Who was “She?”

Disclaimer:  Thank you for allowing me a departure into the truth today.  More laughs again soon.photo-241

Wasn’t Sweet Sixteen a little young to be visiting the inside of a mental institution?

But today she wasn’t visiting. They had checked her in. Why would they do this with her?  Because they didn’t know what else TO DO with her.  The Doctor swore there were no more options.  Doesn’t matter that she had never spent even one week at a summer sleepover camp.  Doesn’t matter that total strangers terrified her.  Doesn’t matter that the roommate they assigned her was an openly hostile lady of 62 who strung her bras across bed posts and window sills like strands of Christmas tinsel.

This was where a troubled teenager was sent in 1980.  If they suffered long-term deep depression, culminating in a suicide attempt.

Nurse #1 – – Apparently she locked herself in the bathroom and tried to swallow Liquid Plummer.

Nurse #2 – – You mean like Drano?

Nurse #1 – – No I mean exactly Liquid Plummer.

Nurse #2 – – Nobody tries.  They either do or they don’t.

Nurse #1 – – Exactly.

Nurse #2 – – I’ve heard of a lot better cries for help than that.  But it got the father’s attention, I suppose.

She had watched a lot of movies so she was certain any moment she would see Jack Nicholson or Nurse Ratched ambling down the hallway.  But instead there were just regularly dressed people milling aimlessly about.  Kind of like the anxious folks who look at their watches at subway or train stations.  Only these people weren’t going anywhere. Physically.

There were no special wards separating adolescent from adult patients back then.  Crazy was Crazy and age wasn’t a barrier or reason for seclusion. So she got to see it all.  The unkempt forty something blonde who oozed sex like melted cheese in an overstuffed quesadilla, making humping motions against the nurse’s station until two orderlies escorted her away as she drawled, “C’mon Sailors, I’ll take ya both on right here, right now.”

The dark-haired, ethnic faced girl of twenty, slumped against the drinking fountain, hugging her knees tightly while holding her breath, eyelids clamped shut as she whispered her mantra, “You don’t see me.  You don’t see me.  You don’t see me.”

A prematurely graying man, (handsome like a movie star) raced around the bright orange (was that considered a soothing color back then?) corridor, chiming the ABC song until he got his face within two inches of Ethnic Girl’s large nose and blurted, “Peek-a-boo, I DO see you!”

Some days Group Therapy could take hours. There was no cooperation from patients like these.  When you didn’t want to be somewhere, why should you go along with the program?  But she sat and listened anyhow.  And finally it dawned on her.  Everyone else seemed to have a reason.  Something that justified why they were the way that they were.

Several teary-eyed females with molested pasts, slowly recounting excruciating details. One word every ten minutes – – yes, the talking and the memories came that  s-l-o-w-l-y.  Or maybe it was the abuse that did?

“It.”  (Look at clock)  “Was.”  (Bury mouth in jacket hood)  “My.” (Find the ceiling extra fascinating)  “Father.”  Stare straight ahead, daring anyone sitting in the group circle to meet your gaze.

Other tales of woe.

Schizophrenia ran in the family.

My Aunt was a prostitute and brought strange men into my bed.

My brother tortured my poodle in front of me.

My father was an alcoholic who raped my grandmother.

We were poor so I worked in a factory where they beat us if we went too slow.

I said goodnight to my mother.  She said, “No, it’s goodbye.”  And it was.

And on and on.  And that’s when she knew.  No matter what was wrong with them, something worse was wrong with her.  Because she had no reason.  No excuse.  No justification.  No scapegoat.  She had a two parent, functioning family.  No drinking, no drugs, steady employment, good morals, nice house, lots of friends, religion.  How could she blame it on happiness?

There was just something wrong inside her brain.  It would get dark in there.  For days on end.  And noisy with chatter.  So she would go outside of herself.  Watching vigilantly.  She could count her throat swallows, the chest inhales/exhales, heart thumps, eye blinks.  All her reflexes could be perceived as someone else’s.  Her head felt better in close quarters and so she stayed inside her closet.  Dissociative Behavior, they called it.

