Maxwell's Blog

February 15, 2023
Identity in Illness

Hello friends.

I hope anyone who reads this had a great Valentine’s Day. My boyfriend lives in another city so I didn’t spend the day with him, but last Saturday I went to his house and we spent time there and then went to see Knock at the Cabin. It was a fantastic movie and I recommend it if you like horror.

But that’s not why I’m writing today. I’ve had quite an interesting revelation recently that impacts me on a very deep level. I’ve been struggling to even talk about it simply because I’m sort of in shock about it, so please forgive me for the long and unnecessary transition here but I feel I must start with what I know.

I’ve been creating art for some time now but it has been more recently that I’ve begun to take myself seriously as an artist. I am of the opinion that what separates a true artist from someone who only does it as a hobby or does not take it seriously is nothing more than whether or not that person considers themself an artist.

Art is a powerful tool. I consider as “art” most creative endeavors but especially literature/writing, music, visual arts, internet art, video games, etc. A keen hand can create art that teaches one about the world or about the human experience. A keen eye can take art and learn about the world and themself.

I didn’t expect to learn so much about myself in the process of making art. In finding my own style of art I have come to define much of what I create as “Confessionalism Behind the Confessional”. Not everything I create falls under this umbrella.

If you aren’t familiar, confessionalism was a movement of poetry by poets who used events from their personal lives as the subject matter for their poetry. They would often use the real names of those who were involved in the true stories they told. I also use my own life as inspiration for most of my art. For example, the last project I completed was Tower of Babel Ghost Hunting. That work was born out of some very real and very deep frustrations with events going on in my life at the time of creation. However, everything in it was buried under layers of metaphor and symbolism. Tower of Babel Ghost Hunting is not about ghosts. I call that layer of metaphor “the confessional”. Side note: I never want to just come out and explain what my art means so that people can make their own interpretations, but if you’d like to ask feel free to reach out on neocities or via my email and I’ll talk your ear off about what the intended meaning of my works are.

I learned a lot about myself creating Tower of Babel Ghost Hunting, but I learned far more about myself when I created A Psalm For the Pure Land. Go check it out if you’d like. I consider it my magnum opus at least as of now. In short, though, it’s a poem that comprises verse and prose and has three main sections. The first section is a series of 14 sonnets that tell the story of how I came to be a Buddhist. The second section explores my own relationship with my illness of schizophrenia. The third brings the two together and explores what schizophrenia means to me in light of my Buddhist beliefs.

When I finished A Psalm for the Pure Land I felt that I finally understood my relationship to schizophrenia and what it means for me. Skip forward to about two months ago when my psychiatrist hit me with a revelation that I had been suspecting for some time: I almost certainly do not have schizophrenia.

Let me try to explain as best as I can because no one really understands how any of this happened.

As a senior in college I had a complete mental breakdown replete with delusions of persecution, visual hallucinations, and crippling anxiety. I dropped out of college and moved home where a year later I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. During that time I qualified for a diagnosis of schizophrenia under the DSM5 and technically still do. For a diagnosis, someone must have certain symptoms (delusions and hallucinations qualify but there are other ways the illness may manifest and some folks with schizophrenia dont ever have delusions or hallucinations), they must have those symptoms for at least 6 months (not necessarily constantly especially if they are medicated; I had symptoms for a year at the time of my diagnosis), and the symptoms must cause some serious troubles in life (like needing to drop out of college). As I understand it, the 6 month qualifier exists because the vast vast majority of people who have schizophrenia symptoms for 6 months will have them for the rest of their life.

Today, I have mild anxiety and the occasional visual hallucination, but nothing more (well, except ADHD which I was diagnosed with significantly later than the others). This is unheard of. I had delusional episodes come and go for about three years and was hospitalized once (though looking back I should have been hospitalized a time or two more). It’s extremely rare to go from symptoms that severe to almost nothing. My psychiatrist has been consulting with her colleagues to see if they have any experience with similar cases to mine but as far as I know everyone is stumped especially by the fact that my hallucinations have remained while the delusions are gone.

But here’s the kicker. My symptoms disappeared at the same time that I completed A Psalm for the Pure Land. When I understood my identity as a schizophrenic, I seemingly ceased to be a schizophrenic.

As I said, we don’t really know why this happened, but it’s interesting to note that my experience with all of this seems to reflect some early theories of schizophrenia that cropped up before the biological model. The biological model (pardon me if that’s not the correct term to refer to it) states that schizophrenia is caused by a combination of genetics and some environmental stressor. Earlier theories were varied but sometimes would say things like “schizophrenia is the result of trying to make sense of an insane world”. So it’s interesting that when I made sense of my schizophrenia symptoms, they went away. And that’s the most sense I can make out of that.

So what’s next? Over the past few months I have made no art other than a music project that I started. I’ve been making ambient music which is easy because it has no meaning, just pure emotion, but what does this revelation mean for meaningful art that draws from my own experience? After reflecting on it for some time now, I’m going to take my art in two directions.

First, I’d like to create a work of art that explores other parts of my identity. Schizophrenia was a very large part of who I was for a long time, and now it’s seemingly gone. Of course I still have other things like Buddhism and art, but I was surprised to find that it feels like a piece of me has been missing since those symptoms disappeared. What can I fill it with?

Second, I’m creating a piece of net art that explores the idea of identity and knowing who you are. It will be more in the realm of fiction than anything else on my website as I’d like to delve more into the world of fiction. I have some grand ideas that may or may not pan out, but if they do I’d like to create a sort of extended universe that incorporates other stories as well.

In many ways, I do not know what the future holds for me, and that’s only in part because of mental illness. My boyfriend and I have been in a relationship for almost four months now and dated unofficially for three months prior to that. It’s been seeming more and more like this will last a long time although realistically it’s impossible to say if it’ll last forever or not. Even still, it’s exciting.

I’m also looking to move to another city. Not the city where my boyfriend lives because he lives in a town of less than 3,000 people and I’m not about that life, but the city I want to live in is a bit closer to him which would be a plus though it’s not the reason. I really need a new start in life and while I have never lived in the city I want to move to, I have spent enough time there to know I like the city a lot.

I do know what the immediate future has in store for me though. It’s a nap.

Until next time,