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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Holmes Is Not Faking It

I just watched several news clips about the young man, James Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured 58 more in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado this past Thursday.  Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that the newscasters wound up insinuating that Mr. Holmes might be faking being psychotic.  It is a big story after all and they were trying to make it juicier.  They made a big deal of the fact that Mr. Holmes hair was dyed orange and that he made disjointed faces during the first court proceeding.  To my mind, a mind that has been through the intensity and disorientation of insanity, his behavior was normal for someone who has just gone through a peak experience of a psychotic break and is very definitely psychotic in one way or another.  That people should question whether he is presently insane after he went on a killing spree, that to me is insane.  Of course he's extremely ill.  And it is not unusual that the before picture of him as a very bright and motivated person should quickly turn into the after picture of him as someone in the grips of psychotic delusions.  On some level he might have seen it coming as I did and, as I did, he probably stayed stuck in denial until his first break with reality.  

When that first break hits, it is externally subtle, but internally dramatic.  There is so much going on inside oneself, a total mixing of fantasy and fact.  It is extremely unfortunate for James Holmes that his deluded fixations latched onto the fictional characters of Batman and The Joker.  It is quite possible that he at first identified with Batman as a hero character, a defender of the innocent, and then swung in the opposite direction as his illness progressed to see himself as the villan.  This is fairly typical of schizophrenia and related illnesses.  Several months into my psychotic transformation I swung from the temptation of being a holy person to being the Antichrist and finally to being a sort of combination of the two.  Lucky for me I didn't stay in the Antichrist role, but leaned more heavily towards the Jesus role, which led me back to the study of Buddhism.

My fixation was not a fictional character, but a real famous person, who, in my mind, transformed into a serial killer.  The pain of this was that I was mentally joined to this delusion.  Before I became psychotic, I had been abused by my boyfriend, but after I became psychotic, my abuser lived inside of my mind.  I had to train myself to cultivate compassion for that sick side while at the same time separating my core self as best I could.  My therapist, who I started seeing less than 6 months after my first psychotic break, taught me and guided me to value the good within me.  How important was that? Important enough to let me survive two more breaks and the ensuing suicidal depression of my very, very early recovery.  It led me towards recovery.  It led me to counter the poor self esteem of my young adulthood and the eventual self hating residue of having lived through an abusive relationship.  

Most people wouldn't want to say that they identify with a mass murderer, but I do.  I identify with his illness and yes, I feel a lot of sympathy for my fellow man, who has, through this illness, condemned himself for the rest of his life.  Somewhere along the line, he didn't get the help that I reached out for early on and, at least partially, took.  Most likely he was left alone with his heroes and demons.  But really with a story like Batman and The Joker the line between hero and villan is pretty damn slim.  Both are manipulative, violent and disguised.  Why this obsession with action heroes and villans?  Why is there this almost innocent glorification of violence?  Good guys/bad guys really devolve into a sick bunch of characters each of whom utilize and perfect violence as a means to an end.  But the end doesn't come; it just keeps bouncing back and forth.  There's always another sequel.

Even children know that there is so much more to life than black and white thinking.  At their best they can easily sniff out hypocrisy.  A lot of heroes are hypocrites.  They say one thing and do another.  They make exceptions for themselves especially in the area of the tit for tat cycle of abuse and violence.  This tit for tat mentality can be seen in love relationships, friendships, in our schools, in the work environment, in our government and in our entertainment.  Slights, power plays, competition and brewing resentments that just keep getting fed.  Many of us in a hostile situation want the last word.  And the last word invariably goes -- me = good and you = bad.  Is it true?  Hell no.  All of us are a composite of all the dualities: good/bad, positive/negative, strong/weak, honorable/dishonorable, etcetera, etcetera.  All of us have done things that we are proud of and things that we are ashamed of.  That's a big part of being human; it's in the flux between polarities and in our self consciousness.

In our essence we are not either good or bad, but for at least this lifetime, we are forever working through our own ambivalence, sometimes feeling/thinking/being "good" and sometimes feeling/thinking/being "bad".  Maybe that's why so many people invest a lot in their personas as a form of denial and defense.  Mr. Holmes took that as a basis to build his elaborate delusions which has put him at the outer limits, beyond an understanding of reality.  Of course some filters in because it has to or he wouldn't be able to function, but the big picture is obscured by the delusional one.

