Copy and paste the URL above into your media player’s URL space to hear the podcast of the radio show OnPoint that I mentioned in my URLier post.
Sorry, couldn’t resist.
I just heard Elyn Saks on NPR’s OnPoint this morning. If you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear me as the first caller in to the show! Check out the site and the book!
View Naomi Wolf’s talk here:
http://www.americanfreedomcampaign.org and click on “videos.” Let’s get the McAssholes–all of them–out of office and into federal prison where they belong–in shame–BEFORE democracy fails!
Go check out the latest video now before I change it!
(It’s on the sidebar to your right, or click here.)
and as you utter this word a new word forms–“Evil!” only it is spoken by another, by It
“Evil!” you say back to It
“We are going to get you good, fucker!” It says
backed up to the wall now, kohlrabi spilled on the floor, knife in hand
“you! you! your secret fat will be exposed to all We will see to that We will see to that We will see to that”
everything gray and you tell yourself you are stupid with the knife, you throw it into the sink and crouch down by the door everything is gray everything is gray and fat
“you! you! We will get you”
fear fear fear the grayness is almost complete then the buzz in your head and you know that’s where It is, in the back, the back of your head, you can’t remove It, It lives there, in your head–“GET OUT!”
“GET–OUT!” your fingers running through your hair trying to find It “GET OUT!” but It is already gone for now but the grayness is still there
and you taste kohlrabi the next day and the next, and everything is gray, you can’t rid the grayness in classes, while talking to other students, in the bath, and everywhere you taste kohlrabi, even in your coffee, kohlrabi, even in the blade of grass you put into your gray mouth, your mind so absent now–
“everything MUST GO NOW! We will see to that We will see to that”
…kohlrabi, kohlrabi, kohlrabi….
I’d like to share some recent photographs. The men in the photos are my neighbors with their pets. I took the photos for a project our tenants’ association is doing, and chose the best to show you all. In the other photos, Puzzle models the sweaters designed and knitted by Yours Truly. There is one more sweater I have to photograph but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Yours Truly also enjoys wearing a hat that matches Puzzle’s blue sweater.
CONSUMERS: AN OPINION
“Consumer” is a euphemism, and because of this, the user of the term is implying that our illness is of minimal importance; instead, our role in the economics of medicine is of more concern. But let’s face it: “Consumer” has nothing to do with mental health. It means Consumer Price Index or Consumer Reports. A consumer is protected by Ralph Nader, not the Hippocratic Oath. A consumer buys a car, a computer, carpeting, or coffee. Do we call cancer patients “consumers”? Certainly not. Consumers of what? CAT scans? Chemo? Who really does the buying here? The drug companies market to doctors, not to patients. For the most part, we have little choice regarding services; we use what’s covered on our insurance.
Okay, “consumer” implies one who discerns, makes decisions regarding acquiring something. A consumer needs or wants something and chooses what to buy, where to buy it, and by what means. A new TV. Gloves. Chocolate.
We don’t even get to choose insurance. We take whatever insurance we can get, from the workplace or from the state or federal governments. Most of us aren’t even insured. Very few patients choose their health care plan; it is decided for them, which means we are not consumers but recipients of health care plans and health care in general–and let’s face it: how many people afflicted with mental illness receive adequate care or any care at all? The inventor of the term “consumer” wanted to emphasize the pick-and-choose aspect of mental health care, implying that patients are discerning and proactive. But do we really need to be called “consumers” to prove this?
Truthfully, mental patients, as a subset of patients in general, are the least able to make choices about their care. The looming terms of “involuntary treatment,” “locked ward,” and “privileges” drive my point home here. Why should we cover up the fact that it is the lack of choices that defines us? Pink paper. Section 12. Restraints.
I don’t know if Patty Duke uses the term “consumer” to describe herself, but I do know she makes it no secret that she has bipolar disorder. Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill–“consumers”? You’ve got to be kidding. They also had bipolar disorder, both of them. And I wouldn’t be caught dead calling Michelangelo, Ernest Hemingway, or Anne Sexton “consumers.”
