Welcome to Metro Mini-Mart

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Welcome to Metro Mini-Mart, home of Entenmann’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, Brigham’s Ice Cream in all flavors, all kinds of soda (you may call it “tonic” or “pop” or “coke”), Snickers Pop ’ems, cigarettes of all types, Giant Hershey’s bars including those with or without almonds, Giant Nestle’s Crunch, Giant Symphony bar (both with and without toffee, Cadbury Fruit ‘n Nut, King Size Reese’s, 5 oz bag of Twizzlers, Sun Chips, Potato Chips, Pop Tarts, Aunt Jamima Pancake Mix, free matches to light your cigarettes, Breyer’s Ice Cream, Doritos, Entenmann’s Cheese Danish, cigarette lighters, Entenmann’s chocolate cake, scratch tickets, milk, chocolate milk, Betty Crocker Brownie Mix, Betty Crocker Chocolate Frosting, M&M’s, The Boston Globe, and nail clippers.

I think I”ll pass on The Boston Globe.  The news is just too depressing.

Time to get therapized!

9/6/2006


 


QUESTIONS I PLAN TO ASK THE POTENTIAL NEW THERAPIST


 


Dr. Ryder is leaving around Thanksgiving time, and I will have to choose a new therapist.  My friend Joshua suggested making a list of questions to ask each potential therapist.  He had his own list of questions that he found at a website, and he used these in his search for a therapist–which, by the way, was successful.


 


I decided to do a similar web search.  Here are some questions an experienced therapy-goer suggested:


 


What is your training?


What is your philosophy of therapy?


Do you work mostly with historical issues or current issues?


How long have you been practicing?


What do you consider your specialties?


Is there any particular population that you work with most?


What is your feeling about medication?


Do you work with a particular psychiatrist?


 


Fine.  But would answers to these questions tell me anything?  Probably not.  Here’s how I plan to go about it:


 


There is some basic information I need before I can ask anything else.  One therapist suggested that one should request this information over the phone, and if the therapist says I have to schedule an office visit to answer any questions, it’s time to cross that therapist off the list.


 


Do you take my insurance?


What is your cancellation policy?


Are you available in a crisis?


 


Once I’ve determined that the therapist is worthy of an office visit (having already determined that the office is accessible by public transportation by checking the office address using www.mbta.com) I will schedule a visit.  Here is another point of note: if the therapist can’t “squeeze me in” for another month, I should probably look elsewhere.


 


The office: Is it REALLY accessible by public transportation, and if so, is the building wheelchair accessible, in case I injure myself again?  If the office is cluttered with Ouija boards and crystal balls, and the therapist wears a snake around her neck, I think I’ll end the session early.


 


So here are some, or perhaps all of the questions I will ask the prospective therapist:


1) “What made you decide to become a therapist?”


2) “What do you like the least about being a therapist?”


3) “When you go home for the day, do you think about work, or do you set it aside and think about other things?”


4) “Looking back on your schooling, was there one teacher you’ll never forget?  Describe the person.”


 


For the first question, I’m hoping for any response that isn’t sentimental.  For the second, I am expecting most people to answer that they are most frustrated dealing with insurance companies, but this may in fact not be the case, so the answer will be an eye-opener for me.  For the third question I am specifically looking for an answer that indicates that the therapist sets work aside and deals with real life when she leaves the office, because over-involvement in the affairs of patients is never a good thing. 


 


The fourth question will tell me the most about the therapist, and she will not be able disguise herself in her reply.  I will learn what qualities she admires in a person, what she aspires to, and how she feels about herself.  I will learn something about her life.


 


By now, if I like the therapist, we will be engaged in dialogue.  If the therapist is a good one, I will be eager to tell her things about myself, and will probably already have thrown in a humorous line or two (or attempt at humor) and told her all about QB.


 


And then, the work begins….

The writing’s on the wall

9/5/2006


 


GRAFFITI


 


The other day I walked on some of the new concrete sidewalk tiles that were created over the past couple of weeks.  Some kids–I assume they weren’t adults–carved their names in one tile before the concrete dried.  I recall the name Angelina.  There were other names as well. I promise a photo tomorrow.


 


If I were a child again, how would I feel about having my own name carved in concrete?  Would I be proud to be memorialized in stone? Would having hundreds, thousands of passersby read my name make me feel any better about myself?


 


Or would I be embarrassed?  Would having my name out there be a source of teasing from the other students?  I imagine cringing every time I see my name, created by my own hand, read by others, a source of permanent scorn, of shame, of hatred.


