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, November 27, 2012

Post Thanksgiving Reflections

Thanksgiving went really well this year.  My brother gave it a B+.  We did our Thanksgiving shopping about a week ago, then I cleaned and organized the house and then at 7:30 am on Thanksgiving day I drove to my brother's house, just a couple of miles away, and picked him up.  Neither of us had gotten much sleep and yet we did get the work done.  So Rob put the turkey in the oven soon after he got to my house.  Our guests arrived soon after 3pm and they were my new, good friend Sam and her older sister and her sister's husband and one other friend.  My brother made sure to buy a big turkey, 28 pounds, so that everyone could take home leftovers.  Everyone was having such a great time that they stayed till after 11pm.  I was particularly happy to finally get to meet Sam's sister Anne.

Sam and her sister are very close and always have been.  Anne is four years older than Sam and before Sam was born Anne, at a mere three years of age, petitioned her mother to give her a little sister.  Luckily for Anne (and Sam) that's just what happened.  Even at such a young age, Anne's maternal instincts were strong and she became a second mother to Sam.  Sam was very bright as a little kid and she was always ahead of the rest of her class by a few years because Anne would teach her what she had learned in school.  And then they both had three older brothers that I'm sure they learned things from.  They lived in a big, old yellow house with a wrap around porch in town.  Their father was a professor at the university here and their mother had her hands full raising five children.

During dinner Anne sat down next to me and we began to talk.  There was something gentle, sweet yet also strong and very honest about her.  She had lovely large eyes and long, gray hair and she wore a pair of earrings that she had made out of colored clay.  The only rather minor problem for me was that she spoke softly and amidst the noise of the others talking and the background music, I lost some of what she was saying to me.  But not all, in fact mostly I understood her.  We talked for quite a while with me trying to be extra attentive and responsive to the things she was saying.  She told me some things in confidence about herself and I felt warmed by her quick trust in me.  I was under the mistaken impression that Anne would look and act like an older version of Sam, but this was not the case.  Anne was more feminine than Sam and it was obvious that Anne believed that Sam was smarter than herself and that might be true and yet Anne showed fortitude, caring and competence in getting her nursing degree and working as a nurse before she retired.  Now she is a serious craftsman and has her own studio space to work in.  She also has a devoted husband, who is a gentle person, too.

Amongst the five of us, except Anne's husband who was abstaining from alcohol, we drank four bottles of red wine.  The dinner, prepared carefully by my brother, was excellent and we had a great time.  Considering that I had gotten only a couple of hours of sleep the night before, I was in excellent shape. Pretty much all of my delusional thinking of the previous days evaporated when I set out to accomplish something and interact with others.  Though I did start cleaning only the night before, I found that my house was not in such bad shape and I could do the work without stressing out about it.  This is a positive change for me.  I still struggle with getting the cleaning done, but no where near as much as before.  I think that's because Sam visits with me for a few hours every week or so and this motivates me to clean and organize.  Really on many levels having Sam in my life has been a godsend that has finally broken through the isolation that I imposed upon myself for a long time, even after I had been in recovery for years.

Another positive change for me this year was that I was able to be social.  Last year for Thanksgiving we had only one guest, so that it was very mellow, but the year before I freaked out and stayed downstairs away from the party all afternoon missing out on dinner with everyone.  This year was different perhaps in a large part due to the presence of women in the group.  The other years it was just men and because I had been in an abusive relationship with a man years before, I still felt self-conscious and intimidated when left on my own.  This year I had emotional backup because Anne and Sam paid attention to me and we very naturally supported each other.  But it was more than that, it was something inside of me; I felt some confidence that within this small group of people I would be accepted.  I didn't feel weird and out of place.  That was particularly gratifying to feel in my own house acting as hostess.

And yet less than a week earlier I was getting pulled into delusional reveries about my supposed connection to some totally unapproachable famous man.  I think the reason I have come mostly out of those delusional thoughts is because I've been working on my psyche to do just that -- let go and redirect myself.  My obligation to host the Thanksgiving dinner gave me a ready opportunity to take my thoughts from the unreal and unknown to the real and known, to the here and now.  Plus, I actually care about a wider circle of people now and I wanted to make this a nice holiday for the few of them that came last Thursday.  I know my brother and I succeeded in that.  He worked on the dinner and I worked on my house and my mind.

