Depression: Round 4

Today I’m going to talk about depression. At some point yesterday, I felt myself stand still in a moment where chaos was unfolding in my home and listened to what my mind was telling me. I didn’t like what I heard. I have been watching since then, quiet and mindful of the words I’m using on myself. There is decidedly a part of my brain that needs to, quite bluntly, shut the fuck up. I’ve been here before. More than once. I’m sure this will not be the last time I am here again. This will be the 4th major depressive spell I’ve had in almost 34 years of my life.

This time is different, though. This time I have a certain quality of mindfulness that I didn’t have the last 3 times. This time I don’t have some defining moment where I take depression as a weird comfort, the apathy being a welcome difference to the deep, aching pain that had no origin.

Yesterday I was standing in the hall, as my daughter ran off from me in the middle of trying to get her dressed for the fifth time that morning while laughing and calling me all sorts of names, and I heard my inner-voice say, “Everyone would be happier if you were dead.”

There’s a certain quality of defeat I can’t even begin to describe over the moment where you are being verbally abused by a child and go there mentally. I don’t talk about my daughter.  I don’t feel like I have the right to talk about her life publicly; partially because I want to protect her. But my daughter was born of 2 adults who have ADHD and likely both are undiagnosed autistics. I have a wicked case of sensory processing problems, and she was recently diagnosed with sensory processing disorder while we wait on the 8-month-long waiting list to get an appointment to get her evaluated for behavioral health… I don’t talk about it in part because people don’t see the way she acts at home at night when she’s tired. They see a shockingly intelligent little girl who is absolutely gorgeous and sweet. They don’t see the nights where she’s beating her head against the floor, throwing her body into the wall while being unable to sit still, or gagging over each piece of food she tries to eat. They don’t see her at 3-and-a-half telling her mother she’s an idiot. They don’t see her refusing to have her hair brushed, struggling with potty training, or being unable to go to sleep on her own. And I don’t talk about it, because no one sees it or understands when I do. I know most of this she will grow out of, but there are things she won’t.

I wake up every morning facing this. I go to sleep every night worrying she’s going to fall through the cracks, that they won’t see it until she’s in her teens, if ever… I worry she’s going to have the same outcome of battling depression, social anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder that her mother has, because at 14 when I recognized I had ADHD and asked for help, I was told girls don’t get it, they just get depressed. I was “just” depressed. For some reason people still think women don’t struggle as autistics or have other behavioral differences… No, we’re just depressive. Hysterical. Irrational.

I have a reason to be depressed, but that situation isn’t letting up any time soon and is really just the spark that starts the fire. Some part of me had hoped that I would be able to hold out. Hold out until we get the phone call saying we’ll be seen soon. Hold out that my husband will get a residency and we’ll move back to a blue state. Hold out while I deal with the fact that my health is possibly declining more. Hold out…

Gods, please don’t let me crumble. Let me fight the stress of being poor, disabled, and a mom to the most magical little creature I have ever encountered.

There’s an ugly beauty to the depressive mind, a certain beauty to the art of being able to tear yourself down that only another depressed person will understand. In my experience, it slips in slowly at first. Depression pretends to be your friend. It understands your pain. It understands your suffering. It shows you the beauty of suffering. And for me there’s always been this defining moment in my episodes where I open the door and invite it in fully, seduced by that beauty. Where those little urges to harm myself cease to be quite as terrifying as they should be, because I’m too exhausted to ignore them anymore even if I’m present enough to not carry them out.

And there is a gift there. You get comfortable with the concept of death when you’re simultaneously wishing it upon yourself while fighting against that desire. You start to see the beauty in death. You, in short, get fucking morbid as hell.  That’s not necessarily bad… It’s the actively wishing to be dead part that is when, hey, you’ve got a life to live still.

But yesterday I was standing in the hall, listening to a 3-and-a-half-year-old tell me how stupid and scared I am, feeling like a complete failure, and when that little voice in my head said, “You’d be better off dead,” I stopped and named it.

Depression.

I looked over the months I’ve not wanted to do anything. The untouched tomatoes of summer that normally bring me so much joy. The unfinished art. The unstarted plans. The mess that’s my kitchen… The insatiable hunger and exhaustion that leaves me too tired to move. My friends who I’ve not seen in months. The dread of being responsible in any way, shape, or form of anything at all. The guilt over it all. So much guilt. Feeling like I’m not a good mother, a good friend, a good human… Desperate to be left alone.

Oh, Depression. You’ve been here longer than I realized. You sneaked in this time uninvited, and it’s taken this long for you to gather the bravery to really start talking to me.

This time I don’t have the luxury of breaking down. I don’t have the luxury of possibly swinging manic or even hypomanic. I’ve got shit to do and a life to live…

You aren’t welcome here, and you are not who I choose to be.  In short, you’ve got to shut up.

So I give myself a few days to get over this darkness I’ve found myself in, and then I have a psychiatrist picked out to start seeing if it doesn’t somehow magically lift… Because the “in case of emergency” plan for the unmedicated bipolar-not-bipolar-maybe-bipolar-who-knows-anymore person that is me has always been very, very detailed, and as soon as we got health insurance I picked out a psychiatrist in the event I needed one. Because depression never magically lifts. It magically implodes into all sorts of ridiculous fuckery that is not acceptable to me at this point in my life. Even if I had a 5-year remission, that threat of this happening has always been the elephant in my room just camped out in the corner smoking a hookah that I’m always aware of.  The what-if.  The please don’t let this happen ever, ever again, please.

