[This is a draft of things I might say to introduce my imaginary videolog.]
Hi, my name is Faith and I am creating this video log as a place where I can talk to myself and whomever else may listen about mental health, recovery from / with “extreme states” or “altered states of consciousness,” personal narrative, neuropsychology…and all sorts of other things, I’m sure. This is an experiment.
I am an experimenter. I like to see what happens if…
A little bit about me…first of all, I’m not new to this. You can scroll down my videos and see that I have been a random person on the internet before. I chose to post this new video log here on this channel, with my old and variably embarrassing videos, because a big part of who I am is that I am a person who has made mistakes.
This might be a mistake.
So, what is my angle? Who am I? What do I have to say? Why is it important?
These are questions that we all – in my opinion – ought to be asking ourselves.
I think about these questions all the time.
So far, I have determined that:
A) I am not a neuroscientist.
B) I probably would have liked being a neuroscientist
It’s important that people have a basic understanding of how their brains (and bodies) work in creating our human experiences.
This working knowledge of basic brain/body/experience mechanics is , to me, is especially important for people who have been informed that they have a brain disease, or a brain disorder…an illness in their mental.
There is increasing evidence that experiences and behaviors that may meet clinical criteria for a Mental Disorder may be traumatogenic…meaning that the human brain and body respond to traumatic experiences, chronic and acute stressors, and injury to the body or sense of safety in one’s life in fairly predictable ways, and that the effects of profound stressors can – indeed – create disorder, dysregulation, imbalances.
However, disorder does not mean disease, and what is out of balance can be brought back into equilibrium.
The evidence that people can heal is as strong as the evidence that people experience harm within their lives.
This may seem like a pithy statement.
Of course people get better, of course people get hurt.
It’s not pithy.
It’s life and death.
Why is it that some folks can bounce back and move on with their lives after adverse experiences and others become significantly impaired in their ability to function, adapt, and be at ease in their lives and experiences? What do things like race, gender, and social class have to do with people’s capacity to get better?
I am a “mental health professional” with a Master’s degree in Psychology.
I first entered the mental health system when I was 12 years old. That is a long story, stretching over several decades. I will probably tell parts of that story here, because I can’t really separate out my lived experience from how I know what I know.
“Your daughter is very smart, right at the edge of genius.” The psychologist sat with her hands clasped lightly in her lap, seething southern glare pushing at the blinds covering the windows so that they looked like bright white rectangles.
“Oh, yes,” her mother nodded, hands also clasped, because that is how you sit while discussing the results of your child’s psychiatric evaluation. “She is very smart.”
The girl sat there, slightly out of alignment with her mother and the psychologist, still feeling the electrode goo plasticky around her hairline.
She felt pleased that she was smart, glad that she was smart. Being smart was a good thing.
The psychologist woman shifted papers around in her lap, looked up, “She also seems to be showing early signs of depression, which can be caused by a chemical imbalance or difficulties at school.”
The conversation shifted to depression, the signs and symptoms, what to do if it “gets worse.” The two women, the girl’s mother and the psychologist, discussed possible follow-up therapy while the girl rolled her ankles under the chair, feeling strangely conspicuous, but also invisible. Like she was not in the room, but was.
She didn’t know that no one would bring up her intelligence again, that it would be forgotten, that she – herself – would forget, one bad decision at a time, in series of hopeless nights across winters, that she was smart.
I am not a genius. If I ever was, I am not now. However, I am fairly spry in thinking about things – peculiar configurations and details in my head, playing with ideas and concepts, mapping out meanings and finding patterns, themes.
The first time I remembered that I was smart was when I got a couple points shy of a perfect score on the logic and analysis portion of the old Graduate Record Examination. I didn’t know I could do that.
However, quickly thereafter, my smarts failed me when couldn’t make it through the first semester of graduate school, and ended up in the hospital after doing some supremely unwise things.
The second time I remembered I was smart was in the process of a not-great divorce. I had a psychological evaluation done, got the full report emailed to me, the break down of how my cognition works, as measured by an imperfect tool.
Everyone knows that IQ tests are limited in the amount of information they can offer, and depend a great deal on the circumstances and state of the person taking the test and the person administering the test.
