Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mispoken Words

I made a political, social, and emotional mistake. We were talking in mental illness peer support group about people having a fantasy that if they could just find a significant other everything in their life would be swell and they would be happy. I said, "I've noticed this fantasy in both mentally ill and normal people." And the worker from a group home (who brings her clients to group and has an illness herself) fired back "Everyone here is normal. Having a mental illness doesn't stop you from being normal."

I realized instantly my mistake. She was right, you can be mentally ill and normal. That is obviously the way she feels about herself, and I'm glad she has healthy self-esteem. However, in my mind there is this distorted perception that I am far, far away from being normal. Having lost so much ability after the onset of my illness (remember, I wasn't disabled before onset, I had a rich, complicated, on-the-go lifestyle in New York City) I felt like before the illness I was normal, and now I am not normal. Its been 23 years since the onset of my illness and I'm still comparing myself to the woman I was before and feeling ambivalent about who I am now. I don't feel normal. My husband is normal. My mother is normal. I rub shoulders all the time with people who are full of energy and capability - the exact opposite of my disability. But because I suffer everyday from symptoms of my illness (mostly negative symptoms) I don't feel normal. I know people without a mental illness go through instances of suffering (loss, chronic pain, loneliness, disappointment, disease, catastrophic acts of nature and criminal mankind) but it feels really, really weird when your mind fails you. I experience vulnerability and the inability to think, even sometimes, move.

We had dog training class this week. I found out that I was doing one the exercises wrong. Now I had worked really hard on this exercise. But in class I was focused and talkative and worked well with my dog on the new exercises that would become our homework for this week. When I got home I had a little meal and took my evening meds and then sat down on the couch. Suddenly I couldn't move or speak. I was catatonic. My limbs stayed in position, my eyesight was stuck looking at a corner of the kitchen. My husband had to pull me up and half carry, half drag me into the bedroom and position me on the bed. I fell asleep with my contacts in, too exhausted to make it to the bathroom to take them out.

Then at 4am I woke up, wide awake, with a crushing emotion. I had failed the dog training exercise, and life was too difficult for me. I wanted to die. I wanted an out of existence that I'm not up to facing. I felt like a colossal failure as a human being. I started crying and woke my husband up. He said he would go into work late to stay with me. But then he told me that if he did this, he would lose his overtime pay. I said to him I would take a trilifon (old school anti-psychotic) and klonopin (a mild narcotic) together and medicate myself. Once the medication started working I got very sleepy and went back to bed. When I woke I felt fragile but in a normal frame of mind, not hysterical, not beating myself up, the self hatred was gone.

I think the schizophrenia makes some of my emotions too strong. Things get blown out of proportion. I told my husband that there wasn't one person in dog training class that knew or could even guess that I had schizophrenia. My normal act was so good. But it took a boatload of energy to maintain the state of normalcy, and after the class was over my nervous system crashed, making me first catatonic and then hysterical.

My therapist says I have to detach from my emotions and watch myself experience them. He says that over identifying with any emotional state is not good. That the self isn't defined by any one thing - it is beyond definition. So to say, "I'm an artist", or "I'm a therapist" is dangerous because this is not the real you. Also saying "I hate myself, I'm a failure and I'm sad" isn't you either, and you have to detach. This is the latest advice that he keeps on giving me. Yesterday I said to him "so are you losing patients by giving them this advice, because what you are asking is a very difficult thing, I think you underestimate the power of mental illness and how real it seems" and he said that it was none of my business whether or not he was losing patients and that self is bigger than mental illness. Then I said, "Oh, you are asking me to pull a John Nash". I've read his biography two times and in it Nash claims that he simply using his rational powers made choices between was was real and what was delusion. "No, that's not it" said my therapist, "all your emotions are delusion." Which is a statement he makes about every time I visit, and I don't know how many more times I can hear it. I'm an emotional creature. So I'm to consider myself a false creature too. My therapist reads a steady diet of religious mystics, from all religions. Priests, self-help gurus, and nuns. All people who claim that they have found a higher reality.

And still, even after telling me he would do it that very weekend, my therapist has failed to bill me. I've been seeing him for over a year, once a week, for free.

I've got two good natured, big-hearted eccentric men in my life. My husband and my therapist. I guess I'm really lucky because life isn't dull. Fate keeps putting in my path the most marvelous, odd, special, under-the-radar people.

