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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Blizzard At JFK Airport

Life is precious and hence my flight to return home was cancelled at the last minute while our plane with all of us in it taxied on the runway.  The airport was closed.  We were told that we could get our luggage at the baggage claim area and then we would have to find an active service counter and try to re-book a flight out of there.

For the previous few days I had been tracking on the Weather Channel the winter storm that was working its way towards nearly the whole of the Eastern Atlantic coastline.  The first report I heard said the storm might hit right along the coast, but the next report said it might just miss the coast and move off into the Atlantic.  The night before I was to leave the Florida Gulf the more definitive report was that the storm had been upgraded to a blizzard and that it would hit the southern coast in the morning and then work its way up the coast towards New England by afternoon.  My flight to the JFK airport in New York City was scheduled to leave at 7:20 am and meant to arrive by 10 am in New York.  I woke up at 4:15 am hoping that getting up that early would also mean that I might just miss the blizzard and that once at JFK I could get my connecting flight at 1:25 pm to Rochester where the weather was not supposed to be as bad.  My friend Richard was even going to pick me up and drive me home.

I flew up to New York on the an airline called JetBlue.  They boast of having more legroom (which they do) and access to Direct satellite TV for each seat.  I watched the progress of the storm once again on the Weather Channel, still hopeful that I would get home by nightfall.  The weather was calm at JFK at 10 am.  My next flight was still scheduled to be on time.  Unfortunately, the flight kept getting delayed and I wound up kicked off a cancelled flight standing at gate 8 of the JetBlue terminal feeling helpless.  It was after 5 pm, I was tired and a bit hungry and had no desire to get on a line to rebook a flight that might not be leaving for at least one full day if not longer.  I decided to get my luggage, one blue and white floral pattern L.L. Bean duffle bag, not easy to miss.  The problem was that I would have to leave the main terminal.  I half realized this wasn't a good idea, but I didn't know what else to do, so I crossed the security line and headed for the carousels.  That alone was a big mistake; I wouldn't get back inside the main terminal till the following day.  

The baggage claim area was chaotic because we all were clueless trying to act as if we still had a clue.  I discovered soon that the baggage was being indiscriminately thrown onto any carousel and there were at least six of them with two operating.  This meant that you couldn't park yourself at just one specific carousel and wait patiently (or impatiently) till your luggage turned up, but instead had to move restlessly from one to another across a large and chilly room crowded with people old to very young.  The reason the room was chilly was because there were three very large spinning doorways with people going in and out either to smoke a cigarette or look desperately for a taxi or just to watch the progress of the blizzard.  I had no desire to do any of those things and once I got my bag I headed for a corner wall where I could sit down as I had been standing for an hour or so.

I saw that other people those with families or couples or people like myself who were on their own were finding their spots and taking a break till they could figure out what to do.  Many people were on their cell phones either talking to friends and family or trying to contact JetBlue to rebook a flight.  I wasn't ready yet to call my family.  I was continuing to feel vulnerable and disoriented...and hungry.  The only thing I had to eat were six small cake-like treats that my mother had given to me the night before.  Not the best food, but I ate them. I had spotted in the middle of the room on the side of the spinning doors one lone small Dunkin Donuts with a very small store selling water, drinks, chips and candies and other not very nutritious stuff along with large cups of coffee or hot chocolate.  The problem for me was that I was alone and couldn't leave my duffel bag with anyone.  I also had a fairly full messenger bag and a small camera bag with my digital camera in it.  Around my neck hung a wallet to hold my passport and some money and also my iPod in its padded little case.

I called my family in Florida.  My father and brother wanted me to take the subway into the City and get a hotel room in Greenwich Village somewhere.  They said I might not get a plane out for anywhere from two to four days.  I knew right away that I was NOT going to do that.  I was disoriented enough and didn't need to get lost in a blizzard in the City with no boots, gloves, hat or coat and carrying a heavy bag with no wheels on it.  At least at the airport there was shelter and some heat (though not a whole helluvalot I found as the night progressed in the baggage claim area), clean and fairly empty toilets, access to water and a tiny bit of food, but more importantly I would have much closer access to eventually getting out of the airport on a moment's notice if a seat opened up in stand-by.

My father reminded me on the phone to not neglect to take my pills and really I needed that little nudge and I did get some water and take my pills.  Then I went up one level to the ticket counter for JetBlue and waited online for a hour and a half.  It was 9 pm on Sunday.  The man behind the desk said that he could reserve a flight for me leaving on Tuesday at 7:59 pm.  Most people were talking to their particular airline representative for a chunk of time, but I didn't know what to say, except that I wanted to get inside the terminal again where there was proper heat and the hope of eating a hot meal.  I didn't complain and I was sympathetic to his plight (hundreds of disgruntled customers to take care of).  He didn't give me a boarding pass, just an itinerary ticket which might be able to get me a boarding pass in the future.  As I walked away from him, he took pity on me and said there might be a stand-by spot on a plane that was supposed to leave the next afternoon and to show up here again tomorrow.

I headed back downstairs and picked a spot where I had access to an outlet and watched over my cell phone as it charged for an hour next to a man who was lying on the floor covered up with two small Yorkshire dogs cuddled next to him for warmth.  He was using the other outlet to charge one of his gadgets.  There was an Hispanic woman sitting near me shivering and holding onto her stacked luggage with wheels.  She didn't make eye contact with me and talked only to another Hispanic couple, but it was obvious that she was cold and I heard her say the word "frio".   I opened my duffle bag and pulled out a long, large, black knit cardigan sweater that I had just gotten in a thrift store in Florida for $5 and decided to give it to her, which I did.  Later, as I lay down on the floor and covered myself up with my fleece and rain jacket to try to get some sleep, she attempted to return the sweater.  It was obvious she didn't speak much English, but I made my point that she could keep it if she wanted to.  She thanked me and moved off.  I felt good that I was there to be of some minor use.

To make a long story short, after shivering myself, and wandering and getting some fitfull sleep, after drinking a large cup of coffee, eating a little candy and talking to a mother guarding her sleeping son, I got through the night and into the morning and back up to the ticket counter.  I learned that only people with a ticket and carryon luggage could get into the inner sanctum of the terminal.  I was willing to wait another day and a half to get on the Tuesday evening flight out of there, if I could get inside and feel the heat and eat a meal.  The African American man behind the counter was polite and articulate and responded to me being polite and sympathetic, if not so articulate.  He sympathized with me and managed to get me a ticket and said I could take my duffel bag as carry on luggage, it happened to be small enough.  This man was clever, he gave me a ticket to a flight that he knew was or would be cancelled and had me keep the itinerary ticket to get me on the later flight.  This is the ticket that got me through security and into the terminal proper.

The first thing I did was get a hot meal.  As luck would have it I didn't even have to pay for it because the stores' computers were down for 5-10 minutes and the person in charge let the four of us on line take the food instead of awkwardly standing on line holding all of our parcels and bags.  I was very tired and I tried to eat slowly and savor the food and get my energy back to keep on keeping on.  The airport was closed and it nearly looked it -- not a lot of people and only a couple of food/convenience stores open.  I was very lucky to have gotten that far.  I stayed there overnight and then the next morning got booked on a flight that was supposed to leave at 9:30 am.  Almost 12 hours earlier than the other flight I had been placed on.  This time I got a boarding pass with a seat assignment.  The flight, which changed gates three times, began boarding at noon and left at one or one thirty.  I got to Rochester at around 3 pm where I called my family and also Richard.  I would get home by 6 pm.  Once my seven cats were all accounted for to my great pleasure, I called my family one last time to say that my ordeal was finally over.  I had been mostly awake for about 62 hours and had just run out of my bedtime anti-psychotic medication.  I went to sleep anyway.

I'm grateful that I was safe from harm, that I had my family and Richard to talk to, that I endured without complaining,  that I got to talk to several people in the airport and that I got home.  This experience taught me a tiny bit of what it would be like to be homeless -- the wandering from place to place, to where bathrooms and water fountains were, to where outlets were, to where food was, to where shelter and heat were, having to guard your stuff, catching a little sleep here and there on the floor or ground, talking to other people who were also homeless,  perpetually waiting for something good to happen but feeling tired and almost resigned, living in twilight world, never at home, always a not quite welcome guest.  So tired, so sad.  In limbo.  And without proper facilities to shower and brush your teeth, to have that luxury we call privacy for 10 to 15 minutes, you will begin to be identifiable by smell as well as sight branding yourself as one of the walking wounded, homeless and quite possibly mentally ill.  For who remains sane without proper sleep and nutrition, living in continual stress in order just to survive?  I'm grateful I was given this window into the lives of the homeless because it has made me appreciate humanity all the more, into the sheer endurance and flexibility of the human spirit.  I was also pleased to note that most people behaved very well considering they were stranded.  We all knew that we were strangely united by the blizzard raging outside and that we would have to wait together in peace.  And we did.

I saw nothing that would make me say that we were all just a bunch of sinners getting what we deserved; there were no shouts, no aggression, very little bad behavior at all.  As far as I could see, there was a lot of Buddha Nature being passed about within us and between us.

In a few hours it will be the first of January, 2011.  I'm going to think of all those people (including the elderly and children of all ages) who are stranded in airports around the world or homeless and cold at the stroke of midnight.  I'm going to be wishing them the best new year of their lives because they deserve it just as much, if not more than, the rest of us.  No, really, we all deserve a happy new year.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Using Obstacles As A Path To Awakening

"When the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi (awakening)."
Lojong Slogan # 11

Tibetans believe in ghosts they call "dons" that suddenly attack you in order to wake you up.  I see my voices and the web of my psychosis as these dons.  Though they appeared to be evil and set on causing a great deal of trouble, pain and suffering, they were in fact a blessing.

