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, October 31, 2007

A Question Of Faith


My parents and uncle are atheists. What faith they had in a higher power as children soon faded under the auspices of the Catholic church in New York City in the 1930’s and 40’s. By the time they were 18 they had decided that God did not exist. There was no heaven or hell. Death was final. The Bible was written by men who were all too fallible. They didn’t believe in faith, instead they believed in good works and personal morality. You do good things because it is the right thing to do and not because you will burn in hell if you don’t. They were more political (Democrats) than spiritual and invested their time in that rather than in church. Technically they were Unitarians but only because Unitarians embraced all religions and perspectives including atheists. Some of their friends in the neighborhood were Unitarians, but when they moved to another neighborhood they stopped going to any kind of church.

My brother’s favorite saint is doubting Thomas, the patron saint of skeptics. He admits that he does not know if a higher power exists or not; if the higher power did exist, he would need some proof of it. In the meanwhile and in the absence of proof he loosely follows a belief in the law of karma. So do good because it is the right thing to do but also because it will come back to you. If you help others, others will help you and you will become stronger. Good will generates good will. Still, like our parents, he is very critical of organized religion. Sees it as more often a force of destruction and hypocrisy than of healing and integrity.

Then there’s me, the only one in my family who believes in a higher power. I think I came to believe out of necessity. The trauma of living with an abusive alcoholic led me to Al-Anon and Al-Anon led me to consider the possibility of the existence of a benevolent power in my life and in everyone’s lives. I needed to believe, to have faith, and to hope. The alternative was despair. This need to believe became much stronger once I became psychotic. The voices, as usual, mingled the real with the false and led me to Christianity. I felt shocked and confused by this because my background was more agnostic/Buddhist. But in some ways this protected me from believing the delusions the voices tried to convince me of. I was not a holy woman or God’s wife or Jesus reincarnated as an abused woman and conversely I was not the Devil. I was Kate, neither very good nor very bad. But it wasn’t that easy and I went in and out of torment swinging from one extreme to another. The voices led me back to Al-Anon and to the daily readers which I read faithfully each day. During the months of severe depression that followed the delusions having a faith in a higher power probably saved my life.

But my faith is not fixed to any particular holy book. I don’t build upon a history of a chosen people. I don’t believe in Messiahs. I am freer than some because of this but also adrift. Lately I’ve been questioning my belief in God. The voices, these beings, are very much alive to me and more engaged in my spiritual struggle it seems than some God being. What is “God”? Don’t we all create our own particular versions of God. The aliens in Whitley Strieber’s books have referred their version of God as “The Source”. That makes sense, that God is the original source of everything. But beyond that they are vague and so am I. All I know is that God is much greater than me and much greater than the voices/beings. And God is in absolutely everything be it natural or man-made. But God does not talk to me like a friend or parent. God doesn’t talk. Instead I talk and the voices talk and other people talk. God listens, to me and all life it seems. How is that possible? I really don’t know. It flies in the face of human logic but I don’t believe humans have the last word in logic and reason.

I worked hard these past years cultivating the practice of gratitude. In order for gratitude to work you have to believe that something greater than yourself is receiving the gratitude, a higher power, God, Buddha, Allah, Krishna, whatever. To me God and gratitude are all mixed up together and that’s why I’m beginning to think that I may always believe in God in one way or another. I just hope I can deepen my understanding.

I read an article about Mother Teresa. The article was written in response to a book that recently came out containing “correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years”. The letters reveal that for years and years until she died she felt somehow outside the presence of God. She accomplished so much but struggled daily with her own faith. I found this to be so sad and wondered if she had her own cross to bear in the form of mental illness. In the article a psychologist suggests that Mother Teresa’s despair might have been a form of self-punishment for becoming so successful, a kind of antidote to pride. She may not have heard voices but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t have been affected by them in her spirit. It is possible that the more dedicated to the higher power you are and the more successful you are, the more vulnerable you are to attack. But I don’t know.

