Monday, December 20, 2010

Angel Dog

This is my first drawing in about two years. It is about death and a dog.

I'm crude, I'm simplistic, and I'm raw. It will take some time to become refined again.

I'm not going to write a book and make a lot of money. I doubt I can even paint and make any money. I've seen some artists I'm better than, and seen some artists that are better than me. But for people with schizophrenia, I'm doing pretty good. In all this drawing took me about four hours to make. Looks simple, but it took a little work. Just a drawing, then color in with oil pastels, manipulating the pastels with my finger tips.

Since I've given up on making any money, I'm going to make art just to please me. I know I did some fantastic stuff on zyprexa, and that on Geodone I'm not as good, at least according to my husband. Right now I suffer the most from rusty syndrome, not having a pencil in my hand and the command for my brain to come up with imagery. There is a place you go to in your head when you have a blank piece of paper in front of you. I haven't been there in a while.

After I finished this drawing (total time; two creative periods, two days) I had some time left so I started on the next drawing. Best to keep going as long as the mind doesn't shut off. Eventually it shut off, like on all days. The window that my brain can be creative is about 2 to 3 hours long. I assume I have that window because of my illness and how my schizophrenia has configured my brain structure. Its about the same time window for painting or for writing. At least it is concentrated time, no dithering, no distractions, pure concentration. At art school they wanted in studio class you to concentrate for 3 to 5 hours making art and I couldn't do this; got suicidal during class or after because of the stress of the situation. Realized I could never get my art degree because of my limitations. So quit art school after one semester. Can't force the brain to exceed these invisible limits or else the brain starts cannibalizing itself and you get schizophrenic symptoms. My symptoms are always, self destruction. Its my form of delusion.

Feeling tired but fit after today's creative effort. More work tomorrow. A new window to of time to be creative in.

Every day several hours of creativity. They add up. And the product is a finished work of art.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Visiting Puppies

Visited the German Shepherd breeder today. She walked us through her home, gathering fresh bedding. When we got in the heated shed where the puppies are being kept in she told us to take off our shoes and changed the pads in the puppy's box. Then she put down a blanket next to the box. We sat on the blanket and she picked up every puppy and kept loading them into our laps. Some of the puppies spilled out of our laps, didn't matter. The puppies could be scooped up again and then gathered in, some on each other's head, some falling into the crevices of our legs. But I think the puppies liked the heat of our bodies. In this litter there is one female and one male that are light colored, the rest are all dark with little tan strokes over their eyes. Odds are we take home a dark colored pup, and I do hope this happens. In all there were two males and 5 females. We will take home a female.

Two puppies complained about the mother leaving and our presence. I hope these vocal ones are not one of the ones the breeder picks for us. I'd rather a puppy that simply goes with the flow of life. The ones that cried we kept petting and holding them close until they got used to our scent. In the end, they all quieted. We stayed for about 50 minutes. The breeder stepped out of the cage that surrounds where the mother and her puppies are contained and closed the door. She sat on a chair about six feet away and talked with us. She wanted the puppies to get used to our scent, they are already familiar with hers and it is good for them to have to get used to something new. Humans are a fact of life it is best they get accustomed to as young as possible.

At this age the puppies can see but they don't trust their eyes. They can walk but they are they wobbly. I got little licks on my hands, and even, one puppy tried to put a finger in his or her mouth. Mike bent over and got licks on his face. Lucky him. Mostly the puppies want a safe place where they can sleep. At least our presence, after alarming some of them, made them sleepy.

I asked Mike to look for auras. He said that the puppies all share one big aura at this young age (almost 4 weeks) and it is rainbow in hue. He met a pregnant friend of mine once in the grocery store and told me afterwords that around her stomach was a rainbow circle. So I guess babies get rainbow auras. On our adult dog Mike saw an aura that was gold or yellow in color, the same color of a human who is in a stable and healthy frame of mind. But each puppy did have something special to them. He said that right around where their heart is were white sparkles. It sounds magical to me, someone who doesn't have the gift to see auras. Auras are extensions of our souls, a little spill over from what the body doesn't capture, and it soothes me to know that someone is seeing in living creatures the touch of the divine. My husband thinks that babies have a gift of heaven still in them, being so close to coming from heaven, and this gift makes us love them and want to take care of them and protect them. Heaven makes babies lovable, whether they are human or animal, because babies are so helpless and fragile.

On the way home from the breeders we had to stop at Wal-Mart and buy my husband some more socks. I couldn't help myself, I wanted to look at dog toys. We bought two. Last week we bought two baby gates to keep the puppy we take home on the linoleum floor of the kitchen. Of course we will house train the puppy as fast as we can, but if she has accidents, best it is on linoleum floor for easy clean up. During the day while my husband is at work I will make drawings or paintings on the kitchen table with the puppy on a leash clipped to my belt. Plan is, and my husband is quite serious about this, I take the puppy outside every hour on the hour. My last dog (also a pure bred German Shepherd) was taken home as a puppy at 8 weeks of age and potty trained not to go in the house in three weeks.

Little by little we are preparing for the new gift of life to enter our home.

I wake in the morning and it feels odd not be hustling a dog outside to have a bathroom break. I know that the luxury of only worrying about myself is about to change. It feels like the calm before the storm.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Puppy

I've been accepted by a breeder of German Shepherd dogs to buy one of her puppies. She made me fill out an on-line application and have a personal visit before she would agree to sell me a dog. And in this arrangement, she picks the puppy from the litter for me - all I know ahead of time is that I'm getting a female. The breeder is in complete control, and God help me, I'm paying a lot of money for this pure bred puppy so I pray she gives me a good one.

The breeder is very cheerful, very humorous, and has been raising German shepherds for decades. We get 8 obedience lessons from her with the purchase of the puppy, and I would like to take the offer, but she lives 1 hour and 20 minutes from our house. This distance is an annoyance to my husband. When we went to visit the puppies and the breeder for the first time we were traveling after my husband came home from work, in the dark. Driving in the dark was very stressful for my husband and unfortunately we got lost, even though I had mapquest directions printed out. Our downfall was a road that had no marking sign on it, so we did not recognize the turn. Happily Emily (the breeder's name) picked up the phone when I called on my cell, and she talked my husband through the twists and turns to her home.

The first thing the breeder did was show us the dog kennels. She has many German Shepherds kept in kennels housed in a barn. Amazingly the dogs hardly barked. She let out of the kennels our puppy's grandfather and grandmother, and some other relative. These dogs happily greeted us, and then scooted back into their kennels on a command. Very impressive. I think the breeder was trying to demonstrate the character of her dogs, and what would be hopefully inherited by her puppies. She said that people called her nuts for going all the way to Canada to find a male for her female to mate with, but she was very picky. I think about how careful she was in selecting us as owners, I imagine that to breed her dog she was even more careful. I described to her in my application Plum Pudding as being nervous and dominant and needing a lot of training and she replied in the next email that both the parents were easy living with dogs, and that the puppies should be very "tractable" and less difficult to raise than Plum Pudding.

At last we met the mother with her puppies. The mother was sensitive and looked very worried upon our arrival. However she didn't bark or growl. She allowed herself to be led away. Occasionally we would hear her leap at the closed door that separated us from her. The puppies were just a little over two weeks old and they were starting to open their eyes. In addition to being mostly blind they didn't really crawl or walk yet. What they wanted to do was to snuggle into one big puppy pile. The breeder encouraged us to pick up a puppy. What I did while I was sitting on the floor was to lay out the puppy on my arm, cradled against my stomach, and simply stroke it. No puppy whimpered, no puppy struggled. The breeder said with a smile that when they were born they looked like rats, and then moles, and now they were at the woodchuck phase. She said that they did all kinds of "mean" things to the puppies, like turning them over on their backs, to get them used to being handled by humans.

I'm a little bit scared at how expensive this puppy is. Before finding this breeder I emailed a whole bunch of breeders that were in a two hour radius from our home. I explained that my German Shepherd had died the previous week and that I was now doing research on puppies. One breeder answered me with an estimate, high and low, of how much the average breeder will ask for a pure bred German Shepherd puppy. What we found has a cost that falls in the middle. I didn't even consider the breeders who did not start their answering email without a line of sympathy for my lost dog. If a breeder said, "I'm sorry for your loss...." I wished to work with them. If a breeder just sent a business email I didn't want to work with them. Funny how sensitive I am about Plum, expecting other people to be sensitive as well. And of course, if the puppy was on the high end estimate of expense, I rejected that breeder as well. One breeder I rejected because on-line they had a picture of their huge house, very rich people. I'm silly.

