Chapter 11: Thirty Years On: The Fear of Being Crazy
I spent most of my life believing I was crazy because all the crazy things I experienced in childhood were treated as nonexistent or normal. This belief colored every decision made, from something so basic as what to wear today, to the more esoteric boundaries of whether I should kill myself. I understood very well that killing myself under the wrong circumstances would establish my insanity forever. So I analyzed every word, every gesture before committing myself. (Which probably accounts for why I am alive today.)
This strategy more immediately resulted in considerable lag time in conversations, which in itself appeared strange. I learned to remain silent and noncommittal, constantly updating my position to match that of a “normal” person. It became an elaborate game to correctly anticipate a conversational break so I could “naturally” participate.
Even greater than my fear that I was crazy, was my lifelong dread that someone would find out. As a child, that someone was my mother, who I felt certain would put me away permanently if my behavior grew too extreme. I continually tested her resolve in that area, but for the most part, faded into the background to not draw undue attention.
This created an ongoing conflict intellectually, as I was naturally curious and inclined toward study. Excellence and achievement focused a spotlight on me whenever grades were due. I learned early that being noticed for anything was dangerous. Good grades also briefly appeased my mother. My dilemma was how to receive justly due accolades without simultaneous detection of some form of defect. (A defect was anything not readily explainable, with which my life seemed replete.) I was forever searching for a balance between satisfying myself intellectually and not letting anyone else know I could.
The fear of discovery created a “push-pull” between perfectionism and its partner, procrastination. Perfectionism might guarantee no one would notice I was crazy, especially if I was supervigilant to every detail. The chain of prediction and probability could be calculated endlessly. (And often was.) Focusing so tightly on perfection could, temporarily, block out feelings of craziness. But “too perfect” would tip someone off, so I constantly procrastinated doing anything that might create the essence of perfection.
This kind of thinking creates entire conversations in advance, yet does not allow term papers to be written until the morning they are due. It anticipates and remembers everyone’s birthday to engender goodwill, yet fails to timely pay bills. It allows one to dream, but never quite succeed.
I carried my fears into adulthood, marking time between obvious insecurities and a desperate bravado. Strange, unexplainable things continued to occur, but it seemed best to pretend nothing happened at all. So I endured ridicule and confusion, created anger and tension, and lost credibility with the people from whom I most needed it. This, in the hope that my fundamental flaw that I was truly crazy remained unnoticed.
I never opened up completely in therapy prior to working with Howard. I felt intellectually superior to therapists, and played games. If a therapist was blind to my obvious insanity, s/he would never uncover my secrets, either. It never occurred to me that if Howard could recognize “crazy”, he might also know what “not crazy” looked like. I quickly realized he was three steps ahead of me. There was no time to play games. He constantly challenged me to expand the limits of my thinking.
Howard vigorously campaigned to convince me I was not crazy, and that DID was, if anything, evidence to support his conclusion. His model suggested that DID, by its very nature, indicated a desire not just to survive, but to triumph. He repeatedly used the metaphor that I had cast a lifeline into the future for a later, safe reunion. I wanted to believe him, but needed proof of an unequivocal nature.
September 13, 1991
I’ve been doing my usual family thing — trying to make them see, come, call, do — and while I’ve been successful, focusing on them stops me from focusing on me. (So much for resistance, hmm?) I feel like I’m drifting, waiting for the next wave to wash over me. While all this stuff explains the craziness of my childhood, it also feels crazy to have these memories pop up. It’s like reading a bad horror novel and realizing it’s about you. Sometimes it really frightens me.
The new memories and hallucinations I was experiencing terrified me. I felt isolated, but certain I could handle anything. I reassured my boss that nothing happening personally would affect my work, since work created my major escape from the terror in my mind. Even with that certainty, the next six weeks took a tremendous toll on me.
October 30, 1991
I feel myself disintegrating right before my eyes and no one sees me disappearing. The disease of the week bores my friends and they want something happy now. Performances at eight and twice Saturday. Nothing is real now. Everything is pressure I can’t stand it I will explode from this pressure and nothing will be left of me. Nobody calls nobody cares. I smile I laugh I sigh I commiserate; no one sees this shell making the moves of a person. No one sees they can see right through me because I’m not here. Every day I am less here than yesterday and no one sees, no one cares.
What happened to take me from full-of-bravado to becoming invisible? I constantly awakened in panic with night terrors and drug-free hallucinations. I heard voices from within my head. I feared something inside beyond my control would make me kill myself. I longed for a day when some heinous memory did not descend upon me. And still, I worked and “acted normal”, pretending everything was perfectly okay. To do otherwise would invalidate everything I’d fought for/against my entire life. After six weeks of this pressure, becoming invisible was beginning to look attractive.
Since childhood, my much-needed outlet for pent-up emotions has derived from writing poetry. I keep it honest. I take each poem seriously, and nearly always know exactly what it means. But my poem Thirty Years On (see below) was a great mystery. The first verse seemed likely to be about me, while the rest seemed odd. It was written three months before I met Howard. I could not unravel whatever the title meant, which bothered me for months. I tried repeatedly to change it, but found I was “unable”.
Sometimes poems with very complex rhyming patterns poured out of me faster than I could write, and I’d wonder, “Where did that come from?” The notion that my poems might originate by some uncontrollable internal interloper was distressing. For years, I’d claimed that Inside Sarah wrote my poems, but never took the implication far. This notion fueled the fire in my “crazy” debate with Howard. Then I looked at Thirty Years On one more time, and knew exactly what it was about. It was a conversation between Nita and Sarah. All I did was add “who” was speaking when.
Nita: Nothing feels so lost and lonely
As the sound of one heart beating
Late at night when din of traffic
And apartment neighbors ceases
Might have been a time I welcomed
Solitude booked through September
Might have longed for my own space
Without regard for old subleases
Sarah: I’ve been touring once upon a time
A place in which you won’t be found
And still I keep the searchlights on
In hope of late night revelations
I wish you chose to speculate
In happily ever after dreams
The kind that other people have
Without default for fabrications
Nita: Have you lately read a sonnet
Pledging love to last forever
Time can fool our best intentions
Or, at least, it’s sure fooled me
Sarah: Do you wonder where I am tonight
Or does my silence comfort you?
The guardian of my secret thoughts
Custodian of the only key
April 17, 1991; revised October 30, 1991
© Sarah E. Olson 1991-2015
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