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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Portrait Of My Father


Here's a portrait I just did of my father in gouache taken from a photograph I took recently of him. I might turn these portraits of my parents into acrylic on canvas paintings. I'm not sure because I have a lot of photographs to work from now.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Portrait Of My Mother


I shot the photo for this gouache painting on Christmas. She's wearing a t-shirt that I gave her as a present that has one of my portraits on it. It's hard to believe that she is 81 years old.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christina And A Slightly Revised Aaron



Christina is Aaron's older sister. These two paintings will go to their mother. I really enjoyed working in acrylics as opposed to mostly painting portraits in gouache. I think I can expand into it now. I did a lot of fiddling with the colors, trying to follow the photographs as closely as I could, but varying a color choice here and there. It feels good to be painting. I love painting for people and their families.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Aaron



I just painted this portrait of my friend Richard's son Aaron. I'd like to give it as a present to Richard's wife/Aaron's mom who dotes on her son. I painted in acrylics on a 10" x 10" canvas using some new brushes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Working It Through

I've been a bit too preoccupied with my 1990s songs lately. Soundclick keeps statistics of who views my profile page and which songs are played and how many times, etc... I've been getting a little bit obsessive about it and I wind up feeling sick. Though I like the songs, the fact is that they were made over a decade ago and while I have the lyrics and can still sing the songs, many of them I can't play on my guitar. So I feel as if I'm misrepresenting myself and what I really want to do is make up new songs, songs that go into my experience of mental illness. I have been working on a few songs, but I haven't gotten very far yet because I'm not set up to record. I'll get there. I basically feel better making up songs than I do in listening back to them, so it's the process I like over the product.

Posting the songs and looking for feedback is still an ego orientation, so while I think I will upload a few more of my songs, I'm going to take a few steps back from it. Also, there are so many really talented people out there promoting themselves. On the one hand, I'm promoting myself, but on the other hand, I'm humbled by the sheer immensity of people making music and putting it on the web. Making music is a good thing; promoting myself is premature. I am not a musician, just a singer/songwriter and I have no business sense. What I should focus on is creating just one song at a time, instead of thinking that I have to make a whole album's worth before I can put the songs out there for feedback. I re-found a site I joined a couple of years ago for songwriters; it's called Muse's Muse. I have briefly reviewed some other people's songs, but I want to do more of that. That's the rule there, you have to review 2-4 songs by other people before you can get one of your own songs reviewed. I think that's fair.

What makes me feel better than promoting these old songs is sticking to a Buddhist practice of meditation and dharma study. I found a couple of Buddhist communities online, but this past week I haven't been posting. I've been being very upfront about the fact that I suffer from schizophrenia. Some people respond positively to that, some ignore it and others get uncomfortable. My aim is not to make people uncomfortable, but to fight the stigma attached to mental illnesses and to encourage others to be upfront about their struggles. Still, sometimes I think I overdo it and yet I feel more comfortable being open than hiding something that has affected my life so drastically.

I want to return to painting because I've been working only sporadically. Painting is meditation and therapy. I tend to feel more emotionally balanced when I'm working on a painting or drawing project. Someone who owns a design studio bought two of my abstract paintings on my Artid site. He said he wanted to hire me to do some more work and suggested we talk by phone. I told him that though I felt somewhat uncomfortable using the phone, that he was probably right and said I'd be available this past weekend, but he never called. So I'm feeling insecure. That shouldn't stop me from beginning a painting project of my own.

I also want to return to reaching out to people on the internet. I have made a SharePost on SchizophreniaConnection and responded to another's SharePost. I would like to get back to working on LiveJournal. There are a lot of groups about mental illness/health and maybe I can do some good. I've befriended a young woman who suffers from schizoaffective disorder and we've been emailing each other, which has been a pleasure. She's so bright and also an artist. In fact, I've come across quite a few people online who suffer from mental illness who are both bright and artistic.

I have been feeling bouts of anxiety and I've been trying to breath into the discomfort the way the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron has instructed in her books and audio recordings. The thing is not to act out or repress, but to sit with the feeling and get to know it. That's true for meditation in general and it is not easy to do. When I try to meditate often I get either restless or I get a back ache or I get sleepy. But I did get a beginner yoga DVD and I've been following that and that really helps to relax me, but it doesn't put me to sleep.

Well, that's all for now. I hope you have all been doing well and staying safe.




Friday, November 13, 2009

My Songs On The Internet

I just added a widget from a site called SoundClick. It's a place where you can upload your original songs and even sell them. I'm not confident enough in my skill level to sell my songs, so I'm happy if anyone is willing to download them and listen to them. Maybe I'll even get to be on some people's mp3 players. That would be cool. Unfortunately the widget is partially cut off, but you can still play the songs. I'd love to get some feedback from people who haven't heard my songs before. I'll be uploading a bunch more of my songs this week, so if you click on "songs" on the top of the widget, it will take you to more of my music. Right now I only have the three songs uploaded. At SoundClick I've included the lyrics, if you're interested.

These songs were created in the 1990s during and after my relationship with my abusive boyfriend who suffered from mental illness and alcoholism. I associate the song "Somewhere" strongly with him as a song about the loss of innocence, but with something left over. It was a kind of protest song against being abused, but disguised in the story of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

These three songs I recorded just after my 36th birthday and just before I became delusional and paranoid. Soon after I recorded them, I sent them along with one other song to Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. That marked my descent into madness for a time. I was convinced that he was following me or having other people from his circle follow me. Of course, no contact was ever made and for three years I remained deeply psychotic because I wouldn't take the anti-psychotic medications.

In the very beginning of my psychosis I was writing and singing lots of songs or what I call song "bits", not full songs, maybe only a minute or so long each. Then the voices told me to take guitar lessons (I am a very poor guitar player), but after only a couple of lessons they began to attack me and I had to stop making songs pretty much during the next 3-5 years. Gradually I approached songwriting and singing again, very, very slowly.

Towards the beginning of last year I bought a new portastudio that made an actual CD out of the songs that I recorded in the 1990s. So I sent that CD which I called Yin And Yang (of course) out to a few of my friends. The portastudio also has allowed me to start working on and recording new song bits, but last June when I took in the first litter of kittens I had to put them in the music room, so I boxed up my equipment and put it in the closet which is where it's been ever since. But now that the downstairs room is available, I will soon set up downstairs and get to work again.

Getting a new computer with a flash player already installed, so that I can watch videos and listen to music online, has also made it easy for me to convert my music into mp3 files to upload to music sites such as SoundClick. And so, here I am, introducing myself and my music to the internet community. I hope you enjoy listening to some of them. If you have the time and inclination, leave a comment here or at SoundClick by clicking on "Comments" on the top of the widget. Thanks in advance.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Self-Portrait

This is a self-portrait I did around the time my computer broke down. It's done in gouache and watercolor pencils.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Three More Kittens

I had to take in three more kittens this past week. They are about a month old and I can't keep them. I will take care of them till they are old enough to adopt and then I'm just going to have to find homes for them. The bigger problem is that there is a fertile wild female cat outside and at least one fully endowed male out there too and there will be more and more litters of kittens. It's so frustrating, but I don't know what to do. I called the SPCA, but they have over 100 cats that need homes. And this is precisely why, if you let your cats outside, you must have them neutered. It's just cruel having litter after litter left outside to fend for themselves. Right now, all I can do is take it day by day and try not to worry about the future.

Because the kittens are so small, I have to keep them in a kennel and feed them every four hours, but not through the night. I let them out of the kennel to feed them and then I also let them out when I'm not feeding them, just to give them some extra space. So I've been adjusting to the new schedule once again. Maybe in a week I can let them loose in a back room, the room that my first group of kittens stayed in till I let them out into the rest of the house.

So the kittens are beautiful and cute, but it's still a bit of a pain in the butt. I haven't been able to do the Buddhist practice very well because of it, but I think things will settle down soon. The online Buddhist site E-Sangha appears to have crashed and when I googled them again, there was a warning that going to their site might damage my computer. So I've stayed away from the site and began looking for new message board forums. So far I found and joined two--NewBuddhist.com and Buddhism Without Boundaries. I've been posting a bit about myself at the latter site, how I suffer from schizophrenia and how the practice of compassion has helped me work with my voices. I said I was looking for people to study Lojong with, but it turns out there are not a lot of members and they are pretty busy. Plus, I've been told that I really need a personal teacher in order to proceed properly.