I’m speculating and making assumptions. I don’t know, I believe. I can’t prove anything scientifically. I can’t make a doubting Thomas believe what I believe. I’m not sure that I’d want to if I could. Much of my beliefs are also surrounded by open ended questions. Questions like what happens to us when we die? I can guess all I want but I won’t know while I’m alive. I have to live with lots of uncertainties, we all do don’t we? But faith feels better and works better than fear for me (which I forget when I get fearful). John Lennon wrote in a song, “Whatever gets you through the night, it’s all right, it’s all right.” I’d have to add, whatever gets you through the night and doesn’t hurt yourself or others, it’s all right, but that wouldn’t have been a very good song lyric...

I think everyone has some kind of faith they just call it by different names. When I think of my family I don’t worry that they don’t have faith in a higher power. They have their own orientation. Logic and reason comfort them the way my belief in the positive side of the Unknown (God for lack of a better word) comforts me.




The Seriousness Of Competitive Games


I’m stuck, but it seems like I regularly get stuck. I have not been liking myself lately. But my own negative and self-centered thinking does me no good. Tomorrow is Halloween and very soon we lose a whole hour of daylight. Is my dark mood a result of the seasonal change? My sleeping pattern has changed. More days than not I’ve been sleeping all day. I don’t like that. And I haven’t been writing in this blog. But it hasn’t all been bad, I’ve spent more time with my brother listening to music. I’ve spent time learning favorite songs. I’ve been reading more. I’ve gone to several soccer games. I had lunch with an Al-Anon friend. The truth is I’m just aware that I am changing again and a part of change is ambivalence, part hope for the future and regret for the past. No matter how static we seem to be to each other, we’re always changing. We want to progress and we fear regression. Well, some of us do...I do. I don’t have the faith in myself that I need to progress. Some of the voices still want me to see myself as evil but I just can’t go there, but I can and do see myself as foolish and cowardly and this is enough negativity to pull me down. So what do I do? I remind myself that I have also been on occasion smart and brave. Well, actually I don’t do that but I should... I think I’m going to look for a book on improving self-esteem. I need self-esteem coaching because I have trouble with it.

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I went to a soccer game yesterday evening. It turns out to be the last of the season because the team I was rooting for lost. My brother’s friend Richard has been the coach of this local high school team for a few years now (in addition to being a nurse at a VA hospital). His son, who is a junior, is a star player on the team. And I thought while I watched the team work the field that being a coach for a soccer team is a very good thing. Richard has a love of the game and is a dedicated coach. He is also a hard worker and always has been. In training these boys and in coaching them he is giving them valuable lessons to apply to life, lessons about self-discipline, self-sacrifice, team work, the value of hard work and also how to accept losses gracefully. Life at its best is a teaching game. You will succeed and you will fail and you will make choices that define your character as you get older. The fun thing about games is that they can go on indefinitely and if you lose one, you might just as well win the next or at the very least you learn from your mistakes and play smarter the next time around.

I set up my chair on the right side of the field along with a growing number of other people. It was cold but I had come prepared with a couple of layers of clothing and gloves. One woman with her daughter set up practically on top of me which made me nervous. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and I discreetly pulled away a little. She kept up a running commentary of the game but I didn’t mind because she knew the players better than I did and it helped me to follow the game. My brother was on the other side of the field coaching from the side lines but that side was too crowded to set up in (he stayed standing), so I went off on my own. I was pleased that I had enough confidence to sit alongside strangers. If I had been paranoid, I would have felt too self-conscious to sit still which is a rotten feeling. I wonder if a lack of confidence and paranoia are linked? Anyway, I was happy enough watching the game but I also noticed the crowd around me. Most of them were rooting for the team I was rooting for (the community support for the other team was on the other side of the field) and it was funny listening to people trying to instruct the players on the field. Everyone was eager for a goal. But I couldn’t help but feel a kind of suppressed violence mingling with the excitement. Watching this innocent soccer match was like taking part in a mini local civil war. Several communities were involved, each backing their local team and underneath the fun there was a seriousness. Everyone was gambling for their team (both were fairly evenly matched), taking a risk to stand behind either the winners or the losers as fate and skill would have it. And in most people’s cases the players on the team were their children or grandchildren or friends. Something personal was at stake. Some piece of group identity and family identity was being forged here and people were in protective/defensive/offensive mode.