Life is hard; we all face obstacles every day, but what if we saw our difficulties as the fertile soil of our spiritual path, as the ground we use to plant the seeds of well being?  Most of us are deep in sleep, so lost in thoughts about the past or the future that we don't see the present moment.  A lot of us feel guilty if we stop doing things and move into the being mode.  For those of us who do take the time to just sit and enjoy the view, we often feel our own restlessness or resistance to accepting things just as they are.  The root of that restlessness is fear, fear of acknowledging that we are not in control of our lives.  We and those we care about could die or get sick or hurt at any time.  This is why the present moment is precious, why life is precious.  This is why it is infinitely better to be awake now than asleep and on automatic pilot.

What wakes us up?  Problems wake us up.  We are fortunate in that we all have problems.  Without problems we would be lost in a bland complacency, a place of few changes.  Because of problems we get curious, curious about solutions to our problems.  Curiosity is the mother of awakening.  Even questions such as "Why is this happening to me?" lead to the beginning of a spiritual journey.  We learn by falling, by failing, by misunderstanding.  We learn by being persistent and flexible despite our mistakes.

So we all have problems, we all make mistakes and we're all in the same situation.  Life is precious.  Death comes for us all.  Actions have consequences (karma) and being dissatisfied with life as it is (samsara), is the first step towards spiritual growth.  In Tibetan Buddhism these are called "The Four Reminders" and we need these reminders because the sad fact is that we are continually forgetting.  We forget that our life is precious and fall into patterns of complaining and self pity.  We live in denial about death, saying to ourselves that perhaps it will come, but much, much later.  We skirt around taking responsibility for our actions which causes us a lot of personal suffering.  And finally we adapt ourselves to the sickness of the world, perpetuating wars and innumerable conflicts amongst ourselves, thus remaining spiritually stunted.

How many people are willing to stand up and say that all of humanity is family?  That we are all facing essentially the same situation?  Why do so many of us buy into the myth that some of us have it "easy" because of fame or fortune or good genes?  No one has it easy; we're all going to die.  So why are we killing or condemning each other every minute of every day?

Two things are certain -- life is about change and there will always be obstacles.  We will never live in a world where there is only pleasure and no pain.  Pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin.  So we must learn to cherish the pleasure and see pain and obstacles as stepping stones on our spiritual path.  We must learn to grow up.  This is difficult to do.  We are taught as children in stories that there are good guys and bad guys and that the good guys always win and go on to live happily ever after.  This good guy/bad guy, black and white thinking continues into adulthood with us as the "good" ones and others as the "bad" ones.  If we're honest with ourselves, we know that we all have our shadow sides.  If we can't admit to the fact that we've made a lot of mistakes along the way, we will never truly grow up.  To see these mistakes as lessons for growth is to bring obstacles to our spiritual path.  Mistakes precede successes.  We wouldn't even be able to identify success as success if we didn't make the mistakes in the first place.  Our language and our psyches are structured around yin and yang, opposites, because they complement and clarify each other.  The key is to change our attitudes about pain, to see it as a natural and necessary step in deepening our understanding of ourselves and our world.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thanksgiving Lessons

The night before Thanksgiving I forgot to take my medications and instead began drinking coffee after a three hour nap so that I could continue cleaning and organizing the house in preparation for the guests that would be arriving the next day.  I stayed up all night getting tired and wired at the same time, but I did get the house in order.  Unfortunately, I was not in order as I again forgot to take my morning medications before going to get my brother early the next morning.  Neither my brother or I had the chance to take a nap before the guests arrived.  Compared to me, my brother was in good shape cooking the Thanksgiving meal.  People arrived at around 3:30 PM, three men, one middle aged and two younger men, one of whom I had never met before.

I sat down with them in the living room while my brother worked in the kitchen.  Very soon one of the young men started talking about war and religion.  I knew that at some point he had been in the military; I learned later that he also had an I.Q. of 160 and a tendency towards severe depression.  He was addressing the middle aged man who was also very bright.  Suddenly I shut down and felt very threatened, awkward and unable to speak.  Soon I found myself in the kitchen with my brother making excuses about how I had to go downstairs for a while.  I wound up staying downstairs the whole time the guests were in the house, all through their meal.  I was too embarrassed to go upstairs and take my medications because they happened to be in the living room right by the couch.  I tried to get some sleep, but was still too wired from all the caffeine I had been drinking.  My friend Richard stopped by and came downstairs to see how I was.  He sat in the darkened room with me and talked and joked and cut through the tension.  I was grateful.

Later, when everyone had left, my brother came downstairs.  I had been afraid that he was angry with me, but he wasn't, just concerned.  I asked how everything went and he said that actually everyone had a good time and a good meal complete with leftovers to take home.  I was relieved to hear this and so I went upstairs and finally had my Thanksgiving meal while talking to my brother.  Then I took my medications.  Later I got the sleep that I so dearly needed.  My brother was impressed with how clean and organized most of the house was and wound up staying over for four nights.  He also got a chance to use my computer which has a high speed internet connection as opposed to his much slower dial up connection.  This allowed him to explore online videos, especially on YouTube.  He had a good time and we ate turkey dinners for four days.  I brought him home on Monday afternoon.

The irony of all this is that because I stayed up drinking coffee and cleaning all night last week I got my house ordered and clean, something I have been wanting to do for many months.  That may seem like a small thing, but to me it is a big thing.  My habitual response is to not clean and watch my living space get more and more disorganized and dirty which in turn makes me quite depressed.  Now I have a fresh start, a chance to change my pattern and keep up with cleaning a little each week instead of once every six months.  I vacuumed a couple of days ago and plan to vacuum upstairs once a week from now on and the same for cleaning dishes once or twice a week and doing a laundry once a week too.  If I can step up to this new routine, I will be stepping closer to normalcy and away from my mental illness.  May it be so.

Yesterday I brought my electric guitar, amplifier and recording equipment upstairs and set up in a corner of the dining area.  I also have my acoustic guitar in the living room, but I've been playing so infrequently that I don't have callouses on my finger tips and it hurts to play it.  The electric guitar is much easier to play and so sounds better.  That's a relief because I play so poorly as is.  I had a couple of elementary lessons on the guitar when I was around eight years old, but that didn't last long.  I got an acoustic guitar when I was fifteen, but no lessons.  I used the guitar to make up a few very simple songs, but mostly I didn't play.  I played my boyfriends electric guitar in my late twenties and would use it to make up songs, but I never took the time to try and master the instrument.  I still haven't.  I have told myself that someday I will take lessons.  Right now I don't have the money.  I did get a Guitar For Dummies book a couple of years ago.  It comes with a CD and I think I'm going to study it.  It's not the same as having a teacher, but it is better than nothing.

As you can tell, I haven't been writing, not here or for my memoir.  I'm not giving up on it, just been taking a break, as is my way.  I've been able to see my creative pattern more clearly this year.  Generally it's two months of dedicated creative activity in one artistic field and then a shift to another after that for another couple of months.  If I had talent in just one area that would focus me I'm sure, but I've always been multi-talented and that tends to scatter my energies.  I do make progress, but very gradually.  So I've started working on two new songs and I'm thinking of painting a portrait of Pema Chodron, the one I meant to do months ago.  When I focus on writing, I miss the music and the painting and when I focus on them, I miss the writing.  I want to do everything at the same time and I can't.  Or I can sort of, but not with the level of skill that I yearn for.  I'm not really complaining, just slowly getting used to myself.  And actually I'm quite grateful that I am creative.  It may have saved my life.  It certainly has injected meaning into my spirit and made me a lot happier over time.  I think everyone should be creative, especially individuals who suffer from any form of mental illness.  It's been a key factor in my recovery.

I've decided that regardless of my creative pursuits that I want to continue to study the dharma and meditate.  While my brother was visiting, I didn't do my meditation routine and didn't read my dharma books, but now I've returned to it.  My goal is to be able to call myself a Buddhist by this time next year. That means putting my life and my artistic pursuits into a larger context.  It sounds almost artificial that I want to be of benefit to others, but I do.  I'm at the aspiration stage.  I pray to apply the dharma teachings to myself so that I can understand the lessons and reach out in whatever way to others.  Applying the dharma to myself means practicing patience, generosity.  It means including discipline into the way I live my life.  It means continuing the practice of self-honesty.  It means having the courage to sit with the pain and not run away from it.  There will be no sudden transformation for me.  I'm hoping for a gradual and more lasting change.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Shenpa = Getting Hooked

Shenpa is the Tibetan word for attachment, but Pema Chodron calls it getting "hooked" linking it much more directly with addictions of all sorts.  In her book Taking The Leap:  Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears she writes, "In terms of the poison-ivy metaphor -- our fundamental itch and the habit of scratching -- shenpa is the itch and it's also the urge to scratch.  The urge to smoke that cigarette, the urge to overeat, to have one more drink, to say something cruel or to tell a lie."  When we scratch the itch we get temporary relief, but then the infection spreads until it begins to cover us and makes us extremely uncomfortable.  All of us, without exception, feel the pull of shenpa in our daily lives.  For some of us we can still manage without totally falling apart, for others we spiral down into an addictive hole, but either way the essential quality of the pull, the pain and sometimes strange pleasure of it, is the same for everyone.  Lately, I've been awake enough to identify three main shenpa triggers in my life.  They are worry, eating and smoking cigarettes.

