By Suzanne Maria Cully
I never knew that other people didn’t count the names of people who liked them in order to understand that they really were okay. But that has been my gauge for as long as I can remember. It is odd not knowing what people think of me, or how I may be coming off to them. I mirror myself off old friends whom I trust. I need them, in order for me to understand myself: to know who I am. I am not speaking about resume here. No, this is a sense of the real person. I have no idea, when others know.
I used to be a risk-taker. Taking risks was a matter of pride for me. One of my favorite memories is of letting a race horse that I was riding –just letting the reigns go slack. Then I leaned low over the horse’s mane, and let him run where ever and as fast as he wanted. We were in the Bosque, which is a wooded area that runs along the Rio Grande. He missed low branches and tree roots of the old cottonwood trees, and turns—all in a full-out run. I let him run until he didn’t want to run any more.
Next was sky-diving. I jumped a total of two times. Then there was cocaine. Sex. My casual sexual activities led me into some very hurtful, and at times dangerous, situations. It was all about risk. I was a risk junkie.
Things I have stolen:
- Candy bar(s)
- Dog food
I was beat up. That was part of my life too. When my old boyfriend hit me, it was like fireworks exploded in my head, and then the—oh-man-this-is-real epiphany was all that I knew—until he thankfully left. Yes, that happened to me too. He hurt me but I was able to overcome it and go on to earn three degrees. I studied in France also.
France was exotic, beautiful and a learning experience that rivals none. It was scary and exciting and lonely. I had romance in some of the most luxurious places. I learned about color, and style. Yet I still counted and named the people who liked me. I still could not get a sense of who I was.
My French boyfriend lived in a mini-castle and his bedroom was in a tower. He cooked some of the finest meals I’d ever had. We’d have dinners with his aristocratic friends, and I would enjoy the centuries-old pleasure of French dinning at home. I learned that the French think the American habit of resting our hands on our laps during dinner is rude. One should ONLY rest one’s wrists on the edge of the table. We ate truffles. They tasted nutty, earthy. It was a five to six hour affair. And next to our table was a very large fireplace, with a fire.
Apparently American girls from prestigious schools were as fashionable as California Wine. We were all the rage in France in the early 80’s.
Places I’ve been thrown out of:
- A Guitar shop
- The DMV
- An outdoor market on Capitol Hill
- Schools where I taught
- My therapist’s practice
- A court-ordered Anger Management class
- My DBT group (for 2 weeks)
- My pot dealer’s place (for about a month)
I get upset easily. I fight for my beliefs, I fight abandonment, I fight disillusion. I scream them. I rail and maneuver. When no meaning can be found in what I fight for or believe in, then I drift over to where it doesn’t matter. Where it is not an issue. The issue becomes something else entirely. The issue becomes my survival.
What I have lost:
For instance, I was in a video.
In the film I see myself as a lioness defending her cub. I charged and roared and swatted. For approximately three minutes. And it was justified. The truth is, it was my fist, not a paw, and I hit a guy. I hit him hard.
I watched the number of viewers rise exponentially on YouTube.
The video was on all the local TV stations, at six o’clock and again at ten. People loved it. The press wanted my side of the story, even offering to have a sit-down interview with me. But I never said a word. Reporters tracked me down and called my cell phone. A camera crew went to my friend’s house and scared her son. I hid for days, and waited. The film went viral on YouTube and Twitter. I was getting phone calls and emails from friends and family from around the country. It seemed like everyone I knew saw the footage. If people didn’t see it on TV, then they read about it on the front page of the paper. One newspaper writer said it was terrible to watch someone lose it that bad.
“You’re going to jail,” said my brother.
“Too bad he didn’t hit you first,” said a friend.
“You look BUFF,” said someone I hadn’t seen for a while.
I had a good work record. I taught Spanish and French, and enjoyed it. My students seemed to enjoy my classes and we worked hard. There were a few visits to the psyche unit, yes, but they were triggered by major losses in my life. For some reason it seemed odd that other people didn’t need to go to the psyche unit when they suffered losses. I did.
But this last time I went to the “Unit,” I was in handcuffs and riding in a white, molded, one- piece polyurethane seat in the back of a police car.
The police caught me and just in time. Because I’d called my sister in California and told her it wasn’t her fault. There was no way in my mind that she could stop me from as far as she was, but I knew she’d try. So I gave myself a few moments to look around my place, and then grabbed my purse when I heard BAM BAM BAM! on the door. The dogs went crazy, biting and barking. My neighbors were upset to see the police in the hallway, so they came in to my apartment.. I was on the second floor and considered running. Just a few steps and I’d be out, over the balcony, and gone. The police stood braced in case I should try to run. When I saw how strong those guys were I decided against that. I’d get two steps in, if I was lucky. I walked over to my easy chair, sat down and lit a cigarette.
“I could have done “suicide by cop” I said.
“You do not want to do that,” said the cop in charge.
Before I left with the police, I gave my dogs and the suicide notes, to my neighbor for safekeeping. The notes were on excellent monogrammed stationary, and I had put a packet of “Forget-Me-Not” seeds in each envelope…
As they drove me to the hospital I thought I would just stare out the window. When I got to the hospital I stared at the door. In the ward I just stood and stared at the corner. My arms were folded and I stood there and stared at the wall.
I would do that. Stand with my back to everyone for as long as I needed to. That is until I realized they weren’t going to let me do that, either.
I wasn’t dead. But nor was I alive.
They placed me with a roommate who had no teeth, and a rooster-tail hair style. She never spoke, but took real delight in stealing from other people’s beds. I swore at her and kicked the door jamb to the bathroom where she was hiding.
“GIVE ME BACK MY PILLOW!” I said. I HAD died, and when I woke up I was in hell.
No doing. She was not going to give me back my pillow no matter what I did. So I took my bedding and went to another room. No one tried to stop me. I slept.
The next day, feeling rested, I and managed to scramble some writing materials, and was feeling some relief, finally. An elderly white man in Khaki pants and white golf shirt sat down next to me while I wrote.
“You know, God doesn’t like…” he said
“What?” I said. “God doesn’t like what?”
“Not too fond of…” he said. He tilted his head and lifted his eyebrows.
“So what you are saying is God would not approve of me if I killed myself?” I said.
He nodded his head yes.
“Well I don’t want your God.” I said. I walked away.
The highest demographic of suicides in the US are white women between the ages of 55 and 65. That must be why when I first walked in to the unit, the nurse asked me if I might consider electric shock therapy, a treatment for acute depression.
“Yes. I understand it can be very helpful” I said. Standing was too difficult. I asked for a chair.
My Doctor was very thorough. She wouldn’t stop until she got it right. She called my sister and asked her questions. And finally she figured out my correct diagnosis. After 30 years of therapy and medications, I finally received the right diagnosis. It was not one I wanted to hear at all. It had a bad reputation among mental disorders. Borderline. I had lost my mind. I had become temporarily psychotic.
It would be months before I had really regained my mind. I had to do things I didn’t want to do, and meet people I didn’t want to meet, and live where I didn’t want to live. Some places and people I even abhorred. But I’ve inched along toward balance— slowly. Meditation helps, as does prayer, therapy, time, the right medication, and friends and family that hold me up when I can’t do it for myself.
My modest home is mostly a place of peace, now. I am regaining my reputation. There is a small twist. The words, “a little batty” have been used to describe me. So perhaps I am a little batty at times. I don’t mind. Because I have places to go and things to do.
History has become interesting to me again. My own family history, especially. Sometimes I feel shame if I think my ancestors can see me. I don’t know them. But as the child of an old immigrant family, with so much promise… I had a lot of promise. I still do.