Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Alternate Reality – The Magic Age

Adrienne M. Jenness, MLIS
Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Poet’s statement: I was diagnosed as bipolar when I was 27. I am now in my sixties and, thanks to good therapists and my own efforts, I have been stable for many years. I know what it is like to be mentally ill and then recover to the point that, if I didn’t tell people, they would never know. I think I have an unusual perspective to share. “Alternate Reality” and “The Magic Age” are pieces of my story.


Alternate reality
For the Duck LadyI could have been a bag lady,
one of those women
looking much older than they are
pushing a shopping cart
containing their lives,
sleeping on the streets,
one eye open
half a brain awake
ready to flee at a moment’s notice.I’ve carried the labels
“bipolar” or “schizophrenic” or
“mentally ill” or “crazy” or “nuts”
like heavy textbooks
in a backpack.
I’m still working towards my degree.Bad relationships?
Like some country song,
I’ve had a few.
Bad marriages?
Been there too.There has also been
my jack-in-the-box child
popping up
filling me with joy.I’ve had many therapists,
psychologists, psychiatrists,
with their sympathetic words
with their well-meaning pills
that played my nervous system
like a screeching violin
as they tried to help me
be invisible,
to blend into this world.They did their job.
I did mine.
I’ve dealt with dreams and nightmares
looked childhood memories in the eye
mourned my dead
and wept for other losses
while learning to divine
truth from hallucinations.

I am grateful;
a different place
another time,
I might have been burned for a witch,
murdered by Nazis as defective;
or spent my life on the streets
being crazy.

But instead. . .

when I can snatch a
few minutes from
my mostly ordinary life
packed like a suitcase overflowing
with family, friends, work and home;
me, I write poetry.

Further evidence of being crazy? Or
Another alternate reality?

bag lady











Photography by Threthny















Photography by DraconianRain

The magic age

The year I turned 27
I packed a suitcase,
left my no good, never was
first husband
and went crazy.

Not the casual “My life is so crazy right now,”
but the kind of crazy where you are
forced into a psychiatric hospital.

The kind of insanity where you
see dragons dripping blood and fire
in the middle of a hallway
and think that you are Joan of Arc.

The kind where you need to be drugged
so you can stop weeping,
stop seeing what everyone assures you isn’t there
and go about your life.

My daughter believes
if she lives through her first 27 years
untouched by hallucinations,
untroubled by visions
her life will be spared my genetic curse.

I am no longer afraid.
I see what I am meant to see.
But I do not know
how to tell my child or anyone
that there is no magic age that protects us from life.


ADRIENNE M. JENNESS, MLIS, has a bachelor’s degree in English literature and natural sciences from the University of Pennsylvania. She earned an MLIS from Drexel University. She has been a librarian for the Free Library of Philadelphia and more recently a medical librarian at Drexel University. She has been writing poetry for almost three years and been published in Apiary and Forward.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Winter 2013 – Volume 5, Issue 1

Winter 2013  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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