Well, this time I’m not hitting rock bottom before I get help.

I’m going to practice what I preach, which is medication-based intervention is a completely acceptable and sometimes needed route to go.

Why did I decide to talk about it? This is my personal blog. Because people need to be open about this sort of thing. Because I refuse to hide this part of me due to stigma.

Also because it makes me feel better to write, and even better when I hear that what I’ve written touched someone else. So, if you’re that person needing to hear it… You aren’t alone, and neither am I.

“Big Pharma” & Privilege: Or Why I Wish Allies Would Stop Using This Phrase

(Update 1/6/16: As of today, this post has been read almost 80 thousand times.  It was originally written for the Pagan and Polytheist communities and those who regularly read my blog, but very clearly it struck a chord with a lot of people.  I’m actually still pretty shocked by that.  I have made the decision to move any more writing on disability to a new blog, Wunderkammer by C. Laurentine, which will document living life as a disabled artist and activist.  So if after reading this you decide to follow me for my writing on disability, it will be over at the new blog.  Thank you.  Thank you a million times over for reading this.  Thank you. – Camilla)

A friend posts an article on Facebook about how the United States’ medical system does not meet the needs of those with chronic pain. This is a reality that I have experienced. This is a reality that I regularly speak to others who experience chronic pain have also experienced. About a month ago when I was at the doctor’s office for my annual exam, I overheard 2 medical workers talking about how they hate when patients say they’re in pain, because they know they’re over-reacting. I was horrified, but it wasn’t the first time I’d heard someone in the medical field say something like this.

When we talk about chronic pain, and disability in general, inevitably someone pops up to say something like the following:

I think chronic pain (and other illnesses for that matter) should be tackled with a holistic approach. Putting our faith completely in the medical system is futile because at the end of the day Big Pharma (which sponsors the medical industry) is a for profit business and there will always be conflicts of interests. Many people are unaware of the fact that a lot of these illnesses stem from emotional issues that have not been dealt with. And when unresolved, it is these emotional issues that eventually manifest physically as pain or illness in the body. Doing some actual shadow work, to confront these issues and release them- along with meditation, Yoga, the right nutrition, etc.- can improve and in some cases even eliminate these illnesses completely.

This is an actual response to my friend’s post about chronic pain. I’m being kind and not putting names up. Some of you out there might be nodding your head to what is being quoted here right now. I am not exaggerating when I say that this was the second time in the same day I’d seen these sentiments said by 2 different people, and I’d not spent much time on social media yesterday. Being active in the chronic illness and disability communities, I see these statements on a daily basis.  I see the effects on those who it’s said to that don’t live their lives out in the public.

I expressed in a frustrated moment on Facebook that when I hear the words “Big Pharma” I stop listening, because I assume it’s going to be filled with a bunch of unscientific nonsense. And that got challenged, because obviously I’m making assumptions that aren’t nice. Yet I encounter the same situation day in and day out, and I have many friends with chronic illness and invisible disabilities who also express this same sort of experience happening to them regularly.

So let me take a big deep breath here as I calmly say this: I am sick of being nice about this shit, and I’m horrified that those fighting in the social justice realm are constantly ignoring what disabled people are telling them about their experiences.

As a community, we’ve risen to the occasion (somewhat) appropriately, trying to confront race, sexual orientation, and gender in social justice, even though I realize it’s not enough. We fall behind a little more in discussions on class, but we also have a very epic conversation going on about capitalism currently. But over and over and over again I see people fall short on the conversation about social justice for the disabled down to the point where able people regularly tell us we’re taking care of ourselves incorrectly or not doing everything imaginable to treat ourselves.

So, allow me to begin with why the above quotation is a big old line of shaming BS line-by-line. (Please do your best to remember that this is a disabled person telling you about her experience, and don’t come back with a “not all people” statement. Because derailing.)

I think chronic pain (and other illnesses for that matter) should be tackled with a holistic approach.

Stop and ask yourself three questions here… Do I suffer from chronic pain, which would allow me to actually be speaking from a place of experience? If so, did it help? If yes to both of these things, great! I’m genuinely happy for you, but please remember that everyone’s body is different (never mind diseases vary from person-to-person) and may not respond in the same way. But try not to use sweeping generalizations and talk from a place of your own experience.

If the answer to the first question is no, then stop talking. Just stop. As a white person, I wouldn’t try to tell a person of color what racism was about. As a cis-gender person, I wouldn’t tell a trans person how I think they should navigate their lives. Disability and chronic illness is no different. If you don’t experience, stop, listen, and learn. Your place is as an ally if you choose to be one, which means you need to stop and realize that you do not experience what a disabled person is talking about.  I hope you never do.

Putting our faith completely in the medical system is futile because at the end of the day Big Pharma (which sponsors the medical industry) is a for profit business and there will always be conflicts of interests.

Okay, so here is where I’m going to get into why as an ally, I really wish you’d stop using the term “Big Pharma…”

First of all, I want to show you what my medicine box looks like as a person with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility Type, Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension, 3 types of migraines, tension headaches, Hyperandergenic Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Dysautonomia, severe environmental and food allergies, probable celiac (a comedy of errors cut out the gluten before I could get tested properly, and I’m unable to challenge because my reaction is documented as very severe), an immune deficiency, and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. Add to that social anxiety disorder and panic attacks, because my body thinks everything is a threat to its life. Add onto a couple more suspected illnesses that I just don’t have the energy at this point to get tested for, because I spend at least one day a week in a doctors’ office. Add to that a few other things I’m just too lazy to type out, because they’re common but fucking painful all the same.  And I am one of the mildly afflicted EDS cases out there, which the Ehlers-Danlos is to blame for all the rest.