So I say, James Holmes is not faking being seriously ill.  People who kill other people are not faking it, just as people who commit suicide are not faking it.  I believe violence is a form of mental illness, but in our culture it is almost taboo to say so because so many people justify it as a right.  The right to bear arms for private individuals, for the police force and for the military translates into men, women and children becoming the victims of that right.  We can't have it both ways with some violence good and necessary and other violence bad and tragic, but that's what we do over and over again.  Instead of suppressing violence, we lift it up and even make it mainstream entertainment in films and television.  We give a deeply mixed message first to children and then to young adults, particularly young men.  When tragedy does occur, as in this case with people being seriously injured and killed, we respond with surprise.  What's surprising is that we turn a blind eye to all the violence that goes on in our country each and every day and to all the violence in action/adventure flicks that we're practically spoon feeding to children and young adults.  Bottom line, guns and entertainment of this sort are BIG business and there's a lot of clout in trying to protect these businesses.

The urge of the media in insinuating that Mr. Holmes is faking being psychotic is the age old desire to find a scapegoat for the serious societal problems of mental illness and violence.  Every time an insane young man goes on a shooting spree in this country, and this seems to be more prevalent in the last decade, it offers a window of opportunity for change.  Community action, mental health services and gun control need to become top priority.  If that doesn't happen, don't be surprised if yet another mentally ill person repeats the same pattern that James Holmes got pulled into.  The problem won't just go away.  Scapegoats can take the blame temporarily, but in the long run we all have to take on our own share of it.  We can point fingers all we want, but what we really should be doing is examining ourselves.  Real change can only happen individual by individual.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Grassroots Festival 2012

I got back from the Grassroots Music Festival yesterday afternoon after going for three days with my brother.  I took these photos on Saturday in the late afternoon when the weather was good because it hadn't been good the first day and part of the second day.  I took a bunch of photographs, most of which did not come out, but I thought these were pretty good and could give a feel for the festival and some of the types of people there.  I especially loved watching and photographing the children, most of whom were at a gleeful high energy stage at that time of the day, running around, playing frisbee and soccer and tag.

Rob and I have been going to this festival every summer for many years.  This year's festival was good, but not great.  No real headliners, some bad weather yet still enjoyable.  The festival has gotten progressively larger over the years while the music has gotten less challenging.  There's been some infusion of traditional and pop country that doesn't stir me up.  In past years we've gotten to see some great performances by Los Lobos, Lucinda Williams, The Avett Brothers, Eilen Jewell and several excellent African and Latin bands.  My brother is a music junky and a master at making up original music mixes of his favorite artists and he relies on going to this festival each year to get his dose of live music.  Truth is we don't get to see a lot of live music around here in part because I'm not too keen on driving at night time.  There is some live music at the local bars and the main coffee house mainly during the school season.  Rob stays in touch with the rest of the world by buying CDs that have come out recently and staying in touch with a Facebook group of a radio station called The Loft on satellite radio, one of the few DJ controlled, free form radio station out there.

Except for getting anxious as we headed out to the festival, which is about an hour and forty minutes away, I was mostly relaxed.  I even talked with a few people for a little bit, which is something I wouldn't have been able to do comfortably several years ago.  I enjoyed being outside, listening to music, eating some good food from the vendors and watching the continual parade of people of all ages (though mostly caucasian and middle class).  I also love my brother very much and enjoy his company. He is really mensa bright and knowledgeable and has a good sense of humor too.  We get along.  I'm very grateful to have him in my life; he's provided me with comfort and refuge when I've needed it.

