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.

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.