Category Archives: Spirituality

steering my boat


This is as complete of a story as I can make of some things that I have either done or have had happen to me in the last couple of months since I last posted my rant about psychiatrists, medications, and mental health in America.  Since that post, it’s pretty easy to break time down into three main chunks: that last post until 7/11, 7/11-22, and 7/22 to now, 8/23.

Between my last post and 7/11, I basically ranted and raved on Twitter about the various mental health-related injustices of the world and researched that and related topics until I had circled back to The Icarus Project, the first serious alternative mental healthcare website I ever ran across.  They’re often classified as anti-psychiatry, but they’re just highly critical of psychiatry.  As am I now.  I need meds: I’m not stupid and I’m aware enough of my mental and emotional processes to understand that I need chemical help from time to time.  But not to the extent that Western psychiatry insists I do.  Nor should many of the thoughts and thought processes I have be dismissed as pathological.

Around the same time, a terrible old feeling set in, the sensation that “every day is exactly the same” that I had for at least four years, if not more.  I had been taking an antipsychotic fairly regularly for about 3 weeks, at first for sleep problems, then for anxiety, then just for basic mood maintenance.  That sucker kicked in and life ground to a halt, just like it had been the year before when I was taking meds I didn’t need.  After three days of joyless existence, I said, “Oh hell no, we’re not doing this shit again,” and I threw two meds in the trash after making sure I wasn’t taking a dose high enough to require tapering (I wasn’t).  Luckily I was using a mood tracker by then, so it was easy to quickly identify what was wrong.  I also shot off an email to my old acupuncturist in the hopes she could help.

Serendipitously, pretty much at the same time I decided to take a different approach to treating my mental illness, my oldest and best friend sent me a link on 7/11 to a regrettably now-deceased gentleman who had had a very similar experience to mine.  A couple of clicks later and I found myself at the ACISTE website: the American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences.  That pretty much kicked a door wide open and I spent the next few days reading about things like spiritual crisis, spiritual emergence, spiritual awakening, kundalini awakening, and several related topics.  I looked at the list of bipolar/mania symptoms and compared it to the list of typical “awakening” symptoms, and there was no comparison.  A skeptical psychiatrist would accuse me of seeing what I want to see, obscured by faulty mental processes, but I’ve got a really strong reality check in the form of a well-rounded and intelligent yet open-minded husband who has no problem telling me if I’ve got a really wacky idea, and that’s not the feedback I was getting.

7/17 began like most days, but it was pretty clear by mid-morning that my mind had taken off on a journey of its own, though not like the one it went on in May.  I took note of it with more than a bit of alarm, but I felt pretty good and fairly grounded.  I sent an email to X letting him know what was going on upstairs with the admonition DO NOT CALL MY SHRINK.  I DO NOT NEED HIS HELP YET.  I did ask him to call the pharmacy and refill one of my scrips, though, just in case.

The details of the next five days are important, but I’m still sorting them out, and they’re very personal, so I’m not willing to share much from all that, except to say that I had a divine encounter, and no one can tell me otherwise.  Anyone who wants to argue with me needs to watch Contact and then we can talk.  Just be prepared for a lengthy discussion about Occam’s Razor.

I will say this, though: you know that scene in The Matrix where Tank plugs Neo in for the first time and teaches him ju-jitsu in five seconds?  That pained face followed by “holy shit I’ll have some more of that please”?  It was a lot like that.  While surfing.  Now I’m on shore emptying my head as fast as I can, and learning to accept that I will never, ever be able to chase every ball that my brain spits out.  As such, I’m learning to be selective about which balls to chase, knowing that if I let one go, if it’s really important I’ll circle back to it, or it to me.  It also means I’m glued to my phone most of the time, because at the moment I need access to one of my apps to record my thoughts, pictures, photos, etc., or just to listen to music or something else audio: my ambient environment has become exceedingly important to me after ignoring it for…I don’t know how long.

My little trip was over by 7/23, and I pretty much took the week off.  I didn’t tweet, I didn’t blog, and at the time I had not yet resumed the practice of keeping a daily document, something I began in June and promptly dropped around the same time as my last blog post, though I was tweeting madly at the time so there’s a record of my thoughts until 7/17.  I was reading, though, mostly topics I was once familiar with but had abandoned long ago: magick, witchcraft, and astrology, mostly, with a heaping helping of Hinduism and a dash of Buddhism, largely set in a Jungian structure that I shaped to my own purposes.  My spiritual framework is, um, eclectic and syncretic, to say the least.  There’s something to offend and/or please everyone in my world, depending on their viewpoint.  Monotheists?  Well, we need to talk about dualism, but sure.  Polytheists?  Ah, my people!  Agnostics? Would love to chat.  Atheists?  If you’re one of those dickhead atheists that is basically a fundamentalist without belief, then no, not unless you’re willing to talk about how you missed the point and wound up right back at dogma.  Good work.  Witches?  I’ll see you folks in October, it’s been too long.  Magicians?  See the witches, but if one of you can talk chaos, we need to sit down.  Did I miss anyone?

By the end of that week, I was back to “okay, I must write some of this stuff down before I forget it” and resumed daily writing on August 1, Lughnasadh.  I’ve managed to write something, sometimes a lot, almost every day since then.  I have a lot of mental energy in the morning, so I get up, usually with X around 7am, make coffee, listen to music and fiddle with my phone while I wait for it, sit outside and smoke and either think or fiddle with my phone some more, and until this past Monday, then I went back upstairs and sat in bed and worked all morning until lunch, ate, then did less mentally strenuous stuff in the afternoon unless my brain was on a roll I couldn’t stop, a common situation I’m working to address.  I also try not to “work” in the evenings, again, unless my brain just will not shut up, in which case I’ve gotten used to watching/not-watching a movie or show while I take notes and do stuff on my phone.

I had already undertaken the task of creating a timeline using Facebook, Twitter, emails, and blog posts to reconstruct, as best as I could, my mental state since October of last year, which was when I first posted after months of silence, but before I had stopped taking the most offending meds.  I had also begun the daunting but fascinating task of looking at the astrological transits for certain important dates.  That would turn out to be a very eye-opening exercise.  Let’s just say I no longer doubt the validity of astrology, though I’m willing to bet I don’t use it the way most astrologers do, not entirely.  That’s another post, though.

After a few days of sorting, collating, collecting, and condensing data from various sources, I had enough information to spit out a bullet list of important points.  I showed it to X and he was like, “hmmm, that needs fleshing out”.  Right.  I kept at it, being slightly desperate to share my experience with someone, as I had been fairly tight-lipped about the inner goings-on of my head.  At the same time, I was anticipating my next shrink appointment and wondering what in the hell to tell him.  I couldn’t figure that out until I ran it all by X, so one day I did my best to give him the Reader’s Digest version of the previous 2.5 months: seven pages came out.  I waited for his response with a bit of trepidation, really hoping I didn’t get, “honey, we need to talk about your medication”.

I didn’t.  I got, basically, “that’s really beautiful and wonderful and I hope you chase as many balls as you can because that’s great stuff, and you shouldn’t tell ANY of it to your shrink, because he doesn’t care about that and he’ll take it the wrong way”.  Ah, validation two ways.  With that, I was able to silence the ongoing anticipatory argument I kept having in my head with my shrink.

Everything has just kind of shifted and clicked into place since then, and shifts and clicks again every time I get a new tool, or make a new connection, or rediscover something old I left behind for whatever reason.  I sort of feel like part of me has been keeping an eye on myself for a really long time, and whenever I dropped something important, it would pick it back up and tuck it into my subconscious for safekeeping, knowing I’d need it one day.  When I need something, I don’t have to look too hard for it, if at all (with the exception of my truck title, but that’s another story).  Typically I’ve already encountered it and just need to remember it, or it’s something I’m already using and need to look at in a different way.  Sometimes it’s a book.  Sometimes it’s a movie.

Sometimes it’s a person.

At some point during the last couple of weeks and doing my best to record the not-always-predictable stream of thoughts in my head, I was like, “okay, I have to find someone to talk to about this stuff”.  I started wondering about local therapists that wouldn’t immediately throw me out of their office and send me back to my shrink, and one of my old therapists from when I went to the local sliding scale clinic popped into my head, and not for the first time since I stopped seeing him five years ago.  “THAT GUY” I said.  Okay.  So I sent an email with the hopes that he would remember me, and he did.  He also had biweekly appointments available on Wednesday mornings.  Perfect.  I’ll save my first visit for a separate post, but I feel fairly confident in saying that I have found the right person to be my guide for the time being, something that just about every awakening forum on the internet says you should do.  He seems to speak all my languages, and that’s a really tall order right now.

