Asylum Androgyny

Hysteria, from the Greek word hysteros, meaning womb.

Bethlam Royal Hospital. London. 1889.

I expressed experiencing dreadful jitters, anorexia, insomnia, fatigue, and bilious emesis. My femininity was revealed prior to introductions, leaving me prejudged. Prematurely diagnosed. Exposed as a reincarnation of Anna O., they scribbled vapid notes, making a fool of me and shaming Dr. Breuer. Lacking both elegance and perception, they scratched pencil to paper, summarizing my being into regurgitated medical terminology. Vomit – a hollow medical degree laced with privilege and void of philosophy.

I was overshadowed by my uterus, condemned to a diagnosis of ‘hysteria’ by virtue of my physiology. No discussion, no assessment of the functionality of my organs, no mention of the possibility that, if it truly were hysteria from which I suffered, perhaps the solution may be found in biology, not psychology.

Female. Uterus. Hysterical. 

No regard for the complexity of human anatomy, no consideration given to the intricacy of the endocrine system. My body, forced into a rhythm of menstrual regularity, revolted. I am a woman. I am hysteria incarnate. A silk gown drenched in sweat. Barefaced, bare feet, blood and bones. A medical experiment.

A week later, I presented myself in my masculine form. I expressed experiencing dreadful jitters, anorexia, insomnia, fatigue, and bilious emesis. With no uterus to cloud their judgement, they scratched pencil to paper: Possible negative reaction to serious outside stressors or a malfunctioning of a pivotal physiological system. Endocrine system should be thoroughly tested. 
And it was, for no man would naturally experience symptoms of hysteria without a womb to cause them. I am a man. A silk robe drenched in sweat. Barefaced, bare feet, blood, bones… and flesh.

How does one suffer from having a womb? Simple. You become seen through it, overshadowed by it, understood amateurishly by virtue of possessing it.

I was once a man who suffered from hysteria, cured by denying the simplistic approach of a gendered body.

© Leila Chammas, March 1, 2017.


Red Light Existential Crisis

We are born through no effort of our own, with a mind and body we have neither chosen nor own. And, all of a sudden, this thought begins to morph, slowly, into a worm that wriggles its way through the crevasses of the mind. A magnificent organ, soiled effortlessly.

It may not be an existential crisis worthy of the philosophers I studied but it is an angst that quietly gnaws away at my consciousness. Long, grey nails on a bony hand picking away at the chipped paint on my walls. Tk. Tk. A soothing activity for the hand, I’m sure, but I am experiencing exposure and vulnerability.

I’m waiting. I know exactly what for but I will never tell. I know that some of what I wait for will not come to me and I cannot simply go out and grab it. So I slowly and painfully let it go. A mourning process of sorts ensues. If I were a fisherman, I’d release my line into the ocean to disintegrate where I know the spool will accomplish more in death than it ever would in life for me. I learn, and I let go.

Still, I have not begun to live. Twenty-eight years of life and I recognize that the vast majority was spent waiting. Subtly, but still very actively, waiting. Herein lies the crisis, bringing the basis of my existence into question. I have existed for years, created without permission, plagued by a feeling of needing to earn the right to… well, exist. Something about being given what one did not ask for, whether good or bad, creates a sense of responsibility over what has been given. What do you intend to do with it? How do I laugh with Sisyphus, look Nietzsche in the eye and say, “Yes, I would live this life over”?
The angst this creates is almost unbearable – I am chained yet free. I am nothing and everything all at once. The world I have envisioned is not the one I am in. I can either disregard or honor the difference. I am both an idealist and a realist.

And then, when the feeling finally subsides, I emerge from the depths of a murky lake. Baptized through my own suffering, the feeling of near-suffocation dispels the impurities in my lungs. Breaking through the water’s surface, breathing in deeply and urgently, I realize that I will never be loved by another more than I love myself. The fault may either be mine for loving myself too much or another’s for not being capable of loving me enough. And yet this all may not be entirely true. Either way, I am often at a red light, irritated yet unphased. Curious and anxious. The waters of my own reality splashing around me, taunting me mercilessly with the thoughts that while I may very well be Poseidon, these waters may very well be godless.

© Leila Chammas, January 18, 2017.

On Emptiness

Yesterday, I felt like a jar.

All of a sudden, for a few moments, I felt utterly empty. Gutted out clean. Not a morsel of my being left, even if only to serve as a testament to what used to be. It was as if every disappointment and every loss I had ever felt was imposing the weight of what could have and should have been onto me. A vacuum, declaring its presence not by its substance but by the absence it creates.

I am suspended on a string in space. I have nothing. I am nothing. I am nowhere. It were as if the apex of an existential crisis exploded in my lungs and settled in particles and pieces to rise again unexpectedly, like surprise confetti.

For a few painful minutes, I felt like a jar. A glass jar. See through, empty, full of potential but no fruition. For a few painful minutes, what lay dormant in my lungs rose with a vengeance to remind me of its existence and then settled… like dust at the bottom of a jar.

© Leila Chammas, November 30, 2016
Photo taken 11/30/16

You’re Not Mentally Ill, You Just Perceive Things Differently

There’s a blurry line between what constitutes mental health and mental illness and the line is constantly shifting. But all mental illnesses have one thing in common: they alter a person’s perceptions and the greater the alteration in perception, the more severe the illness is considered. But what if that’s what a lot of mental illnesses really are? Not illnesses, but alternative ways of relating to the world, neither bad nor good, just different.

Take, for example, a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It’s not uncommon for someone with OCD to have ‘intrusive thoughts,’ thoughts that could either be considered philosophical in nature and implication, or medical. There’s a grey area in which the thoughts could vacillate towards either spectrum depending on their content and frequency. In this grey area, where one is considered either ‘in remission’ or ‘susceptible but not ill,’ the philosophical aspect of the condition greatly surpasses its clinical aspect. It’s here where a thought can be seen as an indication of a perception, a relation to the world.

What if a strand of my hair falls into the socket and starts a fire that burns down the building and kills the people in it?

From a purely clinical perspective, it’s a type of intrusive thought that is common amongst people with OCD and should be addressed as such. From a philosophical perspective, however, the question indicates an underlying recognition of several magnificent things: (1) absurdity and the possibility of unavoidable accidents occurring, (2) preemptive guilt, (3) a need for control and understanding that one does not possess it completely, (4) an almost counter-evolutionary concern over the wellbeing of others as opposed to oneself, and (5) the existence of an at-minimum duality of the human mind.

The question itself may be irrational but the sentiment behind it is deeply philosophical. The grey area that people often fall into offers a valuable opportunity to view what would otherwise be taken as a sign of illness as an individual’s relationship to and understanding of the world. All thoughts and actions inarguably offer glimpses into the mind’s complex perception of the world it inhabits.

© Leila Chammas, November 22, 2016