And that’s when everyone decided to agree.  Medication!  Medication had to be the answer.  They didn’t even mention the question.  They skipped right to the solution. Every single night.  She had to swallow two tablets and three capsules in front of the nurses, then open her mouth wide for inspection afterward. And she hated that one ugly male nurse who would swipe under her tongue with his foul-smelling fingers.

There were all sorts of Therapies.

In Art Therapy, they told her to paint or sketch.  Her hands froze.  “C’mon Honey, draw what hurts you.”  She drew a World Globe.

In Dance Therapy, they told her to hop and jump and prance.  Her feet froze.  “C’mon Honey, move to the music.”  She rocked ever so slightly to the metronome inside her head.

In Life Skills Therapy, they took her on outings.  They taught her how to ride a public bus.  How to go into a library and check out a book.  How to grow vegetables in a garden.   How to sit on a beach and enjoy the sunshine.  “C’mon Honey, it’s time to go outdoors and live quickly.”  But she went inside her head.  To die  slowly.

Until someone else died suddenly. The only other 16-year-old in the place.  They had become friends.  Sort of.  She was an anorexic named Mitzi.  66 pounds.  The medical staff was very thorough inside those walls.  Searching your bags when you came back from a field trip, confiscating even fingernail clippers or compact mirrors.  But not quite thorough enough.  They forgot about dusk.  When the sun went off and the lights came on.  Nobody would notice one missing bulb from a lamp in the sitting room area.  And nobody did.  Until they found it smashed and red-stained, between the sheets where it had sliced open a pair of very young wrists.

Nurse #1– – She woulda been gone in a few weeks, anyhow.  She was starving herself to nothing.

Nurse #2 – – Because she felt nothing. She was numb.  Our little Mitzi girl.

But our little Mitzi girl knew that cutting herself would be the first time she would feel something.  And I knew exactly what that something was.  She could have whispered it to me, too.  But she didn’t have to.  It was freedom.

Shortly after that, I stopped thinking of myself as “she.”  I was me.  Again.  And I began to get much better, much faster.  Not quite fast enough, though.  The medical insurance ran out before the Doctors  felt I was completely ready to go home.  But some Head Administrator made a lot of noise, stating that I had the right tools now. To cope.

I got to sit in on a long matter-of-fact meeting and we all nodded our heads discreetly at the end.  A helpful nurse leaned into my ear to whisper, “You’d best put this whole thing behind you.  Never speak of it again.  Never.”  (But nobody mentioned writing.)

That night the kitchen help baked me a German Chocolate Goodbye cake.  I hate the nuts in that kind of frosting. And my father avoided German cars, and German beer because he was a holocaust child.  But I ate a piece for Mitzi since she dreamed of any kind of cake.

It had been 3.5 months and now I could talk about my feelings, paint, draw, dance, ride a bus, grow a carrot, check out a library book, enjoy the beach. And most of all, I could feel.

And what I felt most of all was. . .

Sweet Sixteen was definitely too young to visit the inside of a mental institution.


76 thoughts on “Who was “She?”

  1. Pingback: Are You Out There? I Imagine You Are . . . | Once Upon Your Prime

  2. Pingback: Today, They Checked Her In - Sunshine Spoils Milk

  3. This is my first visit to your blog Stephanie. Grace kindly left a link in one of my blog posts. I laughed along with your humour, and I am glad to feel your serious side as well.

    I haven’t read the breast story yet, but I know my daughter considered a reduction. She has had to suffer the reactions of others since she was a teenager. To be honest, I also had difficulty to prevent myself from staring. I was envious until she shared her past distress with me, only a few years ago now. I had no idea what she had to endure, still endures.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there – – I must’ve missed this kind comment of yours. Thank you so much Christine for stopping in. I adore Grace to the moon and back!! I rarely post serious topics, because I feel like I’m disappointing readers, but it’s definitely inside me, building up! My “Fast Food Fiction” (category at top of blog) doesn’t get published into the Reader but it is my more serious stuff too.

