Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lent Musings

Everywhere we go, on the street people say "Look at those huge paws! She's going to be a big girl!" But I notice more her ears, which in proportion to her skull, are a bit like bat wings. In prior puppy pictures her ears were flopping over at the tips, now they stand usually straight and perky.

My husband likes to call her a perfect little German Shepherd. Yesterday we went walking with Cherry Blossom to a coffee house that welcomes dogs named "Moca Joe's". It's slightly seedy, very bohemian, and underground. The windows looks out at people's feet on the sidewalk. My husband spent the whole time we were there talking to Cherry and practicing commands, sit, stand, down. It seemed a little eccentric, because my husband was loud, and he had warm, warm honey poured all through his voice. He talked to Cherry like a man enamored with his sweetheart. I was so tired, at 5pm, and this is probably the reason I was so severe with my regard. I kept my mouth shut but I was a total witch and found a situation that was perfectly innocent and endearing, to be as annoying as all hell. When symptoms of my illness hit I get cranky. By the time we returned from the coffee house I was so fragile that I couldn't stand to listen to my husband tell me stories from his day at work. His light banter was over-stimulating me, and I almost, almost, told him to stop speaking. When I'm at the end of my rope I need silence. Following the conceptual trail of someone addressing me when I'm symptomatic is almost impossible. But I did not ask my husband to be silent. What helped a lot when we got home is that as he talked my feet were in his lap and he was rubbing them. He gave me a half an hour foot massage. And it helped me rejuvenate. I had to recover control over my mind because in a short period of time, I needed to participate in a mental illness peer support group at a local hospital. And I'm leader of the group.

The people who fund our group (State money) don't want there to be a leader of the group. In fact, I'm not supposed to call myself a leader (politically incorrect) I'm supposed to call myself "lead facilitator". But every three months I spend about two hours typing up a report so that we continue to be eligible for funding. I'm the one answering the peer support telephone, fielding questions from strangers, and during group, I'm the one that the sickest people look at while they are telling their stories. Trust me, I act, I have responsibilities, and I work like a leader. And then there is the never ending problems with the idiot bank our account is linked to. I'm going to have to visit their customer representative with the "alternative facilitator" and re-submit personal information because the bank changed it's name, and I assume, ownership. Its a waste of my time, pure and simple. And after last night it looks like I'm going to be the one designing on my computer a flier to publicize our group to in mental health agencies around town. Need a graphic to catch the eye. So, artist that I am, I have to come up with a drawing that is compatible with our name, Changing Tides. Also, a small logo for our business cards would be nice. I would have more enthusiasm for these projects if I weren't so focused currently on my painting.

Yesterday I had to rub out the wet painting of a tiny horse because compared to the other horses painted next to it it was too small. So this morning I re-drew it larger, traced the drawing, transferred the tracing to the painting surface, and painted the horse again. The final product is a huge improvement. But I was sad when I stopped painting. I stopped painting because my concentration had deteriorated. I wish my concentration wouldn't deteriorate after just a couple of hours. My therapist thinks that "healing" (his favorite word) can happen and I can have more hours concentrating eventually. After healing occurs I should be able to paint longer. I just don't know. I think that if I were single I'd be able to, after a period of six to seven hours of rest during the day, have a second shorter period of creativity in the evening. But currently I do activities with my husband in the afternoon when he gets home from work and this pretty much completely burns me out. Writing this blog will burn me out totally, but happily we got from Netflix a light comedy that we plan to watch this evening. So burn, burn those brain cells, because this evening I plan to rest and be entertained on the television.

I published on this blog a little while back my Lenten essay for the booklet put out by my church. Lent started yesterday, and each day you are given four different scripture portions to read, and in the booklet, is a musing on these assigned scriptures by a co-member of the church. When I got my booklet I zoomed ahead and read, fueled by curiosity, what other people had written. I was struck in particular by the man who was assigned the day before me. He wrote a poem and because we are ordered by date, he is on the pages right before me. There is a striking contrast between what we have written. If you are perceptive you can see that our world views would be completely different if it weren't for the fact of his spiritual discipline.

I'll tell you my impression of this man and then publish his poem and explain how he and I are different. He is a retired minister about 70 or 75 years old. I talked to him once during coffee hour and he pretty much dismissed me as not being up to his intellectual standard. He comes off as dry and humorless, but very intelligent. He is not above dropping important names of important people he knows. I know his wife well and she is very religious and just as serious as her husband but a little more approachable. It must be because of the innate charity of the female kind. I think they both went to Columbia University and met there, and I know she is always reading issues of "Foreign Affairs", a magazine that is the epitome of intellectual analysis of world events by some of the brightest minds in our government and university system. Once upon a long time ago, when I was going to the library every day, I would occasionally read "Foreign Affairs".

