The Moon is Always Human: DBT, Dreams and Demons

--Vincent Van Gogh, "The Sower"

–Vincent Van Gogh, “The Sower”

Today is May 29, 2013,  two and a half years into a life-changing course of treatment called  “Dialectical Behavioral Therapy,” a program  designed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, herself a survivor of the mental healthcare system, a system still operating under the insidious influence of a puritanical and damning western society.

And for folks who fit into the category of having been born with such an intense kind of wiring, it’s oftentimes a lonely road. “If you are overtly emotional and suicidal, then you must not be praying hard enough or trying hard enough to change” they tell us as if that kind of judgement would make a body feel any less alienated and strange.

The Way Out, or Suicidal Ideation: George Grie...

The Way Out, or Suicidal Ideation: George Grie, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For me, it’s been a chorus for years inside the walls of my brain.  Over and over to the point where that tired old tune becomes the default of all thinking, the root that strangles and rambles through every nerve and neuron. The soundtrack of my life until the day I was moved to the top of a waiting list to receive this new therapy, one born of Dr. Linehan’s own struggle and study of traditional academics and Eastern spirituality.  I know I owe my life to this treatment.  I also owe it to the doctors and team of specialists it has taken to help me move towards wellness.

It is for them I am writing this, but also for the countless numbers of other borderlines, who must not only deal with symptoms of their illness, but also each the stigma of being categorized as someone whose personality is disordered, someone  incapable of having a stable relationship, gainful employment and the list goes on and on ad nauseam, dismissed and discarded mostly by a world that would rather categorize us as manipulative as lead us to relief from the awfulness of states created by brain chemistry.

Your cries for help go unanswered.  Your desperate and imperfect attempts at connection falling into a grand canyon to echo as reminders of your utter unlovableness.  You are told to pull yourself up by your broken bootstraps and buck up.  To grow a thicker skin and endure it like the rest of us.

Don’t call if you in the hospital. Don’t tell us if you are buying the supplies to do yourself in. We cannot bear the burden of your suffering.

We have had our fill of this illness. And we are just letting go of you and letting God.

But that was then. Now, with the right kind of help, there lies hope and healing.  Help that includes validation and radical acceptance, non-judgement, inclusion, caring, compassion and kindness.

Imagine it.  The universal message of every single spiritual path in existence, the core beliefs sans the politics and hatred, beliefs that unite and empower us as individuals but also as members of the human community.

So now instead of letting my illness rule my life, I am letting the love do the work. I am letting myself share that love.  And surprisingly, the suicide attempts and the romanticism of those attempts are over.  The stashing of pills and sharp objects, the dream of death and the sweet relief I always believed it would bring.  In a life of mostly nightmares, I am beginning to dream something different.  I am learning to save my life by embracing the moment and being present for whatever is born of that moment.

Last night I dreamed I was looking at this enormous glowing harvest moon taking up half the sky and upon closer observation, I could see that it wasn’t really the moon, just a projection of a map of the solar system, one that I had fed to the imagined  overhead projector in my upstairs bedroom, the bedroom I had at eight, three years into the realization that I was so different I wanted to die.  The bedroom where the nightmares began.  The ones where I watched as the demons crawled up the blinds in flames, their pitchforks and sickles aimed in my general direction, the fake angels hovering about my bed and shaking their forked fingers at me in my sleep.

But last night, I made a new memory of what dreams can do.

The moon in the sky had my first name on it, but only because I had inked that name on the map of the universe.   Without the conscious recognition it takes to find the words to describe such an experience, I had already landed, taken my first small steps towards infinity and planted my tattered flag .

High voltage from a Van de Graaff generator pr...

High voltage from a Van de Graaff generator produces a field that is made visible with an overhead projector (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Zen of Sewing. . .and Bonding with this Amazing and Inspiring Author. . .

So in an effort to keep my brain busy lest it be left to its own obsessive and defeatist tendencies . . . I’m throwing myself into a new book and a couple of sewing projects this week.

The book is bringing me to tears, a little bit, in a good way though. . .

Elyn R. Saks, The Center Cannot Hold: Hyperion 2007

From Goodreads.com:

“Saks would later attend Yale Law School where one night, during her first term, she had a breakdown that left her singing on the roof of the law school library at midnight. She was taken to the emergency room, force-fed antipsychotic medication, and tied hand-and-foot to the cold metal of a hospital bed. She spent the next five months in a psychiatric ward.

So began Saks’s long war with her own internal demons and the equally powerful forces of stigma. Today she is a chaired professor of law who researches and writes about the rights of the mentally ill. She is married to a wonderful man.

In The Center Cannot Hold, Elyn Saks discusses frankly and movingly the paranoia, the inability to tell imaginary fears from real ones, and the voices in her head insisting she do terrible things, as well as the many obstacles she overcame to become the woman she is today. It is destined to become a classic in the genre.”

And the sewing is just good quiet time. . .silencing those sounds that just keep hammering over and over like a timpani inside my head. . and the rhythms of  “I miss you. . .I miss you. . .”

So back to this fabric for now:

. . .And that repetitive sound the needle makes while I’m sewing.  . . the mindfulness and meditation made that much easier. . .you just keep your eye on the straight seam, peripherally on the edge so that everything flows to the left of it. . .the operative mantra of silence. . .and the comfort of knowing that’s all you need to worry about for now.

