I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone interested in psychological exploration – from clinicians to self-diagnosticians to concerned family members to lovers of extraordinary tales well told.
Do not imagine that this is a lesson-plan about Bipolar Disorder, or Asperger’s Syndrome, for that matter. On the contrary, we see Ms. Wolfe wrestling with a panoply of symptoms residing on different points of a spectrum – we never know exactly where we are, and neither does Ms. Wolfe. We get first person, real-time intimacy – the raw data, not the spin.
Asperger’s, autism, schizophrenia, paranoia, mania, depression, and challenging questions of gender identity blur back and forth until one is overpowered by the sense of a shape-shifting, ghostly enemy. We witness Ms. Wolfe inaccurately interpreting social cues the way an anthropologist might puzzle over artifacts from an alien civilization.
The writing is austere, elegant, forceful and almost chillingly honest. There is not an ounce of self-pity to be found, or self-aggrandizement. Serious students of these illnesses could hardly find a more useful document because – using meticulous diaries she kept through the years – Ms. Wolfe has made scrupulous accuracy her battle cry.
From very early on I found myself caring about what happened to Ms. Wolfe, wanting to know more. I sensed sweetness, innocence, and vulnerability – and that made me want to protect her. Consequently, the dread I felt as I watched her struggle with her own mind – and the outside world – created the tension of real drama. One would have to be a cold fish indeed to not suffer along with her as she trudges ahead with heroic determination.
Ms. Wolfe has achieved something quite remarkable. She has applied the direct simplicity of science to a human ordeal and, in the process, accomplished what art does, when it is at its very best. She has fearlessly and generously taken us into her world and – in doing so – enriched us all.
It is Friday night. Ten thirty and I still have not eaten. I walk into the kitchen, take out a can of soup and dump the contents into a pot. I walk into the bathroom, open the medicine cabinet and stare at the three bottles on the top shelf. Mellaril. Stellazine. Valium. I have already taken my Stellazine. Valium is the drug of choice for the night. I take one of the yellow pills out of the Valium bottle, go into the kitchen again and pour glass of wine. The pill goes down. The wine goes down. And the soup goes into a bowl. I sit in the yellow light at the kitchen table, and force myself to swallow the soup that doesn’t want to go down. Another glass of wine.
SHIT! IT’S 11:00. YOU’RE NOT GOING TO PULL ANOTHER STUNT LIKE LAST SATURDAY. DRESSING AND UNDRESSING. GETTING UP ALL THE NERVE AND LOSING IT. HIGH. SO HIGH. READY TO GO FINALLY AT 1:00 A.M. AND THEN DECIDING IT WAS TOO LATE. TOO LATE TO GO ROAMING AROUND NEW YORK ALONE. YOU CAN’T DO THAT AGAIN. BUILDING UP ALL THE TENSION AND THEN JUST GOING TO BED. YOU CAN’T DO THAT AGAIN.
I wash the dishes. Brush my teeth. Comb my hair. Change my blouse. Change my shoes. Comb my hair again. Change into a different pair of shoes.
SHIT! 11:30. GET OUT OF HERE. GO! JUST GO!
I walk into the street and into the late February night. It is freezing.
TAKE A CAB. A BUS. NO, WALK. IT’S OKAY. WALK. JUST MOVE ONE LEG IN FRONT OF THE OTHER AND WALK.
