What Do We Do?

Say you are mentally ill, or an advocate for the mentally ill, or are related to or friends with someone who has a mental illness. You have been reading this blog. Maybe you agree with some of its points, or benefit from the thoughts offered here.

What would I have you do?

I don’t want anyone to try to start a revolution. A new paradigm may be on its way for mental health treatment, but I am not asking people to hold up signs, boycott clinics, confront healthcare professionals, or call Senators.

I don’t want you to do nothing, however. If you read this blog, simply digest it, and go on with things, that would make me feel like this effort is being wasted.

What I would suggest is that I have been presenting people with some new perspectives about what it’s like to have schizophrenia, and how the greater modern reality involves and reflects aspects of mental illness.

I would ask that people who are not mentally ill try to resist the urge to categorize schizophrenic people as being existentially inferior or completely disabled. Their abilities might surprise you.

I would also request that schizophrenics and other mentally ill people realize that they may have hidden resources, and therefore they should not give up and become consumers in every way.

I am really asking for some slight changes in attitude– changes that would only benefit people by raising their levels of consciousness.

 

“What To Do With Words”
A Poem By Thomas Park

You could pretend they were warm
And wear them
(The approaching cold would feel only sharper)

Use them like a bullhorn, try
To herd people
(They are like cats, and would go their own way)

Words could indicate objects
(Which you would miss when they were gone)

I could tell your story
With words
(But it might make you feel uncomfortable)

Maybe I will play an old record,
“Disintegration”
And drag you down with me
Using words

Words best suggest, without proving
Admit to frustration, without resolving

Words connect us, like strained nerves

Reflect unfullfillment
Narrate human effort

Testify
Our
Testaments
Our
Testimonials

My Place In The Corner

I am not afraid of holidays, as some people are. I do not have seasonal affective disorder. I also have no special reason not to look forward to Christmas.

But, what can I say– it is true that being 46 and schizophrenic is different than being 12 and healthy– and this seems especially true on Christmas.

And that’s ok. Recent years, I am no longer the center of attention, making a huge pile of wrapping paper, and shouting about everything I open.

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There is still a place for me, in the corner, from which I can watch the rest of my family celebrating.

I feel fortunate, just to be alive on this day, to be forgiven my sins by Christ, and to celebrate his birth with family.

My thoughts go to the sick, and, especially to those stuck outside, with nowhere warm to sleep or rest. May God protect them.

And to those alone, please realize– you are not really alone. You are just sitting in your own corner, like I will be, and many like me– and many like you.

I hope you can find peace nonetheless.

Merry Christmas!

The Power To Deny

My schizophrenia has resulted in a certain type of sensitivity. I don’t want to indicate that reality has a formless, absurd quality– I don’t want to deny anything– or, at least, without affirming something else that is equally viable.

I have to end every phrase on an “up” note. I am afraid to seem negative, or to bring people down.

Through work experiences, and as a result of getting older, I am picking up a new technique– the power to deny.

Much can be accomplished in life by suggesting things, coming up with more and more ideas, and more and more encouragement.

At a certain point, a person has to negate things, as well.

In a work environment, since I often play a role of watcher– sitting quietly, observing a space, and making sure that everything stays as it should be, I find that my thoughts tend towards temptations. My point then is to deny those temptations.

Indeed, for many periods of time, I seem to be conceiving of temptations, and simply nullifying them using my mind and will-power.

Thoughts that don’t help need to be eradicated, before they are realized.

That is why I often exercise– my “Power To Deny”.

“Skim Milk, Cream”

“Skim Milk, Cream”
A Poem By Thomas Park

In the painting, the poet
Sat calmly at his desk, feathered pen in hand

Myself, I was visiting a friend
Out of money, mind blurry
From illness

Perhaps that was one of several times
That I went off of my meds
To prove my ability

Jake let me into his apartment
He had tracked my degeneration
Watched me get sick

He set a cd on the floor, spun it
Spoke to me of truth, hallucination
Light reflected off of the disc’s metal surface

He handed me a jar of pennies and nickels

I left the apartment

I carried the coins to the bus stop,
(They would help with fare home
And food for some days)

The bus door opened, my pants,
Too large, began to fall down

Pulling them up, I dropped the change jar

The bus of commuters
Watched mutely as hundreds of pennies and nickels
Spilled in the steps of the bus
On the street, the sidewalk

Observed patiently as I picked them up
Frantically, with great shame

I gave a few of Jake’s coins to the driver
And started my journey home

At this point, you might imagine
That I am cleaning my poet’s pen
And returning it to its jar

As the writer Philip K. Dick suggests,
“Things Are Not Always As They Seem
Skim Milk Masquerades As Cream”.

Hard Holidays

I have a friend who is a psychiatrist. He told me that the holidays are his most active time, when many people suffer extremes of emotion, calling out for help.

From my social media feed, I can see that this is the case. A number of people are asking for support, and some providing it.

I remember when I was in college. At the time, I did not want to have anything to do with my family, so I spent a Christmas holiday in my fraternity house.

Everyone left the house, and near-silence settled in. I quickly realized my mistake. I was all alone, with nothing to do, in the brutal Chicago December.

I sat around, helpless, for a number of hours, listening to the wind blowing outside.

There was a knock on my door.

It was my fraternity brother, John. He had made a large pot of spaghetti, and had more than he needed. He generously offered it to me.

