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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Home


Home from the Grassroots Festival. The only day that was a bit problematical was the first day. We got a lot of rain. For most of the rain we stayed in the covered bleachers then the rain lightened up and we got to move around. The hard part was getting the car out of the free parking area. We got stuck in the mud but luckily someone helped my brother push the car through the worst of it and we made it to the road. For the next three days we parked by the side of the road instead of in the parking lot and that worked out fine. The parking lot was several miles away from the festival, so there was a free shuttle bus running 24 hours a day. We were fortunate in that every time we used the bus we got a seat whereas many people had to stand. Each time we used the bus we would tip the driver a dollar a piece, but I was surprised how few people actually left a tip. I didn’t envy the drivers. That kind of work is mind numbing but hopefully they got paid well for it.

There was a lot of music, so we only got to see/hear some of it. We gravitated more towards the African music which was consistently good. We got to see Vieux Farka Toure (son of the late Ali Farka Toure), Mamadou Diabate, Hugh Masekela and Samite of Uganda. The first two from Mali, the second from South Africa and the third obviously from Uganda. The headliner was Arrested Development which is a hip/hop type of band that was very popular ten years ago. I was somewhat into them then and was hoping I would be again but I didn’t respond to a lot of the music they played. It was overproduced, not particularly soulful. But after we listened to them we went over to the dance tent and listened to a Cajun band called Balfa Toujours and that lifted my spirits and I got to watch couples dancing which was fun. On Sunday we listened to a Mexican American singer named Christina Ortega. She had a great voice and I wouldn’t mind getting some of her music. Then we listened to a Canadian band, the Duhks who had two female singers (one a fiddler) that also were very good. We saw them the year before and my brother had gotten some of their music, so we made a point of going to see them. And the last non African band we got to see was The Avett Brothers. It’s actually a trio, classical bass, banjo and guitar and they do what my brother calls “folk/punk” and I thought they were a lot of fun too. All in all the music was good but no real highlights for me. Sometimes something grabs me but this time that didn’t happen. I can’t complain though because I did enjoy myself.

Part of what made the trip enjoyable was that we got a hotel room near the event whereas in the previous years I would drive 40 minutes to get to a hotel each night. One afternoon we went to eat at a very good Thai restaurant. We had Pad Thai (Thai noodles with shrimp), a beef curry, some Gai Tom Ka a chicken/coconut milk soup and some Thai beer--Singha. Eating Thai food is special to me because I got to go to Thailand for 10 days when I was 24 years old. I stayed with a friend/boyfriend who won a Fulbright scholarship. He had been there for six months and knew some of the language. He shared a modern house in Bankok with two young women. It was great to be in such a foreign and beautiful land with someone taking me for my own private tour. Thailand made a big impression on me. I almost didn’t want to leave. I could see how Vietnam veterans could choose to stay in Thailand and not go back to live in the U.S. There’s just something magical about the place, or there was to me then.

That was over 20 years ago before I met Brendan and before I fell ill with schizophrenia. Now, at this festival, I felt my age and my illness. Not acutely, not enough to really dampen my spirits, though the voices at one point started to act up a little, but enough to make me notice. But that’s all a part of life. Things change as time passes. I have to accept that I am not perfect, that no one is and that it’s okay. I’ve been given a chance in this life and I’ve made some poor choices but still it was my choice and I have to live with it. And I have to realize that I still have the power of free choice for many things which means I should try to exercise that power wisely.

We left the festival at around 9:30 and got home a couple of hours later. I did some praying on the way home because I’m not very happy about driving at nighttime. People put a lot of trust into their cars and into themselves as drivers. They have to or few people would get in a car and go places. I found myself missing living in a city with public transportation where you don’t have to worry much about accidents, though you may have to stay alert to the possibility that someone might hassle you, especially late at night. In New York City I could really get around because the public transportation was so good and extensive. To be honest, I didn’t love the subways but I was grateful to have them or I would never have gotten out of Brooklyn.