A white box filed with 20 different pill bottles and boxes

Hopefully you notice I take a mixture of prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, and supplements (Valerian, garlic, vitamin D, and vitamin C for starters, but my tea cabinet is rather epic since I am a bit of an herbalist).  None of this is making me sick, though it’s taken me over a year after diagnosis to balance it properly, and it has to be adjusted every few months.

Secondly, here is the fist full of pills I take every night before bed on a good night. On a bad night, it’s more.

A hand holding 10 different pills

Those of us with disabilities who are on medication regularly depend on “Big Pharma” to stay alive. The reason I wish people would just stop throwing the phrase around is that they are only looking into a fraction of what’s wrong with the medical system when they talk about it. And even if they’re not about to spout off some unsolicited advice or some shame to any disabled person happening upon them, they are in a minority of those who don’t use the phrase to shame people for doing what it takes to survive. And it is one of the disability world’s derailing “not all (insert majority)” statements if you try to argue that not all people talking about “Big Pharma” do these things.  The vast majority do, and I’m not the only disabled person out there saying this.

Do I think the pharmaceutical industry is corrupt? You bet I do. You know what else is corrupt that you’re not talking about when you say “Big Pharma?” The state governments in places refusing to reform medicaid so that poor adults are still going without medical insurance. I had a friend break her foot recently who didn’t want to have to go to the ER, because it was too expensive and she had no health insurance. The fact that medical insurance is so damned expensive that, before Obamacare, I could not afford to pay for it, I couldn’t afford to get diagnosed to prove I was disabled, and I went years suffering with absolutely no treatment at all while going into extreme debt every time I had a medical emergency, which with my diseases happens pretty often.

That ignores the fact that the entire medical system is an industry, meaning it’s meant to make money.  It is broken.  The entire thing is broken.

I am not saying that the pharmaceutical companies in America aren’t corrupt. I have a disease 1 in 100,000 people get. There is no approved treatment. There is no cure. I will never in my lifetime see either of these things, because it’s a rare disease that won’t make money for the pharmaceutical company if they spent tons developing it. Trust me, I have a very vested interest health and medical reform.

But I depend on medication to live and function in a relatively normal manner (most days). I take a diuretic to keep my brain from being crushed by my cerebral spinal fluid. I take a beta blocker to keep my heart from going into tachycardia just because I sat up or, Gods help me, stood up instead of laying flat on my back constantly, but also to make sure that my aorta doesn’t get any bigger than it already is by keeping my blood pressure down. If it does, I run the risk of it dissecting from my heart. I take an old school antidepressant to try to prevent a constant headache instead of just wanting to die from horrific head pain and various other symptoms any time a storm comes through.

And so, even if you aren’t about to spout off how I’m not taking care of myself in the way you feel I should be when you say Big Pharma, you are 1 in probably 60 people I encounter in a given month not using this term to lay some shame on me not working hard enough to not be sick.

You’re hyper-focusing on one part of a much larger problem when you use the term “Big Pharma,” and to put it bluntly, you’re using a term that is steeped in ableism the vast majority of the time. Which, my allies in social justice for the disabled, I know you’re not intending to do. So please, listen to those of us in the actual fight, and as an ally please stop talking about “Big Pharma.” It’s a buzzword that needs to go.

Many people are unaware of the fact that a lot of these illnesses stem from emotional issues that have not been dealt with. And when unresolved, it is these emotional issues that eventually manifest physically as pain or illness in the body.

First of all, again, this is blaming the chronically ill. Obviously we are just not willing to deal with our emotional problems, and if we did we would no longer be sick or in pain. We’re not even aware of the fact that we could be without pain…

Let me lay down some more anger and swearing here. (And YES, I have a RIGHT to be FUCKING PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS BULLSHIT. It’s ableism! It’s privilege and blaming the victim!)

I don’t know a single chronically ill person out there that doesn’t fucking know that emotions play into how they’re feeling physically. I have a disease that is literally triggered by stress or whatever my body perceives as stress, and I fear the day it becomes the disease that’s the next health nuts latch onto as the source of everyone’s problems like gluten currently is and everyone decides (again) that I’m a hypochondriac (which in the wrong situation could kill me). I don’t know a single chronically ill person that doesn’t know that there are people out there that 1) are so steeped in their privilege that they don’t realize they have absolutely no idea what it’s like to be in chronic pain, and 2) have all the answers and yet aren’t a medical professional of any kind.

Not only are you singing your able-bodied privilege here, but you’re coming off as a total dick.

Trust me, I’ve been in therapy for 20 years. My therapist regularly tells me that I’m the most well-adjusted chronically ill person she knows. All of my mental health issues have been proven through testing to be due to physical causes – Those being anxiety, panic attacks, and PTSD.  My celiac disease looked like bipolar disorder, but I hate mentioning that because I don’t want people to latch onto the fact that I’m in a minority of people who actually had something fixed by dietary changes and apply it to every other bipolar person out there.

Not everyone handles this stuff like me, though. That’s perfectly okay. Some chronically ill people have developed emotional problems because they are constantly being told there is nothing wrong with them. Some chronically ill people do have mental health issues, because they’ve gone years upon years without a diagnosis or being diagnosed incorrectly.

