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, November 7, 2011

Being Myself, Alone & With Others

 Last night, because I was feeling rather miserable with a cold I picked up last week, I watched a comforting film, "Pride & Prejudice" the latest version with Keira Knightley.  It had a good cast and was lushly filmed and I've watched it maybe three times so far.  Each time I was crying by the end.  I thought this time maybe I wouldn't cry, but I did.  I'm a sucker for old fashioned romance.  Despite all I've been through with romantic delusions, I still want to believe that two people can come together and be "right" for each other.  I did think that perhaps I was getting a bit too old for all of this.  I'll be 50 next spring and I'm way past believing that I will find a romantic partner.  I don't rule it out completely, but, for now, I am content to be single.

There's an interesting freedom in being a middle aged and obese woman.  There was a time in my early 40s when I wouldn't have said that, a time when looking in the mirror meant instant depression and shame.   My feminine vanity had been wounded, not only because of weight gain due to taking the anti-psychotic medications, but because I had reached middle age and was starting to show it.  Only a few years earlier, I had been attractive, but now I was ordinary.  I had to readjust.  Early in my acute psychosis I was the heroine in my delusion.  I thought real people were paying attention to me, following me, interested in what I had to say.  At first, that was exciting, but ultimately, it was a burden.  The trade off in entering recovery when I began to take the medications was that I was no longer the star of my story.  I was deeply humbled.  I got into the habit of calling myself "fat and ugly".  That sounds worse than it was because gradually I came to accept and like myself in my new state.  I was alive, relatively sane, and compared to the years of acute psychosis, comparatively content.  Gratitude played an important part in my continuing recovery from an illness that, not so long ago, was deemed so severe as to be hopeless.  I didn't feel hopeless anymore.  What I valued more than my looks was my creative intelligence and my ability to survive something so horrible.  It wasn't absolutely necessary for me to be with someone in order to have a meaningful life.  I didn't have to be a wife or a mother; I could just be myself.

Living a solitary life is okay by me as long as I continue to have outside connections to my family and a few friends.  A few months back an old friend that I found on Facebook asked if we could start to talk on the phone.  Since I got sick, I've been nervous about using the phone, but I really wanted to get closer to this friend while overcoming my aversion.  And so we've been calling each other once a week for a while now.  It's been great.  My friend, who I'll call Rita, is presently single and never had children and this is a bond between us.  I also remember her when she was a little girl and young teenager.  I feel so comfortable with her that she's like family and I tell her this.  I tell her I love her.  It's easy to love her because she's been nothing but supportive of me right from the start of our renewed friendship.  I find myself looking forward to years more of friendship with her.  Committing to our connection is a responsibility I want to step up to.  She gives me a much needed link to my past  and this makes me feel more whole within myself.  For years, while living with my abusive boyfriend, I denied that I had a past in New York City because my boyfriend was so insecure about it.  Now, years after the abuse and years after the acute psychosis, I can reclaim my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood all through knowing Rita again.  Thank you Rita.  I would tell the story of Rita, but she's a very private person.  Maybe sometime in the future she'll give me permission to write about the successes and challenges in her life.

I've recently made a new friend who actually lives nearby.  This is another serious breakthrough for me, one that's got me excited.  This new friend, who I'll call Sam, I've been wanting to get close to for several years.  In the beginning of the summer I bit the bullet and asked for her address so that I could start to write to her and she agreed.  She's a good friend of my brothers and he told me that she is a writer, so I thought we could both get to know each other and bond through our mutual love of writing.   That's just what we've done.  On top of that she came to visit me a month ago.  Virtually no one visits me which is why my house gets messy and I feel disconnected from others a lot.  So I cleaned up the house and welcomed her inside.  Sam is close to 60 and quite poor, but she's also a rugged individualist.  She lives in an old trailer with a wood stove and no running water (her water pump broke a while back and she hasn't had the money to fix it).  On her land, which she bought about a decade ago, she has a large pond and has cultivated a substantial garden.  She relies on her garden for a lot of her food most of the year and spends a good chunk of her time taking care of it.  When she's not working in her garden, she's working in town at a local restaurant and bar three nights a week.  When she's not doing that she's either visiting her close circle of friends or writing.  Last winter she wrote a novel.  During our visit she asked me if I'd like to read it.  Right away I said yes.  She said she'd get me a copy the next time we met.

In the interim I wrote to her and asked if I could visit her and a week and a half ago I did.  It was the first snow of the season, but luckily it wasn't sticking to the roads and I found her place with relative ease.  Her driveway is 1/4 mile long, which is good because one, it gives her privacy and two, it keeps her three cats away from the main road.  It's also bad because each winter season she gets snowed in several times.  She has a friend who sometimes plows her out, but I'm hoping she'll let me pay to help her with that this winter, mainly so she can get to work and to the store when she needs it.  She greeted me at the door of her trailer and welcomed me inside.  She had already stoked her 100 year old wood stove, so the trailer was nice a cosy.  She got me a cup of coffee and one for herself and we sat down in front of the wood stove and talked for over an hour.  I felt very comfortable sitting there with her.  She told me about the photographs of family and friends that she had tacked on a nearby wall and she showed me the contents of a small medicine bag where she kept precious items like a nearly perfect arrowhead that she had found in the clay dirt of her garden and a black, petrified shark's tooth that she had picked up on a beach in Florida.  She then showed me her pond and garden and I helped her bring into her trailer some garlic and potatoes that she had grown.  With the fresh fallen snow on the trees and on the grass her property looked lovely and I found myself already looking forward to next spring when the garden would start growing again.  I even imagined myself helping her in the garden.  At the end of the visit Sam placed her novel in a bag along with some garlic, potatoes, onions, a squash and two glass containers, one filled with homemade applesauce and one with chopped up peaches.

I read her novel within 24 hours, waited a day and then read it again.  It was very good!  I felt proud of her for writing it and doing such a good job and soon wrote another letter telling her so.  Her example has inspired me to start an autobiographical novel.  For the last two years I've wanted to write a memoir, but I kept getting stuck.  Memoirs that are "creative" nonfiction are very popular these days.  What makes them creative is that the authors write using the techniques of fiction: narration, scenes, dialogue, character studies, etc....  I found myself resisting some of those techniques, especially scenes with dialogues, because it didn't ring true for me.  I couldn't honestly remember conversations from 30 years ago or more.  Also, I didn't know how to narrow down my subject and began tackling incidents from my whole life, making a mess and not having a focus.  But I'm finding that fictionalizing my family and my past has given me more freedom to explore my personal history while taking some pressure off me about writing "the truth".  In this novel, I can learn the techniques that I was resisting when I was working on a memoir.  Until now, I've made some half hearted attempts to write several short stories, which I would like to continue doing, but I never ever approached the idea of writing a novel.  I needed Sam's example to give me a little push in that direction.

Part of being myself has been writing in a journal.  This blog, though I've been neglecting it of late, has also been important to me by giving me room to practice before a small audience.  I think it's time for a change here.  I need to write more, not less.  I've tried backing away from this blog, but it doesn't feel right and quite frankly, I need the practice not only of writing, but of sharing my writing, putting it outside of myself.  I'd like to include fiction and poetry mainly because I rarely share them and could use some constructive feedback.  I don't know if I'll have the discipline to write here several times a week, but I want to try again.  I need to take the pressure off myself sometimes by writing short entries as well as longer ones.  Let's see if I have the courage to change my approach the way I'm beginning to have the courage to reach out and foster friendships.

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