Monday I bought a pack of cigarettes and smoked them.  I felt the itch and I scratched it.  The first cigarette tasted horrible, but soon I was puffing away as I knew I would.  By two in the morning I had finished with them and threw away all the remnants, silently making the vow to not indulge in them again.  Today I took comfort in Pema's words:  "We can rejoice when we are able to acknowledge and refrain, and also we should expect relapses.  Sometimes it's one step forward, one step back.  Then maybe one step forward, a half step back."  Three years ago, I quit smoking cigarettes and in the interim I have returned and quit several times more.  I have heard that the more times you try to quit, the closer you get to a full quit.  Up until Monday, I had been clean for over six months and now I plan on going for another six months.  If I wind up smoking two packs in one year, I'll be doing all right.  It is a small blessing that a pack of cigarettes costs around $8 because I know I literally cannot afford to be a smoker.

Though the pull of wanting to smoke can be strong at times, my other two problems, worry and eating, are even more challenging because they are more deeply rooted into my life.  Worry quickly turns into a generalized anxiety which is hard to shake, but I have been sitting with it and not running from it.  And then it dissipates and I'm left without anxiety.  Those are the times when I feel good and relaxed.  Of course, the anxiety returns, but I'm trying to teach myself to breath into it for at least a few moments.  Even that short interruption noticeably strengthens me and gives me some courage to keep working at it. I have also been teaching myself to put off thinking about problems until my calm has returned.  Before I would latch onto the problem and scratch and scratch and frighten myself with visions of being overwhelmed and doomed.

As for eating, there is no way around that.  I have decided that I would rather be too fat than to be anorexic or bulimic.  I see eating disorders as a kind of death to the spirit.  But, of course, that's not the only choice.  I could start a healthy diet and gradually lose the weight that I've put on.  It's not that I eat so much, it's that I eat a little more than I should here and there and with my middle aged metabolism that means I keeping putting weight on a bit at a time.  Still I need to work with the shenpa of eating when I don't need to eat, the way I have been working with the worry, when I don't need to worry.  I have to learn renunciation, in Tibetan it is called "shenluk."  I have experimented a bit with this and there is a kind of freedom in turning away from the pull to eat that extra bowl of cereal, turning instead to nice mug of tea or to meditation.  I believe that it is possible to cultivate healthy attitudes and behaviors.  It's not easy, but it can be done.

Pema Chodron also talks about the shenpa of a prejudiced mind.  She says you should watch yourself closely when you begin to get self righteous because it is just another form of fundamentalism.  Recently I was reading a left wing blog that attacked a right wing media figure.  There were five comments and all the comments were backing up the blogger's point of view.  Now I myself am a liberal Democrat, but the feel of all this made me think of fascist Germany.  It doesn't matter whether you are on the left or the right, both sides are sick when they give into the pull of intolerance.  It's not the fighting spirit that's needed, it's the bridge of communication that is needed.  Polarization is just another form of war and war is not the solution to anything.  It's not an easy thing either to see your enemy as actually your brother or sister, but that's a lot closer to the truth.  In Taking The Leap, Pema Chodron tells the story of an American soldier in Iraq who after witnessing his fellow soldiers being blown up found some Iraqi men who might have been responsible.  He and his group wanted revenge and began to beat up the men, but it was nighttime and when they aimed a flashlight at them they saw one of the men was actually a boy with Down's syndrome.  The American soldier happened to have a son with Down's syndrome and was so disturbed by this situation that he stopped the violence right then and there.

Pema has said that we are all addicts of one sort or another, be it in our hateful attitudes or with particular substances or any number of things.  The process some of us are going through is called waking up.  The way to wake up is to interrupt habitual patterns and do something different in a non harming way.  The importance of waking up has to do with peace on earth, has to do with taking care of this planet.  It starts with each of us as individuals.  Too many people don't believe that there can be peace on earth and too many people don't believe that we can take care of this earth or worse, don't even care.  That means each person who steps forward and starts working on him or her self is a precious commodity.  I for one believe peace is possible, which is why I'm working towards taking the leap.  Seeing where I'm hooked and being honest about it is a good place for me to begin.  What about you?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Buddhist Practice

A few days ago my Kindle appeared to have gotten some kind of virus and I couldn't open any books or audio programs.  When I tried to go online with it, it froze, so I turned it off, but when I tried to turn it back on, it wouldn't come on.  I assumed the worst, that I would have to send it back and either have it wiped clean or get a new one.  And so I avoided dealing with it until today when I went to the Amazon Kindle support page and read what to do when the Kindle freezes.  The instruction was to hold the power switch for 15 seconds.  I did that and the Kindle began powering up.  Once it had, I turned it on and found that everything was in place and I could open up the books and audio programs.  This was a great relief to me.  It was only after I couldn't use it that I realized how attached I had already become to it within the three weeks that I had had it.  Each day I listened to at least 45 minutes of Pema Chodron and each day I read from it.  I mention this because according to Buddhist practice it is important not to become too attached to anyone or anything or any situation.  Too much attachment leads to craving and inflexibility which are forms of suffering.  The key is balance, what Pema Chodron calls "not too tight and not too loose" or not too grasping, be it with craving or aggression, and not too indifferent.

When I couldn't listen to Pema Chodron on my Kindle, I turned to an audio program of hers on CD called "True Happiness".  Am I getting too attached to Pema?  I don't think so.  I see her as my main teacher for now.  She helps me to stay connected to dharma study.  No doubt there is some attachment but hearing her voice each day does cut through my isolation.  I feel grateful to her; I might even write her a letter telling her my story and how much she has helped me off and on in the last 8 years since I first discovered her.  Of course, I wish she could be my teacher, but she cannot, only indirectly.  The main thing is that I continue to do the practice each day.

In the "Noble Heart" audio program she was teaching on the 6 Paramitas.  The word Paramita means "to go to the other shore"; the other shore is enlightenment.  We are on the shore of suffering.  When we begin Buddhist practice we get into the boat.  The boat symbolizes all the various meditation practices and dharma studies including the 6 Paramitas.  The 6 Paramitas are the means by which we benefit others and ourselves.  They are the practices of Patience, Generosity, Wisdom (Prajna), Meditation, Joyful Exertion and Discipline.  This week I consciously practiced the Paramitas of Patience and Generosity with my brother.

My brother is a great talker, he has what the Irish refer to as "the gift of the gab".  Over the years he has taught me how to be patient when he meets someone on the street or in a store and starts talking.  At first I felt annoyed and hurt because he would leave me standing there waiting for him sometimes for up to half and hour.  But I realized how important it was for him to connect with others this way.  It was his way of practicing generosity, his way of being a good friend and/or neighbor.  The other day we went to the store.  On our way in he met someone coming out who he hadn't seen in a while and they began to talk.  I continued on my way and did my shopping.  When I came out, he was still talking to the young man.  I didn't say a word, I just went to the car and sat down.  I realized that I felt self-conscious sitting there waiting for him, so I turned on some soothing music and listened to it.  I began meditating while I looked at the concrete wall of the store.  Every now and then I would get restless and irritated and look over towards my brother, but then I would return to thinking about being patient and to my breath.  Pema Chodron has said that people show us where we're stuck and that's what my brother showed me.  I didn't run away from the discomfort.  Instead I sat with it and accepted it.  Eventually my brother stopped talking to his friend and did his shopping and came back to the car.  He made some brief apology, but I told him it gave me the chance to do the Buddhist practice of patience, which it did.  I actually felt grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to practice.

It was Election Day here in the US on Tuesday and my brother was scheduled to be a poll watcher at the voting place in town for a 16 hour stretch from early in the morning till the evening.  Poll watchers help people through the voting process and can't leave their post all day.  I told my brother that I would stop by a couple of times and bring him food or whatever he needed.  The night before I was thinking about how I could help my brother have things to occupy him during that long stretch of being on duty.  I decided to bring him some magazines, my iPod and my Kindle.  And so I was practicing the Paramita of Generosity and it was good practice because I found myself not wanting to give him the Kindle; I had come to rely on listening to Pema Chodron each day to reduce my depression and anxiety.  And then I worried that he would accidentally leave it behind somewhere because I knew he would head for the bar after work.  So I told myself that I could listen to Pema on Cds and that I could bring the Kindle to my brother in the morning and then pick it up later in the afternoon.  It took a little while, but I decided that I would indeed let him use the Kindle the following day.  Just deciding to do that made my heart open a little wider.  The irony was that after I picked up the Kindle the following day, it froze and I couldn't use it and so I had a double lesson about letting go of my attachment to it.

Two other things have been helping me with both lessening my sense of isolation and with doing my Buddhist practice:  I have started an email correspondence with someone who suffers from schizophrenia and is studying Buddhism and a dear friend of mine and I have begun to exchange audio tapes.  My dharma buddy, as I call him, has problems with anxiety, just as I do.  He said he was reading a book called Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.  I happen to have picked up that book at a book sale a while back and I decided to start reading it too.  Jon Kabat-Zinn is well known for promoting mindfulness meditation to help cope with stress and chronic pain.  The book was written to describe an eight week stress reduction clinic workshop and to encourage others to experiment with it.  I actually had bought the audiobook before I got the book, but never applied it to my life.  One of the meditations is called a body scan.  My dharma buddy highly recommended the meditation to help cope with anxiety.  So for two days in a row I have done the body scan and plan to continue doing it as part of my meditation practice each day.  I have yet another audio program called The Mindful Way Through Depression which includes a guided body scan practice, some standing yoga and guided sitting practices and I've been using that Cd to organize myself.  With the body scan, you lie on the floor and place meditative focus on all the parts of your body starting with your toes and feet and working your way up.  The meditation session lasts for about a half an hour.  If I continue on to the yoga practice and the sitting practice it can take over an hour total of meditation which is a good, healthy practice.

