All posts by Phoebe Sparrow Wagner

Artist, author, poet

MY INCLUSIVE BAND OF PAPIER MÂCHÉ MUSICIANS

This quartet is papier mâché, all women, but I tried to include as many different types of people as I could (so far)…of course not all peoples are represented, as that would be impossible with just four individuals. But starting with the pianist, we have a zaftig, older, white haired crone, with beige skin; the guitarist by contrast is tall and very slender, and dark of hue; the singer is Latina, and because of cancer and the treatments, she is missing a hand and her hair; finally we have the young prodigy drummer, a tiny Asian “jeune fille” who has to play drums that are sized to fit her. And in case you are in doubt, I made them all, each one, from materials I had on hand. 6” to 14” high

Nous Toutes Ensemble

CRAZY OR NOT, HERE I COME

first published at https://www.blog88.org

by Phoebe Sparrow Wagner

       I used to be “crazy.” Labeled CMI, chronically mentally ill, prone to psychosis, i was a revolving door mental patient, one who spent almost as much time in her adult life in the hospital as out of it. Although I had various diagnoses, the main one was schizophrenia, or the variant of it, schizoaffective disorder that some claim combines features of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Over time, as I bounced from hospital to home and back to the hospital the doctors would tack on other labels as well, like PTSD and different personality disorders. 

     Although I occasionally was admitted “voluntarily,” most of these hospital stays started out involuntary, until nurses, brandishing paper and pen, advised me of my right to sign in as “voluntary.” I would sign, but this did not mean I could leave because not even voluntary patients could leave at will, not in the state where I lived at the time. If you wanted to leave before the doctor thought you should, you had to sign a  paper stating this. Then wait to see if the doctor challenged the paper. If she did so within three days, you could be taken to probate court for a judge to hear the case. This was never good. We patients knew the judge virtually always sided with the doctors, since we were by definition “crazy” and could not know what was good for us.

         But let me go back to the schizophrenia thing. I heard voices, most of the time. They were usually awful voices, voices that jeered and mocked and threatened me, voices that led me to burn myself dozens of times in an effort to rid myself of them. I heard and saw messages to me in everything, from the television and radio ads to newspaper headlines. I saw tiny scintillating red lights that swarmed about me like a cloud of gnats, and which I called the Red Strychnines. I saw Alan Arkin, the actor, and Senator Joe Lieberman dressed as Nazis supervising a conveyor belt sending bodies to the crematorium, and I heard music, people chanting in low voices, unintelligibly at first but later changing to threats. As is often the case, these voices and visions led me to distorted thinking, and to “paranoia,” based on what I heard and saw.

      There were other voices. Brother Luke was the name I gave to the one good guy in the lot. He talked to me about time and space and humanity and love, and I felt safe with him. And there were the voices I called the Little People, to distinguish them from the main voices, the bad ones. The Little People occupied objects I used, like my comb or paint brushes and they would talk to one another but would almost never speak directly to me. I could listen in on their lives and concerns, but mostly could not or did not want to interfere. They kept me company with their constant chatter, but they were never threatening or upsetting to me.

         The bad voices did bother me, however, and I would often end up in the hospital because of them. But living in a hospital is as bad as it sounds, with horrible food, and little to do, and really no help at all except the constant pressure to take medication, which could turn to threats if you didn’t comply. Worse, if you got out of line, that is, if you got too loud or angry at being kept there or treated by force,  they would do things like have a team of security guards strip you naked and lock you in a freezing seclusion cell alone, or shackle your wrists and ankles to a bed, leaving you like that for hours, even days at a time. Or both at the same time. I know this because everything I write about happened to me and on multiple occasions.

        Staff called seclusion and restraints measures of last resort, claimed they were only employed when necessary to maintain a patient in safety, but we patients knew they were used almost always as retribution and for punishment. Even SAMHSA (the Federal agency concerned with such things, the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration) knew that restraints and seclusion were not helpful, and were not used as a last resort at all, as they stated in one of their pamphlets:

“… there is a common misconception that seclusion and restraint are used only when absolutely necessary as crisis response techniques. In fact, seclusion and restraint are most commonly used to address loud, disruptive, noncompliant behavior and generally originate from a power struggle between consumer and staff. The decision to apply seclusion or restraint techniques is often arbitrary, idiosyncratic, and generally avoidable (Haimowitz, Urff, & Huckshorn, 2006; NASMHPD, 2003; SAMHSA, 2003).”

