Thursday, January 26, 2012


I've just endured four days of tortuous anxiety. My husband had to go on a business trip and I was home alone with the dog. While he was away I had two simple goals every day. One, walk the dog, see to her physical needs. Two, go to meetings in the evening.

The first meeting was a dog training class. I've been with this trainer before and he asks a high level of commitment and practice. Like, you repeat the command 50 times a day with the dog. I'm a lady who has a hard time taking a shower, because it involves will power and motivation that my schizophrenia has robbed me of. So I'm going to find the energy to be an authority figure to my dog and make eye contact and do the tricks with her, me who suffers from negative symptoms? Yeah, I tried my best. At the most we did the command 30 times a day. Class was good, I was on, present, focused, and damn near impossible to tell that I suffered from any type of mental illness. Of course before class I spent two boring hours doing almost nothing so that my brain was fresh.................I listened to music or I sat in silence on the sofa staring off into space. My dog had to preform I had to preform and by God I did it. But the whole day was planned to lead up to that point so that we both would be at our best. Engineering time. Manipulating stress. Enduring boredom. And of course, doing no artwork, because that is mentally draining.

The next night I had to go to peer mental illness support group because we are in the process of turning the leadership over from me to someone else. I haven't gone in three weeks and I promised to be there. There were about 15 people present, so the group is needed in our community and can't sink into oblivion. I had to do a lot of talking about what it took to be a leader and not try to make it sound too scary. I had to preform again. I had to have all my wits about me and when the semi psychotic man said mean things to a group member I had to interrupt and tell him that he was being mean. The leader keeps the peace. And I had to not alienate him or make him feel bad either, because he can't help who he is and what comes out of his mouth. The group was really positive, people felt safe and helped, but my God when I came home I was so tired I wanted to cry but I was too drained to shed a tear. That's partly why I don't want to be leader anymore. I am arranging my life so that

1. I can be less medicated, because I'm more creative on less antipsychotic medication

2. I can lessen stressors so that my main stress in life comes from making art. Making art exhausts me. Using my mind exhausts me, on or off medication, it makes no difference. In fact I can concentrate on my artwork for longer periods of time on a lower dose of medication (surprise, surprise!)but then I need recovery time too.......

3. I must have the willpower and motivation every day to get outside and walk the dog. Much harder than painting. But I need the exercise and she needs the exercise so its a win-win situation. Have to take care of my physical health and my commitment to walking the dog is my strategy. I am trying hard not to be the statistic that I die 25 years earlier than the rest of the population in my state, like most schizophrenics. Scared of strange people? Yes. Less than perfect behavior from the dog? Yes and yes again, no situation for daydreaming, must be alert. She's a german shepherd and wants to herd other dogs, people, cars, bikes, skateborders and joggers. She's currently getting intensive training because she's a challenge, she's what is called "reactive" and has less than perfect behavior. The other dog in our class bites people. Scared of the open sky above? Yes, always since I got schizophrenia. Hard to move my body? Yes. Wish to stay in bed all day and this isn't because I'm doped up on meds, this is because the schizophrenia causes me to be socially and physically withdrawn. Don't get me started on nature and the outdoors. People find beauty and peace in it I'm told..................well I find OVERSTIMULATION. Too many trees is hell for me, I end up with eyes on the ground.

Since my husband left I have had the hardest time eating. No problem drinking coffee, tea and fruit juice, but solid food is really really hard to eat. This is not my usual problem with stress and eating. Usually, when I feel stressed I eat sweets and things that taste really good but aren't particularly nutritious. I can only remember two other times in my entire life, besides having the flu or a cold, where I've lost my appetite. The first time was when I was a freshman in college and I was studying for finals. I wanted good grades, I was in a competitive school learning alongside fiercely intelligent and hard working students. Well, some of them were so freaking smart they didn't even have to study much. But not me. I earned my grades the old fashioned way. I studied and I couldn't eat. Shocked the hell out of me, that stress so extreme could cause me to lose the one thing that seemed so steady, and at times, so strong and out of control.

The second time in my life I lost my appetite was when I ended up in a homeless shelter. I was very grateful that the shelter took me in because I had no place to go, and all I remember is gratitude mixed with shock (it was an inner city homeless shelter and I was the only white woman - yeah a very different culture from what I was used too, there was a knife fight while I was there and people doing heroin), but I guess the stress of being homeless caused me to lose my appetite. So here I am, twenty years later from the last stressful thing that ever caused me to lose my appetite, and its my husband being absent for several days. Does the earth revolve around the sun? I revolve around my husband. I call him my sunshine. Because having schizophrenia for me involves near daily suffering (suffering that I roll with naturally and have no ill will towards, we are kinda a team by now I'm an old pro at living with mental illness and having a mind that misfunctions every few hours) and having my husband means lots of hugs, lots of back rubs, lots of companionship, and since he's a happy goofball by nature, a lot of laughter and smiles.

So I see my husband again tomorrow and I'm like a kid expecting Christmas. The pain of anxiety, of feeling that somehow I'm in a life or death kind of situation, is interspaced with little spasms of joy.

And the day after he returns I'm back to making art. The painting is waiting for me on my easel and every now and then I fantasize about the color green that is going to go over the yellow and blend into it.......... I know exactly where my brush will touch down after this self imposed absence.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Karen,

    I had my anxiety day yesterday. I'm getting out of the house once a week. My friend Sam comes over, takes a shower, does her laundry, cleans my kitchen (bless her heart!) and I take the car and go out with my brother. Yesterday we paid our taxes then went to the local hospital to have blood drawn for our check-ups (which I haven't done in a couple of years--bad me...), then we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant and then we went shopping. I was anxious from the start to the finish and then some. Even after I got home and sat with Sam at the dining room table talking, I felt this undercurrent of close to panic attack anxiety.

    On surface I seem okay, maybe a little tense, a touch nervous which is weird to me because inside I'm suffering. It reminds me of when I was acutely ill with schizophrenia and I would often look into the mirror and I always looked so calm compared to what was going on inside of me.

    Because of my Buddhist practice I try to sit with the anxiety and breath into it. Anxiety is an interesting phenomenon. It's almost like meditation, you get hyper aware, mainly of possible threats and questions you ask yourself like "Will I be able to handle this without freaking myself and those around me out?" Despite this overlay of anxiety, nothing went wrong and my brother and I got home safely. Still, I do not like shopping at all and would rather shop at the local Dollar Store then go to big places like Walmart or supermarkets. I tend to rush around trying to get what's on my list and then I sit in the car waiting for my brother, feeling all the while this blanket of anxiety, though virtually nothing is happening.

    I do admit to some magical thinking. I think that anxiety might be a wake up call to continue going more deeply into meditation practice. As if the higher power has my best interest at heart and is showing me through my difficulties how to become more alive through awareness. I see anxiety as a challenge, but even so, I also need that it go away so that I can have some peace of mind. Being wired on anxiety is like being wired on a drug. Too much of that is exhausting and not productive.

    Your relationship with your husband is very intimate and mutually supportive. It makes sense that you should feel his absence and react in some way. Though I hope he is safe at home with you now and you are feeling better and eating well.

    All my love to you Karen,

    Kate : )


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