Thursday, February 24, 2011

Last Night's Confession

Last night I went to my mental health peer support group. I talked about my therapist. I don't know if there will be any consequences for him.

One of the participants was a person who works for the state of Vermont mental health department. She said that the way my therapist acted, he would get his license yanked. I don't want to be the cause of him loosing his license. When I came home I was deeply conflicted about making my confession. But I learned something at peer support. My therapist should have neither told me that he sees a therapist every Monday, nor that he was fired from a job. Both are too much information about his personal life. The state worker told me in the parking lot, because she didn't want to say it in front of the others, that perhaps the reason my therapist does not bill me is because he sees our relationship as personally rewarding and reciprocal, a kind of peer situation. I do know that he will briefly discuss other patients with me. I didn't tell her that. Their identity is always secret, just the facts of their illness is discussed and I give him feedback. But I rather think that he hasn't billed me because he is confounded by the paperwork needed to get Medicare payments. A disorganized man without a bookkeeper working for his practice. Trying to do all the billing himself. But the peer group did say that he should not have been asking me for a painting as payment for therapy, that there is Medicare to take care of payment. I told the group that Medicare pays about $34 per session, and someone noted that the average fee for therapy is usually $70 to $90, for someone with his title. So this must be the reason why finding a therapist who takes Medicare is hard.

I told my husband after group that I wanted to cry for what I had done, outing my therapist. One of the members of the peer support group is also his patient, but this person is so sick (with schizophrenia) that I don't think he has a clue we see the same therapist. What hints I may have inadvertently dropped go right over his head. However, his good friend in the group, a fellow he likes to go out and see movies with, is sharper and may know about the connection.

So, does the state worker keep email records and did she keep the name and phone number of my therapist that I emailed her six months ago with the suggestion that she refer a client to him? Will she break group confidentiality and try to go after my therapist's license? Its a long shot because she's pretty busy with other matters. Or will the friend tell his friend "Hey, did your therapist ever tell you he loved you because you've got the same therapist as Karen".

My husband was very supportive of me, gave me a big hug when I came home and he said, "I think your therapist is headed for a nervous breakdown." Why I asked. "Because he's doing things that are socially self destructive" he replied. And I thought about it, and realized that maybe my husband is right. Personally I think my therapist's ego is sound and he enjoys his own state of corruption, but it is a point to bring up with my therapist and a way to attack the issue that I feel comfortable with. I can ask my therapist if he is in danger of having a nervous breakdown, that this is what my husband thinks in light of someone saying I love you to his wife and a teenager. But I also think it was wrong for him to say I love you to me because I'm not in a position to say "I love you" in return to my therapist. I can show my affection, but I can't say those words to him. Its like knowing that you can be emotionally intimate in safety, because nobody is going to do something stupid like take off their clothes. You have to feel safe for that hour of being "the real you" because when you leave there are no consequences to what transpired. Therapy is all about freedom, and because of that, there has to be rules. I follow the rules. But I know that in life I have not always followed the rules. I left one marriage to take up with a different husband. I broke rules of fidelity. I'm not going to throw stones at my therapist because he has trouble following the rules. For the most, I'm confident that he is well aware of the rules, even though with me he unwisely bends them.

I have an email buddy who is male, several years younger than me, and suffering from schizophrenia and alcoholism, who I occasionally sign off with an "I love you". Usually I just sign our mail "Hugs". Am I wrong in saying I love you to him? I don't think so, it is just the emotion I sometimes feel, especially when he has had a brush with suicide or a hospitalization. When he might be especially down, that is when I want to give him my total emotional support. I've been in email correspondence with him for about seven or eight years and send him Christmas presents every Christmas.

Cherry Blossom is lying asleep across my sock covered feet. I don't care if they say its a dominance gesture and that the dog is really trying to be superior. I love her warmth, and the feel of the weight of her little body. If in all the kitchen, this is the place it pleases her to rest, the safest port in the harbor, then I'm touched.

However, I know I cannot say "I love you" to my friend "R". She suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and it is part of her disease that she mis-interprets and re-invents ordinary events with a sexual twinge. In fact she has admitted to me that she is happy that both her best friends have either a husband or a boyfriend, because this means that they won't be going after her! She told me once, about the little old ladies in her church, that they were very horny and to watch out because they could be after you for sex! Little old ladies! Or there was the instance of a knock on her door, late at night. I interpret this as a person who is lost and knocking on the wrong apartment door, she interprets this as being a man who thinks she's a whore and is looking for sex! Of course she doesn't answer the door because she knows she's not a whore and doesn't want to have sex with him! Why, she asks me, do the voices tell me I'm a whore, when I've been celibate for over twenty-five years?

