So long as they don’t

So long as they don’t schedule the Health Arts and Sciences program at the same time as the Creative Writing program!  What a fiasco!

Those students in HAS–you think I have a mental illness?–they are bonkers.  A breakfast conversation went something like this:

“What are you eating?”


“Do you have fruit in it?”

“Yes, bananas.”

“You should never, never eat dairy and fruit at the same time.  That combination will give you mini-farts.”

“Yes, and never eat meat and bread together, never have a turkey sandwich, for instance.”

“I think you should never eat peanut butter!  It’s very bad for you!”

“It gives you cancer!”

“Peanut butter!  Peanut butter!”

“And all those fat people, those fat people who can’t control what they eat.”

“It’s the enzymes in their food.”

“Yes, enzymes and whiteness.”

“Whiteness, yes.”

“And they eat like pigs.”

“No, no pork, either.”

“No pork.”


I’m serious.  Those HAS students are lethal to anyone who has an eating disorder, to anyone who has ever had an eating disorder, and to anyone who has even ever heard of an eating disorder!  Beware!  I ended up giving a pack of cigarettes to my HAS student roommate (she was truly the roommate from Hell) just to shut her up!  Of course, I only smoked three cigarettes the whole eight days I was at the residency, so I didn’t mind giving her the remainder of my supply–it was worth it.


Proud to be a student at Goddard College

Goddard’s MFA program is the toughest college degree program I’ve ever encountered.  The college is also the most liberal that I’ve ever attended.  I wish I’d been at Goddard in the 1960’s!  Wouldn’t that have been cool!

Read this:

Now read this:

Goddard is no longer a “residential” college.  Contrary to what most people have heard, the college did not “downsize” due to “financial problems.”  In fact, the college is flourishing from what I can gather.  They had to close the dorms because structurally the newer dorms did not conform to standards set by the college accreditation committee, and it would have been too expensive to upgrade those dorms.  The “low residency” programs are going strong and the college keeps adding more programs!  The latest is the BFA in Creative Writing program.  That is the undergraduate degree that I hold from Emerson College.

The residency I will be attending in Washington State will be taking place from July 14th until the 22nd.  I will leave the 13th and return the 23rd.  Goddard’s Creative Writing MFA program got so big that the college started the Port Townsend, WA program in addition to the one at their regular Plainfield, VT campus.  I’m one of those rare people who had the privilege of attending both campuses.

Be back in a few minutes.

A conversation with my therapist

Goldie: This is very interesting.  Could you explain it further?

Me:  Not really.  But I wrote about it in my blog.  You can read about it there.

Goldie:  So, instead of answering my question you are asking me to read your blog?

Me: Yes.

Goldie: Do you find it easier to express yourself in writing than by other means?


Humarock 11

Humarock is a finger of land.  On one side is river; on the other is ocean.  Problem is, I can never figure out which side is which.

My original thesis was a work of fiction that took place at Humarock.  The main character was modeled after my mother.  But could you picture my mother, here?


One day, we went to Plymouth.  It’s very touristy but we had fun anyway.

Plymouth 1

PRN: what it means–my coping list



Take a shower
Clean the apartment

Make a list of what I’m going to do and do it
Structure my time
Stick to my routine

Focus on something real
Don’t listen to anything in my head that’s negative or intrusive
Do head tricks to get rid of bad thoughts

Try to figure out what’s bothering me, write about it or talk it over with someone
Ask for feedback
Do something nice for someone

Eat right and get enough sleep
Drink only caffeine-free beverages

I wrote this list a number of years ago when I was a patient of Dr. Mosley, who had me writing all sorts of lists, one list for each problem that I had–there were many.  I put all the lists into a notebook, and then extracted from them a master list, and this list was the result.  With the exception of the last line, “Drink only caffeine-free beverages,” I try to follow these guidelines today.  I’m not necessarily perfect at it, but making an honest attempt is more helpful than doing nothing at all.