I might contact a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Ithaca, NY and see if they can give me any advice about studying Lojong and about finding a teacher. In any case, I will visit them or a center in Rochester, in the Spring when the weather has cleared up and the roads are good to drive on. Till then, I'm on my own pretty much, though I'm hoping to learn from the people at these new Buddhist forum sites. I am really enjoying watching videos on my computer now and there are quite a few Buddhist teachers to choose from. I've already watched a bunch of relatively short videos on Pema Chodron and others as well. There's a wealth of information on the internet of course, which is a bit daunting, but I have to make time to just meditate and study my books and audio recordings of Pema Chodron, The Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield, Ram Dass, etc... Time to review the slogans and my notes. And then there's also the time spent around others while I practice. And time spent with the cats and kittens....

With any luck, this practice will take hold over the winter. I hope so. Tomorrow I go to another support group meeting. This one will be about whether we can join NAMI (National Alliance On Mental Illness) or not. While I would like to be a part of NAMI, I'm also eager to get the support group going for just those who suffer from mental illness. I have met the other four people who will be the core of the group several times now, but I still haven't really gotten to know them. So I will be patient and as long as the weather holds up, I will go to the meetings. I've written down the email address of two of the men (the other two people, a couple, don't have email) and will ask them tomorrow if it's okay to email them this week.

Though I'm back online, I have not been reconnecting with my online friends. Most of my friends are on Facebook, except for Pam, who does not like Facebook. I have only to reach out to them, but for some reason I hold back. So this week I will return to checking out their Facebook pages and reading their blogs and start to leave comments again. I also haven't been drawing or painting and I'm starting to miss it. That's a good sign that I'll return to it.


Monday, October 12, 2009

My Return To The Internet Community

Hello Everyone. I'm back and I hope you all have been well and continue to be well. I've been offline for about a month and a half and during that time, due to the isolation that came from not having contact with others here, I nearly fell into delusional thinking. The delusion was one that is typical for many people suffering from schizophrenia, the delusion of thinking one is Jesus. I had this delusion once before early in my psychosis, during the acute stage of my illness. This time around I was not acutely ill and yet began to slip almost unconsciously into this delusion of grandeur. Luckily, I have been taping myself on a hand held recorder for nearly two years now and when I listened back to the recordings, I got a good perspective on where I was going wrong in my thinking. That and the voices flashed a bit of hell my way to remind me that I was in no position to take on the weight of the world that the real Jesus, if Jesus were to return, would have to be ready to take on. As I felt the echo of a previously experienced hell, I knew I did not want to be Jesus and returned to my previous state, much humbled and relieved.

From that point on, I began to seriously embrace a spiritual path that I have been tentatively heading towards for several years, that of Buddhism, more specifically the Tibetan Buddhist practice of mind training or Lojong. I was first introduced to this practice by the respected Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher, Pema Chodron on a six tape audio program called Awakening Compassion: Meditation Practice For Difficult Times. I had bought this program soon after I had my last psychotic breakdown, right around the time I began taking the anti-psychotic medications in the winter of 2002. I was struck by the idea that I could treat my severe depression and even my psychosis by working with a meditation practice and study of the dharma that focused on developing and deepening compassion for myself and others. So it was around this time that I began sending metta or lovingkindness to my voices, voices which continued to call me now and again "evil". As the years went by and I continued this practice, the voices began changing their response to me. Sometimes they would say that they were evil and other times they would say they loved me and, to be honest, they continued to call me evil during times of stress.

During most of this time, I did not practice the basic sitting meditation or the lojong meditation practice called tonglen, but I did purchase four books on Lojong. These books were: Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron, Training The Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness by Chogyam Trungpa (Pema's main teacher), The Great Path Of Awakening by Jamgon Kongtrul (a nineteenth century master) and The Seven-Point Mind Training by B. Alan Wallace. I read Pema Chodron's book and read through parts of the other books and then put them aside. It is only within the last couple of weeks that I gathered up these books again, along with the Awakening Compassion tapes and other audiobooks by Pema Chodron and other Buddhist teachers. I have been listening, reading, taking notes, reflecting and meditating. I have also found and joined an online Buddhist community called E-Sangha which is large and active and has several sections dedicated to Tibetan Buddhism. I hope to find friends and teachers there while I apply the practice to my daily life.

The Lojong practice is structured around the study of 59 slogans or pithy statements in conjunction with a meditation practice called tonglen. Some of the slogans are very accessible and easy to memorize, like: "Be grateful to everyone." and "Always maintain only a joyful mind." Others are more obscure and need further commentary to explain like: "Always abide by the three basic principles." or "Practice the five strengths." And still others are difficult to grasp and need further reflection over time like: "Regard all dharmas as dreams." and "Examine the nature of unborn awareness." All the slogans are more easily learned by referring to the commentary of the various authors that I've mentioned along with several others I have yet to read. Once the slogans become familiar, they begin popping up at different times during the day under varying circumstances. This is not only instructional, it is fun.

A key slogan that forms the basis for Pema Chodron's teachings is: "When the world is filled with evil, transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi." In other words, this slogan is saying use all your serious problems as a spiritual path to wake you up. Instead of shutting down or acting out when things go wrong, you pause and try to extend staying open and accepting. By opening up to the pain, you stop doing the habitual thing, which is the fight or flight reaction. You sit with it and, as Pema Chodron often says, you "make friends" with your pain. From there you make the connection that there are many, many other people feeling just what you feel right in the very moment that you are feeling it. This realization cuts through a pervasive sense of isolation, a sense that you are the only one to feel this way. And so you plant and water the seeds of compassion for yourself and others. It is this compassion that begins the transformation process of healing the suffering in oneself and others. But you have to sit with your pain and gently face it first before you can make that wonderful connection to others.

There is a wonderful black and white film called The Miracle Worker starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke when she was a child. It came out in 1962 and was a re-creation of an acclaimed Broadway play about Helen Keller and the teacher who taught her the meaning of words through sign language. In a crucial scene towards the end of the film, the teacher, who has been painstakingly trying to get the very spoiled and resistant young Helen Keller to make the connection between the feel of the sign made into her hand and the meaning behind the sign, makes the sign for water and then thrusts the little girls hand into the water itself. Suddenly Helen understands the connection and goes on to eagerly ask her teacher the names of the many things around her. That one connection between the sign for water and the water itself opens up an entire world for a little girl who has been shut out by several serious physical handicaps. My point is that we need to make the compassionate connection that we are all in the same boat together. The lojong slogans and the meditation practice are like the sign for water made into an open and ignorant hand. They set up the conditions that allow us to make the connection to our own wounded heart and from there to make the connection to others. That's the key to positive change in the world, to the beginning of the end of the cycle of addiction, abuse and war.

I know that sounds grandiose, but I really am coming to believe that the practice of compassion for self and others is a kind of miracle. So I'm going to test it out this year. I'm going to pose the question: can the practice of compassion be an effective treatment for a person who suffers from mental illness? More specifically can the Tibetan Buddhist practice of lojong guide me into a state of health and usefulness towards others. I have found in my years of being ill, that I respond positively to a certain amount of structure. Often I would visit my parents, adapt to their positive structure and feel better, only to fall back into negative patterns on my return home. Living alone has its disadvantages. But Lojong, as a spiritual, philosophical and meditative practice seems to offer a kind of structure that I can incorporate into my daily life with the help of teachers like Pema Chodron and perhaps this new online Buddhist community E-Sangha.

But there's more to this practice than sitting alone in my house studying and meditating, as Ms. Chodron is quick to point out. I have to go out into the world and connect with people in my community. I am very fortunate right now in that there is a new mental health support group starting in a town twenty five minutes from my town. I have been to four meetings that have been acting as preparation for an official weekly (hopefully) meeting. The first two meeting were primarily about whether we could become a NAMI (National Alliance On Mental Illness) meeting, which unfortunately is a bit complicated. We do have the minimum of five people who suffer from mental illness (myself included), but we have yet to get the required intensive three day training held in Albany only, it seems, twice a year. Several people at a counseling center, which is willing to sponsor the meeting, are working towards resolving the NAMI question. At the next two meetings the director of the counseling center got almost all of us together to guide us in how to lead a support group meeting. The next meeting is in a week, but it looks as if, one way or another, this support group is going to become a reality.

