Dramatic Clouds 

We were talking about archetypes, in the constricted sense of relating to specific figures in Greek mythology. “Who do you think you are?” 

“I don’t know who I am.”

 This morning, passing through Mills River right at sunrise and feeling generally optimistic about the day, my morning weariness worn off – coffee and a caffeine pill, nicotine and radio – I thought about all those drawings of ducks I did way back when, how the duck form would surface in the lines my pencil made, work it’s way into mountains and the shading of skirts, hair. 

All that crocheting, stitching and pulling out, again and again, all winter long. Sitting in front of the fire, alone in the house with my thoughts and my body and all the ghosts I imagined were with me. Facing Northwest by chance, the position of the chair in front of the fire. 

My face was probably drawn down, squinting and sighing, stoney and lit orange in the dark house. Hooking tiny loops, pulling them back out. Trying not to fall apart, and wondering what catatonia feels like, if I was becoming slightly catatonic, staring at the yarn, despairing without making a sound. 

(An aside, I am sitting on my porch and it is Halloween, or Samhain, or any of the other nights it is. I decided to stay home, but I let my friends know, and declared, to each of them, that I want to be a better friend, a more available friend. Then I lit my candle to Saint Martha, who I light a candle for most Tuesdays, because meditating momentarily on her resilience and dragon slaying, briefly investing trust that necessities will be provided for . . . well, it’s reassuring, heartening. Tonight, I was very present, and my voice sounded slow and clear. I didn’t stumble over words in the novena like I sometimes do. 

My great grandmother had prayer cards in the drawer beside her bed. Thick cardboard, seashell colors, calligraphy. They were smooth at the edges, not all touched on and furred. 

I said the Lord’s Prayer as I remember it from that year and a couple months in Catholic School. St. Patrick’s, off Duval Rd. in North Jacksonville, no…some other road, a curving exit ramp, many pines, a grassy slope. It doesn’t matter. Forgive us our trespasses. I hated that school, except for the foursquare in the parking lot, the tufts of grass in the veins of old concrete pavement, the sun blasted field. The bus. That wretched stinking bus, hot vinyl seats, scratching at the edges like a punishment, catching the plastic plaid of my uniform skirt. 

We had to meet the bus, my mom and my brother and me, at 6:45 am in the parking lot of the Western Sizzlin’, adjacent to the WalMart on Highway 40. Osborne Road. Whatever. 

I lit the holy wood as I said the Lord’s Prayer. Let it burn through a Hail Mary and a Glory Be. Blew out the flame and let the smoke rise. 

I was baptized Episcopalian. Why do I feel weird doing these things? I went to two schools where I was required to attend church services. 

In my own experience, I don’t feel strange at all. It feels like exactly what I ought to do. I worry about what people would think. 

I have never considered my family to be spiritually hostile…they are just ambivalent. An ambivalence that borders on hostility, a dismissal. Not of spirituality in the general sense, or of other people’s religiosity…but, vaguely skeptical of the viability, the legitimacy, of me practicing any sort of belief or ritual?

I don’t know what to think about that thought.

I might feel weird because I still am not sure how to hold my own syncretism, my carefully considered and evolving hodge-podge of devotions and beliefs. The various objects and practices that are associated with my personal spirituality are still determining themselves. 

I believe that higher powers work through signal and code, through music and the cadence of phrase. I believe when you call upon certain forces from a sincere place in the heart and mind, that contemplation of those forces may be attracted into your consciousness, and that – who knows – maybe the forces themselves, the metacurrents and major fields, act upon ones life, subtly influencing without intention, just doing what forces do, attracting and repelling, pushing and pushing, shaping and stimulating. 

I believe in rocks and trees and prayer. 

I dismiss the memory of that Western Sizzlin’ parking lot being woods, of walking up through them from the railroad tracks, crossing the trestle, going to the Hardee’s to get a biscuit, walking because we had the time. It was an adventure. A three mile walk, a long stretch of track, scrubby woods with solar bleached beer cans dug into the soil, scrub and mud by the river, by the marsh. 

(It occurs to me that this, my friend, is what we ought to be talking about. This is how we ought to be writing. These are things I tell myself, and I think I might be edging into something that could either be phenomenally good or phenomenally treacherous and dumb. 

I have confidence in my knowledge, skills, and abilities. I am not being audacious. 

As I know it, and – if you’ve read any of this – as you know it, I have been trying to tell a story, but have had difficulties in the process, got caught in an eddy. Went round and round for a while.  Broke loose a little, pulled by some current, then settled again to spin. I am doing it again, right now, looping back to think about writing, the impetus to write, the practice. I forget what I am saying when I do this. Forget what I set out to say. 

