Blogging 101: Kindness is Magic Movie Serum, Transformations, Transformers and Transformees

Blogging 101: Assignment 1, Stream of consciousness writing about anything for 20 minutes.

I did mine yesterday during a long car ride and timed it; it turned out I was writing for 51 minutes in my journal, so now I’m transcribing it to post it. Warning! It will be over twice as long… Some frustrations: not remembering character’s full names, so I will look them up before posting, and not being able to discuss a bunch of the movies I mentioned, especially: Tootsie, St. Vincent, Birdman, Barefoot, Bringing up Baby, Philadelphia Story Being John Malcovich, Stranger Than Fiction (2006), and going into detail about the transformations in them, but it would be a way too long post!

My topic: Kindness is Magic Movie Serum, Transformations, Transformers and Transformees:
Most movies that move people involve transformation of course. Even though that’s obvious, I’m very interested in the mechanics of it, as I’ve been watching a bunch of different kinds of movies, both in theaters and on DVD or Netflix or other at home movie venues.

Here’s a list not in any order of recent ones I’ve seen: Cinderella 2015 made with people not animated, Home 2015 animated 3D in theaters, then movies at home: Groundhog Day (3rd or 4th viewing), The Anderson Tapes (from the 70’s?), Gone Girl 2014, Birdman 2014, Tootsie (1982), St. Vincent 2014, Barefoot (2014).

In most of these movies, which are a mixture of genres: romance, children’s fairy tale romance, children’s adventure movie sci-fi save the world, crime thriller, romantic comedies and for Birdman – independent style not sure the genre- drama? But it’s a “second chance/mid-life rebirth” type movie or falls into the category of movies like one of my fave classics, All About Eve, actually very similar. Bette Davis is the Birdman character; she is not changing genres like he is from blockbuster superhero to serious stage actor as an “old” actor”, but competing with her so-called admirer crafty younger actor who resembles the Edward Norton guy – very similar issues involved actually. Then St. Vincent- not sure the genre, drama with bad to good style plot- the guy Vincent starts out “bad” and is revealed to have always had good qualities, but also transforms in the present into a “gooder” person, a bit like the guy Jay in Barefoot, who has just come out of jail and is viewed as a total mess up failure, especially by his family. In St. Vincent, the boy Oliver is the Transformer, and in Barefoot it’s the girl/woman Daisy whom he finds on the psych ward who is an “idiot savant” type. I love Bill Murray and I’ve seen him in a bunch of movies with this kind of transformation, you have Scrooged, Ground Hog Day and St. Vincent all similar transformations. He’s even in Tootsie but not playing the main person, Dustin Hoffman’s Guy/Woman, Michael/Dorothy Michaels.

So my intense interest in transformation in these movies is the way there is the main character, usually has to be “likeable” despite being self-centered, uncaring, an “asshole” etc. like Vincent, Phil in Groundhog, Michael in Tootsie, and just how the person gets transformed by another key character and/or device that transforms him/her, what I call the “Transformer”. The word “trans” means cross over so the whole word means to cross over from one form to another. Many of these movies play with physical transformation versus spiritual, or outside appearance versus what’s inside/soul. Tootsie and Cinderella are the most obvious ones. In Tootsie, what is so fascinating is that Michael invents Dorothy and then he himself as the better part of him, in the form of the invented woman actor Dorothy Michaels is the Transformer. Unusual where the Transformee is transformed by a Self inside him of his own making; in addition, as Dorothy he transforms many of the characters in the film…

Crossing over involves a kind of metaphorical bridge- the plot device that the character goes through. In many movies the Transformer character is usually “heroic” in some way and can stand for some idea, like Cinderella in this version stands for goodness and courage. She is transformed spiritually or “inside” at the beginning of the movie through loss- a common transforming device –death-, the loss of her mother. Her mother passes the transformation message to Cinderella: “Be kind and have courage.” The girl Ella loses her mom and eventually also her dad and is changed into Cinderella, given a new name by the evil stepsisters and turned into a maid/servant by the evil stepmother.

Whether in tattered clothes or magically fancy princess clothes on the outside which have an expiration time, midnight, – Cinderella remains the same on the inside. Ironically, in this version the fairy godmother turns from homeless old woman to fancy fairy lady and uses her magic to create the changed dress, coach and footmen horses, – lots of dazzling outer transformations which do nothing to the inside sweet courageousness of C. She meets the prince, who is the Tranformee in this film (it’s the opposite of the usual movie focused on the Transformee, here most focus and scenes involve C. the transformer and luckily, hardly any involve the prince.)

The meeting in the forest, their first meeting, is where C’s Transformer power passes the message to the prince, and when he receives it like a truth serum he becomes transformed, not from bad to good but from ordinary and oblivious/unaware, uninteresting to awakened and aware. C’s power on him is to get him to see the world around him completely differently and to become awakened, much the same as what the young woman Daisy in Barefoot does to Jay through the movie device of a mixed up “road trip” (many road trip movies use the idea of going on a long journey in the physical realm crossing into a journey in the metaphorical realm). The rest of the film involves the usual drama with the fairy godmother, The Fancy Big Ball, the glass shoe and magic stuff, but for me the moment of magic –prince out hunting encounters girl on horseback saving the deer and shooting her truth arrow into him such that he spares the deer’s life at her request and calls off the hunt. That was where the movie’s main interest sort of ended for me.

