Author Archives: Sheila Morrison

About Sheila Morrison

Sheila Morrison is a retired physiotherapist and educator. She writes short stories and is a public speaker/writer focusing on mental health issues. She lives in Halifax with her husband, Jim, daughter, Kemi, and their standard poodle, Jade.

Baby Steps

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Zoe had burnt her French toast and flung it in the garbage. She’d made a wrap, too, but the eggs had not set. She’d slammed the wrap on the counter and disgusting blobs of egg white now clung to the sides of the toaster. Finally, she had settled for half a piece of toast and peanut butter. Susan knew Zoe hated toast.

“We could make biscuits together,” Susan said, purposely keeping her voice soft and steady.

Breakfast had been disastrous, but baking was the only activity that soothed Zoe and gave her some sense of accomplishment. Susan pulled out the cookbook and copied the directions onto a piece of paper, outlining the steps in a way that would be easy to follow.

Find baking tray.

Put all ingredients on kitchen table.

Get measuring cups….

“Okay honey, take this three-quarter-cup measure. Pour in the buttermilk. Good. Now add that to the dry ingredients.”

Susan watched as Zoe poured the buttermilk, then quickly repeated the step twice.

“Okay… so why did you add three?”

“You said three cups.”

“No, honey, you misunderstood. I said fill the three-quarter cup.”

Zoe sprang up, fired the cup across the room, and strode out of the kitchen, shoving and overturning a chair in her path. Susan stood still and silent. Down the hall a door banged.

Susan dropped her shoulders and took three slow, deep breaths. In for three. Hold for six. Out for six.

Zoe was thirty-five, no longer a baby, yet she’d lost so much in the last sixteen years: the ability to think things through, to follow directions, to control emotions. She grew frustrated by her difficulty figuring anything out. But the more Zoe overreacted the quieter her mother would become. Susan had long ago learned that explaining, negotiating, or arguing didn’t work with someone whose brain struggled so hard.

One more long, slow deep breath then Susan scooped some of the buttermilk out of the bowl and finished making the biscuits, all the while listening for the sound of things being thrown or broken. Nothing. That was progress. With one ear still open, she continued to clear up the mess. Susan knew Zoe needed time and space, things the hospital had never offered. The staff had always seemed too quick to call security, man-handle, inject, lock up.

All was quiet. Susan walked softly down the hall to the living room. Zoe was on the couch, feet tucked under her, a pad of paper on her lap, and a tube of bright blue acrylic paint clutched in her fist. A dozen books, more tubes of paint, papers, crystals, bottles of essential oils, and bits of craft materials littered the coffee table in front of her. A plastic pill container with the day’s ration of anti-psychotics and anti-depressants sat beside a glass of water.

Zoe aimed the blue tube at the paper and squeezed hard trying to dislodge the dried paint that had sealed the opening after the cap disappeared. The tube split and the paint shot onto the floor, her hands, her clothes, her new pillow. Zoe sat frozen, bright blue streaming down her wrist and dripping onto her lap. Susan reached for the roll of paper towel under the coffee table, then gently took the tube from Zoe and wiped her daughter’s hand.

“I’ll just get some wet cloths,” Susan said.

She wiped up the globs of paint as best she could. Zoe said nothing. She lay curled up on the couch, a throw over her head. It was a huge improvement over last year when Zoe had overturned the coffee table and thrown water glasses. The year before that the glasses had been aimed at Susan.

“Good for you, Zoe, for staying cool. I know it’s frustrating.”

No response.

“The biscuits are almost done. Would you like some milk?”


Susan arranged the biscuits and jelly and thought about the last few days. Weeks. Exhausting, yes, but nothing like it had been. Despite the mess in the kitchen and living room, the last hour could be counted a success for both of them. Susan had not raised her voice. She had not chattered endlessly, and Zoe had settled in spite of the paint and failed kitchen experiments.

“Hey, I think we both did pretty good getting through the last few minutes.” Susan moved a few things from the coffee table to the floor to make room for the biscuits.

“Why are you so nice to me?” Zoe was now sitting up, the throw slung over her feet.

“Well, I know you’re frustrated. And I do think you did a good job settling down. I have no reason to not be nice. And … I love you. No matter what.”

Susan sat down on the couch. Zoe leaned into her mother. They sat quietly, unaware of the passing of time. It was the moment that mattered. And later, if Zoe wanted to talk she would listen and say little. It would be a few more hours before Susan would allow herself to cry in the shower. And then, sitting on the bathroom floor, she’d pull herself together, one slow deep breath at a time. Baby steps.


Dancing with the Universe by Melissa Sue Labrador

A Day in My Life: Sheila Morrison

By .

Woke up at 6:15 (unusual for me) astonished at how brilliant the sun was shining at such an hour. Have I been missing something? Must be nice at the cottage.

Stretched my cranky knee and deforming toes while listening to CBC. Answered the phone—my daughter downstairs confirmed she will go to the dreaded ECT appointment at 7:15, having adamantly refused the night before.

Get washed, dressed and go downstairs to find she has already practiced piano, lifted weights and ridden her exercise bike.

In the car by 6:45 before she says no again and wonder if I can stretch the 15 minute drive into 30 minutes. I do.

Deliver her to the nurses and head home, wishing I was at the cottage.

Tend to sick dog; his eye is gummed shut again and I gently squeeze wet cotton pads into his eye to coax it open.

Call the vet, get appointment for 3:15. Wish I were at our new cottage.

Call hubby to see if he enjoyed his morning walk. Wish I was there.