At the moment, I’m trying not to get lost in the details or burden myself with too many tools.  “Keep it simple” really is my motto right now, and if I’m trying to organize something and it’s in groups of more than four, I know I need to scale it back.  I try to start with two.  Too much?  Fine, just use one.  Once I can handle two of something, I move onto three.  Then four.  Those are pretty much my instructions from the Universe, for lack of a better term, for the foreseeable future, which really grates against a couple of parts of me, but there’s that whole “trust the process” thing, so I’m just going with it.  Most of my anxiety and impatience comes from a practical perspective.  X has been the main breadwinner for a damn long time, and since I began slowly checking out one psyche aspect at a time beginning ???, he has slowly done his best to take over the running of the house and caring of the family.  It’s high time he had some help, especially if we have any hope of having a decent retirement and not working ourselves into the grave.  But that’s way, way in the future and I’m not supposed to think that far ahead, so I just have to pull back sometimes and go back to contemplating things and putting them together.  My head is working on something.  I don’t know what it is yet, but I know what it’s made of, so I’m pretty sure the result will be pretty interesting, and it will come along at the right time.  Somewhere down the line, maybe sooner than I need but probably longer than I want, everything unfolds.

Until then, I start each day with either passive or active excitement for what the day might bring.  Sometimes I have a plan and wake up all ready to go, or even before I’m ready to go, like yesterday when I woke up at 2:30am for no good reason despite being dog-tired.  Other days I’m just open to whatever comes.

At the moment, I see my internal thoughtstream like a river flowing through a forested mountain range.  Each day I get up and hop into my mental boat and push off.  Some days I have an idea of where I’d like to go, but I don’t always wind up there.  Rarely, in fact.  So often that I have largely abandoned that mindset and just start paddling.  I make notes and observations as I go.  Some days the trip is fairly placid and occasionally even boring, but not usually.  Sometimes the river is merely a passive vehicle and my job is to observe the scenery.  Other days the river is turbulent and I have to pay more attention to it than what’s around me if I don’t want to capsize.  Some days are like today: the river is very slow and wide with a lot of eddies along the banks to get stuck in: those are frustrating days.  Sometimes I’m in unfamiliar territory I don’t recognize.  And sometimes I can’t find a safe place on the shore to park my boat for the night so I can get some sleep, so I stay there.  I don’t like sitting still so I usually just keep paddling.  Those are the nights I wake up early, if I ever went to sleep, and just think, surf, read, take notes, watch YouTube, and generally follow my desires.  A potentially bad time is when the river is flowing so swiftly I can’t reach the bank, and I just have to ride it until the current slows and hope the rapids aren’t too bad and the rocks are few.  And it always does eventually.  If it doesn’t, I have “dams” up and downstream to control the waterflow, with meditation and other tools, and block it if utterly necessary with drugs.  Most of the time, though, I am happy to hop into my mental boat, even excited on occasion.

Every now and then I’m like, “Fuck it, I’m not getting on the river today,” and that is totally fine.  I may be under the guidance of divine influences, but I’m the one in control of this ride (mostly), and if I don’t want to ride that day, most of the time I don’t have to.  Sometimes, though, my psyche is like, “Ok, come on, let’s go, we’re going on a trip. Nope, not telling you where we’re going, just sit down, shut up, and hang on.  And pay attention, there’ll be a quiz.”  I just sigh internally, reach down and tighten the laces on the combat boots my inner self is still wearing from 1995, and get in.

Working on myself is fun, but it’s hard.  There’s a lot of locks to pick in here.  And secret passageways.  And the occasional booby trap, though since I’m the one that made them, they can’t really hurt me.  All they do is slam the door shut and send me back to where I was.  It just means I’m not ready to look there yet.  It’s all good, everything circles back around eventually.  For now, my psyche has a torch, a key, and a dog, and that’s pretty much all I need.  She wanders, I observe and take notes, and at some point we get together and see what we have.  Right now I’ve got an assload of really interesting data that doesn’t pull together to really go anywhere solid, but I have total faith that a pattern will emerge.  Scientists laughed at pilots for two decades before admitting the existence of the jet stream.  Just because I see something others don’t doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

