During my first year of grad school, two gun-totting protestors had held hostage a classroom of students of which I was a part, and I myself had shotguns aimed at me and guard dogs sicked on me as I protested the Vietnam War.
Also, I suggested a different way of teaching to a professor who felt I was threatening him, possibly with a gun, and I attended manifold classes in diverse disciplines in which I felt dull-witted.
For many years, four memories from the second year of grad school haunted me. Two illustrated my stupidity; two were violent. In my Saturday posting I will begin to share the latter with you. Today, I want to share with you a thumbnail account of why violence catapulted me into an attempt at suicide.
There had been only two terrifying instances of violence in my childhood home. But always there was the possibility of more because of my father’s drinking. By going away to college I left that violence behind. I engaged in magical thinking: if I wasn’t there to see the violence, it wouldn’t happen.
Then I entered the convent where I tried so hard to be perfect. I fooled everyone, but the very act of hiding my deep insecurities left me feeling as if I were a fake. I came to dislike myself intensely. It was then that I began to hallucinate three yammering individuals who hounded me for twelve years.
In December 1966, I left the convent, deeply depressed. That no one realized this is a testament to my acting ability. I knew the kind of things “normal” people talked about. I knew how they reacted and expressed themselves. I was a quick study. For the next ten years—from 1966 to 1976—I played the role of a “normal” person. I hid the fact that three yammering complainers accompanied me everywhere.
During those years, life took many twists and turns. In 1968—when I was thirty-one— Mom died. Dad died in 1975 when I was thirty-nine. Their deaths left me bereft. From 1966 to 1973, I kept moving, searching for some peace from the constant hallucinations.
· I moved to Dayton. In the space of two years, I lived in seven different apartments. It was there I taught in a Catholic academy for girls and an inner-city classroom.
· I moved to Minneapolis to get a graduate degree.
· I moved back to Dayton to teach at a dropout center for black students.
· I moved to New Hampshire to teach students whom the faculty thought were mediocre. While I was in New England, a Dartmouth psychiatrist advised me to go somewhere and settle. To find roots. To find, somehow, a home.
· Finally, I moved back to Minnesota to work for a publishing house. During the next four years, I moved twice. Then, in 1977, I bought an 1870 lumberjack home in Stillwater and settled down for thirty-two years.
My hallucinations ended in 1976 when a Minneapolis psychiatrist prescribed an antipsychotic drug. I still take it and will until I die. In prescribing it, she told me that I’d been so deeply depressed for over twelve years that my body was chemically imbalanced.
Moreover, I had nothing left to filter out stimuli. Every hurtful, negative, tragic happening that I read about or encountered “struck me to the core.” I was unable to let go of the cruelty humans inflicted on one another. I was, she said, “a bruised soul.”
You will note that the name of this blog is “coming home to myself.” Only in the last few years have I found within myself the peace I’ve always sought. I’ve finally embraced myself.
I’ve embraced my history with its fears and neediness; with its immaturity and loneliness. I’ve embraced as well the strengths of that young woman who struggled so hard to be a force for good.
She’s older now—I’ll be seventy-six in less than a month—and she knows—I know—that I am a treasury of all I’ve experienced and all I’ve loved. At long last, I have found a home. It is within myself.