The State of Undress Project: A Longterm Art Endeavor

IVY BEATS THE BLUES

IVY BEATS THE BLUES

Some of you know me as an artist; others of you know me as a writer or a teacher or a professional organizer. However, you know me, I’m guessing you’ve heard about how I’m healing from damage to my central nervous system caused by Klonopin, a medication prescribed to me by my doctor.

I’ve come a long way, but I still struggle with my executive planning function, a part of my brain function, which has been damaged during my traumatic withdrawal.

Once a mover and a shaker, I now experience nerve pain that has forced me to slow down.

 Despite my daily challenges, I’m still here.

After a 3-year hiatus from the formal classroom, this summer I’m teaching a memoir class once a week, and…

I’ve found a way to unify my passion for combining words and art in an effort to inspire others.

I’m calling my latest endeavor The State of Undress Project, which — when complete — will feature 18 paintings of women of every age, color, and social class. 

To be part of this project, women must be able to articulate an invisible obstacle they have overcome (or that they are actively working on) and be willing to frame this challenge as a strength. They must be willing to pose in some state of undress – lingerie or bathing suit, or slip (of their choosing) — and have their likeness painted as an impressionistic piece of art. 

I’ve completed 6 paintings so far, 2 are in progress, and…

I’m looking for 10 more female volunteers.

Posing semi-clothed requires immense vulnerability, bravery, and trust. Please know, I believe that every woman’s body is beautiful, and I can promise that I will turn your photograph into a fabulous piece of art.

If you’re interested (or if you know of someone who might be interested), please compose a paragraph in which you explain your story to me and send it to:  rasjacobson.ny@gmail.com by August 15, 2016. I’ll contact you we can talk about my timeline and the next step.

If you’d like to monitor my progress on Facebook, you can find me at: https://www.facebook.com/rasjacobsonart/

Would you ever consider posing in a state of undress? Why or why not?

tweet me @rasjacobson

Unfinished Business

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On the day we met, we were damaged.

Bruised fruit, I heard someone say,

and yet I could see how delicious

we could be, if we focused

on our sweet parts. And, for a time, we did.

Each morning after coffee and canned peaches, we

paced the perimeter,

with each step I learned more about

the nature of your heart. So broken,

both of us, there, in captivity,

love-notes, plopped clumsily

into my hands, your lap,

the perfect place for a head to rest,

if only we could have tabled together, found a patch of green

under that hot Arizona sun.

 

At least we had popcorn and iced tea,

that one full moon,

when our bellies pressed

against each other, gleaming

side by side. That night, I imagined

eating chocolate animal crackers

on Wednesdays

the sifting sun

through your windows

an old denim couch

in an endless summer, the two of us

cool and cuddled for hours

back rubs on bad days

when you would kiss

the freckles on my shoulders.

 

Now look at us.

Me, a shadow in your life:

A lonely girl on a lonely journey

In a land peopled by strangers.

I could be holding your dusty hand

Laughing and loving so greatly

But you asked me to let you go

And not wanting to violate

your boundaries, I did.

Still, I can’t help hoping

That someday I’ll convince you

It’s better to enjoy one bruised piece of fruit,

Than no sweetness at all.

Did you ever have an unrequited romance? Do you still think of that person? That moment? How long has it been? And how do you let it go?

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

 

 

 

My Video for #WorldBenzoDay

Today is World Benzodiazepine Awareness Day.

This is my contribution.

Note: I should have probably taken a moment to think about dressing up, or putting on makeup, or doing something with my hair.

But you know what? This is 100% authentically me, speaking honestly about a topic I know way too much about.

I respond to all comments left here on my blog. Please feel free to leave one.

NOTE: It is potentially dangerous to come off medications without careful planning. Please be sure to be well educated before undertaking any sort of discontinuation of medications. If your MD agrees to help you do so, do not assume he/she knows how to do it well even if he/she claims to have experience. Doctors are generally not trained in discontinuation and may not know how to recognize withdrawal issues. It’s important to educate yourself and find a doctor who is willing to learn with you as your partner in care. 

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

 

World Benzo Awareness Day: Coming Soon

 

Monday is World Benzodiazepine Awareness Day. Below, you’ll find information about Monday’s event and a video featuring individuals from around the globe who have been injured by benzodiazepines. My own video will go live on Monday, July 11, 2016. 