I leave you with my favorite quote for the week from Matrix: Reloaded

We can never see past the choices we don’t understand. – The Oracle

When the Windows Darken and the Doors Close


Anthony Bourdain Dead at 61 read so many headlines on June 8 and the days following. Not to be indelicate, but the general sentiment that seemed to be felt by people probably would have been voiced by Anthony as, “What in the ever loving fuck?” No one understood. No one ever understands when a famous person, that pinnacle of the American dream, could possibly kill themselves when by our standards, they had “everything”.
I myself was still in the grips of a pretty fierce manic episode that had begun a few weeks before, spiraled up into a genuine psychotic break, and then settled back into a pretty standard orbit, albeit a rather high one. So when I heard Mr. Bourdain had committed suicide, it registered, but it wasn’t something I wanted to read about, not just yet. As a person who has had three family members and one good friend kill themselves, that was a little too close to home, and his death struck me between the eyes much like Robin Williams’ had, yet another famous death that nearly no one understood until it was revealed he had been suffering from Lewy-Body dementia, an unfortunate brain disorder that can’t be diagnosed until after death.
Then I “crashed”, much in the same way I suspect Anthony did, but I’ll get to that. I had been through a really transformative experience that was still unfolding, yet from the outside perspective of my doctor, and likely my husband, it seemed immediately apparent that I needed some sort of medication, ostensibly to keep my mind from sailing away again as it had a week or so before. So he stuck me on some new-fangled drug that was supposed to be very mild and not hit me like a hammer like so many other antipsychotics can. And so I spent the next couple of weeks really enjoying my life, my husband, my child, and regular everyday activities as I had not in, well, DECADES.
Just like Anthony had, as detailed in the article linked above. He was really looking forward to a trip to Hong Kong where he would be doing some filming. According to those closest to him, they had never seen him so excited, and he was doing things he didn’t usually do, like constantly emailing and texting about publicity and other things that needed to be done towards realizing what he was calling a serious pinnacle of his work. However, after he died, other friends reported that he was in a “dark mood”, which was presumed to be a result of his grueling work and travel schedule.
Reading those words in the article, I understood precisely what had happened to Anthony Bourdain. He “crashed”. He went from whatever speed his incredible mind usually sped along at, to zero, slowly enough for people to notice his “dark mood” but too quickly for anyone to realize what had really happened to him and stop the inevitable trajectory of his path.
Strange things happen when you crash, and crashing happens at different speeds for different people. I wasn’t around Mr. Bourdain, of course, but it seems like his crash took at least a few days, and no one will ever know what triggered his deceleration. It could have been anything, but whatever it did eventually made his mind focus too hard on the negative potentials of what he was doing, most directly his Hong Kong project, until the excitement, adventure, and hope of the project was thrown into doubt by his own mind. I’m willing to bet he struggled mightily with himself for some unknown period of time in an effort to reassure himself he was on the right track, but if your mind has betrayed you, it does not respond to logic. It gets stuck on bad things, like an anchor dragging the bottom of a rocky ocean, until eventually you grind to a halt or go in circles.
My crash happened very quickly, within the space of hours. For example, Sunday afternoon was a wonderful time spent with my husband. Eight hours later, at midnight or so, all those good feelings were gone. *snap* Just like that. It was like being hit in the face with a board. The whole next day, I could palpably feel every good feeling I had recovered since my break slowly sliding away one by one, hour by hour. By the time dinner rolled around and my husband and I went to Jim’s Diner for the first time in the few weeks since my break, I had gone from a wide open spacious world full of possibility to a tiny, dark room with blackened windows, pinpricks for light, and every single door nailed shut save the one that Mr. Bourdain decided to walk through, very likely in a snap judgment.
I had at least two things it doesn’t appear Mr. Bourdain had. One: I wasn’t alone. I’d really rather not entertain what might have happened had I been alone. Which makes me wonder what might have happened with Mr. Bourdain had someone bothered to check and see why he didn’t come down for dinner the previous evening, which was extremely unusual. Anthony Bourdain miss an exquisite French meal? That should have been a major warning bell and while I’m sure those people are already kicking themselves for not checking on him, that may have been a crucial missed opportunity. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for those circling the drain, as it were, so assure others they are fine, for a variety of reasons, and so it may not have mattered if anyone checked to see why he did not come down for dinner.
The other thing I have that maybe Anthony didn’t was an inner guiding “voice”, although I can tell you that no matter how loud that voice may usually be, when the windows darken, the walls close in, and the only exit left is marked DEATH, that voice becomes subaural and the only way it works is if you believe it’s still there. I also had the personal knowledge of knowing four people who found themselves in that tiny, dark room and went ahead and took that exit, and I know what happened to the rest of us when they made that choice. My inner voice said “nuh uh, we’re not doing that”, and after I was done crying into my eggs and hash browns, my husband took me home where I crawled into bed and stayed there, where I knew I’d be safe.
Maybe Anthony did have a voice, but it grew too dim for him to hear anymore, AND he no longer believed it was there. That’s when the normal laws of emotional logic fail to meet the standards of the average happy person and the person in the dark room begins operating by illogical standards and faulty assumptions that seem like perfectly reasonable explanations for whatever conundrum they are faced with. There has been more than one instance in my life where I was absolutely convinced that I had been born cursed, due to some repeating circumstance or inability to wrench myself out of some bit of bad luck that was too reminiscent of past situations. When life shoves you back into the same shitpile you’ve tried so hard to get out of so many times, it can be hard not to think that the Universe wants you to stay there. Maybe Anthony found himself in front of one of those shitpiles and instead of deciding to go around it or try cleaning it up, he just said, “fuck it.” Only an individual knows when they reach the “fuck it” point, and so that will likely just have to remain one of the mysteries that surrounds Anthony’s death.
There’s a third element at play here, something that I believe both Anthony I possessed, and I still do, seeing as how I’m alive, and that’s something I can only call gumption. Gumption says “fuck that noise” when faced with an obstacle, and will help you find any way around it, over it, through it, or will hand you a weapon so you can smash that fucker to bits. Anthony had goddamned buckets of gumption, and I loved watching him use it when I watched his Travel Channel show “No Reservations”.
This is a man who, when presented with a not-so-carefully prepared and barely cooked rectum of some African animal and told it was a delicacy, you could almost see him put that gumption hat on and say “okay, fuck it, I’m eating asshole today”, a decision that would ultimately send him wretchedly sick to the doctor. But that was Anthony: irreverent, bold, adventurous, and always ready for a drink and a cigarette, when he still smoked, along with whatever audacious food would keep him and his eating and travelling companions going until they passed out from food, fun, and booze.
I had a child in the years following “No Reservations” and so I was too busy to keep up with his new shows, but from what I did see, it seemed that he actually did have some reservations now. He’d had a child of his own, quit drinking and smoking, got married, and seemed to be a pretty happy guy. Something was missing from his shows, though. He’d lost some of his gumption, for whatever reason. And I can only assume that he kept losing it over the years, or else he might not have found himself in a French hotel on June 7 / 8, in a dark room with only one even darker exit that has only one lock: your own will not to go through it.
It’s been determined by French authorities that Anthony had no drugs or alcohol in his system, so those very normal indicators of suicide were not present. And sadly, even if there had been something like antidepressants or antipsychotics in his system, it might not have helped. That drug my doctor put me on? I’m pretty sure it CAUSED my crash, and so is my husband, and so we’re going to have to have a long talk about being careful with what drugs we use to treat me, because they’re supposed to prevent finding yourself in that dark room, and now I’ve found myself there twice in the darkest place I’ve ever experienced in my life, and believe me, there have been plenty of times I have found myself in very dark places indeed.
I’ve still got my gumption, though. It may dissolve into puddles of tears as it did this morning, as I sat smoking and drinking my coffee, much like Anthony did so many years ago before he cleaned up his act, so to speak, yearning for the happiness that had been given to me a few weeks ago, and then snatched away so quickly I barely had time to notice it was gone until I went to access it and found that it was missing. It was like someone had brought my long-dead cat YinYang back to life for a few weeks and then murdered him in front of me.
But yes, I’ve still got my gumption, and I still have my Voice, and by the Goddess it doesn’t matter if that room shrinks to the size of a closet and that big black door looms so wide and tall I may fear I’ll fall into it, I will NOT go through that door.
While I had my psychotic break, I went walking with the Goddess to many places, and I even became different people so I could properly experience what she was showing me. At one point I noticed someone was accompanying us as we walked, and I looked over and it was DEATH. I wondered why he was there, and she said it was because we were in his world now, but I was safe. He wasn’t there to take me, he was there to show me around, and also to remind me that he’s always there, a lot like that door to Crazytown I swear I woke up in on May 21.
I’m not afraid of DEATH. I’m afraid of that tiny room with the blackened windows and shrinking walls that only has pinpricks of light that go out one by one if you can’t manage to push the walls back to a manageable distance. I don’t fear DEATH, I fear a lack of choices. I don’t fear DEATH, I fear the after effects it has on those who are left behind who are often left with unanswerable questions unless the person was premeditated enough to leave a cogent suicide note, which is very often not present.
And that’s probably something more important than most other things that have kept me away from that door: knowing what suicide does to other people, even if they do know why, like Robin Williams’ family. So I hope that dark room never shrinks so small that the pinpricks of light that represent the people that love me disappear, like they did for Anthony.
I’m sorry your world shrank, Anthony, a person for whom the world was truly a majestic, giant place full of excitement and opportunity which you always seemed so eager to pursue. There was always one more place to go, one more new noodle to try, one more exotic drink, one more club, one more person to show you something you hadn’t experienced before. I don’t know what happened to you that made those big wide walls start to close in, but something tells me it took a long time, until finally, in that French hotel room, after you had crashed for whatever reason, the walls finally became so close and so dark that all glimmers of hope disappeared, and you walked through that door. I, along with everyone else I imagine, will probably always wonder why you didn’t say “hey, the world doesn’t seem as big and as hopeful as it used to, is something wrong with me?” Maybe it frightened you so much you couldn’t say anything, which is so often the case for people whose walls begin to close. Even I, a person who has walked alongside DEATH my whole life and stared at that door a few times myself, will not understand what happened to you until I myself pass through that door, very hopefully not by my own hands, and get to ask you “hey man, what happened?” It’s the question all of us who are left behind by the suicidal ask ourselves, and it haunts us our whole lives.
Anthony Bourdain. Robin Williams. Spalding Gray. Chris Cornell. Layne Staley. Kurt Cobain. Jim Morrison. The list goes on of those shining souls we admire and are inspired by, and are then kicked in the gut when they leave so suddenly. I was listening to Audioslave’s “I Am the Highway”, one of Chris Cornell’s bands, and it occurred to me he may have left a message for us in his lyrics
I’ve put millions of miles under my heels
And still too close to you, I feel
I’ll leave you with some words from one of my favorite movies, “A River Runs Through It”. In it, Tom Skerritt’s character, a Presbyterian minister, is giving a sermon in which it is plain to his remaining son, played by Craig Sheffer, that he is talking about the death of his younger brother, Paul, a charming young man played by Brad Pitt who found himself in trouble with gamblers, with a predictable result. And he says the following:
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
Later he narrator ends the movie with this:
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

I’ll listen for you at the rivers, Anthony, along with everyone else we, and I, have lost over the years. And hopefully at the end of a very long, fulfilling life, I will meet you at the appropriate time at that river, and you’ll answer the question we all have, and then we’ll sit at a great table and eat and drink to our heart’s content. I’ll even eat durian fruit with you and maybe you can introduce me to a noodle I actually like. But I’m not eating asshole. Fuck that noise. 🙂

Week From Hell


Well, it has been one hell of a week, lemme tellya.  Hell of a month, really, but things really came to a head this past week.  I went from being pretty damned happy, though not too happy I don’t think, yet still suffering from physical effects of mania, not mental ones, to being pharmaceutically dragged from my lofty perch to very unnecessary depths which actually still left my brain way up where my doctor was trying to get it down from, and that was not the right approach.  All he did was induce what psychology calls a “mixed state”, something seemingly unique to bipolar disorder in which the various aspects of the body, mind, and soul/psyche fail to operate at the same speed anymore. Instead of bringing me back down to what he considered Earth, he threw me way out of equilibrium and as a result very nearly made me suicidal.

