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.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Waking Up

I guess what's stopped me from writing these last couple of weeks is a conflict between the desire to be positive and the need to be honest. Honestly, I've been having an increase of the voices and depression. This means I spend more time lying down and doing little, either falling asleep or exploring my thoughts and psychosis. That sounds kind of negative, but actually it helps me to stay stable. It is a combination of relaxing and reflecting that seems to ease some of the general negativity. Still too much of anything is not good and so I keep waking myself up.

My brother invited four people over to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. Two days before Thanksgiving I still hadn't done much cleaning, but after a little praying and saying some affirmations ("I CAN clean my house.") I did start to clean. When I was done, it wasn't perfect, but it was much improved and I felt willing to have people into my house. Turns out only three people came, all of whom I loosely knew. The one woman was someone who I had wanted to get to know better. She was a long time friend of my brother, sort of like an older sister to him over the years. I knew she (and probably everyone in the small group) knew that I suffered from schizophrenia. I knew that she probably knew some intimate details of my life. I trusted my brother and so I trusted that she was a good person who would treat me gently.

And she did. She was kind and supportive and funny and so I liked her. Yes, there were a few awkward moments throughout the night, but nothing major. She said early on in the afternoon that she wanted to hear my music because she was also a song writer. Later she reminded me, well, really put me on the spot, but I didn't completely want to say no either. I played a couple of songs on the tape player, but then felt too self conscious. The woman asked if she could borrow my tapes to listen to and make copies for herself. I wound up giving her four partially completed tapes, including the tape that I sent to the rock star at the onset of the acute stage of my psychosis. It was a daring gesture on my part because I didn't exactly know what I was giving her. I hadn't listened to most of it in a while. But one thing I did know was that the songs were between 10 and 13 years old, nothing new and my voice was in better condition. My lyrics may be suspect, I don't know, I was just out of an abusive relationship and I was still angry, so some of the songs are angry songs.

Anyway, that was Thursday and today is Sunday and I haven't yet heard back from her, so I don't know what her response to my older work was. I feel embarrassed right now. I think I put on an attitude then that I just couldn't put on now. I've been through too much horrible stuff since then and it has changed me physically, emotionally and mentally. I am not the same person I was a decade ago. In some ways I feel defeated and in other ways I feel humbled, which is better.

This woman will be leaving to go live in Florida for the next four or five months, but maybe when she gets back in the spring I can work on some music with her. I've been working on some new songs. It would be amazing to actually work with a real live human being. Most of what I've done creatively in my life, I've done alone--sing, play guitar, dance, paint, write. Now maybe a door is opening nearby, a door I can walk through once I stir up some confidence. I used to be a solitary performer. Maybe this woman will help me and maybe somehow I can help her too.

You know what I didn't do on Thanksgiving? I didn't give thanks with my heart, I was so preoccupied with people that I forgot what the whole occasion was about. But just welcoming people into my home was a good thing all around, something I should do more of.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Self Help


I shot this digital photograph a few years ago when I visited Ireland with my mother, but I see it here symbolically, like coming up from the dungeon (though, in fact, I think it was a monastery). So here I am climbing the stone stairs to get to the light, to look out at freedom.

We all come from different places, have different patterns and dreams, but essentially, we are the same. We've laughed and cried, felt fear and love and anger. There's more that unites us, than divides us. I forget this.

Today I went to the school library and picked up a book that Christina had recommended called FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY by Susan Jeffers, Ph.D. When I got home I read through the first 5 chapters. The author is promoting the power of positive thinking, especially during adverse circumstances. She encourages the belief that we can handle whatever comes our way. We can't erase the fear, especially when learning something new, but we can face the fear and "do it anyway". It's doing the scary part that helps to create confidence.

I realize that I am a fearful person. Living with an abusive alcoholic for over five years trained me in the fear response, trained me so well, that I was afraid even when there was nothing to be afraid of. The psychosis also trained me with fear, trained me to be my own worst enemy. Now, when I go through my down times, I become anxious, though my present moment holds only peace and quiet. I play the russian roulette game of "What if...?" instead of relaxing into the moment of peace I do have. I make the mistake of slipping into negative thoughts and sitting with them.

