Yayoi Kusama and One in Hundred

My high school bestie, Suki, now a psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at a medical school, told me about the mystery of schizophrenia prevalence. In any society at any time, there are certain percentage of schizophrenic people. Since onset of schizophrenia is usually in early ages, the patients have less chance of making families and leaving offsprings. So if the cause is genetic, there must be less and less population with that particular genetic traits. However, there always are certain percentage of schizophrenic people. She wonders if there could be some evolutionary reasons, or some roles for schizophrenic people to play for human societies to survive.

Some says one in three hundred, others one in hundred.

I went to see Yayoi Kusama’s outdoor exhibition with my friend. Her works were pop and super fun with colorful polka dots. We were excited and having fun taking pictures of strangely out of place objects in the New York Botanical Garden’s serene setting.

There was a small indoor exhibition of her earlier work, including sketches and drawings of the “pumpkins.” My friend was reading the description and examining the drawings with keen interest. I started to “hear” things. I couldn’t tell what the voices were talking about. It was like multiple voices talking at the same time in multiple frequencies. It’s like listening to a radio with bad reception while you are driving in a mountainous area. You think you hear a word, then you hear just noise. The voices were trying to directly permeate my brain. “I can’t stay here. I’ll wait outside,” I said to my friend and left the room.

So this could be what they are hearing. Kusama’s drawings were transmitting codes. Only those who happens to have a matched receiving device with the correct frequency setting could hear the message. I couldn’t decipher her message of polka dots, but it was surely unpleasant. Polka dots morphed into eyes and they were watching me.

That was when I knew I could have been one in hundred. My brain could receive the codes.

My friend came out of the exhibition room. He was not affected at all and didn’t understand why I needed to leave the room. His brain doesn’t receive the codes…

Since there was a stigma attached to mental illness in my old country, I didn’t know until recently that two of my cousins were schizophrenic and had been hospitalized for life. They had been hidden from my family history. I also have a sister-in-law, who is schizophrenic. That’s too many in one generation. (None of us have children.)

I am glad that I could refuse to hear the transmission and leave the room. I think I dodged the bullet of one in hundred.

(By the way, my friend’s father was bipolar and he gets deeply affected by Van Gogh’s exhibition. I don’t. I guess he can read Van Gogh’s bipolar codes and I can’t. It’s interesting.)

Is it Illness or Who I am

My high school bestie, Suki, who is now a psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry, once told me about her young patient, who killed himself while she was away for a conference. She told me that he was doing much better in the last session. “It’s because he had already made up his mind,” I said. “He made peace. Once somebody made up his mind, nobody can stop it and I guess for that person the life was too painful and if so, I can’t find a way to tell the person to live.”

“But it’s his illness that made him kill himself,” Suki said. And I have been thinking about what she said for a long time. I am not suicidal per se, but have been thinking about killing myself since I was 8 years old. The thought has never left me. It’s just how I am. I have been on SSRI for almost 30 years on and off and after the last bout of major depression, I accepted that I needed to be on meds for life just to live normally.

I explained my friend that when I was in major depression, there were no line of demarcation between who I was and the illness, ie. depression. I am not in pain. I become pain. It’s not that I want to kill myself. I just want the pain disappear. I just want to have peace from who I am.

Fortunately, when I am in major depression, I can’t initiate any major action. I just passively exist with minimal action for survival. So I am not suicidal. I am now stable and am quite happy about my life. I can not be sure but It could get better as you age.

Then I got Meniere’s Disease. Meniere’s Disease is an illness. It is a condition I have. It is definitely not who I am. When I have an acute episode, I scream in my mind, “Kill me now!” I am in tremendous pain and suffering and I want to have it stopped. But I don’t wish to die because I know once I recover after 12 to 24 hrs, I will be my usual self.

On the other hand, I’m not sure if I could survive another bout of major depression. After being depressive for half a century, I sometimes feel tired. I wonder if the day would come when I feel too tired to keep on going. But it would not be because of Meniere’s disease. It would be because who I am.

