A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

My Art Process & The Higher Power

This is a drawing I did yesterday with rapidiograph pens and markers.  I drew it for a childhood friend because I had emailed her photos of a couple of other drawings done in this style and she wrote back that they were "delightful" and reminded her of the artist Paul Klee.  These types of drawing are so very different from my generally realistic drawings and paintings, but that is part of the fun of it, experimenting with a variety of styles and mediums.  When I start a drawing like this I do no prep work, but just begin to make marks on a page to see where I will go.  After I've laid down the black and white drawing, I go on to choose colors one by one to color in certain sections.  Again, there is no plan.  I pick colors intuitively and see how the colors I've laid down interact with each other and then just keep going.  Usually it winds up becoming some strange, fanciful world that I can enjoy visually, but cannot interpret.  This approach is a lot of fun, but each time it takes courage to lay the first mark down.  I'm hoping that I continue the practice.

I've been trying to get myself to draw and paint more within the last few weeks and have been having only partial success.  Over the last several months I have bought a lot of art supplies, initially because I gave my older supplies to a friend last year who was interested in making art at a time when I had lost interest, and then because I was finding good deals at an online store called Dick Blick and found myself unable to resist.  Earlier this year I had painted a couple of seascapes based on photographs I found on Google.  I used a new medium -  water based oils.  I had heard of them years ago and was curious.  Could they measure up to regular oil paints?  I had switched from oils to acrylic because I work in my living room and my six cats roam around and demand attention while I'm working.  I didn't want them around the paints or the turpentine, etc...  I also worked with watercolor and gouache for the same reason.

I found as I used the water based oils that I really liked them, more than the acrylics I had been using.  The seascapes, painted on 10" x 10" canvases, came out well.  Then I went down to Florida with my brother to clear out my father's apartment because he had been moved permanently into the nursing home.  That was emotionally exhausting and when I returned I wasn't ready to start painting again.  Then I got the urge.  I bought a standing easel, put it together and kept it in my living room.  I picked out another seascape to paint and then found I couldn't do it.  So I turned to my watercolor pencils and drew this:

It didn't come out the way I had hoped.  It was pleasant enough, but still not what I wanted.  I wanted to use the oils and felt blocked.  That's why I turned to the rapidiograph pens and markers and colored pencils, going in an entirely different direction.  That's good, too and, for now, I can accept that.  I'm not sure why I have this block.  Perhaps it is the Higher Power directing me.  I hope so.

I've been turning my will and my life over to the Higher Power much more consciously in the last 6 months.  It's a strange sensation.  Each morning after I get up I take my medications for the day - one anti-depressant and one anti-psychotic.  I thank God for the medications and then I pray for guidance.  I say aloud "Please guide my thoughts, speech and actions today."  Then I go on to pray for some of the people I know, wishing them to have guidance for the day, too.  If I have a particular problem I'm dealing with that day, I ask for help with that also.  Finally, I read from 2-4 daily support readers and reflect a bit on each one.  That is about the extent of the structure I create for the day.

I have never lived a very structured life, except, at times, when I was in school.  Because my family has been able to support me financially through all my illnesses, I have not taken on the responsibilities that most people do.  My desire since I was a child was to be some kind of creative artist, but I could never commit to it the way others have, even though I tried to over and over again.  And I continue to keep creativity a big part of my life be it with writing, songwriting and singing and making visual art.  It has been a godsend to me to have a lot of creative abilities and outlets, especially when I was in the midst of acute illness.  I believe creativity is a must for everyone, regardless of their mental state.  It's a basic way to stay in touch with oneself and the Higher Power at the same time.

So as my day progresses, I turn to the Higher Power in gratitude for so many things and ask for direction as to what I need to do in the moment.  Yes, I make some plans each week to see other people, or to call them or to do certain things that need to be done, but mostly I go with the flow and see where it leads me.  And there are times when I lead myself in a wrong direction.  Most of this week I spent alone meaning to reach out to people by phone and mostly not doing so.  I spent part of my day re-reading a few journals I wrote in 1993 at age 30 when I was separated for a couple of months from my then boyfriend who had been abusing me cyclically for over 3 years.  At that point in my life I had discovered Al-Anon and their daily readers and other support books.  When I was away from my boyfriend I seriously embraced recovery, but it was a very upsetting time for me, trying to decide whether to return to living with my boyfriend or not.  As I read, I felt respect for myself and how hard I was trying to heal, but still it stirred up emotions and I felt depressed.  After experiencing a couple of days of this, I stopped reading the journal and redirected myself to more practical matters and this helped.