Why do I sit with the negative? I guess I want to see the whole picture, but the truth is I can only see part of the big picture. I am not God, not all seeing and powerful. There's another truth, that negative thinking turns in on itself and paints the world black when it is full of color. I want to believe in the power of positive thinking. In fact, I relied on this philosophy during hard times in my life. Al-Anon taught me to keep the focus on myself, accept what I couldn't change and change what I could, not in others, but in myself. I have no control over others and no control over the voices, but I do have control over myself and my attitude.

I need to mull over this idea that I suffer from an addict's disease. I'm still looking for completion outside myself as if I don't have enough within myself to be happy. I do have enough, more than enough. Ms. Jefferds and others promote the self-help philosophy of retraining yourself. Instead of listening to negative self talk (which is persistent and sometimes subtle), you actively create as positive an atmosphere as you can. LIsten to inspirational audiobooks, read inspirational books, say to yourself affirmations morning, noon and night, write inspirational quotes on index cards and post them around your living space.

My question to myself was is this a form of brainwashing? But then I think of all the negative thoughts that filter into my consciousness from myself or from the voices and I think that it's only common sense to replace the negative with the positive. And it's not easy. There's resistance to me saying to myself "I am a good woman and I deserve to be happy", but if I don't believe it and fight for it, the happiness part won't just someday show up.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Glass Half Full



I'm just about 10 days free of smoking cigarettes and smoking remains "Not An Option". I haven't had any major cravings, just passing thoughts which I shut down right away. That appears to be key, to be able to say "No!" to an urge that wants to linger. So when the door opens a crack, I promptly close it and get on with the business at hand. So far, it's working, but I will remain vigilant. I've been stopping by Woofmang.com (the quit smoking support group) and I've gotten some great support and advice. I mentioned that I had been feeling a bit off, a bit blue and several people responded about how to fight depression. It was all very commonsensical: get some exercise, stay outside and get some sun each day, meditate, pray, have a healthy reward system in place, clean, etcetera. One woman told me to see the glass as half full, instead of half-empty, and another woman said to practice gratitude, which is essentially the same philosophy. What they were telling me was similar to what I tell others I know when they are depressed. I usually say--Be Creative! So now, I have to listen to my own advise again and cultivate the positive.

The I Ching has a hexagram called The Arousing or Shock which basically says you will receive shock/upsets to shake you out of complacency, to help you see things newly so that you can learn the lessons you were born to learn about life. Whenever I sink into depression, I have a window of opportunity to respond to it differently. The more I opt out of a new response, the more I fall into the hole. And so, I should practice recovery behavior now and for the rest of my life, get exercise and feel the sun on my face, meditate and pray, have meaningful creative work, help others on their way. This is called changing my attitude. I find I forget to do this over and over again. So I keep reminding myself and getting reminded by the examples and words of others.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Unity



I picked this stock photo because it's a symbol of unity and unity is the direction I hope this country is going in. The economy is in real trouble at home and abroad and this is a major factor in why Obama has been elected to be the 44th president. And we need universal healthcare and to put an end to the war in Iraq. In fact, we need so many changes. The Democrats will now have much more power, but in order to really create the change we need when we need it, Republicans must join in too. We can't afford to waste time. It's the younger generation that is really put on the spot and they know it; in a lot of ways it's up to them to change the way things are done in Washington. Partisan politics won't work.

Another reason why I think Barack Obama won is because he reached out to Independent voters and Republican voters who were dismayed by Bush and his administration. Republicans are supposed to be fiscal conservatives, but Bush was not. Instead he has borrowed and spent enormous amounts of money. That the economy is in trouble is no accident. Obama made the point several times in his book The Audacity Of Hope that he wanted to work WITH Republicans whenever possible. Of course, there will still be conflicts of interest and the country may be moving in a more liberal direction, but then we've moved from conservative politics (slavery, sexism for example) to more liberal politics consistently over time. All in all this may not be such a bad thing, though some people might take some time getting adjusted to it.

Again I think of young people and the kind of world they are growing up in. The advent of the personal computer has drastically changed the social/political landscape for young people. We now live in a global community. Gone are the days when the U.S. can remain an isolationist country. Now we affect the world and the world affects us. And what are young people looking at these days? Sexually transmitted diseases, two wars abroad, a failing economy, a lack of resources, global warming, etc, etc... We are all up against it, but they are the ones who will inherit the messes we've all made beforehand. Again the only way out of our troubles is to acknowledge that these are global problems and require an even greater unity than Democrats joining with Republicans. These problems require that the whole world work in unison.

