Saturday, December 31, 2011

Maine Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 16, 2011

Medication Nurse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is being off medication that seductive? Lovely? Enchanting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I've got my moments of deep conservatism.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Design

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Friday, December 2, 2011


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

1.Takes tea bags out of tea cups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn't agree more.