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(Next day...) Well, I went to the doctor today to get a pap smear done. I haven’t had one done since before I got sick so I knew I had to do it today but I wasn’t so happy about the idea of a man doing it. In the past I’ve had female gynecologists do it but there aren’t any I can go to nearby, so I decided to go ahead with it. It turned out better than I thought it would. I wasn’t too nervous and it went quickly. I also had him prescribe me some medicine that should help me quit smoking. I think I might try in about a month, just after I get back from visiting my parents. That will give me a little over a month at home before I visit my uncle in Chicago. Enough time to get used to it. The doctor says it’s a new drug, not an antidepressant and it shouldn’t interfere with any drugs that I’m taking.

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(Next day...) Exercised twice today and did some cleaning. Worked on putting together an afghan for my uncle. Talked to/with my therapist for 50 minutes. Did a little singing/playing. So I got some things accomplished today. While I was sewing together my afghan squares I listened to an audiobook called A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. It’s a memoir about his stay at a rehab when he was 23 years old. It’s graphic and sometimes moving and made me think of Brendan and also of myself. Listening to his story makes me look more closely at my own addiction to cigarettes, the habitual, addicted pattern of it. When I don’t know what to do, I light up a cigarette. Instead of facing my temporary discomfort I go for some kind of instant gratification and miss an opportunity to grow, to change for the better. I go on automatic. Smoking at the festival made me feel self-conscious but I did it anyway even though I knew there were children around. It wasn’t automatic. I thought and looked around before I lit up. I noticed some people smoking but it was a sad kind of comfort. I didn’t really want them to be smoking either. After I finished a cigarette I would take the stamped out butt and put it in a small zip lock bag that I was carrying with me. I felt a little like a delinquent adult. And I thought maybe this time next year I will have quit for good and I won’t have to worry about it anymore. Now I’m thinking maybe by October I’ll have gotten some distance from smoking. I think it’s important to quit while I’m home instead of on a trip because it’s home where I’m most addicted and it’s home where I have to fight the good fight. I realized pretty quickly that I’ll have to change my living room around so I’m not going to the same seat in the same place where I’ve been smoking for the past year. I have to make some concrete changes while the drug gives me respite from nicotene cravings. I also hope that I have an exercise program in place so that I don’t just start going for food in place of a cigarette. Also crocheting and listening to audiobooks is a good way to stay focused. And, God, I know it sounds a bit weird but I would love to get into cleaning the house. I want to stop smoking, to lose weight and to keep a clean and organized house. If I could accomplish that in the next 12 months then this will be a good year indeed.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Heading To Grassroots


Well I can’t get the audio through or a picture but I’ll keep fiddling with it a bit more, but the blog does come up which is a step in the right direction.

Tomorrow my brother and I go to an annual music festival that’s called GRASSROOTS. We’ve been going each summer for several years now. It’s an outdoor festival that lasts four days. There’s camping but we will be staying at a nearby hotel. We’ll bring our fold up chairs and set up in front of one of the stages. The music is varied, from African to country, blues, rock, etc... I particularly like the African music and I recommend it (try Ali Farka Toure or Fela). For the country music lovers they have a covered space where you can do country dancing. I’ve never really hung out there. They also have a couple of dance performances. There’s a gallery of work by local artists and there’s a long wall where people can paint whatever they feel like painting. There are also people selling handmade tee shirts, jewelry, musical instruments, hats/bags and assorted other things. And of course, there’s all kinds of food. The festival is one of the few places where Rob and I can eat both Thai and Indian food which we love. Everyone seems to have a good time and there’s a lot of dancing going on which is fun to watch, people just relaxing and enjoying themselves.

