Saturday, December 31, 2011

Maine Christmas

I went to Maine for Christmas. On Christmas day we took a walk while it was snowing. You can't see the falling snow in this picture, but some of the ghostly atmosphere is due to falling snow. To the center right is a white light way off in the distance, that is a lighthouse.

My mom had put in a wood burning stove in the space that we slept in. And goodness, she had put up a large real Christmas tree, with lights and ornaments. We pulled out the sofa bed and I would sit in it, try to draw, and lazily watch the fire dance behind the glass of the wood stove. My concentration wasn't good for drawing so I know that the travel (seven hours to get to the fishing village at the end of a peninsula) and the change of place affected me subtly.

One evening I couldn't keep my eyes open during dinner, I was having trouble concentrating and was shutting down, so my mother gently asked if I was sick, and I said yes, which is so much more astute than people assuming that I am tired. I was not tired, I was having difficulty concentrating. So I left the table and got into that sofa bed and watched the fire which felt really nice. My husband and mom could sociably finish dinner fine without me. One thing I hate is that when I start to become noticeably symptomatic my father says in a sing-song voice, "oh, Karen is going sleepytime". It feels demeaning. I am suffering when I am with family and I have to withdraw. Schizophrenia is painful. Being sleepy is not painful.

Yesterday I had some more trouble concentrating while I was painting. I would think of what I wanted to paint but then I wouldn't have the willpower to lift my brush and apply the paint. So I sat and stared at my painting. Since I was getting nowhere, I left the room, brushed my teeth, made some tea, and then when I returned I had the power to make those brush strokes that I had wished to make so badly. But after about 15 minutes of work I was back to staring at my painting, thinking about things to paint but having no power over my body to move into action and carry out my thought.

One of my New Year's resolution is to do more making art. When I first met my husband I used to make art in the morning and evening. Nowadays we watch t.v. in the evening. I think I want to try to make art more and watch t.v. less. Sometimes watching t.v is a result of being exhausted, and I certainly can't make art in that condition. But somehow, there must be a way to engineer my days so that I can squeeze a little more productivity out of myself. It is a big New Year's resolution to make art, if I can, twice a day rather than once a day.

This morning I had a dreadful time waking up. I think this was my illness again, as yesterday was emotionally exhausting with rushing about doing this and that after my morning of forced painting. I pay for extending myself, usually with the absence of the ability to move my body. I was awake, but so numb in the brain that I couldn't even get out of bed to get a cup of coffee. I had a therapy appointment and that finally got me moving.

Discussed getting a new medication provider with my therapist. He got out a phone book and I said no, I wanted a person that came with a recommendation. I found him with another patient's recommendation, and I would like HIS recommendation of someone he has heard good things about. So he said to give him a week and he'll give me several phone numbers.

I am coming down on my Geodone January 1st. I'll still be within therapeutic range as told to me by my medication provider. What I didn't like the most about her, that makes me wish to quit her, is how she characterized me off medication, while having never seen me off medication. I've been off all medication and I was a docent providing art history tours at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford Connecticut. I also worked at the information desk at this little world class art museum. So I've been confident, capable, and oh so very rational off medication. But the picture my meds nurse painted was of someone who was paranoid and incompetent and irrational, what she's perhaps seen in other people. But she never gave me a chance, only forcasted gloom and doom.

My therapist today said that I've been doing very well for a good time now. I said to him that the only thing that's changed is that I lowered my medication in October.

When my husband was going to date me he was given advice by his co-workers not to. "You don't know what she's like off medication, she could be a monster." Yes, his co-worker really used the word monster. And that fellow was a mental health professional, beloved by some mentally ill people I knew. I don't need to work with mental health professionals who are scared of people off medication. My therapist while studying for his licensing exam knew that he would be asked "what do you do if a patient wishes to stop medication?" The correct answer was to drop the patient. This made my therapist furious. He told me today that no other country in the world medicates people as much on psychiatric drugs as the United States.

Had a phone conversation with a good friend who is schizophrenic. She is impressed that I have tangible things to show for my time. I told her that she should write music more, which is her creative outlet. But she replied with a story of the difficulties of getting her songs copywritten. It is a big thing with her that if she writes a story someone will steal it. It also is a big thing with her, I think, that she wants her songs to lead to money and fame. I said that this is not the reason I create. It was at one time, I had these big dreams, but now I am trying to live in the moment, and create for the sake of creating. Of having a purpose. Of having work to do every day. I'm afraid that my friend, although her talent is real, lacks discipline. I think that one aspect of schizophrenia is a general sort of disorganization.

But then again, with the arts, even with people who have no sort of mental illness, they can't stick with the discipline that is behind accomplishing creative work. I had a psychiatrist who went to medical school after trying to become a writer. She found that she could go to classes and study for tests, but left on her own, she couldn't be a productive writer, she didn't have the internal discipline. I also knew an artist who while at Wesleyan College, was told he was a creative genius at print making. He went on to graduate school for designing museum installations. When it came down to the moment of having to create, to draw, he didn't have the discipline to do it. To be alone, isolated, in charge, the master, the audience, the critic, the primary mover, the channeling of impulse - he didn't have discipline over his innate talent. Talent was there but it had to be in an institutional setting to thrive. Like the doctor, he needed others to structure his time for him.

I had an older female artist once tell me that being isolated with your artwork gets easier the older you get. I find this to be alarmingly true. I care less about having friends. I meet good people, but let things drift so that we don't really connect. I'm lucky that I have a husband to provide me with all the companionship that I really need.

As I grow older I care less and less for the society of others. Went to two parties this Holiday season and while both were fun, and successful, and there was great affection and good time had by all, I didn't need to go to them. I didn't need them in my life. I realize how lucky I was to have them to go to. I'm lucky that I have options and things to do with my time. But more and more I resent things that take away from my focus on making art. I remember being a teenager and absolutely needing something social to do on a Friday night. Now that I'm almost 44 I no longer have that drive to spend my energy in conversation with others.

I'm still liking people, and nice to people, but this is at war with the need to isolate and create art.

I predict that as I drop my medication dose I will become more symptomatic and more dysfunctional in respects to how others function in society. But I think too I'll become more creative.

A real schizophrenic artist. Not a wantabe normal person, pushing to be included in society by means of drugging oneself. The drugging brings people into states of normalicy.

Already, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I've left Kansas. That is what you feel like when you can't even function at the dinner table. I'm not going to drug myself so that I can make polite dinner time conversation. Or have a job and make money. If I make less art on less medication then I'll go back on a larger dose. But I've got my priorities, and I know what drives me.

Its funny, but I don't care too much either what happens to a painting after its done.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Medication Nurse

I had an interview at the beginning of last week with my medication nurse. It was a disaster.

I gave her a four page typed reasoning for why and how I wished to reduce my medication. Two of the pages were direct quotes from the Robert Whitaker book "Anatomy Of An Epidemic". The last two pages were my plan and my supports. People who wanted to help me and how they would help me if I should become more symptomatic. But she got stuck on the first two quotes, arguing with them, and never read any more of what I had written. Three and a half pages ignored. Any attempt by the author to view that medication was a toxic substance was met with hostility, by my meds nurse, a woman who makes heroes out of medication researchers. I know her hero worship, seen it before. The men who write textbooks on medications are her heroes. Indeed, she views herself as being very very knowledgeable about the science behind medication. She goes to conferences that doctors and researchers speak at. Probably her travel is paid for by drug companies. Or else the research is. All those chemicals in the brain is what makes up half of her conversation usually. She's nerdy. And she tries to show me how the synapses in my brain function by moving her hands in different motions.

My therapist is just the opposite, he says we really don't know why the medications work.

My medication nurse said to me, "Have you ever seen a schizophrenic long term without medication?" And she looked glowering at me with the most intense and furious look on her face. It looked like she wanted to hit someone or swear at someone. "I've treated a schizophrenic who has gone on and off of their medication for over 29 years." And then that look again of smoldering violence. Like she had seen holy hell and it was too awful for words to describe. And then the rub. Nothing was described. I was supposed to be scared and cowered by her tone of voice with no anecdotes, no outcome, no observation that was going to be communicated to me. She was an authority figure who wished to be respected based on thin air. And years of experience. Years of experience that were not described by a single example.

My high school year book quote was "He who asserts must prove".

I tried to explain that if my husband or my therapist should tell me to go back on the medication I would do so. That I was flexible and that I did not view going off medication as the most necessary thing in the world.

But she told me that at a certain point I might not listen to what other people had to say because I would not trust them. Right now, she said, you are competent. You might not be so in the future. "You mean I would be paranoid?" I said. She said yes, paranoid. But we both ignored the crux of what she meant. She hypothesized that off medication I would not be able to be able to make rational decisions.

Is being off medication that seductive? Lovely? Enchanting?

What does she know how I would be off medication? She has never seen me off medication! And I have never ever displayed any psychosis or behavior that was any where near incompetency while on medication. The absolute worst symptom that I have ever been described to her are ones of depression and suicidality and anxiety. Not exactly a schizophrenic type problem. I told her that I had been off medication for eight years. Truth was I had been on a very low dose of antipsychotic medication for eight years. That seemed to shock her for a moment. That I had lived long term on very little. And what made me take medication? Hospitalization for feeling suicidal. Once you get the diagnosis of schizophrenic it really sticks. And I think, people are afraid of you. Of the monster in you that they imagine.