I see art making as a practical matter.  The practice is down to earth and meditative.  It gives me a break from my studies (because I do study for hours each day either support literature or books on addiction, dysfunctional family systems and Buddhism) and allows me to let go.  It is also the most direct means of connecting with others on the internet through sending images I've made to friends through email or posting them to Facebook or on this blog.  People don't always have the patience to read what I write, but they do have the patience to quickly take in and respond to my images.  I need some of this connection and feedback.  It makes me feel happy.  It is self-revealing in a socially acceptable way.

I also know that I need to slow down each day.  When I work, I work hard and have to take breaks mostly lying down on my couch for 5 to 10 minutes.  It also helps to sit at my table in front of an open window and listen to the birds singing and feel the breeze, look at the trees and sky and feel peaceful and grateful.  So I'm living and learning as I should be.  The cool thing is that even when I go in a wrong direction, as long as I learn from it, it has great value, just in recognizing it and in becoming more aware.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Therapeutic Value Of Coloring In Adult Coloring Books

A page I colored from Creative Haven Art Nouveau Animal Designs Coloring Book.

The Prismacolor pencils I used.

I recently started coloring in adult coloring books as a form of both concentration, meditation and relaxation.  There are quite a few coloring books for adults to choose from on Amazon.com, but you
need to choose wisely.  Some are the standard page size and some are small; some have printed designs on both sides of one page which is not good if you use markers and they bleed through; many have perforated pages so that you can remove them from the book after you use them; some are on thicker paper (recommended) and others on thinner paper.  You need also to decide what medium to use.  I chose Prismacolor Verithin colored pencils because the pencils can be sharpened to a fine point to color in small detailed areas and they don't bleed through the paper like markers.  I have not tested out different markers yet, but, of course, with markers the colors are more vibrant and that can be desirable sometimes depending on the design.  

As an amateur artist I find that when I make my own designs and color them it takes more planning and effort, which is great, too, but sometimes I like working with other people's designs precisely because it takes the pressure off of me and I get to focus on the color and different color combinations.  So I am recommending that anyone out there who wants a creative way to relax and express themselves try this option.  Some people might think that coloring in a coloring book is just reserved for kids, but I'm here to say that not true.  Check out the comments section on Amazon.com about whatever coloring book you've chosen to consider and see how much some people get into doing this form of creative outlet.  For me, it's a good way to learn more about color and to try out different mediums: colored pencils, watercolor pencils, watercolor and markers.  It's also a good thing to do if you have children, a time to learn and bond together.  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Father

A portrait I drew of my father a couple of years ago.

My father in his late 20s

My father in his late 50s in our Brooklyn home.

My father with a friend at his retirement community.

It's Father's Day.  I am here in my Western New York home staring out the open window watching the rain come down heavily thinking about my father who lives over a thousand miles away in Florida in the nursing home of his retirement community.  A couple of months ago my brother and I cleared out his apartment so the community could put it up for sale.  As I cleared out his desk and closet I came upon a bunch of birthday cards I had given to him over the years.  Inside each card I expressed my love for him.  I was touched that he kept them.  He has never been very accessible emotionally and yet he has always been very kind and very generous.  I love him for his gentle spirit, for his intelligence and for his unwavering support of me over the years.  When I had my first breakdown and checked myself into a hospital here, I called my parents to let them know.  My father was at the hospital the very next day coming all the way from Florida.  He helped to get my medications and brought me back home.  He stayed with me for a month.  It was the sweetest most honorable thing he has ever done for me.

