenty years my senior.
Betty was a lovely woman, so funny and full of life and she made each day at work fun.
She had a husband and three children two were teenagers and one of primary school age.
One day at work she was in floods of tears, when I asked what was wrong she could hardly answer me but passed me the newspaper. Elvis had died and she was devastated.
The phenomenon that was Elvis had passed me by, I was too young and was more interested in David Cassidy so I couldn't understand why she was so upset but even for an Elvis lover her heartbreak seemed extreme.
She had very big highs where she would laugh and have a carry on all day long and get us all into trouble, we were even banned from laughing once. Then, real deep lows as in the day she cried for Elvis. I didn't recognise anything was wrong I suppose being so young I was naive I didn't know Betty was daily fighting the illness of depression.
One day she did not come to work. We didn't know why but there was a lot of whispers before we were told she had had a breakdown and was in hospital but it was surrounded in secrecy as depressive illnesses were over thirty years ago. I didn't really know what a breakdown was and didn't feel I could ask anyone.
|A very similar building. (from morgue files)|
Two of the older women at work and myself went to visit her, it was quite a trek, two long bus journeys and a walk up a huge hill to the front of a large imposing building which was a psychiatric hospital.
I can still remember feeling very scared, I had heard that she had been given Electric Shock Therapy and I did not know what to expect. As we went inside and told the nurse who we had come to visit we were shown through two sets of double doors which were locked behind us. If it were possible for me to be more scared then, I was.
Betty saw us, she came shuffling up the ward, she was so pleased to see us. We had gifts for her, a nightdress, dressing gown, slippers and toiletries from all at work. The way she received them made me very uneasy, she was like a child at Christmas, she showed them to everyone on the ward and I thought my heart was going to break, if I could have ran out of there that minute I would have.
This was not the Betty who took me under her wing at work and showed me the ropes. This was not the woman who told me jokes and made me laugh.
This was not the Betty who was a loving mother and wife who had a responsible job and looked after everyone.
This was a broken Betty.
We played along with her childish chatter all feeling equally uneasy and sad .On the way back home the three of us were very quite, I think we all wondered what to say to the other girls at work the following day, none of us felt we could tell the truth it would have felt like betraying her. Instead we said she was doing well, loved the gifts and was looking forward to coming back to work, when in reality she had never mentioned it.
Betty did return to work a few months later, she came back part time but something was missing, it may have been that the medication subdued her but she just wasn't the same.
I kept in touch with her after I left work to go to another job and five years later when I had my son she came on two long bus journeys herself to visit and give me a gift for my new baby. By that time she seemed back to the way she had been before her hospital stay and I was so glad that she had got herself back again.
As can happen, life and another baby and a part time job got in the way and although we exchanged Christmas cards we didn't meet up again.
I did hear that she had bouts of depression from time to time. One year my Christmas card was returned from the post office as not at that address. This was before the time of Facebook and other social networks so I couldn't find out what happened to her, maybe it was as simple as her just moving house.
Looking back now as an older woman I think it was a bit more than depression that was wrong with Betty, what, I don't know because as I said it was shrouded in secrecy. I think today we are more aware of mental health issues although I never heard on the news that Wednesday had been World Mental Health Day, but as we learn more about it I hope no one will be scared the way I was about visiting anyone with such an illness after all it could happen to any one of us.
* Betty is not her real name.