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, April 21, 2010

Spring Cleaning (And Other Stuff)

No, I haven't done it yet, but I'm setting up to do it this week-end. Saying it aloud and to several people online will help me to commit to doing it. I almost wish I could say that my inability to clean is just plain laziness, but I know it is more. People with schizophrenia are known for not being particularly clean. I've gotten a bit better in terms of changing my clothes and brushing my teeth and changing the kitty litter boxes and such, but still I struggle with all the rest of it. The fact that very few people come over to my house just allows me to wallow in a state of disarray and mess. I love books, but I have too many of them and not enough book cases. I just have too much stuff and it's time to get rid of some things and make room. I used to have the ability to organize, now I shove things here and there and don't pay enough attention. All of this makes me acutely uncomfortable at times and depressed. I have to change myself and I have to start now.

The work on the downstairs of my house is basically finished and I was proud of myself for dragging my drawing table down the stairs and setting it up in the corner of one of the rooms. I also brought down other art related stuff, but there's more to do. It is a start in the right direction. My friend Richard, who has done almost all the work downstairs, is now busy constructing a play area in the outdoor cat pen. When he does something he goes all out. He's brought tree branches and trunks and even pieces of a telephone pole. Once he's done, which should be soon, I have to get up the nerve to let the cats out. I know that sounds silly, but I worry about them getting out or freaking out. I'll probably start letting just a couple out at a time and see what they do. It should be great really and not something to get anxious over, but I get anxious over a lot of small, dumb things. I've even been putting off opening the windows because I'm afraid of the wasps and bees that somehow manage to get inside the house despite having screens. Last summer one of my kittens made a habit of putting the wasp in his mouth, so, of course, he got stung. His lip swelled up, but only for a short time, so I was relieved. I guess they have to live and learn just as much as I do. Anyway, an hour ago I opened up some windows and already that's making a difference in the house.

I've also set up in the downstairs bedroom my recording equipment, my microphone and my electric guitar. I've been practicing playing and singing a bunch of new songs and also older songs (within the last couple of years) that I've re-worked. On the whole, my voice has potential if I keep practicing, so that's lifted my spirit. My songs are very basic because I am very limited in what I can do, but in some ways that gives me a simplified structure to work with. I'm amazed at how simple songwriting can be if you let it. The test will be when I record a few songs and put them on a CD and also upload them to my Soundclick page so that other people can hear them. Before I got ill, except for the first few months when I was still working on songs, I would take one song and practice it over and over until I was finally ready to record it. That's what I have to work my way up to doing. So I've been touching base with it a couple of times a day which is a good start for now. I don't really expect my songs to go very far, but that's okay. I think I've come to terms with that. The main thing is that it makes me feel spiritually connected to something larger than myself. And if a few people wind up enjoying a few of the songs, that's good enough. It's a little lonely working on my own, but I still need to do it.

No word from the former friend/lover that I sent my CD and a letter to. I also gave him this blog address and my Artid site address, so who knows, he might be stopping by from time to time without my knowing it. I'm a little saddened that he has probably decided not to respond to me, but I can understand it too. I laid a bunch of stuff on him all of a sudden and it may not have been appropriate. Still, it would have been great to know him online and just keep in touch. He's a singer/performer and perhaps a songwriter too. I did ask the I Ching about him. It seems he's not only dedicated to music and to his circle/family of friends, but he has a lot of integrity. I asked what his heart's desire was and I got the hexagram for Inner Truth. I thought that was great. But when I asked if he had decided not to contact me, I got hexagram 18 which is called Corruption with no moving lines. When there are no moving lines, it makes the response emphatic. I wasn't sure how to interpret it, but, as the name implies, it's not so good. It's also called Work On What Has Been Spoiled. From the interpretations I've read it might have something to do with neglect or personal fault, but there's also a lot of hopeful room for improvement. It's not as if it's some negative cosmic force that's put one in a bad situation and so you can do something about it if you choose. But really when it comes to this man and his situation, I can only have a little glimpse into his world. Ultimately I don't know and won't know unless he chooses to tell me. I told him to do what was best for him and I meant that. And so I retreat and let it go. But I am including him and his family in some of the prayers that I send out. I wish him well.