I don't know if my mental sobriety will last, but I have learned that keeping various projects going helped me to stay focused on my small life.  Before Thanksgiving I was still creating songs, working on  reading my journals and collecting quotes to make into a book, and taking at least a day a week to focus on writing blog entries.  Last week I set up my portastudio in one of my back rooms which is something I have been wanting to do for at least a month.  Yesterday evening I ordered three real inexpensive instruments, a djembe drum, a mandolin and a ukelele (in honor of Eddie Vedder...plus I'm just curious).  I already have an electric and an acoustic guitar and Sam's acoustic guitar and her bass guitar.  I love the idea of collecting instruments and learning new ones.  I'm a bit stuck with my guitar.  I tend to go around in circles that I have trouble breaking out of.  I'm hoping that a new infusion of instruments that I have never touched, let alone tried to play, will spark my curiosity and get me to fool around and practice and really learn.  So I've decided that this winter I'm going to work on creating/practicing/recording songs from the last six years to make into another CD of my more recent work.  That's another thing I've been wanting to do for a long, long time.

I've had my journal book idea for many years, but was never quite strong enough to read my journals for an extended period of time and actually select entries based on certain themes.  Now I've decided that I want one of the themes to be my desire to follow a spiritual path which began around the time I went to the Al-Anon support groups just about 20 years ago.  This is a theme that definitely pops up in most, if not all, of my existing journals.  Just possibly, I can create a collection of excerpts around this theme dividing them up into sections following the stages of my adult life and prefacing each section with an informative and reflective essay.  I have a curious feeling that I might be able to do this.  I've already got most of the material.  It's a matter of selecting and editing it down and organizing it, living with it for a while in its nakedness, dividing it up and writing up responses to each section.  So that is another serious project I want to work on this winter into spring.

This blog, of course, is important to me.  My music and my journal book are for now my private space where I can work, but this blog is for public viewing and public sharing.  It's an open journal of my process and progress over time.  It's where I keep in touch with my Buddhist practice and reflect upon what I've been learning.  It's where I can write about my mental illnesses and others mental illness discovering strategies along the way for how to cultivate more mental health in all of our lives.  It's a place where I can test out my commitment to being an honest and giving person.  I guess I'm hoping to set a good example here for maybe a few to follow, that it is a good thing to share your story in an open, honest way.  Some people, maybe many people, feel that openness is good with close friends and family or support groups, but that otherwise it is best not to admit to too much.  I've found, at least on this blog, that I need to share my perspective.  It's my way of contributing to the world around me.  It's all the more important to come across as thoughtful and articulate because I live with mental illness and I think communication is the main way to fight stigmatization.  I think stigma has more to do with ignorance than with a deep seated ill will towards the mentally ill and ignorance can be dispelled online in blogs, on message boards, at home, in school and even, for some, in the work place.  It all depends.  But the more of us can come out of our hiding places, even in small ways, well, that's the way to start to change the world view on what exactly it means to have a mental illness.

Monday, November 5, 2012

US Elections 2012: Please Vote!

This is such an important election.  Every vote counts, which is why I am urging you to accept the responsibility of casting your vote on Tuesday.  We need to know how the majority really feels.  Do we want to go backwards or do we want to go forward?  Do we want to return to a time when women's rights were more restricted?  Do we want to continue promoting wars abroad at the expense of the men and women who fight them?  Do we want our health care system to be run like a business instead of like a social service where millions of people are excluded from coverage?  Do we want to reward the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us when so many people are struggling just to get by?  For those who are Christian, do you want to be Christian in name only and not in actions?

Barack Obama is not a demi-god; he is a human being.  And as a human being he has done a pretty good job, considering the economic upheavals within the US and the world these past three years.  To lay blame on him for our poor economy, ignoring those who acted irresponsibly in the previous administration, and ignoring the ensuing economic meltdown which has been compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s, is to ignore too many facts.  Mitt Romney is running his campaign on the pledge to create more jobs, to somehow boost our economy by protecting the wealthy while cutting much needed social services.  My good friend Richard, who I know is voting for Romney, said something the other day about how starting another war would be good for our economy.  I don't understand the logic of this.  Men and women are getting killed and maimed and psychologically scarred, but if it's good for the economy, it okay?  When did the state of our economy become more important than the value we put on human life?

