Sunday, February 17, 2019

Do Not Ask For Whom The Bell Tolls

I found out today that a man I knew lost his life to his mental health condition. He passed away a week ago after threatening a police officer who was questioning him. He threatened him with a knife and the police officer shot him.

I feel a lot of sadness right now - I'm sad for the man who lost his life, and I'm sad for the police officer. I'm sad for the community, because the community lost a good man who made a bad choice in a moment of stress. I'm sad for me because that could have been me, or could be me some day. 

Our community has one of the best trained Crisis Intervention police forces around. Crisis Intervention Training allows police officers alternatives to deadly force when confronting citizens who are experiencing a psychiatric crisis. This community is a safe community, yet we're not immune to tragedy. I was not there, so I do not know how it all went down; all I know is that an officer was threatened by a man with a knife, and the officer protected himself. 

We're all presented with possibilities each day. Stuff happens. A police officer in our community went to talk with my friend regarding a legal issue, things got out of hand, and my friend lost his life. That quick. 

It's a reminder. It's a reminder not to take my health or anyone else's mental health for granted. Depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia all have their dark symptoms, and, more often than I'd like, the result is loss of life. One of the aspects of mental health conditions is that the symptoms of a mental health condition rarely affect only the sufferer - they affect the people close to the person living with the condition, and sometimes they affect the community. In this case, the community lost a much loved individual, and a police officer has to live with a death on his/her hands. 

Please know that most often people with mental health conditions are not violent towards others, and that mental health conditions are treatable. It takes education and understanding as well as compassion.

I write this to bring awareness to whomever reads this about mental health conditions. They exist, and people live with them. Often, we are unaware that someone we know lives with a mental health condition - when we are in recovery, our symptoms don't show up in a way that is remarkable, so people may not know we are living with a life-threatening illness. Sometimes it's a surprise when someone we know begins behaving out of character or engages in self-destructive behavior. It is often scary. 

I hope his death was not in vain. There is good that comes from every tragedy, and if a person suffering with a mental health condition can get appropriate treatment and live, then this gentleman's death was not in vain. But he will be missed for all he did for his community. Rest in peace.

Namasté,

Ken

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Seeing the Beauty Again for the First Time

I think it's time again for a reminder that this blog is about my journey - my experience of coming to terms with my humanity while knowing that I am an infinite spiritual being. Because mental health and substance use disorder has been a major part of my life, these topics are the majority of what I write about.  However, I want to note here that what I write about is my recovery and my journey - this isn't the gospel according to Ken; it's more like taking a look inside my head at the squirrels and other creatures that exist up there, and seeing if Ken can actually master this three ring circus. So, if something I write touches your heart or affects you positively, awesome! And if it doesn't, don't worry, it's ok, simply move on. But I appreciate all who read my blog, so thank you. Now, please enjoy today's topic:

Recently I've noticed an upswing in my enjoyment of life. One of the symptoms of depression is lack of interest in things I once enjoyed, or lack of interest in life in general. I was walking today in my back yard (Frame Park and the Riverwalk) and I took some pictures and noticed how pretty everything is. This is a phenomenon; usually winter time, with only a few exceptions, is a long, gray, yuck. Lately, it hasn't been, even with some atrocious weather.

I feel grangry - grateful and angry. And I'm experiencing cognitive dissonance, mainly because I think too much it's a challenge to accept the gifts I have without looking them over and scrupulously studying them.

I feel grateful for enjoying life again. I feel angry at myself, because I lived in the 'gray zone' for so long, even in recovery. I could have gone to any provider and said, "I'm still not enjoying life like I think I could." I did not do that. I toughed it out and tried to change things on my own, instead of going to my support system and saying, "Something isn't quite right." I allowed myself to stay too close to the bottom of the hill. 

What's done is done, and I must accept it or suffer the consequences of regret and guilt. However, I can learn from this, I hope. 

So what happened is that I surrendered to psychiatry. For those who are unaware, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor (in other words, has had the same pre-med and medical training that every other medical doctor has had) and the psychiatrist has chosen psychiatry as their specialty. Although during the past few months I've met 4 psychiatrists that I actually like, I, for the most part, do not like psychiatrists. Most aren't interested in listening, and most seem interested only in pushing the latest pharmaceutical, and 'f#@k you if it doesn't work for you' (sorry). So this time I have a psychiatrist who listens to me and who I can tell has an interest in helping me get better. He's also an addictionologist. A psychiatrist's role on the treatment team of a person with a mental health condition is mainly to prescribe medication for that person that will be one facet of helping to alleviate the symptoms that person is experiencing. My current doctor has prescribed well for me, and I am currently on 4 medications. I have noticed that I'm way more engaged with life and with people than I have been for a long time. So, what my doctor is doing is working.

