News Day Tuesday: BLOOM by Anna Schuleit

a cure for what ails you, bipolar disorder, major depression, memories, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Hey readers! This week, we’re doing something a little different for News Day Tuesday.

I stumbled across Anna Schuleit’s beautiful BLOOM project from 2003 (yes, I know I’m super late to the party). Today, I want to celebrate that project.

In 2003, artist Anna Schuleit installed 28,000 (28,000! Yow!) potted flowers throughout the psychiatric ward of the Massachusetts Mental Health Center (MMHC).

Anna Schuleit’s installation project was created within the entire building of MMHC, on all floors, inviting former patients and employees, staff, students, and the general public, to re-visit the historic site once more before its closing. There was also a symposium at a nearby venue, and an open forum on the front steps of MMHC, during which the patients were invited to tell their stories. The events were dedicated to the memory of the thousands of patients of MMHC, and included as many of them as we were able to contact, as well as the doctors, nurses, support staff, researchers, students, and the general public. The project was a non-profit effort run entirely by volunteers and all of the events were free and open to all.

Source

As people living with mental illness, some of us with more than one, we know the therapeutic power of telling our stories, of having a voice when we’re so often voiceless. Mindy Schwartz Brown wrote some beautiful poetry about her experiences at MMHC, which you can read here. One poem in particular, “Asylum,” touched me deeply.

ASYLUM
(for Anna)

How did this edifice become “home” to its inhabitants-
the renowned multiply degreed,
the haplessly homeless dually diagnosed,
the walking wounded,
the worried well,
the happy go lucky who cleaned floors,
cooked lunches,
took blood pressures.

How could it contain all of the
the egos,
the disintegrated, the inflated,
occupying one space in parallel play?
MD, SPMI
Ph.D, BPD
MSW, DBT
Tell me in this soup, where does one find one’s ME?

DSM IV, Anybody going for V?
What’s the code for those who close hospitals
then open prisons for the sick?

We all feel so much better now,
knowing our brains are
faulty and we are not.
Structural errors ,
neurotransmittor deficits,
viral origins,
genomic misconfigurations.

So now can we all be friends?
Can we do lunch?
Just as we would with a diabetic?

October 3, 2003

Mindy Schwartz-Brown © 2003

The pain of not being recognized is one we know all too well. The lines “We all feel so much better now, / knowing our brains are / faulty and we are not” struck a chord with me that resonated all the way through my body and down into what some people call the soul.

We are the ones who are forgotten. We are the ones who are hiding in plain sight, not out of our own desire to be invisible, but of the desire of others to make us invisible. We make others uncomfortable, particularly when we don’t outwardly fit the mold of the “mentally ill person.” Whenever I reveal that I have bipolar I and CPTSD to someone, I am typical met with one of two reactions. The person either recoils–the discomfort in their eyes is stark and harrowing–or they tell me how “brave” I am.

I am not brave. I simply live. What choice do I have? I do not want to die, though there are plenty of people who view living with a mental illness as a fate worse than death–and I find that more disturbing than anything going on in my attic. There have been countless times when the hauntings have gotten so noisy that I feel as though my mind may literally split in two. Still, I live. Our lives have worth. We have worth.

I’d like to end by including a few photos of Schuleit’s installation. I spent a great deal of time yesterday perusing the photos and reflecting–not on my own experiences, as I have never been inpatient, but on what others’ experiences might have been like as they lived out their day-to-day at MMHC.

bloom-by-anna-schuleit-red-mums-640x920

bloom-by-anna-schuleit-white-tulips

bloom-by-anna-schuleit-blue-hallway

All images above copyright Anna Schuleit.

Tell me your stories, readers. It’s important.

Pain.

a cure for what ails you, abuse, memories, ptsd, relationships

My last pain doctor suggested that my history of abuse (especially sexual abuse) might be the main source of my pelvic pain, along with neuropathy. I have muscular trigger points that cause low pelvic pain, despite having had two injections and a nerve block. It’s true that my endometriosis has progressed from stage one to stage two, after essentially being “reset” by a laparoscopy in March 2011, but I’m taking two forms of birth control to at least slow the progress, if not completely stop it.

