Those of you who are familiar with my “older”works (meaning the ones I did in 2009 when I first started painting) might recognize the earlier piece, more recently uploaded, called Woman with Earring, or Sister Soulidad. Well, this painting is a palimpsest of that one, a palimpsest being simply a painting over another painting. You can see hints of the old one underneath this one, indeed, as the earrings are the same, as is the necklace and even the lips. Even though the rest of the face is much changed, nevertheless there are definitely echoes of Sister Soulidad in her.
I took an image off the internet and substantially changed it (enough so that I made it my own, according to those in the know). I wanted to see how to draw folds in fabric, especially how it draped around the human body. It also interested me to continue to study the hand, and I enjoyed drawing these. Josephine told me they were too big. One person said they made the woman look like a man, even a drag queen, but my response to that was, well, it only adds a nice bit of ambiguity, which is fine by me! In fact I prefer that to the clarity of the following piece, much as I know that my brother will love it, and that is is “better” than the drawing that preceded it in this blog (see the entry below).
Actually, these lovely young women are my nieces, my brothers’ daughters, and I scarcely do them justice here. But rather than their appearances singly, it is the wonderful and loving relationship that I aimed to show more than anything else. Their mutual devotion is so very clear, the younger Adriane on the right and her older sister Claire on the left. I think the photo that this drawing was taken from is surely one of the most delightful I have seen, at least in terms of any recent photo of my extended family.
I am aware of the misalignment of the eyes and of other faults large and small, but to me it is the expression of love and affection between the girls that is much more important than these imperfections (plus, frankly, I have to admit I ruined the original portrait entirely trying to “fix” it, trying to “perfect” the placement of those eyes..I ought to have known better.)
Please note: For my final take on what happened at Middlesex, please jump to this link: https://wagblog.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/useless-psychiatric-mediation-and-a-poem/ (added in September 2012)
First, before I start my post today, I wanted to share my newest artwork, which is a colored pencil “painting” of a woman who lives in my building, whom I will call Rose. She did not ask me to paint her; she was simply someone who sits quietly for many hours in the community room, and so was a good subject for a portrait, and a photo. I also happen to find her a very agreeable person, one of the nicer ones here (most are gossips and backbiters, or if not most, then the most vociferous and visible of the residents). I think she will be quite pleased with how it turned out, so long as she does not expect anything but a portrait that is faithful to life, rather than an idealized one. I believe, however, that Rose is very down to earth and knows what she looks like, and will appreciate what I have painted.
Now I want to discuss, yet again, the use of restraints in Connecticut psychiatric units, particularly as it pertains to my treatment there. As I recall, I have not gone into much detail about the last hospital stay, back in April and May, largely I think because it again was so traumatic and in many ways similar to the previous one, that I could not bear to contemplate it.
However, as very little as I recall, I do remember more of the stay than the complete amnesia I still experience for the stay in Manchester, back in October or November of 2009. When I say I have a loss of memory with regards to this other hospital stay in the spring of 2010– in Middletown — I meant it more for the specifics of certain episodes. And for any of the people there who staffed the unit. (Except for Christabel the OT). With regard to much that occurred I believe a lot could be brought back to me, under the right circumstances. I do, for instance, continue to have an overall memory of what the place looks like and where my room was and some details about what happened. What I do not, and did not remember, not even the next day, was most of what precipitated the use of restraints and seclusion during this stay. Or at least, of the two or three incidents of S and R two are jumbled together, so that it takes some mental probing for me to straighten out any of it. but one incident remains too clear in my mind for comfort though even at the time, or immediately afterward, as well as now, I have no idea what was the actual precipitant.
Anyhow, what I recall of that episode is this: I had been taken off Geodon, which I took regularly with my Abilify up till then, both in order to boost its antipsychotic properties as well as to temper any Abilify-induced irritability. The irritability was physical as much as mental — and with the resultant tendency to get into verbal fights and arguments with anyone who, as my mother used to put it, looked at me crosswise. I have no idea why they did this, took me off Geodon, given that I know I explained the rationale for the use of two antipsychotics. But many MDs seem to find this objectionable, however effective. Perhaps they considered the 20mg Zyprexa, which they had talked me into taking on an acute basis, would be an adequate substitute for the calming effect of the Geodon. They had wanted to stop the Abilify, too, using Metformin, a diabetes drug, for weight control, but I had insisted on taking it both in an effort to combat Zyprexa’s tendency to cause weight gain, but also because I believe that it is the Abilify that has so massively enhanced my creativity.