 


Thinking of this, I rode the bus a short distance to the gym, then met with my personal trainer, Katrina, for a brief strength-training session.  My goal was to learn as many new exercises as I could (and remember them afterward) to spice up my workouts.  Katrina is as enthusiastic as a trainer can get, explaining deltoids and triceps the way I might talk about point of view and surrealism.  We get along great.


 


It must have been when I was doing a biceps curl that I realized Katrina was in fact not looking at my arms.  I honestly believe she hasn’t noticed.  So often in the past people have stared at the self-inflicted carvings on my arms–and how have I felt?  Embarrassed?  Ashamed?  Do I fear being teased?  Does having made my pain visible, some 25 years ago, affect how I feel about myself now? 


 


It is a question that daunts me, because sometimes I think I feel proud, proud that my pain has been memorialized on my flesh, proud of the fact that I endured–and survived.


 

You all are the first to see this

I just finished writing this.  It’s a rough draft of my essay for re-admission to Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing program.  It’s been two years since I left, or, rather, it will be two years by the time I get back in.

It took a little while to write this, folks.  That’s why you didn’t hear from me yesterday.

I’m still working on being able to write at home.  So far, I can only get work done while I’m at the library.

Here it is:

In order to fully understand the circumstances under which I left Goddard in March, 2005, one would have to understand the circumstances under which I was accepted into the college and subsequently entered in January, 2004.

I imagine everyone who was accepted into Goddard’s MFA-CW program received a welcome call from Paul Selig. Mine was recorded by my answering machine; I was out at the time, spending time with the family of my beloved boyfriend, my dear Joe who had died suddenly of a heart attack only a few days before, on August 19, 2003. He and I had been together 13 years. Of course I was glad to be accepted to Goddard, but I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually unable to jump for joy.

Losing a loved one, especially so suddenly and unexpectedly, leaves one numb and passionless. I spent the fall in imaginary conversations with Joe, describing to him what I saw as I went about my day: the UMass/Boston campus, and my professor, whose hair and beard, Joe and I would have privately joked, were unkempt–ah, but Joe and I had our code words for such things; I would have described to Joe the student who talked too much, another whose poems were always about being frustrated in Boston traffic, and of course the Red Sox fan who couldn’t help but put baseball into her poems–nine stanzas, in some poems–and in my imagination I explained to Joe what a stanza was. I didn’t think he remembered.

In October I had to put my dog to sleep. Tiger and Joe were the two I loved more than anyone, and they had a special bond with each other as well. I told my brother that Tiger must have died of a broken heart. My brother said that Joe must have needed Tiger.

So I was coming to Goddard in January, 2004 with a load on my shoulders about which I told very few people. Yes, the campus was beautiful, the sky bright, the snow perfect, but I didn’t even feel the extreme cold that winter. I fell asleep during the first few readings I attended, and eventually gave up on going to readings altogether. I was able to absorb the material but did not feel passionate about what I was learning. I withdrew into myself and although I was surrounded by friendly people, I felt very, very alone.

And so my first semester went. I had made no friends at Goddard; in fact, I had no friends anyway except those I knew on the Internet. I was trying to raise a rambunctious new puppy all by myself and get my work done with no support from anyone.

What bothered me most, though, was the fact that I felt no enthusiasm whatsoever about what I was doing. Throughout my college life, I had been an overachiever in my studies, always doing more than what was required, learning for learning’s sake; I loved studying and thrived on it. Suddenly, all that was gone. My work was barely adequate according to my standards, according to anyone’s standards. I secretly hoped that my advisor, Kenny Fries, would fail me. I passed, but two days after I mailed in my final packet of the semester, I was hospitalized in a local psychiatric unit–enough was enough.

Given that I have a psychiatric disability, a hospitalization for me isn’t as shocking to those that know me as it would be if it were my first time admitted. But that doesn’t make it any less painful or scary for me. I returned to Goddard in July feeling fragile and depressed, still wishing Kenny would fail me, because that was what I deserved.

Whoever matches roommates for the residencies deserves a lot of credit. For my second residency, I roomed with Jennifer Rumford, who was and still is a godsend to me. We kept in touch over the course of my second, and her first, semester, encouraging each other and comparing notes. For a change, I had an ally, a friend, and she has helped me more than she knows.

