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.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mortality and Resolutions

I've been in Florida for just about a week. The weather has been lovely, far from the snow laden north/northwest and I have gone to the beach with my family twice. No problems on this end, though I have been worrying somewhat about my mother who, at age 80, is definitely starting to slow down. My father told me sometime this year that my mother has been diagnosed as having congestive heart failure, but it seems that the vast quantities of pills that she takes each day are doing much to extend her life. She has not talked about all this with Rob or me and so we have not talked about it with her. She seems happy and well adjusted and hopeful. I'm just happy to be spending some quality time with her. I have been recording my family's conversations, some of which have been quite interesting and will listen to them when I return home.

I know mortality is not much of a holiday topic, but it has been on my mind. My father, who is 82, gave me a long memo on what to do in case someone in the family dies. Morbid, yes, but necessary and I appreciate him taking the time to spell the procedure out for me, though I confess I have not read it through yet and probably won't till I'm settled back home. I don't really want to read it, but I know I must. My father has a rare form of leukemia that is very fortunately treatable, but still we don't know how long he will be around either. I guess it's normal to think of the death of one's parents once they've reached the age of 80. Also I don't get to see them very often, so that when I do, I wonder-will this be the last time?

My brother takes after my mother in that they are both talkative people. If my mother were to pass away, there would be a serious gap in our family. This is really the first time that I've considered the possibility and yet it is just a fact of life. None of us live forever. Of course, I do not want either of my parents to ever die, but I know, on a certain level, that I need to psychologically prepare for the eventuality. Having said that, I also know that I should not dwell on it and should make the most of the present moments of relative health and wellness.

Right now, we are all alive and well and enjoying each other's company. My parent's apartment is not quite big enough for me to have a room of my own, so I have been sleeping in the living room at night. For the most part this has been fine, but now I am beginning to get restless. I will be ready to leave on Friday and head back to my home, though I will miss the warm and sunny weather of my parent's home as I will miss my parent's company. I need to make a point of staying in touch with them, something I have not been doing so much these last 6 months.

The voices have been mostly quiet this trip. For some reason when I am in someone else's environment and living with their structure for a week or so, the voices recede only to return when I resume my solitude. That should tell me something about the need for human contact and for some structure in my life. And it does, but I still have a lot of trouble with both. I told my mother that I was going to try and volunteer where Bev works, a Catholic charities organization. She thought it was a good idea, but only if I enjoyed it and she suggested that I volunteer for a month to start with to see if I can handle it. I'm hoping that I can and that I do enjoy it, it would be a godsend if I did, giving my life some usefulness and purpose and curbing my reclusive tendencies. I will have to be interviewed by Bev's boss and checked out to make sure I'm not some kind of felon. I will be open about my schizophrenia.

So that's a New Year's resolution. Another resolution is to communicate with a local minister to discuss my situation and my need (and other's need) for some kind of support group. I have her email address and will just have to take the plunge and reveal my story to her. My therapist has met the minister several times and says she is very approachable. I've gone to church once or twice and listened to her sermons and also got a good impression of her. I really should be happy that there is someone to go to in my town with my request, I just wish I knew more about what starting a support group entails.

Anyway, happy and safe holidays to all and hopefully I will pick up the pace with writing in this blog when I get home again.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Car Trouble And Prayers

My brother Rob and I leave for Florida early on Thursday morning. I'll be away for a little over a week. I don't like this time of year. I don't like the short days, the bad weather and the traveling. I don't like leaving the cats alone (though a friend keeps an eye on them). But I do like seeing my parents. Last year I didn't go visit them, so this year I absolutely must go. I know I should think of the trip as a little adventure and I will try to do just that. But today I encountered an obstacle: the car wouldn't start. I called Triple A, but they didn't get to my house for a couple of hours and then the man started the car without having to do anything. I let the car run for 15 minutes and then turned it off. Waited, then turned it on again to check it--no problem. And then off. Tomorrow I will get up early and try to turn it on again. I did make an appointment to bring the car in Wednesday morning. I've been praying that there's nothing major wrong with the car because tomorrow I need to pick up my meds and get more catfood. Fortunately our friend Richard is willing to drive us up.

I was able to call Triple A, but I had such trouble calling the car repair office. It took me at least 10 minutes to get myself to make the call. I've been having this problem making calls for years, mainly since I became ill. There was a time when I was not able to carry on a conversation. Somehow I managed to get through that stage. Now, I can have a conversation, but I have trouble asking for help from relative strangers on the phone. I feel so self-conscious, worried that I will sound dumb or incoherent. It's hard to describe. I just feel incompetent, helpless, vulnerable. But some phone calls have to be made, like today and I have to make them regardless of how I'm feeling.

I prayed today for help, for guidance from God. I got so uptight. It took me a couple of hours to wind down. I worried what should I do if the car doesn't start? I'd get it towed. How could I get to the bank, pharmacy, post office and store without a car? I'd have to impose of Richard or his wife. I hate bothering people, that's one reason why I keep to myself, but there are times when it can't be helped. But for a few minutes I did Let Go and Let God. I tried to accept the idea that I am being watched over by God, that as long as I remain open and willing to do my part, I will have a measure of protection. I counted myself fortunate that the car didn't break down in some out of the way place, far from people. And I have thought before that it's amazing how right things go most of the time. So during the times when things aren't going well, it's good to be grateful for all the times when everything has gone smoothly.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday this year. Love yourself, your family and your friends, love strangers. Spread the word: Peace on Earth.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Meeting, The First Break In The Ice

Almost a week of silence here. I'm sorry everyone. I've just been feeling withdrawn, so I've been sleeping a lot.