I do believe that in cards to each other, we sign our names under the word love, but I don't dare push the point. She's been my friend for just about twenty years, and I have to show my affection in round about, innocuous ways, like saying "I'm so happy I can say anything to you" or "your so smart" or "there's nobody in the world like you". Still, it wouldn't surprise me if "R" heard voices telling her that my husband and I wish to get her in a threesome. "R" has enough hold on sanity that she can ignore these voices. Although she treats me with nothing less than respect and kindness, she may have suspicions that I'm up to no good that she hides. Reality is twilight for her, and she doesn't trust her ears or her eyes, for she knows that sometimes they lie to her. To her therapist she says "I don't know for certain that I am siting in a room with you." And while the therapist tries to convince her of the basic fact that this is something she can believe, "R" will answer, "anything could be true, anything could be false". That is her motto in life. I am rather proud of her navigating such a horrid condition of not knowing, and acting for the most part, simply like a sensible person going about doing the ordinary chores of living. At times her sense of humor takes a vulgar twist that leaves me speechless, but I suppose that this is a consequence of having sex on your brain most of the time.

It is very easy to sign my emails and Christmas cards to the little old ladies at church with the word "Love". And I do have great affection for them, and I know that being great dames, they can handle a little reverence and respect and worship from someone who is like a child to them.

Today spent two hours drawing ivy leaves, will do the same again tomorrow morning and hopefully finish up the drawing. I hope whomever gets the painting appreciates that fact that no two ivy leaves are the same! The ivy is covering a brown rock cliff face, which will have to be painted in first, and then maybe the ivy leaves painted in after in white, so that the transparent oils show true greens and yellows as a third coat of paint over the white! For a color to truly pop, it needs white underneath, and sometimes, two or three coats of the same color. I know, with all these ivy leaves, I'm setting myself up for a lot of work. Will take a photograph of the drawing and post it here (along with an ivy leaf count!).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cherry's Progress

Last night at puppy kindergarten we saw two signs of Cherry's progress. The first was her focus on us as we gave her commands. Of course the reward if she completes the command is a piece of food, special treats that I cut in half so she gets just a little taste. It doesn't take much to encourage. She learns incredibly fast. She looks you straight in the eye and seems to be asking, "what do you want me to do?" She's an "I'm all about doing business" dog and yet she is so young! Where's the scatty attention, short attention span, immature brain? I don't see it much. I see a german sheperd in a miniature body. Big paws, big ears, and a small head, small body.

The second sign of her progress was during play with the one other puppy in the group. Yes, we have only two puppies in this class. Part of the purpose of the class is for each puppy to play with the other. Canines need to be socialized with other dogs. This is part of the reason why they legally can't be sold in some states before the age of 8 weeks because they have bonding issues to do with each other. The other puppy named Hatchi is a black lab and cute as a button. He will go up to anyone and wiggle happily as he gets petted. It makes me sad that Cherry seems to have such little interest in physical affection by strangers, she is not, so it turns out, a lovey-dovey dog that wishes to be petted. Before the class we visited a co-worker that lives near the training center and while Cherry was interested in all parts of their home, she showed almost no interest in the owners! I've read that German Shepherds are a one family dog, and now I see what this phrase means. She wants Mike and I to pay her attention, she is curious about strangers, but she doesn't stay around for prolonged petting from anyone except Mike and I. Mike and I are attracted to her fur mightily, we can't seem to keep our hands to ourselves and want to touch her again and again. Hatchi I noticed went up to strangers and then stuck around a while to get a good rubbing. Cherry doesn't want a rubbing from strangers, she just wants to identify them and then she looses interest in them.

Anyway, Hatchi and Cherry were playing, an epic battle of paws and teeth and tumbling, when Hatchi started to let out short, loud growls. During these growls the play stopped and Cherry just kinda looked at Hatchi. Then the play began again as though nothing had happened. But the instructor was concerned, apparently Hatchi should not be growling at Cherry. Was the growl aggressive or was it play? Nobody could tell. The instructor asked Hatchi's owner if Hatchi had played with any other dogs since he was purchased about a month ago. The answer - none. The most likely problem - Hatchi needed more contact than what he was getting. Maybe he was illegally sold too soon. And now he is having odd canine behavior with another canine.

