I grew up priviledged. I had my own room on the top floor of a three story brownstone in Park Slope Brooklyn. From the age of four on I could always withdraw from my family and retreat into my room. As the years passed I got used to relying on myself to take care of myself. Yes, I would talk with my mother and brother and yes, I would have friends over but I also spent a lot of time alone in that room. High school was emotionally stressful and each day when I got home I would fall asleep for two to three hours till it was time for dinner. Then when I was seventeen I found myself with a boyfriend and he began living with me in my parents' house. Over the next five years we adapted to each other. I studied at Barnard and Columbia and he studied at Columbia and we lived in my parents' house. He became a part of my family. Now I was in a relationship and couldn't just retreat to my room when I felt like being alone. For a while it worked. Then when college ended for us we went our separate ways and I began, once again, spending a lot of time alone in my room.
For me solitude is both a blessing and a bit of a curse. On the one hand, it allows me a feeling of freedom and gives me a good environment to be creative but, on the other hand, it naturally isolates me. I've been noticing this this week while I've been trying to pull up memories so that I can work on starting a memoir. First of all it's hard for me to claim my memories and then when I do it's painful to relive my life. Lately the memories are of childhood but they come from different ages. There is no neat linear progression to the memories instead they're scattered. It's like seeing my life spread all over the place and in effect that is where I'm at, unsettled and tentatively striving to organize my life, to make sense out of the chaos. So I'm discovering that it takes a certain amount of courage to face one's life and try to order it and share it. A certain amount of solitude is necessary for this process to unfold. But I have to be careful because I already have a tendency to isolate myself and too much isolation leads to depression and imbalance.
Today I went to the second writing workshop class, so I did spend a couple of hours around people but I knew that I wouldn't say much. So I listened and did the three writing exercises. This week our teacher had laid out another 18" x 24" paper with a circle in the center. She had us write our name in the center of the circle and then write the names of the people who have been closest to us in circles around the main circle. The farther away from the center the more distant the connection. And these people can also be people we've never met like a writer or singer. So, again, this is another way to visualize and organize our characters and our thoughts about them.
While I was doing this I realized that I had trouble after a little while thinking of people who have affected me. I came face to face with my own isolated life. I've mostly lived alone since I left Brendan. That was 1995 when I was 33 years old. It's going on 12 years now, the years most women settle down and have a couple of children or develop their careers. Me, no marriage, no kids, no career. Mental illness has taken a lot from me. Tonight I realized that I was lonely. It may sound strange but because I spend so much time alone I can't always identify when I'm feeling lonely or rather loneliness is just a part of who I am. I haven't had a close female friend since high school and after Brendan, no boyfriends. I decided soon after I became psychotic that I couldn't be in a relationship with a man until I got through the worst of it. Well, I think I have and I'm still not ready, but I'm getting closer to it. First, I need to find a friend.
Finding a friend means reaching out. This does not come naturally to me. I'm so used to hiding myself from others, so used to taking care of myself by myself (and not so well unfortunately). All through the worst of the psychosis I mostly lived alone and dealt with it by myself. That's what I know, so that's what I do. But I know it's not healthy and that I have to change. So I will continue with this writing course and take the next one they offer and I will go to Al-Anon (which I missed these last two weeks) and I will keep a look out for any potential friend. And then I'll do some rehearsing and call someone and ask to go out together for lunch or a movie. I haven't done that in such a long time.
The easy way is to not reach out to people but I'm finding that that is not really so easy. The deeper I dig my hole, the harder it is to get out of it. But there is still light visible and the first step is to call out for help and maybe start to dig out some steps to take me back up to the light. One step at a time. So, one goal is to keep writing my memoirs and another is to cultivate at least one friendship in the next 6 months. Spring is coming and that will help a great deal. Tomorrow is Daylight Savings Time thank goodness, a whole extra hour of light means I can go to my support group meeting in daylight. It's such a small thing but it means a lot to me.
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.