However, they do measure something…and when a person is testing at the outer margins of the statistical range, that means something, if only that they are different in some way or another, like everybody is.
Everybody is different in a hundred billion ways, but some people are more different than others…or the ways that they are different significantly impacts their experience, participation, and inclusion in the social milieu, their success within economy.
I used to be a genius. I was, nonetheless, a total fuck – up.
There is a unique brand of scorn and dismissal reserved for those who claim to be smart. I definitely get that claims of intelligence are likely to be met by challenge and derision.
So, let me assure you, I whole-heartedly know and believe that, in some regards, I am a complete idiot.
Still, the world is full of smart people and idiots, so many talkers and doers. So, I don’t think that my being smart and / or an idiot ought create any barriers to the legitimacy of this effort to experiment in using alternative media to convey information to an unseen and unknown audience for the purpose of…
Why am I doing this? What’s my aim?
I would like to introduce a vernacular and yet informed voice of moderate working knowledge into the sea of messages and content that floods this place around topics of human experience and ways to improve one’s human experience.
Often, when I am at work, at a semi-rural community mental health and substance abuse recovery center, talking with someone who has been through several circles of hell and back about how shift their state of experience through simple actions like breathing deeply, pushing on a wall, thinking deeply of and picturing someone or something or some place they love, something that they know makes them feel warm inside…when I am talking with people about new ways to understand what is happening in the brain and mind and body during a panic attack, or an episode of depression, exploring what works for that person, singular as they are, in helping to reduce distress and increase eustress, supporting the body in reestablishing equilibrium after an upset or a harm…when I am working with people, often folks who live well below the poverty line, who may not have much more than a middle school education, I see that this way of looking at and responding to experience through the lens of trauma-understanding is helpful to a lot of people. I can see it on their face, that they get, that they understand, and that understanding alone matters. Not knowing why you might feel like your insides are caving in and your throat closes up is scary…knowing that that happens because of fear, the body’s response to fear, it somehow seems to make it a little less scary.
They say it: “Yeah, I actually feel better.”
There is something healing in the ability to conceptualize what is happening in one’s body and brain that is creating sensations of severe distress, or of pleasure, comfort.
…so that people who’ve been hurt can maybe find some healing
…so that people can feel more joy and less pain
Make intro box, and instructions, send back or send to someone who might help.
Portraits of lovers as spirit animals and symbols
Personal catalogue of symbols and associations
“I want to stay home.” This was the first thought she had, laying in the dark in the very early morning, waiting for the alarm to go off in 24 minutes. She curled further into her bed, wrapping her arms across her chest, feeling the hard shape of her shoulder under the thin sweater she sleeps in. The thought of wanting to stay home was an interpretation of the feeling in her belly, a slight unease, gentle pressure below her heart, in her heart.
She knew the feeling well, a pull in her body to not get up, not yet, to not move through the paces of getting ready to go to work, spending her day – so many hours – not doing what she wants to do, laying there in the dark and imagining the mid-morning winter light in the dining room, dogs quiet and sleeping, the smell of acrylic paint, airy scrape of the needle on records, smoothness of brush and the press of thin wires wrapped around her fingers.
The inside of her lower lip held lightly between her teeth, that sort of focus, that sort of concentration, tracing water across paper, covering lines, redrawing and redrawing.
She wanted to stay home. There is a picture she wants to draw, a painting she would like to begin.
Her house is a little messy. Not terribly so, but she has not done some of the things that need to be done. Dusting and mopping. Vacuuming.
For three days, two bricks of cheese and a stick and a half of butter have sat on the counter in a metal bowl, coming to room temperature so that she can make cheese wafers, a different shaped form of her great-grandmother’s cheese straws. The kitchen is cold, and so the cheese stayed cold. She never made the dough, finally put the whole bowl into the refrigerator. She could take it out this weekend. Maybe she could make gingerbread with her daughter? Fill the fridge with cooling disks of dough, brown and orange. Dead leaf colors. Winter colors.
Her body feels tired, but not too tired, as she turns on the light, moves to get up, to begin the day as planned. To go to work.