I have no more options for controlling or reversing the endometriosis. Lupron didn’t work—all it did was leave me with horrible acne scars on my left cheek and $2,000 poorer. Another surgery is out of the question, mostly because of finances but also because there’s a very good chance it could cause more scarring and adhesions and actually make things worse. All this has led me to reconsider my stance on the mind-body connection, which I’d previously scoffed at.

I was looking up information on pelvic pain related to a history of abuse and found a study on the topic from 2000 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11084180). Some highlights:

  • 22% of patients with chronic pelvic pain were sexually abused before their 15th birthdays
  • 25% of women with chronic pelvic pain were exposed to emotional neglect, especially during childhood
  • 38% were exposed to physical violence

I haven’t written as much about sexual abuse as the other forms I’ve suffered, and I think that’s probably because I still haven’t connected with any of it emotionally. Now that I’m in a functional relationship with a good person who makes me feel safe, appreciated, and generally cared-for, I’m beginning to feel better about myself and more secure and confident in my self-worth.

In short, I think I’m finally ready to talk about it, though in the interest of protecting their privacy, I’m going to avoid all but the vaguest references to abuse within my family.

I’m still not completely sure whether or not I was molested as a child, although more therapists and psychiatrists than you can shake a stick at have all told me that my partial memories, repression, sexual precocity, and general attitudes toward my body and sex are strongly suggestive (no pun intended) of early abuse. I was terrified of men until I was fifteen—I stopped crying and completely losing it around them around age seven or so, but I kept my eyes down, or at least averted, and would cross my arms over my chest and hunch over—anything to keep them from seeing me or even noticing that I was there.

My mother had a boyfriend who made me profoundly uncomfortable from the time I was five until she went to prison a year later.

I remember crying whenever she left me alone with him. They both drank, but I was especially frightened of him. He was tall and overtly masculine in a swarthy sort of way with dark eyes and hairy arms. I will never forget those arms, which I think explains my penchant for mostly hairless men with less testosterone-loaded features.

I have a memory from when I was about five-and-a-half of lying in bed in the room he’d set up for me in his house. (We frequently stayed overnight, and I’d always cry when she insisted I had to go with her.) They’d gone out on a date and had left me alone with his son, who was fifteen at the time and very kind and protective of me. He used to read me books before bed, but because he was pretty severely dyslexic and I was way ahead of the curve in terms of language and reading ability, I usually took over and read him to sleep on the living room floor before putting a blanket over him and tucking myself into bed.

For some reason, I was still awake that night when they came home, albeit in a drowsy twilight state. I remember them opening the door to check on me and seeing the dim, watery yellow light flooding in through the crack in the door. She walked away and he lingered there for a moment. I remember seeing him hesitate, then approach my bed. I remember his dark silhouette against the thin light from the hallway. I remember that hairy arm stretched over my chest, and then everything fades to black. The memory ends there.

It bothers me, not because of the implications but because I pride myself on being annoyingly self-aware and don’t like the idea that my brain, which I know so well, is still hiding things from me. I want to know. I don’t want to know. I’m curious, but I know there’s probably a good reason my brain is blocking that memory. What good would it do, anyway, knowing for sure whether or not anything had happened? I know that he was abusive toward both of us in other ways, and I feel like that should be enough.

But sometimes it’s not.

I’ve written about the other abusers—all four of them, for a grand total of five—in other posts and may revisit the topic later. But for now, I wanted to finally speak out about the one incident from when I was a child that’s still bothering me, that I still haven’t been able to untangle, in hopes that it might strike a chord in one of my readers. I don’t like to think about other people being abused, but I know it’s one of those horrible realities I have no choice but to face, especially since I want to specialize in trauma therapy.

It feels wrong to hope that someone will be able to relate, that they will reach out and that maybe we can have a dialogue and reach some sort of insight together (or at least achieve catharsis), but I feel like it would be incredibly helpful right now. I’ve learned that we need to lean on each other, because no matter how good the intentions of our friends, partners, and families might be, there is no substitute for being able to talk to someone who’s experienced what you’ve been through.

I am here for you, readers. If you need help, I will help as best I can. And if you need to howl into the void, I will be your void.

The persistence of memory.

abuse, memories, ptsd

The atmosphere at my job is refreshingly relaxed—they don’t care what we wear as long as we’re presentable, I have ample downtime (for writing and working on my latest Stupid Human Trick, which is teaching myself Russian), and we listen to the radio all day.