My best friend and my therapist both thought I should get a mutt or at least a rescue shelter dog. I wondered at myself why I didn't get the easy breed Labrador Retriever puppy that is so popular right now. They are friendly dogs who wish nothing more than to please and they don't cost nearly as much as a German Shepherd. I can only come to the conclusion that I am trying to replace Plum Pudding. She was difficult to raise and had flaws (one trainer said she was a good dog but not a great dog) but I loved her despite being difficult. The fault must have lain with me not being a good enough trainer. For the past two days I have spent my mornings on-line reading articles about dog training. I'm not a natural dog trainer, and as ignorant as I am, I know my husband is even more ignorant. But we are both committed to doing better with this puppy than we did with Plum Pudding. I agree with what I've read; loving the dog is never enough. They have to see you as the leader of the pack and an authority figure. Any weakness and the dog feels insecure. Dog minds are no way near like human minds and it is important to know the dog perspective.

One thing that my husband and I will do is keep a leash tied to our waists at all times and have the dog clipped to the leash. It was a method suggested in a book and seen again twice on-line. I've read nothing that indicates it does any harm. It is useful for instance if the dog jumps up on something, you pull the leash and the dog gets corrected, by seemingly, its environment. Hopefully we can also guide it on what to chew and what not to chew. We will also be crate training the puppy. So if we leave the house the dog is crated and it can't go on a nervous chewing rampage and destroy our furniture. In the crate the dog will feel safe and protected even if it is left alone. Also, the dog shouldn't go to the bathroom in the crate. I read that a dog either goes outside or it goes in the house, it is an either or statement. You can't have a grown dog a little bit house-trained, this is like being a little bit pregnant. While housebreaking the puppy accidents can happen but in our circumstance where there is a person at home during the day, the message should get through quickly. I've got the advantage that I can go outside every hour. Plum Pudding was housebroken in three weeks to a month's time. I read an article that said the average age for being trained was 6 months but I know that I can do it much quicker. Every time the puppy is put in the crate it is learning bladder control and strengthening its bladder muscles.

I have memories of Plum Pudding leaping up to take things off of counters and table tops. Just a piece of paper would be for her a find, she would grab it and tear it to shreds with furious glee. If you have the puppy clipped to your waist on a leash that type of behavior can be stopped immediately. I think Plum was given too much freedom. Eventually I did have a trainer say this to me. And the more I read the more I don't think Plum was crazy (as I had assumed) rather, she was just being a puppy. Correct, correct, guide, guide, play, play - this is what I will be doing all day long at first. Fondly, I remember too Plum's exhausted slumber. Trainers will say "a tired dog is a good dog" and I know this to be true. Happily puppies need a lot of sleep. This will save my sanity. And the fact that when my husband is home I can pass the leash to him and let the puppy be his responsibility.

Obedience training will begin immediately. Sit and come first. Come is really easy with puppies because they want to be with you. And before letting the puppy eat a meal it will have to sit, even for a few seconds, in front of the bowl of food. I'm not expecting a lot at 8 weeks. Just some familiarity with words. Saying "outside" every time we go outside. Saying "get busy" while the puppy is in the middle of going to the bathroom. It used to always tickle me how I would praise the dog to the sky for pooping. It was a habit I never stopped. Plum must have thought I was nuts. But boy, was she perfectly housebroken. The only time we had accidents was when she had diarrhea, and she couldn't help herself.

Irrationally, I'm afraid my new puppy will die like Plum died. I'm afraid my heart will be broken again. I'm scared of illness. I'm scared of cars. I'm scared of choking on small objects.

We had lunch guests last Sunday. An elderly couple from church and my mother and best friend Rocki. The night before I had to cook for four hours straight. But before I cooked, I had to go grocery shopping. In-between the shopping and the cooking I needed to rest. I do have a form of schizophrenia after all and my drive and focus is limited. I tried sitting and drinking two cups of tea to summon up the needed energy to cook. This didn't do the trick, so I retreated to the dark bedroom and laid down. A place where there was no stimulation, no distraction, and all senses are in retreat from the world. I pulled the bed comforter up close to my face. And then I smelled her. I smelled Plum Pudding in my bed comforter. I had taken up a corner that often lies on the floor, and Plum liked to rest curled up on the floor next to me. I smelled Plum and burst into tears at the pain of the loss of her. So anticipating a puppy is joyful, but I'm still grieving.

Our cat Frannie is almost constantly sitting on top of the couch with a clear view of our kitchen door. When Plum was here all Frannie wanted was to lie on the bed where it was soft and warm. I had to kick her out after 8 or 9 hours and say, "go pee, go eat some food". Frannie was raised with Plum as a kitten and it is clear to me, by her odd behavior now, that she is waiting for Plum to come home. I am amazed but I am certain, Frannie is grieving. She wants to see Plum come in through the kitchen door and be there to greet her. Her universe, the sense of what is right in this home, is in disarray because Plum is not here. And unlike me, she has no future thoughts of a new puppy to distract her. My mother said, "Tell her Plum had died" so I petted her and told her this but all she did was lean into me and purr.

We go back in a week and see the puppies again. The breeder suggested it, so we are not being a pain in her ass. And from what I've read, the more contact with humans, both sexes, the better the socialization of the puppies. So by visiting again, and handling the puppies, we are doing the breeder a favor as well.

I am looking forward to this visit with a joy that overshadows any other activity that is planned for this week. We are supposed to go out to a fancy restaurant with another couple, my husband works with the man. But I couldn't give a rat's ass for this opportunity to socialize with nice people. Nothing, in my world, compares with holding a puppy once again. I'm focused and driven, probably because there is so much pain lying hidden in the center of me.

I think, next time I hold a puppy, I'm going to smell it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Good-bye Plum Pudding

Last night we had to put our dog to sleep. She got bloat. When she was a puppy I was warned about bloat, that German Shepherds are susceptible to it. I was told not to let her eat after exercise, and that small meals, twice a day was better than one big meal. We followed the rule about not letting her eat after exercise, but we fed her one meal in the evening.

Last evening, after eating, she wanted to vomit so my husband took her outside. It is not uncommon, if she has eaten really fast, to throw up her whole meal. But my husband said that what she threw up was white and milky. And when he took her into the house she was moaning and whining and looking terrible, head hung low, tail dragging. At first we thought, "throw it all up baby, that will be the best" and my husband put an old blanket down for her to stand on and throw up on. He said, "touch her side" and I did and it was very hard. Her stomach was hard too. She threw some more of the white stuff up and I said, this is really wrong, I've never seen anything like this, I'm calling the vet. Our vet had an emergency clinic's number on the answering machine since I was calling at 7pm. The emergency clinic told me it was probably bloat and to bring her right in right away. I said, "will she die in the car?" and they just repeated, bring her in. The clinic was 40 minutes away, but they said that they were closest to us.

The night people wanted to weigh her, then take an ex-ray and put in a catheter. We said yes. It all happened very quickly. Then the vet came out and said that she had bloat, and that her stomach was twisted and they might need to remove her spleen as well. The twisted stomach could cut off blood supply, but we had moved fast and gotten her to the vet fast so there might not be much tissue damage. Once the stomach was untwisted they would staple it to her side, and she could never get bloat again. The bottom price for the operation was $2,500. Without the operation there was a 100% chance that she would die.

In the car driving to the vet my husband asked me what our price was for the dog's life. What the ceiling we said we would spend or put her down. She is almost 9 years old and she already has arthritis, which we are treating successfully. In the past I have said that we would not spend more than $1,000 but in the car last evening I said, $2,000. My husband agreed.

When the vet faced us and said the cost would be $2,500 I could not let Plum die. It was just 500 more than what we had agreed upon in the car, so I figured, it is only money and I want my baby to live.

The vet went away and then a nurse came out with the paper work. But the prices were different on paper then what the vet had quoted. What they wanted me to sign was that I agreed to be held responsible for all fees. All the medical procedures were listed, some that were necessary, and some that would take place in case of an emergency. Now the sum for the operation and recovery was a bottom price of $3,500 and a top price of $5,500. This could wipe out our savings account. And I said, finally defeated, we will have to euthanize her.

The nurse went away and a second nurse came out. This one said that they could do away with some of the medical procedures, take a little more risk, for instance do less bloodwork, and lower the price. But my husband and I still couldn't pay the amount they asked. They talked about payment plans, but if you don't pay everything in a year there is huge interest fees. And I just knew how my husband felt. He was thinking what new medical problem would appear because Plum was moving into old age? The vet had said that bloat was more likely in Plum at her age because internal ligaments loosen. If I had known this I would have switched to feeding her twice a day in smaller amounts. But I swear, I was never told bloat was fatal, and I was never told that it wasn't somehow connected to exercise. And we did not take Plum for a walk last night since it was raining. Nothing, I mean nothing was different from routine.

There are simply some things in life we know we can't have because we don't have the money. We live like this, every day, weighing the costs and benefits, and choosing usually what is cheapest. I would like an eternity band made out of diamonds to go with my wedding band. Can't have it. I would like to buy my husband a precision watch that is Swiss made and high quality, keeping perfect time, since the watch a man wears is sometimes the cause of much envy among men. But I settled for Christmas to buy him a new watch that was Swiss made and cheap. I will probably never own a winter coat that is new. And I will probably never buy a sofa that is new either.

