I slept on a windowsill, but not on my own sofa.

Last night, I sat on the sofa
while Mom’s friend from work,
without shame
went ahead and dug her toes into my back

So I’m fluffy. Not an excuse.

She proceeded to tickle my head,
tamper with whiskers I need
I can only hope,
Mom, don’t give her the scissors

Fat. But not a toy.

I continue to sit on my special end
No, my name isn’t Sheldon
Toes, the midnight snack of choice
Thus Mom named me Devilspawn

She wouldn’t leave, and stayed the night
Kicked me to the sill in the midst of Pomeranian dreams
Nothing I’d really like
But please, do bleed, as I succeed in puncturing your foot

Mom, I love you and all,
but coworkers aren’t roommates.

Cat No. 7 of the 500 Cats Project

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“Fragola Granola”

I take many sayings a bit more seriously than I should, but I admit I can be a bit dismissive when people say that breakfast is truly the most important meal of the day. It’s time I take this to heart, and go back to some wonderfully simple treats I made a long time ago, now that I’ve purchased a blender. What you see is “Fragola Granola”. It’s a smoothie of sorts, topped with your favorite brand of granola, cereal, chopped fruit, or any other of your preferred toppings. I can see this being liked by children and teens during the bustle of busy mornings. I can also think of several adults, including myself, who could use a quick, nutritious breakfast made in ten minutes’ time.

The recipe: 

1 1/2 cups of skim milk (or whole milk. You can always customize).

1 cup of Strawberry Gelato (use your favorite brand. I typically buy my local grocery store’s generic kind. There are low-fat varieties too).

1 Tablespoon of Laura Saddler’s Natural Peanut Butter (the texture is lovely, almost like a peanut butter milkshake. Try it! But Jiff and Skippy do the job too).

1 medium-sized banana (not the one you use as a comedy phone).

NOW: 

Mix these ingredients in a blender. For something smooth and milky-like, blend on high. For a treat that resembles a smoothie or healthy shake, blend on low to medium. Blending usually takes me 2 to 3 minutes no matter the consistency I want.

Lastly, top this creation with your favorite granola. Or, let me restate: Your favorite cereal, chopped fruit, a dash of cinnamon, and even chocolate syrup for a decorative touch and a dash of decadence.

Breakfast can be a chore, and is often overlooked. But don’t underestimate its importance, especially as you grow older!

Do you eat breakfast regularly? If so, what do you usually eat? 

I am not trying to creep on you.

Within this apartment complex
I’m known as Little Timothy
hiding from the mastiff
who waits for me below

Within this latticed shelter
is an opening, through which
squabbles can be seen
from balconies so near

I promise that I flinch
when you walk in all your glory
emerging from your shower
curtains unknowingly parted

I promise that I sleep
in the face of your conspiracy
so if anyone asks,
I stay curled up, an unreliable witness

Within this northwest quadrant
food remains aplenty
all the Chinese takeout
best among the town’s

Within this fickle world
where mostly, the sky is cloudy
I remain within my station
Wordless at your folly

I promise
I assure
I guarantee
that I am not a spy

*Cat No. 6 of the 500 Cats Project

Meet Bagheera, the Elusive Miniature Panther

I am Bagheera
watching you stumble
out of a dreary meeting
at corporate headquarters

You eye me with that gleam
a toddler’s oblivion
my coat wields deception
and you fall for my wiles

I amble along the jagged brush
the thistles and trees –
foliage of a metropolitan jungle
that never really was

So abruptly, you arrive
pencil-skirted girl
your makeshift Nikon
your homage to Apple

She’s squealing and kneeling
I’m happy to oblige
happy to stop, stand still
for the easily amused

And she speaks of me like some lost fossil
but this isn’t Iriomote Island, my love
she speaks as of worshiping a stone-carved panther
stone-cold phantom, I assure you, I am

*Cat No. 5 of the 500 Cats Project

Mental Illness, Treatment, and Stigma in Girl, Interrupted

The Memoir, not the Movie with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie

Girl, Interrupted, an account of a young woman’s long-term stay at the famous McLean Hospital, provides a look into the institutionalized lives of women suffering with severe mental illness. Several treatments of the time were administered to ameliorate their symptoms, though the efficacy of such treatments was often debatable. Though brief, the memoir opens dialogue regarding misdiagnoses, the perception of nonconforming individuals as “crazy,” and the stigmatization of those receiving a mental health diagnosis.