A few days ago, “Tequila” by The Champs came on and I was hit by a massive wave of nostalgia. I’ve heard the song dozens, if not hundreds, of times since this memory was formed, but what sprang to mind with the opening notes was vivid and visceral. It’s one of the few memories I have of the period between ages four and seven that’s genuinely pleasant, untainted by the constant conflict that lived with us in my grandmother’s house. Given how many of its contemporaries have been emerging lately, I’m glad it decided to come back when it did.

I first heard the song when I was five years old. My mother and I were driving from my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa to Oshkosh, Wisconsin with her rich boyfriend (who possibly sexually abused me as a child and certainly dealt out some heavy-handed emotional and physical abuse, pun most definitely intended) to visit the Public Museum—specifically, to see the Apostle Clock.

We had taken his red Corvette—he had a thing for classic cars, along with drinking too much and throwing his girlfriends down flights of stairs—and stopped at a gas station. “Tequila” was playing softly in the background as we rolled up to the pump. I was sleepy and tilted my head back against the silky cream-colored leather of the seat to stare up at the sky. It was dark; few stars were out, and I remember feeling carefree as I let the muggy night air, cut with a cool breeze, fill my smoke-worn lungs.

We stayed in an apartment in the city. I’m not sure whose it was, but I remember marveling at the deep-pile white carpet; at home, we had slightly worn oak floors, polished and neglected enough times in the house’s thirty-odd-year history to have accumulated a thin, uneven coat of dark residue. The next day, we arrived at the museum. It must have been June or July, because we visited shortly after a fire destroyed most of the third floor. I was charmed by the clock, of course, but what really drew my attention was the small collection of charred, water-damaged items that had been rescued from the fire.

“Come on, you don’t want to look at that,” said my mother’s boyfriend, placing a large and hairy hand on my shoulder in an attempt to draw me away. But I was transfixed by the blackened head of a baby doll, one eye burned away, one eye still open in an eerie nod to the horror movies my mother and I loved to watch. This penchant for the macabre has only intensified as I’ve gotten older, and I enjoy puzzling over what these things mean in relation to who I am today and whether everything really is connected. As a nihilist, I’m inclined to believe that nothing has any inherent meaning, which adds another dimension—if all significance is unique to each person, it should make relating to one another more difficult. I’ve found that to be true more often than not, but I’m not surprised, given my…unusual set of memories and experiences.

It’s strange, isn’t it? Certain memories—in my experience, the ones that seem the least-significant at the time—become indelible, while other, larger ones—being present the night my mother was arrested and having only fringe sensory memories of it is a good example—fade into the background. They slip away so easily that at times, it seems that they were never there at all. Was it a memory or a dream? And in the end, does it make much of a difference?

Nietzsche famously said that ‘The existence of forgetting has never been proved: we only know that some things do not come to our mind when we want them to.”

Readers, what has your experience with memory been like? What’s your earliest memory? Are they sensory and blurred around the edges, or is every aspect perfectly crisp? Have you ever thought about what your memories say about you? 

As always, I’m eager to hear from you!

I remember.

abuse, explanations, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

I remember the way the cold March wind felt against my pale blue spring jacket as I stood alone on the playground, looking up at the dead trees creating a black labyrinth against the white sky.

I remember that wind, warmer now, ruffling my hair on an overcast day.

I remember rainy early-summer days where it was so dark outside, the lights in the living room were on and cast a soft glow on the miniature city I’d constructed with my figurines.

I remember painting the room overlooking the garden at my friend’s house. It was, again, overcast, and the coolness of the dark hardwood floors beneath my feet, spattered with seafoam paint, was the most wonderful thing I’d ever felt.

I remember riding my bike around the neighborhood at sunset after a thunderstorm, inhaling the heavy air and taking time to admire the myriad of colors in the oil spots on the wet pavement as if committing each one to memory.

I remember waking up in my mother’s boyfriend’s house in the spare bedroom he’d made just for me. They had just returned from a date. I remember seeing the door open, his frame silhouetted against the yellow light of the hall, and then nothing.