In another publication SAMHSA writes:

“Seclusion and restraint were once perceived as therapeutic practices in the treatment of people with mental and/or substance use disorders. Today, these methods are viewed as traumatizing practices and are only to be used as a last resort when less-restrictive measures have failed and safety is at severe risk.”

And this:

“Restraints can be harmful and often re-traumatizing for people, especially those who have trauma histories. Beyond the physical risks of injury and death, it has been found that people who experience seclusion and restraint remain in care longer and are more likely to be readmitted for care.”

         But both seclusion and restraints are still used and increasingly so as staff to patient ratios are decreased in psych hospitals and units, with more patients per staff and many staff members poorly trained, if at all. 

         I don’t believe mental illness is a real entity any more, I don’t believe in schizophrenia or manic-depression or depression or the notion that anyone’s personality can have a disorder. I don’t believe that psychiatry is a valid science or even an art worthy of the name. And I do not believe that we are right on the verge of finally (for the umpteeth time?) discovering the truth about the origins of “mental illness”. We were told the same thing many times before. For instance when the “miracle of psychosurgery” maimed or killed thousands by “helping” them with ice pick surgery and pre-frontal lobotomies. We were told of the miracles of shock, when a variety of drugs as well as electrical current applied to the brain “helped” thousands more, even when bones were broken and people died. And we are still being fed the lie that neuroleptic drugs like Thorazine and Haldol  and the new generation of similar drugs like Zyprexa and Risperdal are in fact “antipsychotic” and are an effective treatment for, well, whatever ails you…*

     But it was not true that lobotomies helped anyone, shock treatments, which induce grand mal seizures, are by definition brain damaging, and the drugs rarely help more than they hurt, since it has been shown that long term they create more illness, chronic illness, than they ever alleviated. 

        We should have known this. Back in the 50s when Thorazine was seriously referred to as a chemical lobotomy (which was seen as desirable) doctors noted that the drug was not in fact a treatment that helped the person who took it, reducing symptoms or restoring health. What they saw was that those given the drug became subdued, even immobilized into the infamous Thorazine shuffle, and more “compliant.” This helped the nurses be nurses, as the formerly disruptive were now bludgeoned by Thorazine into mild, shuffling sufferers. They were no longer mad-men or mad-women, no, they had been disabled by the drug and  could now be nursed as  true patients, patients who were sick and needed nursing care.

       I have been given high doses of Thorazine and know from experience that it is a horrible, deadening drug. I have been forcibly treated with soul-killing Haldol and Mellaril and Stelazine and the others, and when Clozaril came out I was given that (thankfully, because the side effects were horrendous, I developed agranulocytosis, twice, so I was taken off it) and then Risperdal and Zyprexa and again, most of the others that later came onto the market. None of them helped me or reduced the voices or made me happier.

     Two things did help. Art, which became my life’s passion, and therapy, therapy not with a psychiatrist or an LCSW working under the auspices of a psychiatrist, clinicians who saw only so-called mental illness, but with a woman who does not even have a license to practice in this country. She never saw schizophrenia or bipolar or personality disorders in me when we talked, she saw me, the me beneath all the labels, and she saw me as good, she saw a good person, not the “Satan’s spawn” that the voices derided. She saw me healthy and thriving, even before I did. She did not want to control me, in fact human freedom was and is her main concern. But she accepted me as I was, and her unconditional acceptance and love (for what else was it?) gave me back a sense of self and the self-esteem to thrive and move forward into my life.

     I want to say a word about my falling in love with art. I became an artist very suddenly, overnight, in 2008, and this was a miracle in my life. I did not at the time understand how or why it happened, but I woke up one morning with a voice inside my head (all the others seemed to emanate from outside me) telling me, “You must build a human, you must build a human.” Well, I thought, this voice is not telling me to harm myself, so what’s the problem with obeying it? So I set out to build a human, and did in three months, create a life-size papier mâché woman, seated in  a paper mâché chair.

Decorated Betsy

Later this won a prize and was bought by an art collector/friend. But it seemed to unleash something in me that drove me to make art constantly from 2008 onward.