She has gotten very good at finding reasons to be pleased enough with going through the motions of the day. Her days are enjoyable.
Still, she wants to stay home.
For two days, she has noticed the heavy, clotted feeling in her head, in the core of her. It is the feeling of not writing. As she drives past the airport and the song on the radio fades out into another station, she realizes that this is why it is difficult for her to have friends, to maintain friendships. In her current life structure, she often has to choose between writing and talking with friends. She is a lousy friend sometimes, because she chooses writing.
If she does not write, she becomes restless in her core, anxious, the edge of unhappy. She laughs less. The days blur.
She wishes she weren’t like this. It is a habit, to wish oneself other than you are, other than she is. She knows that there is not much she can do to change this part of her, this part of her that writes.
01/11/18 NOTE: I am changing the way I think about my relationship with writing, which is a relationship I have with myself, that affects the relationships I have with other people. I have been choosing friendship and family over writing…and there are so many new things to write about! Clarified ideas and small anonymous scenes, strange places. New phrases. It is good that I am changing my writing practice.
Rose Quartz vulture, beak like a knife
Like a nail,
sweetly piercing, holding
This creature in my chest
to let loose its life
thrum through my ribs
Suffuse my belly
Blue light sky
edge of wing
Pale white gold
Against all that shimmering
on the currents
Lately, I have been more inclined to create visual art than to write, and my inspiration has taken the form of images that I’d like to paint, rather than ideas I would like to express or projects I would like to complete.
I’m such a project-oriented thinker, gestalt in that way…the grandiose finished product(s)…a book, a series of works…is clear in my mind, but like a person observing a distant point across a vast landscape, I can see it clearly…but, have only the vaguest ideas as to how to get from where I am standing now to that far-off place where maybe I can go, if I can find my way.
By the time I get there, distant places never look the way I imagine they might look.
I could carry out this metaphor of traversing the wild landscape in an effort to reach a distant, but visible – so visible! – point further…the way the journey might change me, the way that things which look grand in the distant can be barren, scrub – filled fields when you are standing there, at that place you fought so hard to get to.
[Draft text as experiment]
Hello, my name is Faith. It was my grandmother’s name, and now it is my name. My middle name, Rachel, was my great grandmother’s first name. Sometimes I think about changing my name, to something I choose, but I never do. I’ve heard that one’s name is chosen for you before you were ever born, before you even exist. I don’t know if I believe that, but I like my name well enough most days.
I work with people who are sick and wounded and dying both slowly and quickly, the edge of death always just a few situations away. Sometimes, I think it matters to them that my name is Faith. It makes some little difference in their day, repeating it, “Faith?”
“Yes, Faith.” Holding their hand as I introduce myself. “It was my grandmother’s name.” I try to smile as sincerely as I can, because it makes a difference, to offer something to someone in the midst of a bleak life, a difficult day, a slow death.
One of the reasons I sometimes consider changing my name is because there are, er, things hat come up with a Google search of my name that are connected to the time I tried to prove God with pictures of clouds, and there are videos of me saying that I was never sick like they said I was, there are videos of me singing songs off key, playing the banjo badly. There is one video of me by the ocean in a beautiful place, talking about how I’d been psychotic. The sun was going down.
I am writing this to you because I understand that it is time that I begin to experiment with reaching out in this way (and other ways) to people that I think might be able to help to put my in touch with someone or some small group of people who may be interested in helping me to be more useful and to create more beauty within this life. If you do find yourself in a position to consider these matters, please kindly return this correspondence in the self-addressed stamped envelope provided, or give it to someone else, or set it on a shelf in a room somewhere, to sit and wait to be found. I appreciate your time and attention.
If this is sent back, I will simply send it to someone else, as an experiment in developing my new ways of trying. I have a severe and persistent belief that there is something I ought to be doing in the world, and that if I do not try to do this thing/these things in the world, then something important in my heart will wither and I will slowly stop laughing. I understand the ways that a belief such as this might be problematic, how beliefs like this – that someone ought be doing some divinely ordained vocational something or other – can lead to all sorts of chaotic and ill-conceived tragedies. I don’t know if God wants me to write a book and to be an artist, but there have been times that I strongly believed that in doing things I might best serve my highest possible purpose within this life. I have had to negotiate and renegotiate what I assume me serving my highest purpose might look like. Most days, I am comfortable with the thought that maybe me serving my highest purpose is me shaking hands with someone who is struggling to continue to live, telling them my name, smiling at them in a way I hope they can feel.