As far as my artistic path, I'm coming to a cross-road. I'm going to continue working on the oil paintings that I've been doing, and finish them all. There is one nearing a final stage, two smaller ones in beginning stages, and one that exists only as a precise drawing on paper. I figure I've got the next six months scheduled. But then I'm also going to work on paper. I've worked in oil for about 10 years and I can't do in oil the same expressive, free work that I do with oil pastels on paper. I'm happier with my strongest work on paper, and paper really lets me be more creative. For some odd reason I don't have the same hesitation and restraint about color when I'm working with oil pastels that I feel with oil paint. And I can't get the same effects with oil paint that I can get with oil pastels. I've had ten years to catch up with oil what I did with pastel and it never happened.

The consequences of changing from oil to paper are unpleasant. The gallery where I've shown my work was only interested in oil paintings, they didn't want any of my work on paper. So I might not have a gallery to show in. Framing works on paper, the correct way, with matting, is expensive. I don't want to make my own mats or frames. And I hate reflections in glass, I love that there is no barrier between an oil painting and the viewer. Then there is this - I'm going to have to "go to school" and relearn the techniques of using oil pastels. I'm not as competent and sophisticated as I once was. Yes, once I really rocked with oil pastels.

My friend asked me if I was bored with oil painting and I said yes, I was. So there is that - a new direction to spice things up creatively. Looking into the future I see having more fun. But whether I'll make things that are better, I don't know.

If you are having fun, shouldn't the end product carry in it some of your glee?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hair Cut

The first thing the stylist did before she washed my hair for a hair cut was massage my scalp. Oh, it felt sooo good! I shut my eyes and let her fingers dig and move round and round. I haven't gotten my hair cut in probably two years, so it falls long down my back. It was too long. Or maybe it was simply too unstyled, wild and free. I started feeling like the crazy lady when I wore it down. I tried putting styling gel in it to make it manageable, and it tamed it a bit, but mostly I only felt comfortable when my hair was either up piled on top of my head in a bun or pulled back in a pony tail. A nice thing when its hot, exposing the back of your neck, but today it has rained, and yesterday it rained, and the forecast is for more rain tomorrow. What perfect weather to let your hair down.

I told the stylist to give me bangs, cut off two inches all around, and add layers. My hair naturally wants to curl, and with some pieces cut shorter in layers, there is more curling going on. I told her that I was thinking about getting it cut really short, a drastic change, but then, I might end up going home and crying. So instead, just a little shorter and I wait a month to see if short is what I really want. But the results of her cut were superb. I'm wearing my hair down and it looks elegant. Lots of waves. They are really afraid to give you heavy bangs so what little bangs she gave me (even thought I said as she snipped with the scissors "more bangs, thicker, heavier") get swept to one side.

We went walking yesterday in the rain. My husband's co-worker gave him an enormous umbrella as a gift, and my husband, me, and the dog in-between all fit under it. We cover the sidewalk. We did get a little damp, as the rain drips off the edges of the umbrella and down your back or outside arm. But we need exercise, and the dog needs exercise. That morning, having gone noplace because of the weather the day before, Cherry Blossom pulled a vine out of a plant, chewed it to pieces, and pulled back the edge of a large rug, chewing on the edge of that. I didn't get angry. She has to take her frustrations and her energy out some way. The dog trainer said dogs don't get ulcers from stress, they instead act out in bad or destructive ways. "A tired dog is a good dog" we learned.

Painted the body of a huge bug yesterday. Not the wings yet, they are going on last. The body has to dry before the wings. It had been a while since I had painted. But I do confess, I fell in love with what I was doing. It was so pleasant. The bug had already been painted once, but now, I was shading with the color, creating a really round and interesting form with patterns of light and dark. I'm starting to think that the more patterning of light and dark the better. I painted only a little this morning, being nervous about the hair cut. It is pleasant being so close to town, I could walk to my appointment. In fact, I can walk to the bank, the grocery store, the pharmacy, the library, the dentist, my physician, and my medication nurse. The only one who is a half an hour car ride away is my therapist. For a while he was looking at an office downtown, but it was in the same suite as his daughter's therapist (I guess his daughter gets therapy!) and he felt that that would be a little weird and infringing on her private space.

