It has, as usual, been months since I posted here.
Here is a longform compendium of small segments of thought and experience, considerations, brief poetry and a dream that I took the time to sit down and note over the past couple seasons.
On the night before the full moon
I bickered with my oldest child in the wind
About why he could not run off
So we watched the day explode
Glad for the gales that make silence
No need to talk in wind like that
light gold and purple
All across the mountains
Walking in the dark
Across the field of dry grass
Spotlight on our backs
Shadows on the road
Knob rising black against the sky
Right under Venus
No lights up there
feet getting wet down here
shifting stones in the ink of the ground
I was with my children
Taller than I am
Big in the stream, wetting her head
Her feet, like some baptism
But just silliness then
Silly like the geese in the river on Sunday
not to leave one another behind
“Hi, my name is ——- and I was a patient of Dr ———‘s a couple of decades ago. I am interested in getting my medical records.”
“Your name again?” The voice southern and sunny, highlighted hair in psychiatric lamplight. Dim to soothe the children, to mitigate the heat of the parking lot.
(There is a pause on the line. My legs are warm in the sun, here in the mountains. Birds are singing and it is spring. I wonder if I will write about this, about trying to get my medical records after 20 years, wanting to read and consider the information they contain about who I was and how I was seen, my treatment and prescriptions. I don’t feel nervous, scared, excited. I don’t feel much of anything, other than my own heartbeat steadily thumping and the sun on my legs, an itch on my nose. “What will I say?” I wonder, “if she asks me if I am sure I was a patient?” I feel something like anger, indignance rising in me. The flash of a building, a parking lot in the sun, the dim of the waiting room, the fluorescence of the hall, scale against the wall, box of gloves on Formica.
“Was this over seven years ago?”
(I said it was decades, decades ago.)
“Was it over 10 years?”
“If it is over ten years, we don’t have them. We don’t keep records for that long. If it was before 1999, when we got this system, they’d be in the old system, and we don’t have that system anymore, since we got the new system.”
“Oh, okay. Thank you.”
I thought I didn’t care, but felt a little relief in understanding that I never have to think about or wonder about those records ever again. I don’t think about this often, but it crosses my mind every now and again. When I have thought about those records, I notice that I have a lot of memories and feelings attached to the existence of adolescent psychiatry as a force within my life, a part of my history.
I feel a little upset in my body, a little disconcerted in my head, distracted by quick and loaded memories, unsure of myself all the sudden when I think about those records, other records, times I have been to “the hospital.”
“That shit fucked me up. Fuck that.”
The nervous confusion gives way to a strident sort of defiance, a bolstering. Very adolescent.
I have been to the hospital twice in the past 25 years, once in 2000 and once in 2010. I will never go to the hospital again, unless it is a medical emergency of some sort, some care for my physical body. I will not go to the psychiatric unit again.
I got the idea to call and request my records while I was reading a Psychiatric Times history of child and adolescent psychiatry article and noticing that the author somewhat glossed over the years between 1983 and 2003, when the article was published. There was no mention of the number of children treated, and only general information about what constituted treatment.
The article focuses primarily on the expansion of professional organizations and associations devoted to child and adolescent psychiatry, as well as increased funding for research on mental illness in young people and behavioral health services for children and adolescents.
It says very little about the young people who were treated or how they were treated.
I looked up this article in response to a line of thinking about how I might reformulate the way I do my work as a “mental health professional” and what I might need to include in my bio, if such a thing existed.
It has been almost 30 years since I was first diagnosed as having a mental illness.
I don’t believe that I was ever sick. I do believe that I was scared, and that I did not know how to handle that fear, nor did I understand why I was scared or even that I was scared. I just knew my body hurt when I got upset, and my chest felt like it was tearing open, and I was angry and I was crying, running down the road, running back, curled into my room like an animal, at ease only when I was alone for a long, long time, away from people, awkward silences, sheepish shame after slamming the door. Misbehaving. Smoking. Sneaking out. Drinking. Just like all the other kids in the military town where I grew up. The town was a mill town before it was a Navy town, and before that it was a shrimping town, and a farming town, just like all the other towns were, in the way-back-when South
Nobody understood why I got so upset. “Count to 10,” my mother would say, and it’d only make me cry harder.
“You’re very sensitive.”
“It breaks my heart to see you so upset.”
When they took me to get the psychological evaluation, they were trying to do the right thing. They did not understand. They did not have access to the ideas and perspectives that would explain what was wrong with me. They only knew that something was wrong and that there wasn’t anything much they could do to help me feel better when I was upset.
Crying on the bank of the river, permed and highlighted hair seeming stupid in my peripheral vision, body exploding in weeping and fear, despairing anger, my father walks silently toward me. “I’m sorry you’re so upset,” he pauses, looks at the river. “Do you want to go shopping or anything like that?”
I only cried harder.
I did not know that I was grieving. Nobody knew that I was grieving, that we were all – in our own way – just torn all up inside over what had happened to home.
Nobody talked about it. We could not name it. It was too big, the new streets and shiny signs, the trees cut down, pine sap bleeding in the sun.
In saying thank you
to a mountain, I rise up
The reason I write so much about the drive to work is that I am usually wildly inspired by the commute, or – rather – during the commute. I wouldn’t say that I am always full of big, shiny ideas and gleaming clarity as I make my way down the 26 as the sun is rising, but it’s a reliably inspiring stretch of time, watching the light turn to day and checking out the skies, the river flowing under the bridges, shoals alongside the traffic, trees showing their branches in winter, fuzzing into progressive green as the days warm every year.
Sometimes, I don’t feel like driving…and the traffic is bad, the light glaring. I want to be somewhere else, but then I remind myself that I am lucky, and that everything is okay, that this is the day I have, and I start to look around again, imagining the smell of the woods alongside the road, notice wild daffodils. Think about where I’d rather be going, and consider how I might get there, what it might feel like to be near an ocean, writing a book, walking into a desert, waking up somewhere wild and quiet, none of the rush of sound and grey silvery movement, flashing colors of the morning in the city, in the town. Somewhere without cars.
Tonight, on the way home from work, I saw a tractor trailer carrying hearses and a limousine, and I thought about how the best of us will decompose…our papers and canvases, our hair and our bones, love letters and photos, the feel of eyes meeting, the small kindness of a hand being held, the careful spices of a billion loving meals. What will be left of us will be plastic and hard, right angled steel, toxic circuit board wastelands that hold no data other than the materials they are made of, the shapes made of poison and oil.
“Every time I come here, I want to lay down on the ground. It’s a pull, like a dog laying down by a fire or a thirsty person spotting a glass of water. It’s like this quiet powerful urge, that I feel in my body, to just lay down on the ground, and when I do, it’s like the edges of me are erased.”