I remember my very first mixed episode. I was fourteen and stressing over what outfit to wear to a “graduation from middle school” party a wealthy friend was throwing. In my frustration, I grabbed a coat hanger, desperate and aching and crying and full of rage, and slashed up my upper arms. I wore a sweater in May.

I remember waking up before dawn and walking to my aunt’s station wagon in the frigid air. I piled blankets and my chapter books into the back in preparation for the two-hour ride to the penitentiary where my mother was being held.

I remember the twelve years during which my mother and I communicated only by phone and letters.

I remember going up to see her at age 19 with my new boyfriend, who later became my husband. She was already drunk when we picked her up, but I think we had a pretty good time.

I remember when my great-aunt died. She was like a mother to me. I got the news early in the morning on the day I planned to visit her in the nursing home, then promptly sat down and churned out a 20-page psychoanalysis of Dorian Gray. Then, I spent the next two weeks crying. We sent out our wedding invitations the day before her funeral.

I remember the first time a boy ever hit me. I was seventeen. It was my boyfriend.

I remember the first time a boy ever told me I was worthless. I was seventeen. It was my boyfriend.

I remember the first time a boy raped me. I was seventeen. It was my boyfriend.

I remember the last day I cut myself: December 16, 2013.

I remember the first time I felt stable and glad to be alive in years; it was three weeks ago.

 

Baby steps, readers. Don’t let anyone tell you your past doesn’t matter; it is your story and has made you who you are. Just don’t let it repeat itself.

Stay safe and lovely, readers.

– J

Third anniversary.

explanations

Today is the third anniversary of my great-aunt’s death. It happened on a Friday morning; I called my grandma’s house to see if my aunt-mom wanted to go visit her in the nursing home with me and was informed that she’d passed early that morning from congestive heart failure.

I helped my aunt-mom and grandma take care of her from when I was fifteen until twenty-one. She’d begun to show early signs of dementia when I was younger, but went downhill quite quickly after she had a valve replacement when I was a young teenager. She moved in with us and stayed in our house until my grandmother had a stroke…then, unfortunately, we had to move her to a nursing home. I was working and busy with college, and my aunt-mom was also working two jobs. Gran was in the hospital for about a month, and her health was beginning to fail as well.

She met D when he was visiting me for the first time and staying in our house, and though her Alzheimer’s was quite advanced by that point, she always remembered him and was quite fond of him because he’d sit for hours and talk to her and my grandma. My previous boyfriend, who had abused me, never really said much to my family, and my great-aunt never remembered his name. But whenever I’d take D with me to visit her in the nursing home, she greeted us with a huge smile and always gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek before we left.

When I was told she’d passed, I didn’t cry. Instead, I sat down and wrote a massive 25-page psychology paper analyzing Dorian Gray and coming up with a treatment plan for his disorders. Ha. It was a weird time in my life, because D and I had decided to scrap the plans for a big wedding, push the date to December 2010, and were sending out invitations the weekend of her wake/funeral. During both events, I was inconsolable, though my family didn’t really talk about it and I barely saw any of them cry. I don’t mean to imply that they’re cold; it’s just that most of my family believes in keeping a stiff upper lip and soldiering on. I would have been able to do so, too, if it weren’t for the fact that my great-aunt was the first major death I’d experienced and she was essentially a mother to me—she was always there to help my grandmother when I was a child and stopped by every single night after work to spend time with me and feed me when I was a baby. We went everywhere together during my summer and winter vacations from school, and I spent many weekends at her house learning to cook and bake. She was a fantastic bowler and sharp at cards, and she and my grandma spent quite a bit of time playing cards and reminiscing about the “old days” and their friends from when they were young.

Today has been really hard for me. She was an incredible woman and I’ll always miss her. I want to get a memorial tattoo for her, probably yellow roses (which decorated her coffin and are symbolic of friendship) and some type of bird on a branch. I know it’s sort of a cliche concept, but I can’t think of anything that represents her more accurately.

I’ll end with some of my favorite photos of her. I’ve never fully grieved and think of her every day, but I’m hoping the sadness will start to fade after a while and be replaced with happy memories. As an atheist, I don’t really believe in heaven or hell, but I’m making an exception for her. She was an incredible woman, and I hope there was something better waiting for her on the other side. She deserved it.

 

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