So there I was, on Abilify untempered by Geodon, and taking Zyprexa, which induces its own “upsetness” when my weight invariably increases…I assume that I must have been hostile, loud, and disruptive, for I do not know why else they would have made me go into the seclusion room. I do remember that I could not calm down, and that in the flimsy johnnies they had clothed me in, I was freezing, so that even when the nurse doing constant observation told me to lie down and rest, I was unable to do so for all my shivering. I begged for a blanket, but no deal. I pulled the entire bare mattress over me as a covering. Well, this was apparently seen as a self-destructive act, or something, as immediately they pulled it off me and dragged the mattress itself from the room. Now I had nothing for warmth, except my own anger at having been treated in such a fashion.
I remember that I was yelling a lot, and that I wouldn’t lie down on the cold linoleum and “calm myself.” No, I wanted to talk, and begged the nurse to do so. Instead, she only turned away and told me again to lie down on the floor. Well, this enraged me, and I went to the door to complain again. She said nothing, only stood in front of the open door so that I could not leave. Finally, getting no response, and still anxious and “het up” I suppose you could say, or over-activated by the Abilify, I tried to push my way through her into the opening. Immediately two “guards” pushed me back into the room. I yelled at them, and pushed back. One of them asked me what was wrong with me, why I didn’t just ask to talk with the nurses instead of resisting physically…I looked at him and said that I did ask to talk, and she refused. He seemed somewhat surprised by that. Nevertheless, he ordered me to go back into the room and lie down.
I was having none of this dictatorial behavior on their part, and as I recall, at one point — no, I do not remember what happened. I only know that suddenly the guards were on top of me, and one had pinned my arms behind my back and was pushing my face into the linoleum floor. It was as if I were a recalcitrant inmate of a prison and this was a cell “take-down.” I was hurt and I was furious.
When they let me up (and why they had pinned me to the ground I have no recollection, only that when they let me up, I was finally allowed to talk to the nurse nad stand out in the hall with her. I heard some talking behind my back and a commotion, followed by feet going down the hall away from us. I had a bad feeling about it, and asked the nurse, “What are they doing?” She responded, ominously, “They are preparing a bed for you.” “a bed? what sort of bed? She remained silent and I understood that they were putting restraints on my bed…”You can’t restrain me, I am out here calmly talking to you. You haven’t even offered me a PRN and I will tell you now that I would be more than willing to take one. But I am NOT a danger to myself or others, and you cannot legally put me in restraints.” The nurse continued to remain silent. My heart began to race. I called down the hall, “I will not let you use restraints on me, I am calm and this is not allowed.”
Some of the staff approached me and told me to come down to my bed room with them. I complied, because I knew that if I didn’t they would have some reason to say I “deserved” to be restrained. When I got to the room, I found I had been correct: there on my bed were the straps and shackles of four-point restraints, attached to the bed frame.
“I am calm and I am not a danger to myself or others,” I carefully declared. I will take medication and I do not need restraints.”
“Lie down on the bed, Pamela” someone told me. I refused, saying that this was punishment pure and simple and that they had no cause to do this nor any legal right. “I will ask you one more time to lie down on the bed, Pam, or the security team will help you do so.”
At this point, I understood that they were going to use this form of discipline on me no matter what I did. That they were out to get revenge and that they would use any excuse to excuse such measures. So if I “made” them force me into the restraints, that would by itself prove that I “deserved” them. So, more humiliated than I believe I have ever been in my life, I sat down on the bed, then lay down on my back and said out loud, “I am now placing my limbs into four-point restraints, and I want a record of the fact that I am calm and not resisting and that I have asked for a PRN instead.”