Now, before puppy kindergarten classes started, I set up two play dates with a dog who has the brains of a puppy (just over a year old) but with a mature, full grown body of an adult. This dog, Moosey, is a cross between a yellow and a chocolate Lab, and she is big, about 70 pounds bigger than Cherry! It was the only play-date dog I knew of, and I was grateful even though there is great physical disparity between the two animals and Cherry sometimes cowered at my feet, shy and overcome. Yet more frequently Cherry would rebound after such a rest, summon her guts, and good-sport leap into play. I was at first afraid of a poked out eyeball or torn ear, because the times Cherry was rolled around onto her back and under the legs of Moosey were countless. Mousey has the nicest disposition, a sweet, sweet dog, and she loves to play. In the end she never hurt Cherry, and Cherry did her fair share of attach lunges and teeth snapping, not meant to hurt, just meant to confront, confound, and tease the other dog. I've read that older dogs are special around puppies, that most will understand puppy play even if they have grown out of it, and not hurt a puppy no matter how obnoxious the play of the puppy becomes.

I count Moosey as the reason Cherry did not display the growling that Hatchi displayed. It was a simple example of socialization done at a critical time, with much success. Moosey is especially a godsend because Cherry is afraid of some dogs, and indifferent to others. She's only played with Hatchi and Moosey, but the at least she can do it. Natural instincts survive. This means in the future, when I am walking her as an adult, when we pass by other dogs, she won't probably go into some weird aggressive kind of disruptive doggie behavior.

Today is a beautiful day, with a blue sky, and for the first time Cherry and I practiced an exercise that will hopefully lead to walking her on a loose leash, without pulling, with her attention focused on her owner. First you walk backward, and as the dog immediately wants to walk towards you, with their eyes locked onto yours. Give them a treat for walking with you, and then turn right so that the dog is stepping next to you on the left. Eye contact usually isn't maintained unless you are still handing out treats, and the dog doesn't feel the same glee as walking toward you, so they pull out of step, usually going on ahead. As they start loosing the left hand position turn abruptly so that you are walking backwards again and then that glee returns to the dog and they look at you and walk towards you.......and you repeat the turn to get them on your left side again. We live on a dead end street so its pretty easy for me to go round and round in a strange pattern without worrying about traffic. The left side is the heeling side, where a dog traditionally should walk without pulling forward or in any direction of the leash. This exercise puts the dog into the heeling position again and again, after the easier but more awkward act of them walking forward and you walking backward! But start with what nature hard wired and try to turn it around to what is a more artificial situation.

When I walk backward, Cherry leaps into the air coming toward me and the treat. She has so much joy that it is distracting and she ends up snapping that treat out of my hand with much teeth and vigor. She is doing her own version of coming to me. The best way to get a dog to come to you is to start running away from them, then they want to play chase and your it! The worst thing is when you want your dog to run toward them, then they think it is a chase game and they are it. They will run away from you.

This weekend my husband and I will have to go to a place in the woods and practice off leash the come command. We don't dare do it at our home, there is a very busy road nearby, even with the dead end street at our backs. And while we've successfully played fetch in our kitchen, that too is a game you want to play off leash. So I'm hoping for sunny weather either Saturday or Sunday.

I drew that ugly bug I thought I would ruin a picture with, but it fits in nicely and looks more interesting than ugly. Tomorrow I draw ivy leaves. The ivy plant is growing in the bathroom, so I put the lid down on the toilet, sit on it, and copy from nature. Yesterday I painted the second coat of a background, rather tedious, but oh, it looks so good as the two coats of paint result in a strong, solid, color. I am dismayed as I look at the painting how much work will go into it and how little it will sell for, if it sells at all. This is the work that is only 8" x 10", two women in ball gowns, one pulling the other one's hair. Using mostly tiny brushes, tiny details. And if it sells, I will lose even more money on it because I can't buy a cheap frame. I mean I can buy a cheap frame design of wood, but it will have to be professionally cut and mounted, because I went too close to the edge in the drawing and planning of the painting and so the professional framer I've used before (because I've done this before!) must carefully size the frame to leave as much of the painted picture showing as possible, even adding little slivers of wood to bracket the picture! Buying a frame from a catalog that is standard size is cheap, having a frame made by a professional is expensive. But the guy I use is really good, he can shave only an eighth of an inch off a painting by making an oversized frame and you would never know just how close the edge comes to showing. I think next time I talk to him I'll call him a master!