Words & music by Paul Simon:
Rene and Georgette Magritte

With their dog after the war

Returned to their hotel suite

And they unlocked the door

Easily losing their evening clothes

They danced by the light of the moon

To the penguins, the moonglows

The orioles, and the five satins

The deep forbidden music

They’d been longing for

Rene and georgette magritte

With their dog after the war

The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell of Mental Illness: Invisibility and Eccentricities in the New Millenium

The other day I found myself  lost in thought as I followed the hand movements of a young therapist intern who was making notes on a whiteboard for myself and others diagnosed with  various illnesses caused by biological and trauma-related hypersensitivity and emotional dysregulation.  It is in this room we gather once a week for instructional and motivational therapy.

Paul Klee, "Siblings"

I was especially focused on the way she drew the circles for the o’s and a’s,  beginning at the right of the round shape and then continuing the curve in a clockwise path.  It was fascinating to study that process, at the same time overwhelming from a flood of sadness and empathy;

though I may have been projecting, I imagined the act of mirror image character-making as a kind of struggle, as if her wrist and brain were working harder somehow. . .maybe some leftover trickled down from the fine motor constaints of the Spencerian Method.

And in doing so, I got lost in my own inner dialogue drawing parallels between that act and the act of trying to thrive and survive as an uber-sensitive intuitive in a world that is forever trying to suppress that in you. . .and force its own agenda of bootstraps, categorization,  and adherence to inflexible schedules.

Suddenly, I flashed to the memory of those stories of left-handed children forced to make letters with their nondominant hand.

And those mental images were followed by the ones of native American schoolchildren, severely reprimanded for speaking in their native languages; in the meantime. .. all those beautiful and musical syllables and sounds silenced and sentenced to death by the queen’s linguistic lynch mobs.

The truth is, I don’t think I’ve ever had a left-handed instructor before, so I’d never had the chance to ponder it from the perspective of a student.

But recently as I’ve been trying and trying to function in the workforce at various times and venues, and thrive under the supervision of management who, for all intents and purposes, are just doing what’s asked of them, (those things that every manager of personnel does to keep an employee on the straight and narrow),

it’s just become increasingly apparent to me that for all their efforts to keep me in line, for all the admonishment, advice and disciplinary actions, it’s just been making things harder for me to get the job done.

I am not a left-brained, linear, logical thinker.  What  I am is a right-brained, emotionally-charged intuitive and creative thinker.  And it’s been a whole lifetime of trying to fit into that first category. . .a lifetime of going against my better instincts after having been accused of laziness or stupidity or willful disobedience . . .that has kept my world in a constant state of chaos and frustration.

And I guess what hurts most about all of this is having to live with this label of not trying hard enough. . .of all the above mentioned things. .because damn it nothing could be further from the truth.  I am a madhouse of activity when I get rolling, but the part where I have to keep drawing all the circles backwards to suit the tyranny of a system that just keeps taking the pencil out of my hand and trying to make me write the other way is nothing short of exhausting.  And if I am resting, it’s because my god does anybody hear me when I say that I simply must work twice as hard to fail at being someone alien to the way I was born?

And so rather than follow along with others who say that mental illness is mostly caused by biological factors and family stress, I would like to offer that maybe just maybe it gets even worse when everybody tries to make us contort into some other version of ourselves that is not only inauthentic, but freakish. . .like a sideshow of misfits on display to make the rest of the world feel glad about being healthy and normal.

And in suggesting this, I am not saying that I am impervious to working on strategies to fit in better, because I know there are areas of my brain that can be re-wired in ways that will make it easier to manage the navigation of these rocky waters. And I am more than willing to work at that.  (At this point of already having tried everything from isolation and shock treatments to medication and trauma talk, I am ready to try anything that brings relief from this and results, which isn’t so much admirable behavior as anesthesia seeking)  And the truth is, the new therapy, which through some miracle of miracles, I’ve been fortunate enough to qualify in getting financial assistance for, is working.  And the reason it’s working is because the repetitive coaching and calming techniques are helping to rebuild the broken bridges in my brain, ones that have made it extremely difficult to manage complex emotions of feeling trapped and isolated as a result of this misfit existence I’ve been living forever.  Sadly, this therapy is mostly unavailable to most folks because insurance companies refuse to pay for it (due to the enormous costs of constant on-call monitoring and coaching) so you can imagine what it’s like trying to get it for the uninsured.  Like I said, I’ve been blessed to have it, but also I had to be recommended for it by a team of therapists, and after I was approved (mostly by virtue of repeated suicide attempts and hospitalizations) I was put on a 2-year waiting list.  My heart goes out to others who go without such help to manange  illnesses as borderline personality disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder as they must simply endure without effective treatment, via medication and cognitive therapy, treatment that oftentimes has proven to do more harm than good.

I am also insanely thankful to my therapists and doctors, friends and family so very much as well.  Without their patience, love and caring, no doubt I would have just given up altogether and banished myself to a life on the fringes somewhere. And to Dr. Marsha Linehan, the patient turned physician who, through her own struggles and suicide attempts, became the creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, therapy that has been life-saving to the others of us with similar challenges.

But also to those who have come forward to share their stories of hope and survival, I say “thanks for lighting the way for the rest of us who are afraid to speak openly about this.”

It is because of you, all of you, that I am certain we can do this thing, come out of the mental illness closets and find a way to ask for back-up and support somehow someway if only we push for legislation and listening from folks who could help us be safe in talking about it.   I mean, anybody who’s been there, done that knows that it’s at best humiliating and awkward to ask for any kind of accomodations in this world, let alone inappropriate and unreasonable, where the policy of “don’t ask; don’t tell” is pretty much a given.

And to those who say it can’t be done, that the only way to fit in is to suffer in silence, I can only quote the words from John Lewis in 1765, words that have re-emerged to become the outcry of the civil rights movement:  “If not us, then who?  If not now, then when?”

painting

painting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

–Vincent Van Gogh, “The Sower”