Often Transformer characters are very sensitive and have an awareness or even communion with animals that ordinary people do not. Cinderella reminds me of Derek in Ricky Gervais’ TV show Derek, as both pass the message of “kindness is magic” and both love animals and have a special relationship with them. So I confess I loved the moment C locks eyes with the handsome deer (more majestic and dazzling than the silly looking prince, maybe the big male deer symbolizes whom the prince turns into) as well as her relationship with the mice who are her only friends. While this movie didn’t thrill me, it made me think, and I liked the focus being mainly on C. portrayed as a real person, slightly elevated in kindness, also an outcast/outsider/loner, seen by her step family as stupid, foolish, unworthy and not even a girl, and less focus on the prince. The way C. gets transformed is that her faith in life/hope is challenged when she loses her father and gets kind of abducted controlled by the stepmother and sisters, and she has a moment of not believing and stopping hoping for anything to get better for her, then is restruck with faith- a common transformation of a transformer good person character.

Like in Groundhog Day the character Rita, she doesn’t change much as a person but even she has preconceptions that Phil is shallow, selfish and egocentric. Throughout the movie, she gets thrown from one side to the other, seeing him that way and being surprised by something unknown about him, and in “falling” for him she does transform her view of him, but she is mainly the Inspiration/Muse of his big transformation.

The device that transforms Phil is the Supernatural, the plot of the movie. Every day he wakes up is Feb. 2, Groundhog Day until he is fully transformed by the end of the movie into the man he could be and turns into it through living the same day over, maybe 100 times or more, so that by the end of the movie, his goodness and caring for other people which is caused by his “awakening” actually lead to his focus shifting from getting the muse- Rita, whom he is in love with, to falling for the town he is stuck in and all the people in it. It’s great that he keeps waking up but it takes a lot of literal wakings up to really “wake up”!!!

There is a lot of interesting metaphorical stuff in his repetition of the day, he is literally reborn as he dies many times and wakes up back in the inn at 6am Feb. 2. I’m areal sucker for this film, I rewatched it a few months ago after years, so that time I hardly remembered the details and that viewing of the movie did have a kind of magic transformation on me, the viewer. I really love these types of awakenings movies; even the C movie (I’m super sick of that fairly tale I am so annoyed by it,) but still, it cast a spell on me.

Groundhog Day, like Cinderella, actually gave me a dose of wakening/inspiration serum to become a better person. Yesterday I saw it a third time a few weeks after the other time. Again I had an “aha” moment where I made a conscious decision work on being present and mindful more in my life, to try to be the kind of person Phil has become at the end. After seeing Cinderella I felt the same, so the movie itself can be not so great/mediocre and still shoot the arrow of, wake up in your life, look around you and be aware and wake. Of course it’s better if the movie is really good. So now I’m testing out this recent viewing of Groundhog Day to see how long this “spell” may work on me. It’s on my list of favorite “romantic comedies”; up they’re with Happy Accidents – also involving supernatural, Bringing up Baby, and The Philadelphia story, Being John Malkovich and Stranger Than Fiction. Groundhog Day crosses from romantic comedy to supernatural comedy like Stranger than Fiction. There are more old movies that I love, but that’s what I remember without looking on the Internet while writing this.

Groundhog Day’s spell on me – its’ the next day of my life, but I’m still in a heightened sate of consciousness induced by it. I love the idea that lera to really be present and awake and mindful of the here and now, you really do repeat the same day over and over. The movie is saying that life itself is like that. Ordinary daily life can by transformed by one’s own consciousness. Every day we wake up with a new chance to live in that simple magic of the moment, and when that happens it sometimes does seem like animals can talk…

20 Creative Quotes on Courage, Hope, & Possibility

some great quotations to meditate on. I will choose some to add to my favorite quotations page! Thank you Gretchen Miller!

creativity in motion

Creativity in Motion:  20 Quotes on Courage, Hope, & Possibility
Here are 20 quotes about creativity, courage, hope, & possibility that I have been collecting- some are favorites, some are new discoveries, but each affirming & inspiring:

We have no hope of solving our problems without harnessing the diversity, the energy, and the creativity of all our people. – Roger Wilkins

The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.  -Ben Okri

Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Another word for creativity is courage.  – George Prince

Nature is infinitely creative. It is always producing the possibility of new beginnings. – Marianne Williamson

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will. ― George Bernard Shaw

Creativity is…

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Short Post: “Thanks for Sharing”

I intend to post a whole series about the phenomenon of the “Selfie”, and started writing a long complicated post. However, I will be out of town next week, so I probably won’t post then unless I find something great to “reblog”.

So this post is about the film, “Thanks for Sharing”, starring Mark Ruffalo and a with a great supporting appearance by the singer/performer Pink who turns out to be a really good actress. Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim Robbins and Joely Richardson. ImDB describes the movie as “A romantic comedy that brings together three disparate characters who are learning to face a challenging and often confusing world as they struggle together against a common demon: sex addiction.”

It’s directed and partly written by Stuart Blumberg who is known for writing the movie, “The Kids Are Alright.”

This movie did not get much attention before, during or after its run in the movie theaters, however, I went to it and actually really liked it and I think it is very under appreciated. I have told many patients to see it as I work with a lot of people who attend 12 Step Meetings of various kinds and for whom the 12 Step Program is a healing and integral part of their lives and recovery.

Anyway, what struck me the most about the movie is that the 12 Step Program, in this case S.A. Sex Addicts Anonymous (there is also SLA, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) is the main character portrayed on many levels in the flim.