To younger suffers of major depression, I want to tell you it could get better. I didn’t imagine I could have this peaceful life when I was younger and tormented. It could get better.

Hope could be Toxic

Hope is an imperative if you live in Ukraine now. Hope is an imperative for our democracy. Hope that it will get better is an imperative for that tormented kid in the school.

However, in some case hope could be toxic. Hope leads to expectations. Expectation could lead to disappointment and sense of loss, again and again. It is actually cruel to give somebody bedridden with ALS a hope to be able to walk again, at least at this point of time when no definitive cure is known.

My friend, Maria, had been losing her functionality every day. Every morning she woke up to find she couldn’t do what she had been able to do the day before. She knew she would not walk again, but sometimes she just desperately grasped a flicker of hope and dreamed that she could dance again. She wore her favorite pair of shoes when in a wheelchair for rare occasion to get outside for fresh air. I didn’t have any words to console her at that time. Any suggestions of hope that it would get better were cruel even when she felt a little better than the day before.

Then I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease. I’m grateful that it was not ALS, but Meniere’s is a bitch from hell. Because of sudden and unpredictable debilitating violent attacks, which render the afflicted totally incapacitated for hours sometimes days, Meniere’s suffers loose their functionality. Three years ago, I started have violent attacks. The life I expected to have was no more because I couldn’t do what I had been able to do. I sought for “cures” one after another. Every time I tried something, the violent attacks seemed to subside. And I had a hope. Then Boom. Another attack and I found myself lying on a bathroom floor violently vomiting. I had to cancel my plans and I was afraid to leave home. After a year of turmoil, I found a trigger, or so I thought, and I was in remission. I thought I was cured!

After two years, it came back. The moment it hit me, I knew I should change my mindset. No expectation, just live now. Regardless whatever happens tomorrow, I am living with this condition now and this is my state of being. It is the only reality. It doesn’t mean I don’t make any effort to control Meniere’s disease. I’ve been working much harder and am much more focused to change my life style which might have caused Meniere’s Disease. But I’m mindful not to expect anything. Expectation is about something in the future, which might or might not exist. I don’t want to be disappointed just because I lose what I might not have anyway.

I have been feeling much better this week with less frequent attacks and less severity, but I don’t expect I’ll be better tomorrow and will be able to travel in May. I don’t know how I will feel tomorrow. Yes, I am human and every morning upon waking up, I hope and hope my Meninere’s disease miraculously disappears. Then the tell-tale sign of tinnitus or vertigo comes back to tell me otherwise.

So don’t tell me it will get better. You don’t know and I don’t know. If you can’t tolerate witnessing my suffering, just hold your discomfort and say “I’m sorry. It must suck to have that condition.”

If I feel good, I enjoy the day. I live one day at a time. And basically it is how everyone should live. One day at a time.

Sudden Change of the State of Being

Our state of being changes every so often. Job loss, divorce, death of a loved one, etc. Most of the time, it involves one kind of loss or another. If you place a high value on your work, job loss is devastating. If you are used to certain kind of lifestyle, change in financial situation could hit you hard.

I lived long enough to experience many of losses, which brought me sudden change of the state of being. Every time, I fought against it trying to hang onto what I had. I lost my job of 20 years. I lost my marriage. And the hardest was losing everyday function due to incurable health issue.

Three years ago, I developed Meniere’s Disease, an incurable disabling condition. Though it is not life threatening, MD had totally changed my state of being. There were so many things I couldn’t do anymore. I fought against it and suffered, lamenting over the lost functionality.

Then somehow it magically disappeared after 1 year. For the next 2 years, I was as active and functional as I used to be. I had plans for my life, my new career, my new adventure…

Then it came back. I’m basically homebound and often bed ridden. This time, I don’t lament over the loss of my life I expected to have. At this moment, this is how I am. I just need to adjust my priority.

Acceptance of current state of being could relieve you from suffering over the loss.

It still sucks to have Meniere’s Disease, though.

