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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Autumn Choices And Time Will Tell

It is a very wet and dreary day here. It has been grey for what seems like weeks and as soon as I sniffed autumn in the air (and I did that in the last week of August when the temperature dropped and the students returned), I began sleeping late. When I did wake for the day, sometimes in late afternoon, I felt distinct touches of both depression and anxiety. I woke to a perpetually messy and dirty living room (dining area, kitchen, library, bathroom, etc...) with piles of books around me and eight cats curiously living their cat lives. The living room depressed me; the books both gave me an odd mixture of anticipation, comfort and anxiety, and the cats lessened my discomfort by being friendly and lovely to touch. That the living room depressed me and that the cats lifted my spirits made perfect sense, but what was this book anxiety? It has to do with choice.

I have a large collection of books on a wide variety of subjects: novels, history, plays, poetry, essays, self-help, philosophy, short stories, memoirs, religion, visual arts... You name it and I probably have something to represent it. I began collecting books by keeping the ones that I read for high school. Books by Hemingway, Freud, Maya Angelou, Shakespeare and many others. In college my book collection expanded even more and covered a greater depth of subject matter and I began buying books for the pleasure of it instead of only for classes I needed to pass. I read a lot and enjoyed myself; I wrote interesting papers and discussed what I read with my boyfriend. After college I continued to read and collect books.

There were two lulls in my reading career, one was when I was with my alcoholic and unfortunately abusive boyfriend and the other was after I became acutely psychotic with schizophrenia. Both times abuse, one external and one internal, stopped me from settling into a good book. Once I entered into recovery from the most dire aspects of my illness, I, once again, reached out to the book, but I didn't commit to daily reading. Now within the last 2 months, 12 years after I became acutely psychotic, I am back to daily reading and daily writing. The writers I've read who have written about the writing process generally agree: if you want to learn how to write, you have to read. So I picked out books to look through from my library and brought them into the living room just by the couch (which is where I sleep and work when I am upstairs). I would read one book and the author would refer to another author; I would get curious and look to see if I had any writing by that newly referred to author. Often I did and so I'd carry the book into the living room to be closer to me as I worked. Within a week of doing this, the piles of books increased and spread, some that I had wanted to read getting lost under a new group.

With the proliferation of choices of what to read I developed "reading anxiety". Every time I woke up from a long sleep, often restless due to pressing and strange dreams, I would look around and see books. Though I kept certain key books in view (books on writing, several memoirs, short short stories and a book or two on feminism...) they and all the other books were not organized. I remember when I was acutely ill, I would go from one book to another reading little snippets trying to find some kind of guidance for this mental upheaval in my life. How lost I got! To the point where I stopped turning to books for any length of time. But now I am no longer acutely ill, but still my illness leaves me this anxiety about setting priorities and making choices.

After surviving the judgmental nature of my voices, I learned that I had indeed made many bad choices in my life. I had hurt myself, my family and my abused and abusive lover. I began to see that the choices I made went to form the life I lived. Poor choices (and bad karma) pulled me into more poor choices, until I scraped the bottom. At the bottom I looked into my own mortality and decided I wanted to fight to live. The first time that happened I had to reject my lover and the second time that happened I had to reject my delusions and take my medications. After each crisis and partial resolution, I have been left with myself and with a new set of choices. Invariably I wound up wandering from one thing to another. I dabbled, but did not commit.

So seven weeks ago I chose to return to daily reading and writing. Several weeks into it I set a goal -- to stick to this routine for 12 months and not return seriously to painting or songwriting. Next week will be my 2 month mark and it's an important one because it is usually around that time that I shift my focus. This time I will not. But still I have the anxiety over what to concentrate on each day. I have dipped into feminism, existentialism, US history, into memoirs, essays, prose-poems, flash and sudden fiction (which are short, short stories), and so much more. And I've been writing down memories for my memoir, poems and prose-poems, the beginnings of several short stories. As usual, I am going in many directions at once, tasting, testing, letting new or revisited ideas sink into my unconscious and then re-emerge into my writing. What I'm learning is that writing, with the intention of writing at least one book, is all about being willing to go into a mysterious creative process. The process requires a certain amount of surrender. I tell myself when I don't want to write -- Just Do It! Write anything, but commit!

I am commitment shy with my work and with my friendships, afraid of intimacy and potential revelation, but this makes me feel ill, depressed and anxious. I am in the process, I am surrendering, but it will be uncomfortable for a while till I grow my roots. Each day I face my discomfort and I make decisions. Fall will shift into winter and I will have months and months of time alone in my house with my books and my writing schedule. The more time I put into it, the more material I will have to work with, especially by the end of a year's apprenticeship. The deeper I go into the process of gathering and growing words on a page, the clearer I believe my sense of direction will be, the less the anxiety, the greater the sense of purpose. I do believe, but only time will tell.







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