Well, I just learned something: there are 4 different 12 step programs that address this kind of addiction/compulsionnn, not just the above two:

Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)
Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)
Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA)

FOr a good description of the differences between these, here is the link I found:
http://www.billherring.info/atlanta_counseling/how-different-12-step-meetings-for-sexual-recovery-define-sexual-sobriety

THat’s what I love about blogging. I learn as I write! As the main character, SA links all the characters together, not just the main one played by Mark Ruffalo. In the opening shots the camera goes down streets in NYC, and what I found great was that the cinematographer captured the point of view of people with sex addiction in terms of their having a different brain response to stimuli in the environment, especially visual stimuli. As the camera goes down a crowded day time NY street, it captures how just about anything, not just people, but inanimate objects, can be taken in as a sexual stimuli, and gives you an idea of the brain of a sex addict getting “triggered” by anything, even a fire hydrant or street light, as well as any random person walking down the street of any gender.

The movie captures the essence of the 12 Step Recovery System which is not for everybody as it follows an abstinence sobriety model, not a moderation/balance model. It is highly effective for many people with sex addiction issues though. The main human character in the film has about 5 years “sobriety” which means he has had no sexual activity including masturbation in 5 years. The longer recovered addict played by Tim Robbins is his sponser and the Ruffalo character is sponsoring a newly in recovery, forced to go to 12 steps person who is still out of contol. Pink enters the movie later and is also a sex addict with little recovery time. So the movie does a good job portraying the different challenges of 12 Step Receovery for the long recovered married addict, the 5 year person with the challenge of having to stop avoiding dating and relationships to more fully recover, and the struggling beginning addicts who are stumbling along having a lot of trouble staying sober and “slipping” while still going to meetings. What saves the two early recovery people is that they bond and help each other because they are on the same level. Ruffalo refuses to sponsor the new sponsee because he is not actively doing anything in his recovery and not being truthful in the meetings or with his sponsor.

For the long recovered addict played by Tim Robbins, there is a great portrayal of a split that can happen with 12 Step Recovery. His SA sponsor role model self is very dedicated and he has saved his marriage and developped a kind of father son relationship with his sponsee, thus making progress with SA while in his personal life, he is having a lot of trouble with his son who is also an addict. He does not accept or validate his son and his disagreements with his wife are about the son. So his main conflict involves changing as a father and stopping hiding behind the replacement father role of being a better sponsor to his sponsee than father to his son…

The Ruffalo character has the challenge of starting to date someone and figuring out how to “come out” about his sex addiction without scaring away his potential girlfriend, and being challenged by relapse and the messiness of life that he cannot avoid anywya.

THe movie zeroes in on the special fellowship of the people at this SA meeting and the way it can be a supportive community, but the challenge is to go back out in the world and manage on your own with your sobriety. The movie is complex enough that we see several different kinds of challenges faced by the characters in SA, as well as seeing how they fare trying to explain their addiction and recovery to non addicts. Because the movie takes on the challenge of sex addiction, which is not understood by the mainstream culture very deeply and which has a lot of shame associated with it, it does have a lot of gorund to cover and cannot be extensive, so unfortunately it only shows people identified as heterosexual with these struggles, and would have been a deeper movie if there were characters from the LGBTQ community.

Much more can be said, but I will end with a few important 12 Step phrases that were important in the film and quite helpful to anyone. “CLean your own side of the street” said by a non sex addict, the partner of the Tim Robbins character, about how she has managed to stay in her relationship and be growing in it. She is aware that she has her own work to do on herself and that her husband’s sex addiction is his “Side of the street” and his problem, not hers. “THanks for sharing” is of course the title and based on what people say in meetings in response to someone sharing their struggles. This phrase is actually very meaningful, it covers the attitude of gratefulness for recovery and rebirth and second and third chances as well as a grateful attitude towards everyone who comes to a meeting. All can equally share no matter how much sober time they have. It is the “Sharing” and community that really aids in the healing process and can be true for any kind of therapeutic healing or group. The mere act of sharing and being validated is very powerful for anyone struggling with mental illness and/or addiction. The two minor characters with little experience sober are sharing with each other outside the meeting and it actually works, because the writer knew not to drama things up and have them sleep with each other. Instead they are learning to have a non sexual relationship through SA, which is incredibly healing for them to “share” in the kind of friendship neither has yet experienced.

So I highly recommend this film as a great effort at portraying some aspects of 12 Step Recovery and the humanity of a person who has done the kind of terrible behaviors sex addicts are compelled to do. This is the other side of it, so we can have compassion for all the characters wherever they are in their recovery, and understand the struggles they have due to a probably biological as well as environmentally caused disorder/imbalance.

Movie: “Back From the Edge” – Borderline Personality Disorder

I just recently watched this video on Youtube. I highly recommend it to everyone: other clinicians who work with BPD or who want to learn more about it, people with BPD, people with loved ones with BPD, and those who know nothing about it.

The good news is that there is finally scientific evidence that Borderline Personality Disorder is actually a biological even hereditary illness not that different from diabetes or bipolar disorder. Those suffering from it are relieved to find out what is “wrong” with them and that it is not their fault that they suffer so much, that there is a name for and description of what they struggle with and they are not alone with it. I am especially glad to see them cover the whole issue of diagnosis and show how people who find out they have BPD are so relieved and also feel that they are understood and that they now know what is going on with them and because it can be explained very precisely and all their “symptoms” are mentioned and described in a way that they resonate with the whole diagnosis, there is great hope for them to recover fully and lead happier, more satisfying lives and have better relationships and hope for love with others.