It’s one of the few places where I’m around a lot of people. For the most part, I like it. My therapist said to me that it’s a place where I can be around people but not have to interact with them. I like to watch people while listening to music. I like being outside with them. For the most part it’s a safe feeling there though a bit too homogenized (mostly middle class white people). I grew up in New York City and I got used to people coming in all different shades of skin color with all different orientations, religious, ethnic, rich and poor and everything in between. It took a little while to get used to being around mostly white people. Some people, that’s all they know and going to a big city is an foreign experience. For me, it was the other way around. Now, I’m no longer a city woman, not used to crowds of people in the subway or on the streets. But for four days and nights I can adapt to being around the people at this festival.

The main reason I go is for the live music. Music just sounds so good live and outdoors. It’s what makes the festival a festival. Something joyful and all too human. It makes me think people can live in peace if they’d just get a daily dose of good music. And the music at this festival you can get right up to the stage if you want and see the performance with crystal clarity. I usually stay in my seat with my crocheting and a pair of small binoculars.

Yesterday I started working with a singing instruction tape. I got this program many years ago but never studied it but now I need it because my voice is so weak and untrained. I found that you have to be willing to get really LOUD!!! It doesn’t matter if at first you sound like shit, you just belt it out there. The instructors, a man and a woman, started out teaching about proper breathing and then went on to singing vowel sounds. They sound terrible and so do I but that’s not the point. The point is how to sing well and these are the steps you take to get to that point. They also demonstrated dynamics or the ability to get loud to quiet or quiet to loud. I can see that I’m going to need a lot of practice. I recorded myself singing one of my older songs and compared it with the original. Big difference. I started to worry, would I be able to sing that way again if I practiced regularly? So I consulted the I Ching and the response was Deliverance(40) into Progress(35). I didn’t even have to go deeply into the reading to realize that the answer was a firm yes, that is, if I do the work. And I want to keep trying.

I wondered, why did I sound good before? I think it was that I practiced and got lost in what I was doing in a good way. It used to be a form of self-expression and meditation. I couldn’t play my guitar well but I could make up words, find a melody out of a handful of chords and sing. And so I did. I knew it was just me singing to myself, completely private and I could sing whatever and however I felt like it. Most of what I got were not complete songs but maybe half to three quarters of a song at a time, which I recorded but only after I had practiced a lot. Right now, I’m practicing a little bit and recording what I get too soon. I guess, I just don’t want to forget what I’ve come up and I don’t have the stamina yet to sit with it. But stamina is what I have to cultivate over time.

Last night I watched an hour long DVD on Jim Morrison and the Doors which I borrowed from my brother. Jim Morrison was not afraid to get LOUD but he also could get soft. And it was obvious that sometimes he was oblivious to everything but what he was singing. He both acted out and got contemplative. He also saw himself as a poet which I think was part of his charisma. He was very fortunate to have the Doors as his band. The music still gets to me years after I first heard it. The Doors sound like themselves and to me they’ll always be worth listening to. It’s too bad that Jim Morrison cut himself down so young. What he could have done!

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll be back hopefully early next week. Till then stay safe and happy.


Monday, July 16, 2007

MacJournal Test


I just downloaded a new program called the MacJournal. I got the idea to do it from Hilary who is a firm believer in organizing her I Ching readings. The program allows me to create as many journals as I want with a searchable database. So far I have a regular journal, an I Ching journal, a song writing journal and a Yin And Yang journal. Supposedly I can write in my Yin and Yang journal and then post it in my blog and this is what I’m going to be testing out tonight. This will take a lot of pressure off writing because I won’t have to be online to do it, so I can touch base with it more easily throughout the day. Also I’ll have a copy of it for myself instead of having to print out from the web pages.

This program also can create an audio file, or at least I hope it can. It’s like having my very own podcast so I can speak or read poetry or play a song or whatever and pass it on to you. For the last half hour I’ve been trying to come up with something to record. I have some old songs, a poem or I could read from a book or play a song by a favorite artist or just rap. There are a lot of possibilities. But for now I’m just going to test it out to see if I can do it. I just recorded the Beatles doing Taxman. It’s one of my favorite songs. I can still add images I’ve found on the web here but when I try to add my photos they are way too big. I’m definitely doing something wrong but I’m not sure what yet. It would be great if I could post pictures too along with the audio. I’m so computer illiterate but maybe I’ll figure it out.






Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Few Steps Closer

It's been two weeks since I asked the I Ching about returning to music. Everyday I've been touching base with my studio (I'm going to call it a studio from now on even though it's just a back room with some basic equipment) to listen to old songs and work on new ones. These last few days I've been slowly getting organized. The voices gave me the idea to bring my boom box into the studio and practice singing with it. I should have thought of this a long time ago. I listened to The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield and Joni Mitchell and then sang with certain songs. I wear my headset. The microphone picks up the music while amplifying my voice while I sing. My singing is okay to poor which is not surprising since I haven't sung regularly for about seven years, not since just after I got sick with schizophrenia. I also have forgotten a lot of the words to my favorite songs so the singing is very choppy. I learned online that it can take a person up to four months to be able to sing if he or she is just beginning. The good news is that with daily practice there will be improvement and I know from past experience that practice (obviously) is the key to a decent singing voice. The vocal muscles need to be trained and your breathing needs to be regulated to produce the best sound.

It's hard for me to return because I'm back to being a near absolute beginner and this is not just due to not keeping up with it. I also haven't had teachers and no musical friends to show me how to use my equipment, how to play my instrument or how to sing. Once again, my own fault. I guess I got used to shutting people out and going into the music instead in a half assed way. But even though I wasn't clear about what I was doing, I still got to hit the right notes and the right rhythms and even the right words sometimes. I can hear when I listen to old tapes that I can sing, that somehow I got myself to do it.

Well, now, I am in a different place. I don't have the intuition to wing it. I have to get down to learning the A,B,C's of songwriting/singing/playing. So I went online and googled songwriting. Got some information on the basics of how to write a song and of how to sing and found a songwriters forum to join. That's the beauty of the internet -- it's a library and a meeting place. And that's the beauty of people, always sharing great ideas but now it's within the reach of your fingertips.

(A couple of days later...)

Yesterday I went out with my brother. I brought my acoustic guitar to a nearby music store because the body is detaching from the neck and I can't play it because I can't tune it. I've been using my electric guitar instead but I miss the acoustic. As my brother said yesterday acoustic and electric guitars are "two different animals". The acoustic is actually harder to play than the electric when you're just starting out. You get sore fingers, at least during the first couple of weeks while your fingers develop callouses. But the acoustic is what I first started out with. Also it's portable, doesn't need an amplifier or an 8 track in order to hear it. Making up songs is sometimes spur of the moment and it's good to have an instrument ready and handy. The men at the store weren't sure if they could fix it or not so they took the guitar and wrote down my name and number and said they'd call to let me know. I hope they can fix it. If not, there are a few places I could try an hour away.

I didn't get to do much work yesterday and today I woke up late but I still got into the studio and worked on a song. I find I need to take regular breaks and from what I've read online so far that's recommended. You need to let intuition work in making a song. One of the suggestions I read was to start making up or finding (in books, magazines, wherever) titles. I've done this off and on for years, even after I stopped playing. I should go through my journals and find them and see if they strike a chord in me. Go on a title hunt.

I've got almost a page of titles so far and I look over them a couple of times a day. It does help to keep me engaged. One of my titles is Lost Queen. I found it in a magazine. And I started wondering what made the queen lost and did she have a king and then I started thinking of Queen Elizabeth I, the "Virgin" Queen. Over the years I've picked up some information about Queen Elizabeth and been drawn to her as one of the few female authority figures in history. But in order for her to be as powerful as she was, she never married. Did that make her lost emotionally in some ways?

