This is the story Jeannie Curcio told me of “losing her reality” and regaining it.
I grew up in a house without much money. My parents couldn’t help me pay for college. They didn’t even want me to go. But I went to state schools and paid my own way. I got a BA and then an MA in environmental education. I worked as a teacher and was happily married to Philip. We had a young son.
I was in my midthirties when I became unhappy at work. I felt that people were ganging up on me. They were mean. They had fake conversations to upset me. I didn’t feel safe. I felt my boss and others were making me out to be mentally unfit.
During that time I became more and more scared that someone was trying to break into our house. Because I was so distraught, my husband Philip bought tiny padlocks for the windows and changed the door locks. Finally he suggested I quit my job. He was always a good guy in all of this, but he did not know what to believe. Was I crazy or were they doing all this to make me look crazy? After a while I was unsure myself. Maybe a little bit of both….
There was a band I liked, a blue grass band from California. For years I would show up at their shows in the Northeast and the guitarist would hug me and we would chat a bit and I would secretly get turned on.
I began to hear voices telling me to travel, to leave my husband, who I loved and still love, and follow the band. I heard the words of their songs talking to me.
So I left Philip. Our separation agreement gave me some money and I spent $20,000 getting ready to travel. I bought a lot of clothes, and spent $1500 on bridal lingerie. I got a simple wedding dress and a $500 crystal vase as a wedding gift to myself. I thought I was going to marry the guitarist who had asked me out because the band had a song about a wedding. They were having a Halloween party at one of their shows, so I bought a complete Miss Piggy costume including the wig.
At the airport I noticed a man following me, wearing all black like a priest. There were FBI men also. The voices began telling me to travel light. I started to shed luggage. I left a $400 coat in the airport bathroom. I flew to Denver, to San Francisco, to South Texas, to Fresno.
In one city I was returning my rental car when the woman at the counter told me I could call customer service and give feedback. She winked at me. And this is a good example of how your brain can trick you: I thought she was telling me to leave messages for the band with Hertz customer service. So I kept calling Hertz with messages for the guy I liked in the band. I followed the band until they thought I was weird and I was asked to leave a concert.
I cut my hair and dyed it so the FBI wouldn’t recognize me. I bought men’s clothes. I was always scared because they were after me. In Denver the voices told me to follow the next person who left the hotel. It was two guys. I went out and started to get in their car with them. I was down to a backpack by then. From three suitcases to a backpack. The guys told me to go back and get help from the hotel receptionist. She got me a cab to the airport.
There were two two flights leaving, so I picked the one to NY. But I noticed that the woman selling me the ticket to the flight was wearing my Miss Piggy wig.
In New York I immediately bought a ticket for San Francisco. I was waiting for my flight to be called and a man was mocking me. I felt like he was my protection against the FBI. He tried to get me on his flight to Sacramento. But the flight attendants wouldn’t let me on with my San Francisco ticket. I told them they had to because I was being followed by the FBI. They called security and I ended up in a psychiatric ward at a hospital in Queens. That whole period when I was travelling and following the band was over in less than a month.
At the hospital a team of people interviewed me and put me on medication. Then a psychiatrist met with me. He said, “You seem to be slightly out of touch with reality.”
On the ward there was a fake patient who walked around after me, talking loudly. Everyone was either on the green team, which was good, or the white team, which was bad. When they released me, Philip came and got me. I told him about the guy pretending to be a patient, and I could tell he contemplated taking me right back. But he didn’t, he took me to the apartment I had set up for myself when I left him.
A few weeks later the meds finally kicked in. I felt like there was a bubble in my brain and it was pricked. I understood. I was shaking. I was shocked. Having taken in all that I had just done, I felt alone and scared of losing my reality again. I thought about all I had lost. I was afraid that my husband would take my son away from me. I was overwhelmed.
I decided what I would do next. Pay my overdue bills, get a doctor, let my friends know I was still alive, put on one more conference for the non-profit I had founded, and keep taking my medication. That’s what I did.
Gradually I pulled myself together. I knew that if I was going to survive the personal failures in my life I was going to have to focus on my professional successes. With the help of the talented people on my board of directors, I organized a workshop for the Character Education Center, a non-profit I had started in the years before my breakdown to support the work of the Jane Goodall Institute. I had some income from Philip for a time. I took care of my son when he came to me.
The combination of six medications slowed me down a lot. I had been a dynamic person. A skinny, dynamic person. The medications made me drowsy. My memory was poor, I gained weight.
Now I’m down to one medication. I’m working in the mental health field as an advocate for the mentally ill. My son doesn’t believe I have a mental illness.