I have never been paranoid. I have never heard voices. It is true that I have experienced catatonia and other negative symptoms of schizophrenia, most especially, difficulty concentrating. And it is true that I once, when I was nineteen, was delusional and manic. But in all my years of living on a low dose of medication, for all my fragility and inability to function like other people in this world, I never again thought I was the antichrist or that I could kill people with laserbeams coming out of my eyes. True, after 9/11 I thought that I could blow up buildings with laserbeams coming out of the palms of my hands, but like my earlier delusions, I kept this quiet and to myself because I knew, deep down, that it wasn't true and it was a delusion. I dealt with my wacky thought by making a drawing. I was on full strength antipsychotics when I thought about blowing up buildings too. It was just wishful, imaginative speculation, like wondering what life would be like if you were Wonder Woman. Almost all the time I've been delusional I've known that I was delusional and didn't act on my beliefs, except, I can say, when I was nineteen. Then the delusions seemed true enough. So I sought help in a mental hospital. Yes, I walked into reception because I knew I was delusional.

My therapist says that if you know you are delusional that that's not a delusion. I beg to differ. It feels crazy, and if it feels in your gut crazy, then its crazy. And a person has a limit to how much craziness they can endure. Everyone's limit is different.

So now I'm almost 44 and I don't know what I would be like on little medication. But I do know one thing. My best creative work I did 12 years ago when I was on a low dose of medication. I was describing to my therapist the power you feel after making something that you know is very creative. It feels wonderful. He said to me that in his observation, they type of medication I'm on makes your emotions blunted so that you can deal better with other more painful emotions. But that's what he sees in his patients. Blunted emotions.

One of my best friends is schizophrenic, hears voices, is tormented by demons, doesn't take medication, and is smart and sassy and living life in a dignified manner. So I know it can be done.

I don't want a lesser quality of life. I don't want anxiety, paranoia, or suicidal thoughts. Currently I don't have any of these symptoms. But I would like the return of how I made art during a certain period of my life. Ironically, because I no longer take Zyprexa or Seroquil my art is more primitive and less sophisticated. I look at some of the drawings I did while I was on Zyprexa and say "Wow". That drug really coordinated and enhanced my thought. Sophistication and nuance is what I think of when I think of that medication. Of course, if you know anything about me, I was also very heavy and there was no end in sight for my weight gain. It had nothing to do with willpower - the drug made me hungry and there was no controlling that. I had high blood pressure and my doctor told me that I would die an early death. Plain and simple. Early death. Weigh too much and there are health complications. They come. I had only gained the weight over a two or three year period and I was still young, so all I had was high cholesterol, high triglicerides, and high blood pressure.

I take a different drug nowadays, lost a lot of weight, eat differently, and am much more physically healthy.

What am I searching for in my art right now? Energy and madness. I anticipate when I lower my antipsychotic meds some more more energy and madness to show up in my artwork. My therapist likes to quote Emerson who said "Follow your genius." In his eyes everyone had their own unique version of genius. As an artist, my journey right now is "Follow your madness".

I don't think my meds nurse would understand. I'm afraid there is a serious breach of trust between us. I came to our visit prepared, I documented, and I was ignored. I felt bullied. She said that she would only feel comfortable prescribing medication within a theraputic zone of dosage. Currently the range for Geodone is 160mg to 120mg. I'm at 160mg down from an extraordinary high of 200mg. I've been at this level for over three months now and I'm happily stable. My meds nurse wanted me to wait until our next visit in March to lower my meds some more. I had planned to lower my dose to 120mg on January 1st. I don't know what to do. Should I do whatever I damn well please?

What is clear is that my meds nurse wants all her patients to be on medication and in a specific range. The person and their particular illness is not taken into consideration. Once I told her I was schizophrenic (she's never had any documentation from people who treated me in the past) she imagined me as a specific type of monster. The word schizophrenia suggested things to her I can't comprehend. But I don't make art like other schizophrenics, nor is my illness like other schizophrenics. Except that I'm disabled. No dispute. Mental disability. Mental fragility. Mental exhaustion every damn day.

All my meds nurse is interested in is prescribing medication. All I am interested in is producing art that I like. My meds nurse does not care about my fears, my dreams, except when they are potentially psychotic. She should wear a tee shirt that says "Kill psychosis." I know that some artists enhance their creativity by disordering the senses by means of hallucinogenic drugs or sleep deprivation. All I have to do to have altered senses is lower my medication. I've got schizoprhenia, which is richly perverse, energetic, and atypical in its manifestation in my artwork. I've tried looking like a mainstream artist. Now I'm looking in a different direction. Bonus points is that I bath my brain in less artificial chemicals that could cause brain shrinkage, age old dementia, and a strengthening of the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia. That's what the research from the Whitaker book I read suggest the drugs do. My therapist has warned me on acting from one source of information alone. But this nation is so drug happy, I don't know what to trust.

Today I painted a flugelheisthorn. My own invention. Yesterday I painted a curling trombone. My own invention as well. Tomorrow I paint a bass cello. Not much deviation from a cello. Tinkered with the idea of painting it purple, but so far, that idea hasn't won out. I'd rather suggest wood if possible. The colors of the brass instruments suggested brass.

I've got my moments of deep conservatism.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Design

This started out as a plan for a drawing. But it quickly became so complex and detailed that I decided it would make a good painting.

Problem is I drew almost up to the very boundary lines that delineated the 16"x20" rectangle. I contemplated starting all over again, this time with a bigger canvass but with the same proportions.

Then I remembered gallery canvass. It is not designed to be framed, so you can paint right up to the edges. The sides are about two inches deep. It projects from the wall. I've never used it before, I love the finished edges of a nice frame, but for this piece I'll try using it. One problem, I don't know if it will sit on my table top easel since the bar across the bottom is rather narrow. I can't think of anything more horrific than a wet canvass toppling forward and ending up face down in the floor. My husband may have to modify my easel to support the canvass. I need to paint with it upright and facing me. And I like working on a table. All my supplies are laying about on the table. The table has a ring of lights in the ceiling and it faces a window.

Why do I draw right up to the edges? I can't help myself, even though I draw a border that is supposed to represent the overlap of the frame.

One of the problems with gallery canvass is that it isn't available in portrait grade, where the cloth is tightly woven and makes a smooth smooth surface. I find that board is a little too smooth and paint quickly makes ridges that I don't like much. Board is so unforgiving. Cloth seems to soak up the paint.

I'm too close to this drawing because I've been working on it every day for more than a week now. Have to step back and try to detach from the drawing. I'm so ravenous for it that I wish to start painting it immediately. Tomorrow.


With time I may be able to redraw the entire composition in a larger size, but don't have the heart at the moment to turn my back on over a weeks worth of work.

I do get attached to what I make. This picture in particular excites me. All I can think of is all the fun I will have painting it. And I'm dying, dying to see the colorful end product. Lines made with pencil can't compare to the glory of color blocked in, subtly shaded in.

This drawing is NOT an end product. It is merely a suggestion of better things to come.

Friday, December 2, 2011


These are the things that Cherry Blossom does. Her birthday was Nov.23rd and she turned one year old. So I don't know if they are puppy things that will diminish in time or if we must simply adapt. I hope for the best but suspect that the only way to rule the rascal, is to be vigilant and prevent disaster before it happens.

1.Takes tea bags out of tea cups.

So far she has not yet knocked over a mug with liquid in it. I leave the tea bag in so that it can seep and the flavor is at is strongest. The tag attached to a string attached to the bag and hangs over the side of the mug. And with precision skill, she removes the tea bag by its paper tag. The goal is to chew the tea bag. Why does a dog love herbal tea? Haven't a clue. Perhaps its the texture of the wet bag.

2. Takes knives, forks, spoons, and plastic containers out of the dirty pile of dishes on one side of the sink. Moves them to the library where, in the center of the floor, she does her best to tear them apart. The sharpest knives have plastic handles. These she particularly gnaws hardest on, completely deforming the handle.

Of course this is an incentive to do the dirty dishes on time. The clean things on the other side of the sink are not touched.

3. If my sewing box is open, she removes spools of thread.

Last spool of thread had a needle stuck through it. I got to it, and took it out of her mouth, before she could get hurt.

4.Drags pajamas and socks through the apartment. If there is a button on them she usually succeeds in removing the button. Any piece of clothing, if left on a dresser or the dryer, clean or dirty (but especially dirty) she will drag from room to room and then, most likely, will lie on it.

This is an incentive to fold clothing and put it away in drawers. Dirty clothing goes in the dirty hamper in the bathroom, and if this hamper is used, particular care must be taken that a corner of cloth or an arm isn't left outside the closed top, because Cherry will pull, if given a corner to hold onto, anything out of the hamper.

5.Takes any piece of mail left on the counter and tears it to shreds.

Yes, front paws reach up to the top of the counter and we must keep the kitchen counter clean of things like scissors, mail, books, and DvD's - all of which have been taken at one time or another off of the counter and destroyed. As in suffering extensive damage from tooth marks.

6. While on a walk she will lunge, both front paws off the ground and bucking like a wild horse while faintly grunting whenever; a dog passes. A skateboarder, a jogger, a motorcycle, a bicycle, or a huge truck that makes just the right kind of rumble. Impossible to know what kind of rumble will set her off.

