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, January 24, 2012

The Value Of Talking Aloud

Still working with some depression.  I say "working with" instead of "struggling with" on purpose.  Struggling just worsens the depression.  When I struggle I think negatively, but when I work on a problem, I get into a meditative state.  And so the last few days I've been drawing and the drawing takes my mind off negativity and onto the problem at hand.  I've been using the Pitt markers that I bought this past Fall.  I draw a square or a rectangle to frame my work.  Then I face the empty space inside the frame.  I use one marker that is not a Pitt marker; it's two sided, one side chiseled to make thick and thinner lines and one side with more of a medium sized pointed tip.  Today I did a small sketch before I started the more committed work, so that I could get a sense of the design and structure of the work to come.  It also takes some of the pressure off facing the empty space inside the main frame.  It allows you to visually ruminate and try different approaches out to see which one might be a successful skeleton, the basis on which to add new and colorful elements.

So I've been drawing because I don't want to give up on on art, just as I don't want to give up on writing or making up songs.  Though I turn 50 this year, that doesn't mean that I have to give up on continuing to try to do artistic work each day.  I have heard of many cases of people turning into artists as they get older.  Maybe I'll be one of those people.  I was talking to Sam about how I see myself as artistic and multi-talented, but not as an artist because I get serious for several months and then switch to some other creative endeavor.  She said I was a "binge artist".  I thought that was funny and true, too.  I could also be called a "binge writer" and a "binge songwriter".  And they're all different languages though related.  But I don't like thinking of artistic creativity as an addiction because it really isn't.  If anything, self expression is a treatment for mental illness.

Last night I was watching a DVD my brother made up for me in 2008 called "Out of the Shadows", a documentary on Depression aired on PBS about that time.  At one point in the film certain experts were saying that medication combined with talk therapy was 70% to 80% effective in treating depression in many people.  They also said that there have been studies proving that talking affects the brain and brain chemistry for the better by reducing stress.  I know this for a fact because I've been talking into my audio journal since the end of 2006 around the time I began this blog and it does reduce anxiety, but you've got to be very honest with yourself and you've got to treat yourself lovingly.  It's also good practice for talking/writing to others with honesty.  Most human beings respond positively to upfront, honest individuals because they have a certain balance between presenting their strengths and their weaknesses.  They are interested in peaceful communication and not in preserving a false image of themselves.

The first thing an addict has to do in order to survive is to get honest.  That's also true for those of us who have fallen into severe mental illness.  When I became delusional and paranoid in the Spring of 1998 I was not being honest with myself.  I took reality for granted and didn't stop to reality check.  I made huge assumptions.  Worse, I was not appreciating the reality I was living in.  I wanted to be somewhere else, in another life.  I had delusions of grandeur.  The reality is that most people work to find success, but I was still working with the "lucky break" attitude.  I was being a gambler.  I was relying on magical thinking.  Very dangerous to an already isolated person with self-esteem issues and a past history of being abused.  I sank into delusions and paranoia as if I were sinking into quicksand with seemingly no branch to reach for to help pull me out of the pit.  But all the while I was seeing myself as a victim too and a kind of anti-heroine, an underdog figure.  I knew "The Truth" and some group was trying to suppress the truth, but I firmly believed that "The Truth" would prevail and I would be vindicated and consequently elevated to some higher status.  But the core of "The Truth" was the main delusion and I held onto it as if it could save my life, when it only pulled me down deeper.

I talked a lot out loud to myself and the voices during my three and a half unmedicated years of acute psychosis.  I really had to.  I was deluded and paranoid and I was in pain.  Talking aloud gave me back some control and released anxiety.  I also wrote in a journal, which again gave me a voice to vent my frustrations.  I thought I was being very honest when I talked or wrote, but the only real reality check I had was when I went to therapy each week.  I was too sick to give myself a reality check; I needed someone outside of myself to point out the flaws and inconsistencies of my basic delusory beliefs.  But first I needed to be in a safe position where I could confidently assert my delusion.  My therapist was not always challenging my beliefs.  She let me have my say and I needed some of that.  She gave me some room to move about.  And I imagine that a mental health support group could also provide that safe place to reveal one's illness to others and to listen to useful feedback through personal stories.  I didn't and don't have that yet and so I had to learn about being honest with another person mainly through my therapy sessions.  I think a support group could have helped me to come to recovery more quickly than I did without it.

It's ironic, but what I didn't like about the voices was that they could be manipulative, indirect and deceitful.  I thought that I was honest and upfront.  I wanted someone to literally knock on my front door in order to tell me the plain truth about what was going on, someone who knew these strange voices and had already been through their own trials and tribulations.  I searched and searched and waited and waited and no one came to enlighten me.  I remained in isolation, in delusion and paranoia.  In the interim, I had access to the internet and this helped to lessen some of the isolation though I also used the internet to try and confirm my delusions.  I wasn't yet taking responsibility for the fact that I was ill and needed help.  I wasn't awake enough to see that I was still lying to myself and still addicted to my delusions.  But during my last breakdown a little over ten years ago, I turned to the medications out of desperation and I followed the 12 step Al-Anon support literature to guide me back to partial balance.  I treated myself like the very sick woman that I was, with gentleness, compassion and tolerance for my slow progress out of acute psychosis.

So talking either from a delusional perspective or a "real" perspective is very important.  Talk to yourself, talk to a therapist, talk to your support group, talk to family members, talk to friends.  Don't be the strong, silent type.  Express yourself.  You can't move from a delusional world into the real world unless you do.
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