Saturday, June 20, 2015

Serious Mental Illness

"serious mental illness"..
because it wasn't enough to define me by a label... a diagnosis... an opinion.
A way to neatly fold people and sort them according to generalization. 
violent, deranged, unpredictable, criminal, crazed, evil...
These terms have now become interchangeable, 
And I listen, mutely attentive, as they define me for an unquestioning public.
who demand punishment.
demand retribution.
demand sacrifice. 
your rights, your country, your protections, your freedom.
I have none of these, but my suffering pays for all. 
And I wonder,
if those that denied the blood red current of the Danube...
those who swore they saw nothing...
Those who swore it was a necessary sacrifice..
I wonder if they felt as vindicated as you do?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Musings on a Comparative Essay on the Insignificance of Imagery and Allegory this time with psychology.

    For my Comp 102 thesis several years ago, I wrote a comparative essay on the insignificance of imagery and allegory. Like most troubled teen girls, I was well acquainted with Sylvia Plath, but the concept for my thesis was actually the result of having just suffered through an acclaimed doctoral thesis claiming that Lady Lazarus was actually the cry of a sex starved woman who dreamed of being a stripper. That fact that she was a psych/literature major was not lost on me. Sane people need to stop trying to analyze or interpret "crazy". It always end with ridiculous results.
     Just so you understand how serious I was about this, my thesis depended on being able to voice the same message while using completely different symbols and forms of alliteration. In order to make a comparison, I would have to rewrite an entire existing poem. Lady Lazarus, like much of Plath's later work, hides itself behind heavy imagery of the holocaust. (the Nazis vs. the Jews most commonly in her work). Here are both versions:

Lady Lazarus
My version incorporated science vs. religion. 

I have done it again.   
One year in every ten   
I manage it——

A sort of walking miracle, my skin   
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,   
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine   
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin   
O my enemy.   
Do I terrify?——

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?   
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be   
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.   
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.   
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.   
The peanut-crunching crowd   
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot——
The big strip tease.   
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands   
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.   
The first time it happened I was ten.   
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.   
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Is an art, like everything else.   
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.   
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.   
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute   
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.   
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge   
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge   
For a word or a touch   
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.   
So, so, Herr Doktor.   
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,   
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.   
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——

A cake of soap,   
A wedding ring,   
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer   

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair   
And I eat men like air.

Sylvia Remix

ten years have passed,
and i'm at it again;
just another lay over.

here i am,
torment burning in my face,
a bright, red fire beneath my Shroud.

my feet hold me. here
they anchor me.
i am nothing; i am sheer.

is my honesty brutal---
and are you afraid?
so much. that you can't face my mindless self-indulgence.

do you see death beneath my skin?
look quickly ---
you shutter. in a day's time it will be gone.

i will blend. into my flesh
thoughts spiral, within me.
you can not. will not. don't want to see.

i smile at you, my lips lying,
invisible at 30
dying just the same.

3, the number of the holy trinity,
does that make this an act of contrition?
i posted letters, but i never got a reply.

Everyone is watching.
i am the top story ---
in the celluloid spotlight on the ten o'clock news.

you rip, you tear,
you rape me and leave.
as to be at church by noon.

these are my thoughts,
my knees.
i am alkaline; i need not bend to you

i am a child,
only older now.
an accident. only left me longing

at twenty.
i went to sleep,
only to wake up and find myself alive.

they disinterred me,
woke me from my rest,
washed death's hand from my cheek.

i am practiced in the ways of death.
i know her hallways.
we have tea.

i cut myself to feel alive ---
i suffocate to breathe.
it is a talent... suffering.

in my prison,
i am never short of time,
the scars are marks of boredom.

They drag me back against my will:
same backdrop, same players, same actors, same lines.
They give praise

"you are saved."
i am baptized in this lie
and then the shock,

as their fingers invade me.
what a shock,
with their options and their choices.

and then the shock, the electrifying shock. when i realize
for every kind word: $50.00 a letter.
for every tear shed... i write a check.

for every theory, every hypothesis.
so, so, adonai.
so, beginning and end.

I am your coup de grĂ¢ce,
I am your redemption,
I am your fucking hope. diamond, baby.

coal that crumbles into a scream.
you touch me, and I turn to dust.
do not think that I don't know your intentions.

fire, fire ---
and with your flaccid monovalence
the ultraviolet obscures everything:

a glorified crucifixition ---
a sought after absolution ---
a bloated accusation.

man, devil, god,
be wary.

born out of fire,
I shine like embers
that devour everything I touch. 

