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, July 14, 2007

A Few Steps Closer

It's been two weeks since I asked the I Ching about returning to music. Everyday I've been touching base with my studio (I'm going to call it a studio from now on even though it's just a back room with some basic equipment) to listen to old songs and work on new ones. These last few days I've been slowly getting organized. The voices gave me the idea to bring my boom box into the studio and practice singing with it. I should have thought of this a long time ago. I listened to The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield and Joni Mitchell and then sang with certain songs. I wear my headset. The microphone picks up the music while amplifying my voice while I sing. My singing is okay to poor which is not surprising since I haven't sung regularly for about seven years, not since just after I got sick with schizophrenia. I also have forgotten a lot of the words to my favorite songs so the singing is very choppy. I learned online that it can take a person up to four months to be able to sing if he or she is just beginning. The good news is that with daily practice there will be improvement and I know from past experience that practice (obviously) is the key to a decent singing voice. The vocal muscles need to be trained and your breathing needs to be regulated to produce the best sound.

It's hard for me to return because I'm back to being a near absolute beginner and this is not just due to not keeping up with it. I also haven't had teachers and no musical friends to show me how to use my equipment, how to play my instrument or how to sing. Once again, my own fault. I guess I got used to shutting people out and going into the music instead in a half assed way. But even though I wasn't clear about what I was doing, I still got to hit the right notes and the right rhythms and even the right words sometimes. I can hear when I listen to old tapes that I can sing, that somehow I got myself to do it.

Well, now, I am in a different place. I don't have the intuition to wing it. I have to get down to learning the A,B,C's of songwriting/singing/playing. So I went online and googled songwriting. Got some information on the basics of how to write a song and of how to sing and found a songwriters forum to join. That's the beauty of the internet -- it's a library and a meeting place. And that's the beauty of people, always sharing great ideas but now it's within the reach of your fingertips.

(A couple of days later...)

Yesterday I went out with my brother. I brought my acoustic guitar to a nearby music store because the body is detaching from the neck and I can't play it because I can't tune it. I've been using my electric guitar instead but I miss the acoustic. As my brother said yesterday acoustic and electric guitars are "two different animals". The acoustic is actually harder to play than the electric when you're just starting out. You get sore fingers, at least during the first couple of weeks while your fingers develop callouses. But the acoustic is what I first started out with. Also it's portable, doesn't need an amplifier or an 8 track in order to hear it. Making up songs is sometimes spur of the moment and it's good to have an instrument ready and handy. The men at the store weren't sure if they could fix it or not so they took the guitar and wrote down my name and number and said they'd call to let me know. I hope they can fix it. If not, there are a few places I could try an hour away.

I didn't get to do much work yesterday and today I woke up late but I still got into the studio and worked on a song. I find I need to take regular breaks and from what I've read online so far that's recommended. You need to let intuition work in making a song. One of the suggestions I read was to start making up or finding (in books, magazines, wherever) titles. I've done this off and on for years, even after I stopped playing. I should go through my journals and find them and see if they strike a chord in me. Go on a title hunt.

I've got almost a page of titles so far and I look over them a couple of times a day. It does help to keep me engaged. One of my titles is Lost Queen. I found it in a magazine. And I started wondering what made the queen lost and did she have a king and then I started thinking of Queen Elizabeth I, the "Virgin" Queen. Over the years I've picked up some information about Queen Elizabeth and been drawn to her as one of the few female authority figures in history. But in order for her to be as powerful as she was, she never married. Did that make her lost emotionally in some ways?

I started writing a song about paranoia but got stuck pretty quickly. It's an important subject for me, something I've intimately experienced but I can't remember yet the feeling and it's the feeling I want to convey. When did it start? What did it feel like? I think everyone can identify the feeling of paranoia at some point in their lives. We all worry that our privacy is not intact, that someone has caught us unawares. Or worse that someone wants to hurt us. Stephen Stills: "Paranoia strikes deep/ Into your heart it will creep/ It starts when you're always afraid/ Step out of line, the man take you away." I think I first became schizophrenic when I became paranoid. That was a marker and the beginning point of a hard road. Anyone who hears voices has probably experienced paranoia. In the beginning the voices represent the paranoia. You feel constantly watched with every thought noted down somewhere. Try to imagine that, absolutely no privacy in your life, in your mind. That alone is what accounts for much of the initial illness. Only a superhuman person would be able to withstand that kind of scrutiny. But on top of the scrutiny is the feeling that the scrutiny is often not benevolent but malevolent. A perpetual negative edge.

I've been listening to Sirius satellite radio taking up another of the online suggestions to start listening to a lot of music. I'm trying to figure out the structure of some of the songs I hear. Really much of my listening has been pretty blind. I miss the days when I would listen to a side of a record in my bedroom as a teenager. I would listen with great attention and after I learned the words I would sing with the record. It was like a deep meditation, communing with what I was hearing. I need to do that now. I have to work through the emotional scar tissue that's built up over the years and get back to my heart.

So far no delusional thoughts. I feel like my inexperience is grounding me to reality and I feel grateful.
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