I have been at this so long and have heard it’s all in my head so many times from friends, strangers, doctors, and loved ones that, despite having a ridiculously long list of diagnosis and more specialists than I care to admit to, I still sometimes genuinely worry that I’m a hypochondriac.  Or worse, maybe I’m suffering from what used to be called Munchhausen’s…  Maybe I just want attention.  The worst part of this phenomena?  I’m not the only chronically ill person who struggles with this.

I have PTSD, because I spent decades in the medical system with doctors telling me I was a drug seeker, a hypochondriac, mentally ill, and (my favorite) lacking in a strong spiritual foundation. Which, if you really want to get down to it isn’t just ableist, but it’s sexist. Think of the Victorian woman diagnosed with hysteria. We’ve really just changed the name to hypochondriac. Women are more likely to get this label slapped on them, after all. Point in case: It took me decades to get a diagnosis; it took my husband 2 weeks to get the same diagnosis.

I could rant on this forever. Just understand this: We know. You are not more informed than the chronically ill people you are shaming. Some of us regularly have to deal with the fact that we know more than our own doctors about the diseases we have. Your skimming of WebMD and Natural Health News does not make you an expert.

Doing some actual shadow work, to confront these issues and release them- along with meditation, Yoga, the right nutrition, etc.- can improve and in some cases even eliminate these illnesses completely.

Might I suggest doing some actual shadow work to the person who said this, because what you just laid out was a giant heap of privileged bullshit. You may want to dig deep and examine why you feel so enlightened on other people’s lives that you have the right to judge what they are doing, holding it up to your personal standards of health.

When I say I’ve been on this path for 20 years, don’t you think that maybe I’ve done some actual shadow work? Because when you say “doing some actual shadow work,” what I hear is “You’ve been fucking around on your spiritual path, and if you would just buckle down and do the work…” This is steeped in puritanical judgment and is saying “If you don’t work hard enough, it’s your own fault you are sick.”

You may be well-meaning, but this is, once again, putting the blame on the victim. It is saying that they are not working hard enough to fix their suffering. Period. End of story.

I need to break this down more, though, so you hopefully examine it…

I will be the first to say that, in my own life, meditation helps me. I have been doing it since childhood, and I do it even when I hate it. Offering, prayer, and meditation are the first 3 things I suggest to someone wishing to embark on a spiritual path. If meditation was going to fix my disease, don’t you think it would have by now?

Secondly, you have no idea what a person’s body is doing, so you need to stop suggesting things like yoga. Let me explain why… I have a connective tissue disorder. This makes me really, really flexible. Like freaky contortionist levels. I have had absolutely no training, but my joints are loose from the disease I have. If I did yoga, I run the risk of making my joints even looser, which puts me at higher risk of spontaneous dislocations than I’m already at. Now if I had a yoga instructor who 1) I could afford and 2) knew what Ehlers-Danlos was, maybe I could do yoga safely.

But the point here is you are not an expert in my body. I am. I am not just sitting around wishing I had a magical pill that made all the pain go away. Okay, actually I am, but reality tells me that’s not going to happen, because that magical pill would also be free of side effects. I would like my pain and suffering to go away with a single pill, and you know what? If you hurt like me? You would, too. But since that’s not going to happen, I deal with pain in the best manner for me.

Yoga, my friends, would actually make that worse, but since you’re not a medical expert you don’t know how to treat my condition. You don’t know what I’m doing. You’re laying a lot of judgment down, because for some reason people in the holistic health community believe that the chronically ill are just sitting around doing nothing for their own suffering and simply want a pill to take it all away, never caring about addiction, side effects, or any other thing.

Check. Your. Privilege. Your ableism is showing.

And finally, to me one of the most important things is this concept of “right diet.” What is right diet? Vegan? Paleo? Local? Gluten-free? Grain-free? What is right for you is not right for me. As someone with multiple food allergies, food intolerances, and more than one disease that requires a specialty diet, I am begging you to examine your opinions on food in general.

Do you think that, as a chronically ill person, I am completely incapable of knowing what makes sense for my body? That’s what I hear when you say “right diet.” You know, as opposed to what poor people eat, which makes them fat, lazy, and diseased… Or, wait, is it the poor person’s laziness that makes them fat which makes them diseased? I can never keep classist food arguments straight, because I’m too busy rolling my eyes back in my head and screaming internally at people not realizing what they are saying.

I’ve been to a nutritionist, because I’m genetically at high-risk for diabetes II. This isn’t some new disease in my family. My grandmother, who was stringently organic and health-focused, had it. My father has it. It’s just something I’m probably going to get at some point, though so far so good! And I do everything in my power to delay that. That includes making sure I exercise regularly, and I eat a pretty protein heavy diet because it makes me feel better than refined carbs. The nutritionist didn’t understand why I was there, because my diet is shockingly healthy.

I also am incredibly allergic to eggs. I have a documented gluten-intolerance that is likely undiagnosable celiac disease, because I can’t gluten-challenge but have the genetics and symptoms for it. I cannot eat melon or sweet peppers without becoming violently ill. And I have an anaphylatic reaction to anything with nutritional or brewers yeast in it. I live in a house with a wheat allergy, a millet allergy, citrus sensitivities, and either a mild dairy allergy or lactose intolerance. We have 2 adults who on top of all of that should be on a low-histamine diet, and when one of our stomachs slows down (because EDS can cause poor stomach motility among other things) we have to be mindful of that as well.

