August 16, 2014

On Ghosts

I don't believe in ghosts or an afterlife, but I do believe we hold Jungian constructs in our minds about what our parents and spouses and we are, have been, and should or might be. Our non-conscious mind, which is the greater part of us, then tries to settle grievances, finish unfinished business, expiate guilt, and resolve anger and frustration. Some of this we do consciously through the rituals of death. Some through dreams. Some through the distance of time. 

My mother and stepfather died some years ago, but I was able to make peace with each of them before they went, so I was untroubled by them in my dreams. My father I'd sent away to Budapest to keep him away from his daughters and wife, whom I thought he'd abused beyond forgiveness. 

The death of my wife of 40 years was quite difficult, for her and for me. She's been in my dreams a dozen times, always startling the shit out of me, so that I sometimes woke up shouting incoherently.  I believe what that meant was that I still had work to do with her. 

I have guilt over my refusal to be intimate with her for many years because she had scorned and laughed at what I consider my life's work. I thought this was cruelly unfair.  I had done everything possible to help her achieve her own ambitions, which were considerable, but she was unable to achieve them or enjoy the success she did have. I tried to help, but she refused to accept the challenges or do the work that would have made greater success possible.  

I was also her caregiver for the 10 years after the congestive heart failure and immobility, and the storm of mini-strokes in the last five years that took her mind - the fastest and sharpest I ever knew - but left her in pain and humiliation. She died sullen and resentful, in constant pain, unable to clean or toilet herself. I wheeled her to restaurants, through art walks, and arranged home hospice and caregivers for her, and finally, I helped her through Oregon's Assisted Suicide procedures.  

She died in 2008 and I haven't dreamt of her in over a year now, so maybe she and my guilt at not having been a better husband and friend have been laid to rest, too.

If you are so fortunate as to have had a strong and loving relationship with someone now gone, they may visit you at times in dreams, to remind you of that goodness you once shared, and which is now part of you.

July 13, 2014

For John

And the skies he loved 
opened and growled his growl.
Then they, and we, cried.

June 22, 2014

Surviving Shock Treatment

Another ECT survivor here.

I’m long past my anger over the electro-convulsive therapy (shock treatment) forced on me at age 14. Memory, reasoning, and affect became normal within a few months, though I did not realize it until much later. How can a fourteen-year-old accurately evaluate his mental health if he can’t trust his own mind? He can't.  The fear of again being locked up and shocked senseless kept me from cross-dressing for several years. But not because I was cured -- because of the fear of being locked up and shocked again.

It's hard to understand why ECT is so feared and hated by people who have had it. It's effects are described as confusion and a "temporary loss of memory." That does not begin to describe it. It is not like going to sleep. When the ECT machine is turned on, you are turned off. Gone. Not there.

An unknown period of time passes and then you return to awareness, but without understanding. Connection and understanding come back in pieces, like a TV signal being recovered pixel by pixel. For a while you don't even know who this is happening to. Personal continuity, the sense of who you are from moment to moment, has been disrupted. And before you're whole again, it happens again, and again, every few days, for weeks or months at a time. Then they leave you alone and watch you watching yourself and constructing your past and yourself like a jigsaw puzzle. But for the rest of your life you will never know if all of the original "signal" has been restored or if some portions of your self are lost forever.

I gamed the staff and psychiatrists by taking clues from "1984" and "Brave New World," and pretending that "I loved Big Brother," and I was "happy to be a Beta." This is what they wanted. It confirmed for them that they were doing the right thing. It made them happy. So they released me from the locked psychiatric ward, back into the loving arms of the family that had put me there in the first place. At that point I began to take charge of my own life because it had been proven to me that I could trust no one else.

After high school I served in the Marine Corps, earned Masters degrees in psychology and special education, became a diagnostician, teacher, and school principal. Published twenty+ books for teachers of handicapped children. Married, and fathered a brilliant child who is now himself a successful independent publisher. I got an early personal computer, formed a hacker's club and created an extensive and still-used library of computer programs. At forty-six I took up juggling as a hobby, ran several festivals, introduced thousands to juggling and circus arts, and entertained thousands more in theaters and on street corners. Most recently I was a principle organizer of the three largest anti-war marches ever staged in Oregon, leading over a hundred-thousand people through downtown Portland with no arrests or violence, and was offered the Chief's Award by the Portland Police Department (the idea was to convert them, not defeat them).

A widower after 40 years of marriage, I am now happily married again, living on 15 beautiful acres of Louisiana meadow and forest, looking forward to writing and traveling, and perhaps to new adventures and achievements. 

In the years following my ECT, I not only made a life for myself, I also created a second secret life consisting of stolen moments as a female, hidden especially from anyone who knew me. My success and happiness as a man is something I've worked for, but that I know is largely a quirk of fate and my rebellious temperament. I’ll never know if I could have been a successful and happy woman, but I have learned to be a successful and happy man, no thanks to electro-convulsive "therapy." I am still a private, but no longer a secretive cross dresser.

I can’t fault anyone for feeling that their life was ruined by ECT. It disrupted mine until I took charge of it myself. I am extremely lucky to have had the opportunity and found the talent and perseverance that has made my life what it is. 

Eric Bagai
Hammond Louisiana
June 15th, 2014