So I've successfully gotten through the festival and am now in the process of preparing for my elderly parents' visit in five days.  Because they live so far away and also because I have seven cats to take care of, I only see them twice a year for about eight days each time.  That means that the time I do spend with them has to be quality time.  I love that they are still alive and in relatively good health.  They are good people, smart, sensitive, caring and very generous.  They taught my brother and me to be good people, too.  I know I need to prepare for the day when they won't be here, but for now I'll just stay grateful and attentive.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summertime Gratitude

I'm sitting at my dining room table with my now wireless laptop enjoying the breeze created by my three fans.  We finally got some rain today after having drought conditions for a while.  My friend Sam stayed over last night; we had our first drinking night together in several months.  We drank her favorite -- rum with cranberry juice and ice and we both got moderately drunk.  It was an excellent night.  We talked, listened to music, did a little musical jamming, me on her sweet acoustic guitar and her on her electric bass, and watched a movie by the director Mel Brooks called "Young Frankenstein" that came out in 1974 in black and white, a very funny movie.  Earlier that day I did a lot of house cleaning and cooked up some red beans and rice with chicken for our dinner.  I felt proud of myself and content with her.  Several years ago I wouldn't have been able to pull if off, but yesterday it was a piece of cake.  And so I feel as if I am really moving in the right direction in my life with my recovery.

It's taken a while to come to this place, a place that many people come to naturally, but I have to say that it's been worth the wait.  Now I have friends whereas before I really just had my brother.  I'm finding that having friends makes all the difference.  Sam in particular is a great friend because I can see her face to face and I get to hug her and talk to her directly.  She's gotten me to get outside for short walks and to sit in nature's glory especially at her place which has some lovely property complete with a large pond and a full food garden and a campfire spot.  She's said to me that ever since she was little she's felt more comfortable outside than inside.  But then she grew up out here in the beautiful countryside, whereas I was mostly in the City, except for my summer's at my parents' beach house on Long Island.  I think my summer's were particularly pleasant precisely because I lived in the City.  I had the best of both worlds back then.  Now I'm a confirmed country dweller and have been for over 20 years.  I'm used to looking out my window at the wildlife and greenery and flowers.  I'm used to the slow pace, the privacy and the beauty.  I feel very fortunate.

The last couple of months I put myself back on a diet and plan to continue with it as a lifestyle change in order to get back to a more normal weight.  Really my self-consciousness at being obese has stopped me from returning to NYC to visit with my old friends.  My therapist says that shouldn't stop me, but it does.  I don't mind that much my somewhat sagging neck and my gray hairs.  I have come to accept that I've made it past the middle age mark, but the weight I can't seem to accept.  As it stands I plan on seeing my friends next summer.  Lately I've been getting some new clothes to fit me for now.  They are comfortable and attractive and not very expensive either.  This is a big change for me.  Normally, I live in sweatpants and t-shirts.  I really didn't think it was possible to look good again, but then I didn't try very hard either.  Now because of the clothes and my improved ability to take care of my home and having some friends, I feel a part of the human race again.  It's a great feeling.

A really pleasant surprise happend to me a couple of days ago:  I got an email from my old friend Colette, a very warm and supportive email.  Turns out she's been busy, but right now she is vacationing with her family and she had enough time to write to me.  When I contacted her, she was just about to do her oral presentation to get her doctorate degree, well, she only just got confirmation that she passed her tests and she is now officially has her Phd.  I respect her for going so far in her education.  She's a real success story.  It means so much to me that she decided to get in touch with me.  I was afraid that I would never hear from her again, though I was planning on sending her an audio tape of me talking to her in the Fall, but now maybe I can do that for her (if she has a tape player) earlier.  I've successfully sent tapes to my two other old friends, Rita and Amy and gotten a few tapes from them as well.  Emails are great too, but to hear an old friend's voice and inflections is even better.  Plus now I have years of practice doing it for just myself.

I'm back to wanting to start a support group in my town.  I've been wanting to do this for about five years, made a couple of tentative approaches, but never pulled it off.  I wasn't quite ready to try to do this on my own, but maybe, just maybe, I can do this by the end of the summer.  I wrote a Support Group Proposal to give to my therapist and my psychiatrist, which I did last week.  I asked them if they'd be willing to back me up by letting me include their contact information on the proposal that I plan to give to the county clerk's office in town.  My therapist is willing, but my psychiatrist would prefer that I work with the counseling center in a nearby town.  He worries that some people in the acute stages of mental illness might act out and cause me a lot of grief, so he wants there to be more support.  I suggested asking to have the meeting at the court house which is right above the police station, that way I could call for help if I needed it.  My psychiatrist seemed to approve of that idea.  Honestly I think most people who choose to go to a support group meeting do not act out, but it is good to prepare for the possibility.

