Wednesday, March 30, 2016

So here's the story. I gave my second guest lecture on stroke and living with traumatic brain injury this evening for a friend who is a neuropsychologist and faculty at both Salt Lake Community College and LDS University of Choice, a.k.a. BYU. Part of my presentation is noting the fact that recovery comprises every aspect of a person's life, and in Mr. PNU's case and mine that includes marital intimacy.

Monday, March 28, 2016

What to call it?

At 10 a.m., in just under an hour, I answered the 567 true or false questions on the MMPI. Prior to that, I spent three exhausting hours rehashing my recollection of the last 38 years of my life. Tomorrow, I'm scheduled to take the MCMI-III and the TSI.

This testing was ordered by my psychiatrist at my request, following the recommendation of my therapist. I made the decision to request a diagnostic re-evaluation based on several factors. 

Factor one: I haven't experienced a clinical manic episode in over ten years since I was taken off anti-depressants in 2006.

Factor two: All previous manic episodes or clinical lability coincides with either prescribed medications, or use of substances (both legal and illegal) known to induce mood swings in those with affective disorders.

Factor three: The forced narrative of acute mental illness projected on me in childhood doesn't match my less-than-glowing self-disclosure of behavior, which multiple therapists have deemed age-appropriate. The negative behaviors I report are better explained by the traumatic nature of my childhood environment, e.g., abuse, neglect, isolation, lack of socialization support, and extreme rigidity.

Factor four: In the last year and a half, I have lived entirely free of psychopharmaceutical intervention without the presence of either depressed or heightened affective states while managing an excessively stressful life event and its consequent adverse effects. 

Factor five: I broke off all contact with my mother a year ago and I've never felt healthier or more self-actualized.

Factor six: Since Mr. PNU's stroke, he has been awarded SSDI benefits. My children are receiving dependent benefits. Because of social security family allocation limits, my own benefits have been reduced to $38 a month.

In short, I have nothing to lose by taking a closer look at my diagnosis. In the reclamation of narrative, I'd say these steps are simply the empowering cap that stops up forty years of someone else's version of my reality. So far my assessor is in complete agreement; Bipolar I—unless in prolonged remission—doesn't fit. He is especially curious to see how I score on the TSI, which measures levels of PTSD.

The full diagnostic re-evaluation should be completed in full within the week.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Caucus craze

`Why,' said the Dodo, `the best way to explain it is to do it.' 
(And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, 
some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)


We joined the line.


And then it continued behind us. 



E— and M— voted for the first time last night.

They stood in line with me and Mr. PNU 
on a very cold Provo spring evening for 2 1/2 hours to cast their ballots
in the Utah caucus.


  




Without telling them who to vote for,
(in fact, M— is the person who introduced me to my candidate of choice)
I promised them that this might be the only time
during their residence in Utah 
that their votes might really count toward anything.






Sunday, March 20, 2016

Hosanna!

He was afraid to stand.
Afraid that in giving praise he would fall over.
There are still so many hard days for him—
anxiety I wish I could ease with more grace. 

But today called for us to find our feet 
in gratitude and rejoicing 
that we are here, 
and that we may always be 
together. 
Where we cannot dance
our hearts leap within us, 
beating for love and joy.


The second session of Provo City Center Temple's dedication 
may as well have been catered specifically for us. 
Tales of hardship and transformation. 
An heritage of becoming. 


I've never shouted "Hosanna!" with greater praise or vigor,
outside and in.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Blood of faith: a brief reclamation of narrative


I have no idea how to begin. Beginnings are an unlikely problem for me.

My heart is boiling. My blood attempting to flow in opposite directions. My red blood cells at war with my white blood cells. My DNA twisting to constrict itself, or individual genomes, out of existence.

Let me tell you about my blood.

