I NEARLY DIED not even kidding

Okay so the only people who look at this blog are Nell (maybe?) and apparently someone in Ukraine (привет! Please don’t hack me!) so I’m just gonna publish my excuse letter here. So I have psoriatic arthritis – old news. I am on methotrexate, a form of low-dose chemotherapy, in order to combat said arthritis. When you’re on methotrexate, what it actually does is steal all the folate from your cells. This kills the arthritis cells. It also kills your healthy cells – it can’t tell the difference. So you’re pretty much always put on stupid-high doses of folic acid supplements, which replace the folate the methotrexate steals.

Due to a miscommunication with my rheumatologist, my mother and I thought that he said to put me on two different supplements INSTEAD of folic acid. I was actually supposed to take them IN ADDITION TO folic acid. So for the last two to three months, without my knowledge, I’ve been losing all the folate in my body, making my red blood cells too large to pass through my bloodstream. I’ve had a “cold” for a month, which has turned into bronchitis and sinusitis, which I assumed was responsible for my lethargy, paleness, mouth sores, and depression, when it was actually my body shutting down.

Fortunately, this is an easy fix. It probably didn’t cause any permanent damage, and all I have to do is start back on the folic acid again. Unfortunately, I can’t get back the productivity and sleep and peace of mind that I lost.

Hopefully it’s all uphill (downhill? What do you say when you hope stuff is easier but improved?) from here. Anything apart from literal organ failure will be an improvement. Expect process logs shortly.

A POEM FOR INSPIRATION

By my favorite punk-rock poet, John Cooper Clarke.

ARTS N’ CRAFTS

Out of bed into the Shed 

To paint the wooden roses red 

To ride a rocking quadruped 

With a big idea in your head

Form and function in a line 

The rudiments of good design 

From the oaken leg to the fine wine 

To table tops of melamine 

There’s nothing that you couldn’t make 

No effect you couldn’t fake 

A pebble sprayed with metal flake 

Would make a precious paperweight 

Teddy bears to stuff with stuff 

Like nylon mink from a lady’s muff 

Cotton balls and a powder puff 

Pom poms and pocket fluff 

Stainless steel and a rock hard aura 

The marble glance of a lost explorer 

A heavy heart for the love of Nora 

Chains of flowers on a draped amphora 

Time time time to slay 

Each crowded hour of every day 

Where indolence is kept at bay 

In an arty-crafy kinda way

BEHOLD: THE ONLY PIECE OF ART I MADE ALL SUMMER

That’s not entirely true. I actually made some semi-cool paintings by just dumping acrylic on canvases and seeing what happened. I mixed some silicone in there too. It made some cool bubbles. BUT that was not “intentional” art. That was the kind of art a child makes on one of those paint spinners at a fair. Those were fun…

This drawing kind of started out as me wanting to do graphite art again after looking at Jessica Hayworth and Renee French’s stuff. Then I proceeded to utterly lack inspiration and just did this:

And then I mocked myself about it on Facebook because I’m nothing if not self-deprecating. I like my friend Kelsey’s response.

I continued to fill in the bottom of the page with my 2B pencil for another hour or so while watching a horror movie, and looked upon my work with little joy. Eventually I decided that I had to do SOMETHING with it even if it turned out shitty. I did this:

It is honestly one of my favorite things I’ve ever drawn. And with only two likes on Facebook, I can safely say it is one of my friends’ least favorite. But that’s okay. I think I’m nailing down a direction I want to go in, and I’m really excited about it. I’m tired of being “portrait girl.”

Artist who scares me a lil bit but who I want to learn more about: Günter Brus

I’m not  very familiar with performance art. I would like to change that, and I’ve never been a person to wade gently into the shallow end of a thing. I don’t know that much about Günter Brus yet, but I like his aesthetic and I am learning more every day.

^Dat aesthetic^

Some sources I’m looking at:

http://www.phaidon.com/agenda/photography/articles/2014/october/30/photos-that-changed-the-world-6-self-portrait/

http://www.theartstory.org/movement-viennese-actionism-artworks.htm

Some of the best things Günter ever said IMO:

“Art is gushing hot bile on the fields and harvesting the looks of nasty dwarfs”

“In simple terms: art has not been a public nuisance for quite a while now. Either the people have become well-behaved or the perpetrators of nuisances have become tired.”

