A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Looking Backwards

This is Brendan when he was about 19 in 1989 when he was on the soccer team at Alfred State College. I recently discovered a bunch of letters he wrote to me dating from Fall 1993, Fall 1995, 1997 and 1999 (a couple of months before he died). So I went looking for some photographs of him and I gathered up about 11 so far. This is one of the earliest photos.

In the Fall of 1993 we had been together for just under four years. He was firmly entrenched in his alcohol addiction and would go through regular cycles where he would be abusive towards me. In early October of that year he got a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) and was put in jail. Neither I nor his family would bail him out--me because I was afraid of him and them because they thought they were teaching him a lesson. He stayed in jail for a couple of weeks, even through his 23rd birthday till I finally bailed him out. While in jail he started writing, first two letters to me and then a sort of journal of his experience in jail. I read through the letters and journal and then typed them up and printed them out.

Here he writes about the racism in the jail:

"Today my district or north dorm received our first black inmate. He is visibly frightened and for damn good reason. He will not leave with all of his skin. Today his lunch and dinner were both eaten before he even had a chance to smell them. Like a fool, I have now alienated myself within my own district by sharing meals with "them". The only whites willing to hang with me are the "religious" whites who enjoy my passion for argument. Unfortunately, I am not scared and feel no need to fear a severe beating. I have already handled the unpleasantries of trying to be punked. It is common knowledge that I would have to be nearly killed for anyone to own me. I am now wondering how I will deal with the inevitable "peppering" of this good natured, young (Black) man. There will be no hesitation within this "mob" to beat me silly if I do decide to jump in for what I know is right. It may sound dramatic, but I do not exaggerate here. You can smell the hatred."

Here he sounds intelligent and perceptive dealing with a hard situation and showing some justice in his actions, but as another week goes by he gets more and more angry, not surprisingly:

"I am back physically fighting the best I have ever fought, but still slow to realize you cannot give anyone, friends, family, ex-lovers, an inch. There is no reason to concern myself with K any longer. A woman with her evil mind and self-centered crap belong with her own kind. She will fool her "acquaintances" and future fucks, but not for long I hope. I do wish you well, but I am still an open wound."

A few days earlier he was writing to me saying "Please understand I did this. My mistake. I am not angry at all with you. You're the best. I love you." That was the heart of the problem for me, the switch from love to hate and so quickly. That he had some training as a boxer was no reassurance for me when he would turn his anger in my direction while we were living in isolation together in the house. And yet, I read his words and I find myself once again drawn to parts of the person he was.

A couple of years later about a month or so after I left him for the last time in the summer of 1995 he writes to me from a rehab in Pennsylvania called Chit-Chat:

"On Saturday when I leave, we hold what is called a bell ringing. The community lines up and I stand in the center at the end of two parallel lines. In front of me is a large brass bell. The community wishes me luck and tells me I have helped them and what we have shared. Each member holds my sobriety coin and "rubs sobriety" into it while telling me what the "special" things are that we did together. There are predictions and advice and then good luck, God Bless and I know/think you'll do all right out there. I then address the community as a whole and ring the bell once for a certain reason of my choice. I have chosen once for my God, once for my sobriety, once for you, once for the love and support of my family and once for the community as a whole. I am really looking forward to this because my chances look pretty good this time around. If you can, please come. (Still trying) If I thought I was being selfish, I wouldn't do this and you know I am not trying to hurt you. Don't give up on me just yet, I've been down, but not for the count. I'm on my feet and going to fight this with all the talents God has given me."

"The main reason I feel good about this (the bell ringing) is that I have seen at least ten patients quit and head right back out to get fucked up and fuck up their loved ones in the process. I stuck to it, worked my ass off to get all that I could out of this and for once in my life did what I was told without being an insecure wise ass. And the greatest part of it all is I listened. I know what I have to do. I have no choice, its my last chance. No mention to my parents please, but I fucked up my liver a bit, a lot for someone my age. The doctor says it will return to normal with abstinence (from booze), so I know what I cannot do any longer. Otherwise I am healthy as fuck."

