I had a bad headache & toothache last Thursday and didn’t make it to my monthly Buddhist discussion meeting. My toothache went away when I replaced my cracked night guard, and my headache slowly diminished until it had faded away completely by Sunday. I picked up my brother’s family on Friday morning and we had a great time together! I hadn’t seen my brother and his family since November 2011, so it was really good to see him. We ate outside in the warm, afternoon sun on Castro Street in Mountain View, and spent the rest of the afternoon rock climbing at Castle Rock in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I have a ton of great pictures too. Saturday afternoon we met my sister-in-law’s family in San Francisco for dim sum to celebrate her father’s 80th birthday. Needless to say, Yank Sing dim sum in San Francisco is excellent!
Sunday, John and I relaxed and Monday I joined my brother’s family for a day trip to Santa Cruz. It was beautiful weather until the late afternoon when we nearly froze to death at Natural Bridges! A few young men went swimming in the ocean in nothing more than swimming trunks and the water was ice cold! Brrrrr! John joined us for dinner and we ate at our favorite Mexican taqueria down the street from our house. On Tuesday, my brother, my sister-in-law, my niece and my nephew left for more spring break family time in Sacramento. We really had a great time!
The best part of my brother’s visit (aside from seeing him and his family, of course!) was the diminished intrusiveness of the voices. I heard very little screaming and yelling. There was some whispering here and there, but overall, I wasn’t as bothered, irritated, annoyed, harassed, mocked, or insulted as much by the voices over this past weekend as I have been during the past 2-3 years. The voices are definitely less intense, less consistent, less intrusive, and less present in my life, but the progress is very gradual. I am looking forward to the day when they are completely gone. I will never give up on this. Never.
The voices have been less present and less intrusive in my life over the past few days – especially over the weekend. John and I went out for breakfast Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market in downtown Sunnyvale and had a great time meandering slowly amongst the fruit and vegetable stands. The market has everything from bok choy, beets, radishes and potatoes, to blood oranges, organic Fuji apples, and Oxnard strawberries. We’ve already eaten all 3 pints of our strawberries! We were also very fortunate to be able to upgrade my gym membership with 24 Hour Fitness so that I can exercise at all the gyms, including the new, Super Sport gyms, from which I was previously excluded. John and I went right away to the Sunnyvale Super Sport gym on Friday and we were very impressed!
On Saturday afternoon we bought a few hanging potted plants for our front porch. We bought purple flowers, light blue flowers, and a pink fuschia. Once we hung them from the top of the porch, they looked beautiful! John said we needed to add color to our house and our plants are definitely very colorful! We also bought a pomegranate tree that I planted in a big, round, clay pot that sits in the front corner of our porch. The yard work, the gardening, the house-cleaning, my new gym membership, teaching piano, my writing, Buddhism – all these things are helping me to develop and expand my life in a continued effort to push away the dark ugliness that comes with the voices. I continue to monitor my thoughts, but I’ve decided to allow myself time for “thought venting”. I’ve realized that it’s impossible to be upbeat and happy 100% of the time, and that it’s ok for me to think negatively about other people from time to time. I just can’t let the negative thoughts dominate my life and influence my interactions with others.
I’ve often thought that perhaps my friends and family might also be aware of what I am thinking, but of course this is impossible. Isn’t it? None of us knows what another person is thinking unless that person tells us. The voices used to respond to my thoughts, and sometimes they still do although now I ignore them regardless of what I hear. I continue writing and I am determined to post to my blog 3 times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Consistency helps me, and for writers especially, it is important to be consistent. I always feel very fortunate in life, and I look forward to much more happiness and joy in the future.
I went to a Buddhist study meeting last night and we finished up our study guide in preparation for our upcoming exam. Studying about Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is important for us because we really need to understand what we’re practicing. This way we won’t be easily discouraged and we will be able to explain this Buddhism to other people. I continue to work on challenging my anger as well as my fear of talking. The more I practice my conversational skills, the more I get used to talking out loud as opposed to thinking to myself in my head. Still, I tend to be overly concerned about what other people think of me, although I know this is pretty much pointless. Yet, the more effort I make to speak to other people and be less self-conscious, the easier it gets. I’m sure this will always be one of my biggest challenges. I really liked Daisaku Ikeda’s March 13th encouragement from Buddhism Day by Day.
In the face of rejection, you must learn to be courageous. It is important to believe in yourself. Be like the sun, which shines on serenely even though not all the heavenly bodies reflect back its light and even though some of its brilliance seems to radiate only into empty space. While those who reject your friendship may sometimes fade out of your life, the more you shine your light, the more brilliant your life will become.