For the last seven years, I’ve searched historical records to make sense of oral tradition. My father had an aged pair of infant moccasins, beaded yellow, blue, red, in the upper right hand of his chest of drawers when I was a girl. They were tucked amongst Army paraphernalia, purple hearts, dog tags, black and white photographs of himself and strangers, a bullet from some large rifle, a temple sash, and a bottle of his cheap cologne. I have always wonder to whom they belonged, for whom they were intended. My father told me that I was 1/64th Chippewa, through my great-granddad, my grandmother’s father, who had been abandoned as a child by his mother after his own father disappeared into the Yukon. The story varied as my father grew older and perhaps sicker from his brain injury. Great-great grandpa Adams—gold panner, grizzly tamer, mountain man—lost somewhere in the tundra. I was never certain why he left, never certain what had happened to his wife, my great-great grandmother; never sure where’d they’d come from or what their ties to indigent people might be. But seven years ago, after I finally laid to rest the grief of unmet expectation and went looking for my father’s grave, I knew I wanted to find answers.

One of my favorite poetry professors once told the class I was in that if we hadn’t figured out who we were by thirty, we’d spend a fortune in therapy bills over the remainder of our lives trying to reckon our identity. I prefer to spend my resources writing to discover that identity instead.

Whenever I asked my mother about my native roots, or my origins in general, I was met with the same dismissive response. To her nothing mattered but that I was descended from Mormon pioneers. She had plenty of stories from the trek West to veer me off course from my indigenous exploration. I think to her, Mormonism was our genesis. Never mind that her great-great grandfather, the apostle for whom she held much pride, was a slaveowner, or that the presence of his slaves in the Salt Lake Valley influenced the Utah territory in the tradition of slavery before its abolition. Never mind that he’d left his first wife in Salt Lake for years and years with his younger, fertile wives while he established settlement in the Bear Lake valley and San Bernadino. My mother paid no heed to the sadness and resignation in journal entries written by his wife, her great-great grandmother. That we had family on the forefront of the restoration seemed all that mattered. That we sprung to life suddenly as some kind of righteous anomaly in the midst of so much oppression and misguided apostacy. If not tale of the Mormon pioneers, she regaled me with stories of ancestors who’d crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower. The puritanical elements of that legacy certainly remained in force during my childhood. A whitewashing. 

Outside of my search for connection with my heritage, the loneliness and isolation of my childhood created great need that I learned to fill by bending truths in half. These elicited attention, both positive and negative, that otherwise I lacked entirely. In that vein, I told fibs to support my curiosity of Native American history. In the third grade, I told my mother I'd been given an assignment to write a report on the Bear River Massacre so that she would drive me to the monument erected some ten miles from our home on the lip of Northern Utah. I stood with a notebook and carefully copied the information on the plaque, then went home and wrote a summary in my own words that I delivered to my teacher, Mr. Spendlove, just so as to cover my tracks if my mother went asking after the assignment. In the fourth grade, as part of a legitimate assignment I wrote the first poem I ever penned about the displacement of native peoples by white settlers. Unfortunately, my mother didn't keep a copy. But my teacher, Mrs. Wick, was impressed enough by my insightspredation of wildlife by trappers and destruction of forests by European immigrants in exchange for native way of life—that she pushed me in a poetic direction. And then, in the fifth and sixth grade, as my father grew more irrational, more violent and unpredictable, more irascible, I turned away from him. My mother failed to protect me. Teachers failed to protect me. I filled notebook after notebook with my own resigned entries. I adopted the whitewashing and lent myself to a story of personal broken-ness to assuage my mother’s need for 90 degree angles, exactness, and honor. It earned me what little concern she seemed able to exert as a mother. By the seventh grade my father’s physical ailments and my mother’s rigidity reached a climax. The end of my eighth grade year, my mother accused my father of sexual abuse of my adopted sister. She also insisted that my broken-ness seemed to stem from like causal relationship, and she pushed the idea like she had so many drugs to “fix” my perceived problems. The story provided her needed out. It gave her ease of conscience to keep me and my younger adopted siblings from seeing him for five years.