I love Richard.  I know he is a good man by his actions.  He is hard working and loyal and generally very decent to everyone he encounters, but his views on the Christian religion (he is Born Again) and his views on politics leave me disturbed and deeply puzzled.  And I know many people in this country believe at least some of what he believes and will vote for Mitt Romney.  Why?  I think really because Romney is a very rich man and for too many financial success is a measure of self-worth and value to one's family and community.  Rich men are smarter than the rest of us.  They are obviously blessed by God.  The irony is that Jesus did not hang with the wealthy so much, but with the poor, disabled, sick, mentally ill, with the people who desperately needed help.

So there is this growing divide in this country.  Most people are already decided.  Whoever wins tomorrow, there will be many, many disappointed people.  How do we heal the US?  It's not just about money and who can generate jobs; it's about social issues and foreign policy.  This is why the divide is so great.  Obviously, I'm a Democrat, but I live in a mostly Republican area, and I know that the people who live here are good people; they are mostly white, poor to middle class and Christian.  We all live amidst the wide open countryside relying on cars to get us around.  There are not a lot of available jobs and some of the younger people join the military because they just don't have the choices that their wealthier counterparts do have.  So many people around here, in support of members of their community who are putting their lives on the line, also support the military.  They are invested in the nationalistic idea that the US must use its armed forces to defend against its enemies in order to secure freedom at home.  And so, war has become a necessary evil and the sacrifices being made are, in their eyes, for a noble reason.  In terms of foreign policy, I would have to say that the people here believe in preserving a large and strong military machine, believe in being tough and punishing towards any threat to the interests of the US.  This means they are committed to starting wars abroad.

To me, being a pacifist, this is a strange and terrible cycle and yet I can understand the logic behind it. There is also logic in Christians believing that abortion is morally wrong, and yet the desire to legislate making the choice for others is also morally wrong.  What I find in much of the Christian Republican perspective is fear.  Fear of "enemies" be they terrorists in foreign lands or socialists at home or moral degenerates who believe that gay couples should have the legal right to marry.  All this fear, all this not turning the other cheek, all this not loving your enemy, all this scorn towards the peacemakers is so very unChristian.  I can't help but look around me and think that too many Americans are hypocrites.  They talk the talk, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, they don't walk the walk.  But, of course, this is not how they see themselves.  I believe in their minds they see themselves as righteous.  Which leads me to the uncomfortable thought that I'm not the only one who falls into delusional thinking.  The difference for me is that I remain vigilant; I look to spot the flaws in my thinking and feeling.

So here I am encouraging you to do the same.  Delusional thinking can be seductive, can pull you into a world view that seems so real, but is not.  And mass delusional thinking, as I believe we are seeing here in the US, can lead to, in a worst case scenario, a holocaust.  I don't use that word lightly.  I truly believe that much of Christian Republican world view is a symptom of mental illness and that those who are seriously ill should not be in positions of power.  Right wing Republicans try to paint Obama as a flaming liberal, but he is not, as can be seen by the criticism that lefties have laid on the President. Obama moves towards the middle, whereas Romney moves towards the extremists.  I believe this country needs to stay in the middle, which means most definitely caring for the welfare of the middle class and the impoverished, the disabled and the addicted amongst others.  Dismantling the Affordable Care Act, setting women's rights back decades, increasing the military but neglecting veterans, slashing social services and other very important issues are not the way to heal the troubles in the US.

I'm giving a shout out to women, to so-called minorities, to veterans, to the gay community, to the middle class and to the impoverished, to the mentally ill, to the sick, to the old, to Christians who still believe in lovingkindness, inclusiveness and generosity.  Please vote in the election tomorrow.  Stand up and be counted.  Walk the walk.  Let the country as a whole know and the whole world know that we believe in recovery, not just for some, but for everyone.