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, May 30, 2009

My House

Twenty years ago my father retired from his high paying job and twenty years ago he bought me a house far away from the City, so that I could be near my brother. It was a nice house, on a nice road, not too far from town. There was an upstairs and a downstairs. The downstairs was sort of a basement with a concrete floor, but it had a bedroom, a laundry area and some open space and an attached garage. Soon after I moved in, part of the open space downstairs was made into a darkroom and another part into a small bathroom. There was no drain for the sinks and toilet, so a sump pump was installed that would push the waste and water up, over and out to the sewer system from the garage. There was also a door downstairs that led out to the back of the house. Outside the door was a drain and a few steps that lead up to higher ground.

Except for using the darkroom, I have spent most of my time upstairs, where there are two medium sized bedrooms (one of which I use as my music/recording room), a library/computer room, a bathroom, a kitchen and a decent sized living room/dining room area. The living room has a cathedral ceiling and a smallish loft (which I never used much since I'm a little afraid of heights). In the center of the room is a woodstove that I haven't used in years because I associate it with my ex-boyfriend.

So I lived in a house that was too big for me, with an abusive, alcoholic boyfriend and many, many cats. We managed to take care of the house and the lawn and the cats, except when my boyfriend would have an outburst and start trashing the house, which I would then clean up in a state of shock. After I broke up with my boyfriend and I was alone in the house, I began having fantasies of my house being an off campus gathering place for artistic students. I had a darkroom, art supplies and space and a music room. I imagined people making music, working in the darkroom and painting. I imagined a sense of community and a place to fit in. Needless to say, that never happened. I did get accepted into the BFA program at the university and a few times I invited some fellow (but much younger) students to my house, but then I became delusional and paranoid and took a leave of absence from the school.

For three years I was acutely psychotic, not taking the anti-psychotic medications, and having breakdowns every year, but I was also very involved with some local women who I had met in a domestic violence support group. I would invite them and their children over to my house. Several times I invited a young woman and her baby daughter to stay with me. They set up down stairs. But that didn't last long and eventually I had to tell her to leave because we were having conflicts with each other and I had another breakdown.

That was probably eight or nine years ago and in the interim the outside drain downstairs has not been draining properly and I have had repeated flooding. The doors have warped and won't close, there's mold on the lower walls, the floors are all dirty and there are lots and lots of spiders. I haven't used the darkroom in five years. The upstairs has not faired so well either. I have two male cats who I never got castrated and they pee, spray and puke all over the place. I have a fear of using the vacuum and the carpet cleaner because I think I will be electrocuted. I stopped using the dishwasher years ago, not sure why, but I rarely wash dishes, rarely use the laundry room to wash my clothes. There is also a lot of clutter.

Before I became delusional and paranoid, I cleaned my house and took good care of my cats. I enjoyed cleaning and organizing. Now, even years after my commitment to taking the anti-psychotic medications, I still have a lot of trouble cleaning and organizing. It has bothered me for years. And because my house smells and is dirty and cluttered, I don't have anyone over, not even my brother, except for very occasionally. I have been paying the minimum for satellite television, though I have had no reception for many months because I don't want to have someone come into my house to repair the reception. And for years, there has been flooding downstairs. Instead of attending to it, I have detached from it.

Well, sometime within the last couple of weeks, I noticed that there appeared to be a separate leak in my laundry room as well as the problem with the outside drain and this I couldn't ignore. I would have to have someone come into the house and try and figure out how to solve the problem of the overflowing drain and the leak. Someone to replace the doors and fix or replace the sump pump which hasn't been working for several years. So I told my brother, who told a good friend of ours who has done work for us before. He came over and looked at the damage. Just letting him into my house was a big achievement for me. He knows I suffer from schizophrenia and he didn't shame me. I will still probably have to call for some more outside help. I'm going to try to do that on Monday. But at least the word is out that I need the help. Luckily, my father has set aside some money for house repairs. He's been wanting me to take action for years now.

Some people with schizophrenia have real problems taking care of themselves and their homes. I am one of them. I really should have had outside help from nearly the beginning of my illness, someone to do some of the cleaning, but I was too ashamed to let anyone into my home and I worried that I wouldn't have enough money to pay for cleaning services. My father was already paying for weekly therapy, along with exorbitant monthly health insurance payments. Because my parents took care of me financially, I stayed outside the social services system. Even before I became acutely ill, I was living in isolation, the schizophrenia just made it that much worse. I needed help, but I wouldn't ask for it, not wanting to be a burden to anyone and because I was ashamed and because I was stubborn.

The truth is, I believe, that anyone suffering from serious mental illness, be they poor or wealthier, needs a support system. Not only medication and therapy (which I have), but local mental health support groups and/or clubhouses (which I haven't had), caseworkers who come into the home once a month, housecleaning help and a general doctor who keeps close track of whether the individual has gone to the dentist (I haven't gone in two years), the eye doctor and for women the gynecologist (I don't have a gynecologist) or any needed specialist. Socialization is particularly important precisely because the tendency of those who suffer from mental illness is to withdraw from others. Setting goals is also important, goals that lead to volunteer work, mental health activism, education, part time work and even full time work.

But this is an expensive proposition: insurance, medicine, therapy, doctors, cleaning help, education, vocational training. Which is why I believe and have believed for years now, that there should always be, everywhere, mental health support groups. Support groups are very low cost, and yet they allow the platform for social organization amongst the mental ill in local communities. People with mental illness can help each other. They can provide therapy, knowledge, direction, friendship, mental health activism; members can connect outside of the group to help with cleaning, personal hygiene, making doctor's appointments. In effect, people with mental illness can learn to take care of themselves by taking care of each other.

I will have the work done on my house within the next month or two and that is very good and a sign of growing health for me, a willingness to let people in, to admit that I need help. Still, it has taken me many years to get to this point, years that could have been better spent helping others like me and letting others help me too. I have yet to find out if there is a NAMI support group within my area. I made contact with someone, but she is very busy and will get back to me later. I think the chance of it is good and so I am hopeful.
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