She looks out across the roll of mountains to the west, ridges glowing spring over purpling valleys, rolling just like an ocean. An ocean of rocks and trees, swimming with millions of creatures, seeping water out of the cracks in the stone, from the ocean underground, the rivers underground.
As they set out walking, when the sun was still high in the sky, even though it was after 6:00, the first long-seeming days in early May, she noticed her heart breaking. The road that ran along the edge of the rising bald used to be a railroad, way up here in the middle of nowhere. On this side of the country, it’s hard to find places where people haven’t cut trails, run wood and iron through the land, cut out paths through hillsides. Within the past 100 years, all of the trees were clear-cut and a rail-line fire burnt the top of the mountain so deep that the soil itself was scorched.
She doesn’t understand why she cries almost every time she goes up there. “Maybe it’s just an emotional release after a long day?” She thinks about the sudden quiet of the mountain when the car finally stops, the hush of the place, empty for the wind, nearby bird song, intermittent murmuring as people pass by, voices swept off and dulled by the wind.
She forgets about the woman crying in the chair across from her, the hours of talking and listening, watching the eyes and turn of the mouth. Thinking, feeling, thinking about feeling. Absorbing and processing enormous amounts of information, trying to be useful, to make the day worthwhile, to learn something, find some beauty. Even on her worst days at work, she still shows up, tries hard to remember that what she offers up of herself matters, that it can change the course of a person’s day.
She is tired of offering herself up.
She looks out over the mountains, watches the sun slip, feels a deep, peaceful void in her, not thinking or feeling about anything. Having nothing to say other than to comment on the tops of the trees cut into the dark.
He was asking her questions about why she wanted to lay down on the ground, what she felt like laying there, what she felt like when she stood up. “Is it like an emptiness? Inside of you, an emptiness, but not bad or scary, just an empty, black space?”
She sat down in the passenger seat of the car. Heard herself laugh a little.
He cocked his head.
We are designed to fight back when we’re scared or to die trying to fight back, to escape.
“I was just picturing…” she paused, still feeling the pull of silence in her, that warm black hole, looking for words and images at its edges that might name the shape and feel of it. There was the color black, in the picture of the space between her ribs, the bones there, pictured in her mind, but had no fear of the dark in it. It was a still pool, filled with nothing. “The space between my ribs,” she smiled, words clumsy in her voice, her voice a funny thing coming from her body sitting still weightless in the seat of the car, somehow the same person she was when she had looked out across the forest from the parkway, said hello to Looking Glass Rock, big hulking curve bulking up out of the forest, worn smooth from the thousands of years.
He laid down first, and she was relieved. This is what they would do. They would lay down under a tree in a little grassy soft spot up off of the trail. She hadn’t ever asked to lay down, hadn’t said, “I want to stop here. I want to lay down.” Constantly, these past couple of months, she has been fighting the urge to lay down on the ground.
She first felt the urge back in the fall, running in the forest alone at sunset, during the season of core sadnesses and deep hopes, of dumping old fears out on the North Slope trail, running in the dark after she learned that the land she grew up on, hundreds of miles away, was finally being sold. Crying on the way to work, near forgotten child-heart all broken and angry over losing home, the decisions of her family, what would never be and what had been. The sensations of the loss tore through her as she sat at her desk, drove down the road, walked through the aisles of the grocery store.
She fought it, that urge to lay down as she rounded a bend on the hill up through the rhododendrons, to where the Art Loeb connector trail meets with North Slope at a little branching in the creeks that run to the Davidson down in the belly of that part of the forest. She could run all the way to the top of the mountain from there, run all the way to Maine, by way of the Mountains to Sea trail up at Black Balsam, the Appalachian Trail further on. She didn’t want to run to Maine. She wanted to lay down, and she fought it as she ran, picturing herself laying in the night, laying forever up under the trees. She’d be cold, nobody would know where she was. The desire to lay down didn’t care, found sweetness in the thought of the dark, the coldness of the leaves under her. She felt like dying, and she kept running, breathing through all of the images that came to her when she thought about home and about why she felt so sad and angry.
She was, somehow, still the same person that she was when she ran in the forest at night back in the Fall, after work, just like now, sitting in the car on the top of a mountain, the day at work stripped away, almost a story, something not real, not close.
It is important for me to have beautiful experiences, occurrences in my life that catalyze wonder and awe.
Beauty is a feeling, a big open space in the heart of me, a fullness and pleasure, warm calm, open mouthed and quiet.
Beauty has a stillness to it, a soft and gleaming appreciation for existence, beholding the strange fact of me standing in awe on the top of a mountain or in line at the grocery store, catching some fleeting exchange in everything moving around me.
It feels like light in my chest, a warm feeling that makes me shiver a little at the edges, because it excites me, beauty does.
Beauty makes the world feel vaguely full of magic.
(gratitude – love – oxytocin, dopamine if one values beauty and looks for it and then finds it, sensations of reward. Serotonin in the sunlight. Good feels.)
The thing that I find most beautiful is that anything exists at all in the way that it does.
That a stranger can smile at a stranger and silently change the course of their day. That the light in the trees can look like a place I haven’t been to in years, and return to that place to me in the form of sudden memories, the body recollecting what it felt like to be there, to be young, to be happy. The fleeting restoration of a whole lifetime in the slant of light.
I had to expand the way I thought about beauty, widen the scope of what I find beautiful, because it is important to me to have beautiful experiences.
Everybody feels beauty in different ways, in response to different things.
I am lucky, because I have been able to learn how to experience beauty in seemingly mundane situations. Sitting in traffic on the interstate, cleaning the kitchen.
The simple act of breathing amazes me, if I can remember to be amazed.
Some things are more amazing than others.
New landscapes, wide open spaces, a person playing music. Certain forms of art. How love looks on a person’s face.
I like that sort of big, wide-open beauty, the beauty of knowing that seeing something, being somewhere, understanding something, witnessing something…that it has changed me, that I am a better person for having had the experience.
(Measuring “better,” What values do personal growth goals reflect?)
Every human being in the world has felt fear at some point or another. The biological and psychological phenomena of fear and the conditions that create fear within our experience are universal to this species. However, everyone experiences and responds to fear a little differently.
We are all scared.
Basic human functions of survival equip us with fear as a means of motivating us to avoid danger, so that we might stay alive longer. Upon entering the world, we carry in our genes the fears of our ancestors and a wariness toward things that people, in general, ought to be afraid of.
We learn and unlearn fears as part of our experience of living. For some people, living is a terrifying experience.
People live with fear. People live in fear.
When we are scared, our physical bodies are affected. Our heart rate changes, digestion slows or quickens, breathing becomes shallow, our sense of the world is distorted. We can’t think straight. We can’t relax.