(Images copyright either Günter Brus or the estate of same or whoever owns his art now. Quotes taken from wikiquote via Nervous Stillness on the Horizon.)

Artist who makes me pretty uncomfortable: Renee French

I don’t know why I like Renee French’s weird little graphite monstrosities. I think it’s probably for the same reason I like David Lynch films: I enjoy being made uncomfortable. There’s a really Lynchian quality to her portrait drawings, too: you have a thing that’s mundane and pleasant, a person sitting for a nice portrait, and then it’s perverted and ruined somehow.

I don’t have the titles for any of these but I’m sure at least some of them have titles. I know the last one was for a “teachers from memory” project where you draw your old teachers, which is why there’s no weird eldritch horror in that one.

She’s also doing this project right now with these little animals (?) but they actually make me too uncomfortable and I don’t like looking at them. I didn’t even like The Lion King as a child; I’m just not an animal person. I’m putting one below so I’m not suffering alone.

Renee French’s blog is here

(all images copyright Renee French)

Artist whose identity I wish I could entirely consume and pass off as my own

Jessica Hayworth.

I took art history, at least the intro class, and I saw all those amazing paintings and drawings and photos and I was in many cases impressed by the level of sheer technical proficiency humans could achieve. But none of them really made me feel anything much.

This illustrator and grad student’s(!) work makes me feel feelings. I don’t know if that’s the point of art, I don’t know if there is any point to art, but if there is she’s achieved it.

She works as an illustrator for (among other things) the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale, which I used to like years ago before listening to it started to feel like homework, and she’s done a gallery show called I WILL KILL YOU WITH MY BARE HANDS.

Part of I WILL KILL YOU WITH MY BARE HANDS and I am considering getting it as a tattoo

Self portrait with void

 

part of I WILL KILL YOU WITH MY BARE HANDS

another part of BARE HANDS I think, or maybe a standalone piece

an illustration for a poem

I don’t know what this is, she didn’t title it she never titles things she’s too cool for titles

^these three are oil on wood and if I had enough money to give her what she deserves for them I would buy them and hang them in my house I love them so much.

 

You might notice a marked difference between this artist and the other artists I’ve posted – all of the others are very colorful, mostly do portraits, have a unique “style.” They’re the kind of artists I like. The kind of artists I buy prints from and favorite on Instagram. Jessica Hayworth – who I discovered wayyyyyy back in 2012 when she was drawing weird little existential comics – is the kind of artist I aspire to be.

(Although I should really buy her book remind me to do that.)

 

Here’s her blog

(all images copyright Jessica Hayworth)

 

Artist I like: Lois van Baarle (Loish)

Lois van Baarle, known online as Loish, is a digital artist known for her portraits done in a cute, pixie-ish style. I really admire and covet her command of color.

These are just a few of her recent works that I’ve culled from her Facebook page but as you can see she loves experimenting with color and light:

I really think that digital artists get a bad rap in the fine art community, especially when you can see that she has such a fine command of all the principles of light and shadow and color theory – she’s not “cheating” by using digital, she’s creating art in a totally different and new way but with a strong command of the basics. She did the bottom two in the app Procreate on the iPad (I have it, it’s an excellent program, although I’m not capable of anything like those two) and then the upper ones in Photoshop. She’s very nice and responds to nearly all comments on Facebook.

Here’s her Website

(all images copyright Lois van Baarle)

“Asylum Movies:” Session 9

I’m pretty sure that everyone has a category of things that they hate – country music, procedural cop shows, romance novels – but in which there is one specific example which they somewhat irrationally like and will defend as being not like the others. Session 9 is my Chosen Asylum Movie.

Session 9 was recommended to me by a person I no longer speak to (not for that reason) as being an unwatchably bad movie, but with one solitary great moment in it. That great moment, oddly, is David Caruso delivering the line “fuck youuuuuuu” in a very stilted and awkward way. However, 18-year-old me was very starved for entertainment, and Session 9 was on Netflix.

