I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing for a while, ever since i first came across the notion who knows when. In fact, i always wondered, even as a child, why this was considered so impossible and the answer given was that “people would become lazy…” to which i had not enough life experience to respond adequately or knowledgeably. Now, however, my own life has given my a tiny hint of whether that answer was correct or not. And my answer comes from a life in which i was provided, by virtue of being “on disability” for decades, a poverty-level income, plus shelter and varying levels of food support. I did not become lazy at all. In contrast, as soon as my life stabilized when i no longer was in constant search for housing and had enough to eat for “the forseeable future” at any given time, i could settle down into my life of low but livable income and i taught myself to write poetry. This was a goal that i could accomplish given that it required very little extras in the way of expenditures, beyond a pen and a notebook and eventually an electric tyoewriter, paper, and a few envelopes and stamps. For 25 years i lived and breathed only to read and write poetry, and became an accomplished poet, with hundreds of poems under my belt.
The one thing that my stable if low income did not do was make me lazy, it did deprive me of many other things, but the basic “security” it provided to me of shelter and food and medical care, however basic level they were, permitted me the freedom at least to write my heart out.
Later, when my income doubled due to a a tragedy in the family that had a positive effect on my social security benefit, once again freedom from penury permitted me to become an artist, because i could buy the art supplies that before that time i could never have afforded.
The point is that people will always do what they do, and want to do, when the chains of utter compulsion are taken off. There is plenty of money in this world, enough to fund a system that takes care of all, if we have heart and soul to do this. The question is, Do we dare?
I remember names…some of them. For instance, the short, chubby, blond nurse, who was worried about her weight and who was so instrumental in torturing me? Her name was Debra. And the head nurse who seemed so oblivious to the fact that her policies were indeed torture, even though she admitted that she expected the guards to inflict pain on patients when “escorting” them to seclusion in order to “subdue them faster” as she put it to me, openly. Her name was Barbara, and even though I was horrified by things she told me, I believe that she was innocently deluded and believed in her job, did not mean to be mean, not the way Debra seemed to, and honestly wanted the best for her patients. But let me start at some beginning which is to say, anywhere at all, and give you an idea of what I am talking about.
I have written in multiple places and on many occasions about what happened to me at New Britain Hospital (aka Hospital of Central Connecticut on Grand Street in New Britain) and I do not want to go into the whole thing here. All you need to do is search on the subject of Michael E Balkunas at this blog and you will get most of the gory details. That said, much that happened has never been told not even here. For instance, that Debra was the nurse who in a sadistic impulse and in an apparent fit of frustration, decided to have the security guards strip me naked when she was secluding me for some unknown (and always unnecessary) reason yet again…as they did nearly daily at W-1 in New Britain Hospital in May 2014….that it was Debra who was directly responsible for this I have never stated. But I remember her name clearly, and her face….And the fact that after she did this the second or third time she went on leave for several days, and when she came back told me she had almost quit her job.
I was momentarily cheered because I thought perhaps she had had some serious regrets about what she’d done to me. I asked her, Was it because of me? I thought she would tell me yes. She looked at me, and nodded, then said, “Because you are such a challenging patient.” Huh? I looked at her, and saw no remorse, no regrets only residual anger and scorn…and a certain unrepentant rancor that I had “made her do what she did.” Clearly she felt that I was to blame for her behavior, that I was to blame in general and that it was all justified.