A Memory of Kilim

I have this Kilim, supposedly an antique from Turkey, for about 20 years.  I bought it from a Turkish immigrant, say “Z,” who was my ex-husband’s BFF.  He was in Kilim import business and stuck with a bunch of Kilims with no cash to pay bills.  He had a wife, who was a fundamentalist vegetarian southern belle he had met in Georgia.  They had a little girl and a baby boy.  My ex visited him to find his BFF broke and asked me to give him some money in exchange for a rug he had brought back to the U.S. from wherever…   We were still legally married but my ex had left me for a younger woman and was living with her, unbeknown to me at that time.

When my ex and I were dating in Georgia, Z was always with my ex.  They were said to be soul twins.  They were inseparable: a crazy Turk and a crazy Japanese art students in Athens, Georgia.   Z had a girlfriend and my ex had had a series of girlfriends/fiancés, of which I was the latest.  

I was young and crazy, too.   We all drank crazy.  And I treated them as a package deal.  To my ex Z came first and I was the second.  

When we decided to get married after 3 months of dating, Z seemed to be having separation anxiety.  When we moved to NYC from Georgia, Z drove with us on a U-Haul truck.  Soon Z graduated from the University in Georgia and traveled back to Turkey, then came back to NYC with no place to live, no prospect of job.  

We were not in early 20s.  All of us are around 30.  My ex had a beginning position with minimal pay in a design house.  I didn’t have a working permit.  Z moved in with us in our one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn and stayed about 3 months, during which time they were always together.  

Eventually Z got a job in Georgia and moved out.  When he visited us in NYC next year, he was with his new Christian fundamentalist fiancé.  Did I tell you that Z was a Muslim? 

When they left, my ex had a breakdown.  I guess he couldn’t tolerate the idea that Z didn’t belong to him anymore.  

Many things happened after.  Z had a baby, and then Z went to somewhere in Middle East to find some business opportunity leaving his pregnant wife behind.  His wife took care of the kilim business and had a baby boy by herself.  Then Z came back without money.  Their kilim import business was not making money.  When I and my ex stopped by to see them, their gas was stopped.  

They looked happy though.  We had a nice time.  Soon after, they broke up.  The wife found Z was cheating while he was in the Middle East.

And we broke up.  And I bought a kilim.

It was more than 20 years ago.

Recently I got an email from my ex.  He learned that Z had died about 15 years ago from massive heart attack at age 50.  He said he had talked to him over the phone a couple years before that, and then Z disappeared.  Z’s ex-wife found my ex on Facebook and reached out.

I remembered about Z occasionally, but he didn’t affect my life.  I have nothing unsaid to Z.  I wonder when people die to us.  Did Z die to me when his existence stopped affecting me or when he had a massive heart attack, or when I learned he was dead?  Then, when did Z die to my ex?  I don’t know. 

I still have this kilim.  And I remembered once I took a crazy part of a crazy drama.  Everybody is gone now from my life dead or alive.  This is how getting old feels like today.   

The photo is a Shibori Tie Dye scarf Z made more than 30 years ago, which I recently sent to my ex. I don’t need it.

Throat Chakra Story: Voice

Voice

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

When the little voice learned that nobody would come running to give her hands when she fell, she stopped asking help. She stopped even crying. When she cried, they came running not to help. So she locked herself in a dark small cave and waited silently until they forgot about the little voice and left. In the cave her hurt turned into anger and the anger pulsed and grew into fury. The angry voice was big and strong. The little voice couldn’t speak up for herself, but the angry voice could scream and yell to protect others. When the angry voice spit a fire, it was always for the little voice in other unheard people.

In my original family I had never learned to make a conversation because nobody heard anybody and they just talked at each other. “Conversation” was like throwing rocks at each other. Uttering one word could start a full-blown war. I’ve learned to make a Molotov cocktail. The louder and the more violent your voice are, better chance of survival.