We buy our groceries in two places, trying to save money. What we need at Wal-Mart, and what they have, we buy first because this is rock bottom prices for food. After Wal-Mart we go to the regular grocery store. And we almost never buy name brands, and we always compare prices to what is on sale and buy the cheapest. Then there are the foods that are quality, and that are good for you to eat, like ketchup that doesn't have high fructose corn syrup additive, or peanut butter that is simply 100% peanuts. If we can avoid high fructose corn syrup or trans fatty acids we do.

Two nights ago my husband said, "I am tired of leftover turkey and manicotti, can we go out to dinner at the Chelsa Royal?" I said, "I just did the bills for rent, electricity, the phone and internet, and now there is about $40 in our checking account for emergencies, but no money to eat out. I'm so sorry because you so rarely ask for anything for yourself. We can go to Taco Bell and spend $10 on Tacos." But my husband was sick of Tacos, and he wanted the sit down home cooked meal that they serve at the Chelsa Royal and probably too the micro-brewery beer he would have gotten with the meal. So he smiled really nice and said that he would try to find something at home to eat.

It hurts to know that if I had $25,000 in savings I would have signed the papers for Plum's operation. She could have lived. I spent literally thousands of dollars training her - this was when I was married to a millionaire. I worked with three different trainers. The food trainer, the choke chain trainer, and the electric shock police dog trainer. Each trainer was a move up in severity because Plum didn't want to be trained. She was highly dominant and did not recognize me as an authority figure at first. I had to be trained too to be in control. The trainers toughened me up as they broke her down a little. That was just the way it had to be if she was not going to bite someone and co-exist peacefully in society. At last she turned into a sweet old dog who knew her commands very well, heel, sit, down, jump up, lie down, go away, come here. I knew her personality like the back of my hand. When the phone would ring, and I didn't hear it or move to answer it Plum would make strange moaning noises to get my attention. She did the same thing when the tea kettle was whistling and I was in a different room and didn't hear that. But when someone knocked on our door (we have no doorbell) her bark was loud and urgent. The tone of the bark was unmistakable and it meant that a person was standing outside. So no need for a doorbell. And I never feared that our house would be robbed. Her bark was super scary. When I opened the door I held her collar and said to our visitor, "Let her smell you and it will be o.k" and then Plum sniffed. After the sniff she would relax. Perhaps she would pick up on the fact that I was relaxed, and I wanted this person to come into the apartment. I am certain that if I were alarmed, she would have stayed alarmed. When we would take Plum on a walk through town so many people would say, "Can I pet her?" and I would say to Plum, "Go say hello" and sometimes, "Kisses". There would be more sniffing of the person and then with the command "kisses" sometimes a lick.

A trainer once said to me, as I complained on how hard it was to civilize the wild hellion of a puppy that I had chosen, that some people would love to have the dog I had. How come? I asked in amazement. "Because she wants to be with you and she will never run away". And this was true. In the woods we could go walking and she could be off leash. When I heard distant voices approaching along the trail, or saw someone, I would call Plum and she would come to my hand. Then my hand would reach under her collar and attach a leash. It got to be that when Plum heard someone approaching she ran to me even before I gave the command. She saw a pattern of behavior and was able to anticipate what I wanted.

Plum had brown eyes but when she sometimes looked at me, and she was happy, I swear her eyes shone and I called her "bright-eyes". There is almost no describing the phenomena of an alert German Shepherd, not when they are alert with tension, but alert with life and happiness. I suppose it is their intelligence. Dumb dogs can be happy, and are sweet, but a German Shepherd feeling really good about themselves is beautiful to behold. They seem to be electric, giving off energy. Always when I looked into Plum's eyes there was somebody home there. A presence, looking back at me.

Plum was such a difficult puppy because she wanted her way. She wanted to control the humans. Her rules meant that she would pull anything off of tables or counter tops and rip it to shreds. Her rules meant that she could bite and bark and run wherever she wanted. And while she was very dominant, she was fearful as well. That meant if someone backed her physically into a corner, and she felt fearful, she might bite. Training her gave her confidence, it told her that there are rules to the way the world worked, and that as long as she was following a rule, she was safe. For instance. If she was put in a sit, or down position, she was working and would not bark or lunge at strange dogs or other humans. For Plum there was either free time, where she could get her way, or there was work time, when she was following the rules. When we were in public we tried to get her to work as much as possible, and so, have her under our thumb.

In the house Plum really liked to stick with the humans. Where the humans were she wanted to be. She would follow us from room to room in the house. We have a tiny bathroom, but when my husband was in the shower, and I was at the sink brushing my teeth, Plum wanted to be in the tiny room with us. My husband called it sticking with the pack. Plum wanted to be part of the pack at all times. It was insecurity but it was love too.

The house feels really empty. One of the cats won't come into the warm bedroom, her favorite place in the world. She sits out in the cold kitchen. She was a kitten when Plum was a puppy. She had Plum's number. She knew Plum liked to chase moving objects so around Plum she walked really slow and Plum ignored her. Sometimes when she was on the bed, and Plum was on the floor, she would touch noses with Plum. We say right now she is out in the kitchen because she is waiting for Plum to come home. She knows something is wrong.

Right before they euthenized Plum they let us have some alone time with Plum. All I could do was cry and repeat to her over and over "good girl". I thought of nothing original to say. But my husband was stoking her and telling her things, like he would meet her again in Summerland and that she was the best dog he had ever had. He's had a lot of dogs. I have nothing to compare, except the dog I had as a teenager that always was chained up on a run in the back yard. She didn't get much attention. Plum got a lot of attention everyday. I said to my husband today, after work, were you telling Plum the truth that she was the best dog you've ever had? And he told me about the different personalities of the dogs that he has loved, but in the end, he said that Plum was almost human.

All the trouble I went through with raising Plum. And I would do it all over again.

I hope, after I've had a period to grieve, to do it all over again.

You're in heaven now Plum. How I hate to be separated from you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Hoopla

Dear God, give me the strength to write this post. It has been many days since I have written anything, many days of excitement and work, and now I am poor in spirit and bedraggled. It is my third day without a shower, and I would like as well as the healing to write this post, a little later on, the energy to shower.

I stopped all my writing projects when I started decorating for the holidays. But you just don't decorate, you clean as well. Our apartment was due for a huge cleaning. I'm lucky that my husband threw himself into the cleaning project with as much commitment and plunk as I did. All our efforts had an end in sight. This last Sunday we invited a couple and a little old lady that we know from church over to our apartment to have lunch. The lunch lasted over four hours. So I guess it was a success. Our guests were the sweetest, most down to earth people who have over this past year been very kind to my husband and I. We wanted to give back. We wanted to honor them and make them feel special. The husband of the couple is vegetarian so we served baked manicotti and meatballs on the side, with salad and garlic bread. I made brownie sundaes for dessert.

There is a second couple from church, quite elderly, who we have invited to lunch on Sunday December 12th after church services. That Sunday my mother should drive up from Connecticut to be with us as well. I'm going to ask my mother if she could bring my best friend, who lives in Connecticut as well, but has never been to our apartment in Vermont. My friend is schizophrenic and probably incapable of driving the distance to Vermont. Whenever I see her, I drive down to Connecticut. For that lunch I have to make some of the food gluten free, since my mother has an intolerance for wheat flour. I'm going to cook quiches (you can buy gluten free pie crust), and have corn bread and salad. For dessert I think I will make an apple crisp, served hot with vanilla ice cream.

I can't get through these Sunday's without some help from my medication. Last Sunday I took extra anti-psychotic medication and a small amount of a narcotic. Part of the plan is to cook and prepare as much food as possible the Saturday before.

Our propane heater is not working and we are waiting for a replacement part that had to be ordered and mailed to the service department of our propane provider. So we live in the bedroom with its one little 14" electric heater, close the door to the front room, and have another little 12" electric heater heating the kitchen so that it is just warm enough for the cats, and for us to walk through to get to the bathroom or the phone. We have discovered, through trial and error that we cannot plug in any more electric heaters or stronger electric heaters because the breaker will pop and everything will go dead. The house is old and it's electrical system is old. Sunday I went to church while my husband stayed at home and tried to heat the apartment thoroughly (because we don't expect our guests to brave the cold like we do), and cook the manicotti in the oven at the same time. He said the breaker popped three times. I sincerely expect that by our next Sunday lunch the propane heater will be fixed.

