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.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Return To Health & Balance

I joined Weight Watchers online last week after talking with a close childhood friend who had just joined and was beginning to go to meetings.  I decided about a month ago that I needed start a diet and exercise program and began to diet and exercise.  I weighed myself today for the first time in about six months and I am at the heaviest weight I've ever been by a few pounds, but during this past month I have found that I do not have an eating disorder and my body is still strong and flexible.  I realized that what I need most and have needed most is exercise.

I started out as a child very enthusiastic about dancing.  I remember taking a modern dance class with several friends when I was still in grade school.  I studied more modern dance all through high school and then some yoga during college.  Mostly I danced in my room by myself.  I discovered that I had natural talent and I loved it.  I don't think anyone has ever really seen me let go and dance and I've only seen a bit looking into the large mirror in my room.  So I've viewed my dancing as a private communing with the Higher Power and rarely had the desire to perform for others.  I still view it that way.

Several weeks ago I sent an email to the owner of a karate teaching business in my town.  I had taken a yoga class there once and really like the studio space.  I thought it would be a great place to dance.  So I asked this black belt karate teacher if I could rent out her space for an hour at a time three days a week, every other day.  A couple of weeks went by and she didn't respond, but last week she apologized and said that my email had been in the junk folder and she had only just discovered it.  She said she was willing to meet me.  I quickly wrote back and thought I had set up a meeting, but when I arrived at the studio, no one was there and all the doors were locked.

Then I thought that I probably should visit the doctor for a checkup before I find a space to dance in.  This week I have to encourage myself to make the call and set up an appointment.  I really don't like going to doctors, but it has been a year and a half of so since I went and I need to be sure that my blood pressure is good and get my blood tested to see what my cholesterol levels are.  I need to be sure that I have not become diabetic, which, thank God, I have not acquired since becoming obese about 15 years ago.

This is my main goal for the year - to take better care of my body and home.   Since I became psychotic I have become obese, dirty and, to put it bluntly, a slob.  Taking care of my basic needs to be physically fit, clean and orderly were the first things to go when I got so sick and I have struggled with that off and on for years.  Each time I have tried to change my ways I have succeeded for only a short time and then fallen back into negative patterns.  I have hurt myself for this, judged myself and shamed myself and that just served to keep me stuck.

Something in me shifted a couple of years ago.  I stopped judging myself and worked on accepting myself just as I was.  I stopped calling myself "fat and ugly" and began to love and appreciate myself.
I began buying a lot of inexpensive, but quite nice clothes from an online store called Roamans and I began enjoying wearing them.  I cut my hair shorter.  I bought earrings and necklaces.  I started wearing just a bit of lipstick.  I started smiling at myself in the mirror.  I began asserting that I liked, loved and respected myself.

I came to accept my weight and my dirty, cluttered house.  It is not what I ultimately want and sometimes it bothers me, though mostly it makes me laugh.  So now I think I'm at a point of transition into a healthy way of living my life.  I have been praying for help to continue on this path and something is happening.  My challenge this week is to begin working on creating the good habit of exercising each day.  I have a stationary bike that I enjoy and I will bike on it for 20 minutes a day and no longer.  My urge is to push myself and that's just what I don't want to do because when I do that I do not consistently sustain it and I stop.  I need to change my life style gently and gradually.  I am not in any competition, I just want to get healthier.  A habit takes about 3 weeks to make, so I've decided that for two weeks I should just do the 20 minutes daily and no more and then start to increase the length of time and the intensity.

So perhaps I will wait 2 weeks before I contact the karate teacher which will give me time to see the doctor and reinforce daily exercise.  I also know of another place, a dance studio in a neighboring town, where I could dance if this first option doesn't work out.  I want to work my way up to having a dance practice.  I want dancing in a studio space to be my reward for putting in some effort to take care of myself.  I've only danced once in a studio space by myself.  I snuck into a university's dance studio with a small boom box when no one was around.  I danced for a while in freedom until I heard someone come through the door.  It was a little Asian American girl and she wanted to get permission to sit and watch me.  I told her no because I would be too self conscious and it would mess up the practice.  I felt bad about saying no, but I just couldn't do it.

My body amazes me.  Obesity has not stripped me of my strength, flexibility and talent.  Though I don't listen to music all the time, I love it.  Music motivates me to move and be expressive.  I have a strong sense of rhythm, pacing and flow.  My body still remembers what it knew as a child, adolescent and young adult.  Singing and making up songs, and dancing, have been the closest I've come to finding joy and a kind of worship of the life force in and around me.  I feel grateful to have another opportunity to reach for health and balance.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

God In My Life

Ten months ago I was in the midst of a psychotic break - I was delusional and paranoid.  Compared to the psychotic breaks I had early in my illness it was mild and yet I could not deny that I was sick.  I withdrew from social contact, I deleted this blog and a bunch of other writing I had done over the years, I changed the lock on my door, I stayed home most of the time, I stopped taking my medication, I stopped seeing my therapist, I stopped going to a 12 Step meeting.  I'm not sure why this happened, and yet I never felt divorced from the Higher Power.

Then I returned to taking my medications, returned to a 12 Step group (Al-Anon), returned to therapy with a new therapist and fostered my commitment to turning my life and will over to God with a simple daily practice of taking my medications and thanking God for them, praying each morning and off and on throughout the day and reading aloud from various daily readers.  In the last couple of weeks I have returned to once again approaching the 4th Step by taking an inventory of my life.  I've been having trouble doing it because the truth is that I feel good about myself and my life.  I love and respect myself and am proud of the choices I made while in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic and afterwards while in the midst of deep psychosis.  I don't believe that I have harmed many people, just my ex boyfriend who I have made amends to over the years even though he has been dead since 1999.  And even then with him I tried very hard to be strong and loving kind.

