Personality Crisis

This comes from the first chapter that recreates the days following when I moved into the halfway house. I don’t recommend anyone do what I did. Instead, research your options and be not afraid to do something different. I don’t think any young person should be shunted into a traditional day program. I’ve formed this stance in retrospect because of my time spent writing the memoir. I do not offer this advice flippantly. Nor do I recommend ditching a treatment plan that could actually work. My contention is that you have to do your research and choose wisely what you do after you’re first diagnosed when you’re young.

The title of the blog entry is a reference to the song title of a song one of the characters was singing on the first day I moved into the halfway house. She and I got out of the system. So few of the others did. It’s all too easy to get led down the wrong path. And true a better option might not exist where you live. It seemed like I had no other options circa the fall 1987.

___________________________________________________

Waking up come Monday morning I heard the Sugarcubes on loud from in that room. This could get very interesting—first punk rock and now Icelandic pop.

I washed my face in the sink, barely removing my eye makeup so I didn’t have to apply it again. It saved time. Today I didn’t want to be late again for the new day program. Ellen sent me to Meadow because she didn’t think I was ready for a part-time job, not even volunteer work, and Rise was meant to be short-term.

Soon I met the woman who liked rock-n-roll. In the kitchen, she made herself coffee, and I poured myself a bowl of Cheerios. Her corkscrew hair snaked out around her face.

“I’m Margot,” she introduced herself, bringing her mug to the table where I sat.

“Chris.” I looked anywhere but at her face.

“I’ll walk with you to Meadow,” she said. It was the second day program I attended.

“Thank you.” I soaked up her kindness.

She wore a red leather MC and motorcycle boots. I coveted her style.

“You live in the room with the music.”

“Yes. I’ve heard your punk. I like it. The woman next to me listens to Slim Whitman.” She rolled her eyes.

I laughed. “I love your leather jacket.”

“It’s an ex-boyfriend’s. I broke up with him and never gave it back.” That was so cool. I knew I’d like knowing her. I hoped this would turn into a friendship. It would satisfy Brett. I’d have an ally in this strange world.

“Let’s go. It’s late.” We placed our cups and bowls in the dishwasher and left.

We walked in silence the five blocks to the building. On arriving, she 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.

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Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She owns a resume writing and career help business. 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 a fitness buff.

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