But to get back to what happened. After she had me stripped naked by four male guards, after I loudly and vociferously protested being left alone in that freezing seclusion cell for I never knew how long, I began mildly hitting my head on the wall in protest. They threatened to four-point me and then they came barreling back in and threw me onto a restraint bed. The thing is, I knew, completely naked, I could not take the cold in that seclusion cell. But if they restrained me they would HAVE to cover me with something, and at the very least I would not freeze to death in that frigid cell for an indefinite number of hours…But when they came for me, they grabbed me and angrily threw me onto a gurney, even though I put up no resistance, spread-eagled my legs, deliberately exposing my private parts, and shackled them to the corners of the gurney with my arms pinioned above my head until I shrieked in pain even as they laughed. Then they held me down, gratuitously I might add, since I was already restrained, compressing my neck and chest, in order to give me the usual three-injection cocktail of punishment drugs — Haldol, Ativan and Benadryl — forcibly slammed into my buttocks. All of this done to me while I was naked and immobilized in four point restraints. Then fearing that they would leave me alone there, freezing cold, I screamed for them to cover me. With a look of disgust, someone threw a draw sheet over me, but no more.
The charge nurse came in for my “face to face” interview to see that all was “proper” and she visibly and audibly shivered, but refused me a warm blanket, or any at all, due to “safety concerns.” Then she left with the rest of them and turned off the intercom, so “we won’t have to listen to her scream.” They closed the door behind them, leaving me all alone behind a metal cell door that did not even have an observation window in it.
I screamed from the base of my lungs as deeply and as loudly as I could for as long as I could last. No one took mercy on me or brought me water or a blanket or spoke to me the entire time. Only when, exhausted, I finally lapsed did they relent and ask, from outside the door, “can we turn the intercom back on? She is quiet now…” And apparently got assent for that… Because eventually I heard someone flip a switch but nothing more.
After I was released, the next day, I told the unit director, Dr Michael E Balkunas what they had done to me, and he must have recognized the egregious nature of it because his response is telling. Instead of dismissing it as not so terrible, he said: “They would NEVER do such a thing as that in my hospital. You are a liar!” So he saw how awful it had been, what they had done to me, he just refused to acknowledge it had happened, and that he did not in fact what his staff were up to. But I was never in fact the liar he believed me to be. His stock answer to everything he did not want to see or believe was routinely that I was lying, but this was not true, and he was so sickeningly dismissive of the truth that I did not wait to listen to more this time. I was so wiped off the map by his response that I got up and walked out of the interview room and did not bother with him from then on…I KNEW I was never a liar, and that in actuality it was the STAFF who lied all the time, but telling Balkunas that would have done no good. He wanted to believe what he wanted to believe and nothing i said got through to him from day one…So I thought, so why bother ? WHY BOTHER. Balkunas wanted to murder my body and my spirit, and I could not let him succeed. He could imprison my body in his hospital, but i was damned if i would let him get my spirit. FUCK HIM!
But Dr Balkunas, Michael, you did not in point of fact know what went on at W-1 ever, nor at the ER, when you were there. Abuse was rampant because you encouraged it to be…and you never cared much what they did to achieve “order” so long as it was “quiet” when you were around. So you gave tacit assent to the tortures that they inflicted, and you likewise tacitly approved the very behaviors that you told me would “never happen on your watch”…Yeah? Well, I feel certain that if they behaved as they did towards me, they had done it before me, and did so to others after I left as well…and they continue to inflict these things on patients to this day.
I will leave it there. Your unit staff and you too, Balkie, are Out of control, and deserve, as my Obama post notes, to be CLOSED down for good.
The other day I made this little polymer clay figure to illustrate what Debra did to me.
It blew me away and I could not sleep all night the night I made her….Until Wendy and I decided to heal her, and perhaps heal me, from the experience, First, talking to the figure in the little bed calmly and with compassion, we covered her with a thick cotton blanket. That brought me some relief as I no longer felt chilled. Then we took off the restraints, which despite being made of polymer clay actually slipped right off, and we brought her arms down to her sides so she could sleep in comfort. By the time we were through I felt immensely better.
Neither of us could even imagine treating another human being as Balkunas had had me treated on numerous occasions by routine.
