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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Life on the edge of Ego disintegration

Cosmic Strings & the Human Heart - by Stephanie Tihanyi
(all copyrights held by the artist)

Come you lost Atoms to your Centre draw,
And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:
Rays that have wander'd into Darkness wide
Return and back into your Sun subside
The Conference of the Birds- Farid ud-Din Attar
My painting above is organised in what is known as a Mandala. At the time I constructed the painting I was not thinking consciously on making a mandala painting, in fact I did not research mandalas until much later when I came across some psychology texts claiming that mandalas utilised in art therapy, had been found useful in helping schizophrenic patients deal with overwhelming feelings disintegration and ego loss. The focusing on a center helped to focus and calm such patients.

I did recognise that this is exactly the same reason I had been compelled to paint this painting. One does not have to be a schizophrenic to be suffering from overwhelming feelings of "coming apart". It happens in many disorders (anxiety) , throughout the history of human kind. Though in some conditions, it can be experienced more intensely and more frequently.
For me, its one of the worst feelings imaginable, worse than the fear of death. In actual death you die and leave behind a body that once was. At least something is left behind, signifying you were actually there, existed, even though now your not.

But this is a feeling that you are disappearing, taking with it the reality that you ever existed!. The words "coming apart" are felt literally, as if it were real. Its like every thing, all of your substance, identity and being, is slowly disintegrating out of existence. All of your very atoms are separating and drifting apart leaving a faint thinning vaporous haze, like what you can imaging happening to you if you went over the event horizon into a black hole. Its that vivid.

Also note that in ego weakening, the boundaries between inner and outer worlds merge. The self associates outward reality (physical universe, atoms, space, black holes, gravity) with the inner psychological experience. Some speak of this as a sign of illness but I think it is a tool and can aid self re-structuring.

What could possibly remedy such an awful experience. There have been self therapies, from times before the 11th century Sufi mystics, to the present day through the use of the arts, meditation, poetry, ti chi, martial arts and mystic wisdom.

I believe the drive to re-organise the psyche after painful experiences is instinctual and somehow blue printed into the human mind. A self re-organising gift. But from where?. To find that answer, that's the quest of a spiritual Way. The whole thing may also be part of a developmental process. How many times can I die?. as many times it takes to be reborn comes the answer, from somewhere inside me.

As I tried to address the distress I felt, the first thing I did was create the elements around me to contain my poor dissolving self. Earth, Air, Fire and Water. I kind of felt like a magician or shaman doing some kind of magical operation, I don't know what I felt like most the time. I didn't think, I just worked in an unconscious way, doing what felt right, without knowing why.
With the elements and their symbols in place, I worked on the Space beyond the Earth outside. About this time I had been reading about String Theory in a science magazine. Hey, I am no mathematician but I kind of gleaned some images in my head from the article, even though I could not explain it in words.
Around the Space, containing the space, is a tube or string. The picture now becomes like a cross section of a string, like a spaghetti that is seemingly infinite in depth. The skin of this string is Time, as indicated by the encircling snake or Ouroboros, with the infinity sign on its head. So now both the Time and the Space within it, are infinitely long. As one moves along the String, so one moves in Time and Space. The center is my Self, its still unknown to me. But I imagined in it, a Way, to the light source of multiple colours, a place of warmth and golden light, like the Sun. The Gate to the Sun is a flower, a Rose whose petals, (red, passion) are in the shape of a glowing Heart.

 Don't ask me if I an trying to illustrate String Theory, I know little of that, or if I am trying to do magic, again, I know little of that. All I know is making this art, helped me restore my inner compass and pull myself together. I died in my soul and came back. I will die again and again but each time I come back I find I have grown more as an individual, as a person. I added onto myself, I was not lost and if I did lose something, it was the painful shedding of something false about me that I no longer need.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Haunted Self- Dissociated Selves?

“How didst thou make division of Thyself?”—William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
 I have over 11 years been given a whole slew of constantly changing diagnosises by several mental health proffessionals, that always fell short of any one full diagnostic criteria.