So the world is opening up for me right now, but that doesn't mean that my personal pain and problems just disappear. What it means is that I become committed to sitting with my pain and working with it in order to see myself more clearly and with more compassion. As I learn and bond with myself, I can learn and bond with others. Maybe this is the year I can become effective and useful in my community. Maybe this is the year that I truly embrace my own recovery. I plan to write about my process in applying the Lojong practice to my life in this blog. Wish me luck. And please keep in touch. Remember: we're all in this together.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Computer Is Not Working

A couple of days ago I tried to turn on my computer and it wouldn't turn on all the way, so I have to call a computer service place tomorrow and bring my computer in to be checked out. It's possible that I'll have to get a new computer. I don't know how long this will take. Right now I'm using my brother's computer. So if you don't hear much from me for the next week or two, you now know why. I hope all of you are well and hopefully I'll be back online soon. Take care.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Siblings


Another painting based on a Mary Ellen Mark photograph. What's unusual for me about this painting is that I'm also using a couple of Pitt Markers to outline the boy and part of the girl. I haven't done much with mixed media; this may be a start.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mother And Child


This painting is based on a black and white photograph by the photographer Mary Ellen Mark in her book A Cry For Help: Stories of Homelessness and Hope. And I'm back to my old problem of trying to find subject matter to paint. Of course, I'm drawn to the compositions of really good photographers be they professionals, semi-professionals or amateurs. I probably should go back to sites like Flickr and look for photographs of people. I guess it's all right to practice painting using professional photographs like those of Mark and Sturges. Working from really good photographs teaches me about good subject matter and compositions, like painting from the masters. I have to remember that I'm still putting myself into the process, especially when I turn a black and white photograph into a color painting. Even just which photograph I choose is putting myself into it. Ideally, I would like to use my own photographs, but I have never been much of a people photographer. I did get a new camera, but I haven't learned how to use it properly yet, which I must. I used to be a good photographer, but it's been quite a while since I tried. I wish I could be a traditional painter and hire models to paint. Or make studies and then create an original composition. I should, at least, do a few self portraits. I think I'm making excuses. The main thing is to keep drawing and painting.

I've been spending a certain amount of time online trying to connect/help other people who suffer from mental illness. I've done a little bit at Health Central's Schizophrenia Connection where Chris Bruni works as a schizophrenia expert. There are some really nice people at that site and it's set up so that you can have a profile and a journal called a Share Post. I've only written two entries so far, but I'm also trying to contribute by answering some questions either posed by Christina in her Question of the Week or posed by other people on the site. I'll post the link to it in my Favorite Links section, so check it out.
I've also answered a few questions on Yahoo Answers. Yahoo Answers is where anyone can post a question and anyone can answer it. So I've been focusing on Mental Health questions. But the place where I've been spending more of my time has been on LiveJournal. It's a great place to meet other people suffering from mental illness, especially young people, some of whom really need help. I find there's more of a community feeling on LiveJournal than on Blogger. Here, we're each in our own pretty self contained world, but on LiveJournal everyone visits other communities and participates and gets to know other people. You can choose to "friend" other people and you have a "Friend's Page" that helps you to follow other people's journals more immediately. It's just a different feel to it. I like Blogger because it is more formal, but I like LiveJournal because it's more informal and in some ways more creative. There's a community called Crazy Poems where anyone with a mental illness can post poems about their illness. I've tentatively created a community called Crazy Artists hoping that all kinds of artists will post some of their work and connect with each other. I haven't gotten too far with that yet because I'm not sure what I'm doing, but, hopefully, I'll figure it out.

I haven't yet approached anyone in my town about starting a support group. I still feel insecure. I have to make myself go to the NAMI meeting on Wednesday even though I'm nervous about the driving because there's a couple who suffer from BiPolar Disorder who want to start a support group one town over from where I live, which would be much more accessible to me. They've set a date for a meeting on September 2nd, which I also must go to. I hope they have success and I want to support their efforts. I'm proud of anyone who suffers from mental illness who can start a support group. It takes courage and determination and it's so important.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Back To Painting



I drew and painted both of these portraits today. Nancy commissioned me to paint a portrait of her father and nephew, but I couldn't resist also painting a portrait of her sister with her daughter. They were both great photographs to work from. I was partially inspired by Pam Wagner who has just started painting portraits. She's very talented, so check out her blog and her Artid site. It's been about a month since I last painted. I'm hoping that this will be the beginning of many more paintings.

Friday, August 7, 2009

In Recovery Mode

My parents' visit was a success. My father stayed at my brother's house and my mother stayed with me. Richard and Kim did a great job of setting up my brother's house so that it would be comfortable for my father. Richard even reproduced family photographs and mounted them and put up shelves to display them in a sitting room. They also fixed up the bedroom downstairs in my house for my mother, painting the walls and everything. It gave me an excuse to go out and buy fresh sheets, a comforter, towels, etc... My mother was pleased with her room, the only drawback in both my house and my brother's house was that my parents had to climb stairs. At least I have a handrail, but my brother did not, so Richard installed one at my brother's house. I thought that was very considerate of him.

I actually cleaned and organized the upstairs in my house, but the only way that I got away with that was by storing a bunch of stuff in one of the bedrooms. My mother still complained that the house was too cluttered. She even said it wasn't fit for company, but I disagreed. Her standards are too high for me, even if I didn't suffer from a mental illness. But, on the whole, she seemed fairly comfortable. I set up a place for her to work on a jigsaw puzzle, which she loves to do. I did do a fair amount of driving, but except for the first night when I drove them from the airport to our houses in the dark and in the rain (which was very stressful for me), I didn't mind the driving. All of it was done during the daytime and the weather was good. I pretty much set up what we would do each day. I even made reservations for us several times and found that I wasn't as phone phobic as I usually am. I was proud of myself.

We saw the latest Harry Potter film, went to see a play, went on a boat ride, watched a couple of movies at my brother's house, but the real highlight was going out to eat. Every time we went out, we had a good to very good meal. I made a point of going to an Indian restaurant I've never been to for my father and brother's birthday. My brother was particularly grateful and I'd like to go back there again with him another time. And yes, I ate too much and so now it's back to regulating my diet and returning to exercise.

So my parents seemed well and were pleased with their visit and I didn't get stressed out this time. My voices have also been subdued and generally when they do speak up in my mind, they are supportive of me. I haven't had them telling me that I'm evil in months and the more they show consideration for me, the less I think ill of them. It has served me well to have compassion for them and to treat them with tolerance and kindness. I guess that's just the way I want to be. Though I am not Christian, my philosophy incorporates some of Christ's teachings to turn the other cheek and love those that abuse you. I have done it so often, that now I can coexist with them in relative harmony. It wasn't always that way. In the beginning of my psychosis I was filled with resentment, but, just as I didn't want to become consumed with hatred for my ex-boyfriend when he was abusing me, I didn't want to become a hateful person in relation to these mysterious voices. Negativity breeds negativity and prolongs symptoms. Acceptance and gratitude generate positive outcomes. Of course, when you are being attacked by the voices, cultivating acceptance and gratitude can be quite a challenge, but it is possible with practice. If I can do it, I know others can do it. There is hope.

The day before my parents arrived, I met with a NAMI president of a nearby county for lunch. I told her some of my story and she told me some of her story. I found out that she is a social worker and that her son suffers from schizophrenia, but is in the process of recovering. I felt fairly confident talking to her and she seemed to respond to me, but ultimately she can't really help me start a support group. I would have to go through a 3 day intensive training program with another person who suffers from mental illness and not only don't I know another person in my area, but the training programs are few and far between and I would have to travel quite a distance to get to one. The next one appears to be next year in Albany and I don't want to wait that long. Ms. Stanley did say that there is a couple who suffers from Bi-Polar Disorder who regularly comes to her monthly meeting. I met them briefly. They want to start a group in their town, but I'm still set on starting one in my town. Ms. Stanley gave me their phone number (they don't have a computer...), but I haven't had the courage to call them yet. First I want to make appointments to see if I can find a meeting place either through the local churches or through the town hall. I've been doing so well lately, I might just be ready to try this. I'll have to put some pressure on myself in the next couple of weeks.

It's also past time to get back to painting. Nancy has commissioned me to paint a portrait of her father and her nephew. Tonight I worked on a portrait of Richard's friend with his arm around his daughter. I drew the portrait a month ago, but didn't like the drawing and so I put it aside, but tonight I decided I needed some practice, so I began painting.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Feeling Good

Thanks Chris for your advice and concern. I went to see the doctor this morning. I'm okay. My blood pressure is good, pulse is good, heart and lungs sound good. He was also pleased with my weight loss. He told me the symptoms for a heart attack and for a stroke and those weren't the symptoms that I had. He said many smokers experience something called pleurisy which is a inner inflammation that causes painful breathing, but is not life threatening. So I was relieved and left his office feeling good.

All in all, the painful breathing was a good thing because it got me to wake up to the fact that smoking is not an option for me any more. I'm also pleased that I made myself make an appointment to see my doctor, even if I should have done it sooner. The life expectancy for someone with schizophrenia is not good. I think this is partially due to the fact that over 10 percent of those who suffer from it commit suicide. I'm pretty positive that I've pushed past that point, but the other side of the coin is that many people with schizophrenia have a lot of trouble taking care of themselves. If you don't get symptoms treated early, you are courting potential disaster. Illnesses that could have been prevented with early treatment wind up cutting one's life short. It's also just a part of getting older. You have to get more check-ups and take more tests. I will see the doctor again in a month, but I will have blood work done to see if my bad cholesterol is coming down and my good cholesterol is going up.