We also have to have a high-sodium diet for POTS, which includes drinking electrolytes to stay hydrated on top of drinking an ideal of 2-4 liters of water a day.

Since I’m on a diuretic, my diet has to be high in potassium. Since I have IIH/pseudotumor cerebri caused by EDS, I have to have a low vitamin A diet, because vitamin A increases CSF… You know what the health food movement taught me? That white potatoes are bad for you, and instead you should have sweet potatoes… Except for me it’s the exact opposite. If I eat a few sweet potato fries, I get a headache.

If I haven’t driven my point home with this, let me be concise: What you deem as the right diet is not going to be the right diet for everyone.

Did you realize that a lot of disabled people are poor? So when you decide they’re not eating the diet you would like them to be eating, that you assume is making them sick, you’re not only making an ableist judgment, but you’re making a classist judgement as well. Maybe they can’t afford to be eating 100% organic, local, grass-fed beef on a gluten-free coconut bun.

Yeah, poverty and chronic illness sucks.

Any time my fatigue is so bad I only have the energy to fix mac and cheese, I have to shell out $2-4 for that box of processed convenience food, since it has to be gluten-free. Or I have to drain my energy more by fixing something else, which could take me out for a couple days. Or drain my wallet more by ordering food, which is basically impossible to find something we can eat out that also delivers… And since I don’t drive to keep everyone around me safe, since I could randomly go blind or lose depth perception, I have to rely on an equally fatigued husband to drive and get food.

So when you see your chronically ill friend drinking that Ensure that you’ve decided is loaded with toxic/dirty/wrong food, or you see them eating a hamburger from McDonalds, which might be the only thing that sounds good amidst endless waves of nausea? Stop fucking judging them for their food choices. Take some time to read what others are saying about the social injustice behind the food shaming diet and health food industries, because, yes, it’s there, too, friends.

You, my able-bodied friends, are only in charge of your own body. Not anyone else’s. And your “well-intentioned” judgement come off as privileged assholery to those of us who are living a daily reality with chronic illness or disability.

So in conclusion, please stop using the term “Big Pharma” if you consider yourself an ally to the chronically ill and disabled. Please?

Edit: Someone contacted me to ask if I’d change my usage of “cis-gendered” to the correct “cis-gender.”  I went ahead and changed it to reflect correct usage, and I wanted to publicly say thank you for doing so.  Not only do I consider myself an ally, but I’m also a language nerd who wants to use terms correctly.  If anyone else is interested in the explanation as to why, here is the link I was given: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10024810648

On Spiritual Emergency, Shamanism, Mental Illness, Therapy, and Anti-Psychiatry Sentiment in the General Pagan/Polytheist Community

Alternative Title: I’m Gonna Keep Talking About This Until It’s a Generally Accepted Thing…

It happened again. Someone posted another article on mental illness being a sign of a healer being born on the Local Pagan Facebook Group with the general overarching but not direct message being that all native and ancient cultures saw it as this. Now I don’t deny that mental illness can be the birth of a healer. I’ve known too many people who have struggled with a history of it, myself included, that haven’t found themselves called to help others dealing with similar problems.

However, these articles tend to stress how society is actually the sick one, and how we need to stop shoving pills at people to fix all their problems.

Anyone who has ever been on psychiatric medication will probably tell you that pills don’t solve all the problems and most professionals are pretty upfront about that fact. Chronic illness medication isn’t meant to cure diseases. It’s meant to treat symptoms. Mental health issues fall under the chronic illness umbrella most of the time.

Today I’m not going to rant about this playing into the Noble Savage stereotype of indigenous cultures that is out-and-out racist. This rant is saved for another day.

Today, I’m going to dig through Wikipedia and summarize some ways that ancient societies handled mental illness in the past. Since we romanticize and glorify ancient cultures, we might as well take a good look at what our spiritual ancestors did for those suffering from mental health problems, right?

And then I’m going to dive into my own experience and what I’ve learned about our community, healthy boundaries in medical relationships, and my own personal journey with mental illness, spiritual emergence, and spiritual emergency.

(And yes, I am using a single Wikipedia page to illustrate how easy it is to challenge these harmful ideas that are keeping people from getting the help and relief they need.)

Here we go!

In Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Ebers Papyrus suggests lots of things from applying bodily fluids to painting to hysteria treatments involving fumigating the vagina. (Actually, I’m tucking this back, because it looks like an interesting paper.)

Ancient India tended to believe that mental disorders were spirits or witchcraft. Maybe you angered the Gods, a teacher, or other superior. Maybe your three bodily fluids were unbalanced due to inappropriate diet or something in your body generally being off whack. They used herbs, charms, prayers, moral and emotional persuasion, and emotionally shocking the person to treat them.

If you add in acupuncture, you’ve summed up Ancient China for the most part, too.

But it’s Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome where the foundation of our modern concept of mental health come from… Socrates did indeed find that there were positive aspects to madness. Prophecy, mystical initiations, inspiration, and induced hallucinations were accepted, but you notice that those things fall within controlled parameters and not just people wandering down the street left to freeze to death in the cold.

Hippocrates came around and classified mental disorders into paranoia, epilepsy, mania, and melancholia.

Then the Romans took on what they’d learned from the Greeks. Asclepiades threw out the humors theory and advocated for humane treatments and allowing those who were mentally ill to not be confined. They were treated with diet and massages. But then it kind of swung back into other types of treatment.