It was only in 2017 and later in 2020, when I managed to get off all my psych drugs, that I realized I had also stopped doing art. Was it possible that the drugs were responsible, then, for the miracle I could no longer live without? I went back on them, and within a week or two I was doing art again.

And a second trial of slowly stopping them, which also resulted in my stopping my practice of daily art, led me to the conclusion that without at least one of these drugs, I could not do art. And art was my raison d’être, something I could not live without.

After some lengthy experimentation, I finally determined that it was a drug called Abilify that had produced the miracle of allowing me to do art. Abilify, which I had started in 2008, and which is technically in the “anti-psychotic” class of drugs, is also used along with antidepressants purportedly to help in depression. Nowhere has anyone ever noted its use in stimulating creativity. But that’s what it does for me, and it does so reliably.

Off Abilify, I do no art. On it, on a “therapeutic dose,” I can access my creativity in a way that I can no longer live without. But it decidedly does not act as an anti-psychotic, or as an anti-depressant, because I’m fine these days, and all my “symptoms” — a term I never use except in quotes — all the voices and visions, the distorted thinking and “paranoia” I used to experience are gone, whether I take the drug or not. 

       I believe that the extreme mental states called “mental illness” all have their origin in trauma, childhood and otherwise, and often these traumas are re-enacted and reinforced by what is absurdly called “psychiatric care.”

      Forced medication and forcible treatment, restraints and seclusion and involuntary commitments, all these are liberally employed, as if shackling a person to a bed or chair for hours at a time, or holding someone down for forced injections, is an act of compassion. Note that these measures are undertaken most often against poor people or minorities, and buttressed by the same lies about “anti-psychotics” and “anti-depressants” that are also foisted on the general public. 

      If psychiatry was a profession entirely dedicated to the truth about each individual and the truth about trauma, and was not so tied to the mercenary interests of the pharmaceutical companies, maybe today it would be a healing profession and not the corrupt, pseudo-medical cabal it is.

       The profession could change, become what it purports to be, but this would necessitate psychiatrists looking honestly at history. Alas, I doubt that those who have arrogated so much power to themselves will ever relinquish it, much less acknowledge with remorse the immense harm psychiatry has inflicted on the world.

     ————————————————————-

* Dr. Heidi Fowler, a psychiatrist at HealthTap wrote this: “Abilify (aripiprazole): Abilify (aripiprazole) is used to treat Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, as an adjunctive medication for recalcitrant major depression; autism spectrum disorders. Off label uses include: dementia; alcohol abuse/dependence and the following for which there are no trials or minimal efficacy: Generalized anxiety disorder, Social phobia, ADHD, agitation, Eating disorders, insomnia, borderline personality disorder.”

* If you subscribe to Quartz you can read this: https://qz.com/293932/how-this-antipsychotic-became-americas-best-selling-drug/ 

*Another article on Abilify: https://medtruth.com/drugs/abilify-side-effects/ 

*Abilify became America’s best-selling drug in 2013-2014, and it was used in myriad ways, not just to “treat” schizophrenia or depression.

DANDYBLEND CINNAMON CAKE


Dandyblend Cinnamon Cake

DRY INGREDIENTS

3 C flour, all-purpose or a mix of flours, but use at least 1 cup of white flour

1 1/4 C sugar, white or brown

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1C chopped nuts (I use pecans)

2 Tbs Dandyblend* beverage powder (optional but it adds flavor and color)

1 Tb cinnamon

WET INGREDIENTS

2 eggs (I used egg substitute) 

1/3-1/2 C oil

1/2C -1C milk or nut milk, or another liquid, even water

1 tsp vanilla or almond extract

TOPPING INGREDIENTS

3 Tbs sugar and 1 Tb cinnamon, mixed to make about 1/4 c.

Mix dry ingredients well with a fork in a large bowl, to ensure good blending.

Add wet ingredients to bowl with the dry ingredients, using smaller amounts of each suggested liquid first and only adding up to the second amount if the mixture seems too dry. Should be a thick wet batter, not a dough.

Spoon or scrape mixture into a well greased loaf pan.

Sprinkle topping all over top of uncooked cake batter. If you like, with a knife swirl topping into cake. Or just leave to form a crust on top.

Bake at 350F for an hour, 

but start checking for doneness after 45 minutes. 