The doctor did say that I should start exercising again and I plan to after my parent's visit. And I will return to the Anne Collins weight loss site because this past month I have plateaued-- that is neither gained, nor lost much weight. Losing 20 pounds is great, but I can't stop there, I have to keep going. Once I lose about 15 more pounds, I will no longer be considered obese, just overweight. I won't stop there either, but when I reach that weight I will be very proud of myself and I will begin to look and feel lighter.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Mixed Bag

I started smoking again a couple of months ago, off and on, but last week I began getting a pain in my upper right arm when I breathed deeply. This was right around the time that I was about to go off to the Grassroots Music Festival for three and a half days. I began to worry about having a heart attack or a stroke, but didn't tell anyone. Instead I went to the music festival. I worried a bit, but the voices reassured me that I would not have a heart attack or stroke. They also told me to quit smoking on Monday and call my doctor's office to make an appointment.

Richard and his son Aaron took care of the kittens and Rob and I had a really good time at the festival. The pain in my arm went away by Sunday. I finished the last of my cigarettes and set my quit date for the next day. On Monday afternoon I called the doctor's office and made an appointment for Thursday (tomorrow). I told Richard, who is a nurse, about the pain in my arm and calling the doctor's office. He said I really shouldn't have waited and I know he's right, but at least I'm committed again to not smoking and I will see the doctor tomorrow.

I was surprised at how smoothly things went at the festival. I even felt confident driving at night when we headed back to the motel each night. The music was good, the food was good, most of the people were friendly and there was very little pressure.
Rob did complain that there was not enough African and Latin music and that the festival seemed to be getting progressively more "whitebread", but the last night we were there we got to see a female African singer, Oumou Sangare, and her band backed by a well known American banjo player named Bela Fleck. Bela Fleck had spent about five months exploring parts of Africa and playing music and learning music with other African musicians. After that performance, we got to see and listen to a very good Latin band called Novalima, from Peru I think. That wrapped up the night and the next day we went back home. I had been calling Richard at least once a day and when I got home, I saw that the cats and kittens were all very fine and I was grateful.

My parents arrive from Florida in a week. I have been cleaning only minimally, but I have to step it up. If all goes well, my father will be staying with my brother and my mother will be staying with me. All of the downstairs will not be finished, but the bedroom and the bathroom should be. This week, with Richard's help, I picked out some linoleum to cover the floors and that should be installed next Monday, just a couple of days before my mother settles into her room. It will be good to see my parents. I haven't since them since Christmas six months ago, but they will want to stay busy, which means I'll be doing a lot of driving my family around, since there's not a whole lot to do around where my brother and I live.

That's the thing about suffering from schizophrenia, at least for me, I'm not used to going out a lot or entertaining or cleaning, so I'll have to appear perhaps more together than I am, at least for a week. I think I can do it, mainly because going to the festival went so smoothly. I'm hoping that my doctor won't find anything really wrong with me tomorrow. I don't want to go in for tests at the hospital and all that. In fact, I've been very fortunate that I haven't had to be inside a hospital much ever, not even for my mental illness. I got through the worst of my psychosis mostly on my own with some help from my therapist.

Friday, July 10, 2009

New Opportunity

The president of the NAMI group I went to from the next county over wrote to me with three suggestions for starting a support group. Her first suggestion was to start a NAMI group in my town as an extension of her group. She said that there would probably be guidelines that I would have to follow and that she would find out more if I was interested, which I am. If I could find a meeting place, it would be the ideal solution. I told her I'd be willing to ask around at the local churches or the town hall to find a place. Her second suggestion was to start a non NAMI support group for students with mental health problems. She said that a college in her town had started a group and that it was part of a nationwide organization and that she could find out more information about that as well. I told her that that was a good suggestion, but that I was more interested in having a meeting that was open to both the schools and the surrounding community, if possible. Her final suggestion was for me to lead a support group in her town, just for those with mental illness. She wants to split the meeting she has now into two groups-one for family members of those with mental illness and one for people with mental illness because the two groups have different needs. I told her that though I would love to lead her meeting, that her town was too far away for me to commit to being available on a weekly basis. I said that since I became ill, I have become anxious about driving, especially in bad weather and at night time, which is why I would much prefer starting a meeting in my town. I live close enough to town that even if the weather was terrible, I could walk to the meeting place and hold a meeting every week. Still, I feel honored that she considered me, since she only met me once. At the end of her email she asked if we could get together for lunch to talk about the possibilities and I replied definitely yes.

I am so pleased that she was thoughtful enough to think of these suggestions and contact me. She is a busy woman with a full time job as well as being the NAMI president of her county and I am grateful to her for reaching out to me. I am hoping that NAMI higher ups will give her permission to let me start a group in my town. To be under the wings of such a major national advocacy group can only be a good thing and give the group even more credibility in this community. For me, personally, it would be a wonderful introduction to my own community service and would boost my self-esteem a great deal. I am so excited by the prospect of it, but will know more after I meet with Ms. Stanley. I have lived in such isolation from others who suffer from mental illness for over a decade, but now, all because I reached out to this woman, I may finally get to meet others like me and form some long lasting bonds and do some good for others in the process. God willing. The main thing is that now I might be ready to actually take on some responsibility, which is such a good sign of progress in my recovery from schizophrenia. It's amazing how having the support of even one person has given me such a boost to get out there and make a difference.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Kitten Photos



Home Life

I took the two cats and three kittens to the vet yesterday afternoon. I'm happy to say that they are all in good health. They got their shots, though I have to return in three weeks for the kittens to get their second round of shots. I also made an appointment for the cats to be castrated, but not for another month. I found out from the vet that one of the kittens that I thought was a male is a female, so there are two females and one male. I'm tentatively calling them Pablo (after Picasso), Ani (after Ani DiFranco) and Jessie. It was Jessie that I wasn't sure about, so I gave her a gender neutral name. When I thought she was a boy I was naming her after Jesse James. I also called her the Sundance Kid. They aren't strikingly original names, but that's all I could come up with on short notice. They now have a room of their own, a real play room with a play center that has several levels and two other pseudo caves to play in. I've also set up a way for them to get to the window and a way for them to get up on my wicker chair in the corner of the room. The doctor says that they are seven to seven and a half weeks old, so I was approximately right about their ages. They alternate between having high energy and practically bouncing off the walls and sleeping or resting. They are getting more and more confident about climbing and jumping daily. They've come a long way in just a week.

My parents arrive from Florida in three weeks and Richard says he thinks the work will be done downstairs by then, so one or both of my parents might be able to stay with me in the bedroom downstairs, but I have to get the upstairs cleaned up. I was getting ready to vacuum and shampoo the carpets in the upstairs bedrooms, but discovered that the electrical outlets weren't working, so I told Richard. He said they were overloaded and so they shut down and when he tried to turn them on again one outlet in particular sparked/flamed up. He's been busy with other work and will get to the outlets in the next day or two. In the meantime I've been going through my books and picking out the ones I want to give away to the local library and the Salvation Army. So far I've collected three shopping bags worth of books and will probably collect several more bags of them. I just don't need all these books. I used to be a reader, but now I read in fits and starts, so I only want to keep the ones that really mean something to me. I'll still have plenty of books to read.

I must confess that I've been smoking again off and on for the past two months. I haven't re-addicted myself, but I'm getting pretty damned close. I did go to one of the quit smoking sites and let them know about it, but I only went once and haven't been back in about a week. I'm going to have to pick a new quit date and try again. The main thing is to never give up on quitting. I know this.

About a year ago I was writing about making tie dye clothing. I got all the supplies for it, but never even tried it once. I realized that I really couldn't do it in my kitchen or bathroom, but now I think I will be able to do it downstairs using either my darkroom sink or the new sink that Richard is going to install in the laundry room. I will give it a try after my parents leave on the 5th of August, if the work is all done by then. I have three instructional DVDs on how to do all different kinds of tie dyes. If I master some of the techniques, I will try selling what I make online and locally. I think I could do that without feeling self-conscious the way I do about the portraiture work. I have neglected promoting myself as a portrait painter locally because I still don't feel confident enough in my skill level, but I'm still hopeful that I will be able to post my business cards sometime this year. This month I have only painted one portrait, but Nancy might commission me to paint a portrait which I'm hoping will get me back in the swing of things. And Chris Bruni, I'm hoping to paint your portrait if you're still willing.

I told my brother last week that I couldn't go with him to the four day music festival starting on the 16th because the kittens are too young to be left alone. I tried calling him twice, but he won't pick up the phone. I think he's angry about it and giving me the silent treatment. I miss him. Tomorrow I go shopping and I've invited him, but I haven't heard back from him. I'm still hoping that he will find someone else to go with because he's bought both our tickets already and I've reserved a motel room near to the event.

