Thursday, January 26, 2012


I've just endured four days of tortuous anxiety. My husband had to go on a business trip and I was home alone with the dog. While he was away I had two simple goals every day. One, walk the dog, see to her physical needs. Two, go to meetings in the evening.

The first meeting was a dog training class. I've been with this trainer before and he asks a high level of commitment and practice. Like, you repeat the command 50 times a day with the dog. I'm a lady who has a hard time taking a shower, because it involves will power and motivation that my schizophrenia has robbed me of. So I'm going to find the energy to be an authority figure to my dog and make eye contact and do the tricks with her, me who suffers from negative symptoms? Yeah, I tried my best. At the most we did the command 30 times a day. Class was good, I was on, present, focused, and damn near impossible to tell that I suffered from any type of mental illness. Of course before class I spent two boring hours doing almost nothing so that my brain was fresh.................I listened to music or I sat in silence on the sofa staring off into space. My dog had to preform I had to preform and by God I did it. But the whole day was planned to lead up to that point so that we both would be at our best. Engineering time. Manipulating stress. Enduring boredom. And of course, doing no artwork, because that is mentally draining.

The next night I had to go to peer mental illness support group because we are in the process of turning the leadership over from me to someone else. I haven't gone in three weeks and I promised to be there. There were about 15 people present, so the group is needed in our community and can't sink into oblivion. I had to do a lot of talking about what it took to be a leader and not try to make it sound too scary. I had to preform again. I had to have all my wits about me and when the semi psychotic man said mean things to a group member I had to interrupt and tell him that he was being mean. The leader keeps the peace. And I had to not alienate him or make him feel bad either, because he can't help who he is and what comes out of his mouth. The group was really positive, people felt safe and helped, but my God when I came home I was so tired I wanted to cry but I was too drained to shed a tear. That's partly why I don't want to be leader anymore. I am arranging my life so that

1. I can be less medicated, because I'm more creative on less antipsychotic medication

2. I can lessen stressors so that my main stress in life comes from making art. Making art exhausts me. Using my mind exhausts me, on or off medication, it makes no difference. In fact I can concentrate on my artwork for longer periods of time on a lower dose of medication (surprise, surprise!)but then I need recovery time too.......

3. I must have the willpower and motivation every day to get outside and walk the dog. Much harder than painting. But I need the exercise and she needs the exercise so its a win-win situation. Have to take care of my physical health and my commitment to walking the dog is my strategy. I am trying hard not to be the statistic that I die 25 years earlier than the rest of the population in my state, like most schizophrenics. Scared of strange people? Yes. Less than perfect behavior from the dog? Yes and yes again, no situation for daydreaming, must be alert. She's a german shepherd and wants to herd other dogs, people, cars, bikes, skateborders and joggers. She's currently getting intensive training because she's a challenge, she's what is called "reactive" and has less than perfect behavior. The other dog in our class bites people. Scared of the open sky above? Yes, always since I got schizophrenia. Hard to move my body? Yes. Wish to stay in bed all day and this isn't because I'm doped up on meds, this is because the schizophrenia causes me to be socially and physically withdrawn. Don't get me started on nature and the outdoors. People find beauty and peace in it I'm told..................well I find OVERSTIMULATION. Too many trees is hell for me, I end up with eyes on the ground.

Since my husband left I have had the hardest time eating. No problem drinking coffee, tea and fruit juice, but solid food is really really hard to eat. This is not my usual problem with stress and eating. Usually, when I feel stressed I eat sweets and things that taste really good but aren't particularly nutritious. I can only remember two other times in my entire life, besides having the flu or a cold, where I've lost my appetite. The first time was when I was a freshman in college and I was studying for finals. I wanted good grades, I was in a competitive school learning alongside fiercely intelligent and hard working students. Well, some of them were so freaking smart they didn't even have to study much. But not me. I earned my grades the old fashioned way. I studied and I couldn't eat. Shocked the hell out of me, that stress so extreme could cause me to lose the one thing that seemed so steady, and at times, so strong and out of control.

The second time in my life I lost my appetite was when I ended up in a homeless shelter. I was very grateful that the shelter took me in because I had no place to go, and all I remember is gratitude mixed with shock (it was an inner city homeless shelter and I was the only white woman - yeah a very different culture from what I was used too, there was a knife fight while I was there and people doing heroin), but I guess the stress of being homeless caused me to lose my appetite. So here I am, twenty years later from the last stressful thing that ever caused me to lose my appetite, and its my husband being absent for several days. Does the earth revolve around the sun? I revolve around my husband. I call him my sunshine. Because having schizophrenia for me involves near daily suffering (suffering that I roll with naturally and have no ill will towards, we are kinda a team by now I'm an old pro at living with mental illness and having a mind that misfunctions every few hours) and having my husband means lots of hugs, lots of back rubs, lots of companionship, and since he's a happy goofball by nature, a lot of laughter and smiles.