I tied garlands of plastic flowers and fabric leaves across all the windows in the kitchen, and hung bows. I took our small three foot artificial Christmas tree, put it on a glass side table, and hung all my decorations on it. I haven't had this Christmas tree out for about four years, not since my husband's daughter was living with us. For the dining table I bought a green table cloth with a bright red runner. Unfortunately the candles dripped wax and I spent Sunday evening after everyone left scratching the wax off of the glass candles with my fingernails, loosening it up with glass cleaner, and then scratching some more. The next morning my fingernails hurt but I found in the pantry a fancy box of smokeless, dripless candles that I am delighted to put in the candle sticks for when we have company again. The wax smeared runner was treated with Zoot, a wicked good stain remover, and then put in a hot water wash. I came out wax free, and perhaps, a slightly less intense color of red. I don't care, it still looks good. For a meal, there is nothing more delightful than lit candles and fresh flowers. Everyone had a cloth napkin that matched the tablecloth and that was tied on the jadeware plates with a bright red and green artificial poinsettia flower napkin ring. I spent over $80 at Bed Bath and Beyond for the table linens and holiday napkin rings which I am certain, my husband has no clue how his hard earned money slipped through my fingers. I don't think he would be too mad though, he was as proud of how beautiful our table looked as I was.

I am an artist at heart, or at least I have an artistic temperament, and thus I love a highly decorated living space. Objects of art, colored glass, fine fabrics, lovely places to sit, blankets and handmade quilts. When we moved into this apartment I was still receiving a large amount of divorce alimony and the rugs and curtains and lighting fixtures are all the best and bought on that money, which is many years now long gone. We have many antiques, but alas, the animals or use have broken most of them. There is not perfection in my apartment. I remember as a teen visiting a relative of one of my father's girlfriends, and the girlfriend told me that her sister-in-law kept little cans of paint and stain to touch up scratches on furniture. That is a personality so opposed to my own. In my life the law of entropy seems strong, things break and get worn out, money gets spent, accidents happen, there are unforeseen bills, but we thankfully have everything we really need and while we morn the accidents and the losses, we let them go, we let glory recede and value diminish, as for instance, when the dog knocks over a table and the the glass on a stain glass lamp cracks. And we are not above buying used goods. Half my clothing is used, and more than half the furniture in the apartment is used. Our kitchen sofa we bought for a sweet $170 recently and it is in perfect condition and very comfortable. A nice new sofa would have cost about $1000. The antique store we got the sofa from does not deliver, so we tipped it upside-down on the roof of our car and secured it with a very long piece of bright orange electrical cable. We did not have enough seats for last Sunday's luncheon, so we went to three used furniture stores to find a chair. What fun, hunting for a funky chair. The extra chairs are stored in the barn. We have decided that all our chairs will be different, but all will have character. Saturday before we discovered that one of our antique chairs was broken, so my husband put between the split wood Gorilla Glue and clamped it tight together. Sunday morning he removed the clamp and the chair was good to go.

When our guests came the first thing we did was give them a tour of the apartment. In part, this is because there are many pieces of original art hung everywhere. There is not a single door to a room that doesn't have a painting or framed drawing or print hung on it. The door to the bathroom, the door to the pantry. By accident only one door is left free, a small door to a closet where we keep the cat and dog food. I discuss my art, what it means, how it was created. And some of the fun is that we can compare my art with my brother's and my father's art. My brother's art is very serene and he is self taught like me, while my father's art is the art of someone classically trained in school in the manner of an American Impressionist. We share genes, we share biology, but because we are each creative and have vision, our art has turned out so very different. And then there is the primitive art that I have bought of other artists. I like the style of a self trained artist. It feels like their means are limited, but their desire to express themselves is so great that mental hurdles are leaped over. The means to an end is more difficult because they lack training, but the effort and will compensates due to innate creativity. If you really want to do it, you will find a way. This is the spirit of the art that I have bought.

Once my sister visited a home with my former husband that I had decorated, and she said that everywhere she looked, there was eye candy.

There is something to be proud of in serving others a meal. It is not an easy experience for me to do, even with the help of my husband. And then the next day I was so very weak, that I could barely listen to my husband talk. I almost lacked the concentration to listen to his sentences. I even said to my husband, "I have to pee but I am too tired to get out of bed and go to the bathroom". To this problem my husband had no answer, it was so ridiculous a sentiment. But it was true. My weariness was bone deep. And today, two days later, I am not yet completely recovered. I am just really, really lucky that I don't have any obligations. I am really proud of myself that yesterday I did all the monthly bills, walked to bank to make certain there would be enough in our checking account to cover them (there wasn't by a large degree, the consequence of Christmas gift buying and purchases like the table linens and the extra chair), and then to the post office to mail the bills. And also yesterday I went to a knitting group at church to learn how to knit. My instructor kept forgetting about me and letting me screw myself up. I had the feeling, not remembering how my needles and fingers and yarn was supposed to go, that I wanted to cry, but that I was too grown up and too in control to actually burst into tears. The frustration made crying seem an option, but I am really too adult to do this. My plan is to Google "how to knit" and try to get some online instruction, and then return next Monday to knitting group for some more personal attention. I'm not going to give up. And maybe next Monday my mind will be a little more healed, with better attention and retention, so the teaching won't slip and disappear from my mind immediately after it is given, as it did yesterday.

About twice I have gone into the hospital around Christmas time. There is a little more stress for me because I like to celebrate the holiday season so much. Amidst exhaustion there is satisfaction though. And I think I am in a place in my life where there is no threat of going into the hospital. I take too much medication and my husband is such a nurturer, taking care of me when I am weak, sharing the burden of everything I try to accomplish. I'm grateful this season.

I may soon try to go back to my serious writing project. I look forward to having the strength and the free time.

Friday, November 12, 2010


My mother and my grandparents used to take my sister, brother and I to visit Mr. Rouche. I don't know how to spell his last name because I have never seen it printed. I was so young when the family went to visit him. He was as close a thing to a saint as we ever knew. That is how my mother and my grandmother treated him - like a saint. Holy. Because what Mr. Rouche liked to talk about was God. And it seemed like it was God that was keeping Mr. Rouche alive. He was very old. And he was mostly blind. But he lived alone in a little house. It was a clean house, in perfect order. And there were no toys there to play with, this displeased me much as a child. We children were supposed to sit quietly and listen to the wisdom that came out of Mr. Rouche. He was hard to understand. He had a thick German accent and I think he would lapse into German occasionally, which was fine for my mother and my grandparents who understood German, but to us kids it was incomprehensible.

When Mr. Rouche prayed tears leaked out of his half blind eyes. Always it seemed his eyes were half closed. But when he moved into prayer he tilted his head back, closed those useless eyes completely shut, and tears would stream down his liver spotted cheeks. All I understood, from those tears was that Mr. Rouche prayed with all his heart. I do remember him blessing us children. But I don't know what else he prayed for. It was very difficult to visit Mr. Rouche because we kids were supposed to be quiet and listen, and since it wasn't like listening to a nice children's story, since the words were hard to understand (I think too Mr. Rouche's voice was going, he would more whisper than talk) and there were no toys to play with, it was just about the most boring time I ever had to endure. But it certainly has imprinted itself on my memory. I can see the museum perfection of his house, and him, crying and praying, clear as day.

In my church nobody cried when they prayed, at least not that I witnessed. The congregational form of Protestantism that I have always belonged to is very prim and proper. But my favorite time in the sermon was when the minister called for silent prayer. The church I went to did not have stain glass windows, the windows were large and clear and on both sides of the center isle. We usually sat in the balcony so I watched the sunbeams come through those large clear windows and I imagined that God was in the sunbeam and I imagined that invisible angels were in the sunbeam too. When it was time to silently pray I closed my eyes and easily had a chat with God. As far as I was concerned the silent prayer never lasted long enough during those services, I wanted more quiet time with God.

For the last four days I have devoted the best part of my day to praying to God. This is prime creative time. It is after I have shrugged off the night's sleep, drunk a cup of coffee, and read the news on the internet. Then I am ready to go to work. I only intended my prayer time to last for ten minutes, but it seems that every day the ten minutes stretch into longer time and I am loath to let go and stop. Indeed, when in prayer, it feels like I have captured an essence of something and am in communication with something. Like Mr. Rouch my eyes sometimes leak tears. They are not tears of sadness. They simply are heartfelt emotions overflowing. I am so sincere that my body gives an involuntary sign of its commitment to the totality of my emotions. I do not intend to pray with my whole body, but this seems to be the way it is. Just today I remembered Mr. Rouche and I realized that I pray like Mr. Rouch. But now I know, maybe, what Mr. Rouch felt like on the inside. That I never knew as a child.

The first few days I prayed I felt like there was energy streaming off of my body. Instead of pulling God near, as I thought you were supposed to do, I simply overflowed with energy and pushed something out. I don't know if the energy could be measured by science, but my body certainly felt different during prayer. Energy feels prickly and warm and comforting. I feel full and then I overflow. It is mildly ecstatic. At first the prayer starts with me talking, and then I talk in silence, and then there is just me listening to God and God listening to me. It is just the two of us and all this energy making my body feel really, really good.

I'm afraid that my new commitment to prayer has taught me little about the nature of God, except that he is for me a presence full of energy and comfort. And oh yes, he is much bigger than me. I am in the presence of the infinite. And yet, for my sake, when I pray he comes down to my size, to fit in me perfectly. Well, not perfectly because there is that feeling of overflow. Today I felt it the most in my hands. In fact, as I write this my hands have not stopped yet their overflow of energy, something still feels as if it is moving through them and out of them. My hands tingle with energy the same as when I prayed, except now I am not praying, I am typing on a computer.

