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.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Preparing For A Northern Christmas

I've stayed home for Christmas several times before, mainly when I've had psychotic symptoms that I couldn't cope with when I travelled to visit my parents in Florida.  This is the first Christmas I will be staying home with my brother Rob.  He's been depressed lately and I'm pretty sure it has to do with not going to Florida.  He often stays for at least a month, whereas I only stay for a week because I have seven cats to look after.

Last week I got Rob an early Christmas present, a basic cell phone.  I upgraded to the family plan and got a new line for him.  He's been without long distance for a very long time now and this means he's out of touch with our parents.  Rob has always been  much better at staying in touch with them than I have been, but not this past year.  I also wanted him to have a cell phone because from time to time he walks home drunk from the local bars and has fallen several times.  I want him to be able to call for help if he needs it.  But Rob made it clear the other night that he does not like the phone I chose to give him.  He is the kind of person who does serious research before buying equipment whereas I am (I admit it) an impulse buyer.  He was pissed with me not doing the research.  Actually I did try, but there are so many cell phones out there that I got overwhelmed.  I'm hoping that he will get used to the phone and keep it.  He's got only about 10 days to decide, after that we can't return it.  There's also a $35 fee to return it.

Rob's response to my well-intentioned present has brought me down too.  I was tentatively supposed to go out to lunch with him today, but decided against it because neither of us feel good and I don't want to deal with him bitching at me.  He will come over to my house by the end of the week and stay for a few days till after Christmas.  He might cook something for Christmas day.  I've been making toll house cookies and plan to make cocoa banana nut bread, spinach lasagna and vegetable paella.  I got all the ingredients the other day.  I don't cook very often, but when I do cook, it usually comes out well.  It's easier to cook for others instead of just for myself.  That's one of the good things about the holiday so far.  That and not having to travel during the height of holiday season and not having to worry about my cats.  I'd like to try to make it a good time for Rob.  He'll have presents from me and my mother to open and the use of my high speed internet connection and my company.  I think it will be all right.

I talked with Sam tonight and invited her over to my house on Tuesday evening to have a meal and drink some wine and stay the night.  Luckily I have a guest bedroom downstairs which also acts as my computer room, so whoever sleeps in this room gets to also have access to a computer.  So anyway, she said yes.  Tomorrow she's having her truck worked on at the auto shop, but Tuesday night should be free for her.  I asked her to call me and let me know what happened with her truck and whether I should plan on picking her up or not.

I haven't had anyone but my brother stay the night in years, so this is a step forward for me.  I also don't      often get drunk.  I don't really want to get drunk.  I don't know if I want to go that far, so I'm going to make the spinach lasagna for us to eat first and try to drink slowly.  I'm debating about whether to bring the electric guitar and the amp out into the living room.  If I do get a buzz off the wine, I might be willing to sing a song or two and/or let Sam play for me.  I haven't heard her play yet.  All I know is she has practiced much more than I have on how to actually play the instrument.  So it will be a pleasure to hear her play.  I also might play a song on the piano.  It's a classical song by Bartok called Sorrow.  I loved it when I played it as a teenager.  I actually studied the piano all through high school and even got up to Bach's Two Part Inventions.  I was proud of that, but I never took it farther.  What  got me playing again was a film Sam lent me about a musical family.

I haven't asked Richard if he'd be willing to forgo his $500 yet to give to Sam.  I've decided that I'm going to offer her $250 regardless of whether Richard donates the money or not.  I got some extra money as a refund from my health insurance this fall and I still have some of it left, so I can afford to be a little generous.  I still don't know if Sam will accept it, but I hope she will.  I have to see Richard this week, before Christmas, in order to give him some cookies and gift cards for his children, maybe a little extra cash for them too.  I did get to see him and his son Aaron today, but they couldn't stay long.  Aaron, who is 20, seemed very grown up to me this time.  And Richard struck me as being particularly respectful towards his son.  It was good to see them together.

Not much else to say for now.  I'm wishing you all a safe and happy holiday!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Song: "The Insane"

The last few days I've been working on a song I've only just named "The Insane".  This song started out as another song and has gradually morphed into this one.  I wanted to write about psychosis.  That's what many of my unrecorded recent songs are about.  Reading the lyrics straight without the music can be problematical.  Songs are poetic, but not necessarily poetry.  The lyrics' success lies with the musical treatment of it, in the rhythm of the guitar and the voice and with the subtle tonal shifts, especially of the voice.  I can emphasize one word or a group of words all at once.  When I get into it, it can be a visceral experience.  Unfortunately because this song has been changing over time, I'm not ready to record it.  That might be an excuse.  I think I'm afraid to record it in case it doesn't come out, which is dumb.  How can I improve it unless I hear it?  I have a beautiful portable studio machine that I don't use.  I spend a lot of time just tinkering with the basic structure of the songs I write.  I just sit down with my electric guitar and my amplifier and fool around.  I've been noticing that I have been avoiding setting up the portastudio. Is it just that I'm afraid to sound like shit?  It's a dream of mine to make another CD with the songs I've been working on for the last five years, but first I've got to get over myself.  So here are the lyrics of "The Insane".