I have developed a firm hand and a planted two foot stance so that I remain calm and stationary while my pet looks like a scary wild beast that wishes only to kill with her big white teeth. To be fair, we don't know if she should happen to reach the goal of her desire, what she would do. Perhaps she would merely sniff it. Perhaps her herding instinct would cause her to nip it and correct its course. When we take her to a nearby mountain where people let their dogs run free off leash she plays happily with other dogs off the leash. So she isn't really angry or aggressive, she just wants, for a moment, desperately to run to a moving object. I am afraid that the muscles in my left arm are going to grow bigger than the muscles in my right arm because that is the arm that holds the leash, always, in a tight grasp. Because you never know when someone or something will zip by from behind. Walks thus are done with a great deal of awareness - I do not daydream much while I am walking Cherry.

7. Some people (and it is impossible to know which ones) Cherry wishes to poke with her nose.

I assume that some people merely smell a great deal more interesting than others. This is not drunks and smokers, Cherry doesn't particularly like drunks and smokers as we have found out. Cherry does not wish to bite, merely poke, but people are rather upset whenever this happens, as it is unexpected and coming from a German Shepherd. I have to apologize profusely. Usually when we pass anyone on the sidewalk I draw Cherry nearer to me so I am in complete control. I have found that people don't like being poked by a wet nose.

8. On the rare occasion, Cherry wishes to leap upon a walker coming at her from the opposite direction.

If you think people are worried about a poke, think about their horror of a leap. If possible, I put as much distance as I can between myself and other walkers, either walking on a lawn or out into a street. Distance is the great disincentive. If a dog or jogger or bicyclist is on the opposite side of the street, often Cherry's fit to get to them is not triggered, although she watches them keenly and I know is at least thinking about it. I love it when a dog walker automatically sees us coming and crosses the street. Bless them for their sensitivity. I try, if traffic permits, to do the same thing.

9. Cherry greets us whenever we come home with ears flat back, tail wagging, and a happy wiggle in her body.

It is the nicest thing in the world to be appreciated. If we put our face low, guaranteed we will get licked. In fact, this morning I hovered between being awake and asleep for a long time, and finally, Cherry made up her mind what I would do. Front paws on my chest, she urgently liked my face. "Time to wake up" she told me. I ignored her and she had to do this several times before I finally got out of bed.

A woman I know is considering adopting a dog. She adopted in the past a German shepherd and was very happy with the results. So now she is going to human society web sites and looking to see if there is a dog there that speaks to her. But she is hesitant. "Its a big responsibility" she said to me, "its like having a child."

I couldn't agree more.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Lion

This is a drawing titled "Happy Lion". It measures 12"x16" and was done with oil pastels.

I'm just trying to gain proficiency with this medium. Ten years ago I was really good at using oil pastels, it takes some time to re-learn all the tricks.

At first I wasn't happy with the drawing. I had one idea, then really had to rework it again before it was ready to add color. I'm using too much fixative, which caused the top layers of oil pastel not to stick well.

My husband says he likes this one better than the last I did, so maybe some improvement. My husband also says that he can imagine himself as the lion, so maybe his opinion is just subjective.

My husband says that if you are to improve you have to listen to the advice of others. My gut reaction is that if you are talking to an artist, who does art every day, their opinions can be helpful, but currently the advice my husband is giving me isn't very helpful. He says that I've got to tell a story, and that I've got to dig deep down inside of me and try to summon up some of my emotions and deal with those emotions in the artwork. If I can do that, he promises, I'll have a superior piece of art. What are your fears, he asks me. What do you dream about at night, have any nightmares that you can draw? If your artwork has a personal story attached, he promises, then it will be better.

When my husband tells me how to make art my first reaction isn't very happy. I want to flush his head in the toilet.

I'm afraid there is no story attached to "Happy Lion". What's that in the distance next to the figure of the lion? Those are two beasts making love. The plants are obvious, the building is obvious, the sex of the lion is obvious, its just a pretty picture.

I'm happy at the dose of medication I'm at, life runs pretty smoothly. But I can't help thinking that at a lower dose I'd be more creative. This runs contrary to another passing thought I sometimes have, which is that on a different medication, say Zyprexa or Seroquel, I'd make better art because my head would work better. So what do I want, suppression of the schizophrenia or let it come out as much as I can bear? Its like a writer who says that they write their best stuff after a few drinks. I am trying hard to separate my creative life from my prescription drug use life. I don't know yet what level of antipsychotic I'm going to settle at. But the key is to stay in the now. What I create now is simply the best that I can do, and my best has to be good enough.

I was always the kid who wished she'd been born with more brains. Now I'm the lady who wishes she was born with more creativity, and I've got to stop thinking that.

Since I've decided to become a recluse and focus on making art I haven't had any problems with depression. Oh, there's the occasional foul mood, that can sometimes last up to a day, but all in all I'm focused on the art, and I love what I do. I showed my last two drawings to my therapist and he said I looked like an outsider artist. I think that more and more I'm detaching from civilization and just trying to be a better me. This means practice and hard work. For instance, I'll pass on going to see a movie with a friend because the next morning I want to work on art, and I don't want any post effects from having exhausted myself socially. I've given up church, women's spirit group, and am not attending nor plan on attending any writing or art workshops. Sometimes, its a little lonely being me, but for the most part I have my husband and my dog to keep me company. I expect the more I detach from society, the more my art will resemble outsider art. It did in the beginning. I think "Happy Lion" looks pretty much like Outsider Art.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Angel in a Pear Tree

There's nothing like the satisfaction of finishing something and photographing it for the blog. This drawing is called "Angel in a Pear Tree" and it had me powerfully sad yesterday. Yesterday I screwed up the hands and the wings of the angel and it simply looked like it had yellow claws. Very hard to do detailed work with oil pastels. But this drawing is small, about 12" x 16" and it was good practice for doing detailed work. I still have a way to go before I'm at the technical proficiency that I had ten years ago working in this medium.

For hours I beat myself up about the angel's hands, long after I had stopped drawing. I didn't have faith that I could fix them today. Something else too disappointed me. Its the violent subject matter of my art. I guess I'm not very accepting of myself. I thought to myself, "The picture has pretty colors, but whose gonna want a pig pointing a gun at an angel and a man pointing a gun at a bird?" I felt like the biggest freak in the universe. But I simply can't control my imagination. And also, I felt like an artistic dud. I thought, after all these years of doing art, and your talent hasn't grown. Your talent is primitive and slender. Nobody is going to want to pay any money for this picture. The gallery won't want it, your a hack, your unsophisticated, your a nobody and nothing. I told my husband, right after three hours of work on this drawing when I was exhausted and at my lowest point, that I might as well put a bullet in my brain.

When I feel like a worthless piece of crap I usually watch a movie. Watched the Sci-Fi movie "Serenity" by Joss Wheaton of Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse fame, and by the end, at least, could stomach the idea of living.

The drawing was done about a month ago for a design for an oil painting. I forgot to add space around the standard sized panel for the frame, and it simply wouldn't fit on the panel as I had drawn it. I keep forgetting to add space for the frame and I end up having to pay for custom framing where my frame guy frames with tolerances of about two eights of an inch. He does wonders, but its expensive.

So I decided that this one wouldn't make it to oil. But it was drawn on heavy, heavy paper, exactly designed for pastels or oil pastels. Last week was a busy nightmare with appointments, (put snow tires on the car, eye appointment for glasses and a mammogram that inexplicably I got stressed out and dizzy during - almost fainted, burst into tears for a moment) and I knew that I would only get an hour here and there to work on my art. Oil paint seems to be more ceremonial, there is a getting ready and a cleaning up to be done that is really not much, except what my mind makes of it. Drawing can be done in bed. I sure like the comfort of my bed. I will confess that my bed is the center of my universe.

My therapist says that its poison for me to compare myself with others, and its all the work of the ego. I must have a dominant ego, in order for it to torment me so much.

This drawing represents me on Geodone at a lower dose. It was planned and executed on the same dose. The question that I ask myself is if I lower the dose of my antipsychotic, will I get more creative or less creative or simply differently creative?

I'm existing pretty well on this dose of Geodone. Minimal anxiety, minimal drug sedation, and happy happy joy joy I'm continuing to lose weight. Couldn't do that when I combined Geodone with Seroquil or at a higher dose of Geodone. One thing I've noticed is that I'm more emotional, in all ways. I mentioned the behavior during my mammogram. Well this is my third one, and nothing like what I experienced happened on the first two. Yeah I'm always nervous in hospitals, but dizziness, threat of fainting and tears? And the nurse guiding me through the mammogram was sweet and nurturing and caring to the tenth degree.

Given the foul mood I experienced yesterday, and the jubilation I feel today, I'm not depressed. I'm simply neurotic over my artwork and have some serious self esteem issues, which I've had continue my entire life despite oodles of therapy since I was a kid in kindergarten. Yes, they hooked me up with the school therapist in kindergarten because I wasn't like other kids. I don't know specifically why, but I know I felt like a looser in kindergarten and was comparing myself to other kids then. Rosie was the pretty one, the popular one, and the kids on the school bus would spit out the windows at me when I got off the school bus. So I must have had this vibe; I'm different. Wasn't overweight or bad looking, all I remember is that I sometimes talked too much. I distinctly remember my kindergarten teacher saying in exasperation "Karen will you shut up" (I was talking while she was reading a book) and I was shocked because she had sworn at me. I thought teachers weren't supposed to talk that way to little kids.

