A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Saturday, 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.
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