Schizophrenic symptoms were common among McLean’s patients. Polly, left disfigured with burns after a suicide attempt, is void of emotion. Not happy, unhappy, or agitated, Polly’s emotional responses indicate a flat affect. She rarely speaks, even in stressful situations. For Polly, negative symptoms take hold. The indifferent viewers of the television set sit catatonic without response. Even when Lisa covers the couch with toilet paper, the catatonics remain still in their seats. The girl who claimed to be an alien’s girlfriend, as well as a proud penis owner, beams delusions of grandeur, calling ice cream vulgar names that all rhyme together. Wade, Georgina’s boyfriend, is a bit paranoid, and claims he was persecuted by two friends of his father, who he falsely reported to do dangerous work for the CIA. He is indifferent to Georgina’s burns.

Susanna Kaysen, admitted to the hospital for mental exhaustion and a suicide attempt, is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She is impulsive, her interactions jarred by routine splitting behaviors. It’s mainly black and white in Susanna’s world. She cries in front of a painting she finds relatable, much to the annoyance of a boyfriend. Frustrated, he remarks on her self-centered way of perceiving things. Susanna faces conflict within, perceiving herself as a terrible person to later identify as the venerated Angel of Death. She scratches her hands, desperately wanting to know if there’s still bone beneath. Banging her wrists on a butterfly chair, regardless of vein damage all can see, is how she bears the numbness. Scratches mark her face. As Susanna showed at least 5 of the criteria for borderline personality disorder, as listed in the DSM-IV-TR—(1) Tumultuous relationships where splitting is common, (2) An ever-changing self-image, (3) Impulsive behavior, (4) Frequent episodes of self-harm, and (5) Dissociative episodes spurred on by distress—it is reasonable to conclude that her diagnosis was valid.

Lisa, on the other hand, is diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. Cold and insensitive, Lisa cares not for the feelings of others. She jeers at the catatonics sitting around the television set, even turns it off despite the possibility that someone may really like the show that’s played. Lisa does away with rules, scheming to escape Mclean. Even in exclusion, Lisa expresses no remorse for her bad behavior, continuing to plot other escapes and even the escapes of others. Of course, these plans lack authentic concern. Self-interest dictates her behavior. She wants to be liked among the girls, and indeed, she has an appealing sense of humor that brings color to a dull environment. However, while Lisa doesn’t struggle in making friendships, she doesn’t give them value. Stable relationships are impossibilities. Towards the end of the Kaysen’s memoir, Lisa raises her son, whose father she disowns.

Aggressive and provoked by perceived threats to popularity, Lisa takes measures to derail rivals. Her continuous bullying of Lisa Cody, a diagnosed sociopath who seems to only emulate Lisa’s behavior, only fuels the latter’s self-indulgence. Blame is the name of Lisa’s game. Various times, she bemoans her lack of rights, using her attorney to bully the hospital staff when her requests were ignored or unfulfilled. I’m sure we’ve encountered these sorts, in college, doctors’ offices, and popular tourist attractions. While at least 3 criteria in section A of the DSM IV-TR must be met to receive a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, Lisa meets 6, such as (1) Failure to adhere to social norms relating to lawful behaviors, (2) Deception in the name of self-interest, (3) Aggressiveness and frequent irritability, (4) Pervasive disregard for the wellbeing of others, (5) Repeated irresponsibility, as evidenced by a failure to fulfill her daily obligations, and (6) Lack of remorse for her cruelty towards others.

Reflections on Treatment

The drug treatments mentioned throughout the memoir had an inhibiting effect on the patients. Thorazine was a common resort for those with highly unstable behavior, such as the trembling Torey or Susanna, who experienced an episode of extreme agitation upon scratching her hand. Feeling heavier than usual, the patients would calm down and their agitation would cease. Other antipsychotic drugs, such as Stelazine and Mellaril, seemed to calm those with schizophrenia, although their movements grew more sluggish, as evidenced by Polly’s way of walking and the odd suspension of her hands. Periods of sleepiness may have been influenced by benzodiazepines such as Librium and Valium. The depressed woman, Cynthia, received electro-convulsive shock therapy once a week, with therapy twice a week. Her memory was noticeably impaired, with her speech disorganized after initial treatment. Daily, most patients were required to see three specialists. Sessions with doctors were uninformative and short, as were sessions with residents concerned with medication and the granting of privileges. Therapy was also described as unhelpful, with therapists expressing a lack of sympathy, refusing to discuss life in the hospital yet determining whether patients were to have increases in medication. This three-part regimen seemed more systematic and impersonal than helpful to the individual needs of each patient. Susanna, deemed capable of undergoing “analysis,” recalled the treatment as ineffective. It seemed that the treatment did little to benefit her, the specialists’ repetitive questions irritating her so much that she would simply fabricate answers to placate them.

Is She Crazy? 

