A photo taken in the attic during one of my sister's "channeling" sessions when she was manic. Sitting alone with a candle, this was one of the first quiet moments I had seen her have in a long time.

After moving out, Jessica found work as a therapist at a low income mental health clinic in the city. It was a difficult job, but I know that Jessica felt both lucky and proud to have overcome some of her own problems so that she could help others. However, Jessica often had stories about the challenges of working with her clients and trying to understand what was going on in their heads, especially when she could still not fully understand what was going on in her own. She also had many frustrations about the atmosphere of the clinic, and described how poorly she was treated by the administration, how little she was paid, and over time, how stressful her job had become. Jessica began to feel that her job as a therapist was taking away the very power which she so craved and needed to control her life and mind.

So Jessica tried a new way to gain back this power. She became a dominatrix, "abusing" men for money on the weekends when she was not at the clinic. While my family was somewhat wary of her choice of profession, we told Jessica that if this was what made her happy and she could do it safely then we could accept it--we still loved her and accepted her no matter what she did. We had learned through dealing with her mania that this was the only choice; unconditional love meant love no matter how crazy or "weird" Jessica became.

Why did Jessica make the bold lifestyle change to become a dominatrix? I feel that graduating college and finding work and independence became too "normal" for Jessica. She was slowly losing her humanity and her power, and by being a dominatrix she could once again take control of herself by taking control of others. Amazingly, this time, being a dominatrix almost seemed like the right thing for Jessica to do. From what I could see, her mind had never been better. She was starting to understand the realities of the world around her, and deal with the stresses and joys of being independent. She could carry on conversations, socialize, even join her brother for a beer and shmoozing in a local bar. Although she was an unusual sister with what I considered a somewhat outlandish job, for the first time in years, I felt like my sister was actually getting better.

This was how I thought of my sister up until the night she killed herself. Things were getting better. Jessica had learned to control her mania, and was finally able to start controlling her own life. Only my family didn't know what was really going on. After her death, we learned that Jessica had quit her job as a therapist over a year before and was working full time as a dominatrix. All the while she had been telling us that she was working at a new clinic, complete with stories of clients, bosses, and "hard days at work". So while we were under the impression that she was still a therapist, in reality, Jessica was becoming quite famous in the local "alternative" lifestyle business as a dominatrix. She had built up a world of clients and friends while living a life that we would never be able to understand. In essence, while we thought that Jessica was getting better, she was in fact simply living in two worlds. We saw her in the world that she created for us, but her "real" life was in many ways just as manic as ever. Looking back, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for her to deal with these two worlds. Wanting power and independence on one hand, and wanting a normal life on the other. In the end I don't think Jessica was ever able to fully reconcile the two.

No matter who she was, or what she did, Jessica knew that we loved her. There was nothing she could do to change that. Even through the worst of her mania, I was able to see through to the sister I once knew. She was there when we talked, when we joked with each other and even when she described to me the pain of living with her uncontrollable mind. Jessica was the same wonderful, funny and caring person who I grew up with, the same innocent child who was my friend and big sister. I know that no matter how Jessica felt about the world around her at the time she killed herself, she knew that her family supported her. We did our best and so did Jessica. Not every story of mental illness has to have as sad an ending as Jessica's, but love and support can carry everyone through--even in death.


All Photographs ©2004 Boris Dolin
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