•   •   •

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Instead of teaching us to slow down and take time to care for ourselves, our culture teaches us that we’re supposed to hurry up as quickly as possible so that we can get back to work. We believe doctors have our best interests at heart, and we are taught to admire them  – not question them. We have put our faith in science, and with drug companies now pimping their wares on television, it’s only natural that we’ve grown to believe that doctors and their prescription pads possess the key to salvation.

These beliefs are flawed.

I recently read that 91% of patients leave their psychiatrist’s office with a prescription in hand. . . after just one short 15-minute consult.

That’s what happened to me.

When going through a difficult time in my life, rather than being encouraged to talk about it, I was given a diagnosis and handed a 75-day prescription for Klonopin, a serious brain-altering drug.

Seventy-five days.

This, despite the fact Klonopin is intended to be used for the short-term relief of symptoms, due to the ease with which the body and brain can become tolerant to its effects, even when used exactly as directed. The British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) reports that benzodiazepine medications may induce tolerance within four weeks of regular usage.

My doctor never informed me about any of the dangers associated with long-term use of benzos.

But I trusted him, so I continued to take these drugs for seven years.

Big mistake.

H U G E .

So why am I going on and on about this?

Because Monday is National Benzo Awareness Day.

Twenty-hour hours devoted to raising awareness regarding the dangers around commonly prescribed benzodiazepines like Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan.

  • to provide victims with an opportunity to unify so they aren’t left alone in the dark, as has been the case for so long.
  • to educate people about this decades old problem that has been swept under the rug
  • to encourage the provision of ‘specialized’ withdrawal facilities for those who desperately need them.
  • to give a voice to those who have been criticized and abandoned, and left alone to suffer
  • to recognize those who didn’t make it.

To be fair, I don’t believe that doctors mean to cause harm to their patients. I believe they are truly uninformed about this issue, as pharmaceutical companies are not releasing accurate information regarding these drugs.

As a result of my own independent research, I now know more about how to wean off of psychiatric medications than most doctors who make six figure salaries. (PS: It takes a lot longer than they usually suggest. And it is a lot more involved than they know.)

Part of my life’s mission has become educating the general public and doctors about the dangers of psychotropic drugs and the repercussions of unintentional chemical dependency.

NOTE: It is potentially dangerous to come off medications without careful planning. Please be sure to educate yourself before undertaking any sort of discontinuation of medications. If your MD agrees to help you do so, do not assume he/she knows how to do it well even if he/she claims to have experience. 

What’s your experience with psychiatric medications? Have anti-anxiety medications/antidepressants helped you? Harmed you? I’m interested in your experience, even if it’s different from mine.

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

Signs From The Universe

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Many years ago, I inherited one of my grandmother’s plants: a heavy pot of thick roots and tens of long, robust green leaves with rounded tips. At first, I thought it was an orchid, but after showing it several florists who could not identify it, I decided to love my weird, unknown plant, no matter what it was.

I’ve had this plant for over thirty years now, and I remember how – just a few days after I moved into my first house – eight gorgeous orange blossoms appeared clustered atop one tall, flat stem. I hadn’t seen the stem growing or noticed any buds, so it was a complete surprise when it arrived on the scene.

Before that day, I had no idea the plant ever bore flowers, and I remember feeling a strong connection with my grandmother, a complicated woman, to whom I was always very close.

Despite the fact that my husband fed and watered it dutifully, decades passed and my plant never flowered again.

In fact, I kind of forgot that the plant flowered at all…

…until last June…

…when my plant burst into color for the first time since 1997.

At the time, I posted a photo of it on Facebook, asking if anyone could identify what it was.

Almost immediately, my friend Regina sent me a link about a rare African lily, Clivia Amaryllidceae, which – according to the article – stated that the plant normally blooms once every 20-25 years.

And as you can imagine, I was beside myself and I spent way too much time telling everyone about my amazing rare lily.

I loved seeing my plant bloom again, and I made peace with the idea that its beauty would be impermanent.

A week later, as each petal shriveled and fell off the stem and onto the floor, I thought about how grateful I was to have been able to enjoy such a simple pleasure so fully.

I resumed regular care of my lily, which meant ignoring it watering it on Saturdays, and I figured I’d have to wait another 20 years or so before I’d see it bloom again.

But guess what?

This morning I walked in to my living room and there it was, in full-bloom again, one year later, to the day.

