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.