I’ve started writing an Epilogue for my memoir. I realized there were two very important questions that needed to be addressed somewhere in the manuscript and an Epilogue seemed like the best place. I decided to briefly address the question of HOW something so bizarre and extraordinary could have happened to me, but I will examine in much more depth and detail the WHY of my experience. The “how” of my experience is more scientific and might never be truly answered, but exploring the reasons “why” this happened offers the opportunity to give meaning and value to my own life and that of my husband’s, as well as everyone else who has been affected by these events.
I’ve also started brainstorming possibilities for an alternative title. Maybe something more poetic? I’m still not sure yet. The two alternatives I’ve come up with I’ve taken from my Buddhist teachings. One is the title of a letter written by Nichiren Daishonin (the founder of the Buddhism I practice), the other is a quote from a different letter also written by Nichiren Daishonin. Both alternatives have profound meaning. The first alternative I thought of is Winter Always Turns to Spring. In this letter, Nichiren Daishonin uses the seasonal metaphor to illustrate to one of his female disciples that just as the long, cold, snowy winter never fails to turn into a warm, bright, sunny spring, the problems and difficulties she faced after her husband died will not last – as long as she has strong faith.
The second alternative title I came up with is a quote from another letter titled Hell is the Land of Tranquil Light. The quote reads: From the indigo, an even deeper blue. The meaning behind this quote is found in the rest of the letter:
T’ien-t’ai states, “From the indigo, an even deeper blue.” This passage means that, if one dyes something repeatedly in indigo, it becomes even bluer than the indigo leaves. The Lotus Sutra is like the indigo, and the strength of one’s practice is like the deepening blue.
While both of these Buddhist quotes have profound significance for me, I haven’t yet decided if I should change the title at all, or if I should keep brainstorming for more ideas. What do you think?
A few weeks ago I received an email from Susan Berk congratulating me on having my experience published in the NAMI Voice Fall 2013 issue. I was surprised but also incredibly overjoyed at discovering my brief essay on the last page of NAMI’s Voice Fall newsletter. Susan Berk’s experience was published in the NAMI Voice Summer issue, and I was inspired to submit my own story after reading about Susan’s. I also posted the same article on this blog on July 10th with the title Building the Silver Lining. To read the NAMI Voice Fall 2013 issue, please click on the link below.
My memoir manuscript is coming along. I’ve sent it out for the first round of editing, and I’m excited to hear back from my editor. I’ve only received positive feedback on my memoir, but it hasn’t yet been reviewed by a professional editor. I so happy to finally be moving forward with my memoir. I realize it still needs quite a bit of work, but I’ve got the essentials down and I think what it really needs is a strong final chapter and clarification in some places. We’ll see what my editor says!
For the most part, things in my life have been going well. I’ve realized over the past few weeks that I will never experience life in quite the same way again. I’ve changed a lot on my own, but my experiences have also changed me. Sometimes I feel like my life since 2002 has been one of those times when your television show is unexpectedly interrupted by an emergency announcement, a breaking news program, or a presidential address. When the announcement, news program, or address is over a voice comes on and states: “We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.” Except in my case the voice states: “We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.” I laughed at this thought for a few days because it seemed funny. Now however, I realize nothing could be further from the truth. My life will never return to the way it was before I started hearing voices, even if every single one of the voices goes away forever and never comes back. I don’t even think I want my life to return to “normal.” I’m pretty sure it wasn’t ever normal to begin with. Mostly, I just want to be happy. Who doesn’t? The best thing for me is to continue making progress in my life, to keep writing, to keep strengthening my Buddhist practice and my relationships with others, and most of all, to live without fear. After all, if I hadn’t gone through what I’ve been through over the past ten years, I would still be a shy, timid woman with nothing to write about.
John and I met my aunt, uncle and my cousin’s family last night for dinner in San Francisco. It was a pleasant evening and we enjoyed seeing each other again so soon after our family reunion in August. I enjoyed the warm, cozy atmosphere of the restaurant and sipped a thick, foamy cappuccino laced with Kahlua. Yum. We talked about my aunt and uncles’ home in New Mexico, the traffic in Colombia where my cousin lives with her family, and how much we ate at the family reunion over the summer. My aunt gave John and I a photo album she made with pictures from the reunion. As I looked over the photos this morning, I realized how much I’ve changed since the summers I visited my cousins out at the Michigan lake when were children.
We’re all older now. We’re adults, some of us with children (or dogs) of our own, but in some ways it’s as if we haven’t really changed that much. We’re still the same people, with mostly the same personalities, just with more responsibilities and more life experiences. After looking at all our reunion pictures, I felt as if I had developed a slightly better perception of family – of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I was able to communicate better with my cousin Chrissy who is my own age. It didn’t seem that my cousins had changed much over the years. It seemed that I was the one who had changed. I don’t know if my family agrees with this or not. Maybe I still seem like the same person I was ten or fifteen or twenty years ago, but I don’t think I am.