Tonight I'm going to have a glass of wine. Last night my husband wanted to eat at a bar (they serve good fried fish) but I nixed that idea because I had just eaten a large bag of popcorn and wasn't hungry. Told him he would have to wait a day to go out. Now I've skipped lunch, and I'm ravenous. My husband was disappointed that I wanted a small supper yesterday, but I said it wasn't my fault - if he wants to eat out he should call me from work and tell me not to eat anything. He keeps trying to put responsibility on my shoulders, at first he told me that I should be the one to call him for permission before I ate late in the day! I got mad. This lecture came after another little lecture that I should shout at him while he is going to the bathroom to go faster if we have someplace we are supposed to be - or else he is going to take his sweet time and read his book while he leisurely poops. Again, not my responsibility to nag! He's got to be responsible for his own hunger, his own bodily needs, and not have me interfering with them. He wants to be an irresponsible child and I'm supposed to scurry around and make certain plans fall into place. My husband is a dreamer and will naturally take the easiest course of least resistance.

And I'm not going to nag at him to train the dog either. He watches me put in the effort to train her, maybe he will get motivated through observation. Cherry will get trained, it just puts more responsibility on me if I am the only one doing it. In one instance, the trainer wants in a weeks time one hundred repetitions of a command with the dog. I ask my husband before he goes to work in the morning to do two. Just two. I know I can't ask more. I won't nag and make my husband train the dog. Bottom line is he doesn't care. He wants a dog that performs well and makes him look good, but he thinks somehow this will come naturally with Cherry's good nature and fine breeding. But it will come, I think, because of my hard work. I don't mind too much. My husband at his job is noted for being a hard worker, his boss values him for his work ethic and his willingness to be a team player for the company. It boggles my mind how the dreamy man I know can become so focused and motivated when he's on the job. I think the key to the success of my marriage is to give him freedom to follow his own blissful paths and private pursuits when he isn't on the job. So he works a 9 hour day to pay all our bills - is it so much of a stretch that I train his dog for him? Isn't that a small way of my giving back? Me who has just taken a day off from painting to get my hair cut?

After I got my hair cut, I was feeling so good that I went next door to a second hand clothing store. But this isn't any thrift store. A lot of the clothing has the original store price tags on them (shop lifted, I'm sure) and the owner has a keen eye for designer names. I'd say half of the clothing has designer labels that you would find in New York City, and the other half has labels that you would see in the mall. And she sells sturdy leather pocket books - oh she doesn't sell quality cheap. My best find was a black Coach leather bag. Thick, black leather in a timeless style. I'm certain her store does very well. The girls that work there know me. My favorite find is a cashmere sweater. She sells a lot of those, and you can't buy them retail cheap. People bring in clothing for store credit or sell on commission, she will out right buy what she is certain will sell. So people go into her store with clothing hoping to make some money. And they do. Its funny, you see moms and their teenage daughters both looking at the clothing. With designer clothing you can be just about any age to wear it. I bought a designer shirt that almost fits (need to lose a couple of pounds) and a shirt that fits perfectly and a scarf. As luck would have it, the scarf goes well with the shirt that fit perfectly. Happy coincidence that didn't even occur to me until I got home. And I spent half or a third of what it all would have cost in a retail store.

Tomorrow I'm going to paint some tiny horses. They are miniature but they are detailed, and I have to work from a photograph to make them seem realistic.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Roast Beef

We have a dog trainer. He said that for our first session with Cherry Blossom we should bring roast beef to class. He has seen a dog owner train with lettuce as a reward, but he wants to make a clear impact in one specific instance, so we are to bring the treats we normally train with and roast beef. Thus yesterday at the grocery store we looked at roast beef. The first piece I picked up cost $18! Found a cheaper piece, but we were puzzled over whether or not to cook it. My husband said no, I said yes, so tonight for my consideration we are cooking it.

Last week we met with the trainer without our dog. Been practicing our homework, although, since it wasn't demonstrated I'm a little confused over whether I'm doing it right. Doesn't matter, all that Cherry knows is that after I say her name, sometimes, she gets good things to eat. And while I'm popping treats in her mouth I'm saying "yes". So this is what the power of "yes" tastes like! Been working on sits, downs, and stay commands, even though this was not part of the homework.

The total power in Cherry's gaze when I give a stay command and step away. I keep our eyes locked and she is totally alert, waiting, for me to return, give her the treat and say "free". She doesn't really get the release command yet, she stays in place for extra measure usually after she's gotten her treat.