72nd St. 68th St. 66th St. The streets go by so fast. Too fast. 65th St. I approach the door. This is it. A camel flashes in red neon lights in the window and above that a sign painted in gold appears to vibrate in the neon light— “Arabie”. “The Club” as it is known. Four women are in front of me. Two guys hanging out in front of the disco next door make comments. The women make like they don’t hear. I can’t make out what the guys are saying. I just follow the four women in through the red door. I’m doing it. I’m actually doing it! A stout man asks me for five dollars as I get to the door and he gives me two tickets. The tickets say they are good for one drink. I follow the four women inside and line up to check my coat in the cloak room on the left. It is lined in red velvet. I fumble with the coat check ticket as I try to take the whole scene in at once. The walls are also lined in red velvet. I feel as if I have walked inside a giant womb. The air is filled with smoke and a flood of voices overwhelms my ears. Twinkling lights line the reflection-laden mirror behind the bar. I try to take a breath. I see women everywhere. Sexy looking women. Butches. Dykes. All kinds of women. Women talking. Women hugging. Women kissing. I feel dizzy and giddy. I feel all eyes are upon me, but walking up to the bar to order a drink I relax a bit and I see they are not.
THIS IS PERVERTED STUFF.
My legs want to run back out of the door into the street for a breath of air.
NO. YOU’VE GOT TO SEE. CALM DOWN. LISTEN. HEAR THE MUSIC. IT’S COMING FROM THE BACK. THERE’S AN UPSTAIRS. GO TO THE BAR. GET A DRINK AND THEN GO TO THE STAIRS. CLIMB UP THE STAIRS AND LOOK AROUND. YOU’RE JUST SCARED. YOU HAVEN’T COME THIS FAR JUST TO RUN OUT THE DOOR AGAIN. RELAX. LOOK RELAXED, GODDAMN IT, OR THEY’RE GOING TO THINK YOU’RE STRAIGHT. RELAX, YOU FOOL.
I down the rest of my drink and go over to the bar to order another. I gulp. My body slowly loosens to the effects of the alcohol. The tension in my muscles unwinds in hot little waves. I want to dance. Women with women. It doesn’t seem perverted anymore. I decide I like it. I feel safe. I feel free at long last. Free to be me.
I watch a woman in a long white skirt dancing near the bar by herself. She sees me looking and smiles. Is she smiling at me? I look away.
I sip the rest of my second drink more slowly. More women are coming upstairs to dance and the dance floor is filling up. The wall opposite the bar and the DJ station is all mirrored and the reflections of the dancing bodies double the size of the crowd. I begin to feel giddy with the smoke and the reflections and the music and the alcohol and the bodies. I lean against the bar to steady myself. I watch the dancers and through the sea of undulating bodies I see a woman leaning up against the mirrored wall watching. She is alone. Tall. Black. Well-built. Dressed all sexy with a blouse open at the neck and tight fitting jeans and boots. She stands straight and cool with her shoulders thrown back and her head held high on the muscular body of a dancer. Her eyes a counterpoint of pride and vulnerability. She sees me looking. I keep staring and when the woman looks over to me again I let my eyes meet hers. Our eyes play a game of flirtation across the room, between the sea of dancing bodies which separates us. My courage is building. When the woman looks over again, I smile. The woman smiles back. She walks across the room to where I am standing at the bar.
“Would you like to dance?” she asks in a sweet, accented voice.
From Chapter 6 of my memoir on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Eye-locks-Other-Fearsome-Things-ebook/dp/B007TOOF56/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1345051643&sr=1-1&keywords=eye-locks Also available on Barnes & Noble Nook, iBooks and Smashwords.
This excerpt from Chapter 2 of my Biolar/Asperger’s memoir of finding love shows the beginnings of a psychotic breakdown.
I feel the electric light glowering at me. I look around the room in my basement apartment. The men following me. The phone call from Yvonne. Nothing is making sense. Obeah island witchcraft? Danielle’s thing. Danielle is the island woman. The room spins again. I feel like someone is watching me. I feel someone here— looking in the window.
Jumpy thoughts. Buzzing mind. I know the signs. Feeling the victim of a plot. Fear of being followed— of being watched— of evil spells coming out of an inanimate object— panic— magical thinking— paranoid ideation. I have made the break with reality. I have entered the deep, dark hollows of the paranoid’s world. Terror! I pick up the phone and dial. 242-6637.
“Hello, Dr.’s office.”