I had my chance to draw this morning, but I ruined it by having a two hour phone conversation with three different people! Some days I say to myself that I won't answer the phone, no matter who it is, or make any phone calls myself, until the artwork is done, and my creative juices are burnt out.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I Love You

My therapist recently got fired from his part-time job as a high school councilor. He apparently led an evening bereavement peer support group. And he told one girl in this group that he loved her. That was the cause of his firing - that he told a high school student he loved her.

This leaves me with a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. How can you say such things to a young person, a teen, and not anticipate bad consequences? It leads me to doubt his common sense. I assume that the teen was confused and uncomfortable. If she wasn't, I'm certain her parents were.

My therapist waved the firing away like a bad dream, and said, that if he can't be himself on a job then the job is not for him. I think he views his words as legitimate sentiment that is healing when said, healing in a double sense, both for himself and the receiver. I assume that for instance when he said "I love you" to me (about 4 months ago) I was supposed to take it just as if he said "I really really like you" and I leave it at that. Just the bubbling over of a feel good moment in therapy, where the two participants really connect. I know my therapist has a big thing about being authentic. He wants to be as much as possible true to his emotions and express what he is really thinking. I guess from his perspective when he feels a sentiment he thinks that in order for him to be healthy (and authentic) he owes it to himself to say it. Not saying it would be inauthentic and damaging to the self. Yeah, and my therapist sees another therapist every Monday.

In our society there are consequences to saying "I love you". It is such a strong sentiment that there has to be a lot of trust present to handle it. When he said it to me I had to think "He does not expect this to lead anywhere, he is not making a claim on me that conflicts with the claim that my husband has, and he is probably saying it as a brother would say it to a sister." I had my moment to consider myself mature in handling his outburst. However, in retrospect it was hard to handle and I wish he never said it. I feel like I am a healthier person NOT knowing that my therapist loves me, whatever on earth he meant by it. I mean, he said it was ridiculous not to be able to say it to the teenager without being pegged as a pedophile - his whole attitude was, when he brought it up, like, wouldn't that be ridiculous to think him a pedophile. But pedophile is I'm afraid exactly what the school system thought, and I would think it too, being a parent or teacher at the school.

I can't say "I love you" my therapist because I have a husband to be faithful to and my emotions are a mess when it comes to my therapist - I know I suffer from transference. I know that I have unwanted, unappreciated fantasies about my therapist that I have to keep under control and under wraps. Last session my therapist was talking about Jung and said that he had a patient who had such serious transference that she printed up wedding invitations that had him as the groom and her as the bride! Jung just ignored it. My therapists point was that Freud was quick to nip transference in the bud, he addressed it directly and tried to put an end to it. Freud was uncomfortable with transference while Jung was not. I also happen to know that Jung slept with some of his clients (while he was married). So Jung was so comfortable with transference that he went where countertransference led him. Attractions between therapist and patient can go both ways. It is up to both to ignore them, or else, sever ties. I knew a young man whose therapist ended their therapy by telling him that he had fallen in love with the young man and thus must end the therapy sessions. I like this falling upon your sword, it was very professional of the therapist, although it left the young man freaked out.

I would never tell my therapist that I have feelings for him, or fantasies, or anything that would put me in a weak, submissive position. I told him once that I had transference with him, and I think that was soon after I met him. He told me that there was zero percent chance of anything happening between him and me. So I mentioned it once and have never since referred to it again. Knowing that I was vulnerable to transference, his common sense should have kicked in and he should have known that he should never tell someone like me "I love you".

Driving home from our last session together, I wondered, does he tell men "I love you"? Or is it only pretty women? And then there was the disappointment. I thought for him to tell me "I love you", and the added admission that he knew he was breaking many rules of therapy by saying it, made me a special person. A patient unlike other patients. But since he told a high school student this, I doubt just how special I am. I am let down that he tells other clients that he loves them. Just human nature.

After he told me those three little words I told my friend Rocki who is a paranoid schizophrenic about the incident. She said that decades ago when she was institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital a female doctor told her that she loved her. It was meant in the spirit of "you aren't alone, there are people who care for you" - a sort of pity gesture. Unfortunately it did little good, it just got mixed up in the paranoid psychotic fantasies and obsessions that Rocki was currently having. On one level Rocki was sane enough to realize that she had been given a sincere and heartfelt gesture of friendship, and that the doctor was trying to give her a gift, but on another level the illness took over and manipulated the meaning of the words and the significance, fueling her psychotic ideas about the doctor.