What does that mean, a world working in unison? It means, above all things, world peace. War is not the answer to anything, it just perpetuates the cycle of horror and abuse. I hope young people figure this one out because without peace we can't address the fact that we may be killing our world and raping its resources. If we continue to attack one another we just perpetuate our problems and miss our chance to reverse all these destructive trends. If we continue to attack one another we doom our species to self-destruct.

People are so freaked out by terrorists and understandably so, but the truth is terrorists are human too, sick, obsessed humans but humans none the less. And terrorism cannot be eliminated through violence. Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers". In fact Jesus said a whole lot about the extraordinary power of love and forgiveness. Why do people forget this?In Buddhism life is considered so precious that you shouldn't even step on an ant if you can help it. People forget that too. But there is this great resistance to the concept striving for world peace. People have called me an idealist, but I am not. I am a pragmatist. We are blinded by our own bias' to the point where we rob others of the most precious thing there is: Life. What right do any of us have to be violent, to maim and murder? The power of hate is glorified in wars and the power of love is mocked. Jesus was mocked and murdered for promoting a most revolutionary concept: Turn the other cheek, love your enemies, forgive others so that you can be forgiven. He said anyone could love friends and family, but it is the extraordinary person who can love an enemy. How many people have the courage to do what Jesus did and not succumb to revenge and punishment? Not many and so here we are, in a world full of war and injustice. It's been over 2,000 years since Jesus was murdered. Unity IS the answer and peace and love should be the goal, but this requires that people be extraordinary and turn the other cheek. Is anyone willing to try?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Facebook

I've been enjoying facebook. I have 5 friends including my brother. I invited Pamela to join, but she got a bit peeved that she would have to join in order to see my page. It's true, facebook is a closed system, you have to join and only personal invites or acceptances get you into the system. I don't mind that despite the fact that I know so few people. I'm just happy with the people I do know. I tried finding some old friends, but no luck. I did manage to find two boys (now middle-aged men) who went to grade school and junior high school with me, but I'm still a bit shy about contacting them. I had a major crush on one of them and a minor crush on the other all those years ago. The major crush got married to a Swedish woman and then moved to Sweden and became a school principal. I only know that because my parents met his parents at a party a few years ago. Truth is I wasn't that close to these boys years ago, I just wanted to be, but didn't reach out to them after I went to high school. And I could have, they lived close by. Oh well. Maybe I will yet.

One thing I don't like about facebook (and MySpace) are all the weight loss ads. Right now the biggest thing is an Acai Berry diet that is being promoted it seems by Oprah Winfrey. Now, don't get me wrong, I would love there to be a natural, healthy, miracle substance to ingest to make me lose all this weight, but I highly doubt it. Meanwhile people with eating disorders are growing by the thousands (millions?), all in quest of this horrible holy grail--thinness. It's perverse and sad and scary. So seeing Dieting Propaganda on a popular site as facebook is discouraging and annoying. I don't like being overweight, but I still love myself; many girls and women (and men) out there are secretly hating themselves and judging others while they do it. All for what? Superficial appearances! It's nice to look nice and it feels good, still, it IS what is inside that is most precious. People lose sight of this all too easily. Sometimes I lose sight of it and then I feel horrible. I just worry particularly about girls and young women who buy into the bull.

Aside from the Diet Patrol Ads, I like facebook because it potentially can bring me closer to the people I do know. This is a step in the right direction, away from my own generally reclusive state. If I can keep in touch with the people I care about, I may not get so detached and the winter may wind up being warmer for it (figuratively that is).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Three Days Quit

Just about 3 days quit and I'm feeling okay so far. I stopped by Woofmang.com and offered some support to someone who just relapsed for a couple of days and congratulated another person who resisted a monster crave. I have to be sure to touch base there every day to tell people how I'm doing and to support others. I still have to follow through on the Freedom From Smoking program as well. I need to write down my reasons for quitting, make copies of the list and keep it close at hand.