It was no use, though, as they went ahead and shackled me, then left me alone in the room, except for a staff member monitoring me through the door, left partially ajar. My heart was racing with rage, and I could feel the pain of such profound humiliation surging through me. But I did and said nothing, I think, because I was going to prove to them that the drastic measures and punishment they had inflicted on me was WRONG. After about an hour and a half someone came back and let me out. I was neither compliant now, nor placated and as soon as I was free and out of that room, I let it be known, loudly that I intended to file a complaint. But no one said a thing, no even spoke to me the rest of the night…
THAT is what I remain so traumatized by, at least with respect to this time: the utter humiliation of what you might call “cutting my own switch,” along with the clear understanding — even mutual acknowledgment — that they were punishing me.
This continues to preoccupy me, that is when I allow myself to think about it, or when I continue to try to read the records of that stay, which records I only a week ago obtained (having sent for them many weeks ago…). I cannot help but re-experience the same brutality and the same extreme and exquisite humiliation, and once again it hurts beyond belief. The worst thing perhaps is that when I told my family about what the staff had done to me they didn’t come to my support, they didn’t unconditionally defend me. They didn’t even seem to care, or to believe, that I had done nothing to “deserve” four-point restraints (as if anyone deserves them). Another family would have automatically come to their member’s defense and declare that NO one deserves such brutality, and that as their family member I should never have been treated that way. Another family would have done –oh forget it! No, my family is always so eager to please the staff and to believe that I am in the ‘wrong” at these hospitals, to believe that I am at fault, (this is the story of my life!) that they simply told me I must have caused their use of such brutal methods of control by my own behavior, I surely deserved it, and besides “what else could they do?” Shackling me, calm and rational, me to a bed was clearly the only option and entirely justified…So much for MY family’s loyalty and compassionate support, huh?
Well, bitterness solves nothing, so I won’t dwell on the last subject, but I will say that if I can, I intend to file an unoffical complaint, or barring that, an official one. The problem with the latter is that I will not then be able to confront my persecutors. whereas if I did so unofficially, it might yet be possible, if only to avoid a messy public affair. After all, I could easily write something…No, I won’t go there. For now, I only wanted to describe what continues to occur at Connecticut psychiatric units, despite the regulations and general disavowal of the use of cruelty in the treatment of those with mental illness. It still goes on, it just happens behind the closed doors of the hospital and the continued use pf seclusion and restraints as discipline and as a salve for frustration, depends on the assumption that no patient will bother, after the fact of discharge, to do anything about it, except try to forget.
This is how the final version of the unfinished sketch that I posted below finally turned out. I managed to print out the photo of the sketch using a photosmart inkjet printer and watercolor paper, spray that with fixative so the ink wouldn’t smudge under erasures, then draw on top of it as if it were indeed my original sketch. In such a fashion, I was able to re-complete it “better” as it were than the original “wrecked” version. And indeed, I believe it is a great deal better than the version as shown below, for all that it is a complicated combination of photographic print-out of the original sketch, combined with an overlaid color pencil drawing. The strange thing is that in the end, because of the rather poor quality of the original sketch-photograph, the background came out this dull, slightly green color (due to the lighting, not the paper it was on, which was actually white. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a perfect background for the finished drawing, and so I did nothing in the end but finish the portrait against that greenish background.
A technique I am learning/teaching myself is one I thought I would never understand, let alone be able to do and that is how to do a kind of underpainting of whites or light colors, the highlights, before adding the darker tones. I do not know, of course, if one is actually supposed to do that with colored pencils, but I did so anyway, figuring it might be time to try it. So given the original sketch to work with, I then heavily applied light peach and white tones where you can now see the lighter areas on the face, and only much later softened them with the darker chestnut browns and darker umbers, though clearly much peach shows through where the light is meant to strike the face on the left.
A “real artist” would know how to do this beforehand, I expect, but I had to learn as I went, so it was all a process of delightful discovery, which is why I hope you will forgive me the foregoing description. It always amazes me to find out how many colors there really are in what seems to be a solid colored expanse, when you really look at it. I used blues and greens in Sophronsie’s skin tones as well as the peach-tones and whites. There are also some yellows and reds. And in some places I even used a silver pencil. It took me a while before I could even understand that the whites of the eyes are not white at all, not even slightly blue all over, but all sorts of colors, and that only if you painted them in a kind of pale multi-color would they begin to seem realistic. What is also interesting is that comparing the “white” skin on the child that I did in the earlier picture, or any of the other “white” portraits compared to the African American portraits, there is really not a great deal of difference in the colors I used. In fact, I start out with the very same peach and white for both skin colors, and only towards the end does this change, when I add darker tones for the darker skin, but it really only takes a little, and then not a great deal. This is so striking because it seems to say, in some profound way, that when you really look at all of us, “under the skin” (which skin people take for being so different) we really are all the same. Of course in every real sense we are the same, despite our differences as individual human beings: genetically this is true, and philosophically, and morally and spiritually and in every other sense that matters, at least to me. We are all human and of the same “stuff” and nothing else matters. Nothing.
