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.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Quiet Christmas Eve

Nothing festive this year.  No lights, no decorations, just a fake tree with nothing on it.  My parents are gone, my uncle lives in Chicago and my brother I will see tomorrow for a not very Christmasy meal of Chinese food at a Chinese restaurant in a nearby town.  We will probably exchange presents at my brother's house and then I will head home for another quiet night.  Tonight I will wrap presents for my brother and make up a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  The days of childhood and youth are long gone when Christmas had a special meaning, not anything religious, but just a time to come together as a family and eat a good home made meal.

I feel very different from my former selves.  One of the main changes in the last few years is that now I really do live in the present moment and there's a lot of peace in that kind of living.  My life is mostly solitary and yet I like my company.  I live simply without a lot of stress.  Depression and discontent do come but they are not the foundations of my life.  If anything they help to point out what I need to work on.  I used to rely on fantasy in my imagination and through films, books and music.  No more.  I still watch films, but more often than not it will be a documentary.  I still read books, but more often than not it will be nonfiction.  I still listen to music, but now it is so I can stretch and do some dance moves.  And then there are the songs that I create and sing for myself.  They are an emotional outlet for me.

My friend Sam said to me a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned that I had been working on some songs that what I needed was a band.  At first I dismissed the idea, but then it returned to me and I began thinking about it.  I asked the I Ching a few questions about it and the response was that it was a very good idea, but that I wasn't ready yet and had to prepare and practice first and just think about it.  So I've been thinking about it the last couple of days.  I live in a college town, so there are musicians around here.  Reaching out to any of them would be a big deal for me.  I really believe in the last 25 years that I have written some good songs and that my voice, with some practice, could be good enough if I had the courage to sing in front of people.  That's a big if for a reclusive person.

I most definitely am a singer/songwriter, but I am not much of a musician and that's why, if I chose to  embrace performing, I would need a band.  To be around a guitarist would be such a blessing to me.  I have spent very little time around any skilled musician, which is probably why I don't play well.  I think dedicated musicians are brilliant and inspiring.  In choosing to remain isolated I have cut myself off from experiencing and learning from musicians.  I have cut myself off from so much.  And I think I'm afraid of the intimacy of working with others and yet I also think that is just what I need.  I feel very humble but I can't let that form into insecurity, the kind of insecurity that would block me from reaching out.  I have to realize that I do have something to offer musicians both in my songs and in my voice and in myself.

So I'm working on committing to practicing my songs.  I realized quickly that I needed two things - a small tascam digital recorder to record my new song ideas and a much better amplifier.  I already have a digital recorder that I use as my audio journal but the sound quality is not good enough.  The reason I need the tascam recorder is that I make up my lyrics while playing chords on the guitar, but often I don't record my ideas on my portastudio and then I will sometimes take the lyrics and put different chords to them in effect making a different song.  So I lose a lot in the process because I forget what I came up with in the first place.  As for the amplifier, the one I have is just a $50 amp and it puts out poor sound quality, plus I have a cheap dynamic microphone and that just makes it worse.

I've ordered a $299 Fender amplifier, neither super cheap nor very expensive, good enough for my music room or maybe a coffee house (if I get that far).  I need to hear myself and I think this amp will do the trick for me and help me to train my voice better.  Sometimes I get loud, but then I'm plugged into my portastudio with the headphones on and that's a very different experience, maybe a little too safe and insular.  I need to not be afraid to get loud and I also need to learn about the dynamics of singing through a microphone and amplifier.

I've got the whole Winter to work on this and I'm grateful for this project.  It comes at a good time for me because I've been wandering aimlessly since I came out of the Jesus delusion.  Will I have the courage to go looking for local musicians in the Spring?  I just don't know yet.  But strengthening my skills is not a waste of time.  I knew years ago in my 30s that I felt a deep connection to singing and songwriting.  Back then I performed for myself and it felt strong and right, even though I was still sick from having been in an abusive/love addicted relationship.  When I went into acute psychosis I lost the ability to sing and write songs and that was hard, but I didn't give up.  I returned to singing and songwriting about ten years ago.

I've only got as far as posting some of my songs on the internet, but never have I worked with others as a songwriter/singer.  I have a strong feeling that I will have to collaborate if I do find a few musicians willing to work with me.  I don't know about song structure, about adding instruments, about basic recording techniques, about setting up mics or about performing.  I don't know a lot.  And except for a couple of times with my ex boyfriend, I have not sung with others and know little about harmonizing.  But maybe I'll be lucky enough to connect with someone who not only plays, but sings.  That would be truly great.

Working with others, that's still a tough thing for me.  I know me and I know that I would be very open about my life and my life experiences with those I might work with.  I am 54 years old and I still suffer from mental illness, but I do have some talent and I have been stable for a couple of years now.  And once committed to a group I believe I have the capacity to work hard and give it a chance. So 2017 is just around the corner.  Maybe this year I will connect with others who share my interest in making music.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Prayer On The Wind

Prayer On The Wind

You are in the shadows,
You are hard to see,
Pulled away from the sunlight
By the shade of the trees.

The wind today is strong,
It rustles the leaves.
You are in a corner
Fallen to your knees.

Send a prayer out on the wind.
Let it circulate the world
And return to you again
Changed by the pattern of souls
That it touched
As you grew older.

Don't let the sorrow and the pain
Control how you move in the world.
The sunlight is for everyone.
The sunlight is for everyone.

There is no problem
Too great that cannot be solved.
Patience and work will bolster your resolve
To work all this through
To work all this through.