      I hope your daughter has made peace with her body one way or the other. I can attest how painful it is to live a life, never feeling comfortable in your own skin.

      Anyhow, I am truly honored that you stuck around to read my latest post and that was the comment of yours that I saw (and responded to) first. Thank you again and I hope the wknd is wonderful for you!


      • I wanted to read more of your serious stuff, but the links to your Fast Food Fiction aren’t working. I get a page that says that the page I want doesn’t exist. Is it a WordPress glitch, or did you move them, or . . . ?

        The opposite of disappoint is… you 🙂 Keep unplugging!


        • Really Grace? I couldn’t figure out how to get them in there without publishing them (and I don’t want them out to the a reader) so I linked them ( three pieces) to their draft version. On my end it works? Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Miss you tons! Read your fascinating historical fiction interview and subsequently Jessica’s too, but haven’t commented. YET


          • 😦 It works on your end because you can see your own drafts, but we can’t 😥

            Copy and paste them to be pages instead of posts, publish them, then go to your Dashboard, Appearance, Menu, and add them to your Fiction menu.

            Please? 🙂

            Hugs! hugs hugs


            • Hmm… R u sure they won’t go into my Reader and out to others? And end up on my blog. I actually have an agent coming to peruse my blog and I really wanted my cell text post to be the top one she sees. You’re so sweet to be interested.


              • Test: my next post will include a page with 2 posts. That’s probably a week away.

                Test: I posted pages that (I think) never showed in my list of posts: Awards & Nominations, and Weaving Thoughts Together. Do you want to verify? That’s probably why my Awards post didn’t get any Likes or comments? and I didn’t promote it.

                🙂 Hooray for the agent! May you put her to the test as your blessed guest so you are as impressed by her as she is by your undressed best. Hugs to the west!


                • okay! Very frustrated! I did what I thought you said? Published them as posts. Then went into menu and moved them in as sub titles (all underneath the main one of “Fast Food Fiction” but they don’t show up that way. Instead they just revert back to how I first had them. Can you tell me if you see anything now?


                • The top of your home page: My Next Text…

                  Fast Food Fiction: Going Up…, The Key…, Mixed Messages – all on the Fast Food Fiction page.

                  So, now I don’t see them as individual posts or pages, but as one big page. Pages are below Posts in your Dashboard: Posts, Media, Links, Pages.

                  I’m wondering how you saw them in your Menu. Your description of them as sub titles is correct, but I don’t see them that way, either.

                  How did I miss that Fast Food link for the past 2 1/2 months 😡 I’m looking forward to gobbling it up after a good night’s sleep. Sweet dreams of glory, fame and fortune!


  4. Wow.. first of all, the writing.. the dramatic tension.. I had to keep reading to find out what was going to happen next. You told the truth so simply which made the seriousness of it all magnified.

    This too hit me especially: “And that’s when everyone decided to agree. Medication! Medication had to be the answer. They didn’t even mention the question. They skipped right to the solution. Every single night.” So very wrong.

    Thank you for being brave enough to tell this story, Stephanie.


    • Thank you very much for first of all, even finding this one. And second of all, I just really feel that you “get me.” Whenever I do a more serious posting, I have you in the back of my mind as the “audience” I’m trying to write for. I am so glad this resonated with you. I did try to write this very simply, from the age I was back then. I took a lot of notes back then in a journal and I actually referred back to them. Notes from 34 years ago! Thank you again. And again. And yes, I think somehow we fell off one another’s reader? I’ve been posting regularly every couple of days.


      • I am honored, Stephanie, that you think of me as part of your audience.. which seems to be growing swiftly, I notice. Seems to me your voice is pretty powerful and piercing whether laced in humor or illuminating the darker realities.

        I am definitely going to check my settings. I see that you just posted another one so I’ll be back soon.


