Working, Writing and Buddhism

The voices are becoming less and less of a presence in my life. I rarely hear anything now, and even if I do hear something, I can ignore it completely. I still think it’s remarkable considering my state of mind and my mental health a year ago at this time. What an incredible improvement! I am constantly reminding myself how fortunate I am. I am working on a title for my memoir, as I’ve registered for a writing conference where I’ll have the opportunity to pitch my memoir to agents and editors. I don’t want my schizoaffective disorder to be the sole focus of my title or my book, even though it’s a major part of my experience. I’m trying to think of a title that describes my experience and everything that helped me get through my fear, anger, depression, and hopelessness of the past. I’ve used so many Buddhist quotes to encourage me along the way, and of course countless discussions with therapists, friends and family members as well, not to mention my superb, wonderful husband! Even my puppy Savannah has brought me her own version of happiness to my life.

I’m still working on reaching out to friends and family, as well as our neighbors. I still have to work on my social skills and my ability to communicate. In this area, I need to make constant effort. I still have a lot of mistrust of other people, often for no real reason. I’m working on this too. But, as Nichiren Daishonin says, “winter always turns to spring.” Hards times never last, as long as we continue striving for a better life.

Thanks for reading!  Jen

Beyond My Diagnosis

I got a call from my best friend Sonia on Sunday. Sonia lives in Hawaii now, but we spent many summer afternoons at the beach in Santa Cruz, and experienced quite a few Grateful Dead shows together when we were younger. I hadn’t talked to her in 4 or 5 years, so it was really good to hear from her. Our friendship drifted apart when she left for Hawaii and I moved to Boston for grad school. I’ve never visited her in Hawaii, and she hasn’t been here in many years, so I’ve never told her about my illness or anything that I’ve been going through over the past 10-12 years. I didn’t mention anything to her on Sunday, because it seemed like such a long story and I didn’t want to get into it. We talk for almost an hour as it is. Last week I sent her a letter and gave her the link to this blog, but even this blog is only scratching the surface of my experience.

I’m still working on my memoir of course, and I’ve signed up for a day-long writers workshop in September. I think this workshop will be excellent. I’ll get a chance to meet new people, network a little, and practice my social skills. This is very important for me. It’s been one year since I started this blog, and I’ve made so much progress. My life now compared to last year is completely different. Of course I couldn’t have done it alone. I have my friends & family to thank for supporting me, along with my doctors & therapists. I recently wrote another guest blog post for CureTalk called Beyond the Diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder. This is what I’m really working on right now. Moving forward in my life, and dwelling less and less on the negative memories of the past.



The Challenge of Making Phone Calls

I continue making greater progress ignoring the voices and putting the past behind me. I make a constant effort to focus on my marriage, the people in my life, and staying in the present. I make more of an effort to share Buddhism with my family – sometimes I text them quotes that I find meaningful or encouraging, so that they will be encouraged too. In spite of my frustration with certain aspects of my own life, or the times when I feel family or friends have let me down, I realize that what I want the most is for their genuine happiness. Isn’t that what we all want? For our family and friends to be happy, as well as ourselves?

The first of September John and I will have been living in our new house for 6 months! It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here for that long. We’re very happy here, and we continue to work on ourselves and our marriage. I need to work on reaching out more to neighbors, family and friends. I have a particular aversion to making phone calls, although I’m not exactly sure when it started. I prefer to send text messages or emails, rather than call someone. Phone calls are more personal because you can hear the other person’s voice. Sometimes I think my own voice sounds weird, but maybe that’s because I’d become accustomed to having conversations in my head rather than out loud. Definitely not a good habit to get into and I don’t recommend it to anyone.

So now my challenge is to start calling people, rather than emailing or waiting until I see them in person a week or a month from now. This will help open up my life and I can even get to know my friends and family better!

Thanks for reading!

What Is Happiness?

