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.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Good In Passing Moments

Still feeling somewhat scattered and detached and yet I’m not suffering. I act as if I am depressed (not cleaning the house, not going out to see people, sleeping in my clothes again) but I don’t feel depressed. I’ve lived through psychological torment and physical abuse and suicidal depression and so I know that I am essentially okay now in a way that I just wasn’t before. I have memory loss and I’m emotionally numb, no doubt due to the trauma I experienced before, but I also feel safe again. The voices are my shadowy companions but I don’t feel as if I’m under the intense and painful scrutiny of my early psychosis. I never feel as if I’m alone. I did, however, feel the sense of being alone with a malevolent force, as if all the world had gone dark and no one was alive and it was just me and my hostile alien counterpart. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like not to have the voices, to be free of them, to feel a sense of aloneness. As far as I’m able I miss that. I used to call it my sacred space. Those times I used to have during the day when I would be reflective with myself and perhaps God. I am still reflective but I know they are there and I know they are tough judges. They lend a different color to my thoughts. I’ve gotten used to this. I’ve come to accept it and not fight against it but that is only because they have stopped their out and out attack upon my psyche. This may be due to the anti-psychotic drugs or to having lived and learned some lessons, probably a little of both. Or maybe they have changed in the process of knowing me. I can listen to some of their thoughts but I can’t really know them. The only person that I can really know is myself but still I hope that I’ve had a good influence on them. For whatever reasons they no longer attack me, some still say unkind things to me but it is as if a child were saying it with a touch of spite. It is forgivable. I listen and do not judge or react. I let it go. The Serenity Prayer fits here: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It took me a while to get to this point. I was attacked, I fought back through my manic delusions and my paranoia. I defended myself and I tried to help them turn around toward the Higher Power. Then I was attacked and I submitted--depression. At some point as things got gradually better I must have come to accept my circumstances. I had already proved over and over again that my heart was in the right place towards myself and them and everyone else. I no longer had to keep trying so hard. But I did begin a practice of gratitude and prayer which I still follow. I had to make myself think: what’s right with this moment, instead of what was wrong with it. There really are a lot of good things in life that have little to do with wealth or position or power. Right now for me there is the sound of the crickets humming and a gentle breeze, there is peace in my house. I’m drinking warm sweet tea and sitting here with no distractions writing to you. My breath is easy, my limbs functioning, I’m in no pain. I may have voices but I still hold onto a sense of my basic sanity. For now, I am content. Even in my worst moments there were positive things around me, if only just a roof over my head and some food to eat. I never felt completely abandoned. I came close a few times, just barely holding on, but then the severity let up and I got through it.

The philosophy behind the I Ching is that life goes in cycles from birth to decay to birth again. If things are really bad, wait, they will get better and if things are really good be prepared for a change of fortune. That is life: up and down and round and round. Everything is involved in some form of change from youth to old age or from water to ice. If you look for change, you will find it even during times that seem static. The earth is always spinning and rotating and so are we with it. I think we’re all vaguely aware that change is happening every second even when we do the same things repeatedly each day and night. But that’s just it, day and night (at least for most of us), we can count on that change. Days pass, years pass and the up and down of time passing continues. We all move closer to the end of life as we know it. All the more reason to look for the positive in each moment. I think of a zen cartoon from a book of zen cartoons I own: a man is walking through the wilderness when he comes upon a fierce tiger. He runs to a cliff and starts climbing down a vine but discovers another fierce tiger at the bottom. Just then two rats start gnawing at the vine; it is just about to rip when the man notices a strawberry. He eats it and it is delicious. The end caption says, “Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t worry about the future. Experience and cherish the moment. Happiness is acting according to circumstances, whatever they may be.” (from Zen Speaks: Shouts of Nothingness by Tsai Chih Chung and translated by Brian Bruya) When I was delusional I did dwell on the past and then anticipate or worry about the future. I argued and I obsessed and I felt miserable but there still was a lot of good all around me. Sometimes I was aware of it even though I was in a lot of pain. A cat’s purr, a cup of tea, the sunshine, a person smiling at me, a good song, comforting written words. When I was most desperate it was the comfort of getting some sleep (without the voices attacking me even in my dreams).

I still worry about things but I’m beginning to remember that I can choose to focus on the good things in any situation. The voices used to say things like “Remember to forget.” and “Forget to remember.” But I want to remember my life the good with the bad. I want to remember so that I don’t continue to hurt myself with worry or aimlessness.
I don’t want to remember to get lost in it and avoid the present, I want to remember to appreciate the present and to share what I’ve learned. I think my memories are within reach, I just have to dig a little deeper and have more patience with my own process.

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