There's a song that I call my anthem to my therapist. It's called "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga. In one part she belts out "I don't wanta be friends" and that is what transference feels like, you want to be more than friends with your therapist but you know that there are rules surrounding the encounter and you must abide by those rules. Everything has to remain chase. You sit six feet apart and must always remain sitting six feet apart. Gaga also sings about how she wants to be stricken with the object of her love's "sickness and disease" and that's the way I feel about my feelings toward my therapist, like they are his sickness and disease and I want to play with the contagious. I have a loving, happy relationship with my husband, why should my emotions wander? How could I threaten the major stabilizing force in my life? Therapy, when there is transference present, feels like you are playing with fire. So you burn. And burn. And are never consumed, nothing is consummated. In my case you don't even confess to your fantasies. I've read about transference (on the internet) and it is supposed to be a driving tool in therapy, it opens your emotions up to the therapist, and it is a by-product of a good relationship.

Still, I feel like my therapist is a train wreck. Rules being what they are in therapy, if I don't permit myself the luxury of telling my therapist that I love him, he can't permit himself the luxury of telling me that he loves me.

My husband knows everything, and as a matter of fact, so does my mother. I told my husband about what my therapist said while my mother was present while we were vacationing in California during this last Christmas season. My husband was pretty much speechless, but my mother was furious. She demanded I confront my therapist and tell him that what he said was wrong to say to a married woman. But against my mother's advice, I never censured my therapist, because I suppose I didn't want to hurt his feelings. Now that he has lost his high school job, my mother said I must talk to him and reinforce that he is following a mistaken path, reinforce the error of his ways from yet another source. But I can't beat a dog when they're down. He's just lost a major source of income, and he probably won't find another job working in a school system, that's traumatic enough. I suppose that deep down in my heart I'm afraid to contradict him, or confront him, or disagree with him, because I'm afraid that he will drop me as a client if he finds me disagreeable. I know that because my father emotionally abused me I have trouble going up against male figures of authority. Fear is deep in my heart. My father put it there with all of his screaming at me about nothing. I can go as far as to tell my therapist that I'm afraid he will drop me as a client if he finds me disagreeable. An irrational fear, I know. And yet, it seems real and logical to me.

While I was painting yesterday I was thinking about my therapist and it occurred to me that if a woman said "I love you" to my husband I would wish for him to cut off contact with her, or at the least, I would be deeply troubled. My mother said I have to be careful with my therapist, that something "catastrophic" could happen, and I know that this is her code word for rape. I asked my husband what he thought about my therapist. He said he doesn't trust him, but it takes two to have an affair, and he does trust me. At least he has high hopes for my love for him. And then my husband said that he knows how hard its been for me to find a therapist who helps me and will take the small insurance payment that we can offer. We both agree that this therapist has helped me - after the third or fourth session I stopped being suicidal. My husband and I to some small degree see my weekly sessions as an antidote to feeling suicidal. So you don't turn your back on success.

There is something else that is weird, complicating things. My therapist hasn't been paid in a long, long time. For a year and four months of therapy once a week he has received about $700. The problem is on his end; he won't do the book keeping that would get either the insurance company or Medicare to pay him. This too is why I think that personally he has troubles. I once told my therapist that if he didn't get paid he would begin to resent me, giving away therapy for free. He assured me that it would never happen. I asserted myself and said that it felt flat wrong that he was not paid and he said with a big smile, don't worry.

Once he suggested that I pay him in a painting. I got a little upset and he dropped the request. But two weeks ago he again suggested it (I think this was before the firing) and I thought, why not? So last week I arrived with a painting. It was the black lady dressed in white with the naked man with the head of a stag. There is nothing violent or overtly sexual about this painting, it is one of the most benign I have ever done. It isn't my best but it is good. And it is appropriate for him to hang in a therapist's office, which is where he said he would put it.