(There are not supposed to be any gaps in the following poem but for some reason it doesn’t cut and paste as it should and so it appears with the spaces…ignore them..)
HOW CAN YOU EVEN THINK SUCH A THING?
There’s no excuse for it, I know, there’s none at all, but reading
about the death of the famous poet’s poet wife from cancer,
so cachectic and etiolated her limbs are thinner than a Giacometti
I find myself disgustingly hungry and envious, both.
It is not that I want to die, not even slowly, not even
an after-the-fact-romantic death recalled for years
by other poets. No, I like life, I even like living.
But I want this house, yes, I want this small empty apartment
filled with food rich and fattening as truffles, dark, creamy truffles
made of French chocolate and wrapped in tissue-thin edible gold
so expensive it’s a mortal sin to eat even one as long
as Africa starves and cholera saps the strength of flood victims
in Pakistan. Except that leaving them to melt and flow molten
on the August windowsill feeds no one while I, longing,
linger over my dish of celery and one small onion, lusting
to taste a life I can never enjoy, to taste a lust not for chocolate
exactly, but for the life that rich chocolate represents,
appetite throwing wide its arms and crying, Yes, yes, yes!
Unfortunately, while I loved this stage of the drawing, as I progressed I fear I ruined it…Or at any rate, it changed so drastically that I don’t know what to do with it, or where to go with it now. So I am putting what I have aside, since I no longer have this, to work on some other time. I wish I had taken a better photo of it at this stage, though. Anyhow, for what it is worth. Here she is, as she was…
Then this is the more updated drawing as it got “over-processed.” Actually, what happened was that the watercolor paper did in fact start to wear out under my many erasures, or at any rate the color, the pigment grew so thick that when I erased it piled up under the eraser so that I had to keep erasing more and more of the drawing each time in order simply to erase one spot, because I’d otherwise leave behind chunks of unsightly “solid waste” of clumpy pigment. Eventually I couldn’t even draw on the paper any longer, it had become so mushy under that burden of erasure and redrawings, and so I decided to finally be done with it and decided quickly to do what the erasing suddenly brought to mind: an upside down city-scape, somewhat surreal, floating in the person’s mouth, and on fire…Do not ask me why! It is simply because that is what I “saw” in the patterns left behind by the unerased and uneraseable lines and colors on the paper…
TO tell the truth, I am trying to figure out how to either redo or “fix it” into something that I can work with further, can figure out what to do with as is, or how to cover up without making it look “collaged together, since that was not the effect I started out looking for. I’m eager for suggestions if anyone has any!
And yes, I came back from Wisdom House yesterday, after 2 and a half days instead of 7…I was rather upset there, though the place was lovely and I thought that if the circumstances had been a little bit different I could have loved it…but I will write more tomorrow or today in the P.M. For now, I just wanted to let you know…
Sorry for my long silence. Things have been busy at best, sometimes just plain hectic.
On the good side, though, this: the Writing Fellowship. A place called Wisdom House in the northwest hills of Connecticut offered free fellowships of 2-10 days for low-income writers from this area to come and stay to work on a writing project. I applied immediately, wanting time to organize, come up with a title, and send out my second book of poems to the Barnard women’s second book contest. Well, after speaking to my references and to my new psychiatrist, they accepted me, the sister in charge calling me last night at 9pm to give me the news. (As my friend, Leila, put it when I told her how late the director called, “nuns do not keep bankers’ hours!”)