We are trying to survive.
Fear is an everyday thing for many people, in some way or another.
Anxiety after watching the news, or gunfire next door, a car stopped in the middle of the road, a city on fire, a storm on the way. A nonsense nightmare that leaves you in a sweat. Getting hurt. Seeing other people get hurt. Being alone.
(How does it feel to me to read over those words, those phrases?
I can feel my heart beating faster, a restlessness below my breast bone.
It’s such a familiar feeling. Fear.)
Fear is intertwined with basic learning processes, memory and association and problem solving. As early humans, we moved about the world seeking to survive, to find food, to stay warm, to procreate and avoid danger, avoid threats.
Our hippocampus makes memories of the things that have hurt us.
We can be frightened by thoughts and imaginings. We can be frightened by memories.
We can be sitting in a totally safe and wonderful place and experience a powerful fear reaction because some small smell or gesture alerted our survival brain of a possible threat. Someone who has experienced harm in association with, for example, a loud, angry voice or a raised fist, might have become suddenly scared in a sports bar. If a person has learned to associate banging noises with something to be frightened of, the hard closing of a door may create a fear reaction, a stress response.
Fear is a form of stress, basic distress.
When we are scared, we are much more likely to think about terrible things than we are to think about comforting and soothing things.
Why would I pay attention to small gratitudes and mental images of puppies if the building was on fire?
We are hard-wired to pay attention to that which is most threatening to us.
When we are under threat, we tend to look out for other threats. We see the world and our circumstances in a fear-framed way.
Sideways glances are suspicious. Everything is terrible.
You can’t stop thinking about it.
Fear itself is frightening, and activates a distorted state of consciousness that may create additional fear. When we are scared we look for things to be scared of, things that might hurt us.
We are more than our physical bodies. We are also our hearts and minds, our spirits.
We have identities and ideas about who we are, whether or not we belong, whether we have value in our families and social groups, our societies.
In many countries, beyond the vulnerable years of early life when one cannot care for themselves, friends and family are no longer necessary for basic physical survival. However, for much of our human history, people would die if they were alone.
In the first few years of our lives, every single one of us would die if we were not cared for by another member of our species.
We do not like to be alone.
Some people are scared to be alone.
We can be frightened by what is happening, and what it means for us in terms of our survival, and we can be frightened by what we think is happening and what it means in terms of or safety, access to resources, or social inclusion and security in relationships we believe are important to our well-being.
We can be frightened by things that have happened in the past, but aren’t happening now. We worry that these things will happen again.
We do not want to be hurt.
Trees in flood water
Air green and gracious
The smell of the river all over everything
Wet stone and algae
Damp wood and slight death
Ticks hanging off of branches
Spiders walk on water
Birds ain’t bothered none
By the ground all covered
In ripples and currents
What do they need the ground for
All the insects clamoring up the trunks of trees
Right there for the taking
They say to start from where you stand
In this case not standing at all
But laying in the grass and listening to the lake spill over the dam
And into the creek
With my children out in the woods somewhere, the small fish swimming
Right under the surface
Fins cutting fine lines
And making little circles
where the water breaks
There is no rain at the moment
But it’s been coming down for days
All the rivers swollen and rushing
So to start from where you are
I have to begin from here
Laying in the grass and listening to the lake
Spill over the dam
And thinking about whether you ever wonder
If, really, I only want to be alone
[Photo of me paddling a floodplain not taken by me. I am grateful to not be alone.]
I have thought a lot these past few days about what constitutes my muse. These considerations have been impelled by a conspicuous absence of said muse.
When I use the word muse, I am referring to creative and motivating energy, a fluidity of ideas and deep engagement in the creative process, whether that be in the active production of art work (in some medium or another), or in the generation of spirit-feeding motivation, inspiration that may spur on creative endeavors.
All that being said, I haven’t felt much like writing lately. Or drawing. Or doing much of anything. I can consciously recall the existence of ideas and plans and projects, but I don’t feel those ideas the way I did when they were shiny and alive, filled with muse. I can’t seem to connect with the part of me that feels excited to take out paints or play with lines, to write a book. These desires feel so distant that they may as well belong to someone else, some other person that I am, but haven’t been in a while.
My creativity is stifled as hell lately. It is cautious, pensive. Nagging and bloated at the edge of me. I sit down to write and I don’t even know where to begin. I try to begin from where I am, but that bores me, because my life feels boring when I am not writing, boring when I am uninspired. I can cognitively identify that something ought to be interesting to me, or that some scrap of moment is conceptually beautiful on the basis of aesthetics or phenomena that I understand myself to value and to have been moved by in the past, but I don’t feel especially moved.
I don’t feel much beauty when I am disconnected from practices that encourage my creativity, that stimulate my imagination and activate the regions of my brain that generate images and ideas, engage the processes of picturing and formulating, drawing associations, playing with perception.
There is probably some gift in these transitory times of bland neutrality in being, this moderate avolition to create, to participate. It is worth asking myself who I am without my muse intact and active, to observe my life without the golden light cast by imagined possible futures, without the driving anticipation of how much *fun* it’d be to work on this project or that project.
Without my so-called muse, I am left to simply see things for what they are, not gilding them with any glow, not exuberantly moving toward making something. I am just here. A woman on her porch, with birds singing and not meaning a thing, and I can feel it coming back a little, that state of myself that is my muse.
Writing helps me to find my way back to that feeling of engagement, makes the birds singing and meaning nothing feel beautiful, situates me in my life in such a way that simply being alive is enough.
It’s an interesting thing to me, the way that not striving somehow sends forth anything that I might strived toward.
All of my ideas, all of my mirth and motivation, my ease in phrase and line, my delighting in beauty…all of these things are generated by a particular feeling, a sensation in the center of me, a series of fleeting memories and associations, a remembering of who I am, who I was.
Earlier today, I was putting away laundry and thinking about the state of my muse, wondering where it had gone off to and what I might need to do about the situation of my creative quietude, and I had a flash of memory of being young, an adolescent, and all the memory was made of was a recalled light and scent, river and marsh and sun in the late afternoon, this feeling of being inspecifically excited about the future, alive with a motivation to see and experience and to create, to live. It feels a lot like freedom, and it feels a lot like happiness, this little state of being myself in this way.
There is a lot of poetry in me, a lot of imagined drawings, a list of projects and paintings and innumerable possible lives, places I want to go.
If I do not regularly engage the parts of my brain that generate prose and conjure images, those aspects of my neurological function will not be as active. Predictably, there are experiential and psychological consequences to which parts of my brain are active at any given time, how my body responds to what I am doing and not doing.
