BLOG: In Lynne's Language
By Lynne Stewart, October 12, 2021
Besides life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, man must add the golden rule: “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself…”
How the Medical Model Fails Humanity: Focusing on biology and using the framework of disease to connect with people who are mad limits access to the fullness of their humanity. This process of attributing human exceptionality to disease, when no biological disease is present, often permanently damages the body and psyche. The introduction of body- and mind-altering drugs not only influences behavior, it often permanently alters the biological make-up of a person.
Many biological cures for psychological turmoil cause bodily illnesses that permanently alter or kill people who are mad. These people have lifespans twenty-five years shorter than non-psychologically diagnosed.
In the 1980s, I was given lithium as treatment for being labeled bipolar, type II. It did not relieve my suffering. Even my prescriber was dissatisfied with the long-term results. Even though I was withdrawn from the lithium after two years, for the past 40 years I have needed to supplement my thyroid hormone because of lithium-acquired deficiency. This is an example of the harm that current biological “treatments” can impose on a person who is mad, including causing permanent damage to a gland.
As a part of the mental patients' liberation movement for over 50 years, I know firsthand of serious and fatal consequences which have happened to colleagues, peers, friends, and relatives, such as tardive dyskinesia, epilepsy, and heart, liver, kidney, and brain damage, which have all led to early death. The drugs have even been known to cause suicide and murder.
In desperation, others and I take risks. We have been inundated with, and influenced by, seductive multimedia advertising, as well as medical psychiatry’s reliance on drugs for behavioral relief of suffering.
Another area in which the mad are required to take risks and make sacrifices is the realm of the psyche: soul, mind, heart, and spirit. The education and training psychiatrists receive in medical schools to become medical doctors who believe they treat the brains of people who are mad is irrelevant to connecting with their psyche.
Medical practitioners are trained to maintain professional distance, the clinical gaze, immodesty over their unique learning, and intentional mystification. Constructive psychological intimacy through empathic, active listening is not sought. The core needs of people who are mad are ignored, allowed to wither and withdraw further from life.
Psychological contact with a person who is suffering is vital nourishment. It takes time and dedication to develop close, mindful trust between people seeking relationship. But psychiatrists are not taught to create in this way. Instead, they are taught to label and sort people’s behavior into categories of illness and dysfunction. Then they proceed to deliver drugs to their patients. Exploring a person’s psyche is not on the agenda for most medical professionals.
And in turn, patients learn to maintain that distance too. Patients never learn the skills to build a relationship or how to connect to their inner selves. They learn to fear another rejection and reprisal for revealing their existential selves.
We hide from each other. We lie to each other. We develop elaborate, confining ways to avoid truly being with another. And what is it we fear? We fear rejection, humiliation, and annihilation, not realizing our psyche is already living the pain of that self-fulfilling prophecy.
I did this for years. The traumas of my earliest years taught me to do this. As a baby and child I learned that I was not safe. The uproar, the confinement, the isolation, the lack of physical tenderness, the abundance of physical and psychological pain, all served to facilitate a kind of soul death. I did this to myself in an effort to survive, contradictory as that seems. Disconnecting and withdrawing to a place of mute immobility was my effort to endure.
Because the medical model is historically the origin of psychiatry, the flaws, transgressions, and mistakes of that model are magnified when applied to the soul, mind, or spirit. The biological method confounds, confuses, and obfuscates the psyche. To apply mind-altering medicine, cliches, proverbs, parables, and behavioral rigors to a person who is searching for truth, meaning, and to be valued as a contributing member of society, exacerbates confusion.
It seems to me that the psyche (that is, the soul, mind, heart, and spirit) must be examined, understood, and comforted in a way that is unique to its metaphysical and psychological roots. Biology-based psychiatry is not only inadequate but it is irrelevant when seeking the causes of psychological suffering and addressing the needs of people who are mad.
Biological, medical treatment never cured me of the twelve or more severe chronic mental illnesses I was labeled with over my 76-year quest. I attribute a mere 10 or 15 percent of my joy and wisdom today to medical-model treatment.
The harm that doctors and other medical-model practitioners inflicted on me had to be managed and overcome. This delayed my progress, depressed my energy and caused me to seek death out of feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
I know that my original abuse, programming, and trauma occurred when I was a baby and in my childhood. In my journey for psychological help through the medical model-based mental health system, I endured (and eventually overcame) the harm from its inappropriate treatments. The delays I had to accept in order to lessen my confusion from the system’s treatments, and the expenditure of time and energy that had to be used to keep focus and survive, put off my progress resolving my original childhood traumas.
Although I see and experience life more clearly and more fully, now, it is almost over. I think the one overriding help I received was acquiring the skill of achieving deep psychological intimacy with another person. Eighty-five to 90 percent of my ability to simply feel good is from the contact I have had and continue to have with others.
It took almost half my life to achieve that first relationship. The pills, the shock treatments, the hospitalizations, the varieties of behavior modification, the brush with psychosurgery, my re-traumatizing childhood talk therapy, none of it had as much life-giving effect on me as rekindling my mind, heart, and soul through the acquisition of connection and relationship with another.
That is why seeking help for the alleviation of psychic suffering caused by painful isolation, disconnection and other trauma must be done in relationship with another. That is why the medical model techniques are failing humanity and causing harm, not only to individuals, but also to society.
Condoning soul death by ignoring its existence is not only potentially lethal to individuals who are mad, but it is counterproductive to the development of a functional society.
Who Are the Mad?: People like me who are angry for being treated shabbily and cruelly for having unique ways of surviving within the confines of our human condition. People like me who, when we were in the middle of our suffering within the walls of an inner tomb which we created to survive, felt hopeless and helpless. People like me who relegated themselves to the authority of theories based on fuzzy, subjective, inaccurate, careless thinking by men of the elite class of their time. People like me who survived the lethal false hope of achieving psychic health through medically based psychiatry. People like me who survived to live outside the prison of the mental health system. People like me who found the opportunity to learn the skills of human connection and relationship. People like me who are grateful for a life in which they now thrive. People like me who live in a frenetic, chaotic society, yet, one that is built on flawed, but evolving humanitarian principles under G-d. People like me.
A New Kind of Liberation: Since the 1960s, the Mental Patient’s Liberation Movement has maintained a motto of “Nothing about us without us.” I suggest a deeper, more encompassing image of change is due.
The history of “Nothing about us, without us” derives from the psychiatric belief that the mad have no capacity to control ourselves or our lives. The belief that we need the constant overriding authority of medical psychiatry to make all decisions on our behalf.
The Movement conceived this as a galvanizing statement to bring together people who are mad in order to support, organize, educate, and advocate for ourselves. The statement is a denial of the validity of medical and forensic control, along with an adamant demand for the right to control ourselves and our lives. This concept was useful politically for gaining access to mental health administration, committees, boards, and other policy making bodies, including state and federal legislative entities and so forth.
It was also helpful in opening doors to funding mad-run alternatives to the controlling psychiatric institutions. This process has been somewhat carelessly implemented by excessive collaboration with the wrong-thinking mental health system. It can be argued that the peer mental health worker movement embraced by the medical model psychiatric system is no longer an alternative.
While this motto has been a useful and successful image to ignite and further the cause of mad liberation, there is more to life than the struggle to merely survive to struggle another day. Achieving the right to be liberated from restraints, shackles, wards, and jails is vital. Gaining influence on policy-making bodies has not gotten thousands of us off the streets, however. The institution walls have been torn down, but now we are houseless in our freedom to suffer psychologically and biologically. The right to be treated with dignity and respect, and to be valued for our unique visionary departures, is yet to be accomplished.
Central to the non-medical model is recognition of how the principle of stability and equilibrium contrasts with variation, change, going beyond. Madness can be thought of as an expression of variance, exceptionality, alternative. In nature, homeostasis exists alongside the mutations that carry life forward to the new and previously unknown.
There is a place in society for the unique as well as the routine, the adventurer, the visionary, the communicator of the profound expressed through the arts and sciences. In addition to acknowledging the civil and human rights of mad people, society can learn to embrace mad gifts and appreciate the contributions and the contributors.
What appears to be madness may be a reaction to suppression, repression, oppression of psyche, heart, soul, spirit, mind. Madness may be an expression of an original perception of life or an expression of one’s cognitive uniqueness.
The art of Frida Kahlo and Vincent Van Gogh has become iconic. The phenomena they have become is a recognition by their followers of the value, uniqueness, and depth of connection our human psyche, heart, soul, spirit, mind can achieve. This adoration of the art of these two painters may represent a profound understanding of the value of unique and original communication in the forwarding of humankind. They are an example of the change that can be brought about through the gifts of whom psychiatry has labeled aberrant mental illness.
There can be a depth of perception, unique and enriching to life through support, nurturance, and psychological intimacy with not only those labeled as mentally ill by the medical psychiatric system, but with exploration of the unique and enriching qualities of each of us whether we identify as mad or not.
Conclusion: The medical model of psychiatry is founded on achieving diagnostic and treatment uniformity. Diversity and liberty are considered aberrant. The Mental Patients Liberation Movement asserts our right to be different and independent, but both have ignored the psyche and the necessity of relationship.
My hopeful vision is that by shifting the paradigm away from the medical model and toward supporting and nurturing benevolent human relationship, a new kind of mad liberation can be achieved. Not only will this provide access to a neglected spirit, mind, and soul, it has the potential to facilitate insight into the value, purpose, and meaning of life for all of us, whether we identify as mad or not.
Acknowledgement: This piece is dedicated to, no, because of, my long-time mentor, scholar, educator, colleague, peer, and friend, Andrew R. Phelps, Ph.D. of Berkeley, California. He has dedicated his life to the liberation of psyche: soul, spirit and mind. Because of his brilliance in assimilating, in depth, vast and esoteric areas of mathematics, psychology, philosophy, politics and history, the genius of his insight and wisdom can only be fathomed through intense psychological relationship. Through his generosity, I take this opportunity to share what I absorbed and integrated into my own lived experience. He offers areas of knowledge, experience and reasoning that gives me a desire to communicate some unchartered ways of proceeding toward living with an open mind, heart, and spirit. These lessons nurture kindness through connection and relationship. These teachings, hidden and neglected, are the stuff of change for the good of the mad and all humanity.