In fourth through sixth grade I got put in an after school program for gifted children. I this program I met genius - kids that were intelligent and creative in ways that were way beyond my ability. I didn't find my "place" with this group either. My mom thought the program might have a bad effect on me by making me feel special or superhuman but I paled in comparison with the arrogance of some of these other kids who breezed through school. The program did teach me one thing. I can do, and make, and progress, all on my own in my own fashion. As an artist I won't compromise. I won't make art that looks like other people's art. Of course this makes me feel like a freak and suicidal, that I'm out of step with normal conventions, but the race is on pitting me against me, and I don't feel I'm doing my best work yet. That elusive yet. I strive. Sometimes, like yesterday, I strive so hard that I defeat myself.

A quote by Carl Jung in a book that my therapist is having me read in preparation for lowering my medication has me thinking. Here's what Jung said,

"To be "normal" is a splendid ideal for the unsuccessful, for all those who have not yet found an adaptation. But for people who have far more ability than the average, for whom it was never hard to gain successes and to accomplish their share of the world's work - for them restriction to the normal signifies the bed of Procrustes, unbearable boredom, infernal sterility and hopelessness. As a consequence there are as many people who become neurotic because they are only normal, as there are people who are neurotic because they cannot become normal."

For Jung, success I think came bountifully. And he was an adulterer, which says to me that he believed the boundaries of morality did not apply to him, he was above them. I know little about Jung but I would like to know more. He is an intellectual heavyweight, and people who are, usually know this about themselves. They know their own talent. Jung considered himself neither normal nor neurotic, so he throws his weight around and points the finger and proposes pathology at those poor saps who are below the best, and who are above the best. What this quote brings to mind is Woody Allen's defense in Time Magazine of why he had sex with his girlfriend's adopted daughter, it was, because genius is permitted a different type of morality.

For myself, nothing in my day comes easy for me. Walking the dog is hard. Showering is hard. Making art exhausts me to a point where I feel like I'm losing my mind. And that's only after three hours, my total limit before I'm reduced to feeble mindedness.

All the time I crave the state of being normal which is denied to me because of my schizophrenia. I know that as a schizophrenic I'm doing pretty well, but I have so much of a sense of loss for who I might be if I weren't schizophrenic. I've had this disease for over twenty years and I still haven't adjusted to my new normal.

Last week when I was being fitted for a new pair of eyeglasses I was helped by an exquisitely lovely young woman. Everything about her said "competent, kind, clean and composed". She was dressed conservatively but elegantly and she had the coolest, most compassionate and intelligent demeanor. She noticed that the black frames I chose also were made in tortuous shell but that the store didn't carry a pair for me to try on, should she order both types of frames so I could compare before making a final purchase? I mean, she went the extra mile for me. And I couldn't help notice her nails. They were french manicured. This is when the beds of the nails have clear nail polish and the part that extends past the skin is painted with contrasting white. Her engagement ring was beautiful too. A round diamond surrounded by a circle of little diamonds, at least ten or twenty thousand dollars worth of sparkle. So some rich man had claimed her.

After I left the eyeglass store I didn't want to be me, I wanted to be her. Have her body with her skinny legs and blond hair, have her life, work with people in an eyeglass store and be nice to every customer, have an income, have a lovely life as I imagined she must have.

Neurotic, neurotic, neurotic. And as my therapist would say, delusional with a lower case D because I'm not accepting of the now, and the actual way of reality, and not accepting of me all by myself.

My nails are always cut short. Because I handle paint and oil pastel I frequently need to use the pads of my fingers to smudge color. French manicures would only annoy me. But how lovely to dress, and compose oneself, because you are a professional doing a professional job with people out in the real world. Before I got schizophrenia, I thought that would be my fate.

Now its my fate to be an artist. I better work on accepting that..............

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Klimt and Recent Drawings

The first image is a landscape by Gustave Klimt. I really like this landscape because like Van Gogh's "Starry Night" the sky has as much action and excitement as the ground. In fact, I am currently in love with the sensation of an image completely filling the canvass with movement and detail. My drawings here are plans for paintings, but they don't look like most of the artwork I've done recently. There is more energy, which I think is because I'm on less medication. And I didn't incorporate images from photographs into my art - I relied totally on my own imagination. This makes them look more primitive, less polished, but the trade off is that if photographs aren't relied upon, the end result is a little bit more bizarre, and I think bizarre is good.

I don't know if I'll actually paint the first drawing, "I Love You", but I've already started painting the second drawing, "The Band and Strawberries". The problem with "I Love You" is that I think it is too boring. Oh, I would have fun coloring the scales on the crocodile and the swirls on the lion, but I dread the tediousness of painting all those little squiggles in the sky. Oh well, being bored to death is merely sometimes part of my painting process. I know one successful artist who does extremely detailed and repetitive work and he listens to books on tape while he paints. I can't do that because of my schizophrenia, I can't manage to split my concentration, what I do takes all of me or else I won't be able to do it for very long. I used to be divided on whether or not listening to music while I worked gave me an energy boost, but I've come to the conclusion that pure silence is best for my art. Uninterrupted concentration produces the best results.

Had a scary few hours yesterday.

Two days ago my husband and I went midnight bowling with another couple that my husband knows from work. The whole outing knocked my internal rythmes out of order. In anticipation of a very late night, and to negotiate the the slight stress of a social visit, I did an Elvis. This is where I take a prescribed narcotic (downer) and mix it with lots of caffeine (an upper). The Elvis put me in this weird zone were I was perfectly content and comfortable for the entire visit. Only my husband and I were so trilled with each other's company and having a night that was novel that we spent an additional two hours in bed talking when we got home, resulting in me going to bed around 3am. I slept that night until 1pm the next day.

Because my sleep pattern was thrown off, the next night I only slept 5 hours waking at 3:15am. And then later that morning I was uncomfortable. As in feeling crazy and anxious uncomfortable. So I said to myself, "Is this the beginning of low medication madness?" My thoughts were going so strong and so fast that I felt over alive, unbalanced, and mad. Nothing psychotic about my thoughts, they were normal, but they were so energetic and strong that it alarmed me. Of course it could be that I was only experiencing a variation of normal, but that I am so used to be in a sedated drugged state that a little sleeplessness is a new way of being. I have forgotten what it means to be in altered states of consciousness that fall between the perimeter of normal.

To sooth myself, and turn myself back to normal, I watched about three hours of television. It did the trick. I eventually felt whole and sane and myself again. They say that television is bad for you, but for me, it is a therapeutic activity in that it slows down my mind and gives me a mini vacation from life.

I met a schizophrenic girl once who told me that she liked it when the medication made her head empty. The way she said it kinda scared me. It was like she was embracing being a zombie. She was on a lot of medication because her illness caused her to think in very strange ways. They were trying to drug her into normal but the disease kept braking through. I remember going for a walk with her outside, and by the side of the road there was a little black piece of plastic, probably from a car. She pointed at it and said, "Look, a piece of a black man".

My husband has noticed that I am more emotional on less medication. Not neurotic emotional, just I respond quicker and with a little more depth to what he is saying. I do think I'm quicker to anger, but showing more affection as well. Now that's not a bad thing. I do have a friend who doesn't like my art on less medication, and sent me pictures that I had done on Zyprexa and Seroquil to illustrate when my art, in his opinion, had been strong. Now I'm only on Geodone, a much weaker drug to my perception. My art looks different. He pointed out the "chaos" of my artwork as being something negative. But fact is, I enjoy chaos at this point. I enjoy overabundance and no rest for the eyes very much. Of course there is irony. When the overabundance and no rest is a phenomena on paper I'm pleased, when it is the actual state of my consciousness and in my head I panic and feel "mad".

It is terrifying when you have for ten years embraced medication, found it a relief to be on medication, have championed medication for the mentally ill, and then do an about face. All I have is the negative reporting in one book that I read that long term medication makes you sicker and causes brain damage. My husband said that I should do more research. The problem is that this country is very pro-drugs, they are being relied upon as a quick fix and even alternative to talk therapy. There used to be a movement in psychology that madness was a spiritual crisis, a natural part of the evolution of the self. An unbalance no doubt, but not a disease, rather, a time when a person had to change character and grow or else drown. Dysfunction was the result of trauma, and now with the exception of PTSD the environment having any input into madness is disregarded. I know a woman who is in an unhappy marriage and experiencing depression, but she thinks about drug treatment instead of changing her circumstances. Very few people I believe would be willing to radically alter their life to reduce stress and enjoy more mental health.

I know a massage therapist who worked on very wealthy wall street businessmen. They would come to him for a massage and say, I'm so stressed, what can I do to relieve my suffering? The massage therapist knew that if he said, "come in to me to have more massages" that this would boost his business greatly. But instead he told the truth. He said, "change jobs". And his clients hated hearing that advice.

I know that when my husband went to the doctor because of upset stomach problems, it became quickly clear to them both that the upset stomach only happened at work, and was his body's physical reaction to job stress. The doctor suggested that for my husband's health, he change jobs. Long term, the kind of imbalance of stomach acid could lead to cancer. When my husband came home his attitude toward his doctor's advice was close to outrage. How dare the doctor suggest that he turn his life upside-down. My husband is simply unqualified to earn an income in any other field than where he is currently at. It is true, there have been jobs, especially that of working with the mentally ill, that he had found immensely rewarding, but he has no advanced degrees, and the income he would get at that type of job pales in comparison to what he is earning now. And he feels he has to earn a good income to support me.