These cultures treated mental illness like real diseases, because they are real chronic illnesses. Even if there was a point where they noted a positive trait to it, it was still considered something that needed the negative aspects kept under control. And this is where my voice of genuine experience as someone who has completely walked through madness and managed to come out alive and stable comes in…

There are mental illnesses that can teach us an infinite amount about the way the world and our own minds work. I have social anxiety disorder that’s kept me from living life to the fullest at times, and you know what? It’s not Gods-sent. It’s not here specifically to make me stronger, but it has taught me a lot about how strong I really am. It’s caused by how I was raised, a biological propensity towards panic, and a brain disease that causes me to have sensory overload super, super easily. There is therapy for it. And when therapy doesn’t work, there is medication that helps me control the panic attacks.

I have experienced Spiritual Emergency, which is a term that the New Age and general Pagan community have picked up on. But it seems like no one has actually read the literature put out by the people who coined this term… Spiritual Emergency, the shaman’s initiation for instance, is exactly that: an emergency. It’s the point where a healthy and natural spiritual emergence situation turns into something that causes a person to no longer function in a way that is healthy for themselves and those around them. It’s a crisis. These people in spiritual emergency need help. For me it was a slow build of Bipolar II, which it took psychology and psychiatry almost a decade to catch up to what was I was telling them I was experiencing to get that diagnosis.

That spiritual emergency that came with it, though, was hell. It was a hell I never, ever want to go back to, and at the time it was happening I was not only terrified of what I was experiencing but I was also convinced I didn’t need help. Part of my fight against getting help for the mental illness component was that everyone in this larger alternative religion community told me that medication would only dampen what needed to happen in order for me to become who I was meant to be.

You know what happened while I wasn’t on medication? I couldn’t hold down a job. I dropped out of college twice. I drank in an attempt to take myself out. I ran myself into debt I’m still paying off. I engaged in all kinds of activity that was solely set on destroying myself.

And yes, I would get messages. During that time, I learned a lot about the way the Gods worked. I developed what is referred to as my Godphone. I took the steps I could on my path to getting my spiritual health together.

But my life was a mess. I would be up for days writing. I would smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day. I would starve myself. The list goes on.

Would having a person around who could have seen the spiritual component to this situation around helped me? Yes, it would have, but only if that person was also trained in what mental illness actually is and took an integrated approach. For me spiritual emergence was tangled up with mental illness, and there was no untangling the two to be done.  That person wasn’t going to be wandering around the local occult shop offering soul retrievals and telling me that medication was only going to make this situation worse. Much like a psychiatrist not listening to my concerns and complaints about medication I was put on was also not helpful.

Eventually I got to the point where I was so exhausted, I was so broken down that I finally realized something had to change. I went years in this cycle, fighting medication. Fighting the mental health community. Not trusting them, because I knew they’d just think I was crazy…  I thought I was crazy.

But in the end society’s view of who I was or how they wanted to medically treat me wasn’t destroying me. The thing destroying me was myself. And, yes, I do believe the Gods put me on this path to become a healer, but I couldn’t walk down that path without regaining some balance. No amount of meditation, diet changes, prayer, or letting me ride it out would have gotten me to that point of balance at that point in my life. You know what did? Medication.

And you know who was waiting for me as the tornadic chaos of hypomania and mania died down with His hand held out to me?

Apollon.

With each pill I took to gain equilibrium, His voice and the other voices coming from beyond my own head got clearer and clearer. I had to relearn a few skills, but those skills came back easier and stronger than they had been.

When we moved to Missouri, I lost my health insurance and couldn’t afford the $800 a month it took for the pills I needed, but I had learned to carefully monitor my own actions. I sat down with family and came up with a plan. And I found that, at that point, things seemed to be under enough control that we were going to trial off the medication… There wasn’t much choice.  If I was going to flounder and fall, it was going to have to be in such a manner that the state considered me disabled and would allow me to be on medicaid.  Which sounds easy, but I’d discovered Missouri’s laws were more complicated than Iowa’s had been.

I struggled some, honestly, until we learned that most likely I have Celiac Disease that was causing some of the mood swings but not all. So I went strictly off gluten, and as soon as I got insurance back (Thanks, Obama! No, really!) I immediately went back into therapy to work on what I still needed to work on… Impulse control, for instance, and being kind to myself. I’m human. I am flawed. I’m not ashamed to admit that, but I’m also proud that I can say I’m working on it.

It’s that whole Maxim of Know Thyself again.

However, with that said, I also have a written emergency plan in the event I ever need it, I want to be hospitalized and medicated. We’re not in denial that this might be a rare remission, because they do happen from time-to-time. In that case, I have no problem being on medication for the rest of my life… I mean, I already am on plenty of medication for other life-long diseases, including an old school antidepressant for migraines. So why not? Because mental illness is illness. It is something many people respond to treatment with, and if they find a doctor they can work with (like any other chronic illness out there) then why are we shaming people for getting help that works for them?

Why are we scaring people away from exploring things that might help them?

Because a few people who have never actually read anything on contemporary psychology and psychiatry have decided you can’t take pills and be spiritually enlightened? Because the vast bulk of the Transpersonal Psychology literature was written decades ago when, yes, psychiatric medication sucked?

And this fear that if you actually talk to your therapist about what you believe, they’ll think you’re mentally ill? Were you aware that there are actually people out there that don’t do that? Therapists are just like any other healing professional, and you’ve got to find the one that fits you. I’ve not talked about all of my religious life with my therapist, but at the same time my religious and spiritual life aren’t causing me any problems currently. She does know, however, that I believe in some pretty non-mainstream things, and I laid it out for her at the first appointment knowing that if she couldn’t handle it then I would need someone else to work with.