“Consumer” tells the world nothing about the pain I have endured and continue to feel. “Consumer” won’t tell you that when I first became mentally ill, I lost all of my friends because no one wanted to associate with a “mental patient.” A “consumer” might take medication, but a “mental patient” suffers the side effects of sunburn, dizziness, dry mouth, and constipation. “Consumers” drive prices up and down; “mental patients” live and die.
There was only one time that I was allowed to make a choice about my care. Due to the unreliability of Medicaid cabs, I had to stop seeing my therapist Dr. Barbara R, a fine psychologist who helped me immensely. I was given a choice: Dr. Elsa R, or another therapist whose name I forget. On Barbara’s recommendation, I chose Dr. Elsa R, one of the biggest treatment mistakes I’ve ever made. So much for choices and the good they do.
I choose to be called a mental patient, a person with a mental illness, a person with schizoaffective disorder, a person with an eating disorder. I have been hospitalized for a mental illness, I have been affected by mental illness, I have mental problems, I have a psychiatric disorder, I am mentally ill, I’m in therapy, I see a shrink. I choose to be called by all these terms because they are accurate and unsentimental.
The most important choice a person with a mental illness ever has to make is the choice to seek treatment, the choice to cooperate with treatment, and the choice to be willing to heal. The meaning of the term “consumer” doesn’t include this willingness. “Patient,” on the other hand, specifies a person who is a recipient of medical care. “Mental patient” is a person receiving mental health care. Not all mentally ill people are patients; many do not enter treatment, sadly. But people who recognize their illnesses generally are those in treatment or seeking treatment, those that should be proud to be mental patients, those proud enough to shove away the hands of those that pat our heads, beam with token pride, and call us their little “consumers.” God help us.
I wore contact lenses in my twenties and thirties, and even now in my fifties, contact lenses haunt me in my dreams at night. My eyes are blue, and so are these lenses tinted slightly blue, though some are brown; they appear in dusty corners of rooms, in the backs of drawers smelling like moth balls, rolled up in socks, in toilet bowls flushing around with piss, always in abundance–say, ten or twenty of them bunched together–and these lenses of my dreams are always larger than my eyeballs; or should I say they are larger than my “I,” because they represent a lie, namely, “No, I don’t wear glasses; I’m not one of them; I don’t have this appendage on my head that makes me look like I’ve got windows strapped to my face–no, not me!” I wanted to portray a picture of normalcy to the world, stating that my “eye,” or rather, “I,” saw clearly, I held the true view, the popular view. I was not ill. Delusion, after all, is belief in an unpopular idea, and I was made popular now that I had contact lenses. I was a geek no more.
To understand the immensity of my feelings, one has to understand the larger picture and come back with me to age seven, when I started wearing glasses. I had picked out baby blue teardrop frames with stars and sparkles at the temples; quite stylish–for a young girl in the early 1960’s, I suppose–and as soon as I tried them on at Gordon Optical, where my mother simply couldn’t stop talking to the owner, I was delighted that I could see again. And just as delighted was Miss MacDonald’s second grade class, because now they had someone to ridicule. Someone shouted, “Look, Julie Greene has glasses!” and the class burst into curdles of laughter, especially Robbie Blake because he was mean.
However, everyone sees the world through lenses, even Robbie Blake. If one doesn’t wear glasses or contact lenses, there is the lens in one’s eye that one looks through. The shape of this lens determines the sharpness of vision as does the shape of one’s eyeball. The lens focuses incoming light on the retina in the back of the eye–or doesn’t focus it–depending on how well your eyes work.
We see the world through the camera lens, which focuses light onto film for a split second, or records the light image on digital sensors. We see the world through the TV camera, which they say makes the one ten pounds heavier than one really is. They used to say that one shouldn’t watch TV for too long or too close or one may wither and go blind.
