The Interviews
Suzanne Scanlon

The three women whose life fell short of expectation were all uncommonly attractive: One was artistically talented and extremely intelligent. Another came from a prominent family. The third came from a family considered warm and supportive. All three were in their early twenties when participating in our study; all three committed suicide before the conclusion of the ten-year follow-up study.
-- From
The Fate of Borderline Patients: Successful Outcome and Psychiatric Practice, Michael Stone, Columbia University Press 1989.

1. -- had to do with the increasing inability to come to a decision -- any decision. For years I ignored the impulse -- it was always there. It first occurred it -- quite clear, as if the world were speaking to me: here it is, your challenge -- and I could not meet it. Hence I was institutionalized, more or less, for three years.

2. -- had to do with words. The way words are worlds and always, or only at times, more and less than, and always just above your head, but not where they need to be.
A lack of perspective.
You begin to see life through a certain mood -- one mood, only. To stay within this mood. Life within a singular -- Beneath -- is it under? This one-mood perspective.
And then, there is the lack --
The relativity, is it?
Of signs. The meanings begin to change. Reverse. Alter.

3. Today I am moving into the big room because D -- is leaving and after D -- I have been here the longest. -- came right after me, in September, but she is about to leave. I can tell she is jealous because she watches me move and says, "That would be my room after you leave." She means if she were not leaving now. Which she is.

4. Not lightly. I took it in, considered it, the magnitude of it, and subsequently, the emptiness of it. And I said, clearly, decided -- as if it were a choice -- as if I had been asked -- I answered --

5. I was reading the news a lot.
Until it happened that I couldn't stop.

6. -- she is younger than me. She is the youngest one here. Sometimes I feel sorry for her because she is not talented, like A -- , or pretty like E -- . It's not fair that the nurses like the pretty ones and the smart ones better but it makes sense. -- is not pretty, and she is not smart, and besides she is from Queens.

7. I answered No. As in, Thank you, but I'd rather not.

8. Cutting out articles, pasting them on my wall. A wonderful exercise.
In that I felt --
I thought --
I thought I was finding a way inside the intensity of the story -- containing something of its power, yes?
Until it became futile -- and then, too late --
The project had overcome me -- was unwieldy --

9. I just needed to get away. To get out of this, somehow. I have yet to accept, to face and consider and agree to, after all, the fact of life. . . the voluntary nature of it. . . at large.

10. In the morning I collected the papers -- one, two, sometimes all three, if I had time. I cut the articles carefully to maintain a certain crucial precision; pasting; organizing by content, font design, size, date. Until no other factors were significant or traceable.

11. The big room will be my third room since coming here. My first room did not have a door on it. Half the rooms in the Women's Dorm don't have doors. That's the way they are. For levels. If you have a low level, you don't get a door. You only get levels by being here a long time. Except some people move up levels even without being here a long time. I don't know why.

12. The last time was --
The morning I left -- left the apartment; did not collect newspapers, did not notice the lingering remainders of the morning delivery --
At nine a.m. in front of my neighbor's door -- the neighbor directly to my right, his entrance not two feet front my doorway --
The Daily News lying there, still -- and I do not pick it up.

13. After A -- left last summer I moved into a room with a door. Then after I moved -- moved into my old room without a door. When J -- left I got to move into a room with a door, though it was a very small room.

14. I answered an ad in Backstage: "Are you a woman? Are you young? Attractive? Educated? We need your egg." I called the number. I got eight thousand dollars for it.

15. I had arranged to cut myself off. I put a sign downstairs "Someone has been stealing my papers in the morning! Beware of thief! Retrieve your papers early!"

16. This was before drug therapy. The value of my egg has decreased inestimably, I'm sure.
Still, it promised to satisfy, at first. Eventually I fell into this gloom. I began to consider it a loss, which I hadn't anticipated.

17. And I left: I did not know where I would go first, or next, or at all.
I did know that I would not return -- that evening, ever.

18. E -- says -- should not be here or that in the old days someone like her would not be allowed here. I think she isn't good enough, is what E -- says. In her looks, or her articulation -- that's what E -- says.