I’m not saying this is an across the board thing, but if you’re going into a relationship with someone you’re paying to listen to you and help you work out your issues and you find yourself hiding large chunks of who you are… Well, it’s time to evaluate if it’s a healthy relationship or not. Granted, I know there are some really deep, personal, on-the-fringe experiences out there, and maybe it will take you some time to build trust to talk about that. Maybe it will never come. But if you can’t talk about your religion and beliefs at all… If it’s a huge part of who you are… If the person you’re talking to can’t challenge what you’re saying about the situation, not in a Hey, I think you’re psychotic! but in a Hey, this might be reinforcing this unhealthy thought pattern you’ve developed from crap you dealt with as a kid. Let’s examine that, shall we? way, what good is this person going to be in your life?  You’re paying them to help you, so you might as well give them what they need to know to help you, right?

I’m not saying stop therapy, obviously, but really evaluate if this is a you not wanting to trust a person issue (I’ve been there more than once) or a this person isn’t the right fit for me and maybe someone else out there will be type of situation. But, please, if you decide it’s the latter, stick with the therapist you have until you find a replacement, too. There’s no point rowing yourself out to the middle of the ocean only to throw the oars out before you get to an island with new ones to buy.

I really, truly, deeply hope that in my lifetime I’m able to see professionals trained who understand mystic and alternative beliefs. In fact, I’m starting to feel like that’s the overarching space my life’s work is meant to fall into that I simply can’t avoid anymore.

But I’m starting to realize that we, as a community, just don’t talk about our dark nights of the soul or where mental health and illness falls into place in our stories when we’ve been touched by it. Maybe we’re afraid of the stigma. Maybe ignorant people from all camps will say “Hey, you’re not legit. You’re just crazy.” So let’s prove them wrong, shall we? Let’s talk about this stuff! Let’s not tuck it away like it’s some weakness…

Let’s challenge those trying to act like it makes us weak. Let’s challenge those who shame us for doing whatever it takes to find what helps us, medication included.

Spiritually-based, biologically-based, or anywhere in between, do you know what the mental illness label makes you in my eyes? Fucking warrior strong.

You may be struggling, but you’re here reading this right now. I know how hard it can be. I know the veil depression puts over your eyes that distances you from those around you. I know the peaks of euphoric mania that are followed by the deathly crash. I know the terror so deeply ingrained in your mind that your body goes into flight-or-fight mode when forced to make a phone call or walk into a room late. I know what it’s like to just want to give up and to think constantly about how you’re going to get around to doing it. I know what it’s like to not know if those bugs you’re seeing or the voices you’re hearing are coming from inside or outside of your head.

But you know what I know even more about?

Having an illness is not a weakness. It’s not something to be ashamed of. Seeking out help is a show of strength. And there’s a certain grace to the person who finds themselves having to do this over and over again in an attempt to find the key that will unlock relief for them.

Let’s stop romanticizing the dangers of things like shaman sickness sending a person out into the wild to freeze to death. Or, at the very least, if we’re going to pretend that we’d be better off in tribal society, let’s look at how our society, our little religious community, treats those who are sick… We still send them out into the cold to freeze to death. Only we do it with shame and perpetuating the myths that modern medicine is never the answer. We do it with turning our eyes away and not speaking up when we’re worried about a friend who seems to be having a particularly hard time…

Let’s be warriors and fight for those who are too entrenched in their own inner-battles to stand up for themselves when the bullies come along saying that they need to get off their psych meds and go live on the outskirts of our society in order to be healers.

The noble savage myth is sickening to me, but I think anyone with sense should be able to see that someone who can’t integrate on a basic level with the society they were born into is probably not going to do too much good as a healer.

Let’s talk openly and expansively about where our own illness has taken us, because being silent about it is only going to allow this level of idiocy to keep taking hold of our people and keep others from exploring on their own if what is available to them may actually help them.

Asklepieion: My Big Dream

I mentioned in a video that I had been given the charge to build a temple for Apollon, but I realized that I’ve been kind of nervous about talking about what it is that I feel called to accomplish with my life… Partially because I really don’t want to hear the naysayers’ opinions. Partially because I’ve spent so much of my life avoiding the calling towards what I realize I’m meant to be doing in this world… It’s hard to say I have a calling and a vision for my future, that I feel I was placed in this point and time in history because I have Work that I am supposed to do, and not feel like hubris is creeping in.

I talked to my therapist about this the other day. I went back to therapy, because I’m working on social anxiety issues and pain management via cognitive behavioral therapy. But really? CBT is pretty awesome. It aligns with Stoicism and mindfulness. Finding Personal Center and conquering the doubts, fears, and shadows in my own psyche while on relatively equal footing instead of in the middle of mental health emergency is proving to be a really empowering and enjoyable process thus far.

It’s that whole “Know Yourself, y’all” deal that Apollon has driven home to me.

But as I was saying, I talked to my therapist about it the other day. This was a huge deal for me, because I’ve only talked about the Big Dream in bits and pieces to anyone. Never mind that this fantastic woman, truly a modern day healer, who I’m paying to help me untangle the knots holding me back, isn’t Polytheist or Pagan. I have no idea what her beliefs are, other than she wasn’t too keen on the local inter-faith community locally and she’s got friends with children who are Pagan or Polytheist. And yet, we were able to talk Jung, CBT, and the intersection of mental illness and spiritual experience on a neutral place… She got it. She understood where I was coming from, even if I struggle with an elevator speech on what I believe and can talk more easily about what I’m not instead.