It was my sustenance for most of the weekend.

My thanks to John, and people like him.

If you are hungry, in whatever way, may there be sustenance for you on this holiday.

Some Questions

Are a failure to adapt and disability the same thing?

Can a person struggle to assimilate, while remaining able?

Could disability, at least in part, arise mainly from a continued struggle to assimilate– and what does this suggest?

On the flip side– if a person was a healthcare professional– doctor, caseworker, public safety officer– and a person failed to assimilate– what would be the next step?

Why do some people have a hard time fitting in, and what is there to do about that?

More Prose By Matthew Freeman

I asked poet Matt Freeman to write a work of prose from the point of view of a “sane” person. Oddly enough, I find his work to be essentially identical to the work of a person who is “sane”.

What separates Matt’s work from that of a healthy writer? The self-doubt, the awkwardness, the hope– I think we’ve all felt similarly. Is it just that Matt “knows” that he has schizophrenia? Or is there something deeper? I can only wonder.

If a person can imagine it, personify it– can it be? If not, then why not?

Referential Quotidian

As I write this while listening to clear Vivaldi I’ve come to realize that I am at an interesting and rather invisible point in my recovery where mostly I keep my mouth shut and walk down Delmar and smile at everyone like my salesman father in his best mood and no matter how bad it gets I am generally grateful for all of the miracles that have occurred beyond belief and I’m still surprised I think somehow I have entered this season where against all temptation to really let loose I have kept taking my meds and have not picked up that huge glass of beer and no matter what fear I can run my little workshop or sing my songs and I feel now I’m in the serious experience of explaining how this so-called and highly valued insight– like that little sign could mean me or the loud window slamming in the alley or the pen in the parking lot as I walk my way to the library or maybe Jakob Dylan had hear of me in New York etc. and all this same old stuff I can doubt—none of this ability to discount certain affects came overnight but was the result of sitting hours in a room where everyone was suggesting mildly that I was crazy and because I didn’t want to be known as crazy I was mostly stiff and silent trying to think things through and I might have blurted a few times “are you guys mad at me” so that in twenty years I have gone and learned something which mainly is consigned to silence in conversation but which comes out in my poems and especially my new songs because who really has dissected paranoia or the possibility of a mic in your heating vent in a simple popular song and clearly that’s the bomb shit and the given and the one thought to the bitter end of clear beautiful sanity that can in no way be won by evasion or continual in and out of the hospital and as I have pointed out in an embarrassed way we are so very close to heaven and things are plain and near and people are a fun mystery and I thank all the nurses and doctors and all of my friends and family for helping me along the river of vision which is beset on all sides by the wilderness of terror and I shall remain as I am despite all blocking devices.

A Wain Cat

Artist Louis Wain is well-known, in part, for painting a series of cat images, as he gradually lost his sanity. I would like to spend a few moments looking at two of them.

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The first and earlier image still bears a good resemblance to what we think of as a cat. It has a cartoon-ish quality, though, and it is unusual to see what appear to be emanations from the animal– these lines of energetic colors.

To me, the energy lines are partly aesthetic, but mainly I would suggest that they connote an unusual idea or set of ideas about the cat. There is a wild, frightening quality about the cat (according to Wain), and he is trying to capture this.

The colors, too– they are quite unique. An unusual combination of tones. I could only describe their effect as creating uneasiness. These are not the gentle, harmonic color tones of a Monet, that is for certain.

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The second image shows a movement into the more abstract, and even psychedelic. More than anything I can think of, it resembles a 1970’s album cover.

The image barely connotes a cat. It has devolved into a series of patterns, and these display a stomach-churning symmetry. The cat is no longer a familiar pet– it is an amalgamation of barely organic forces. It is more as though we are seeing the family cat without its skin– forced to look at its organs.

Perhaps it is clearest to say that the second cat has become abstracted to a degree that is unnatural.

That may be the point to be observed– that schizophrenia may not involve a lack of abstraction, but rather the existence of a particular kind of unwholesome, redundant, disquieting abstraction.

I can’t help but to think of the harsh, high-pitched fractal ambient pieces I composed when I first became schizophrenic– and the effect they had on my family, when they heard them.

I can’t offer a remedy for this kind of abstraction. Maybe if Wain had spent more time petting the cat than depicting it, he might have reached a more comfortable state of mind.

A New Language

Do you ever notice that thoughts tend to take their course in the same way? Maybe when you talk about certain subjects, you get stuck in a familiar pattern, a familiar rut?

I have a crazy, schizophrenic idea.

I find that there are a lot of important discussions going on today. For example, many people are concerned with political or social issues, such as racial or gender equality, the wage gap, and similar concerns.

The problem I face is that, as soon as I think about issues like these, I find myself thrown in one direction or another– in fact, I generally end up cursing to myself, or feeling upset.

The words we use concerning certain issues can be quite loaded. For example, I bet you can think of occasions when terms like, for example, “shine” or “yellow”– which should be, in essence, harmless, might not be appreciated.

I feel that a lot of the trouble comes from how we put things, and that one word or term seems to suggest another. People can be very attenuated about words that are used– sometimes so much so that meanings beneath are lost.

We need some Stanford linguistics grad student to come up with some new ways of putting things, that are neutral and have no connotations, so we can talk about charged issues again without offending one another.