“Hello, may I please speak to Dr. Agostinucci?”
“Hold on a minute.”
“Hello, this is Dr. Agustinucci.”
“Hello, Joey. It’s Ellen. I’ve got to talk to you. Can you talk?”
“Yeah, you got me at a good time. I’m just in between sessions. What’s up?”
“Joey, I don’t know. I’m flipping out. I can’t sleep. I called Danielle last night and told her.”
“You told her what?”
“I told her what I told you— that I loved her. And then she told me that she wasn’t ‘that way’. And then . . . ” I start crying. “Oh, Joey, I’m so scared. I mean it means that all along I couldn’t see reality. I’ve been living in this fantasy world all this time, thinking Danielle’s in love with me and gay, and I’ve been drinking and drinking because I haven’t been able to sleep. And then today I started thinking that spells were coming out of the elephant that Sundra gave me. So I took the bus up to Columbia to throw it away. And then I thought two men were following me home. And Yvonne called me up from work and, Joey, I think it’s all a plot . . . ”
“Wait a minute, calm down. You’re all upset!”
I continue. “Yvonne and Danielle are in cahoots. Maybe they’re both testing me to see if I’m gay. Joey, I don’t know how I’m going to go to work tomorrow and face Danielle and face Yvonne . . . ”
“Calm down. One thing at a time. You’re overwrought.”
“But, Joey, I don’t know what is real and what’s not real anymore. I can’t sleep and I can’t stop crying.”
“Okay, look, I’ll give you a prescription. I’ll call in the prescription to the pharmacy. They’re probably still open. I’ll have it delivered. Just give me the name of the pharmacy you use— the one nearest you.”
“Uh . . . I’ve got to look it up— just a second . . .” I run to the bathroom to find a prescription bottle.
“Joey, it’s Rexall on 76th Street. The phone number is 663-7684.”
“Okay, look, I’m going to give you a prescription for Valium, 2 mgs. Take one pill and see what happens. If you still feel very anxious, take two.”
“Listen, I think you should go to work tomorrow.”
“Joey how can I? I keep bursting into tears.”
“Look, the Valium will help calm you. It’ll be a whole lot worse if you stay home. I suggest you call the Health Service first thing in the morning and make an appointment to see someone. Tell them it’s an emergency.”
“Okay, Joey, I guess you were right. You always told me I needed therapy and I always told you that I felt I’d go to pieces one day and now it seems that day has come.”
“Listen, you’re extremely upset. Take the Valium and try to get some sleep. If you need me you know where to reach me. And if things really get bad you know you can always go over to the emergency room in Lenox Hill.”
“Yeah, that’s right, I can always go there.”
“Listen, when I call in the prescription I’ll arrange for them to deliver it, too, so you don’t have to do anything. You have enough money to pay for it?”
“I don’t know. Let me see. Yeah, I think I do,” I say as I scramble through my purse.
“Okay, look, are you going to be able to answer the door? Or are you still scared of those men?”
“No, the doorbell only rang twice. Whoever it was is long gone. I’m not scared of that anymore.”
“Good. So just wait for the delivery. I’ll tell them to speed it up.”
“Thanks a lot, Joey! Thanks for everything!”
“Okay, take care, get some rest. I’ll call you tomorrow to see how you are.”
“Okay, thanks a lot, Joey, bye.”
For information on the memoir see: http://www.amazon.com/Eye-locks-Other-Fearsome-Things-ebook/dp/B007TOOF56/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1345051643&sr=1-1&keywords=eye-locks The book is also available on Barnes & Noble Nook, iBooks and Smashwords.