My husband's stomach problems have happily resolved themselves. The doctor said that a quick fix was to take over the counter antacid tablets. What nobody knew was that when my husband stopped drinking every night he also stopped, except on rare occasions, having upset stomachs. Alcohol, even though it was only drunk after work, changed the chemistry of his stomach. Also we now walk every evening as soon as he gets home from work and exercise relaxes him and helps him to wind down from the hectic pace of his job. Finally, there is the fact that he has rather mastered his job, and is very good at it, and so, he has less stress because he knows most of the time what the answers are to his problems.

I am very scared to come off of my antipsychotics. I jump at any discomfort of the mind thinking "you are less medicated now, you are sicker now". So my plan is to go down one pill every three months at a time. The next lowering of dose should occur January 1st, 2012. I want time for my brain to readjust and I want time to go back on the medication should I start experiencing crises. Currently I am taking four pills a day, so this means if everything goes well a process of exactly one year. To be totally truthful I have little hope that I will ever get to zero pills. I predict that at some point, the internal drama of my life will disgust me, and the pain, the emotional pain will be too much to endure. I think that if I ask myself the deep question, "do you want to live for the now, or for the future" I will pick the present.

From what I've read, the medication imbalances the mind to such a degree that if you go off of it you are virtually guaranteed a relapse. It isn't your disease hitting you with a vengeance, it is the brain reacting to drug withdrawal. What people commonly mistake relapse for after drug withdrawal is proof that the disease had been cured or controlled, when instead, it is proof that you have become addicted to the drugs and without them, your disease is exacerbated. Long term, the research says that the drugs will also deepen the schizophrenia, causing more positive symptoms and more negative symptoms.

I simply don't know what to believe. The only solution is to push the boundaries of my situation, go outside my comfort zone, and see what happens. I really don't know how sick I am. I am sick, no doubt, but is it madness that I can live with?

It is a horrible, horrible thing wondering, as the medication lowers, at what point you are going to lose your mind.

Friday, November 4, 2011


This is a drawing I did a few months ago when I was bored by oil paint and had to take a break. It is called "The Chopped Tree". I'm in doubt what to think about it. Reading it from right to left, you have a man holding a sword, and with one swing he has simultaneously taken a chunk out of the tree and chopped a man's head off. In the right hand corner a woman throws an orange up to a man sitting in the tree. Of course there is a large leopard sitting in the tree as well.

The pencil drawing underneath was done several years ago, I modified it slightly. Haven't worked in oil pastel in a long, long time.

I don't know where my drawing abilities are going on this lesser dose of Geodone. I think my self doubts as a artist are not drug related - I'm not depressed, I just don't know what to think about myself. I know that I long to have more talent then I already have. I long to be extraordinary. Yes, I know, big fat swelled head. But it comes from a childhood where I hated myself. I can't grow up and be a confident adult when I spent my youth with so much insecurity. I hope therapy can help, but over the years I've had ooodles of therapy.

The books my therapist has given me to read increase my insecurity with their constant writings of brain damage done to psychiatric patients. Thank god I've never had electric shock therapy. I'd rather be depressed than have that type of brain damage.

Supposedly there is brain damage already from the drugs I've been taking, brain shrinkage and atrophy. It isn't just the antipsychotics, its the Klonopin too. Minor tranquilizers shrink the brain in the same way that chronic alchoholics get brain shrinkage. If I should mange to get off antipsychotics, or at least severely reduce them, I want to tackle next my addiction to the narcotics. I want to use narcotics sparingly, only when in emotional crisis to calm myself.

Its amazing what psychiatrists turn a blind eye to. One woman went to a psychiatrist because her husband beat her. His response was to prescribe her valium. He continued the prescription, and the beatings continued, for over five years.

Another psychiatrist gave electric shock treatment to change the personality of a housewife and make her more dutiful and noncomplaining to her husband. Turning a person into a zombie through so much brain damage from electric shock can be done, I've seen it be done. My roommate in one hospitalization had almost no personality, both before and after shock treatments. She was in for routine treatments, she had them on an ongoing basis. Why? Because she had nightmares. I have never seen a person act like they were in such a fog, such a non-person as this woman, not even people on high quantities of antipsychotics. My new perspective is why didn't they give her therapy before the shock treatments? I bet the nightmares were from childhood abuse. I've met people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that had bad nightmares from things that happened in their childhood.

There is actually a movement of people who have had shock treatment and brain damage that protest the use of shock treatment. I know most hospitals here in Vermont give shock treatment. Problem is, if you have brain damage, you aren't necessarily going to recognize it in yourself. But then there are those who I think do. Ernest Hemingway famously got depressed and killed himself with a shot gun. But before he did that he had shock treatment. After the treatment he wrote to a friend that he felt like he had lost his writing gifts. I wonder if the damage from the shock treatment contributed to him killing himself. Also the writer David Wallace Foster most recently killed himself, again, after having shock treatments for depression. They say he was really struggling with a book. No doubt the shock treatments made it all the harder for him to write. Does genius get erased from shock treatments?

My therapist said that people who kill themselves because they can't write have over identified with being a writer. He says to be safe, about the only thing you should identify with is being a human being.

I know I over identify with being an artist. Its the beginning and the end with me, and I guess that isn't healthy. But I want something to define myself as. I've got a hollow place in my core.

Today I saw my therapist and I told him that my father called me as a child an asshole, a little ball of crap, and of course, spoiled. His favorite was asshole. Being quite young, I picked it up and called other little kids assholes. Dad thought this was cute. I don't want to see my Dad this Christmas. I just don't. Probably I'll play the part of a dutiful daughter and go and see him some day near Christmas, before or after. But only if he invites me and pushes the point.

My therapist says that if I become a brat off meds, he'll support brattiness. But probably the lower the med dose, the more I'll have to confront my feelings about my father. The man has left me with little shreds of self esteem. I asked my therapist whether what my father called me and my dislike of myself as an artist were connected. My therapist said they probably were.

I talked recently on the phone with a lady I know, she is in her seventies. She is lovely and warm hearted. She said that when she was young, a Christian missionary in an Islamic country with small children, that she suffered from extreme anxiety and depression. She said it was all biochemical and treated with drug therapy. Now she has recovered and doesn't need drugs. But has she recovered? She is the most unhealthy person I know. She walks with a walker, has trouble breathing and is morbidly obese. Her husband has to help her with stairs and getting in and out of the car. As I see it, the root of her problem with anxiety and depression was never worked out in therapy. So her troubles shifted to eating too much. Naturally she is very concerned with me going off medication and says that my problems are like hers, biochemical. But I don't think so. To a certain extent my brain is damaged, yes I will agree. But I was emotionally abused before I got a mental illness. I'm willing to live with mental illness, but I would prefer to address the emotional abuse with my therapist.

Mental illness isn't so bad to live with if you are a recluse.

I guess I'm gonna be a recluse.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Card Reading

Well, on a little less medication it looks like I have more energy and less appetite. Lost the weight I gained on that minuscule dose of Seroquil, and I'm happy about that. Looking to lose more weight. Otherwise, art is going well, my mood is upbeat, and no complaints of symptoms of my illness. Today I'm lying low because I had over the weekend back to back days that I spent cleaning the house. The bathroom has never looked so good.

One of the reasons we cleaned so hard was because we had a guest Sunday evening. A woman came over to have her cards read. After, I asked my husband to do a card reading on me. Of course the number one question I had to ask was what is going to happen as I lower my medication?

There is a part of the card reading where there are three cards that represent fortune and three cards that represent fate. Fortune is your will, your actions, and your decisions that impact your life. Fortune is what you control. Fate is what God has in store for you, it is out of your control and it will come and happen if your will does not oppose it.

Interestingly my husband says that fortune and fate are not linked. One does not have to dominate, one does not have to occur, your will can be weak or you can seize the day. Its that old religious contradiction that Christians believe in an all powerful God, capable of manipulating events, who has a celestial plan for everyone, but that this all powerful God gave mankind, his creations, free will to govern their own lives.

Under my fortune was prudence, or careful consideration, pleasure, and stress. Under my fate was my husband's card (he said, look honey, God gave you me to be by your side!), truce, and disaster.

So my reading of the cards and what the future has in store for me, during the next six months (my husband says his card readings are only good for predicting a specific time period that mysteriously seems to be about six months) is that I will like cutting down on medication, and I will do it carefully and with prudence, but that something will cause me stress and a dose of unhappiness. I said to my husband, how can pleasure be next to unhappiness and he had no answer. Life is complicated.

What God has in store for me is loss (another interpretation of my husband's card - perhaps my present emotional stability will go bye-bye), but that my husband will steadfastly stand by my side, that I will come to some sort of truce with the medication, which in my mind is agreeing to be on some type of maintenance dose rather than going free, and that the effects of lowering my medication will be rather unpleasant. The last card for God's plan was ruin, the card of all cards that my husband is most afraid of.