It still amazes me that there are no mental health support groups in this  county.  My psychiatrist hesitation appears to be part of the reason why:  the people in the local communities around here don't trust that mentally ill people getting together will behave properly.  Most of that is I think due to ignorance and some stigma, though there is always an element of truth there too.  It's hard to know where people are at in their illness or in the various stages of recovery from serious mental illnesses.  I've never been a group facilitator before, but I'm sure I can learn.  I just wish there was a good daily reader for mental health groups.  When I went to Al-Anon they had excellent readers which I relied on when I was in the acute stage of my illness; it wasn't quite appropriate, but it was better than nothing.  Having a daily reader gives a good focus to a group, a basis to start a discussion and to share personal experiences and offer support.  But before I can get to the stage of getting a group going, I have to convince the townspeople of the need for a local group.  This will take courage and persistence on my part and a willingness to share my story, to become more visible in my community.

Mostly I've kept a very low profile, though early on in my illness I did tell my brother, who is sometimes a bit of a barfly socializing with students and the locals, that he could tell people about me and my diagnosis.  I didn't want him, or myself for that matter, to be ashamed of my illness and I wanted my neighbors to know why I have been so reclusive all these years.  Also, for the most part, I have not acted out publicly or gotten in trouble with the police.  Basically, I pay my taxes, shop at some of the local stores and businesses and keep to myself and that seems good enough for most people around here.  Also people know my brother, who is a great talker, and that helps as well.

So, so far, this has been one of the better summers I've had around here.  Even the hot weather hasn't been bothering me much.  My brother and I go off to a 4 day music festival this Thursday and then 5 days after that my parents, who are both now in their mid 80s, will arrive and visit for 8 days.  I am really looking forward to giving them the iPad and teaching them how to use it.  Even my friend Richard has been helping me out by doing some small, but necessary, jobs around my house and then staying to have a glass or two of Sangria with me.  Before Sam left today, we both agreed that in a world where so many things could go wrong for everyone every day, that, for the most part, things work out.  Of course, there are low points in everyone's lives, but if you can endure through them, you can see that there is light at the end of the tunnel and then move out into it.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bringing My Parents Into The 21st Century

My brother and I just bought an Apple iPad2 with WiFi and 3G cellular service for my parents using some money we got as a refund for years of overcharging from our health insurance company.  Their Apple desktop computer crashed last winter and was just barely fixed for minimal use, but my father didn't want to spend the money to buy a new one and so I pretty much decided to get an iPad for him and my mother even before we got our checks.  I had it sent to me so that I could set it up for them and give it to them when they come for an 8 day visit at the end of July.  I will spend a little time each day with them teaching them how to use it.

But first I have to teach myself.  The device is very user friendly but still there are a lot of programs on it and more that I downloaded in the App store.  Most of the apps I've gotten are free, but I did pay for a wordprocessing app called Pages so that my mother can continue with her writing.  I also purchased a wireless keyboard to temporarily replace the on screen keyboard because it will make it more comfortable to use the wordprocessing program.  In effect, I'm attempting to turn the iPad2 with an external keyboard into a less expensive alternative to an Apple laptop.  Because my mother is an amateur writer (she's written book reviews for her retirement community's paper amongst other small achievements), I want to make it as easy for her to use this great device as possible.  For her pleasure, I've also added The New York Times crossword puzzles (because she loves doing crosswords) and a solitaire game.  I'm hoping this will stimulate her curiosity and get her hooked.

My father, who is a news hound, will be able to watch tons of videos which is something his old computer does not have the capacity to do.  My brother and I are also getting him a 6 month subscription to the New York Times.  My father is addicted to the New York Times.  When I was growing up every morning he would be reading it and he never stopped, only now, in order to save money, he reads it in their retirement community's library, though he still buys the Sunday paper.  Soon, with a digital subscription, he'll be able to read the entire paper and in addition to that have access to slide shows and videos.  So far I've downloaded several news apps including NPR (National Public Radio) and BBC news.