Everyday I chant for John’s happiness, for my own happiness, and for our happy marriage. John often asks me whether I am happy with my own life, and with our marriage. Generally speaking, I am happy. Not all the time of course, no one is 100% happy all the time. My life didn’t turn out as I had wanted it to when I was in my 20s, but I am learning from my experiences, and doing my best to create value out of the past while keeping an eye toward the future. My marriage, my family, my husband’s family, and my Buddhist practice are the greatest fortune I have in my life. Many people struggle with achieving happiness. I have also found that many people look for happiness in the wrong places. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda writes:

What is the purpose of life? It is to become happy. Whatever country or society people live in, they all have the same deep desire: to become happy. Yet, there are few ideals as difficult to grasp as that of happiness. Happiness is not a life without problems, but rather the strength to overcome the problems that come our way. True happiness is to be found within, in the state of our hearts. It does not exist on the far side of some distant mountains. It is within you, yourself. However much you try, you can never run away from yourself. And if you are weak, suffering will follow you wherever you go. You will never find happiness if you don’t challenge your weaknesses and change yourself from within. – Daisaku Ikeda

Happiness is a very difficult concept to grasp. What is happiness for you? What is happiness for me? I used to think that I would be perfectly happy spending my life reading a book on a tropical island somewhere. I’m sure this fantasy is what many people would equate with happiness. Maybe earning more money, or driving a fast car, getting an exciting job, or buying a luxurious home are more examples of what people believe happiness is. Unfortunately, money doesn’t last, cars get into accidents, employees get fired, and people lose their homes. Does happiness then disappear? Where is happiness found?

I believe what Daisaku Ikeda states in this essay, that true happiness is only found within ourselves. We need to have the courage to bring it out, rather than rely on external objects or people to bring happiness to us. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes effort, practice and persistence. Daisaku Ikeda continues:

The challenges we face in life can be compared to a tall mountain, rising before a mountain climber. For someone who has not trained properly, whose muscles and reflexes are weak and slow, every inch of the climb will be filled with terror and pain. The exact same climb, however, will be a thrilling journey for someone who is prepared, whose legs and arms have been strengthened by constant training. With each step forward and up, beautiful new views will come into sight.

In order to be happy and enjoy life, we need to be strong and fearless, like a mountain climber. For me, I need to challenge my weaknesses, my fear of other people, my fear of socializing & engaging in conversation. I need to open up to my husband, to my family and my friends and share with them my true thoughts, feelings and emotions. Of course this change doesn’t happen overnight, but rather through consistent effort and practice. I’m looking forward to our future together. John and I have been through a lot, but I know we’ll make our marriage stronger and grow closer together. I love you John!

My Illness Is My Motivation to Challenge My Weaknesses

My memoir is coming along, and I continue to make every effort not to think about the voices. I haven’t heard much over the past few weeks, and I’ve discovered as more time passes, the less I think about the voices and the less I listen for them, the more insignificant they become. Last week I was discussing with my therapist how dealing with my illness has motivated me to really work at challenging my weaknesses in a way that I have never done before. My biggest weaknesses are talking to other people, engaging in conversation (with real people, not voices in my head), and getting to know other people. I’ve been very quiet and shy my entire life, and maybe I’ve never had any real reason to be any different. Now, I am constantly chanting and urging myself to show courage, to talk to and meet new people, to make phone calls and connect with friends, to speak up at Buddhist meetings instead of staying silent. All these types of things are what I needed to start working on many years ago, but never did. Until now. In Buddhism, it’s called “breaking out of the shell of our lesser self.” It’s not easy! It takes constant effort, and I really have to stretch out of my comfort zone. But, ultimately, it’s for my own benefit. Plus, it gets me out of my head, and into reality, away from the voices and their craziness.

Last year, my reality was much different. I was focusing on two different worlds – the voice world, and my real people world. Now, it’s much more like just one world. I wrote a brief blog post describing this on CureTalk – it’s called “The Reality of Two Different Worlds,” if you’d like to check it out. Thanks for reading!