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When we were first dating, and before we knew the symptoms of a coming storm (psychosis) my husband and I enjoyed some of the creativity, spirituality, and other worldliness that can be found at times buried within a mental illness.

It was California. There were birds.

We lived in a high rise apartment building off of Hollywood Boulevard with a balcony that ran the whole length of our apartment.  We kept an old couch out there for sitting and sleeping.

Every day I put bread crumbs on the balcony until I had trained two pigeons. One was white and tan and the other one was gray.  I named the white and tan one, Hope, and every morning the two birds would wait on the electrical wire until they saw me on the balcony and then they would fly to meet me and to enjoy their morning meal.  I drank coffee and smoked cigarettes while they picked at pieces of French bread. I talked to Hope, I thought of him as my bird, a pet in the dense area of the city.

At the time I was very interested in Native American music, people and experiences. I would often dance to a cd I bought of flutes and drums. In the afternoon I would draw pictures of elders.  In my mind, I blended what I knew of the Native Americans with Christianity.

I started to believe that birds were my spirit guides.

Once during that time, we were in Las Vegas, and we lost our car in a huge parking lot.  I told my husband, just follow the birds and they will lead us to our car.  We immediately saw a bird flying through the open garage and went in that direction. I suppose my husband thought it was as good an idea as any other.  We walked along the rows of cars following the direction of any bird we happened to see. There were two birds eating out of a McDonald’s bag right in front of our car.  My husband was amazed and I did what I frequently did during that time and pointed up to the sky.  The gesture meant, “It was God. Thank God.”

This was a highly creative time for me. I was cooking, dancing, drawing, taking photographs, doing copper work, and rearranging all the furniture daily.  My husband loves the arts so he was sucked in and mesmerized by my productivity and creations.  The spiritual side to everything didn’t alarm him, because our relationship was very new and neither one of us knew where all of this was headed.

My mother and brother came to Hollywood to see if I was okay living with my new boyfriend (my husband), and because we had a small car, we rented a large convertible to drive them around. I sat in the back seat, in the open air and stared at the birds. I didn’t say a word. I was much more interested in the movement of the birds than participating in a conversation.  My spirit was soaring with those feathered animals far above a city lined with palm trees and broken dreams.  My brother and mother were alarmed by my behavior but left California.  I stayed.

There were times when we would be headed for the beach and my husband would get turned around and I would say, “Follow the birds.”  It worked every time.  The same was true when I was walking through Hollywood and would get distracted and turned around, I would just follow the birds and end up safely at our apartment.

This story didn’t end well. All my heightened creativity and spirituality were symptoms that my thought process was in decline and spiraling towards psychosis. All the positives turned to terrors and I ended up risking my life by sitting on top of pillars high above the city and thinking I would be safe even if I fell off. There were walks through gang torn areas of Los Angeles and a midnight drive to my mother’s house in Washington.

My husband and I can read the signs of my mental health now, but there are times when we still look up in the sky and ask the birds to direct us home and thank God for our arrival.