I think this is a great example of the usefulness of diagnosis and the DSM 5 (the diagnostic tool for people in the mental health and substance disease field). It argues against people’s beliefs that some diagnoses are not good and make a person feel worse or sentenced or that having BPD and being told you have it means you are “one of those crazy sick people”. It also helps people encountering BPD in themselves and others have more patience and understanding of the terrible self harm behaviors and very extreme amount of suicidal thoughts, wishes and attempts.

In terms of treatment and hopes for recovery, the movie shows how people benefit greatly from the most documented and researched treatment: DBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, founded and invented by Dr. Marsha Linehan. There is also brief discussion of other treatments, especially psychodynamic, however, they leave out a newer treatment called “Mentalization”, maybe because it wasn’t well known when the movie was made. I still don’t understand much about Mentalization, except that it was founded by a psychoanalyst but is not psychoanalysis. I believe it focuses on cognition and accessing the reasoning part of the brain to get the patient out of the amygdala, which is the “fight or flight” response; people with BPD have different brain chemistry from people with “normal” brains. The reason they are so highly reactive, sensitive and emotional in response to interactions with others that other people do not react to or receive as hostile and dangerous is that their brains are wired differently and thus, while ill, people with BPD spend a lot more time trapped in the amygdala. With mentalization, I believe there is some emphasis on learning about responses of other people to the patient’s behavior or reactions and learning to look more neutrally at interactions with others.

Anyway the basic principles of DBT therapy are explained and patients describe how it helped them to learn to self regulate and decrease their extreme symptoms. The movie is not an exhaustive description of DBT as it empasizes the experiences of people with BPD, before effective treatment and after as well as their family’s experiences before and after.

This week’s post: Celebrities Help With Society’s Progress in Understanding Mental Illness

I am still interested in raising more questions about society’s views, perceptions, misconceptions, stereotypes and prejudices regarding mental illness, as well as asking, “How far have we come in a positive way?” because it is true that we are improving.

Let me make this post more reflective of some positive progress in our society in understanding mental illness. Recent disclosures of celebrities regarding their struggles have been invaluable. Like it or not, celebrities can have a huge influence on citizens’ thoughts and perceptions, regarding everything from attractiveness to mental illness. (Of course, Angelina Jolie’s recent public revelation about her double mastectomy has been instrumental in helping women cope with the possibilities of developping breast cancer, and I even know people who, after hearing about this, decided it’s about time I go get that mammogram I’ve been avoiding. How amazing and wonderful!)

Catherine Zeta Jones comes to mind as the most recent “celebrity confession” regarding serious chronic mental illness. She suffers from Bipolar 2 Disorder, which is less severe than bipolar 1, but her mere talking about her struggles and explaining them even went further to educate people, because the vast majority of people do not even know what Bipolar 2 is or about its existence, so one could argue that though she has a less severe form of Bipolar Disorder, she has been couragesous and invaluable in helping people understand how complicated Bipolar Disorder is and also even more importantly, that many people who have any form of Bipolar Disorder are able to function and contribute greatly to society. The mere fact that many individuals with Bipolar Disorder are “in the closet” about it at work and in other arenas, reveals how easily those people who are taking their medication and other treatments are able to “pass” as not having any type of mental illness.

Wow! How timely. I just googled her and bipolar and she has just the other day, emerged from going to a treatment facility for Bipolar 2. Here is the article in the LA Times:
http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/gossip/la-et-mg-catherine-zeta-jones-bipolar-treament-completed-20130523,0,2772184.story

Actually she first revealed her struggles with bipolar a while ago. In fact, she was “outed” in the fall of 2012 and discussed her struggles in her cover issue interview in InStyle magazine, so actually it should not have come as a shock that she sought out treatment very recently, as most people knew back in fall 2012, as InStyle magazine is pretty mainstream:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2012/11/13/catherine-zeta-jones-instyle-cover-helps-defuse-bipolar-stigma/1703053/

Zeta-Jones is not the first to discuss her struggles with mental illness and really help dispel a lot of stigma about it. I don’t usually like to quote from Wikipedia as it is so easy to just go there for info, and I like to cite a variety of websites, but they do have one of the most extensive lists of celebrities who have suffered from some form of schizophrenia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_schizophrenia

There are many celebrities who have talked about their battles with depression, whether as a teenager or adult. Kirsten Dunst was all over the news in August-November 2011 talking about her most recent bout with depression. I learned about it from watching of all things, the E channnel’s coverage of Celebrities with mental illnesses. This supposedly “superficial” channel about celebrities actually did a great show quite a while ago and extensively covered the range of disorders from eating disorders to depression to anxiety, bipolar and also drug/alcohol abuse. I just looked it up and it came out in 2008; I remember watching the show and I really thought it was a great way to help people understand mental illness and related disorders and see that wealth and fame have nothing to do with mental health. This is the summary of that show:

“Celebrity Crises: 10 Most Shocking Mental Disorders is an American television entertainment special produced by E! Networks which documents the mental trials and tribulations of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

The special originally aired in the USA on E! Entertainment on 22 August, 2008. It is 50 minutes long.
Synopsis

When Hollywood stars are diagnosed with a mental health ailment it’s big news. From rumours about Britney’s bipolar disorder to Heath Ledger’s bout with depression, phobias and mental illness are getting more attention.

But of course, mental illness can affect anyone. Close to 58-million Americans — about one in four adults — suffer from a mental disorder.

