Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Schizophrenia Necklace

Last week I wore my schizophrenia necklace in public.

I made the necklace over ten years ago. Haven't worn it in about five years.   It is a gold chain with 14k alphabet charms attached.  There are 13 letters in the word "schizoprhenia" so it was pretty pricey to order the gold charms from the jewelry store.  However, I felt I needed a pride statement.

Gay people have the rainbow.

Cancer survivors have the pink ribbon.

What could I have to express who I was and that I was proud to be me to the world? Or at least persevering under the conditions that I face.

Not knowing if there is any symbol for schizophrenia, I made a word made out of gold.  Pure gold shows pride, doesn't it?

What can you wear to show that you are a survivor of schizophrenia?  (or must it be kept a deep dark secret?)  Is there any sense of pride to be associated with this loathsome disease?

You can say to yourself I'm not a disease, I'm so much more than a disease, and yet, this disease inevitably finds some way of defining you.  It is just knowing that being gay is part of your identity or having survived cancer is part of your identity.  These things aren't something that you choose, it is rather thrust upon you by fate.  And so you go out into society having a unique experience on life that gives you a unique view on life.  When it is a gorgeous warm sunny day outside and I can't get out of bed except to pee, being near catatonic and having something very wrong with my thinking process, isn't the disease leading my life by the nose?  Oh, I think to my self, how lovely it would be to take a walk, but I can't because I'm so disabled and helpless (and diminished and small and fragile)  that I can't get out of bed.  

I know that the past three years spent with my former therapist we were working on unlinking me from the medical model that says I'm sick and diseased.  But if you suffer, as I have been lately, the mental illness identity is thrust upon you.  Your mind can twist and squirm and rationalize things like "my mind is diseased but my soul is healthy" or "I am not my mind, I'm more than mind, I'm soul too" or "I'm not going to define myself as anything other than a human being".  Helpful thoughts, but what you are going through inevitably makes you feel at odds with the rest of the world.  You know you belong to a large club, THE CLUB THAT SUFFERS,like rape victims or refuges displaced by a civil war, but you belong to a smaller subset, the club that suffers a pure form of torment of the mind.  Caused by no one and nothing that you can put your finger on and blame.

For a while people with mental illness adopted the purple irises like the ones that Van Gogh painted.  I don't know if that symbol ever caught on and is still current.  Personally, I think Van Gogh was bipolar rather than schizophrenic because his production rate was nothing like I've ever seen from a schizophrenic artist.  I think mania fueled him.  And there is a disorganization and skew of reality in the best schizoprhenic art that wasn't present in Van Gogh's art.  He worshiped nature, he drew nature, he was very very sophisticated in his mature phase of painting in that nature, and its close analysis, was the subject of his art.  Critical thinker, organized thinker, and mind put into the eye.  Unmedicated schizophrenics in my experience can't produce at the rate and quality of Van Gogh, even if they had artistic training before the onset of their disease.  And they aren't inspired by nature, rather, they express usually inner torment artistically. They are compelled to look inward rather than outward.  But there are very very few examples to choose from in history who were both schizophrenic and artistically prolific and above all unaffected by medication.

So I think the purple irises symbolize the suffer as mentally ill, but not specifically schizophrenic.  I want to be specific.

Today Van Gogh would be medicated for a mood disorder and or psychosis and his creativity would plummet.  He would never produce the quality that of work which has made him famous.  I do think if you kill psychosis you kill off the root of creativity, or at least the finer part of it.  I've read that other's who study art agree.  The golden age of art made by schizophrenics in insane asylums is over.  However, usually the modern mentally ill person because of their illness believes that they are more creative than the norm.  On or off medication.   I don't know if this is an ego boosting stereotype that schizophrenics buy into.  In my view, there is psychosis, and then there is poverty of thought.  Both are active in the schizophrenic.  No schizophrenic I know would ever describe themselves with such a loathsome phrase as poverty of thought, but this is honestly what I live with sometimes.  My thoughts are so weak that I don't have the energy to speak.  Or move. Or listen to other people talk.

For about a year coming down on medication I felt very very good with almost no symptoms of mental illness other than the persistent inability to concentrate for longer than four to five hours on my artwork.  My therapist would ask me "well, are you or aren't you schizophreic?" and i would say, "wait, we'll see."  Once he said, you aren't schizophrenic, your just high maintenance.  I suppose he was saying I was the type of demanding hysterical woman that some men do their best to avoid.    Still, my mood the last year was good and I genuinely enjoyed life.  I've had difficulty with concentration since I was nineteen and suffered the onset of mental illness, and sometimes I wonder whether or not what happened at nineteen that changed me forever was a simple old fashioned nervous breakdown with bells and whistles of psychosis and mania.

