Strange Girls In A Different World

I’m listening to Counting Crows as I type this blog entry.

A friend tells me not to get steamed about that time in my life. It was only recently that I started railing against how young people with so much potential are pigeonholed along with every else with schizophrenia and stigmatized. The very providers whose jobs involve helping people recover lumped and often continue to lump everyone into a category. It’s not right when a personality trait is seen as a symptom.

Susan Cain wrote the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World Where People Can’t Stop Talking. Her book came 25 years too late to make a difference in my life.

Here’s the memoir excerpt.


We walked in silence the five blocks to the building. On arriving, Margot told me she’s in Level One, the highest rung on the ladder of groups, and walked down the hall. My counselor, Abby, placed me in Level Five, at the bottom. Today I was going to make the case that she elevate me at least to Level Two. I turned the corner and entered the morning group therapy.

Sylvia, a woman with punched-out eyes, applied her face: turquoise eye shadow and fuchsia lipstick. Abigail strummed worry beads and prayed under her breath. My anger was red as a drumbeat. I railed against being in this group because what passed for therapy was usually talk about the weather, and even so, I thought it rude to use the meeting as a beauty parlor.

The therapist, Andre, asked first off if anyone had an issue he or she wanted to discuss, and a guy asked, “Does anybody know why the train was late?”

After we’d gone around about this, a woman with a haunted face wanted to know why it was so cold. “Is there a wind chill factor?” I could see her blue veins through her thin arms.

Burl, a man with lagoon eyes and wild grass hair, stared at me the whole time. I slogged through this session until it was time to meet my counselor for the progress report.

Abby ushered me into her office at eleven-thirty, and I took a seat in front of her desk. She was a lavender kind of woman, and I hated pastels.

Here I was at another day program, and I wanted to move faster.

“Why?” I asked automatically. “Why did you put me at the bottom? I’d like to be in one of Margot’s groups. Why can’t I have a goals group and a work-search group?”

It was called Life Management, and it was available for those at the highest level, where you could work on planning for the future and what you would do when you graduated the program. As far as I could tell, everyone at the bottom had been here three, four, five years, or more. Though I’d only been here two months, I was itching to get out.

Abby said, “I placed you there because when you first came here, you barely talked and were extremely quiet.”

“How am I supposed to get support if people just talk about why the train was late or how the weather is outside?” I challenged her, and she winced. “Is that what group therapy is supposed to be about?”

Abby caressed the round glass paperweight on her desk. Before she could respond, I continued, “This place is a playpen. It’s a holding pen for people who can’t function on the outside. How is Meadow going to help me? I want out.” I feared the longer I stayed here, I would give up on myself, just like the others had.

“I tell you what. I’ll talk with the other staff, and in three weeks, if we’ve noticed an improvement, I’ll consider moving you up.”

Yes, it was going to happen. I was going to make it happen.

Abby said, “Nice haircut. Keep it up.”

I’d gotten a new style: longer in front, framing my face; shorter in back, with bangs spiked up. I liked it; I did. Kind of a modern bob. It made me look young, even though I didn’t need to look any younger.

She told me, “Next up I want you to work on your makeup and clothes.”

“Fair enough,” I said, though I wasn’t quite ready to take the leap.

“Okay, you can go to lunch,” Abby dismissed me.

In the kitchen, Margot waved me over to her table. I bought a cheeseburger and can of ginger ale and sat down across from her.

Her green eyes penetrated me, as if she was trying to figure out something. Then she laughed when it hit her. “I used to listen to your radio show. You were a disc jockey, right? That’s your voice on the tapes you play in your room.”

“Yes.” I was embarrassed to be caught listening to myself.

“Cool.” She drank some of her Coke. “Cool.”

There were about one hundred strange girls on Staten Island, and I had found one of them. Wherever I went in my recovery, I’d meet someone entranced with the music.

Margot’s eyes questioned me again.

“Why are you here? You look fine.”

I wore black jeans and a black tee shirt—a midnight canvas on which I wrote myself.

“Oh, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.”

“You’re too high-functioning. You shouldn’t be in those groups.”

This cheered me. Margot understood. I wondered what her diagnosis was.

“Manic depression,” she said. “I have mood swings.”

She told me that she’s not here on most days because she’s studying for a degree in psychology at Hunter College. My eyes grew wider when she said this. That did it: I would pin down my counselor. The university was going to offer a journalism course in the spring, and I wanted to take it.

“I’m going to ask Abby if I can take a newspaper reporting class in the spring.” “You go, girl,” she rallied.

“We have to get out of here,” I said.

“That’s the truth.” The lunch hour was coming to an end, and she rose to leave for the next group.
I trailed after her down the hall, and then turned. Wherever she led, I would follow.

Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and athlete.

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