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, May 2, 2008

Singing and Painting

My voices have been calling me evil again. I don’t feel evil, but them calling me so wears me down. I told my psychiatrist and he raised the Risperdal by a milligram.

The voices got negative sometime after I began a daily singing/playing practice in my music room. I was busy writing new songs and relearning old songs. I would practice for a half an hour or so several times a day. After a couple of weeks of this, I noticed that during one session my voice had gotten decidedly stronger. Then the voices began saying “Evil!” while I sang. I lost confidence. The next time I went into the music room to play I felt self critical and sang poorly. The time after that I gave up quickly. The voices had stepped up their attack and not just while I sang.

The thing about singing well is it takes practice, yes, but it also takes surrender. You have to be willing to get loud (and soft). It’s not for the timid. I don’t often have that courage to nakedly lay it all out there. I go only so far. That one day that I sang well I felt some power within me. I also felt sickness, the potential for delusional thoughts about my abilities. Not a lot, but enough for the voices to latch on. And yet, I still want to sing.

The psychosis varies in intensity throughout the day. When I took a break from singing, I became restless and started to wash the dishes. From there I vacuumed. Then on impulse I brought my drawing table out of a back room and into the living room. I’ve been trying to think up money making ideas and realized that I had a desire to paint watercolor portraits. My friend Richard is the soccer coach at the high school and I thought I might paint portraits of the players on his team. All I need are a few good color photographs. At one of the home games last year I had taken photographs of his son (who is a star player on his team), his daughter and his mother in law. I decided to start work using those photographs and now I have three watercolor portraits to give to Richard. I especially like the one of his daughter who suffers from mental retardation. She has bright blue eyes and prominent cheek bones, a small angular nose and smiling lips; she looks a lot like her mother. Richard is very conscientious about paying as much attention to his daughter as he does to his son which is another reason why I painted portraits of both his children.

I’m hoping that the players’ parents will like the portraits I paint well enough to pay me something for them. I don’t expect to get a lot of money for them, but anything at all would be a great boost to my self-esteem. I thought I could have business cards made up and clip them onto the portraits. Anyway, the idea is a good one and I would enjoy painting portraits of children and teens. I can also see it as a community service. The main thing is to do good work and distribute it. Now the question is will I approach Richard? I did ask my brother to ask his friends to give him photographs. I’m excited by the prospect of doing work for other people. It’s a way to break out of my self-imposed isolation.

So despite the voices saying I’m evil, I’ve been keeping busy and creative. I’ve also returned to making hemp jewelry and crocheting and I want to try my hand at doing tie dyes. There’s a consignment shop in town where I might try to sell what I make. In fact, when I think about it there are definitely opportunities locally for earning a bit of income; all it takes is motivation to work and to approach others with my work. Last year I was depressed, but not so much this year and though the voices are active on and off I have not been suffering from delusions.

Today I sang and the voices didn’t call me evil. Last week I was watching a movie about a violin teacher and her grade school students. At one point one of her students wants to give up and she says basically that you shouldn’t give up just because something is hard to master and I’ve been trying to apply that lesson to myself. Of course, I’m cautious. I have to be, but, within reason I will pursue the songwriting and singing. It’s interesting that the voices do not get upset when I draw, paint, crochet or make jewelry. I think that’s because songwriting and singing is more emotional for me whereas arts and crafts are meditative.

I’ve been trying to approach the voices with compassion. When they call me evil, I realize it is because they are hurting. It’s the same with people when they are hurtful to others. Pema Chodron says all the hatefulness in the world comes from defending “the soft spot” in ourselves, defending our own tender, vulnerable heart. We either shut down, armor up and/or lash out when we feel our heart is threatened. I tend to shut down and the voices tend to lash out. Either way we get out of touch with our own sensitivity which makes it easy to unintentionally or intentionally hurt other people. In the process we also hurt ourselves.

It’s not easy to be compassionate to those that lash out at you, but it is very possible. It takes a change in attitude. Just stopping for a moment and considering that the voices are hurting is enough to set off a positive domino effect. When I think of these voices as teachers and friends, I can tolerate their negativity better. Sometimes teachers teach harsh lessons and sometimes friends lose their way and are thoughtless. My therapist said the other day that none of us are perfect and that is so true. We have to live with our own and others imperfections. We have to give each other room to make mistakes because that’s how we learn.

I turned 46 on Wesdnesday and tomorrow I’ll have reached my 8 month anniversary of being free of cigarettes. I’m hopeful that this will be a productive year and that I’m moving in the right direction.

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