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.

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A change in the weather

a cure for what ails you, major depression, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

I was out for a walk yesterday when it hit me: I haven’t felt actually depressed since Thursday. Occasionally anxious and agitated? Sure, but mostly in response to external stressors. I’m mostly flat/content, but have had a few moments of what I think is mild happiness. The climate in my head isn’t quite sunny and 75 yet, but it’s slowly improving.

The lamictal seems to be doing its job, but I’m still living in fear of the rash. Every time I feel itchy (which happens frequently, considering how much I’ve been outside lately and my allergies to tree pollen), I freak out and pop allergy pills and repeatedly ask D. to check and make sure I’m not getting blotchy. The actual rash doesn’t scare me—it’s the prospect of having the one thing that’s finally making me feel stable stripped away from me without warning.

Being outside, going for long walks around the pond (especially when D. works nights, when I get too anxious and lonely to sit in the apartment by myself) has been incredibly therapeutic. In Middleton, there are so many places to walk to, so many things to see. It’s not a large town, but it’s a step up from Cross Plains, which was tiny, and my hometown of Dubuque, which was not exactly what one might call “pedestrian-friendly.”

How do you all feel about being in nature? Does it help your mood to just get out, even if you’re alone?

Snap.

ptsd, self-harm, therapy

I hook my middle finger, the nail decorated with a colorful paisley design, beneath the thick rubber band on my left wrist and take a moment to relish the way the thin oval distorts. Then, I let go. Snap. It hurts like hell but it feels like penance and for a moment, my head is quiet again.

*

Tuesday night, I get  pretty low and confess to D. that I’m feeling like self-harming. He pats my knee comfortingly, then runs upstairs and returns a few minutes later with a thick rubber band in his hand.

“Use this,” he says. “I don’t want you hurting yourself.” At this point, I’ve made it two and a half weeks since my last cutting incident. I sit obediently beside him on the couch, fuzzy red blanket draped over my knees, and stare blankly out into space. This thousand-yard stare is one of the signs my husband has learned to watch for–an indication that the disconnect between my mind and my body has become so severe that my own physical well-being has not only taken a backseat to the noise in my head, it has actually fallen out of the hatchback and was abandoned on the dusty road several miles back.

Snap. Snap. Snap. I pull at the rubber band, my mouth set in a grim line, gaze fixed at an indeterminate point somewhere in front of me. D. sighs and returned to his video game, wisely deciding to give me some time to be alone with my thoughts.

*

For as long as I can remember, strong negative emotions such as shame, guilt, or fear have caused some indescribable darkness to rise up inside of me. I become fidgety, unable to concentrate because my mind is overwhelmed with the urge to punish myself for my perceived wrongdoing. The emotions can be prompted by anything–even something as innocuous as awkwardly phrasing a remark to a coworker that results in a millisecond of confusion is enough to make me long for the blade some days. The fact that I carry around a fair amount of emotional baggage and anxiety from the PTSD doesn’t help; in fact, it’s likely the cause. My therapist is aware of my self-punitive nature and plans to work with me to correct it. In the treatment plan we created together during our first meeting, we decided on self-love as one of my goals. I mentioned “self-forgiveness” as another.

“Forgive yourself for what?” she asked, incredulous. I shrugged.

Even when I consciously try to pin down where this self-loathing came from, I feel as though I’m only scratching the surface. However, my mother is the proverbial black sheep of the family, and I remember thinking from a very young age that I had to be excellent, make something of myself to atone for any damage she might have done. This attitude was not forced upon me by the rest of my family, though they were, naturally, pleased whenever I accomplished something. I’ve always been a very driven person, though that drive comes with a high price: a heavy heart and lots of anxiety. I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, but for every achievement there is a myriad of tiny sins–stupid, insignificant things that most people would feel foolish over for a moment and then promptly dismiss–that never seem to go away.

Instead of beating myself up for hours over an email that could have been worded better or a text that was sent to the wrong person (it shouldn’t come as any surprise that most of the shame-inducing thoughts that lead to the urge to punish myself involve communication with others), I snap myself once or twice with the rubber band and it’s done–I’ve atoned, in my own small way, for these shortcomings and can move on. And if the thoughts come back…well, you know. Snap.

I don’t see a problem with it as a short-term solution for grounding myself and derailing the endless barrage of negative thoughts. Being snapped with a rubber band hurts, and much like a spanking will shock an errant child into listening to his or her parents, the snap of the band against the tender skin of my wrist forces me to come to, to be in the moment and face actual reality instead of the nonstop shit-show my brain concocts for me. I’m on the lookout, of course, for signs that it could become a compulsive self-harming behavior, but in the meantime, I’m willing to just go with it. The song “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” comes to mind, though my end goal is achieving a default mental state where I can look at an embarrassing moment and pass it off as an innocuous gaffe–nothing more, nothing less.