I got the iPad2 with 3G capability mainly because my parents don't have WiFi set up in their apartment, though there are WiFi hotspots in several places in their retirement community and others in the local libraries, Starbucks and several shopping centers and cafes.  3G allows them access to the internet via cell phone technology.  I chose Verizon because they have a Verizon cell phone and I've heard that AT&T is not as good. Supposedly 3G is not as clear a signal and it's more expensive to use.  You pay a monthly fee for 1 GB to 5GB storage space.  I'm not sure what that means, but when I've used the 3G I notice that it uses up the 1 GB I bought for the month pretty quickly.  I think instead of paying more for more space from them, my parents should upgrade to WiFi in their apartment, but I'll have to talk my father into that.

I just upgraded to wireless in my home for an extra 7 dollars a month.  Finally I am using my Apple laptop as it was intended to be used, that is, wherever I feel like sitting in my house.  Before this it was tethered to the modem.  So today, I am writing from my dining room table instead from my downstairs bedroom.  This is more comfortable for me as I spend most of my time in the living room/dining room area.  So, officially, this is the first blog I've written on my laptop wirelessly.  I will not only be bringing my parents into the 21st century, but myself as well.  So, for the last couple of weeks I've been immersed in studying both the iPad2 and my MacBook Pro.  Generally speaking, I am rather computer illiterate, but now maybe there will be a switch into really studying the new technology and learning it.

My mother said to me this week on the phone that the iPad sounded like something out of science fiction.  I have thought that many times before about all kinds of technology in the last twenty years or so.  I'm really taken with the iPad, so much so that I would love to have one for myself.  It's so portable.    Compared to a desktop or laptop computer, it is stripped down to more of the essentials, but that just makes it simpler to use, especially for people who are not doing elaborate computer art or photography or music, who either don't have the time to learn a full computer or don't have the inclination.  The iPad, or any tablet, is good for children and seniors because of this.  I think it will take the place of the laptop for many people in the near future.  I just read somewhere that Apple is going to be putting out a smaller version of the iPad, maybe to compete with the Kindle Fire.  The Kindle Fire costs about $200 and has many of the features of a tablet.  The goal I guess is to get everyone in the whole world to own at least one computer device, preferably multiple devices.  If they can make it cheap enough and efficient enough, I think they can make that close to the reality.  When that happens, it will be only the most rugged individuals who remain unconnected.

My friend Sam has a laptop to write with, but no internet service.  It's too expensive right now.  But I bet that even she, who is a rugged individual (she lives without running water), will find a way to get one of these cool gadgets.  If I had a little more money, I would get her something.  One of the features of Apple computers and devices is that you can video conference with an app called Facetime between Mac computers.  The app comes already installed on the iPad2 and I paid a dollar to have it installed on my laptop.  One thing, you have to have WiFi to use it.  Anyway, I'm going to test it out with my parents when they get here and I'd love someday to do the same with Jude, if she gets an iPad.  I know Skype has been out for a while, but I've never used it.  So a video conference with my folks will be a new experience.  It makes me think of the Stanley Kubrick film, "2001: A Space Odyssey" which was made in the late 1960s.  In one scene a main character is in a space station calling home to earth and he talks with his young daughter via a video conference.  We're not hanging out in space yet, but you never know what could be in store for the future of this world, if we get that lucky.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Supreme Court Decision, 5-4 In Favor Of Universal Healthcare

Thursday June 28th 2012 was a historic day because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of The Affordable Care Act or "Obamacare" in a 5-4 decision with the more conservative justice, John Roberts, acting as the swing vote.  Thank you Justice Roberts!  What this will translate into is that at least 30 million uninsured people will now have access to health insurance coverage in 2014.  30 Million!!  For my brother and me this means that our health insurance costs will drop dramatically because our income level is very low.  Right now we're paying over half of our income each year on health care coverage and we need that coverage because my brother has diabetes and I suffer from schizophrenia and we need our medications each month.  So far we have been able to pay a great deal to be covered, but in the long run without Universal Healthcare we might not have been able to afford to do that and pay for daily expenses and taxes.  So this decision was a very important one for us.  And so, too, is it so important for the now uninsured.  If people have access to health insurance, it means that they will have access to preventative medicine, which hopefully will translate into a reduced need for emergency care.  As it stands, emergency rooms across the country are overburdened with uninsured people and emergency care is expensive.