The audio exchange practice with my friend is a great success so far.  We are both finding that it is bringing us closer and having a therapeutic effect.  Just the other day I re-listened to her tape when I was feeling down and isolated and found myself perking up and even laughing at points.  It is so obvious to me that she cares about me because she is genuine and direct and that immediately softens my heart.  I also get to connect with her life and her struggles which deepens my compassion for her.  The fact that we go way back to grade school and junior high school just makes the whole deal even more special.  I feel a sense of continuity which was lacking before reestablishing itself in my life.  I lost that continuity when I left New York City and began a relationship with an abusive partner who was so threatened by my past that I systematically shut out my memories.  Now they can return at least in part.

The last part of my recent Buddhist practice that I want to write about has to do with addiction.  October 30th was my six month mark without smoking cigarettes.  It has been the last in several attempts to quit for good.  Mostly I've gotten through the six months with not a lot of craving, but lately I've been feeling the pull back to smoking yet again.  This time of year gets me down.  Thanksgiving in particular is a trigger holiday for me.  Last year I bought a couple of packs and then gradually began smoking more and more, off and on, until I quit last spring.  I've been listening to Pema Chodron speak about addiction in some of her talks.  She says we are all addicts of one sort or another.  For some it is food or lying or being hyper critical of others and for others it is addiction to physically addictive substances like cigarettes, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, etc...   She calls the addictive craving the "hook".  Not biting the hook she says is hard work and takes a lot of courage.  Sometimes we get how harmful the behavior or attitude is and we just stop, but other times we go through what Pema calls "The Big Squeeze" between our ideals of ourselves and how we want to behave and the craving itself.  When we're really stuck, we go for the instant gratification of feeding the craving, which only makes it worse in the long run.

Part of the core of Buddhist practice is a combination of both not running away from discomfort when it arises and being lovingkind and compassionate towards ourselves and others.  It's a lifelong practice because there will always be discomfort and a tendency to lack compassion for ourselves and others when we fail.  And so I have to work with my mind and with my heart.  There is no easy solution most of the times.  I've felt this addictive pull many times before.  I haven't bitten the hook yet, but I know I'm close.  For now, I reach for my sweet tea or sometimes I'll indulge in a cookie.  I'll listen to Pema, study my notes, do the meditation practice and take it day by day.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Aspiration Practice: May I Be Of Benefit

Ozzie hasn't been dead for even a week, but I am pushing on.  A few weeks back I returned to listening to Pema Chodron teach on Buddhism in her audio program Noble Heart:  A Self-Guided Retreat On Befriending Your Obstacles.  I listened daily for nearly two weeks and then started to re-listen to it, when I decided to download one more audio program by her called Bodhisattva Mind:  Teachings to Cultivate Courage and Awareness in the Midst of Suffering. This second audio program is a bit unusual in that she is closely following the 5th chapter in a book by Shantideva, an Indian monk and scholar from the 8th century, called A Guide To The Bodhisattva Way Of Life.  She also wrote a commentary on most of the book in a book of hers called No Time To Lose in 2005.  Pema Chodron does make reference often to the teachers she's had and to some of the books she's read, but this book by Shantideva appears to be particularly important for entering into the Buddhist path.  The Dalai Lama also makes many references to this seminal work.  So what did I do?  I found that Shantideva's book was available on the Kindle for $10 and I bought it to study it more closely.  I have read through the first half of it and find that there are verses (it is a long poem of sorts) that I want to memorize and reflect upon.

A bodhisattva seeks enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings to seek and find enlightenment as well.  Pema Chodron is teaching me to cultivate the aspiration in my daily practice to be of benefit to others.  The heart of Tibetan Buddhism is to learn to place others before the self in all situations by cultivating compassion.  This is quite a challenge for me because I withdraw from much of human contact, except online.  I live in what Pema Chodron and her teacher Chogyam Trungpa call an "ego cocoon".   More than seeking to make others comfortable, I seek to make myself comfortable and thereby withdraw into my home.  But, of course, separating myself from others does not make me happy or comfortable and so I struggle each day.  I have become an alternately anxiety ridden then depressed individual.  I rarely take a walk or sit outside even though I live in the country.  I don't help my local community.  I keep the focus on myself and my brother and my cats.  This makes me think of Jesus exhorting people to "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" by loving not just your friends and family, but your enemies as well.  He says, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?" and "If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?"

It's good to aspire to be a better person, but first you need to become aware of how you are failing yourself.  It might seem as if I'm getting down on myself here, but I am not.  I am waking up to what it is I do.  I have gotten to the point where I treat myself as a friend.  Talking to my therapist, my brother, myself on tape and now my dear old friend on tape has helped me to do this.  Without befriending myself I couldn't face the fact that I am a self centered individual who doesn't put herself out for anyone but her family.  My heart is becoming softer and the warmer I am to myself, the warmer I can be towards others.  Now, when I light an incense before settling into meditation or dharma study, I send out the aspiration that I be of benefit to others.  I say it aloud.  It's like making a vow to become willing to help.  It's the stage we all have to go through before we come to act on other's behalf.  What a simple thing--"May I be of benefit to others."  It's like taking a closed fist and gently, patiently opening that fist up.  Some people when they pray place their open hands face to face before their chest which to my mind is a beautiful sign of peace, love and respect towards the higher power and all others.

Quite a few months ago I joined the Awakened Heart Sangha online and began a Buddhist course called "Discovering The Heart Of Buddhism" taught by Lama Shenpen Hookham in Wales.  I learned right away that the center of the course was in the meditation practice and in cultivating a deep compassion for yourself.  At first I embraced the meditation practice and got in touch with the student teacher, my contact person, who lives in Poland and is a senior student of Lama Shenpen.  We exchanged several emails, but then my life got busy because my parents were visiting and I used that as an excuse to distance myself from the teacher and the course.  In the coursebook there was a lot of talk about exploring your heart and I wasn't yet ready to do that.  In the interim, I have moved towards being ready by studying Pema Chodron and beginning my aspiration practice along with daily meditation once again.  A few days ago, I returned to the Awakened Heart online forum giving myself a gentle push to reach out to others there.  The forum is not very active, but one of the people who had posted recently was a man who actually suffers like me from schizophrenia, but is dedicating part of his time to Tibetan Buddhist practice.  What good fortune!  I responded to his post and asked him if we could be "dharma buddies" and begin an email correspondence and he said yes, he would be very happy to try that out.  So perhaps we will be of benefit to each other along the way.

A year ago, I couldn't even consider the idea that I could in some lifetime become enlightened.  It just was out of the question.  But now, I am opening to the idea that is it okay to move towards enlightenment, to strive for it and to wish that all of us could reach some kind of liberation.  Maybe because of my isolation I feel no ill will towards anyone.  No-one gets the chance to provoke me and so I settle into a kind of general acceptance of others.  Pema Chodron would say that that is not such a good thing, that human interaction and problems create the needed challenges for a fruitful practice.  How can you practice patience and generosity without the input of other people?  She has said many times that we are all interconnected, more than that, people need people.  Even I, who keeps to myself most of the time, rely on business men to sell me their products, doctors to treat me, sanitation men to remove my garbage, postal workers to handle my mail, etc...  I also need very much the contact of my brother and my online friends.  This blog, too, is a lifeline for me, a place where for a hand full of people I am of benefit in a small way.  I'm planting a few well intentioned seeds, watering them and hoping that they will grow.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rest In Peace Ozzie

Last Monday, the 18th, I brought Ozzie in to the vet because his mouth was hurting him.  The vet said he had a serious infection, but that it could be treated with antibiotics twice a day for the next 10 days; he gave the medicine to me in liquid form.  After I got home I tasted a little bit of it to see how bad tasting it was, and it was horrible.  Nonetheless, I had to give it to him and give it to him I did.  I wrapped him up in a towel and squirted the dropper full into his mouth.  I didn't get all of it into him on first try, so I would have to hold him down and try again.  Afterwards I would give him a portion of wet food which he would eat up.  This went on several times a day until Saturday morning when he stopped eating and drinking.  On Sunday he disappeared for hours and I couldn't find him.  When he did show up, he was still not eating or drinking.  Mostly he rested and slept; he was obviously weak.  Early this Monday morning I called the vet and was told to bring him right in, which I did.  They were  going to give him fluids and test his blood.  A couple of hours later I get a call from the vet's sister, who is the receptionist/nurse.  She tells me that Ozzie is very ill, that he has diabetes and several other things wrong with him and that she would like to keep him over night so that the doctor can give him some insulin to see if he responds, but that if he doesn't they will recommend that Ozzie be euthanized.  This morning I called and was told that there was no change.  I went in to the vet's office at noon and then visited with Ozzie for 25 minutes.  He cried out when he saw me.  I calmed him down by petting and kissing him and talking to him gently.  The vet's sister stayed with me for part of the time and we talked sympathetically to each other which I think also soothed Ozzie.  He drank a lot of water, but had not touched the food.  I asked the vet's sister if they would give Ozzie a pain killer first before they euthanized him.  She said that was their policy.  They would give him a mild sedative, leave him alone for 5-10 minutes and then give him his lethal injection.  I had asked before if I could bring him home to die, but was told that there was a distinct possibility that Ozzie might go through seizures because of his condition.  And so I was strongly urged to let them take over.  And so I made the decision, as I have with other cats, to follow their advice.