The Insane

The pleasure and pain of the insane,
We walk on the line all of the time
Falling from side to side,
It's not like we haven't tried
To keep the balance in our heads,
To keep the sea from turning red
(Bloody red.)

Sometimes we look real normal,
Sometimes we don't.
Sometimes we're talking to thin air,
Sometimes we won't.

And take your medication.
Find a therapist
Who will make you care a bit
About you.

You've got to care about yourself now,
You've got to care about you.
If you don't care about yourself now
How are you gonna break on through
To the other side,
Where sanity is many miles wide
And you don't have to hide anymore.


That's it.  I play around with the rhyme scheme.  As you can see it shifts a lot.  There are internal rhymes or rhymes that occur within one line and then alternating rhymes that occur at the end of a line.

I have a book of Joni Mitchell's lyrics and I was looking at a few songs last night.  She plays a lot with straight rhymes and unusual rhymes.  She's extremely skillful and talented.  Her rhymes are supremely intentional.  My rhymes often are accidental.  So it's long past due that I get more formal in my study of how to make a song.  I almost entirely create my lyrics while playing simple guitar, but I've been thinking lately that I should have a song workbook that I keep with me in the living room apart from my guitar.  I need to see what it's like to write first and then apply what I've written to music.

About the lyrics themselves, I'm hoping that they speak for themselves.  I did take the phrase from The Doors - "break on through to the other side". If you don't understand them, feel free to say so.  And thanks again Karen and my dear old friend for leaving comments.  I'm trying to make it a habit to print up my blog entries with the comments included so that I have a handy copy and can refer to it several times over the course of a week.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wanting To Help

Richard is a good friend to me and my brother, but I have not been spending nearly any time with him for months now.   I gave him my heated garage space this year so that he can have a space to do his wood work.  Amongst many other things he is a carpenter.  Recently he made several bookcases and remodeled a room at my brother's house so that my brother Rob can use it as his office space.  Now the work on my brother's house is finished and Richard doesn't often stop by and when he does I don't like to disturb his work time.  Making things is how he unwinds after working as a nurse at the VA hospital.  He sees so much illness and dying each week, he needs to pull into himself and be creative without anyone hassling him.  I understand that from dealing with my own illness.  

The last time I saw Richard, after Thanksgiving, he told me he was taking these pills for some condition he has and that they made him feel ill.  He said that he had to take them for the next 6 months.  When I asked what was wrong with him physically, he wouldn't tell me.  I then asked him to please tell me if he ever did wind up being seriously ill because I would want to be there for him.  Later I thought that that was a silly statement; I should be there for him now before he falls into any serious condition.  Something stops me from getting close to him.  He had an affair for over four years until his lover called it quits.  While I know he had an affair because he was very miserable in his marriage, I still feel as if he may have done the wrong thing.  The affair is over now and he is back with his wife.  He stays with his wife because they have a grown daughter with something similar to Down's Syndrome.  She can't speak and  she isn't toilet trained and so she needs a lot of attention.  He loves his daughter so much and can't see not being around her in the mornings and evenings and on the week-ends.  

A year or two ago Richard had an operation done on one of his shoulders.  He asked me one evening if I would be willing to rub his back.  He was in pain and the massage seemed to really help him to feel better. I asked his why his wife wasn't massaging his back.  He had no easy answer to that.  His wife is not a physically demonstrative person...she's not affectionate and this has deeply bothered Richard from very early in their marriage.  This is why he went looking elsewhere for affection and fun.  I don't think the sex was the main focus for him.  The main  focus was companionship.  And this is what I felt with Richard too, a sense of companionship.  And so I started to rub his back from time to time.  

That lasted only several months; I haven't touched him, except for hugging, for over a year and in that  time his mistress left him and he returned to his wife and now he may have some serious illness.  So, once again, I have to get over my tendency to pull away from people.  I have to reach out to Richard. But I have a dilemma:  Each year at Christmas I give him $500 from my father to help out with his son's expenses.  His son is 20 years old, healthy, bright and "normal".  He's in college right now and it is very expensive.  Our contribution is mere pittance, but it must ease some of the financial pressure of the holiday season.  Well, I was thinking that Sam could use that $500 much more than Richard can use it.  Sam doesn't have running water, might not have enough wood for the winter season, her truck is on its last legs and she can't afford internet access.  Richard has all of that and much more.  Of course, he's also in a lot of debt, but for now he's holding his own.  My dilemma is should I ask Richard if he is willing to give this holiday money to Sam?  My feeling as of now is that I should at least give him the opportunity to be generous to Sam.  I would turn it over to Richard and if he decided to keep the money for himself and his family, I would abide by that.  