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My yoga practice teaches me to expand and deepen my appreciation of delightful moments, so I sat down on the floor next to my plant and took the time to really appreciate each flower. This time, I noticed how each orange petal is actually also yellow and green, too. I counted 7 stamens in each open blossom, and I wondered how nature knows how to do that.

And I took time to reflect.

So much has happened in the last few years.

I’ve experienced the most intense physical and psychological pain that I could have ever imagined while coming off the powerful anti-anxiety drug, clonazepam. The terror that I experienced daily for nearly 2 years is almost indescribable. I cannot believe I survived it.

There was a period where my brain was so damaged that the concept of love was just a memory of an idea. I could feel nothing at all. If a friend tied to touch me, her hand was too rough. If the sun was shining, it was too bright. If children were laughing, it was too loud. I was certain people were trying to hurt me. I was certain my food had been poisoned.

Trapped in a pain cycle, all the highly paid “experts” told me I was crazy, that it was “absolutely impossible” for me to still be experiencing withdrawal symptoms after 24 months.

And while the best conventional minds told me I was mad, there were others who knew better. People reached out to me and told me that I would be okay. That I just needed to hold on for another moment.

And another moment.

They reassured me that all the tiny moments would add up.

They said the moments would grow into minutes.

Which would grow into hours.

Which would grow into days.

They told me there would be days where I would go backwards, where my symptoms would intensify. They told me it was all part of the healing.

They told me to trust the nature of things.

Nature knows what to do, they told me.

I’ve always believed in angels, and I believe — more than ever – that we are all surrounded by a powerful, invisible magic. I’ve tried to speak of this many times while I was growing up, of my intense connection to something beyond the visible, a cosmic force that I have experienced directly many times, but I was teased and laughed at.

Today, I realize I’m in touch with something that other people don’t have.

(Or don’t want to have.)

I have an incredible power.

A sixth sense.

I have it and I listen to it.

I know that to “normal people” that sounds crazy.

Guess what? I don’t give a fuck.

My life is not going to be normal.

My path is going to be crazy.

Today, I am certain that my grandmother is communicating with me via this plant that we share, this tender life that we have spent over 60 years nurturing, separately, yet together. Today, she is telling me that I’m on the right path, reminding me that beautiful things happen when we aren’t looking, or waiting, or expecting or trying to control everything.

I don’t have much to offer these days.

No fancy home.

No fancy clothes.

But I can promise you this.

Whenever you are in the midst of something dark, whenever you find yourself in the midst of so much uncomfortable change, underneath all the fear and the dread, I can tell you with absolute certainty that you’re going to be okay.

Trust the helpers.

Trust the flowers.

Trust.

Have you ever had an experience where you have felt the Universe was sending you a message? Please share!

 

What it Means to Survive

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The last time I tried out for Survivor was in 2013.

I was healthy.

Or at least, I thought I was.

(I had no idea that taking .5 mg of Klonopin at bedtime as prescribed was destroying my brain and my central nervous system.)

After 33 months of healing, I’m feeling well enough to be a contestant on Survivor.

Again.

I have no idea how I’d do.

I like to think I’m strong, but last week I got a bunch of splinters in my fingers and I complained for days.

I can handle extreme heat, but relentless rain? Not so much.

I get along with nearly everyone, and I find people endlessly fascinating.

But living with strangers? For over a month? In less than 4-star accommodations?

That could be rough.

This weekend, I enlisted a friend to help me make a video.

And yesterday, I submitted my video to Jeff Probst.

So, three years later, I’m crossing my fingers.

Again.

Here it is for your viewing pleasure.

If you are moved to tweet this post to @SurvivorCasting & @JeffProbst, I’d be grateful.

tweet me @rasjacobson

Sketching Project: Joe

Nearly a year ago, I joined Neutral Ground, a peer support group for people who are divorced, widowed, or ending a significant relationship. A non-profit organization, Neutral Ground has no religious affiliation and is open only to adults.

Actually, that’s not true.

A year ago, I Googled “Need Help During Divorce.”

It took me nearly 6 months before I got up enough courage to attend my first meeting.

That Thursday night, I sat in my car in the parking lot for over a half hour, bawling my eyes out, grieving too many things at once.

I’d lost the person I thought was my best friend, the person who’d promised to love, honor and respect me for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.