Because I am a person who has systematically reinforced an action-reward relationship between dopamine, the belief that “creativity is good, using these parts of my brain is good. To be creative and to experience the sensations produced by creative flow is a good thing,” and working toward creative goals, it *feels good* when I am doing art, when I am writing.
If I spend several months in a state of creative frustration, faltering in my efforts to engage in creative work in ways that are satisfying/meaningful (in that they make me feel something – a sense of accomplishment and/or a sense of beauty), if I couple creativity with frustration (by experiencing stress in relation to creative endeavors, by setting goals and not meeting them, experiencing the resulting impediment in confidence and activating old narratives that do not support awesomeness, e.g. “you’re never going to figure out how to get all of this out of your head and onto a page, into the paint. You’re kidding yourself if you think you can. You’re just a go-nowhere.”
It is worth noting that for a long time this narrative was augmented by a drive to become successful as a writer and/or multimedia artist, and/or cultural creator.
I think a lot of creatively inclined people inadvertently shift their motivation for engaging in creative work from doing art for the joy of it, to doing art for the sake of “trying to do something with art” or “make something of myself with art”
…and that is an error in so many ways.
Diverting the purpose of creative activity from an interest in generating experiential benefit (to “do art” because it feels good to do art and doing art enriches the quality of one’s day and life) and doing art for the purpose of pursuing some imagined economic or social benefit is a function of the capitalist ethos of productivity in which activities which do not garner economic profit or advance social capital within a marketplace that values economic success and in which social capital furthers economic success are not seen as valuable and to validate the use of time in doing art one must somehow make art profitable beyond one’s personal experience, externally valuable.
So, the motivation shifts and the relationship to the motivator, which once was to create for the joy of creating and which – in the context of a capitalist marketplace – is co-opted as a potentials means to make money or to achieve social successes which may aid in ones ability to monetize art, shifts as well and all of the resistance and antagonism of participation in an economic model that one believes is unpairing of authenticity and freedom becomes bound up with art, what one wants to create and why.
My mom and I were walking across a city bridge in the rain. I did not know the city.
The bridge, like many bridges in my dreams, was broken-seeming, oddly constructed, with rattling open stairways dropping down and around pylons that are ridiculously huge, hulking, or dangerously thin, falling apart.
The bridges go on forever. Some sections are blocked, a locked door or a barricade, a break in the wood.
Sometimes I go through these sections, climb over or around the break in the bridge, and sometimes I turn back.
As I sit here in the waking day, loud birds singing and the smell of rain still in the trees, rising up from the ground as the day warms, I have a sudden remembering of many bridges I have dreamed, brief flashes of the look and feel of them, the parts of the dreams I remembered in the very early morning, held onto for some reason, with just the hints of the whole landscape and sleep story at the edges, in the feeling of going somewhere, trying very hard to get somewhere.
A determined resolve while resting, an adventure, a life-death feel.
In dreaming, I forget I am dreaming, and I am scared sometimes, pulling at a door, encountering a person.
I don’t ever panic though, or cry in my dreams.
I think I know, even when I forget in the dream and am wholly present in trying to get to wherever I am going, trying to avoid whatever it is that I am trying to avoid, to get closer to where I am trying to go, that it is not real, that whatever it is I am doing, wherever it is I am going, it is not real.
It doesn’t matter.
In my dream-thinking, it does matter. In the best sorts of dreams, I am in the dreamt-up landscape wholly. I am myself, but existing in, living in, those landscapes I dream of and I have some spotty knowledge of the place in relation to other places. There is backstory, a sense of knowing what leads to what, where I need to try to go, what is happening.
I am moving towards something important, something that feels like freedom or sanctuary.
In dreams, I am concerned when I am distracted by some dream-time absurdity, technicolor foods and the lure of sex.
I feel worried, but not overwrought. I am optimistic. Always running out of time, but always almost there.
In the night-waking moments of hearing a bird call out, a car door slam, feeling a warm arm, untwisting a sweat-damp sheet from my legs, I become aware of my dreaming, and I am curious about what happens next, eager to fall back into sleep, delighted in the feel of it.
There in the dark, I have an enthusiastic diligence in returning to the world where I have somewhere important to be.
In all of my dreams I am going somewhere.
Trying hard to get there. Sometimes I’m alone, but trying to get to people, and sometimes I am alone trying to get away from people. Familiar strangers populate the scenes, they wait and gather, come along or stay behind.
Sometimes I am with my family, coworkers, people I have known, all with dream-tooled peculiarities in their clothing or behavior, like they are other people.
I dream animals and oceans. Roads and bridges. Rain or heat like I hardly ever feel. Beaches that look like deserts beside oceans, humid places full of light and dark and lush and rubble. Flooded roads, a ruined city.
I don’t remember all my dreams right now, sitting in the sun and hearing the birds, half-considering the day and what it will need of me, what I want of it.
I am remembering a lot of dreams, which is interesting to me. It excites me to have this experience of a clear set of linked memories, bridges I have dreamt of.
As I am writing this, listening to the morning, feeling my heart beat, the segments of bridges and scenes from other usually-forgotten or unrememberable dream landscapes are running in the background, full of the color green, the feeling of damp iron under my hand, the grey of concrete, footsteps, dim light, bright light, old wood.
This morning, I remembered that I dreamt my mother fell off of a bridge.
She was coming down a wet metal staircase, pipes and cables blithely suspended in the air, grey sky clouds glaring in polygons between the struts and pilings.
I saw there was no railing, the river right below, moving fast and thick, dark but dimly clear.
In almost every dream, there is a river.
My dreams are full of rivers.
I wasn’t thinking about this in the dream. I was thinking about how surely she would see the break in the barriers between us and the river, that small space where she might, if she stepped the wrong way, fall down into the pull of the water flowing west.
I watched her left foot slip over the low edge of the metal scaffold we stepped down to as the stairs ended. The idiocy of her white thick soled walking shoe. Her arm flung back, reaching. A pink shirt.
She disappeared over the edge, but – look- there she is, held somehow in a patch of still water, not even eddying, but in an impossible pool, the stillness of a lagoon, not spinning or pulled at all, but hanging there in the water, just below the surface.
Why is she not moving, why is she only hanging there, like we did when we were kids playing dead in the pool?
The water is never cold when my diving body hits it.
I can see beneath the surface. Open my eyes and keep them open. The water doesn’t sting. I do not lose my contact lenses.
I have to hold my breath, but I can hold it for a very long time. For the most part, I don’t even have think about breathing when I am swimming underwater in a dream.
The pylons of the bridge are mammoth dark forms behind my mother, who is still hanging in the water.
Surely the river must be moving, must be currents all around, in the dark beyond where I can see.
It is always hard to swim in clothes.
I have a fleeting concern about being wet.