Around the same time I was writing this in my journal:

"Made it from JFK to Binghampton. Tomorrow it's back to Alfred--to my house & cats & brother. Night before last I was disturbed by a call from Mrs. M. (Brendan's mom). She told Brendan that she'd been talking to me. When he asked for my number, she refused to tell him, but she agreed to call me and give me his number. Putting the ball in my court so to speak. She said he didn't like the rehab much and was talking about leaving. She said he wouldn't stay with them--he mentioned going back to Alfred--that or to Kingston with Scott--to her that would be like "putting a gun to his head". All this unnerved me & the idea of talking to him just at a time when I would be heading back home was too much. Of course "the parents" weren't happy either & Dad said I should call Mrs. M. and tell her to tell Brendan that I wasn't going to call. I called Mrs. M. & said I couldn't handle it and that I'd rather he didn't call me. That took some pressure off of me. The guilt is what gets me. I'm trying to break up & I can't be friend & supporter while I'm trying to distance myself. Still, I feel lousy about it. Six years is a long time to be with one person--and I can't help it if I feel a certain amount of love & affection for Brendan. Unfortunately because he's addicted to alcohol and has certain mental problems stemming from his family & community--it's no easy thing to keep a good balance--and my tendency is to give too much, ask too little and that's just not going to work for me anymore. I feel so sad. This is a dangerous time for me. Whether I like it or not, I've got to be cautious. I've also got to get involved with things outside of myself."

Looking back and reading both Brendan's letters and my journal of that time, I see he was serious about his sobriety and that if I had given him one more chance, he might have pulled through. But I didn't. I would come back into his life as a friend, but never again as a lover. The abuse was bad enough that I haven't been in another relationship since the night I left him in the summer of 1995. At first that was because I was trying to recover and then, almost as a delayed reaction, I became seriously mentally ill myself. I believed I was just too ill to be in a relationship even after I began to recover. And now, I just don't really want to be in a relationship. I'm finding that my creativity suffices. I get too isolated, but I still enjoy my own company.

I read in some book on domestic violence that it can take twice the time you were in a relationship to begin to heal from serious abuse. For me, because of the schizophrenia, it's taken till now to actually look back from where I came, to look at Brendan with some justice. Really, he was a good person living under some very hard circumstances. And now I'm able to miss him in a way I wasn't able to before. Maybe I can reflect some of the good things about him in my JournalBook. And so it's back to typing up his words and mine...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

StoryMill

I got the word processing/data base program StoryMill last Wednesday, nearly a week ago. For the most part, it is a great program and I've been working with it each day. So far I've divided my projects into the memoir, my "journalbook" or a collection of excerpts from my journals from 1987 to the present, and essays and article ideas, research and writing. I'm also using an older word processing program called MacJournal that is meant for journaling and blogging. The StoryMill program is divided into chapters, characters, scenes, locations and research. So I've been getting organized naming the characters in my life and the locations I've been to, doing a lot of research and beginning to write.

I have been looking for people I knew in grade school and high school on Facebook and I've been finding a lot of people, but I won't contact them until I'm further along in the memoir. Right now, I'm just testing the waters, only time will tell if I commit to these projects and actually turn them into books and saleable essays and articles. I've ordered three books on the nuts and bolts approach to freelance writing because I am clueless about how to practically try and earn money through writing. I did do some research online about freelance writing jobs and they are definitely out there, but a lot of them look like drudgery work. Right now, while I'm financially supported, I want to aim high and go for selling essays to literary magazines and/or their yearly contests or to selling articles to well established magazines. I know the likelihood is that I will get a lot of rejection letters or emails, but that is part of the process. The main thing is to do the work, send it out and be stubborn and persistent. I'm just looking to get my foot in the door and earn some extra money.

