controlling and losing control of the active environment

Since I was a child, I’ve been able to voluntarily induce visuals. Some common ones I can see are atom-like, galaxies, geometric patterns, tornado chaos, chimerical phenomena, etc. Usually they only take up part of my visual field, but a few times, I induced the night sky to envelope my whole environment. I went to a conference/celebration that was very opening, Expanding and Reenchanting the Psyche: The Pioneering Thought of Stanislav Grof, and during the lectures, partially because I couldn’t pay attention the whole day, I induced my visuals. Later that night, hanging out with my boyfriend, I really went deep into that space. Usually my visuals appear on a layer separate from the environment, but sometimes, like this time, I was altering the environment- I brought undulations to the ceiling, and I felt like I was underwater, and the spots on the ceiling were interacting with each other.

Being able to do this, gives me a sense of control, but there is always the shadow to this. Being so open, also allows other states to emerge. And later that night, while driving with my boyfriend, my environment switched to a hostile environment where everything signals impending sexual violence. I still have undigested feelings from when I was mugged, combined with sexual harassment. Or in other words, trauma. I believe these feeling appear as the environment signaling this threat. Reading everything as an innuendo of the threat of sexual violence, is terrifying, but I was generally able to keep my composure.

Oh consciousness, how much you hold. What a night.


Altered State, light- a musing from 2012

I came up the stairs from the 36th street trolley stop and walked towards 3535 Market, where I needed to get some paperwork signed. As I walked down 36th street with my headphones on I noticed, for the first time, there was a florist’s shop on the corner. I’ll get myself some nice houseplants on the way back, I thought. My plants at home were either dead or withering from overwatering, possibly. Well two of them were fine, the ones that were a gift from the 2008 Peer Specialist class in North Carolina that I had trained. They had been with me through thick and thin, those plants. And the little cacti were OK. Anyway, I continued to walk down 36th St, expecting to see the candy and nut man on the corner across from 3535 Market. My mouth watered in my imagination, as my imagination anticipated biting into a sugar-coated spearmint gummy taken from a little plastic baggie full of such spearmint gummies. But no such luck. He wasn’t there. I entered 3535 Market and rode the elevator up to Penn Behavioral Health on the 2nd floor. I walk through the familiar frosted doors.

“Hi. I have paperwork for Dr. Baldassanno. She’s expecting me. I said I’d be here between 9.30am-10am. Thanks.” The time is now 9.50am. I sit in the waiting room on the chairs with the golden-copper cushiony-ness. The t.v. is blaring in front of me, up on the wall corner. Some hideous show is on. I realize that it is the show my boss is always talking about when she introduces herself: “I’m Wendy Williams, not from the t.v. show.”   I never knew what she was talking about. And there I was watching the Wendy Williams t.v. show. How ironic, or maybe synchronistic, as I was there at the psychiatrist’s office to fill out a form so I could return to work. I put on my headphones. About 30 minutes pass. Dr. Baldassano comes into the waiting room through the frosted doors with something from what looks like a Wawa snack in her hands, sees me, acknowledges me and the need for her to fill out paperwork for me. I point her to the receptionist who has my paperwork. She goes back to her office. Awhile passes. The receptionist finally comes to me with the form and returns to her station. I look over it, and of course there is a mistake. My date to return to work 3/1 /12 was filled out by the receptionist on the line that says “cannot return to work from:”. Argh. I go back to the receptionist, she whites it out and puts it on the right line.

“Thanks!” I say. And I finally leave with this doctored looking form (signed by a doctor!), some of it in my handwriting, some of it in Dr. Baldassano’s handwriting, some of it in the receptionist’s handwriting, some of it not filled out completely, white-out. Awesome!

As I am walking back I grumble to myself. Dr. Baldassano, who I hadn’t seen in 2 months since our brief encounter just now, is responsible for verifying that I can return to work. She completely missed my most intense altered state which I was in for over 2 weeks. She didn’t see the state I was in the in the hospital recently. And she hasn’t seen me recovering.   She barely even talked to me today. I mean it’s good she signed the form, but it just doesn’t make any sense.   What a stupid bureaucracy.

Grumble, grumble, grumble. I make my way to the plant store and buy two plants from a very pleasant lady with a thick accent. One she calls a snake plant, though it is labeled a, “tropical”, but it does look like a snake. The other is an African Violet, my mom’s favorite. I am so happy with these plants. These plants are so beautiful and perfect. I meander onto Locust Walk of Penn’s campus and my mind is flooded with memories as I walk. Like the time Alex and I went to see the author of Maus at Kelly Writer’s House but it was too crowded and we didn’t have a reservations or something? The time I was making out naked with my boyfriend Lincoln at Civic House, the student social justice center there, and we almost got caught.! (That was 10 years ago!) Memory after memory after memory. My music on my mp3 player also seem to dictate the pace and pattern of people walking. As I listen to “Fuck the Police”, people are afraid of my rebellious nature, and the crowd thins around me.