I feel stupidly casual, swimming toward my mother. I am certain that as soon as I get her out of the river, she will be okay. All I have to do is get her out of the water.
I am biting the collar of my shirt as I swim, because it is bothering my face, wet and twisting. I have to swim down, a strong push of my legs, kicking and straining to get low enough to then swim up under my mother, to pull her arm over my back.
I try to remember how to save a person who is drowning. Picture placards with smooth edged people, cartoon chins confidently lifted, the head of the unconscious swimmer appropriately laying tilted to the side, never face down.
Out of the corner of my eye, there is the mystery of two scuba divers in the silt-water green in the distance.
Will they help? Are they there to help? Why, in the dream, do I not want them to help? Why do I want to save my own mother?
I kick turn away from the divers, and have to use all of my strength to move my mother’s body back toward the bridge, where maybe, just maybe, I can hoist her up to scaffolding she had fallen from.
I thought about this as I struggled to swim, still underwater, not yet having broken the surface, the sleeve of wet pink fabric close to my face.
I pictured it, me holding my mother across my back with one arm, how tightly I would have to grab the metal bracing that certainly would be there. I saw how her body would roll up onto the flat surface suspended in the air under the bridge, and how – then – she would be okay, and we could continue with wherever we were going.
In the dream, we were still in the water when I woke up, close to the surface though. Just about to break into the air, to look for something to hold onto, some way to get out of the river.
It didn’t occur to her to be scared of the wind on the Parkway, driving home in the dark, trees bending and whipping around as silhouettes against the just-dark sky.
“Do you want to hear my theory about suicide, about why it becomes a thing in people’s lives?” I felt the blood rush up to my face, about to be honest.
The classroom is a dim-lit blue, a handful of people scattered in chairs around the table, along the wall. Hands holding themselves, clasped on top of a notebooks, in laps, atop a stapled sprawl of papers. Everybody in the room is holding their own hand.
Class was on break, and someone had just said that they’d been depressed, a little suicidal.
I used to feel a rush of fear when people said things like that. Now, I don’t react. It’s just not in me anymore, that rush of fear. I have sat and listened and witnessed people talk about how they want to die for a long, long time. My heart breaks a little, a tremor of fullness, thinking about how often I hear people speak about wanting to die.
I don’t feel the rush of fear I used to feel when people say they want to die, just a variable bloom of compassion, and a quiet scrambling impulse to fix whatever it is that is making a person want to die.
I know that there are some things that can’t be fixed in a simple conversation. I know it’s not my place to fix things.
Still, there is that impulse, that drive toward resolving suffering, alleviating pain, correcting. I have to remind myself that sometimes what I see as suffering is actually growth, that pain leads to healing if people find their way through it, if it is not staunched too soon. It’s not my place to fix things or to name things as needing fixing, as being broken or somehow wrong. It’s my responsibility to do whatever I can do to help people who are suffering.
All of this is in the feeling that has risen up in my chest, a compulsion, an excitement. I want to tell them my theory. My theory about what is happening when people want to die. “Do you want to hear my theory? My theory about what is happening when people want to die?”
People usually leave for break.
They stay in the room, shrug.
One girl looks excited, because when I talk about theories I become animated, I become light. I say interesting things in incomplete sentences. My hands come alive.
I ask again, making sure. Set out to offer a disclaimer, “I don’t know if this is a real theory, but it makes sense to me,” and suddenly I am talking. “So, if a person is in a bad situation, or a series of bad situations, and they need to find a way out, it’s our human instinct to find a way out, and they can’t find a way out, then – eventually – they come upon the idea of suicide as an option, a possible escape.”
The words are falling out of me. I feel a little breathless, the rest of the idea crowding up into my throat, my brain pinging and warm with thinking. I feel big, standing up from where I sat, to hang my hands in the air, hold spaces around my head, gesturing the brain, the idea of a memory, the explosion of images associated with a word, the bomb of sheer agony in picturing yourself dead, dead by your own hand.
“There is something uniquely and powerfully traumatic about wanting to die.” I slow my voice down. Look at people’s faces and the slack mouths tell me that I have given voice to something that feels true. “So, when a person comes up on this idea, that they could kill themselves, it lodges in their survival brain as a terrible threat and remembers it, remembers the feelings, remembers the thought, the images given to the idea.”
I think suicide gets woven into fear, even though – at the beginning at least, the very first time it is considered – it may be one of the things we are most frightened of, that we will die, that our bodies will be found limp and wounded, exposed in their most human fragility. That we will break people’s hearts by the way that we’ve died.
People seem to fight to become unafraid of death, unafraid to die, to do it. To solve the problem of living, the problem of trying to live while wanting to die, the problem of wanting to die. Their eyes are terrified or stone blank as they say, “I’m not scared. I don’t even care anymore.”
Their hands are fists. The voice falters.
The door is open. Out in the lobby of the center, people are talking about needing a ride.
“Here, look,” she said,
leaned into the dark
Disappearing into the slur of night
New moon, no moon
The thick of shadow suggesting
Just a little light
From somewhere around here
Up there, with Venus rising
Sun gone but still there,
over past the mountain
casting dim on the clouds
To shimmer the leaves and slick up the water
to show us the bark,
to show us the details
(Lenticel and the pursed mouths of blooms
Not quite open
“Kalmia latifolia,” she’d told you at the car
A hundred years ago,
Back in the day
When she told you,
“I am learning to learn again.”
And listed all the names she knew.)
(She didn’t tell you that the sounds of them, these names of plants, felt uncertain in her mouth, that she felt like a child saying them, and that in this strangeness she remembers that she was a person who knew the names of things, and who could say them like quicksilver, say them like music, syllables like dancing in the everyday talk of flowers.)
(She feels a little heaviness to know she has forgotten, and excited to have to learn how to learn again, to find out what she doesn’t know, what she can remember. She doesn’t tell you any of this, standing beside the car with the day all blue and rhododendron catawbiensis mutely blooming behind you.)
At night, she leans forward
Into the mass that is earth
Toward the rustle of spring
And for a second she is gone
(She will tell you, now, about the moment just a little later, after the leaning and looking, when you’d gone on with walking, that you stepped ahead, and she could not see you, that when she called out, you might remember her calling out, she called out from a feeling, a flickering fear of the dark, of the thick of it, a quick animal pull toward your hand.)
For a second she was gone,
But maybe you still saw
Her lean into the deepest of the dark
Heard her push aside the branches
Feet grinding stones
Licking into moss
The softness of the spring
The damp fur of the mountain
Speckled with light that might be the moon
That might be the water
sharp like diamonds
Or plain old mica
the bright of a city viewed
From up in the sky
Points of light
Like she’d never seen before
That she tried to remember
Even as she was seeing
The look of them, at first
The feel of the ground on her hands
The press of the nighttime around her
All of it
Reaching forward, just one finger
Feeling toward the glow
To see what would happen
if she touched light
She held her breath to see
that the light stayed the same
Was fixed to the ground
Beaming up in pinprick smears
a scatterplot of stars on the ground
“There is water here.”