Which leads me to the same conclusion I made while I was having my psychotic break a month ago and was observing parts of the Universe as well as the inner mind that led me to an irrefutable, to me, truth: psychs, therapists, and shrinks are fucking with shit they do NOT understand.  Not enough, anyway, for way too many of us. If they knew as much as they like to pretend they do, then we would not have this problem we have today of both medical psychiatric practitioners as well as therapeutic practitioners doing the equivalent of playing darts with drugs and therapies until they find something that sticks.  Sometimes this works out really well, like with my kid, who was given the right antidepressant and anxiolytic the first time out. He got super lucky. A lot of people don’t.

So my husband and I along with my shrink have been discussing/arguing over what to do about the “crash” I experienced a few days ago as well as how to address what has been both correctly yet incorrectly viewed as my suffering from “mania”.  Mostly they discuss and then present what they think to me, and then I argue, because I haven’t made myself clear to either one of them, particularly my shrink. Yes, my physical being has been in a high state of mania that has prevented basic things like sleeping and eating enough.  However, my mental activities when I was awake, which were very focused but not uninterruptible, were actually operating on a pretty normal level for perhaps the first time in my life. I was pretty happy, but not excessively so, and I was busy, but not excessively so, and I was re-experiencing things like writing, sex, and dancing, again, not excessively so.  Except perhaps the sex but quite frankly after my husband I having not had decent sex in probably five years if not more, I think I can be forgiven for wanting to make up for lost time.

Unfortunately, my first visit to my shrink was just a few days after I really began to spiral out of control, and just before my actual psychotic break, which lasted about a day or so, to my admittedly fuzzy memory.  At this visit he put me on a brand-new antipsychotic (and therefore horribly expensive so he was giving us samples) as well as an anti-anxiety agent that has been used for a very long time, although its use as such is off-label.  He said both were very mild and would not result in a screeching halt to my thought processes or a hammer to the psyche. That sounded good to me, because part of me was enjoying the intellectual and other epiphanies I was experiencing as my brain spiraled out of control.  And I know that’s a danger of bipolar disorder: getting hooked on that amazingly creative and introspective state of mind that allows for truly genius connections. So I was happy to take something that would supposedly not seriously affect that state of mind but allow me to establish some control over the speed of the mental vehicle.

However, since I was essentially not yet finished with the process that brought me to his office, at least one of his prescriptions was very premature.  Fortunately since it was slow-acting, it didn’t interrupt the major central transformative and healing process that took place over probably a week, culminating in a night of panic attacks that forced me to reconnect with the one person in my vicinity: my husband.  I hate to say “forced” because that makes it sound like it was an unwilling activity on my part, but that’s not true. While the panic was awful, it allowed me to pierce straight through all those shit-colored lenses of perception that had been laid over my “eyes” over varying amounts of time and from different life situations, and be able to SEE my husband for who he really was, the main message of whom during that panicky night was “I’m safe, I won’t hurt you.”  Which was demonstrated repeatedly over the night as my brain over and over again left my body and then snapped back in a state of utter terror and confusion.

By the time I woke up in the morning, all, and I do mean all, of the negative baggage that I had un/subconsciously projected against him had fallen away.  And that baggage and its associated lenses of perception had also fallen away from other aspects of my life, largely involving my kid and therefore many parts of my own childhood.  My thoughts and emotions were no longer so far away that they could not be controlled, so it was much, much easier to avoid negative states of mind that I had previously been ruled by for decades and that caused me to behave in…very unpleasant ways, especially towards my child.

Now it did take a couple of days to get a handle on those newfound, much closer emotions, though I never got angry like I had before.  If anything, I was able to tell when anger might be approaching, grab it before it got too far, identify it, and be able to do something such as say to my kid, “Hey, you’re doing something I’ve asked you not to do repeatedly, yet you’re still doing it, and if you don’t stop I’m going to really lose it on you and I know you hate that, and I hate it, so let’s not go there, okay?  Just do what needs to be done.”

And lo and behold, when presented very directly yet kindly, sometimes sternly, in my newfound non-angry Mom Voice, he would usually blink or nod and go do whatever I wanted him to do, or not do, depending on the situation.  It even worked on my nephew, who is very neurodivergent and much of his behavior is based in unpredictable chaos, so it’s hard to get through to him. I did, though, much to I think both of our relief.

And thus I spent a couple of really wonderful weeks actually enjoying true happiness, although because I was essentially like a newborn baby, I had to re-experience things like food, which was really weird for a while and still is sometimes.  I still haven’t eaten anything sweet besides my coffee and pumpkin bread, or had any soda. I discovered dancing, and then I couldn’t stop bringing my phone everywhere to listen to music and dance, though it was usually dancing in my kitchen waiting for my coffee to brew.  I spent days listening to music and making YouTube and Spotify playlists not just for myself, but for a larger project I had in mind, and still do. I brushed off my blog, picked a new theme, and started organizing it while I wrote new blog posts about my experience. No, I wasn’t getting enough sleep, and food intake, while improving, was still on the low side.  I was also smoking a lot and drinking a lot of coffee, but honestly that’s not so unusual for a writer and as far as I’m concerned is a minor problem I can tackle later.

Then the antipsychotic that my shrink gave me at that first visit started to kick in, rather slowly at first, but then plunging me into darkness much like the first hill on a roller coaster.  Only I wasn’t coming back up like the roller coaster does. I ground to a near halt, spending two nights in a row crying into my food in the middle of crowded restaurants because that window to happiness had been painted black and the door nailed shut, cutting me off from the writing, the dancing, and most importantly, the sex.  All of it, just gone in the space of about 24 hours. I felt like the world’s most cruel joke had been played on me and while I did not find myself contemplating suicide, that big black door that represents it was sitting RIGHT THERE. I took a look at that fucker, as did my Inner Voice which to me had been squelched, and they both went “nope”, and went to bed with every intention of staying there until this horrible wave passed and/or something was done about the medication regimen.  I had never, not once, been so sad and unhappy, and damn that is saying a LOT.

To make things even worse, the “crash” had done absolutely nothing about the perceived primary issues of my supposed “mania”: the lack of sleep and the poor eating.  It was like someone had set demolition charges to blow up a certain section of a building only to find that when the detonation occurred, unforeseen connections in the building’s infrastructure nearly caused the whole thing to collapse, with me in it!

Fortunately I am not a building, I’m a person, and I know my brain can heal itself under the right circumstances.  Yet I was going to have to go through several days of discussing/arguing with my shrink over how best to treat this “crash”.  And pretty much everything he recommended went way against my Inner Voice and how I thought this should be approached, and in my newly agitated state of mind I typically reacted angrily about it.  He wanted to increase the antipsychotic and have me start retaking another drug that had been one of the direct causes of several years of my life during which “every day is exactly the same”, to use the Nine Inch Nails song.  And it was true. “I believe I can see the future, because I repeat the same routine” was my mantra for years, and I will not tell you about the disgusting and filthy state of affairs I allowed my body, clothes, and general surroundings to descend into while I was in that state of mind.  I.DID.NOT.CARE.

Fortunately I had railed to my husband about that particular drug and what it did to me and he was able to convey that to my shrink without my having to go into it, and at least on the phone he said that was fine.  And I was befuddled and angered by the suggestion that I increase the dosage on the antipsychotic, which we had previously DEcreased because of side effects and did not seem to be doing what we wanted it to. To my mind’s Inner guiding Voice, none of this made rational sense, and it had been keeping a very careful watch on me during the entire process, so I was very reluctant to ignore it.

I was very angry and panicky for a few days after the crash because I was repeatedly being given untenable options for how to deal with it, much to my husband’s consternation, who was having trouble dealing with not only my anger, but my growing inability to properly communicate my thoughts and feelings because of the rising panic.  I could not talk to my shrink on the phone because a) I knew I’d get into an irrational state with him because b) he was going to try to argue with me based on his perception that I was not thinking clearly, and I knew for a fact that I was, unless I was being actively panicky.

Friday I was prescribed two more drugs that I was trepidatious-bordering on-angry about, another antipsychotic for sleep that I had taken before and gotten bad muscle twitches from, and a common mood stabilizer that I had said many times before that I would never take again.  That particular day had started out relatively okay, but grew into depression as the day wore on, and rage when I noticed how much of one of the drugs he had prescribed to me. I had been emailing him the entire time, and I wondered if he had even read them, seeing as how he seemed to be doing the exact opposite of what I wanted or needed him to.  I was tired and wanted to go to bed, so I angrily took my meds, even the new one, and stomped upstairs where I blew up at my husband again, not because I was angry at him, but just because I was angry, as well as frightened and confused.

As we drifted off to sleep, he said he had some ideas he wanted to talk about in the morning about my mental state and the drugs I was taking.  I agreed and we went to sleep.

