What makes the bus go? asked the man I’d been talking to, as he prepared but slowly to get off the bus. What makes the bus go? to mostly bored faces. Electricity, says one guy. No! Does anyone know? We rolled to a stop. The wires, said someone else. No! I’ll tell you. Art makes the bus go. Later, after cornering, the silent man with the coat made of stuffed animals smiles. Others mutter, Crazy. The city rattles by all these facades where lives might be, another man suddenly screams It’s my stop! And we do on a route visible only to him, lost in a daydream and caught unawares that the bus would soon pass into dangerous territory. You’ve got to pay attention: Keep Hands Clear: The city is indifferent – these are bus lines not leylines, traplines, songlines – don’t be so heretical, these don’t mean. For your safety, Please hold on.
apparently this was published in 2011 in The Network, the newsletter of the West Coast Mental Health Network. who knew.
After the dust clears from your first encounter with the apparatus of psychiatry, you’re diagnosed. “Dia” as in (“diameter” or “dialogue”) means “across.” “Gnosis” means “knowledge”. So the psychiatrist is naming you according to his knowledge of you, acquired during a meeting of perhaps five minutes, which likely occurred while you were in a bad way and completely unable to resist such naming.
The big book containing all the names is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), and has been through four editions so far. New, exciting names are expected in the upcoming version. And, by the by, once you are named, it sticks. You’re “bipolar” or “schizophrenic” – and keep in mind that you may get the wrong name; misdiagnosis is common.
When you’re loaded up with psychoactive pills that knock the energy right out of you, you have lots of time to think. “Treatment” mainly means pills and visits (assuming you’re lucky enough not to be subjected to electroshock). In many ways, both constitute an invasion of the privacy of your own mind. You end up in a struggle for self-preservation, resisting the silence that pervades the world of mental illness, still stigmatized and relegated to the margins.
Then too, psychiatric treatment is generally uniform, taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Regardless of your uniqueness – your glorious difference – you’re reduced to a peg hammered into some pill-shaped hole; which of course does not leave you whole. The integrity and complexity of your personhood – the most important aspects of what makes you, you – is part of what ends up being subsumed under the label of “illness.” But illness/ disorder doesn’t define who you are, and no pill can do that either.
Resistance is Useful
I’m not suggesting that pills are all bad: I take mine, and they help alleviate the debilitating symptoms of serious mental illness. But we must always be careful – they are overprescribed, and their long-term effects (despite the claims of safety and efficiency promulgated by the pharmaceutical industry) are unknown. All of us who receive psychiatric treatment are experimental subjects – or rather, objects. And part of our struggle is to become subjective persons again. There are many ways in which this can be accomplished, including joining with others who have had similar experiences to share knowledge and ideas, and initiate action.
An army of lovers cannot fail, and treatment can be redefined as the way in which we work with each other.
i was taking my meds at the time, apparently. this was also a time of very disordered and chaotic illicit drug use for me. everything exploded, soon enough, and i wound up in the hospital, “on leave” from gachet, and because drugs, respectable types in the art/mental illness space deleted me from relevant existence. i tried to fight my way back…
i don’t like that last sentence.
An army of lovers cannot fail, it’s said. But this war makes everything a battle. The treatment we get every day can really only be changed by the ways in which we choose to treat each other.
this short, strange essay is part of a collection published to accompany Nothing About Us Without Us at Gachet in December 2013.
In baseball, when a player achieves something that needs qualification, the traditional way is by using an asterisk. This was the case in 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, beating the big-time icon, the baseball hero Babe Ruth and his long-standing record of 60. The baseball powers-that-be asterisked Maris’ record, as he hit 61* homers in a 162-game season, whereas Ruth hit sixty in 154 games.
That said, the validity of records in this field is relative at best.
Prior to 1947, baseball was segregated. What about the fact that Ruth only faced white players?
Hank Aaron, an African-American man, set a new career home run record in 1974, passing Ruth’s total of 714, and he had to play more games per year, thus more chances for injury, punishing travel schedules, and night games. And death threats.
The pitching mound was higher before 1970. There were no ‘closers’, power pitchers specializing only in finishing the game when it’s close. Fearless, ice in their veins at 98 mph plus from sixty feet, six inches away. Such a one could pitch one inning only.
Maris’ and Aaron’s home run records were broken in the nineties.
Players young and fast suddenly became rolls of upper-body muscle, neckless torsos either pounding a pitch four hundred feet into the stands or breaking their bat. It was obvious to all, but was never said aloud (until, um, conveniently later) that huge amounts of steroids and other performance enhancing substances were being used. Records were broken and broken-hearted fans held up homemade signs: “*”
The size of ballparks, climates that are dry which allows for longer hang times and distance. Long fences, short walls and artificial grass.
& drugs. performance-enhancing drugs. so they hate him and say he’s cheating but can’t take
their eyes off him
Domes. There are so many variables. Players from outside the big US Nation! Do their home runs even count the same? What about when a woman walks on the field? There is no imaginary baseline where all things are equal.
So maybe * is a shorthand for marking this. To acknowledge that each thing done, made, thought, said is situated in a specific time and place, historical and overarchingly, immersively, political. The asterisk stretches its limbs in all directions. And the asterisk itself indicates relative privilege and the number of strikes against you before you begin to even pick up that bat. Some have two strikes against us before we step up to the plate, and must endlessly fight the past.
Baseball is one of the poetic structures that help me organize the immensity of my perception of the world and the *asterisk*. Metaphors inform us all – it’s just that a few of mine are very consistent and clear. This is how a bit of my brain works. i’m always swinging though. Batter up!