I did go and visit with my brother's friend Jude. I had lent her some tapes of me singing my songs and went to pick them up. I had heard a few days earlier from my brother that she had been "impressed" with some of my songs. I was happy that she liked them, but I was nervous about going to visit with her. The tapes were from over ten years ago and I hadn't listened to them in a while, so I wasn't exactly sure what she had been listening to. So I listened to a couple of songs on my 8 track to get a feel for it. I realized that I was a different person a decade ago, just entering into psychosis and that Jude might be responding to my former self rather than to my present self.

And I wondered if I was a better person now or then. Then I had left my abusive partner and started writing songs as a form of therapy. Then I had thought that I was getting a second chance at being happy. I took classes and went back to school but I made some of my best music just as I was becoming psychotic. Despite the illness that was growing in me, I appeared strong and confident. The recordings don't sound crazy. But I was headed for a fall and when the fall came I couldn't play anymore. I was too wounded.

That wounded state has lasted till now, though I am many times better than I was ten years ago. And it was that wounded self that knocked on Jude's door and then sat down at her dining room table with a cup of coffee. Jude told me how much she enjoyed my music, especially one tape in particular, the tape I had sent to the rock star 10 and 1/2 years ago. I asked if I could hear her music because Jude has done some of her own songwriting. She gave me a tape to take home and listen to because she didn't want to play it for me. She said my music was rock and roll whereas her music was folk and blues and she then sort of put her music down which I didn't like. We continued to talk with awkward moments interspersed here and there.

I was open with her about my mental illness because I wanted to be and she shared some of her personal experience with suicidal depression, how taking Prozac changed her life for the better. I told her that I had responded well to the medications also. I briefly mentioned how I wanted to start a mental health support group, but was too shy to approach the minister who might be able to help me to do it. She thought it was a good idea and said she bet a lot of people would show up. It felt good just to talk to her about it.

When I got home I listened to the tape she had given me. The music was good, much more carefully constructed than my songs and a lot sweeter too. I've listened to her tape about five or six times because I want to give her some good feedback. Her music is also from a while ago and in the interim her voice has changed and gotten deeper, so she doesn't sing as much as she used to. I could identify with that also. The difference is that Jude has learned to be technically savvy and she has gone so far as to perform which I have never done.

After I listened to Jude's music, I then listened to mine. I wished that we had talked more deeply about our music, but this was the first time I had visited her and she would be leaving for Florida for the winter in a few days. She did give me her email address, so I will keep in touch with her, but I am already looking forward to her return in the spring. She said when she got back that we could get drunk together and sing and play to break the ice.

Meanwhile, I'm here with my acoustic and electric guitars that I can barely play and a voice that needs a lot of singing practice. I have been writing bits and pieces of songs, but I don't know if I can ever get the strength back to sing and play the way I used to. I can only set my mind to practice this winter and see what happens. I told Jude that there was some crossover between music and psychosis for me which is why I can't just jump into it. I have to be cautious and pay attention to any warning signs. Sometimes I can sing okay, but other times it's a fight to sing because the voices interfere. I just can't seem to let go of this dream of being a singer/songwriter, but I have to adjust to the fact that I have changed.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Let Go And Let God

I have seen signs and bumper stickers proclaiming "God Bless America!" and have been annoyed by them; even when I was very psychotic I thought "May God bless the world and not just America." So a few years back I shot a photograph of this bumper sticker because I think it is more to the point. Lately I've been reading 12 step daily readers, some Al-Anon, some AA/NA, because I want to bring an awareness of God back into my life. I'm too detached from the spiritual side of myself and have been for a while.

I am still a beginner when it comes to understanding the Higher Power. Growing up in an atheistic/agnostic family conditioned me to avoid thinking about even the existence of God. I can't discuss the spiritual side of life with my family to this very day. To them it is a taboo subject. To them, we live and then we die and that's it. But I don't believe that. I believe that there's more to the picture than meets the eye. My experience with psychosis only confirms this belief.

One of the daily readers I have is called Each Day a New Beginning and it asserts many things. One thing it asserts is that God loves us unconditionally. I have enough guilt and shame in me to find this hard to believe, but I also think I do need to seriously consider it. Unconditional love means that whatever negative things I have done in my life, God will always accept me, in any condition. But before I can embrace that belief, I have to love myself as I imagine God would love me, unconditionally.

I have been through a lot, but the older I get I think, well, who hasn't? And mixed in with that idea is the understanding that I am not alone, though sometimes I act as if I am. So I have to say right here, right now, that I forgive myself for all the rotten things I've done in my life, intentionally and unintentionally. But just saying it is not enough, I have to practice self-forgiveness so that I can move on to more worthy pursuits.

So, if there is a God, God loves me, loves everyone and accepts us unconditionally. It's we who create all these conditions, not the Higher Power and it's we who do the punishing usually both of ourselves and those who have disappointed us. If it is true that God loves us unconditionally, then I can't believe the Old Testament was written by anyone but mere mortals. Mortals who believed in taking an eye for an eye, rather than in forgiveness. I believe the New Testament was also written by men because there are contradictions in it, but still Jesus' message gets through--"Love your enemies" just as God loves our enemies, because God loves everyone unconditionally.

Well, perhaps I am talking a good game, but my conception of God is still pretty hazy. Is it enough to know that some wise and benevolent entity out there somewhere in the universe looks down kindly on me and all of us as we blunder along? It may not be enough, but it's a start in the right direction.

Saying that God is love brings me closer to actually believing it. I have been working with affirmations this week. I've been writing them out on index cards and posting them near the computer. I have also been speaking them into my tape recorder and listening back to them. Gradually I will increase my exposure to them because I'm finding that they really do make me feel better and clearer. What initially startled me was my resistance to them, but now I've gotten past that stage and can start to incorporate them into my life.