I started writing a song about paranoia but got stuck pretty quickly. It's an important subject for me, something I've intimately experienced but I can't remember yet the feeling and it's the feeling I want to convey. When did it start? What did it feel like? I think everyone can identify the feeling of paranoia at some point in their lives. We all worry that our privacy is not intact, that someone has caught us unawares. Or worse that someone wants to hurt us. Stephen Stills: "Paranoia strikes deep/ Into your heart it will creep/ It starts when you're always afraid/ Step out of line, the man take you away." I think I first became schizophrenic when I became paranoid. That was a marker and the beginning point of a hard road. Anyone who hears voices has probably experienced paranoia. In the beginning the voices represent the paranoia. You feel constantly watched with every thought noted down somewhere. Try to imagine that, absolutely no privacy in your life, in your mind. That alone is what accounts for much of the initial illness. Only a superhuman person would be able to withstand that kind of scrutiny. But on top of the scrutiny is the feeling that the scrutiny is often not benevolent but malevolent. A perpetual negative edge.

I've been listening to Sirius satellite radio taking up another of the online suggestions to start listening to a lot of music. I'm trying to figure out the structure of some of the songs I hear. Really much of my listening has been pretty blind. I miss the days when I would listen to a side of a record in my bedroom as a teenager. I would listen with great attention and after I learned the words I would sing with the record. It was like a deep meditation, communing with what I was hearing. I need to do that now. I have to work through the emotional scar tissue that's built up over the years and get back to my heart.

So far no delusional thoughts. I feel like my inexperience is grounding me to reality and I feel grateful.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Just Keep Going

I made myself go to an Al-Anon meeting after several weeks away from it. The meeting starts about two hours after I do my volunteer work at the library and for two Mondays I've been either too tired or in a bad mood but yesterday I was well enough to go. I felt quiet and didn't offer to chair the meeting or read the daily meditations but towards the end of the meeting we read this:

"Our lives will remain unmanageable as long as we pretend that only half of the truth is real. That's why sharing is such an important Al-Anon tool. When we share with other members about what is really going on, we cut through our denial and anchor ourselves in reality. While it may be difficult to face certain facts, when we allow ourselves to confront them, we cease to give our own denial the power to devastate us at every turn." (Courage To Change, July 9th)

Other people at the meeting had been sharing about the struggles in their lives, not necessarily alcohol related, and I wished I could do the same. But a lot of the way I am and live has to do with my mental illness and I wasn't sure if this meeting was the appropriate place to talk about it. Then I thought, if not here and now then where and when? So I told the group that I had trouble sharing but that I wanted to. I talked about my schizophrenia, about how in the earlier years at the meetings I had been actively psychotic and had taken on a motivational role but that I no longer felt that way, though I felt much less psychotic. I realized then that I missed that part of me that could sometimes inspire people (one woman said that something I had said during that time stayed with her every day...) and wish I had some of the more manic ease of my early psychosis. But, really, it wasn't ease, it was the voices goading me on. My mind was frantic and I needed those meetings to slow me down. They slowed me down by having me concentrate on other people instead of my hyperactive thoughts and feelings. It was the voices who pushed me to speak out in the group. I didn't speak out about my schizophrenia but about how to fight codependency through taking good care of oneself, keeping the focus on oneself instead of the alcoholic or whoever was causing distress in one's life. This is what Al-Anon had taught me and what I tried to mirror back to the group.

Now is different. I have no alcoholic boyfriend. I have no schizophrenic alter ego. I am not codependent on anyone or anything mainly because I am less ill but also, of course, because I live alone and have no friends. So I don't have a lot to say about the people in my life because there are so few. My brother does drink too much but I have no desire to butt into his life when he's told me so far he has no physical or emotional problems with it. If that changes, so will my response. But even though all I really have in my life is myself and my cats I am still stuck and I could sense this at the meeting. One person asked me if having trouble sharing about my life is because I don't think my life is important enough to discuss, or, in other words, due to low self-esteem. And this may be true. I can write about my life in this blog, find some meaning in it or in books and ideas I encounter, but I can't seem to share my life's struggles with people face to face. I feel self-conscious and almost ashamed in one way and just too detached in another way.