And then I quit therapy for several reasons. 1) we could barely afford it 2) the therapist repeated the same advice and I got sick and tired of listening.  He wanted me to detach from my emotions.  He considered himself spiritually informed by Eastern religion, and he had this obsession that health was possible if you lived from the authentic self (code name for soul).  But I was not to use words like soul or religion because frankly he grew up Catholic and had been traumatized by the religion and while he could not deny a fascination with all things religious, it was traumatic to him personally to use religious words or references.  All he read were books by religious monks, nuns, priests and philosophy thinkers but he only felt safe referring to them as "spiritual".  I called them religious books and he corrected me.  I personally like to think that I have a soul, but even this smacked too much to him of religion, so he used the term "authentic self" whenever we were discussing things which were soul-like.  He said you were only safe and sound identifying yourself as a human being - all else lead to some other vague sort of emotional ruin.  Wife, artist, daughter, schizophrenic - these labels were all bad and led to distress inevitably, or so he promised. Problem at its root was that he was seeking and believed he had found a formula for sanity and he was rather trying in the name of healing to brainwash me with it.  Didn't work.  Had to rather flee from his therapy.

I tried explaining that I was terribly attached and obsessed with my art while I was making it and this attachment was necessary for the process - since it is long and grueling for me to paint a painting.  Right now I'm looking at making two paintings a year.  You have to be really really invested in the project to stay focused and interested in one canvass for six months, day after day.  I attach and I flourish at what I do where other schizophrenics flounder and fail.  Also, I'm attached to my husband and my dog.  Oh, I will suffer horribly to lose one or the other.  However, my therapist made a specific point that he was not attached to his dog (which always lay on the floor through all therapy sessions) and said that he was in the process of detaching from his only daughter.  This was for her sake and for his sake  He encouraged me to detach from my husband, promising me that I could love him BETTER once I had detached.  This smacks of Eastern religious gobblygook. Nuts to that.

At one point he said that it would be best to sever contact from both my parents.  They were toxic.  And they do have a distressing effect on me quite often.  But he wanted me to stop seeing them, stop talking to them.  Detach.  Even if this meant loosing my inheritance.  He taunted me that I was selling my soul for a house.  (now we pay rent to my mother, but our home is promised to be willed to us).

I still think the parental  bastards deserve endless chances.  Stay away as much as possible when they totally rupture peace of mind, but return, always slink away and heal, then return.  They are your parents afterall.  You loved them unconditionally as a child.  I believe that child inside hurts itself if it totally gives up on its parents.  Lately I have realized that I am more moral than either one of my parents.  Hoorah!  Let them think I'm sick, at least I have ethics.  It is rather a comfort to believe in your little ethical self.  Especially when the self is rather tormented by mental illness.

So I stopped seeing my therapist in mid February, and by now, mid May, I see that I'm having episodes of emotional torment that weren't present in February.   There is decline in quality of life.  Did I need therapy?  Seeing someone once a week?  Perhaps.  I just emailed our local art school and asked for a partial scholarship to attend a summer adult open studio seminar that meets twice a week for a little over a month.  I figured after ending therapy I became too much of a recluse and need to get out of the house more often.  Only making art as the whole point of your life for me is a downward spiral.  I need contact with other humans besides my husband.  He's great, but I do remember once during my first hospitalization a ward nurse calling me a "social butterfly".  Always, what I have enjoyed the most about being on a mental ward (and there isn't much to enjoy) was interaction with the other patients.  The lunatics you observe and keep your distance from because they might physically attack you.  Kid you I not, I've been attacked.  Brutally.  And they same guy that attacked me tried to strangle someone else.  The majority of the patents in a hospital however, having been freshly traumatized by their mental illness, are refreshingly human and immediate and uncomplicated.  And nice to talk to.  But the lunatics, simply observe.  You must practice self preservation in a psychiatric ward. 

I don't think at all for about two years now that I have been gradually lowering my medication have I ever thought to myself "Is my quality of life so poor that maybe I should think about ending it all?"  When such a thought occurres, as they have recently I think ah ha!  A sign that I am mentally ill and suffering.  And maybe, just maybe, the ship is sinking on this low dose of medication and you are headed toward a suicidal crisis.  Not yet.  But there are now clouds on the horizon.

But I'm generally not depressed.  Tormented, yes.  Occasionally tormented definitely.  Why am I tormented?  I don't know.  But I did wear my schizophrenia necklace last week.  So I know something is wrong with me. 

Once I stopped therapy the ship started to sink.  But I'll be damned before I go back to that man.  I don't care if detachment has led to happiness for my therapist and maybe some of his patients.  I don't want to detach from life.  Sleep on the sofa when my husband pisses me off, yes, not call a parent because I'm not in the mood to deal with their ways, yes, but I can't be a cloud floating through the sky, as he told me to be, over and over again.

The cloud observes the sky.  But it is separate from the sky.  Be the cloud in the sky.  Sounds simple, but it really doesn't help me.  It helps a little, but i get the concept and I don't want to hear that form of advice again. 

1 comment:

  1. Would very much like to see more of your artwork! Absolutely fascinating.


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