Send a prayer out on the wind.
Let it circulate the world
And return to you again
Changed by the pattern of souls
That it touched
As you grow older.

I just wrote these lyrics for the man in my mind who is suffering.  His suffering is symbolic to me of all the many men who are suffering now, having been abused and having turned towards abuse but who are hurting because of it all.  I think many men in our culture take on the role of everything being just okay, no problems, when inside they are feeling some despair.  This becomes the standard pattern of living a dual life of outer and inner.  I have the honor of witnessing some of the inner world of this man.  I want him to know that he is not alone.  The sunlight is for everyone, but it requires stepping out of the shadows.  It requires having some faith in the goodness of self and the goodness of others.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Spiritual Practice Inside And Out

Winter begins early around here, usually around Thanksgiving.  We've gotten a lot of snow and temperatures have been low and I've been inside my house for over three days.  I managed to detach from the Jesus delusion.  It's been a particularly stubborn delusion and whenever I come out of it I dip into some depression.  I've heard this is a typical reaction for people who suffer from psychotic disorders which makes sense.  You go up too high and then you swing down low once you realize that your position is really (and always has been) humble.  But truly humble is a good place to be because that is the reality for all of us here on earth.  It's so easy to lose sight of the fact that we are merely animals on one of many habitable planets.  Especially hard for those of us who either swing towards delusions of grandeur or who are in positions of power over other human animals.

So Winter is here and I'm moving inward and staying home more often.  It's a time of greater reflection.  On some levels I'm quite content.  I have food, shelter, heat, water, cats for company, a functioning car, a healthy spine and the ability to move, my five senses and a lot more.  I feel blessed.  And the discomfort I feel off and on throughout the day is a blessing, too.  It spurs me to seek out the truth, especially about myself.  Discomfort in necessary for spiritual development.  There would be no reason to change for the better without it.

Lately I've been realizing that I don't know what a truly healthy way of living would be.  I have done a lot of studying about mental illness (and I include the study of addiction in this), but not a lot of study about definitions of health.  I do have some sense of it.  Learning new ways to reduce stress in life is very important.  Stress is a big factor in mental illness.  It seems as if we are guided in this culture to take on more and more responsibilities - serious relationships, children, education (and debts), career, owning a home, etc....  It is mind boggling to me what people choose to do with their lives before they've even dealt with and resolved the issues generated from their childhood and youth with their families and communities.

There is a trend happening here with people choosing to be single, choosing to spend more time with themselves and not tangled up in relationships.  I think this is a good thing because it guides individuals towards self reflection and taking care of themselves.  They keep the focus on themselves instead of on codependency with others.  This is especially important with those of us who suffer from addictions.  The solutions to our problems are not out there somewhere, but inside of us.  Connections to others, healthy friends, healthy support groups, therapists and counselors, supportive family members are all very important, but the first step starts inside.  Individuals facing themselves nakedly and honestly.

Too many people who are very involved in codependent relationships with each other and their children are very afraid to be alone.  They don't believe that they can find happiness within themselves.  They are always looking outside of themselves to family, friends, lovers, work and their children.  It's clear to me that that approach does not work and leaves our personal unhappiness intact.    What's needed is privacy, a room of one's own, a pad and pen or a computer and word processing program.  There are two questions to ask:  What's right in my life?  What's wrong in my life?  It's important to start with what's right and if you really look at it there is a lot right in you and around you, but you have to focus on it and value it.  We tend to overlook the obvious such as our ability to breath and move, to feel and think, to have food, water and shelter.  All these things put us in a very precious position.  It is a position of freedom, the freedom to grow emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Make a practice of not overlooking the obvious.  Don't take your life and your abilities for granted.  When you value all the elements of your life from good health to a good cup of coffee or tea to a good night's sleep, you change your viewpoint from a sense of deprivation to a sense of abundance.  Placing value on your experiences is a practice of gratitude regardless of whether you believe in some kind of Higher Power or not.  Once you have established this spiritual practice, you can then go to work on the question - What's wrong with my life?  After you've written a gratitude list, make a grievance list.  Once you've got the list, take each item separately on a new page and dig deeper.  Ask questions such as, when have I felt like this before?  You will find that many of your grievances stem back to childhood and adolescence.

We all get to the point where our youth ends and adulthood begins, no matter how hard you resist it.  When this happens our memories of childhood and youth submerge into our unconscious or subconscious.  We forget our beginnings and that is where we begin to go astray.  Unresolved relationships with family and friends still get played out in present day relationships.  The cycle of illness continues without any conscious choice.  Self awareness is the only thing that will begin to get us to detach from our patterns.  Sitting down with yourself in a room of your own, in privacy, and making simple lists is how to regain awareness of where you started and what happened and where you are now.  No matter how disjointed life can seem, life is continuous.  There is a logic to how you got to this place in time and inside the logic there is a lot of personal meaning.

Discovering meaning in your life through becoming aware of the patterns in your life is very satisfying.  That's the hook into health.  But again, it requires the daily practice of you facing yourself and getting honest.  The problems you face now are being faced by countless other people who have lived inside dysfunctional families and have encountered and been ensnared by addictions of all sorts.  You are not alone.  Help is more available now than it was in the past with computers, therapy and self help groups.  The telephone alone is a godsend.  Reaching out is a key to health, but so is reaching inward and doing the work every day.  Both practices, reaching inward and reaching outward, are spiritual practices, the spiritual practice and necessity of taking care of ourselves.