Recently, a woman from my high school tracked me down on the Internet to ask for my current address so she could send me the invite for our 25-year reunion. Her message came in to my Connection e-mail, because she realized it was me from the photo here.
With mixed feelings, I responded, not sure I'd attend. The schizophrenia started to grip me in those sad, terrible years. As a freshman, I rallied to make friends with all the girls. When one of them invited everyone else to a sleepover party except me, I retreated and slowly withdrew from the others as well.
Feeling like a misfit, I didn't go dancing at the Park Villa with a fake ID; I snuck into the Paramount to hear David Johansen in concert. In the early eighties I was a little pink punk rock girl, and I spent lonely nights with my ear to the radio, listening to 88.9 FM, and WMFU, in love with the unusual music broadcast left of the dial.
My life was no 16 Candles or Some Kind of Wonderful movie version. If my life were played out on the big screen, I'd be Ally Sheedy in the Breakfast Club, dumping everything she owned and carried with her out of the oversized messenger bag on a counter in the school's ladies room, ready to have Molly Ringwald transform her. I actually had just such a tote that served me well.
Senior year, I applied to only one college—the public university on the Island—because I had no ambition and I knew my parents couldn't afford to send me away to school. In retrospect, I know it would've been worse if I left home to study. In my junior year at the College of Staten Island, I took an elective, journal writing, and we had to keep a diary for the semester.
The schizophrenia quickened.
My professor critiqued what I wrote thus:
So you have learned, perhaps earlier than you should have, that life is not all of a piece, and that some people make it and some people don't. I pick up in your writing a profound sensitivity, a profound poignancy. It's as though you've also learned that some experiences in life can be very painful. But there is a compensation, I think (and I think you think so too), and that is, if you can deal with the adversity, you come out at the other side a stronger, wiser, happier person than most. I deeply deeply admire your efforts to come to terms with your shyness—what you see as your shyness. I see your courage and your tenacity as so great that I know you'll succeed beyond your wildest expectations—and your success will bring you all the more joy in that it will not have been easily won.
Two years later I wound up in the psych ward.
He couldn't have known this would happen, though his words now feel prophetic. As I go back in time and sift through things, I feel such a great sadness that I can be nothing but honest: the road was long to get from there to here. While in college, I sought help at the student counseling center, and it didn't work out. The therapist was unreceptive to helping me because I was almost ready to graduate, and he didn't want to start something we couldn't finish. Yet, in retrospect, I feel he should've referred me to outside help.
If only more of us had a professor or someone we trusted who took an interest in us, things would possibly be different. In the time after I obtained my B.A., I re-read that early journal often, and the professor's words took on the new meaning I hadn't seen in them the first time around.
You too will come out a stronger, wiser, happier person if you deal with the schizophrenia head-on. Remember: there is no shame. You didn't deserve this, and it's a no-fault brain disorder—a real condition, just like cancer or diabetes. Mental illness is NOT a myth. It is real, treatable, and affects people from all walks of life.
Most likely, the invitation to the reunion will arrive in the summer.
My therapist told me that such events are "beauty shows," where everyone goes to check out each other and see what they've accomplished. A number of the students are J.D.s and M.D.s, I'm sure. To that I could add my M.L.S., the one thing I take pride in above all the other things.
Already, it has brought up such high-charged memories that for just this week I sort through my feelings and keep a low profile. Will I attend? And if I do, will I disclose? Not all the girls were unkind to me, surely. Would revealing my illness bring closure on that time? Am I ready to make an appointment with the past?
My little black dress lies in the closet, just in case.
Published On: April 05, 2008