Beyond the Indescribable
By Lynne Stewart
Written: February 2, 2021, Last Revised: April 4, 2021
History: About four years ago, I had a bad fall outside my apartment that resulted in a two week stay in a rehab facility for intense physical therapy. This was to ease a spasm in the muscle surrounding my sciatic nerve. It was there that I had my first “episode” of sudden immobilizing total body weakness which also brought on intense fear and visions.
After a couple of years of consultations, tests and procedures with various specialists, it was determined that these episodes are a psychological reaction to stress caused by fear. The condition was eventually labeled “conversion disorder” by a psychiatrist. Over the years I have learned to accept, cope and manage the functional interruptions caused by the episodes.
On the ninth of January 2021, I not only became immobilized, but I also lost all memory of the event. I came back to awareness in the emergency room of Riverside Community Hospital five hours later.
After a second hospitalization and several more blackouts the diagnosis was changed to “dissociative disorder”.
Naming the Fear: I am being encouraged to identify the specific fear that is overwhelming me. The hope is that naming the fear is a start to allowing me to face rather than withdraw and blackout.
The fear is Death and all the loss surrounding it.
Fear of death is not a sickness, but it is a normal reaction to the triggers of a fearful time. Real and perceived threats to survival invade my home through family, friends, neighbors and the media. I am bombarded with reminders that my life is in imminent danger from outside, such as Covid19, Donald Trump and the insurrectionists, the racist brutalities revealed by the Black Lives Matter Movement and the rise of white supremacist militarism.
Then, there is my failing health due to various chronic illnesses, as well as the natural deterioration of aging. The fear arising from these threats overwhelm me to the point of withdrawal into unconscious collapse.
Jedidiah and Joseph: On January 11, 2021, my eight-week-old grandson, Jedidiah, is placed in my arms for the first time and the earth shakes. I am in touch with my mortality in a new way. There is a profound connection between life and death. Life transcends death.
It is as moving as holding my son, Joey, in my arms as our eyes connect the moment after his birth in 1981. A message came to me then as now, with Jedidiah. I am told this time---life is good, life is worth living. For all its pain, sadness and suffering, life gives you moments of promise beyond the previously imagined or describable.
The fear of death is subsiding and being replaced with the joy and excitement of the prospect of never-ending life.
Journey of the Soul: February 3, 2021, via the internet, my Jewish education on the soul began. The concepts being described by the Rabbi give voice to what I already know. But I had not developed a framework or language into which I can organize my experiences.
The word for soul in Hebrew is Neshamah. The word origin is nasham which translates to breath. The Torah refers to the breath of life or soul that G-d breathed into the nostrils of Adam to have him become a living human being.
The Neshamah lives forever. The body perishes, but the soul is eternal. The body is like a glove that fits over the hand which can be likened to the Neshamah. The soul animates the body, gives it life, function and purpose. Without the neshamah (the hand) there is no life and without the body (the glove) the soul cannot function to fulfill G-d’s commandments on earth.
The Neshamah is not only the breath of life which connects us to G-d, but it is the sum of all the mitzvahs we perform here on earth. The English translation of mitzvah is commandment. There are 613 commandments that relate to the religious and moral conduct of the righteous person (Tzadik).
Conclusion: The moments of revelation with my son and grandson stand out as illustrations of the wisdom and truth of the words of Torah. As I reflect on countless moments of revelation during my lifetime, their order, structure and purpose, as described by the Rabbi, fall into place. These lessons on the Journey of the Soul have opened me to a new source of knowledge to explore. I am cheered and uplifted as it nourishes and beckons me to its embrace.
Addendum: It turns out, ironically, that the cause of my “dissociative disorder” and blackouts is a phenomenon caused by a prescribed cough pill interacting with another medication that I was prescribed earlier. Evidently, the cough pill is meant to be a short-term remedy to a cold or flu. However, over extended use it can become more toxic to the system. In my case, use was extended due to my chronic COPD. It caused blackouts and dissociation symptoms. With discontinuation of the cough pills all the frightening “psychological” symptoms went away.
This was discovered because I was urged by caregivers to have my physicians do a medicine interaction check. My psychiatrist discovered the toxicity of the interaction of a psychiatric drug along with long term use of the cough pill.
How do I reconcile the analysis work and the conclusions previously drawn? Was it a waste of time only to come to false conclusions?
I think I was privileged to some correct and deep insights into my own psyche and spirit that I would have ignored had I not been in so much pain. The process and conclusions are not rendered false just because the trigger was misdiagnosed.
This the preface to my new book.
The working title is:
Perspective on the
Mental Patients Liberation Movement
In this book I describe and reflect on portions of my life as I experienced the mental patients’ liberation movement1, as well as the mental health client’s self-help and advocacy era. I traveled to it, through it, and after it, uniquely, as did everyone in this movement and era.
To more fully understand the impact of the movement and era, it is important to know the people because there is a parallel between society’s recovery and the recovery of the many thousands of people who participated, supported, and led and continue to do so today.
As a woman of that time, my perspective and the perspectives of those with whom I connected are relevant.
My formal academic background is varied due my shifting focus of learning over many years. I have studied a broad range of subjects in the humanities, arts and sciences. I have an A.A. degree in Occupational Therapy.
Experientially my knowledge is equally broad. For over sixty years I have coped with what psychiatrists call symptoms of severe and persistent mental illness. I prefer to think of symptoms as disturbing, limiting and painful manifestations of my nature and nurture. My knowledge of life on a subsistence income while pursuing relief from the effects of childhood trauma and later trauma as a mental patient has given me skills and knowledge that transcend university training.
My mission is to offer structure, support and insight to people who organize, advocate and educate in order to facilitate the development of ideas, strategies and tactics toward the realization of a paradigm shift in the perception of madness.
Ultimately, I want to encourage and support opening of mind, body and spirit to beauty and love of life.
Covid-19: Bittersweet Opportunity
Written: 3/31/2020, Revised: 6/20/2020
I’m not bitter about having to stay home all the time. In fact, I’m getting a lot done that I put off and haven’t had time for. Little pockets of household organizing, getting photo projects started, finishing decorating and picture hanging in my new apartment, having wonderful conversations with family and friends and so forth, keeps me occupied and somewhat challenged.
What bothers me is the reporting I see on the television. I feel cut off from that reality. I am humble and grateful for that distance. Yet, the numbers of infected, sick, passing and passed is staggering. Even though they are only numbers, the vast omnipresence of the coronavirus is undeniable. I feel the pain and hopelessness those numbers represent. I feel it as if I’m reading a book or watching a movie. At this point (thank G-d) I’m only an observer, a bystander.
I want to stop reading this book, stop watching the news. How do I stop though, as it comes closer to my door? How do I stop looking and listening as my friend’s wife and grown children are frontline Nurses at local facilities nursing critically ill covid-19 patients? I think about the risk they are taking. These frontline workers are devoting their time, attention and expertise to nurse anyone in need. The calling that we humans have to selflessly devote ourselves to support and mend a single life is the highest praise we can give to G-d.
It is true that all of us are participating in this calling by staying home and by taking precautions. This is how it does become personal and touch my life.
My bitterness is at that other human instinct in us toward the un-G-dly. Some people have been given the privilege of public governance. The development of deep cynicism, mistrust, hurt and anger can be fostered in the public by some of those in leadership who project those qualities. Ignorance of, inability to, and unwillingness to sort through the data, facts and information can render some of these leaders to speak and do wrong.
Others promote trust, unity and love. They strive to educate themselves and their minions as they organize and implement the right solutions.
We are subjects of the “human condition.” We can be simple or complex. We can be unifying or divisive. We can promote violence or peace. We can project hate or love. Our planet is overwhelmed as we have never seen before. Our survival depends on each of us making educated, life affirming decisions that reflect the spirit of kindness towards one another.
Stories of Our Lives
Ten years ago, I came to my first Life Story class with a desire to chronologize my experiences. I wanted to find some meaning and purpose for my past misery, my present and my future. I had only a dim awareness of this goal.
Week to week, month to month, year to year, I wrote to the motivating prompts provided by Rose, our facilitator. Each semester she gave me the opportunity to take the fragments of my memories and organize them from early childhood to the present. To my surprise, after a few years I had accumulated dozens of snippets of memory that could be arranged in sequential order.
I learned and practiced the documentation and reflection process of memoir. Documenting the details of places, events, people and relationships in story form revealed a path to the present. The chaos gave rise to order.
Memoir is also reflection. When I reflect on the stories of my life week to week and finally overall, they reveal surprising, often fortunate and significant connections between me, the events, people and places. Reflecting on the random and coincidental connections brings me closer to finding reason and import in them.
The past is now an organized reflective document. The stories allow me to experience my life as whole and coherent.
The women of this class have been and continue to be my present. The connection, the friendship, the commonality among us has been a vehicle which illuminated and continues to illuminate my journey. I attribute much of who I am to the acceptance, encouragement and wisdom of the women in our class.
I did not know that a group of elder women randomly coming together to write their life story could have so much in common and yet travel tremendously diverse paths. I wonder at our common ability to feel gratitude not only for the good times but also for the trials and troubles. We have risen to the occasion, achieved worldly and personal goals. We cope and manage being human in different ways, but we all encounter the “human condition” within us and imposed on us. The details and accoutrements surrounding us differ, but at an elementary level we are made of the same stuff.
In spite of, because of, or regardless of our diversity, our essential commonality of just being human gives rise to our ability to create exceptionally colorful, intricate, unique and exquisite renderings that have become the stories of our lives.
Our stories intersect as we interact with each other in the here and now. Because of the richness and value of our individual lives, we are all on fertile ground. I see the topic of the future difficult to write about.
How do you make something grow when all around you there is withering and death? The “human condition” and the pain that is so much a part of it invades my body and mind.