It is interesting the people who will affect me. This is another three card combination. I don't remember the first card, but the second card was a father figure, my Dad, and the last card was a teacher and guider, most certainly my therapist. I had agreed to listen to my therapist's advice concerning medication, but it shocked me that I would listen to my Dad's advice. My Dad is a doctor, retired, but he is very interested in a stable daughter, in the past he would rather have me hospitalized and fixed (an impossibility but they locked me up for two years trying) then out in the world and living independently and eccentric. I joke with people that if science hadn't advanced to drug therapy my father would have had me lobotomized to get me under control and cure me. Nobody likes to think of their father as someone who would prefer lobotomization to your natural state, but this is how I see my father. As a child I thought that he wanted his kids to be dolls, beautiful and perfect, living in a dollhouse that he could show off to his associates in the hospital where he worked.

I called my Dad, a rare occurrence, to have a pleasant chat with him before I lowered my medication. I told my therapist that this phone call was me saying good-bye and giving him a nice memory to hold on to. I didn't know if I would be too sick with my mental illness to visit him for Christmas. I was going to fall from grace when he found out that I was tinkering with my meds, and so far, he doesn't know anything of my plan. My mother however knows all about it, and she is very supportive. Mom is rounding up people to pray for me. And I know that she too is praying for me.

The literature I'm reading is counter to many mainstream notions about schizophrenia and drugs used to treat schizophrenia. Currently the author Dr. Peter Breggin in "Toxic Psychiatry" is citing studies that conclude that schizophrenia is not genetically linked. He thinks that the environment had more to do with developing schizophrenia than the chromosomes do. Its funny because when he goes on television to debate the status quo his greatest enemy is NAMI, because NAMI likes to believe that parenting has nothing to do with who develops mental illness. Parents rather believe that everything is biology than that they might have contributed to their child's mental health deterioration. I guess in a parent's mind the successes are due to their good work and morality, and the failures are due to biology.

The book that started me thinking about coming off medication and Breggin's book both conclude that there is something addictive about antipsychotic medication and that a psychotic relapse is inevitable if you come off of them cold turkey. I sat in therapy and wiggled my finger at my therapist and said, "It might take me a year to come off my antipsychotics" and he said why are you wiggling your finger at me? And I said, it is to myself I point the finger, reminding me to be prudent and careful and that the predicted outcome, is in the short term, is very negative by all that I read.

"Don't do anything hasty" I remind myself, as I seem to lecture my therapist by wiggling my finger at him.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Going off Meds

I recently read a book that really disturbed me. It has led me to consider going off my antipsychotic medication or at least drastically reducing it.

In total, the book had a very negative outlook on what psychiatric drugs to do people (especially children, with their developing brain). Of specific interest to me was chapter 6 all about schizophrenia. Here are some direct quotes from the book.

Excerpts from “Anatomy of an Epidemic” by Robert Whitaker, copyright 2010

Pg 111
-“Investigators have dubbed this long-term cognitive deterioration tardive-dementia; in 1994, researchers found that three-fourths of medicated schizophrenia patients seventy years and older suffer from a brain pathology associated with Alzheimer’s disease.”

- “….But other researchers conducting MRI studies had found that the shrinkage of the frontal lobes was drug-related, and in a 2008 interview with the New York Times, Andereasen conceded that the ‘More drugs you’ve been given, the more brain tissue you lose. The shrinkage of the frontal lobes may be part of a disease process, which the drugs then exacerbate. ”What exactly do these drugs do?” Andereasen said. “They block basal ganglia activity. The prefrontal cortex doesn’t get the input it needs and is being shut down by drugs. That reduces the psychotic symptoms. It also causes the prefrontal cortex to slowly atrophy.”
Once again, Andereasen’s investigations revealed an iatrogenic process at work. The drugs block dopamine activity in the brain and this leads to brain shrinkage, which in turn correlates with a worsening of negative symptoms and cognitive impairment.”

Pg 115
-“Here is Harrow’s data. In 2007 he published a report on the patients fifteen-year outcomes in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases and he further updated that review in his presentation at the APA’s 2008 meeting. At the end of two years the group not on antipsychotics were doing slightly better on a ‘global assessment scale” than the group on the drugs. Then, over the next thirty months, the collective fates of the two groups began to dramatically diverge. The off-med group began to improve significantly, and by the end of 4.5 years, 39 percent were ‘in recovery’ and more than 60 percent were working. In contrast, outcomes for the medication group worsened during this thirty-month period. As a group, their global functioning declined slightly, and at the 4.5 year mark, only 6 percent were in recovery and few were working. That stark divergence in outcomes remained for the next ten years. At the fifteen year follow up, 40 percent of those off drugs were in recovery, more than half were working and only 28 percent suffered from psychotic symptoms. In contrast only 5 percent of those taking antipsychotics were in recovery and 64 percent were actively psychotic. “I conclude that patients with schizophrenia not on antipsychotic medication for a long period of time have significantly better global functioning than those on antipsychotics,” Harrow told the APA audience.”

-“Indeed, it wasn’t just that there were more recoveries in the unmedicated group. There were also fewer terrible outcomes in this group. ….Ten of the twenty-five patients who stopped taking antipsychotics recovered, eleven had so-so outcomes, and only four (16 percent) had a “uniformly poor outcome.” In contrast only two of the thiry-nine patients who stayed on antipsychotics recovered, eighteen had so-so outcomes, and nineteen (49 percent) fell into the “uniformly poor” camp. Meicated patients had one-eighth the recovery rate of unmedicated patients, and threefold higher rate of faring miserably over the long term.
This is the outcomes picture revealed in an NIMH-funded study, the most up-to-date one we have today. It also provides us with insight into how long it takes for the better outcomes for monmedicated patients, as a group, to become apparent. Although this difference began to show up at the end of two years, it wasn’t until the 4.5 year mark that it become evident that the monmedicated group, as a whole, was dong much better. Furthermore, through his rigorous tracking of patients, Harrow discovered why psychiatrists remain blind to this fact. Those who got off their antipsychotic medications left the system, he said. They stopped going to day programs, they stopped seeing therapists, they stopped telling people they had ever been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and they disappeared into society.”

Pg 118
-“There is no good evidence that antispsychotics improve long-term schizophrenia outcomes……”
- …..evidence that the drugs might worsen long-term outcomes showed up in the very first follow-up study conducted by the NIMH and then it appears again and again over the next fifty years.”

Pg 119
-“…..once researchers came to understand how antipsychotics affected the brain, Chouinard and Jones stepped forward with a biological explanation for why the drugs made patients more vulnerable to psychosis over the long term. They were also able to explain why the drug-induced brain changes made it so risky for people to go off the medications, and thus they revealed why the drug-withdrawal studies misled psychiatrists into believing that the drugs prevented relapse.
-“…tardive dyskinesia studies evidence that the drugs induce global brain dysfunction in a high percentage of patients over the long term.
-“….once a new tool for studying brain structures came along (MRIs) investigators discovered that antipsychotics cause morphological changes in the brain and that these changes are associated with a worsening of both positive and negative symptoms and with cognitive impairment as well…..for the most part, the psychiatric researchers who conducted these studies hoped and expected to find the reverse. They wanted to tell a story of drugs that help schizophrenia patients fare well over the long term, - their bias was in that direction.”

Pg 120
-“In the nonmedication era, my schizophrenic patients did far better than do those in the more modern era, “ said Maryland psychiatrist Ann Silver in an interview. “They chose careers, pursued them, and married. One patient, who had been called the sickest admitted to the adolescent division of her hospital is raising three children and works as a registered nurse. In the later medicated era, none chose a career, although many held various jobs, and none married or even had lasting relationships.”

After reading that my long term prognosis was cognitive deterioration it was like I felt in my heart a "pop" and a bubble burst. That pretty bubble had been my plans for old age. Artists usually get better as they age. As my artist father ages, he is getting better and better. I was looking forward to a golden time of retirement, not when I stopped making art, but when my art was at its most sophisticated, polished, intricate, and powerful. I always thought "the older I am, the better I'll be - damn the arthritis!" Alzheimer's does not run in my family. Neither does cancer (Unless you smoke. My grandfather smoked a lot and died of lung cancer.) On both sides of my genetic tree people live a long time. My parents are both in their seventies and they are dynamos.

I am doing fine, happy with my creative output, happy with my marriage, but very aware that by devoting myself to making art, as I have to a more and more significant degree, I cut myself off from society. In truth, I feel as restricted as when I was locked up on that psychiatric unit for two years way back when as a teenager. My life is very, very simple and this is because I want nothing to interfere with the narrow window of creativity I have every morning.

After reading this book I told my husband that I should try to go off the antipsychotics and see what happens. I was well aware that there was a probability I would relapse, and that I may not get better for years, if ever.

My husband said, "Make a plan." So here is the plan I made.

My Plan So Far

Stop drinking coffee and any beverage that contains caffeine. This will lesson anxiety. Slowly go off Geodone. Continue with MAO Inhibitors. Ween self off Klonopin, eventually to be used only as a drug for crisis intervention. Use the anti-psychotic 2mg dose of trilifon for crisis intervention.

Expected results – I will have problems with suicidal thoughts and anxiety and paranoia and general fragility (with perhaps some psychotic ideation) for at least 6 months to 4.5 years. I should take this amount of time at least before considering that that I am irrevocably addicted to neurolyptics and continue again with an antipsychotic. I anticipate having more energy, more joie de vivre, yet probably I will continue to be a disabled individual with cognitive defects. I don’t expect a reversal of cognitive damage already done, I still consider myself schizophrenic, however, I would like to prevent further damage by further use of antipsychotic medication.