My brother took up a different strategy, learning from how I fought. He was a talkative child, but he stopped talking to his parents at all. When I was in 30s I confronted my father and told him what he did and what he said damaged me. It was not a conversation. I threw one Molotov cocktail after another at him. The next day, he didn’t come out of bed. My mom forced me to apologize for yelling at him.

“Did I say those things to her?” My mother said to me that he asked her. He didn’t remember. He didn’t remember his words, which denied me of having a normal teenage girl’s life. In his mind, he was a loving father. I learned unless I engaged the person in a conversation, throwing a Molotov cocktail at them wouldn’t work.

About 15 years ago I was on a subway train at night. A young black guy came into the car with a cart-full of stuff. A burly white guy started to harass him, calling him welfare thief and such. The young guy remained quiet and sat still. The white guy kept on harassing him. I felt a red hot anger bubbling up inside of me and burning my throat. I knew yelling at the burly guy would not help the situation. I could feel the young guys anger in my guts. I thought of standing up and sitting between them, but if I provoked the burly guy, it could have the young guy involved. That was not good. My station was coming next. I stood up and walked to the young guy and stood in front of him. “Sir, may I shake your hand?’ I said to him. He looked up at me with a puzzled expression and then he extended his hand. I shook his hand and he smiled. My station came and I got off. That was the most powerful voice I ever have had.

Heart Chakra Story

What does love mean?  What does love feel like?

When I was a little girl, I loved my aunt, who was the only source of goodies in my life.  She took me out for shopping and bought me cute outfits. She took me everywhere to show off her adorable little princess and told everybody how cute I was.  I loved when she took me to a milk bar on weekends and we had pancakes and milkshakes like a mother and a daughter.  They were fluffy and sweet with syrup. 

I followed her everywhere like a duckling.  I waited for her to come home and cried for her when she was late.  When I ran to hug her, I smelled alcohol in her breath.  She showered me with beautiful things.  She gave me money to buy beautiful things.  She even wanted to adopt me one time even though my parents had no reason to give me up.

She spoon-fed me sweets and snacks, regardless I wanted or not.  She dangled pieces of snacks in front of my face.  I automatically opened my mouth and ate whatever she fed me like a baby bird.  She was amused and she still tells me how cute I was.  She still tries to spoon-feed me.  She is 94 and I am 60.

She licked my face because she loved me so much.  It was yucky and I didn’t like it.  When I said no, she proposed to trade licking with goodie.  If I let her lick my face, she would give me a candy. 

Quid pro quo.

That was love I knew.  Love meant stomaching boundary violation from people who gave me something because they “loved” me.  And I had to accept it regardless I want or not because if I didn’t I could lose love.

As you might guess, I had eating problems.  When I felt unlovable, I filled the empty “stomach” with food, binge eating junks.  I always felt an insatiable hunger no food could fill and once physical stomach was full, I felt more unlovable and nauseous, and I forced my self to throw up.  (She could have fed me veges at least.  I wonder why nobody binges on veges…)  I still have difficulty to tell if I’m hungry physically or emotionally and feel anxious on the perceived prospect of going hungry.  The Covid-19 grocery situation was nerve wrecking. 

I always loved plants.  I asked my aunt to buy me a rose bush.  It was a red rose.  I loved her (the rose).  I was a disturbed and rebellious teenager and didn’t talk to my parents, but I went to talk to her every morning.  She was the only one who heard me.   My aunt was building her house in the property next to our house and one morning I found my rose plant was crashed under construction materials.  I hated her for that and cried and screamed that I would burn her house down.  It was the moment I learned that what I loved and cared for could be destroyed or taken away at a whim.  I learned that nobody cared how I felt.  Witnessing me in a murderous rage, my aunt replanted the rose bush somewhere safer.  I didn’t care about the rose after that.  My heart was crashed.  My heart stopped talking to the rose.  The rose bush was me.

My aunt sill “loves” me in her way.  She doesn’t see me or hear me.  She still sees a little princess.  Every time I visit Japan I spend some time with her as a physical form on which she could project her little girl.  It has been my role and I still play it because she is 94 and it is just several days a year.

