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.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fresh Starts

This is the second time I've gotten a rebate check from my insurance company for over one thousand dollars. The first time, two years ago, I bought myself a laptop computer. This time I bought a portastudio to replace my older eight track recorder which only uses audio tapes. The price on this portable studio has come down dramatically in the last few years to around four hundred dollars from over a thousand. Nowadays the ability for people to make their own music and share it, even sell it, is widespread due to computers and the internet. I think it's fantastic.

The new eight track will allow me to record new songs and burn them down onto CDs. I might even be able to rerecord my older songs and put them on CDs as well. For those of you who don't know, an eight track recorder means that you can record not only a voice track and a guitar track, but a bass or keyboard or rhythm or whatever you want track. This machine will be able to mix all the tracks together to form a master track which is what you hear when you listen to songs on CDs. Many people now use computers to record their songs using programs such as GarageBand. I have GarageBand on my computer, but I find it way too complicated and I don't like the idea of overtaxing the computer, so I decided to stick with what's called a stand alone recording device that has its own built in CD burner.

So I've been singing and writing new songs and relearning old songs. And I'm so excited to turn them into CDs and to pass them out to people. It's taken me over a decade to get to this point, but I'm almost there. My voice seems to be getting stronger due to practice, but also I think it's because I mostly haven't been smoking cigarettes for over a year and a half. I think being able to sing is also due to the fact that the voices have not been attacking me while I sing and so I have the freedom to get back into it. But I find that it is very important to have other creative outlets besides the singing/playing/songwriting such as painting, writing and reading. So what I do is I alternate between different activities, eat properly and get regular exercise and this creates a kind of balance in me. At least that's how it's been working out lately. May it last.

I went out to lunch with Bev on Monday and gave her the portraits of two of her children and one of herself. She was pleased and said she would frame them and put them in her office at work. And I gave her some of my community service cards advertising the online mental health group I just started. I saw my therapist a couple of days later and gave her some as well. She said they looked great and she would put them in her waiting room. A few days ago I made up the flyers to go with the cards and yesterday and today I've been making card holders out of plastic canvas and yarn. It's going to take me a few more days, but then I'll go out and start posted the whole deal around town. J. said that I would have to get permission to post in the university's campus center. I have to work up the courage to ask and to go to the counseling centers, too. I really hope a few people take me seriously and join the group and start posting, but I'll have to wait and see.

I have to say that lately I've been feeling pretty happy, very little depression, ever since I started the diet and exercise program (which I'm still doing). I have to wait and see with this too because I have had the tendency to go up and down in my moods. Still, this feels different, not particularly manic, just energized and hopeful. Maybe I'm finally getting myself together. I thank my online friends and my family and the Higher Power that's given me some creative ability.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

For Jeni

This is a gouache portrait of Jeni's doll Hayley. Unfortunately I was working from a poor print of the photograph, so I had to do a little guessing.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Common Sense (And Another Portrait)

This is Bev's youngest son, Kevin. Like Liana's portrait it is painted in gouache which is a more opaque version of watercolor. I really like the gouache and I enjoyed drawing and painting Kevin's portrait. His look is so open and so serious. He has very nice eyes. I particularly like the bandana he is wearing; there's even a yin/yang sign visible on the right side. I got in touch with Bev and will hopefully see her for lunch on Monday. I'm planning on trying to paint a portrait of her as well because I have a good photograph that I took of her several years ago. So I will give all the paintings to her when I see her. I'm looking forward to getting a photograph of her eldest son, Zach and also one of her boyfriend, Jeff.

I'm still eating sensibly, counting calories and getting nearly daily exercise. Last week I lost another pound and I'm hoping that I'll have lost yet another pound by Monday morning. The longer I stick with this, the more committed I'll be and I will lose the extra weight I've put on, most of it by this time next year.

I got my online support group cards today in the mail. I have to make card holders to put them in and I also want to make up fliers to generally explain the cards and draw attention to them. I've set a deadline to start posting them by this time next week. I hope some people respond and we can get a dialogue going. I can't be the only person who thinks that this is a good idea, but I'll have to wait and see.