An inserted toothpick should not come out wet with uncooked cake batter, but clean and nearly dry. My oven sometimes needs a bit longer than this, but it depends on how much liquid I’ve used in the cake.

  • Dandyblend is an instant no caffeine beverage, made from dandelion and chickory roots and a few other natural ingredients. I love this blend as a hot coffee substitute and for a cold drink too. You can find it of course on Amazon or at https://dandyblend.com

Paintings and photos

Coeur de France language school (for French ) in Sancerre, France. A rainy day…
A more sunny day in Sancerre, 2019
House on Bullock Street is a shade of purple or aubergine, not the blue it appears in photo.
In acrylics, the same house is rather brighter! I hope owner, for whom I painted it doesn’t mind…
Palazzo Podere in Tuscany Italy
My version of this lovely house, approximately 32” by 24” done entirely in colored pencils.

HOUSE ART

First house I ever drew, and its in a large size, all done with colored pencil, but there’s a big mistake in it. Can you find it?
Second house I drew, at 9″ by 12″its about a third of the size of the first picture. But I did not make the same mistake twice!
A house in Tuscany that I fell in love with photos of…Avoided mistakes made in first. This is a huge colored pencil drawing at 36″ by 20″ if i recall correctly.
Photo of a friends house, done in a small size and given as gift
Done in teensy 2.5″ BY 3.5″ size
Saltbox in Wethersfield, CT without the added barn or additions
Farmhouse in VT painted in acrylics, 2/5″ by 3/5″

Now I have two more houses to draw as BTT commissions, so I’d better get to work! Here’s what I’m working on…

STOP THE STEAL…?!?!

Trump signals what he is doing by accusing others of the same behavior. “Stop the steal” is a slogan that encapsulates this, as the evidence is very clear, Trump wants to steal the election, so he projects his desire into the mouths of his perceived enemies, period.

“This is a case where they’re trying to steal an election, they’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen.”
But that was EXACTLY what Trump planned and tried to engineer, both by subterfuge and by inciting a violent uprising.

 “I’ve been talking about mail-in voting for a long time. It’s really destroyed our system. It’s a corrupt system and it makes people corrupt, even if they aren’t by nature, but they become corrupt. “

Of course Trump claims corruption on the part of others, especially when none is alleged by anyone else, and why? Because he and his cabinet have been exposed as the single most corrupt administration in USA history.

“Millions and millions of people voted for us tonight, and, uh, a very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise that group of people, and we won’t stand for it. We will not stand for it.”

But note that it was Trump and republicans who tried mightily to disenfranchise democratic or black voters in several states. Again, if it is an accusation coming out of Trump’s mouth, he is signaling his own intentions or behaviors by accusing others of it.

“The damage has already been done to the integrity of our system, and to the Presidential Election itself. This is what should be discussed!”

Yes indeed, damage has been done but by whom? Not those he accused of it, but by Trump himself.

“We have crowds that nobody’s ever had before, it’s insane and I think you can agree. It’s — it’s been incredible. “

Okay, this one is true. It is literally not credible…

“I ended up with 306 [Electoral Votes]. That was a good number. 223 to 306 and that was a big number.” This is a reversal of the usual, where he attributes to himself the facts that are true about his opponent. Goes with the territory…

So Stop the Steal? I say, who is stealing from whom?!

lES MALADIES MENTALES? MENTAL ILLNESS, DOES IT EXIST?

Français then English, paragraph by paragraph.

Pourquoi Il ne faut pas accepter les diagnostics de la Psychiatrie, ou

La normalité n’existe pas!

Bien que les psys parlent des maladies mentales comme si elles vraiment existent, les termes qu’ils utilisent nous montrent que les maladies mentales sont imaginaires et mythiques. Comme tout le monde le sait, les constellations célestes ne sont qu’imaginaire et ce qui constitue Orion pour l’Ouest, c’est quelque chose de différent dans l’Est, qui utilise tout à fait différemment des éléments célestes. Les psys utilisent ce terme aussi, “les constellations”, et ils ont construit leurs constellations d’une manière complètement analogue.

Although shrinks speak of mental illnesses as if they really exist, the terms they use show us that in fact “mental illnesses” are imaginary, the stuff of myths. As everyone knows, the nighttime sky is made up of constellations that are imaginary and that what constitutes Orion for the western world would be meaningless to someone in the east. The Chinese have a zodiac but it is entirely different from ours. Shrinks use this term also, constellations and they have constructed their constellations of mental illness in an entirely analogous fashion.