In 2001, I sought out help for depression and anxiety. The therapist thought I had borderline due to the fact I was engaging in self harm. Later she changed this due to the fact I had had some long stable relationships and no history of intense, dramatic, love/hate attachments. I was prescribed anti-depressants
Then by my reveling of hearing loud thoughts in my head that I didnt feel belonged to me, it was then thought I had a psychotic depression. Indeed, I was depressed that made me feel numb inside and outwardly like, my face was made of concrete. That probably lead my therapist to tell me I she thought I was schiziod, due to flat affect???. Schizoid people are socially reclusive and avoid all human relationships and sex! I mean, what? Wrong!that's not me at all. I very much enjoyed sex, I wanted to connect with people but it was difficult for me. I was training as a masseuse at the time and loved the physical sensation of giving and getting massages. I reported sudden, extreme changes in identity and mood  throughout the day, plus loud thoughts, this caused me great anxiety, however I managed to work and appear normal on the outside.
When my vivid and artistc imaginative paintings were shown to my therapist the diagnosis moved more over to Schizotypal. This almost fitted because of my high creativity, rich fantasy life, social seclusion and social anxiety, flat affect. However I had no odd appearance, no odd speech, I am not eccentric, nor do I have cult-like beliefs. I was given anti-psychotics. What did I feel about these diagnosis's?, I was happy to be whatever my therapist  wanted me to be, I desperately needed the emotional support. I was like, ok, I will be that if you want, just help me and fix me . But all time, I really thought the real problem lay in my history of abuse from early childhood into my early adulthood, but the therapist was not interested in delving into that and thought it better to just manage the present. Not surprisingly, I did not get any better and I also began to feel very resentful to my therapist, hate her even. I was totally unable to express it to her or even feel it when in session but only began to feel intense anger 3-4 hours after getting home from the session. It was a distressed spaced out rage that was always accompanied by a horrible 3-5 day migraine. When I met her again , all emotional memory of it would be gone, for the duration of the session. I realised therapy was making me feel worse not better. The way my therapist steered aside my attempts to discuss material from my past felt too much like my step-mother hiding the bloody noses from my fathers beating and saying, 'you're not to discuss it with anyone' making me clean-up before I went to school. I tried to talk about my dreams (nightmares) or content of my artwork without success. I once mentioned the possiblity of PTSD but was told no. I grew coldly rageful and desperately depressed. I received cognitive behavioral therapy. it seemed just like a band aid and many of its tenets seemed to me just like the same abusive brain-washing I grew up with. I didn't want to learn to plaster on a new happy face, EFT or learn 'tapping for happiness', "Fuck!" I wanted the truth!, even if it came with pain. I left therapy for about a year.

My next therapist listened to my past history and immediatly diagnosed complex PTSD but unfortunatly he left the island shortly afterward. I struggled another year before finding a new therapist at a health clinic who felt my problem was an Anxiety disorder, yet again they left the area within a few months also. Their replacement came and diagnosed one schizophenic symtom, (hearing internal dialogue) plus a mood disorder but they also left within two months. At this time there were no mental health proffessionals at all where I lived. I began to feel a growing desperation with getting a correct diagnosis and the appropriate treatment.  I made a strong effort to become self educated as none of these former proffessionals had ever encouraged patient education with the diagnosises they dished out. I did not know excactly what I had but I was quite certain about what I did not have. I felt certain my main problems were related to past trauma.

Group sketch by Stephanie Tihanyi
(copyright held by artist)
It was about 2009 I chanced across some online writings by a group of Dutch trauma specialists who had written a book called - The Haunted Self, Structual Dissociation by Onno van der Hart , Ellert Nijenhuis and Kathy Steele and I ordered it online. This book had a profound impact on me. In a  straight thinking style it described clearly, many of my own experiences and the many ways I experienced life and my self. It was an eye opener and a relief that somewhere some one knew and understood what I experienced and they had laid it out and described it in plain logical detail. It also bought me a profound sadness because I wanted to be treated for this condition but realised that where I lived, there was no one who understood or even recognised this condition, let alone could treat it. I tried going back to my original therapist and told her about my findings but she showed very little interest. Rather than fighting the issue I abandoned all therapy. My estimation of therapy and therapists was pretty low then and I regard most of them as clueless, stupid and rigid   Later in 2010 I started to see a new therapist, who is helping  me with depression, emotional deregulation and communication problems. This new therapist believes I have unresolved trauma issues, (at last, someone who is going to listen). The therapy is psychodynamic.