  1. Ah, yes…so, I am noticing some signs and what might be called “symptoms” that I am edging into a state that I have heretofore associated with heightened creativity and hyperprolificism. This state generally entails increased sensations of emotionality, and some slight variability in perceived mood and energy level. Sometimes, I have a lot of energy. I want to do a lot of things. That would be your increased goal directed behavior, I suppose. My thinking speeds up, and begins to drift toward abstractions and linguistic nuance, experience takes on a storied feel, slightly but not unpleasantly surreal. The world becomes very, very interesting and beautiful. I begin to draw again. I feel passionately alive and hopeful about the future, moving forward. I have big ideas and plans, a perfect strategy. I get less and less done. I write and draw more. Ideas become more elaborate and the gleaming sort of feeling of everything begins to get especially powerful. There is a sense of connection and of being in communication with something bigger than I am. I begin to pay attention, because the experience carries a feeling of importance, a feeling of significance. Singularity. Precision. The radio Playlist, the small synchronicities. The people and places that are suddenly remembered. It’s like being re-knit with the world. 
  2. That is my experience. My experience is not like anyone else’s experience. I am fairly certain that if I can maintain good boundaries and practice conscientious wellness and modulation habits, that I can maintain the state of engaged creativity and heightened energy, and that maybe I could actually get this story written. While my experience of early or prodromal slips in wellness edging toward what would be clinically described as psychosis is generally a positive and well-functioning-as-a-quirky-artist-who-is-also-a-working-mother sort of situation, my experience took a radical turn toward a terrifically bad and disorienting agonized disconnect from consensus reality, a “psychotic break,” which – as such things go – resulted in a great many problems in my life. 
  3. I lost legal custody of my kids because I lost my mind. Nay. Not because I lost my mind, but because I didn’t handle the experience well, and behaved in ways that were super sketchy and bizarre. Other people didn’t handle the experience well either. My entire family lost their minds for a minute there. That is what I think. I used to believe that I lost custody because of a severely screwed up power and control situation in my family relationships and because of mental health stigma. I might still believe that. I used to think I’d not done anything that was so wrong, fundamentally. Maybe stupid, foolish, but not wrong. Maybe dangerous. Okay, maybe dangerous. 
  4. I made a lot of mistakes. The first of which was not keeping an eye on myself, getting caught up in the rapturous feeling of a beautiful world where I was important and capable. Delusions of grandeur. That was what they said I had, when I told them how smart I was, tried to present a neurocognitive experiential model of psychosis to a nurse who I led and nodded, gave me a shot, took away my bra. 

That would be the “struggle”/mortal battle if my story took on an archetypal structure. All quest stories have conflict, despair, the moment of almost giving up, but persevering. 

I tried to prove God with pictures of clouds, broke sentence theory about the origins of written language, electrical fields, the feeling g the sacred, atypical ties in the physical structure and formation of clouds suggesting ancient compositions. 

I sincerely believed, with all my heart, that I could do this thing that it occurred to me ought to be done, some evidence of the immanent in the everyday, some connection between all the different languages and myths, a common history, early ancestors looking at the sky. I thought that if I could prove God, then everything would he solved and people would work out the current situation and improve the prospects of the history of the future. 

It seemed like a fun and exciting way to try to save the world. I really believed that I could do, and – moreover – that what I understood to be God wanted me to do this thing, to show what, to me, looked like proof. Looking at old photos now, a lot of them do look like plain old clouds. Dramatic clouds, maybe, but still just clouds. 

There was a part of me that understood – totally –  that I seemed crazy. I believed that this was matter of people not being willing to see the stunning logic of my discovery, the simplicity, the awe. The clouds. This would later be called “poor insight” – which I took offense to, seeing as how I was insightful enough to prove God, wasn’t I? 

Yes. There were some errors in my thinking. 

“I don’t see any 3, Faith. It’s just clouds.” 

It was right there, on the screen. A 3, amongst wisps that looked like wings. The number was perfectly formed, smooth edges. Obvious. 

I did the best I could to not lose my mind, but when you genuinely start to believe that you might be proving God, things can get a little heavy. 

I was thinking this morning, driving to work, that I might have come apart so completely at the seams that all the archetypal energies in the world moved in and out of me for a time, exercising influence, drawing in themes. 

It is fun for me to think about these things, but I understand that it is also dangerous, because most people don’t believe or even think about which Greek Goddess or God they might be, and that – in my social milieu – that’s weird, to think about those things. 

…and also because thinking about things in terms of archetypes is an indicator that I may be getting a little lofty in my thinking and a little loose in what I experience as real. I really do have to watch it, at least within my current life structure. If I were an old woman I could think about archetypes all day. It’s only when one’s ability to contribute to the economy of work and goods and services begins to wane that we are allowed to become eccentric and authentic in what we spend our time doing? 