Of course, telling the reader that he or she should also follow this list is not my intention.  I hope not to preach.  I only want to share my thoughts so that they may serve to interest the reader a little; if I’ve raised one-tenth of someone’s eyebrow, then I’ve succeeded.

Why have a list?  Lists make things easier.  People make to-do lists and shopping lists so that they will not forget what they need to do or to buy.  Recipes list ingredients to put into a cake.  Towns have voting lists; restaurants have menus.  Dr. Mosley and I felt that if I were having a problem, it would be handy to be able to quickly refer to a list rather than a detailed dissertation on coping skills.  The list form lends itself to a certain pattern: “If A does not work, try B; if B does not work, try C,” and so on.  The list is long enough so that completion of the tasks would be difficult if not impossible to do in a single day, and the steps can be repeated again and again, so the list is never truly exhausted.

Perhaps “PRN” sums up the entire list, because it is to be used PRN.  PRN is a medical abbreviation that stands for Pro Re Nata, in Latin, “for an occasion as it arises.”  To a doctor, PRN means “as needed.”  Our patient may fall asleep readily on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, but on Thursday he can’t stop turning; let’s give him a PRN (as needed) sleeping pill, just for tonight.  The list is to be used when needed, Pro Re Nata.

However, the specific “PRN” I wrote on the top of the list does indeed refer to medication.  My doctor has told me to take extra Thorazine when I am symptomatic.  I am not particularly cooperative about taking it.  I have to be reminded, often several times.  Taking PRN medication is the first recommendation on the list; the remaining tasks follow as the medication takes effect.  I do not receive full benefit from Thorazine until after an hour has passed, though I feel some effect after 20 minutes.  By the time I have taken a shower, some of that medication is already in my system.

The first group of instructions contains specific tasks.  Do this, do that.  When I first come upon a list, overwhelmed by my need of such list, I want to know right away what to do, and the list tells me: PRN, shower, exercise, write, read, clean.  Verbs.  The next set of instructions tells me to stick to the list, and to write yet another list if necessary–pro re nata–and to stick to that list, too.  Following are some instructions that I am to do inside my head.  The next set has to do with my dealings with others, that is, outside my head, and the final set touches upon matters of lifestyle.

I do know that I put a great deal of thought into my list, but I also know that I didn’t write it with the same care as those who wrote the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps or The Lord’s Prayer.  Nonetheless my list came out neatly packaged and so I typed it up and put a copy in my kitchen and made copies of the file in various virtual folders.  And backed it up on floppy (the preferred method used when Dr. Mosley was my therapist).  Periodically, I e-mail the list to a curious friend, copied and pasted into an e-mail; friends may or may not find the list useful, but they are generally thankful.  Sometimes we exchange lists; it is common for therapists to have their patients write out “coping” or “survival” lists, lists of medications they take along with doses, or lists of contact telephone numbers, numbers of people on their treatment team, supportive friends and family, emergency numbers, and so on.  Hospital staff generally write lists like these for patients upon discharge; even emergency rooms discharge patients with written instructions for aftercare.

When I look at this list now I am impressed with how simple the steps appear.  There is very little dependence on material objects or certain other people; nothing has to be at the “right place at the right time.”  Granted, a full shower will not always be available, nor will a vacuum cleaner, but the list can be adjusted according to the instruction, “Make a list of what I’m going to do and do it.”

There is only one instruction that contains a “don’t”: “Don’t listen to anything in my head that’s negative or intrusive.”  “Don’t listen,” I wrote, first of all, because these thoughts and intrusive entities I can often hear with my ears, often deep inside my ears, deep inside the wax of my ears.  “Negative” is a step away from the positive, and “intrusive” is a foreign object thrust into my thought flow.  Regarding “head tricks,” there are many that I’ve heard of; there are all different kinds of meditation and relaxation exercises people use.  I hate relaxation tapes because they remind me of the peculiar odor of hospitals; I cannot get the stink out of my nostrils–this odor can develop into a “bad thought”!  Everyone develops his or her own head tricks with practice; I have mine.  They sometimes work.