19. I began longing for the egg. It was as if an entire aspect of myself had been -- the part that contained my possibility, my potential. Completely gone. As if it had been contained in that one particular egg. Well I don't think logically here the extension to fetus/child. I'm not interested in --

20. It led to a terrible longing, a breakdown of a sort -- though I'm not happy with the word -- breakdown -- it's imprecise really.

21. It was the night I entered -- eventually -- the ER. However, by then I was not aware. I can not recall, how it might have gone.

22. But I agree with E -- . Though when I got here I didn't know what I was doing. Dr. R -- one day just said, "We think you need long term care. Here is a place with lots of people like you." That's what he said: "Lots of people like you."

23. That was it. So it became -- I decided.

24. I needed. . . so I went out. . . I could not handle the -- Outside, the stimulation, is it? It was then I -- This was the day, the night, I arrived. Here, yes. Yes.

25. For the most part I like it here. Only once I was on CO. Now that I'm in the big room I will have a closet.

26. To keep trying until it worked. A new possibility.

27. Arrived at the "black hole stage" -- this is how I refer to it -- where I could no longer, leave the building, beyond the foyer.

28. For people on Constant Observation. C -- was on CO almost the whole time she was here. I don't think she ever got a room in the Women's Dorm. She couldn't stop cutting. -- was on CO too, most of the time. She had a room in the Women's Dorm -- next to me for a while -- but she was never in there. A waste if you ask me. Just a place to keep her art supplies and her clothes. -- and C­ were great friends, instantly. -- cut a lot, too. Sometimes we wondered if she was copying C -- . But not really. I mean no one wants attention that badly, do they.

29. It is as hard for me to understand also -- how you do it. For me it was not an episode of acting out, as you put it -- this is irrelevant. I think there are a few of us here -- a few like me -- who truly desire it. The rest here -- I consider them to be playing a game. Or at the very least, to be more enamored of the release within pursuing the opportunity -- the end for them lies in the consideration, only. They are released -- and relieved -- by simply having the option. Though it is not something they would ever fulfill.

30. I felt driven, that I had been born to -- and it sounds grandiose, as you say -- the pejorative nature of the word I object to -- your profession has a way of doing that, you realize --

31. Once I tried. In the park on a break. I took a stick and rubbed it up and down on the side of my arm, very hard, over and over, until it was raw. It hurt so much; I almost couldn't go through with it. And then it stopped hurting and it started to feel numb -- -it just felt like nothing. And then I could keep going, scraping it deeper and deeper. I ended up getting an infection and had to take penicillin for a while. It burned a lot then, so I guess you could say I learned a lesson. I never did it again. But I understood after that how they do it. It's the kind of a thing too that looks worse than it feels.

32. I'm merely pointing out a fundamental difference. There is something childish in their struggle -- And a few of us here are more concerned with completion.

33. It is also -- as I've mentioned -- a means toward survival, an instinct.

34. Then you get used to it and it gives you satisfaction too and so. So then it's easy you stop feeling it at all because you only want the perk and it's all you think about, the perk. I mean the benefits. Incentives.

35. A way in -- this ability to understand, or to see clearly the connections, between people, and things, and events... It's not all the time. And they come and go. But it was -- as if a layer had dropped away.

36. -- came in the summer but not for very long. Maybe she wasn't really sick. But I don't know. She tried to cut herself; I mean she really wanted to be like C -- . She told us so. It was embarrassing. Everyone knew that she was copying C -- even C -- would say -- all scornful and proud -- "baby cat scratcher". As if A -- weren't you know, good enough, or something. It was a bit screwed. But I admired her too, C -- , for that. You just had to. You knew she was on to something.

37. Yes. What I saw was the result of my education played out for me: the problem at bottom was the innate failure of intellectualization to provide a sustaining framework. . .

38. C -- always reminded me of D -- . I didn't know why -- but then I realized they were both not afraid of anything.

39. It does feel as if I'm not fooling anyone, anymore. That I really am quite -- and that even if I am not, that it may be too late not to be -- That in the middle of exploring this, so to speak -- that I lost control of something. Or the illusion of control. Of all others.