Last night I discussed how altered I feel physically when I pray. And my husband said that in his experience, ecstasy is a phenomena that diminishes in time. He said that he prays rarely because he prizes the ecstasy and when he puts distance in-between prayer the ecstasy remains. He essentially said, dip too much into the well and it will run dry. Then I told my husband that my commitment to pray is now everyday come what may. My husband said that right there and then he was praying that I not loose my ecstasy, that I not be formed like him.

Today the fear of losing the feeling of God in an ecstatic form made me pray "Don't go away from me. Never leave me." which of course has an answer in the public domain of religion. People who talk about God, usually promise that he never goes away, that he is right by your side all the time. I am reminded of Jesus's words on the cross, "My father, why have you forsaken me?" which makes me think that ecstasy in prayer can be overcome with some nails nailed through your body. Physical pain can interfere with the connection of prayer? I don't know, I've never been tested. And because I've only prayed for four days, days which were simple, uncluttered, and crisis free, I've only prayed during the good times, I do not know what it is like to pray during the bad times.

My husband told me that he was slightly annoyed with the Catholic Church and its tradition of celibate monks and nuns and priests. He said, "Here you have this gene pool of people who can connect with God, and their gift is not passed on to the rest of humanity." It makes me smile, my husband's wish of having the largest possible number of people on earth who like to pray.

Because it feels so good to pray, I'm addicted. I look forward to my prayer time every day. So far, the apartment has been empty when I pray. I do not know how it will be when the man upstairs is playing his music while I pray, or if my husband being home from work on the weekend will interfere with blissful solitude. Will I not cry if my husband is in the other room? And I do not know what prayer will feel like if I am tired or injured or experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia. But I think I've found a state of being, and if I can return to it day after day it will become easier and easier to slip into. I'm a big believer in practice.

And yet, after all I've confessed, after the energy I've described invading my body (which I have never encountered before except perhaps when I was manic during my first breakdown when I was eighteen, 24 years ago, and when, I do seem to remember, I was obsessed with God) I still don't know if God exists. I told my husband this last night too, and he was astonished at my foolishness. He warned me that I will never get scientific evidence. And that if what is happening to me doesn't convince me, it is beyond his imagination what it would take to convince me. He warned me that there are plenty atheists and agnostics who reach out and receive nothing in return, this strengthens their position against God. He said that what I have is a gift, not in me, but bestowed upon me.

I reached out and immediately was contacted. So it seems. To have the experience of prayer, as I feel it, is a total balance to having a mental illness. It makes having a mental illness feel richly compensated for. All these negative mental states I go through during the day because of my mental illness, and I say, it is worth it for fifteen minutes of being in the presence of the divine. Always I thought that my illness made me horribly flawed, but now, I feel tremendously gifted. Broken brain or beautiful brain. If I can continue to pray as I have been praying, I believe to the tips of my toes in having a beautiful brain.

I repeat what I said today to God in prayer, "Never go away. Never leave me." It feels like being terribly selfish, like a little girl asking for a Pony to brush and ride, but there it is. Prayer makes me feel richer than the Queen of England.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Woke up with a feeling of despair. Don't know where that came from. But do know I have guilt over my behavior yesterday. My husband came home with not one but two boxes of chocolates for the Halloween anniversary of our first date. About a month ago he bought me a necklace as an anniversary gift. I guess it was the devil in me but I wanted the earrings too that go with the necklace. The earrings were expensive, more than half the price of the necklace. But I thought, "If someday I want to wearing the earrings and the necklace together, I must buy the earrings now before someone else buys them and they are unavailable". The necklace was a large lemon checkerboard cut quartz, oval shaped, and the earrings are smaller lemon checkerboard cut quartz, all embedded in silver. I know that the necklace could always be simply worn with silver earrings, and in fact in most cases that look would be the best because who wants to be all matchy-matchy, you look like you are trying too hard. I begged my husband for the earrings and he said yes.

After I bought the earrings I checked our checking account and it looks like I will have to do what I was hoping to avoid this month. I will have to dip into savings to cover the monthly bills.

Also last night I ate all the chocolate my husband bought for me. All two boxes worth.

So I binged on money, buying solely for myself, and I binged on calories. Thus it seems I have done nothing virtuous, except perhaps I swam last night for 50 minutes. So I exercised. Am hoping on going for a walk today, it is beautiful outside, and then going swimming again on Sunday morning.

I got a call and an envelope from the church for the yearly pledge drive. I have decided not to tithe to the church this year, as I did last year. It seems that most Sundays my husband and I have been going swimming during sermon hours. When I do go to church there is a problem. I participate in the social coffee hour after the sermon and then come home feeling as though I have just walked through an ordeal of terror. Smiling and making chit chat is terrifying for me, but I hide it very well. I just think about the difference between the person I am talking to and myself and the difference seems big and horrible. I feel like such a crippled person on the inside. I think I would like to save myself from the social interactions which I know on the one hand nourish me, but on the other hand completely wreck my peace of mind. The only thing that doesn't end in emotional terror is the ladies spirit group, a group of elderly women who meet Thursday afternoons. I haven't been going to that group but they are sweet, and they make me feel welcome. One of the other problems with church is that I have made no friends. The elderly ladies are friendly, and even endearing, but nobody my age has made a connection with me. There is familiarity with faces but an underlying loneliness at church. It is probably mostly my fault. I'm not naturally social. And I'm horribly shy.

I have a bible which I intend to read all the way through. It is one of those types of bibles where you read a section a day, they are clearly marked, and by the end of the year you have gotten through the whole bible. I am curious about the bible, I think I owe it to myself to really get to know it.

I read a lot of religious books and I will continue to do that. I would be happy just go to women's spirit group although that seems wrong if I'm not financially contributing to the church. I wish, if I could have anything at all, to financially contribute to the church and to buy the swimming membership, but they come out roughly to be per year about the same. I know my husband would throw caution to the wind, and do both, but in good faith I can't do this. My expenses for this next year have got to be less than my expenses for last year. My husband is working a little overtime but the money seems to be used up. I hate dipping into savings, and yet, this happens again and again. It was worse when he wasn't working overtime.

I fear as well that the project my husband and I are working on, a book about relationships and schizophrenia, is a joke. My faith in my writing powers is small. My faith in my husband's writing powers is even less than in my own. We clash on the outline of the book. I keep changing and "improving" the outline, because I feel that the way the outline stands it is stupid. My husband likes the outline. I think my husband lacks education and is an idiot. I am afraid that I am a downer and not making the project any fun for my husband. I say to my husband, "you are merely copying what I have written" and he says, "no, this is all new". What is reality? We are going to have to rely on friends to proof read our writing for us because we simply can't agree. Also my husband knows a lot less about schizophrenia than me and he is googling info and getting all his knowledge off the internet. His writing reads like a high school term paper. I don't want to quench my husband's zeal. But I'm afraid that I'm damaging his ego. My ego is so low that I'm starting to think I'd rather be dead. New earrings, new necklace, anniversary date and I feel like road kill. Run over and squashed by life. I hate myself. I haven't accomplished anything. If I die tomorrow I leave behind a grieving husband, grieving mother and that is all. Everyone else can do without me. I've accomplished nothing significant in this lifetime. Yes, the despair I woke up with is catching up to me now.

I better go watch television. When you feel like you want to die do something that gets your mind off yourself.

The only thing I can think of to make myself feel better is a commitment to not buying anything new except the essentials in life. We have to save money, money is frightening me and depressing me, I think, or else I am going down and have the illusion that there is some reason for it. Truth may just be that I'm just sick in the head and I'm grasping at reasons why. Depression and the season change does come to mind.

I am going down. I want to cry but nothing comes. I wouldn't even know what I was crying about. There really is no crisis in my life. There really is no real reason to cry. My husband loves me. The book project is a lark, supposed to be fun. If it is a flop, who cares? We can just publish it electronically on Amazon and make it available to kindle readers. We can say whatever we want to say, critics be damned.

I've turned my back on a years worth of writing to work on this project with my husband. Maybe this sense that I'm lost and wandering is feeding into my despair. But my own book project was not going as I liked it. I spent one year writing the happenings in one day of my main character's life. I don't know what is good or bad, interesting or not, compelling or boring, pertinent or drift. I just don't know the quality of my mind. There is a horrible pitfall to being a writer,- the isolation.

I have to go hug my husband. He is writing on the book and I have said nothing to encourage him, I have only shown dissatisfaction of his work today. He tried giving me more chocolates, from some secret stash. I ate two and handed the rest back to him saying that I am making myself sick with sugar. He gave me those chocolates in an attempt to apologize for his writing that I rejected and mend fences. He shouldn't have to apologize for his writing. Or maybe he gave me the chocolates to cheer me up. He can tell that there is something wrong with me today. I wonder if my aura is doing weird things.

I would rather eat a banana. Much healthier.

