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.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Skimming The Surface

Well, the snow and cold weather has returned for a few more days. I'm still waiting on Spring, still hoping it will give me a reprieve from my depression. For some reason I've been avoiding the computer. Online communication is the closest I come to having any heart to heart communication. And even this I withdraw from. A part of me is drawn to isolation like a moth to a flame. If I had some purpose like writing a book or composing songs, then the isolation would be constructive and the depression might begin to evaporate. I used to have a sort of mantra in which I said to myself: "motivation is mental happiness." I have more motivation than I did then but I'm adrift from the larger world. A self-made outsider. I blame no one for my condition. I am the one who is responsible for me but it's times like these when I almost wish for a touch of divine intervention. I want God to touch me with some magic wand and give me a purpose in life. The reality is that there is purpose all around me but the purpose doesn't take hold unless I'm willing to embrace it.

I just finished listening to Karen Armstrong reading her memoir The Spiral Staircase. She entered an English convent when she was seventeen and stayed for about seven years when she came to the conclusion that she did not believe in God and could no longer live the life of a nun. But she eventually continued studying religion and wrote a popular book (in the U.S.) called A History Of God. As far as I can tell, she still does not believe in God but is fascinated by the human urge to try to "know God". I can understand her disbelief in God because I grew up in a family of atheists. And I, too, am wary of organized religion. But I do believe in something I can't yet define, something the voices have taught me is out there and here at the same time. A compassionate intelligence that is too often beyond understanding. But why is it often beyond understanding? I just don't know yet.

I rail against the unknown because I want to know the truth. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Is there a God? The answers are elusive to me. And yet, like most people, I continue the quest to understand. It seems just a part of human nature to want to know why this or why that, human nature to seek a meaningful existence no matter how haphazardly. And I am quite haphazard. I know I have all the tools I need to construct a meaningful life but as of now I'm missing some essential ingredient. That could be community or it could be a clearer understanding of God. Either way I believe there is something I can do to change the course of my life. I think it requires persevering in my day to day struggles. I continue to cultivate patience and gratitude and both of these have served me well so far.

I admire Karen Armstrong for her intelligence, honesty and courage. She, too, often lives an isolated life but where my life is aimless, hers has direction and purpose. She studies and she reflects and she writes. I hope some day I can be a bit like her. Right now I skim the surface of things but turn away from deeper contemplation. But I don't want to turn away. Is it because of my illness that I turn away or is it some character fault that's become ingrained in me? That is to say, is it something beyond my control or not? I want to believe it is a character flaw that I can "fix" and not just my lot in life. If my lack of motivation is due to schizophrenia and depression and not to a character flaw, then what can I do? I can fight it by looking on the positive side of things. It may be my lot in life to suffer from mental illness but I don't have to give in to it.

Surviving domestic violence and surviving the worst of schizophrenia has left scars on my heart and mind. I am numb. I remember reading that however long a person has been in abuse that it can take the same amount of time to heal, maybe even longer. That's about ten years worth and I'm only a couple of years into recovery. Back to patience and gratitude. I pray that I won't always be so numb. It's been years since I had a good heart wrenching cry for myself and for others. What a gift to be able to freely express emotion. My voices don't torment me the way they used to but they are an added presence in my life and infuse themselves into it. I am more cautious now than I ever have been, cautious with my thoughts and feelings. I wonder about each thought and emotion...is it okay? I had a dream where I was helping a woman who lived in a small room and never went out. It was only later that I realized that this was a dream of me trying to help myself.

I haven't consulted the I Ching in ten days and it's time to ask another searching question, but, as usual, I'm stumped as to what question. Perhaps, what can I do to reawaken my heart? I believe my closed heart keeps me from the motivation that I think would be so precious. I know one thing I could do and that is meditate each day, open my heart slowly, gently. First opening to myself and then to others. Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, has some great teachings on using the raw material of one's life as a basis for meditation. The key point in Buddhist practice is compassion for ourselves and others. Instead of rejecting what's unpleasant you embrace it and then let it go and imagine that what you suffer someone else is suffering from the same thing right now. This softens the heart and may even end that pervasive feeling of isolation.

But I don't know. I haven't opened the door yet. I touch the door handle but won't turn the knob. I'm still afraid. Maybe it's time to start facing my fears. Breathing in the pain and breathing out the healing while realizing that I am not alone. All change starts with the self.
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