Thursday, January 7, 2010

Meeting People

I had to go to a stranger's house yesterday. I had a packet of information to give to her. I'm helping the church create a picture directory of all its members for 2010. The directions from the photography company are very confusing (to me) and require digitally manipulating photographs using a computer program that I don't have.

I've had this information now for about three weeks and have been frozen. Probably frozen with fear. The minister gave me two member's phone numbers; one member was new, like me, inducted in in the same ceremony, and the other member was a long time church member. I knew I needed to call these people but I had real fear about calling strangers. Even nice strangers, as I knew they would be.

Finally I wrote an email to the minister confessing my difficulties phone calling, and thus having never shared the responsibility for the pictorial directory. I wrote that I would call that evening and send her an email the next day describing the phone conversations. I gave myself someone to be accountable to. A minister is a pretty big person to be accountable to.

The new member was easy to talk to. The long time member was more difficult. The woman had enormous energy and I felt myself wilting on the phone. My ego, my boundaries, my sense of self were all being pounded by someone who happened to shine very brightly in the energy department. Let me make this clear; she was a nice person and she was saying interesting things, personal things, about a vacation in the Caribbean that she was taking soon. But I am weak. This is probably why I spend so much time in isolation. I can't tolerate strong emotions for very long. It isn't the emotional content, I'm good with happy or sad, but the projecting of emotions by another is something that causes me to shrink back. The schizoaffective illness can't handle it. This isn't something that comes naturally to my personality. I had no difficulty handling expressive people before the onset of my illness. Before the onset of my illness I couldn't imagine the idea of people causing me to step back and send me running. I was always bold myself.

I went to the new member's house yesterday. Was nervous going someplace I'd never been. When I got there A. asked me if I would like a cup of tea. I said yes.

Saying yes to a cup of tea means that you are going to take off your coat and stay a while. I could have just dropped off the packet of material for the pictorial directory and run. But I didn't. I did the more difficult thing; trying to connect with another human being.

I had no anxiety in her apartment. A. lived in special town housing for the low income person. It was obvious that she took pride in her surroundings. First thing I noted, and commented on, were the fake ivy and flowers that she had decorated with. They added color, femininity, and festivity. And they said that she noticed the little things, and took pride in the little things. The apartment was clean but because it was small, everything was tightly packed together. I liked how she had hung lace curtains at the end of her bed to separate the sleeping place from the rest of the living room.

While I was waiting for my tea to cool A. gave me a portfolio of her photographs. Many of the photographs were of her grandchildren and some were of beautiful places, local to Vermont. I could tell that she was looking, while she drove, for beautiful places. A photographer's eye apparently is always on the roam for new material. Several of the photographs were taken outside during conditions of fog - very beautiful black branches in front of white, lit fog. A gleam of sunlight pierces a portion of the photograph like a sudden epiphany of thought.

I suggested that she have a show at a local library that displays art. But I warned her it could be costly; you have to pay for all the frames and matting. The photographs naturally could not go bare on the walls. One of the reasons I do not do works on paper anymore is that it is too much work and expense for me to frame them.

Talking to another artist about their art is easy for me to do. You pick up on the details of their work and simply show admiration where admiration is due. You look closely. A creative mind always has some way in which it reveals itself and shines.

Describing my life to A. proved a little more difficult. I didn't want to say "I've got a mental illness." Instead I said that I was on disability, but that what little money I got mostly went to pay for my medication. I said that my husband supported the both of us, so we had a simple life. Then I said that I was writing a book. I said it was fiction but that some of it comes from the experiences of my life. I said that my main character was now in a hospital attending group therapy. I said that I was stuck - the thing to do was to invent some interesting patients for her to be in group therapy with. And then I proceeded to describe a manic-depressive character who won't take his medication. I got animated, I know. When I got home I sat down and wrote a six page rough draft of the group therapy. So I guess I also got inspired. Probably A. now knows I've been to group therapy, maybe even guessed I'd been in the hospital. That's o.k. She told me personal things about her life too. She might have gotten a little inspired talking as well. Inspiration to an artist is a personal, private thing, but over a cup of tea, inspiration in talking about one's life is probably a group phenomena. You feel free in equal amounts; each person takes risks when they sense that taking risks is safe. At some point the meeting of strangers moves into feeling safe. I believe this is what happened.

I mentioned to my mother my difficulty in calling strangers and said that it was a symptom of my illness. My mother disagreed. She said that I've been sheltered because of my illness. Not that my family has been over protective but that I've withdrawn a great deal from the world. I did say, in a recent conversation with my husband, that I felt like a nun. He looked at me like I was crazy. But what I meant was that I've withdrawn from the world, very little outside the confines of my apartment engages me. And I have to have it this way in order to maintain sanity. So my mother believed that calling strangers was simply foreign to me - if you don't have practice doing something it is difficult. I still think that interpersonal relationships are harder because of the illness. The only argument against this is that when I really get to know a person, like my husband, like my family, like certain members of the church or peer mental support group - I can socialize easily. I need familiarity and a history with the person before I am comfortable.

My mother says that there are many shy people who would have a difficult time making phone calls. She is determined, I can tell, to find answers that are different from a psychiatric diagnosis or symptom. She wants to see me in terms of health instead of illness. She wants to see me simply as part of a wide variety of different types of people.

Hurrah for mother's love.

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