I was detached from it. I wanted Richard and his team (especially his son) to win but I did not invest much time, effort and emotion into it the way other people had. I was really just pleased that they had had such a good season (18 wins, 1 tie and now 1 loss) and would value Rich and his family a lot regardless of whether they won or not. In my book they already had proved their skill and talent as a team and as individuals. But I was also detached because of my illness. For many people schizophrenia is an illness fit for loners of which I am one for the most part. Being around people is not normal for me. But for the majority of this crowd normal meant being around people for most of the day either with family or at work. People adapt to being around people. I adapt to being alone with the voices. People take people for granted, friends, coworkers, family.

But perhaps my detachment affords a new perspective on human society. I saw the people at the soccer game as highly intelligent animals defending their territory in a mock battle. This element of discord, of potential violence is part of our history as animals. We are a violent species both towards ourselves and each other. If only we could settle our disputes with games of skill, intelligence and sheer luck and not in life and death combat. I can appreciate a good game and admire individual players but I cannot abide by games as preparation for war. The spirit of good natured, if serious, competition is one thing, training to kill is another.

Before the game started we all stood up while a recording of the National Anthem played which reminded me (and others I’m sure) of the war in Iraq. Our team in this case is the United States but I knew that the “game” of war was no game and that there were people in this crowd who had family involved with the war, some injured or even dead. I stood like everyone else out of respect to those people but the truth is I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be blinded by patriotism to the point where I supported any war. I don’t believe in murder and to support war you must believe in the right to murder. That’s basic to the rules of engagement, to the rules of the “game”. I am an animal and I am afraid of other animals (I was a little afraid of this soccer crowd) but I would not turn my fear into violence. I am a peace loving omnivore. I’d rather be killed than to kill. I think we leave unexamined the great damage done to an individual who has killed, especially those who are trained and paid to kill in times of war.

I’m still amazed at how blood thirsty many “religious” people are, especially many American Christians. What part of “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” is unclear? And why do most people ignore Jesus’ instruction to aspire to the holy righteousness of God by loving those that despise you? Love your enemies is not like them or tolerate them and it is certainly not torture and kill them. Love is love, heartfelt and sincere. There’s no room for resentments and vendettas. Peace is a calling for all of us, but it means rising above the animal instincts of self preservation (which translates into taking sides and playing till the death, i.e. war). Sacrifice to end all war is the ultimate sacrifice. Sacrifice to continue power plays is wasted sacrifice I think. Jesus wanted to end human conflict. Would Jesus have stood up for a national anthem? I don’t think so. He followed his Higher Power and his Higher Power told him “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” Peacemakers don’t take sides. They unite, not divide.

The other team won fairly and fortunately none of the players were seriously injured. No one contested the win and there was no outbreak of violence. Everyone went home peacefully, some thrilled by the win and others crying for the loss. Maybe we’ve progressed. People are playing millions of games now where they might have in another time made many wars. Meanwhile the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue and most people in the world still accept legalized violence and murder with the same instinctive seriousness they give to a playoff between two young, local teams that are closely matched. If only that seriousness could be applied in the service of world peace instead of nationalism and the conflict that any kind of strong nationalism elicits from other nations/cultures.

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Ah, a few hours of written ranting is good for the soul. I’m feeling less stuck.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Reaction To Brendan's Birthday


Brendan would have been 37 on the 20th. He was only 19 years old when I fell in love with him. I thought of him on Thursday afternoon while watching a high school soccer match. He had been the star of his high school team. I had seen him play and he had been beautiful, a smart, graceful player but sometimes hot tempered. The soccer team that year at the college had been unusually strong. Most of the players were good if not very good. Many of them had also been star players of their own home towns. They recognized each other having played against each other over the years. Now they were all on the same team. Unfortunately a large chunk of them would fail out of school pretty quickly including Brendan who I found out later had not been going to classes. So for some of them their first time living away from home meant an extended party. I was 27 years old and it was my first time living on my own and I fell right into that extended party. I was an irresponsible fool and I was sick though I only partially realized it. I had been hearing voices for about two or three years. I had been withdrawn, unemployed, living at home, going to art schools. Then I moved far into the country to be near my brother who that year was an assistant coach to his friend the coach. And so I met Brendan through my brother.