Speaking of work, I have some that I need to do. 

“Yeah, I still can’t figure out who I am.” 

Note: Goal directed activity observed at 7:32pm. 

Oh, snap, related to work. I was in a conversation today, and we talked some about intensity of emotional experience, the pain of it, the depth, the blinding blare of feeling, conditions diagnosed as BPD and PTSD and who knows what else…and how the attachment pendulum can swing so wildly, because reactivity in the limbic area can produce profound feelings of love and deep connection just as it produces feelings of dread, numbness, or sadness. Trauma and all sorts of other things, including the traumatic experience of feeling such enormous pain in one’s body, like the heart is literally being burnt alive,  flames in every cell, the smoke in each breath. Or nothing, just ashes, even though you thought – you believed –  that everything was okay, that you were in love, that this person was your friend. You no longer know how to be around them. You are unsure how you feel. You feel everything. “Why are you crying?” 

I was never diagnosed with BPD, because people were so hung up on the bipolar thing. My experience of what I understood to be emotion almost killed me a few times, and certainly drove a lot of very had choices, fueled some outrageous behavior. 

I didn’t know what an “emotion” was. The precise origin of the feelings within me was unclear. My bones? My heart? My brain? They were in my body. The feelings. 

They were a mystery to me, so I explained them however I could. Someone did something. I did something. Someone was awful. I was awful. Everything was terrible. I was fucked up. 

Now I understand that what I called emotions are sensations produced by my nervous system in response to perceived reality, perspectives and meaning-making. I understand that sometimes my body may feel things that have nothing to do with anything that is real or currently happening. I know that my body is still working out its mechanisms of reaction, activation of emotion sensations. I can be an intense person. I feel deeply when I feel. I am feeling most of the time, even when I am not feeling, I am noticing the absence. I don’t feel as much as I used to. I was kind of numb for a while. I have done a lot of work to reconfigure how I respond to stress and how those fight / flight energies show up in me, in my experience and behavior. It makes sense that I would have a dysregulated nervous system that has the potential to create difficulties in my life due to reduced ability to cope, reduced stress Resiliency. 

I almost died twice within two years when I was a kid. My body almost died. 

I have experienced a lot of things in my life, including longterm use of psychiatric medication that notoriously tempers with the “chemicals” involved in metabolism and circadian rhythms, augmenting the reception and utility of key neurotransmitters. 

Seeking to repair a Michelangelo with a sledge hammer, blindfolded. 

That quote, about the only problem with making a square leg fit into a round hole is that you can make the peg fit, sure, if you hammer hard enough. The only thing is that you ruin the peg in the process. 

People with my diagnoses, the diagnoses I have carried around with me for over two-thirds of my life, for almost thirty years…people with my diagnoses DIE an average of ten to twenty five years earlier than the general population and it doesn’t have to be that way. 

The only solution is a revolution of ideas. Something Kuhnian, a radical paradigm shift bolstered by increasing evidence, moral and social responsibility to uphold people’s potential to heal. 

Oh, snap…planning scientific revolutions is a warning sign. I heed that warning and am now going to shower, fold laundry, and get some paperwork done from my “real” life. Doh. Putting the word  real in quotations is also a warning sign. 

Don’t worry. I’m fine. I haven’t watched television in weeks. I barely use social media. I hardly ever spend time with friends. I am not isolating. I am doing what I do. I am thinking about ideas and experience. I have been doing this for decades, ever since they told me I had a brain disease, and that was why I was so upset, my chemicals were imbalanced. 

This is not a mental health memoir blog. It is an autoethnography. It is creative narrative non-fiction. It is a story about a woman who lost her mind trying to prove God with cloud photos and then, years later, finally worked out how to tell the story. Not because she still wants to prove God – though she secretly does, because she thinks it would be interesting – but because she has finally figured our that the most efficient way to be of service and support to people who might be losing their mind after some crazy terrible shit they’ve been through is to create a book that will reach the people it may need to reach. 

I used to be a genius. I am not a genius anymore. 

…still, the way I figure it is that my reflections on experience and the ways that I eventually found footing in fairly consistent wellness might be useful to some people. Perhaps spark some consideration, generate discussion. 

I learned a lot, trying to prove God. 

It was a good experiment, executed poorly. 


Father W. Meninger The Cloud of Unknowing 

A friend shared this with me the other day, a few days ago, and I am just now watching it. I was planning to do some paperwork, but as soon as the video began, I became quiet, still. Listening. 

The reading of the poem felt like a blessing. 

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