Somehow I think with his reduced income and sudden spare time my therapist will bill me, going back to last March or April. I will know that I've been billed when my husband's insurance company sends me its decision on how much, or even if, it will pay him. If the insurance company doesn't pay then he submits this paperwork to Medicare and they should pay. I started seeing this therapist by telling him that I could only afford what Medicare offered (about $34 a session) and that I could not afford a co-pay. My last therapist wanted Medicare and a twenty dollar a session co-pay. I told her I could not afford a co-pay every week so I had to see her only twice a month. She changed her mind and said that she would see me every week and accept Medicare. I continued getting bills from her and she said just ignore them. It was an unsettling feeling getting the bills in the mail and only having a verbal agreement not to pay them. Oh, and it was terrible therapy, with me always crying in her office and talking about the Institute, where I was locked up twenty years ago. She didn't help me a spit.

And then to top off this week of I love you issues, I emailed my Lenten essay to my minister and did not hear back from her. It was a chatty email with the essay attached and I signed it Love, Karen, which I instantly regretted. She's going to think I've got a psychotic obsession with her, or some sort of unhealthy attachment and that is why she hasn't emailed me back. Or it could be the content of my Lenten essay. These essays are assigned one a day, to different people, spanning the whole of the Lenten season. They are supposed to be your inspiration after reading different quotes from the Bible. This is what I wrote;

When I was nineteen my brain changed because of schizophrenia. My brain was what had made me president of the debate club and on the dean’s list at Barnard College. I went from being a social shark to someone who was so pitiful that they crawled across the hospital floor instead of walking. I stopped talking, lost my ability to read, and sat under tables. I was institutionalized for two years on a locked ward.

When I got out of the hospital I tried to go back to college and failed. I tried again and failed. I tried a third time and failed again. Eventually I had to face that I was no longer the person I used to be. And I could not have a life like most other people had.

During the next decade, one after another, good people entered my life. They were mentally ill friends, a few nice boyfriends, and I was treated very well by the parents of one boyfriend. There was a strange balance in my life. I was limited and often in pain from psychiatric symptoms, but I had fun too. I was happy even though I had to be hospitalized again some seven times.

Today I am stabilized on medication. I married the kindest man I have ever known. There is a lot of love and laughter in my life but also a broken brain that sometimes doesn’t work. Truly I can say that I’ve been blessed. When I eat a pint of blueberries I feel blessed. When I play with my puppy I feel blessed. When I finish a painting I feel blessed. When I walk to the post office I feel blessed. To eat, to love, to work, to walk – all this is so simple and all this is a blessing. My illness taught me to take nothing for granted. My illness ground me down into dust and then I was made new. So I must wonder, was my illness a blessing in disguise?

So I'm afraid that I've outed myself to the church and the minister doesn't approve. Yes, this fear is all in my head but it was awfully peculiar sending her a friendly email (with talk and pictures of my puppy) and getting no reply.

I shouldn't have signed the email Love, Karen, but to this both my therapist and my husband think I'm over reacting and making much ado about nothing.

Tomorrow I'm drawing a really big bug on a drawing that is a composition for a painting. Its an ugly bug. I should draw a dragonfly because they are pretty, but I don't know. I'm afraid that ugly is the new pretty for me. Perhaps the painting won't sell because there is a big, ugly bug on it. I wish I could feel enthusiastic that I know what I'm doing but I'm not. Maybe I would be happier drawing a fairy with wings instead of a big ugly bug.

Have to wait until tomorrow to see if inspiration will hit. I'll look through some art books and try to steal other painter's ideas.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Starting to Paint

I've painted yesterday and today. Noticed that there is a difference if music isn't playing. I can paint longer when there is dead silence. I assume that the schizophrenia reacts to the stimuli of the music, and not having music doesn't inflame symptoms of my illness. If I paint and listen to music I'm taxing myself more than simply painting alone. Eventually the hours of work gets to me, and I'm exhausted, but I'd rather be exhausted later than sooner.

Its a real pleasure to paint. And I'm excited to see the design that was just pencil sketched come to life with color and shading. While I paint Cherry Blossom sleeps. For me, it couldn't get better than that.

Cherry is scared of cars. So I'm trying to get her around as many cars as possible. I didn't know what to do with her fear so I emailed the breeder. The breeder said to take her on LOTS of car rides and to have fun when we get wherever we are going. Of course the number one car that Cherry was afraid of was our own. At times we had to pick her up to get her to pass by it - she so struggled to go in the opposite direction. I feared that forcing her to face her fear would traumatize and scar her, that maybe with age she would grow out of the fear. But the breeder seemed to suggest that having more experience with her fear while she was young and impressionable, rather than less, would help to socialize her. So we take her when we can to places in the car. And just this morning I took her to a park (across the street from us) which she particularly fears. It's the fact that the park sidewalk runs along the side of the road. We don't have a lot of traffic but we have some. Each car freaks Cherry out. But I'm determined to take her to this stretch of sidewalk every day. That should help with her little fear. Problem with today's walk by the park was that it was just before breakfast, and the experience was so upsetting that Cherry lost her appetite and was barely interested in eating. She's a growing girl and really needs her three big meals a day. So the walk by the park has to be between feedings. Cherry's appetite is affected by her emotions. Sensitive girl.