Friday, July 3, 2009

House Cleaning

I began house cleaning yesterday and continued with it today and am praying that I keep cleaning throughout the next two weeks. What has given me the motivation to clean is the fact that I can't keep the kittens in the bathroom much longer, so I started working on one of my bedrooms and then on the other. I'm hoping I'll be able to move the kittens into a kitten proof room in a couple of days and then keep working on the rest of the house after that. I have prayed for help and I have been getting it. It will be a lot of work, but it will be wonderful to finally face the mess and clutter. I have two carpet cleaner machines, one for general cleaning and one for deep cleaning, but first I am going through my stuff and throwing things away and clearing up room. I've told Richard that I want to keep the cats downstairs, or at least the kittens, when the work is done down there. I will have linoleum put on the floors for easy clean-up. I will have the outdoor enclosure rebuilt and a cat door installed so the cats can go out and come in whenever they want.

I take the cats and kittens to the vet on Tuesday. The cats will get their shots and I will make an appointment for them both to be castrated. The kittens are doing well and I've been doing a good job of taking care of them. It will be great when I can let them loose in a decent sized room. They have so much energy. Today while I sat and watched over them, I listened to a tape by Thich Nhat Hanh called Living Buddha, Living Christ. On the tape they sound a meditation bell at different intervals and it startles the kittens, but they listen. I was thinking that these kittens are my teachers and so I watch them and listen to them and touch them gently and talk to them. With their tiny claws they climb up my back and with their tiny teeth they chew my finger tips, but mostly they wrestle with each other and run around and play. They are Buddha nature: genuine, open, playful, responsive. My motherly instincts have taught me how to handle them, with attention and respect. And in taking care of them, I'm learning how to take care of myself and my other cats.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

NAMI Meeting And Kittens

I went to the NAMI meeting on Wednesday, but it turned out to be a disappointment. The drive to the meeting was longer than I thought it would be and I was experiencing anxiety, worrying that the car would break down, etc... I didn't have a problem finding the meeting and there were 8-10 people there, but the president of the meeting started a DVD for us to watch that would take up the entire meeting. It was a documentary I had seen before about depression called Out Of The Shadows (which is weird because I just got a documentary on a woman with schizophrenia called Out Of The Shadow....) I excused myself early leaving my email address and name and town on a piece of paper, in case anyone wanted to get in touch with me. I would have stayed longer, but I didn't want to drive at night time. The president did manage to mention that NAMI was not looking to start a group in my county because it costs too much money. This group has one meeting once a month for an hour and a half at a time, which is not much of a support group, but maybe that will change. I'm back to my initial dilemma: no support group in my town or the surrounding towns.

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I've been preoccupied with the kittens this last week. I got them the milk replacer which has a lot more nutrients in it than the cow's cream and they seem to be enjoying it. I've set up a routine. I get up at dawn, when the kittens are waking up and let them run around the bathroom for a while. Then I feed them the milk and some wet food. When they tire out I let them rest on me and then after about an hour of all this, I put them back in the tub. I do this about 4 times a day and then let them rest through the night. They seem to be settling into the routine because they don't complain as much when I put them back in the tub. They know I'll be back in a few hours for more contact. I love the kittens, but I'm somewhat stressed out taking care of them. I need a little time to get used to the routine myself. I'm also worrying that I won't be able to go to the four day music festival in a little over two weeks. My brother relies on going each summer. It's possible that he might be able to get a friend to go with him, but I haven't broached the subject yet with him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Research

I found an About.com site on cats, so I've been doing some research. They say having an outdoor enclosure for the cats is good, but that letting them run free is probably not so good because of the reasons I mentioned before: cars, disease and other animals. So I'm rethinking my position and will probably ask Richard to redo the outdoor enclosure that he made for me quite a while ago, so that the cats can still go out, but not get out of the enclosure. I also called the vet's office and made an appointment to bring in the cats and kittens. They are so booked up that I won't be able to see him for two weeks. When I told the receptionist Carol that I thought the kittens were between 4 and 6 weeks old, that they have baby teeth, that they are walking and pooping okay and drinking the cream on their own, she said I sounded like I was doing a good job. She did tell me to stop giving them the cream and go get something called Milk Replacer in powdered form and also to give them the juice from canned catfood. Today I gave them some catfood juice and they licked it up happily, though they did get pretty messy in the process, but then they groomed themselves and I groomed them.

I leave for the support group meeting in an hour and a half. I printed out a map of where the meeting is to follow and it looks very accessible. It's a beautiful day here, so the driving should be good. I'm nervous, but determined to go. More later...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Three Kittens

Last Friday my oldest cat Allie died and a few hours later Richard discovered three kittens in the woodshed on my back porch. I had been expecting the death of my cat for quite some time; she was very old. But I was totally surprised by the discovery of the three kittens. Richard, being a Born Again Christian, saw it as a sign/gift from God. I wasn't sure how to see it. The kittens appeared to be quite healthy. Obviously, the mother cat was around somewhere, but nowhere in sight. I kept a look out for her for several days and didn't see her. I worried about the kittens safety and health, so I got some half and half milk/cream to give them. I worried also because soon there will be some major work done outside the house near to where the kittens were living. And so I brought them into my house. After I did that I very briefly saw a black cat outside. I called to her, but then she (or he) disappeared.

For now, I'm keeping the kittens in the bathtub because the tub has a sliding door, so that they can come out of the carrying case where they sleep on a towel and drink from the plate of milk/cream or use the kitty litter tray, which I'm happy to say they have been using. I feed them about three times a day and let them run around the rest of the bathroom several times a day. They are sweet, loving and beautiful and, of course, I'm thinking about keeping them. Not a wise idea probably, but I am smitten. The only way I can keep my adult cats and the kittens is if I am willing to let them run free outside. This means I have to run the risk of them being hit by a car or possibly infected with some incurable disease or attacked by some wild animal. The kittens won't be ready to be released for several months, but my other two cats must be castrated and given their shots very soon. I also need to have a cat door installed so the cats can come in and out freely.

Most people living in the country don't think twice about letting their cats run free, but I've been overprotective for years and I just can't do that anymore, my house can't take it. As much as I resist it, life is about taking risks and trying to live to the fullest if possible. When I was growing up I would go live at the beach during the summer with my family and we would bring the cats down with us and then let them run free. They loved it so much. Animals in nature is a magic fit despite the risks taken. I will still worry. I know I will.

I'm not sure if I'm making the right choice. I could bring the kittens to the Humane Society. I just don't have it in me to do that right now. Maybe it's my maternal instincts coming out because I know I will never have a child of my own. Maybe I'm taking Richard's idea that it's a sign from God and that I should look at it as a blessing and not a burden. I really don't know. In any case, I'm going to sit with it for another week and wait to decide and in the meantime I will make an appointment to bring the two cats and three kittens in to see the vet.

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Tomorrow I go to my first NAMI meeting. I'm nervous about going, but I know I have to go. I can't cop out of this. I'll let you know what happens. Also a big Thank You to everyone who responded to my last post!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Poem--First Draft

The other day I joined a poetry writing group called Crazy Poems on LiveJournal. It's a group for poets who suffer from mental illness. One of the founding poets set up a challenge to write a poem about one's healed self and this is what I came up with--first draft:

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Healthy Self


I see my healthy self as a phoenix rising from the ashes
A 500 year old bird transformed by fire and reborn to fly again.

Here's how I fly:

I sweep my house clean, brush my teeth
Wash and dry my body, my clothes.

I open doors and windows
I call out to friends and strangers alike--

"Come sit by me and tell your story
We'll weave our tapestries together
To form a stronger bond."

I look up and see the harmony in the clouds
I wait for the rain to fall

Water is nourishment
Earth is for growing things
And oceans hold time
In the rhythmic swell and release of the tides.

Everything is out in the open
The fig leaves fall
And we are naked
As the day we were born.

The shame is gone
And I am smiling.

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By the way, Pamela Spiro Wagner, who suffers from schizophrenia, has a new book of poetry out called We Mad Climb Shaky Ladders: Poems. You can buy her book on Amazon. Please do, she is an extremely talented poet with much insight into her illness.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Friend Of The Family

My thanks to J.P., Bev and Jen who posted comments on my last entry. I really appreciate the feedback and support.



Richard is a very good friend of the family, he's been especially good to my brother. They've been friends for over 20 years. Well, now he is helping me. He has worked on my house before, but not for a very long time. Unfortunately, it's going to be a fairly big and expensive job to repair the downstairs and the outside drain. He began work right away and has called in several specialists to consult with them. The good news is that the problems can be fixed. The other day he and his 18 year old son cleared out the downstairs making three trips to the dump. The downstairs had to be cleared out because of the mold on the walls which create spores that get into everything. It's just as well, because I am a bit of a hoarder myself and it is good to get rid of stuff that I don't use. I just wish that it hadn't gotten to this point.