  5. Such sadness on people’s lives. You are to be congratulated for allowing us to share the pain and suffering. I will dive in here with a question if I may. My daughter 42 yrs old lives with me and suffers many mental illnesses, bulimia being the destroyer. Family and friends, whether they mean well or not are full of what I should do and shouldn’t do and their suggestions are mostly harsh…throw her out, have her committed, this that and the other. I am her Mum. I love her and yes, I see I almost support her habits by maybe being too gentle. She is safe with me, clean and as peaceful as she can be. She has no one else. Am I that wrong on caring maybe a bit too much? Am I harming her? She has been like this since she wS 15 yrs old. Been to all the Drs etc. sorry to load you with this but your story prompted me to feel she is safer here with me no matter what. Love. And hugs for your bravery. I don’t expose her on my blog as I feel that is some kind of betrayal.


    • My New Dear Friend – – this is just an impossible question for me to answer but my gut instinct tells me a happy medium looks like this – – she stays safe and peaceful within your surroundings while you encourage baby steps that stretch her a bit more outside of her comfort zone every day. Only you know what that would look like. You are her mother. And you are obviously an angel too. Blessings always.
      ps. Thank you for reinforcing I did the right thing by hitting Publish on this piece. It was a long debate. (outside of my comfort zone!)


  6. Hi Stephanie, this is such an amazing piece that touched me and opened old wounds (in a good way). One of the first thoughts was “it would have been great to skip childhood and jump right into being an adult” but all these links to our past make us into the people we become. People aren’t perfect and I don’t believe we are meant to be but it sure would have been a comfort if I could have tapped into the strength I didn’t know I had back then. Thank you for sharing such a powerful statement into who you are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope you’re OK with me hopping in here. When I was a kid, one of my mantras turned out to be, “if childhood is this awful, adulthood has got to be great.” That turned out to be very true. It just keeps getting better.

      I hate seeing that others went through something like this, and at the same time am sure glad that I wasn’t the only one. Stephanae, I share your appreciation for Stephanie’s powerful statements.


      • No, you definitely were not the only one. I think if we were all a little more open we would see that most of us share this common bond.

        I had ups and downs through adulthood but it’s gotten much better after 50. Maybe it has to do with being more comfortable in your own skin? I just don’t worry about alll the little stuff that used to bother me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hi Stephanie! (Do you like our name? I hated it when I was younger, but like it much better now.) Thank you so much for coming thru the door of my blog and leaving such meaningful comments. Not sure how you found me but so glad you did! I also think you hit the nail on the head about being more comfortable in your own skin after 50. (just hit 50 a few days ago) I am feeling the war with my body dissipate slowly.

          I have only ventured into risking writing three “serious” posts on this “Humor” blog. One was called “The Quests for Smaller Breasts” and even though I made jokes in that one, that issue for me was so severe that I dreamed about taking a butcher knife and cutting them off. My second serious post was called, “The Write Way to Die” and then there is this one, which you have so profoundly contributed to. Thank you.

          I have found by taking a deep breath and hitting “publish” on these kinds of posts that there are more women than I ever realized who (as you say) when allowing themselves to be more open, personally wrote to me and confided such pain that I can only say it made all of mine pale in comparison. We must do something. Something so our daughters, younger sisters and female friends don’t all suffer like this.

          And I see you’ve met Grace. I was very lucky to cross Grace’s path a few short months ago when I started on WordPress. Grace’s name graces her with authentic Inside-Out beauty. She’s the real deal. I can tell you are too. Thank you again for your words.


          • Hi Stephanie, You couldn’t have possibly hated your name more than I hated mine, lol. My father’s bright idea was slightly changing the spelling to end with an “ae” instead of “ie”. I couldn’t stand it back in the day but now I love it b/c it is different.

            Don’t even get me started on the whole body war thing (I’m still fighting). But I am glad to still have the opportunity for another day if it means dealing with unbearable hot flashes, aches, pains, etc.