The StoryMill program allows me to jump around in time. I can write about life in grade school and then jump forward and write about my first boyfriend and then jump way back and write about my mother's childhood in The Great Depression and then jump forward again and transcribe a more recent journal. I can also do a lot of research online. I've been cutting and pasting a bunch of stuff from the internet into the research section and character section of the program, both text and photographs. It's very cool. So I'm not stuck interminably in one place, but am free to wander and collect memories. In fact, the whole process has given me access to memories I thought I had lost forever due to my illness.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Back To Writing Seriously...And Reading

Well, I contacted the owner of the design studio and he said that he's not yet ready to hire me for more work because he's still working on different aspects of the project. What he is, is essentially a high level interior decorator, so he works on an an entire house or apartment and not just one small section, or so I believe because I've never really thought about it before. Sounds like kind of a cool job. I am so psyched that he responds to my artwork. May this will be the beginning of a long and fruitful connection between us...

Since I got sick 10 years ago, I've read books and magazines erratically. When I was young, especially in my 20s, I was a great reader, but then I got involved with Brendan and spent most of my time watching TV and videos of movies. Then I fell into deep psychosis and I literally couldn't read or watch TV, so I turned to craftwork and audiobooks. Now I am returning to reading again because I don't have TV, though I still watch movies from time to time. Ironically, I am also a book collector. I have a ton of them, many of them only partially read or not read at all. The other day I decided to pick out a novel to read and wound up reading a book by Nick Hornby called High Fidelity. The book was turned into a movie starring John Cusak which I saw a few years ago and liked. I think my brother got me the book sometime afterwards. Though the movie was set in Chicago I think, the book takes place in London, which to my mind is more interesting. It's about a 35 year old record store owner. His girlfriend leaves him for another man and he begins thinking about all the relationships he's had since he was 12 or 13. Some of the writing is laugh aloud funny and it got me thinking about when I was 12. From there I returned to working on my memoir and began writing in my journal again. I also ordered a word processing/data base program for my computer called StoryMill that's made for Mac computers. This program is designed for writing books, especially novels. It's very well organized and even has a feature for seeing one's work in a timeline from start to finish. I'm very excited about getting this program because I've been having trouble organizing my work and this looks as if it will make that job much easier. I will get it by the end of this week, but I've already started trying to organize some of my ideas in my written journal.

The thing is, I want to write about my parents and grandparents as well as my brother and myself and really my whole life, but that's too much for a memoir. So I'm thinking I might be looking at writing two to three memoirs all told. I do want to write about my experience with schizophrenia, but my hard core experience with it began late at 36 years of age. So I actually had a life before this life. Most of the memoirs I've read by people who suffer from schizophrenia start from late childhood to their late teens or early 20s. And most of the memoirs I've read do not cover in depth the history of the authors family of origin, but focus instead on young adulthood and onward. There is no doubt that I was mentally ill during my young adulthood because I stayed at home till I was 27, didn't get a job and had virtually no friends. I also had begun to hear voices, but they were so mild and generally supportive that I didn't take much notice of them. Then I left New York City and moved deep into the country and promptly got involved with a much younger man who suffered from alcohol addiction and mental illnes, hence my initiation into both a subculture of drugs and domestic violence. That in itself could be a memoir.

The more I look at my family and my life, the richer it seems and the more complex. So I see myself working on several writing projects at once, though I will put more focus on my parents' lives since they are in their 80s and won't live forever. I'm hoping to gather some crucial information from them. I've already collected a bunch of audio tapes worth of conversations with them which I will use to reconstruct their lives. I would like to turn some of what I research into well made essays and try to sell them to magazines...but that is getting ahead of myself. I also have some problems with the novel approach to the memoir, especially fabricating dialogue from years past when I have no memory or record of conversations from those times. It just seems misleading to me, despite the fact that it adds interest and color to a story. My approach might be more like collecting multiple essays on particular subjects pertaining to my life. My family is a small one--mother, father, uncle, brother and grandparents and the setting is a wonderful city--New York, my hometown. But it's almost as if I've lived three lives: my life in the City, my life in the country suffering through domestic violence and my life in the country suffering through and recovering from schizophrenia.

