A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

30 Years Ago...

These are some of my drawings that I did when I was in high school. Recently I found one of my best friends from high school on Twitter, so I've been thinking a bit about those times, though I haven't had the courage to contact her. I have to say that I knew something was wrong with me from my first year at high school. I hated that first year. I went to a small, private high school bordering on SoHo/Greenwich Village in Manhattan. I had gone to public schools up until then and all my friends were going to good public schools, but I didn't get accepted at any good ones. So off I went, leaving Brooklyn for Manhattan, which was a big switch in itself. The location of the school was pretty cool, but the school itself felt incredibly foreign to me. I went from an Intermediate Public School of 2,000 to a private school of maybe 200. Most of the kids that went this high school were white and had gone to fairly expensive private schools all their lives, whereas my Brooklyn friends were much more varied ethnically and financially, which I had loved, but had taken for granted.

In the junior high school that I went to in Brooklyn I had been part of the "Advanced Enrichment" classes, that's where the more motivated, precocious kids wound up. We were not beloved by the rest of the school, which consisted of many Puerto Rican students, some of whom were members of gangs even at the tender ages of 10 through 13. There were quite a few really tough girls who proceeded to attack some of my friends off and on during the school year. I think I was spared because I looked pretty Hispanic myself and I wasn't much of a talker. This school went from 6th to 9th grade, but most of my friends left by the end of 8th grade due to the violence. I was artistically inclined, but I didn't have the courage to try out for the school of Art and Design in Manhattan. My best friend did have the courage and got accepted. So my parents, not wanting to send me to the local high school, which had a very poor reputation, started looking for private schools to send me. I hated the idea of going to a private school, but I had no choice, so I was biased against the high school I wound up at from the beginning. Plus I was fresh out of Brooklyn and had a heavy Brooklyn accent, so whenever I opened my mouth I stood out as different.

I discovered that the kids in my class were not motivated to learn and work, which I found weird and dispiriting. I continued to be a "good" student, though I didn't talk much. I was very withdrawn, to the point where I wouldn't even go to the cafeteria to eat with the other kids. Instead I wound up eating my lunch on some unused back steps hidden from view. I used to feel badly because there was a public telephone in the hallway and I could hear people having what they thought were private conversations. That first year I made a few tentative friendships with other borderline misfits, but the one girl I was closest to left the following year. She was really nice, a writer and very smart and she didn't like the school either obviously. But I stayed and, for one reason or another, a girl, who seemed to be accepted by the general population of the school, took pity on my and befriended me. I wouldn't say that she much liked the school either, but at least she was used to going to a small, private school and she was charming enough to fit in. She was a dancer and an actress, but initially she wasn't a very good student. Nonetheless, she was smart and funny and talented and I came to love her, really, to be a little in love with her, as I was with my other friend who went to Art and Design. I think a big part of why I was fixated on my two friends was that there weren't a lot of interesting guys at that school. So while most "normal" girls were going out with their first boyfriends, I was hanging out with my friends, though not all together. For a while, I seriously considered the idea that I might be bi-sexual. In fact, I thought that the truth was that everyone was potentially bi-sexual, it just depended on who you happened to get close to in adolescence. So I wound up being/looking pretty androgynous. I didn't really think about it, but I'm sure the kids in my high school thought Sue and I were lesbians. At least for a couple of years until we started hanging out with very bright/funny boy from the class below us.

Actually Sue and Saul were more suited to be together, they were both half Jewish on their father's side, living in low income housing with their divorced mothers (whom neither felt that comfortable with), both Manhattanites, both artistic (he was a writer and later starred in his senior class play "To Inherit The Wind"), both very bright and very funny. My memory is not good, maybe conveniently so, but I wound up being Saul's girlfriend. I guess, he sort of chose me. I was 17 and a complete virgin and my self esteem was low enough that I thought I would not get another chance to be in a relationship with a boy. I really thought that. That and he put a lot of pressure on me. He was romantic and horny and I was actually pretty vulnerable at that point. The first time he tongue kissed me (I had never been kissed before), I thought it was absolutely revolting like having a snake in my mouth. Anyway, I must have begun to emotionally neglect Sue. I remember forgetting about her birthday and winding up giving her a lousy present and that was it. She was pissed and she basically rejected me. Later she would say that she never got over her father leaving her and that she would rather be the rejector than the rejected.

So she began looking for friends elsewhere. That was horrible and I missed her a lot. And then I lost my virginity to Saul soon after my 18th birthday and that was it, I was changed too and not really for the better. I went into mourning for several years for the self that could have been, but I stayed with Saul all through college. And, really, he was a very good boyfriend for me, for a while. But I stopped having any friends whatsoever. It was just me and Saul for five years. For a good chunk of that time my family adopted him and he lived with me at home. I sort of rescued him from a clinging, obese alcoholic mother. He had been living in a one bedroom apartment with her for many years, he got the bedroom and her bedroom was the living room. I thought she was really a very nice person, but Saul said she would get abusive with him and he hated it. The terrible irony is that his father suffered from schizophrenia and by the time that I started hearing voices Saul and I had broken up. So both Saul and Sue never knew that I was actually mentally ill though they might have suspected it at some point. Anyway, all the people I cared for eventually began to grow up and turn into adults and began to distance themselves from me and probably rightly so. I lived at home till I was 27 and studied painting and photography in Manhattan, but didn't get a job. During that time, after Saul, I had 2 boyfriends, sort of, but neither lasted very long and no friends. By the time I moved to Western New York I was very lonely. My self esteem was real low too because I had been shaming myself for years about not getting a job. So what did I do? Within months of moving I got involved with a young, abusive alcoholic who was homophobic and anti-Semitic to boot. But that's another story...

It's hard to believe that 30 years have gone by since I was close to Sue in high school. And much as I would like to get in touch with her, I still carry this shame with me, the shame of being an adult child suffering from mental illness. The main thing that keeps me respecting myself is my artwork. Being an artist is my new identity. I've wanted to be an artist since I was a kid, but the confidence and skill were lacking in me. That's beginning to change, but I have a ways yet to go.
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