On my way to the meeting I chose an audio recording to listen to of a Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron. I have a lot of her recordings. The first one I got was called Awakening Compassion: Meditation Practice for Difficult Times. I remember clearly when I got it because after I bought it I took it with me on a trip to St. Thomas with my family. I had just had my third breakdown and was still very shaky and quite miserable and I thought this woman Pema Chodron might comfort me if not inspire me. After that I began collecting some her talks. The recording I started listening to yesterday is called True Happiness: Cultivating a Life of Unconditional Joy and the Power to Benefit Others. I listened to the first two cds recorded at a winter retreat in Gampo Abbey monastery in Nova Scotia. Here are three quotes she started out with:

"Knowing life is short, enjoy it day after day, moment after moment." Suzuki Roshi

"Beings long to free themselves from misery, but misery itself we follow and pursue. We long for joy, but in our ignorance destroy it as we would an enemy." Shanti Dayva (? )

"Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final." Rilke

Ms. Chodron said we all want to be happy but every day there is discomfort as well as comfort. We get in our own way. She went on to say that the greatest obstacle to happiness is self-denigration which is why it is so very important to cultivate loving-kindness first towards oneself. Do I put myself down? Yes, I do but almost unconsciously. I think I'm too fat, my house is a mess, I'm not good enough for friends or a lover, I'm lazy, etc... These thoughts become little worries that dog me throughout the day, worries that I push aside and try to ignore. So I asked myself almost for the first time--am I loving myself? am I taking care of myself? Sort of. Better than when I was sicker but not so great. Ms. Chodron said something that made an impression on me. She said we are drawn to things that harm us and, in one way or another, we are all addicts. I have thought this before and it is certainly true for me. I would like to quite smoking but each day I continue to smoke. I know it is unhealthy and annoying and yet I do it. To acknowledge it as an addiction is not enough. I have to take the steps needed to stop. How do I love myself enough to do the right thing? I'm not sure yet. I pray for others, but perhaps I should pray for myself too. Gratitude I feel and that is good but I also have to be able to pinpoint my habits and weaknesses and look more closely at them. Become aware of what it is I actually do.

Pema Chodron calls this staying present and in touch with the unpleasant as well as the pleasant, not always buffering everything. Sitting with what makes you uncomfortable. People who struggle with all kinds of cravings have to sit with them before they can let them go. It's hard to do. I need to try and not keep running from myself.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Another Return To Music

I have a strange relationship with music. I listen to very little of it but creatively I feel closest to it. Writing and singing my own songs has been one of the highlights of my life, not a brilliant highlight but a muted one. There none the less. Last Fall I tried to return to songwriting after a long absence and found I couldn't sing and my words were poor, my guitar playing simply bad. I also tried to switch over from my 8 track cassette recorder to the computer to no avail. It was frustrating and gradually I stopped trying. Perhaps I wanted too much too soon without having put the effort into it or perhaps it was just the wrong time. I think it was a combination of both.

Months ago I had asked the I Ching what work I was best suited for and I got 34, Power of the Great. This surprised me because I'm someone who has wielded very little power and I have never sought to be powerful. The only times when I have felt a sense of power is when I used to dance by myself or sing my songs by myself. It was almost a spiritual experience at times and other times passionate but always when I was alone. Around other people I became inhibited. The only person I can recall ever singing with was Brendan but not a lot. When he wasn't using the 8 track and playing his music and other people's music, I would go into the music room and work on my own. I could sing about the abuse I was going through and it gave me strength and, for the most part, Brendan didn't listen. Then one of the cats peed on the 8 track and ruined it which is why soon after I left Brendan I bought a new one with some money I had saved up. I still have about twenty tapes of the music I made that year.