In the last several years I’ve fought for reclamation of my story, this is what I’ve surmised. We allow our histories to be written for the benefit of others, in exchange for simple comfort, for basic human need. Take, for instance, how my father loved watching television reruns of cowboys and indians, and shoot-em-out Westerns. He sang over and over the Shel Silverstein lyrics to Cash’s Boy Named Sue. In one of his last letters to me, perhaps a year before his death, he referenced my great-great grandfather, Grizzly Adams, and I shook my head that he was so deluded.

My father didn’t molest me. He may have struck me over the head with a telephone receiver in full view of my mother, swung his belt into my back for stuffing socks into my shirt before I had breasts, knocked me into the granite ledge of our hearth for turning off a movie too soon, backhanded me for responding to a “yes” or “no” question in the negative, he may have attempted in his staggering gait to chase after me in the attempt to “give me a licking” more times than I can count, he may have restrained me and taunted me, held me down with my mother’s help to beat me until I collapsed in pain and exhaustion for missing the bus or not making it home in time for dinner. But my father was not sexually abusive toward me. 

My adopted sister will have to figure out for herself what her narrative will be.

When my father died in 1994, I was living with my mother and step-father. They arranged a private viewing, but refused to allow me to attend the funeral. I held to my mother’s story—a lie—for two decades. Allowed myself to be clouded over by the broken-ness of my own assumed narrative. It caused distress. Distress is often a manifestation of deeper ills.

Cognitive dissonance is the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. It’s the general geography of my life right now. I grew up entrenched in the dogma of perfection. The years have eased me into an acceptance of grace at about the same rate that I began rooting through the inconsistencies that pattern the history of my faith. We are told the glory of God is intelligence, but my grandpa, my mother’s father, a man I love dearly, told me on a recent visit that he worries about “you educated kids.” I’ve bounced in and out of the LDS faith three times now. Two periods of agnostic inactivity, one extended period of excommunication. Each time I come back it is with new, clarified vision and perspective. On the evening of my excommunication one of the members of my bishopric warned me that I should be careful what I read over the next year before I could be baptized. I waited four years because what I read was Church history from well-documented, official sources. And when I was ready to come back, my faith was no longer rooted in the rigid dogmatism of my upbringing. My faith looked much more like secular humanism hung on my need for atonement and the compassion and love of a Savior to make up for my broken childhood. I need connection to an eternal wellspring of love and nurturing. My bucket of self-love is ever dry.

I want to believe in God, even though sometimes when I go looking in all the “right” places I can't find Him/Her. Sometimes the evidence to the contrary is so painfully vivid and clear that my distress is keen. Sometimes, I think faith looks a little foolish, even to me. But I still find myself on my knees, like today, on the bathroom floor, pleading to feel that I am not alone and that my narrative is not so broken that my sense of universal place is like so many unstable details that clutter the past.

This past week, after seven years of searching, I found my great granddad’s connection to the indigenous people of North America. We are not Chippewa. Although I still have unanswered questions about why or how a white woman could marry a misplaced Algonquian man in the late 19th century. Those missing pieces may answer why my great-great grandfather left his wife and children in the first place. But because I was able to trace his line back through his mother, an “Indian” house servant identifying as Six Nation, my Algonquin family has come sidling up to me. Some recorded on long generational sheets of Christianized Pequots, Montauks, Nyantic, Quinnipiak, and Narragansett from Connecticut; others waiting to be added into the record from “Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England,” and “Family History of the Brothertown Indians.” I have dates, locations, names, all carefully taken down back to 1504. A direct line leaders and sages amongst the Algonquian people, displaced from their native lands by Puritan settlers. They were pushed north, into Onieda County, NY, then west into Wisconsin and Michigan, where my great-great grandfather was born on the Saginaw Chippewa reservation to a young servant woman, Almira Adams, who was likely raped by her white employer. (I have no information for his father, but if I am 1/64, my great-great grandfather John C. H. Adams was half-blood.)

