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, June 18, 2007

The Last Few Days

After I cleaned the back bedroom last week I've been sleeping in my bed. This small change signals more recovery for me. For years I've been sleeping on the living room couch mainly because of the psychosis. I think the behavior stemmed from my paranoia and a general lack of self care. I also used to listen to meditative music to help me to get to sleep and my stereo was in my living room...and the tv...and the kitchen nearby. I guess that's why they call it the living room. Another change: I'm also trying not to sleep in my clothes but to put on sleeping clothes before bed. Sleeping in my clothes also started with paranoia. I wanted to be prepared in case I had to leave the house quickly. But I haven't been paranoid in over four years and yet I continued to sleep in my clothes and not change them the next day if I didn't have to go out. Luckily I have very little body odor and so usually I just wouldn't notice it. So many things I stopped noticing and it's only just now that I'm starting to return to a healthy pattern. May it continue.

Thursday I finished Azar Nafisi's READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN. What a good book. I think I'm going to purchase it and read it again. It really gave me a feel for what it was like to live in Iran post revolution as an intellectual woman. Ms. Nafisi is a good writer passionate about Western literature but she lived in a repressive anti-Western culture for eighteen years. That's what makes this book interesting. She survived pretty much intact, neither the repressive regime nor the eight years war with Iraq stopped her, though many were not so fortunate. Too many were tortured, imprisoned, even killed because their beliefs didn't fit with the "Islamic Republic". One of Ms. Nafisi's best students had been in prison for two years for protesting against the regime. The book gives glimpses into Ms. Nafisi and her "girls" (her best students) showing several different perspectives. Ms. Nafisi was very fortunate indeed and ultimately left Iran with her husband and two children to live in Washington, D.C. Two years after she left Iran for good she began to work on this book and about three years later it was finished, but the book itself moves swiftly and gracefully, covers her eighteen years without dragging it out. Her chapters are short and plentiful. I found this made the book easier and more enjoyable to read. As memoirs go, this is a good one. I hope she writes another about living in the U.S. someday.

Friday I got a cell phone. Now I truly am part of the 21st Century. The phone itself was very cheap because of a special deal for first time buyers. The monthly fee is about what I expected it to be, a bit too expensive but doable. I don't know how families afford getting each child a phone. The customers ahead of me were a mother and daughter (and also a very young daughter--too young to have a cell phone). The mother was buying a new phone and phone line for her teenage daughter. She said to her daughter, "You know you are a very lucky girl" and "Your father really is a softie." My phone cost about $21 and the phone they chose cost about $145. I'm satisfied with with my (cameraless) cell phone and am in the process of learning how to use it. Well, making and receiving a call is fairly simple, it's the computer program that needs to be memorized. If I want to pay extra I can text messages but I've never done it before and really don't have enough of a social life to make it an attractive activity. But I am curious about it. Still I'm not too crazy about the new computer language, "I will c u later" and such though I understand it's out of necessity. But really, this phone is for my own peace of mind in case of an emergency with the car. It's still too new. I've only made one call so far. But who knows, maybe this year I'll make some friends and get over my anxiety with using the phone. Maybe I'll be like so many other people apparently talking to themselves in their cars or along the street or in restaurants.

Saturday I studied the I Ching (Yee Jing often spelled Yijing). As you've probably noticed I haven't been writing about the I Ching for months now. That's because I stopped consulting it and stopped working with my online I Ching teacher Hilary. But for several weeks now I've been considering returning to the oracle for guidance. Hilary was teaching me various divination practices and I got overloaded. There's so much to learn and it can be quite time consuming. I think I just needed a break from it. I have been having trouble formulating questions to ask it. I second guess myself and feel as if my questions aren't good enough. Or I feel as if I already know the answers. Or I feel as if I'm just plain lazy. Whatever the reason (perhaps winter depression) I now feel ready to return to the I Ching and to Hilary. I went to Hilary's online I Ching community (which as it turns out I haven't visited for over three months) and began a thread about having trouble asking the I Ching questions. I've gotten some excellent replies that have set me thinking. I also think I have to change my approach to working with Hilary. The course I signed up for with her is a 12 month course. She has about nine suggested lessons to work with to begin with. I got up to lesson 7 but I think what I really need to do is have a general discussion with her, get to know her and let her get to know me. Try to deepen my understanding of the Yi through her insights and my own. I also need to participate in her online forum. It's just that all this is new to me, this community around the I Ching. For me it's always been a solitary thing and I had no idea how deeply people are involved in it, some almost mathematical in their approach, others very intuitive and emotional but all very educated and serious. I feel like an awkward novice because, well, that's what I am.