And I felt like an idiot today too but I went up to my neighbor's car while it was idling and the owner was brushing snow off of it, patted the hood, and said to it, "good car". This too is advice from the breeder, to walk up to the things that scare Cherry (fire hydrant, garbage bag, cars, and garbage cans) and talk to them really friendly and then simply move on. I guess the dog takes clues from your behavior.

Last Friday night was a social night. I went to a woman's apartment because she has a Chocolate Labrador, just over a year old. In doggie time this animal still has a lot of puppy energy. I wanted my puppy to play with the older dog. All that Cherry had done so far was bark at other dogs and this mightily concerned me. I don't want to be walking Cherry down the street and have her go nuts simply passing another dog on the sidewalk. She needs to be comfortable with humans and canines. Part of the reason they make it illegal to sell a dog before it is 8 weeks old in New Hampshire and Connecticut (don't know about Vermont) is that the doggies are spending important time bonding with one another.

My therapist picked up a year old dog from the humane society that had a nasty habit of attacking other dogs while he was walking her. He said that his whole body tensed, unhappily, whenever they were outside and encountered another dog on a leash. His dog would be straining at the end of his leash and looking vicious. But while he was in therapy, he would bring his dog in to see his patients, and his dog would respond empathically to people in pain or crying by putting her head in their lap while they were most upset. For that reason, my therapist was wild about the animal and how she helped him in his practice. But from what he told me, given her unknown puppyhood, something went very wrong with animal socialization and I suspect she was separated too early from her mother and siblings. I want Cherry to have the joy of playing with other dogs, just like I want strangers to have the joy of patting her head and maybe getting a friendly lick from her.

All I had to do was sit back and watch the Chocolate Lab and Cherry do their thing. They played furiously. The Lab was so excited it drooled, and Cherry's head was one tiny, wet furry skull. The Lab towered over Cherry and way, way, outmassed her. I was worried about an eye getting poked out or an ear torn because Cherry was often on the ground getting rolled over by the bigger dog. Cherry occasionally was intimidated, and would huddle against my legs for protection, and then something in her would rally, and she would leap and snap at the old dog and run along side her. Cherry's got guts. Yes, a lot of things may scare her, but when it comes to people and other dogs she does fine, no fear. I'm hoping for another play date this Friday too. I'll sweeten the deal for the woman and offer her fresh bagels and lox cream cheese, one of her favorite foods. I figure the two of us can eat dinner while we watch the furry monster's play. What is good for my dog is good for her dog too. And she lives on disability, so I doubt she'll turn down a free meal.

It really is a milestone that I have the presence of mind to paint. For a while with Cherry her needs and behavior required me to constantly have eyes on her, and this wearied me greatly. And I think I made more stress for myself by also worrying about Cherry a lot. I loved her with a love that consumed me. She still is new and precious and fragile, but we kinda fit together better. I don't feel the need to know at all minutes exactly where she is and what she is doing. But my oh my, how I love to look into her eyes. And she stares right back at me with all the self possession and determination I could ever wish for. A creature with a soul all of its own.

I'm starting to think about the gallery that has expressed interest in showing my artwork. I'm starting to think about creating a show. The owner of the gallery wants my work in groups, with a grouping of three being the smallest. I do prejudge my work even when it is just in pencil form - I ask is it good enough for the gallery? Too bad that I do that. It dissuades me from experimentation, because if I stray from a style that works, the gallery might not show what is too new and different. I've also got another little problem. I'm afraid to sell the really good pieces, I want to keep them on display in my home. I know the best remedy is to just keep producing and eventually you'll have so much that you don't know what to do with them and run out of room for hanging them.