In the morning, I had indeed slept for several hours in a row, but my back hurt terribly because I don’t think I ever moved, my mouth was dry as the damned Sahara, and I was very groggy from the additional antipsychotic I had been given for sleep.  I decided right then and there that that would be an on occasion only drug to be used only when I had too many nights in a row without adequate sleep.

My husband I attempted to create a timeline for the drugs I had taken over the years along with start and stop dates, and dates of onset for different mental states I had experienced.  It was very clear almost immediately which drugs were responsible for what, which my Inner Voice and I had already suspected and were merely confirming. We did the same for the much shorter time span beginning late last year when I began ending taking those drugs one at a time, and again for the time span of the last month that began with my spiral on May 21.

The long and the short of it was that my experience was being misinterpreted and therefore mistreated, much to my detriment.  Amazingly, at the same time, my shrink answered an email I had written the day before, in which he AGAIN tried to convince me that I needed to increase the antipsychotic and add a mood stabilizer, his favorite of which was the “every day is exactly the same” drug.

I didn’t lose it this time, though I was rather incredulous.  However, since my husband and I had been nailing all this shit down all morning, I was able to craft a “good morning and good timing” email in which I laid out much of what you just read, but not before making the statement that no, I would not be taking that particular drug anymore, I would not take the other drug again, and the other new/old drug he gave me would not be taken in as high a dose as he wanted me to, at least not yet.  I would also be treating the sleep meds much more carefully. I also rejected his assertion that I needed a mood stabilizer, but said I was willing to discuss it.

I didn’t put him down or yell at him or express any of the other negativity that my knee-jerk reactions were producing towards him earlier in the week, I just laid it all out as simply as I could that he did not understand what happened to me, and was therefore mistreating it, dangerously so.

It’s the weekend and he doesn’t like email, so I do not expect a reply until my visit with him on Tuesday, at which point we’ll find out whether he accepts what he read and is willing to respect my autonomy and newfound knowledge and experience, or if he persists in wanting me to take drugs that I am pretty damned sure will NOT help me.

And this is the power struggle that so many mentally ill/neurodivergent people in crisis find themselves in, and regrettably a lot of them do not seem to have the internal cogence that I do that allows me to be able to determine which drugs are good for me and which ones are bad.  And there is the further problem of potentially not being taken seriously because it is assumed that because you have X disorder and/or are in crisis, you are therefore incapable of thinking rationally. And at least for me, that’s bullshit.

That may indeed be the case for a lot of people, and I can even see where it might apply to myself in the right circumstances, but that would require a profound loss of my ethical, rational, and logical mental structures again that I do not think will happen, as that baggage has been processed now.  My breakdown served a huge purpose which has been largely fulfilled, leaving me with so much energy and fodder for further exploration that I will be happily busy writing for quite some time, provided that ending taking that one drug has the intended result, which I believe it will, since it’s not even doing what it’s supposed to be doing in the first place.  Sorry, FAIL. Next!

My huge fears right now are that a) the ability to dance never returns, which is vastly overshadowed by the fear that b) my libido, finally recaptured and then cruelly yanked away again, never returns.  My Inner Voice tries to tell me that won’t happen, though, that I just have to wait for this shit to wear off, which might take a few weeks, and that I will indeed be able to dance and enjoy sex again. And I admit that itself may actually take another drug of some sort, although I hope not.  I have discovered that my physical body, which underwent some really amazing and strange changes that I will have to write about to be believed, along with my mind/soul/psyche, are in careful balance that are dependent on another, much like the orbit of the planets in the Solar System. Fuck with one, and the entire system goes to shit.  Ask any astronomer what the Earth would be like without the Moon. TL;DR – bad, bad things that would likely prevent the formation of life on the planet in the first place. Let’s not even discuss what would happen if there were no Jupiter.

I am no different.  Part of psychology and psychiatry’s problem is that it often treats what is wrong in the brain while failing to address or even acknowledge the elephant in the room that carries it: the rest of the human body.  Which is probably why we have so many psychiatric drugs that carry profound physical symptoms, many of which are unbearable to the user. It’s a terrible and, to me, unacceptable tradeoff that I will no longer engage in, even if I’m back to eating bananas and only sleeping for two hours at a time, because I know that state of mind/body will not last forever and while it may look wrong from the outside, dammit I’m happy!  No, not TOO happy, just happy, and true happiness has been so rare in my life it’s hard to describe.

If you could walk in my life’s shoes, not only would you stumble in my footsteps, you’d crawl back to me on your hands and knees, bleeding, scarred, and sobbing for me to take my shoes back.  And then maybe you would understand what I will and will not sacrifice for this long-fought for happiness, and why I was so upset that it and vital parts of it were ripped away from me almost as I was just beginning to enjoy them.

Me and my baby soul still have a website and its menus to wrangle, and blog posts to finish that were started over the last few weeks.  In the meantime I just have to check in with my Inner Voice, aka The Goddess, and get reassured that things will return to my new normal, not someone else’s.

Swimming in Glue


I recently stopped taking one of my drugs that my shrink has actually been trying to get me off of for some time now.  I’m not now entirely sure why I was so resistant, in hindsight.  When I first started taking it, I think it was doing me some good.  But after a while, it had the effect of laying a thick layer of cobweb over everything in my life, inside and out.  I didn’t notice it at the time because there were other forces in my life that were essentially doing the same thing.  So it was kind of a double whammy, mentally.

I don’t remember exactly when I started taking this particular drug, but I’m willing to guess it was around four years ago, because that’s when all of my online activity that amounted to anything more than a Facebook post came to a screeching halt.  I just didn’t have anything to say anymore.  I was mute.  I thought it was just a result of the bipolar disorder or the OCD or PTSD or anything else that is wrong with my brain.  And I do think those things have a muting effect on me.  But not to this extent.  What had been an annoyance had turned into a serious problem.

I couldn’t meditate anymore because I couldn’t focus or concentrate, both of which you actually need to “empty your mind”.  I didn’t write anymore or go anywhere because I didn’t have anything to say.  All I could do was parrot back whatever was on my Facebook feed, I’m sure to the annoyance of my friends.  I know I got unfollowed by at least a few people because all I was doing was echoing the background noise of the social network without really adding anything to it.  I didn’t do art anymore because I had absolutely zero desire or passion to create anything (still working on that one: I’m hopeful it will come back).

So I spent four years reading Facebook, reading the news, reading Wikipedia, or watching a tv show or movie.  After about a year, I stopped getting dressed.  I just stayed in my robe all day.  I didn’t see the point of getting dressed if I wasn’t going anywhere.  If I was going to be numb, I was going to be comfortably so.  I grew to accept my fate, that I would just live out my days on social media and watching tv and movies until I either keeled over at home or had to be wheeled into a nursing home.

Then I ran out of that drug, and I didn’t feel particularly bothered to refill it for a couple of weeks.  Around that same time, I began to realize I didn’t feel DEAD inside.  I was enjoying my shows more, actually engaging with them rather than just using them as a way to fill the time until I could go to sleep again.  I was also less likely to doze off while watching said shows and movies.  I got it refilled, but I decided not to take it unless I was having what I call a “hamster wheel” day, which is when thoughts get trapped and just go around and around like hamsters on a wheel.  It doesn’t happen very often and it’s not like anything bad happens when it does, but it’s an unpleasant state of mind, the brakes upon which can be applied with judicious use of the right drugs.

I guess about a week ago, I became more interested in Facebook again.  I hadn’t really been on in quite some time: I had been watching tv shows and movies almost non-stop from the time I woke up until I fell asleep for months on end.  It was just suddenly much more interesting to me than it had been in a long time.  I started posting again.  Not just reposting stuff from other people and groups, but making longer posts of my own about my own life, not someone else’s.  I felt like interacting again, though not quite enough to get out for parties and social gatherings.  I’ll get there, though.  I am still a hermit at heart, after all.

I really don’t know what happened.  It’s like a switch flipped in my head.  I feel like writing again, which means I actually have something to say, which means my brain is working again after having been in standby mode for the last four years, or longer: I’ve been taking this class of drug since 2011.  I restarted my blog and renamed it and made a Twitter account to go with it and a Facebook group.  Buddhism is interesting to me again.  I had some “a-ha!” moments while reading, of all things, the blog of a Christian pastor over the New Year holiday.  A bunch of things clicked and I suddenly no longer felt the need to be seething in anger at the election of DT (I will not call him “President”, nor will I say his full name: he’s just “DT”).  Not that anger is inherently bad or anything.  It’s an excellent motivator.  So I’m going to stay at least offended by the presence of this narcissistic child in the house recently occupied by someone who is everything DT is not.  But I refuse to allow myself to be filled with hate.  It’s unproductive.  In fact, it’s counterproductive.  But that’s another post.