And then for some reason, my mind thinks I want to eat at Qdoba. I never want to eat at Q’doba. But I know there’s one nearby. And I can visualize myself sitting at the cushy booth. I keep walking, and straight up ahead, and there in the horizon is Q’doba. I didn’t know it would be directly in front of me. OK. It’s still kind of early. But I could go for some nachos? Hmmm….Doesn’t sound very healthy. I get to the door. It’s opening at 11am, in another 10 minutes. What can I do for 10 minutes? Window shop at the Natural Shoe Store? Eat something else at the Greek Lady or Fresh Grocer? Looks at books at Last Word? Nah, not in the mood to look at books. Nothing seems to be open anyway. I go back to Q’doba, turn around, and there’s the fruit stand I like. Maybe I was actually meant to get some fruit. Maybe I’ll get an apple. But I need something that doesn’t involve washing off the pesticides. Maybe I could peel and eat an orange.   I get to the stand. Oh blueberries. Yes, I had ran out of blueberries for myself as I had set them out at Andrew’s surprise party. You know what I really want. A banana. Yes that is exactly want I want. Ohmigod this is perfect. PERFECT. All I wanted was a banana. This is the best thing that could have happened to me. As I’m eating this perfect banana, sitting on the bench on Penn Campus, I sent out the text that said, “Following my intuition is magical” first to Will, then to Andrew, then to David (even though I had a little hesitation that I didn’t understand, sending it to David), three influential men in my life right now, my therapist, my boyfriend, and my mindfulness coach. I get up and start walking. Which way should I go. Follow your intuition. OK. And I’m walking. I’m walking to the beat of the music. I have so much energy. I want to run. Run with this energy. But I’d look silly running in this fancy coat. I want to dance. I switch the song to “Everybody Dance Now”. I walk faster and faster. You know what I’m going to walk to the Rotunda. I had e-mailed someone about ecstatic dance there after I saw a flyer. It wasn’t up and running then. But they had mentioned the late morning as a possibility. The more I walked toward the Rotunda the more determined I was to have it have ecstatic dance there. I bet it’ll be there. If not OK, but I bet it will be there. Everybody Dance Now! Then as I’m chasing after ecstatic dance, this guy runs into me, right before I reach the Rotunda: Remember me? I’m James. I used to work at Consumer Satisfaction Team and am a Peer Specialist. I remember you, you’re a trainer for the Peer Specialist Initiative. I’ve seen you around a bunch. We talk. He recently was released from the hospital. (How is that random Peer Specialists I don’t remember right away always end up in my altered states?). In December he had gotten out. I tell him I was recently released on February 17. He wonders if Consumer Satisfaction team keeps track of the number of people like us who are hospitalized. He asks me where I work now. The Department of Behavioral Health, I tell him. He now goes to Chestnut Place Clubhouse and receives housing and mental health services from the Consortium. Both places I’m familiar with because I work in the field. I walk with him to the post office and say goodbye.

On to the Rotunda!   Get there.- “The Rotunda is Closed”. Darn. Continue walking. I’ll find the next thing. Put on my headphones. Follow my intuition. David texts back. I can tell he’s worried. I’m worried too. I’ve been following my bliss a little too much. I’m worried now. I ground myself by clenching my fists and ripping my headphones off.   OK. Just walk and find something that will ground you. I’m tired all of the sudden. I enter into a café. Café Clave. I order a seltzer and a black bean and platano empanada. I flirt with the barista.   I scarf it down. I order a tamale. I scarf it down. I pretend to read the Tao of Psycholology: Synchronicity and the Self, but I don’t have the concentration. Will texts me back, “Yaayyyy!” We text back and forth. I tell him sometimes it’s better to wait then follow your intuition or your bliss or magic or God for that matter. I had been lala land. My feet had been flying. Who knows where I would end up in the magical state of oblivion. He texts back, “Ah yes –waiting is following too! Keeping feet on ground important for flying—” I can’t help but find this endearingly cute. It makes sense too.

Austin who I’ve been coordinating with to hang out today arrives at the cafe. It’s so good to see him. And once again, all is good now.

Talk at Northern California Mental Health and Spirituality Conference- intergenerational trauma

