My interviews with Independent Authors, focused on characteristics of strong females, continue with today’s guest, a strong female in her own right. Ellen Stockdale Wolfe worked her way through school, earning a BA from Barnard College, an MA in Special Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, an MLS in Library Science at Columbia University. She worked with autistic children in college and in graduate school. In 2000, after thirty years as a cataloguer, she left libraries to become a Reiki Master and pursue her early interests in photography, painting, and writing.
GAIL: Ellen, welcome and thank you for visiting today. Let’s begin with the publication of your memoir, Eye-locks and Other Fearsome Things: Learning to Love as a Bipolar Aspie. Can you share some of the background of the book and its title?
ELLEN: The book is about my breakdown at age 28 when I literally had to start from scratch and rebuild my life. Therapy played a very big role in my recovery and highlights from therapy appear in shortened versions in my book. I was highly motivated to overcome my problems with closeness (once I learned of them) because I was seeking a romantic relationship. In therapy I found out I was Bipolar and, 33 years later, got a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome as well. "Eye-locks" are very scary for anyone with Asperger's and I found them very problematic. Eye-locks occur in conversation, in flirting, in lots of social interactions. Making eye contact is still hard for me sometimes and eye-locks are particularly uncomfortable. My husband, whom I have diagnosed with Asperger's, is equally uncomfortable with eye contact. After 23 years of marriage we are still sometimes shy with each other.
GAIL: Why do you describe the book as a testament to love.
ELLEN: My book is a testament to love because I was seeking love and I had to understand that relationships were not working because of my problems with closeness. But the book describes a love story that occurred at work. I became obsessed with an older West Indian woman, was convinced she loved me and was waiting for me to "become well." This promise of a relationship, though unspoken, got me to work very hard at overcoming my psychological and emotional problems. Danielle was my motivation. Danielle is the cipher in this story. I will never know what she was up to or what she felt. But the promise of her got me to the point where I was able to love and was able to reach out to a man who was painfully shy and Aspie. That man became my husband and we have been married for 23 years.
GAIL: Ellen, you also mention a subplot of the book that portrays Black life in the 1980s and the homosexual lifestyle of the period. My first novel is set in the late 1960s and touches on the Civil Rights movement. How does that era differ from the 1980s?
ELLEN: I think things were a lot better in the 1980s than in the 1960s in terms of race. However, that said, racism was still rampant. I got involved with two black women in that time period and they had very different views of racial matters because one woman was born in Trinidad and the other was a poor black woman raised in New York City. The book has characters talk about the problems of being a black, a woman and being gay. To summarize, things were better in the 1960s but there were still plenty of problems. Even today I still see problems with racism. Of course, gay rights have come a long way. In the 1980s gay bars were secret places and gay pride was just starting. Certainly, Danielle, the object of my affections, was a very closeted gay woman, if she was gay at all. That is just part of the cipher.
GAIL: Your article, Secondary Autism, appeared in Psychoanalytic Inquiry in 1993 as the center of that journal’s focus: Fear of Fusion. Was that the catalyst for writing your memoir?
ELLEN: My article was called "Fear of Fusion: non-verbal behavior in Secondary Autism" and it was the theme of the whole issue of Psychoanalytic Inquiry, vol.13, no. 1, published in 1993.
Prominent psychoanalysts wrote articles on my article. I was told my article was an important contribution to the field and that it was similar to the description by the famous autistic, Temple Grandin in Emergence, Labeled Autistic.
I believe Asperger's syndrome was not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual until 1994. My doctor called what I was describing "Secondary Autism." After the encouragement from Psychoanalytic Inquiry I wanted to make a larger contribution to the field of psychiatry and psychology, demonstrating the problems of Bipolar Disorder and Asperger's Syndrome despite the current flurry of books on Asperger's Syndrome.
So, yes, the article was a catalyst to my memoir. It is my hope that my work will give hope to those with problems like the ones I faced and that the mentally ill not give up the fight to experience a love relationship.
GAIL: You worked with autistic children in college and graduate school. For 30 years you were a cataloguer, specializing in your college major and minor, art history and psychology. In 2000, what led you to leave behind your full-time library work to become a Reiki Master?
ELLEN: I wanted to do something more spiritual than library work and I was finding it harder and harder to face the social problems at work. Social interaction at my various jobs was always the hardest part of the job for me and my psychiatrist had wanted to put me on disability many years before. I was very interested in Reiki and still do practice it though it has taken a back seat to my writing and art work.
GAIL: Your interest in painting and photography are woven throughout the different stages of your life. What subjects do you to tend to paint and photograph, and have you ever donated any of your work to organizations?
ELLEN: I paint and photograph nature, landscapes and animal studies. At one point I also had a nature column in a newspaper in upstate New York. I love animals and want to raise consciousness for their humane treatment, especially farm animals, and to raise awareness about our dwindling wilderness. I have donated lots and lots of art work to animal rescue organizations in upstate New York, like Mutt n' Lab Rescue in Millbrook, The Dutchess Land Conservancy, and to servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan mainly through Give2theTroops in Connecticut. I also donated a piece to Belmont Race Track in New York (though I no longer am a racing fan) and to the Horticultural Society in NYC and two pieces to sell for Obama's campaign.
My art is at: http://stockdalewolfe.myexpose.com/