Getting back to the first section of the list, the verbs, at the top we have PRN (medication) and shower, which–I will say over and over–by themselves they will cure just about any ailment.  Next is exercise.  There has been so much research in this area that I needn’t go into too much detail or harp on the subject, except to say that some doctors overemphasize exercise.  They pluck their patients out of their beds and slap them on treadmills, expecting instant athletes.  It doesn’t work that way.  A foolish doctor once told me that if I took a brisk, two-mile walk every day, I’d have the energy to walk down the hall to get my medications.  God help us.  I put PRN and shower first on my list for a reason.

Writing, the next instruction, is what saved me when I was a patient at Urban State Hospital in 1986.  Urban State Hospital is not the actual name of the hospital; it is a pseudonym.  It makes me sick to write the real name of that hospital.

The three days I spent there translated into a 62-page document I of which I still have a copy, in a white three-ring binder.  It isn’t very good writing; none of my writing was very good back then, but I think of it as historical record: I was there.

“And why are you here?” the male nurse asked me, scribbling on his forms.

Not a bad first sentence.  Here is the rest of the paragraph:

His white shirtsleeves were rolled up in the heat, revealing his forearms, which were big and hairy.  He was the first state hospital staff person I’d met since my arrival by ambulance just moments ago.  The memory of my brief stay at the other hospital was fading rapidly, while impressions of this new place were coming into sharp focus.  It seemed that the nurse had so much paper work to do.  Each of the forms was a different size and color, which only served to confuse the man.  I thought that it would be easy to simply grab my stuff and run out the door while he was fussing with the forms.  But he was big, and had an air of confidence.  I didn’t want to mess with him.  I noticed that on each form was written my name, misspelled: “Brown�
�� instead of “Browne.”  I couldn’t let that go by.

It made me sick to write my real name, apparently.

Writing kept me sane in the insane, cruel world of the state hospital.  When my mother came to visit, she was concerned that there was no means to get any exercise at the hospital.  Exercise?  This is survival.  This is leaving your room in the morning wondering if all your belongings will still be there when you return.  This is deciding between walking the grounds and risking being raped or staying inside and not seeing daylight for months on end.  This is getting beat up for the fourth time.  These things didn’t happen to me because I was a patient for only three days, but already I felt I could trust no one; I was like an animal preyed upon, always on guard.  I was on guard 24 hours a day; even in my sleep I was vigilant.  Imagine being that fearful for a month, a year, a decade.  Yes, Mom, I exercised.  I exercised my pen to keep sane.  I exercised my pen to record exactly what I had seen.  It was more than therapy.  Writing was survival.

Anne Sexton began to write poetry as a suggestion from her doctors, who thought that it would be good “therapy” for her, and what resulted was one of the greatest poets of her era.  I wrote for survival, but that was not my first serious dabbling in writing; music faculty Lou Calabro (his real name), Bennington College music faculty (yes, I really had gone to school there, some six years before my “residency” at Urban State) steered me into taking a literature course in addition to a heavy music load; Phoebe Chao (her real name), literature faculty, taught me to love writing.  It wasn’t until I came to the state hospital that I found that writing was not only pleasurable, but necessary.  I write to stay alive.  And now, after all these years have passed, it has become my livelihood as well.

Reading is a curious challenge.  There have been many periods during the course of my illness when I’ve been unable to read.  What seems to make the difference is the way my thoughts pass through my mind.  If they’re moving at the wrong speed, either too fast or too slowly, I cannot read, or if they are jumbled and making little sense.   But if my thoughts are orderly, and my ability to endure long periods of concentration intact, I’m able to read, and enjoy a book.  I would say that ever since my illness began I’ve been unable to truly absorb myself in a book and forget that the outside world exists, though this has happened a handful of times.  College reading is almost always difficult.  Still, I have listed reading as a coping method.  Why?  Because it does something to the brain that no other activity does.  I’m convinced that reading can alleviate certain symptoms.