    It was only while stumbling around for background and citations that I found a third version from the most unlikely of sources. In 2003, an uproar broke out when the BBC was refused the rights to use Plath's works in their upcoming film, Sylvia, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Following Sylvia's death her works had been carefully controlled sparking endless criticism, insinuations, and accusations from academia and fans. This poem was written as a response: 

 My Mother
They are killing her again.
She said she did it
One year in every ten,
But they do it annually, or weekly, 
Some even do it daily,
Carrying her death around in their heads
And practising it. She saves them
The trouble of their own;
They can die through her
Without ever making
The decision. My buried mother 
Is up-dug for repeat performances.

Now they want to make a film

For anyone lacking the ability
To imagine the body, head in oven,
Orphaning children. Then
It can be rewound
So they can watch her die
Right from the beginning again.

The peanut eaters, entertained

At my mother’s death, will go home, 
Each carrying their memory of her,
Lifeless – a souvenir.
Maybe they’ll buy the video.

Watching someone on TV

Means all they have to do
Is press ‘pause’
If they want to boil a kettle, 
While my mother holds her breath on screen
To finish dying after tea.
The filmmakers have collected 
The body parts,
They want me to see. 
They require dressings to cover the joins
And disguise the prosthetics
In their remake of my mother;
They want to use her poetry
As stitching and sutures
To give it credibility.
They think I should love it – 
Having her back again, they think
I should give them my mother’s words
To fill the mouth of their monster,
Their Sylvia Suicide Doll,
Who will walk and talk
And die at will,
And die, and die
And forever be dying.
    On the morning of February 11, 1963, Sylvia would be found in the kitchen by a nurse. The gas valves were open to the highest setting, and she lay, her face resting on a cloth, inside the oven. For most of her readers, this is where the story ends. 
    However, in an upstairs bedroom, Plath's two small children could be heard crying. The full meaning of their wide open windows wasn't understood until the milk and bread their mother had left for them was found. Towels had been stuffed and securely taped into place under the cracks of the bedroom and kitchen doors. Even with her careful precautions, her youngest, Nicholas, took his own life in March of 2009 leaving only Freida. 
     In the years after Plath's death, her message was lost under imagery and interpretation, her life was overshadowed by her suicide, and a child who barely knew her mother was forced to mourn publicly while a devoted and still growing legion of fans used her mother's voice to support their accusations. Though the accusers rarely knew Sylvia at all, they blamed her husband, his mistress, his oppression and assumed abuse. They blamed him for forcing her to be a mother claiming being tied to the unwanted children cost her her sense of self. Sometimes, they blamed the children directly. In the article, Frieda talked only briefly about her feelings of guilt, her insecurities, and the question of not being enough... 
     The secret to surviving life as me is to never put yourself in a situation where you will be both noticed and affiliated with a diagnosis. However, I couldn't help but think about my own daughter, and the way perfectly sane people make such a mess out of interpreting crazy.. I wrote her an email:

 Ms. Hughes,
     In the middle of a paper, I stumbled unto your poem, My Mother. It was brutal and honest. Your mother's writing served me as a voice when I didn't have one. I am Bipolar, and I always felt like she was too. To be fair, I think most people her writing touches think it is due to some special connection or another. However, her voice reminded me I wasn't alone. 
    I don't know you or your father, but as much as I loved her writing, I know my disorder. It's like getting stuck in a record skip. You try to ignore it, then you try everything in your power to keep things as busy (usually to the detriment of everyone else) as possible. Sometimes, I think we feel everything. In order to feel real, we instigate emotional responses that are full of conflict. Conflict is actually a good thing because it keeps us busy. Eventually, you hear that record skipping in your sleep. The point I want to make is that no one could have, at that time especially, have stopped your mother. 
     The psychiatrists talk about the selfishness... In the end, my most serious suicide attempts were never about punishing anyone. No wistful funereal visions. I just couldn't go forward or back, and the chaos of that, it becomes like a constantly escalating hysteria. I apologize for my bluntness, I just wondered if anyone had ever agreed with you. I think she was a great writer, though, at times, her symbolism wandered. When people blame your father, motherhood, even you, they rob her of her responsibility of her own life which demoralizes the power of her words, and for people like me, who found we weren't alone for the first time, they discount how brave she was. She was my voice until I could defend myself. 
     Additionally, I was sorry I had waited so long to read you. I read you poem, and I felt ashamed. I think it speaks to the power of your work that it so clearly avoids pity or sympathy, and instead, demands some blood from the reader. Deena 