Fri., October 28, 1977
I hardly sleep at all. Ever since yesterday I am totally confused. I am no longer sure that Danielle is interested. Danielle talks again to the department head. She says something about love in a very loud voice to catch my attention. I am so upset and nervous that I don’t hear what she is saying. All I can make out are individual words: “she . . . love . . . candy.” Then when I walk by her desk she gives me a big smile. I am panicked. I don’t know what she is smiling about. Was I supposed to hear what she was saying? Did I miss my cues? I am somewhat cold and distant because of her statement yesterday. I ignore Danielle and she runs out of the office and goes to the ladies room. I follow her in there and see she is crying. “What is wrong?” I ask, wanting to throw my arms around her and comfort her but I don’t have the courage to do it.
Danielle says, “Ellen, please just leave me alone.”
I am panicked. I go over to the department head in desperation and ask, “What is wrong with Danielle? She’s in the ladies room crying.”
Sheila says, “Oh, she’s upset because they’re reducing the retirement benefits.”
I think she is lying. I don’t know what is going on. I tell Yvonne I think people are lying to me. Everyone is all upset. I overhear Dr. Lencek, the medical cataloguer who trained as a psychiatrist, say that I am a troublemaker and a flirt. I want to say I am not. I am desperate. I leave a note on Danielle’s desk when she is not there saying, “Don’t you know I can’t hear or see when I am so nervous? I am sorry.” I hear Yvonne say, “It sounds like a heart-felt apology.” But Danielle shows no response. I feel rejected again and go home in a panic. Now I have really made a mess of things. Everyone seems to know what is going on except me. I have made a scene with the head of the department. I have hurt Danielle’s feelings. They think I am playing games and hurting Danielle’s feelings. Am I? I don’t know. I don’t know why I turn so cold and hard at times. Yvonne, Dr. Lencek, Nina— they all seem to want me to love Danielle. I have to do something. No sleep now.
I close the diary after reading Friday’s entry. Joey was so negative about the whole thing I didn’t dare tell him all this and I certainly didn’t dare ask him what I should do. Why hadn’t I been able to explain the whole story to Joey?
YOU WERE TOO NERVOUS. YOU COULDN’T THINK STRAIGHT. JOEY JUST DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THIS KIND OF THING. YOU HAVE REJECTED DANIELLE A FEW TIMES NOW. AND NOW SHE IS REALLY GOING TO THINK YOU ARE PLAYING GAMES. YOU MADE DANIELLE CRY. DANIELLE WASN’T CRYING ABOUT THE RETIREMENT BENEFITS. GET REAL. YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING AND YOU HAVE TO DO IT NOW. IT’S CLEAR YOU HAVE TO FORCE YOURSELF TO COME CLEAN TO DANIELLE. YOU HAVE TO PROVE TO DANIELLE YOU’RE NOT PLAYING GAMES. YOU HAVE TO SHOW HER YOU WERE JUST SCARED— THAT YOU DIDN’T WANT TO REJECT HER— THAT YOU ARE INTERESTED. YOU HAVE TO TELL DANIELLE THE TRUTH. BLUNTLY. OVER THE PHONE. TODAY IS SUNDAY. DANIELLE WON’T BE IN TOMORROW. SHE’S TAKING A VACATION DAY AND TUESDAY IS ELECTION DAY. YOU WON’T SEE HER UNTIL WEDNESDAY. THAT’S TOO LONG TO WAIT. TONIGHT WOULD BE THE PERFECT NIGHT TO DO IT. YOU HAVE TO DO IT. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY. DO YOU WANT TO LOSE HER FOREVER? REMEMBER THAT LOOK ON HER FACE WHEN SHE CAME OVER TO YOU AFTER HER VACATION? THIS IS REAL LOVE AND MAYBE YOUR ONE AND ONLY CHANCE.
I pour myself a Scotch. Then another and another. I take out my phone book. I am still shaking. I dial Danielle’s number, then before it rings, I hang up. I drink the last of my third drink and dial again.
This excerpt from Chapter 2 of my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir illustrates a manic love and an Asperger’s difficulty with social cues. For full information see:
Also available on iBooks (iTunes), Barnes and Noble Nook and Smashwords.