This has been a hard month for me. I’ve had various physical problems accompanied by severe depression, especially in the last couple of weeks. The depression is much worse than the physical pain because it robs me of a sense of purpose leaving me with nearly no motivation to do anything but sleep. Even my ability to pray for help gets greatly diminished. Telling myself that I am where I am supposed to be obviously doesn’t help either. In my helplessness, I wait it out.
Yesterday I managed to get myself to lie on the couch and listen to an audio recording of Pema Chodron, the Tibetan Buddhist nun. She was talking about the important practice of gratitude. I knew she was right and I have relied of this practice many times before when I’ve been in psychological pain. In my little corner of the world there are no bombs falling from the the sky, no military men paroling the streets and roads. I have food, shelter, water, electricity and a functioning automobile. I have the company of my beautiful cats and friends and family are only a call away. Despite some physical problems I have the full use of my body, all of my senses are intact. Even my mind is free of paranoia and delusions.
What the depression really does to me is to damage my connection to the Higher Power. Without this strong connection my view of myself turns towards the negative. I see myself as pointless and stupid, sort of a lost cause. Without having a belief in myself, a belief in my right to be here and to contribute something, however small, to the world through speaking, interacting with others, writing and making songs, I turn away from the very things that normally give my life meaning. The piles of books I have surrounding me at my usual spot at the dining room table become burdens instead of doorways to understanding and freedom. What keeps me holding on is the natural world, my cats, the view from my windows of the expanse of the sky, the trees, the sound of the birds, the breeze and the freedom to lie down and soak it in.
But still, without faith, it’s as if I’m in a beautiful, even nurturing, prison. I feel the depth of my sickness and when I try to turn to man-made creations -- films, fictional books and music -- I feel the depth of other people’s sickness as well and it is too much for me. I forget to concentrate on the health within art. I forget the lesson I learned that wherever there is sickness, there is also health. The Higher Power never abandons us, no matter how dark everything seems, there is some light. The necessary challenge is to find the health and focus on it and learn from it.
I used to tell my voices when they were particularly sadistic that despite their sickness they still had the wonderful healing gifts of intelligence, sensitivity and creativity. That was the gift of God within them and everyone. God is not out there somewhere, but inside the very fabric of our minds. But we are also given the free will to choose what to do with those gifts. Either we can use them as tools to generate health within ourselves or we can use them as weapons to attack ourselves. With these voices I chose the path of compassion and I’ve seen over the years how my persistence in believing in the goodness and health within them has transformed them from a hateful way of being into a much more tolerant and kind way of being. They could have attacked me while I was down in these last few weeks, but they did not. Instead they mostly chose to detach. As I sat with my pain, so did they. Sitting with our own pain and that of others and not reacting or running away, but instead accepting it, is the basis of compassion. Compassion is the path of peace.
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.