I’m glad my bipolar disorder and other issues aren’t so severe anymore, such that I don’t need such intense medication anymore.  Now that I have this stuff out of my system, I can get back to a mindfulness and meditative practice, both of which were two of many things that just came to a screeching halt in the last few years, which was a pity because of all of the lifestyle changes I had been trying to make, those were the most likely to help me.  I’m not condemning these medications.  They’re life-saving for a lot of people.  And when I was first given them, I was led to believe I needed them, and maybe I did.  But I don’t anymore, and unless something drastic changes with my mental health, I will never take them again.  I still have other meds I have to take, so it’s not like I’m ignorant of my mental health.  I’m just a lot more questioning of what is asked of me by my healthcare professionals.  They may be general experts in their fields, but I am the ONLY expert on this particular body and mind.  I know a lot more about them now and I’ll be sure to take that knowledge with me whenever I have to deal with healthcare workers in the future.

Changes


Hello Gentle Readers.  I haven’t posted since July of last year.  I don’t think I’ve had much to say, really.  Even my private journal over at LiveJournal hasn’t seen much action for the last few months.  Life was kind of boring.  I took the kid to school, went to work Tuesdays through Thursdays and on Saturdays, tried to go to karate when I wasn’t sick of being at the dojo (more on that later), and basically wasted the rest of the time on the computer or playing Skyrim.  Domestic concerns were pretty far down on my list of priorities.  I felt like a total slacker, and sometimes a loser, but I still have a thin veil of depression that lays on everything, so it’s hard for me to get motivated.  That could probably be largely remedied by my remembering to  take my damn antidepressants in the morning.  *sigh*

Overall, though, I feel better mentally than I have in a while.  I still have my down periods and angry spells, but I don’t think it’s happening as often.  And if I am perceiving a difference, then I know everyone else probably is.  Because I don’t notice change in myself unless it’s fairly significant, as evidenced by how often my family has to tell me not to be so hard on myself because I’m too busy focusing on how well I’m not doing and ignoring how well I am doing.  I’ve apparently not been very successful at removing the Self Ass-Kicking Machine I seem to have permanently strapped to my back.  Or at taking off the Shit-Colored Glasses I also find myself wearing more often than not.  I wear those less and less often, though.  When I put them on, though, hoo boy.

So what have I been doing since last July?  Well let’s see here.

  • fretting over my mothering skills when Zoe was much younger: I had bad post-partum depression for 3 years after she was born, and I spent a great deal of time being sad and angry.  I also hadn’t been diagnosed as bipolar yet, and it was raging out of control in retrospect.  My life would have been considerably easier, and my family’s more pleasant, if I had stopped breastfeeding to stop the hormone flood I was subjecting myself to (I’m a freak: oxytocin doesn’t make me feel good like everyone else on the planet, it just upsets my hormone balance and makes me completely unbalanced) and sought treatment for what was a serious problem.  Actually, I did, but I was seeing a GP who was wholly unprepared to be treating someone with serious mental illness, so the treatment I did get wasn’t effective and essentially stole my memory for over a year.  I was in no shape to take proper care of myself, let alone anyone else.  So of course my parenting suffered.  I’m struggling to make peace with all of that and  the fact that those times are gone and I can never get back the time that I should have been enjoying mothering my infant and toddler daughter.
  • increasingly not enjoying my job: I have to preface that by saying how much I’ve enjoyed working at my dojo and helping to get it organized and somewhat modernized.  Still, it was an office job, one that I ultimately had for 4 years, and I was tired of clerical work.  So in January, I put in my notice.  I stayed through the end of March so that I could help organize a big training weekend that had been planned to celebrate the dojo’s 25th anniversary.  That was about 3 weeks ago.  I’ve applied for one job that I didn’t get, unfortunately (it was at a local meditation center), but haven’t done any other looking yet.  I’m enjoying the time off and not getting up in the morning with that yucky feeling you have when you have to do something you don’t want to.  Now I get to weigh all of my options, including going back to school potentially.  I’d certainly make much better money with a degree, which I only need about 30 more credit hours to finish.  It’s just paying for the tuition that’s problematic.  I already have a significant student loan debt, so I’m not anxious to add to it.  I don’t know if we would qualify for financial aid anyway.  So that’s where I’m at career-wise.
  • switching therapists: I’m on my fifth therapist since December of 2012.  I go to a sliding scale clinic whose staff rotates out frequently since they’re graduate students also looking for permanent jobs.  My first two therapists got new jobs within a month of starting with them.  The third therapist was a really nice guy, but he had some whacked out theories and opinions about mental illness (he believes there’s no such thing as mental “illness” except for maybe schizophrenia: uh, yeah dude, whatever), and he was a guy, which meant he set off all my baggage about men leftover from childhood.  His therapeutic technique annoyed me and I didn’t feel safe enough to open up to him.  So I switched again.  The new lady made me feel really uncomfortable for some reason.  So I switched again.  The new lady is okay.  I still feel really guarded, though, and I don’t know if that’s something about her or something about me.  I do know that I’m really freaking tired of being in therapy.  The whole “how does that make you feel” thing really grates on  my nerves.  I also have an attitude of  “talking doesn’t cook the rice” (a Chinese proverb) that probably doesn’t serve me very well considering talking is what you’re supposed to do in therapy.  Half the time I just want to stop going: I could use that money for other things (as it is, I spend $300-400 a month on my mental health).  And if I don’t feel like talking, maybe I should stop.  Something to think about.
  • got our daughter into a really great charter school: she was so bored at her old school, so it was with great delight that I took a phone call from the charter school in July saying there was a spot open for her.  She loved it for several months.  Then she went back to hating school, despite her grades being significantly improved by the new learning environment.  Her social concerns are very important to her, though: if there are no friends around, she’s going to be unhappy and her grades are going to suffer, and her best friend there will actually be going to the middle school that’s walking distance from our house.  So we’ll be switching schools again for the next school year.  I hope it works out, because failing that, we’ll have to resort to private schools, and that’s freaking expensive.
  • repeated family drama with my brother: I’ll spare you the details, but he pulled a stunt in August that almost necessitated my going to Seattle to be with him.  I didn’t go, fortunately for my budget, but it highlighted what a negative presence he is in my life.  I really don’t need that kind of crap anymore.  I’ve done my time tending to the insane.  I have my own life to worry about.
  • something of a spiritual crisis regarding my Buddhist leanings: Buddhism is not a comforting religion.  It’s all about acceptance and compassion, and not having expectations, because that’s clinging, and clinging leads to suffering.  But as I said in my LJ, “I’m just having a really hard time wrapping my head around how cessation of desire doesn’t equate to futility.”  I’m trapped in a philosophical loop of sorts.  I know that “all beings desire happiness”, one of the basic tenets of Buddhism.  I also know that leading a life filled with expectations typically leads to disappointment, so how does that mesh with desiring happiness?  Should I stop desiring to be happy and just be surprised when it happens?  That seems like a terrible way to live.  Buddhism is also maddeningly simplistic and minimalist, as well.  Regarding worry, Buddhism says it’s ridiculous, because you can’t do anything about the future or the past, just right now.  So fix what you can right now and forget about the rest.  How am I supposed to plan for the future with that kind of attitude?  I don’t have anyone to talk to about these things, so I feel really stuck and frustrated with my spiritual life right now.
  • start and stop exercise habit: I had a good thing going for a few months there, and then I lost the momentum.  I did get myself to karate class quite a bit more frequently starting in August because I was trying to get enough classes to get a promotion.  Good thing I did, too, because in November we had to stop driving the car because it needed a critical repair so it became really difficult to get to class since my husband didn’t get home until 6 or 6:30.  But the daily momentum to exercise?  Gone.  There are deep depressions in the carpet where my hand weights have been sitting for the last several months.  Now that I’m not working, I have awesome opportunities all day long to go to yoga class or to one of the classes at my gym, mostly weightlifting.  Not to mention the things I can do at home: dumbbells, bodyweight exercises, and walking.  I also have a bicycle.   There’s really no excuse other than laziness and apathy for me not to be exercising.  Which I still really need to do in order to get my slightly elevated cholesterol level down.  So that’s a major goal right now.  I did discover that if I use an asthma inhaler before I exercise, it’s a LOT easier, so that’s helped some.  Need to see a doctor about that.  Speaking of doctors…
  • getting health insurance because of the ACA: my daughter and I have been without insurance since 2006.  I’ve lived in fear of what would happen if she got really sick or injured.  It would be devastating financially.  I don’t have to worry about that anymore: we are all insured now thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  Before that, it was simply too expensive to insure everyone.  It would have cost more to add the two of us to my husband’s policy than it is to get insurance for all three of us.  So that’s made me really happy.  I have several things I want to see doctors for: my breathing problem (probably asthma), my heart issues (never had a proper followup to my hospital visit last year), my hormones (the bane of my existence), my skin (I have a few moles I’d like to be looked at), and getting basic wellness taken care of.  A trip to the chiropractor would be nice.  I’m looking forward to getting all of my health issues taken care of.
  • expensive things: like major car repairs, and spending $1500 at the vet to get surgery for my dumbass cat who ate 2′ of ribbon one day.  At least they let me spread out the cost over a few paychecks.  Otherwise I shudder to think of what might have happened.  That’s my daughter’s cat: she would be devastated if something happened to him.  Now we make sure nothing ribbony or stringy is left out so he won’t eat it, because he’s clearly too stupid not to.  Not long after the incident with the cat, a couple of my teeth started acting up.  I had to have them pulled, which would have been a serious financial problem if I hadn’t been approved for a line of credit at a local dental chain.  So I spent a couple of weeks in pain after having first one tooth out and then another, since it couldn’t be repaired.  Which made me miss work, which pissed off my boss.  Our financial situation just sucked for a few months, and in the midst of it I had to worry about…
  • a corporate takeover at my husband’s job: we just didn’t know what was going to happen for weeks, and it was so incredibly stressful.  To make a long story short, eventually everything got ironed out after a few negotiations (the hiring terms of the new company were very undesirable, so he managed to get a contract instead of being a permanent employee, thereby avoiding quite a bit of unpleasantness), and now he’s making more money and gets to work at home.  A winning situation all around.
  • got my green belt promotion: more than two years after my last promotion, I finally promoted again to green belt.  I’m technically a senior student now.  I haven’t been to class much since then because working at the dojo meant I really didn’t want to spend more time there (plus it was weird being both an employee and a student: I was never sure which hat to wear), but now that I’ve quit, I need to get back to class.  Especially since I have to pay tuition again!

