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, 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.
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