So I see my husband again tomorrow and I'm like a kid expecting Christmas. The pain of anxiety, of feeling that somehow I'm in a life or death kind of situation, is interspaced with little spasms of joy.

And the day after he returns I'm back to making art. The painting is waiting for me on my easel and every now and then I fantasize about the color green that is going to go over the yellow and blend into it.......... I know exactly where my brush will touch down after this self imposed absence.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Touch of the Flu

These are two images I got from a search with the term "outsider art".

What I like about both images is that they were created from a place of sincerity and concentration of vision. These artists were seriously committed to their art.

What I found out about the first drawing is curious;

“Charles A. A. Dellschau (1830-1923), a butcher from Texas whose obsession with flight yielded notebooks of double-sided watercolors that have the luminosity of stained glass.” ROBERT A. SMITH
“…what is still fascinating about some of the best outsider art is the feeling you have that fantasy has become so powerful as to eclipse what most people take for reality. Charles A. A. Dellschau, a butcher in Texas, created thousands of wonderfully fanciful pictures of Jules Verne-style flying machines.” KEN JOHNSON

It seems that Dellschau creates in obsession and obscurity, not even knowing what he is creating is art. That is one facet of outsider art, work that is created for reasons only known deep within the mind of the creator. What I love about this picture is the color and the pattern. Recently when I imagined the painting that I'm working on everything gets covered over with spots and lines - I have to restrain myself to leave portions of flat color. Decoration isn't for prettiness, it seems to have hallucinogenic pull and fantasy is made up of more and more detail. As my meds are lowered I imagine my paintings with more business, more chaos, more motion, more colors at odds with one another, more alteration, more more more decoration for the sake of decoration rather than making literal sense and sensibility.

Must the pants on my little painted men be striped and the shirts pokadoted? YES! And put five colors on their tiny hats.

The second image is Morris Hirchfield, prominent in my library's books of American Folk Art, it seems strange that he is considered an outsider artist on the internet as well. Hirchfield was in the business end of the garment industry for most of his life. When he retired he started painting. It is said that he got his feel for pattern from textile prints, but I think that pattern is simply a means to building complexity and depth in his paintings. Pattern is a tool to an end. Pattern makes up for lack of technical art school instruction. Pattern is very primitive. Its a place I go for when I'm really reaching.

What I like about Hirchfield is the density of his painting. He doesn't skimp, he doesn't rush, he's detailed and trained himself to do the boring parts of a painting that involve repetition. Some painters are fast and spontaneous, they are expressionistic. That is not me. I like Hirchfield am the opposite of this. Where Hirchfield and I part company is in the use of color, I like to use many different colors in one painting. His leopard family also has a serenity that my work lacks.

As I painted today my throat started feeling funny and my upper body muscles began to ache. I've caught a bug from somewhere.

My therapist cancelled my last appointment due to bad weather. Over the phone I reported to him that my thoughts seem normal and I have no schizophrenic symptoms since I saw him last. I did however twice last week get a stress headache. It was a headache that even taking ibuprofen couldn't eradicate. It seems that I'm more vulnerable to them on a lower dose of antipsychotic medication. Since it has only been about two weeks at a lower dose I think that my mind is still going through a process of resettling itself and finding a new chemical balance.

The thing of course that I have noticed the most is a change in my artistic vision. I am very happy with the change. The first thing that is affected is my concentration; I'm able to concentrate for longer periods of time with less negative feelings after. I can paint longer and it takes less time to recuperate and go on to the next activity. I still hit a wall where I know mentally where I want the brush to go on the canvass but I lack the willpower to physically move it. This I think has something to do with my schizophrenia. The longer I paint the more "spaced out" I get, staring for long periods with little actual action until I reach a point where I'm frozen in place. This happens at the end of three to four hours. Then I go to bed (even in the middle of the day) and lie down and shut my eyes. Usually mentally I am obsessed with my artwork and I think about it intently in bed, going over the image and what I've just done again and again. I'm cured and relaxed when other matters creep into my mind and my mind wanders away from the painting I was working on. One my mental grasp has eased I can do a different activity; usually it is walking the dog while it is still the warm part of the winter day and there is light out so the cars can see me.

Painting is far more fun than walking the dog. I hate being out in the world. It takes an enormous psychic push to get me outside. Usually the dog gets walked, this is how I know that I have willpower that is stronger than my schizophrenia. But I think that only a mental illness could make something so simple as walking the dog a Herculean task. One that I have to emotionally prepare for, and then after, recover from.

Don't know how bad the flu is going to get, the dog may not get walked tomorrow.