And here is where the cognitive dissonance comes in - as I wrote in a recent post, The Challenge of Medication, I want to believe that I can enjoy this life without using pharmaceuticals. The addict in me, still alive and well, thinks that changing the way I feel with chemicals is just fine. I appease the addict in me by using a lot of natural supplements; some of them actually do stuff, and others are just placebos. So the medication is working and part of me isn't accepting that.

Many people responded to the previous post about medication, and some mentioned that they wouldn't be here today if it weren't for medication. Some mentioned that God has provided us with scientists and doctors so that we can live better lives. I believe that, yet I don't want to be dependent upon doctors and scientists and their medications. And that's my sticking point - I'm doing what I don't want to do and it's working. I'll look for a way of getting over it, or accepting what is.

Back to seeing the beauty - as a result of being able to see it again, and as a result of having a phone with a fairly nice camera, I've been able to really enjoy my surroundings and share it with others. I remember one time in the 90's, I was trying to escape myself by driving a stolen car cross-country. I was depressed and suicidal at the time. I went through Utah, and I knew in my head that the landscape was incredibly and stunningly beautiful, but I didn't feel it and I couldn't absorb it. Today I can feel and absorb the beauty around me, and when I'm doing it, it doesn't really matter how I'm doing it - whether it's the medication, or just me enjoying my surroundings. But life is a lot richer today, and I cannot deny the positive effect that proper medication is making in my life. Is it real? Everything I experience is real, so yes it is real. In the future, I may experience my surroundings in a different way, but it'll still be real. My prayer is my surroundings will be as beautiful or more beautiful than they are today.

Namasté,

Ken

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Miracles Happen

Two days ago I sold my car. On December 1st I earned a DUI, so my license is suspended until the case is determined, and I needed the money, so why not? I received $2400 cash. That's not the miracle - I probably could've gotten a bit more, as there were at least 40 hits on my FB ad. I wanted to have an auction! Here's where the miracle starts - I met with the first person who responded, and he bought the car. As it turns out he is in recovery from heroin addiction for 5 years, and we had a lot to talk about as we drove around Waukesha. (By the way, for anybody who cares, the accent on Waukesha is on the first syllable, not the second - it's WAU kee shaw). The miracle completes with what I didn't do. I had $2400 cash in hand, and what I would've done without a doubt some years ago is fly to Vegas and go on a killer bender. I did not do that. I put the money in the bank and wrote checks to people to whom I owe money. Miracles aren't always flashy.

Miracles are personal. We can observe someone else's miracle, but we can't experience it. I can observe a miraculous healing in someone else, but I don't get to experience it until the healing happens in me.

When I was a member of Unity Church of Christianity, I heard often that Jesus wasn't the exception, He was the example. Jesus discovered His oneness with God (Source) and His oneness with all of Creation - this is why He could seemingly manipulate circumstances and produce miracles. Some will tell you that Jesus didn't perform miracles - He simply saw what was possible in people, and people who had faith in Him responded accordingly.

Take the paralyzed fellow who was laying by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years waiting for someone to help him in while the waters were roiled. Jesus asked him if he'd like to be healed, and the man explained his situation, so Jesus said, "Not a problem!", and nudged the man with His foot so he rolled into the pool and he was healed! Sometimes we just need a little nudge! But what the Bible says happened (John 5:1-9) is that Jesus told him to take up his mat and walk, and the man did so - he was healed. Jesus had the ability to see past appearances, and know the Truth - that God is in us all, and all things are possible with God. The man at the pool had the miracle in him all along, he just needed a little nudge from someone in whom he had faith.

And that's what we need in recovery from mental illness and addiction - someone who believes in us and in whom we can believe. We don't recover by accident. 

Miracles are extraordinary - outside of the ordinary - events. The person who lives after receiving a death sentence from their doctor. The homeless person who meets 'by chance' the right person on the street who sets him on the path to homefulness. The person who recovers from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body, and ends up staying sober for the rest of their life. The person whose life is destroyed by mental illness, finds ways to recover, and ends up with a better life than they had before. All of us in recovery have experienced a miracle - the unfortunate fact is that most people who become alcoholic will remain alcoholic until the end of their lives, so recovery is definitely an extraordinary event - a miracle. It doesn't mean that those who don't recover can't experience the miracle, it just means they haven't yet. All of us, when we develop the ability to look past or above appearances, can experience miracles. It takes faith, courage, and an open mind.

I am fortunate today. I believe things can be different. I believe I can be different. I have the faith, the courage, and the open, expectant mind to receive miracles in my life. I look past the mountain of debt; I look past my history; I look to the angels in my life, and I look forward to a clean, sane life filled with joy and purpose. And so it is! Thank you God!