My father grew up in an alcoholic home during the Great Depression and in the 1940s.  The Irish Catholic Kiernan family owned a house in Belle Harbor, Queens right along the Atlantic ocean and this is part of why they were not as poor as some, though still did not have a lot of money.  It was my great grandfather's house.  He had been a corrupt policeman and had retired early to become a bookie, but he made the wise choice of buying a house and allowing his children to live in it with him.  My grandfather became an alcoholic and a compulsive gambler at a very young age.  After my father was born in the summer of 1926, my grandmother became the steady wage earner and contributed to the family financially and in other ways.  Mostly my father, an only child, grew up amongst a bunch of adults which my mother insisted contributed to my father being emotionally impoverished because he had no siblings to interact with.

My father grew up on a street that ended at the beach.  Beaches have always figured prominently for my father.  In 1958 when he was 32 and my mother 30, just before my mother gave birth to my brother Rob, they went looking for a summer house on or near the beach.  They looked at a bunch of places and were horrified when they went to a community on Long Island that would not allow people of the Jewish faith to live there.  My parents closest friends were Jewish.  And so they kept looking.  Finally, they found a very small house on the bay side of a barrier beach in Westhampton.  It cost them $9,000.  It was nearly perfect for my mother to bring my brother there and four years later me during the summer months when my father would be working except for a 2-4 week vacation.

My parents kept that house even after they both retired to Florida in 1989.  When they did sell it they got over $300,000 for it.  In Florida, they retired to Sanibel Island living on the edge of a golf course very near to the beach again.  Both my grandmothers lived with them for several years before they died and after that, my parents lived a rather idyllic lifestyle for 10 years before they moved into their retirement community.  Of all the Depression babies out there, my father and mother were very fortunate.  Much of their fortune came from being exceptionally bright and knowledgeable, hard working and educated.  They were the "good" kids and followed authority in a way that my brother and I shied away from.  My father graduated from Columbia University and Columbia Law School with honors.  He became a corporate lawyer for a large group of advertising companies and had a very successful career.  Towards the end of his career he fought to protect the rights of his co-workers when a much younger boss tried to get rid of the lawyers who had worked at the company for a long time in favor of younger, more easily manipulated new lawyers.  He retired early with a very good retirement plan.

But all this is somewhat superficial.  Who was my father and who is he now?  There is no doubt in my mind that my father was and is a very good man, but having grown up in an alcoholic home, he was also a wounded man.  Handsome, bright, responsible, faithful but also emotionally inaccessible, off in his head, withdrawn from interacting with my mother, brother and me.  My mother carried the load of raising my brother and me and she openly resented this.  And because my father was not all there for us, my mother turned to my older brother and sometimes to me too for company and support and to vent.  

My father has told me very little about what it was like to grow up in an alcoholic home, even after I began a relationship with an alcoholic.  He only says that he loved his father very much and that his father was a very melancholy drunk and would openly cry as he struggled with his addictions.  My father also will not tell me much about his nervous breakdown sometime in his mid 30s when he was hospitalized for extreme paranoia for 2 months and saw a therapist for 2 years.  He just won't share this with me and because I see him as still fragile, I don't push it, even though I would very much like to do that.  I feel he has deprived me of several opportunities to bond with him and to learn from his lessons, too.  He will be 89 in August and I still feel like I only partially know him.  This saddens me and yet I accept it.  I know it could change.  I might be talking with him once a week through a video call done through Skype.  I really want to do that.  

What is it with dysfunctional families, this no talk rule?  My mother was the same way.  She wouldn't talk about one of the most important relationship in her life, the one with her father who was verbally abusive to her at the same time he favored her and was proud of her.  It's clear to me that we love each other in my family, but we are not demonstrative about it.  So much has gone unsaid and with my mother, who died on January 2nd, 2014, never to be said.  Now my father is in the early stages of dementia.  I can still communicate with him, which is a blessing, though I have been withdrawn from him for a couple of months.  I just know that I wish him well, now and always.  I have told him repeatedly that I love him and he has said that back to me.  I know it's true.  I just wish we could have gone farther. 

Watercolor Landscape - First Attempt

Friday, June 19, 2015

Poem: The First Step Up Again

My first YouTube video...sorry about the mess in the background.

The First Step Up Again

I have stumbled, fallen, walked and run

Along a path that has led to 12 Steps;

I am stepping onto the first Step.