Parmi des centaines de comportements humaines, la conférence du DSM, composé de  psys, a choisi ceux qui vont ensemble (mais pas toujours et pas tout le temps) pour constituer une maladie mentale comme la schizophrénie ou la bipolarité ou la dépression. Comme dans les menus des restaurants chinois on choisit quelque chose de chaque groupe de symptômes — on peut être trop agité ou trop léthargique, ou on peut entendre des voix ou avoir des pensées “différentes” qu’on étiquette les délires, ou on peut faire les choses trop vite ou trop lentement etc— mais en utilisant une formule de leur création, en trouvant ces constellations dans les personnes/ patientes les psys peuvent alors diagnostiquer n’importe qui.

Among the hundreds of human behaviors possible, the committee of the DSM, all shrinks, have chosen those behaviors, (called symptoms but they are really just behaviors ) that go together —but not always and not all the time—to make up a mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar or depression. Just as we choose food at a Chinese restaurant, or used to, they choose something from certain groups of symptoms — one can be too agitated or too lethargic, one can hear voices or have delusions, or one can do things or speak too fast or too slow etc — but using a formula they created, finding these constellations in the people who visit them, their patients, these shrinks can then diagnose anyone at all.

La chose la plus importante à savoir c’est qu’exactement comme les motifs ou dessins imposés dans le ciel que nous appelons les constellations célestes, ces constellations psychiatriques sont basées dans l’imaginations (assez limitées) des médecins du DSM. Les constellations célestes n’existent que dans les histoires et les mythes grecs, c’est à dire dans l’imagination, et le fait que tout le monde les voit dans le ciel ne dit qu’une chose, c’est que nous avons appris à les voir. Mais nous voyons les constellations psychiatriques et les maladies mentales parce que nous avons appris les voir. Mais elles existent seulement parce que nous les avons accepté sur parole et leur réalité de plus. Nous nous sommes dit, « oui, ce que je vois, c’est une chose réelle cette constellation, cette maladie mentale, et je suis d’accord. » Mais les chinois ne voient pas Orion, n’est-ce pas? 

The most important thing to know is that exactly like the imaginary drawings superimposed on the starry sky, psychiatric constellations are also based in the imaginations (perhaps rather limited) of the DSM committee shrinks. The celestial constellations only exist in the stories and myths of the Greeks, which is to say, they are imaginary and the fact that everyone in the west “sees” them only suggests one thing, that we have been taught to see them, these artificial groupings. But we “see” psychiatric constellations, the so called mental illnesses, only because we have also learned to “see” them. Their reality depends on the fact that we have been taught to see them and accept their “reality”. We have said to ourselves, “yes, what I see, it’s something real, this constellation, this mental illness,  yes, I agree.”

But ask yourself, do the Chinese “see” Orion? And if not why not?

Et il ne faut pas voir ou accepter l’existence réelle des choses, des constellations ou des maladies mentales. Si on disait que faire les choses vite ou lentement, ce n’est pas un symptôme mais juste une différence humaine, qu’entendre des voix ou que voir les choses imaginaires, c’est un don pas un symptôme, et que ces deux tendances ne sont pas liées dans une constellation pathologique, les soi-disant maladies mentales se révèleraient ensuite n’être rien de plus que de l’imagination, une fantaisie peut être, mais une création imaginaire de psychiatrie, quelque chose qui n’a jamais existé vraiment.  

It is not necessary to either see or accept as real these celestial constellations or the psychiatric ones, called mental Illnesses. If we said, for example, that doing things fast or slow, that’s not a “symptom” just a human difference between people, if we said that hearing voices or thinking different thoughts is a gift rather than a symptom, and that these human differences are not somehow inextricably linked in a pathological “constellation”, the so called mental illnesses would reveal themselves to be nothing but imaginary, a fantasy perhaps, but fundamentally an imaginary creation of psychiatry, something that actually never existed.

La prochaine fois je vais discuter la réalité de la souffrance mentale, qui n’est pas la même chose qu’une maladie mentale.

Next time I will discuss the reality of mental suffering, which is not the same thing as a “mental illness.”