Currently I am as withdrawn from society as I have ever been. No church, no painting classes, no writing classes, no socialization other than with family members and some interaction with other mentally ill persons on-line or in peer support group meetings. My quality of life has slowly deteriorated to a point where I do not see any difference whether or not I am on or off of medication. I live like a hermit – if I am sick or well concerns no one else except my husband. My life revolves around my husband, my dog, and my artwork, and these three elements are all that I care about. If my marriage is threatened or I find I cannot make artwork or I am hospitalized I would advise myself to continue taking antipsychotic medication.

Strategies to stay sane

– use art as therapy as much as possible. Draw and paint any psychotic thoughts or suicidal thoughts. Before go off Geodone stock drawing supplies. I may not be able to drive far when I am relapsing. Draw when I feel anxiety or any other mood or thought disturbance.

-Start seeing my therapist Jim once a week. Switch therapy time so that it does not coincide on the day that evening mental illness community peer support meets. This will cut down on stress.

-Continue seeing Viki and communicate to both her and Jim how I am doing.

- My husband if needed has offered to curtail overtime hours at work to take care of me. Prepare for economical difficulties as his overtime pay is cut. This means living perhaps on a more stringent budget, at least until I have stabilized more to not need his presence.

-Try, if have more energy, to exercise more. A dream of mine is to once again start jogging. I was very happy jogging.

-call a suicide hotline if I feel suicidal. Get the phone number before going off Geodone.

I have met with my therapist and printed out from him both the quotes from the book and my plan of action. He said several things. First of all he definately wanted to see me once a week and that we could bump it up to twice a week if things started going badly. I was not to go off my Geodone until several things had happened in preparation. It might be several weeks for things to fall into place.

He gave me the titles of three books to buy from Amazon and read. In essence, they define madness as a spiritual crisis, one that a therapist can guide the patient through with the power of love and I don't know what. They are very famous books that tend to be pro-therapy and anti-drug. The books are purchased but haven't been delivered yet.

My therapist wants a meeting that my husband attends.

My therapist wants to document everything. I am supposed to journal. Nothing polished, just a journal. I said, you can tape record our sessions, and he said he might do that.

I must agree that if my therapist says "Go back on medication" I will do so. And we both agreed that a hospitalization would be a situation where I would go back on medication.

The hardest part of what I must do to prepare is to have a meeting with my medication nurse and inform her of what is happening. She is very very pro-drugs. But we have always worked in a partnership together - I feel from her a great deal of respect for me personally and ironically, I feel that she pretty much lets me run the show. I chose the drug that I will take. She has a vast knowledge about drugs, so she guides me, but innovative changes in my drug regimen are a shared responsibility.

My therapist asked me if I was prepared to be an eccentric. I said all I ever wanted to be was an artist.

My husband is optimistic. Since its been ten years since I've been off medication, he rather thinks "my brain has healed". I rather think, that because of the antipsychotic medication, "my brain is now drastically chemically imbalanced."

This would be the thesis of the book I just read.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Threat From Above

I've been working on this oil painting for a long time. I'd guess six months. It is titled "Threat From Above" and is 16"x20". The camera doesn't quite capture the vivid color, nor the fact that every single blade of grass is painted in tiny detail. I asked my husband to use one camera to take the picture, he declined for reasons I can't fathom and used an inferior camera. That's marriage, when your partner is going to be bull headed you just throw your hands up in the air and sigh.

At one point in painting this picture I couldn't touch the paint brush. I had given the painting such close scrutiny for so long that it became loathsome to me. I switched over to drawing for a little while in order to let the joy of painting percolate in me and after spending a time apart, come back to me. The lust for painting has finally returned, but with this painting, I have poured over its every detail for so long that I don't know what to think about it. Is it any good? Are the colors bizarre? Yes, the colors are bizarre. I used a strange green and an odd type of red for the shadows in the horse woman and the little people. This gives them more of a hallucinogenic glow than anything that might be close to natural. To say I had no idea how this painting would look like finished is an understatement. It got away from me and became its own thing.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Richard Dadd

This painting is so intricate that it doesn't reproduce well on the blog. It is chock full of figures and little dramas. It is called "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" painted between 1855 and 1864 while Richard Dadd was incarcerated in a hospital for the insane in England. This image is reproduced in Wikipedia and if you go there you can enlarge it and look at detail.

This is what Wikipedia had to say about Dadd;

Dadd was born at Chatham, Kent, England, the son of a chemist. His aptitude for drawing was evident at an early age, leading to his admission to the Royal Academy of Arts at the age of 20. With William Powell Frith, Augustus Egg, Henry O'Neil and others, he founded The Clique, of which he was generally considered the leading talent.

In July 1842, Sir Thomas Phillips, the former mayor of Newport, chose Dadd to accompany him as his draftsman on an expedition through Europe to Greece, Turkey, Southern Syria and finally Egypt. In November of that year they spent a gruelling two weeks in Southern Syria, passing from Jerusalem to Jordan and returning across the Engaddi wilderness. Toward the end of December, while travelling up the Nile by boat, Dadd underwent a dramatic personality change, becoming delusional and increasingly violent, and believing himself to be under the influence of the Egyptian god Osiris. His condition was initially thought to be sunstroke.

On his return in the spring of 1843, he was diagnosed to be of unsound mind and was taken by his family to recuperate in the countryside village of Cobham, Kent. In August of that year, having become convinced that his father was the Devil in disguise, Dadd killed him with a knife and fled for France. En route to Paris Dadd attempted to kill another tourist with a razor, but was overpowered and was arrested by the police. Dadd confessed to the killing of his father and was returned to England, where he was committed to the criminal department of Bethlem psychiatric hospital (also known as Bedlam). Here and subsequently at the newly created Broadmoor Hospital, Dadd was cared for (and encouraged to continue painting) by the likes of Drs William Wood and Sir W. Charles Hood, in an enlightened manner.

Dadd probably suffered from a form of paranoid schizophrenia. He appears to have been genetically predisposed to mental illness; two of his siblings were similarly afflicted, while a third had "a private attendant" for unknown reasons.

Its hard to estimate how many years Dadd spent in a psychiatric hospital but my guess is about 40 years. He was never again a free man and died at the age of 69 in a hospital for the criminally insane.

A noted famous modern psychiatrist has re-diagnosed Dadd. Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison is noted for her autobiographical book "The Unquiet Mind" where she writes about her experience with having a bi-polar mental illness. Dr. Jamison has written several books in her career (several years ago she won a MacArthur genius award) and the book we bought for my mental illness peer support group was, "Touched With Fire; Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperment". I read it and found that Dr. Jamison figures Dadd was a manic-depressive because the illness of schizophrenia would have caused too much brain damage and robbed him of his creative powers. Bi-polar people have a long list of writers, poets, musical composers and authors to their credit and Jamison includes this list of over two hundred famous creative minds who suffered from some sort of mood disorder in her book. On this list there are little symbols next to each name. The symbols indicate whether or not the individual was 1) treated in an asylum or psychiatric hospital 2) committed suicide or 3) attempted suicide

Two thesis's struck me strongly in Dr. Jamison's book. First, that if bi-polar illness is left untreated it gets worse, the cycling of manic and depressive emotions increases in frequency and the pain to the individual is so overwhelming that it usually results in their early death. The person just can't take anymore of that type of existence.

But second, that creative work is excessive and of high quality in bi-polar people at a rate that far, far exceeds schizophrenic people. In one study of writers, bi-polar or depressive people enrolled in a famous graduate program were numerous, yet there were no schizophrenics present. Dr. Jamison believes that creative gifts are given to people with mood disorders, but schizophrenics have an entirely different type of illness and are too sick to make use of their gifts if they have them. Schizophrenics can be creative, but they can't reach the genius heights of bi-polar people.

Dr. Jamison could not believe that talent such as Richard Dadd's could exist in a schizophrenic, so she re-diagnosed him as bi-polar.

I would love to see a book dedicated to artwork made by schizophrenic people.

I think the best way such a book could be made is for the author to travel to different social clubhouses and hold much hyped, quality art shows. In my experience, the best artists may be too sick and withdrawn to use the clubhouse much, but if they are invited to show their art, they may take the effort to enter the exhibition. In this way the author could flush out people with talent who are living reclusive lives. I've seen great art by schizophrenics, however, these schizophrenics were not very social beings and had no skills to promote their art outside of the community of mental health providers. In fact, of the artists I encountered, the number one barrier to the success of the artist was the schizophrenic's inability to trust. The schizophrenic people I met while coordinating an art show for two years at a social clubhouse were mostly fairy tale magical people, quiet people, whose emotions were hidden and deep. When we had our show some of the workers at the clubhouse were amazed at the talent that materialized - they couldn't predict who would be the stars of the show because these stars were barely known to them as their clients.

I think a book on schizophrenic art would encourage schizophrenics to make art. Pride in one's abilities. Legitimization of a fragile population. There could be a section of self-taught artists, and a section on artists that went to art school and got technical training before they got sick. Of course we would claim Dadd as one of our own, and his works, a triumph of schizophrenia.

