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.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Few Summer Activities

My brother and I returned early from a four day music festival called Grassroots.  It had been very hot from Thursday to Sunday--hot, humid and practically no rain.  I got some sunburn, which I rarely get and both of us only got minimal sleep, so by Sunday we were burnt out and decided to skip the last day and head home.  The music at the festival was good, but there were virtually no headliners which disappointed us.  Usually when we go there are several A+ bands or singer songwriters like Los Lobos, Lucinda Williams, The Avett Brothers, Burning Spear, etc... so there are high points to the experience.  This time it was hot and mellow, though Fela Kuti’s youngest son Seun was there heading his father’s band (Fela died an AIDS related death in 1997 when Seun was still a young adolescent).  His father was a master at a style of African (Nigerian) music  he dubbed “Afrobeat” partly influenced at points by James Brown, very funky and intense and political.  That got Fela put in prison for 20 months.  Seun is definitely following in his father’s footsteps.  One of the things he championed at the festival was the decriminalization of marijuana.  He was also touching on other political topics, but I couldn’t understand him.  Perhaps I’ll get one of his CDs and listen closely.  I think it takes courage to get up on stage and fight through music and communication some of the injustices in the world.

My brother and I have a whole routine we go through preparing for the festival, going and then coming back.  We stay at the same Indian run motel just outside of Ithaca, New York, which is about a 10-15 minutes drive to the festival in Trumansburg.  We park in the same spot near an off site camping ground.  Most people park in a large sectioned field and then wait for a shuttle bus to take them to the festival several minutes away.  We too get the shuttle, but we park by the side of the road.  We do this because in past years when we’ve parked in the field we’ve gotten stuck in the mud after it rained.  We go to the same Chinese Buffet restaurant on Friday and Sunday before heading to the festival.  Saturday is special because we get to go to a very good Thai restaurant.  We get gai tom ka soup, which is a coconut milk soup with chicken and mushrooms, then he gets a green beef curry and I get a noodle dish with chicken called pad thai.  Why do we get the same thing each year?  Because we don’t get to go to Thai restaurants very often.  But it’s more than that, we obviously get comfort from having a predictable routine.  The routine, which allows for knowing generally what to expect, reduces potentially stressful situations.  I get stressed driving and a bit stressed being around so many people when I’m used to being mostly alone.  Then again, some of the people watching is fun.  This time I took my camera on two of the days and took pictures of people and the fairgrounds.  I got a few nice shots.  It’s been a long time since I was into photography.  I was a film photographer and I’m still not used to digital photography.  With a digital camera, you have to learn the small computer that is your camera thoroughly and I never do it.  I’m intimidated by computers, though I rely on them for information and communication.

My brother was more subdued this year.  Usually he is making conversation with fellow festival goers, often shedding a critical but humorous view on what’s strong and what’s weak at the festival.  This year he said he was surprised that he didn’t see many people that he knew.  It was also in the 90s and humid and as I said, we both didn’t get as much sleep as we would have liked.  Despite the heat and only some breeze, it was good to be outside, good to be around people, good to listen to live music and good to have each other for company.  It was a mostly Caucasian crowd with just a  sprinkling of African Americans and Asians.  Having grown up in New York City, I think the best type of crowds is a multi racial, multi cultural crowd.  So this wasn’t the most interesting crowd to me, but there was still a lot of variety.  Within the crowds amongst the young people and the parents with their children I saw the salt and peppered hair of middle-aged people like myself and even a few rather old people.  Not too many very unusual people except for a man walking on a prosthetic leg, which I thought was wonderful just that he still had his freedom and could partake of the festival.  A few people were even dressed up in costumes with large afro-like wigs.  Some women and children wore butterfly wings.  There were a lot of tattoos on both men and women and a fair number of men with shaved heads.  The women wore all sorts of skimpy dresses in their desire to look good and stay cool.  I wore shorts, a t-shirt and Teva waterproof sandals that fit snugly around my feet.  I didn’t particularly look good, but I stayed comfortable.  So far, my obesity is in the extra large normal range.  I still fit into a bus or car seat and am not aware how heavy I am until I go to the bathroom somewhere and see myself in a mirror.  At the festival, there are many attractive women.  I used to be one of them.  Now I am out of that loop and partially I feel relief at that.  The other part of me wants to look better, not in order to compete with other women, but just so I can feel more normal and healthy.

This Saturday my parents will arrive by plane from Florida for a 9 day visit.  My uncle will arrive from Chicago by car on Monday for a 6 day visit.  I haven’t seen my uncle for four years.  He just turned 80 at the end of June and my parents are in their mid 80s.  For now, they are all in good health, but I still worry.  It will be very good to see them all, but I’ve got a lot of house work to get done this week and a lot of driving and finding entertainment the following week.  Last year, before my parents visited, I did an internet search for things to do in the area.  My planning and preparing was mostly successful and I’m hoping I can pull it off again for the first week of August.  The main problem is that there is not much to do around where I live and so we will have to travel by car one to two hours in each direction.  I’ll have to lead with my car and my uncle will have to follow in his car.  This makes me nervous because we’ll be going to places that I’ve never been to before and I’m afraid of getting lost or worrying about whether my uncle is still following me.  At least now we both have cell phones and can keep in touch even if we do get split up.  My family will be staying at a local bed & breakfast.  Last year my parents stayed with me, but that put some pressure on me to clean up and I didn’t quite get it done and let my mother come upstairs only a couple of times to see the cats.  This year it is just too hot, especially since I don’t have air-conditioning.  Now the cats need to come downstairs from time to time because it is 10-20 degrees cooler...but my father is allergic to cats.  So I suggested the B & B and my family agreed.  Their rooms will be air-conditioned.  Still, I have to get cracking cleaning up my house as best I can because they will visit.  I have four days.  I can get a lot done in four days, if I pace myself.  I might have to change my sleep cycle to the daytime and work at night and early morning, just because it is so very hot.

