Friday, May 20, 2011

Getting Perspective

My therapist has a suggestion for dealing with my feelings of low self esteem. He said that I should sit back in my mind, and observe myself having these feelings. The most persistent one is that I'm a failure as an artist and ought to kill myself. Detach from the negative feelings, he said, don't identify with them, and try to live in a present tense that is not, (I suppose if I do it right), suffering from the feelings. When I get self hating thoughts don't live with the self hating thoughts (because they will control and like a bad path, lead to more and more pain) but instead view them from a distance where they don't control. Blackness leads to darker shades of blackness, you have to exert control and purposely change your mind or else you suffer mightily. A watcher exists within everyone and this is your higher, purer, saner self.

I said to my therapist, "That's a Buddhist technique" and he said that in all the reading he's done about spirituality, in any religion, they all suggest this form of mental detachment to obtain peace of mind.

Two weeks ago I got a phone call from a little old lady from church to update me on some of the lives of other little old ladies that I know from church and a church reading group called "women's spirit". One lady had her husband die on her, and my husband and I went to his funeral last Saturday. Another lady, who I secretly call my little fountain of joy, had been diagnosed with forth stage pancreatic cancer and was being transferred from a hospital to a nursing home. It was all grim news.

The woman whose husband died had been married for 59 years, had three children, oodles of grandchildren, a career as a nurse, and has a mind that I really admire. She is the main person who runs a volunteer food pantry one town over, and she and the people who work under her feed a lot of poor, needy people with really good food. Not only does she organize and run the food pantry, but she volunteers once a week playing the piano and singing at an institution for badly brain damaged children. Most of the children are so sick they don't talk or even open their eyes, but they seem to respond happily to the music. Live music hits them on a gut level. She did all this and took care of her husband who was badly diabetic and in poor physical shape. She cooked, cleaned, kept house, and accompanied her husband to his numerous doctor visits or hospital treatments. In our reading group, women's spirit, she is often outspoken and I really like the way her mind travels. She is interested in living life in the best possible way, not sinking into emotional mess, but carefully tending her thinking like it was a garden, and helping the strongest most beautiful emotions thrive. Spirituality interests her, of any religion, because it helps balance and promote peaceful thought.

Yesterday at women's spirt group I was describing how I push myself to paint even when I don't feel like it. I argue with myself, I play rock and roll music to try to soak up some of the energy of the fast sound, I basically fight back at the symptoms of amotivation that schizophrenia causes in me. It can be really hard to paint. I might look at the painting and know exactly where I want to put some color, but then I lack the willpower to lift the brush and make the stroke on the canvass. So I split into two parts, the sick part that doesn't want to do anything and the motivated part that has a plan, and wants to see the painting eventually finished. The two parts struggle, and usually, I win the struggle and painting happens. It may be that without the extra seroquil, I'm having a rougher time with the negative symptom of amotivation, even though I feel more awake and less drugged.

Joanne, this 81 year old woman who I admire so and who just lost her husband, said to me, what if you stepped back and observed the two parts of you engaged in this struggle to paint? And I thought about it, I thought about watching myself already divided, and I said, "I think that this third unattached witness is very forgiving." And Joann nodded like I had said something that she too had experienced as true.

I told my peer support group about the effects of extra Geodone and Seroquil together as making me feel super tough and nicely energized, and the group suggested I stay on the combination. But I told them I wanted a chance at loosing weight. And the group said that I wasn't overweight. All I know is that as the way things are now, after I eat dinner, I can stop eating for the day. It takes some willpower, but my willpower isn't defeated by the Seroquil. After dinner last night I was full, and I said to my husband that it was nice knowing that I wouldn't be in the refrigerator at 10pm having another meal. And true to my prediction, I didn't overeat.

I said to my therapist that even if I had never developed schizophrenia I probably would be in therapy for feelings of low self esteem. Somehow, I think they are an illusion and simple bad habit. For me they started in childhood. I remember about a month ago being in a church retreat with a new woman whose name was Cynthia who I immediately, instinctively liked. Cynthia was born in Ireland has has the most musical accent. She is also warm, intelligent, and sincere. And to my shock, after group had met for a while, she confessed of feelings of self loathing. She wasn't just sitting with these feelings, she was trying to combat them, but I wondered how such a beautiful human being could feel so low about oneself. And my first reaction was "Needless! Suffering occurring in the wrong place! Good people should know their own worth!"

I hope, that with age, experience, and the will to reflect and stand back from myself, I can try to live with more self acceptance.


  1. Do what every woman does when she feels down and depressed...Go shopping!....and eat some chocolate!.......and don't forget to buy me something when your out shopping......see how easy that was........

  2. When I was acutely ill and believed that I was telepathically connected to a serial killer, my therapist told me to detach from the serial killer and not identify with him. She wanted me to see myself as a good person and she would often point out the good things I was doing, however small. She was giving me the chance to develop my self-esteem. Eventually I used her as a reality check. I would say, what would my therapist say to what I'm thinking right now (invariably some delusional or paranoid or other negative thought) and I usually thought of a practical, very sensible response from that.

    Buddhists teach that our essential nature is good, Buddha nature and that our negativity is seen as an affliction or illness or more abstractly as bad weather encompassed by a cloudless, blue sky. The basis of our minds is pure, open, free space. We are not naturally blocked, but we get caught up and pulled into the thought stream which has a strong undercurrent. It takes discipline to follow your breath and then to label your thinking as thinking and let it go. Doing that trains your inner watcher to be ever mindful, but you must detach with a sense of loving kindness towards yourself most especially. I'm only just barely approaching this in my daily meditation practice. Karen, do take the time to do nothing for say half an hour a day. Just be. Sit and watch your thoughts pass in front of you like clouds. No forcing yourself to work, rather forcing yourself not to work for a short period of time. Listen to the sounds in the room, try to follow your breath...When a negative thought comes up (and for me they come up quite a bit) try to look at that thought from a comfortable distance and ask "how important is this in this present moment?" or "do I need to be spending time thinking about this negative thought?" You then see more clearly that you have a choice and that you can choose to let it go. That simple lesson takes a while to learn.

    The main thing is to try to look at your thoughts as if you were studying an interesting painting. Apply your training as an artist to your thoughts and I bet you'll go far into self-understanding. I love your mind. Your writing just shows me that you are close to freedom. I think many artists are like scientists, they take a variety of materials and keep challenging themselves to find more varied ways to express themselves, they experiment and look super closely. Take your fine mind and shine the light on your thought patterns, really look at them and I bet you'll be surprised and make good discoveries. The first step to anything is awareness. Once you understand how something is working you can take the parts and improve it.

    Thanks for this post. Now you've got me motivated to go study my own thoughts.

    All my love,

    Kate : )


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