Pt 30: Esther LeBaron Spencer, Me, and Mental Illness
“A mother’s love for her child
is like nothing else in the world.
It knows no law, no pity; it dares all things,
and crushes down remorselessly
all that stands in its path.”
Mother once confided in me: “I told yer Pa, before I married him, that he must promise to never raise his voice to me — never argue, fight, nor abuse me in front of my children or where they can hear … or I’d leave him!”
She continued, “I believe the terrible, bitter battles and arguments between my parents is part of the reason why my older siblings Ben and Lucinda broke [I.e: Had their first mental illness episodes] by the time they hit their late teens … eventually ended up the rest of their lives in mental institutions! I remember, too well, throughout our childhood, the fear ‘n’ misery my parents’ constant screaming and fighting caused in me and my siblings.
“That’s why I always do my best to keep a good spirit ’round me and you kids. I don’t believe in psychologists! They say Ben and Lucinda are schizophrenic. But I thoroughly believe evil spirits took them over because, for one thing, they fought with their parents, and didn’t do what their parents told them to do. And they didn’t keep a good spirit with them.
“My oldest brother Ben first went crazy in his late teens, shortly after he had a violent fist fight with Pa … beat him up badly. After that, he prayed out loud! The devil was able to hear what he was thinkin’, so could take him over,” moaned Mama.
“But it probably would’ve never of happened,” she continued, “if it weren’t for all the terrible persecution perpetrated against Ben and our family by the Mormons in Colonia Juarez all the while we was growin’ up and goin’ to school. Being treated as wicked outcasts is the main thing that lead to his mental breakdown — and Lucinda’s too.”
Regardless of what Mother and her immediate LeBaron family wanted to believe, I know and they knew mental illness ran in their family. Still, they believed the devil was Just tryin’ to thwart God’s work on earth — if he possibly could — by taking over Maud and Dayer’s children. In other words, they generally projected onto others and Satan the blame for their problems.
But let me insert some personal commentary here: First of all, schizophrenia generally sets in, in one’s late teens and is often preceded by extreme stress. As for my uncle Ben’s behavior, I believe he was already becoming mentally unstrung when he lit into his worst fist fight with his father.
Second of all, and on a different note, I only recall four cases wherein Mother and Grandma LeBaron ever took any responsibility for what may have helped cause the mental illness in their family.
The first case I recall was when Mother, as I related above, believed the terrible fighting between her parents had affected her and her siblings.
Another partial acceptance of the blame was when Grandmother told me, with tears in her eyes: “I feel bad because I believe part of the reason my children had mental problems was I neglected them so much all them years I was away for days at a time teachin’ piano lessons in the Mormon colonies to help support our family … keep the wolves away.”
The third incident I recall, wherein Mother admitted any iota of responsibility for the family’s mental illness, is the following: When I was in my pre-adolescence, in an effort to teach me to obey her and to also never take medicine without her permission, she told me her sister Lucinda’s first mental breakdown happened after she went into the medicine cabinet and secretly took a bunch of pills to try to start her period … because she feared she was pregnant and was trying to hide it from her parents.
[Commentary: In those days and with the strict teachings she was raised on concerning virginity, fearing she had become pregnant (and all that entailed!) was enough, in itself, to cause an already compromised mentality to go over the brink … in my humble opinion!]
The fourth case wherein they accepted a little blame is, as I related above, Mother believed her siblings that went crazy didn’t keep a good spirit with them. She said Ben, especially, often argued with his father and treated him disrespectfully, including, in his late teens, having fist fights with him — once even beating him up badly.
“Right after that,” Mama told me, “he prayed out loud so the devil could hear what he was thinkin’ and so was able to take him over.”
Commentary: This is old-fashioned, old-world, backward thinking. But the last I knew, Mother still (even after having graduated in 1981 with a BA in journalism from the University of Utah) did not believe in Psychology nor Psychologists. She still believed evil spirits took over her beloved and brilliant siblings Ben, Lucinda, and Ervil.
Her raising me with such beliefs scared me into trying to keep a good spirit with me, come hell or high water, all the years I was growing up. Not a bad thing … as long as you don’t go around with a fake smile on your face, like I did. People must accept and work with their emotions and problems, not stuff and deny them.
(Continued December 26, 2018, in Pt 31: My Mama Esther LeBaron Spencer, Me, and Mental Illness)
3 thoughts on “Pt 30: Esther LeBaron Spencer, Me, and Mental Illness”
Cognitive and neurological science are beginning to think that mental illness might be at the root of some religious/spiritual “experiences” (thinking of some in your family, not you!). How you managed to keep your head screwed on right is amazing.
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Great feedback! Thanks, Bruce. I love how you keep up on things! I, too, have been reading and listening to audiobooks on the latest brain and neurological research. I have a blog coming up pretty soon that goes into more detail as to how my family wa/is affected by technicalities of their brain–such as borderline autism!
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It is fascinating what the medical and psychological sciences are uncovering!
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