A friend of mine was talking to me on the phone about a mutual acquaintance who enjoys writing poetry. We three are all schizophrenic and each live in a different state. The poet had recently gotten a poem published in a newsletter put out by a regional mental health organization. This organization went one step further to honor their mentally ill participating poets, writers, and artists - they threw a banquet. The poet was very proud that her poem was published and she was just over the moon to go to the banquet.

My friend on the telephone got quiet excited about advocating for the poet, and myself, to push our creative work into mainstream society. My friend said that our work was good enough to go up against healthy people, and that we were handicapped by only participating in situations where we were in the company of other mentally ill people. A slight inaccuracy on her part, as I have shown five times in mainstream art galleries with mainstream artists.

But I know that the work done by well minded or at least non-schizophrenic persons is so good that I can't compare. I visited an art gallery here in town yesterday and I was shocked at how good some of the art was. While I rejoice at looking at images of intense creativity, I can't help but compare myself. I knew I wasn't looking at schizophrenic art. And I knew that I was looking at people who have if not more talent than me, then at least, more ability than me. There is a difference between talent and ability. Talent is raw vision, ability is the follow through that makes talent build and build until a complex finished art object is created.

The eye that beholds a canvass for twenty hours creates something different from the eye that beholds a canvass for one hundred hours. Finesse, gloss, complexity, and detail will be more prevalent in the one hundred hour gaze.

One thing to remember about Richard Dadd and the painting that started this blog is that it took nine years to complete. Work on a single painting for that long, after you have had extensive formal painting and experience during pre-illness, and it is bound to be extraordinary. His life circumstances were extraordinary - he was locked up, no freedom, and had none of the distractions of living mainstream life. He could afford to have over those long nine years periods of productivity and periods of madness.

One of the attributes of my schizophrenia is the loss, after several hours, of the ability to concentrate. Talent has a hard time to develop because ability is cut short.

I won't let what I see in art galleries or museums effect my effort to make art on as many days as I'm able. I won't let my envy of other artist's ability poison me into abandoning the effort to make art in the first place. But I do feel, deep inside, that I should be compared with other schizophrenic artists. My friend wishing to push me into mainstream competition was nice, and supportive, but ignorant. She doesn't appreciate how good the mainstream competition can be. I would like to show with my peers - other schizophrenic artists. If this is backwards, so be it. It smacks to my senses of withdrawal from society.

That seems to be the direction I wish the most to go in, a withdrawal like Dadd's. I want to live in a place where distractions are few, freedoms aren't exploited, and I live in a prison of my own construction.

Sunshine is appreciated and does impinge upon my senses.

But I have noticed that walks in the forest do little good. Went on one recently and as I walked I studied the muddy ground of the trail. I look down almost all of the time. Its a bit overwhelming to be in nature. Nature, that essence that healthy people thinks is so magical and uplifting did nothing for me but make me nervous.

I'm afraid that nature can't break through my walls of schizophrenia.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Giorgio Di Chirico Went Bad

I don't want a life like Giorgio Di Chirico's. Look at the first three paintings, and compare it to the fourth. The fourth looks like it was painted by a different artist. But they all are Giorgio Di Chirico. What changes is his age and his ideas about what it took to be a good artist. I wonder, and I worry, that my best work was created ten years ago when I was ignorant and naive. In Di Chirico's life his best work was created when he was young. When he tried to become a great, serious painter, he ruined himself.

What many many critics have noticed is that his early works had poetry and creative vision. Like him or hate him, the first three paintings are unique for their time and were like nothing done by anyone else. But the fourth painting, it looks like it was painted by a professional artist, of this age or of any age. It is bland. It is technical. It is boring. It has nothing new to impress the viewer with, and nothing to impart in terms of feeling; it is mild, run-of-the-mill, ordinary, and totally without any power to shock or bring us to a new state of mind. It is simply, the back of a woman's head with the hair painted very carefully.

Sly shock, and unexplained unease is exactly what a good Di Chirico painting can do. The early works can make you say to yourself "Why, I've never seen a painting like that before!" The fancy brushwork of the later painting is absent. What is present is a feeling, an uncertain worry that we are in the presence of something dark, threatening, lonely, and perhaps, even majestic. A city scape full of shadows, pillared buildings, and very little that is human. Just a hint that humanity is near in the midst of deserted silhouetted buildings in a declining hour of daylight.

A young Di Chirico was part of the Surrealist movement. During 1913 he first exhibited his work at the Salon des Indépendants and Salon d’Automne in France and his work was noticed by Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire. By 1914 he had sold his first painting and through his contact with the Surrealist leader and philosopher Apollinaire he had contracted to sell his work through the art dealer Paul Guillaume. Di Chirico is revered and reserved a place in history for the work he did from 1909 to 1919, called his metaphysical period. As the surrealist movement developed the artists who belonged to the movement were aware, and profoundly affected by Di Chirico.

Yves Tanguy wrote how one day in 1922 he saw one of De Chirico's paintings in an art dealer's window, and was so impressed by it he resolved on the spot to become an artist — although he had never even held a brush. Other artists who acknowledged De Chirico's influence include Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Giorgio Morandi, Carlo Carrà, René Magritte, and Philip Guston.

In the autumn of 1919, De Chirico published an article in Valori Plastici entitled "The Return of Craftsmanship", in which he advocated a return to traditional methods and subject matter. This article heralded an abrupt change in his artistic orientation, as he adopted a classicizing manner inspired by such old masters as Raphael and Rubens, and became an outspoken opponent of modern art.

De Chirico was disappointed that his new style received less critical acclaim than his old style. As a painter he believed that he had reached a new level of growth and maturity. His self view, and the view of the critics who only saw a loss of poetry and power, were askew.

I can understand his puzzlement because he truly believed that with age and study of the masters before him, came improvement. He never seemed to realize that his power lay not in imitation, but in being true to something pure and mysterious inside. Sometimes for financial gain, since his early work was so in demand, he would create a painting in the old style, and retro-date it. And, as a sign of his growing frustration, he liked to disclaim paintings that were his in private and public art collections as being other artist's forgeries.

From what little I know about Di Chirico's life I am taught a lesson of self-delusion. It is very important as an artist that you cultivate vision over technique, and not be in a position to compare yourself too much to other artists. My own fault is looking at what has come before me, and despair because I lack a traditional art school education. I can't make paintings that look like historical art because I am not clued into the techniques that created them. As a self-taught artist it is most important that I experiment and develop my own style. Vision is more important than technique. Inventiveness is more important than looking like other artists. Its easy to say, but it is difficult to live so very apart from mainstream likes and opinions. As a human being I long to be accepted by others. But as an artist I have to be prepared to walk a road where I am somewhat incomprehensible to myself.

Last Summer I went on vacation and happened to buy in an antique store a used book, in pristine shape, on paintings in the Louvre. Recently I started to go through this book and I was aghast. None of the paintings (except the earliest, pre-Renaissance) looked like anything that I do. Here I had in my lap the history of painting through the centuries and there was no place in it for me to fit. The book ended somewhere in the 1800's. Upon reflection, the young visionary Di Chirico would not have fit either, but as he aged, he tried in vain to fit into the style of the artists of history. Alas, I understand his motivation. A move away from what makes you unique to what makes you comprehensible and accepted.

In an early self portrait Di Chirico inscribed in the painting, "Et quid amabo nisi quod aenigma est? - "What shall I love if not the enigma?" and his early paintings embodied this moody mysterious questioning. His paintings don't have answers in them, usually, they provoke more questions.

All my appetite, at this moment, is to recapture the energy and the freedom of my earliest work. I made art when I didn't know what the rules were. I didn't know what art was supposed to look like. I was in love with pattern and the brilliance of color. I didn't use reference books, like I do now-a-days, to draw the human form correctly, or to draw animals so that that they look "real". I imagine that I've grown as an artist but I secretly wonder if I'm deluding myself.

I want, as an artist, to believe that my best work is AHEAD of me, not BEHIND me. AHEAD is jubilation, BEHIND is a grind and a sense of hopelessness.

It is very hard to be sane, on medication, yet to have in you the illness of schizophrenia. The schizophrenia wants, I think, to be heard. It wants to come out and make something that is on the face of it, crazy. But I've gotten so good at being sane. I've had eleven years of being out of a hospital and on a high dose of anti-psychotic medication. I've had eleven years of working toward recovery. Eleven years of relative stability. Days of steely self control - whether by my will or the will of the medication.

Sometimes I think my art can't help itself - it will be crazy on its own. Medication doesn't mask everything, it doesn't leave you creatively dead. My art will deviate from the norm despite my bumbling attempts at being a serious, mature artist. But on a bad day I despair and think that I've outwitted and outmastered myself. I worry that I've rejected the gifts of mental illness. Yes, mental illness brings with it creativity and energy and craziness. In my schizophrenic soul, I delight in expressing craziness.

I want to make art that is dazzling and has an obscene overabundance of movement.

During the cold months of this winter, when the only room that is heated to a comfortable temperature is my bedroom, I want to lie in bed and draw directly from my imagination. Drawing upon drawing of interior mental drama. Drama that mimics reality but is not gleaned from magazine photographs or other artists drawings in books.

Drawing that contains in it something that is schizophrenic.

I say this, as if I were to say, drawing that has in it something of the deadliest poison.

For in our modern, industrial forward looking world power America, craziness is a form of social poison.