She laid an open palm down
Pressed a little
Just a little
Breath slow, being quiet
Hands drawn back
Though you couldn’t see all that
Just a shape that you know
Is your friend
She calls back, plainfaced
excitement in the loudest whisper:
I could sum up the time
All those years
In a compendium of moments
That fell from the night before the interview
Before the man sitting on the couch across from me
Northern and southern
and a little like the desert
Those golden tan cities blown to pieces
Where my mother’s father’s people
Used to live
I covered the scar on my arm
From just a few months back
That moment that spilled from the night before like my very own blood
Bright in the sink
But it was spring time now
Not like then
Back in the winter that lurched from the fall
And I wasn’t thinking about any of that
Walking on 10th Avenue
The morning of the interview
(She’d stood in the living room, repeating the story she’d tell to the people, the way she’d say her name and look straight ahead. She practiced her smile, saw herself grimace in the reflection of the room in the window, pacing.)
I could sum up all those years
In the talking with doctors
The rise of my belly
The thickness of my feet in the summer time
Smell of milk and pneumatic pumping
The weight on my back
In my arms
Those were heavy years
And my bones began to show again
It makes a lot of sense that I would write a mental health memoir – the story of my struggle with mental illness, the story of my recovery process, what I have learned from ‘living with…’
I could do that, write a mental health memoir, tell about going to the hospital for the first time, the fifth time, the last time.
I could describe the diagnostic scene like a one act play.
There are long lists of terrible fits and protracted despairs, near-deaths and lofty exaltation, the joy of living after wanting to die.
Plenty to write about. I’ve already written about mental health a fair amount. A lot.
Why is it so hard for me to simply declare, “I am going to write a book about my experience as a non-neurotypical girl who couldn’t talk right and grew up in the woods, never knew she was smart. I want to tell about the land I grew up on, and southern racism, where I come from, and when the Navy came, how I made sense of that, how I learned about the world and how it works, for whom.”
The town I grew up is home to a large nuclear submarine facility, a Naval base. The base wasn’t there when I was a kid. By the time I left at age sixteen, the base had changed the place, paved and bricked it into another town entirely, bright-painted low riders sliding around the Walmart parking lot in the hot Georgia sun, date rape out in the woods, reefer in the barracks.
I will tell about falling into the framework of “a person with problems”
For years, I have grappled with the idea that there is something wrong with me, that I have a disease, a disorder. Despite, meeting diagnostic criteria, at one time or another, for a hefty handful of severe and persistent mental illnesses, I don’t believe that I have a mental illness.
Some might say that this resistance to “accepting my diagnosis,” this unwillingness to believe that “I have a mental illness,” is a matter of anogsognosia, of being so ill that I do not understand that I am ill, a lack of insight.
I don’t believe that I have a lack of insight.
There is something tricky about this suggestion, the vernacular reassurance that you are only crazy if you don’t know you’re crazy, that resistance to accepting the validity of one’s diagnosis is indicative of one having a mental illness.
There is a trap in that logic, in that it assumes validity of the construct of mental illness as conceived of by a person with the authority to ascribe or deny validity while dismissing the validity of the perspectives or analysis of personal experience by the patient, client, consumer, person with a mental illness.
If someone thinks you’re crazy, everything you say is crazy.
They don’t even listen, or they listen only partially, with a bemused or concerned look on their face.
You’re not crazy, unless…
I don’t know that I am crazy. (Footnote, double entendre, intonation, syntactical embafflement. What the fuck is crazy anyway? How much can we say about that? )
For a while I believed that I was “supposed” to write a book of some sort about my experience, to help to communicate something to people, to offer hope and shed light.
It was all a little grandiose, that belief. Nonetheless, when a person really believes in something, believes it down to their bones, can see it all and understand why and what and how, when a possible world blooms in them like springtime…that sort of belief can get in a person’s head, can burrow into their heart a gleaming blue clarity, a flickering light.
I’d never felt so close to something like God.
When you’re a person with a mental illness, saying things like that can cause concern, especially if one once tried to prove God with pictures of clouds, and this endeavor (the proving God with clouds) was perceived to be a symptom of a mental illness, which – in a way – it probably was, but nonetheless was also a lot of other things.
I am stammering, because I really did lose my mind for a minute there, and, for a minute there, I almost lost my insight. It dimmed, was briefly eclipsed. Not so eclipsed that I don’t remember the quiet voice of my rational mind telling me that it was crazy to believe what I believed.
(Note the recalled excitement of the rational mind, the fervor to solve problems, the enthusiasm for big, beautiful ideas, getting jacked on systems thinking, the analytic urgency caused by fear related to recent and ongoing traumatic losses and persistent significant stressors, exacerbated (fear as stress response activating limbic and survival brain mechanisms) by overmedication with a popular antidepressant medication, prescribed by my primary care physician to help me cope with emotionality related to the stresses of life as the working mother of two intense toddlers, to help buffer the effects of inadequate self-care during a bad divorce.)
I became perseverative in my thinking about certain big ideas, a well-spring of focused and potent creativity opened in me. The dailyness of my uncertain and upsetting everyday life, in which my marriage was over, my kids were crying, the dog had died, and I had to try to smile and make dinner, get to work on time, be happy for the kids even though my chest was caving in with weeping and I could barely sleep for all the ideas in me, all the images and sounds, slow dirge-y songs, long strings of logic…
Wouldn’t it make sense for people to look at the sky and see pictures, tell stories, give importance to strong shapes or strange light, watch for storms and rays of sun, look for animals and ancestors, find bars and slashes, curls and whispers like fire from the mouth of a dragon, a slow winking eye?
I had never thought of anything more beautiful. To imagine seeing the sky as something with meaning.
Writing this, I am momentarily returned to the trembling in my chest and legs, the gravity and light of awe, that breathless feel, the realness of believing that I can stand out in my yard with my hand to my chest and watch, gape-mouthed, as the gilt orange glow of a perfect crown rises over the pitch of the roof in exacting lines, pristine spacing, divine composition, and that I could imagine what it must have felt like, to look up at the sky and believe that the gods are showing you something of themselves.
Watching the clouds and imagining them showing me something glorious and powerful offered up by the universe, by something I imagined might be called God created the most powerful experience I have ever had, and I have thought a lot about why I had the protracted series of experiences that I did during the divorce years.