I've been sleeping and eating too much, but I did paint today. I worked a little bit on three acrylic paintings including the portrait of Avery Rose. I'm afraid the portrait of Avery doesn't quite capture her likeness. I tried painting a watercolor version of the photo, but that didn't come out. In fact, I'm struggling with all my paintings for this project. I'm only really satisfied with the watercolor of Jack Michael. I'd like to do a good watercolor of Avery and one of Jack and Avery. I ordered some more Arches watercolor paper in a larger size which should arrive in a few days. I'm also getting some artist grade gouache to replace my student grade gouache.

About.com-painting has a monthly painting project. This month it's mixed media or more specifically mixing wet and dry media. I'm going to use gouache and pastel. I have a large wooden box filled with soft pastels. I got it over 20 years ago and never really used them. I'm going to follow the technique of a former teacher in an instructional book she wrote over 20 years ago (too). I think I might try doing a self-portrait. According to this teacher (Mary Beth McKenzie) you establish the composition first with gouache and then go over the gouache in part with the pastels. She literally draws lines of color and crosshatches them instead of rubbing the pastel into the picture. In doing this she keeps the colors vibrant. She also uses pastel fixative spray to preserve parts of her portraits and rework other areas. I'll be a neophyte at this, but that should be exciting.

I'm not happy that we lost an hour of light in the evenings today. It means to me that winter has officially begun even though it's still fall. Short days and long nights. The main thing is to get through this winter, stay busy and keep a positive attitude. Sometimes easier said than done. I told my therapist that there are days when my painting goes well and other days when it goes poorly and I get depressed and lose motivation. She said I need to have a plan for another activity during those times of poor painting. Writing or craftwork or even songwriting. It takes training to get myself to do something instead of sleeping. But I can do it if I set my mind to it.

The national election is coming up on Tuesday and I'm getting nervous about it. When I met Bev on Friday I had an Obama button on my purse. She told me she was voting for McCain. I felt dismayed, but kept my mouth shut. This is a free country, thank God, and people should vote with their hearts and minds in whatever direction that takes them. I still have been praying that Obama wins the election, but I'm fully aware that I'm full of personal bias. I guess we all are. The main thing is to work at being bipartisan. We have a lot of problems in this country, the economy is in deep trouble, we're at war in two countries, millions of people have no healthcare. We have to work together to get through the hard times and not spend our time pointing fingers and placing blame.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Day Two And Counting

Well, yesterday was my quit day. I stopped smoking at 1:20 AM Halloween morning. I sent out a prayer that this would be the last time that I go through this. Really it hasn't been so bad, but that is deceptive. ANY smoking is bad and I have to keep reinforcing this idea. I've changed my "I Can Quit Smoking" cards to "I Have Quit Smoking" and posted them in places where I can see them. To assert that I have quit is more final than to say I can quit. I have not gone through any major craves, but this doesn't surprise me because I've been stopping voluntarily repeatedly during the month which helped to keep the physical addiction at bay. It's the psychological craves that I worry about, but not too much because too much worry leads to stress and stress leads to temptation. I know I just have to stay vigilant and keep reinforcing the fact that I am no longer a smoker, ever. N.O.P.E. means "Not One Puff Ever" and that's what I'm going to practice saying to myself. Also, if I get into trouble I must go right away to the message boards and post. And finally, I should hang around the message boards, read them regularly and post support to others along the way.

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day and I had the pleasure of going to lunch with Bev, a friend I hadn't seen in several years. We greeted each other with a hug and a few moments later she gave me a quit present: a bag filled with mints and gum and suckers along with 5 inexpensive bracelets. She used the bracelets during her quit. When she got a crave she would focus on her bracelets (they are stretch bead bracelets) as a distraction till the crave passed. I'm wearing one now and it really helps. It reminds me that I'm done with smoking and it reminds me of her and her kindness. Another pleasant surprise was that her boyfriend gave her some extra money to pay for our lunches. I thought that was so sweet of him as he's never even met me. She took me to a restaurant/bar that I've never been to. It was very nice and I'd like to go back there sometime. Hopefully I will get to see her again and I can treat her to lunch. She told me about her family and her new job. She said they had had some painful times in the past couple of years, but now things were looking up and she was very happy. That's such a great thing, to meet someone who is so obviously happy. She said she might commission me to paint a portrait of her boyfriend's family for his birthday. I'm looking forward to getting photographs from her and working on it. I would also like to paint portraits of her children. I would do that for free because I like her and I need the practice and I love painting people's children.