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, September 22, 2007

A Community Within A Community

I apologize to everyone who’s been stopping by that I haven’t been writing. Fall depression appears to be settling in and I’ve been sleeping more. I’ve also been trying to practice what I’ve been preaching--gratitude when things get negative. So far, it’s been helping.

I am 19 days, 20 hours free of cigarettes. I’m still eating too much and not exercising enough which is part of the depression pattern but I haven’t felt many extreme urges to smoke. Such a relief.

A week ago I invited my brother and his friend (who is an out spoken, kind hearted lesbian, a Democrat in a vast land of Republicans) to see a band in a nearby town. Despite my depression I managed to be social for a night and it felt good. At one point while the band was taking a break, my brother and I’ll call her Sam started talking about their mutual friends in town. One of the people they brought up was a 24 year old graduate student. She had told one of their friends that she was hearing voices. My brother and Sam both agreed that she seemed a bit mentally ill and that it didn’t really surprise them. But it did surprise me. In fact several people seemed to have emotional/mental problems in town and I found myself wanting to help this young woman. When I got home I thought about her. I remember how isolated I had felt when I first heard abusive voices. I wanted so badly for someone to tell me what was going on, someone who had experience with hearing voices. But there was noone and I withdrew into the illness.

I realized that I was assuming that this young woman was suffering from schizophrenia. Then I thought she could be suffering from bipolar disorder where hearing voices I’ve heard is also common. Regardless, I, the recluse, had little idea of how I could get in touch with her. I knew from my brother that she hung out at the bars but I had little desire to go do that because I have negative memories of drunkenness, because I’m very awkward socially and because I know I would want to smoke. Should I have my brother give her my email address and phone number? Would he be willing to do that? And what would I say to her if she did contact me? Then I went online to the NAMI schizophrenia web boards where someone had answered one of my posts. Something someone said there made me have a great idea: could I have my own message board for my town dedicated to mental health? If I did, I could put up the address around town and see if anyone would show up to post. The idea of generating a community within a community was exciting. I began to imagine creating a support group from there if there was an interest in it.

So I researched online to see if I could get a message board and found that there are lots of them. Too many, in fact, for me to deal with. I finally settled on a site called Delphi Forums. I could get a multiple message board for free but with advertising, which I decided that I didn’t want. So I went with Delphi Plus for $5 a month where not only could I have message boards without advertising, but I could also have a blog and a chat room. The problem is I did this on impulse and to host this forum takes more expertise than I have at the moment. I will have to go through all the help pages and figure it out. It will take me a few weeks, maybe a month before I can start to advertise the site to people in the community. So this is a project for me. But what does it entail? I will share that I suffer from schizophrenia with my community and I will offer a place of support for people to connect with each other online. Do I have the courage to be so open about myself with my town? My real motivation is to find support for myself and to give support to people in need. But am I ready?

A part of me feels ready, almost eager, to reach out and connect with others and another part of me wants to continue hiding away. I do feel ashamed that I’m not “normal” but I know this is preventing me from recovering. I shouldn’t be ashamed that I have a mental illness and neither should anyone else in town or in the schools. How will the stigma ever be broken if there aren’t people willing to come forward and admit that they suffer from mental illness and are still good people? How can people get the help they need if there isn’t a place to go to ask for help? Especially for students living away from home probably for the first time. And shouldn’t students be able to help each other by forming a support network? The tragedy at Virginia Tech would probably never have happened if there had been something like what I’m proposing.

When I had talked to my therapist about forming a support group in town for mental illness, she said that the counseling center at school had tried to do that on campus but that students felt too self conscious to go to it. The beauty of a local message board is that you can remain anonymous if you want to and still make the connections you need to make and get the information that could really help. All it takes to make the message boards work is a hand full of regular posters, even if it was just a couple of people that I helped that would be fantastic. But really I’m hoping that people can help each other by talking about their problems and ways of coping with them. Now that I think of it part of the inspiration for this message board springs from a message board site I discovered online for people trying to quit cigarettes and stay quit. There are a small group of regulars, most of whom have been quit for anywhere from 1 year to 7 years, and they really hold everything together by being supportive of each others and newcomers like myself. One man named Kevin started the site when he was trying to quit and stay quit. He even includes excerpts from his journal of that time in another section.

But the main topic of my message board will be mental health which is pretty broad. I want people to feel welcome whether they are suffering from psychosis or depression or anxiety or any kind of stress. I don’t expect a lot of turn out at the start, so I’ll have to hold up the forum myself and reveal myself to others. I know about schizophrenia, depression, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, addiction. I have a foundation to work from to reach out to others. I have to figure out what I want to say to this town and say it and stand by it. Then I have to invite the community to make the message board work by sharing their experience. How I advertise this message board will be very important. I need to catch people’s attention and challenge them. I don’t know whether I want to just put up a page and have sections with the web address to pull off or to still have a page and include cards that people can put in their wallets. One way is informal and another way is more business like. I’ll have to wait and see. All I know is if I do do this then I’ve got to really put myself into it and do a good job.

Just writing about it here is giving me some confidence to do it. It will give me a focus and keep me occupied for the Fall and Winter and I might be able to actually help someone in my community. And I might find a friend or two. I could stay hidden forever but what good would that do? Recovery means reaching out, giving and getting support. I think isolation is one of the top reasons why people don’t recover. There is power in numbers and power in sharing honestly.

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