Would a banana save me from despair? A banana and a cup of tea.

There is nothing wrong with my life. I know I am blessed. I'm just particularly unbalanced at this moment.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Christian or Buddhist

Fourth day without a shower. Don't care. Supposed to go to water aerobics tonight. Will take soapy shower after that.

Woke up this morning saying "Karen, Karen!" and hiding my face in the pillow. So ashamed of how things went last night at church. I spoke up and just felt like an idiot after. So went home and ate to much and had a stomach ache this morning. Yes, I tried to drown my sorrows in potato tater tots and ketchup.

I have been reading the most Buddhist book I've ever read, "LovingKindness" by Sharon Salzberg. Oh, I've read a book by a Buddhist monk, and a Buddhist nun, but this one really sucked me in the most. In the introduction is a kind of prose poem. As I was reading the prose poem I thought to myself, "This author is fantastic! So wise!" and then I turned the page and found out that everything I was reading was attributed to Buddha. I don't read Jesus quotes and get the same passionate response.

Part of my basic problem in life is that I don't like myself very much. I didn't like myself before the illness, and now that I've got schizophrenia, there seems to be so much more instances of flaws, lacks, failures and general mediocrity. In the Buddhist book the author starts out with meditation exercises that generate self-love. Exactly what I need. It seems pretty clear to me that in order to practice Buddhism you have to meditate. And to practice Christianity you have to read the Bible and pray. I don't do either. But I need to start doing something. I've pledged a tithe till the end of the year to the Church, so every week, I'm paying money to the Church. Makes me want to stick with the Church for a little longer.

Last night we learned about the fallacy of the virgin birth. Yes, it was pretty much mocked by my progressive Congregationalist church. It is a myth that I've painted two paintings about and that I can't seem to ever get behind positively. Both paintings, inexplicably, are full of horror at the immaculate conception. In order to understand the bible you need to know so much history, and meanings of words in Greek, and general knowledge to understand meanings, not the surface meanings but what people actually thought about the scriptures as they were historically writing them. I see Christianity distorting so much and turning so many myths into concrete facts that I'm turned off. I'm a scientist's daughter. I know scholarly research illuminates. But my sect of Christianity is so progressive that the message I'm getting is disbelieve what you read, or else, read it with a higher knowledge of its historical source. Buddhism seems to be about transforming the mind - you are your thoughts. And so much of my thinking is garbage. I know it has to do with being emotionally abused as a kid. I almost never think about my childhood but it is producing self hating self doubting thoughts in myself that I would prefer to get rid of. Buddhism promises to get rid of the thought junk. Very appealing to me.

I like the myths and parables of the Buddhist religion. To me, they teach more. There is, after reading them, more of an "ah, ha" moment of thought. As a kid my first reaction to my children's bible of Old Testament stories was "God is so cruel". I couldn't believe all the wanton killing. Ultimately of course there was the sacrifice of Jesus. Never could wrap my mind around the need to to do that. It seemed a tragedy, nothing more. Never believed he rose from the dead. Now, according to my church, you don't need to believe that. Christian education is a big myth buster. All these myths to prove the glory, to prove that this is what you should be impressed by. Jesus impresses me. I don't need the magic. I don't need to eat his body and drink his blood to honor him and make him part of my own body. Communion. It doesn't strike that much of a chord with me. But when I take it, I try to feel its holiness. I really do try.

Yesterday my husband and I were going for a walk. We had discovered, mid way through the walk, that I had done something with my computer that was very bad for the computer. The question my husband and I asked ourselves, as we walked, was would the computer work when we got home or would its insides be fried? This was a depressing thought. I was unhappy and probably looking down at the ground. Then my husband said, "Look at the clouds, they are purple and pink and orange" and I looked and saw that they were beautiful. Then my husband said, "Look at that tree. It has been cut funny to avoid the power lines, but isn't it a beautiful tree?" The leaves on it had all turned red and it was very tall. I wondered to myself which of the many trees on the street were the most beautiful, and if indeed my husband had chosen the best. Couldn't agree with him, but it got me looking and comparing the majesty of nature.

So that night at church in our education class I described what had happened and said, "I think my husband's inner divinity showed itself, and then transferred itself to me. Humanity and divinity is really on a continuum. I'm not saying that my husband is divine, but I think that something divine moved through him, allowing us both to lift our spirits and appreciate the nature that surrounded us and to forget our troubles." And nobody commented on what I said. It sank like a lead weight. Are you not supposed to think this way religiously in my church? Was what I was pointing out too mundane? Nobody sees God in sunsets and trees? I would have thought that that was a basic place to find God.

Last week I woke one morning and had a thought in my head. I woke angry. My father invited my brother for an all expense paid trip to California to see my sister and her new born baby. Just another example of how my father discounts me from family gatherings. Perhaps he thought it would have been too much work to bring a mentally ill daughter with him, even though I have flown out to my sister's and back by myself successfully. I guess, in the end, it wouldn't have been as much fun with me. He knew that if I went he would have had to witness mental illness symptoms, and he doesn't like seeing anything irregular. Now I have a choice. Do I let my anger influence my behavior and skip Thanksgiving with my father, to prove a point? Do I write a card to show him how he makes me feel by omitting me and favoring my brother? This is not the first time that he has invited my brother and sister to a gathering and not invited me.

So I was feelings these feelings and reading my Buddhist book and suddenly, quietly, something died. The anger just melted away. I was very quiet inside and accepting. I can't change my father or ask him to be burdened by a mentally ill daughter, a burden that he seems to want to avoid. Why indeed, I asked myself, do I even bother to try to change him? I have my husband who loves me and wishes to be with me. Not everyone can be as nurturing and accepting as my husband. My father would have been satisfied if I had been locked up in a mental institution forever. My father who screamed at me over the phone that I must never, ever call him and tell him that I feel suicidal. And to think that there is the fundamental truth that I love my father and look forward to seeing him at Thanksgiving. If I concentrate on how much I love my father all the bad feelings, all the past goes away and I find myself in the present. The way my father has treated me is wrong, but I don't need to punish him. It is tempting to punish him but I know that that path will probably not end in his remorse, it will end in his anger. Punishment results in retaliatory punishment, it just goes on and on. I'm my father's daughter, but I've stopped being like him a long time ago. At least I hope so.

If I meditate, and learn more about Buddhism, I will be less and less like my father. This is a good thing. The more I go to Christian education the less I understand Christianity. This is a puzzling thing. Now I am afraid to read the Bible because I don't know what is straight talk and what is myth and history and anti Roman sentiment. I am game to believe in myth, but it helps when the myth is prefaced with the general knowledge that what is being stated is myth. I don't know if I'm sophisticated enough to learn from the myth of the virgin birth. Christian education just deflated Christmas. This is what my minister felt too, and it bothered her mightily. She said she really enjoyed Christmas and didn't want to stop enjoying Christmas.

It just seems like you have to fake more being a Christian and fake less being Buddhist. Pray or meditate. It seems like I have to do something. I don't want to be self-destructive and self-lacerating. Religion should help me with this burden. I don't seem to be that swayed by the promise that a Christian God loves me. I'm too far out in the wilderness for this sentiment to reach me.

I'm going to continue reading Buddhist books and going to Church. I feel like a fraud. But I'm searching. It really is o.k. to be lost. I'll permit myself the luxury of feeling totally confused and not make that a subject of self critique. When I say I lack faith, I don't mean that I don't feel that there is something out there that is larger than me, because I do. I believe in my own attachment to the divine. I just don't know yet how I'm going to define this connection, or what steps I will take to make it stronger.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Two Schizophrenics Talk

Her name isn't Victoria, but it is old fashioned, like Victoria.

It was after the Sunday church sermon, during coffee hour. People were gathered in the church parlor snacking on cookies and fruit. Nobody was talking to Victoria because Victoria is sometimes hard to talk to. Victoria is a schizophrenic who I suspect does not take medication.

My minister says that sometimes Victoria is clear as a bell. One day she walked into the church and said to the minister that there was poison ivy growing under the hedges that circle the church yard. Victoria offered to get rid of the poison ivy herself. She apparently had some money because she walked to the hardware store that is across the street from the church, got what was needed to protect herself from the weeds, and did the weeding that day. But there have also been times when the minister has been distressingly pressured by Victoria, trying her best to talk a wild woman down from high, excited flights of fancy. Sometimes when prayers are collected from the congregation during service Victoria will speak up. Often her prayer request makes no sense. She makes a long and convoluted statement involving many themes, for instance sheep and the weather and her father, and the minister at the pulpit tries to say something short in translation. Usually Victoria is quiet, but she is not shy.

Victoria has long gray hair streaked with silver. She wears glasses and has rosy cheeks. The rosy cheeks aren’t from make-up, sunburn or blushing, they are red from little broken blood vessels under her skin. I have only ever seen her in dresses, and she likes to wear layers of dresses, short over long. My husband and I see her when we are in our car and when we are walking around town. Victoria likes to walk everywhere. Once we passed her by and she was angrily pulling at the branches of a large bush and talking to herself. Another time we saw her in a coffee store and she was calmly reading the daily newspaper out loud, for all the patrons to hear. There are rumors in the church that Victoria is secretly very intelligent, and was highly educated before she became sick. “She was a genius” one woman said to me.