40. Do you know what Dr. R -- said to me when I first came here? When they interviewed me. That's what they called it: an interview.

41. Oh the gaps, the arbitrary cause and effect model, the transitions that simply did not occur. So I assign meaning. Cast about for a theory. A means -- a map -- toward contentment.

42. He wouldn't do the things C -- does -- he didn't cut, if that's what you mean -- but many things that gave me the same feeling. The feeling I get from C -- Do you know she has a doll collection in her room?

43. He asked How might we help you? and I remember that I said I don't think you can help me and he said I think we can and I said maybe you can but I won't the thing is I won't let you help me.

44. Can you explain to me the problem in functioning this way? The inherent failure of the as-if functioning style? This is not yet clear to me. I use it as a means of accommodation. To be ill-adjusted to a deranged world is not a breakdown. Somebody said that.

45. And you know what he said? He said, Do you think you're so powerful? That was what he said. It made such an impression on me. I mean how provocative. What a thing to say, really. I will never forget that. It has a lot to do with who I am. How I've always considered myself, as you know­too much so even -- well, yes, powerful is probably the word. To imagine that someone could get to me. Maybe it gave me hope.

46. I am trying -- still -- to make something of all this.

47. No it's not that he did in fact, or will eventually. Help me. I'm not entirely saying that. I'm not saying anything like that, so conclusively I mean, not at this point.

48. It's difficult to --. I'll try to explain.

49. I was moved. Regardless.

50. Well, for instance -- what does God want us to do? How do we manage in a world where we feed on each other to live? Yes. Forgiveness, guilt. Mistakes.

51. After she died. It only felt like after, like just after but it was actually ten years later. Time is strange that way but for ten years really I did not -- I didn't feel her death. I thought, I felt like, it was like getting away with murder.

52. -- walked by. She told me to get out. She was mad. She said we knew better.

53. This is a tangent. This is not what I intended to say -- to discuss -- I'm going to tell you a story, by way of explanation. I am not wandering. I am not dreamy.

54. I wish someone would have told me about it. Why doesn't anyone talk about it? The sick thing -- Dr. R -- in community meetings, goes on and on about how the Unit is a microcosm of the world. . . and is meant to re-create this functional family -- you know, because everyone comes from these families where there are secrets and everything? This is his interpretation -- an addendum to the Kernberg model, right? And a family of this sort, according to the post-Freudian object relations psych. Docs of the Dr. R -- sort, is quite dysfunctional. Makes the family members feel unsafe Etcetera. So what the Unit is doing is creating a safe place -- a microcosm (he loves to call it this) of the theoretical functional family.

55. I need to explain what I mean by "getting away with murder".

56. I mean mother had died -- ten years before the sense came over me, but -- all of my feelings about life and death, and -- my readings from the bible, my faith -- not, I wasn't, or didn't feel, tested, so much as. . . just. . . well, everything dropped away. Fell apart. I seemed to be living in a -- I saw everything the way it was, for a very long, very heavy time. The way it is just terrifically depressing, if not horrifying. It is, you know. Death is supposed to be more than this, and I was not­

57. And yet -- what he never says -- what no one ever says -- or admits -- Is that there are secrets in this ­cosm too. Like A -- and P -- for instance. Their relationship. You see what I mean?

58. I mean it both literally and figuratively. It was a response to death. It began when the mind -- I could not think about death. The mind -- it begins to convulse around it. There is not a better way for me to explain it. Thinking is impossible, beyond a point.

59. The night nurse, her name was Kathy. It could be her name. Kathy was insane. Utterly out of her mind. Kathy ate -- every night -- rice cakes. A bag of rice cakes. Kathy clearly had some major eating disorder. Kathy was moody, scary like really. I really resented that -- hated her for some time really, because she was scary. To tell the truth I hated myself for hating her so much -- which I knew was not based on any real evidence; rather on the fact of how silent and unfriendly she was. That was it more or less, the not smiling. The intimidating silence. I feared her, then hated myself for fearing her (I gathered how weak she was, and I had a strong sense of my own entitlement -- over-strong you might say -- the reason I had wound up there, desperate for some external validation that could not be found in the world that I'd been trying to arouse. So I hated her for it -- -Kathy. I hated her for making me fear her, which made me hate myself in turn, which then made me hate her even more.

