I told a friend the other day that I was okay with where I was at these days. Maybe it's just that Spring has sprung around here and I'm feeling the release from a long winter into a kind of hopefulness. I'm not sure. I still go in and out of depression and some anxiety. Just the other day I slept the day and night away because of depression. I have a low tolerance for any kind of stress. I can just manage to deal with my minimal responsibilities, more than that and I feel pain. And yet, for all that, I am able to value my life. I have a lot to be grateful for: a safe home with cats for company, a caring family, enough money to live month to month, basic physical health, several creative outlets. I also count myself as my own best friend. Apart from perfection, which none of us can attain, I like and love myself. Talking into a tape recorder these last four or five years has only gone to reinforce my friendship with myself. My code of ethics is the discipline of self-honesty and honesty towards others. I don't always succeed in that, but I do try. And though I like and love myself, I still fall into thinking negative thoughts about myself. I worry.
I work a program to help myself continue to heal from my own mental illness. It's not a typical recovery program. I have no support group. I do not do volunteer work or part-time work. Except for in this blog, I am not a mental health advocate. I don't go to church each week and get involved with my local community. And yet, I am in recovery and am doing fairly well. Why am I okay? Having financial support is a big reason why I think I am okay. I know that may not last forever, but for now I am grateful for the space and time it allows me to work through watching over my illness. Because I have had success combatting my illness due to financial support, I strongly believe that the mentally ill in this country should have the financial support they need. Guilt free. The general population has little idea how incredibly horrible the acute stages of psychotic illnesses are, lasting for not months, but years. I used to say that it was like being mentally crucified. That sounds so exaggerated, but it really isn't. If you manage to survive the acute stage and get into the recovery stage, what kind of recompense can you be given for psychological torture lasting so long? But aside from the idea of recompense for extreme suffering, there is the idea that spending some money is way more cost-efficient than having the mentally ill in hospitals, jails and rehabs or just plain homeless. We can't afford to keep putting "undesirable" people away somewhere. So a home, medications, therapy and some means of transportation are all basic needs that must be met for those unfortunate enough to have a severe mental illness.
Other than having my basic needs covered, I pay attention to myself and my voices and, as far as I am able, I reach out and care about a few people. The computer has been a godsend for me because it has allowed me to meet other people in similar situations, all of whom really impress me with their intelligence, determination to recover and creativity. Almost all of them are bloggers and many of them are artistic. Before I was diagnosed as having schizophrenia, I thought people just got crazy and stayed crazy, but this is not true at all. I continue to submit that psychosis goes through stages from a prodromal stage that leads up to the acute stage, which varies in length from person to person, and several recovery stages. Many people who aspire to recover or who are actively in recovery start blogs. I think blogging is therapeutic and informative. It can boost self-esteem while forming a support network. It's a positive creative outlet. For some it is a means of doing advocacy work. Some people blog daily or every other day, when so motivated, others, like myself just several times a month. You can go at your own pace. Life before the advent of the personal computer was very circumscribed for the majority of schizophrenia sufferers. Especially those living far from active city centers. The people I've met through blogging or mental health forums have helped me to recover. I am indebted to them, which is why I continue to blog. I have the hope that I am helping a few people along their way through mental illness.
My attitude about mental illness is that it is a journey rather than a life sentence. I work with my voices. They are no longer the enemy that they once were. Through Buddhism I have come to see how to use my illness as part of my spiritual path. I'm grateful to the voices. They continue here and there to challenge me, sometimes calling me evil, but I feel so far away from being evil. When I was acutely ill it was as if I were inside an evil world, but now, no longer. I am free. More often these mysterious voices tell me that they like and love me and I am comforted. Perhaps my attitude of working with the voices through active compassion is not the usual perspective, but it is another strong reason why I am in recovery. From the beginning the voices have been a mixture of good and "evil" with the good trying to help me survive the onslaught of the bad voices. I have had friends with the illness tell me that some of the people they know have just horrible, tormenting voices that they have to detach from and that's the general view that voices are just plain bad. I have real trouble believing this. Even in hateful voices there is something to appreciate such as intelligence, creativity, determination. Yes, those, too, are woven into the voices. Even in the midst of hell there can be respite, some kind of humor, detached perspective. Another point is that during the acute stage things are just that, acute. The whole situation is perilous and yet you still have to find your way out of it even on your hands and knees, that, or die. My acute stage lasted for 3 and a half years, possibly because I didn't commit to taking the anti-psychotic medications. I was fortunate in that early on I was applying compassion to my voices even through my three psychotic breakdowns. And if some voice did me a good turn, I remembered it. For a long time into early recovery I was resentful of the voices. My attitude was "why me?" Gradually as I turned towards Buddhism, the resentment faded. Now I am no longer resentful which has brought me a lot of peace.
I keep hoping that some sufferer will take me seriously about applying compassion to the voices. And compassion is part of every religion out there and part of humanitarianism itself. It's hard to do when you're under attack, but it can be done. Also, it takes time and repeated effort. Recovery goes in stages too. For me, it has taken years to get to this point, over a decade. I think the more resistant an individual is the longer it takes, but as water over time smooths the roughest stone, so does compassion reduce the general suffering. When I talk about compassion, I always mean it to include compassion for oneself as well. Self-acceptance and friendship is really a must. Most voices during their abusive phase, try to tear the individual down and that is why you have to build yourself up, not by being an egotist, but by loving and caring for yourself. It is the individuals who internalize the voices negativity that get caught in self-destructive cycles. Resist that negativity and eventually you liberate yourself and possibly the voices as well.
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.