From eating disorders (Mary Kate Olsen) to depression (Heather Locklear, Kirsten Dunst, Mia Tyler, Jim Carrey, Heath Ledger), to cases where stars have harmed themselves (Christina Ricci – cutting) this one hour special will explore ten troubling mental disorders, with interviews from doctors, psychologists and the stars themselves.”

The show may not have been extensive and totally informative about all these disorders. Who could do that in 50 minutes? However, it was great in scope and just introducing these different issues to the public.

There are also people in politics who have a lot of power to help the public understand mental illness and decrease the stigma and shame. There are also pioneers in the mental health field, such as Kay Jamison, who is not only an expert on mood disorders but wrote a great memoir of her own struggles with Bipolar 1 Disorder, titled “An Unquiet Mind”. The fact that she is well known for her own “coming out” about her personal struggles, indicates we still have miles to go in decreasing stigma, as we see that in the field of mental health itself, the majority of psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists that suffer from any mental illness do not actually feel safe disclosing about their personal struggles. Another author and therapist who has written some great personal accounts of her own struggles is Lauren Slater. Her work is more on the edge and less well known to the general public, but she has written many interesting books about a variety of struggles.

So, in closing, I do believe that some of the best ways to educate the public about mental illness is through the mainstream media, whether it be a celebrity disclosing their struggles and talking openly about their treatment, or even films that attempt to focus on the topic, whether documentary TV shows like the one mentioned above, or the many biopics and fictions films about mental illness, such as the film “A Beautiful Mind” and the TV shows “Homeland”, “Six Feet Under” and “The Sopranos”, as well as numerous others. Even when such films or tv shows don’t give a totally accurate depiction of a specific mental illness (see my reviews of “Silver Linings Playbook,” they are still contributing to the more healthy dialogue that we need to have about this topic. A little misinformation is worth it if the subject at hand becomes more familiar to the general public and helps people view this topic with more compassion and less judgments…

“I thought that love would last forever. I was wrong.”

I feel I have to post something about today’s tragic events. My heart goes out to the parents and families whose little children are now dead, lost to them forever. There are no words for this tragedy, and no amount of words can bring back a dead 4, 5 or 6 year old. The empty hole of grief and loss will accompany a parent for the rest of his/her life, and for sure right now life itself is absolutely unbearable…

I picked up my own lovely 5 year old from school with a heavy heart, knowing that those parents have been robbed of this simple reuniting ritual, and robbed of their little child. I know there are no words, but poets sometimes know what to say to express the unbearable for the rest of us. I turn to the Auden poem I posted this week in relation to a discussion of death and funeral rituals. Here are the parts that pertain to today, written in April 1936:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffins, let the mourners come…

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong…

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

This poem has come to me often at different times of death and loss. “For nothing now can come to any good.” True hard words. What kind of world do we live in that such unspeakable acts can happen? Even before today, I have been asking myself this over the last several weeks. I admit part of this came from TV. I randomly watched several episodes of Oliver Stone’s Showtime tv documentary about the untold history of the united states, filled with footage of World War 2 and then a lot about the first atom bomb. I reflected a lot about these scenes and words. How human history is a long unending story of wars and killings and destruction. Hearing the narrative string together everything did not help to make any sense of this awful part of human nature. Even though we are not in World War 3, there is enough senseless killing and other unspeakable acts happening all over the world, in hot spots like the mid east, but also everywhere else, all the time, constantly, and today in Newtown, Connecticut.

There is no period in history that is not filled with the blood of innocents, no ethnicity or culture that is free of such evil. Whether in wars, each worse than the other, no matter where, or in “peaceful” nations such as ours, although we never seem to be free of killing our own and others somewhere usually far away: Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, etc. I doubt there is ANY time in our nation’s history that is not like this.

I remember as a quite young child reading the Diary of Ann Frank and getting obsessed with her story and the tragedy and strangeness of her dying and her diary somehow surviving. A kind of triumph that her beautiful voice is there to be heard for the next generations; it is only through reading and other arts such as painting and music, that we are reminded that wonder still exists and some piece of goodness in some small place is shining through the constant darkness. For me, though my own preferred way of self expression is nonverbal painting, drawing and collage, I often turn to words and books for something, because of the paradox of the unspeakable and the miracle of words coming together in a simple poem or young girl’s diary that manage to express some hope for humankind…Or actually just put in words the horror of the endlessly destructive part of humanity we can’t seem to escape from, the very real hopelessness and unending emotional pain and suffering that is life in this world…

Over the summer a dear friend gave my daughter a wonderful children’s chapter book called “The BFG”, by Roald Dahl. Whatever age you are, read it soon! Suffice it to say without a long description of this great tale, there is a very instructive scene in which little Sophie, our heroine, is talking serious philosophy, ie. the strange awfulness of the nature of “human beans” with the Big Friendly Giant. I would like to end this post with that dialogue:

Sophie is lamenting the other bad giants’ endless killing and eating of humans when the BFG in his broken English reminds her,
“Human Beans is killing each other much quicker than the giants is doing it.”
“But they don’t eat each other,” Sophie said.
“Giants isn’t eating each other either,” the BFG said. “Nor is giants killing each other. Giants is not very lovely, but they is not killing each other. Nor is crockadowndillies killing other crockadowndillies. Nor is pussy-cats killing pussy cats.”
“They kill mice,”” Sophie said.
“Ah, but they is not killing their own kind,” the BFG said. “Human beans is the only animal that is killing their own kind.”…
A few paragraphs down, he continues to bring home the real part of the argument, for maybe some animals kill each other for food or some other reason, but not on a large scale and not constantly and not in such inhumane ways and not for no good reason whatsoever. We really are the ones who do that, each generation figuring out more awful massive ways to wipe out large amounts of other humans to today when we could just wipe ourselves out altogether and the whole planet with us…

He continues,
“They is shooting guns and going up in aeroplanes to drop their bombs on each other’s heads every week. Human beans is always killing other human beans.”…
Then a little later he clinches the argument with,
“The human beans is making rules to suit themselves,”  the BFG went on. “But the rules they is making do not suit the little piggy-wiggies. Am I right or left?.”
“Right,” Sophie said…
The BFG, pages 78-79.