Now the only reservation I have vis a vis the fellowship is that it is going to be held while the rest of the center is on a “silent retreat”. This means that everyone else, aside from the two other writers and me, will voluntarily not be talking the entire time. According to Leila, they will not be looking at others or even raising their eyes. While I wanted time to write, I have to admit I anticipated a more convivial atmosphere, or at least a less daunting one. This does not sound exactly friendly. Spiritual, yes, but not friendly. Sr Jo-Ann does, on the other hand, and she has offered her help in any way she can (since I have been more than open about my illness) but I don’t know that she understands quite how difficult I may find this. Even the problem of getting to the dining hall, the speaking one or the silent one, or eating with other people, should I manage to get into the building wherever it is, may pose a huge obstacle, if my experience at the art and crafts center two years ago is any predictor.
Well, I am determined to go, so I will not let my reservations, nor even the tears I shed last night in sheer terror stop me. I must confess however that I am not without mixed emotions in face of this overwhelming silence — and the resulting loneliness or something much worse — I fear I may confront.
On a somewhat brighter note, for six week, I took an art class in New Haven, at the Creative Arts Workshop. I wanted to learn the rock bottom basics, which I figured I needed to start with. Even though I have successfully painted some portraits, I know I need to learn fundamental techniques, both in drawing and painting so I’m not just floundering around, painting more in hope than with real confidence and skill. But getting to the class meant that I had to drive to New Haven — on the interstate — for the first time in more than 20 years. Unable to drive home that same night, I spent two days a week there, staying at my parents’ condo, usually with my father there (my mother was usually at the shore, at the other house). I enjoyed that part of it almost as much as the class. We were so long estranged that I love just seeing him and getting to talk with him, no matter what we talk about.
The class might easily have been too much for me. Three hours of drawing could have sapped all my energy and taken the enjoyment out of it. Instead, somehow the time just winged away, and after the first class, which was the most tiring because I had not yet adjusted to how long a span of time 3 hours was, I got into the rhythm, and never once left early. In fact, I often left with the teacher, just so I talk with her about art.
Now, I say all that as if it were easy and not problematic at all. Certainly no one in the class would have any idea that I feel as I do, but in truth I became quite certain, and remain so, that the teacher soon grew– how do I put it? — sick of me. Overwhelmed by me. Found me overbearing and overly enthusiastic and therefore unpleasant. I know my presence was too much for her to take and so I tried to tone it down, tried not to ask too many questions or talk too much so I stopped staying after class, or showing her what I had done during the week…And frankly, I am a little scared that if I sign up for her next class, which will be a continuation of the last one, it will upset her and she won’t want me there.
In point of fact, I felt the entire class was laughing at me most of the time, that they agreed with her and that they mocked me whenever I left to use the bathroom or to wash my hands of the charcoal that we used so often.
It was only just before the final class, when I brought my sketch pad and showed two people what I had been practicing, that they seemed to realize that I was serious about drawing and art, and not just a foolish older woman taking a class for entertainment. One young woman, Jennie, actually talked to me then, and said I was “very talented.” When she asked for my Facebook page, I gave her the name Pam Wagner, which of course she will never be able to locate me with, alas, as I would be happy to communicate with her.
Nevertheless, I remain wary of the teacher, and of taking her next class, lest I be more than unwelcome. Lest I be bothersome and actively hated. I feel it incumbent upon me to spread myself around, spread the burden around, spread the miasma I cause as wide and therefore as thinly as possible so as not to sicken anyone seriously. The only real solution I can think of though is to completely shut up and be as minimal a presence there as I can. To not be visible in any way, to make no sound or impression…To do the work, and learn what I can, without, so to speak, making a mark. That way I won’t bother anyone or disturb the peace, or anyone’s peace of mind.
Then there are less positive aspect of being “busy” — Well, no, I cannot dig into this at the moment, except to say that I need to take a break from seeing Joe. Joe, if you recall, is my long-time friend (24+ years), who has Lou Gehrig’s Disease and has been in hospital for 3 years, mostly paralyzed and on a ventilator. I have visited him almost every week, sometimes twice a week, all of that time, but now I need to take some time for myself, take some time to think about what to do.. It is true that I have sometimes been away for as many as 6 weeks, but that was when I was hospitalized, and while to Joe it may feel only as if I am absent — who cares why!– to me it is not voluntary time off and certainly no vacation!