I had been forewarned by Ozzie himself that he would not live as long as I wanted him to because last year, after I took in 6 kittens, he lost about 4 pounds.  Then he stopped doing a good job of grooming himself and with the weight loss he was not as strong or as confident as he had been before.  I thought he was having a bad reaction to the kittens, but it appears that in actuality diabetes was the culprit.  There were several times in the last 6 months where I could have sworn that he was going to die, but miraculously he would perk up and I would feel a rush of gratitude.

I got Ozzie as a kitten in 1999 from someone I had met and befriended in a domestic violence support group.  This friend and her family were avid animal lovers and had several dogs, a bunch of cats and a cockatoo.  I was distinctly psychotic at the time, paranoid, delusional and hearing lots of voices, but I managed to hide my symptoms somewhat from the women I met at the group.  Eventually I would get another partially grown kitten to be Ozzie's playmate.  That cat, Moocher, I still have and he's in good health, knock wood.  I had other cats too from when I was with my ex-boyfriend, but gradually, one by one, they died or were euthanized.  I hoped that I would have Ozzie till he turned 14 because that's usually the age my cats have been when they've started to fail.

I have been generally fortunate with my cats healthwise, no drawn out cancers, no diabetes till now, not much in the way of having to give them medicines.  They have been a pleasure to be around and a comfort in my darkest hours.  Ozzie, in particular, was a very patient and sweet natured cat.  I felt connected to him because he was my oldest cat, besides Moocher, in a house full of youngsters.  I would make sure to pay special attention to him to let him know that he was particularly loved and he responded to my attention and caresses.

The closest I've been to the visceral quality of death has been through my cats.  I have had them die in my arms.  They are great teachers of what Buddhists call Impermanence, the fluid changing quality of life that also includes death and maybe rebirth.  The love of my pets and my love for them has been a reliable joy in my life.  So now I have seven to care for instead of eight.  Despite my deep sadness at losing Ozzie and at losing all my many cats over the years, it's been worth it all.  So farewell, sweet Ozzie, till I join you, and all the others who have gone before you, on the other side.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

On Stigma

Stig-ma --  1 a) archaic: a scar left by a hot iron: BRAND  b) : a mark of shame or discredit : STAIN  c) : an identifying mark or characteristic: a specific diagnostic sign of a disease  2  stigmata pl: bodily marks or pains resembling the wounds of the crucified Jesus and sometime accompanying religious ecstasy.  (taken from the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition)

To be branded and shamed because of having a mental illness such as schizophrenia is a form of psychic crucifixion.  Much of stigma is due to ignorance that gets fostered by the media in film and news stories.  The main stigma attached to schizophrenia sufferers is that they are at best deranged and violent and at worst all premeditated serial killers.  The flip side of ignorance, which in this day and age of internet access to information comes down to plain laziness, is fear of the unknown.  Though, really, I question that, for who hasn't acted irrationally by the time they reach adulthood out of jealousy or resentment or envy or even joy, love and happiness.  We all know what it is to be upset, to be impulsive and to trust in ideas, beliefs and people that may not be trustworthy.  People get crazy in love and out of their minds in anger and just simply mistaken about other people's motivations as the result of some complex situation.  And then there are many people who have tried one mind altering drug or another, who have temporarily crossed over into some very strange experiences.  To get drunk is to act crazy.  Even excesses of caffeine can give a person a glimpse of what mental imbalance is like.

So, on second and third thought, I'd have to say that most people know quite well enough what it is like to be mentally ill.  It's not unknown, but it is deeply disturbing.  And part of why it is so disturbing, other than the obvious reason that it is horrible to be so out of control, is because of the stigma that our culture brands people with who don't tow the line, who don't try to be respectable, "normal" and conformist.  It's the potential for unpredictable behavior that puts those "normal" people on edge.  I can understand this fear because I, too, get anxious around people who act out.  My instinct is to repress any strange impulses I have and generally I didn't act out except when I was sure that I was alone, which consisted of me talking aloud to myself, gesturing, pacing, even dancing.  I had an urgent need to express myself, but at the same time, I had an urgent need not to make other people uncomfortable.  Also, in paranoid states, I didn't want to draw people's wrath against me, so I kept a low profile.

I have been unusually fortunate:  I have not been the victim of stigma.  In my day to day activities I keep to myself and visit only my brother each week, and so I haven't given others the opportunity to label me and put me down.  I don't talk to anyone about my illness except my therapist and sometime my brother. My identity as a schizophrenia sufferer is reserved for my online presence, mainly in this blog.  The reason I started this blog was to do my part to fight the stigma.  I don't feel comfortable yet reaching out to people in my community, but I do feel comfortable sharing my world and struggles and successes with the hand full or so of people who follow or stumble upon this blog.  I also wanted to encourage those with the illness to come forward in order to show others that we, the afflicted, are not the monsters portrayed in the media, but are just as human and deserving of kind treatment as anyone.

Thanks to the internet, it is becoming more widely accepted that depression, bi-polar disorder, schizo-affective disorder and schizophrenia all have their basis in biology.  As a biological disorder it can be treated in many people (though not all) through psychiatric drugs.  The hard reality of that is that there are side-effects and because of the side-effects many people resist taking the medications consistently.  And there are other hard facts as well, such as it can take months, even years to find the right combination of medications.  Then there is the cost of these drugs and the fact that way too many people do not have health insurance.  One of the reasons why I didn't commit to taking the drugs during the first three years of acute psychosis was because of the cost and because I only had the minimum in health insurance.  If that hadn't been the case it might have saved me three years of on again/off again hell.  But a really big reason why some people do not take the medications is that they don't have insight into the fact that they have an illness in the first place.  This, too, might be due to the stigma attached to mental illness.  All too often, we who suffer, internalize the stigma and label ourselves "freaks" and "psychos".  Those who refuse to accept their diagnosis may just be trying to avoid those very labels.

Though I have met a few people face to face who suffer from bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia related disorders, most of the people I have contact with are online.  My closest friends with mental illness are almost all bloggers.  Several of them are visual artists, too.  All of them are intelligent, sensitive and creative.  None of them are "freaks".  The more people who come forward in blogs, on message boards, in YouTube videos and ultimately in the news, the more I believe much of stigma will be defeated.  Also, people have to start getting honest about either their own mental illnesses or those of their loved ones and share their stories if not publicly than with their friends and family or in support groups.  I'm a firm believer that honesty is the best policy to overcoming virtually all our problems.  Open non-violent communication might be the way of the future.  Let's all use our intelligence, sensitivity and creativity, the way my friends are doing, and take a stand against the stigma.  And while you're at it, boycott the films that are making a huge profit out of the misery of the mentally ill.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

More On Combatting Personal Isolation

The other day I got an email from someone saying that my blog had touched her life; she encouraged me to keep writing.  I thought that was very kind of her to be supportive of me.  I thanked her and told her to feel free to email me anytime.  She and my other online friends who follow this blog got me thinking that maybe I should spend a bit more time writing more blogs each month, at least once a week.  I know that I don't have a great following, but those that do follow I greatly appreciate.  This blog give me the opportunity to actually do some good in the world, if only in a small way.  So thanks everyone for reading and an especially big thank you to those that leave such great comments.

On the homefront:  still struggling with on again, off again depression and anxiety, but two things this week helped to cut through my isolation (which I believe is part of why I get depressed and anxious), I got some snail mail from Nancy and a tape from an old friend.  The snail mail was a card with a reproduction of a painting by her father, truly beautiful work.  There is something to getting a handwritten note as opposed to an email.  It's more personal and intimate.  I've begun a letter to send to Nancy and hope this is the beginning of a long correspondence.  The tape from my old friend came yesterday.  In it she talked to me honestly about her life and gave me some guidance on my life as well.  It was so good to hear her voice.  I'm hoping that our tape exchange continues, though I also want to get to the point where I give her a phone call.  She says some very wise things on the tape about the importance of having someone to confide in on a regular basis, about how this is a big factor in being happy.  Therapy helps, but it can't take the place of a deep and caring friendship.  And I can talk to myself to relieve some of my isolation, but again, it is not the same as having the warmth of human contact.

Many people take human contact for granted.  They have families of their own and see co-workers every day of the work week.  If anything, some people have to schedule some alone time into their busy lives.  It's a very different orientation from those who live in isolation due to mental illness, especially those who suffer from schizophrenia.  Why are schizophrenia sufferers so very withdrawn?  Hearing voices (though not all schizophrenia sufferers do), having delusional and paranoid thoughts and, as a consequence, usually experiencing depression and anxiety, all turn a person inward instead of outward.  The untreated illness, which is where most of us begin, quickly establishes a pattern of aversion.  At this stage we are overwhelmed by internal stimuli that seems so real and so pressing that we lose sight of what is going on in the world.  Those people who do become aggressive and confrontational are usually under the illusion that they are being attacked or abused and are acting out of the instinct for self-preservation.  More often they withdraw from human contact the way anyone who is seriously ill does in order to heal their wounds away from stressful human conflicts.  There's only so much one can deal with when one is internally attacked and confused.  Temporarily withdrawal makes sense, but as a lifestyle it does more harm than good.