Here is his poem. I ought to publish his name, giving credit where credit is due, but if I did that I could not have just said the slightly critical things I said about him. I may be mistaken, or unkind, because I really don't know the man and thus am unfair to him. Best he remain anonymous. However, I admire the poem, the spirit that lies behind it, and his guts to write a poem in the first place. Nobody else in the booklet wrote a poem.

"Borrowed Life"

"All that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care." - Isaac Watts

Whose life is this?
Surely it's mine.
If I possess just one thing
it is my life, body and mind
What I do, good or bad -
constitutes life.

Because it's mine,
I cling to what I have,
hold close whom I love,
commit to group or nation,
If I can make these mine,
then surely my life is mine.
Then comes Isaac Watts, who says
I have life as a loan
extended one day at a time,
payable I know not when

My life is drawn on God's account,
owed to One whose wealth sustains
the brightness of the world all round,
the secrets of the darkest Deep,
the wonder of Eternity,
whose riches underwrite
each display of loveliness,
each joyous song of praise,
each act of love and hope.

Every day I can choose
to see that brightness,
plumb those depths,
sense Eternity in time,
know my debt to beauty, joy and love
offered by my Creditor.
And my death, when it shall come,
will be of little consequence,
for it pays back what's been lent,
and joins me to the Life
from whom I've borrowed all.

I read this poem and I was struck by the impression that this poem came from a mind that pretty much got what it always wanted and set out to get, and most certainly, has never been broken. He has absolute continuity in the sense of "I". When he questions what this "I" is, it is from a religious angle. He seems pretty humbled by the fact of his eventual death. I think it is death that really makes him reassess the illusion of the in control "I". Death puts everyone on shaky ground, but from the first stanzas, I don't think that this man has been shaken that much.

Schizophrenia teaches one strict lesson; you are helpless. The "I" is on very shaky ground. Recovery from schizophrenia is all about taking control and circumventing this state of mental helplessness and victimhood. But when the symptoms of the illness strike, be they positive or negative, your mind is taken away from your grasp and you are free falling through sensations that are not of your choosing.

After that Congresswoman was shot in the head I was reading all sorts of articles chronicling her recovery on the internet. Her husband said, that from her bedside, she gave him a neck message. He said that she played with his wedding band and took it from one of his fingers and put it on a different finger, an intimate game they had played before. All this while a portion of her skull had been removed to prevent damage from brain swelling and she wasn't talking. And her husband said that he wanted her to make such a swift recovery that when he commandeered the launch of the Space Shuttle in I think April or May, she would be there at command central witnessing his take off.

But I thought that what one doctor had to say about head gunshot wounds was very telling. The doctor said that after rehabilitation, the Congresswoman would have to come to know a new normal. The husband wanted his wife back perfectly intact, and like the commander he is, he saw recovery as being something that you simply impose your will upon, and he had great faith in the will of his wife. But what is a new normal that the doctor was talking about? It probably means an alteration in the person, perhaps at a profound level.

I noted that the Congresswoman had married the Space Shuttle Commander in 2007, and I wondered, after a decent amount of time, whether there would be, despite the great love the media was chronicling, a divorce. Will the Commander accept a new normal in his wife? The Congresswoman has no choice but to try to live with what brain damage the bullet caused. The Commander was displaying superhuman optimism and very little patience. I've always said that my schizophrenia felt like brain damage, and the way it disables me, to this day, I say that brain damage persists. However, I too, with my personality and discipline, persist, and given the span of twenty years and a husband who gives me a very stable and stress free environment, I am the benefactor of a new normal. But I'm no fool. My pre-schizophrenia abilities and potentials were far, far greater. I may be wiser, I may be more compassionate, I may be more introspective, and indeed, I may be a better human being than I was pre-schizophrenia, but it is like a bullet went through my brain and significantly altered me.

I promise you, there is no way I would be painting little horses if I hadn't gotten schizophrenia.

On a good day, I like my new normal. But then again, I have had years and years of therapy. And the therapists have always sought to brainwash me into accepting my new normal. Because not accepting my new normal would have been the source of great anguish.

Part of rehabilitation is discarding the old and embracing the new.

Sanity is all about accepting paradox. Health becomes being schizophrenic. Its your new normal.

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