Back to the hospital; daughter is ready to go, ready for her reward, a treat breakfast. Hard to get a decision out of her on where to go but I exercise patience. “Just drive around and see what’s open.” Not what I want to do. At the Esquire she has a chocolate milkshake, replete with whip cream and cherry, and strawberry pancakes while I tease my caffeine urges with a decaf.

Home and back to dripping water into the dog’s eye. Walk the dog. Throw in the laundry. Wonder if I’ll get to the cottage.

Brush the dog. Email. Wash yesterday’s dishes. Sweep. Chat with daughter. Pile up a few things to take to the cottage. Heat up the rest of the left over pancakes for daughter. Walk the dog. Print off friend’s manuscript to read at the cottage. Grab a sandwich. Tuck daughter in for a nap. Throw clothes in dryer.

Make a list of writing projects roaming around in my head. Collect some info for one to write at the cottage. Take the dog to the vet. It’s 4:00 pm.

Still time to get to the cottage and catch a few rays. Feel like I have accomplished nothing.

Are You Listening?

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Still life by Roxanne Smith

In the Inn: Medication and Mirror by Roxanne Smith

Your child, who is joyful, creative and loving, metamorphoses at age 18 into someone you don’t recognize. She becomes a raging, frightened, lost soul who slams doors and forgets how to dress, sleep, talk coherently or perform any of the things we all do so naturally. What do you do? Knowing that your child is not a drug user or a drinker you do what any loving parent would do. You take her to the doctor, have her admitted to hospital, and sit clutching the pain in your heart. You wait for someone to say she is going to be just fine.

But they tell you it is your fault, that you have been a terrible parent. It is best you stay away, they say. But of course you can’t. You seethe at their stupidity. Why does no one ask you what kind of person she is, what she loves, what makes her heart soar? She is unable to dress herself, to bathe, to return a hug. And you are unable to grasp their words: This, they say, is a behavioral problem.

Sleep eludes you, and you wonder, have I missed something? Should I make room for their point of view? They discharge her and recommend tough love. Find a room for her and let her figure it out, they say. You find her a room in a home two blocks away and leave her there. You feel sick, certain that this is wrong, so wrong. In the morning there is a note in your mailbox. How could you, it says. Remove her from our home immediately. You take her back to the hospital. There is no choice.

And still, you are to blame. You are incredulous. You become mother bear. You speak on the radio, the television, you write to the newspapers. You fight for better care, for some acknowledgement of the terror of losing your child to something you don’t recognize. The drugs they give her make her eyes roll up until her irises disappear. Her hands tremble over piano keys that no longer meet her fingers and nothing makes sense. She is ignored, locked up, fractured, bruised, until one day, after eight years in hospital, a smart geneticist makes a diagnosis of a syndrome–she is missing some genetic material on her twenty-second chromosome–and it all suddenly does make sense but there is still the terror that no one can fix her. They do, however, try. A few kind souls emerge from the staff you find so hard to trust and they acknowledge that she is extremely ill. They offer soothing gestures. She is young. She has potential, they say.

Two more years go by in hospital. She is discharged again. The beautiful small option home has a piano! But it is next to a huddle of staff and housemates crowded around the television. The overwhelming smells of Comet cleanser, deep fried chicken, and staffers’ cigarettes coalesce and swirl around with the high-pitched voices of too many people jammed into too small a space, hollering, ordering, berating, complaining, and her brain short circuits once again.

Back in hospital the isolation, threats, electroconvulsive therapy, security guards, and the bedroom with peeling paint all reaffirm for her that there is no hope.

Five years later, and 15 years after it all began, they want to place her permanently in a locked facility in the community. We have nothing more to offer, they tell you. She no longer has potential. You say, I’ll take her home. You have seen the bubbles of wellness that they have missed.

She is home. The rages tear you apart. You struggle to meet her explosive moments with calm presence. But between the lows you see the tiny moments of clarity. You nurture them, coax them, reward them. Every baby-step counts. You are teacher, nurse, counsellor, paramedic. And always the loving parent. You tell her things will get better. Nothing is permanent. Life is worthwhile. One day, sitting in the dark beside her, you realize those words aren’t helping and so you stop talking and just sit. And sit. In those moments you hear your own racing heartbeat and become aware of your shallow breath. Although you don’t know it you have begun the practice of self-compassion. And out of that loving care for yourself, and the acknowledgement that it’s okay to feel helpless, comes the first real lesson. The one thing you can do well is simply sit. You are finally ready and able to listen.

In a moment of quiet you say to her, this is good. Just sitting here together in the dark, being quiet, this is a healing moment. Good for you. And she says to you, I don’t know how you do that, wait for me to settle. It’s simple, you say. You tell her there are no isolation rooms here, no withdrawal of privileges. Just moments of quiet sitting. You tell her she is doing the work of healing in this moment. And over time she discovers she has the power to choose to sit quietly. You keep her company. You listen to her words and your own thoughts. The rages lessen, stop. The quiet moments grow.

Spring finally comes. You watch as she re-discovers spider webs, leaf and bark patterns, cats, creeping vines, crunchy ice underfoot, a dropped penny, bits of coloured wire, tiny buds peeping up through the last of the snow. You see that the stillness has spilled into her days. And out of that stillness grows the sound of the piano and her beautiful, clear soprano voice, the smell of her freshly-baked cookies, the beauty of her photographs and paintings, her tiny clay sculptures and the sound of her laughter as her dog curls lovingly over her feet.