Artist, Interrupted

Artist Interrupted
Before my stay in a psychiatric ward, I was making new work in my studio.

Writing out what’s happening to me and what I’m thinking about—as I struggle with mental illness—has been helping me through, also everyone’s support.

Additionally, I’ve received a lot of response, from those, for whom, what I’ve been sharing has been helpful, helpful with times they’ve been through, as well as things they’re going through now. 

I’ll be writing about this, for a while, for all of us.

Two Tuesdays ago, “the imposter”—what I’ve been calling the part of my brain obsessed with ending my life, and a more recent nickphrase “my new-but-temporary roommate”—peaked again, above the “I don’t feel safe” line. 

Like last time (before I stayed in a psychiatric ward), I was “fine” in the morning. Then by midday, I wasn’t. 

My new-but-tempory “fine” is this: the imposter, and the saboteur—the me in my mind doing anything I can to keep the imposter from ending my life—are keeping busy, keeping my new-but-temporary roommate distracted (writing, talking, dog- and cat-petting, housework, yard work, cribbage, puzzles…). 

And, when I’m “fine,” the imposter’s only thinking about dying and how to die, not trying to make me die.

Artist Interrupted
Bill and I play cribbage every night.

But, in my new-but-temporary “not-fine” state which started again midday, two Tuesdays ago (although not as intense as last time), the imposter moved into “acting toward” the how-to, not just thinking about it. 

The imposter pulled me toward my computer, placed each digit-end on my keys, and began researching online the life-ending options she’d had in mind since before I stayed in the psychiatric ward. 

She researched about 20 minutes, then deleted this research from my browser’s history.

She learned that overdosing on insulin, in fact (or I should say, “according to the Web”) is not an effective way to end my life; 

that this “Plan A” tactic—what the imposter had felt all along would be the easiest solution (loading up syringes with all our cat’s insulin and injecting all at the same time)—isn’t a “sure-thing” at all;

something like 96% of those who try to take their life via insulin overdose, end up in a coma, then recover; 2% suffer brain damage; 2% are successful (they die);

then, the imposter tried to learn the difference, if there is a difference, between hanging and something called “self-inflicted, ligature strangulation”;

she was trying to determine which might be less-painful, quicker, but still a “sure-thing” way to end my life;

lastly, she confirmed the location and how-tos of up to 6 deep cuts she would make which would cause her to bleed out in moments. 

After this 20 minutes, the saboteur pulled me toward my husband, opened my mouth, and spoke: 

“We need to hide all the sharp knives in our house.” 

And, I immediately told both Bill and my psychotherapist (by phone) about the research the imposter had done, including her findings.

Artist Interrupted
Bill and I do 2-to-4 puzzles every week.

When I went outside, I was aware of the space the imposter and I took up in the air hovering over our crack-tarred driveway. I wondered if the imposter could feel the breeze on its own skin, if it had skin, if it could feel.

I could hear Bill open the utensil drawer in our kitchen. So, the saboteur turned me and the imposter around, made us walk back into the house, opened our mouths, and spoke:

“I’m walking further up our driveway, so I can’t hear where you hide the knives.” 

On the porch, or by our car, I’d hear the squeak of our basement door gate or the just-as-familiar sound of Bill’s footfalls up our stairs, each clue narrowing the places to search to one third.

Artist Interrupted

I had an appointment scheduled in 6 days with the local psychiatrist who’d be joining “the team” to manage my antipsychotic drugs should I need them again. 

And, now I knew, I needed them again. Now.

Six days was too long. 

So, I called the psychiatric ward to see if they could prescribe the second antipsychotic we had waiting “just in case.” And, I was relieved when the ward called in a short-term prescription to get me through Monday.

I told my team, if things got worse (if the imposter reached the point where It wanted to act on “Plan B,” or “C”; “Plan A—using insulin—was no longer an option), Bill and I would call the crisis line again to see where to be admitted.

In the psychiatric ward, while on the previous “new-for-me” antipsychotic drug (Risperidone), my imposter was sealed behind a floor-to-ceiling brick wall in my mind.

The imposter remained in my brain, but I didn’t receive any of its thoughts or plans or impulses toward ending my life. 

As soon as the Risperidone cleared my system the suicidal thoughts returned (I was taken off almost as quickly as I was put on this drug because of its unmanageable side-effects).

With Olanzapine, my second, new-for-me antipsychotic drug, the imposter is back behind the wall.

But, there are single bricks missing from random spots in its mortared surface, brick-shaped voids you can peer inside to see the imposter within.