This past week Richard has been visiting with me after working downstairs. I offer him a couple of beers and some food and we talk. He and his wife are Born Again Christians and she doesn't believe in drinking alcohol, coffee or tea and so Richard only drinks them when he's not at home. She also is not affectionate to her husband and this is something that really disturbs him. A few weeks ago, he had surgery on one of his shoulders. He was told that he should have his shoulder, back, and chest massaged to ease some of the pain, but his wife hasn't offered to to that for him. And so one night he asked me if I would rub his back and shoulder for him because he was in pain after working all day. I've known Richard for 20 years and I knew this was not a come on. And so, as a friend, I rubbed his back and shoulders.

I have been alone, not touching or being touched, for a very long time; touching Richard felt very healing. It reassured me that I am still human. I also felt good about showing him my gratitude for coming into my house, dealing with my problems and being just a good, honest, hardworking friend. I think also that I am afraid of getting close to a man because I've been through an abusive relationship. I worry that a man will hurt me and take advantage of me. Richard, on the other hand, is a "safe" man, a married man and a practicing Christian, a friend of my family and so I felt good moving closer to him. All I want right now is a friend and that seems to be all that Richard wants too. And so I count myself fortunate. I'm hoping that a friendship with a safe man will lead me to a more serious relationship with an available man.

Richard suggested that I join an online personals group. Actually I had already tried joining a group called No Longer Lonely which was created to help people living with mental illness meet other people living with mental illness, but both times I tried I never got a confirming password from them to open my account. That was very frustrating, so I tried joining Match.com to see if I could find other people with mental illness to be friends with, but my personal essay never got approval. Truth is, I don't think I want a lover right now; I would rather have a good pen pal for a few months. I could do that with No Longer Lonely, but these other personal sites don't seem to allow for finding just friends, they jump right into a serious relationship and I'm not ready for that, especially with a virtual stranger.

Though I believe it is a good thing developing a deeper friendship with Richard, mostly it is still me on my own and lately and I haven't been very productive. I did paint a portrait of Richard's friend's daughter that came out pretty well, but then my next drawing didn't come out and I haven't gone farther with it. I know I need to return to some kind of creative work in order to remain balanced and happier. I got two books last week, one on writing a memoir and one on becoming a creative entrepreneur. I've been reading them slowly and have started work on the memoir, though only in fits and starts. I also see how I am still sick in comparison Richard's relative health. He works and works hard, I do not. He has friends, I do not. Where he is active and healthy, I am more passive and sick. I still don't clean my house (upstairs) or go out much. I'm still self absorbed. So I see the problem and now I have to continue to work on the solution. Do my artwork and writing, clean my house a little at a time, go out once a day, see my brother and Richard. I can do these things, but I have to encourage myself.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

My House

Twenty years ago my father retired from his high paying job and twenty years ago he bought me a house far away from the City, so that I could be near my brother. It was a nice house, on a nice road, not too far from town. There was an upstairs and a downstairs. The downstairs was sort of a basement with a concrete floor, but it had a bedroom, a laundry area and some open space and an attached garage. Soon after I moved in, part of the open space downstairs was made into a darkroom and another part into a small bathroom. There was no drain for the sinks and toilet, so a sump pump was installed that would push the waste and water up, over and out to the sewer system from the garage. There was also a door downstairs that led out to the back of the house. Outside the door was a drain and a few steps that lead up to higher ground.

Except for using the darkroom, I have spent most of my time upstairs, where there are two medium sized bedrooms (one of which I use as my music/recording room), a library/computer room, a bathroom, a kitchen and a decent sized living room/dining room area. The living room has a cathedral ceiling and a smallish loft (which I never used much since I'm a little afraid of heights). In the center of the room is a woodstove that I haven't used in years because I associate it with my ex-boyfriend.

So I lived in a house that was too big for me, with an abusive, alcoholic boyfriend and many, many cats. We managed to take care of the house and the lawn and the cats, except when my boyfriend would have an outburst and start trashing the house, which I would then clean up in a state of shock. After I broke up with my boyfriend and I was alone in the house, I began having fantasies of my house being an off campus gathering place for artistic students. I had a darkroom, art supplies and space and a music room. I imagined people making music, working in the darkroom and painting. I imagined a sense of community and a place to fit in. Needless to say, that never happened. I did get accepted into the BFA program at the university and a few times I invited some fellow (but much younger) students to my house, but then I became delusional and paranoid and took a leave of absence from the school.

For three years I was acutely psychotic, not taking the anti-psychotic medications, and having breakdowns every year, but I was also very involved with some local women who I had met in a domestic violence support group. I would invite them and their children over to my house. Several times I invited a young woman and her baby daughter to stay with me. They set up down stairs. But that didn't last long and eventually I had to tell her to leave because we were having conflicts with each other and I had another breakdown.

That was probably eight or nine years ago and in the interim the outside drain downstairs has not been draining properly and I have had repeated flooding. The doors have warped and won't close, there's mold on the lower walls, the floors are all dirty and there are lots and lots of spiders. I haven't used the darkroom in five years. The upstairs has not faired so well either. I have two male cats who I never got castrated and they pee, spray and puke all over the place. I have a fear of using the vacuum and the carpet cleaner because I think I will be electrocuted. I stopped using the dishwasher years ago, not sure why, but I rarely wash dishes, rarely use the laundry room to wash my clothes. There is also a lot of clutter.

Before I became delusional and paranoid, I cleaned my house and took good care of my cats. I enjoyed cleaning and organizing. Now, even years after my commitment to taking the anti-psychotic medications, I still have a lot of trouble cleaning and organizing. It has bothered me for years. And because my house smells and is dirty and cluttered, I don't have anyone over, not even my brother, except for very occasionally. I have been paying the minimum for satellite television, though I have had no reception for many months because I don't want to have someone come into my house to repair the reception. And for years, there has been flooding downstairs. Instead of attending to it, I have detached from it.

Well, sometime within the last couple of weeks, I noticed that there appeared to be a separate leak in my laundry room as well as the problem with the outside drain and this I couldn't ignore. I would have to have someone come into the house and try and figure out how to solve the problem of the overflowing drain and the leak. Someone to replace the doors and fix or replace the sump pump which hasn't been working for several years. So I told my brother, who told a good friend of ours who has done work for us before. He came over and looked at the damage. Just letting him into my house was a big achievement for me. He knows I suffer from schizophrenia and he didn't shame me. I will still probably have to call for some more outside help. I'm going to try to do that on Monday. But at least the word is out that I need the help. Luckily, my father has set aside some money for house repairs. He's been wanting me to take action for years now.

Some people with schizophrenia have real problems taking care of themselves and their homes. I am one of them. I really should have had outside help from nearly the beginning of my illness, someone to do some of the cleaning, but I was too ashamed to let anyone into my home and I worried that I wouldn't have enough money to pay for cleaning services. My father was already paying for weekly therapy, along with exorbitant monthly health insurance payments. Because my parents took care of me financially, I stayed outside the social services system. Even before I became acutely ill, I was living in isolation, the schizophrenia just made it that much worse. I needed help, but I wouldn't ask for it, not wanting to be a burden to anyone and because I was ashamed and because I was stubborn.

The truth is, I believe, that anyone suffering from serious mental illness, be they poor or wealthier, needs a support system. Not only medication and therapy (which I have), but local mental health support groups and/or clubhouses (which I haven't had), caseworkers who come into the home once a month, housecleaning help and a general doctor who keeps close track of whether the individual has gone to the dentist (I haven't gone in two years), the eye doctor and for women the gynecologist (I don't have a gynecologist) or any needed specialist. Socialization is particularly important precisely because the tendency of those who suffer from mental illness is to withdraw from others. Setting goals is also important, goals that lead to volunteer work, mental health activism, education, part time work and even full time work.

But this is an expensive proposition: insurance, medicine, therapy, doctors, cleaning help, education, vocational training. Which is why I believe and have believed for years now, that there should always be, everywhere, mental health support groups. Support groups are very low cost, and yet they allow the platform for social organization amongst the mental ill in local communities. People with mental illness can help each other. They can provide therapy, knowledge, direction, friendship, mental health activism; members can connect outside of the group to help with cleaning, personal hygiene, making doctor's appointments. In effect, people with mental illness can learn to take care of themselves by taking care of each other.

I will have the work done on my house within the next month or two and that is very good and a sign of growing health for me, a willingness to let people in, to admit that I need help. Still, it has taken me many years to get to this point, years that could have been better spent helping others like me and letting others help me too. I have yet to find out if there is a NAMI support group within my area. I made contact with someone, but she is very busy and will get back to me later. I think the chance of it is good and so I am hopeful.