I love Joe, but only as a friend, not as a girlfriend despite what people think. And if the people in the hospital believe otherwise, it is only because I told Joe when he first became ill, that I would “be his girlfriend” — the one dream he always cherished and held out for and hoped would come to pass for some 24 years! And mostly because it was the one gift I could give him, knowing that it was a dying man’s wish-come-true.
The problem is that when he was in fact dying, when he had terrible aspiration pneumonia and could not breathe without assistance (at which point, most people with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s, opt to die, knowing what the future holds) he asked to be put on a ventilator. Hence, for the past 3 years, I have had to act the part of devoted “girlfriend” (completely non-sexual, though, just as our relationship has always been). And it has long been assumed that my love for Joe is the sole driver behind my visits. Not pure loyalty, mind you, but in some sense my own selfish need to be with him. It seems not to have occurred to anyone that maybe I do it mostly for him, to help him and keep him company…rather than because I myself want anything from it at all.
This is not to say that I don’t enjoy seeing Joe, or that I resent spending time with him. Most of the time I do not, or when I do, it is only because I feel I cannot say, No, I cannot come today, or worse, No, I do not want to come today, not even when I haven’t slept and am utterly exhausted. Usually when or after I visit, I feel better in some sense — at least about us. I feel less guilty and more needed (a double-edged sword!)
But I admit that it is extremely tiring to have to stand up the entire visit — an hour or two — and pay exquisitely close attention in order to understand what his computer (which takes eons to do it) translates from his spelling into speech. When I finally get home after the 30 minute ride back with Josephine, I am wiped out for hours. Even on a good day, the rest of the afternoon is shot just because of visiting him, and that is true even when I only stay an hour.
Well, I said I wasn’t going to go into it, esp not with details, so I will leave that alone, except to say that recently we had a big — what was it? Altercation? Spat? Misunderstanding? Who knows what to call it, but it left me me feeling unappreciated, taken for granted, and most of all, just plain angry. Worse, it induced this exhausted feeling in me that left me hopeless and desperate. That is why I wrote Joe and told him I needed some time off, needed time to reflect and think about things. I did not ask him for it, nor tell him what I needed it for, nor how long it would take. I did reassure him I would be back. But otherwise I simply stated my needs and informed him what I was going to do about it.
I haven’t heard from him since, but unless he is still upset or angry with me, which would be unlike him, he is simply giving me the space I need.
That is all I have the energy and time for tonight. I hope to go out for another of the 2 mile walks that a friend and I have set for ourselves to do as often as we can. We are trying to get in 10 miles a week, but so far I think the best we have done is maybe 8 miles. Still, that is MUCH better than doing nothing at all, which was my usual, until we got together to spur each other on. Usually it is she who gets me up and over to the park to meet her, and I who keeps her going at a great clip. So we help one another and get our gabbing done into the bargain.
Thanks for your patience. I have another entry planned, and hope to work on it tonight for posting tomorrow or the next day — about delusions of grandeur and other symptoms.
No one who has seen this has not recognized me, apparently, however simple this portrayal might seem. It was a mere sketch in comparison to the others, I must say. Done late at night, with a hand mirror, with only one decent light, a standing lamp, near enough to illuminate me but clearly casting rather dramatic shadows.
Since then I have been fighting an on-going migraine and so I have not been able or felt up to doing painting of any kind. Cleaned up my apartment under the duress of some visitors coming, but aside from that have gotten nothing of any substance done. I am supposed to be editing my father’s book (the primary author is someone I’ll call PN but I will refer to it as his book for now, a shorthand for PN and his book) I am supposed to be editing their book but this headache has so laid me low that I have done very little this week. I simply cannot do any difficult mental work when my head is throbbing! At the moment — at the moment I can feel it building back up in the background, though it had been better for a couple of hours (I woke in the middle of the night and stayed up for a while writing this and wandering around trying to shake off my listlessness to do something (I was wide awake otherwise).
Well, no use worrying now. I am yawning so sleep beckons. Must go to bed. TTFN
I did these the last two nights…Cannot believe I was capable of it, but I somehow managed to paint them. Started with the eyes, and the rest grew around them. THe only practice I had was painting the three eyes beforehand. Weird!
Then, out of the blue I painted these two portraits, with no notion that I had the ability to do so. I simply was filled with the desire to paint them, and so I did!