Namasté,

Ken

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Challenge of Self-Care

In my last post, The Challenge of Medication, I discussed issues surrounding taking prescribed pharmaceutical medication. A few people sent me comments, letting me know how much medication has helped in their lives for their medical conditions, and the consensus is that the Universe has provided us with many options for treating what ails us. I'm not going to counter that, because it is true.

Again, the reason I'm linking this post, The Challenge of Self-Care, with The Challenge of Medication is twofold: taking prescribed medication is part of self-care, and, as I mentioned in the last post, medication is more effective for any health condition when combined with other healthy living habits (self-care).

Self-care is just what it sounds like - taking care of ourselves. It is taking care of ourselves physically, mentally/emotionally, and spiritually. It is making sure that we are as fit as possible in all those areas. Books can be and have been written on taking care of ourselves; in this post, I'm going to write a little about what it looks like and write a little about my own challenges with practicing self-care.

Physically, self-care is doing things to optimize our physical health. Basically, it includes diet, exercise, and sleep; however, it may also include changing our habits if we use tobacco, alcohol and/or other drugs, if we're overweight or underweight, if we have medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, if we get stressed out at work, or overwork, or if we get too little or too much sleep. Self-care is individual, and if a person wants to pay more attention to their self-care, honest self-appraisal is necessary.

Physical self-care also includes a person's living and working environments. Having a home that is neat and clean is a lot more enjoyable and healthy than living in clutter and/or filth. A person may feel they live in a neighborhood that is not conducive to good health - there may be crime, or it may be near a factory that gives off constant noise. Some people love living in the city, while others prefer a more bucolic setting. The same things go with the work environment - do I enjoy going into work, or do I dread going into work?

Mentally and emotionally self-care looks like adding things to our lives that enrich our minds and give us emotional balance while letting go of things and people that detract from our mental/emotional health. There is a wide range of things someone can do to improve their mental and emotional health. Someone may want to learn more, or learn something new, so they enroll in school. Someone may find they spend more time on the internet than they'd like, so they look for ways to decrease their amount of screen time. Another person may feel that they have some toxic relationships, and would like to let those go and possibly find more enriching and supportive relationships.

Spiritually, self-care is about having a sense of purpose and/or connection. Again, this is a very individual thing. Do I feel like my life has meaning, or am I just going through the motions, trying to get through each day the best that I can until I die? Do I feel connected, either to my friends and/or family, my community, the world, or the Universe? Do I have values that guide my actions, and do I know what my beliefs are? If someone were to ask me what was most important in my life, would I be able to tell them without hesitation? Some people use organized religion as a part of their spiritual self-care; others of us prefer to walk a more solitary path, and yet others do not recognize religion or spirituality at all. However, I hope it would be rare to find a person who has no connection to others, or has no guiding purpose. Spirituality is about those things, connections, values, beliefs, and purpose, that we can't see, touch, smell, etc. It's about the bonds we create in our lives and the things we do that contribute to our own peace and the happiness of those around us.

After reading the preceding four paragraphs, one might rightfully come to the conclusion that self-care is a bit more than turning off the TV at a reasonable time or cutting red meat out of our diets; for me, it's about examining how I'm living and thinking and deciding what I'd like to change, and what I can change, in each of those areas listed above. Self-care is also dynamic - as we grow and age, our needs change. The way we live at 20 years old probably doesn't fit too well when we're 50 years old!

As promised, here are my challenges surrounding self-care (and maybe some of your challenges, too!):

1.  I haven't, through the years, developed a firm sense of purpose for myself. It's firming up lately, but my life has been a cycle of depression, drinking, recovery, depression, drinking, recovery for so long that I never really got to the business of living.

2.  People pleasing - I've gotten a lot better regarding this, but most of my life has been about seeking the approval of others. This has given me the habit of you first, me last. That might seem very selfless and admirable, but it's not. Because I don't take care of myself very well, I'm not really giving you my best. If I can reverse that and say, "Me first, you next," then you're going to get a lot more good stuff from me. 

We live in a society where self-sacrifice is admirable. If we can put in 60 hours at work, that often looks better than if we find ways to become more efficient and do 60 hours worth of work in 40 hours (or less!). We constantly need more money and more time so we can buy bigger houses and newer cars, all in the name of 'providing for our families'. Perhaps what our families really need is a little more time and attention from us, not our paychecks.

3.  My own fear of success. Crappy though it is, I've actually gotten used to the cycle of failure that I've been living. I understand at an intellectual level that I'm not living up to my potential, that I could be putting a lot more into this lifetime if I were to ramp up my self-care habits, especially in the spiritual area; however, success is unfamiliar to me and scary. I'm pretty sure that I cannot consistently grow to my potential until I find a mentor who has what I want and can guide me. I can also use a lot more willingness on my part.