Miss MacDonald taught us the meaning of the words “fiction” and “nonfiction” as they applied to books in the library. As a second grader, I thought the distinction was clear, because the books were on separate shelves in the Franklin School library, unless some older kids played a trick and mixed them up. When I was an undergraduate, Bill Holinger, my first college fiction teacher, told our class that fiction is a lie and an exaggeration. I thought about this constantly that year. I say memoir is the biggest lie and exaggeration of all–it has to be, because of the “I” factor. Memoir is written by “I” who has eyes that have their own peculiar lenses; although “I”’s vision may be what they call “normal,” who’s to say that what “I” sees is the same as what “you” or “he” or “they” see? Do we really know what Robbie Blake perceived when he saw me wearing glasses for the first time? He may have seen something ten times funnier than I looked to others. Do we really know that dogs don’t see in color? One thing we can say is that in memoir, the “I,” as the one with the eyes, the eyewitness, the point of view character, and letter of the alphabet is taller than “you” or “she” or “them.” There is no such thing as “creative nonfiction,” nonfiction, portraiture, or even photography without lies because of the different lenses–and therefore the minds behind the lenses–that we all see through.
Hypergraphia is a psychiatric term meaning the “overwhelming desire to write.” It has been said that Vincent van Gogh had this characteristic, as did composer Alan Hovhaness. When I have been very ill I have written compulsively for hours on end. Was I writing to cope with my mental illness, or was I compulsively writing because talented people are driven to develop their abilities? I wrote voluminously in my journal at the time, but I also wrote a handful of essays.
Here’s a short one:
“The following are reasons to disbelieve in God:
Life is unfair.
Bad things happen for no apparent reason.
Good things happen for no apparent reason.
Self-control is useless.
Nature is cruel.
It is through our suffering that we are healed.
The above are also reasons to believe, with all conviction, in the power and love of God.”
Shortly after writing this essay, I stopped wearing contact lenses and went back to glasses.
Writing is a way of deciphering what we see, and rehearsing our lives. The Bible is a work of creative nonfiction. Someone needed to decipher what he or she saw, and needed to rehearse his or her life. We read the book. Religion is belief in something that cannot be scientifically proven to exist.
Delusion is belief in an unpopular idea. Some say people with mental illnesses are looking through the wrong lens, or the lenses they have don’t work right. The answer is one or more of various “cures” for the eyes to make sure the ill person sees clearly, just like everyone else does, free from the unpopular ideas he or she previously held, free from what the majority may feel are delusions.
Rebels may argue, “Who is to say which is the correct lens? Perhaps the world is topsy-turvy! There is no such thing as mental illness!” I had a weird roommate who saw the scars on my arms from cuts I’d made with razor blades, and remarked, “Cool! You made tattoos!” If I recall correctly, she wore some pretty weird glasses.
Which brings me to this question: Are people with mental illnesses just “different” from the general public? Are we more “artistic” or “reclusive” or maybe just “weird”? Or does something need to be done;” is our “crazy” way of viewing the world totally wrong–does it need to be corrected, as my vision needed correcting in second grade? Taking this a step further, what’s worse–the poor vision or the treatment itself? Or perhaps what’s worst of all is the public’s reaction to the way we look. “Julie Greene has glasses and a Thorazine sunburn and scars on her arms and she doesn’t know how to dress and she talks out loud to her dog and she walks around looking lost all the time and she’s always writing–what a nutcase!”
My answer is this: Everyone looks through a lens or lenses. It’s not a matter of correct vision, incorrect vision, different vision, or even no vision. Let’s go back to my dream. Imagine contact lenses popping up in bread dough while one kneads it. Imagine finding contact lenses in one’s armpits. In one dream, I found a lens as big as my fist. I tried to put it in my eye. We forgot about something very important, and when I repeatedly tried to put that hard, giant, jagged-edged blue lens in my eye, from every angle I could think of, I knew exactly what we’d left out.
A person with a mental illness wears an ill-fitting lens, a lens that hurts. Mental illness hurts. Perhaps the lens was scratched early on by poor handling. Perhaps the lens curvature or size is wrong, or the lens could have dust or dirt particles on it. A person with a mental illness may have a scratch on the cornea, on the “I,” that only time and patience will heal; for others, a lens correction is necessary. Mental illness isn’t an alternative, and has nothing to do with morality or right and wrong. Mental illness is painful; mental illness hurts. There may be more than one way to see things, but let us not forget suffering.