            I’ll lhave to check out your other serious posts (especially “the quest for smaller breast” as I’ve always longed for larger ones but not anymore). And hitting “publish” almost always makes me nauseous but I’ve found that we all have so much more in commen than what my mind led me to believe. I agree with you that we have to continue to shed the light on some of these issues that pain so many. When we find out that others share some of our discomfort it not only validates us but we then bond.

            I found you though Dina who posed a question on her blog as relating to your post. It was so compelling I told her I really liked what she said but I needed to think on it before answering the question. I love posts like these because they challenge me to really absorb what I’m reading and to think. And of course Grace responded to my comment and I went to check out her blog and her writing is superb. I’m so glad I found you both. ~Steph


      • Grace – – you just made me remember all the adults who used to tell me, “Enjoy your high school years. They are the best times of your life.” And I kept feeling so hopeless and thinking, “Oh my God – – If these are the BEST years . . . What’s to follow?”

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Your Story | Dina's Illustrations

  8. This was insanely powerful. You are SUCH a gifted writer. The “ugly male nurse who would swipe under her tongue with his foul-smelling fingers” painted such a picture. Reading this felt like we were there WITH you – seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard.

    What was also striking was how you noted the other patients had been through trauma, and you hadn’t – you had “no reason to be there.” It was such a raw statement- and such an excellent one. Because even though you hadn’t gone through the horrific things the others may have, you needed help just as much as they did. Sometimes our brains don’t work as they should and they need help. You may not have been abused, but you needed assistance just as much as the other people there. And you were brave enough – and STRONG ENOUGH – to recover and move on.

    Once again – thank you for starting this blog!


  9. This post deeply moved me. It took me a few days to digest. My older sister has struggled with major depression on and off since adolescence, and had one confirmed suicide attempt (denied by my parents, though, still.) I just…I still can’t do well with facing it. I’m just glad you’re still here.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sixteen ….. Six freakin teen. What is the hell!! Oh goddess that’s just not right at all – it’s how to make someone troubled into someone very ill. Should never have happened.


    • Thanks! Looking back however, I think it could be possible that they just gave me the jolt into “real life” that I might have needed. I was being very sheltered and protected in my home….so much so that the world was scaring me beyond anything I could cope with. I really appreciate your compassion!
      ps. Nowadays they definitely separate by age which is a GOOD thing!


  11. When I read Girl, Interrupted, I told my writing teacher, it reads like a novel. She said, no—the power comes for the fact that it’s true. Only those who hold such truths can tell such powerful stories; and only a wonderful writer can tell it so well. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re so very sweet Ellen to even say that. I should read that book. I tried to watch the movie but it triggered me and I ended up saving it for “another time…” Which never came. I think I can read that book now. Thank you again!


  12. Wow, Stephanie. Just wow. While reading this post, a huge lump grew in my throat and I felt my chest constrict from the power of your writing and the gut-wrenching emotions brought forth. Your writing is exquisite, and your courage is immeasurable. Thank you- one of the best posts I’ve read.


  13. I clicked the “Liked” button for this post, but I can’t say that I really enjoyed reading it as poignant and powerful and well-written as it is. I’m sure that it brought back a lot of negative emotions and bad memories for you, but it also took a lot of courage to write this and put it out there for everyone to see, especially on your birthday! Now go and celebrate! Happy Birthday, and “L’Chaim,” to life!


  14. I have waited so long to hear you be able to vocalize what was such a difficult time in your life. So brave are you to share your experience so that others can uncloak the sigma of mental illness. Fifty years ago you and I were together as one; and as you made your entry into this world as my first born, I knew that I had been given a precious gift. Consider this birthday as a rebirth of the wonderful young woman you have become. And of course, I can’t resist: “And the truth will set you free.” Love you so much, Mom

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Exquisitely moving. Beautifully written. Sixteen is far too young. Fourteen is also too young to visit your mother in a similar place. I recognise all too clearly every detail you describe. Hats off to you!


