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.

Monday, September 29, 2008

More New Work

I painted this watercolor this weekend and am calling it The Looking Glass. It's based on a black and white photograph by Jock Sturges which can be found in his book The Last Day Of Summer.

I had been struggling with a couple of small abstract acrylic paintings and then switched over to working in watercolors. I was getting some ideas from a book on Paul Klee. I concentrated on an abstract watercolor painting he did in 1922 called simply, Green, Violet against Orange. It's primarily a hand drawn geometric design skillfully filled in with colors from dark to light to subtle in between colors. It has an architectural feel to it and uses some of the shapes like magical windows. I thought, this might be a good work to loosely follow. I soon found out that I couldn't reproduce the colors or even the shapes very well. I did two paintings of it, one hand drawn and the other drawn with a ruler (except for the circular shapes). In the first painting I had little control, the colors splashed over the lines and I changed the colors to make it brighter and less subtle. I decided that I was painting to practice getting more control and not to paint a finished piece. So, in the second painting I was more careful, but this didn't necessarily make for a better painting, just a cleaner one. I then tried making up my own design in a couple of more paintings. On the whole it was just plain fun to work at this and I plan to do this as a practice to learn more about shapes, colors and values in watercolor.

Before I went to bed one night I picked up the Jock Stuges' book and the very first photograph captured my attention. I thought that it would make a good painting and so I sat down and drew it on watercolor paper. Then I tried to get some sleep, but couldn't, so I got up and started painting. I find that my process when I'm into something is often quick. I also find that I have to keep changing projects and mediums to stay interested in my work. But I've been very pleased that I have been consistently working for three weeks now. A good ending to an unproductive summer and a good beginning to the fall season.
May it continue.

I posted a blog on the Artid site about going through an artist's block this summer. One artist commented that this is not unusual for artists and that sometimes a "block" is necessary downtime. I thought that was interesting, that artists need to not work as part of the process to getting back to being creative again. Perhaps one's unconscious needs time to assimilate new experiences, or maybe it's a spiritual process as well. Having said that I still prefer to work than to not work because I am happier when I work, but I can now be more forgiving of the time away from work this summer.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Displaced

This is a watercolor painting based on a photograph taken from a recent Time magazine article on Pakistan. The caption to the photograph reads: "Collateral damage -- Air strikes against militants in the tribal areas caused 260,000 to flee; many ended up in shelters like this one near Peshawar." It's an image of men and male (as far as I can tell) children. A father holds his child; the child has a swollen eyelid. The father looks concerned and is talking to someone near the photographer. The little child looks directly into the camera. There's pathos in this picture with the father flanked by children on either side of him while the older men hang back and watch. This image stirred up feelings of sympathy in me for that father and especially for the children. What will happen to them?

Another Cezanne Study

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cezanne Study

This is a watercolor painting I've recently done of an oil painting by Cezanne, a self-portrait. These last two weeks I've returned to painting and since I have no teacher to guide me, I decided to try and loosely follow a Master. Cezanne has been a favorite of mine since I was in college the first time. I'm drawn to his use of color, to his solid brush strokes and to his unpretentious subject matter. So far I've done four watercolor paintings, including this one, based on his paintings which I will upload to Artid in the next couple of days, along with others not based on Cezanne. I only have one book of his work and all the reproductions are of oil paintings, but I know he also mastered the art of watercolor and I look forward to seeing some of those works. Following Cezanne has been liberating for me. I hope I can apply what I learn from him to my other paintings.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On Exercise

I am 60 pounds overweight and when I look into a mirror I have trouble accepting it. I know that it is common for many people suffering from schizophrenia to be this overweight due to the medications, but that is of little comfort to me. I’m not miserable about it, but I do withdraw from social contact because of it and I no longer even consider having a romantic relationship. My voices have told me that I have to lose the weight because it compromises my health. My bad cholesterol is too high and my good cholesterol is too low. I am just in the danger zone for having a stroke or a heart attack. What I need and have needed since I became psychotic is regular exercise. Exercise is not only good for reducing bad cholesterol while shedding pounds, it is good for reducing depression.

I suffer from depression; this is also common for people who live with schizophrenia. This past spring I had a reprieve from it. My spirits lifted, I had a lot more energy. I started working on projects that might give me added income this year--painting portraits and doing craftwork. I joined an artist’s group online called Artid and posted examples of my art work. I got a good response. I was hopeful. Then over the summer I lost my momentum and gradually stopped working. For a week I smoked cigarettes again. My motivation level sank. I stopped painting, exercising and cleaning and I distanced myself from my online friends. Luckily my friends have been very patient with me and I’m still in contact with them. I decided that there was something I could do to help myself: join the fitness center at the university in town. The benefits were obvious: to get out of my house, to be around people, to improve my mood, to reduce my cholesterol and to lose weight.

On Friday I went to the athletics office and paid for a six month membership. On Saturday, armed with my iPod and a bottle of water, I headed for the fitness center. It was late afternoon and there weren’t that many people there. The ones that were there were young and fit. I was the only overweight middle aged person there, but that didn’t stop me. The fitness center is large, much larger than it was a few years ago when I was still in school and took an exercise class. I headed for the treadmills. In front of the treadmills were multiple TVs. I chose to look at CNN while I walked at a 3 mile an hour pace. I walked for 40 minutes and then switched to a stationary bicycle for 20 minutes. I kept up a steady pace, but didn’t force it. I did this same routine again on Sunday. I skipped a day to go out to the bar with my brother and then on Tuesday I again went to the fitness center. There was no available parking, so I parked a 10 minute walk away at my brother’s house. This time there were more people, one man in his 50s and a young woman who was somewhat overweight, the rest were once again young and fit.

I have no illusions about losing weight quickly. I know it will take a year of consistent work to lose the weight I’ve put on. I’m trying to look at going to the fitness center as a lifestyle change, rather than as some punishing quick fix. So far, I’ve been enjoying the change. It gives a little structure to my day and gives me something to focus on, a goal to strive towards. More important than losing the weight is improving my general sense of well being. So far, that’s been the case, but it’s too soon to tell if I will commit to the change or veer away from it once again. This is the test: to see if a regular exercise program can in fact dispel depression. If I stay aware of the process and prove to myself that it does, I’m more likely to stick with it. It’s not a solution to all my problems, but it’s a start.

For those of you out there newly diagnosed with schizophrenia who are starting to take anti-psychotic medications like Zyprexa and Risperdal, please consider joining a fitness center or getting regular exercise in some other way. I wish I had done so before I put on all this weight. In the long run it can only help you. I guess that goes for all of us. Exercise is a must.