Simone was one of my students at George Brown College Graphic Design Program. And she made the Dean’s list… She was very proud of that. Her charming personality made her memorable immediately and throughout the year. Over the years I bumped into her at various venues. Recently she was showing her paintings at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition at City Hall. She was delighted to see me. We hugged and talked for hours in the warm sunlit square amongst hundreds other wonderful artists in their tents. As always, I walked away feeling content.
So it was a huge shock to find Simone at a PsychPrison of a downtown hospital. Her neighbours had taken her to the police station to get her help, because her words were not making sense. From there she had been forcibly drugged; sedated for over a week with anti-psychotic medication. By the time I visited her she had subdued her demons and was similar to how I had ever seen her before… Although looking very frail and trying to remember what happened…
Simone asked me to not focus on her “Dis-Ease.” She didn’t want to be labeled or thought of as a sick person, but as a friend. She wanted me to take her to art galleries and talk about art. Of course…That is the same as I would want to be treated. But I never got a chance to take her to any galleries. After being released, she mysteriously died.
I realized that Simone had suffered privately. Reluctant to show her inner struggles to the world, she tried her best to hide her condition. So many people hide their true selves, whose struggles seem to be out of the mainstream of “Appropriate Struggles” —as dictated by media or religious or medical myths. It is only in emergencies or tragedies that we find out how some people cope with their lives.
Trying to hide one’s true self is not based on irrational fears. People don’t know how to handle others who are very different —temporarily or altogether. Most societies teach some form of “Othering” through cultural myths… There may be fear due to unpredictability… The stress of not knowing how to respond… Issues of reputation through association… The ones who see the pariah as their “mirror image” or resemblance are the most afraid of the connection!
Some family members may be ashamed of relatives who are different and shun them —physically and/or emotionally— since childhood. That only adds to their misery. The labels become “Internalized Oppression” —self hatred. It often manifests in fear, low self-esteem, vulnerability, anxiety, depression, feeling ugly, incompetent and inadequate, fantasies of &/or attempts of suicide, even homelessness. Consequently, they may behave “unhappily” at times; even antagonistic… Which may make them more burdensome… But no one can keep it all bottled up consistently.
The ones who develop psychotic episodes are probably AM radio tuners channeling the blame and hatred of society in the denigrating voices they hear. But it is through inclusion that healing takes place. In many traditional societies these same people may be revered as visionaries and mystics and honoured. I wonder if the voices that revered mystics hear are as hateful as those of imprisoned Schizophrenics in Religious Dictatorships, or those who are homeless in free Capitalist societies?
About 20% of humanity has “brain circuit” or “Wiring Disorders,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It is a more accurate term than the emotionally laden “Mentally ill.” 5% have it to a debilitating level. Anomalies of the psyche seem to be higher amongst creative people than the general population. Artist have had to deal with these issues through centuries, millennia… Historical records of famous artists showed how they coped with their lives in spite of inner struggles and outer struggles —often caused by their conditions. So many creatives have lived through depression, alcoholism, drug addictions, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, etc. Yet in spite of it all, created beautiful meaningful works which enriched societies for decades; centuries. They mostly did not know how to understand, or cope with, or control the incredible alternate energies they were experiencing. Such things were not taught in schools. Maybe in Shaman school…
Some realized that their condition heightened their creativity. That is what artists live for. The initial stages of a psychotic episode for example, are said to be an especially creative time, which blurs the line between madness and genius. VanGogh painted his swirling masterpiece, “Starry Night” during one of those episodes in a mental hospital. Apparently he expressed a complex mathematical theory about fluid dynamics, in that painting. Frances Crick said that he had actually “perceived the double-helix shape [DNA] while on LSD.”
Saints, visionaries, shamans have taken drugs and fasted to increase the hallucinogenic processes of their minds. They wanted to suppress their ego consciousness, to access their unconscious mind; to become receptive to repositories of memories of humanity, which Carl Jung called the “Collective Unconscious.” Actually, all of us naturally produce LSD in our brains. We all have the availability of altered states to heighten our creativity. Sugar suppresses it. Sugar is poison…
Simone had explained to me that she has had this condition before and was taking medication for it, but it had blunted her 3rd eye. She was trying to control it through herbs. That may sound ridiculous to some… Not all of humanity would agree with the concept of 3rd eye, but some of us would label it as “intuition” or “association skills,” which are another form of non-linear thought. A faster way of arriving at conclusions… Not having those skills is like an amputation of a part of one’s mind. A vital part of every creative person’s process —missing. Limping instead of flying.
Mind numbing “Medical Treatments” with “legal” pharmaceutical drugs or Shock Treatment, all with distressing side effects, is truly unbearable for many people —especially those who live by and for, creativity. If the cure is as debilitating as the disease, naturally they will want to try more benign treatments. A similar movement is happening with cancer drugs vs Marijuana, ginger as a blood thinner instead of Warfarin; ginger and turmeric also lower blood pressure instead of Statins, etc. Whether it be pharmaceutical or herbal, there is always experimentation needed with medication, either to get the right dosage or the right combination of medications. With some conditions there is suffering with or without treatment —only a matter of degree of difference.
We all try in our own way to improve ourselves. It may not be evident too others on a different path in life, or to those who are in a hurry and think they can actually get anywhere fast… Every change happens one molecule at a time. If you rush by at 100miles an hour, you miss —or dis-miss— the finer details. But, it is what we learn along the way that also counts!
One of the side effects of suffering, after having overcome the bitterness associated with it, is learning compassion for the suffering of others. Buddhists say that it is during a time of suffering that we are most open to learning compassion. In Judaism, the Talmud/Berakhot-5 says, “God gave Israel three good gifts, and all were given only through suffering.” It is common experience that we have greater feeling and appreciation for things we acquire through suffering. In Christianity, suffering is a recurring theme and is considered a necessary ingredient for maturing spiritually and learning to overcome evil with good. Simone seemed to have learned those lessons well. I had only ever known her as a loving individual. That is how she was with me.
I will always honour Simone for her truly lovely spirit. As well she represents for me the struggles of all artists who strive to be creative.
I also realize that I have to re-prioritize my life. Many of us also need to make that adjustment. We need to make time for Kindred Spirits —before they leave their bodies and disperse back into the stars. These are the people we have to cherish…Spend more time with… Enrich each others’ lives with beauty and caring… Especially during their most vulnerable moments. We have to accept every part of them —as we have to accept every part of ourselves. We cannot expect others to live up to a concept of perfection that we cannot live up to ourselves.
Good bye for now, dear sweet Simone until we can dance together again freely as spectral waves; auroras of shimmering colours, painting the universe with starlight.