Monday, May 25, 2009

LiveJournal

Before I write about LiveJournal, I just wanted to say that I made contact with a NAMI (National Alliance On Mental Illness) representative from a town about a half an hour away from me. Unfortunately, she had just come back from vacation and was swamped with work (she also works full time as well as being the president of NAMI in her county) and couldn't write much, but she said she would get back to me when she had more time. This is very exciting news for me because the only NAMI organization nearby was just a bit too far away, but this new organization is within familiar territory for me. I still don't know if there is a support group, but I'm keeping my finger's crossed. I'm hoping that I can get involved locally finally. I think I would like to join the In Our Own Voice (IOOU) group, if I can get up the courage for it. As far as I know IOOU has people with mental illness tell their story publicly to interested listeners thereby reducing the stigma that surround mental illness. I would like to speak out in my town at the local university and/or college. Maybe I could even inspire some students to organize a NAMI On Campus. It has been a dream of mine for a couple of years now to have a support group in my town, not only because it would make it easy for me to stay involved (especially in winter when the roads are bad), but because I believe it is in an ideal location between two towns and with two schools.

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I found out about LiveJournal from a fellow schizophrenia sufferer in a SharePost at Schizophrenia Connection (where Chris Bruni has her professional blog). I went to the journaling/social networking site hoping to find her there. I thought maybe I needed to join in order to find her, so I joined and set up a journal, but I couldn't find her. So in the interest category I looked under schizophrenia thinking that maybe she would be there, but I still couldn't find her. What I did find was a bunch of mental illness/health groups. I began checking them out and what struck me was that most of the people posting were young people who were suffering. I decided that keeping a journal there with links to this blog and to my online artwork galleries at Artid might serve to help young people who are just starting out in life gain a little more perspective and maybe even some hope that they can begin to recover from the devastation of mental illness. So I posted an entry there telling some of my story and included the two links. I also joined three groups (though one has yet to check me out and approve my membership). I figure that by joining some groups and posting there and in my journal I might make some good contacts, even friends, and do some good in the process. If you're interested, I've added my LiveJournal page to my Favorite Links. My username is blueartist7.

As I read through some posts, I noticed that some of the people were like me in that they had a therapist, but didn't have many offline friends. And I thought, not for the first time, that the internet is revolutionizing things for people with mental illness by letting them connect with others, thereby lessening the sense of isolation. The internet is giving even the most socially awkward person places to fit in, opportunities to share their story and struggles and the healing gift of being able to help others through knowledge and friendship and all sorts of creativity. One thing I know talk/writing therapy works, which probably accounts for why social networks are flourishing. People need people, but people with mental illness and who isolate themselves out of a sense of shame (as I do I think), need people even more.

Friday, May 22, 2009

On Beginning A Memoir

I haven't drawn or painted in about 6 days. This happens to me, I get active and creative for a month or two and then fall into a bit of depression. Or maybe this time I am just taking a break. Since I discovered my high school friend online, I have been doing some soul searching and some remembering. I'm, once again, thinking about writing a memoir and have been doing a lot of writing in my journal. Today I ordered a book called Writing A Memoir: From Truth to Art by Judith Barrington. A former writing teacher recommended it. I'm also toying with taking a very inexpensive online class on writing a memoir and noticed that this book was recommended. But why do I want to write a memoir? And do I have the stuff to make it happen?

One thing I know, it's not easy to write a memoir. It takes a lot of careful remembering and reliving. It takes courage and it takes skill and craft. And behind it all you must have a lot of motivation to make sense of your life and a belief that your story is very worth telling. Why is my story worth telling? Actually it is my belief that everyone has a story worth telling because life is that challenging and rich. One problem I will have to get over is that I am not proud of my story. I see a lot of failure instead of successes. I know that's not quite fair to myself, but my self esteem has been sorely bruised by my mental illness and consequent poor choices in life. I have failed myself on a number of occasions. And yet, those failures are also learning experiences that may help others; that gives me hope.

I think one of the reasons why I want to write a memoir is because I am still on the periphery of society. I don't fit in and I want to fit in somewhere. My self isolation is so extreme that I talk into a tape recorder and listen back to it for company. I have been talking into a tape recorder now for about a year and a half. It is one way I bond with myself; it is also potent therapy. So, in a way, I've been telling my story to myself for quite a while now. And though my self esteem is still weak, I find that I like myself. I like that I'm moderately intelligent, creative and thoughtful. My insecurity comes out when I'm around other people. I'm somewhat in awe of all that other people accomplish in their lives, of the responsibilities they take on. I have become fearful of taking on responsibilities. I assume that I won't be dependable.

If I do write a memoir, I will be taking on a large responsibility, a personal commitment to be honest, fair and hard working and I will have to look very closely at myself, my family and my relationships. I like to look at it as a determined attempt at self-discovery. No matter how negative I get, I hold onto the belief that my life has meaning, if only to warn others not to take the path that I took. Perhaps I have some valuable things to say about the nature of mental illness. I know I certainly have a lot to say about the far reaching consequences of living with poor self esteem. I may have always been biologically destined to become psychotic, but poor self esteem led to self sabotage which led to trauma which led to a psychotic break with reality. And though I began hearing voices in my mid twenties, I didn't become out and out psychotic until just after my 36th birthday. I could have accomplished a lot up until then.

But I didn't and now here I am just beginning down a path of potential self-discovery, self-discovery that I am hoping will benefit others as well as myself. I learned a valuable lesson when I went to Al-Anon meetings (and some AA meetings) and that is that telling your story honestly to others is one of the most generous acts you can do, for yourself and others. Children learn by being told stories, well, so do adults. I write in this blog to help myself and to help others. Without this blog, I don't think I would have gotten to the point of even considering writing a memoir. Writing in this blog has taught me how to be honest in a public place. Getting comments from readers and knowing that some people may be tuning in to my writing every now and then gives me just a little more confidence than I had before I began writing here. It helps me to believe that I can make a difference for the better in the world. And it lets me know that I'm not alone. None of us are.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Signs To Watch

I haven't contacted my old friend, but I did follow up a couple of leads from her Twitter page and found out that she is a successful instructor and administrator; she is also a mother. It was exciting to find her on the web. I even got to read some of her professional blog. I felt happy for her achievements and success, but I faltered at the idea of contacting her. I looked at myself and felt self conscious. And then I started looking more closely at my life and the choices I made and I wondered when precisely did I become mentally ill or had I always been mentally ill? Everyone has disadvantages in their life, but not everyone becomes mentally ill because of them. Why did I? Is an illness like schizophrenia purely a genetic flaw or do I hold some responsibility for becoming ill? Am I off the hook and not responsible for causing my illness or am I on the hook living the consequences of my actions? Did I, by my choices, turn myself into a schizophrenia sufferer? As always, the answer lies all mixed up, part biological, part personal inclination, part circumstantial.

I had experienced psychotic symptoms before I began hearing voices in my mid twenties, I just didn't know that it was psychosis at the time. I was kind of proud to be a little weird. I looked askance at those who seemed to fit in to school. I didn't trust that people who seemed to be normal, were normal. I bordered on anti-social, except for a few close friends and my family. It was the mid 1970s in New York City and punk was branching out into new wave music. I was responding to Elvis Costello, the Talking Heads, Rikki Lee Jones, the B-52s, cut my hair real short and wore thrift store clothing. My two favorite jackets were a faded jean jacket with a marijuana leaf sewn onto the back of the jacket (though I didn't smoke very often then) and a too large for me man's black jacket. I had an old fashioned camper's knapsack on which I wrote the quote from a Crosby, Stills and Nash song: "If you smile at me, I will understand, 'cause that is something everybody, everywhere does in the same language."

Going to high school in Manhattan and returning home to Brooklyn sometimes late at night, made me street savvy. I dressed down, stayed low key, didn't make much eye contact, moved quickly in the streets. I did not like the subways, but I used them all the time, much more than buses and I never hailed a taxi, though I may have ridden in one a couple of times with friends. I walked around with a pocket full of change to give to the homeless outside the subway stations. In Brooklyn, I lived in comfort. I had my own room, my own black and white television, my own telephone on the top floor of a 3 story brownstone. I had a lot of privacy. I did my school work and didn't get into any trouble. I was just another moody teenager, a bit too withdrawn maybe, but okay it seemed.