Before I go to sleep at night I usually visualize what I am going to paint the next morning. This morning it was hats on men playing musical instruments, tomorrow morning it is blue swirls in the sky on a different, mostly virgin canvass. I've never painted a swirling sky and when I planned the painting I was on a higher dose of medication and the sky was supposed to be graduated flat blue. Now I want to add different colors to the blue and have far more movement and complexity.

All different size swirls in the sky.

I'm a bit taken aback by trying something new.

And should I add that I'm terrified of going mad? Watched a movie last night with Joan Crawford having a schizophrenic break down and got a mild stress headache. Have seen this movie about 4 times before, it is in my collection, and I never reacted negatively to it before.

It was like I was watching my worst nightmares come true as Crawford hallucinated and emotionally writhed in pain. She ends up killing a man she was romantically obsessed with. Perhaps the lower dose of medication allows me to identify with the character on the screen more than before. I'm more sensitive. I'm more involved. I'm more influenced.

And right now, I'm on high alert, having just lowered my medication.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lower Meds

So far been at a lower dose of antipsychotic meds for four days. At first things were trippy. I used to take 4 pills, now I take 3 pills a day. According to my meds nurse this puts me at the low end of a theraputic dose. 120mg of Geodone.

The first day I woke up and the thoughts in my head were loud. I mean loud, and it lasted all through the day. I was thinking too much and at such an insistent volume, I thought I was going nuts. But it was tolerable. And nothing I thought was weird. Just ordinary ruminations. Songs going through my head. The second day I woke and everything was blessedly normal. Since then, the volume of thought in my head hasn't gotten so loud again. Or if it is loud, it doesn't last for very long.

What I've noticed is that creatively I'm more aggressive. Pictures form more easily in my head as I plan my future canvasses. Where once the canvass had been gently gradating color, now it is swirls of color like Van Gogh's starry night. I want to put color everywhere. I look at work I've done a month ago and say "shit, I should have blended more colors into that." I can see more complexity than I was capable of.

My basic design of the oil painting I'm working on was set by a drawing months ago, but over the past several days ideas come to tinker with what had been the plan, for instance, instead of one row of green diamonds across a man's shirt now I paint two rows. Flat blank spaces of color will not remain that way, I want to decorate everything, even if it is just with the common dot.

The enhanced creativity makes me really, really happy.

Also I'm not suffering so much after I stop painting. While I used to paint and then be in mental pain, now I just run out of willpower and have to rest. Two days ago I painted for three hours, up from my normal of two, and I've been hovering around two and half to three hours every day, I never dreamed that my concentration could increase on a lower dose of medication. Two days ago, after I painted for three hours, I lay down in bed, and while being perfectly still with my eyes closed, I felt like I was flying. Tired but euphoric. Went for a walk and came down from my high, but I felt weird and cancelled on my peer support group. I had no interest in seeing people. Plus I felt weird. Not anything I could put my finger on, it just seemed prudent to take it easy in the evening after the strange high of tired euphoria in the middle of the day.

I've noticed that I'm more sensitive to my husband's emotions. They seem very loud to me. His alarm clock dropped on the floor and he beat it a bit because it stopped working. The frustration with with the alarm clock not working affected me negatively, I didn't like my husband very much for making so much of a fuss. He seemed childish to me and I got mad at him and ignored him for a bit. The reverse is true too, when he's happy I cringe inside because it is like the sun is shining too brightly. His enthusiasms, about news stories that concern him, mostly geeky tech and computer and science things, aren't my enthusiasms, and it is hard to tolerate it when he goes on and on about them. I should be happy because he's happy, but this hasn't been the case on a lower dose of medication. Its funny, he hasn't changed, but on a lower dose of medication he seems different, and I'm not good at tolerating it. Usually by the end of the day I'm tired and cranky. Mostly I just stay silent, because to unload my negative reaction to him would be mean. This isn't much different from my normal crankiness when I get overwhelmed, on a higher dose of medication I regularly say "moron" in my head, its the one word that pops into my head when I'm pissed off at him. But saying it out loud would be mean and might constitute emotional abuse.

I know that I was emotionally abused as a child and have to be very careful not to fall into patterns of behavior that I witnessed as a child. There's that old circle of the abused becoming the abuser - I don't want that to be me.

So, no mania, no depression, no psychosis yet. My husband still loves me and thinks marriage is a boon to his life so I must be behaving myself well.

Two nights ago he had a dream where a woman named "Rose" committed suicide. She was no one he recognized from his real life. When he got to work, and looked at his computer, a picture he took of me several years ago came on as his screen saver. It was my head surrounded by roses. He then connected the woman's name "Rose" with me. So the dream was a worry dream.

I talk to my therapist tomorrow. I know, after only four days, that I don't want to go back on the higher dose of medication.

I'm too happy with the creative boost.

What every artist dreams about, a creative boost.