I've been drawing and painting each day, small watercolors. I was inspired by an online friend (thanks J.P.!) who is getting into art. I sent her some art books (one of them a great how to book I studied when I was a young woman) and a couple of small paintings I did last Fall, both of little girls. I've been working on portraits and figure studies from two famous photographers: Jock Sturges and Sally Mann. Both focus on children and teen-agers with a few adults sprinkled into the bunch. Many are nude studies and there has been some controversy over whether their photographs should be considered pornographic which I think is absurd. From my perspective they are beautiful psychological studies. I find them compelling which is why I started painting them. I actually did one moderately large oil painting of one of Jock Sturges photographs but mine is modified and in color (all Sturges' and Mann's photos are black and white) my first year back at school which is still one of my favorites. My watercolors are also obviously in color and this is hard because I have no color to reference from the photographs and so I've been guessing and doing it intuitively. Not really a good way to learn natural color, better to have a color photograph or a model. I'll look around for some color photographs. I can also work from dvds on my computer by freeze framing a shot from a film or video, well, in theory I can because I've never done it before. I can certainly draw from the computer and that would just be some great practice for proportions of the figure or portrait and composition study. I've also been drawing and painting from a book on cats (full color photographs). One of my best watercolors so far is of a kitten. I wish I could post some of my photographs and paintings on this blog but I haven't been able to upload images for many months now. I'm thinking about starting another blog just for images if that's possible.

Three years after my initial breakdown I took a month long watercolor class to prepare me for going back to art school. That was a great class. It's why I'm studying watercolor now (though when I went back to school I painted primarily in acrylic on medium to large stretched canvas'). Some say that watercolor is the hardest painting medium to master but it is also the most practical. You don't need alot of space because paintings are usually small compared to oil and acrylic painting. All you need is a pencil, paint, water, brushes, paper towels, watercolor paper, a drawing board or table and some light. The back bedroom that I cleaned and now sleep in is where I set up a little studio, mainly a drawing table, a large cork board, a table to hold the paints, brushes, paper towel and brushes and and bookcase with books and supplies. The room has excellent daylight coming through two windows. The walls of the room are painted white and so the room has open (though it's not large) and airy feel to it. I draw and then paint a small study soon after I get up in the morning and return to study my work several times a day. My work is uneven, some studies stronger than others but the main thing I want to do is persevere with it. Just do it each day. I'd like to give some of my work away as presents to my family. This is making me more goal oriented which is challenging me to continue generating ideas about what others might enjoy looking at. The bottom line is being creative is essential to my happiness. Lately, since the depression has lifted, I have more motivation and this makes me happy.

Today I worked in the library. It was terribly dull work I'm afraid, folding hundreds of newsletters to be mailed out locally and while I was doing it I felt physically uncomfortable. I yearned for my cd walkman so I could study or listen to music while I worked but I didn't sqirm or complain, I just did the work. I listened to the director, the clerk and visitors talking to each other about house repairs and pesky chipmunks and the exceptionally dry weather we're having. I listened to a young man at their only public computer talk and joke about what was selling on ebay and whether or not he should bid. So mostly I listened and didn't talk, though I did smile a lot. My favorite person so far is the director. She's modest, funny, unpretentious, hardworking and honest. There's just something about her that is loveable. She seems like somebody's mom and grandmother. But she's also very proper. After I left the library, I felt good. The work itself had been unpleasant because monotonous but I knew I was doing something useful, I was contributing and being social (if only in a limited way). It was a new sensation...working, being useful to a part of my community, having actual contact with members of the community instead of thinking of them in the abstract. I've lived here for 18 years and I'm only now just trying to get to know others. I've been a semi-invisible member of the human race. Shame has held me back from joining with others but I'm learning that mental illness should not be something I'm ashamed of. I'm hoping that I will eventually tell the director of my schizophrenia. Each time I've told someone it's taken pressure off me and I think it makes me easier to understand. I'm not bad, I'm not a failure. I have a handicap but I'm still a worthwhile person. I think the only way to end the stigma attached to mental illness is to end the isolation of those who live with it. People with mental illness should show their colors instead of hiding them away. We all have talents and strengths. Let's show people that we can be productive members of society who have meaningful lives. There's no room for shame in the recovery process, no room for shaming stigma.

Tonight I went to my first Al-Anon meeting in three weeks. There were seven of us and I chaired the meeting. Part of today's reading had to do with the 4th Step: "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." I have broached this step several times but never actually have taken it. It's a hard step but a very important step, one that is key to seven of the steps which all have to do with self-understanding and learning to accept responsibility. I want to take this step now. I think I'm ready to take an honest look at my weaknesses and strengths. I won't truly recover until I do. And both aspects are very important. Understanding what my weaknesses are is crucial to overcoming them and my other strengths are crucial to doing the same and building a meaningful life. I have a 4th Step workbook filled with questions that I'll have to answer and I'm very glad I have it. It will help give structure to the process of self understanding, a sort of gentle guide as to what I should reflect upon.

Well, it's past my bedtime but I've really enjoyed writing this update. I feel as if I'm making progress and I'm grateful to have you as readers. Just being heard is such a great feeling. I'm going to try to pick up the pace if I can writing in this blog. I kind of slowed down this week.

How have you all been?
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