On the other hand, I have been getting in touch with some people I used to know through facebook and that has been very good so far, but, again, I'm not placing my hopes on it. I will just stay responsive and see what happens. If deeper connections can be made, that would be wonderful and if not, I will be okay. I'm just proud of myself for either reaching out or being receptive to others reaching out to me. There's one old friend that I'm particularly glad to be in touch with again. She's been sharing some of her memories with me. Her birthday is this coming Tuesday, so today I sent her a card and a small gift.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Integrity

I have been consulting the I Ching and studying the 64 hexagrams and different authors interpretations of them for over two weeks now. In 2007 I studied the I Ching with a diviner named Hilary Barrett. I found her through her site called Clarity. This time around, when I returned to consulting the I Ching through her free computer program, I discovered that she was including her interpretations of the hexagrams. In fact, her book will be coming out on Amazon sometime soon I hope. I responded positively to her use of language. The names of the hexagrams are somewhat different than the ones I'm used to, but they seemed to work better for me. One very important hexagram, hexagram 15 is normally called Modesty, but she calls it Integrity. Here is her interpretation:

"To experience integrity is like coming face to face with your real self - plain, simple and unadorned. To have integrity is to be whole, at one with yourself and your reality. It means being honest about your own capacities, holding yourself in creative balance with your world and not exaggerating the importance of your role. These qualities enable the noble one to bring whatever work presents itself to completion. Since she is not overly full of herself, she has space for the real world; she isn't hampered by an excess or by a lack of confidence. Since she isn't caught up in a personal story, and doesn't identify her work with her worth, she is free to do what needs to be done and move on."

To have integrity is to also be modest and, according to the philosophy behind the I Ching, this is the basis for all just thoughts and actions. And so, I asked myself, after I read this, if I have integrity and I saw that in part I do and in part I don't. The fact that I don't quite measure up here does have to do with schizophrenia. Lately I've been seeing schizophrenia as an ego imbalance disease. Still, my aspiration is to be balanced, to have a deeply rooted integrity. When I asked the I Ching what would happen if I studied and followed it, I got Integrity. When I asked if I had the capacity to help people with mental illness, I got Gradual Progress into Integrity. This is good news to me.

Studying the I Ching is like learning a new language. For me it is not completely new because I've had contact with it since I was young, but now I've gone through several cycles of moving towards it and away from it. Each time I return, my understanding deepens and yet, even after all these years, I'm still a beginner. I am perhaps an intermediate beginner. I feel this way about my other creative endeavors. As a beginner everything is still new enough to be fresh, but my abilities are limited. Time and practice are required of me if I am to move onto the next level. Like a curious child, I have been asking the I Ching many questions. I choose the questions carefully and then I ask them one at a time with as much earnestness as I can muster. This requires a certain amount of soul searching. But before I can search too far, I need to understand where I am at in the present.

The I Ching has given me the hexagram 47 as a partial definition of my present circumstances. Hilary Barrett has named it Confined, but it has also been called Oppression. Here is part of Hilary's explanation: "The Chinese character for 'Confined' or 'oppressed' shows a tree completely encircled by walls: an image of entrapment and isolation. You are cut off, and cannot reach out to others. The great person finds good fortune in constancy to an inner ideal. This is a supreme test of character: whether you can hold to your purpose when there is no encouragement, no confirmation from outside, but only your own inner resources. The lack of outward signs of progress does not mean that you are wrong, or that the world is wrong. Rather than resenting the walls, concentrate on the life and growth within them."