Last night I took the name of my fifth great-aunt, Grace Crosley, to be endowed at the Provo Temple. Grace is sister to my fifth great-grandmother Elizabeth Crosley, daughter of George Pharaoh Crosley and Lornhamah, members of the Pequot tribea name Puritans did their best to blot from history. And in standing for her, I stand for those tried to eradicate her people. They all stand together, searching for reconciliation in my dissonant heart, hoping to be cleansed of the blood and sins of this and all generations. In all my searching for God, sometimes the closest I get is those moments I stand at the veil and knock. These moments I am given completely to remembrance of lost narrative that lives in small portion in my veins. I stand transfixed, wearing white slippers like moccasins. I reach forward and recall what has come before me. I am etched into the unbroken code of time that runs forward and back, like a river, through all the indelible generations. And this is enough for me, today, to call my stream of faith.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016

Azazel

We are told                                               you were wanted      
                    the awaited

for whom              an idea formed                     (a seder set)  
                                                                                    before          
the expectant shape                                      of a dish of figs

set out                    in case                             a surprise visit                           

a mystery             
                                 guest appeared
                                                                you did not happen                    

to be                                                       whom she expected
You've hurt me enough. Fuck off.
I'm done being your scapegoat.
Done playing your sick and twisted narrative.
You have OCPD.
This is a closed door.
I've closed it for good reason.
Stay away from me or I will begin, piece by piece, story by story sharing the horror of my childhood and your sick manipulations for self-gratification.

In commision

M— is arting for "reals" now. 
You can commission and purchase her work here. 

Last night she forwarded progress on her first order.
A portrait.


How to hold meaningful family scripture study and prayer

It happens. 
And it usually ends up looking like this: 




Friday, March 11, 2016

I'm rather fond of a quote from a book I've never read by the author Darynda Jones.

"I don't think I get enough credit for the fact that I do all of this unmedicated."

A year and six months ago, Mr. PNU and I embarked on an affective adventure. We wanted to have a child, and in order to safely become pregnant I needed to go off my meds—all of them. The first two months or so I felt the steadiness of salt slip away, night after Lithium-lacking night, until my moods barely wobbled and the earth felt solid beneath me regardless of unmasked emotive fibrillation.

I kept checking in with both psychiatrist and therapist on a regular basis, and even though I felt slight adjustments in my mood's tectonic plates from time to time nothing clinical ever erupted. We waited for a positive on a pee stick for six months, and nothing happened. Meanwhile, Mr. PNU did note changes in my affective states—a little more enthusiasm here, a bit more introspection there—which he asserted were nothing so out of the ordinary that they raised alarm. Remember, he's a psychiatric ethicist. He's worked directly with a number of Bipolar individuals, and is well acquainted with red flags for mood fluctuation. We pushed into our seventh month of trying to conceive when the stroke rearranged my husband's cranial geographic landscape.

In the eleven months since, I've briefly attempted restarting two mood stabilizers and occasionally resorted to using anti-anxiety meds. But it's been months since I've taken more than fish oil supplements as any sort of proactive psychiatric safety net.

My therapist and I have rehashed my early diagnosis in my teens on numerous occasion. I concede there exists a pattern of mood disturbance coincident with use of both prescribed and illicit drugs from age 13—when my mother sought to medicate a perceived case of ADD with Ritalin—to my mid-30s. In 2006, following the cessation of an antidepressant that I'd taken daily for nearly ten years, my manic swings completely stopped. My last manic episode occurred in January that year, and in the ten years since I've only experienced short-lived hypomaniac states in conjunction with considerable caffeine use. Any depressive episodes I've experienced since 2006 coincide directly with casual alcohol use or domestic trauma. Otherwise, I've exhibited what my therapist calls "unexplainable calm."

In January I brought up the possibility with my therapist that my diagnosis might be wrong, even conceding that a personality disorder resulting from my upbringing may play culprit to some of my long history of mood instability. She encouraged me to approach the matter with my psychiatrist.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

S'noBull

Meet S'noBull.
We live in Utah. I feel justified tweaking the spelling. Everybody else does it.

S'no is an 11-year-old Maine coon
who's come to live with us
as companion animal
for everyone in our home 
suffering from anxiety. 

