Category Archives: Artwork

Joker (2019)

Yesterday I saw Joker, a sympathetic character study of the Man before he became the Super-Villain “The Joker” from Batman fame. Joaquin Phoenix plays a man recently released from a psychiatric hospitalization (those in the know about where the character ends up assume an involuntary one?). Overall I found the movie a fair, maybe even an accurate, portrayal of someone living with severe mental illness. I say this as someone who lives this life, as well as someone who has observed and learned a lot about living with severe mental illness from people in support groups and hospitals.

The importance of medication. Arthur knows he needs his medication to keep his life of job and caring for his mother. He questions his social worker how he will get his meds when social services are shut down.

The trials of living with medication. Not only is there the problem of access, there is the problem of if/how the medication works and makes one feel. Arthur wants his meds increased so that he will feel better. Later when he doesn’t have them anymore he says he feels better off the meds. So which is it – better life with meds but there are side effects, or feel better without them? What if it is both?

Misunderstood by society. One of Arthur’s symptoms is inappropriate and prolonged laughing (not necessarily maniacal, though). Arthur even carries a card that describes his affliction so that he can pass it out to people when he is laughing inappropriately. Still, he is dismissed. Even his co-workers don’t seem to understand either his life with symptoms, or how his symptoms affect how he can do his job.

Often victims of crime. Twice we see Arthur beat up, just for his profession (clown) or his symptoms (laughter). A coworker offers Arthur some protection against further crime, not understanding how access to a firearm could be dangerous to Arthur’s own well-being, as we see later in the movie too.

Unreliable narrations of life. Arthur’s journal is full of jokes, observations about stage presence, and rants, including “I hope my death makes more cents [sic] than my life” and “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” One is a brilliant observation; one is suicidal, in context. In addition, delusions create storylines where there was no prior relationship. I so know both kinds of these experiences of not being the most reliable narrator of my life because of symptoms of mental illness!

What Is Unrealistic: Turning to crime (in the vast majority of cases). Ultimately Joker is a Batman Super-Villain origin story, no matter how sympathetic Arthur can seem at the beginning, and he turns to crime whether pre-meditated or a last-minute decision in the moment. This Is Not the case for the vast majority of people with severe mental illness. They are not criminally insane, as this portrayal of the character Joker ultimately ends up showing. The movie is entertaining and engrossing as a character study of someone who turns to violent crime, but in the end it is not a true story of mental illness and violence.

(Read more about violence and mental illness in “Violence and Mental Illness: What Is the True Story?” from British Medical Journal: https://jech.bmj.com/content/70/3/223.short)

An Interview

Hello, Dear Readers!

As promised, here is the link to the interview I did with Rachael of a5ylumpodcast.com. https://a5ylumpodcast.com/episodes/

On her site she says, “In our first episode, we take an in-depth look at Bipolar Disorder, addressing the myths and stereotypes, while discussing the diagnostic criteria, causes, risk factors, and treatments. We also get the opportunity to talk with Deborah Matthews about her personal experience living with Bipolar Disorder.

Fabulous info about bipolar disorder in the first part of the podcast. I hope you’ll listen and maybe learn some about this disorder we live with. Stay tuned for my musings at the end of the podcast.

Progress and Regress

I’ve been tooling along with the stabilization plan here in Texas with family. I’m still getting up at the same time and going to bed at the same time (already good at that); eating regularly (new skill); exercising 2x/day (new that it’s twice and it’s everyday); making lunch and cooking dinner (new skill, still learning); using time to exercise my brain with reading, puzzles and art (re-starting an old skill).

I’m still going to church while I’m here – a Unitarian Universalist one actually since a friend from seminary is the pastor there. Shhh. Don’t tell my family. They already think it’s weird I go to church and Presbyterian is enough for them. They’d probably flip if I went Episcopal! But we have different worldviews.

One funny thing is that we have together found a floorplan we all like that would allow us all to live together. Unfortunately it’s in Texas since my brother is the only one gainfully employed and we’d have to stay close enough to his job. That takes me away from values of long-term relationships, which I’m in back in Illinois and living independently, which may be overrated since I’m doing so well mentally and physically living in community with my family. I’d have a suite with two bedrooms and my own bathroom so I could have a couch, tv, office in one and feel I could live independently within the community.

I’m going on and on about this (unrealistic?) plan because I have been doing well and getting better in the head and body while with my family. Yay! And I don’t have the same live-in community at home. I don’t have someone doing my laundry or cleaning my house (which are things I’m good at taking care of at home, making it easier to let that happen here. But I’m cooking and exercising my body and brain, and those are all things I needed to get better at. The social environment has helped. And I just can’t get the same level of social environment at home. Hence, the flirting with living altogether as a family (boyfriend welcome to live there too – but not with someone long enough for that to be an option, IF he wanted to move to Texas in the first place. IF I wanted to move to Texas in the first place.)
 