    • Oh dear – – I cannot imagine what that must have been like. Your mother is someone you need to view as your safety net. That becomes impossible when what I know you are describing has engulfed her essence. I am very sorry for what sounds like some lost years. Have you tried writing in some way, shape or form about that time in your life? Maybe poetry? The cathartic qualities are starting to become invaluable for me. Thanks for your very meaningful share and comment. Hugs, Stephanie


  16. This kept me reading to the very end (I get distracted easy, trust me that is a good thing). Totally engaged and touching… you have taken me into your world and you story has opened my world a little. You are full of surprises.. so talented, story telling is a craft and clearly you have mastered it.


  17. Happy Birthday, Stephanie.
    What a powerful post. I feel as though anything I write as a comment will sound vapid and shallow.
    You blow my socks off. Celebrate being another mark further away from the 16-year-old who should have been dealt with better and really shouldn’t have been there.


    • Ahh, thank you for saying that. Yes, she lived another lifetime ago. But she had a story to tell and I didn’t want to squelch her this time. I know we’ve just found each other’s blogs, but this was a vast departure for me, so hopefully it didn’t scare you away!
      take good care,


  18. Stephanie,

    Thank you so much for deciding to share a painful chapter from your past. I can’t even begin to express how brave I think this is. There is such a stigma surrounding mental health issues but when amazingly talented and successful people like yourself come forward it helps to lessen that burden for others.

    Part of the problem with people not feeling like they can talk about these things is that it constricts the language of expression. People can’t talk about what they don’t have words for, and by giving words to your experience you have helped others by sharing with them the words needed to describe their own.

    This piece was powerful and entrancing and so well written. You have quite the writing talent.

    On a lighter note, Happy Birthday Miss Stephanie! You don’t look a day over 30!


    Liked by 1 person

  19. This was very powerful. What a ride through a most interesting story. You have a great talent for capturing emotion. This was quite a detour from the humor but on the other hand it was most captivating. Truly a talented piece of work.


      • It is within the shadows of our head that one can find solace from those things which are too painful to look at and yet it is in those same shadows that one’s imagination becomes even more real. The lines get blurred and it can get all too confusing and painful. Brave of you to share. Reading this again with renewed appreciation. Pardon me for under-acknowledging what you went through at this precious time in your life.


        • Thank you for returning to this piece. I think part of the issue might be that you are accustomed to my humorous works written in either an exaggerated and embellished style or parts totally factionalized so I am sure it’s difficult to discern when my work is 100% autobiographical. I appreciate this comment very much

          Liked by 1 person

  20. Steph, This was amazing. So moving, so well written. I’m sorry I was not more aware and helpful during this period. I know you know you always had my love, but I wish I had been more involved. Now….on a different note, I wish you the Happiest of Birthdays, Panchita!


    • What? You Anonymous Aunt, you! You always visited and brought me the best gifts (that the other patient tried to confiscate!) It’s a long ago (fading?) memory that sort of insisted it emerge today. I AM having the happiest of birthdays. Thank you!
      Panchita II


  21. Big hugs, Stephanie. Again, I’m glad you are here.

    How gut-wrenching for you to bring back those memories and share them. How victorious for you to bring back those memories and share them. Such a birthday present to yourself. I’m glad that your self and story are freed from your vault.

    I have seen that the greatest humor comes from the darkest pain. Maybe it’s the capacity and courage to feel.

    Big hugs, Stephanie. Again, I’m glad you are here.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Not that I’m surprised at your multiple talents, but I just never expected a piece so beautifully melancholic. Your imagery is so engaging, and rich in the fact that it addresses a different side of mental illness and distress, one not marked by a specific event. Your writing is so eloquent and poignant!

    Liked by 2 people

  23. What can I say Stephanie! This is powerful and you certainly stumped me as this is an antithesis of your usual comedic material. Well done! It moved me through a range of emotions – pity, concern, fear for her. Why the change? Don’t get me wrong – I applaud you. Bouquets to you mon ami.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Wendy. I guess I just felt like a wee departure from humor today. It was also cleansing to write the pure truth (and pick up where I left off from my “Write Way To Die” posting. You may recall this was the age “Mean Girl” was born.) Thank you for experiencing it and commenting.


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