But even with Jennifer on my side, I struggled. I was attempting to write a novel with a very close psychic distance point-of-view character based on my mother. My sister-in-law was quite excited about the project, thinking that as a writer, I’d have plenty of fun “playing” with this fictional “Mom.” But just as my real-life relationship with my mother is shaky, so was my relationship with my character. I began to hate Irma. I wanted to play with her like a doll, put her clothes on backwards, pour bleach onto her hair, and then twist her limbs into impossible positions.

I was hospitalized before the end of the semester but finished in March, then was hospitalized four more times over a period of a year. By that time, I had no hope left of ever returning to Goddard, or even taking an adult education course. I only wanted Joe back. The hospital social worker wanted me to attend a mental health day program, and when I refused, she told me there was nothing more she could do for me.

Time after time, it has been my writing that has saved me. Writing kept me sane during my insane stay at a state hospital (a prison, really) in 1986. My journal saw me through high school, helped me while I considered whether to run away from home. My writing has kept records of people and events I would otherwise have forgotten. And so, having started an informal blog in 2005, I continued it more seriously in 2006, writing in it nearly every day, little essays and words of wisdom, or sometimes simply a notation of events to inform my readers that I’m still here. I began going to the library daily to write, and found the process addicting. My blog readership has expanded to about 20 regular readers along with those who pop in out of cyberspace. And thus I rediscovered myself as a writer, no longer writing fiction, but creative nonfiction, and I take my writing very seriously.

I feel ready to return to Goddard, especially after having found the right combination of medications to keep myself healthy. One medication in particular seems like a miracle pill. It wasn’t until I started taking Topamax (jokingly called “Dopamax” by insiders) that I realized I was in fact again capable of graduate study.

Of course, given that a blog is not yet an acceptable form of publishable work, my creative thesis would consist of stand-alone personal essays about mental health. I am particularly excited to begin work on an essay on “shock treatments,” which would include reflections on my conversations with a “shock doc” and patients (whoever will agree to talk to me), plus my own experiences.

August 19, 2006. Three years had passed since Joe’s death. For the first time, on this anniversary, I was able to grieve, because now I could think clearly. Through writing, I had worked through my loss and gotten rid of the clutter in my head that was keeping me from feeling the sadness I desperately needed to embrace.

My dog had a veterinary appointment that day with his behavior specialist. My dog was particularly naughty. I was too heavy-hearted that day to feel embarrassed; the embarrassment only came a couple of days later, when I sat down at the library to report the incidents to my blog readers, to write yet one more time.

Topamax, week 8

8/30/2006


 


I DON’T DO THAT ANYMORE


 


Yesterday I stepped off the #71 bus convinced that I was about to go on an eating binge.  Wasn’t that what the Beings wanted all along?  I haven’t binged at all since mid-July, but lately my eating has been somewhat haphazard.  Considering that my thinking has been disorganized due to my medication situation, I’ve done amazingly well with food; however, I knew I was about to lose it.  The CVS drugstore was right there.  I figured I could buy junk food, take it home, and eat it in private.  I would be so full I could burst. 


 


The automatic doors opened for me as I tiptoed inside the store, then they swished shut.  I made a quick one-eighty and marched back out onto the sidewalk.  Binge?  Why should I do that?  I don’t do that anymore.


 


I decided to walk home instead of taking the bus.   Evil, be gone.  I stopped at a store near my home WHERE I USED TO BUY BINGE FOOD (I had to get that out there) and bought a pack of cigarettes.  Menthol.  Smoking would get rid of the Evil Beings.  It always worked.


 


I’m one of those people who can pick up a pack of cigarettes, smoke a bunch, then put them down again for another six months or a year when I need them again.  Research shows that nicotine actually helps some symptoms of mental illness.  I wouldn’t recommend smoking to anyone, though.  It kills.


 


I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m getting better with the food.  Hear me?  Why should I binge?  I don’t do that anymore.


 


 


 


 

After all that work, this better not get lost in cyberspace….

Dear Admissions,

I hope that I am writing to the correct e-mail address.  My name is Julie Greene.  I am a student who completed two semesters of study at Goddard beginning January, 2004 in the MFA-CW program.  During my second semester I was hospitalized due to my psychiatric disability, but managed to complete the semester on extension the following March, 2005.  At that point, though, I was unable to continue.

Thankfully, I’m now well enough to return for the spring semester, 2007.  Just as there have been drastic changes in my life over the past two years, my writing has changed as have my study goals.  I ceased work on my creative thesis, realizing that I hated my main character (who was modeled after my mother), and began work on a blog, a series of informal essays and chats about mental health and related topics.  Through the blog, which now has about 20 regular readers (and a few that pop in out of cyberspace) I’ve come to realize that creative nonfiction is my true calling.  Many of the blog essays are stand-alone pieces.  I envision my creative thesis as a series of personal essays that center on the topic of mental health and branch out to issues such as “shock treatments,” homelessness, and the media.