My therapist has said that the key to feeling good is balance.  We all need some time alone and perhaps those with schizophrenia need proportionately more time alone, but the goal is to include some regular contact with others so that feelings of isolation don't get out of hand.  I still believe that part of the solution to the isolation of the mentally ill is quite simply access to support groups.  Unfortunately in a country as large as the US there are a lot of areas without groups.  I live in one of those areas, though there might be a meeting starting up within the next month or two.  Right now and for the last few years my brother has been my main contact with humanity.  The rest of my contact has been through the computer.  I am very fortunate in that I have a small group of online friends that I keep in touch with.  Without them, I would be in trouble.   I think part of why I've been getting into trouble lately with feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety has to do with the fact that I have been online less than in the past.  In the past, I participated in message boards and read other people's blogs and commented regularly.  I wrote more blogs.  And so I've decided to return to that pattern once again.

Writing these last two months has been good, but again, there's a definite element of isolation within the practice.  I'm basically writing by myself and for myself, unlike with the blog where I'm writing for others.  A week and a half ago I got my Kindle, which is a wonderful little computer; I have been downloading a ton of excellent free books.  I am reading a lot more because of it and reading does cut through the writer's isolation.  I'm starting to establish a sense of kinship with the writers that I've been reading.  Unfortunately because I've been reading more, I've been writing less.  So today I'm putting myself back in the saddle and will return to daily writing.  At some point, maybe soon, I will try to find an online critique group to join.  That, too, will help to cut through the isolation.

I also downloaded an audiobook by Pema Chodron called Noble Heart: A Self-Guided Retreat On Befriending Your Obstacles.  It's over nine hours of a combination of dharma talks and meditation practice that is divided into 12 forty five minutes sessions.  I listen to one once a day.  Meditating and contemplating what Pema Chodron teaches is another way I combat a sense of isolation.  I must also return to the Buddhist group I joined several months back.  I need to make myself reach out and make contact with friends and new acquaintances and with other Buddhists and writers.

I think the main way to combat isolation is, first of all, to be aware of it.  Once you see it and see what you do to cause it, then you can turn  towards some of the solutions which will invariably require you to reach out to other people.  Start a blog, comment on other people's blogs, join a mental health forum, find or start a support group, have regular contact with at least one person every week, establish email or snail mail correspondence or exchange tapes with online friends, talk to someone on the phone and also, go out and be around people even if you don't interact with them, go to a library or a coffee shop.  These are just some of the things you could try.

If all goes well, you'll be hearing more from me in this blog.  I'm going to have to start thinking of what topics I want to discuss.  If you can think of any suggestions, please let me know.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Working Through Symptoms, Bonding With Friends

Coffee has been a partial antidote to my depression lately, but I have to be careful to stop drinking it sometime in the afternoon or else I stay up all night. Occasionally that's okay, but as a habit it invites psychosis back into the forefront, which is not something I'm willing to do. Before I became psychotic, I didn't realize how important sleep was to maintaining mental health. So if any of you are having psychological problems, be sure to focus on getting your sleep. That's why I take the generic Risperdal before bed, even though it also increases my appetite (hence I stay fat) and decreases my sex drive (hence I stay celibate). I have learned to compromise. Because I am middle-aged and have lived alone for so long, I can bear with the compromise, in a way a younger person might not be able to do so readily. Ultimately, for those with psychotic disorders, you have to choose between sanity and insanity. I chose sanity because insanity threatened to swallow me whole. But within my sanity, or relative sanity, because I still hear voices and still believe that they come from outside of me, I struggle with the negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

Except for the voices, my positive symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions and paranoia, have all almost completely diminished. The most resistant of the three has been paranoia, but even that rarely bothers me for long. My negative symptoms, which for me are social isolation, apathy towards cleaning my house and other self-care issues have combined with healthy doses of depression and anxiety, perhaps as a result of the negative symptoms. Lately I have been trying to treat my depression and especially my anxiety by returning to meditation. But after doing a google search on negative symptoms of schizophrenia I learned that the medications I take are mainly for treating positive symptoms and not for treating negative symptoms. There is no effective medication yet for negative symptoms and so many people are turning to cognitive behavioral therapy and talk therapy.

I don't know much about cognitive behavioral therapy, though my therapist says she uses some of the techniques with me, but I do know about talk therapy. I see my therapist once every two weeks and the rest of the time I talk into my tape recorder several times a day and listen back to my recordings. I take short notes that I write on the tape sleeve that fits into the case, so that I have some idea of what's on the tape if I want to listen to it at a later date. At some point I might transcribe sections of the tape to use with my other writing, especially for my memoir.

What I've found is that talking into the tape recorder helps to ease my sense of social isolation, which is one of my negative symptoms. I equate social isolation sometimes with depression and anxiety, so talking and listening help to treat all of it. Unfortunately, it appears to do little towards helping me to clean my house, wash my clothes and brush my teeth. I wish there was a pill for that and for shedding the weight I've put on in the last 10 years. But I will take what I can get, though I am considering asking my psychiatrist for an anti-anxiety pill. I did some research on that and found most of the potent anti-anxiety pills are addictive, plain and simple, and not really worth taking, unless you have severe panic attacks, and then only temporarily. I did discover that I might be suffering from something called General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and that there is a relatively harmless drug called Buspirone or Buspar that has been helpful for others. It is mildly sedating, has no serious drug interactions and is basically non addictive. I'm going to talk about it with my therapist and then with my psychiatrist.

In order to tackle my self-isolation I discovered a new approach this week. I asked an old friend if I could send her a tape of me talking to her. Technically I should be able to pick up the phone and give her and other friends a call, but I've developed some phone phobia. She said yes and even offered to send me a tape of herself. So I sent the tape to her, she got it on Friday and is working on a tape to send me this week. I am excited to be doing this. I have thought of doing it before with another friend, but I chickened out and never sent the tape. Now I feel ready, especially after conducting my self-talk experiment for over three years now. And I am so glad that it is this particular old friend that I'm communicating with. I worried that I got a little too personal with her on the 2nd side of the tape, but she said it just made her feel as if I really cared about her, and I do! It is special to have this connection with someone from my childhood and youth, someone from my old neighborhood. I'm blessed that she's responded to me. I am even more fortunate to have a circle of online friends who have been so good to me. Last night I picked out a bunch of small presents to give to two other friends. I will send the packages off tomorrow. And Nancy has promised to mail me an old fashioned letter very soon.

Other than this, I have hit my two month mark for writing and reading each day. Tomorrow I will celebrate, I will get a new gadget in the mail; it's called a Kindle. The Kindle is a computer the size of a paperback made for downloading and reading books, listening to audiobooks and listening to music. It also has an experimental program for surfing the internet. Books published before 1923 are mostly free to download and many others are $10 or less. I decided to buy it based on that and the portable internet connection. It can hold up to 3,500 books. I'm hoping it will reduce the pile of books around my couch. Luckily, I had an extra couple of hundred dollars this month, though normally I try not to spend too much. What this means is that I can have an entire library at my fingertips in time. I can browse through so many books and even highlight and take notes on specific pages. I can also have access to the internet wherever I travel. The Kindle is made by Amazon and Amazon pays for the internet connection through AT&T (I think). I am very excited to get it and try it out. I'll let you know if it works out well.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Autumn Choices And Time Will Tell

It is a very wet and dreary day here. It has been grey for what seems like weeks and as soon as I sniffed autumn in the air (and I did that in the last week of August when the temperature dropped and the students returned), I began sleeping late. When I did wake for the day, sometimes in late afternoon, I felt distinct touches of both depression and anxiety. I woke to a perpetually messy and dirty living room (dining area, kitchen, library, bathroom, etc...) with piles of books around me and eight cats curiously living their cat lives. The living room depressed me; the books both gave me an odd mixture of anticipation, comfort and anxiety, and the cats lessened my discomfort by being friendly and lovely to touch. That the living room depressed me and that the cats lifted my spirits made perfect sense, but what was this book anxiety? It has to do with choice.

I have a large collection of books on a wide variety of subjects: novels, history, plays, poetry, essays, self-help, philosophy, short stories, memoirs, religion, visual arts... You name it and I probably have something to represent it. I began collecting books by keeping the ones that I read for high school. Books by Hemingway, Freud, Maya Angelou, Shakespeare and many others. In college my book collection expanded even more and covered a greater depth of subject matter and I began buying books for the pleasure of it instead of only for classes I needed to pass. I read a lot and enjoyed myself; I wrote interesting papers and discussed what I read with my boyfriend. After college I continued to read and collect books.

There were two lulls in my reading career, one was when I was with my alcoholic and unfortunately abusive boyfriend and the other was after I became acutely psychotic with schizophrenia. Both times abuse, one external and one internal, stopped me from settling into a good book. Once I entered into recovery from the most dire aspects of my illness, I, once again, reached out to the book, but I didn't commit to daily reading. Now within the last 2 months, 12 years after I became acutely psychotic, I am back to daily reading and daily writing. The writers I've read who have written about the writing process generally agree: if you want to learn how to write, you have to read. So I picked out books to look through from my library and brought them into the living room just by the couch (which is where I sleep and work when I am upstairs). I would read one book and the author would refer to another author; I would get curious and look to see if I had any writing by that newly referred to author. Often I did and so I'd carry the book into the living room to be closer to me as I worked. Within a week of doing this, the piles of books increased and spread, some that I had wanted to read getting lost under a new group.

With the proliferation of choices of what to read I developed "reading anxiety". Every time I woke up from a long sleep, often restless due to pressing and strange dreams, I would look around and see books. Though I kept certain key books in view (books on writing, several memoirs, short short stories and a book or two on feminism...) they and all the other books were not organized. I remember when I was acutely ill, I would go from one book to another reading little snippets trying to find some kind of guidance for this mental upheaval in my life. How lost I got! To the point where I stopped turning to books for any length of time. But now I am no longer acutely ill, but still my illness leaves me this anxiety about setting priorities and making choices.