Universal health care will require those who can afford health insurance to get it regardless of whether they are sick or not.  If we didn't have this requirement we couldn't afford to have Universal health care.  Those that can, will be required to help those that can't.  In my mind, this is a matter of human decency, but many of those who will be required to pay into the system deeply resent it.  I talked briefly with my friend Richard about the Supreme Court's decision.  He doesn't admit to being affiliated with either party, but many of his attitudes are distinctly Republican.  His stance is he doesn't want to have to pay for some welfare mothers who choose to have 4 or 5 children to have healthcare for themselves and their large families.  In his view, they have acted irresponsibly and, in effect, should be punished for that.  In my view, the children especially are blameless and should be covered, but then I also believe that ALL people in this country should have access to healthcare regardless of their life choices.  It should be a right and not a privilege as it is in most industrialized modern countries in the world.  It's shameful how we have lagged behind them, which is why this Supreme Court decision has made me proud to be American.  That Justice Roberts could cross the divide and vote in opposition to the other conservative justices is what this country is all about, checks and balances.  As it stands if things go too far left, the right will enter into the picture and pull things back to the middle and if things go too far right, the left will do the same.  It's the moderate position that allows for differing viewpoints, but in the long run serves the majority of American citizens, that creates a balanced view of justice.

I also talked briefly with my friend Sam about the healthcare decision.  She is definitely poor and just recently, at age 59, applied for Medicaid.  Her response was cautious.  She was afraid that she might be required to pay for health insurance if her Medicaid application gets rejected.  She was also saying that there has to be an infrastructure to switch from the old system to the new system and if that isn't in place by 2014, people such as herself could suffer.  I told her that I believe that her income is low enough that she wouldn't be one of the ones required to pay very much.  As to the infrastructure, I believe that since the Obama administration's health care bill was passed that there has been a move in the states towards building an infrastructure for the change over to occur.  And now there is the full go ahead for the next year and a half and I'm hopeful that a lot can be done in that time to allow for a successful crossover.  Still, I thought Sam's response was interesting because that is what a lot of people are probably asking right now--how much will we who can afford healthcare be required to pay each year?  I can't answer that question because there is such a wide range of incomes in this country, but I know it will mean that the wealthy will have to pay their fair share whether they like it or not.  One thing Sam did say and that was that she didn't feel sorry for "those poor, poor rich people" and, honestly, neither do I.

The strange thing to me is that it's not just many rich Republicans who are vehemently against this health care law, but many poor, rural Republicans, too.  They don't like our present president, some for the bogus reason that he is an African American, and others because they don't like big government overseeing their lives.  I guess some of them have that old fashioned self-reliant frontiersman attitude and look with horror at taking public assistance.  I know Sam has some of that spirit in herself and will only take so much and only because she absolutely has to.  There was a time during the Great Depression of the 1930s that to be poor and to ask for help from the country was not a shameful thing, but now it appears that it's back to having a kind of shameful attitude about the needy, even coming from the needy themselves.  Maybe that will change when universal healthcare coverage goes into effect in 2014.

I know from having a serious mental illness that it is quite important to reach out for help when you need it and not try to deal with it all alone, but, I, too resisted.  Maybe it's human nature to try and cope alone and not be a burden to others.  If it hadn't been for my voices nearly forcing me to get individual therapy and go to what support groups were available in the area, forcing me to check myself into a local hospital over night in order to get a diagnoses by a psychiatrist and access to (incredibly expensive!) medication, I don't know if I would have survived the acute stage of this illness.  In addition to that, my family totally supported me financially so that I had a home and money to pay my monthly bills and taxes, which is something that most people don't get from their families to the point where mentally ill family members become homeless (and often dually addicted to boot) and without access to the medications that some of them really need.

The healthcare system that we have right now is not adequate and so health care reform is a necessity.  Let's see how successful this new system is in the early years from 2014 onward.  If it is not successful, it might be the right's turn to offer an alternative.  In any case, something must be done and will be done thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling.