Tuesday, June 18, 2024 Jun 18, 2024
81° F Dallas, TX


Jude Revoli tells me she is nervous. I do not tell her I am nervous, although I am. I asked for this meeting, but now, face to face with this bright, direct 41-year-old woman, I am reminded how easy it is to fear the honesty of someone who has fought for her sanity. We don’t want to hear stones that are as surreal as they are hellish, and we don’t want to believe them. And yet, as more and more of us watch family and friends wrestle with various forms of mental illness-as we look into the faces of some homeless people, as we try to cope with addictive personalities, as we try to understand the Killeen murders-we all want answers.

Dallas’ Mental Diagnostic Center has housed Jude Revoli five times. In this issue, on page 36. she writes about her most recent stay in the controversial facility, which was temporarily closed this fall. Her article, like Glenna Whitley’s piece last month on the Grady family, reveals much, yet hardly scratches the surface of a puzzling phenomenon. And that is why we are having lunch. What can she tell us that we won’t hear from hospital executives or politicians?

The barest details of Jude Revoli’s life do more to explain the complexity of mental health issues. In 1969, still a teen-ager, she is committed by her parents. That is her first visit to the MDC-and for the first two days she is the only patient there. “I was a real bad junkie. . .a real screwed up kid.”

Over the next 20 years, her life is a series of hospitalizations, including stays at Terrell State Hospital. She meets a man in Narcotics Anonymous and eventually marries him, but the marriage does not last. A daughter, the first of three children, is bom and Jude stays clean, but not always sane. “I would stay up all night for days.. .they thought it was hormonal [from the pregnancy]. I called Warren Beatty.. .I was crying all the time.”

Spending four months at her mother’s home, Jude remembers being so heavily medicated on Prolixin that she slept 20 of every 24 hours. “I lay in that bed and listened to my daughter cry every day. I couldn’t do anything.” Jude’s prayers then; ’’God, just don’t make me be like this.” She tries to explain what it’s like to live with the drugs that are often used to keep the mentally ill in balance. “It’s just very hard for people to take the medicine. You’re not really there. You’re like a zombie.” Off the medicine, “you are smarter, you are brighter, you have more energy. You can go on forever. Then you begin to deteriorate.”

In 1980, Jude starts tape-recording her thoughts. “I thought I could beat it without going to the hospital.” One night she says she is JFK’s illegitimate daughter; the next day, becom ing physically ill, she says she is diabetic and is almost treated with insulin.

She stays awake for three weeks; again, she goes through MDC and Terrell. Six| weeks later, she is out again. Finally, about 1985, Jude is treated as a manic-depressive and put on lithium. It is not a perfect treatment, but Jude is optimistic. “I am a mental health person, but I’m not mentally ill unless the disease is active… I see my doctor twice a month, I take my medicine every day, I pray for my continued sanity. . .I’ve paid my dues. I don’t let go, I don’t quit.”

All of that makes her a self-described “professional mental health person.” And as a professional, she has some opinions on the current system of mental health treatment.

First, facilities must have professional aides, not minimum-wage students. “Nobody cares, there is no training. They’re just as afraid of us as we are of them.”

And there is “the glass.” Jude recalls a stay in a private Houston hospital with a room of her own. She says there is no hospital that you want to be in, but she remembers that the nurses and doctors were accessible; there was no glass wall between them and the patients. At Terrell and MDC, she says, patients “are really high-class animals.”

Jude talks about “dignity, respect, more compassion.1” and she talks about the need for smaller, more intimate facilities. She also knows the value of a good doctor. She gives much of the credit for her current health to a clinical psychologist she first met at Terrell. She knows other patients have been much less fortunate.

Jude Revoli’s biggest fear is of dying in a mental hospital, but that doesn’t keep her from visiting Terrell about twice a month with her son, Nico. She doesn’t go to see anyone in particular, just to walk around the park and to drive by the various buildings she has spent time in. “I want to know where I come from; if I don’t I’m liable to forget… I just want to make sure everything is OK.”