That is enough, isn’t it?
I can believe that.
Nonetheless, there is a part of me that is always nagging and churning about “a book, a book” and filling my mind with images of paintings I’d like to paint, words I’d like to speak aloud, places I want to go. This has been going on for years, this preoccupation with somehow becoming a person who makes their way by word and image, by voice and smile. For a period of time, it was necessary for me to consider whether or not I may just have delusions of grandeur, a thread of hypomanic audacity in me . . . but, I really don’t think it is that, because I have worked at my project for years.
I have had delusions of grandeur in the past, because I think in big ideas. I find big ideas exhilarating. In attending to any possible set of circumstances or situations, I try to identify and consider all possible outcomes and, in doing this, I have conceived of some rather lofty outcomes.
Because of the way I think about things, imagining them happening in great detail, I can feel awe and terror and amazement in picturing something happening. That is how I learned that I want to be a well-known person, because of the thrill I experience in imagining having the sort of influence and freedom that I (probably naively) think that a respected notoriety may affords a person.
In addition to daydreaming about making my way through art and ideas, being an artwork in and of myself, I am the mother of two teenagers, and an employee in the state – funded behavioral health services industry. Sometimes I wish I could forget about writing a book about how I lost my mind trying to prove God with pictures of clouds, how my life fell apart in that ambition and I ended up sedated in a hospital, losing legal custody of my children, how I moved forward from all of that, what I learned in trying to figure out why I still couldn’t unbelieve the things I saw, the things I knew, when I was crazy.
I think I might still be trying to prove God with pictures of clouds, seven years later.
For a long time, the website where I posted my cloud photos and disjointed rants was called Prove Me Wrong, because I really did want someone to tear apart my ideas, help me see the holes in my thinking, so that I could put the idea to rest.
I cannot believe in something that doesn’t hold up logically, that doesn’t make sense. That has been a difficult cognitive character trait to reconcile in relation to my belief that what I experienced while I was what could be clinically considered to be psychotic was more than just the flotsam and jetsam of a disordered mind, a wrecked self.
Yes, my mind was disordered.
Yes, I was wrecked.
However, I still can’t believe that what I experienced was entirely superfluous to what is real and meaningful.
In 2010, I began a project to draw a picture everyday for a year. Concurrent with beginning this project, my marriage ended, my dog got hit by a car, I made a friend and lost a friend, and my primary care physician increased my dose of a popular antidepressant. By mid-summer, I was unemployed and taking hundreds of pictures of clouds a day, frantically writing out ideas about why it might be that the clouds looked like letters to me, why they looked like faces, like figures, like scenes from a stained glass window, kneeling and reaching, flying.
I was only a little crazy when I began to notice the shapes in the clouds.
By the time I had developed ideas about the origins of written human language and the capacity for numinous encounters by simply looking up at the sky, I had basically lost my mind, not my ability to reason, but my ability to invest in the legitimacy of consensual reality. I slipped into a fascinating and paranoid world of covert purpose and cryptic divine orchestrations.
I sent emails to St. Paul’s inside the Vatican walls. I messaged a prominent reclusive independent musician through his wife’s film company. I called the FBI, to let them know that the moon had not risen as it ought to have, that it was hanging low and gold in the northeastern sky, like a ring in the middle of the night.
I thought I was a part of a plan, that somehow I was important.
I wrote every day, posted my thoughts online, where they were read by concerned family members. I was told I was embarrassing myself, humiliating myself.
I was, of course, embarrassing and humiliating myself, but that just made me try harder.
I finished the drawing a picture everyday for a year project. I am going to finish the book project, too. Usually when I ask for help, I end up discovering how to help myself, so I am asking for help.