I've been productive since I started the diet and exercise program a month ago. I've been reading more, painting more and even doing some singing and songwriting. The voices have also been more subdued. I don't know if that's because of the diet and exercise program, but it might just factor into it. When it comes to treating mental illness, I think a lot of it is about applying common sense to the problem. It's just sometimes it takes a while to get to that point. It's taken me ten years to get to this point. I think part of why it's taken me a decade is that I wouldn't take the medications (except Prozac) for the first three years which led to three breakdowns which led to taking the meds, but also to serious depression. If I had accepted my diagnosis right away and began taking the medications, if I had not only went to therapy, but had a mental health support group to go to online and offline, well maybe I would have gotten better sooner. But I didn't and we each have to go through our own trials and tribulations to learn our lessons and get to a better place. Which is why it's important to help others along the way by sharing your experience and giving some hope that things really can get better given the right attention and time.

One thing that bothers me is the gulf between those that are still caught within paranoia and delusions and those that are in recovery from them. This is why I am such a believer in support groups even though I've never been to a face to face mental health support group other than Al-Anon. I think people who are in recovery, whether just starting out or with many years of experience, really can influence those who are not in recovery, but the lines of communication must be open and readily available. Blogs by those who have mental illness are also a great way to spread the news that recovery is possible. If there ever is a face to face support group where I live I think I would want to keep a list of the various blogs I've found to pass out to newcomers.

Something else that is sorely needed is a simple daily reader for people with mental illness. I've looked online, in bookstores and I haven't found even one! I've even tried to start writing one of my own, but it's too big a job for me to do. I think it needs to be a collaboration between people. I learned from Al-Anon that a daily reader is a great way to organize a support group meeting. I've also found it to be essential to a daily recovery practice. Does anyone have any ideas? I'd also love to hear about your experiences with mental health support groups. How are they organized?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Good Habits

Three weeks on a diet, exercising almost everyday for an average of 50 minutes a day. As of last Monday I have lost 1 and 1/2 pounds, but I will weigh myself again tomorrow morning. I should have lost between 1/2 pound and a pound more this week. Slow and steady, in it for the long haul... I've been keeping an offline and an online log of what I've been eating. To do that requires a certain amount of discipline in calculating the calories of specific foods. I keep my food log close at hand and bring it into the kitchen with me when I prepare my meals. Then at night, before I got to bed, I go online to Anne Collins' forum and post what I ate, drank and how much I exercised, along with any comments I can think of.

I started out following a meal plan, but didn't have all the ingredients and so I'm only following some of the recipes. The dinners are rather large and I might cut back on them if I don't keep losing some weight each week. Basically, I've just been getting used to eating regular, healthy meals and getting daily exercise. I find establishing a daily routine is what keeps me on my diet and exercise program. At least so far it has been working for me, but I need to stick with it longer to make it a permanent lifestyle change.

I saw my therapist this week and talked mainly about two things: the diet and exercise program and my desire to push myself to start a mental health support group in town. I told her that I began enthusiastic about the Anne Collins program and then after a week and a half got a little depressed. Somehow making meals for myself made me feel lonely and I also felt down about just how long it would take to lose the weight. My therapist said that even if I didn't lose any weight at all, I was improving my life by eating healthy and exercising and that I should feel good about this. I said I needed more time to get used to the change.

Then I told her that I had contacted the minister about starting a support group, but that the minister implied that it might be more difficult to start a group than I imagined. My therapist concurred saying that people worried about confidentiality. She said she knew some people who would go to the AA meeting in town from quite a distance away so that they could reduce the risk of having their illness found out by their local communities (neighbors, employers, etc...). I decided to go ahead and form an online mental health group, advertise it and see if anyone in the community responds to it and/or to the idea of starting a face to face group. An online group would give access to support, but would allow for anonymity, so I figured that was a good place to start.

I went home and formed a Google group, wrote an introduction and then ordered business cards with the group's name, email address and web address. On the cards I had written--"Get Support. Give Support. Fight Stigma." I debated about whether to include "Fight Stigma", but decided to include it because I do believe that stigma prevents so many people from coming forward and getting the help they need and deserve. Making the choice to join an online support group is a simple way to stand up for yourself and in doing that, I believe you fight stigma. I should get the cards by the end of this week and then I'll have to go into action and start posting them all over the place, especially on the two college campuses; then I will wait to see if anyone has the interest or the courage to post online.

I just went looking through the yellow pages under psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors and social workers in this area and was surprised by how few of them there are. My psychiatrist is one of the major ones, not because he is so extraordinary, but because there are so few. He works in two other towns as well.

All in all I'm feeling pretty good. In fact, I'm impressed with myself for sticking to the diet and exercise plan for three weeks. Chris has said if you can keep up a new behavior for 21 days, you're on the road to making it a habit. May it be so. As for the online support group, the test will be me getting off my butt and advertising it in the community. If I can do that, I'll be proud of myself. It will be the first time I've put myself out there in several years.