*whew*  That’s a lot.  And I thought my life was boring!  It just hasn’t been exciting in the way I’d like it to be.  Things are fairly settled at the moment, though.  I do need to find a new job because we do miss the income (though working for a non-profit meant my paycheck was never huge), but I want to find something I’ll enjoy.  Either that or I need to completely rework the budget so I can save enough to go back to school.  Which is what I’d really like to do.  I have several possibilities that I could major in, since the last 30 or so hours that I need are all major concentration classes as opposed to core classes.  I’m all done with those.  I’m kicking around the idea of either a psychology or a social work degree.  I think the latter might be more personally satisfying, though not as well-paying probably.  I could also get a science degree in either microbiology, an old love of mine, or atmospheric science, aka meteorology, an even older love.  That’s a lot of math, though, which is not my strong suit.  I just want something that will both make me happy and give me a relatively decent income.  If I don’t start working a real job that makes real money soon, I’ll never have anything in my Social Security account for when I’m older.  Getting old freaks me out.

So my current goals are re-establishing an exercise habit, getting the house and yard in order, which are in a woeful state right now, and either finding new satisfying work, or going back to school.  And that’s life in my world.

Spiritual Nomad: Week Four


I started this post back in March, when I was really deep in Spiritual Nomad along with some other stuff.  Then most of it came to a screeching halt for a variety of reasons (mostly illness and injury), and here I am, still knee-deep in Chapter 4.  It’s a fun chapter, too.  I get to create my own ritual, and my own wheel of the year with my own holidays and everything!  Whee!  So let’s get going.

This week is about ritual and the role it plays in our lives.  We’ve all been to at least one kind of ritual: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc.  They don’t have to be religious in nature.  Many are, though, and are the kind most people think of when they think of the word “ritual”.  We go through all kinds of rituals in our daily lives, though.  I do one every morning when I make my tea or coffee.  There’s a very specific set of actions that happen in a very specific order in order to achieve a very specific goal, and it happens the same way every day.  Brushing your teeth in the morning is a ritual.  Driving to work is a ritual.  Checking Facebook while you eat your lunch is a ritual.  Rituals, big and small, establish order and give predictability to our lives.  They make us feel secure.

There’s a big difference, though, between ritual with and without intent.  Ritual without intent is just a series of motions repeated in the same way.  Sure, it may bring comfort in its own way, but not in the same way that ritual infused with intent will.

For example, consider someone making their morning tea.  They heat the water, they get their cup, they prepare the tea, they pour the water, they wait for it to steep, they augment it with anything, should they wish, and they drink it.  While they made their tea, they were probably thinking about the day ahead of them, an argument they might have had with someone yesterday, what they’re going to wear, whether or not their dry cleaning is ready, so on and so forth.

Now consider someone who has made their morning tea into a ritual infused with intent.  This is just an example, of course, and is similar to how I might perform my own tea ritual sometimes.

They walk into the kitchen with nothing on their mind except making their tea.  They reach for the tea kettle and walk to the sink, paying attention to the water as it fills the kettle.  They set the kettle down onto the stove top and listen for the click of the igniter and the ‘foomp’ of the gas flames leaping into life beneath the kettle, or the creak of the electric burner heating up.  They may stand there and listen to the hiss of the flames and the other sounds around them: the HVAC switching on and off, the birds chirping, the dog or cat eating, a car door shutting.

As the water heats, they prepare their tea by getting their favorite teapot or teacup, and possibly contemplating it for a moment before setting it down.  They may even have special teapots, cups, and spoons that are only used for their tea, much like other types of ritual tools.  They get their tea out, pausing to smell it before measuring out how much they need for the cup or pot.  They pay attention to the color, smell, and feel of the tea leaves.  When the water boils, they take the tea kettle and slowly pour the water over the tea leaves.  If they are lucky enough to have something in which they can watch their tea leaves steep, they take the time to watch their tea leaves slowly unfurl in the hot water and release their color and tannins.

When steeping time is over, they remove the tea leaves from the water, or pour the tea from the pot into their cup.  They spend a moment just smelling the tea, and enjoying the sense of warmth from the cup.  Only then do they take a first, small sip, really taking the time to discover all of the different flavors and aromas of the tea, the final physical and energetic product of their ritual.  Each sip of tea can be its own ritual, in that way, taking in everything that went into making the tea, until the cup is done.

See the difference?  One is done without attention and largely out of habit for the purpose of getting the morning’s caffeine hit (or taste hit, if one just really likes tea in the morning).  The other is done with the intent of moving energy through and wrenching every iota of experience out of the simple act of making a cup of tea.  One makes the tea a goal to be achieved.  The other makes the tea a spiritual tool.  Not that one is “better” than the other.  When I’m in a hurry, I go for the quick way and in fact, rarely go for the full-on tea ritual experience.  But what a wondrous start to each day it would be, or end, if I were able to afford myself the time for that or something like it.

Now I have instructions for how to make my own ritual, which I’ll be keeping to myself, thank you very much.  Some things a girl just has to keep personal, and if you want the instructions, you’ll just have to buy Spiritual Nomad for yourself.

I did get to make my own calendar, with my favorite holidays and events on it.  Everyone has days that are important just to them, for whatever reason, and they are just as deserving as any other holiday.  So I plotted them all out: important birthdays and deaths, anniversaries, and religious holidays you won’t find on any American calendar.  I still have to make it into something that looks nice, so that can be a nice art project to look forward to.

An aspect of Spiritual Nomad I’ve not been very good at are the prayer exercises.  I just wasn’t in the habit of sitting down quietly and focusing my mind in a particular fashion.  Now that I have a meditation habit established, I think I can attempt the prayer exercises with success, and will probably integrate the two activities, or at least do one after the other.  I like getting my candles and incense out.

So that’s where I’m at.  This week’s questions took some thought.

1. What rituals have you attended in your lifetime?  Think of a ritual that you found moving, then one that wasn’t, and compare the two.  Do rituals you enjoy have anything in common that you could incorporate into those you create?