Climate change is affecting the whole planet.  This is the first year that I got snowed in by a blizzard at JFK airport last December and the first year that I can remember the heat changing the atmosphere at the music festival.  Normally we have at least one thunder storm there, but this year not one.  The days when so many people can own one or more cars each and are free to give birth to any number of children must be coming to a close.  We are guzzling our resources and leaving people to starve to death due partially to overpopulation.  If we don’t change rather drastically, I’m not sure we’ll survive.  What can we do?  People in the US say they really value their freedom, but won’t we all be required to make sacrifices and pull together due to this common environmental threat?  Shouldn’t we be doing it sooner rather than later?  At the festival they were promoting an anti-Fracking position, trying to enlist people into their cause by signing a petition.  Our governor, Andrew Cuomo, is backing the Fracking movement before tests have been done that prove that the procedure is safe for humans.  Business people are frantic and greedy to find an alternate energy source so that we can continue living in excess, even if it means some people will get ill or die because of it.  I’m not against an energy source that’s safe to use for people and the planet, but Fracking doesn’t sound safe.  There needs to be more research done and more regulations put into effect.  Whether we can cobble together various energy sources to survive is unknown, but what we can do is to change our lifestyles all over the planet.  Increase and extend public transportation, even build newer small city/towns that utilize solar and wind energy to the max, possibly return to a more commune like communities where people work together to preserve or extend resources, to recycle, to farm, etc...  There are small communities like that sprouting up all over the US.  Let’s see if they have the right idea over time.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Persistence, Faith & Hard Work

I've had the urge to write repeatedly over the last month, but my output is minimal.  In the last few days the urge has been laced with an irritating depression.  Whichever direction I begin to go in, be it flipping through  books on writing or books on Buddhism or taking a stab at writing in my journal, turns into a dead-end.  I either fidget or I go to sleep.  Strangely enough, when I sit down to write a blog, usually spontaneously and without notes, I wind up writing something halfway worthwhile.  It's just getting myself to sit down and do it that is the problem.  Anne Lamott, who wrote a popular book on the practice of writing called Bird by Bird, says of writing: "It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work.  So you might as well just go ahead and get started."

Persistence, faith and hard work...I guess that's the recipe for life itself.  I am also a strong believer in the immense value of being creative, especially for people who suffer from chronic mental illnesses.  Lately I've been committing to my Buddhist practice, but neglecting writing, songwriting and painting.  My Buddhist practice of meditation, listening to audiobooks and reading, taking notes and studying is my foundation and so I won't stop with that.  When I meditate each evening, despite my restless thoughts and the discomfort in my back, I begin to focus and steady myself.  By the end of the meditation, I'm usually refreshed and ready to listen to a dharma talk and then to do some reading and note taking.  All this takes place in the evening and night.  It's the day time where I get lost.

Why do I resist the fact that just being alive is good enough?  Whatever I do with my days, as long as it is not harming myself or others, is okay.  I get writer's block because I am judging myself and pushing myself and not going with the flow of life.  It's back to having ambition instead of patience and humility.  The truth is that my life is a simple life.  Another truth is that I think I want it to stay that way.  In order to keep things simple I need to let go of ambitious ideas.  Maybe I will write a book, but not unless I learn to write a good essay.  I have a friend who told me that one of the things that got her out of her depression was the expression, "little by little".  Baby steps...persistence, faith and hard work.

My life is mysterious to me.  I don't know why I'm here; I'm just here.  And I know now that while I'm here, every moment I'm here, I'm changing and my circumstances are changing.  I know this is true for all of us.  I witness the change when I listen back to my audio journal from a few days in the past.  It helps me to acknowledge that I can hold onto nothing.  And it keeps me honest.  Writing here does the same thing.  I've been writing in this blog since about November of 2006.  Very slowly I am printing up my blog so that I have a hard copy to review, maybe edit and re-work.  I think it is important that I do this so that I can follow the flow of my life and see what lessons I am learning or re-learning.  Every now and then I need to review my journals and take stock of where I've been and where I seem to be heading.

My audio journal is a good therapeutic tool, but sometimes I neglect my writing because I'm busy pouring out my thoughts and ideas on tape.  It's easier for me to talk to myself than to write, but writing also holds the key to self-understanding and to sharing my experiences with others.  The more I study Buddhism, the more I want to be helpful to others.  The challenge is to not lose confidence.  That's a big challenge.