Texas Healing potential

Well, it has been way too long, dear reader, since I have checked in. A week after finishing the outpatient program, I flew from Chicago to Dallas to spend a couple months with my family. The purpose is establishing healthy routines I’ve fallen out of. The very routines that could anchor me and my moods in an environment that will help stabilize the swings. Plus I’ll be in a supportive, social environment to help make the process a success.

That stabilization is the theory anyway. 😀 My therapists and psychiatrists are on board. And so I’m giving this a try. 

We are focusing on getting up and going to bed at the same time (something I’m already ok at), showering regularly (which I’m not good at), eating regular meals with more healthy snacks. I’m also focusing on regular exercise by walking after breakfast and water jogging three times a week, with some treadmill thrown in. I’m going to church on Sundays, an important part of my spiritual practices.

I also brought all my art supplies and books and paper, and there are puzzles here, to do some art therapy and some mental exercising. It’s been two weeks and I’ve already finished my first 500-piece puzzle ever!.

Sadly, with all we are doing, I’m still heading into a depressive episode now and I’ve been feeling alone, fearful and suicidal (with plans) too. I can’t win. And I’ve gained weight even with all the focus on losing weight. Gah! Not helping.

I talk to my therapist once a week. Today we talked about my resistance to defusing from my thoughts (ACT skill), and how I can use my support system better, when I’m out of my home and close to them. 

I just don’t want to feel alone and fearful anymore. Here or at home. 

Artwork from the Hospital in May

Poetry from the Hospital – May 10

No resolution for me

No six months out for me

No stability for me

No exit for me (from my illness)

 

Unless I take an exit

As fond as I am of an exit

It’s not a good idea to exit

But, oh, how tempting is the exit

 

Recovery has been/is elusive

Healing has been/is elusive

Reading comprehension has been/is elusive

Satisfying work has been/is elusive

 

Where is my change?

Can I ever change

Will a desire for exit change

How about elusive benefits – any changes?

 

I’m a burden to my support

I’ve tried to increase my support

I’m always worried I’ll lose my support

I’m broken. I don’t know why I have support.

 

Poetry from the Hospital – May 9

Laughing, Connecting –

Oops! I can’t feel happy;

I’m depressed.

Guilty, Ashamed.

Laughing, Connecting –

Stab! See how you

Want to die.

Afraid, silenced.

Laughing, Connecting –

Bam! I’m not in

that role anymore.

Empty, yearning.

Lost in a story –

Splat! You can’t understand

Or remember anymore.

Deflated, defeated.

 

Bipolar ravages lives, minds. You can roll over and give up and live next to potential, yet always short of it. You can adapt and notice limitations as mere borders that outline potential’s shape. Amorphous and floating those borders may be. But you can dance with them. And find life within the ravages. New life burrows and blooms from a fallen log. Never the manic high reaching beyond tree tops. Nor the depressed, decrepit log testing to lie forgotten. Surprise! the bipolar. Fill potential’s shape with a new tree that bends but does not break, that branches up and down and thrives inside its boundaries. Look to the bonsai tree…

Depression Moon

Waxing gibbous, perigee Moon mocks me

with her neither large or small shining call.

She terrifies me when full –

some symptom flares up.

She sneaks up on me when new –

surprising energy leading to health or shame.

Moon mocks me in all guises except crescent.

The Cheshire Cat grins and I know

I’m safe for tonight.

 

Waxing gibbous, perigee Moon glowered at me.

Sadly, I’m reminded that Moon

guides/tempts/throws me. I, her slave.

No path to guide me, save to the hospital.

No salvation from temptation

except a friend’s interruption.

No lifeline thrown, save the red bag

half-packed awaiting Full Moon’s beckon.

 

Waxing gibbous, perigee Moon shines brightly

as she rounds out, rings around her.

She tells me it’s time, though she is not full.

My hunch from her confirmed as I crawl around

trying to function

and the Mom confirms Moon.

Depression drops me off at the hospital.

One Week Done with DIY Residential

It’s been about a week of the DIY Residential Program. Following the strict schedule has been moderately easy. Dealing with suicidal thoughts has been HARD. As happened at my residential therapy experience in February, and is happening again – a rather normal reaction – I felt challenged by the material and resisted what my therapist and group therapy and classes presented. I’m resisting the ACT requirement of Committed Action toward your values, because I’m not at all sure I want to live or have a meaningful life. I think I’m just resisting and I’ll eventually break through, provided I don’t end up in the hospital first.