The last “verb” suggestion on the list is cleaning, and the best part of cleaning is that it is an activity that produces tangible results: a cleaner environment.  There was a time, for about a year, that I couldn’t stop cleaning, when I was very, very ill.  Obsessive-Compulsive disorder is a painful disease to endure.  While I knew the excessive cleaning was unnecessary, I could not rest until I’d done it over and over, until every last bit of filth was snatched up, until every corner was disinfected.  How ironic it was that such an excellent coping skill had in fact become the object of compulsion!  For that period, I had to remove “clean the apartment” from my list, on the urging of Dr. Mosley.

During that same period, I also showered compulsively.  It wasn’t infrequent for me to shower four or five times a day, and scrub myself until my skin turned pink.  Dr. Mosley (did you honestly think that was her real name?) suggested that I reduce my daily showers to two, but I felt unable to do this.  The shower was a place where I could truly get clean, where I could wash Evil from my body, where I could wash the illness out of myself and start the day clean and maybe, maybe, Evil would leave me alone that day (it never worked).

Around the time I was admitted to at Urban State Hospital, I rarely showered.  My reasons for not showering varied from laziness to fear to lack of adequate hot water and heat in my apartment.  I didn’t shower for five months until I was hospitalized at a community hospital in Vermont and the nurses “strongly suggested” that I shower.  Given that they had picked me up and forced me once in the past, I didn’t argue.  In the Urban State document I recorded having peeked over the admitting nurse’s shoulder at what he had written: “Neat, clean, quiet, and cooperative.”  I was rocking in my chair while he asked me questions, apparently, and according to the document, I hadn’t in fact showered for three weeks.

(When I returned from Urban State I paid a visit to the nurses at the quaint Vermont hospital where I’d spent many nights in 1983, not that I was fond of those nurses, but I felt that they should know that first of all I was relocating, and secondly that I’d “done time”–if there was any “fondness” in our nurse-patient relationship it must have had a distinctly acerbic quality to it–and they–they who had picked me up, dragged me to the tub, torn off my clothes, and washed me in the bath–they had nothing to say to me, not the “I’m sorry you had to endure incarceration at a state  facility,” or the “Good luck in your new location,” that I’d expected.  Just “Oh.”)

I arrived at Urban State rather late, and by the time the admitting nurse finished interviewing me, third shift had already come on and it was time for bed.  The next morning I asked if I could smoke.  According to my document, the first thing the “mental health worker,” pseudonym Rae, said to me was, “Why you shake like dat?”  It was because of my medications, Thorazine and Lithium, that I had a noticeable hand tremor.

Ask for feedback.

She asked me again, then asked, “You wanna light?” which in my overdone and possibly unnecessary way of writing dialogue in the document means, “Do you want a light?”  Patients were not allowed cigarette lighters, only cigarettes.  The staff had the sacred tool of fire; they had power; we had none.

I had to write this down.

Rae led me into a day room where about half a dozen other patients, all male, were seated in rickety metal folding chairs, smoking and watching TV.  Some looked at me and grumbled, some didn’t turn their heads.  Some kind of processional was on the TV screen, accompanied by solemn music.  A worker stood up front, watching intently, saying, “uh huh, uh huh,” to no one in particular.  Some of the patients rocked in their chairs; some chairs rocked whether the patients wanted them to or not.  The air was thick with Chesterfields, Camels, Kools, and my Marlboro 100’s.  I turned to Rae.  She patted her keys with an air of authority.  “He who holds the keys has all the power,” someone at Crossroads Day Treatment once told me, and now I realized it was true: the person with the keys is the only one who could have gotten us out of that place.  Trumpets began a triumphant fanfare on the TV; this was no funeral, as the stuffy British accented announcer declared–Prince Andrew was getting married!

