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.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Voice In The Wind

I got some good responses to my cd, but have put it aside for now and have been working on new songs. I definitely paid attention when some of the psychotic symptoms returned--I took a break from the music and painted, I raised my Abilify by a quarter tablet for a few days and I monitored myself by talking into my tape recorder. Last week I saw my therapist and told her about the increase of symptoms. She said if the symptoms persisted that I should consider not being musical, but, at this point, I just can't do that. I love painting and will continue to paint, but now that I've rediscovered songwriting and singing and have the proper equipment to record myself, I'm not willing to let go of it without a fight. I will continue to be dedicated to taking care of myself, detaching from the music when I need to, but not completely. I will leave the door open. I respect the fact that I suffer from a serious mental illness and must adjust myself at times, but I won't allow the illness to dictate what I can and can't do creatively.

Singing and songwriting is not really easy for me. There is some stress involved. Every time I sit down in front of the microphone and pick up my guitar I face my own limitations. I can just barely play my guitar, enough to compose very simplistic songs and singing is always a bit of a challenge. Really it takes courage to sing out and record it. Some days I can sing and other days I can't. And writing is a mysterious process to me. I write intuitively and blindly. Lately I've been writing a lot, but I go from one song bit to another. I'm learning again about the creative process and how I have to let go of self criticism when I'm working on a song. That's hard to do when I'm lost and sounding like crap, but it is essential. That's the thing about being an artist, you have to take the bad with the good and not give up. When I was into film photography, I used to be very happy if I got one good shot from a roll of 36 and it's the same thing with doing sketches, one good sketch out of 20 or so.

I guess it's called art practice. The real thing you're celebrating is the process of being creative and aware at the same time. I see all creative work as a kind of personal journal. Writing, drawing, making songs is the process of creating artifacts that define a particular time and place for the creator. It makes me think of the power I felt as a child finger painting. And it makes me think of actual archeological artifacts like a hand print on an ancient wall. The act says: I was here and I did this and this means something. The tricky thing about the act of writing is that words have the power to influence people. For most of us, once it's said, it can't be taken back. I think about this now when I write songs, especially when I write songs about mental illness or against war. I am just another voice in the wind, but like so many, I want to be heard and I want to influence listeners to consider my point of view through my emotional standpoint. And so I have to carefully consider what it is exactly that I am trying to say and can I stand behind it.

I had attitude in some of my older songs, but I made the songs without much forethought. I guess that was because the songs stopped with me, stayed in my music room and didn't migrate out into a corner of the world. This experience of sharing my music has taught me that I have a responsibility to stand by the songs in all their imperfection, just as a parent stands by his or her child. I realize that while my words remain the same, I am changing and that who I was ten or fifteen years ago is not who I am now, but still the words I chose and the songs I made will always be a part of my experience.

Now, I want to make songs more carefully. The first step, which I've begun to take, is to just generate material. The next step is to go over what I've created spontaneously and rework it, craft it into something more than just a therapeutic release. I don't know if I can do this yet, but I very much want to try.

I think part of the reason why I began having symptoms again had little to do with handing out my cd, but had to do with me not adhering to my diet and exercise plan. I still have been sticking to eating around 1500 calories a day and writing it down in a notebook, but I stopped going to the Anne Collins site and I stopped exercising. So a couple of days ago I started exercising again and my mood has been good and my symptoms have been minimal. I have to remember that this is a lifestyle change and when I stray from it, gently redirect myself back to it. So far, I've lost 11 pounds in two months. The main thing is to keep at it, really, for the rest of my life, not in order to lose weight, though I will lose this weight, but to be as healthy and as happy as I can.

This recent dip into psychotic symptoms has been an instructional challenge. I come up against my limits, but I don't let my limits defeat me. I work with them. As an artist who suffers from schizophrenia I have more challenges to face than artists who have no such handicap, but the way I see it, if I persevere, I can weave an even richer tapestry. And really, it's the same deal for all of us, the human condition is and always will be a challenge to surmount obstacles.
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