As you read Patricia Hollinger's story, think about her message:
Move forward, reflect, and become the master of your own fate.
I Am the Master of My Fate
“I am the master of my fate” is the under-the-photo quote I chose to have in my 1957 high school yearbook. At the time I did not feel like I was the master of anything in my life. However, I must have still held to the belief that I could have control over my life as an unknown future was on the horizon.
My first bout with major depression occurred during my high school years. The possibility of suicide became a reality one day. I was holding a knife that I used to cut pieces of corn for the cows. I had a compulsion to turn the knife into my chest. I immediately ran into the kitchen, laid the knife on the kitchen counter, and told my mother how I was feeling.
The search for help thus began!
Being raised in the Church of the Brethren, the search started with ministers. They told me that when I went to college, I would feel better, or I should just replace a bad thought with a more pleasant one. None of those answers were helpful.
Fortunately, my family and I persisted and finally one of those ministers directed me to Brook Lane Heath Services—a mental hospital that was founded by Mennonite men who served their military time as Conscientious Objectors in state mental hospitals. They knew mental health treatment had to be delivered in a more humane manner.
My parents and I approached this hospital with trepidations, but we knew this option had to be explored. My hospitalization consisted of electroshock therapy as well as daily psychotherapy. The therapist was from the Mennonite tradition; thus, he was understanding of my religious angst.
Depression lifted, and I resumed my high school studies. During that hospitalization I recall hearing older patients talk about the multiple hospitalizations they had experienced. I did NOT want to repeat this saga. I heard a still small voice telling me: “Someday you will return but not as a patient.” I hoped I was not hallucinating.
I had no idea who or what I wanted to become when I graduated from high school. Many of my classmates were getting married, but there were no such prospects for me. My best friend was going to Bridgewater College, a church-related school in Virginia. So…. I decided go there. I majored in music since I was a proficient pianist and organist and played the clarinet in the county band. Of course, finding a mate who also belonged to the Church of the Brethren was high on my list.
The Problem Returned
I was successful in finding my mate. However, during my second year of college both goals of graduating and marrying came crashing to an end when I experienced yet another bout of major depression. When prescribed medications did not relieve my symptoms, I called my parents and they picked me up pronto! With restful nights of sleep, I tried to return to college although I still felt unsure about being there. With this decision to return to college, I experienced what is known as a conversion disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The disorder manifested as loss of vision and inability to speak.
Another hospitalization ensued immediately.
Seeking Help, Again
This time Brook Lane was not an option as no beds were available. Given the symptoms, waiting was not an option. I was referred to Sheppard-Pratt Hospital, Baltimore, MD where I was placed on a locked ward. Talk about scary!
Even without any other intervention my symptoms subsided. I learned that other patients on that ward had been there for up to two years. My psychiatrist met with me briefly and that was often in the bathroom when that was the only private place on the ward. One of the aids permitted me to assist her in making beds. However, she let me know that if any staff saw us together, I was to leave quickly! During one of my times working along side her, she told me that she knew I would recover. She is the only person during that hospitalization who gave me any hope.
When my parents learned that a bed was finally available at Brook Lane, they picked me up and I resumed therapies there. Upon my release, I resumed college classes as a day student at a nearby college. However, I still was not at all sure who or what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Another Development Added to the Mix
My sister’s girlfriend had a brother who was also adrift and facing the possibility of being drafted to go to Vietnam. After a few dates he proposed and voila! I was engaged to be married. I felt like I knew how to be a wife and mother. Besides, at the age of twenty-two, I thought my eggs were getting old.
We were married April 1, 1961. Might that be an omen of things to come?
Vietnam, Context for the Times
My husband’s draft board called him. We wondered, "What next?" He reported back to me the draft board had told him that if we had a child, he would not be drafted. That was okay with me, and I became pregnant almost immediately. Michael was born December 14, 1962, and David was not drafted. I took to being a mother and stay-at-home parent like a duck takes to water.
Then Stephen, our second son, was born August 17, 1965. His birth turned our family upside down. He was diagnosed with cytomegalic inclusion disease at Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, Texas where we were living at the time. His care was beyond my capabilities, and I had to relinquish him to a hospital who cared for the Stephens' of the world. As a family, we never really recovered.
Perhaps the April 1 Wedding Really Was a Trick
When I learned that my husband was having an affair with a church member, I demanded that he file for divorce. Even if divorce was right up there with the unpardonable sin, I was not going to live this way. I realized this meant that my salary of $3,000 annually as secretary at the local high school would not be sufficient. This led to me finding a $6,000 annual salary in another school. It was important to me to have the same work-day schedule as my son. I did not want him to be a latchkey child.
This became a time of reflection for me as I needed to figure out what my own role might have been that led to divorce. Finally, I was able to be honest with myself regarding my feelings, or lack of, when I married.
This reflection time revealed to me that I wanted to pursue a degree in Social Work. I began my studies right away. I recall that while on a pass from Brook Lane, I heard my pastor say from the pulpit something that mattered to me. He said that if people were good Christians, they would not become mentally ill. So, I pursued studies that led to my Ordination to the ministry—hoping to become a “good Christian.”
A New Start
While on this pursuit I met a gentleman at a Parents Without Partners Halloween party. This guy was serious, and we were soon talking about marriage. I informed him of my college pursuits and that no man was going to interfere with this. He not only agreed, but suggested I also obtain my master’s as well. I was stunned. This was beyond my expectations. We married in 1982. I received a BA in Sociology, an MA in Pastoral Counseling and took courses that led to my being a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. I was also ordained as a Minister in the Church of the Brethren.
Finding My Way, At Last
During these pursuits I was also the Secretary of the Health & Welfare Committee that was newly formed within the Church of the Brethren. While attending one of these events the CEO of Brook Lane Health Services, who was also in attendance, passed me a note asking if I would like to be employed at Brook Lane.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Yes, the “still small voice” I heard when originally at Brook Lane was right. I would return but not as a patient. I had not been hallucinating. I returned to Brook Lane for twenty-three years as Psychotherapist and Chaplain. I was the MASTER OF MY FATE, but only when I began to listen to my still small voice.
I hope you'll consider my message:
Move forward, reflect, and become the master of your own fate. ~Patricia Hollinger
About Patricia Hollinger
Pat was raised on a farm where she developed an imagination pondering the nature of the universe. She found magic in the way large plants emerged from seeds as small as a grain of salt. Years later, she found magic in the way stories emerged from words.
She sings words to her own accompaniment on the piano and organ. She is a retired Chaplain/Pastoral Counselor/Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who lives in a retirement community with her husband and their cat "Spunky." A mother, grandmother and great grandmother, Pat now pursues giving voice to her own words.
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