This is the finished portrait STUDY of my friend Mott’s grandson Dylan (the final portrait will be in oils but this one is a study done in my note book in acrylics, with the background still a bit wet):
Recently a friend wrote to me that she was exhausted with worry about whether the future would work out as she wanted it to. She has many concerns and young sons to generate a lot of worries, so i sympathize completely. Nevertheless, this is what i wrote to her and more…
Remember that there are plenty of futures out there and we have absolutely no way of knowing which one will come to us as the present, not until it is the present. So you can spend your time worrying in the present about a future you cannot change by worrying about it (can you?) or you can choose to ENJOY THE FUTURE now by assuming that it will all work out beautifully. That means of course, that freed from worrying about a disastrous outcome, you will enjoy the present, too. Yes, it is possible that what comes will bring disaster, but that pain will be of its time and place alone. You won’t have spent all the weeks and months leading up to it also in pain, dreading what your worry could not possibly change. If disaster does happen, but you spent all that time anticipating the best possible outcome, then guess what? You enjoyed your life, and if disaster happens you can say, well, so this is disaster, but i did not waste my life in fear, worrying myself sick anticipating it. No, no, i enjoyed every minute of a different future that may not have happened, but i lived life to the fullest. Now, life changed but i don’t regret a thing!
I believe that people who can enjoy the best future imaginable also build resilience to the worst future that becomes present in their lives, and in a feedback loop they end up never facing the worst outcome, because in the simple process of facing it, and facing it down, they have already begun to overcome it. But they could not do this without learning the skills of enjoying the best possible future now, instead of worrying. This is how they have become resilient and their resilience feeds back and makes them even stronger when like everyone else, challenges do come their way.
You can do it. You can stop worrying today. You can stop that flow of tormenting thoughts that say xyz is going to happen to ruin everything. How? Not by stopping them but by replacing them with daydreams that are far easier and better. You know how some teachers used to scold the class daydreamer and tell him or her to come back to reality and Stop daydreaming?! Well, i am going to say the opposite: when you are worrying yourself sick, start day dreaming instead, start fantasizing about the dreamiest most glorious future you can give yourself, and then goddam it, give it to yourself! I mean this. Start believing that that future is real and think about you would act and be “if you really knew this” it would change you, wouldn’t it? Well…be that future, enjoy that future as if you know right here and now that it will be on your plate at such and such a time…i promise you, you will enjoy your present so much more than you ever did worrying! And who knows, instead of Not paying the mortgage on time (your worry) you just might end up buying a boat as well as owning your home free and clear (your fantasy)…but even if not, you have not lost anything but your misery. And that, my friend, is a very good thing to lose.
All i can say is everything in this picture was as deliberate as i know how to make it, without planning it at all, and it contains symbolism both public and private. With reference to my signature quotation, (see below) it makes use of what the negative spaces offered me without leaving any in the end.
“There is no negative space, only the shapely void. Hold your hands out, cup the air. To see the emptiness you hold is to know that space loves the world.” P. Wagner
(for those who are not familiar with WWII, over the gates over Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp where Jews and many other despised groups were taken to be tortured and killed, were emblazoned the words: ARBEIT MACHT FREI, or “work will set you free,” which was of course a lie and a horrible joke, because it was only meant to kill you at what was not a labor camp but just a death camp. )
PSYCHIATRIE MACHT FREI?
Psychiatrie Macht Frei? Mixed media anti-psychiatry picture, 24″by 19″
I did this chair tonight with drawing Vine charcoal I made in the grill. I peeled wild grape vine then roasted the pieces in wired-together tin box pierced with a nail to let out the gases, for an hour..Inside after that was nice black vine charcoal!
The Second piece is my drawing in progress of which I will try to post a few stages..I have not come anywhere near to finishing it! Nor do Have any idea what it will look like when done!
Aside from the fact that it is really stupid and cruel to say this to a student taking your course on creativity, and I was stupid enough to listen to him without objecting…Aside from all that, when Robert Fritz says artists can’t use art to work out their problems, I say, Balderdash! SAYS WHO? SAYS WHO?!!!