Anyway recently I began studying in depth hexagram 34 with Hilary's help and found myself thinking about music again. I asked the I Ching--What if I returned to music? I got a positive response and so I set up in my back room and began trying to write songs again. That's part of what I've been doing this week. I'm not sure why but my voice is stronger than it was and this really helps me to push forward. I've worked on an older song and started a new one. But I'm being cautious. The reason is because, for me, music and delusions mix well together. I start thinking I'm better than I really am which is absurd since I've barely even started working on it. I have a long way to go before I'll be able to produce good work. But it's a beginning (again) and I'm going to try to go with it.

I have a music collection but at the moment it's all disorganized and I don't listen to it. When I was most psychotic I listened to a lot of music. My delusional obsession was with the lead sing/songwriter of a band called Pearl Jam and so I would go for drives and listen to their music. I was so insane and I really should not have been driving at all but I got a strange joy out of driving to music in the countryside. But that was in the beginning of the psychosis before things got ugly and really intense. It was during this time that I made up a bunch of songs. The voices told me to take guitar lessons and so I did for a few weeks but when I tried to play they would attack me and I stopped. Stopped writing songs too. It was too painful.

I associated music with freedom. I associated singer-songwriters I liked with deep and personal communication with others. But I also associated music that moved me with passion and romance and this is where I fell into fantasy and from fantasy into delusion. I'm hopeful that I will not fall into a repeat performance and can instead concentrate on music in a healthy way. Only time will tell. I think I'm willing to take a chance on it. I want to wake up and reconnect to my heart and thoughts and writing/singing can help me to do this. Writing songs is like making a personal, musical journal. It marks a time and place and it colors it with a certain specific attitude and mood. The best songs seem to have some clear visual images in them.

I've been reviewing some songs from 1995-98. It's an odd sensation. Seems so long ago and yet very present. The magic of recording devices. I like a lot of the songs but they are a strange bunch, very simplistic, only a few chords in basic rhythm patterns. Occasionally I harmonize, other times I just double up the vocals. This is very cool but to a purist, it's cheating. I'm not good enough to be a purist and so I go for some fooling around. My voice is amplified but cushioned by the effect I choose and it allows me to really let go and sing. Once I can get past my own inhibition, even if the words and melody are not strong yet, I can start to sort of surrender to the process. If I find a line that I can actually sing, I repeat it over and over to learn it and then I modify it, the words or the rhythm or the melody but usually I stick with what seems to work until it sinks into me and then I change it, hopefully strengthen it.

(Next day...)
Today I've felt uncomfortable but I've worked in my music room several times today even so. The I Ching says I need "patience, stability and helpers." I think the practice of patience will lead to stability but as to helpers, I'm not sure where to go for that. My first thought is to take guitar lessons but I'm not feeling ready to reach out yet. My self-isolation is a definite drawback. My brother knows several people in town who are into making music and I know I should be around them, that they could give me feedback and help me but, once again, I feel inadequate trying to make friends. What I'd really like to do is have a cd made of my better work and hand it out as a form of introduction but I don't have the equipment for it and can't afford it right now. Though I should seriously consider investing a little money in this to get up to date and, really, to start to break my isolation. The really frustrating thing is I should be able to work from my computer but don't know how. There's a program called GarageBand and it's like having a little studio. Using an audio interface you can plug your guitar and mic into the computer and record on it and then burn a disc. After Christmas I got the audio interface thinking that that is what I would do but when I plugged my equipment into it I got no signal and therefore couldn't work with it. What I need is someone to explain the system and set me up. A helper. I might have to wait until September for that when the students get back into town. There's got to be someone I could pay a bit to help me out.