From the outside, it must have seemed like I had it all: a beautiful home in an affluent suburb; new cars to drive; a country club membership. We took regular vacations and owned a second home in Florida. I had fancy friends who threw fancy parties.

And yet.

I was desperately lonely.

No one is going to understand why I left, I thought. These people are going to think I’m nuts. 

But the thing is, they didn’t. The people at Neutral Ground made me feel welcome. Despite the fact that we’re all going through the same thing, we all process things very differently. Where one person is angry, another is sad. One woman misses the dog; another misses the snowblower. We listen to each other’s stories and monitor each other’s progress from week to week. We attend social events with each other and encourage each other to keep going. Every few months, there’s a communal dinner and everyone brings a dish to share.

It’s nice.

Not too long ago, I actually got to a meeting a little early.

(This doesn’t happen very regularly.)

Anyway, this guy was there.

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And I just so happened to have my backpack with all my art supplies inside.

He was kind enough to let me paint his likeness.

And he was extra kind to let me post it here.

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If you’re going through a difficult time in your life, I urge you to seek community. Everyone needs a place where they feel understood. Neutral Ground has been that place for me. We are not alone. We are never alone.

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

 

 

Oy Vey! The Matzah Balls!

Looks good, right?

Looks good, right?

A few years ago, I did a crap load of cooking. I was preparing for Passover, so I was doing what Jewish mothers do — cooking up a storm. I was Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray and Betty-freaking-Crocker — except the Jewish version.

So picture frizzier hair and a bigger nose.

That year, I made 3 times as many matzah balls as I usually would, to make sure that my family would have enough to eat for the entire week. It took hours, but no big whoop, right? These are the things we do for love.

After the brisket went in and the noodle kugel was finished, I realized I didn’t have enough room in my freezer. So, I asked my kind neighbor if I could use a little space in the freezer that she keeps in her garage. She said of course.

Passover comes and so do all the guests. I’m serving the soup, and I’m like where are all my matzah balls? I look in the freezer, in the refrigerator, in the garage. It’s cold enough. I’m thinking, maybe I stashed them in the trunk of my car. Sometimes I stick things there. I look everywhere. I only have 18 matzah balls. The thing is this: that year? We have 24 people at the house. Picturing, standing in the kitchen, confused and cutting matzah balls in half.

I believe it is written in the Torah.

Thou shalt not run out of matzah balls.

But I did.

I apologized to our guests.

Time went by.

Spring came and went.

Months after the holiday ended, I was sitting on my driveway in the sun when my neighbor asked if I would like to have my matzah balls.

“Because isn’t Passover coming up?” she asked.

You guys, I didn’t even remember giving them to her.

Suddenly I was like: Should I be worried? Should I call the doctor? Do I need to check about early dementia? Seriously, how did those balls get over there? Did they roll across the street on their own?

I followed my friend into her warm garage. She opened her freezer and next to the ICEEs, there was my long-lost Tupperware container filled with frozen balls. All 9 bazillion of them.

I obsessed about forgetting those matzah balls.

And then I got sick. For 15 months, I couldn’t cook or clean or even leave my house.

I couldn’t even think about making matzah balls.

It’s been a few years since I hosted a Passover meal.

At 32 months off Klonopin, I’m doing really well. I’m grateful to be alive, grateful to feel Spring in the air, hopeful that one day I will feel even better. I know all of this is part of G-d’s plan.

And this year, I plan to enjoy someone else’s balls.

#IYKWIM.

tweet me @rasjacobson

Sketching Project: Chad

This is Chad, a student at Monroe Community College.

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A devoted husband and father, Chad’s back in school after a long absence.

He was kind enough to let me sketch him not once, but twice.

Because the first time, I royally screwed up his head.

And his ear.

And basically everything.

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After sketching Chad for the second time, a friend informed me that I’ve been using the wrong paper.

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“You have to use watercolor paper,” she told me. “Otherwise, it bubbles up.”

Who knew?

So I bought a new pad of paper, and guess what?

The right paper really makes a big difference.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.

Having the right equipment is important.

I mean, I wouldn’t wear a bikini to go snowmobiling.

I wouldn’t wear stilettos to track practice.

And I definitely wouldn’t buy a volleyball and give it to my son to use at soccer practice.

(except that i totally did that one time. poor kid. soooooo embarrassing.)

The point is that I’m learning something new every day.

