April 9, 2010
Have you ever confused a dream with life? Or stolen something when you have the cash? Have you ever been blue? Or thought your train was moving while sitting still? Maybe I was just crazy. Maybe it was the ‘60’s. Or maybe I was just a girl…interrupted. ~Susanna Kayson (Girl, Interrupted)
There is a scene in the movie, Girl, Interrupted (which I watched for the first time a few days ago) that really hit home with me. Almost to the point where it hurt. The main character, Susanna Kayson (diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder), is meeting with the insightful Dr. Wick, her psychiatrist at the mental institution in which she is staying. Dr. Wick asks Susanna if she is disappointed that she has come to a plateau in her recovery…
Susannah (S): I’m ambivalent. In fact, that’s my new favorite word.
Dr. Wick (DW): Do you know what that means, ambivalence?
S: I don’t care. It means, “I don’t care.”
DW: On the contrary, Susanna. Ambivalence suggests strong feelings in opposition. The prefix, as in ambidextrous, means “both.” The rest of it, in Latin, means “vigor.” The word suggests that you are torn between two opposing courses of action. Will I stay or will I go? Am I sane or am I crazy?
S: Those aren’t courses of action.
DW: They can be dear, for some. What world is this? What kingdom? What shores of what worlds? It’s a very big question you’re faced with, Susanna. The choice of your life. How much will you indulge in your flaws? What are your flaws? Are they flaws? If you embrace them, will you commit yourself to hospital for life? Big questions, big decisions. Not surprising you profess carelessness about them.
This near-perfectly expresses the dichotomy of thought I struggle with myself. These questions of who am I, really? Am I crazy? Sane? Normal? Strange? What is the real me? The girl that can function in society, is responsible, respectful, dutiful, thoughtful, hard-working, productive, even at some level… healthy? Or the girl that is careless, reckless, anti-establishment, flippant, I-don’t-give-a-crap-what-you-think, spontaneous, quirky, rebellious against authority, even downright deviant? The girl who holds doors open for people behind her, smiles, says please and thank you, crosses her t’s and dots her i’s, looks nice and neat, and keeps her room tidy? Or the girl who walks around with a “don’t-mess-with-me-if-you-want-to-live” sign on her forehead, inky black hair and black nailpolish, studded jewelry, speaking her mind loudly, scribbling lines of poetry in permanent ink on public buildings and restroom walls (ya, that’s pretty much as “delinquent” as I got), pretending not to care what others think but really caring very deeply to the point of changing her personality several times a day, with a “leave me alone” vibe and a complete disregard for societal mores? The girl who goes to work, to school, to church, spends time with family, and basks in the beauty of the sunlight? Or the girl who is only alive at night and a mere zombie during the day, is in and out of mental institutions, skips out of therapy sessions, and listens to angry music? The girl who eats her vegetables and exercises moderately, cares for her body, and respects herself? Or the girl who pours toxins into her body, abuses laxatives and diuretics, refuses to eat, or eats to the point of throwing up, exercises two hours a day, cuts, overdoses on meds, and does everything she can think of to destroy herself? Am I crazy? Or am I sane?
What about my personality traits and activities that don’t fit neatly into either category, that don’t lend themselves to the labels of “good” or “bad,” “healthy” or “unhealthy?” And by these I mean… Creativity that ebbs and flows with my ever-changing moods. Late nights of writing poetry under the covers with a flashlight. Unconventional ways of seeing the world. Unique quirks and habits. Random bursts of energy and spontaneity. Ability to know who people are and what their lives are like upon merely glancing at them. The gift of seeing people’s auras. Knowing that every person on earth has their own musical chord that uniquely expresses the color of their soul. The ability to feel immense pain, but also breathtaking joy. Melancholy brooding or, on the flip side, a vivid awareness of my surroundings, both giving birth to new ideas, new expressions, even new worlds. An acute musical sensitivity. Any of these things I can use for good or for ill. To use to inspire, to lift, to bring light into the world and to others. To create beauty. Or… To manipulate, to gain power over others, to plunge myself into the depths of darkness. With them I can soar through the pristine heavens, or delve into the murkiness of the underworld.
Now this, this is the challenge. To identify the flaws. Are they flaws? And shall I indulge them? Would doing so condemn me to a life in and out of hospitals, on endless combinations of medications? To an emaciated body covered with scars? A broken life of guilt and shame? Ever sliding down and further down that slippery slope leading to complete insanity?
Identify. Challenge. Root out. Think. Discover. Dig down. Understand. Enlighten. Flaws… those things that hurt myself and others. Healthy behaviors… those things that preserve my dignity and my physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being while respecting the rights and feelings of others. And those things that don’t necessarily fit into either category? Those neutral gifts and attributes that can be used to help or hinder, heal or hurt? Creative flow, artistic passion, intuitiveness, quirkiness, originality, even some measure of oddness? These things are part of me… And will never go away…. I hope.
I asked my therapist about this today. My concern that becoming “healthy” would in some way rob me of the ability to feel deeply, to experience passion… That it would take away my vibrant imagination, my creativity, my ability to escape into a world all my own, my susceptibility to flashes of inspiration. I told her that I am most creative when I am depressed or “brooding,” or when I feel strangely “outside myself.” My pain – and sometimes, even my fits of elation – give birth to novel combinations of words and fantastic mental images, to a world of ghosts and of strangeness, of dreams and of nightmares, a world where the line between fantasy and reality is blurred. “I don’t want to give that up,” I said. “It’s part of me. Sometimes it’s all I’ve got.”
She told me that I already had the answer. “It’s part of me.” Those things that make me unique – that sometimes mingle, sometimes clash, to create my own complex personality and style of thinking, of expressing, of living – are essential aspects of who I am and will remain whether I am emotionally/ psychologically/ physically healthy or not. “You will just have to search to find that same inspiration from a different source other than your pain and depression, but the artist in you will never die.” She asked if she could read some of my poems. I can’t wait to show them to her next week. Of all the therapists I’ve had, she is the first to ever express such interest in my writing and my music. I’ve had doctors and therapists be interested in my I.Q., in my acting experience, even in my childhood imaginary friends… but never this. I left today feeling validated and important. I felt like a person. Not just a sick little girl.
“Big questions. Big decisions.” Yes, yes they are. Am I finding the answers? Slowly. Carefully. Painfully. Line upon line. Precept upon precept. Here a little. There a little.
Ambivalent still? A bit. Less ambivalent than I used to be? Much so.
Will I ever be truly “normal”? I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to be.
But then… is anyone?