I do not resent the walls, in fact, I have contributed to creating them. Schizophrenia and isolation usually go together. I have thought of people who suffer from schizophrenia as wounded animals and when an animal is wounded, it withdraws in order to heal. But in that case eventually there comes a time to return to the world. In the case of a tree encircled by walls, the walls must come down or the tree will die, though Hilary creates an image more of a tree surrounded by walls except for the ceiling, because a tree needs light and rain in order to grow and this is more of how I see myself, still reaching towards the light, not totally isolated. My connection to life comes from the creativity I encourage in myself within the walls. I have done this for years.

Another hexagram I've been getting a lot is number 23, Stripping Away. Hilary writes: "The surfaces are cut and sliced away; the old and unviable is stripped back to expose the living core. This inevitable, natural process often feels like a flaying: the more you have invested of yourself in these old things, the more painful it will be. It's no good, at such times, to imagine the future and make plans. You need to bring your energy back to the centre and honour the process: this is a time to be transformed, not to act. Moreover, until the old is so utterly stripped from you that you have no choice but to think in new ways, you will only be able to re-create the old patterns."

Getting rid of the old and establishing the new has been a theme running through my consultations. It's as if I have to begin taking down the walls that surround me, slowly and carefully. The image of flaying is extreme, but it shows that the process is not easy or void of pain and yet in this case it seems to be necessary. For me, the pain comes in as I examine myself. The I Ching sets a high standard to follow and I think I'm prepared now to follow. In the cosmology of the I Ching the lines of the hexagrams represent a social stratification. The lower lines represent the lower classes and the upper lines represent the minister, the king and the sage. It is patriarchal yes, but more than that, it is symbolic of lower versus higher nature. The intent behind the I Ching is to guide and advise individuals on how to seek out their higher natures. The goal, then, is to actually become a wise and just king or sage within the smaller sphere of your life. Inevitably, this is not a smooth journey.

In western culture it is easy to fall into the trap of imagining yourself the hero or heroine or in the case of the I Ching the king, queen or sage. For most of us, the truth is there will be times in our lives when we rise to the level of a king/queen/sage, but more often we will be struggling with keeping our lower natures in check. Though I do believe that there are people out there who can sustain a certain high level of leadership and wisdom. But the I Ching is fluid because our natures are fluid, so we get the chance to play all the roles and you can find yourself landing on any of the lines depending on the nature of your question and the general attitude behind it or based on your history. Also each line can be influenced from negative to positive. Not all kings and ministers are strong and wise and not all lowly officials or peasants are weak and foolish. The main point is that the I Ching gives sometimes praise and other times cautions. Paying attention and giving respect to the warnings can potentially guide you to a stronger, healthier position.

The bottom line basis for paying attention to, respecting and following the I Ching and its philosophy is strict self honesty. In some ways, what I'm stripping away is self-deception in order to get to my true heart and to clear my mind. Self-honesty is a path to integrity. Soul searching is about being honest with yourself about what you want, what you're willing to do to achieve it and about what your personal limitations are. I think I've always inclined towards being an honest person, but because of my illness, I have fallen into delusions that I had a hard time getting out of. So honesty has become a life line to mental health. Now I've trained myself to catch myself more quickly when I begin to slip and that makes all the difference. The I Ching is furthering that ability. It's a tough master, but a just one.







Thursday, April 8, 2010

Today's Contour Drawings





I drew these pictures quickly, not in order to get an exact likeness, but in order to follow the lines of the photographs I was looking at fairly closely. I didn't do blind contour drawing, where you don't look at your paper as you're drawing, though those are fun to do because there are invariably distortions in the face and figure. These drawing also contain distortions, though not as pronounced as some. Using a marker on paper without an underdrawing is like going on a small adventure: you have to let go and follow different paths, stopping here and starting there, keeping this and leaving out that.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Higher Powers