After my father passed, I’ve learned that my aunt had an affair with a married man (in 1950s in Japan!) and had a daughter, and that the man and his infertile wife adopted the baby girl.  I realized that I had been a stand-in for her daughter.  Entire town knew about the scandal and still she showed me around as if I were her own daughter, in a matching outfit with her.  I remember people asked her if I was her daughter.  I am sure they knew I was not and still they asked, alluding to her illegitimate daughter.

I don’t feel love toward her.  I feel I owe her quasi-daughterly care.  Nobody loves her.  She is highly narcissistic and very caustic woman and I am the only one she “loves.”

BTW I just noticed I still react the same way when I am threatened to lose something I love.  I have this urge to destroy or walk away from the very thing I cared about so much, shutting down.  I don’t do that anymore, but I am aware that it’s still in me.

Yesterday I found somebody cut and stole a sunflower from the park garden I took care of.  It happens often.  Some people are assholes.  I felt the old rage bubbling up from my stomach and wanted to pull all the sunflowers from the garden, so that nobody would take my love away from me. 

Writing Your Own Birth Story

Most of us do not have much memory of the first several years of our life. What I remember is the stories my parents, my aunt, and my grandmother told me. It is not my memory. I doesn’t make sense that I have kept somebody else’s story as mine for my entire life. The story of my first years set a narrative of my life and colored every story I told myself.

“You were a scrawny little baby. You looked like a little monkey. You didn’t want to suck formula from the bottle. We had to squeeze formula into your mouth and when it was full you were forced to swallow. Your grandmother thought you wouldn’t survive.” It was the story I was told again and again by my aunt.

In that narrative I was a runt, who didn’t have a strong will to live and the story of my life was colored by it. I didn’t have strong attachment to life, or so I thought.

And it was not my story.

I took a workshop, “Write Your Way to Deeper Consciousness: A Guided Journey Through the Chakra” by my dear friend, Rev. Freddie Kluth. In the First Chakra class, I was told to write my birth story. So I called my mum. This is her story of my birth.

According to my mother, I was born around 10:00 ~11:00 pm on the day before the winter solstice. She started getting mild contractions. She left home to go to the dormitory for nurses by herself. The dormitory was close to the hospital she worked, and I guess she lived there before she married. She arrived there around 6:00 pm and rested in the dormitory until she was in labor. Nobody from the family was there. Only the matron of the dormitory accompanied her and stayed with her during the labor. It was a normal, rather easy birth, almost on the due date.

“Was there anything unordinary?” I asked. “No. You were normal. Your brother was small,” she said.

That’s all. Do you think it’s normal? I was the first baby she and her husband had. And there were two other women in the family with childbirth experiences. Why did she go to the hospital by herself? I understand that the hospital was like home for her. She spent most of her life working there. All the friends she has worked there as nurses. And it was in 1950s. We were poor and they didn’t have a telephone. There was no way to call a taxi. But my father had a bicycle. He could have biked.

My family is weird…

Freddie asked me to re-write the story to celebrate the birth of myself. This is my birth story I rewrote:

A young woman walked toward the woods. When the day started to wane, she heard the call of woods in her belly. In a hut she shared with a man and his kin, she dropped a bamboo sieve she was using to sort beans from husks. Some beans were spilt on the dirt floor, whispering cold dry words of …shame…shame… W omen folks working in silence looked up and gave a wry face. The fireplace held no fire to save firewood.

“I gotta go,” the woman said to herself and she rooted herself up from the silent cold hearth. The women folks went back to their chore. The woman put her straw boots on and picked up her straw coat.

The day was waning. “I gotta go,” she said and walked out of the hut her man’s kin lived. The night was reaching out for her. There was no daylight left to cast a shadow. The woman walked slowly but steadily toward the woods. “I know where to go,” the woman thought. The woods in her belly were calling.

When she saw a light in the woods, it was already dark. She knew who lived there and knocked at the door. An older woman greeted her. Warm air embraced her. The young woman rooted herself down and rested on a cot by the warmth of fire. The moon slid across the winter sky. It was the longest night of the year, when all the night’s spirits would come out and celebrate. Dead leaves danced with the wind, following the steps of the night spirits, whispering…she is coming, she is coming.