Susanna explicitly questioned her diagnosis during her hospitalization. She felt that what others perceived as inappropriate, tiring behavior were hallmark characteristics of young adulthood. She criticized the DSM as a vague collection of generalizations, often subjectively applied to those who do not conform to social norms. The only person in her affluent high school to not attend college, Susanna was the black sheep of the family, defying expectations to attend a prestigious college and unable to handle the duties of simple jobs. Perhaps the shame her family experienced impacted their willingness to pay for her costly hospitalization for almost two years. They may have wished to maintain normalcy without directly dealing with her chaotic behavior. I feel that her inability to maintain her typing job may have related to sexist attitudes of the time. All the supervisors were men, while the typists were women. Strict regulations were placed on their behavior and dress. This could have been agitating for Susanna, who defied such rules. Although her behavior was erratic, “crazy” is not an accurate word to describe her.

Considering the aforementioned behaviors, it’s reasonable to say that Susanna showed striking characteristics of borderline personality disorder. The episodes of self-harm, the persisting interpersonal conflicts, and emotional instability indicate that psychologically, she just wasn’t healthy. However, these behaviors may have been byproducts of growing up in an environment with rigid, highly demanding expectations. Ultimately, “troubled” may be a more fitting description, as it does not dehumanize nor stigmatize, but emphasizes that Susanna is a person who at the time needed guidance and empathy.

Ultimately, Girl, Interrupted (the memoir, not the movie) gave me a glimpse of the impersonal and rushed nature of psychiatric care in these facilities, given the amount of patients who have to be treated. I observed how sexist attitudes of the time period may have influenced perceptions of women already struggling with a mental illness. Susanna was expected to be sexually modest, emotionally stable, and uncomplaining. The scorn she received, made salient in a doctor’s writing that she “might sell self or get pregnant” (11) shed light on the stigma imposed on women who rebelled against norms of conservatism. The title, inspired by the poignant painting Susanna saw at the Vermeer, is more than an allusion. It is a description of Susanna’s destabilizing experience—a long term hospitalization, a stigmatized diagnosis, and a lost sense of self—that prevented her from enjoying life in the way that most young women do. It was only after this hiatus that she could continue living, hopefully with a greater sense of stability.

Looking Closer – 1962’s David and Lisa

 

Another praised work, the 1962 independent film David and Lisa, tells of two teenagers’ experiences in a mental health facility. David, ostensibly intelligent and precise in his mannerisms, is brought to by his overprotective mother. Lisa, a girl lacking comparable support, seems to show symptoms of disorganized schizophrenia. However, a closer look at patterns in her behavior suggests a different diagnosis. Though lacking insight into psychiatric treatments of the time, as well as providing an unrealistic, romanticized solution to the disorders concerned (i.e. “Love cures all”), the film, at best, adequately portrays symptoms most resembling obsessive compulsive personality disorder and dissociative identity disorder. For the purposes of this entry, DSM-IV criteria will strictly concern these conditions.

David, the son of unhappy, demanding parents, comes to the facility fraught with paranoia and anxiety. When approached and touched by another young man, David’s hands begin to shake. He screams repeatedly, “You touched me, you want to kill me!” This extreme reaction reveals the lack of social openness and rigid rules of social interaction typical of obsessive compulsive personality disorder. When others approach his room, David grows very worried that they will barge into his personal space. David’s painstakingly inflexible grip on personalized, irrational codes of conduct also manifests upon his refusal to engage in physical activity, claiming, “Exercise is for idiots.” These behaviors fall in line with criterion 4 of the DSM-IV-TR, summarized as holding rigid views of what actions are considered moral and ethical.

We see more of David’s dysfunctional personality in his interactions with Dr. John, the facility psychiatrist. Seeing an upset Lisa, David tells the doctor that he is authoritarian in his practice, and that dealing with Lisa in a permissive fashion would be more suitable for her recovery. He dedicates his time to studying, primarily focusing on clocks. This behavior meets DSM criterion 3 as David’s preoccupation keeps him from engaging in other activities. He is obsessed with the image of a ticking clock, a focal point in dreams. In slumber, David repeatedly pulls the hour hand of the clock to behead certain individuals 12 times.

Through dreaming and visualizing this punitive clock, David takes control as he pretends to rid himself of those who touch or distress him emotionally. We see this when Lisa, who touches David, becomes a victim of the clock. David’s preoccupation with details and order, as seen in his obsession with a clock that systematically kills those who upset him, meets DSM criterion 1 for obsessive compulsive personality disorder. Criterion 8, which concerns stubbornness, manifests itself in David’s objections to Dr. John’s questioning methods, refusing to comply and telling the doctor to “Don’t play Dr. Freud.” As David meets 4 of the 8 DSM criteria for obsessive compulsive personality disorder, this may be a suitable diagnosis. It is also important to note that David does not exhibit the ritualistic behaviors endemic to obsessive compulsive disorder.

