Doreen attributed her love of writing to new freedoms associated with life in the community. She participated in literary events at the public library and practiced her writing with help from the group home staff and other community members. These intellectual activities stand in sharp contrast to the absurd IQ measurement that Doreen was assessed with in the institution. Unsurprisingly, given her IQ rating, she was aware that she had not been encouraged or inspired to use her mind when she had lived in the institution. For the rest of her life Doreen kept careful track of her activities in her journal, wrote countless letters of thanks to the various officials and service representatives she encountered, and became a tireless advocate for individuals who required additional assistance, be that physical, financial, or emotional.
Reading Doreen’s diary, one can trace her daily efforts to bridge the divide between institution and community. On September 1, 1976 Doreen made an entry in her diary to mark the occasion of her first stay in the Group Home. “I was transferred from ASH Deerhome to the New Group Home in West Park. As I will have to be on social assistance, welfare is paying my board and room plus meals. I shall also get spending money. I shall receive some rehabilitation pay.” From this point forward, she made regular entries describing the social workers with whom she came into contact, the meals she ate at the group home, and the various tasks that she performed to help both the staff and the residents at the home, including preparing meals and cleaning the house. These entries continued daily as Doreen meticulously catalogued her activities, almost as though she were filling in a chart.
Within the span of a week, Doreen seemed to grow restless and missed some of her friends who remained in the institution. On September 8 she returned to Deerhome to have coffee with friends. For the next few weeks her entries continued to record her daily activities as she settled into a pattern of cooking, cleaning, attending doctors’ appointments, and returning to the Social Welfare office either to pick up cheques or to connect with her social worker. Throughout this busy schedule, Doreen often found time to visit friends at the nearby institutions and to help out around the group home, including assisting the other residents in meeting their schedules.
At the end of September, in a manner that she would later embrace with regularity, Doreen wrote a letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate in the hopes that the local newspaper would publish her insights on trying to integrate into the community. She opened the letter by boldly stating “I would like to say how pleased I am that the government had decided to open up the new group homes out in the community.” In the community “they are given the chance to learn to take on responsibility for themselves like learning to do things in a normal way: taking the city bus to work, go shopping and…also learn to cook.”
Doreen’s early diary entries revealed a mixed set of feelings. Her comments expressed a blend of pride in her new-found independence, but a pride that was tempered with a dose of caution as she faithfully recorded her every move, as if to report her good behaviour to an invisible reader or supervisor. Although it is possible that Doreen planned to keep her diary for future readers to examine, she does not initially appear to regard it as a secret repository for her innermost thoughts or intimate feelings. Rather, she diligently wrote in it each day, as if instructed, or as though she imagined that at some point someone might ask her to account for how she had spent her time. This seems a reasonable interpretation of Doreen’s diary.
By early November, however, just over two months after she had arrived at the group home, her entries became more personal and reflective. On November 7 she recorded: “I have been receiving a lot of help. I had run into a few of my own personal problems which is no one’s fault but mine. It is so nice to have someone to talk to that does know about me.” On in the next page, engaging in more self criticism: “If I reject the help that is available to me I will lose the respect of those who tried to help me plus my psychiatrist…and my relatives….I must try to help myself.” This last segment reads like a well-rehearsed testament to her commitment to independent living, one that health care professionals hoped patients would adopt on their way out of the institution. In this case, it is unclear whether Doreen was encouraged to accept this view of herself upon exiting Deerhome, or whether she came to this realization on her own. Her candid reflections, however, underscored the dramatic shift from a collective to an individualized identity.