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Archive for September, 2014

Retreat results

The past year has been hard for me. Last year, after helping to care for my dying son, I came back to Charlestown in July in time to help care for two old friends as they died in the care center. Increasingly sick, I crashed in December and went into seclusion. I also began therapy. In April I finally got a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, from which I have suffered since 2009–undiagnosed by any of the several health care providers I consulted here and in Washington state. In May I had two scary manic episodes with a fall that could have killed me. Although I was seeing a psychiatrist, I decided to commit myself to Shepherd Pratt Psychiatric Hospital, where I spent 16 days.

There they got me on the right  medication and my symptoms ended. No longer manic and no longer sick, I felt listless and unmotivated. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I didn’t feel like stitching. I didn’t want to go back to visiting in the care center. I didn’t want to practice the piano. I made myself swim and walk miles every day. I made myself kayak from my son’s home on Middle River, spending the night there so I could be out on the water at daybreak. Knowing mentally that I was doing something enjoyable, I was unable to feel joyful. That was pretty much my state of being when Gloria asked my in the locker room how I was doing.

So I went on the retreat with her. (See below.)

The first retreat exercise for individual work was to answer the question, “What would you like to be?” Well, that’s what I didn’t know, haven’t been able to know, for months. Conscientiously, I tried to answer and what I wrote was a list of roles, for example, hospice volunteer. I wrote with no conviction, no real desire for the roles I listed. Back home, I reviewed all the exercises I’d done over the weekend and realized that I had not answered what I wanted to be. I had answered with what I could do. So I set myself to think about how I wanted to be. Eventually words began popping into my mind–energetic, enthusiastic, extraverting, excited, exuberant, exhilarated. All feelings that have been missing from my life, and they all began with E. This was what I wanted to be and needed to be in order to ENJOY my life, another E word. And more came to me over time–elated, ecstatic, and so on. Now I am working with those words as I meditate and go about my day. I’m seeking to generate those feelings in myself.

Meanwhile, I have been taking action on the list of ideas I made for things to do. Already I’ve been to the care centers twice for visits with residents whom I knew. I have volunteered to be part of an organized visitation next week. I’m hoping to identify residents who really need a regular visitor. Yesterday I began training as a hospice volunteer. I have contacted Compassion and Choices to learn how I can become an end-of-life consultant. I continue to read about end-of-life issues, about death and dying, thinking about the possibility of getting such a conversation going here at Charlestown. I’ll see whether these activities awaken the E words in my inner self. I’m hoping the joy of stitching will return. I want to blog regularly again.

Since leaving the hospital on 20 mg Zyprexa per day, I’ve reduced the dosage to 2.5. Getting off that mania-suppressant drug may allow me to feel excited and enthusiastic again. Medication is obviously an important part of my recovery and my sense of being, but the retreat has also contributed. I don’t think I AM bipolar; I think I have had a nervous breakdown with symptoms of bipolar disorder. And people do recover from nervous breakdowns.

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Silent retreat

A couple of weeks ago, in the pool locker room, I met Gloria, whom I haven’t seen in several months. She asked  how was I doing and I blurted out that I’m trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with these last years of my life. “Maybe you need spiritual direction,” Gloria volunteered. “I’m going to a silent retreat. I’ll send you information about it.” That same day she e-mailed me messages about the retreat and the retreat center. I knew I was meant to go on this retreat. It was not an accident that we met in the locker room. So I signed up.

This past weekend Gloria and I were at the Mariawald Renewal Center in Pennsylvania, a two-hour drive away. The center is located at the convent of Sisters of the Precious Blood, a beautiful facility on beautiful grounds. They call themselves a “bed and breakfast for the soul.” Here’s the convent and chapel.

Convent

We met and slept in a motel-like building a short walk from the convent, facing a pond. Here’s that building.

Bed and breakfast

The view from the retreat center.

Pond

One of the many small shrines on the grounds, including into the woods, where there are several trails.

Shrine

The retreat was based on the teachings of Teilhard de Chardin. In the 1960s, when it was first published to much acclaim, I had read The Phenomenon of Man, so I was somewhat familiar with Teilhard’s unorthodox spirituality. Each morning and afternoon we were given materials on which to meditate and exercises for contemplative practice. The rest of the time was for individual prayer and practice in silence. We were encouraged to spend as much time as possible in the out-of-doors, and the weather was perfect.

Since I don’t usually enjoy making conversation with strangers whom I’m unlikely to meet again, being in silence was very comfortable for me. And I came away from the experience resolved to spend less time in solitude and silence and to return to visiting at the care centers. Today I made my first foray there, seeing who is living there whom I might know already. I’m also going to pursue hospice volunteering. So the retreat helped me make some decisions I’ve been reluctant to make.

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