4.  My lack of self-esteem. This is getting better - self-esteem builds on self-esteem, but again, progress is slow, and seemingly fragile. I'd like to think that I take setbacks, like losing my jobs, in stride, but, pretty obviously, I don't. But lack of self-esteem generates an 'I don't care' attitude, to where I don't necessarily care if my health is shitty or I live in a pigsty, so long as I do #2 above and make sure that I appear to be living ok.

So that's a lot of stuff in one blog post, but I felt compelled to write about where I'm at with the self-care stuff. Right now I'm trying to behave as if my life matters and I know it. My hope is that soon it will be very genuine and from the heart. I'm trying.

Namasté,

Ken

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Challenge of Medication

I'm currently in an outpatient treatment program, and have a new psychiatrist. He's a good psychiatrist; he possesses one of the most important yet rare traits a good physician can possess - he knows how to listen. At any rate, after many questions regarding my life and my condition, he has prescribed 4 medications for me. This is the greatest amount of medications I've ever been on at one time in my life, and it presents a challenge for me.

If you've read the white space in my blog, you might know that deep down, I want to be dependent only upon the Christ Presence within - that is, the unique individuation of the Universe that I Am. I'm not there yet. 

During this current outpatient treatment, I'm not only releasing my dependency upon alcohol, I'm releasing my dependency upon nicotine and pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter (but controlled) nasal decongestant and antihistamine. It's mood-altering because of its stimulant properties and it seems to be habit forming, at least for me. Pseudoephedrine is also one of the ingredients used to make methamphetamine. I suppose caffeine and sugar are next on the chopping block - they're both mood-altering for me.

So I may be sober, but not really, because I still rely upon substances to get through life, to get through the way I feel. And my good doctor is telling me, "Get off of that stuff (the stuff that in the long run no longer works and will make me sick or kill me) and get on this stuff (the stuff that is sold by pharmaceutical companies and works today and doesn't make me sick yet)." 

And this is the challenge: I know deep down that the chemical and culinary methods I've been using to stay sane don't work to well anymore (if at all) and I don't have a lot of faith that the medication regimen that I'm on now will work forever and ever, and I don't want to get hooked into the pharmaceutical merry-go-round, which really isn't all that merry. Added to this challenge is the fact that on my current regimen of medications, I'm feeling better than I have in a long, long, time, if ever. I was walking today in the frigid weather, and I was making up a song, out loud, as I walked! It's been years and years since I've done that! And there's a lot of other stuff happening in my life that indicates the cloud is lifting.

The clouds might lift, but they always seem to be waiting in the wings to return (that's depressing, isn't it?). So what's the answer to the challenge that I'm feeling great now, but because of the temporary nature of solutions that originate from outside of me, I'm bound to fall again? I believe the answer is in proper self care along with putting first my recovery and learning to live, not just know, my connection with the Universe. All the answers are hidden within; my task, while I'm feeling weller, is to go within and earnestly seek. In this way, I will know what to do when the medications' effects begin to wane. 

In the next post, The Challenge of Self-Care (which will be linked just as soon as it's written), I'll discuss how I might go about developing habits which reduce the need for chemical relief from life.

Namasté,

Ken

Friday, January 11, 2019

Morning Manifesto 1/11

Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace:
That where there is hatred, I may sow love;
That where there is injury, I may sow forgiveness;
That where there is doubt, I may sow faith;
That where there is despair, I may sow hope;
That where there is darkness, I may shine light;
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Grant that I may not so much seek to be comforted, as to comfort; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in forgiving that we are forgiven, and it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
Amen

Namasté,

Ken

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Morning Manifesto 1/10

Thank You Source for another day to move closer to a true realization of my Oneness with You. As I move through this day, I commit to be of service to You and my fellows here on Earth. Thank You for granting me all I need and more to do Your will today.

As I move through today, show me what I need to do for myself to make me of maximum service to You and others. Grant me the courage to put You and me first - to treat my body and mind as a temple, and to nourish my Spirit with prayer and meditation. Show me how to be strong and steadfast in Your service.

Remind me today to look past appearances, and, like Mother Teresa, to look for you in all who come into my presence and my consciousness, knowing that You really are there. Also, teach me today what a precious bit of Creation I really am, despite what my brain might say to me. Let me grow this day into the realization that I am Your Beloved, and guide me every moment toward this realization.

I trust in You with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding. I acknowledge You in all situations, knowing you guide me on my path. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Today, through Your Love, strength, courage, and wisdom, I, like Winston Churchill, will never, never, never give up!

And so it is!

Namasté,

Ken