On the surface Brendan was very polite and respectful and rather quiet. He came across as a hippie, was into marijuana, playing the guitar and the Grateful Dead. He wore tie dyes and macrame necklaces and wrist bands. I mistook him for a peaceful person. It never entered my head that I could ever be afraid of him. Little did I know that Brendan had a reputation for being both a hard drinker and “a lean, mean fighting machine” as one of his closer friends put it a couple of years later. Most of the players on the team were respectful towards him. I was clueless. I can understand in part why I got involved with Brendan. I was lonely and insecure and he was vital and attentive and attractive but we were both sick and that’s ultimately what cemented the bond. But now I look back and I think, “Kate, how could you have done that?!”
I was not a shining example of virtue and yet I kind of thought I was a good person at the time. But almost from the beginning Brendan looked at me with a prejudiced eye, ignoring his own imperfections while using mine against me. He was someone who was consciously manipulative of people and situations. He had been manipulative long before I met him despite his youth. I, on the other hand, despite living in New York City, had almost unintentionally lived a sheltered life. I didn’t socialize. I didn’t use drugs. I kept to myself. I saw myself as an honest, creative person but I was also deeply ashamed of myself for not working, for remaining dependent on my family.

Why was Brendan manipulative? He grew up very differently than me in a wealthy suburb with Republican parents. He was the youngest and the only son. He had two older sisters. One thing I found out quickly was he disdained his parents, his mother openly and his father privately. He said that his father had been abusive towards him repeatedly, eventually he included, said in various ways at various times, that his father had raped him. I remember contemplating confronting his father about this but I never did. Brendan’s abusiveness towards me had a controlling effect on me and as the years went on I wasn’t sure what was really true or not. He had told me that he had a child by a former girlfriend, he told me he murdered a man to settle a cocaine debt and lastly he told me he had been raped. All of this would have happened by the time he was 18 before he met me. But at the time I believed him and it paralyzed me and I became afraid of him and self-protective. I became the scape goat for whatever happened to Brendan. He saw his father, mother and sisters in me and he would swing from a sentimental love to a merciless hatred. And he was that way, he would both defend his family and despise them almost at the same time.

All I knew was that Brendan had been abused and had become abusive and was a hardcore alcoholic because of it. But I had little experience with abuse and addiction and my inexperience left me wide open to attack. Brendan thought mistakenly that because I grew up in New York City that I was tough but I wasn’t. If anything I was soft and receptive and ignorant. I had even been warned by a couple of people in the City not to be so open. But open I was. I shared everything I had with Brendan before he proved his trustworthiness. My mistake and my choice. He was young and sick and I followed him because I was young (still) and sick too. What a mess both of us were.

But there were times when we just got along and liked each other despite it all and standing on that soccer field on Thursday made me think of Brendan then. It’s amazing that I’m still conflicted about him. I can’t accept that he’s dead. He didn’t deserve the last few years of his life and I feel guilty. I left him the last day of July 1995 and he died May 1999 almost a year after I became paranoid and delusional. I could have done more but he had hurt me in ways that made me just detach from him and his life. At some point I chose myself over him.

I realized yesterday that with this blog I’m actually doing a public 4th Step, trying to take a moral inventory of myself. And what have I found? That I am not as good as I thought I was, nor as bad as I’m afraid I am. I’m somewhere in the middle, neither a heroine nor a villain. What hurts is that I wish I could make amends to Brendan but I can’t. I have to sit with this and work it through. I believe that there is some kind of life after death and I pray that wherever he is, he has a healing reincarnation.




Monday, October 15, 2007

Return


I was proud of myself for getting to the airport and getting to Chicago okay and I was proud of myself on the return trip for getting home safely. Traveling alone can be both depressing and stressful but I managed it. My uncle met me near the baggage claim area. He didn’t look happy to see me but neither did he seem particularly dismayed. I got my bag quickly and we found his car. He drove me from the O’Hare airport to the hotel where he had reserved and paid for a two room suite for me for six nights. He took me out to lunch at a nearby sandwich place. Then he took me to a supermarket so that I could get some snacks. I got cereal and milk and bananas. He escorted me back to my room, put away the groceries and said he would return the next day again with the car so that he could take me on a driving tour of Chicago.