So, for me, this particular, new-for-me drug acts like a porous gate, only holding the imposter back. 

I have suicidal thoughts all the time (unless distracted; my imposter’s obsession), but the thoughts are once again below the line above which I don’t feel safe, and, well-below the line above which I might act.

Artist Interrupted

So far, the side effects from this second antipsychotic drug are tolerable:

Sometimes, I have trouble talking, a disconnect between my brain and my mouth, difficulty setting words free;

sometimes, I have trouble getting my hands to do what I ask them to do (I’ll go to pick up a small object on the counter in front of me, and my arm nor hand will reach for it);

sometimes, I wake in the middle of the night freezing, shivering and soaking wet through my clothes;

and sometimes, I have involuntary herky-jerky movement in my legs, especially when I try to walk (a so-far, minimal version of the movement disorder I had with the first new-for-me antipsychotic drug);

even-less-troubling side effects: sluggishness, sleepiness, weight-gain, occasional dizziness, a constant high-frequency hum inside and out, like my body’s the fine engine of a sports car;

and a wonderful side-effect: I can sleep through the night, -ish. I wake up. I fall back asleep. I’m also taking naps in the afternoon. I’m sleeping a lot. And, as someone with PTSD and insomnia most of my life, I’m “going with it” right now, as I’m sure I can use this rest.

After meeting this past Monday with the local psychiatrist, I’m grateful to have yet another professional someone who listens to what “I think…” should happen next, while having an alternative plan in place should my plan not go as planned.

I suggested we keep the antipsychotic drug dose the same regardless of the brick-sized voids (my dose is currently at a low 2.5mg). 

I feel like I did when I was discharged from the psychiatric ward, like I can “co-exist” with the imposter as we determine the “whys” of what’s happening to me. 

Given my sensitivity, my thinking is that if I take a higher dose—the bricks filling the holes—I won’t know what my imposter’s up to behind that brick wall in my mind.

I won’t know if processing the “whys” is working.

I won’t know if the imposter’s gone, or not. 

This said, if the imposter becomes difficult to live with again, starts actions toward plans again, makes me feel unsafe again, I’ll contact my team and we’ll increase the dosage to 5mg.

Artist Interrupted
In the psychiatric ward, I managed to sketch a few concepts I hadn’t yet noted in my studio.

Before I was admitted into a psychiatric ward, my plan was to have no plan.

My 18-year project complete, I wasn’t making a new, long-term plan. I was working toward different things, moving my work forward, wherever it would go.

A psychosis certainly wasn’t part of my plan, especially a psychosis obsessed with planning.

And, as much as I’m trying to take a day, hour, or minute at a time, I’m trying not to let this interruption of my art-making get me down. It’s important to simplify, to concentrate right now on getting well. 

All this said, any amount of time—an hour here, an hour there—I’ve been able to move these interrupted projects along, even a little bit, no matter how hard it is, in its own way has been helping me through, just knowing these ideas are still here, just knowing I’m still here, just knowing

I’m still an artist.

Thank you again for all your words and support. If you have interest in making a donation: https://www.gofundme.com/living-and-medical-expenses-for-amy (there are also several drawings available as well as new “Perpetual Yard Sale” items).

Artist Interrupted
As I was installing MEMORY, my 9th and final solo biennial, a Lewiston artist and art teacher (who volunteered many, many hours), made and gave me this bracelet. It spells “I am an ahtist” in binary code (yes, “ah-tist,” like we say in Maine). While in a psychiatric ward, this object kept me in my studio even as I was far from it, always reminding me who I am, what I’ve accomplished so far, and what I will make in the future.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24-hour): 1-800-273-8255

5 Comments

  1. Your work, to me, has always been about uniquely connecting to us, your audience, friend, fellow artists, sharing an intimate exercise thru which to “see”, “be”, perceive. Your writing of this journey deepens this for me, Amy. Thank you for courageously being here. For staying here. Know we are here with you.
    Much love to you and Bill.

  2. This touches me deeply as I have been in your shoes. It’s interesting that you refer to the suicidal part of you as the imposter…like a separate being. Mental illness, depression, anxiety attacks are frightening and surreal phenomenons that are hard to explain to others who have never experienced them but you do it so articulately..it is right on. It is like being followed, shadowed by some dark creature that wants to hurt you. Your art hasn’t fallen by the wayside because of it…you are writing and that is part of your artistic self…being a writer and a good one at that.

  3. Amy, thank you for sharing in such an articulate and courageous way, your experience dealing with your imposter. We love you and are with you as always.

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