Last count, that's all of us. 

Mr. PNU is definitely a dog person, 
but we aren't equipped to house
and care for a canine, 
and this geriatric lap feline
fit the bill in every way. 

Today, as we left Ethics and Values, 
Mr. PNU turned to me and said, 
"You know, it just occurred to me
that I'm missing S'noBull."

He's that great.




I will do my best to refrain from turning
SSOW into a cat blog. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Happy Valley morning, a new light


First ascent of 2016: 1 mile, 1,000 ft elevation gain.
35 minutes.
I topped the "Y", lungs afire and pounding iron 
streaming beneath the roots of my teeth.

Pushing a wheelchair does not provide much in cardiovascular training.
If I can shave 10 minutes off the total hike (which is prime training trail)

by June I'll consider myself back in shape.

Annie, our shower aide, left three weeks ago for another job 
and was replaced by Brittany,
who comes every weekday.
The hour and a half her assistance proffers me
I fill with exercise,
which in turn drives my energy during the day
and settles my body and brain for sleep at night.

Why I ever thought less of myself for accepting this service is a mystery.
In the last three weeks my stress levels dropped ten points 
and I feel altogether capable of continuing as caregiver 
for months, maybe years to come.
If not hiking, I'm on the treadmill reading poetry and philosophy each morning, 
maybe lifting a few reps before I go home to shower. 

My head is clearer, my optimism less strained.

The ideas flow all day long. Sometimes Mr. PNU entertains me with his own.

We're creeping up on our one year anniversary, 
and to me, at least, it's feeling less and less bleak.
Not so much a life sentence 
as it is continued adventure and exploration.
Help was all I needed.
And when I called, it came.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Like it is


I spend an inordinate amount of time contemplating approaches to and construction of narrative. In that time I’ve grown suspicious of the concept that one might possibly tell it like it is. 

Language itself poses one of the tasks largest hurdles. Take, for instance, William Carlos Williams’ most anthologized poem XXII from Spring and All:

so much depends 
upon 

a red wheel 
barrow 

glazed with rain 
water 

beside the white 
chickens.

The poet claimed that inspiration “sprang from affection for an old Negro named Marshall. He had been a fisherman, caught porgies off Gloucester. He used to tell me how he had to work in the cold in freezing weather, standing ankle deep in cracked ice packing down the fish. He said he didn’t feel cold. He never felt cold in his life until just recently. I liked that man, and his son Milton almost as much. In his back yard I saw the red wheelbarrow surrounded by the white chickens. I suppose my affection for the old man somehow got into the writing.”

An image is emblazoned on the mind’s eye of anyone who’s ever read the words. Interpretation is where most readers get hung up.

"Williams is saying that perception is necessary to life and that the poem itself can lead to a fuller understanding of one's experience,” wrote critic Pete Baker. 

Is he?

I see four-word stanzas. Two lines each. And a metered organization—4-2, 3-2, 3-2, 4-2. Two clearly defined objects. Wheelbarrow. Chickens. I don’t know the time of day. I don’t know the temperature, although it’s recently rained. I don’t know the position of the wheelbarrow or the activity of the chickens. But my imagination has filled in every missing detail. Everything I haven’t been told is there.

I haven’t been told how it is, but I’m seeing it, as real as if I’d been there with Williams, himself. And what’s even better, I can smell it; maybe well enough that I have a sense of how the air might taste. And that, my readers, is a narrative all my own. My experience. Not Williams’ or any other reader’s. So perhaps the critic is correct. That narratives we create tell us more about ourselves than the language we employ ever could. And perhaps everything you read here looks, smells, and tastes like your own experience.