I have stepped here before many times

Because these Steps repeat

As I work my way up the hills to the mountain.

Each time I come here in a fog of forgetfulness

Deflated, confused and weak

Trying so hard to remember my teachers' lessons.

It is not enough to feel this blindness

And my powerlessness to see what is right in front of me.

I must acknowledge out loud that I need help

From a source I cannot name

But can feel all around me.

I stand on this first Step and quiet myself.

I act as if I am safe enough to pray

And as I do, I see a small light near me;

It shines on the second Step

As if to show the way up and not down.

In gratitude for the gift of sight

I follow the way.

I take the next Step.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Day Of Depression

I am thankful that this was just one day of depression and not days, months or years of it as is true for too many people.  It was true for me once, too, ten years ago.  And today's depression was no where near as bad as then when I had very, very little motivation to do anything.  I managed to earn a BFA in painting and photography very slowly and, to my dismay, with too much mediocre work.  And before that, just after I went through a severe psychotic break with reality, I experienced the worst kind of depression:  suicidal depression.  It lasted months and then shifted into a depression where I could still continue and wait for a positive change.  And I did wait.  And the positive change did come and I returned to humor and laughter and peace off and on.  And I was very grateful.

I am still very grateful and it does help immensely to practice gratitude.  So many people are suffering so much in all kinds of ways every moment in different places all over the world.  And they, too, need to practice gratitude - especially them.  Because there are so very many things to be grateful for on this planet with all its diversity of life.  The human body is a miracle with all of our amazing senses.  For those of us who can see I think we are overly attached to our sight at the expense of appreciating our other senses sometimes.  And yet sight is incredible.  And the air we breath that sustains us, and the spaces we live in, and the ability to move, and, of course, our wonderful, creative minds.  And then there's our hearts which have been so wounded over time, which we armor, numb and hide sometimes.  

Today, through the depression, I began to see that I am still a shame based, fearful person.  I love people at the same time that I fear them.  But once I reach out and talk to them and hear their stories and their high and low points in life, so similar to my own, much of the fear diminishes and I feel some joy.  Today I spent alone and talked to almost no one.  Today I should have called a friend, but instead fell asleep for several hours.  But I see that as the lesson that I'm being taught that next time I will have that choice again and will choose regardless of my depression to talk to someone and share and listen to them and support them.  I am learning.

This day of depression comes at the end of a very good week.  I renewed a friendship I started last year,  I called someone from my Al-Anon support group and had a wonderful talk with her, I began to see a new therapist who specialized in yoga, I talked with a dear childhood friend, I talked with an artist friend for the first time on the phone and felt a sense of deep compassion.  So I reached out this week for the first time in months.  Perhaps that's why this day of solitude stood out for me in a way that it didn't before because my general routine was to stay alone.

It still comes down to the 12 Step slogan - "Let Go and Let God."  Melody Beattie in her daily reader book The Language Of Letting Go said repeatedly that I should believe that I am where I'm supposed to be, that there's a larger picture, a greater plan than I can be aware of and that I should trust the recovery process.  And I do despite the fears and the shaky sense that I'm wrong and making mistakes when I'm really not.  After all I've been through, I know now with much more confidence that I am a good person and that it is okay to love myself and continue.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Poem: Thy Will Be Done

Thy Will Be Done

Thy will be done on this day
And in the days to come.

What is your will for me today?
Not a word can I hear
Just the small sounds of the house
The muffled drip of the rain outside.
Just my soft breaths in and out.
Just my open spirit listening
As if to the sound of the waves past a dune.

Thy will be done on this day
And in the days to come.

The message I have heard during hard times
And light times is to take care,
Take care of my true self
Once submerged in a murky lake
And now coming up for air.

True self come forward
Wait for the rain to stop
For the clouds to drift away
And the blue of the sky to come forth.
Wait for the sun to warm your face.

Thy will be done on this day
And in the days to come.

Great Spirit you are everywhere,
You are space.
Space is gentle;
Space is kind;
Space holds the fact
That freedom is real.

Thy will be done on this day
And in the days to come.