I'm thinking of inviting him over for a small meal and a little wine.  I rarely do this with Richard, which is a shame.  My thought is that I may not be able to help him financially, but I can certainly give him some of my time once every week or two.  Be a good friend that way.  My recent experience and success with Sam has given me some confidence that I can extend myself out ever further.  I can be responsible to others.  I can keep my focus for part of every week on my brother, Sam and Richard and their needs.  This makes me think of Tibetan Buddhism where the goal is increase compassionate thought and action towards others thereby reducing the effects of egotism.  It might be a good thing that we're going into the hardest season of the year.  Winter means struggle for most people around here, but where there's struggle there is also the opportunity to help others.  Maybe this winter I will be a lot less isolated than my previous winters.  Maybe this winter I'll take comfort in and give comfort to my friends and family.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Territory

I haven't been writing this past week or so, not even much in my journal.  I've been trying to figure out how to be of best help to Sam.  The brakes on her truck are almost out and she's overdue for an inspection; she also got a ticket for that and she just doesn't have the money.  Main thing, she needs to get to work and back three nights a week.  I realized pretty quickly that I don't use my car a whole lot and so I offered to lend my car to Sam on her work nights.  At first she refused, but then she got the ticket and accepted the use of my car at least for a couple of nights.  I want to help her out for the next three weeks because that's when she has the work, but when the schools here take a break for a month, she'll be out of work till they get back.  So basically, I get the car for half the week and she gets it for the other half.

Yesterday I brought my car in to have its pre-winter check-up and to be winterized.  The mechanic found  damage to my brakes.  It's going to cost a lot of money to repair them, but it has to be done.  I'm not ready to get a new car, though it looks as if that time will come within the next year or two.  I've had my car for ten years now, so I can't complain.  The car is in the shop right now and they'll keep it overnight and finish the work by tomorrow evening.  Thanks to my father I can still fix the car, but Sam doesn't have that safety net.  So she relies on her friends.  I don't know what she's going to do if her truck is not fixable.  She'll have to get another vehicle, but how?  And we're on the brink of going into the winter season.  Sam takes it day by day.  She has to.

I think part of why I'm not writing is because I'm still processing being around Sam more.  I need time to reorient myself, time to readjust.  I'm used to my connection with my brother, but it's going to take me more time with Sam because I don't know her well yet.  I will get there little by little.  So far, it is looking good.  My heart is not so numb anymore.  What a relief!  But I do have to pace myself and slow it down, not jump into the future.  Yes, I can be of some help to Sam and maybe others, but only after I take care of myself.  That's something that gets stressed in Al-Anon support groups.  It can be too easy to fall into a co-dependent pattern.  I've done that already and I don't want to ever go back to supporting an  unhealthy relationship.

Health in relationships is about setting good boundaries which may come to having to say no to someone else sometimes.  Respect, courtesy, being open minded, having a sense of humor all factor into making a relationship balanced.  Or so I think, for I only have partial experience with relationships and not a lot with having a female friend.  I have to watch out for any subtle imbalance.  With Sam, I could feel the pull of wanting to manage and control her life, which I absolutely do not want to do.  I can make a suggestion or an offer, but I cannot direct another human life.  Big lesson.  Be generous, be supportive, but keep hands off.  Give others the dignity to decide for themselves.  And if they fall, be there and welcome them.  I'm learning, but I don't fully trust myself to steer clear of subtle delusional inclinations.  The inclination to see myself as more important than I really am.

I'm in new territory, the territory of extending myself out from home base.  I will make mistakes, but I will catch them and correct them and not let them color my thoughts and actions.  Vigilance.  That's the name of the game for an individual who has survived acute mental illness.  I've said this before, but my trusty tape recorder helps a great deal with vigilance.  So does writing in a journal and in this blog.  There's something about witnessing myself and having others witness me that is extremely beneficial.  Sickness comes from holding all that confusion and negativity inside of you.  It's better to get it out in the open, share it, get feedback.  It's better to see that you are not a freak, to see that mistakes are all about being human and being human is quite okay.  When you name your particular variety of negativity and say it aloud, it loses some of its power to disturb.  And then solutions are given the opportunity to come forward into the space that you've created.

When I offer to be generous to Sam, I am releasing all of my internal stinginess.  I relax.  I tell you, it feels good.  I love the idea of people coming together and helping each other out in a small community. I love trying to set a good example.  My voices have not  been calling me evil for many months now and when I do something  helpful for anyone I can understand why.  I'm not evil.  Just human and so a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone else.  This is another great relief to me because for a time I was battered by the voices telling me over and over that I was evil.  I came close to believing them, but ultimately rejected their assertion.  I set a boundary with them and mostly didn't allow them to cross it, and yet, at the same time, I prayed for them.  If they could heal, then I knew that I could, too.

Lending my car to Sam is such a small thing compared to all the forms of generosity out there, but that small step is helping me to connect more directly to her and her circle of friends.  I feel able to commit now, whereas before I couldn't handle it.  I don't have a life filled to the brim with responsibilities, no husband, children, work and so I  can afford to step up to the plate.