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.

Monday, February 11, 2008

No Man Is An Island


“1. A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy.” Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island, p.3

Is this what I’ve been doing? Seeking a happiness just for myself? Maybe so. I have been pulling away from personal involvement in the last couple of months, but I haven’t been happier. No, my psychotic symptoms are slowly creeping back into my thoughts. I have also pulled away from a belief in a higher power, not totally, but enough to set me adrift. And I have stopped going to Al-Anon meetings due to anxiety about driving at night, especially in the winter. In addition, I have nearly lost two online friends from neglect. It has been a subtle process, but unintentionally inconsiderate. Not like me. My heart has become numb and my prayers for others all but silenced. Is this really the direction I want to take?

It took me over a month, but I read a book called Party Of One: The Loners’ Manifesto by Anneli Rufus. Around the time I decided not to visit my parents for the holidays, I was also trying to imagine myself as some well-adjusted loner from Ms. Rufus’ book. I thought that I would like to be her kind of loner: she is married to another loner and has a couple of close friends, but spends much of her time alone, writing. But then she began railing against the stereotype of loners as being crazy and violent. The violent, crazy loners she called pseudoloners. In her view these were people who really wanted to be social and part of the group, but were outcasts and angry about it. Then she had this to say about the mentally ill: “Unkind as it sounds, the mentally ill are not as a rule enjoyable or even easy to be around. So most people avoid them. The outlook of an unsound mind is so singular that it cannot really be shared by others....Homeless or not, harmless or not, outside of institutions the mentally ill are pretty much consigned to lives of isolation. Not by choice in every case. A schizophrenic living under a bridge who murders a hapless passerby, believing it will forestall Armageddon, is not necessarily a loner.” (pp. 197-98) And suddenly, I, a mentally ill loner, was shunted aside by the author as not worthy enough to be part of her group. In using a homeless, violent “schizophrenic” as her example she proceeds to invest in the same stereotyping she says she is trying to obliterate. She is satisfied that she has vindicated herself from negative loner status in her manifesto, only to scapegoat another group, a group I undeniably belong to.

I asked my therapist this week if it was okay for me to be a loner; she said no, that I should have a few friends. For over a year I have bewailed the fact that there is no support group for people with mental illness where I live. Why? Because without a support group I sink into isolation. When I first became psychotically ill I withdrew from contact with others for several months until I had a psychotic break. Then I got my diagnosis and the voices hounded me not to stay alone. I was to find a therapist right away and support groups and I was to keep myself busy helping others from those groups. This I did for three years despite severe psychosis. And then I went back to art school. By this time the domestic violence support group had disbanded and I stopped going to Al-Anon (which were the only groups related to mental illness that I could find); I gradually stopped seeing the women who I had become friends with, had another psychotic break, began taking the anti-psychotic meds, came out of my delusions and paranoia while falling deeply into depression. I considered dropping out of school, but didn’t. It took me another three and a half years but I graduated. I will be three years out of school this May and ten years into my psychosis.

Am I being a hypocrite when I tell people on the NAMI Schizophrenia board to find a therapist and a support group? Definitely not. Except for two years, I have been in therapy from the beginning. And going to the support groups has helped me a great deal. The domestic violence support group got me in touch with women like myself who had been abused and Al-Anon with people who were friends and family to alcoholics. But neither group could address my schizophrenia. So I did what many other people living out of touch with groups and services did, I looked for online groups. I joined a group called VoiceHearers and began emailing a few of the members of that group. Eventually I left to find the NAMI site but kept in touch with one young woman. She is one of my online friends who I have been neglecting these last two months and at a time of crisis for her: she stopped taking her meds and had a breakdown and was forced to go into the hospital. I have not been a good friend to her.

And I wonder, have I lost the capacity to be a friend? Recently I have been emailing someone from the NAMI site. He said he could tell that I have trouble making and keeping friends and I can’t deny it. Despite my good intentions, I am not consistent or dependable. And lately it feels as if I have dug myself a hole that I can’t get out of, which is why I am writing here to reach out and try to make contact with others by sharing my story. My tale is a cautionary one. Too much of anything, including isolation, is not healthy for most people. I have chosen the wrong way and am now at a crossroad.






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