I looked up on the internet overdosing on my many medications, I called a suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-TALK – they are amazing!). I keep a bag packed in the car in case I need to drive to the hospital. My support system has been life-saving, and I’m so sorry for dragging them through this horrible journey. Partly it’s because I don’t have residential staff to talk to about the terrible things I think about or see in my head, so I’m sharing them with my support system, local and national. Y’all have been great at encouraging me to keep moving forward and not follow through with the thoughts and visions. But as one of the images below says, I feel like I’m on a never-ending treadmill of suicidal voices and visions that I use defusion on every time they come up. Which is A LOT. In the middle of conversations, in the middle of reading, when I’m laughing at something someone said or at a funny show. Any time I’m alone, or with people. There they are, waiting for me to give in this time.

I started a new workbook that is specifically for using ACT with depression. I have high hopes for it. Until in one early chapter it makes the claim that depression is only a little bit biological and almost all about how we respond to situations – emotional avoidance or fusion with unhelpful thoughts. I’m still open to what it says, as clearly I need new ways of coping. But even though I’m depressed, I feel like I’m depressed more from the suicidal thoughts than I am in the traditional sense. I still get up and do everything I’m supposed to do as though I am following my values. But I still feel numb and separated from life, which is a feeling associated with depression. I’m avoiding feeling the emotional pain of suicidal thoughts? or what the suicidal thoughts are trying to tell me? (that I want things to be different? that I want to be strong again? that something needs to change?)

I also think I’m lying to myself in a couple different ways.

  1. I keep saying I want to die and need this life to be over. But I keep asking for help and I keep doing the positive things such as taking care of myself, exercising, socializing, going to the hospital to be safe, etc. Those are things that seem to say that I want to live and I want things to be different, not that I want to be dead. I really like the thought of being dead though. I’m very fused to that idea and I use a lot of defusion techniques with that one. So the lie is that I want to die, when my actions say I want to live. Which is what my therapist says too.
  2. I’ve started saying that I no longer have viable options for killing myself since the information I got about overdosing looks like I’d just end up waking up in the ER or ICU with heart and liver and other damage, or if I took enough I’d have seizures and a heart attack. Not the go to sleep forever image I have in my head. And I’ve mostly given up on slicing my arms or throat open after talking with people who have and still ended up waking up in the ER. So, the only plan that would really work involves a gun and I don’t have access to one, which everyone says is a great thing. It seems that I don’t have viable options. But I think I’m lying to myself, because maybe a heart attack from too many meds wouldn’t be so bad. I’m totally irrational on this lie. I really don’t think I’d do anything, I’d rather die from something that took my life and I didn’t have to do it. I just really want to be dead, which is the subject of Lie number 1 above.

With all of these lies and thoughts I’m continuously using skills to defuse from, to make room for them to just be, and just be words and just be pictures and not be imperatives I have to follow. I’m doing the right thing according to everyone in my care team (about 6 people, plus a bunch of auxiliary people when I’m in the hospital). I just still really want to be dead. And out of pain. It hurts a whole heck of a lot to feel like there is a black hole in the center that is slowly, tortuously sucking you dead into its center.

2015-11-22 14.24.34

 

2015-11-22 14.42.23

A Rich and Meaningful Life

I’ve been working with the Thought Defusion as described in the previous post, and added Expansion, which is making room for thoughts, images and emotions to be there – don’t have to like them, just let them be there. And finally, getting in touch with Connection, the Observing Self that is always present, never judging, who only notices and sees what is thought about, felt, experienced (also known as Mindfulness in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). These open the doors to being able to have a deep, rich, fulfilling, meaningful life based on your deepest values because you are no longer a slave to your thoughts, emotions, and images or memories.

That’s the theory anyway.

Then there’s me. Today I drew this.

2015-11-19 15.36.16

And I talked about the art and the thoughts with my therapist. I say I don’t want a fulfilling life and I want to die. She says I think I don’t deserve the fulfilling life and dying isn’t an option. That someone who goes to this much effort isn’t someone who wants to give up, but someone who wants change. OK. I’ll give her that. Change would be nice. I feel like I’ve worked my a$$ off for years and feel I’ve made very little progress. Even in the last few months the goals to meet my values of relationships and meaningful work – I added volunteering in more social atmospheres, joined more MeetUp groups and started attending them. And I still ended up suicidal and in the hospital. 4 times in 10 weeks.

Tonight I’m suicidal again. I can’t tell you how much I want to die and how much I don’t believe I’m worthwhile at all. I work hard toward my values, for what? Measly scraps of barely moving forward. Why try? I don’t want this magical, rich meaningful life. I want to be done. I can’t do this anymore. Therapist still says I think I don’t deserve the meaningful life. I say I just don’t want it. It’s too much bother. I’d rather turn in, thank you very much.

So, I’m using defusion skills as discussed in the previous post. In some small way I want to not believe myself. I’d like to think I want a meaningful life and I want to live. You’d think I want that with all the effort I’m going to in order to do this DIY residential program. But I’m defeated and can barely stand to live, much less follow my values. I’ll keep using skills. But I still don’t want to live.