I have continued to write, and have amassed hundreds of pages of reflective text that might best be characterized as experimental autoethnography. Most of my writing is done on a phone, in between work and home responsibilities.
It means something to me that I continue to do this.
It is so easy to get off track, to get out of balance. It is also easy for me to be errored in my thinking that a particular course of action and focus is what I need to be doing, and that the things that shift my attention from said conceived – of course of action are “getting off track,” or “out of balance.” For example, I have been working at writing for a long time, and when I do not write, my line of thought tends toward the idea that I am not doing what I ought to be doing, that I am somehow faltering in my course of action. I believe that if I take time away from my children, young adults now, that I am not fulfilling my responsibilities, or am somehow falling short in my parenting duties, getting out of balance. If I stay up late to laugh and to feel free, if I use my writing time to have conversations with other people, or to draw a picture that will not become some finished work of art, that I am somehow compromising important things, that I am not doing what I am supposed to be doing.
I have had to consider functionality and intent, motivations and desire, a lot in recent months. More and more, I believe that it is important to do more of whatever inspires me to laugh, to feel free in laughter, because I know that – for me – good things will come more easily of laughter than they will from joyless diligence toward a task.
I still have work to do, and responsibilities which will not be compromised, but I think I need to laugh more in my life. To feel more free.
It’s funny to me, the way a plan for freedom can undermine the state of being free – meaning that I have felt an enormous and urgent pressure for years to somehow structure my life to accommodate more freedom (freedom as the state of being able to move about in the world with reasonably minimal constraints placed upon my ability to go where I am inclined to go and to do the things I most love to do, which is to gawk around and soak up the feel of places, record my thoughts, draw pictures and daydream fantastic art installations and surreptitious public works of poetry, to talk with people and to hold their hands, to look at clouds, and to talk about what it’s like to be human, what people’s lives are like. I like to sit with with people, and hear about what it feels like to them to want to die, to then see that flash of grace when they remember something beautiful that they saw once.
Really, these are the things I most want to do in the world, within this life. The only way I can figure to be able to do all of these things is to a) write an important book about my experience of trying to prove God with clouds and everything that led to that stretch of time, how I recovered, why I am not dead or miserable, b) create artworks that are compelling enough to position me as an outlier artist, not an outsider artist, because I am in the midst of many things, but an outlier, in reference to my distance from the median values and experiences that characterize some numerical and yet imagined norm.
Most people would just sit down and write the damn book, post about it on Facebook, maybe self-publish, self-promote. People would make the fantastic artwork, put together a clean-edged website, and get themselves a gallery show, go to parties, develop an Instagram following, etc. etc.
The barrier to me doing these sorts of things is primarily psychological, meaning that I don’t believe that I could consistently self-promote and market myself as a “writer” or an “artist” – but, whoa, wait a sec…why the hell not?
There is research that indicates that people with social difficulties in their walking-talking lives are also likely to display those same tendencies of sundry awkwardness or unease in their social media interactions. I don’t know that this is true, because there are plenty of spaces online where all sorts of socially avoidant, misanthropic, and otherwise asocial folks can get together and chat, forums and rooms, threads and pages.
(I found one of my best friends, a person who probably helped to save my life in a time of great peril, in a space like that, where people who had experienced various madnesses could connect with one and other, share experiences, trade ideas, art, community. A moment ago, I experienced a small weight bloom in my belly with the thought that I am a terrible friend. This isn’t true though.)
Tonight, I am driving down to the coast again, to take another few days to be near those home waters, to feel myself in that place. The feel of the air coming off of the river sparks memories, reminds me of who I was, and still am. This is an important thing for me to do.
A couple of months ago, I wrote about how fun it is to imagine doing some things, like I can bring to mind and feeling what it might be like to drive into the night, to walk into a room, to find myself on open water, laughing with a friend, or feeling quiet inside. I can hear the slap of the water on the side of the boat, taste my own dry mouth, feel the squint in my brow.
I will need to remember to bring a hat.
Funny, how sometimes the things I imagine end up coming to be…and how sometimes they don’t.