Did I need something beautiful to believe in? Did I need to believe that I was being seen by some benevolent force in the universe? Did I need a distraction? Were my stress levels so amplified and imbalanced that I was experiencing visual distortions, sensory disturbances?
Was it all just a perfect glitch of my psychology and physiology in the context of a hard time I was going through?
I think that the answer to all of these questions is probably “yes,” or at least a shrugging “yeah, probably.”
Yet, I still like to believe that the natural world is alive in some way that connects to me and inspires me, and comforts me.
I don’t think that mental illness is a good descriptor for what I have experienced and continue to experience, in some way or another.
I was told I have a brain disease at age 12.
I grew up believing that there was something wrong with me, and the only way I could prove that there wasn’t anything wrong with me was to be able to do all of the things that other people, people without brain diseases, are able to do, like tolerate school, and communicate calmly, delay gratification, not cry all the damn time and quit slamming doors.
I was put on psychiatric medication at age 13, and at age 15 was prescribed a selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitor that is no longer prescribed to children and adolescents due to the increased risk of harm to self or others, suicidality and homicidality.
…I write so much about writing, about my creative process, because reflection and contemplation is a component of how I engage in my creative process, tap into that feeling of being inspired and awake around an idea or project.
In my effort to figure out what creates a state of muse, I have identified a few factors that contribute to me being able to activate my optimal, muse-filled state, as well as specific conditions that may need to be met.
The first requirements in activating the muse are that I be adequately rested, fed, and exercised. I need to regulate and mitigate toxic stress and/or fear. Being adequately tended to physically helps my body to regulate stress, which impacts my neurological functioning in terms of stress reactivity, sensory integration, and cognitive processing.
I need time to be alone, with minimal interaction with other human beings. Time that I am not attending to the presence and needs of other living things, unless they are plants or wild animals that only need for me to leave them alone.
As a person with low social needs attending to other people, being aware of them and how my interaction with them affects them, what they want or need of me, how I feel with them, whether or not we are having “fun,” “getting along,” which direction the flow of exchange is taking, how I am spending my time, what purpose I might be serving for those around me, what purpose they might be serving me…well, it’s all a little overwhelming…the social metacognition that seems to be running in the background of nearly every conversation…
Because people matter to me, and my relationships with those I love are important to me, for a long time, I could become very troubled by confusion in the interpersonal space between myself and another person.
I want to be a good friend, a good mother, a good partner…it is important to me that people I love know that I love them, even if I need to be alone.
She considers the ringing in her ears
And the sweet lull between cars passing
Down on the street beyond
The tangle of old apple trees and privet
That hides this house
The birds settle down
when there are no cars
And the sky is beginning to have
That soft look about it
Like the inside of a blanket
Not even grey, just the white glare of down
a thunderstorm just being born
In the slight wind from the southeast
Where all those boneyard beaches are
She’d spent the morning daydreaming
Awake and smiling
In the ease of line
And in the imagining
of a quick drive from here
A whole ‘nother world
Down there by the water
Now she considers the ringing in her ears
And how bothered she is by the sound
Of cars, the guttural push of a bus on the hill
She doesn’t think she wants
to go for a bike ride
To be out on the road
With the bright and the glare
The cars driving past
Loud all around her
The most important
gratitude, this time we have
on a dark morning.
Why is it so hard for me to simply to just write a book?
Writing a book, as it turns out, is hard. It’s not like emailing myself thoughts about my day, or writing a letter to a friend.
A book is supposed to be a cohesive, singularly focused work, right?
Not a collection of the day’s fragments of consciousness, only loosely connected by meta-themes of identity, pathology, the conundrum of human experience, mental health recovery, and growing up in the woods.
Oh, yeah, and the interconnectedness of everything by virtues and mechanisms of nature. Proving God with clouds.
Even I am like, Faith, what the fuck are you talking about?
Dude, those themes are huge. How in the hell can you possibly pull that off?
I know that there is a way to tell this story so that everything fits, moves together in a sort of synergy, incidences deftly connected, with prose that would impart the full expansive awe that one may, for example, feel when standing in the front yard on a partly cloudy day, facing north with her eyes locked on the northern sky, where thick cirrocumulus ribbons and wedges of golden light spelled out a figure with a crown stretching half ‘cross the sky, triangles of brightness spaced out in a perfect arc, perfect equilaterals, and to see this, this massive crown rising up over the peaks of the roof and to feel your knees weak and your bowels slack because you believe, you really believe, that what you are seeing is some face of God, and your heart just about explodes with fear and wonder while down on the street somebody walks by talking on their phone, and a car drives by because it is just a regular old Tuesday and nobody ever looks up much.
I know there is a way that this story can be told well.
How could it be that I am not fit to tell my own story, that I am not able to meaningfully discuss my own ideas? What does that mean?
I think the devil is in the details, so to speak.
Meaning, that if I define ‘meaningfully’ as “well-thought-out and substantiated discourse that deepens human understanding and provides a positive quality of reading experience for the vast majority of the population”…well, I am pretty much screwed, because there’s not much chance that I’d be able to pull that off.
All week long, I have thought about this review on the back jacket of Don DeLillo’s book Underworld, that essentially said that the best books teach you to read them.
I wonder if, also, some of the best books, or at least some worthwhile books, teach the reader something of what it is like to exist in the world of the author, or the narrator.
Would it not be appropriate to convey the experience of a person who is not-exactly-neurotypical in a manner that accurately reflects the processes and tendencies that augment and mediate reality and capability?
If a person is telling a story that was strongly shaped by particular cognitive tendencies and/or experienced emotional realities, would structuring the story to mirror or evoke these phenomena of thinking and feeling, the faulty architecture of ideas and language exposed, showing the way the person’s ‘mind works,’ to muster some sort of impression of felt experience?
What if you imagined what would happen if people could only see what you see, understand it like you do?
What would that do in the world?
Well, if you’re imagining these things, what that might mean is that it’s possible that you, as I myself have been, might be a little “delusional” in your thinking. Or megalomaniacal. Or simply overly fond of your own ideas and over-confident in their quality and potential efficacy.
…or you might have some really good ideas, some ideas that really might change the world.
Everything we do or do not do changes the world.
Some things can change the world, and our lives, in a big way.
Books can change the world in a big way.
I mean, look at the Bible, or any Holy text.
Look at all the stories that have shaped and defined our lives.
Any mass communication which impacts how people perceive and participate in their social, physical, economic and natural environments can change the world. Of course, that change can take all manner of forms, from fleeting consumerist interests, to massive social movements and radical shifts in economic models.
Ideas are technology.
She knows she will go upstairs and open the document and erase most of what she’d written, try to start over. This is what she must will herself not to do. She can possibly erase some, that part about Wittgenstein and Arendt. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about and she knows it.
