Artist's Way

The Day I Thought My Life Was Over!

Enter the Dreamworld

When I was growing up all I knew was a life of mental illness through the eyes of my Mother Kim  and my maternal Gamma Carrie. They say a child picks up behaviors of a parents with mental illness long before the child even has a diagnosis of mental illness. I believe I was one of those children. I also believe I knew very intimately through the extreme compliance of my maternal Gamma Carrie and the extreme rebellion of my Mother Kim. These two women would have the biggest impact on me about my attitudes and perceptions of mental illness long before I was first diagnosed that I myself had a diagnosis of mental illness at the age of 23 years old in 1996. That was the day I falsely believed that my life was over that I had received a death sentence.

By the time I received a mental illness diagnosis in 1996, my life flashed before my eyes as I felt doomed to a lifetime of death. As a little girl I watched my Gamma Carrie do everything perfect and complaint and still she suffered greatly at the hands of psychiatrists. I remember very clearly at age 5 years old visiting my Gamma Carrie at the St. Luke’s Hospital where I entered her hospital room and feared she was dying after what I later learned what electro shock therapy was all about. She could not remember who I was and did not know my name. I cried thinking she was dying and I was watching her slip through my fingertips right before my eyes. Later after One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest my ideas of electroshock grew to new repulsed states as I personally began to reject electroshock therapy in my own life. To me at that age I equated mental illness with death.

Growing up with Mother Kim I ended up seeing my mother exhibit bizarre behavior as she was untreated for her mental illness as she went the other extreme of fighting the system. Recently, my Mother Kim lives in parks risking criminals and police because she believes that the shelters are way too violent. I am starting to understand her point of view as of recently I went to a local shelter where a man was stabbed to death. My Mother Kim has some wisdom on some hand watching Gamma Carrie and experiencing poverty of being with mental illness, yet at the same time I also saw her bizarre behaviors because she was also untreated for her mental illness. While Gamma Carrie always did what she was told, Mother Kim fought hard against a system of medications and psychiatrists. Between the two perspectives I started to believe that if you have a mental illness you can not win by either extreme. Hence the hopelessness when my ex battered me during my pregnancy causing a miscarriage and waves of grief that I feel today and the first mental break down at age 23. I succumbed to feelings of death in me and around me.

The Day I Thought My Life was Over, was the day I was sitting in the hospital room looking at the doctor. I just had painted my body red with tempera paint from head to toe because I felt my soul was dying. I wailed my songs of grief to the universe and everybody in my rooming house at Lytheria could hear my grief songs. My American Indian Science and Enigneering Society AISES who ran the Wisconsin Native American Science Fair mentor Rose Daitsman who was Jewish came to my aid as she was someone of profound importance in my life that knew me since childhood and she shared her heart with me that day as I looked up at her as the nurse washed my red painted skin to soft pink with washcloths. After I was washed of my crimson blood colored layer, I was left with a soft pink glow around me. My first visit with the doctor indicated to me that I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because I saw way too much trauma in my life. I thought perhaps I reached a breaking point and I would be damaged for the rest of my life in Brokenness. I was traumatized by incest, sexual assault, domestic violence, and being held hostage at gunpoint at 4 years old, plus a violent assault by my ex that triggered a miscarriage and my mind could not take any more trauma.  That hurt me very badly down to the core of my being. I wanted to escape a life of suffering only to be told I hit the breaking point of my sweet mind. A mind that dreamnt of being a beautiful artist. A mind that dreamnt of a world of peace contrasting the stark reality of innocence bombarded by violence throughout most of my life. I believed then my brokenness would now lead to eternal death the moment the doctor said “You have a mental illness, PTSD.” That felt like he chopped off my head and I sat there as my blood life essence was pouring all around me to the floor more crimson. What of my dreams of being an artist?

Today, after recently enduring further domestic violence by my spiritual inlaws for the last year, I realized that even though my mind has recently endured more brokenness while I recovered at the Lasting Hope Recovery Center even during my most vulnerableness I am still a resilient artist. My spiritual husband doesn’t see the beauty in my eyes the way I see myself. I know I am a loving, honest, hardworking artist. His view of me is poisoned by his family whose view is poisoned about me by their warped sense of who I am as a person with PTSD. They do not see my beauty and grace. They wear glasses of FEAR. They wear glasses of STIGMA. They do NOT know the love in my heart for them and my spiritual husband because in their STIGMA they chose to call me CRA CRA instead of talk to me with love and compassion. I refuse to see myself as they see me with STIGMA eyes and heart. I know right at this moment I walk in beauty and grace. I sing a ceremonial song to a Blackfoot African man who was homeless today!  I shared my Crazy Quilt story with them.

I am more alive now because of my walk with mental illness. I express gratitude to having this mental illness because in my vulnerability I have truly tasted life. Medicine Man Floyd Hand once said to me because my innocence that I have soul wounds that will never heal but that Great Creator has covered them with his own life force like a divine bandage. Medicine Man Floyd said to me that because God’s essence is covering my soul wounds that I am much more intune with the Spiritual World than ever before and that I am blessed with divine spiritual gifts. I know God’s love is specially wrapped over my soul wounds and as I walk the Earth I know those with the sight can truly see this to be true as well. I feel God intensely surrounding me like a a light house beacon because I know that God has blessed me as a Wounded Healer, a Medicine Woman where I have taken the path to heal myself and others through my story and my art. In my brokenness, I am reborn like a phoenix to live to see a new day!

Chi Miigwetch,

Wenona Gardner

Wabun Anung – Morning Star


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