Great Website: The Broken Light Collective

I don’t know if I’ve talked about them before on my blog, but I’ve been very excited about the “Broken Light Collective” blog website and what they are doing for people affected by mental illness, and in addition as an added bonus, as a way to educate the public about mental illness. This is a really impressive endeavor as it is much more than a blog. It is very moving and somehow allows people to be vulnerable and feel safe as well as able to express their own unique voice…

This is a WordPress blog started by people who wanted to post daily photos by people with mental illness. I’m not sure what got them focused on photography as the medium of choice, but it works extremely well on the internet, and nowadays with phone cameras etc., non professionals can express themselves skillfully through the art of photography and manipulating photos to create an image. There are so many options: just a snapshot caught at the right moment, a photo reworked in Photoshop to heighten it in some way, even photo collages… The only thing any of the photos all have in common is a search for the Truth about Life, as experienced by the photographer/individual.

Broken LIght Collective is a beautiful name for this simple idea. Follow the blog. and every day you will see a new image, completely unique, made by someone struggling with a mental illness or less often, someone very affected in his/her life by a loved one’s struggles with mental illness, and of course, many people fit both of these descriptions. If you are interested in studying mental illness, this is a great blog to follow to learn from the people who are struggling with it every day of their lives. They have a lot of wisdom and battle scars, not to mention the courage of putting themselves out there and showing a part of themselves through their photography.

This is to me, in a sense, art therapy at its best — a form of community art therapy or photo therapy or whatever you feel like calling it. It is an example of healing through creativity and sharing, which I think is a very important component of this original and thoughtful and sensitive blog/website. I believe strongly that creative acts and sharing of one’s creations coupled together promote the most healing as connecting with others who are sensitive to one’s struggles and/or struggling with similar issues is most healing of all. This is not to elevate or promote the idea of connecting as being social. This website is great for people with “social anxiety” which I am starting to doubt is a real “Disorder”. Anyway it is a great form of therapy through community combined with individuality, something very rare to find in the “physical world out there” in our daily lives, but perfect for the internet. In the case of the “Broken Light Collective”, the therapeutic healing aspect of this endeavor is accomplished through as a supportive community which gets formed through the people’s efforts, much like the AA model, however without any philosophy or approach to recovery. Just an interest in telling people’s stories through words and pictures. Thus the strong community of sensitive people does not require a therapist to be present, although some of the interesting “profiles” are of psychotherapists and healers of one kind or another sharing their own struggles with mental illness.

So please go check out the blog and follow it!

Inspired by the Broken Light Collective, I would like to do something similar with art in all other media excluding photography and post a picture a day of art work with the person’s story. I’m thinking of calling it the Shadow Brush Group and would model it on the philosophy of Broken Light. It would just be a place where people instead of sharing photos, share photos of paintings, drawings, mixed media, sculpture, crafts, fiber arts, environmental art, even short poems.

Note: For the Broken Light Collective people can choose to post on there with their real names and also are able to post with a pseudonym to keep their privacy… There is no judgment either way, just an invitation.

Making Your Art Work Versus Showing It, A Common Struggle!

I just wrote this post and it vanished, so I’ll start again. This is another short post just to bring up some topics and questions, especially for artists and art therapists and those who identify as both.

Do you exhibit your work? If so, is it very sporadic or often? Where do you exhibit it? If you don’t, why not? Do you have gallery representation? Do you want to have your art out in the public eye? Do you sell your art work? Do you enjoy selling it? Are you attached to any of your art work, such that if you exhibited it, you would mark it as Not For Sale? Are you easily discouraged by the competition? Do you find yourself making lots of work as a way to procrastinate trying to show it? Do you every get blocks where it is hard to get yourself to make art? These questions are not easy to wrestle with for any artist, and often more frought with inner turmoil for us artists/art therapists…

For me, I’ve been an artist for way longer than an art therapist, even though I didn’t go to “art school” or major in Art. However, although my artist resume has a long list of exhibitions at various types of venues that I have shown my work, I find that in the last two years, I have not really exhibited it, beyond having it out for public view during the Tribeca studio tour: (http://www.toastartwalk.com/toastartwalk/Natasha_Shapiro.html)

I don’t have issues with getting attached to any of my art work, so that is not a road block for me. I admit that I get easily discouraged by rejection, and find it hard to hussle and market myself as an artist. I am currently working on these very issues, by writing about it here, and by actively trying to look for galleries and opportunities to show my work, that I normally don’t get out of my comfort zone to do… I have always been lucky in that I have no problem with blocks around making art. While I may have a block on a specific piece or idea, I always have two or three other things I’m working on, so I don’t notice getting blocked. However, I confess that I too find it very easy to procrastinate the marketing and selling end of things. For example, I got invited to be an artist on a great website called “Artiscle”, and it took me about a month to make a profile and get some work on it. I still need to post a lot more work on the site, as it is a great opportunity to not only sell work but rent it out.