What are the signs to watch for in the young? Social withdrawal, difficulty making friends, few extra curricular activities, an aversion to competition, little interest in getting a job, not talking in classes. Who can get a youngster back on the right track? Parents, teachers, friends, siblings. I don't know about other kids, but I needed more guidance and structure, more mentoring. My self-esteem had been shaky since I was little, despite doing well in school. Doing well in school was not enough to turn me into a well adjusted adult, I needed a bridge and a push. My tendency was to withdraw and avoid. But how do you get a withdrawn kid to get involved? You pay attention and you say something. Set up challenges and accessible goals to achieve. You stay encouraging. You teach by example. But mostly you pay attention. Young people need special attention from some adult or a strong positive social network.

The internet is a powerful tool and I think it's changing things for people who suffer from mental illness. People like myself, young and old, who tend to be socially withdrawn can make contact with other people who have similar interests and/or problems. If you take the initiative, there are many places to fit in. It still can't take the place of face to face connections, but it lessens some of the isolation, provides information and support. What I wish is that more people were forming groups on the internet whose members are from specific local communities. The two groups I would like to join locally are the artists and the mentally ill, even better mentally ill artists like myself. Ideally, I would find a local group online, join, get to know the members, and then form an offline support group.

I formed an online mental health group for my town and area, posted my cards in town, but no one showed up and I felt discouraged and a bit embarrassed. I still hope someone will make use of that group, but I haven't advertised it enough. But some good news is that I visited the NAMI (National Alliance On Mental Illness) site and discovered that there is a NAMI representative in a town that's about a half and hour away and she left her phone number and email, so I emailed her and am hoping she will respond sometime soon. There's a slight chance that there is a support group available. May it be so.

It still shocks me that I have never been to a mental health support group for my illness and that I know no one personally who suffers from it. My therapist and psychiatrist vaguely assert that they know there are other people who suffer from schizophrenia in this area, but I have no knowledge of who they are. The stigma of the illness makes people stay anonymous. In my small town, I'm pretty sure the word is long since out that I suffer from schizophrenia, partly because I let it out to teachers when I was at school and partly because I told my brother that he could be open to his friends about my illness. It's not that I want people to point at me and say "There goes the town schizophrenic." I want to reassure people that there is a reason why my lawn is not always mown, why my car is in my driveway nearly always, why I rarely have visitors, why the lights stay on sometimes into early morning, why I don't have a husband/boyfriend, children, friends or a job. I'm the crazy artist woman, the sister of a very smart, very verbal lay musicologist-soccer devotee who hangs out at the local bars; I am harmless. I'm pleasant to the bank tellers, the wait persons, the pharmacist and his assistants, the postal workers. I get my meds and I take my meds and I don't make a scene because my psychosis is no longer so acute. I'm seen sometimes in my brother's company. Am I the only psychotic person in town? I don't know, but I'm certainly not the only mentally ill person in town, I just kind of feel that way. Which is why a NAMI support group nearby would be a golden opportunity to meet at least a few other people who suffer from some sort of mental illness.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

30 Years Ago...




These are some of my drawings that I did when I was in high school. Recently I found one of my best friends from high school on Twitter, so I've been thinking a bit about those times, though I haven't had the courage to contact her. I have to say that I knew something was wrong with me from my first year at high school. I hated that first year. I went to a small, private high school bordering on SoHo/Greenwich Village in Manhattan. I had gone to public schools up until then and all my friends were going to good public schools, but I didn't get accepted at any good ones. So off I went, leaving Brooklyn for Manhattan, which was a big switch in itself. The location of the school was pretty cool, but the school itself felt incredibly foreign to me. I went from an Intermediate Public School of 2,000 to a private school of maybe 200. Most of the kids that went this high school were white and had gone to fairly expensive private schools all their lives, whereas my Brooklyn friends were much more varied ethnically and financially, which I had loved, but had taken for granted.

In the junior high school that I went to in Brooklyn I had been part of the "Advanced Enrichment" classes, that's where the more motivated, precocious kids wound up. We were not beloved by the rest of the school, which consisted of many Puerto Rican students, some of whom were members of gangs even at the tender ages of 10 through 13. There were quite a few really tough girls who proceeded to attack some of my friends off and on during the school year. I think I was spared because I looked pretty Hispanic myself and I wasn't much of a talker. This school went from 6th to 9th grade, but most of my friends left by the end of 8th grade due to the violence. I was artistically inclined, but I didn't have the courage to try out for the school of Art and Design in Manhattan. My best friend did have the courage and got accepted. So my parents, not wanting to send me to the local high school, which had a very poor reputation, started looking for private schools to send me. I hated the idea of going to a private school, but I had no choice, so I was biased against the high school I wound up at from the beginning. Plus I was fresh out of Brooklyn and had a heavy Brooklyn accent, so whenever I opened my mouth I stood out as different.

I discovered that the kids in my class were not motivated to learn and work, which I found weird and dispiriting. I continued to be a "good" student, though I didn't talk much. I was very withdrawn, to the point where I wouldn't even go to the cafeteria to eat with the other kids. Instead I wound up eating my lunch on some unused back steps hidden from view. I used to feel badly because there was a public telephone in the hallway and I could hear people having what they thought were private conversations. That first year I made a few tentative friendships with other borderline misfits, but the one girl I was closest to left the following year. She was really nice, a writer and very smart and she didn't like the school either obviously. But I stayed and, for one reason or another, a girl, who seemed to be accepted by the general population of the school, took pity on my and befriended me. I wouldn't say that she much liked the school either, but at least she was used to going to a small, private school and she was charming enough to fit in. She was a dancer and an actress, but initially she wasn't a very good student. Nonetheless, she was smart and funny and talented and I came to love her, really, to be a little in love with her, as I was with my other friend who went to Art and Design. I think a big part of why I was fixated on my two friends was that there weren't a lot of interesting guys at that school. So while most "normal" girls were going out with their first boyfriends, I was hanging out with my friends, though not all together. For a while, I seriously considered the idea that I might be bi-sexual. In fact, I thought that the truth was that everyone was potentially bi-sexual, it just depended on who you happened to get close to in adolescence. So I wound up being/looking pretty androgynous. I didn't really think about it, but I'm sure the kids in my high school thought Sue and I were lesbians. At least for a couple of years until we started hanging out with very bright/funny boy from the class below us.

Actually Sue and Saul were more suited to be together, they were both half Jewish on their father's side, living in low income housing with their divorced mothers (whom neither felt that comfortable with), both Manhattanites, both artistic (he was a writer and later starred in his senior class play "To Inherit The Wind"), both very bright and very funny. My memory is not good, maybe conveniently so, but I wound up being Saul's girlfriend. I guess, he sort of chose me. I was 17 and a complete virgin and my self esteem was low enough that I thought I would not get another chance to be in a relationship with a boy. I really thought that. That and he put a lot of pressure on me. He was romantic and horny and I was actually pretty vulnerable at that point. The first time he tongue kissed me (I had never been kissed before), I thought it was absolutely revolting like having a snake in my mouth. Anyway, I must have begun to emotionally neglect Sue. I remember forgetting about her birthday and winding up giving her a lousy present and that was it. She was pissed and she basically rejected me. Later she would say that she never got over her father leaving her and that she would rather be the rejector than the rejected.

So she began looking for friends elsewhere. That was horrible and I missed her a lot. And then I lost my virginity to Saul soon after my 18th birthday and that was it, I was changed too and not really for the better. I went into mourning for several years for the self that could have been, but I stayed with Saul all through college. And, really, he was a very good boyfriend for me, for a while. But I stopped having any friends whatsoever. It was just me and Saul for five years. For a good chunk of that time my family adopted him and he lived with me at home. I sort of rescued him from a clinging, obese alcoholic mother. He had been living in a one bedroom apartment with her for many years, he got the bedroom and her bedroom was the living room. I thought she was really a very nice person, but Saul said she would get abusive with him and he hated it. The terrible irony is that his father suffered from schizophrenia and by the time that I started hearing voices Saul and I had broken up. So both Saul and Sue never knew that I was actually mentally ill though they might have suspected it at some point. Anyway, all the people I cared for eventually began to grow up and turn into adults and began to distance themselves from me and probably rightly so. I lived at home till I was 27 and studied painting and photography in Manhattan, but didn't get a job. During that time, after Saul, I had 2 boyfriends, sort of, but neither lasted very long and no friends. By the time I moved to Western New York I was very lonely. My self esteem was real low too because I had been shaming myself for years about not getting a job. So what did I do? Within months of moving I got involved with a young, abusive alcoholic who was homophobic and anti-Semitic to boot. But that's another story...

It's hard to believe that 30 years have gone by since I was close to Sue in high school. And much as I would like to get in touch with her, I still carry this shame with me, the shame of being an adult child suffering from mental illness. The main thing that keeps me respecting myself is my artwork. Being an artist is my new identity. I've wanted to be an artist since I was a kid, but the confidence and skill were lacking in me. That's beginning to change, but I have a ways yet to go.