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, 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.
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