My immediate relationships may be fertile and able to sustain and nurture life for a while more. The ones more distant and those not yet here, who will sustain and nurture them?
What is the legacy of humans on earth?
“Don’t worry! Be happy!”
“Love is all we’ve got”
“Let it be”
Three o’clock in the morning the dead of night. I’m going to bed.
I Am a Collection
By Lynne Stewart
Childhood in Buffalo —
Lonely, bewildered, withdrawn.
Only moments not frightened
Amid rage and violence.
I am a collection.
Even with pink bows and lace,
I am a neglected babe.
A gate tied over my crib
Keeps me in my place.
I am a collection.
Tethered by rope in the yard
My cries muzzled by distance.
Go away, you don’t matter.
I am a collection.
Abandoned at summer camp
Then molested at home,
Silenced by threats, I’m alone.
Her spirit is lost to her.
I am a collection.
California move gives hope.
Top heavy palms, azure pools,
But in the end, I can’t cope,
Life offers me no tools.
I am a collection.
With classmates and beau Richard
My soul is buried within.
Help discovered in a book
Psychiatry is given a look.
I am a collection.
Access denied, slashed my flesh
To feel life, to purge rot.
Now on mental wards with drugs,
Shrinks and shocks, I search in vain.
I am a collection.
Freed to community care,
Treatment and college are there.
Married, divorced, Reagan yanks
Funding, causing deep despair.
I am a collection
Finally, Dr. Jones,
Connection and devotion,
Transformation and rebirth,
Fragile and vulnerable.
I am a collection
Caring, creative, open,
Writer, painter and poet,
A slow measured change.
I am a collection.
Baby glow to infant Joe.
I nurture and watch him grow.
He is my earthly treasure
And gives my spirit pleasure.
I am a collection.
My soul has spread throughout me.
As I write my story, I
Have gained knowledge to pass on
For others to use and share.
I am a collection.
As my body ebbs and wanes,
My spirit rises and is whole.
I arrived here just in time,
Due to Divine Providence.
I am a collection.
Survival and Quality of Life
By Lynne Stewart
Written: September 10, 2017; revised: September 12, 2017
My body is failing me randomly. I cannot depend on it to support my activities. This is a part of aging, which I have been adjusting to gradually, for many years. Various parts of me are giving out, breaking, deteriorating and becoming diseased. I am watching my body and mind die a slow and measured death. Granted, I keep recovering from the most severe dysfunctions. I cope by adjusting my activities to accommodate the latest loss. I limit my activities to stay safe from further deterioration, loss, injury or illness.
It is worth contemplating and considering just how much loss and for how long, I am willing and able to manage. I do still have other choices. It will get worse. It will get to a point when I will no longer have a choice. My body and mind will become unable to carry out any choices.
I feel I have not been properly educated about this part of life, even though I do remember heavy sighs accompanied by stale sayings, such as, growing old isn’t for sissies. There is a limit to what I am willing to give up as far as functioning and quality of life. I have reached a point, again, that I need to consider my ability to carry out my choices.
Last Friday, I became completely paralyzed and numb, yet experienced the sensation of pins and needles over my entire body. I am deeply humbled and grateful to have recovered my senses and abilities. I have entered an area of infirmity for which medical science has no reliable explanation, management or cure. I am on my own, once again to fathom what information there is and assimilate it for my own survival and quality of life.
This newest infirmity comes on with little warning and debilitates me so completely that I am incapable for hours. It leaves gradually over another period of hours. By Saturday, I was back to my normal level of functioning and by Sunday I am writing about it.
The doctors call it complex migraine, and prescribe preventive medicines which have just as frightening side effects. Having tried two different ones already, I experienced potentially fatal effects. I am loathe to attempt the third one which was recommended by the hospital. Being left in a quandary: which is the greater risk, the illness or the medicines; and the choice between the lesser of two evils. This choice has to be made without adequate information about the efficacy or consequences of either option.
This is the price of growing old. I acknowledge this dilemma is not restricted to people in their seventies and beyond. Those of all ages are left to make choices with inadequate information. However, the majority of those who reach this age are eventually, forced to make these life and death judgements about their survival and quality of life.
There comes a point where the application of medical science is exhausted, where ignorance gives way to guess work and sometimes to superstition and magic. This is, also the realm where God, religion, prayers and miracles are known to exist.
For me, this is a difficult reconciliation. This brings me to my current fascination and exploration of Lababovitch Hasidic Judaism. I am touched by the values, morals and philosophy of the Torah teachings. I am moved by the warm memories, heritage and sense of belonging. I am drawn to the love, acceptance and gentle encouragement shown to me by the people.
This, too, is a choice toward survival and quality of life.
Hashem’s Sustaining Laws and Lessons
By Lynne Stewart
Written: July 8, 2018
Revised: July 18, 2018
I re-watched Fiddler on the Roof after twenty-five years. Now, in my seventies, after all the years of reflection on my past, I viewed Fiddler with new eyes. I was deeply moved by the richness of the Jewish wisdom, heart and humor. Because of my experiences a part of me came to view the Jewish culture with disdain, cynicism and disbelief. While at the same time I clung to the nostalgic memories and warm feelings I gained from other parts of my life within the religion.
If you are ever in the mood to invest three-and-a-half hours enriching your life, I suggest you watch Fiddler on the Roof. On the surface it tells the story of Jews living in a small village in nineteenth century tsarist Russia. On the deepest level it documents how Hashem’s laws and lessons sustain a people for millennia through some of the most hideous and vile circumstances a human can endure.
Even though my ancestors’ efforts to assimilate in America caused Jewish traditions to be compromised, American Jews still thrive. This may be in part because the highest ideals of American tradition are rooted in Hashem’s laws and lessons.
After years of searching for identity and relationship, it is eye opening to learn how my ancestral culture reflects my values. This heritage enriches me and informs my relationship to the world.
Because of misconceptions, ignorance, guilt and fear, I have experienced only a little of the knowledge, wit, and spirit embodied in Judaism. I regret that I have come to this insight so late in life when I am burdened with limitations which interfere with my ability to fully experience these.
Jewish thought mirrors profound and valuable human experiences. When the faith is applied to the struggles of life the light of the human spirit can soar.
The Dana Show
By Lynne Stewart
November 28, 2017
My niece Dana, was born fifty-one years ago on December 8, 1966. I received the news of my brother’s first born while I was a patient in a state mental hospital. I had entered voluntarily that same year. I was experiencing major depression and post traumatic shock, even though I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the time.
Dana’s birth was a miracle to me, as are all births. But, this baby was my niece, my own brother, Arnold’s child. Toba and he were very much in love and joyous, which was another miracle to me, since he and I had been raised in a home that was the opposite of what he was experiencing now. He was avoiding our birth family misery.
I attended art therapy classes with Dr. Yagodka at Camarillo State Hospital where I resided. My creativity was ignited by Dana’s birth. I chose to express it in clay. Three cartoon animals arose in pastel colored glaze. A stout six-inch tall owl with large saucer eyes and a yellow and blue body, a three-inch long mouse whose body was chartreuse with yellow polka-dots and a three-inch pink polka-dotted blue worm who had protruding antennae and eyes, emerged out of my excitement and love.
Fifty-one years later I learned that Dana still has the owl and the mouse. Although she knew I had given them to her, she never knew I had made them and, she never knew where I had made them. She was delighted to learn the story of how they came about when she visited me this week.
My emotional problems were not a secret to my nieces, but my life had always been discussed in hush-hush ways tainted with shame and blame. The overtones of secrecy have kept even the benign segments hidden.
Two years later in May of 1969, Suzanne, my second niece was born. The family dynamics were profound at this juncture. Dana became the apple of my parent’s eyes (the Schwartz’s) and Suzanne became the apple of Toba’s parent’s eyes (the Gilman’s). Since my family had the designated mental patient, me, all things Schwartz were dark and dismal. All things Gilman were bright and beautiful.
As with all paranoid delusions there was more than a grain of truth to it. I am still not sure in whom this paranoia exists, just me, or all of us.
As a reflection of their nature’s as children, Suzanne was nicknamed Sunshine and Dana, Feather. Dana’s fragility, delicacy and vulnerability could be seen from the beginning. Bright, active and resilient were Suzanne’s hallmarks of character. These traits seemed to truly follow each family line.
An expert in family psychology and family dynamics could find much to study and express with regard to the Schwartz/Gilman blend.
I cherish both my nieces deeply. Suzanne has the ability to live fully with unbounded energy, intelligence and joy. She has made a profound effort to utilize her gifts to make her world of being wife, mother and career woman teem with effervescent, rich rewards. Suzanne’s life experience is different from mine, which has made it harder for us to find our lives in parallel to each other. However, the love and respect we have for each other is never in doubt.
Some of the struggles that Dana and I have coped with are similar. This has brought about a special connection and relationship between us. The cloud of melancholy looms over each of us from time to time which often results in inertia. We also share tendencies to experience heightened sensitivities to surroundings and people. These sensitivities tend to overload through which fear and confusion arise. All of these conditions interfere with the ability to accomplishment rewards out of life.
Since Dana was a young girl, we have shared adventures, creativity, feelings and thoughts. Her spirit and heart are akin to mine.
Between my bouts of depression, flash backs and hospitalizations, I was a frequent presence in Suzanne’s and Dana’s childhood. When I was between apartments or needed respite, Toba and Arnold had a couch or bed for me to stay with them. Toba’s trust in my love for the girls overcame any hesitancy she had for their safety and well being in my care.
At their home or my apartment, I set up painting, drawing and crafts to do with the girls. We had many hours together playing, creating, teaching and learning from each other.
Dana remembers the hikes we went on in parks and at lakes. We played we were scouts leaving a trail for those who came after us. Pebbles, twigs, and leaves became a code we piled artistically along the trail to show the way. At the beach we climbed craggy rocks to get to tide pools where we learned about the inhabitants, together.
I came to visit the girls with little surprises. Dana recalls the time I brought a little black puppy in my brown suede saddle bag purse peeking his head out to delight her. She reminded me of the book I put together for them that told the story of their little hamster, Cream Puff. I wrote and illustrated it to tell the story of how Cream Puff came to live with them and how she had to leave them. This I wrote shortly after their father passed away and shortly after Cream Puff mysteriously disappeared.
I wrote and illustrated another book for them called How to Grow Bean Sprouts. I used to grow mung bean and alfalfa sprouts in jars for my salads and cooking. Dana was fascinated that I had fresh sprouts in my refrigerator. The book was step-by-step words and pictures teaching a six and eight-year-old how to plant, water and harvest sprouts in a large jar with cheese cloth and an empty tuna fish can.
As a teen she aspired to be a runway model. She attended modeling school in Beverly Hills, were she grew up, and later went to New York City to try out.
She graduated from cosmetology school and practiced the profession for many years. She also managed and shared proprietorship in a salon.
Later she became a caregiver achieving a certificate as a health aid. She has been a dedicated and devoted companion and health aid to a variety of people in need of services. This includes the elderly, disabled and children.
Because of Dana’s keen sensitivity to the feelings of other people, she empathizes readily. She has the courage to think outside the box when it comes to designing and planning.
Photography is Dana’s chosen field of artistic expression. She has a collection of thousands of photographs she has taken of all aspects of her world over her lifetime. Her dream is to create photo books with themed layouts and designs.
As an artist photographer her work is delicate and moving, with a boldness and clarity of perception. Her work gives a uniquely captivating charm to the people and places she photographs. However, as the images draw you into their realm you realize there is more there than meets the eye.
Dana has struggled as an adult to achieve her ideal of a full and gratifying life. With her diligent, persistent character and her unique creativity and sensitivity, I know she will realize she has already achieved the essence of what she wants and go on to experience the reality of the gift that is her life.
Dana Michele Schwartz ~ 2012
By Lynne Stewart
November 16, 2017
I am knee deep in a well-organized pressure cooker of my own making. I said yes, I’m thrilled to have you come visit. Debi came from Sacramento for the week of my November 9th birthday. Dana is due from Oakland the week of Thanksgiving.
There not being a plan for my birthday, I said yes to myself, I will plan a gathering to celebrate my seventy-third-year commencement and Debi’s visit. I orchestrated a dinner at a local family Italian restaurant and invited six close friends, my son, Joe and his wife-to-be, Heidi. Afterward we came back to my apartment for ice cream and birthday cake. All nine of us fit knee-to-knee in my tiny living room. Debi, Joe and Heidi acted as host and hostesses. I luxuriated in the conversation and company of all present.
I also said yes, I would love to make the stuffing and cranberry-orange relish for the twenty-plus people coming to Joe and Heidi’s ample home for Thanksgiving. Planning the shopping, preparation, and cooking for the month in between my visits with Debi and Dana requires a full-sized month-of-November calendar to plot my tasks day by day. I have been careful to plan plenty of time for visiting, reminiscing and relaxing with my two guests.
My threshold for stress is low, due to my various chronic medical conditions. When my threshold is reached my functioning becomes limited. I have been careful to pace my activities so that my conditions do not interfere.
Here I am, half-way through the month of November, anticipating as wonderful a time with my niece as I had with my friend. I feel delighted and fulfilled with my life these days. My gratitude for the opportunities to share the blessings of love, companionship and kindness with my friends and family gives meaning to my life.
I may at times feel squeezed by time frames, or the need for more rest, but the measured pace of activity allows me to experience completely the richness of life.
Freedom from sadness and misery was an alien concept until my senior years. When others spoke of goodness, joy and blessings, it was hyperbole and sentimental sugar-coated sweetness that did not exist in my reality. It was a Walt Disney fantasy. The words did not connect to any feelings I had ever known.
I am awed by the truth of the words blessing, gratitude, love, and joy, as I sincerely experience them today. I am humbled by the miracle that has brought me to this place in the ebbing years of my life.
If you ask me how this came about, I look back and see the many people and events from whom and from which I learned and absorbed the nuances of humanity. Penetrating bits and pieces of information and experience, drop by drop, accumulated to develop and evolve into who I am today. It seems the multi-dimensional puzzle is complete, but the complexity of the panorama overwhelms my ability to describe the details of how it came about.
I believe a spark of Godliness exists inside of me. When my soul was devoured, debased and disappeared that spark waited to be kindled. I do not see this as metaphor, but rather as fact. It is known to me through God’s will. This is as clear to me as the searing pain I felt when I cut my flesh with razor blades in order to feel alive. I wanted to cut away at layers of flesh in order to get at the rot I believed was decaying inside of me.
It was the spark of Godliness that was lying buried in rot that craved to emerge. I see now that God was always there for me. I needed only to have faith and trust in Him. In those years that was impossible. Regardless of my lack of faith and trust, He never left me.
I am one of God’s miracles, as are we all.
Update on My Condition
By Lynne Stewart
October 3, 2017
The latest theory on my weakness and paralysis symptoms is that I have a functional neurological disorder. According the Mayo Clinic website these disorders are related to how the brain functions rather than damage to the brain’s structure (such as from a stroke, multiple sclerosis, infection or injury). The cause of functional neurologic disorders is unknown. I can’t intentionally control or produce the symptoms.
The signs and symptoms that affect my body movement, function and senses are:
- Weakness and paralysis
- Abnormal movement, such as tremors or difficulty walking
- Loss of balance
- Episodes of shaking and apparent loss of consciousness (nonepileptic seizures)
- Episodes of unresponsiveness
- Numbness or loss of the touch sensation
- Speech problems, such as inability to speak or slurred speech
- Vision problems, such as flashing lights, visual distortions
- Hearing problems, such as hearing loss from severe tinnitus
Theories regarding what happens in the brain to result in symptoms are complex and involve multiple mechanisms. Basically, parts of the brain that control the functioning of muscles and senses are involved, even though no disease or abnormality has been detected.
Symptoms of functional neurologic disorders appear suddenly after a stressful event, or with emotional or physical trauma. Other triggers include changes or disruptions in how the brain functions at the structural, cellular or metabolic level. But the trigger for symptoms can’t always be identified.
Factors that increased my risk of acquiring the disorder include:
- Recent significant stress
- Physical trauma (illness and injury)
- Mood, anxiety and dissociative disorders
- A history of physical and sexual abuse and neglect in childhood
Knowing that the symptoms are not caused by any readily identifiable illness, injury or disease has diminished my anxiety resulting in twenty-four consecutive symptom-free days.
However the language that the Mayo Clinic uses does not uniformly take into account the fact that medical science is not sophisticated enough to understand the mechanisms by which the body’s various systems interact, intersect and influence the disease process.
I do appreciate that the discussion on functional neurologic disorders is under the medical field of neurology and it is not dismissed as merely a psychiatric/psychologic disorder. They do acknowledge that triggers of symptoms may include changes or disruption in how the brain functions at the structural, cellular or metabolic level. But when they say the parts of the brain that control the functioning…may be involved, even though no disease or abnormality exists, I would submit that the highlighted part be changed to no disease or abnormality has so far, been detected by known methods.
This exception can be made throughout the presentation on this topic. Some things had been relegated to psychologic theory that years later, as medical science developed, are now known to have their etiology in disease, illness or injury, that is: the structure of the body. In fact, I wonder if there is such a thing as a functional neurologic disorder. Perhaps, all neurologic disorders ore merely undetected structural disorders.
Having been subjected to the stigma of mental illness for most of my life, I wonder if there is such a thing as mental illness. Perhaps, all psychological disorders are merely undetected structural disorders.
That doesn’t mean that all psychological theory is hogwash. There are recognizable changes for the better in people who undergo reputable counseling and partake of the various treatment practices in that discipline.
I’m undergoing an adjustment. My first assumption has been to look to my mind for the causes and cure of my pain. I learned to add the idea of trauma and became aware of the structural changes in the brain caused by trauma that resulted in my misery. It is becoming clearer to me how psychology, trauma and the structure of my body are interwoven and inseparable. The lines between what is defined as structural and functional are becoming blurred into one whole entity.
As I age, I find fewer distinctions separating me from the whole entity. Eloquent philosophers and theologians have elaborated on the phenomenon of the interconnectedness and oneness of human kind. Scientists have presented on the elemental similarity of all matter and the connections generated by the rhythm of the universe.
And, yet, there is conflict and strife everywhere in the world for as far back as we go in time. This exists in my own life. Difference and dissention arises to interfere with the closeness of friends and family. Emotions, egos and the cadences of our body’s mechanisms, weave together in conflict and in harmony. We are too close to the details to see the panorama. Living a life forever transcending the chaos is beyond my capacity or interest. The pursuit, the process, the journey toward, is the trick.
Life is opposites. Life is oneness. Life encompasses all. Do unto others as you would yourself. It boils down to words, deeds and actions of kindness and thoughtfulness toward self and others.
Any Old Woman
Another Blank Sheet of Paper to Author
By Lynne Stewart
Version 2: April 17, 2017
Another blank sheet of paper to author, not of the past, but of the present, the here and now. This will be a treatise the fluidity of time. The moment changes to the next and the words attempt to reflect the vacillating, tumbling variation. To reflect on what’s been written above is to hesitate and venture out of the present. Go on documenting the current experience without reflection on the past. Continue to stay in the moment of the inner focus.
Abdomen is backing up to the chest. Throat is clogged and sadness gathers everywhere. As I stop to feel the feelings and reflect on the meaning, I find only pain. A hurt so deep that it penetrates to my core being, and spews out to the most distant edges of my body. Not the joy and happiness I encounter now, living my life to the fullest, but the pain of loneliness and agony to connect with a person the way I connected once.
That is the past. My endeavor now is to be here, be now. When I am present to myself, I am not wanting to live in this world without the love I felt once. Tears come and the present becomes the past. Don’t reflect on what has gone before. Stay here in this safe and comfortable apartment with friends all around me and my son realizing his life fully.
Stay with the abilities and skills I have to express and know myself. The past haunts in moments of reflection. The tears are here and now. The pain is today. The agony of aloneness lives fully in my soul. The memories flood my body as I stay here. The act of writing brings up the past to cause me grief. The lump in my throat, the trembling in my stomach, the pressure and tingling on my skin, all here and now. It is residue from the past. It does not reflect my life as I live it today.
The matter at hand is writing in the present. The present does not mirror the past. Now, the present is safe and comfortable, filled with people who love as they can; filled with activities of leisure and supportiveness.
The meaning is in everyday acts, primary of which is in the love we show to each other. The past looms again. The past when there was no meaning and I did not know of goodness and mercy. It is pleasant and fulfilling to love now that I can. This gift is to be passed on.
Thank you to all my teachers who crossed my path when I was able and ready to learn; all those persistent and wise instructors who knew so soon in their lives what was important.
I am in the here and now with residue of the past staining my heart. The blessings of the moment are shaking those same tears loose.
The past is intertwined with the present. It is for us to separate them from each other, so that we can be fully here and now, no longer enmeshed in the sorrows of the past.
By Lynne Stewart
February 12, 2017
Revised: February 17 & March 10, 2017
I’ve been looking at those pictures since I was a little girl: my grandparents, Thomas and Lilian Shapiro, posed on an ornate wicker chair of the day, leaning on one elbow, as it rests on a small table by their side.
Grampa Shapiro was the only grandparent I had. The others had all passed away before I was born. Grandpa Thom, as my brother’s two daughters came to call him, never looked like that photograph. To me he was never young. He was always the distinguished white-haired patriarch of the family.
I say distinguished, yet he was kind and generous with me. He came for Shabbos dinner every Friday night. He would let me climb onto his lap and find the comb hidden in the chest pocket of his suit jacket. Letting me run the comb through his lush white wavy hair, he would smile with pleasure and pride. He called his grandchildren his little dividends with a twinkle in his eye.
Thomas Shapiro was born in Buffalo, New York in 1886. He was one of six children, among three sets of twins. His twin brother died at birth, but there were two other sets of twins and a sister. Uncle Joe and Uncle Phil were identical, and Aunt Libby and Uncle Hy were fraternal. Aunt Ida had no twin.
He worked all his life, up into his seventies, at a lighting and hardware store as a salesman. My mother said he earned a good living and they always had enough, even during depression days. He was a good provider, she would say of him.
He wore a white dress shirt with a starched collar, a tie, and a dark suit pressed from the cleaners. He also wore a hat, typical of the era, like Harry Truman’s. People said he was a sharp dresser and a good looking guy. My brother thought he resembled Walter Winchell in appearance. He, along with all his brothers and sisters, had prominent noses, stereotypical of jokes about Semitic Jews. My mother said it was the Shapiro nose which she felt she possessed as well.
Every week, until mom said it was too much candy for us, he would bring two boxes of Clark bars with twenty-four bars in each box: one for my brother and one for me. After that was stopped, grampa gave us our fifty-cent-a-week allowance. He was also the source of my favorite Teddy Bear that was with me from infancy until he was stolen at a half-way house when I was in my thirties. Cousin Anita and I treasured the Noma doll he surprised us each with when we were very little. She was 24” tall and had a button in her belly we could push causing her to cry maaa-ma, maaa-ma, maaa-ma.
Grampa didn’t talk much. He said he didn’t want to interfere with family matters. When my mother would ask him to take her side in an argument with my father, he would typically say it’s none of his business. His silence on family squabbles and refusal to defend my mother caused her pain and disappointment. But, he was determined to bow out of the conflict and keep his distance.
This indifference toward my mother, along with the fact that he lived with Aunt Muriel’s family after she married Uncle Tommy, fed into mom’s jealousy and resentment toward her sister. Aunt Muriel was nine years younger than my mother, Roslyn. This special relationship between grandpa and his younger daughter had a profound effect on my mother. She was never sure if she was lovable or attractive. Her lack of confidence came out in jealous words and behaviors. She strove to keep up with the Jones’s, so to speak, all of her life.
Grampa and Aunt Muriel did have a close relationship. He lived in her home and socialized with her friends. He accompanied them often to nightclubs or friends’ homes for gatherings. He had the same hands-off policy with her family, as well. He never shared opinions on family matters and would not take sides.
It is from him I derive my awe and respect for Jewish religion, culture and traditions. He presided over Shabbos, and other holy day rituals in our homes. He led the Passover Seder in prayer and custom every year. He took me and my aunt’s oldest daughter, Cousin Anita, to synagogue with him on Friday nights and Saturday mornings to observe the Sabbath and other holidays. Aunt Muriel kept a kosher home, because he lived with her. She kept meat and milk dishes separate and kept the kosher laws until he passed away at age eighty-three.
After his wife Lillian died when she was forty-eight, he remained in his own home with his youngest daughter Muriel until she married Uncle Tommy Inzolaco. Uncle Tommy was a tall, dark, handsome Italian Catholic. It wasn’t a surprise that my aunt married outside the Jewish religion, and it shook the family’s equilibrium. She was the party girl in the family who had many beaus. Mom said of her that she liked to have a good time. Her long black hair flowing free, her tall, slender stature, and her classically arranged face made her the prettiest.
After Grampa was widowed, he was popular among single women. He had girlfriends who fit in with his daughter and son-in-law’s social circle. He did not socialize with Mom and Dad, partly because my parents argued too much. Their constant bickering made him a rare visitor in our home. Aunt Muriel’s relationship with her father and her husband fed into mom’s insecurities, which caused her much unhappiness throughout her life.
The Shapiro’s were well thought of in Buffalo’s Jewish community. They were not only prosperous; they were also faithfully involved in the life of their community.
Granma Lillian on the other hand was not from so prominent a family. Her family, the Benowitzes, were looked down upon by some because their origins were Romanian. Grampa’s ancestors were from Riga, Latvia, which seemed to be a more prestigious heritage to the Jews in Buffalo. They were thought to be more educated and had a higher stature in the culture.
It was all a mystery to me when these areas of subtle status were brought up in discussions and arguments. My father’s father was born in Germany and his mother in Leeds, England. Jews from these two places enjoyed the highest status within the Jewish community.
German Jews were among the first to arrive in America, some as early as the middle 1600s. They became well established, accepted and influential in American life and business. Even though my father’s family didn’t arrive until the mid-1800s, they enjoyed the prestige of the earlier settlers.
It is striking to me how many factors, subtle and not so subtle, have woven their way into my psyche to influence my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward others. Biases and prejudices have come down to me over many generations. Often I am unaware of attitudes I have toward others. Often when I am aware of my preferences, I don’t know why I have them. But my growing understanding of my family heritage has provided answers for many of the questions. Partialities are rooted so deeply in me that it does take a great search into my past to get at the source of them.
I can see attitudes of pride as well as reticence, feelings of arrogance as well as fear, and areas of knowledge as well as ignorance within myself. These have shaped and formed me. In order to overcome reticence toward, fear of, and ignorance about others an understanding of the traditions in my background is useful. This understanding allows me to, with clarity and openness, tolerate, accept and embrace the diversities in people around me.
There is much I do not know about my Grandfather. Why he was a staunch Republican even though he worked for someone else all of his life; how he chose silence in our company, but was something of a ladies man and bon vivant with others; why he never remarried even though he was still quite young when he was widowed; how he reconciled his religious observances in his daughters’ homes amid each of his daughters’ breach of faithful observance. All of these questions make him enigmatic and distant from me.
I remember, too, that during the late summer of my twelfth year he came to our home and sat in the living room to watch over me as I lay sick in my parents’ bed unable to function. That was the summer my mother left to seek opportunities in California for my father, who had failed in business in Buffalo. Grampa came to stay with me unknowing that a week earlier I had been raped by Daddy. I was incapacitated with an unknown illness. I was not-to-be-left-alone-all-day while Daddy and my brother went to work.
Grampa did not speak to me or interact with me in any way. I do not even remember if he even came into the bedroom, or gave me any food during the many hours he was there. I don’t know what he did all day. I didn’t hear our primitive 1957 Zenith television.
I spent my time sleeping or changing stations on the radio. I wondered why he had to be there, since I might as well have been alone for the lack of companionship he offered.
Enigmatic and distant was Grampa. He had a fine reputation in Buffalo and at Temple, highly respected, well liked and admired. He was silent, almost invisible and cold as ice to me even though from time to time he gave me a smile and showed me the twinkle in his eyes. As they say, it’s complicated.
I think, perhaps, he was awkward around children. His life was around adults, even though he lived in a household with my aunt, uncle and their four children.
Aunt Muriel had a special connection to him. As she came into her sixties and seventies, she would say to me that she dreamt about him often and that he would appear in her bedroom and be with her standing at the foot of her bed talking to her. Her connection to him seemed magical after he was gone. In some ways she was closer to him than ever when he was alive. She would cry with a sad longing to be with him sometimes when his name came up.
Years after his death she said she did not have a decent photograph of him, so I framed a five-by-seven picture of him in his seventies. When she unwrapped it, it so startled and upset her that she sobbed. I inherited Grampa’s gold pocket-watch from my mother. I gave it to my Aunt. She behaved as if I had given her, her long overdue legacy. Her youngest son, Guy, was present and she immediately gave it to him. She questioned me about the heavy gold chain that her father had carried it on. I had no recollection of it and told her I didn’t have it but, she went on describing it and questioning me for many minutes. Her grief over its absence was visible and could not be quelled.
I cannot summarize my Grampa or my nieces’ Grandpa Thom or my Mom’s and my Aunt’s father for you. I present these snippets in an effort to reveal the man I knew and keep his memory alive.
Time to Keep and a Time to Let Go
By Lynne Stewart
Friday, February 03, 2017
From my birth in 1944, I lived in the Hurtle section of Buffalo, New York, until we left for California when I was thirteen. During my childhood it was primarily a Jewish neighborhood with several synagogues. We belonged to Temple Emanuel, which housed a Conservative Jewish congregation.
The main commercial street was Hurtle Avenue, which was two blocks from our home. I visited the stores in my stroller as my mother browsed and made purchases. The neighborhood supported several Jewish delicatessens where we bought ethnic delicacies that my mother didn’t make herself, such as, Knishes (pastry dough filled with potato or meat and baked), gifilte fish (ground fish made into thick patties with egg and matzo meal then boiled and eaten with ground horseradish) or challah (braided egg bread). There were butchers who koshered meat for their customers and open air produce markets with fresh fruits and vegetables.
When Jews immigrated to America some adopted less rigorous adherence to the six-hundred-thirteen laws in the five books of Moses. This was done partially in an effort to embrace the customs of the New World. My family was among the Jewish Americans to adopt these less orthodox practices, thus they belonged to a Conservative congregation. The Reformed Jewish congregations adhered even less to the strict practices of the Orthodox.
My great-grandparents came here in the middle to late nineteenth century. Dad’s grand-parents were from Germany and England which made them members of the Jewish sect known as Ashkenazi. Mom’s grand-parents were from Lithuania and Rumania making them Hasidic Jews.
The traditions and laws of Judaism from these nation’s cultures is the background and framework in which I was submerged as a child. It was the underlying framework of my life. My world was structured by the holy day observances and celebrations at home and at synagogue.
Even though in public school, these holy days were not recognized, but Christian and secular holidays were, I nestled in the security of my neighborhood’s traditions.
I learned the bible stories in Sunday school; learned the language of prayer in Hebrew school, and participated in the traditional celebrations, festivals and rituals that my family brought to America.
However, there was a dissonance with my home life and what I was learning and experiencing at Temple. In fact, the split in the two different realities was so profound within me that even today I have not yet fully integrated them. My life in Judaism is marked by a fantasyland of stories, festive memories, and solemn worship by adults. From my childhood perspective, the spiritual aspect connecting me to G-d, eluded me.
My self-image was so low that I could not believe I was loved, even by G-d. My religious traditions were an imagined land into which to escape. It was an aid in surviving the realities of my birth home.
The change came slowly as I learned through time and relationship that I could be loved. Gradually I came to see that throughout my life I have been blessed by G-d. I came to know the power and love of His presence daily. Today, I am learning to mix the traditions and laws of my ancestors into my life in a way that will enhance my connection to G-d’s presence.
Very recently, I attended a Shabbat Service at a Jewish Center. I am embarking on a new learning expedition by joining a Jewish Women’s Circle and have resumed lighting the Shabbos candles on Friday nights.
I had let my observances and learning lapse for many years but never my deep bond with my Jewish heritage. My growing awareness of G-d’s abundance and concern is now being coupled with that heritage.
Some of my ancestors including great-great-grand parents to parents
What I Had Then That I Don’t Have Now
A time to be born…
By Lynne Stewart
Revised: January 26, 2017
I am cute. I am little. I am awkward and clumsy. My baby-talk is sweet, yet inarticulate. My busy baby-body is dwarfed by objects and people. The vastness of my world looms over and beyond me. Pudgy toddler limbs wobble, teeter and grasp with an uncooperative, ungainly lack of precision.
The consequences of my exuberant efforts at exploration are unknown to me. I feel the thrill of exploration with little recognition of danger. My curiosity and sense of adventure impels me forward. Sometimes I am rewarded with glorious sensations; other times, feelings of discomfort, hurt, and isolation are the result. Big people sweep me up into their generous, protective arms to comfort and caress me, or they confine me in places with gates and tethers.
Approaching the living room from the enclosed sunlit porch, I am greeted by upholstered furniture and draperies bathed in golden hues of yellow ocher, mushroom beige, and shades of olive green. The wooden tables and chairs are of maple and cherry wood.
In the kitchen, Bing cherry red dominates the splashes of eggshell and apple green in the fruit laden pattern of the hand-sewn draperies and table linens. The small appliance covers and china, don variations of the same bright hues.
Where I sleep in my crib, soft, baby-pink, and antiseptic white, engulf the space. The feeling of lacey curtains with gossamer ribbons and fragile china figurines bespeak the bias toward the delicate aspects of little girls. The strong fragrant, distinctive bouquets of Johnson’s baby powder and Desitin blanket the room.
To protect me from falling down the stairs in the hall outside my nursery, a wooden gate is tied with rope over the top of my crib when I am in it. Also, to protect me, my left arm is tethered to a board from the wrist to the shoulder to prevent me from bending my elbow to put my thumb in my mouth. I spend hours, my mother says, untying the knots to free myself, to initiate an adventure, or to find comfort in my thumb.
I am confined on the five by five-foot back porch with a slatted gate that form small diamond shaped openings. The porch has a sun-bleached gray wooden deck. A faded-gray railing encloses the perimeter. I recall the sight of the space and the emptiness of it. I see no toys or blankets; it is bare. The rich, distinct smell of the dewy blades of grass, damp dusty dirt, and dazzlingly blue sky, comes to me from beyond the porch. The lure of the unfamiliar, sweet, attractive sensations inviting exploration compels me forward.
It is reported throughout my childhood, with amusement, which I mistake for ridicule, by my mother that, leaving my diapers behind I squeezed through the diamond shaped opening in the gated porch and toddled naked two blocks down to the busy intersection of North Park and Hurtle Avenues, where I am stopping traffic in the middle of the street.
What I had then that I don’t have now is the wondrous excitement of being driven by curiosity regardless of, or ignorant of, risk, to experience the newness of every sensation of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. The grand brightness of being, exploring, discovering, and feeling, urged me forward, out, and beyond.
Today, even though, I am jaded by my familiarity with life, I work to recapture the sensation of childish excitement in the novelty in a new experience, the richness of an adventure edged with feigned innocence, or the pleasure of rediscovery. I seek the comfort of being caressed in safety, if only in my blankets, and find sanctuary, if only in my apartment. I find joy in relationships with family and friends. With effort and conscious diligence, I evoke the magical moments of being fully alive.
Capriciousness of Life
By Lynne Stewart
August 17, 2016
I am recuperating from several physical and emotional setbacks which occurred last winter and again early this summer. It is still unclear to me what caused each collapse and why I am so slow to heal. My life now is focused on regaining lost capabilities. I plan to return to pastel painting. Writing is very important to me. I am making efforts in that direction now.
Today my threshold for stress and my physical energy is considerably lower than they were some years ago. However, six months ago they were so low that I couldn’t even venture out of the house to walk my dog. I had experienced a total failure of all systems at that time.
My mood was so dark that life held only emotional pain and constant suffering. The tactile memories that afflicted my entire body were back, causing me to re-experience the abuse and trauma of my childhood. The beatings, the molestations, the plague of feelings returned to torment my body and mind. I wasn’t eating or sleeping regularly. I developed anemia, dehydration and angina. I was seen in the emergency room several times. Then I was hospitalized in a medical facility for five days and a psychiatric facility for eleven days. While each of these stays were part of my recovery, most of it occurred outside of the hospitals. For a couple of months, I spent my days on my bed. I went through hundreds of crossword puzzles and dozens of old Law and Order TV programs. Some of my friends phoned and visited me regularly in the hospital and at home. Having them accept and support my efforts during this time went a long way toward easing the isolation I was experiencing. My doctors helped by monitoring and supporting my slow recovery. But it seems to me now, that they actually stood back and watched as I endured the time and healed myself.
Eating more regularly and sleeping better became a deliberate focus, as I withstood the distractions of body feelings and depression. Gradually I began to take care of the business of daily life. I was shopping for food and paying my bills again, and I resumed joining my friends and family on simple outings. Taking an active part in life again was the result of a gradual healing process that renewed my ability to emerge from past trauma and live in the present.
I became more self-assured and had better physical stamina. My mood lifted and I began to enjoy my life again. The connections and relationships in my life had motivated me to go on one more day, one more week, and one more year. I marveled at the healing power of a group of strong, loving, and highly spirited friends who tapped into my heart, mind and soul and willed me into well-being seemingly by osmosis. I found hope reminiscing about the past from a new perspective, enjoyed the present with a new appreciation, envisioning and planning a future connected to the abundance and fullness of life.
Until on June 21 when I fell flat on my back outside my apartment. My backside hit the cement, and my head was cushioned by the geranium shrub. I sustained trauma to my back and a whiplash to my head and neck. That night I went to the emergency room due to chest pain and mentioned my fall. After CAT scan, x rays and blood work, it was determined I was safe to go home. A week later I became weak and dizzy while my blood pressure plummeted. Again I went to the emergency room. I was dehydrated and given two bags of I.V. fluids, found to have a urinary tract infection, and didn’t have a proper amount of magnesium for my heart function. I was given two prescriptions and told I was safe to go home. The following week, I had two more emergency room visits for pain in my backside. The pain was so severe that I could barely move. Finally, on the eleventh of July, I arrived at the emergency room in so much back and neck pain that I not only could not walk without deep searing pain; I was in pain standing, sitting and lying down. This time the doctor said, you are not safe to go home. You need go to a rehab facility.
The physical therapists at Valencia Gardens, the rehabilitation facility, determined the pain I was in originated from my fall three weeks ago. The sciatica nerve was being pinched by muscles in spasm. Sixteen days later and after intense physical therapy, the pain lessened. I came home.
When I left Valencia Gardens, I was assured that a physical therapist would come two or three times per week and an occupational therapist would come two or three times per week to do upper body strengthening for the whiplash. I have been home for three weeks, and it was two weeks before the physical therapist came. I have yet to have my first meeting with the occupational therapist.
I am a good advocate for myself, and I reported the agency to the state and federal bureaus that oversee the home health agencies. The state sent a monitor to the home health agency and to my home to observe the physical therapist who came for the first time to treat me. I am being encouraged by my doctors to continue to pursue and not give up on having the therapy everyone agrees that I need. I will make more phone calls tomorrow and persevere.
I have left out a large chunk of symptoms that have been plaguing me. These symptoms began shortly after I entered Valencia Gardens. Because I was considered a fall risk I was required to call a nurse before I could get out of bed. I rang for the nurse to come and help me transfer from the bed to the wheelchair. For some time before and during the time that I waited, I was feeling spasms in my legs and arms to the extent that I could not change positions. I could not move at all without deep long jerking movements in the limb I was trying to use. I was even unable to use the TV remote. My speech deteriorated because of spasms around my mouth that prevented me from forming words properly. It seemed the more I tried, the more impaired I became. In addition, when I tried to relax my body and rest, on the back of my eyelids I saw vividly colored swatches of multi-patterned flat pillows of fabric arranged overlapping collage-style. When I opened my eyes they remained before me. I perceived the TV hanging on the wall with the clock below it and the foot of the bed, all distorted and flattened so they were no longer three-dimensional with space in between, but became flat and two-dimensional. On the back of the closed white door opposite my bed, I saw red and white tracery, a delicate toile pattern that became swollen on the door and expanded to include the wall adjacent to the door. The fear I felt was off-set by the fascination with the colors, perspective and novelty of the experience. Nevertheless, fear permeated my body to the degree that I can feel it now in my gut as I write.
The slightly built Asian male nurse who had helped me each night with great care and efficiency finally appeared to help me to the bathroom. I struggled, with little success, to explain my inability to function. Nevertheless, with minimal instruction, he lifted me up from the bed, pivoted me into the wheelchair with my legs not giving me the least bit of support as they flopped around under me.
Back in bed I felt like my mind was in someone else’s body. My body had abandoned the laws of physics and science. Nothing in my education or experience gave me an answer. Yes, I have had perceptual distortions and strange body feelings, but over time I had come to rational explanations. This was new. I thought that I was having a sudden onset of some muscular or neurological disease. The best explanation I received from the professionals on duty that night was, you are having an anxiety attack.
I’ve had five or six more episodes in the three weeks since I’ve been home. Each time their intensity and duration are less. The first one occurred when I was trying to get to my bed. My legs gave out from under me because of the jerky spasms. Just as I reached the bed, I fell flat on my back for a second time. Since that fall I have learned to recognize earlier when an attack is starting. I methodically get myself to the safety of my bed to wait it out. I am still somewhat mystified by the capriciousness of the body’s and mind’s abilities to inflict sudden, terrifying pain on itself.
Fear no longer overwhelms me. By having something of a plan now, I am managing these unpredictable attacks without fully succumbing to them. I am content to continue to make gains through strengthening exercises, healthful eating, and nurturing relationships. My activities are limited to those basic to my survival and improvement. I am grateful for a stable and comfortable home where, not only I am at ease, but so too are my friends and family.
By Lynne Stewart
“It is not the stars that hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
Written: 5/2/16 ~ Revision: 5/23/16 ~ 2nd Revision: 5/28/16
Last Saturday, I went to San Juan Capistrano on the Metro link train with five friends. Judy and I met at Joyce’s. She drove us to the La Sierra train station where we met Clair, Margaret, and Madeline. For most people this would seem an ordinary activity. Today my threshold for stress and my physical energy is considerably lower than it was some years ago. However, six months ago they were so low that I couldn’t even venture out of the house to walk my dog. I had experienced a total failure of all systems.
My mood was so dark that life held only emotional pain and constant suffering. The tactile memories that afflicted my entire body were back, causing me to re-experience my childhood abuse and trauma. The beatings, the molestations, the plague of feelings returned to torment my body and mind. I wasn’t eating or sleeping regularly. I developed anemia, dehydration and angina. I was seen in the emergency room several times. Then I was hospitalized in a medical facility for five days and a psychiatric facility for eleven days. While each of these stays were part of my recovery, most of it occurred outside of the hospitals. For a couple of months I spent my days on my bed. I went through hundreds of crossword puzzles and dozens of old Law and Order TV programs. Some of my friends phoned and visited me regularly in the hospital and at home. Having them accept and support my efforts during this time went a long way toward easing the isolation I was experiencing. My primary care physician, my psychiatrist, and my counselor helped by monitoring and supporting my slow recovery.
Eating more regularly and sleeping better became a deliberate focus as I endured the distractions of the body feelings and the depression. Gradually I began to take care of the business of daily life. I was shopping for food and paying my bills again and I resumed joining my friends and family on simple outings. Until, one day I was buying a train ticket to San Juan Capistrano with six friends. Taking an active part in life again was the result of a gradual healing process that has renewed my ability to emerge from the reality of the past and live in the present.
When my friends and I decided to go to San Juan Capistrano, the trip seemed far in the future. But now, it was time to go to the train station. In the middle of the crowd, an attendant was fielding questions from several travelers at once. Feeling time pressure to make the train, along with everyone else, I added to the attendant’s burden by needing his help to make the ticket purchase. The menu and prompts on the screen in front of me were indecipherable. I needed help to fathom the language facing me. The attendant finally focused in my direction and asked me where I was going. Pressing various silver pads next to the screen, he gradually elicited enough information from me to take my money, insert it into an opening, and cause a ticket to emerge from a slot on the bottom.
Because Judy and I use walkers, all six of us walked several yards along the tracks to a ramp leading to a platform where people with disabilities could board the train safely. With twenty minutes to wait, we visited with each other. Suddenly, a freight train roared by us blasting a cold powerful airstream which caused Joyce, who had her back to the train, to lose her balance and be pushed into Margaret. The two of them barely maintained their balance. We all fought to keep ourselves upright as the force of the powerful speeding train thundered past. Margaret’s exuberance and joie de vivre caused her to stretch her arms sideways in an effort to capture and relish the moment in glory. She loves life and relishes new experiences with childlike enthusiasm and abandon. The rest of us marvel at this ability of hers, even though it often appears at inopportune times.
Ten minutes later, our Metro link signaled its approach with a deafening clang of the track bell. Once underway we were disappointed by a lack of tables on which we had planned to play cards during the hour-and-a-half ride. The car had two rows of double seats flanking the aisle, all facing one way.
As the train departed, we found that we were going to be traveling backwards, as our seats were facing opposite to the way the train was traveling. This was a problem for Joyce. She gets headaches in this situation. For about five minutes she was all right, but finally the motion and visual dissonance were too much for her. Simultaneously, she and I had the idea to put my walker which has a seat attached, in the aisle facing forward for her. We wrestled with the walker while Joyce rose from her seat teetering, almost falling, from the train’s uneven swaying. She was relieved to be able to take her seat and travel forward. Problem solved. Joyce has an indomitable quality for crashing through the obstacles of life with fierce determination. She is a warrior and a survivor, as are we all by the time we reach our seventh decade.
We were pulling into the station at San Juan Capistrano and the conductor came to our car to place the ramp across the gap between the train and the platform, so that we could disembark with our walkers. We learned from him that our car, which was the first car, was the only one that doesn’t have tables or seats facing both directions. Next time, I said to myself, I will go to a different car, carry my walker on board the train, and not use the ramps, so Joyce can face forward without incident.
To get to the mission, shops, and restaurants, we ascended up a poorly paved alley and passed by two eateries. We surfaced at the main street, which crossed in front of the mission. This street also had numerous cafes and emporiums. Here the six of us divided up. Joyce and Clair headed for the mission. Margaret, Judy, Madeline, and I were off to Starbucks. We were fortunate to find four over-stuffed leather chairs surrounding a coffee table in which to relax. I didn’t want anything to drink, and neither did Madeline. Judy and Margaret joined the perpetual coffee line.
I noticed three wonderful paintings on the wall opposite me. I thought they were oil paintings. They were of women in different poses, painted in a slightly impressionist manner. The first was of two women seated on a bench in an outdoor setting. They are wearing Spanish or Mexican full-length colorful costumes. Their hair is in traditional up dos. In the second painting a young woman is standing with her back to the painter wearing a belted orange sweater, a white, full from the waist, mini-skirt, black tights, and knee-hi boots. The third was of a woman in a sleeveless white flowing dress with a high cowl neck line. She is portrayed with her arms outstretched in abandon behind her, while her face glowed in a shimmering orange, yellow, and white palette. It wasn’t so much the subject matter that impressed me, but rather the manner in which they are painted. The artist’s use of bold color, and his painterly brush work, gave a powerful and haunting aura to the women on the large scale canvases. They impressed me enough that I ransacked my purse for my camera to capture the images so I could look at them later.
Three paintings by Hyatt Moore
Starbuck's, San Juan Capistrano
After what seemed a long time, the four of us were finally seated together. I had only met Madeline briefly a few weeks ago through Joyce, and I immediately felt comfortable with her then. The trip gave us a chance to learn more about each other. We even talked about politics and religion
without offending each other.
By prearrangement, Joyce and Claire meet us at Starbucks. We were all ready to eat. After several false starts and some negotiating, we settled on Hennessey’s, a pub-type tavern. We gathered comfortably around a large dark-wood table in Windsor chairs next to the front window. There were two tables occupied outside on the wide patio, but we were the only patrons inside. We had wonderful service because of this, great food, and a lot of good conversation and laughter.
Then it was time to browse the interesting shops. North and South American Native jewelry, pottery, souvenirs, clothing, Kuchina dolls, and religious reproductions related to the missionaries, abounded. Art galleries presented paintings, photography, and other art objects. I wound up buying a dress in a shop that boasted Mayan Authentic Imports and European footwear. But when I got home, I found the dress was from India.
There was another area of the town that we didn’t get to visit. When we returned to the train station, I noticed people headed in the opposite direction from where we had gone, which led me to believe that there was more to see and explore.
The day was a wonderful success, for me especially, and the others, as well. On the train ride home, we decided to return in November to see more of what San Juan Capistrano had to offer.
I walked more than usual, so at the end of the day, my legs were tired, but the rest of my body, including my mind and heart were wide awake. Sleep didn’t come to me until many hours later.
This trip was a milestone in my recovery. I am more self-assured and have better physical stamina. My mood is more buoyant and carefree. The connections and relationships in my life motivate me to go on one more day, one more week, and one more year. I continue to marvel at the healing power of a group of strong, loving, and highly spirited friends who tap into my heart, mind and soul and will me into well-being seemingly by osmosis. I find hope reminiscing about the past from a new perspective, enjoying the present with a new appreciation, envisioning and planning a future connected to the abundance and fullness of life.
Atlanta Visit with Judy and Bill
By Lynne Stewart
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
November 15, 2015~Edited: November 20, 2015~Revised: November 22, 2015
Judy and I have been friends for over fifteen-years. We have much in common in our backgrounds. We were both born in the northeastern part of the country to Jewish middle-class families. Early traumas and areas of parental failure at building a secure home life have been obstacles in our respective paths. Another attribute we have in common is that she and I were encouraged to value intelligence and education. Each of us also, learned that food is effective for coping and controlling our respective environments. She by undernourishment and I by overeating.
From the very beginning of our friendship, I felt a kinship with her and she has said the same of me. Not only does our early home life compare, but our ancestors came from small Jewish villages in Eastern Europe. They came in the nineteenth century by ship, landing at Ellis Island in New York City. In Yiddish we would be called luntsmen, people related by coming from the same type of village. Not knowing any of this information when first we met, nevertheless we both felt a familiarity right from the start.
Fifteen years ago, in 2000, Judy lived in Hemet with her husband, Bill. After a year of her reneging on five of our visits, Bill drove her the difficult thirty-five miles to Riverside. He would disappear for several hours leaving Judy and I to visit over lunch and shopping. After two more years, Judy ventured several times on her own to drive to Riverside and spend a couple of days with me.
Judy remembered that first year with amazement that I had the patience to continue to talk to her, even though she broke so many dates at the last minute. When she didn’t show up she’d always call to apologize, explaining that she couldn’t do the drive that day. It was not hard for me to wait until she found a solution. We saw each other several times each month anyway, when Bill brought her to Riverside to the support meetings where we originally met. After the meetings the group went out for lunch giving Judy and me a chance to be together.
Seven years ago, in 2008, she and Bill moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to be near their son and his family. We kept our friendship current and growing by maintaining close and frequent phone contact. Last March, 2015, they invited me to come to Atlanta to visit. They sent me a ticket in April for my November, 2015, trip. I waited that long to avoid the hot humid weather in the south. As it turned out it was cold and rainy the whole time I was there. I loved it.
The all-day trip from Riverside to Atlanta started at six o’clock in the morning. The shuttle took two-hours to drive the seventy-miles to Los Angeles International Airport. There was a two-hour wait in the airport before boarding the five-hour flight. Finally I rode another one hour in a taxi to Judy and Bill’s home in the city of Atlanta.
On arriving, after the hugs and pleasantries, Judy and I stand looking at each other. Each of us trying to orient ourselves to the changes in the person we are facing. Besides showing seven years of severe aging, I have lost one-hundred-seventy pounds. She too, is thinner than I remembered, even though, she has always been nearly this size.
But the Judy I see in front of me now is a petit five-feet-three-inches in height, with a gaunt body that belies the physical strength and energy I feel in her warm grip when we hug. Looking at her lean face, I have flashes of those emaciated figures I have seen of survivors exiting concentration camps after WWII. Judy seems to be the very definition of anorexia nervosa. Her skin attaches loosely to a frail fleshless body. She tells me she takes pride in being at this weight and works to maintain an attractive appearance. When looking past Judy’s very thin countenance, I can feel her exuberance and vitality. She is after all a loving, and loved woman. In fact, her vitality radiates out through her warm and cheerful smile. Her wide eyes glisten with hope and anticipation. She is indeed a very attractive and contented woman.
The Thinking Man Tavern is where we played scrabble over lunch with ten of Judy’s language gifted friends. Bill drove us on a tour of downtown Atlanta, where we saw the main Coca Cola Plant, the Aquarium, the towering Ferris wheel in Centennial Park, and the gold-plated dome of the capital building. I treated them to homemade vegetable soup, turkey casserole and matzah brie prepared in Judy’s ample, well equipped kitchen. Judy and I shopped at two elegant consignment stores. The classic tops and sweaters I bought will always be in style. We wound up at Wal-Mart where I stocked up on Atlanta souvenirs for my friends and family. There are many quiet moments, as well: Judy and I playing cards while catching up on seven years of not being together, or more serous sharing of worries and woes sitting on the king-size bed in their spacious guest room.
The week I have with Judy and Bill is fun, reaffirming and heartfelt. What we do, is not as important as, that we do it together. Bill is a generous, caring, and modest man, retired from a life of service as a counselor to people who are addicted to various substances. His patience, intelligence, and good humor are a critical asset in his life with Judy. He has several severe health problems of his own to cope with; however, Bill’s devotion to Judy is ever present as hers is to him. The most memorable impression I have of my visit to Atlanta is the love I feel in their home.
My first impression of Judy quickly fades. I no longer see her lean face and body, but now I see my dear and compassionate friend in the flesh. We cook together, we talk together, we shop, and we laugh and cry together, savoring every moment. Our friendship is renewed and nourished.
Judy and Bill
By Lynne Stewart
If you want something done right, do it yourself.
November 1, 2015
I cannot achieve perfection. Consequently, I feel I am a failure. I live my early life vacillating between expectations of the highest achievements and the depths of hopelessness at my inability to fulfill potentials. Who am I? Am I a capable, intelligent person or a fraud deceiving others and myself about my ability to attain valued goals? Am I an arrogant sham? Whom do I rely on to know the answer?
As a toddler and child, others expect me to be adult in my abilities and knowledge. When my language and my coordination are not, I am laughed at, criticized, and punished. I interpret this as a failure on my part. This is the genesis of my exacting self-criticism and rigorous expectations of others.
In my effort to realize my hopes for excellence, I become a tyrant over others and myself at times. I visualize the consequences of actions before their conclusion. I can see the desired outcome before the project begins. I am satisfied only with the imagined result. Short of that, I have failed. Short of that, I am dissatisfied with other people’s efforts as well.
In school, anything less than an “A” is failure. Having had straight “A’s” in college up until a month before graduation, I learned to accept the adequacy of less. The stress of the many additional challenges facing me other than college work causes me to burn out. I come close to not graduating. Here is where I learn that I am acceptable as I am. My teacher tells me to show up for classes and not turn in any more work and I will graduate. I learn that others esteem for me is not diminished by my human limitations.
I am like Pac-Man, gobbling up all the tasks and responsibilities around me with little regard to my own mortal boundaries. Jeopardizing my own well-being, I feel driven to have it done right, according to my standards.
As the corporate administrator for a statewide educational and advocacy organization, I learn to teach with patience; I learn to delegate with gratitude; and I learn to accept the gifts and the limitations of others as well as my own. Because I have embraced my own humanity, I am able to embrace and appreciate others’.
There is no one right way. Each of us has unique and special gifts. Each of us has our own threshold of ability. When too much of the wrong thing breaks one person’s equilibrium, another will thrive on the challenge. It has taken me a lifetime to learn my capabilities. Yet, this comes to me only in hindsight; still I cannot fully predict my capacities or short-comings.
An Enduring Relationship
By Lynne Stewart
Birds of a feather flock together.
October 20, 2015
The hospital is mainly a medical facility with a wing of about fifty beds designated as a psychiatric unit. Fifteen are on what is called, the locked unit, and the rest are on the open unit.
I occupy a room on the locked unit that has two hospital beds, one is vacant. At four-o’clock in the afternoon on August 4th, 1970, Debi walks into the room with a nurse, and we are introduced. She is a strawberry blonde, five-foot-two inch, round faced, twenty-year-old woman holding a red balloon on a string with her left hand. In her gray wool jumper with a yellow tee-shirt underneath, she has an expression of bewilderment and sadness beneath her bobbed hair.
We don’t speak for several hours. We walk to the dayroom for our dinner trays, eat, are given medications, and change into our hospital gowns. We are both resting on top of the covers of our separate beds. Debi discovers it is an electric bed and it moves with the press of a button. Her somber face lights up and she begins to explore the possibilities of motion. Soon I do the same with mine. Debi and I laugh at our silliness as our knees and heads rise and fall on the mechanical beds.
Our door is closed, but our giggles are heard at the nurse’s station. This rare and curious sound disturbs the others. The psych tech hurries in and questions us as we freeze in mid maneuver. Still giggling, I sputter an explanation to him, but he just turns and leaves.
For me this is a welcome relief to the bleakness of my current life. We begin to speak to each other in the ensuing days and weeks. I discover that I can verbalize to her some of the contents of my hidden self. I sense that she too has experienced a depth of pain and isolation that brought her to this place.
There is an attitude, often tacit but sometimes spoken, that it is unsafe for the so called mentally ill to befriend one another. We are urged by the professionals to stay away from our peers as they can be unhealthy influences in our lives, even dangerous.
In my isolated existence, at this pitiful time in my life, I care not about the warnings. I share a brief moment away from the misery and feel connection.
Over the forty plus years of our friendship, the value of connection between people has come to be recognized by mental health professionals as helpful in healing. This is obvious to me and I assume to Debi, too. I realize that friendship is a good thing. The clandestine nature of our friendship made it all the sweeter.
When we meet, it is after seven years of useless and even damaging treatment by so called mental health professionals in their best facilities. Friends and family shun me in my present state. My demeanor is unkempt, silent, and withdrawn. I can share nothing of the pain and loneliness because I have no faith in people and I feel unworthy.
The disintegration of my outer façade occurs in 1963. I am left with a disorganized, confused, and desperate bearing. I have no ability to communicate this verbally to the helping professionals or anyone in else. My language is filled with poetry, codes, and symbols that no one understands, but me.
After the ice was broken between Debi and me in that locked psychiatric ward, I recognize that we maybe have some things in common. I don’t know this in my mind; only see similarities in her appearance and language. Even this information is hidden from my consciousness. It is on a primitive sensing level that opens the door to trust and equality of worth. We share something like an honor among thieves in the world of the institution.
I begin to share some of the details of who I am with her. She tells me about herself. These intimacies of verbal communication regarding our truths allow the person I am becoming after my shattering, to start to define the fragments of myself.
This growing camaraderie will expand to include others who are in treatment with me. These budding friendships sustain me away from treatment facilities. I am building trust and value. I am building memories as the fragments and confusion take new form.