The Sunday I decided to talk to Victoria she was wearing a green blazer over a yellow flowered dress that fell below her knees. Peeking beneath the flowered dress was a dress with a hemline that swept the floor. The long dress was bright, bold pink.

“What a lovely color of pink” I said to Victoria. “Is that dress Indian?”

“I don’t know, but the top has rhinestones on it” said Victoria, and she pulled up the flowered dress so that I could see the top of the pink dress underneath, and indeed, there were little clear rhinestones dotting the bodice. I realized that it was a prom gown.

“I got it at the drop in center” said Victoria, mentioning the town’s center for distributing charity donations of food and clothing.

“It was smart of you to dress in layers today” I said to her, “it was cold this morning and I needed a coat.”

Victoria then told me a story of reaching for the pink dress in her closet, and how she almost reached as well for a winter coat, but that the winter coat is no good to wear because she discovered that it buttons on the left, and that means it is a man’s coat. She said she has four winter coats to choose from, and she is often fooled as to whether or not the coat was designed for a man or a woman.

“When I was young” I said to Victoria, “I often wore a man’s coat.” Her eyes grew wide and on her face was an expression of amazement.

“But you have to understand” I explained, “I was punk and I had even shaved all the hair off of my head. I didn’t follow the rules of society.”

Victoria said, “I’ve thought about shaving the hair off of my head because that would mean my hair might grow back thicker and stronger.”

I made a sour face and shook my head in discouragement. I did not wish to become the example that might persuade her to become bald.

She continued. “But I have discovered what to do to condition my hair and make it strong. One day I was eating tuna casserole. The tuna had in it mayonnaise and little pieces of pasta. I had eaten all I wanted and there was still some left in the bottom of this little square plastic container. So what I did was I took a squirt bottle, and I put all of the tuna casserole into the squirt bottle. I mixed in some water and let it stand for a while. Then I squirted the mixture into the roots of my hair. It acted like a conditioner, I think the pasta and mayonnaise is good for your hair. My hair got volume. I had not washed my hair for about ten days. And then a logging truck went by and ‘whoosh’ all the volume disappeared.”

I thought I understood the end comment about the logging truck. Knowing Victoria, and often seeing her walk by the side of the road, obviously she was referring to the wind a big truck made as it passed her by. It may have been going so fast, and so near, that it probably blew about and disordered her hair. But the picture of voluntarily putting food in your hair, old tuna casserole no less dismayed me. At first it seemed gross. But then I remembered a story my mother once told me about my grandmother. Using food for cosmetic reasons is really an old and esteemed practice.

“Do you know that my grandmother used to rub butter into her face to make her skin soft?”

Victoria pondered this example of a beauty treatment. And then she said, “I got a crème that is in a stick from the drop in center. You are supposed to use it under your eyes to get rid of wrinkles but I use it all over my face.”

Victoria might be mentally ill but she has the ordinary vanity and worries about aging that all women have. She doesn’t realize that by wearing layers of mis-matching clothing she looks the part of a madwoman, but I think that she is really trying, to the best of her ability, to be a lady. On some days she even pins her hair up in a loose bun. With her love of wearing long dresses, and her tall frame made lean from hours of walking, she often has the silhouette of someone from a past era, when women in skirts and dresses was the rule of the day.

“I buy Lubriderm, that is the brand name for a good moisturizer. I get it at the pharmacy.”

Victoria seemed understand. And she seemed to think she had something too like what I had.

“I have a bottle from Rite Aid. Do you know the Rite Aid shield? It is red and blue. First a line of blue, and then a line of red. I put that on my face too besides the crème stick.”

No doubt the pharmacy Rite Aid put out a generic brand of moisturizer. It was interesting that Victoria described, using concrete details, the tiny parts of consumer packaging that most of us would overlook. What most would consider unimportant made an impression on Victoria. I had the fleeting impression of someone who might notice the parts before the whole, or at least, whose powers of observation were keen.

But try as I might, I couldn’t get the example of using food in your hair as a conditioner out of my mind. I wanted to give Victoria a dose of conventionality. So I began describing how I shower. That I use shampoo on my hair first, and then I use conditioner, that they make conditioner that is specifically intended for your hair. I explained that it is this artificial conditioner, not natural food, which I use on my hair.

One of the ways to talk to a person who does not follow conventional forms of conversation, in the case that their thinking is disordered from the presence of a mental illness, is to be as honest, real and simple as possible. Talking to someone whose mind is influenced by psychotic thought sometimes feels a little bit like talking to a child because the psychotic person sees the world as a place of endless possibilities, a world where everything is new and important. When an adult talks to a child usually the conversation is candid and revealing because the adult wishes to be clear and instructive. Happily, children draw us out of ourselves. So does, I believe, people who are mentally ill. It seems obvious to me that if you are talking to a person with a psychotic based illness that is active at that moment you best put away sophisticated pretenses and postures. Talking to somebody who is sick isn’t about talking down to them, it is about talking with naked humility and rigorous truth about what is essential in life. Personally I find this refreshing, although it often means being quick on your toes, because the schizophrenic sometimes will take the conversation into unseen twists and turns. But the challenge to you, if you are giving care and love to a schizophrenic, is to really give a little piece of yourself to them. Because it is almost certain that the schizophrenic is giving you honest and important little pieces of themselves. I almost never get a sense that an unmedicated schizophrenic is lying to me. They may be elusive and secretive, and they may be talking delusions, but they usually believe in what they are saying. In people who the illness is dominant, as long as they aren’t manic or under the influence of street drugs, I don’t get hot air and I don’t get fluff. In talking to Victoria what I consistently felt was that I was getting all the important facts and details – as she saw them.

Since I had described how I bathe, Victoria wished to tell me how she bathed. She told me that the pluming in her home has not worked for several years now, and that if she wants a shower she has to go to a nearby hotel and use their facilities. Otherwise, what she does is heat water over a stove and scoop water out of a pan. A little of the effort that it took for her to bathe, having primitive circumstances was communicated to me. And then I took a chance and told her something that I would not normally admit to someone without an illness.

“I took a shower last night because I knew that there would be no time in the morning before church. I was tired, and I did not really want to take the shower. It is always hard for me to go from being dry to being wet. For some reason, I don’t like showers. But it was church, and you know, you really want to be at your best for church.”

Victoria gave me a look of sympathy, and as she began to nod slowly, something else, something deeper was agreed upon as well. We had a moment where we saw that we both shared an important value. Victoria, like me, felt the sacredness of church. She understood perfectly that you go the extra distance, and try harder, for the sake of church. My sacrifice was taking a shower when I really preferred not to. I don’t know what her sacrifice was. Perhaps it was the precious money that she put in the collection plate. Or maybe she made the effort to set an alarm clock in order to get to church on time. It could be that she agonized a little over what to wear, in order to look her best. It could have been that simply coming to coffee hour, and milling about with strangers who do not talk to you involved courage. But church for her, like for me, required us to be at our best, and for us, being at our best involved a struggle. We both had reverence for the religious service on Sunday morning that shaped our behavior. We both did battle with our will, having internal forces that would push us in one direction, but bravely pushing back in the other direction. We were two women who that morning had been triumphant in doing our duty for the church. Simply being present, and involved like all the other ordinary people, had taken us to the furthest reaches of our ability.

Victoria told me her name, not knowing that I already knew it, and put her hand out for me to shake. I shook her hand and then told her my name. I think that she will remember me next time I see her in church.

The conversation with Victoria went smoothly because I was not afraid to hear things that were strange, outside normal experience, and I managed to stay as grounded and honest as possible. Victoria could be bizarre but I tried to stay true to how I experience reality, which is, mostly because I take medication, painful but not too bizarre.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Newspaper Submission

Several weeks ago I submitted an article to a newspaper. The newspaper is published by Vermont Psychiatric Survivors and distributed for free through-out the state. Usually it deals with hospital news - the political and the cash flow of medical support centers for the mentally ill. Occasionally it will have a fresh voice, for instance someone who wishes to explain why being without medication is better for you or someone who wishes to describe what it is like living with their illness. My gut told me the newspaper will accept anything well written. However, after an initial favorable and welcoming response from their editor I have heard nothing. The silence started after I actually submitted my article.

Frankly, I have never read an article like my article. It goes against the recovery creed of going back to school and finding employment. It says that recovery is a limited phenomena for most with the illness of schizophrenia. The only "tone" that I can compare it to is an interview published in the New York Times with a schizophrenic artist living in NYC. That man was sick and in pain and despite making art, very disabled and very poor. The New York Times was refreshingly honest. They were gritty. I might have gotten wet eyes when I read the article. I know my heart went out to the man's suffering and I know I was oh so very glad that he had the joy of making art in his life.