Session 9 is not a great movie. It might not even be a good movie. However, it managed to happen upon two things which I found very creepy, and combined them with acting worthy of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room and pacing that would make an editor weep. This was a winning combination for me somehow, and I have seen the subsequent jumble of nonsense probably 6 times.

This masterpiece took a known creepy thing in the form of Danvers State Hospital (the actual one) and a previously unknown creepy thing in the form of asbestos and combined them to make a strangely haunting movie. I am the first person to rail against using asylums as creepy backdrops, but I liked that this movie didn’t make up a fictional asylum and a bunch of fictional atrocities that happened there. Yeah, there were a whole bunch of human rights violations in asylums, largely due to the overcrowding that occurred when the state cut funding and the number of patients quickly overtook the number of beds and available staff. Yeah, the transorbital lobotomy was a thing that happened (even though it was an attempt to legitimately help.) Are those not atrocities enough? Why do you have to invent some massacre or weird surgical trauma? That was the first thing I liked, was that they used the actual Danvers and its actual history – they shot it there, too. It’s a very creepy building, even without knowing its history. The whole thing is bat-shaped, extending outward from a central building into wings on the sides where the patients lived.

(Quick history lesson – Danvers, and many asylums just like it, were built in America in the late 1800s as part of the ‘moral care’ movement. They were designed around the idea that patients would live as a family, contributing to the everyday operation of the facility (helping garden, launder, cook and clean in exchange for compensation or reward) and keeping themselves busy, while building relationships with their doctor and the staff. There was very little emphasis on surgical intervention or medication – these would largely come later. Only when the government realized that comparatively few patients were being served for the money that was being invested did they defund the hospitals, and overpopulation skyrocketed, leading to the horrifying conditions often depicted in movies. In my personal opinion, the height of the moral care movement was the closest the West has ever come to humane and beneficial mental health care. )

The second cool thing is asbestos-as-antagonist. I’ve seen a whole lot of viruses and plagues and other weird invisible villains in horror movies, but none of them latched onto me the way that asbestos did. The thought of those tiny shards, floating through the air, waiting to be breathed into my lungs to puncture the individual cells…eurch. Asbestos is the perfect villain for a movie that crawls along at a snail’s pace while the protagonists bicker aimlessly – they work in the removal industry, and live every day with the knowledge that they will probably die from it. The only question is how quickly.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON

The plot is actually surprisingly complicated, and I didn’t totally understand it until my second or third viewing. I imagine many people never get that far, which is a tragedy. If I had to condense it to bullet points:

  • Group of men with various interpersonal conflicts work as an asbestos removal team (this movie doesn’t even live in the post code of the Bechdel test – there are no women on screen at any time)
  • They get a contract with the abandoned Danvers State Hospital to remove all the asbestos in the building, which is going to be made into apartments. The boss, Gordon, says they’ll do it in a week, which is just a ludicrously short amount of time. He needs the money because he and his wife have a new baby.
  • One guy finds these tapes in the basement labeled “Session 1, Session 2, etc” and starts listening to them. They are therapy sessions with a patient who has Dissociative Identity Disorder (Oh boy oh boy!) She experienced some sort of trauma and will only talk through one of 3 alters. There is a fourth alter they all reference, but it won’t talk.
  • Weird stuff starts happening. One guy doesn’t show up for work. Gordon hasn’t slept in weeks because of the baby.
  • They find the guy who didn’t show up wandering around the facility basement, with a lobotomy pick through his eye.
  • Gordon maybe kills everyone
  • The last Session tape plays – Session 9. The last alter finally talks, revealing that it killed the woman’s family, and that it’s been alive forever – it travels
  • Gordon remembers that he killed his wife and baby
  • Fade to black

So that’s what (probably) happened – Gordon was possessed by the evil personality when he entered the patient’s former room, and compelled to murder his family that night. He then forgot (?) and proceeded as normal, forgetting when he was doing horrible stuff.

Like I said, it’s not the best movie. But there’s something about it that makes me watch it again and again. I justify it to myself that “it’s not a DID movie, the alter is a supernatural thing that possesses people. It’s not perpetuating stigma.” But that’s honestly an excuse. If it looks like DID and quacks like DID… But I will continue to justify this movie as being the least-bad of all the asylum movies because it doesn’t use torture porn of patients and it is actually full of historically accurate information. And asbestos.