I’ve learn to converse better. I’ve learned to be more social. I’ve learned to ask people questions about themselves instead of sitting silently while everyone else does all the talking. It takes effort and it can be challenging at times, but I’m doing it. I saw a great quote this morning on Facebook from the SGI Facebook page that reads:
The important thing is to not be fearful. Boldness builds a strong, undefeated self. – Daisaku Ikeda
I am challenging myself to be bold – to be as bold as I can be. This is necessary for me to be happy in life, to have a wonderful marriage, and to be a successful writer. Yesterday I spoke briefly with a homeless man I see occasionally when I walk Savannah along the bay in Sunnyvale. I had talked with him once before five or six months ago, and when I told him Savannah’s name, he remembered her! I was so surprised. He said to me, “You named her after a night club.” I couldn’t believe he remembered. I didn’t even remember telling him I had named Savannah after the Savanna Jazz Club in the Mission District in San Francisco. I read an article in the San Jose Mercury News about the nightclub’s owner (he wrote a book tracing the history of jazz and blues back to Africa) and decided to name her Savannah after the jazz club. Before we went our separate ways, I asked the man his name and wrote it down in my notepad so I wouldn’t forget. After all, he hadn’t forgotten about Savannah!
I have six days left of my Pubslush campaign to help me raise money for self-publishing my memoir. If you’d like to check out my memoir profile, please visit Never Give Up: Buddhism, Family & Schizophrenia on the Pubslush website. I’ve started revising the last chapter of my manuscript. I still have a few more details to add to Chapter 11, in addition to the general content and developmental editing the entire manuscript needs. I had put it aside for a few weeks to give myself a period of time away from the manuscript, but I think I’ve had a long enough break. I’m going to start working on it again. It isn’t the easiest task in the world, but once I have published my memoir and get it out there, I know it will have all been worth the time and effort.
I’m also becoming more comfortable writing about my own life and my own experiences. A few years ago, when I first started to consistently keep a journal, I felt weird writing about myself and my own thoughts, even though no one else was reading what I wrote. Now, I’m more accustomed to putting my words, thoughts and ideas out there for anyone to read. I’ve also realized that as much as I’ve felt unable to share what I’ve been through with anyone, writing my memoir allows me to do just that. Share my experience with others. Finally.
There are many reasons why I am writing a memoir. My husband initially suggested the idea of keeping a blog online and writing a memoir about my experiences. I am also writing to encourage and inspire other people, not just to air all the garbage I’ve dealt with since 2002. There is so much to be gained in life from having hope and connecting with other people who can be a source of hope, motivation and inspiration. I believe my writing is a source of hope and inspiration for people who are struggling in life, and I’d like to be able to reach out to others. Of course ultimately, I aim to make a living as a writer.
I received my October NAMI Santa Clara newsletter by email this morning and I noticed that the week of October 6-12 is NAMI’s Mental Illness Awareness Week. There are quite a few activities sponsored by my local Santa Clara County NAMI including an All Communities Mental Health Education Day on October 12th in San Jose.
I also noticed that Thursday, October 10th is National Depression Screening Day. If you would like to take an anonymous online screening for depression, alcoholism, bipolar disorder, general anxiety disorder, an eating disorder, an adolescent depression screening, or post-traumatic stress disorder, please visit the Screening for Mental Health website to take a free, anonymous screening. If you’re not sure how you’re feeling, you can pick a screening based on how you’ve been feeling lately. Since I have been on anti-depressants since 2000, I took the depression screening. The questions were familiar since I fill out similar forms at my psychiatrist and therapy visits. My anti-depressant is working, however, because my screening results didn’t detect any signs of depression. This type of anonymous, online screening is useful for people who want to keep their mental health status private. Screening for Mental Health also offers screening kits for qualified organizations, clinics, and hospitals to purchase and use as a resource for their clients and patients.
While my experience with depression was in college at UC Santa Cruz, my later mental health problems were of a more severe nature. I can still relate to people who experience depression, because I’ve been there. This week, my therapist encouraged me to continue taking my anti-depressant. I had suggested tapering off the Celexa or trying a lower dose, but she didn’t think this was a good idea. I told her I might talk to my psychiatrist about switching back to Wellbutrin. I took Wellbutrin regularly starting in 2002, but when I was hospitalized in 2011, the psychiatrist switched my anti-depressant to Celexa because he said it is better for people who experience psychosis. My regular psychiatrist never mentioned this to me, but maybe he didn’t think it made any difference. I’m not sure. I didn’t notice any difference when I switched from Wellbutrin to Celexa. I started taking Wellbutrin when I was living in Washington, DC partly because it gave me more energy. I told my psychiatrist that when I came home from work every day I was so tired I went to sleep. The Wellbutrin helped with my lack of energy. I always thought if I stopped taking Wellbutrin, I wouldn’t have enough energy during the day. This didn’t happen when I switched to Celexa, so who knows?
Like any mental illness, depression can be extremely debilitating. If you know anyone who might suffering from mental health problems, please encourage them to seek professional help.