I put a little bit of myself into the article, but in terms of my joys in life I was silent. I used other people's lives as examples of recovery although I do consider myself fairly well recovered. I am as recovered as my illness will permit me.

Once, about 20 years ago, a few years after I got my illness I overheard an interesting conversation. It took place in a social clubhouse between a social worker (who I knew was a closet bi-polar man) and a schizophrenic man. The schizophrenic man was large, black, middle-aged but had a very childlike mind. He did not work and although he was on medication he was semi-delusional. I remember his name was Robert and he had an imaginary best friend named Robbie who was a little invisible man who sat on his shoulder and told him things before they would happen. For instance, before a telephone would ring Robbie would tell Robert that this would happen. Robbie was not black like Robert, he was described as being three colors; white, orange, and green.

The social worker was doing a class in recovery. He told us in the class that we could be anything we could dream of. Robert said that he wanted to be an astronaut. Eryc (that was how the social worker spelled his name) said to him emphatically, with much gusto, that if Robert really wanted to be an astronaut he could be an astronaut. Robert was very happy about Eryc's belief in him.

I thought Eryc was being absurd. A part of him must have known he was being a liar. But the bigger part of him was already brainwashed by the recovery movement as he, a bi-polar man wished to view it; that indeed anything was possible. In Eryc's own life he had gotten sick in school but managed with medication to persevere and get a diploma. He had plans to get a graduate degree and specialize in marriage counseling. The world was open to Eryc to a degree that it was not open to Robert, and this fact Eryc ignored.

So what was Eryc supposed to tell Robert? That being an astronaut is very difficult and only a few people really do succeed who wish to be an astronaut? That Robert should shoot first at trying to hold down a job as a dishwasher? Or try first to take a college class? I don't know if Robert had even graduated high school.

I don't care much for encouraging fantasy. That's my personality quirk. But I have noticed that most schizophrenic disabled people's favorite fantasy, if they are sick enough to be on disability, is to somehow get a full-time job and get off disability. The recovery movement encourages this fantasy. Who is there for the people when they try and fail? Who picks up the pieces? Not the people in the recovery movement. What is the cost to a person to have a favorite fantasy fail? Most people I know who loose a job try again with a new job. Except the people who have been made sicker by their job and have had a mini-breakdown or who have committed suicide. At the clubhouse they kept statistics on people who were hired, but they never kept statistics on people who quit or were let go from their jobs. A good statistic would be this; after gaining employment, what is the average time a person with schizophrenia keeps their job? Compare this average with the average of a bi-polar or depressed person. The differences in the numbers will be night and day.

This is the article I wrote;

One in five persons with a schizophrenic illness can lead a relatively normal life working a full-time job. Elyn R Saks, the author of “The Center Cannot Hold” cites this statistic in her memoir. She is an accomplished professor at the University of Southern California and holds degrees in both law and psychology. She is also schizophrenic. And in stating her statistic she admits that she is rare.

I have a schizoaffective illness so this statistic is of interest to me. Always I have known that having a schizophrenic illness is statistically more disabling than having a depressive or bipolar illness. While there are many books written by people who explore their depressive or bipolar illness, there are fewer books published in the mainstream press by persons who have a schizophrenic illness. The list of famous artists, poets, politicians and philosophers who rose to fame despite their mental illness is numerous when it comes to depressive or bipolar illness. The list of schizophrenic persons who achieve usually achieve before the onset of their illness, or else, have extensive training and schooling before they get sick. For example, in the movie “A Beautiful Mind” the economic theory that would eventually earn John Nash a Noble Prize was created before the onset of his illness.

It makes me mad when advocates for the mentally ill promise too much too soon and ignore realities of failure. I know from experience that I cannot go to college, get a degree, and eventually work a full time job. Yet the advocates for the mentally ill, particularly the ones who are able to have an illness and a full-time job, hold out to me again and again examples of themselves as beacons of hope. “Look at me, look at what I’ve accomplished, and you can do it too!” is the refrain of some consumers who have made amazing recoveries. This is egotistical and cruel. Disability is a fact of life for many people, especially those with a schizophrenic illness. We are not lazy. We are not unmotivated. We usually do not enjoy being unemployed. How well we are aware of the consequence of living off the minimal payment that a disability check gives.

I have only lived in Vermont for 5 years. Before I came to Vermont I was a member of a social clubhouse for the mentally ill in Connecticut. I had an interview with the clubhouse director and asked him why he was pushing so hard for the clubhouse members to return to work. He said to me that out of all the models of treatment for the mentally ill, historically the only one that had a good outcome was to get the mentally ill back to work. Naturally this is a good idea for those whose disability is not severe. Work is a good idea for people who take medication and see their symptoms minimize or disappear. But for me, despite taking medication, I know that traditional forms of school or work makes me sicker, not better. Stress causes my illness to worsen. How many advocates for the mentally ill care what makes quality of life for the weakest among them? So often the option for getting employment and getting off disability does not exist.

Repeating Elyn R. Saks statistic in a different way, four out of five schizophrenics are unable to be stable enough to hold a full-time job. This is the statistic that I belong to. Probably these are the people that have the greatest difficulty finding meaning and hope in their lives. They will not know the camaraderie and friendship that exists through socializing with fellow employees. Often they will feel isolated and will have to find original and different ways to be a part of mainstream society. I know that for myself, my time with others needs to be limited because I find socializing draining. The way I experience most people who do not have a serious illness is as a bright light, full of energy and emotion. I know I don’t choose isolation, my mind chooses it for me. I spend hours in isolation every day as a means of self preservation. It seems that the walls that shelter my ego are very thin. And my thoughts do not last like the thoughts of a person without an illness. My thoughts grow dark and upset if I exhaust myself or over-expose myself.

And yet, I must have hope and meaning and fun and lightness in my life. I must rise above the illness and not let the illness define me. I know people who are in my statistic, very disabled with a schizophrenic illness, who have carved for themselves an unconventional life, and who have found a great deal of peace.

For instance, one of the happiest men I know lets his life revolve around playing ping-pong. He has managed to make friendships with people who are serious about the game, and his skill has skyrocketed since he practices as frequently as he can. Currently he is looking forward to entering State tournaments.

I know another man who keeps busy playing bridge with retired seniors. Bridge is a very cerebral game, and he studies books on strategy to increase his skill. Many of his partners are seriously dedicated to the game, masters with over two thousand wins in their lifetimes, and he is amazed that he can play in their league. This man also takes lessons on playing the organ and attends Buddhist meetings.

A woman who is a good friend of mine loves her cats and loves her part-time job as a page in a library. She says that she gets satisfaction out of physically touching the books, reading their covers, and imagining the stories that they contain. Once a week she meets in a bodybuilding gym with a trainer and works out with weights. You should see the muscles on her arms!

These three people have all found activities that they can feel passionate about. I know schizophrenics who feel a great emptiness in their lives, and schizophrenics who feel like their life is full. The difference seems to be that those who are successful, and I’m not talking about those who achieve degrees or careers, find activities that nourish their body or their mind.

As awkward as it may seem to say, having a disability is an opportunity. There are more options available then going to school or going to work. Having a disability gives you the chance to ask yourself, “What do I love to do?” For some schizophrenics this means writing poems or painting. For other schizophrenics this means playing music, gardening, swimming, or doing volunteer work.

I would love to be the type of advocate who says, “get off the sofa where you are watching television and do something that puts some meaning into your life!” But I can’t say that. I know that the ability just to watch television is a blessing to some who are tormented by their illness. I know how in the early days of recovery, just the smallest accomplishments, like taking a shower, reading a book, or talking on the telephone are major victories. And these victories should be celebrated. You should love yourself into health and not whip yourself for failing to attain what is beyond your reach.

From my experience, I know that one can get better, even if that getting better is counted in the smallest of measurements. You can inch forward because the brain is plastic. That means that when the brain is injured, like from the onset of an illness, as long as it isn’t traumatized afresh, it will start on its own a journey of healing. The brain can strengthen and change. The brain is complex, and if the spirit is willing, new territory can be explored.

The only caution I would add is that for some people, especially my segment of the schizophrenic population, recovery can be a process that takes decades. I had to wait about 10 years before taking a shower became easy – and honestly sometimes it still is an ordeal. Now I can read three books in a week, but I remember for several years being unable to read anything other than the simplest magazine article. At the onset of my illness I had only a sliver of the concentration that I have now. It has taken me over 20 years of recovery to have the power and the sophistication to put my thoughts into an article such as this one.

Success stories about people who have serious thought disorders are good to hear. It is encouraging to know that the future is open and that recovery is possible. But no advocate should ever tell a success story without the knowledge of the shadow stories, the cases where having a mental illness involves failure and setbacks.

My father, after watching me struggle for years with the symptoms of my illness, finally gave up elaborate recovery schemes and said, “I just want you to be happy”. It is the simplest of hopes, but it is the foundation of recovery.