60. Something. The thing that. . . I always thought had, or contributed to, formed something essential of myself.

61. The funny thing is -- aside from the rice cakes, which is really a footnote her but nonetheless I'd say rather illustrative of everyday OCD-like habits which go unchallenged by most people -- mainly because they are also trying to keep their own OCD in check and to avoid ending up where we are. But that is one of those secrets that I hadn't figured out yet. Which is why I am here.

62. Anyway there is a line, which just killed me, when I first read it. His best friend has died and he's grieving, but not simply grief -- he is transformed, you know.

63. The secret that everyone is a little insane. That most people know it, accept it, and don't go too far with it -- most people that is would not seek help in the manner that I did.

64. When I said that I didn't talk in the beginning I meant that I could not. I stopped.

65. The larger underlying thing of which this is merely one example. That I accept his authority, his wisdom -- but only up to this point. The lesbian relationship supersedes. . . obviates. . . such investigation. As I've said, we are all aware of it. It seems to be a tradition in this culture --

66. In one of these he says The dead people don't go away.

67. Don't look at me like that I'm seriously bothered by it and I'm not it's not because I'm saying the flipped binary is revolutionary --

68. Things were empty. Words and everything. That people talk about. Even when I try to explain how I feel nothing works. The words don't match up to the feelings. I only feel those. Those big gaps between people.

69. They don't, you know?

70. That I could not come close to explaining it to anyone. How awful it felt. This is the only thing people here -- that they were like me. In that way. Because words weren't working for them anymore. Either. That's how it came to how I guess I felt better. That they knew that they didn't work. I thought before I thought everyone was above me and I was the only one who didn't, who couldn't get the words to match up.

71. The world we live in, or most of us, it's not the real world ...and you when you see it you see through this mask separating us from reality, there are meanings and allegories and, that just creep in all the time. I mean we don't of course we don't or can't recognize them always or usually, but when you are, when grief is so heavy -- then you see. You really see.

72. It is not that it is comforting to live this way. It is just that it is there. And you just know. You know.

73. They spend a considerable time trying to pin down my particular etiological signifier.

74. I need to explain that I'm not -- I don't mind, not all the time.

75. Whatever it is they look for. I can tell you though I have been asked -- by every doctor on the ward, individually -- if I can recall any occurrences of incest. For instance.

76. But I -- do you know what Dr. R-- said to me yesterday when I went to his office? He said, "Hi!" -- just that way, cheery, bright -- "Hi! You look good!" I suppose I scrunched my nose at him because then he said, "No! It's only subjective. I understand you still want to die, and feel terrible, etc. but you really do look good! And this is important -- subjectively."

77. Perhaps they cannot deal with the fact of an inherent, unmotivated desire not to live -- as if it were not human -- as if there were something in me confounding their expectations and experience too completely as to be honest. Or moral, even.

78. Yes. Something you are born with, a certain insight, or sensitivity to -- It's not rare. Not original, either.

79. I have occasional trouble with language.

80. One of my fantasies about my mother -- along the if-she'd-lived-I-would or wouldn't-be/know X variety: if she were alive, she would have told me so. I would have learned -- from her, mostly -- that young women may have some pretty dark thoughts, and can get pretty lost -- but they do not need mental hospitals. In fact, they should attempt to accept their bits of looniness, keep their heads above water and dive in. That is, they should not check themselves into the friendly neighborhood Ivy League college Ward Six or Seven or Eight at the suggestion of the first sophisticated New York City shrink they meet.

81. This is not a withdrawal. I can explain it to you. I need to assign meaning. It's human nature, simply.

82. I'm not intending to provoke. I realize that's how you interpret my behavior, or the behavior of all of the women here, in general. Consider it my handicap in this dialogue. It's a compliment -- that I'm able to speak with you.

83. What I mean to do is demystify the process. I'm not impressed, you see. It's merely the other side of the romantic impulse. I'm not a coward; I'm merely -- I'm driven.

84. You see?

85. In opposing directions.