Everyone faces rejection in life. I’ve always been easily influenced by other peoples’ lives and other peoples’ opinions of me that I’ve never had much confidence in myself. I’m always questioning myself and comparing myself to friends and family, believing that I’m not successful or not smart enough. But, as President Ikeda also says, “We can only compare ourselves to ourselves, measuring our progress from one day to the next.” We cannot compare ourselves to other people because everyone is different. Everyone is a unique individual. Even if other people scoff at a wonderful dream we might have for our own life, we can’t listen to those who would discourage us. That’s why I like this quote, “be like the sun, which shines on serenely even though not all the heavenly bodies reflect back its light.” By challenging my fears and becoming strong enough to influence the people in my environment, rather than allowing myself to be influenced them, I will succeed.
Monday night John and I went to our couples therapy session with Pete. We had a good session, although the sessions are one and a half hours compared to the previous 50 minute session I was used to for individual therapy. Still, I really feel like couples therapy is a great thing for both of us and for our marriage. I realized after our therapy session that I still hold a lot of anger and resentment toward the voices. I also tend to get overly angry at other people for little or no reason. I don’t usually say anything to anyone, but I dwell on the perceived injustices perpetrated against me, and hold to my anger. I really need to make a continuous effort to keep my mind from dwelling on things that make me angry. Sometimes it might be something as simple as a brief news story on TV, or a comment someone has said to me in passing. I dwell on the news story or the comment, thinking about what was said over and over again until I’ve completely blown everything out of proportion. I’ve realized that I need to make a conscious effort not to do this, mainly by distracting my thoughts (reading, thinking about something positive, talking to Savannah, etc…) so that I am not thinking about something that makes me angry. I even get angry at conservative Republicans.
It takes a lot of continuous mental effort to stay conscious of when I drift into angry, negative thinking. Negative thinking can be habit-forming, yet I’m sure that if I work at it long enough, I can train myself to think more positively. It’s similar to disregarding the voices. The more I made an effort to ignore them, to not engage them, and to disregard them, the easier it was to keep myself from being affected by their evil tendencies. The schizoaffective disorder has never been a physical battle, it’s all been in my mind. I’m not sure which is more difficult, training myself physically or mentally.
While I believe it is healthy and healing to identify an individual’s mental health issues, primarily to help the person and his or her loved ones manage the illness and live life more fully, I also think society has a tendency to over-diagnose people and arbitrarily slap labels on individuals who may not be suffering from a specific mental illness, but merely trying to cope with life itself. In a recent PsychCentral blog post, Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here, Kelly Babcock ruminates over his life at 50 after he has recently been diagnosed with ADHD.
Well, for fifty years I thought I was normal … okay, I thought I was at least living on the outskirts of normal. But I didn’t think I was so far out there that there was a label for me. Nothing has changed except that I know I have ADHD. If knowledge is power, why do I feel more alienated now than I did before?
For the majority of his life, Babcock didn’t think he had any serious problems – at least nothing serious enough to warrant a diagnosis. Now, at age 50, he was diagnosed with ADHD and suddenly became aware that he does have a problem – a problem with attention deficit and hyperactivity. Now Kelly Babcock feels completely differently about himself. He feels strange, alienated – abnormal. My question is this: What purpose did it serve to diagnose a 50 year old man who was functioning fairly well in society with this disorder? In one of Babcocks recent blog posts, he writes:
I must admit that I didn’t know I had ADHD until I was 50. This happened because I fit in with the world, my world. The distractedness and inability to focus, the wondering what I came into this room or that for, the tantrums, the tree climbing, all of it were exactly what was expected of me because I was that type of person. No one asked the question “What type of person is that, exactly?”
It seems that if a person has a problem, any problem, then there must be something wrong with the person and it needs to be identified. What did parents do with an inattentive, hyperactive child 60, 70, or 80 years ago before doctors identified ADHD as a disorder? What if a teenage boy has parents who are going through a divorce and needs time adjusting to the change? He is often angry, moody or sad and doesn’t talk to anyone. Do we automatically think that he is clinically depressed and in need of an anti-depressant? If a young woman is enjoying her day and decides to spend the afternoon shopping at the mall, followed by a good cry the next evening after learning of her grandmother’s recent passing, is she bipolar?
Should the severity of the symptoms determine whether or not a person is diagnosed with an illness – especially a mental illness? Kelly Babcock was doing ok for most of his life. His life wasn’t ideal due to his undiagnosed ADHD, but whose life is ideal, with or without a mental illness? I think that in some cases, a diagnosis isn’t the best answer, mainly when the symptoms are mild and the person seems to be managing well. Many people don’t like to be labeled, but for others, knowledge of what is going on in their body and mind can be healthy and empowering. There doesn’t seem to be room in our society for the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, or those with any type of disorder. As Kelly Babcock states, “I want to fit in, be normal.” Everyone wants to be normal, but no one knows what “normal” is. Who is normal? Most of the people we consider normal are nothing more then selfish, greedy, businessmen. We don’t need a society filled with selfish, greedy people. When it comes to our mental health, I think all we’re really doing is trying to relieve the symptoms of our suffering with pills, while never really understanding the underlying problems.