Sometimes, it’s about confronting a fear, trying a new activity, having a difficult conversation.

But sometimes? It’s all about the watercolor paper.

What tiny little thing did you learn today?

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

The Discomfort of Unlearning

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This is LaDonna, a student at MCC who kindly let me paint her as she did her homework.

Today, I worked with a student who needed assistance with an essay. Intelligent and conscientious, this woman — let’s call her Alecia — makes thoughtful comments regarding the assigned reading material; however, because she writes the way she speaks – in urban English — her writing hasn’t been earning top-notch grades from her professor.

“I be askin’ him what he wants me to do,” she said. “He told me come here.’”

Together, we’re working to get her to recognize some of her most common grammar errors.

“I be writing like this my whole life!” She rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “Gettin’ good grades, too. How come nobody teach me this?”

When she expressed frustration about not being able to consistently catch her grammar errors, I encouraged her to be gentle with herself. “You’re learning a second language.” I told her. “That doesn’t happen overnight,” I said. “It’s going to take practice.”

Practice.

In our instant-gratification world, we want to be good at everything today.

Right now.

But it takes time to learn new skills.

And people are creatures of habit.

We learn something, do it for a while, and it becomes second nature.

We can unlearn a behavior or a habit, but it takes time. The longer we behave a certain way, the longer it takes to change that pattern or habit or behavior.

Unlearning is hard.

But it is possible.

Over the last few semesters, Alecia has been developing her book smarts.

Meanwhile, after living in an insulated bubble for my entire adult life, with only minimal exposure to people from outside my predominantly white, suburban community – I’ve been developing my life skills.

Over the last year, I’ve learned:

1) It’s possible to live alone. For the first time in decades, I’m making my own decisions about everything: how I want to live, where I want to live, what I want to do for fun, the type of people with whom I want to associate. A homebody by nature, it’s really lonely without having anyone to come home to. I need to get a cat.

2) It’s necessary to make new friends. When my marriage ended, nearly all of my friendships died.  One woman with whom I’d had a 45-year relationship actually shouted at me when I cried about being separated.

“You’re going to have to figure out a way to be happy and stop complaining about how hard it is to be alone,” she hollered. “No one wants to hear about this anymore.”

It was a clarifying moment. There was no “I love you” or “I’m here for you” or “This sucks” or “What do you need?” or “You’re not alone.” I was crushed, and had to realize that – despite out long history – that person was not a supportive friend. So I’m meeting new people by participating in activities that I enjoy. I joined a divorce support group, several art groups, and I’ve invited people over to my place to play old-fashioned board games, to paint, and to talk. It takes a long time to develop intimate friendships, but I’m doing it.

3) I’m not conventional. Conventional people have jobs they attend mostly Monday thru Friday from 9-5 or any other combination that equals a minimum of 40 hours per week. They have a certain number of weeks of vacation days each year. They marry and have 2-3 children. They look for happiness in things and enjoy shopping and accumulating stuff like computers, cars, homes, and cell phones. They are born in one country and remain in that country their entire lives. They own many televisions and use them regularly. They say things like “Be realistic” a lot. They don’t question authority and believe in doing things the way they’ve always been done. They criticize people who are different. What can I say? I have minimalist values. I don’t believe in big corporations or big government, and I can’t bear the idea of doing the same thing every day. Being unconventional means having the courage to stand up for myself. It means doing out of the ordinary things and, oftentimes, going against social norms.

4) It’s important to invest in myself. Somewhere along the way, I stopped doing things for myself. I became the person who did the shopping and the laundry and the cooking and the cleaning – and I stopped writing and reading and painting and riding horses and playing on swing-sets. I also stopped laughing. I’m trying to connect with the person that I was long ago. She’s in there. Somewhere.

5) Having feelings is normal. For over two decades, I lived with a person who was unable to express love, sorrow or pain. Unwilling to cry, he physically left the room whenever I tried to discuss an emotional issue. He often called me “crazy” when I showed even the slightest bit of anger or sadness. With the help of a great therapist, I’ve learned that I’m not crazy. I’m a whole person who feels things deeply.

As far as I’m concerned, Alecia and I are both warriors: learning how to take what has happened to us, good or bad, think about it, and learn to improve from it.

What unlearning have you done lately? What new idea/practice are you incorporating into your daily life?

*STBX = soon to be ex

tweet me @rasjacobson