Words are no more than sounds assigned meaning in relation to a parallel object or action, a reference to perceived form and relevant observable motion between forms which exist wholly separate from and unconstrained by the language used to invoke them. Think of language this way: we need tendons to enable the mechanism of muscle and bone. Tendons, like language, articulate and lend purpose to two facets of anatomy which otherwise have no operative relationship to each another. Language facilitates teleologic connection in a broken, lonely world. Experience is valid. Even when our separate experiences of the same time and location are no more similar than soft tissue is to bone. Narrative works as a tendon to bridge the chasm between alien experience. It contextualizes the desert landscape we wander and binds us to a place we agree to call our world. 

Last week, a philosopher asked me to explain my understanding of the difference between Google and God in reference to the quote from Elder M. Russell Ballard—“James did not say, ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask Google.’”

In order to speak to a philosopher about religious matters, you must understand that language in the narrative will fail you. But I gave it my college try:

“To begin, Google is the brand name of a leading Internet search engine, founded in 1998.


God, on the other hand…

In the wisdom of Lao Tzu— “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.” In your request to compare and contrast Google and my perception of God I am required to define something that to me is ineffable—God, not Google. And so I'm fixed with the problem of pointing to and referencing something that is going to slip away from me as quickly as I find a way to gesture toward or encapsulate it. As if God were an "it". As if I thought an ontological argument would truly suffice. I think teleological relationship between humans and their god is far more relevant to the matter of definitive clarification.

Also, my perceptions of the existence of God are my own, and can easily be given psychological attribution rather than relying on divine origin. I think any good philosopher knows there is no satisfying argument for the existence of God.

And so, my experience seems to be reducible to the problem of free will. Am I free to chose to believe otherwise? My answer: I’ve tried. My efforts on the contrary seem ridiculous to me now; not because I know with empirical evidence one way or the other, but because in practicing my belief I continually make progress toward a deeper compassion and inclusiveness for humankind and a deeper wonder at our cosmos. It fulfills me, and I find value in that fulfillment. My experience with what I call “God” is an enfolding, a habitual arriving, a go-seek principle. Some days I proclaim “Eureka!” And just as quickly it is gone, and I must work for it again.

(Of course, I have friends and acquaintances who would argue that the same might be enjoyed without belief in the divine, and I must give them that because I find goodness and value in them and their lives as they stand without sharing my beliefs. Is my belief then superfluous? To them, perhaps, yes. To me, no. I keep it for the enrichment it provides, and I assign value to that enrichment, and yes, I possibly give that perceived enrichment ontological status which suffices for proof of the empirical source of my belief.)

I have other acquaintances who point at Mathematics. And what are these but symbols for something else not so easily contained and quantified? This is perhaps why I work in poetry, and why, unlike my husband, I am fond of Continental philosophy. God is the blossoming nuance of metaphor that conjoins two separate and concrete revelations belonging entirely to themselves and also to one another.

In the wise-beyond-years words of my 10-year-old autistic spectrum son, “When we spend time with each other, with our friends and our families, when we love people, that teaches us about God.”

How is that for answering and not answering? Plato would call me a sophist and turn me out of the Academy.”


And so it is only appropriate that on this Saturday I am again grappling with said philosopher’s unwritten doctrines contextualized within Parmenides, the mountain of commentary on the dialogue, and my own metaphysical cartwheels between The One and the dyad over breakfast and decaf at Cafe 300, the finest diner in South Provo; and rather than turning up philosophic analysis for the paper I’ve been struggling to write for three months, I am driven to craft lines and lines of poetry.

Williams' "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" returns to remind me:

It is difficult 
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

That, my friends, is how it is.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Adoption day

I think I've held the belief 
for ten years
that today might someday be a possibility.
It's been a long wait 
since my baby boy's birth father, my second ex, abandoned us
when I was five months pregnant.




B— asked me if it was okay to get teary on the stand.
I hope it was, because during the hearing
I testified longer than either Mr. PNU or my son
as to my feelings about this adoption, 
and I wept.
I told the judge that as a mother I couldn't ask 
for a better father for my child.
I take my oaths seriously.





My husband has been asking me ever since if I am alright.
He's caught me repeatedly mid-sigh.
I tell him I'm setting into relief after a decade of anxiety
that a boy would ever have to live without a daddy.