I find myself making myself promises I do not keep. So it’s time to get on it, and work through all the things that get in the way of trying to succeed more as an artist! Share your struggles and triumphs in comments please!

Musing on Relationships, Culled from Marilyn Monroe’s Writings…

I am reading “Fragments” by Marilyn Monroe, which constitutes notes, poems, musings, diary entries, etc. I have long been fascinated by her for many reasons, psychological reasons being the obvious focus for this blog.
In publishing these fragments of writings in 2010, the editors and publishers wanted to show a very different side of this very complicated person, and they succeed. One of the interesting things about the photos in this book is that they show a lot of photos of Marilyn reading all kinds of books, and she was actually a voracious reader who tackled Dostoevsky and James Joyce’s Ulysses. It is even stated in the book that she liked having pictures taken of herself reading. This was no Sarah Palin pretending to read a newspaper. Those who were close to her knew she had a sharp curious mind and loved reading. Seeing these photos did make me reflect on present day actors as well as past ones. I couldn’t think of any who especially liked to be pictured reading. There is something interesting about a photo of a woman reading a book, especially this woman who was so in touch with the camera. In most photos of her she is looking at the camera, but in these she is dressed fashionably but casually and seen sitting or standing in a casual position in a homey looking environment, and her eyes are on the book, so there are two subjects to the picture. There is the mystery also of what page she might be on and what words age might be reading when the photo was taken!

Anyway, it is quite interesting to read her fragments, many of which are poetic and quite beautiful, while others are filled with insecurity, loneliness and the desire to improve herself. Some are even directly related to her being in psychoanalysis. I’ve been looking through the book for something to quote somewhere and finally found something for this blog rated to a recent post I wrote about relationships. It is very thought provoking and both sad, realistic and somehow hopeful, which is a curious combination, but not so strange when touching on the subject of childhood and attachment. So here it is; please react and comment if you are moved to do so…

“(page 131) re relationships

Everyone’s childhood plays itself out
No wonder no one knows the other or can completely understand. By this I don’t know if I’m just giving up with this conclusion or resigning myself-or maybe for the first time connecting with reality-

how do we know the pain of another’s earlier years let alone all that he drags with him since along the way at best a lot of lee-way is needed for the other-yet how much is unhealthy for one to bear.

I think to love bravely is the best and accept-as much as one can bear”
(words underlined in this passage: plays, much, unhealthy)

Quick reactions. I found this to be very truthful and really focused on relationships that are very mature and/or deep, those moments when people become unsure and unsettled by what they observe in themselves and their partner. It raises some interesting questions for couples who are examining their relationship or in couple’s therapy: “what are the parts of your partner that you do not know or want to know better but seem buried under a lot of pain?” ” Do you think you can share your own childhood painful parts with your partner, and if so, can you use this to better understand your child selves within the relationship?” “Do you give “lee way” to each other for all that emotional baggage you still carry?” “How much can you each bear of this part of yourself and of her/him?” “Are you afraid of it and avoiding it, or are you bearing too much of it to the point that either of you can recognize it is unhealthy?” “Or, are you asking too much of your partner and wanting ir demanding him/her to bear an unhealthy amount of this early pain in the relationship as it is right now?” “Do you feel that you love bravely and strive to accept what you can reasonably bear in each other?” “What does it mean for you to love bravely?” “Have you ever done it or do you shy away from it?”

As a side nite the word “lee-way” is quite interesting, with origins in the concrete meaning of a sideways drift if a boat or plane. The best definition I came across that seems to fit her use of the word was “leeway – a permissible difference; allowing some freedom to move within limits.” Just thinking about this word and this definition, well, what a perfect word to encapsulate a bug part if intimate relationships: the balance between acceptance and tolerance of difficult aspects of the other while at the same time having reasonable limits, thus capturing the combination of surrendering as well as separating/having boundaries… Real food for thought in just a few short sentences…

Mental Health Awareness Month Post Number 2!

Ok. I’m interrupting my attempt to get deeper into the issues around money and therapy because I have until the end of May to do my part in raising awareness around mental illnesses and the paths to mental health and stability…

I think this is too great an opportunity to pass up. On my personal Facebook I pledged to post at least once a day a fact or question to do with this subject. Then I decided to do the same on my LinkedIn “share” with connections. I am in too many professional LinkedIn groups to post on all of them! Then I decided to post about it on my public Facebook Artist Page. In fact after I’m done with this post I will announce it on my Artist Page.

