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.

Saturday, December 2, 2006


I began hearing voices in my mid twenties but the voices were mostly beneficial voices. They were guides, teachers and friends. It wasn't until a little after I turned thirty six that the voices became intrusive and manipulative. About a year before that point the beneficial voices instructed me to study and follow the I Ching. I did this and learned about being modest and patient and persevering. All this served me well when I finally did succumb to sickness, though nothing could prepare me for the onslaught of schizophrenia. In the beginning of the illness the I Ching guided me but soon I was too sick to consult it and set it aside. Only recently have I been well enough to return to it. When I've asked the I Ching to define schizophrenia the reply has been that I must wait for the definition, that there is no easy answer. And, of course, having lived through it and with it, I know this.

Schizophrenia affects over 45 million people worldwide and yet each schizophrenic is unique. This makes an in-depth definition of it very difficult to achieve. Even the word schizo-phrenia (to split+mind) is not anywhere near an accurate definition. Based on my experience the mind does not split but instead becomes overwhelmed by ideas and images and voices. The reality that was changes into hyper-realism. The elements of reality are still there but there are also exaggerations and distortions, so many to the point where wrong assumptions become the standard way of assessing life. For a recovering schizophrenic (and I believe recovery is possible) the need for a "reality check" is a general prescription to prevent relapse.

My initial diagnosis was paranoid schizophrenia late onset. As it turns out that diagnosis was not set in stone. The paranoia lasted for three years during which time i was not always compliant with taking the anti-psychotic medications. But after the third breakdown in three years, I somehow became ready to end the most major of my delusions and with that decided to begin taking the medicine faithfully. it wasn't a magic cure but the paranoia began to recede and the general delusions began to fade, not completely, but enough to continue a relatively "normal" existence.

Today I still hear voices. By the scientific community these are referred to as audio hallucinations. I think, like the word schizophrenia, this is another misnomer. The definition of hallucination is "an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present". That's like saying thinking is a hallucination. The voices ARE heard, what differentiates them from mere thoughts is that they feel as if they do not originate from oneself. These are thoughts that occur spontaneously with no censor or superego to stop them from coming forward. During times of active psychosis they have their own independent personalities, not quite as defined as in dissociated personalities, but similar nonetheless.

In terms of understanding schizophrenia using the I Ching, Carol K. Anthony in her book THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE I CHING describes two important elements: the Superior Man and the Inferiors (or Inferior Man). One of the purposes of the I Ching is to act as a guide towards improving ourselves so that we can become more firmly the Superior Man (or Woman). The Superior Man is our highest self: benevolent, just, courteous, knowledgeable and truthful whereas the Inferior Man is our "ego-self-image": defensive, proud, controlling and generally negative. Ms Anthony writes: "As long as the inferior man rules within us, an inner conflict, or 'war,' is set off within our personality; our superior man is held captive by our inferior man. Until we restore order, our personality remains fundamentally split. The inferior man may hold the superior man captive for a long time, but, as long as a person is alive, both potentials exist within him...The work of self-development is to resolve all internal rifts, restoring the personality to wholeness, or oneness, in harmony with the Tao. The causes of illness that have their roots in internal conflict, gradually abate and become eradicated; the person is restored to health and well-being." (pp 30-31)

This restoration is a gradual process based on truthfulness and devotion. It does not come easily, as the ego would have it. It takes perseverance during the hard times and caution during the good times; it takes striving to create a balance at all times. For all of us, those with mental illness and those without, there is this ever present dynamic between following the good and following the bad within ourselves. The image that comes to mind is that of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, both whispering into our ears. It's up to us to choose and choose wisely. For me, the I Ching creates a framework and a starting point, a way to make sense out of nonsense and to begin to heal the illness with which I continue to live.
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