I went out Wednesday to the dentist because one of my back teeth cracked in half and because I have infections on either side of my mouth. I've had these infections off and on for several years. For three years I wouldn't go to the dentist and deal with them. That's very typical of people with mental illnesses, they don't get the help they need right away and put things off. Sometimes such neglect leads to serious illness, even an early death. So don't do as I have done. This time, after my tooth cracked last Monday, I called the dentist without delay. He gave me a prescription for antibiotics for 10 days and then I will return and he will remove my cracked tooth. On the other side of my mouth, I need yet another root canal (I had one done last year along with other stuff), but he wants me to go to a specialist who is a 45 minute drive away. I have to get my courage up to give the specialist a call and set up an appointment, though not until the weather gets a bit better. The dentist said it was okay to wait a month and so I will. For now, I have to chew on the left side of my mouth to avoid making the cracked tooth on my right side of my mouth any worse. It's a bit awkward, but okay so far. And I'm not in any pain, thank goodness.
Otherwise, I've been struggling with the usual: moderate depression, bouts of anxiety, an increase of voices and isolation. I'm not miserable, yet not quite content either. I saw my psychiatrist last week and asked him if the voices will ever go away and he said no they wouldn't, unless some new drug gets created that eliminates them. He said that he knows of several people as old as 90 who still hear voices, but who take their medication, get enough sleep, take care of themselves and are basically content. He referred to them as "happy" psychotics. I generally fall into this category, though as I said, sometimes I am not so content, but rather restless, down, anxious, etc... Even so, there is enough good in my life that I don't get swallowed up by the negativity. I also realize that we all struggle being alive, regardless of our level of mental health.
I can only afford to see my therapist every other week and this past week I saw her. I told her that I was returning to working on my memoir, but that when I read through some older journals, my voices began to react against it and so I backed off and took a break from reading. She warned me that I could return to acute psychosis despite the fact that I take the medications and go to therapy. That woke me up a bit because I have somewhat taken for granted that I won't get really sick as long as I take care of myself, but taking care of myself also means not antagonizing the voices by doing things to create conflict within myself. Still, I am stubborn; I feel the need to continue with the memoir, I just will go more slowly through the process. Ironically the journals that upset me were not the ones from when I was deeply psychotic, but rather the ones from earlier on in my recovery when I was in school and caught inside a depression that almost made me drop out of school. I kept returning to the theme of who the voices were and why they were here. Some of that was interesting, but much of it was redundant. I also blamed the voices for my unhappiness, which is something I no longer do.
It's a relief to not blame anyone or anything for my illness. Part of why I don't is that I've come to see my illness as a part of a spiritual journey, thanks to Pema Chodron's view of Buddhism. I know that most people who suffer from schizophrenia either see it as purely a biological illness, thus trying to distance themselves from their symptoms, or they are caught inside a resilient delusion of some sort that serves to explain the existence of the voices. I believe that the illness has a biological basis, but I also believe that it is much more than that. I believe that there are higher forces at work for all of us, but that those with schizophrenia are more conscious of the connection, for some reason unknown to me. That is why in different cultures at different times in history those who we would now deem mentally ill were seen as shamans or healers with magical powers. It's not an either/or equation. It is not enough to say that we have a physical illness like diabetes that needs treatment, though this is true enough. There is a rich psychological/spiritual element to the phenomenon of schizophrenia that I am not willing to ignore. It's what gives meaning to my life.
But can I translate this perspective into a memoir? I am at a crossroads. I'm unable to narrow down my intent. I have so much material to work with, years and years of journals and this past fall I began to seriously collect memories of my childhood and explore the facts of my parents, grandparents and great grandparents lives. I know the process just takes time and that I must be patient. And I know that when I get disturbed by some of what I find that I must back off for a few days or weeks and digest the new perspective. But when I sat before my therapist and she said I might return to acute psychosis if I delved into my past, I almost believed her. I'm convinced that part of the process of writing includes not only self questioning, but naturally, self doubt. In order to be absolutely honest, I have to question my own assumptions, but I also have to rise above the doubts and press on, even if it takes me a decade to write one book.
Is it ambition or is it a desire to give succinct meaning to my experiences in life? I think my desire to write a book is a desire to put a partial end to my isolation by opening my story up to other readers (if I'm fortunate enough to get published and read). There are times when I have to count my blessings and not push it, but there are also times when it is healthy to give a little push here and there. It is my psychiatrist and therapist's business to be cautious and many times I agree with them, but it is not a hard and fast rule. There are no hard and fast rules in life because different situations and different people require different treatment. The pain and beauty of life is trying to find that magical balance day to day.
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.