Lisa, whose behavior primarily consists of clanging, is labeled by facility staff as an “adolescent schizophrenic.” Hints to her actual condition emerge when David confronts Lisa about her peculiar speech, claiming she speaks in rhymes to be “Lisa.” There are instances when Lisa does not speak at all, instead communicating with others through writing. We see this when she writes “PLAY WIT ME” on a piece of paper in order to catch David’s attention. Towards the end of the film, Lisa draws a circle with the words “MURIEL X LISA.” Outside of the circle are the words “ME.” When she adopts the persona of “Lisa,” she speaks in rhyme. However, as “Muriel,” she is unable to speak and can only convey her thoughts and requests through writing. Lisa is unable to be “ME,” her true self whose behavior is free of peculiarities. She expresses confusion regarding her true identity, repeatedly questioning David as to what kind of girl she is.

Earlier in the film, she shows difficulty in even identifying as female and exhibits two personalities, her identity as “LISA” the predominant persona. She experiences enough altered or dissociated states to receive a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (formerly identified as multiple personality disorder). The two personalities repeatedly dictate her actions, remembering her identity and current locale are difficult to impossible feats, and neither external medical illnesses nor mind-altering substances adequately explain her mannerisms. That being said, Lisa fits the necessary criteria for a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder, rather than any type of schizophrenia the staff believes her to have.

David and Lisa, though overly sentimental and idealistic regarding the prognosis of serious psychological disorders, provides solid examples behaviors definitive of obsessive compulsive personality disorder and dissociative identity disorder. While David’s diagnosis is more easily determined, his behavior and mannerisms distinct and indicative of fixations on order and control, Lisa’s symptoms are frustratingly misleading. It is only when acknowledging her lack of hallucinations, her repeated questions of what kind of girl she is, and the diagram she draws that a more accurate assessment may be made. Viewers’ merely assuming that Lisa has schizophrenia would indicate a failure to look beneath the surface of her behavior, taking comments and stereotypes engrained in the film for granted. Mental illness in cinema, old or new, deserves close observation, and even a brief referral to outside sources for sound evaluation and hopefully, understanding that overrides stigma.

Dispelling Conventional Perceptions of Intelligence

I remember a boy in the second grade by the name of Joel. Friendless, a burden to our impatient teacher, and a playground pariah, Joel was often ridiculed for three things: flapping his hands in frenzy when excited or distressed, banging his head against his desk when things did not go his way, and when his turn came to read out loud, he would turn a story into an awkward song, singing the lyrics in some rigid, broken melody. Other than participating in class readings, and screaming at the top of his lungs when a classmate picked on him, Joel never really talked. Unfortunately, news of his strange behavior reached several parents, who demanded that their children be taken out of an “unsafe and disruptive learning environment.” I recall my mother pulling me from him when she volunteered at a school event, scolding me for befriending “that strange, abnormal kid.” Years later, reading about Joel’s distinctive behaviors, I learned about autism.

For a long time, I didn’t really have a solid understanding of autism, nor the thought processes of individuals with it. In past psychology courses, the condition was simply glossed over, either in text or during class lectures. However, I was taught that the majority of people diagnosed with autism also display a degree of mental retardation, capable of little to no speech. Wretches and Jabberers depicts the story of two men, Tracy and Larry, who dismantle a large misconception that people with autism are incapable of intelligible communication. Through the use of a keyboard, they learn to communicate their thoughts with others, and indeed, I was surprised and impressed with the eloquent messages conveyed to observers, whether such messages were simple questions regarding where to eat in Japan, or references to Buddhist philosophy when discussing personal experiences. Observing these men use technology to pose inquiries, express needs, and convey opinions that were silenced for so many years in the absence of advanced technology was not only heartwarming, but eye-opening. This is a documentary that allows viewers to take a closer glimpse into the lives of individuals who, at the outset, appear so alien in their appearance and behaviors, but really possess a comparable depth in emotion and capacity for communication as those without autism.

Recalling the opening facts presented at the beginning of the documentary, that in previous years, many children in the United States diagnosed with autism were institutionalized and cast away as mentally retarded, I thought of how liberating it must be for Tracy and Larry to finally convey to the world that they are more than just “disabled.” Provided with an avenue to convey their thoughts articulately and cogently, they clearly develop a greater sense of confidence, dispelling stereotypes the public may have about individuals with autism and similar conditions. One may opine that these men possess an intelligence that is not only markedly different, but perhaps more dynamic than that of verbal communicators. To maneuver around autism’s problematic symptoms—the tics, peculiar speech patterns, and impaired interaction—and be able to relay their thoughts in such depth, is an impressive feat, a daily challenge which I myself cannot imagine having to tackle. It saddens me that Tracy, Larry, and Joel from second grade have to deal with constant discrimination and meager confidence in their abilities. However, Wretches and Jabberers provides hope that such individuals can defy negative expectations, delivering the message that one’s intelligence manifests in alternative ways, not simply defined within the confines of disabilities often so heavily stigmatized.