I would like to come to the Port Townsend residency.  Because I am very shy and don’t make friends easily, I thought a smaller group of people would be more comfortable for me.

I have spoken on the telephone with Paul Selig and he sees no problem with my plan so far.  I understand that extra semesters will be required; that is not a problem for me, because it means more learning.

Thanks,

Julie Greene

www.breakdownlanetraveled.com

Psychosis

8/21/2006


 


MORE THAN A MISHAP


 


I’m not going to bore you with the details of my medication regimen and the changes that have been made recently, except to say that I didn’t react well to the reduction in my dose of Risperdal, an “atypical” antipsychotic medication, and–well, became psychotic on Saturday.  It wasn’t pleasant.


 


“Became psychotic.”  That could mean anything.  I will attempt to describe it, but given that not only are words to describe psychosis are difficult to come by, but also that it is painful to wring out of myself words for such a terrifying experience, my efforts may fall short of what you, readers, may be anticipating.


 


The first thing I noticed was extreme anxiety beginning a week ago, that I felt continuously throughout the week up through the present time.  My hands tremble and my insides jostle as if I were ill.  Though I’m aware of the nervousness I can’t seem to rid myself of it.  It seems constant and isn’t dependent on outside events.  I can function with it perfectly well, though.  It’s an awful nuisance but it doesn’t stop me from doing the things I want to do, and it seems to abate while I am exercising, which explains why I’ve been feeling like running triathlons lately.


 


This particular Saturday was the anniversary of Joe’s death, the 19th of August.  Three years is a short time and I miss him as if he had died yesterday.  This anniversary has been particularly difficult this year because on the Topamax I can truly feel emotions as they are to be felt, without inner turmoil mucking up my feelings and twisting them into mayhem.  I can truly feel sadness without the interference of Evil Beings or depression or eating binges.  I can feel sad and nothing else, feel the sadness in my whole body, or just in my heart or my head or my fingertips.


 


Such was the case until I became psychotic.  I noticed an increase in my anxiety level.  Breathing became difficult.  I assumed I was about to have a panic attack–should I lie down, perhaps?  I surveyed the room, feeling sick.  The radio volume increased without my touching the dials.  I sat, to keep myself from falling.  The music–boom, boom!–smacked my back.  Electricity ran through my limbs.  Something cracked.  I held my hands before me–my hand!  My right hand was gone–melted, amputated–gone; several ants scurried over the stump.  A bright light came in the window, brighter than the sun.  I held my left hand around my right wrist, and around the stump–yes, the skin was gooey, the hand had melted off–and tried to block out the Evil light.  Boom, boom!  A thousand silver fingers began speaking to me.  And that was the worst of it–the fish-like fingers speaking to me.  And here I must stop.  I cannot go on.


 


I do not recall how I managed, with all that happening to me, to realize I needed a Thorazine–fast–and to grab the bottle from the box where I keep all of the bottles (safe from the dog), and take one.  I don’t actually remember taking the pill, but it worked.


 


I phoned my therapist and my psychiatrist a while later.  My psychiatrist, Dr. P, clearly didn’t want to be disturbed (so why was she on call?).  She blasted me for bothering her.  I was left on my own to decide whether to rely on Thorazine to get me through the next few days and the coming week, or to raise the Risperdal.  I’ve done both.


 


Keep your fingers crossed for me, and so will I.

And you thought you needed tech support….

8/18/2006


 


Right here in this library, my firewall developed a sudden and severe case of paranoia.  Sygate Personal Firewall (why do they call firewalls “personal”?)–let’s call him Sy–announced that Yahoo and MusicMatch had been illegally communicating with each other and that they had to be blocked (application hijacking!).  One by one, he blocked every program I wanted to open.  First, he closed down Yahoo Instant Messenger, which I wasn’t using to begin with, then I couldn’t open my e-mail.  Word took damn long to open and finally I couldn’t get Explorer to connect even to Google.  Sy had battened down the hatches and he wasn’t letting anyone in.  And you can bet he was standing right behind the door with a loaded gun in his hands.


 


I had no choice.  I’ve tried altering Sy with no luck.  It was time, I decided, to uninstall him.  Let him have a little time for himself, in cyberspace somewhere away from my computer, where he can get his rest, nutrition, and of course meds.


 


Sad, isn’t it?