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, 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.
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