​Good afternoon everyone. I am so happy to be here with you and have the opportunity to share part of my story. I want to talk about how, what is labeled as psychosis, can include a communication or expression of trauma, including intergenerational trauma, as it is in my case. For me, being labeled with bipolar disorder, a mental disorder that is described in bullet points, including delusions, dismissed the communication of my family’s and my nation of heritage’s historical trauma.
​What is labeled as psychosis, externally may manifest as odd, bizarre and even dangerous. Internally, I have found, it can manifest in so many different forms, from pure fear and chaos and confusion to ecstatic joy and union with the divine. The main point I want to make about this label of psychosis is that the contents of these psychological states have meaning and are communicating something important. In the past I went to clinicians who were more medical model-oriented, and the content of my labeled psychosis was never explored. It was considered either an unimportant or taboo area. I am so grateful that I am more recently supported by clinicians who were and are curious about what is happening with me internally, during these states.
​I believe parts of what was labeled psychosis for me were communications of intergenerational trauma. Intergenerational trauma is trauma that is passed down from generation to generation. The researchers Davoine and Gaudillière, through their work at mental health facilities, have concluded that psychosis is a form of disassociated trauma, and that psychosis can be a means of bridging the past and the present- bringing in terror, through what appears to be incomprehensible talk and behavior, but actually is a metaphor for conveying ancestral trauma. Healing the trauma involves helping the person make his or her metaphorical communication clear. This rings true for me.
​I want to share a little background about my parents’ experience. My father and mother immigrated to the U.S. in the late 70s. My parents are both engineers living in suburbia. They have shared very little about the 1971 Bangladesh Independence War, in which they came of age. They came of age during a period of genocide. My father once mentioned his house was raided by the West Pakistani soldiers and that the family was lined up before a firing squad, but the army spared their lives. His family roamed homeless for a year. My mother’s grandfather, a well-loved doctor, was escorted by the army away from their home and shot and killed in the back.
​Now I want to share two experiences I had, that could have been labeled as delusional and part of my psychosis, had I not the support of open-minded, spiritually-inclined, and curious clinicians. During the experiences it was hard to clearly communicate what was happening, but with the help of these clinicians and my supporters, I am now able to articulate meaning, and tell the stories. One experience relates to my mother and the other to my father. Both are about unspoken pain.
​The experience related to my mother, happened more recently, early this year. I am sensitive to the energy of crystals or healing stones. A street vendor kindly gave me a small crystal as a gift, an orange tourmaline with my purchase. After this purchase my friend and I went and sat in a coffee shop, and I wanted to check out my new little orange tourmaline stone. For no reason that I could discern I had a strong inclination to want to take that tiny stone into both hands and break it apart. I started to do so, and then my body began shaking quite intensely. My friend encouraged me to stop this exploration since we were in a public space.
​Somatic therapist Peter Levine describes that deeply entrenched trauma can be healed by completing the incomplete response to the threat, and discharging the energy that was used for survival, like a deer shakes it off after it escapes a predator. A few days later, in my room, my curiosity about the orange tourmaline piqued and I grasped the tiny stone with both hands and tried to pull it apart. As I did so, my body shook and shook, and shook violently, until collapse. I had an emotional catharsis and a deep realization. Immediately I started making a picture collage on facebook dedicated to my mother, set to the music of “The Wind Beneath My Wings”. For me, trying to break that stone was a metaphor for the strife of civil war, for the Bangladesh War of Independence, and the shaking was the discharge of trauma my mother felt that had been passed down the generation to me. It made me feel very close to my mother, and so sad for the loss and terror she experienced, and I immediately wanted to acknowledge how important she is to me. I did so through the photo collage, which I made with tears streaming down my face. I have simplified this narrative, there are a lot more metaphors and associations involved, but this is the basic story. You can call it a delusion. Or you could also call it a deep, personal, spiritual experience.
​The second story centers around my father. It happened a few years ago in my bedroom. I was in what felt like a delirium, and I started having visions of my ancestors for centuries back, all in a snap second, and then fast-forward to my grandparents, and then a birds-eye view of my parents lying in my bed. My father whispered in my mother’s ear, “What will I do with the pain that happened in Bangladesh?” Then they were gone, and I had this strong knowing that when my father would come to my apartment, he was going to kill me. I felt that fear for the next few days. I was paralyzed with fear of murderous energy of my father for this time. This state eventually left me, and I was no longer afraid of my father. What I realized much later, though, that my father, for me,
was sharing, on a deeper connected level. He was deeply upset and angry about what happened with Bangladesh, not at me, and was sharing his unspoken and maybe unprocessed pain with me, in this altered state I was experiencing. Again, a lot of details of the story have been shed to make it easier to understand, but the point is that intergenerational trauma was being communicated. And again, the visions could be called psychosis, but for me they hold deep meaning.
​It has been very hard being labeled with bipolar disorder and not being allowed to express myself for close to 10 years because I had a diagnosis that consisted of bullet points, in which my own meaning-making was not important, but I am grateful that I am at a place where I have supporters, and where I can speak my voice. I have yet to tell my parents this story because it is hard to talk to them about it.
​To end this talk, I’d like to sing part of a Bangladeshi patriotic song, in Bangla, which was sung as an Independence song. I’ll give you the translation first:
They want to take away my language from me
They want to take away my language from me
Using every pretext they try to put shackles on my hands and feet
They want to take away my language from me

Ora Amar Mukher kothay kaita nite chai
Ora Amar Mukher kothay kaita nite chai
Ora kothay kothay Shikol poray Amar hate pay

Ora Amar Mukher kothay kaita nite chai