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, May 26, 2007

Some Thoughts On Mental Illness

It's after one am and I know I should be getting ready to sleep but I feel like writing. The switch from winter to summer has been abrupt. The heat has slowed me down during the day and made me perk up as the sun sets. Right now there is a cool and refreshing breeze that is accentuated by my ceiling fan. Outside it is a moonless night. When I was paranoid I wouldn't have been able to sit so peacefully before an open window. I would have been self-conscious, worried and even afraid. But I don't feel the menace in the night anymore as long as I'm safe within my house. And if someone were watching me, it would be a pretty dull show: middle aged woman staring at a computer screen, a tv monitor, a book...middle aged woman eating a bowl of cereal...middle aged woman smoking a cigarette and drinking hot decaffeinated green tea...I'm no big deal and it's a relief. If the rich and famous have felt some of the paranoia (though in their case sometimes justified) then I do not envy them their fame. It's a lousy feeling when you think that strangers are judging you and prying into your most private affairs. Though, of course, schizophrenia is much worse than that in it's acute stages. Then it's like having your mind cracked open like an egg with everything exposed both conscious and unconscious and the pain and confusion that ensues.

12 hours later...

I've been thinking about Pam in the hospital. Before she went in she said she was evil, "Satan's spawn" and that she had caused her dear friend Joe to become ill with a seriously debilitating disease. Why is it that so many people living with schizophrenia have voices that tell them they're evil? My voices also told me I was evil, not just evil but the Devil incarnate. I think this goes beyond a mere chemical imbalance and into a spiritual dilemma. When we feel like good people, despite problems, it's smooth sailing, but when we feel like bad people we are caught in a vortex of much of mental illness. Because the illness is so severe and emotionally overwhelming we are forced to listen to voices that push this idea of good and evil and natural and supernatural. In the midst of psychosis the two start to mingle and it becomes hard to distinguish what is what.

6 hours later...

Can't seem to get into a groove about writing about this. My personal belief is that the Higher Power does not just affect human lives but lives elsewhere in the universe and that some of these alien (to us) lives influence individuals on our planet, more specifically those who hear voices. There is no way to prove this, just as there is no rational way to prove the existence of God and yet this is what I believe, this is what I've experienced. It would explain a lot of things that so far not even the scientists can explain. In the past people with schizophrenia have been seen as either touched by God or possessed by the Devil. Now, the standard belief is that voices are the product of chemical imbalances in the brain. Sounds good but doesn't get at the heart of the matter. I do think that the chemical imbalance is part of what causes schizophrenic symptoms but I also believe that these beings can influence body chemistry, that they can, in effect, induce mental illness. But, if so, why? I think that they are ill themselves but beyond this they are different from us and will not explain their differences. So much of what their motivations are, are a mystery to me. But one thing I do know and that is that they have adopted our obsession with the good versus evil dichotomy. What we think matters and what we choose to do matters and they along with the higher power observe us and take note of which direction we're heading in, but at the times when God does not intervene, they do. For better and for worse, they are involved in our spiritual process. Some of them may be angels and others may be devils or at least devilish, most are probably a mixture like us.

Mostly when we think of aliens we think of monsters set to destroy us but the reality is more subtle and complex. I believe in life after death, perhaps even in reincarnation. I don't believe that this lifetime is all there is and perhaps this is why the higher power allows for painful lives, some that end early too. The voices used to tell me that earth was a school and a hospital. We are hear to learn and to heal our souls. Each life is filled with moral lessons and with mistakes that lead to revelation if we're willing to have the courage to look and listen and learn. The lessons are particularly hard for those put into psychosis and if you don't affirm your essential goodness and move towards positive change, you can get stuck or even worse put an end to your life. The voices/aliens can push us to the point of breaking and sometimes we do indeed break. If that were the end of the story, it would be tragic but as I said, I don't think so, it may be just the beginning.

Pam's case is particularly hard and heartbreaking because she was afflicted at such a young age, a mere eleven years old. Why are some forced into the psychosis so young whereas others like myself are spared till a later age? Again, I don't know. Pam was just a child, full of innocence and intelligence, it seems so unfair but then many things in life are unfair. Still the human spirit is very resilient. I've heard the saying what doesn't break you, makes you stronger and I think there's some truth to that. I wish I could show Pam how to believe deeply in her goodness. I think so much of her suffering could be averted if she could just stop putting herself down. And I know it's hard but you do have to fight against negative attitudes and perceptions in order to survive. But I can't get inside her head or anyone else's head and I don't know her underlying experience. Only she knows and perhaps her therapist. But I do believe that there is a way out of madness even for those who have lived in the grip of it for most of their lives.

Each of us afflicted with mental illness have to find our individual way towards peace. One way does not fit all people. My way has been through a belief in a Higher Power. That belief led me to compassion for myself and others and for them, the voices. I've learned to work with them instead of against them. I've learned to pray for them and to care about them, just as I pray for and care about myself and others. I no longer suffer much. The paranoia is gone and with it the pressure and the delusions are gone except for occasional twinges that I'm able to overcome relatively easily and with their help. I have voices but they are no longer intrusive and abusive. I am not yet recovered but I am well into recovery and hope has replaced despair.
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