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, March 21, 2008

The Visit

Home again after a week away in Florida visiting my parents. They were both in good health and good spirits; it was a pleasure to be around them. My mother is now officially eighty years old. I am relieved that my parents have made it this far in relatively good health and hope that they will continue this way for a while yet to come. I take comfort in the fact that they have lived full lives. I brought with me my hand held tape recorder and recorded conversations with them and I plan to do so in August when I see them again.

The retirement community had a birthday lunch for all those born in the month of March; they have birthday lunches each month and family and friends are welcome. My mother, father and I sat at a table with three other people, an unmarried couple, both widowed I believe and and a single man, also widowed. I sat between my mother and father and smiled a lot, but said little. I felt self-conscious about having neither a job/career nor a family of my own and about being mentally ill and overweight. I worried for a few moments that someone at the table would ask me questions about myself and wondered what I would say. My brother, who had not come to visit this time, would have been busy talking. He’s in his element when he’s around people because he’s a skillful and interesting talker. He puts people at ease by being attentive and humorous. Luckily for me, in this instance, the unmarried couple and my mother (and occasionally my father) directed the conversation.

They talked about how twenty percent of the retirement community were over ninety years old, most still living independently. But then they also talked about the relative prevalence of people there suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. They didn’t talk about this disease with dread and depression, perhaps because everyone at the table was in good mental health. Their attitude was practical and compassionate. Sometime in the past six months one man with Alzheimer’s disease had managed to wander outside one night and was found the next day drowned. His family had refused to put a device on him that would have alerted the staff that he had left the buildings. The result of this sad incident was that everyone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia was now required to wear this device.

My mother then steered the conversation towards the toy sailboat race that had taken place the previous morning. We had all been there and two of the men had competed using expertly crafted three or four feet long boats that were operated by remote control. It had been a sunny day with some wind, but not enough to cancel the race, as had happened once or twice before. Only a handful of people were racing mainly because the boats had to be purchased and they were expensive, though the other woman at the table had found a boat at a rummage sale and bought it for a mere fifteen dollars (it would have normally cost close to three hundred dollars). A real bargain because it was in tip top shape. Out of the handful of people racing was only one woman and she lost sight of her boat part way through the race and had mistakenly been watching the wrong boat. This was an easy mistake to make as several of the boats looked alike with numbers on them that were not visible enough. She decided that she would stain the jib of her boat a brilliant color so that she wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

We finished the birthday lunch with coffee, cake and ice cream, which I enjoyed because I rarely eat cake and ice cream, and then headed back to my parents apartment. It was the day before I was to leave and while my parents took a nap I reviewed the week. We had had a successful week. They had taken me to see an exhibit of some of Picasso’s work at an art museum in Naples; we had gone over to Sanibel Island for lunch and then spent some time on the beach; we went to Barnes and Nobles to shop, a special treat for me as there are no large book stores where I live; and we had gone to see a movie. I had spent more of my time talking to my mother than to my father as my father would more often than not retreat to his room to read, work on the computer or watch television, but I did get to tape him talking about his family for a couple of hours one evening.

My mother had very graciously given her room to me for the duration of my stay. Sometime after my father had retired, my mother had chosen to have a room of her own. When they moved into this retirement community about nine years ago, they picked an apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. This way they could live together yet have a measure of independence too. My father stays in the master bedroom, which has two twin beds, a bathroom and a space for the computer. While I was there, my mother would spend much of her time in the communal space of the combined living room and dining room reading or doing the New York Times crossword puzzles. I confess that I spent a little too much time in my bedroom reading, listening to audiobooks and meditating.


I had wanted to meditate more than I actually did. I found it hard to keep up the practice that I had begun at home. My need to be attentive to my parents outweighed my desire to keep my focus on my breath. I realized that this was only natural because I was a beginner and not well trained, but against my better judgment, I was disappointed. This trip had caused me to lose momentum, but it didn’t deter me from keeping in touch with the practice off and on throughout the day. At Barnes and Nobles I picked up an audiobook by Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D. called Full Catastrophe Living. I had meant to get it for several years. For quite a while he has run a stress-reduction clinic in Massachusetts using meditation or mindfulness practice. The program he teaches on the 5 disc set is meant for people who suffer from chronic pain or other severe stress producing illnesses. The basic practice is to meditate for 45 minutes daily for an eight week period with the ultimate intention of incorporating the practice into one’s life.

Mr Kabat-Zinn says, and I have found it to be true, that being mindful of the breath going in and out is not easy. Resting in a state of “non-doing” does not feel natural. The impulse is to get up and do something or to get caught up in thinking. I think during those restless times it’s important to do yoga or any slow stretch while breathing deeply. A couple of weeks ago I was listening to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s audiobook Wherever You Go, There You Are and he encourages his listeners to get down on the floor at least once a day. So, I’ve been doing that fairly regularly and it has led me back to yoga. My extra weight makes me cumbersome, yet I’m more flexible than I thought I would be. I used to be a bit of a dancer and I still know after all these years that I must proceed slowly and cautiously. Feeling the floor beneath my body and then feeling my body is another way to gently wake myself up to all the good stuff in the present moment.

Today I exercised on my stationary bike for an hour while listening to Pema Chodron. Later I did a short work out with 5 pound weights. Of course, I want to lose the weight I’ve put on, but more than that I want to stay in touch with my body. If I can open to myself as I am then I can gradually establish healthy patterns of behavior--exercise, eating right, meditation. Proper self-care.


Chris said...

Hello Kate,

I'm glad to find you in good spirits and hope things are looking up as the weather turns warmer.

My mother celebrates her 70th birthday in three weeks.

You are right, it is so hard to concentrate on the in and out breaths, even if that is the heart of meditation.

I'm glad to read your blogs again.


Diane Vogel Ferri said...

Hi Kate, I love looking at blogger profiles and finding things in common - i would say my favorite things are singing, writing, reading, painting too.