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.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Set Backs

Yesterday I smoked 10 cigarettes. The trigger was listening to some 10 year old tapes of me talking to the rock star. I sent him a total of 2 tapes, one in the spring of 1998 and one in the summer. In the first tape I was on the cusp of psychosis and in the second tape I was delusional and paranoid. Why was I listening to those tapes in the first place? I was looking for songs that I’d missed to use for a podcast. I found some songs, but I also listened to my 36 year old self and felt a pull towards addiction again. I resisted for a night, but the next day I went out and bought a pack of Marlboro Ultra Lights 100’s. The first cigarette tasted badly. The second cigarette I disguised the taste of by drinking sweet tea. I quickly realized that I had no will power and that I would have to get rid of the cigarettes or risk becoming an active smoker again. Last night, before I went to bed, I drenched the remaining 10 cigarettes and broke them apart and threw them away.

(Over a week later...) I lasted two days and then on the third day I bought another pack of cigarettes. Two days after that my brother and I were about to head to an annual music festival for four days. Before we left I confessed that I had fallen off the wagon and had begun smoking again and might smoke while we were at the festival. He was disappointed, but he didn’t get very judgmental and I was relieved. I wound up not smoking that day and we got to the festival all right. I thought I might be anxious driving, but, for the most part I wasn’t. Unfortunately after it got dark some of the voices started telling me that my brother was a serial killer and for a few hours I was locked into some of the psychosis. This was a new and unpleasant development. What triggered it? Perhaps going back and forth between smoking and not smoking or because I wasn’t used to being around crowds of people. Whatever the reason, it didn’t last for long, thank goodness. But it did make me nervous about driving at night back to the motel. I told Rob that I was hearing voices and was not feeling well and I asked him if we could wait in the car for an hour and see if I felt better then. So we waited. I just didn’t want to drive in a psychotic state. I didn’t want to risk his safety. I can remember many times early on in my psychosis when I really should not have been driving, but I did it anyway, now I knew better. So we waited and my brother talked to me (though I kind of wished he would be quiet) and after about an hour I started to feel better and I drove us to the motel with no problems.

I continued to feel a bit strange until the next morning. I decided that I would let myself smoke for the duration of the festival and stop again after I got home. My brother had an old pack on him that he kept in case any of his smoking friends ran out of cigarettes late at night when the stores were closed. I took the pack and smoked. The rest of the festival went well, good music and good food and no major troubles. I was very relieved. I had been afraid that I might have to ask my brother if we could leave a day or two early, but that didn’t happen. The main thing was that the serial killer delusion did not stick. The idea that my brother was a serial killer, in afterthought, was pretty ridiculous. Still, it left me wondering why the voices return to the serial killer scenario when I’m more vulnerable. In this instance they were trying to create a barrier between me and my brother, trying to make him seem foreign instead of familiar and comforting which in turn led to me feeling more isolated particularly in the midst of crowds of strangers. My brother is my connection to humanity as is my therapist and my online friends. I need that connection to be strong and healthy.

My brother said something this trip that has stuck with me. He said a young friend of his, who has a master’s degree in psychology and is training to be a counselor, said that my brother might suffer from a milder form of Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s is related to autism and might possibly be genetic as well as environmental. I have yet to research the illness but I did ask my therapist yesterday about it and talked to her about my brother. She said it was possible. My father also shows some signs of the illness as did my grandmother. I’m not sure why, but the diagnosis surprised me, though it really shouldn’t. The thing that many people don’t realize is that someone can have a mental/physical illness and still succeed on many levels. My father succeeded. But he also brought (along with my mother of course) two bright and creative, but dysfunctional/ill children into this world. The realization that my brother might have an illness that can be named makes me feel more bonded to him in someways. My mother has often said that brothers and sisters are genetically as close as you can get to another human being.

I was saying to my therapist yesterday that even though I’m the younger sister by almost four years, it feels as if I am in the older sister’s role. I graduated from high school and two colleges, I learned how to drive, and I had two romantic relationships. My brother got his GED, went to several colleges, but never graduated, tried to learn how to drive but failed his road test twice and gave up, never had an official girlfriend. I believe, if he had had more confidence, he could have done all those things and more, but illness got in the way. So he worked his way around it. He focused on soccer and coaching and became a lay musicologist. In our town he is a known (but not notorious) figure because he passes out CDs and DVDs to people as a kind of community service. He also is a great talker and extremely knowledgeable. In fact, he has many very good and very capable qualities. It just took him a while to prove this to himself. Despite his illness, he has had some personal successes.

I worry though that I am not fit to be in the older sister role. Our parents will not be here forever and we will have to manage our responsibilities more directly. I pray that I will be able to take care of myself and my brother as we get older and more vulnerable. Right now, financially, we are well taken care of, but this might not always be the case. My father worries, my uncle worries. I’m still hopeful that I will be able to earn some money through portrait painting and craftwork, but only time will tell. I said to my therapist that worst comes to worst my brother and I could go on welfare. She pointed out that I could apply for disability. I wondered aloud about my brother and she said if someone could give him a diagnosis and treat him, then he could apply also. I don’t know if he would be willing to do that. He rejected therapeutic help a long, long time ago. All I know is that whatever I have I will share with my brother.

Despite the illness in our lives, my brother and I have been extremely fortunate. We have a lot to be grateful for and I will follow that gratitude as time goes on. The setback of smoking again and a temporary psychotic reaction do not diminish my underlying feelings of hope. Recently I was commissioned to paint two portraits and I am looking forward to the challenge. I have several other projects to work on: podcasting, an MSN mental health group to promote locally and a return to songwriting. I can still dream of some small scale success and I will. And today was my second full day without cigarettes. I’m proud of myself that I lasted about 10 1/2 months without smoking and am hopeful that I will last even longer (if not forever) this time around. The main thing, and I think this is true for all of us, is to never give up, just keep going and hold onto hope no matter what.

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