A Couple Of Recent Paintings

The top painting is of Bev's daughter Liana, unfortunately it is not in focus. The original is better. The second painting is of Ronda and her daughter Shelby. Both paintings are done in gouache. It's a tentative return to painting for me after not painting for over a month.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Courage To Change

14 days on a diet, 12 days of exercise, 93 days without smoking cigarettes

You've probably heard it said, you can't change others, you can only change yourself. Lately I've been hearing the Serenity Prayer in my head. Here's the whole prayer:

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can
And the Wisdom to know the difference.

Grant me Patience with the changes that take time,
An Appreciation of all that I have,
Tolerance of those with different struggles,
And the Strength to get up and try again
One day at a time.

I'm pretty good about knowing that I can't change others, it's the changing myself part that I need to keep working on. The more self-reflective I get, the more I see that I am my own greatest obstacle. On the positive side-- I take my medications in the morning and at night, I see my therapist every other week, I keep an audio journal which I listen back to once or twice a day for added support, I'm now following a diet and exercise program, I write in this blog, I keep in touch with my brother who lives close by and, a bit erratically, I keep in touch with online friends. On the not so positive side-- I go in and out of creative periods--painting, craft work, songwriting, writing. I continue to hear voices and continue to believe that they originate outside of me. My personal hygiene is pretty poor--I sleep in my clothes, don't often wash my clothes or clean the dishes or my house, brush my teeth only once a day, etc... I am very isolated (there are no support groups or club houses in my area and I still haven't tried to start a group...).

I think it is the isolation that hits me the hardest and keeps me stuck. The truth is I want somebody else to start a support group or a clubhouse for me, but the other truth is that I'm going to have to have the courage to change and begin it myself. But over and over again I get stuck and keep to myself. It's a good thing that I write in this blog because it gets me to reach out to others by sharing my story. And while it does help, it does not take the place of meeting other people in my community who suffer from mental illness. The catch 22 predicament I'm in is that I need help with not being able to ask for help. So for those of you who have access to social services and support groups be grateful and count yourselves fortunate, because there are many people like me living in rural areas without much support. The only time I think I might have met another person who suffers from schizophrenia in my community is when I stayed at the hospital overnight, but since then I have had contact with no one face to face in 10 years. Perhaps that's one reason why I'm shy about starting a group, I have so little experience.

It really doesn't matter what the reason is, I have to start a group anyway. I need it and I know there must be others nearby who could benefit from it as well. So what do I do? I email a minister and tell her my situation. That's all I have to do. Simple. So do it Kate!


Well, I did do it and I got a quick reply too. The minister said that I would have to contact the church secretary and see if there's any time available because they are pretty tightly scheduled with their own activities. If there was a weekly time available, I would have to get permission from their Board of Trustees. Also I would have to pay a small rental fee. She mentioned that there were several other places in town that I could try and she gave me their numbers. I was thinking that I might email someone at the university's counseling center to see if I could set up a meeting on campus. The main thing is to not give up trying to get this done, but it requires reaching out to strangers and telling my story which is a bit intimidating. So I have to keep pushing myself. Push, push, push!! Because this endeavor I know is worth the effort.

I am very happy to have discovered through Chris' Joyful Music blog two other blogs: Ashley's Overcoming Schizophrenia Blog and Amber's Gaining Insight blog. Ashley is 22 and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the summer of 2007, but has responded well to the anti-psychotic medication. She started her blog in September and is dedicated to informing her readers about schizophrenia. I have read through some of her blog entries and I find her inspirational. She recently started a Google group and I've decided that I am going to join it. I hope others do as well. It's a great opportunity for this growing community to get to know each other better and offer up more support.

Amber does not suffer from schizophrenia, but her brother does. She calls her blog Gaining Insight because this is what she hopes for her brother and others like him who are still resistant to taking the anti-psychotic medications. She is also a wonderful painter and has used her artistic talent to explore the subject of mental illness. She writes with intelligence and sensitivity, so check her out.

I think I am going to start a Google group of my own specifically for the members of my local community. I have made several half hearted attempts to do this before, but it never panned out because I didn't advertise it. I just need to get feedback from people about whether they'd like to have a local mental health support group. I might have business cards made up to advertise the online group and make the cards available in key locations (counseling centers, on campus, post offices, etc...). Yes, sounds great, but will I do it? And if I don't, who will? It's got to begin with me. This has got to be the year I make a dent in the silence around here.