After surviving the judgmental nature of my voices, I learned that I had indeed made many bad choices in my life. I had hurt myself, my family and my abused and abusive lover. I began to see that the choices I made went to form the life I lived. Poor choices (and bad karma) pulled me into more poor choices, until I scraped the bottom. At the bottom I looked into my own mortality and decided I wanted to fight to live. The first time that happened I had to reject my lover and the second time that happened I had to reject my delusions and take my medications. After each crisis and partial resolution, I have been left with myself and with a new set of choices. Invariably I wound up wandering from one thing to another. I dabbled, but did not commit.

So seven weeks ago I chose to return to daily reading and writing. Several weeks into it I set a goal -- to stick to this routine for 12 months and not return seriously to painting or songwriting. Next week will be my 2 month mark and it's an important one because it is usually around that time that I shift my focus. This time I will not. But still I have the anxiety over what to concentrate on each day. I have dipped into feminism, existentialism, US history, into memoirs, essays, prose-poems, flash and sudden fiction (which are short, short stories), and so much more. And I've been writing down memories for my memoir, poems and prose-poems, the beginnings of several short stories. As usual, I am going in many directions at once, tasting, testing, letting new or revisited ideas sink into my unconscious and then re-emerge into my writing. What I'm learning is that writing, with the intention of writing at least one book, is all about being willing to go into a mysterious creative process. The process requires a certain amount of surrender. I tell myself when I don't want to write -- Just Do It! Write anything, but commit!

I am commitment shy with my work and with my friendships, afraid of intimacy and potential revelation, but this makes me feel ill, depressed and anxious. I am in the process, I am surrendering, but it will be uncomfortable for a while till I grow my roots. Each day I face my discomfort and I make decisions. Fall will shift into winter and I will have months and months of time alone in my house with my books and my writing schedule. The more time I put into it, the more material I will have to work with, especially by the end of a year's apprenticeship. The deeper I go into the process of gathering and growing words on a page, the clearer I believe my sense of direction will be, the less the anxiety, the greater the sense of purpose. I do believe, but only time will tell.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shadows And Light

I just read a lovely long email by Karen Sorensen. Half way through it she writes that in her experience I am a rare schizophrenia sufferer. Some of those that she has had contact with are low functioning, have trouble using the computer or are struggling to survive in one way or another. I am what psychiatrists call a "high functioning" schizophrenia sufferer. I still have the basic symptoms like poor self care, social isolation and lingering voices, but I am alert, intelligent and creative, so I have more resources than others who suffer from the same illness. Karen reminds me not to lose sight of this basic fact.

In the past I have embraced the recovery model for schizophrenia, not wanting to acknowledge the harsh facts of life that we are not all created equal, that some are stronger, faster, smarter and more beautiful than others. That children are starving right now. That there are people dying miserable deaths after living miserable lives. Anything is possible, from the wondrous to the hellish, in this world. In the spectrum of things, I am somewhere in the middle, neither very fortunate nor very unfortunate. I still tend to think that the majority of people in the world fall into this middle category and that it is very healthy for all of us to count our blessings, such as they may be. Even people at the lower end of existence need to see and acknowledge what is good in their corner of the world. And there are good things like sunshine on a cool fall day, sipping a good cup of tea or coffee while reading, catching a child's smile directly at you while shopping in the grocery store and the list can go on and on.

The other day I was thinking about suicide after reading about a leading feminist's suicide in 2003 at the age of 77. She had said earlier in her life that she would consider suicide at a certain age after living a full and rewarding life. Her reasons for committing the act would not be mental illness or despair, but a desire to leave this world with a certain dignity instead of wasting away into old age and being a burden to her family. I might someday follow suit and do the same. I like the idea of making a decision, preparing for it and doing it, instead of living in the shadow of death. But later that day I was feeling poorly, wondering, as I do from time to time, what the point of my life was and my thoughts circled back to suicide. I lost sight of the sunshine, the tea and the child's smile. I felt stuck in my ever present isolation from other human beings, stuck in my aimlessness; I was getting sick and tired of myself. And yet still I reached for my tape recorder to talk to myself or talk myself out of my depression. What could I, as my only best friend, do to alleviate my discomfort but talk to myself and then listen back to what I had said that day only hours beforehand. It wasn't much, but it was something.

I don't really want to die just yet. My recent commitment to writing (five weeks and counting) is a daily affirmation of my willingness to keep trying. The feminist who killed herself was 77 and I am only 48. The feminist had lived a full and rewarding life as a writer, teacher, mother and wife. My rewards have been more modest; I still believe that my recovery can grow deeper roots, that I can learn to work more consistently and that that work can bear fruit. So I plod along each day writing at least 500 words whether I'm in the mood or not. The pile of books that I'm reading is growing around me as I awkwardly reach for self-expression. Right now I'm thinking of the song "We Shall Overcome" not in terms of the civil rights movement, but in terms of my own struggle to overcome lethargy and silence. I want to use my high functioning skills to speak out for myself, maybe speak out for others as well who can't speak so well for themselves. My fantasy, like so many writer's fantasies, is to publish a book that reaches people's hearts and minds. I want my story to matter to more than just me.

The heart of all good stories, factual and fictional, is conflict and resolution. I resist the darker side of things. I want conflict to go away. I want recovery to be possible for everyone. I want us all to cease suffering and be forever happy in a nirvana-like existence. I'm like a little girl dreaming of a utopia. But most utopian stories don't make for good reading because that's not what we're experiencing in the real world. Instead we keep coming up against road blocks and detours and accidents. We keep losing our way and our balance...and then we get back on track due to our own resourcefulness or by luck or the grace of some enigmatic higher power. Conflict and resolution. Conflict is fraught with subtle meaning, shadows and light and we never stop yearning for the resolution of our temporary problems. But sure as one wave follows another, conflict returns. We can't just rest in the space between the waves. Life keeps pushing forward and the past keeps receding behind us.

The human condition is challenging for all of us, no exceptions. We can either step up to the challenge and live or make a final exit and die. Most of us step up whether we want to or not. We take comfort in what comforts are available to us. Maybe we won't all recover, but nothing should stop us from trying to improve our lot in life as best we can. And those that can, through their honesty and example, should help others along the way. For now, I'm going to keep trying, that's all any of us can do.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Response To Isolation

I am having trouble staying in touch with new and old friends. One of them called me up and left an endearing message, another wrote me a great long email and others I just want to interact with again because they, too, are sensitive, creative and interesting people. Instead I choose to remain isolated. I do write my minimum of 1,000 words a day and that does takes precedence over writing to my friends, but I also think I use it as an excuse to stay pulled into myself. Is this strange social detachment, which I have gone in and partially out of for years, even before I became acutely ill with psychosis, the natural outcome of suffering from a "brain disease"? Is it not a choice, but my biological/spiritual fate? Will it only become a more pronounced way of life for me as I age? Except for contact with my brother, which I truly enjoy, and occasionally with my sometime friend Richard, I am a recluse, hermit and loner, but up till now I have been sociable online, in my blog and with online friends or on message boards. I used to spend five hours or more at the computer communicating with others, valuing their lives and contributing my thoughts and good wishes. Now I use the computer for word processing and research more and more and for communicating with others less and less.

The question--is it a stubborn will or is it a biologically supported fate, is an unnerving one. If I am being stubborn, I find that rather perverse and if it is biological, I find that scary. Perhaps it is a temporary dip into depression, which I have been going in and out of for years. I hope that's the explanation, but I really don't know.

And yet, I write. I'm writing here like a scientist at the the North Pole with a desire to share my discoveries and with a need to affirm my value as a solitary human being. Perhaps I'm calling out for help or maybe to leave a small mark that communicates, yes, I was here at such and such a time and place, like those ancient hand prints on cave walls. That a handful of people read my blog (sparse though it has been lately) is another reason I am motivated to write and post what I write. I want to appeal to your value as a solitary human being because I do believe that we are the only ones living our lives. No matter how close we get to other people we all return to a solitary space within ourselves. And in that space, we take the time to reflect on our days and nights. If we're fortunate, we learn something and pass it on to someone else.

I still have this urge to pass on something, to join the human circle or why write at all? I'm fostering this activity which is my writing process, so that I don't get sucked up into a void. I read for the same reason. I get to know other writers through what they write. I learn from them; it eases my solitary confinement and then I get inspired to write my version of a corner of my life. I want to stop blaming myself for being odd, as if my oddness were a bizarre willful choice. It's just possible that suffering from schizophrenia is my lot in life, a lot I can't change, the way a zebra can't change its stripes. I am not just my illness, but still my illness does set up some of my limitations and thereby defines me. I know there are those that disagree, who say "my illness does not define me," but I haven't found that to be the case. The illness is a handicap that I can live with, which doesn't mean I can't aspire and work to excel in whatever capacity is available to me. I have a need to be pragmatic more than I have a need to be delusional and that is an accomplishment aided by psychiatric drugs, therapy and my own dogged persistence of living day by day and night by night.

Something I do want to say to those of you who are my online friends, I appreciate you, your life and struggles, though I may not be able to tell you this as often as I'd like. You all give me hope with your intelligent creativity and general kindness that humans are not meant to be a lost species that winds up destroying itself. You reinforce for me the idea that we are all basically good (Buddha Nature). And so I want to thank you for reading what I write and for all the times that you have responded with words of wisdom and support.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

An Award And An Offer

As you can see I just got an award for my blog. Here is a list of the other nine winners:

Schizophrenia - A Carer's Journal

Overcoming Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia Blog

Gaining Insight

Hope Is Real!