I’ve been to a variety of church services and weddings as well as pagan rituals.  I don’t like a lot of seriousness and rigidity or being commanded to do a lot of things.  I do like music and drumming.  I do NOT like the group meet-n-greet that often happens at churches in the middle of service or the tendency of pagans to hug one another.  I like chanting and the reading of verse in ancient languages.  I really like the use of lots of candles and incense and other physical methods of invoking spiritual energy (water, salt, etc.).  Mostly, though, I like not having to say or do anything at all and just try to enjoy the ritual.  So I suppose my rituals would probably involve the ritual lighting of candles and incense followed by reading something not in English or perhaps chanting something, and then probably a period of meditation (f someone had taken me to an Eastern or Greek Orthodox service when I was growing up, I might not have disliked Christianity so much).

2. What is one rite of passage you wish you could have marked with a ritual of some kind but didn’t?  If you were to create a ritual for that missed occasion, what would it entail?

It would have been nice to have had a bigger deal made about my 16th birthday.  As it is, I don’t really have any special memory about it at all.  If I could create a celebration for it and not have to worry about money, I’d probably plan a dinner party at a nice restaurant (but not too nice: we’re talking about teenagers here) and invite my friends.  We’d listen to our music and hang out and then go to the mall to go shopping until it closed.  Then we’d go to whoever’s house was biggest and party some more.  A beer or three would be quietly passed around.  Then those of us with driver’s licenses would drive the rest of us home (the drivers not drinking beer, of course).  The next day I’d wake up to car keys.  😀  And away I’d go…

Clean(er) Slate


When last I wrote, I was embarking on the ambitious task of transforming three different areas of my life: spiritually, physically, and metaphysically.  Let’s go over how I did in all three areas.

Physically, I started off well, and was then immediately hampered by injury.  It seems my hamstring tendons in my left leg get really upset when I try to do vigorous exercise now.  I briskly walked a 5K and was in quite a bit of pain the next day.  The next week I worked out on a treadmill and had some more pain the next day.  Then I went to two karate classes in a row and could barely walk the next day.  Granted, I probably should have given myself more time after the first time I hurt myself before doing more exercise, but like most people who are gung ho to change a part of their lives, I did too much too quickly.  I haven’t done anything more vigorous than a bit of yoga since the karate classes over two months ago to give my leg a rest.  I can still feel a tiny twinge every now and then, which tells me that when I do decide to start exercising again, I’m going to have to be careful about it.  Plainly I need to do more stretching than I do, as well.

The other thing that interrupted my physical endeavours was illness.  I’ve been sick so much the last few months.  I was sick in December, then again in February with a horrible norovirus (which basically makes your body eject everything from both ends for a few days and leaves you feeling weaker than an overcooked noodle), then again in March with horrible allergies resulting in a sore throat that rivaled the pain of strep, and again in April with a hacking cough that I’m still getting over because allergy season is still in full swing down here in Central Texas.

So yeah, I didn’t get a whole lot of exercising done.  I did, however, establish the (mostly) daily habit of doing yoga every morning.  I do sun salutations, even if I only do one.  The point is to just roll out the mat and do it just for the habit.  I was up to eight before I got the cold with the hacking cough and had to lay off for a few days: I’ve only just gotten back up to that.  I’m getting a bit bored with the sun salutations, though, so I went to YogaJournal.com and used their sequence builder to make myself a routine that I should be able to do in 15 minutes or less (we’ll see: I haven’t tried it yet).  Hopefully that will give my body more of a workout and be a little less monotonous.  I’d also like to get back to yoga class at my local studio now that I’m feeling better.  I was going fairly regularly until all of the injury and sickness hit, and I haven’t been back since.  My yoga buddy is out of nursing school for the semester now, too, so maybe we can help each other get to class again.

Metaphysically, I’m doing great.  My meditation practice is going swimmingly.  I missed a few days when I was really ill, since it’s hard to meditate when you can’t breathe, but other than that, I’ve been meditating for half an hour every morning after I make my coffee/tea (lately it’s been coffee).  I have a program on my iPhone called Insight Timer that has a number of bells and chimes to start and stop my sessions, and would have interval chimes if I chose to.  It keeps track of how many days in a row I’ve meditated and gives me “milestones” when I’ve reached certain markers, which is a nice little incentive to make sure I sit every day.  There are also groups I could join if I wanted to, and I could make ‘friends’ with other meditators.  Almost like Facebook for meditators.

As far as my actual sitting sessions go, I’ve been using two different techniques to help focus my mind.  I’ll either use the Japanese Zen technique of counting my breaths (I count each inhale and exhale separately, though some count each inhale and exhale as one), one to ten in Japanese (I prefer that to English for some reason), or I’ll use the technique called labeling, where I “label” each action that I detect, including my breaths.  So it would be like this: “…rising (for the inhale)…falling (for the exhale)…rising…chirping (a bird outside)…falling…clicking (the HVAC switches on)…blowing (the air coming out of the vent)…rising…scratching (the cat uses the catbox)…falling…wetness (the cat sniffs your fingers with its wet nose)…”, so on and so forth.  The point is to give my mind something to do other than bounce around doing whatever the hell it wants to.

Some of the stuff on meditation that I’ve read seems to think that if you give your mind something to do with one of these or another technique then you’ll maintain focus since the mind can only do one thing at a time.  Bullshit.  I don’t know about you, but my mind can do several things at once.  Consequently, I sometimes have to double up on my focus techniques.  It helps a lot since I have to concentrate much more heavily on both counting and labeling at the same time.  They don’t leave room for much else other than the internal space they’re intended to create.  Which is the point.  Emptiness.  Or at the very least, mindfulness.  When everything is working right, I can get to this place where I’m not feeling, I’m not thinking, I’m not worrying or doing anything else conscious with my brain.  It’s just…quiet, and I’m perfectly aware of everything around me.  Then my thinking brain realizes I’ve achieved what I’ve been going for, and it pops like a bubble in slow motion.  These snippets of awareness are rare and fleeting, but they’re becoming somewhat more frequent and slightly longer.

As far as the rest of my life goes, I think I’ve carried that awareness practice into the rest of my day, even if I haven’t done so consciously.  I’m much more attuned to my emotional states than I was before, or at least to the negative ones, so I think I’m more likely to catch them before they turn into something ugly.  They also happen less often.  I think I’m less moody from day to day, and I feel more stable.

It’s not all wonderful.  I have to make myself sit some days because I just don’t want to, though not very often.  Sometimes I get bored and have to make myself stay there until the timer goes off.  Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it and doubt its effectiveness.  Sometimes I get angry because I can’t get my mind to be still.  Sometimes I’m tired and have to focus to keep from falling asleep (though the hypnagogic imagery is sometimes interesting).  Sometimes it takes a lot of mental effort to make myself count or label and I’ll just let my mind do whatever the hell it wants to do.  I think that’s just fine sometimes.  Sometimes I think it’s interesting and even useful to see where my mind goes when the leash is let go.

Mostly, though, meditation is helping me make friends with my mind, and that can hardly be a bad thing.

Then there was the spiritual aspect of trying to change via doing Spiritual Nomad.  If you were reading a couple of months ago, you saw that I got up to Week Three, and then there was nothing.  I actually did do the work for Week Four: I just never wrapped it up and wrote about it.  So that’s another post.  Nevertheless, I did not finish the entire six week course, which I would still like to do.  The notebook is still sitting right here on my desk.

If I want to finish it, I’m going to have to do some serious personal work to do Week Five, which is all about caring for the sacred self.  Being nice to myself or appreciating my good qualities has never been something I’m good at.  I’m highly self-critical and very quick to point out when I’ve screwed up and put myself down.  Little wonder, then, that I’m not all that great at taking good care of myself.  I’m somewhat overweight and out of shape, though I’m still pretty strong and flexible.  My diet could be better.  My personal self-care habits are a little slipshod.  I dress like a teenage slob.  I make sure I’m presentable when I leave the house, but you probably wouldn’t want to see me on my days off.

Consequently I’m a little daunted by the task of treating myself as sacred.  I definitely do not treat this body like a temple.  If I did, I would eat different food, get a lot more exercise, dress better, and do a lot more things that made me feel happy and creative.  Why I don’t do these things is a mystery I should solve immediately.  More to come on that in the Week Five post.

So that’s how I did on my threefold-attempt at changing things in my life.  If it were a three-legged stool, it wouldn’t be level and might be wobbly.  Luckily these are extendable legs, so to speak, and I can continue to work on the other two.