In the cabin on the cot by the hearth the woman moved. The call of woods were getting louder and stronger. The older woman came to her and said, “It’s time to go into the woods.” The young woman rooted herself deeper into the earth under the cot. Her roots ran beyond the boundary of the cabin and spread deeper and wider into the wood. Underground mycelium started to send signals all over the woods, to every tree, to every creature, and to every night spirits. The longest night was alive with full of spirits cerebrating the awakening. Before the midnight, the night spirits heard a baby cry. “I am … I am… I am…”

The next morning, a man came to the medicine woman’s cabin looking for his woman. There was no sign of the young woman. Instead he found a tree where the cabin used to stand. At the foot of the tree, a baby girl was sleeping wrapped in a straw coat. After the longest night of the year, the sun shined on the ground white with frost, warming everything it touched. He picked the baby up and walked out of the woods. The spirits of the woods whispered, “she’s ours… she’s ours… she’s ours.”

The man didn’t know the baby was marked by the spirits of the night woods. The baby is connected with the woods through luminous mycelium. She will be able to hear stories untold and to see spirits unseen. She will carry the luminous mycelium far away, spreading the whisper of the woods, spreading the life of the night sprits on everything she will touch.

She will be back.

We don’t have to accept the story we were told. We can rewrite and change the narrative. After all it’s your story. Not theirs.

Baby Talk

I don’t baby talk to my dog. All my friends do. When they see my dog, their demeanor and tone of voice change. I look at them as if I didn’t know them. I love my dogs and I take great care of them. I just don’t talk to them.

I don’t remember anybody baby talked me when I was a baby.

I’m not motherless. I grew up with three mothers. All of my mothers lived under the same roof. My mother and my father’s bedroom was upstairs. My spinster aunt and my grandmother share a bedroom on the ground floor. And I don’t remember sleeping upstairs with my parents. I slept downstairs with my aunt, my father’s older sister. Since my mother worked as a nurse, she was not home during the day. She also had night shifts.

During the day my grandmother took care of me. She was not a talker. As a widow, who brought up her four kids mostly by herself, tending the family paddle field, growing rice, she was a hard working superstitious matriarch. I remember her always working, silently. Most of food we had was what she grew. She made everything from scratch. I spent most of the day with her. She might have talked to herself, but I don’t remember we ever talked.

I spent the night and weekend with my aunt, when she was home. She sometime came home late drunk. She took me into her bed and cuddled me till I fell asleep. I loved being with her. I was a little princess to her. (I still is a little princess to her. She is 96.) But she didn’t baby talk to me.

I don’t remember my mother’s touch. I don’t even remember her presence even though she was never absent. To me she was a nurse, who took care of me when I was sick. And I got sick often. She didn’t baby talk to me.

I think I didn’t learn to speak “parentese”. And I think none of my three mothers knew how to speak baby talk. It doesn’t come naturally to none of us.

Love is like baby talk. If you didn’t learn how to express love from your original family, it won’t come naturally. You have to learn how to express love.

I think each of my three mothers loved me in her own way. They had their own limitation. I shouldn’t judge their capacity for love. I have to accept that was their maximum capacity for love.

Sometime I feel like the Terminator/machine in T2, who had to learn to be human taking, baby steps.

Just a Thought about BLM

When I was married, my then-husband used to say, “Why didn’t you tell me if you wanted something.” I did. I told him what I wanted. He didn’t hear it.

“I didn’t hear you. You should have said more clearly,” he said. I said again and again. He didn’t hear me. Eventually I screamed and yelled.

“Why do you have to scream at me? You crazy woman!” he said. “What do you want to me to do? “ he said. I told him to help me to do something. He said, “I don’t want to do that.”

And I was the short tempered always angry bitch. If you are not heard, again and again and again, even a mostly peaceful auntie like me could be violently angry.