For a few minutes, she was briefly inspired to go to library to look for a Wittgenstein book, after coming across an article in the Google search for “philosophy of beginnings.”
The article abstract did not especially pertain to what it was she was looking for, which was some sort of overview of everything that great minds (and perhaps even not so great ones) have ever said about the human phenomenon of beginning to do something, and all the various ways these processes of change and evolution are significant in our lives.
The search only turned up a handful of listings for Philosophy 101 and the beginnings of philosophy, with the exception on an essay about Wittgenstein and His Philosophy of Beginnings and Beginnings and Beginnings, with an intriguing encouragement to consider the sensations of being at the very end of the abstract.
(She thinks about her feelings a lot. Her feels. She wants to understand the sensations that creep and flood and bloom around in her body, why these feels attach to thoughts, and memories, sometimes to nothing clear at all, a whole slew of imperfectly recalled epic minutiae of life experience. A glance. A sound. A conversation. The wind. So many feels. So many thoughts.)
She considers what might be involved in writing an essay on the construction and fallibility of memory in humans and quickly realizes that the first step would probably be to read just one entire article or book on the subject of memory in general before she goes any further in her having of ideas or imagining that she knows what she is talking about.
(Laying in her bed, eating tortilla chips out of the bag as she writes this, she briefly considers the extent to which she doesn’t even have the language to meaningfully say much about many of the things she is curiously interested in, the things she tries to figure out on her own.)
She becomes aware of a thought which presents itself as an orated issuance:
“Across the disciplines, the required utilization of nuanced specificity in terminology excludes from dialogue those who have not time, ability, nor inclination to learn what, precisely, is meant by the word knowledge.”
She doesn’t know what she is talking about, but she wants to know why she thinks the things she does, how she thinks about her life and experience, what informs her conscious participation in and understanding of reality.
(Insert beautiful essays on thinking and reality.)
She briefly remembers an essay about the process of scientific invention in which the author – an accomplished scientist of some sort or another, she mostly only recalls sitting at her desk at work, reading the article – said something to the effect that you have a question and you try to find the answer and the initial inquiry connects you to all sorts of different information and work, and then, at some point, you come upon a point where things that may not seem immediately connected are actually and apparently integrally connected, or you find some new combinatorial process, and your initial question becomes a whole series of new questions and that is where scientific invention happens.
The essay also suggests that invention may occur at the point where you’ve answered everything you can answer, you’ve found all the known answers, but yet you still have questions.
It is easy for her to want to learn more about the idea of beginning, and easy for her to conceptualize a scope of information and connected work that would likely satisfy her curiosity. It is easy for her to figure out how whatever it is she is thinking about connects to a hundred different things, and how all those things connect to a hundred more and so on and so forth.
The details of association fuzz out at the outer edge of the seemingly tangential, and she has to remind herself to not connect things that are too distantly related to make sense, or that are only connected by a thread.
It’s easy for things to get big in her thinking.
She is constantly talking herself back to the original point. “Looping back…” she’ll say, going on and on about something
It is not easy for her to sit down and do the work of researching a brilliant, focused essay on beginnings.
It’s too broad a topic anyway.
Everything is a beginning;
everything is an ending.
Part of her thinks that’d probably be about right, to erase the part about Wittgenstein and the call this whole document quits, less than a 1,000 words, no big loss. She can start over. This is what she usually consoles herself with as she saves the document to one of several aborted-beginnings slush files glutting up her computer, her cloud.
She has, in the moment just before this one, reminded herself of what it is that she is beginning. Again.
For the past nine years, she has been trying to begin telling a story about a woman who grew up on a river down in Georgia who eventually lost her mind trying to prove God with clouds on the internet, and now is fairly okay, healthy even.
Active. Alive. Occasionally thriving, always growing. Generally happy.
I didn’t start off trying to tell that story specifically, about trying to prove God with clouds. I started off wanting to write blog about drawing a picture everyday for a year.
It was in the process of drawing a picture everyday for a year that I ended up losing my mind about clouds and language and God, losing my mind in ideas about God, ideas about clouds and letters.
I blogged my way through a traumatogenic and medication-induced paranoid spiritual psychosis that caused my entire life to fall apart in some fairly major ways, as well as significantly damaging my previously constructed ego.
Even at the time, I thought it was worth it.
Even when the idea meant that I might be pushed out of my family, or, as my immersion in the psychotic framework of reality deepened with isolation and additional duress, kidnapped by operatives.
While I understand that I was crazy, and remember quite clearly the experience of being crazy, of really believing the things I believed and the experience of the world changing rapidly within that belief…I am grateful to have believed that I was not only glimpsing God, that I was seeing God everywhere.
A lot of people who’ve experienced psychosis have terrifying and baffling realities that they have to try to live through and live with. Persecutory voices. Horrifying beliefs. Perceptions of the ghastly and strange.
My experience wasn’t like that.
There were months and months and months that I was certain that every single thing I was doing and saying was being recorded, surveilled. I didn’t find it scary. A lot of people are watched in this country.
I had the belief that something bad would happen to me if I didn’t somehow prove God, and there was something awful about that belief, an enormous pressure.
I did believe, at times when I was anxious, that I might be beseiged by dark forces, that I was at risk of harm at the invisible hands of dangerous ghosts.
All of these potentially terrifying beliefs were tempered by a conviction that I was loved by something massive in the universe, and that I would be okay, so long as I continued to do what I was chosen to do, to do what was mine to do, to prove God, to help people to see, to fulfill some contract that I felt I had entered into without realizing it.
This was a very problematic belief, and I knew it.
I drew a picture of a wild-eyed ragged man holding a sign, “Look up! The world is alive.” and thought about all the wild-eyed people who have done horrible things because they believed that some force in the universe wants them to do this thing, that they must do this thing.
Some ideas are dangerous. Some beliefs lead to tragedy.
I just wanted to take pictures of clouds and inspire reverence…but, I knew it was a problem that I believed that some force in the universe wanted me to do these things and that something of my own salvation, and perhaps even the salvation of the world, might be tied up in my doing of this thing that had been set upon me to do, that I didn’t ask to have to do.
I was crazy, but I also knew that what I was experiencing wasn’t exactly rare, that throughout history people have had experiences of perceiving divine manifestations and directives. It’s one of the oldest stories around, people finding themselves in the wilderness, face-to-face with what they understand to be God, or an angel, or their ancestors, some force or another.
I hadn’t ever really thought about those stories. Hadn’t thought much about God, or saints or anything like that. All I wanted to do was to be able to be an artist and to have a peaceful family, to be useful in the world and to not have so much stress in my life.
I never wanted to prove God, until I did, after I felt like God had been proven to me.