I have been consulting the I Ching these last couple of weeks. For those of you who don't know, the I Ching is an ancient Chinese divination method. It is based on the symbolic interplay of yin and yang. Normally one divines with either yarrow sticks or three coins, but in this computer age I have found I can just as effectively divine online. It's all about the meaning in chance or rather that things that happen by chance sometimes (or even often) contain meaning. Now this might sound like an inappropriate activity for someone who suffers from schizophrenia, but I have found it to be helpful even in times of acute psychosis. Because the basic premise is that life is about change, hence the name of the book-- The Book of Changes, it is more about an Eastern view of philosophy than about fortune telling. The impressions I get about the present or the near future are all conditional. Nothing is fixed in stone and every thought or action, be it positive or negative, will have its own short term or long term effect on one's life situation. So a predicted negative outcome can be changed into a positive outcome and visa-versa depending on the choices made.

The I Ching offers a moral philosophy to follow. I remember that I was guided by my voices a year before I became acutely psychotic to study the I Ching. I bought a book called A Guide To The I Ching by Carol Anthony. I have since found that the author's interpretation is rather unusual. She sees those who consult the I Ching as students and the responses given by the I Ching as those given by "The Sage". In pressing this idea of a student/sage relationship, she encourages the view of going on a moral/spiritual journey. When I finally succumbed to delusions and paranoia I continued to consult the I Ching. I was trying to follow a spiritual path and for a while the I Ching guided me to be humble and to refrain from acting out. This was a good thing. Eventually the delusions became too strong and veered far away from Eastern ideas and into Christian ideas and symbols. Even in my deluded state that was very odd to me because I was not a Christian and was trying to embrace both the I Ching and Buddhism. But that is the nature of severe mental illness, it takes you to places strange and unfamiliar and turns your world upside down.

During the acute stages of my illness I would return briefly to the I Ching and now, years later, I still come back to it from time to time. I do so because I respect the philosophy I have found in it, one of modesty, patience, perseverance, receptivity. But it is not an easy thing to interpret the I Ching. Like most people who take it seriously, I have quite a few books on it, each with their own interpretations. And so, in order to get something from the experience of divination and study, I have to stay very honest and trust my intuition. That's the challenge of it. The Chinese believe in something they call wu-wei which translates as "going with the flow". If you're willful and controlling, you do not go with the flow and you run into problems, but if you stop resisting and let go into the present moment, you can find a certain balance even in hard times.

Of course, divination requires that you believe in a higher power, some wise seemingly supernatural entity that is actually willing to interact with you. Though I am not a Christian and come from a family of atheists and agnostics, I do believe in a higher power. My family would say that this is egocentric thinking because why (and how) would a higher power actually interact with me, let alone all the people on earth. I really don't know how, though there have been times when I would have liked to know. I just know that even without all the religious training that most people get, I have had the feeling that something greater than myself did exist and was involved in all life. It's a mystery. But, I also believe that the voices that I still hear from time to time are not merely the result of a chemical imbalance, though that certainly factors into the situation. I realize that many people take comfort in the idea that severe mental illness is the result of chemical imbalances and not a matter of personal failing or failure in parenting and this is a big step in the right direction. But I am hear to say, from time to time, that that is not the whole story. There is a spiritual side to this story.

And so I believe in a higher power and I believe that when I consult the I Ching that I am communing with something wiser than myself. But I still have to do the work of living my life, of trying to be good. I still have to decide when it is okay to act and when it is better to not act or even retreat. All of this requires a certain moral decision making process. Recently I have slowly started to get in touch with people from my past and last week I sent a letter and my 1990s CD to someone I knew in my 20s. He was a friend and a lover, but I have not had contact with him for 20 years and so I consulted the I Ching. I also consulted the I Ching about my past and present songs. The response was generally positive, but ultimately I had to decide for myself whether I wanted to reach out. I decided to give it a try. I knew my intentions were good and that I would be okay if he chose not to take me up on my offer of online friendship. I'm so used to not reaching out which is why I know so few people. But I'm at a point in my life where I'm starting to feel better than I have in a long time and so I'm more willing to fall flat on my face and more able to pick myself up, dust myself off, change my course and continue on.