Can you imagine what the world would be like without artists who did NOT work out their problems in and through their art? A world without the likes of, and I am just selecting a few very famous examples from all over the art world:
Edvard Munck’s numerous depictions…
Just in case you doubt that he was rendering his emotional turmoil in pastel and paint, he wrote these sentences on the frame of one of the four known original versions of what the world now knows as
I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.
And where would the world of poetry be without Sylvia Plath. Surely it would be a milder and less rich place without her magnificent and moving poem, “Daddy”, which I will quote only in part below:
“You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
The poem continues for several more stanzas which are well worth reading before ending with the incredible punch of:
“…So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.
If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.“
A contemporary poet who has for many years mined her life and traumas for art, is undeniably Sharon Olds. But one poet who made art out of exquisite spiritual agonies was the British Jesuit convert,
Gerard Manley Hopkins in the mid-1800s, who wrote what are now called The Terrible Sonnets, terrible because they portray with astonishing depth the suffering and spiritual anguish he experienced as a parish priest going through the dark night of the soul. I do not know of any poet, then or now, who has done it better.
This is one of my all-time favorites of Hopkins. But you really need to read it aloud…
Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?
Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.
Speaking of artists, does anyone else perhaps believe that Francisco Goya might have been working out something in this painting?
Francisco Goya Saturn Devouring Son
But as Robert Fritz said to me in class, and I stupidly took to heart, “ARTISTS CAN’T USE ART TO WORK OUT PROBLEMS”…
Geee, they can’t? How dumb of me to think they can and do it, all the time.
Remember Franz Kafka? Why do I think he too might have been dealing with his authoritarian father in such books as THE TRIAL, THE CASTLE, THE PENAL COLONY or a story like “The Hunger Artist”…No, that is impossible, right? After all, artists cannot and do not do such things, not real artists…Not according to Robert Fritz, who is the arbiter of all things art!
Songwriters are notorious for displaying their hearts on their sleeves, as most of us know. But VIc Chesnutt, who later committed suicide, did this in spades, with his song, “Coward.” This song is far too raw and painful to me to place it here as a sound file. But I will give you the lyrics and tell you to look for a version of Vic singing it, as no one can do it better.
The courage of the coward Is greater than all others A scaredy-cat’ll scratch ‘im If you back ‘im in a corner But I ,I ,I, I am a coward I, I, I am a coward Courage born of despair and impotence Submissive dogs can Lash out in fear and be Very, very dangerous But I ,I ,I, I am a coward I, I, I am a coward
Anyhow, I think I have made a case for stating that art — which can be used for a great many purposes, in fact can be used in whatever fashion and for whatever use you want to employ it, because truly there are no rules — most certainly one can work out one’s problems in and through using art. What better way to do so in fact? Better than taking a load of guns and shooting up the nearest _________! (fill in the blank with the most recent mass shooting locale.)
I welcome my readers to send me examples of artists who expressed themselves or used their problems to make art. I will add them to the list, especially if you provide a link to an example of their work.
Much love to all,
Pamela Spiro Wagner
Oh, I plum forgot! Here is my own example of using art to deal with problems:
Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2015). The range of conditions includes depression, which the CDC estimates will soon become the second leading cause of disability in the world…
Folks, below this I post part of Hillary Clinton’s grand Mental Health Care plan, not because I believe in it, but because I want you all to see what our next president has in store for us. And because I hope you noted what the last thirty years have wrought in DAMAGES. Yes, after all the miracul0us advances of SSRI’s and SRI’s and adjunctive atypical anti-psychotics added to these so-called miracle anti-depressants. OOOooh, we have gotten so much healthier on our miracle pills.YES! We have gotten so much better that we now, get this, commit suicide at a rate 24% HIGHER than we did in 1999, In fact we kill ourselves at our highest rate in 30 years.