In order to emphasize our dominance, we are putting her in her crate while we eat dinner and feeding her only after we are finished. The first night we did this she sat in her crate with her back turned toward us! She dissed us! I said to my husband that this little exercise certainly made an impression on her, or else she would have just lain down in her crate and rested as usual. Ultimately, what we want out of Cherry is to go lay down in a corner of the kitchen as we eat our food. But since she really doesn't yet know the stay command, we crate her. My husband was in the habit of feeding her before he made our dinner, it was to his mind a soothing order, eating while knowing that all the chores were taken care of. He was so resistant to changing the order of who gets fed when that I had to insist upon taking the responsibility myself of feeding Cherry. So now I make her dinner after our dinner. I believe in the trainer's rational that this establishes dominance, and I witnessed the psychological impact it had on the dog. She has never, ever, sat in her crate with her back turned toward us! My husband worried that I would complain about having the responsibility to feed her, but I promised to never ever complain.

I'm afraid that most of the discipline in our house comes from me. It isn't in my husband's nature to discipline. I'll give you a shocking example. When his young daughter brought home a note from her teacher saying that she had not been doing her homework, he sent back a note saying it was his opinion that she didn't have to do her homework if she didn't want to. I have never, ever, heard of a parent saying that they sided with their child in not doing homework. I think that rather than confront his child, he felt more comfortable confronting the teacher! So if he cared so little about disciplining his child, imagine how little he cares about disciplining his dog! If there are to be rules in the house, not only do I have to lay them down, I have to enforce them. (His child had to do an extra year of high school because she was such a poor student. My husband has a genius IQ so he could do well in school and never study much, alas, his daughter does not have a genius IQ.)

Today I couldn't paint. I was planning on painting the body of a huge bug. Maybe all those shades of brown turned me off. My head wasn't in a painting place. I took a shower. Yeah! Score one for small victories! Then I took Cherry for a walk so that I could practice the commands outdoors where there are more distractions. Had some nervousness about leaving the house and pounding the pavement. A schizophrenic friend I have has trouble leaving her apartment too and simply going for a walk. She knows she needs the exercise. She knows that the area she lives in is green, safe, and inviting. And yet, twinges of paranoia. Unless I'm going someplace fun (like shopping) it is hard to step out into the world. It takes a pinch of courage.

Now that Cherry is bigger (almost seven months old!) my husband and I are going on nightly hour walks. The route we take is about three miles long. I know the exercise is flattening my stomach and helping me to lose weight. I'm still not back to the same shape I was in last summer when my husband and I were swimming for 50 minutes stretches and doing water aerobics, but close. Now we don't have the money for a swim membership and we have a puppy. What is helping me get fit the most has been dropping the Seroquil and adding more Geodone. My eating habits are altered. After I eat dinner I stop eating before sleep. My appetite is no longer stimulated by the evening dose of Seroquil, and even if I'm hungry, I can ignore it and stick to my diet.

My mom is 71 and very svelte, yet she eats tons of food. Its her energy level that keeps her in shape. She is always going, going, going. It shocks her how little I eat, and yet, I'm slightly overweight. I keep on telling her that I don't have her metabolism. My illness or the drugs keep me sedentary. I read, watch movies, paint, or cruise the internet. I don't have the mental energy to move my body around too much. Oh, there is a mind body connection in me. Tax my mind and I know my body doesn't want to move. Completely overtax my mind and I'm driven into catatonia.

Cherry Blossom is a challenge to me because we have no back yard for her to run around in, her usual form of exercise is to be walked. Last week the dog trainer asked us what was the number one method of keeping a dog well behaved. It was to exercise them, and not just walks! A tired dog is a good dog. He said walking a dog is not enough, they need to run, they need aerobic exercise. So I try to do the next best thing - give Cherry two walks a day and make them as long as possible. I recently read in a dog magazine that there is a town in Italy that will fine a dog owner if the owner does not take his dog for three walks a day. In my mind is a dreadful, powerful guilt over not giving Cherry the exercise she needs. I'm prompted, I'm harassed, and I'm chased by the specter of my duty towards my dog. And somewhere in this desire to give the animal the best quality existence is the happy knowledge that I'm doing my own body a good as well.

Cherry Blossom is keeping me healthy in big and small ways. My heart, as a pumping muscle organ, as a pretty metaphor, as the center of my existence, is strengthened by the challenges of loving Cherry.