Some frustrations

Whenever I tell people I have schizoaffective disorder, I always get the same look. Well, two looks. One look is a “what is that?”  quizzical expression. That’s why I’ve taken to saying that I have schizophrenia – people know what it is, and they are under the same diagnosis. But the main look I get is a sort of confused smile, as if to say, “…but you seem fine?”

There are millions of articles about living with invisible disabilities, about that “but you don’t look sick?” reaction, and I won’t bother rehashing them here. I would, however, like to emphasize that with my particular condition, when people “don’t seem fine,” they don’t seem fine. They’re likely to display highly erratic behavior, liable to make them lose their job, get arrested or be carted to a facility somewhere. The fact that I am appearing fine to you is because it is literally my biggest priority.

My days revolve around how to seem higher-functioning. I put up with auditory hallucinations – the almost-a-cliché “voices in my head,” – because they’re hideable, unlike the side effects of an antipsychotic:

Weight gain

Spasms or twitching

Unfocused thinking

Because those symptoms look like someone who’s “not fine.” As long as the symptoms are firmly inside; as long as no one else would ever have to approach me and ask what was wrong with me instead of me volunteering the information, as long as I am passing, that is fine.

I’m about to have to write my graduate school applications, and the agony of not knowing how much to disclose is driving me, well… you get the picture.

Do I present myself as an eager beaver, up at 6 every morn ready for the day’s tasks like a good little lab monkey, despite the fact that my medications prevent me from waking up early and despite the fact that my reliability is shaky at best? Or do I disclose, and give them some real talk, and scare them off of the potential waste of time and money that I will always represent?

This is living with severe mental illness in the 21st century – functioning enough to not be in a home somewhere but not functioning well enough to ever actually excel at anything.

“Asylum Movies:” Shutter Island

I remember, for some reason, Shutter Island being another “banned movie,” much like Black Swan. However, when I talked to my mother about it, she said she had no memory of it and she didn’t think she would have banned me from seeing it. Regardless, I saw the Scorsese-directed DiCaprio vehicle for the first time the other day.

My initial thought is that the score wants you to know that this is a DRAMATIC MOVIE where THINGS HAPPEN. (Its repeating, droning brass sound was the first of several similarities to the movie Inception, also starring DiCaprio, which came out the same year.) If you’re not familiar with the plot, it concerns DiCaprio as a Government Marshal investigating the escape of a patient/inmate on the Shutter Island facility for the criminally insane. Mark Ruffalo plays his investigative partner, and Sir Ben Kingsley plays the head psychiatrist.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT

The Shutter Island facility (for the “criminally insane”)  is nice and well-maintained – by the inmates. I shan’t call them “patients,” as Dr. Ben Kingsley prefers, because they’re kept in literal chains. “They used to be shackled and left in their own filth,” he says pompously to DiCaprio’s unsympathetic Marshal. Great – now they’re shackled and pruning bushes. You fixed it! Although I should point out that at least they’re getting some outdoor time – the facility I was in twice boasted on its website about its “wellness garden,” but I never met anyone who’d ever been allowed in it.

Leo’s character (whose name quite honestly escapes me, even though I can remember minor characters’ perfectly) is completely unsympathetic, regarding the inmates as common or garden criminals and treating everyone at the facility as though they were somehow contaminated. “Sanity’s not a choice, Marshal. You can’t just choose to get over it,” opines Kingsley, in the first line I’ve felt resonate among the excuses and platitudes. Between Kingsley and the other primary psychologist, the whole profession is played true to the Hollywood stereotype – that of the smug, psychoanalzying Freudian who responds to every sentence with a knowing comment about your defense mechanisms or penis envy. Movies like this are why people hate psychologists.  Leo later reveals his wife was killed in a fire set by a mentally ill man, and he longs for revenge. Some pretty healthy stuff.

Basically the movie is a solid 3 hours long with ads, and has a convoluted and winding plot, which all negates itself in a massive plot twist at the end: Leo was never a Marshal, and is himself a ‘patient’ at Shutter Island. The whole thing has been a massive roleplay therapy designed to force him to come to terms with the fact that

a.) his wife drowned their children in a river for no reason

b.) he subsequently killed his wife.

