Bipolar Women from Huntington Beach: Someone, Anyone, Save Us from Ourselves
Two weeks ago the Weekly received a phone call from a woman whose tone rose and sank with each sentence. Sometimes she spoke slowly, in concise and measured expressions; other times one word spilled over the next in a roar. She told us that she and her wife needed help, because they could not control themselves anymore.
The woman was Velanna Sims, and her partner of seven years is Cynthia Baum. Sims called the Weekly after reading Michael Goldstein's cover story on bipolar activist Lisa Becker. Sims and Baum are both bipolar, with Sims dancing on the edge of being schizophrenic and Baum being full-blown ADD. They believed that if the Weekly could raise awareness about Becker's fight for the mentally ill, then we could also get them the help they seriously need.
"We can't live like this anymore," Sims said, with Baum piping in, "I love her, but I'm gonna have to leave her if she doesn't get on meds."
Both women come from very different backgrounds. Baum--tall and slender with a long, graceful neck marked by a fading rope burn left behind by a recent suicide attempt--grew up in South Carolina in a small family; Sims was raised on an enormous farm in Michigan. The latter found herself stationed in New Mexico during the 80s, working for the military as a technician, she says, because she's "a dyke." Baum found a way to funnel her ADD and compulsive behavior into productive work by cleaning homes and working on colorful paintings. Even though both women knew they were "different" at a young age, it wasn't until adulthood that they were diagnosed with their respective disorders.
Sims, left, and Baum find peace for a moment.
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Yet this sickness has started to cost them. Unable to get the correct type and dosage of medication and stay on it, both women have become uncontrollable--over 50 arrests for Baum and dozens for Sims, with charges ranging from domestic violence to DUIs to assaulting an officer. "I wish I had a chip in my wrist," Baum says, "so that the police could scan it and know exactly what they're dealing with."
Sims says that Huntington Beach police have vacillated on their approach when calling in their 51 50s. Sometimes, the cops are too rough, and bring the women to jail instead of the hospital; other times, they are understanding and try to make it painless. Either way, the ladies are left with the bill.
Sims is living on disability, and constantly at the veteran's hospital in Long Beach for a number of ailments. They survive on Baum's small cleaning business, which she runs successfully seven days a week. "She doesn't get much sleep," Sims says, "My girl works too hard."
In between their stories and Baum constantly moving around, she stops for a moment and sits down next to Sims. She nuzzles into her hair and kisses her on the cheek a few times, smiling between each one.
"So, what do you think of us two crazy ladies?" Sims asks.
"We don't need much," she says, but facing a pile of tickets that won't stop growing, and their own demons, has become too much. "My girl's an artist, she's sensitive and she can't take this much longer."
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