My plan was to have a query letter written, to have something put together to send off to a few people, a few places. I didn’t do it, didn’t write the letter. I started writing the letter, but I didn’t finish it. Didn’t make the beautiful little booklet, though I gathered some materials, came up with a plan for construction, felt excited as I stacked papers in a pile on my desk. Then the dog started barking, the clock slid, the day gathered around me.
There is so much detritus
that comes up with an open heart
It’s easy to see it
The hospital in people’s eyes
and the forest, the whole wide world of them
Her face was like this January moon
That held its fullness in the sky for a moment
Just a few days ago
(That was a moon I forgot to look for
I miss them sometimes
But I saw it in her right away)
Beaming and pale
Dark hair just as long as my own
A little round face, that was still big
Set atop a miniature frame,
Wolf on her shirt
Walking stick in her hand,
So tall as to be a staff
Knife on her hip
The girl spoke nervous
Quiet like she might be made of air
The syllables of her name were hard in her mouth
But fell at the edges from the tip of her tongue
She hardly blinked at all
(In Brunswick GA there was a doll museum called Mary Miller’s Doll Museum and my great-grandmother was friends with Mary Miller, another old woman, so we sometime got to go, walk through the few small rooms of figures lining shelves, mirrors for walls, hundreds of perfect little eyes, wide and smooth.)
She was probably used to people staring intensely
at two disks of pale clear frozen green
Flecked with gold gingko
“I’m not schizophrenic. I don’t have schizophrenia.”
We talked about belief and experience, that sense of connection, being in the woods.
She signed where she needed to sign, said we ought to go out walking.
Okay . . . so, it’s been a minute, a few weeks, actually…where to begin, where to begin…
I’ve thought about changing my writing practice. The evening blocks spent emailing myself aren’t working for me anymore. There are other things I need to be doing. Other people I need to be talking with, people other than myself.
Nonetheless, here I am…with the press of how genuinely epic the past few weeks have been in my small and expanding life pushing into my thoughts by way of images, that reflexive urgency to write down as much as I can, so that I can remember small aspects of meaningful experience as thoroughly as possible. Not just the scene, but what I felt
If I write things down, I am better able to remember them, because I remember the act of writing and the look of the words.
I’ve gotten better at this encoding of experience through savoring and written documentation of key experiential facets…key in that small mentions of detail open up connections to associated experiences or, in other words, act as linguistic signifiers of complex and layered phenomena of moments and seeming minutae.
It’s all too much to write down, everything I want to save, or play with telling about.
It’d be foolish to try to tell this from the start
Sitting here in front of the fire
With a whole world in me
A collider pressing and spinning
The smells of the forest at night
With cigarette smoke pulled through the cold wind
The lap of water against a boat
That sandy mud flat shifting and sliding
Under my feet in that quiet
It really all does come to that
To me just sitting there while you learned
(…that _____ was dying.)
(Oh, and here I am with an ache in my chest that does not feel wholly my own, but that reason tells me must only be mine?)
What else is there to say?
I sat down to write some notes
about everything that has happened
but the dark water still in me
Boiled it all down to those drops of rain
The mud seeping up from itself
All that water
The belly of the crucible
all those small sounds of living and dying
Under those grey skies that just couldn’t wait
How did we end up lost in the marsh like that?
(Did our wishes make that happen? That I could be there for ___, in some way that mattered, that ____ might not be unduly harmed in receiving the news of ____ imminent death, because I knew that it was a call that would come…and I wished that I might be your friend in that, as only I might be able to be, because only I have the heart that I have. Did you wish to not be alone, to have some kindness to hold you? Are the two figures in the little green boat, wedged up onto the sand, in the middle of a maze, knowing what direction they are facing…is that what the workings of circumstance, opportunity, and inspiration in the world conspired from the wishes in our hearts?)
(I have not always tried in the wisest of ways…I tried in the ways that I knew to try…they were bad ideas…a lot of them . . . but, may have been seeds of better ideas . . . nonetheless, because I tried in crazy ways, I learned that when I try I am crazy…that is what people taught me about my trying….they did not try to help me try in better ways…and that is okay . . . but, they said I was crazy for trying…and missed the point of why I was trying, and what I was trying.)