Suicidal No More

Living With An Invisible Disability

Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia

Tony's Schizophrenia Corner

So congratulations to me and the other blog winners for doing a good job. I definitely appreciate it. It makes me think that maybe I'm doing more good with this blog than I realize. I also got a short email from someone "working on behalf" of the Janssen pharmaceutical company. Here's the email:

Dear Kate:
We had the opportunity to read your blog and learn more about your experiences as a person living with schizophrenia and all of the great work you do in the mental illness community. That is why we are reaching out to you.
Our company, Barsamian Communication, is currently working on behalf of Janssen, to develop a Mental Health Community Council comprised of people living with schizophrenia, caregivers and advocates to share their experiences and help guide the development of educational and marketing materials.
I would love to set up a time to speak to tell you more about the Council and see if you might be interested in participating in our next meeting in September.
Please let me know.

So I was wondering what some of you think about this offer. I've emailed Leah to say that I am not very good with talking on the phone, but would be happy if she emailed me more information. So I have to wait and find out if that is okay.

I'm of two minds about volunteering to work for a big pharmaceutical company, even just minimally. On the one hand a company like Janssen is such a powerful business company that I am suspicious of its motivations. On the other hand opening the lines of communication between those that suffer from schizophrenia, either directly or indirectly by being a caregiver, and those that make a product that treats it, is potentially very commendable. Because the Janssen company is so wealthy they have the potential to really help those in need. My first thought is that they could organize support groups in very rural areas, such as mine, to give people the opportunity to receive free mental health support. The support groups that I know of all encourage medication compliance, as do I, and that could benefit the Janssen company, but more than that it would benefit the people who have the least access to healthcare, but who desperately need the community support with or without the use of psychiatric drugs. It still amazes me that no one has latched onto the incredible potential of support groups. They are low cost, low maintenance and they allow people to get help and give them a place to organize themselves.

If a company like Janssen did sponsor and organize support groups in rural areas throughout the U.S. there would have to be restrictions put on them. Community service above business promotion. It would be good public relations for them and that should be enough. I do not know if it can be done legally, but it is worth looking into it. Anyway, though I am somewhat skeptical, I would love the opportunity to help those in need.


On the home front, I've been writing nearly daily for over two weeks. My goal is to write at least 1,000 words a day, or close to that. The idea of writing daily for those who do write and aspire to get published is an old idea, but a generally good one. I recently got the idea from several writers who have written popular books on writing. Carolyn See in her book Making A Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers, pushes her formula which is write 1,000 words 5 days a week for the rest of your life. Stephen King in his book On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft, pushes for writing 2,000 words every day, but then he says he can get through the first draft of a novel in three months. Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity, urges that writers write three pages in stream of consciousness style every morning.

I finished reading the King book yesterday. I had gotten the book for my brother one Christmas because he expressed an interest in writing, but I had never read it. Then I read in Karen Sorensen's "Dignify Me" blog that she was reading the book, so on impulse I bought it for myself as a gift instead of going through the public library system as I did with the other books I mentioned. Mr King starts the book out as a memoir of parts of his childhood and youth up until he became a success with his novel Carrie. I enjoyed that part of the book, especially the author's honesty and sense of humor. There were laugh out loud bits there mixed in with more serious descriptions of his working class mother and his working class youth. I learned later on in the book that it was around this point in his writing and his life that he got run over by someone driving a van and nearly lost his ability to walk. He almost gave up on writing the book, but then found that it was a kind of mental therapy that went along well with his physical therapy and he finished the book. The rest of the book was good too, but not as fun to read. He goes into the nuts and bolts of writing, or at least those aspects of writing practice that he came to stand by, though there is certainly still a lot of honesty and humor in the remaining parts as well.

It's good to be reading and writing regularly again. Many of the writers who write books on the craft of writing obviously write from their experience, hence these books are memoirs. Lately, that is the kind of book that I have been drawn into reading, rather than to straight out memoirs. I like reading about how writers came to become writers. I may not follow all of their advice, but it does stimulate me to keep trying.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mammogram Results

A month ago I went to have a mammogram done. A week and a half later I got a short form letter from the hospital saying that they had found something on my mammogram. There was a sentence saying that most of these findings turn out to be benign, but, of course, I began to worry. The news came just before my brother and I had to leave for the Grassroots festival for four days. I quickly made an appointment for the end of the following week to have another closer mammogram done. Soon after we got to the festival I told my brother about the letter. My parents would be arriving soon for a 12 day visit and I would have to tell them too. My brother tried to reassure me that it was unlikely that I had cancer because we have no history of breast cancer in our family, but I knew it was wiser to stay open to the possibility in case he was wrong. I wanted to be prepared for the worst. I didn't want to take my life and health for granted.

Despite the shadow from my news, we had a decent time at the festival, no real problems, just a bit of thunder, lightning and rain. I can't remember the first time we went to this festival, but it must have been within the last decade. We try to make it an annual event since neither of us get to hear live music very often. For the last couple of years we've stayed in a mildly run down motel that's maybe 15 minutes drive away from the festival. It's good to be at the festival, out of doors and around people listening to music and eating good food, but it is also nice to go back to the motel and withdraw from all that, go back to home base.

Off and on throughout our trip I would consider the possibility that I did have cancer and wonder how long I would have to live. My breasts did not feel lumpy, but my left breast did seem to me to ache more than usual. I began to pray that if I did have cancer, that it would be in the very early stages of it because then I might have a chance to recover from it. I couldn't quite get myself to imagine what it would be like to have a breast or both breasts removed surgically. I'm not very fond of my breasts since I put on all this weight due to taking some of the anti-psychotic medications, but that didn't mean I wanted to lose them either. Before I got really ill in 1998, I had thought that I would live to a ripe old age because both of my grandmothers had lived to be 94. After I began to recover from my illness I knew anything could happen and stopped taking my life for granted. The hard fact is that many people who suffer from schizophrenia die a good 25 years before the general population.

I think the reason many mentally ill people die so young is 1) due to suicide and 2) due to not taking care of oneself by going to doctors during the early stages of problems. I hadn't had a mammogram done since 2007 when I should have been having it done once a year. Presently I don't have a gynecologist and haven't had a Pap smear done sine 2007 too. I'm at an age when I have to be more responsible about going to doctors and resist my urge to put it off for another day, week...year.

Since I became psychotically ill, a part of me has become tired of life and willing to let go of it. Contemplating my early death seemed possible and if I had to die, I wished to die well, with some dignity. I needed some time to prepare. Buddhist are very much into contemplating death and preparing for its eventuality. I have several audiobooks on it, but never got very far in listening to them. I still have a touch of a superstitious mind and believe that if I think about death, somehow I will bring it closer to me and die. I'm pretty sure that's another illusion and the only way to deflate an illusion is to pop it by doing what you are afraid of doing. This attitude didn't get me to listen to those audiobooks, but it did get me to face death more squarely and consider it.

The part of me that wanted to live prayed that I didn't have cancer. I haven't accomplished much in my life except surviving domestic violence and acute psychosis. I still wanted to write at least one book, a book that might include some of my artwork, possibly a CD of a few of my songs. All that required time, persistence and discipline along with some talent, all of which I wasn't sure that I had. Still I prayed.

My parents arrived two days after we got home from the festival. I had done some cleaning, but because I was worrying much of the upstairs was not ultimately cleaned. The downstairs, where they would be staying, was in good shape. They had a bedroom with two twin beds, an eating/studio room, a laundry/kitchenette room and a very small bathroom. I had also had a new phone/computer jack installed in the bedroom, so that my father could have free use of my computer while he was here. This meant that I did not have the use of my computer, but I found that I got along without it while they were here.

After I told my parents about the mammogram result, they both insisted on coming with me when I had the second, closer mammogram done. And so we went. They waited in the waiting room and I was taken by the same woman who did my mammogram the last time to the same mammogram machine. She said this time it might hurt a little bit more, which it did. She only took an image of my right breast because the left breast (which I had been worrying about) was all clear. A few moments after that she came back with the results: no cancer. Not just no cancer, but no benign lump either. Nothing to do except thank the Higher Power for the thumbs up sign. The woman then went on to talk to me for a bit saying that she didn't like bringing women back in, but that if she had any doubt due to what was on the mammogram, she didn't want to wait for a year to go by before another test was taken. She then showed me the before and after picture. On the before picture was an area that was lighter than the rest of the image indicating something, but the after picture showed no such indication. She said the first image was just a skin fold and that the tighter second image showed this. The main thing was, I was okay. I thanked her and told her she had a tough job. I was grateful to her for being so thorough, despite the worry it put me through. I knew she deserved a lot of credit for being willing to do this work for other women's health. She agreed that it was a hard job; I knew she needed to hear what I had said to her and hoped that it made her feel good. All I knew was that I was feeling pretty good myself. When I saw my parents in the waiting room I made the double thumbs up sign and smiled.

And so we were all very relieved. My parents went on to stay for another week and a half. We went to two plays, two movies, a historic Native American site and out to several good restaurants including two Thai and two Indian restaurants. I had to do a lot of driving, but it was worth it because my family had such a good time.

So no breast cancer and another chance to get back on track. All throughout this I did not meditate. Time to return to it. Time also to return to my writing. One of my old friends who I found on Facebook encouraged me to continue with my memoir, so did my mother. Just having them give me encouragement is all I need to renew my commitment.