I know that a lot of why I have not harmed others is because I have been a recluse for much of my life.  The greatest harm I have done has not been towards others but towards myself.  And yet I also believe that I have lived the life that I was meant to live.  It was necessary for me to live this life in order to learn the lessons I needed to learn.  These lessons were about compassion, faith, tolerance, patience and a growing commitment to the good in life.  I am now committed to the good in life and I find it all around me wherever I go.  God is everywhere, in the deepest hells on earth and in the highest heavenly experiences of humans on earth too.  God is in our spirits.  We would not have spirits without God.  God is in our hearts and minds.  God is in our bodies.  Believe in God or don't, God will still be there.

All the life on this planet has great meaning.  We create our own personal hells when we lose faith about the meaning in our lives.  I think one of the worst psychological states a human can be in is severe depression.  I feel a lot of love and compassion for all those people caught within that state especially because I have lived through it myself.  To be robbed of the motivation to engage in life is truly horrible and yet it can be overcome through medication, therapy, support groups and most especially the practice of gratitude.  It is the day to day practice of focusing on the positive that can gradually change one's perspective and therefore one's life towards healing.  I have spent many, many hours lying around or sleeping trying to avoid the pain in my life.  But I think even when I wanted to die I still at the same time also wanted to live.  It was the pain I didn't want and not this world.  And so I persisted.  At first I decided to listen to many, many audiobooks while lying on my couch.  If I couldn't do anything, at least I could listen to all kinds of stories and accounts of life and take my attention off my pain.

I could still listen and learn.  So I didn't give up despite being beaten down by my illnesses.  I had training to endure and survive acute psychosis and depression through having lived with an abusive alcoholic lover for over five years.  He was someone that I loved, but could not save.  I learned through him that the only one I can save through the help and grace of the Higher Power is me.  And later I saw that that was true for all of us.  The most important relationship in every one's life is between self and God, however you define God (and there are so many ways to do that).  And whether we admit it or not, I believe we all long for union with God.  And by God I mean peace, love and happiness.

There is value in developing endurance through painful life experiences and relationships.  If you open up enough to look, there are valuable lessons in every single life experience and relationship.  Nothing goes to waste.  I have thought of God as sentient space.  Space is everywhere in even the hardest seeming object.  There is no waste in space.  It is open, harmonious, peaceful, receptive, gentle and essential.  We tend to focus on the objects in space instead of on space itself, just as we tend to focus on the pain in our lives instead of in the pleasure.  Buddhists teachers have taught that nirvana or heaven is in every present moment.  Nirvana is now.  The ability to be aware, to experience through our five senses, to think, to feel, to breath, this is all nirvana, this is heaven.  Pain and suffering can serve to highlight this if we allow it.

Why is it necessary for us to suffer?  To learn, to appreciate what it is not to suffer.  The farther down you go, the higher up you have the potential to go.   Profound experiences, both positive and negative, can deepen your life and make for profound understanding, for revelations about the nature of truth.  How can you define and experience true freedom if you have never been in bondage?  We are all slaves on the path to freedom.  Union with God goes way beyond our life as living beings on this planet.  And yet what joy there is and can be for us here in our limited forms.  So I say appreciate what is right in every moment while we're here.  Cultivate your awareness of the beauty and balance all around us which is the essence of God.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Back From Florida

My brother and I returned from Florida on Tuesday evening.  This is my third day home.  We had a safe trip down to Florida, a safe stay and a safe return and I am grateful for all of that.  We were supposed to get my father's ashes and spread them at the Unitarian Universalist church in Fort Myers,  but found when we were at the funeral home that we could not do it because the church office was closed on Monday and we had to give them some kind of document before we could spread the ashes on their property.  A very nice man at the funeral home said he would spread the ashes the next day for us.  It was not what I wanted, but we had no choice.  It was my father's wish that his remains be spread in the same place as my mother's were spread and we had to leave the following morning.  It would have helped me to have a sense of closure to spread the ashes myself, a sense of the reality of my father's death, but instead I had to let go and move on.

It was bittersweet staying on Sanibel Island for three days and four nights.  The condo I chose was very nice, had lots of room so that my brother and I could have some privacy from each other when we chose to.  Being August in southern Florida it was very humid outside, like hanging out in a sauna when I would go outside on the lanai to smoke cigarettes.  I went over to the beach three times.  The last two times I couldn't stay for very long because there were many tiny biting insects flying around me as I sat on a chair near the water.  It was still pleasant to be by the water, to walk in the sand and to put my feet in the water, pick up a few shells, but it was just not the same as when my parents were alive and living there.  My brother felt the same way, maybe more so, because he only went over to the beach once and did not go and look for shells on the beach, something he normally loves to do.

On Saturday morning we went over to  my parents' retirement community in Fort Myers to clear out my father's room in the nursing home and to be there when Goodwill Industries came to take most of what was there.  We only took some framed photos and my father's iPad and charger.  My brother and I got a couple of very nice hugs from two of the nurses and it was sad, but relatively simple and painless.  I didn't feel my father's presence there much.  It would have been different if he had died in his apartment and we then had to clear out all of his and my mother's belongings.  That might have been very upsetting, but we had already done that months before while my father was still alive and I'm grateful for that, too.

I am proud of myself for arranging for this trip, for taking on the responsibility, but I'm still left with a feeling of depression.  It's a natural response, but obviously not a pleasant one.  And so my parents are gone and my brother, uncle and I remain.  This evening I go back to my Al-Anon meeting and that should help me to get a better perspective and lift my mood.  I will continue to take it one day at a time focusing on staying in recovery by having contact with people in recovery, reading support literature and studying, writing, staying creative.