Then there is another story I very much want to tell, the story of my last ten years with the voices and how I sincerely believe that the voices ultimately come from an external and yes, alien, source. I rarely write about this firm belief knowing full well that it makes me sound delusional, but I know intimately and torturously what it's like to live inside a delusion and this is no delusion. I also know that I have no proof of this and that the common belief is that there are no such beings. So I have my work cut out for me in trying to convince a generally skeptical audience, which is why I think I've decided to wait till after I write my memoirs of my life in the City and of my family. If, and this is a big if, I write well enough of my life before schizophrenia to garner some credibility as a writer, I might be in a stronger position to present my case. Really if I write any good book I will consider my life a success, but to draw some people to even consider my point of view would ultimately be a crowning achievement for me. And so for now I dream and set aside the next several years to work. Don't get me wrong, I do love painting and am grateful for my small successes with it these last two years and I will continue to paint as well work on songs. For me, this is my idea of a good life: to be creative in any and every way that I'm capable of. To that end I think I'm beginning to succeed in life.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thoughts For The New Year

I began 2010 quietly, no fireworks or family or crowds of people, just one lone firecracker in the distance to mark the second the new year began. At that moment I felt expectant and excited to be beginning yet another year of life, but a couple of days later I fell into a slump. It's like my life is this puzzle with some pieces missing and I won't be content until I find the missing pieces. I know no one stops me from being happy. I do that on my own, not willfully or anything, but I slip into the negative and then return to the positive eventually. This blog is a witness of that. Life is about ups and downs, good times and bad times, confidence and insecurity.

This year I found two old friends on the internet, but my insecurity has made me shy away from contacting them. They weren't just old friends, they were my best friends in high school. After we drifted apart, time stood still for me. I didn't make new friends. They were the last close friends that I had. But that was almost 30 years ago. To reconnect with them would mean a lot to me, but it would require revealing myself and my circumstances. Why don't I feel ready to do that? I'm afraid of rejection. That's not a good enough reason. We all have to take risks in order to grow. Still, when it comes to me bonding with other people, I pull away. A part of me wants to pull away and a part of me wants to get closer, so I get somewhat pulled apart.

Pam Wagner once wrote to me that she thought that I might be using my schizophrenia as an excuse, that, in effect, I was stronger than I thought I was. Sometimes I think that might be true, but other times I can't ignore that I have the classic symptoms of schizophrenia: social withdrawal, problems with self care (i.e. cleaning my house, making doctor's appointments, changing my clothes, etc...), lingering voices in my mind that I still do not believe are self-generated, financial dependence (in my case on my family instead of on the government). Of course, that is not the whole story. I have also turned into an artist, even though my output varies from month to month--sometimes very creative and other times not. But if I'm not painting, then I'm making up songs or writing.

What do I really want for this year? To become more consistently creative and to earn a little money through my artwork. A couple of months ago a man who owns a design studio in Orlando bought a couple of my abstract paintings from my Artid site. He said he wanted to commission me to do more work for him. He implied that I wouldn't be needed until the beginning of 2010, sometime after the holidays. If he's serious, this could be a little dream come true. So tomorrow I will contact him to see if he's still interested in using me as an artist for his design studio. But I know I shouldn't stop there. I need to promote myself to others online and in my community and not solely rely on this wonderful offer. Still, the offer, whether it happens or not, has helped me to take myself more seriously and that is a good thing.

Despite the schizophrenia, I know I have a lot to be grateful for. When I first got really ill and I read that schizophrenia was a "brain disease", I saw it as almost a death sentence...no cure, a gradual or not so gradual decline into insanity. That is not what I've experienced. Initially, yes, I became deeply psychotic, but then I wasn't taking the anti-psychotic medications regularly. After I did commit to the reality that I suffered from a serious mental illness and that I needed extra help, mainly in the form of medications and therapy, I gradually began to improve. Now I have my days where I'm lost and unhappy, but those days do not last for weeks and months anymore.

Beyond the medications and therapy, what really gets me through is my own creative spirit. I get down, but I don't give in and give up. I also have a supportive family, a home and (I thank God) health insurance. When I think about how much I have, I know I'm blessed and my troubles shrink to a more manageable size.