"To rule by serving is the secret of success" wrote Richard Wilhelm who translated the I Ching. Success is connecting with other people and helping them. I hope that some of my songs reach that level someday. I just have to break free of this isolation. I think I stigmatize myself. I hold myself back, don't take chances making friends and worry. Why do I do this? Years of mental illness. In some ways I feel like I have a little bit of talent, something to offer to people and in other ways I just don't feel good enough. I'm still afraid of life, of people, of responsibility, but I'm not going to give up. I keep telling myself that reaching out to others is a very important part of recovery but I have trouble following my own advice.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

In The Midst Of Some Shadows

Lately I've been aware of my illness, well, I'm always aware of it on some level. Because of the voices I know I'm not alone and that maybe noone ever is really alone. In some ways that's good and in other ways that's bad. It's good to feel as if I'm heard, that there's some kind of witness of my life (and all our lives) but bad in that I'm missing that fresh sense of solitude, that sense of sacrosanct privacy. And so I've stopped being playful, stopped dreaming, stopped fantasizing. There's still the residue of an abusive presence coating my life. I'm an older person now and a more cautious person. I live one day at a time so I don't fall into the past or get lost dreaming about the future. But memories and reviewing the past is a very important part of growing up. I miss having no vivid memories, the psychosis seemed to have swallowed them or, at least, buried them deep within me. The voices and a higher power may witness my life but I'm prevented from witnessing my own life. Not totally of course, I can still place things in time but in some ways it's as if I'm sleepwalking while awake. Still afraid.

When some of the voices tell me they love me, I tell them I love them too and it helps, up to a point. But I know my heart is still numb and that what love I feel is incomplete, even for myself and my family. I pray for myself. I pray for my family. I pray for friends and strangers. I pray for the beings who leave their voices in my mind. I think prayer has become necessary to my sense of well-being but I get lost and pray less and have to remind myself to return again. And I do still vaguely remember how the voices tortured me into praying for every single person I could think of as a kind of punishment, taking the joy out of the process yet making it a habit even so. The abuse of power which trains people through fear can create deeply ingrained habits. They did something bad yet still created a good practice for me to follow. Perhaps I'm just confused because they are such a mixture of good and bad forces.

Every now and then the voices still call themselves evil, just as they used to call me evil. I've experienced evil in a relationship and with them but I still don't accept it. I don't believe in it, at least not as something that's incapable of changing. To me, the idea of hell is evil because some people treat it as if it were an unchangeable fact. I may be an idealist but I still believe that hateful people and beings can be changed for the better through other people/being's essential goodness. I also believe that all people and these beings are essentially good, are born innocent. Evil, to me, is a learned phenomena that can be unlearned. Love can conquer hate. And when I say that I don't really mean romantic love but compassionate love. After a while with Brendan I stopped feeling much romantic love but continued to feel compassionate love despite my fear and distaste for his hateful attitudes. Romantic love can come and go but compassion has a broader base. You can feel compassion for anyone, family, lover, friends or strangers or even enemies. And the more you can feel compassion the safer your good soul becomes from negative influences. There's balance and harmony in the practice of compassion.

And that's why I need to put more focus on praying. When I pray, I regain some of the balance and harmony that inevitably starts to slip away when I'm not careful. Prayer is the practice of compassion for oneself and others. Is it enough on its own? Probably not. Good structure and actions are necessary too. I know I am not well because I jump from one thing to another. I mean well but I can't seem to focus on one project for very long. And I'm only vaguely aware of it at the time. I'm not sure if I can change this pattern right now. It's a deeply ingrained pattern stemming from youth. Perhaps I can pray on it and ask for guidance. I haven't been asking for guidance so much as just being grateful for my life and everyone else's lives. But guidance is what I need. I shall also consult the I Ching. Maybe it can give me some perspective on how to change my patterns.

I know that living in the shadow of my illness is just my particular burden to bear for now and that we all, at some point in our lives, bear a burden. I may get lost but I find my way again via various detours. And I do feel grateful for my life, perhaps that's why I find my way again. I'm just very glad that I have some motivation to do things (write, paint, crochet, etc...), more than I did this past winter. I still say motivation is mental/ emotional happiness as long as you hurt noone. So I hold onto what I can do and work on myself in the meantime.