    By then, it was late. I went to bed expecting nothing. The following morning: 

 Dear Deena (if I may) 
 Thank you so much for your incredibly honest and kind email. I send this with all my best wishes, Frieda Hughes 

    Maybe it's just a form letter. It's more likely it's the work of a well paid assistant who finished by deleting any telltale evidence of my existence seconds later, but I hope she read it, and more so, I hope the truth of it will help her find a way to forgive her mother, and more importantly, herself. 
    So, the question that remains is the message? You can find a million critical essays on Lady Lazarus ranging from the simplistic suicide note interpretation to the bizarre sex starved stripper theory. The most common are that the poem is a rallying cry for oppressed women, an accusation about male abuse and persecution, resurrection, revenge, attributing the Holocaust imagery to a method to evoke sadness and pity, the loose rhyme scheme pointing to uncertainty and fear... And those are just the likely culprits. I got halfway through interpreting it line by line, when I realized how much of your time I've already taken. Plath is talking about mental illness. Severe mental illness, and especially suicidal thoughts, are a constant cycle that you can never escape. She talks in detail about the horrific medications, she calls herself "bright". but her foot seems to be the only connection she has. She compares herself to a zombie walking, lacking empathy and emotion. She seems aware that they can't fix her, but her misery is fascinating and rewarding for them. She also eludes to padded cells, bath tub treatments, and electric shock. She sees a life spent in and out of hospitals until there is nothing of her left. For her, there's safety and silence and an end to the chaos in death. The problem is, mental illness has such a long reach, and it preys on everyone it touches. I thought if I kept my children at a distance, I could save them from the embarrassment, the fear, the instability that is who I am. There were times that it was like tearing out a part of myself, it hurt so much for them to be away... but if I could keep them from living my childhood, it would be worth it. Now, I listen to my brilliant and stunningly beautiful daughter, and she can't see any of those things. It would be better if she hated me or blamed me. Instead, I have no choice but to sit and watch her self destruction. This is the power of mental illness. Sylvia went to the trouble of taking precautions for her babies, but Nicholas still took his life, and here's Frieda... Honestly, she's more talented than her mother. There's a violent honesty to her writing, but she lives under the shadow of her mother's suicide, and the world is so caught up in the details, that they don't see able to notice.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


My psychiatrist and I touched on this topic at my last appointment, and it's been taking up space in my mind ever since. As I sat on his couch, he showed me an example: he continued to talk while looking around the room, until finally, still speaking, made eye contact. There was an immediate physical response. When his eyes found mine, I felt a warmth in my chest as though it was defining what it is to be heard. As a mentally ill person, I spend a lot of time feeling disconnected. There are so many emotions and responses that I fear will give me away, and this fear leaves me no option but to face these feelings alone. Most people with serious mental illness know this feeling only too well. The world has defined us as "abnormal", and the need to fit in keeps us at arms length from the rest of the world. He encouraged me to investigate the idea of disconnection, but our discussion led me to a much larger epiphany... what if we aren't alone? What if the entire world is made up of people who are too afraid to voice their feelings? What if we are all just slightly broken people fumbling around and stumbling under the weight of our brokenness and all to afraid to ask someone else if they had ever felt the way we feel? What if, having voiced those feelings, the person in front of us didn't turn and walk away, but instead, nodded solemnly in understanding. What if we didn't have to be afraid anymore because one other person's simple act of nodding in agreement validated every feeling we had been too afraid to voice? How would that change the way we view the world and each other?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Je regrette rein

Sometimes I wonder if regret is linked to mental illness. Of course, I've never asked because there's always that small but pervasive fear that that alone will give me away. I spend so much time on regret. You know... that one time I said that thing in elementary school or at the grocery while talking to a complete stranger. Most of my regrets are like: unimportant because I'll never see the other person again. Still, I play the scenario over and over in mind even though I know this only causes anxiety, and unless I board the tardis, I'm unlikely to be allowed to go back in time to fix these things. Moreover, should I want to fix them? All these regrets that take up so much space in my head, that make me so unhappy, they're part of how I got here, and here is a good place. Here is a safe place, and I am thankful to be here. Would I really want to risk all this just so I could've said the right thing in a fleeting, never to be repeated conversation? I know the answer is no, but I can't ever turn off the tv in my head. It's always on... always repeating.