Yes, I'm ready and eager to paint everyday. Tomorrow I have a therapy appointment and then in the evening peer support group, so I can't waste energy on painting, I have to conserve myself for my obligations. That's part of the schizophrenic illness too; picking what you will do for the day because you are limited in what you can do. For instance, I'll watch t.v. before my therapy appointment because this is mindless activity and it will keep me fresh for the other more draining activity of talking with my therapist. The free hours are there to paint, there is distance between when I wake and when I have to visit the therapist, but I'll keep myself calm, cool, collected, and unchallenged. Creativity is a challenge, there are shapes and colors to be decided upon, hundreds of little choices to make when you have a brush in your hand, and while I want to paint I won't. I've said to my therapist before "you get the best of me" and this is true. I won't waste the best of me painting.

However, the day after tomorrow is completely free, and happily I will look forward to exhausting myself on that day painting.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cherry Nips

I wrote a 6 page letter about getting Cherry and our first few weeks with her, sent it out to family and friends, with these two photographs included. These all were people who for Christmas gave us money instead of gifts to help pay for Cherry. I just wanted to let them into my life and see a little the joy and the pain the puppy has caused.

It has been a joy because Cherry is so cute and loving, but a pain because I'm not getting the amount of sleep I used to be getting. Maybe part of the problem too is that I'm over worked - hard to believe that a puppy could make a fully grown woman cry at the end of the day with exhaustion - but I do have the schizophrenic illness. Another symptom of how over extended I become, - at the end of the day often my face turns red like a lobster. Nose red, cheeks red, forehead red, not just a pretty flush but a screaming red.

There is a little less pressure on me because it seems like we have housetrained our puppy. She hasn't had an accident in the house for about five days. We do take her out frequently. And whenever she rings the bell we take her out. Hanging next to the door is a pink ribbon and at the end of the ribbon is a bell. Cherry knows now that if she shakes it I will come and we will go outside. Sometimes she shakes it every fifteen minutes, especially after a meal. So I put on my snow boots and coat and gloves and out into the cold we go. I do think sometimes Cherry just is bored and wants some excitement, but she always pees first thing out the door, even when there is just a little in her. She understands the command "get busy" and will squat too when she hears this and try to pee, even when there is nothing left in her. We are also training her with treats, and she knows sit and down. Not bad for a ten week puppy.

So I'm not constantly watching Cherry trying to catch her in mid squat in the house. I know that when she's quiet this isn't a sign that she's trying to go to the bathroom. That takes a little pressure off me. I was getting really good at spotting her and stopping her in mid pee or poo and then whisking her outside. One morning I ran out in my pajamas and stocking feet. Outch, that was cold.

Right now my hands have tiny little maroon scabs all over them, more on the right hand than the left. Cherry is nipping. She wants to play with her mouth. I met a man shoveling snow and he played with Cherry and told me he had a six month old Rottweiler puppy and he showed me his hands and they looked the same as my own. So I'm wondering how long this phase is going to last. Whenever we play with Cherry we have a toy with us and when she tries to nip we shove the toy in her mouth, and as she chews it, we praise her. There is no doubt in my mind that she knows the toys are hers to chew on, but we her owners must be irresistible subjects. As I walk across the floor sometimes I am dragging her little body because her teeth are sunk into the bottom of my jean leg. When she tries to put her mouth on my computer cable I give her a "time out" and lock her in her crate. Only for a few minutes. It is enough time to disrupt her behavior, and she does not return to it when she is let out of the crate.

My kitchen table has brown kraft paper covering it and then a table easel on it with a gessoed board on the easel. This is my next painting. Also on the table are decorative tins with paints in them. Each decorative tin has a different word on it; Blue, Yellow, Red, Green, Black and White. All my oil paint is in these tins. I've chosen the colors for my paintings but the tops are so cemented to the tubes of paint (after all I haven't painted for over a year) that my husband is going to have to twist them with a pair of pliers. I can open almost nothing by myself.

So I should be able to return to painting next week. It will be a sweet homecoming.

Until I start painting I am spending short amounts of time working on an ongoing stenciling project. There is a beam in the center of the kitchen, painted cream, that leads to a beam across the ceiling, painted white. I want to stencil in green designs that I've made myself. Of course at a craft store you can buy laser cut stencils, very fancy, but I have an artist's kitchen, and I want my talent reflected in the room around me. I am an artist, I should be able to make my own stencils. I am not telling my mother the landlord about the project, I figure in the summer I'll just do it, and if it looks nice, it should be appreciated. I've got a sketch book that I sketch designs. The fun part is that I will make many designs, and then just use the best. And the more I do, the better I think they look. Practice makes improvement.