Chicago is situated north to southeast along the bottom of Lake Michigan. My uncle’s apartment and my hotel were about a block away from the lake and twenty five minutes north of the downtown by bus. My uncle first drove me north to his apartment complex and then continued to drive me farther north through Evanston and beyond. The farther we got, the richer the environs got. Landscaped mansions and very few people outside (mostly women pushing baby strollers or someone jogging). It was way up here in the wealthy suburbs of Chicago that my uncle took me to the Botanic Gardens. We walked for a while and then had lunch at their cafeteria.

I’m not going to go through the whole trip but suffice it to say my uncle gave me a thorough tour of Chicago, including several art museums which I love. He was attentive and talkative but we didn’t really click. I felt awkward at times and tongue tied. Here and there he would say fairly personal things about me and my brother and my parents, sometimes critical. I didn’t know how to respond and was mostly quiet. I think his main reason for having me come to Chicago was to show me his apartment which (if he doesn’t go into a retirement home) he will leave to me and my brother when he dies. Morbid yet practical. He had warned me that his apartment was a mess and I told him not to worry about it because I was used to it in my home and my brother’s home. He showed me where his important papers were and pointed out things that might be of modest value.

Seeing my uncle, whom I’ve never been very close to, in his private space made him seem all the more human and vulnerable, which was just how I was feeling myself. He told me that he rarely had anyone over except for a few close friends. His passions at home are reading and listening to music. Referring to his 30 year old furniture and cluttered rooms he said some people put their money into fixing up their homes over the years but that he chose to spend the money instead on going to concerts and theatre. In his way he was preparing me for the job I will have to do with his apartment when he passes away. But I find all this a bit premature. And ironic. I, who can barely take care of my own space and my brother who is the same... Personally, I don’t see my uncle staying in that apartment if he gets quite old but ultimately it is his choice.

My father and my uncle worry that there won’t be enough money left over to take care of me and my brother when they die. It’s something that will be out of their control. My uncle encouraged me to get a part time job saying that the added income could really help and so I will next Spring apply for help from VESID (Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities). If I can get a job and stick to it I think it will do wonders for me and will reassure my family. I hope VESID accepts my application when the time comes. It might sound strange but I like the idea of working for someone who knows about my disability but doesn’t stigmatize me for it.

I’ve suffered from this illness for years now but I’ve never been hospitalized for more than one night and because my family has some money I’ve never applied for social services. I haven’t been to a support group meeting for mental illness other than Al-Anon. And the tendency of this illness is to isolate and isolated I have been. I’m tired of it, living in a cocoon. I have to accept that I need help. I can’t do it all alone.

I was talking with my therapist on Thursday and she said my self esteem was pretty good when I first started seeing her but that over the years and due to the effect of the schizophrenia my opinion of myself has taken a nose dive. I started out thinking I was bright and perceptive but now I compare myself to others and keep seeing what I lack instead of what I have. I have to work on changing this.

A few days later... I’ve been sleeping too much again and the voices have been somewhat negative. Friday night I went out with my brother to hear a singer songwriter play. When I got home I picked up my guitar and starting writing a song and then another song. I didn’t get to sleep until early morning (I had had too much expresso while listening to the man sing and play). I made sure to record the song ideas on a cheap portable recorder so I wouldn’t forget it the next day. I really enjoyed singing and playing and I felt grateful when I finally did fall asleep. The next day I wasn’t feeling great but I did managed to make another better recording of the two song fragments in the studio. It struck me what a big difference there is between singing when I’m inspired and singing when I’m not. One has so much energy and the other struggles to sustain the minimum of energy. I guess all I need is to be inspired by a live performance each night (and drink a couple of large cappuccinos). That’s not going to happen but there are one or two open mic nights in town that I really should go to. I need to get up my nerve to be around people, most of whom have been drinking...Hey, I can do that for an hour or so...yes I can.

I hope everyone’s been well these past couple of weeks. Pam hasn’t written in her blog since September 6th. I think she’s in the hospital. I hope she’s okay. I miss her and her writing.