Well, I am sorry, people, but this is fucking BULLSHIT, just bullshit. You don’t believe me? Okay, i am used to that. No one ever believes me. So go ahead and read what dear Hillary posted in her Mental Health Care Plan below, from the National Institute of Mental Health. Those are not my numbers but right from the NIMH. So let’s go ahead, take our happy pills and tell ourselves we feel better, go right ahead, but what do we do when another buddy kills herself or himself despite the sweet help of his or her neighborhood pusher, er, psychiatrist???
Well, don’t tell me they did not warn us: ANTI- DEPRESSANTS DO NOT WORK THEY KILL. And it is posted very clearly right there, above.
Okay. Being forwarned is only part of the battle, we have to listen and we have to act.
Sorry for being so strident, I am really sorry.
I AM JUST SO ANGRY, SO FUCKING ANGRY AT THE LOUSY BASTARDS THAT DID THIS TO ALL OF US.
Go ahead and discount me, I do not care. But look at the statistic I posted above and ignore the implications at your peril.
Hillary CLinton’s MENTAL HEALTH CARE PLAN
Federal Support for Suicide Prevention
Suicides, which are usually fueled by mental illness, are rising among numerous population groups, from adolescents and college students to veterans and older adults. The overall rate of suicide increased by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, and is now at its highest level in 30 years. Over 40,000 Americans die of suicide every year, making it the tenth-leading cause of death nationally. As the former director of NIMH, Dr. Tom Insel, often notes, suicides have 11 victims: the person who dies, and at least 10 people close to them who will never be the same. Hillary believes that suicide is a critical issue that she will prioritize as president. She will:
Create a national initiative around suicide prevention across the lifespan that is headed by the Surgeon General: As president, Hillary will move toward the goal of “Zero Suicide” that has been promoted by the Department of Health and Human Services. She will direct all relevant federal agencies, including HHS, the VA, and the Department of Education, to research and develop plans for suicide prevention in their respective settings, and create a cross-government initiative headed by the Surgeon General to coordinate these efforts. She will also launch a citizen input and feedback mechanism, to enable outside groups to comment on agency recommendations, and explore how we can harness technology to reach out to people who need support.
Encourage evidence-based suicide prevention and mental health programs in high schools. In 2013, a survey of high school students revealed that 17 percent considered attempting suicide in the last year, with 8 percent actually attempting it. The suicide rate among American Indian/Alaska Native adolescents is even higher, at 1.5 times the national average. There are effective ways to respond. It is critical that school districts emphasize evidence-based mental health education, so that students, teachers, and school nurses are aware of the warning signs and risk factors of mental illness and how to address them. The Model School District Policy on Suicide Prevention, released by four leading mental health organizations, includes concrete recommendations that school districts can follow. Hillary will direct the Department of Education to emphasize mental health literacy in middle and high schools and will work with regional and national PTA, school counselor associations, and associations of secondary school principals to encourage school districts to adopt this model policy.
Provide federal support for suicide prevention on college campuses. Hillary believes that every college campus should have a comprehensive strategy to prevent suicide, including counseling, training for personnel, and policies that enable students to take leave for mental health Such multi-layered approaches have a proven track record of decreasing suicides. For instance, the Air Force launched an initiative in 1996 that brought together multiple intervention programs and reduced the suicide rate among Air Force personnel by nearly a third in under a decade. Groups such as the Jed Foundation, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, and Active Minds have created frameworks around suicide prevention tailored for colleges and universities. Hillary will dramatically increase funding for campus suicide prevention, investing up to $50 million per year to provide a pathway for the country’s nearly 5,000 colleges – whether private or public, two-year or four-year – to implement these frameworks on behalf of students.
Partner with colleges and researchers to ensure that students of color and LGBT students are receiving adequate mental health coverage. Evidence suggests that the psychological needs of students of color are disproportionately unmet, impeding their ability to adapt to college life. LGBT students face added burdens as well, with gay youth being four times more likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide. Hillary will direct the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to work with universities, researchers and community programs to determine how best to meet and respond to the challenges these students face and to provide specialized counseling.