I confess as a therapist and human who works closely with people on their very personal paths towards health and real soul fulfillment, feeling myself to be, or at least aspire to be, a sort of modern times Shaman or Doctor of the Psyche, I am really excited about this discovery that May has been Mental Health Awareness Month for over 50 years! How dare they not tell us in grad school or at our jobs and internships! How many therapists know about it??? Check with your therapist and/or psychiatrist to see if s/he knows about it! Spread the word! Thank goodness for the Internet and social media, as they help us raise awareness of such an important topic. There is just too much stigma out there about mental illnesses and so much ignorance. Why do health insurance companies still limit outpatient mental health treatment to 20 or 32 visits a year!?? How dare they set a limit on something so important in such an arbitrary manner! I’ve never had a patient with a mental illness who was invested in his or her therapy, who thought 20 visits or 32 sessions was enough per year. That has to change. What would people with one kidney do if they limited their dialysis visits per year? Unthinkable…

To get back to the point, though I don’t think I’ve strayed that far, in this post I will do what I’m doing daily on Facebook and LinkedIn: I’m going to make a list of ten questions or lesser known facts about various mental health issues. By mental health I include addiction, eating and personality “disorder” issues as well as trauma of various kinds and healthy positive behaviors related to this topic…

1. The relatively new phenomenon of personal blogs about how a person is living day to day with his or her symptoms and feelings about having some type of mental health issue is a wonderful way that people can see up close the courage and strength it takes for people to face their life day in and day out, struggling with staying healthy. It’s also a great testament to how far we’ve come with medications that work for people and with diagnostic criteria that help people come to terms with and manage their daily self care. Of course there is a lot more to improve with medication and treatment, but these very raw personal and honest blogs out there are a great way for people to feel less alone with their particular struggles. For some, the blogosphere is the only community they have and place they feel safe discussing such personal issues and struggles. So I start with a very positive aspect of mental health awareness by saluting all you people out there blogging about your struggles and triumphs. I follow many great blogs of this type and hope to find many more…

2. Schizoaffective Disorder: how many of you have heard of it? I first learned about it at an internship at a Continuing Day Treatment program long ago, so I have worked with individuals given this diagnosis. The term was first coined in 1933, but I have a feeling most people haven’t heard of it unless they have it, know someone with it, or work in the mental health field. You can find very particular detailed explanations of it on the Internet. I would describe it as bipolar and mood disorders meets and marries schizophrenia types of symptoms. What a challenge to be dealt this card! You have some sort of mood instability, whether primarily depressive, manic or both, as well as possible psychotic episodes, paranoia, hallucinations and delusions. For a really up close and personal account of it, read the memoir “The Quiet Room” by Lori Shiller. There’s still a lot of controversy about this diagnosis, and it comes up in this very moving book. In my experience, I think this diagnosis can be helpful to people suffering from such a confusion of symptoms because usually Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia thankfully now are seen and recognized and treated as very different because they are completely distinct. In the past people with either of these illnesses were lumped together , but we know a lot better now. However, there are some people who suffer from symptoms described by this “cross sectional” type of disorder. In my experience it really does exist, and the diagnosis is helpful, as people can be treated with both a mood stabilizer or anti depressant and an antipsychotic type of medication that people dealing with schizophrenia take, and they can have potential relief of their mix of symptoms and also begin to experience themselves as functioning at a much higher “level” in their lives which can be greatly improved and a lot less painful and confusing…

3. So, on the topic of mood stabilizers and “anti psychotic” medication, otherwise referred to as “psychotropic” medications: In contrast to what I said above, it can be confusing for people suffering from Bipolar Disorders, Schizoaffective Disorder, or other schizophrenia related disorders on terms of the wide variety of medications currently used to treat such illnesses. On the one hand, modern medicine has put to rest the confusion of what used to be called “manic depression” and “schizophrenia.” We all know now how different these are, but some of the medications treat both types. The difference is in the dosage. Old fashioned medications like Haldol, as well as the newer “anti psychotics”, such as Geodon, Risperidol, Seroquel, Zyprexa and many others, are prescribed for any form of psychotic episode, as well as being maintenance medication for schizophrenia and related “schizo” type disorders. To make matters more confusing, people with Bipolar Disorders, for whom a typical mood stabilizer like Lithium or Depakote, just to name 2 main ones, does not help enough to stabilize moods, can now take such medications as Zyprexa or Seroquel as mood stabilizers, usually on lower doses than for schizophrenia type symptoms. Some people with a kind of Bipolar Disorder take a typical mood stabilizer, as well as one of these other meds, and as well as an anti-depressant and other medications such as those for anxiety, which are in a totally different classification. So we’ve come all this way in distinguishing Bipolar type symptoms from those of schizophrenia related illnesses, and yet the same medications may be used to treat both. A little confusing. However, it is great that these other medications were discovered to have mood stabilizing properties, as some people need to take them instead if or alongside their regular mood stabilizers. Seroquel is also considered to have anti depressant properties, so probably some of the others like it also do.

4. While in my experience with working with people who suffer from very serious mental illness, mood stabilizers and medications like them can really be miracle workers for those suffering from Bipolar type issues in that, once the right medication or combination is found, people who take their medications daily can experience a great relief of symptoms and a sudden experience of real stability, those suffering from “unipolar” depressive illnesses such as dysthymia and major depression, tend to have more struggles with their medications. There are the lucky people who find the right anti- depressant and get relief; unfortunately of those people there is the group who after 6 months to a year find the medication no longer works, and they are plunged into a depressive episode and have to try some other anti-depressant(s) to see if a different one will work. For others, none of the different types of anti depressants out there seem to work. Some women in the latter group find a doctor who decides to try the more innovative treatment of using hormone medications to treat their depression. I read an interesting article about this a few years ago which really amazed me, as many people I know who suffer from mood disorders tend to complain that they can’t take birth control pills because it sets off depression. Others take hormones for birth control alongside their other meds without any trouble. Thankfully now there is a small group of women who take only hormonal medications to relieve their depressive symptoms! What a great medical breakthrough!

Ok. I have not yet reached number five and this post turned out to be much longer than I expected. So, the above is my food for thought on this topic thus far. I pledge to reach number 10 before Mental Health Awareness Month is up!!!