Focus on something real.


For breakfast, among other things, I had an omelet that I had to cut with a knife because it was so dry.


We imagined a sandwich with tomatoes, sprouts, and cheese, served on homemade bread.  We had a nice laugh.  Then we became silent again, seeing the slime on our trays.  The haves and t
he have nots.

Eat right and get enough sleep.

And we ate.  Or tried to.  The fish sticks were dry, and the summer squash was ground up.

The only way we could get sleep during the day, unless one voluntarily chose to spend an hour or two tied to a bed, in “restraints,” was to line up two metal chairs in the smoky, crowded day room and lie on them, with the TV blaring “General Hospital” and “Phil Donohue.”

My three-week shower hiatus ended when I was admitted to Urban State.  We were forced to take showers daily.  Mental health workers announced, “Shower time!” mid-morning and mid-afternoon; patients formed a line and were handed towels and soap (the soap said “Lisa” on it, I wrote).  Staff kept written lists of which patients had showered.  Men and women used the same showers in different shifts.

The showers appeared much like those I’ve seen in films of prison showers, with nothing but skimpy curtains between shower stalls.  The water came on automatically and we couldn’t adjust the temperature; it was lukewarm.  There were no front curtains.  Workers stood outside the stalls and watched patients bathe.  During my first shower, Rae, the mental health worker “supervising” my showering, poured an entire bottle of shampoo onto my head, saying, “Wash your hair, wash your hair, now, Julie!”

Nowadays, and at the time that I invented my Pro Re Nata coping list, I find showers comforting and curative.  There is very little that a shower won’t fix.  It is ironic that in the past, the shower was the place where some of my scarier experiences took place.

Aren’t showers both scary and comforting for everyone?  What if the water suddenly runs cold–or scalding?  Isn’t the shower the place where one finds a lump in a breast or a testicle, an irregularity here and there, a fold, a cut, a sting?  Could the movie be true, could one be attacked–by a psycho?  What if you hang yourself from the curtain rod?  What if a fire should start, what if the baby drowns, what if, what if–

Take a shower
Clean the apartment

Make a list of what I’m going to do and do it
Structure my time
Stick to my routine

Focus on something real
Don’t listen to anything in my head that’s negative or intrusive
Do head tricks to get rid of bad thoughts

Try to figure out what’s bothering me, write about it or talk it over with someone
Ask for feedback
Do something nice for someone

Eat right and get enough sleep
Drink only caffeine-free beverages

Flowers, etc

While on my way to therapy yesterday, I took some photos of flowers.  I don’t know how to photograph flowers, and my camera isn’t that sophisticated, but I had loads of fun with it!

4x6 white tree

4x6 rhododendron

4x6 orangish flowers

4x6 large white flowers

4x6 irises
I must get going.  Puzzle is throwing herself against the gate that confines her in the kitchen.  I think she’s trying to tell me something.

A break

I’m taking a few days off from studying.  I’m very tired.  Last assignment’s due Wednesday but I need some time off, just to be with Puzzle (pictured below), get some fresh air, exercise, have fun with photography, write to you, Dear Readers, and goof off.  I’ll get back to studying on Sunday night.

4x6 adorable #2

4x6 pz sleeping bag

The sleeping bag she’s lying on happens to be the one I use for a blanket at night!  I put it on the floor every morning just so she can lie on it.  We share–she gets it during the day; I get it at night.  Not a bad arrangement….

It came out all right

Puzzle got spayed yesterday.  Here she is today, rather unhappy to be restricted to “quiet activity only.”

4x6 pz cone

Later, I took the plastic cone thingy off.  “Elizabethan collar” is what the vet calls them.  It was torture for poor Puzzle not to be able to chew on her favorite toys.  Also, every time she tried to curl up in the corner she bumped into the wall.

I am writing a piece on coping skills and mental illness.  I’m not sure where the piece is headed but I’ll post bits and pieces of it here, eventually.