There was never any fire and he made up the revenge plot in his delusional mind. I have problems with this plot twist for a bunch of reasons, the first being that the moment you examine it with any scrutiny it collapses like a flan in a cupboard, but I’ll focus on my other reasons which are:

1.) Mental illness doesn’t work this way. Diagnoses are conspicuously left out of this movie; they talk about inmates only in terms of what crimes they committed. Leo’s actual diagnosis is never discussed but they repeatedly say he has “delusions,” as though that were itself a diagnosis. Delusions are a symptom, not an illness. They also don’t account for the complete amnesia his character has, making him forget his entire identity in favor of the assumed Marshal forgery. There’s a thing called ‘dissociative fugue’, in which people can become amnesiac and even commit crimes (it’s a popular legal defense strategy), but they would not assume a new identity – they usually are found hours or days later, wandering and dazed. Taking liberties with how mental illness actually works seems harmless, but it can contribute in many ways to society’s misunderstanding and subsequent stigmatization of mental disorders.

2.) This “treatment” is wildly unethical. The therapy they’re giving Leo is a combination of highly dangerous (fictional) drugs combined with completely rewriting his entire identity and forcing him into traumatic situations. IRBs didn’t exist for these places, not in the 50s, so the lack of ethical oversight isn’t a mistake; it’s just weird that it’s treated as a good thing. This movie has a lot to say about asylums – Shutter Island is clearly not a nice place and definitely skews ‘prison’ more than ‘hospital.’ They repeatedly clarify that it’s for the ‘criminally insane’ and that all of the patients there have committed crimes, but never give any of the patients’ diagnoses or rationales behind their crimes. One man ripped a woman’s face off – reason unknown.  A woman killed her husband, because he beat her and cheated on her – no diagnosis. This movie didn’t even really need to be set in an asylum, they only needed Leo to be “crazy” at the end. They’re just banking on the fact that people think asylums are creepy. That’s my issue, in general, with “asylum movies” –  everybody falls all over themselves to portray how horrible asylums were, but they don’t really care about mentally ill people – they just want to use them for their historical torture porn.

Random notes I took as I watched:

  • This is by far a better role for Ben Kingsley than Guru Tugginmapudha, but I’m still disappointed in him
  • Leo’s pronunciation of “excaped” is killing me slowly
  • I am really not a fan of concentration camps being used as props in movies even more so than mental hospitals, and this is no exception
  • Leo’s German is deplorable – I assume on purpose, since he’s done good accents when coached before
  • Because of the presence of Leo DiCaprio and continual flashbacks to a dead wife, there are a lot of similarities to Inception, which is a much better movie even though it was made after this one
  • The presence of people of color exclusively as staff is one of those great examples  of filmmakers casting POC when they think it’s “historically accurate”, but actually just when it gives them an excuse to not cast any as leads. For the record, there were actually a disproportionate number of black Americans diagnosed as schizophrenic, so they could easily have been cast as patients.
  • Kingsley’s description of the ‘war’ in psychology is very accurate
  • The word ‘zombie’ was not common parlance in the ’50s – the book ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow” hadn’t come out yet to spread tales of Haitian voodoo to the West
  • The Andrew Breene character is a weird combination of tropes of mental illness and traits that will make the audience hate him – it’s like Scorsese wanted to have Leo psychologically torture a mental patient, but didn’t want him to seem like a bad person for it, so he made him a racist so we’d be cool with it
  • There are no televisions in the facility? What an odd thing to specifically mention. It’s the 50s – TVs are pretty common in households; you’d think they could spring for at least one to keep the inmates occupied.
  • The dreams Leo has (technicolor, surreal, full of metaphor and layered meaning) are not the kinds of dreams schizophrenic people (or any people) have, by and large. My most interesting dream this week was about going to pay for an expensive meal and finding my wallet was full of $97 bills
  • I feel bad but I laughed at an orderly saying to a patient in the background “why is it you every time?”
  • That’s an inaccurate description of a transorbital lobotomy – there’s no ‘electroshock’ involved, just regular anesthesia