She looked at me. She smiled. And she told me, “Your road is lonely.”

She got it.

Each time I’ve talked to someone, even in bits and pieces, I’ve felt a little more brave about putting it all down in one place. So, despite the fact that I have questions I’ve promised to answer, I wanted to take the time to put The Big Dream down in words to share. The Big Dream I’m eventually going to have to have people helping with, because it’s too big to do on my own.  Even if for now it is lonely.

As I’ve said, Apollon has made it clear that He wants me to build Him a temple. It’s not simply a temple where religious services will be held but a place of healing. And not just any healing but spiritual and mental healing specifically.

I think my own life and watching other friends, both in and out of the Pagan and Polytheist communities, struggle with spiritual emergence, spiritual emergencies, and mental illness has led me to understand that this sort of place is needed. We have very few allies we can go to when we find ourselves having experiences we cannot explain. Mystical experiences can be quite close to psychosis, and typically there is no one there to help navigate the person experiencing them that has a firm understanding of how the spiritual, mental, and even physical integrate to make the larger whole.

You may find yourself seeing a therapist or psychiatrist who can help you get leveled and back in control of the situation, but you may find yourself scared to talk to them about the religious part of your experiences due to being branded one of the mental ill, widely stigmatized in our society.

You may find yourself falling into a community where psychiatry is demonized. Even though it may, in the right hands, be a key to help you obtain some relief without removing the underlying spiritual work. And you may find in that situation that your life falls away from you in a way that causes you to lose more than you are willing to give up.

Or, worst of all, you may find yourself unhelped at all and end up dead.

My dream is to build a place, with a trained and professional staff, that brings about equilibrium for those in this situation. Professionals with degrees in social work, psychology, chaplaincy, and so on, to help serve a person transition from mundane existence to a more spiritually-led life. A psychiatrist who is friendly and open to the needs of this type of situation.

The logistics is that, eventually, a live-in religious community of Polytheists and Pagans would develop on the land that the temple would be on. Small individual houses for those who work both the land or with people along with communal space for (optional) shared meals and celebrations. More small quarters for those who are coming to be helped. All surrounding the space that’s dedicated for Apollon’s temple.

Around that would be a sustainable farm using permaculture, including a bee sanctuary and shrines set up in various places throughout the zones. We would offer a training programs for veterans, teaching them both to farm and helping them work through any mental health problems they might have problems with. We would offer internships and a residency program to hopefully help train other professionals to go out into the world and offer services that align with our values.

This serves 2-fold: One, it provides Pagan and Polytheist training. Two, for those who can’t afford the services monetarily, there can be a sliding scale and payment via work that must be done to keep the community thriving.

If I can get enough land, I would like to offer space for natural and green funerals. At the very least, I know that with my current training in being a death worker will be used to serve those who need help dying, though eventually I would like to explore the thought of offering hospice space for those in need.

I’ve had this idea in my head for about a decade now, but it’s only now that I’m starting to think that it’s quite possible I may be able to actually have this happen. It’s only now that I’m brave enough to start talking about it with others

So… There is my Big Dream. When you hear me talk about building at temple for Apollon, this is what I actually mean. When you hear me say that I’m struggling to figure out what I’m going to do education-wise for myself, this is why. This is what I want to make happen. This is what I’m called to do.

 

A Return to Art: Cultivating Self

Note: I am behind on my Fasti post for April, and I apologize to anyone looking for it.  I got hit with chronic illness after a bout of stomach flu, and this is the first week in almost a month I’ve felt even remotely capable of thought.  It will go up in the next couple days.  May’s posting will be forthcoming also.

Michael’s recently had a 3-for-the-price-of-1-sale on their art paper. It was about the time I had spent 10 minutes debating size and type aloud to myself while my mother and daughter stood patiently waiting that I should have maybe realized that something was amiss. When Mr. F&F inquired why I had bought so much paper, puzzling over why I needed so 3 pads, and I exclaimed “I’m going to use it!” in an annoyed manner that something was happening.

I should have seen it when I gleefully, albeit slowly, started drawing out graphic design work. I had to have had some inkling when I wanted nothing more than to buy clay to sink my hands into for the first time in ages.

I was stepping back into art in a serious manner after almost a decade.

Somewhere in storage is a giant box of supplies I never got rid of. It wasn’t a “just in case” thing. It wasn’t a “I’ll get to it later” or “when I feel like it” situation. It was hoarding things I had absolutely no plans to ever use again but just couldn’t get rid of. Or so I told myself, even if now I’m currently wondering where that box is exactly. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I must have known it wasn’t actually done. I wasn’t really finished with it, even if I thought I never wanted to make art again.

A few months ago, I started realizing I felt like I’ve been removing parts of other people that I seemed to absorb. All of these voices filled with judgment. They belong to people I care about, or they belong to people I cared about at the time. Friends. Family. Teachers. I know we all suffer from it, but I sometimes wonder if, because I have been so involved in the group artistic process of critique, that somehow I trained myself to take in what everyone has said and internalize it more than your average… Attempting to make myself better than I already perceived myself to be.

The problem with critiques is that not all advice you get is actually good advice. In a class setting, you find yourself getting advice from peers. Sometimes the teacher isn’t skilled or even remotely interested in the style that you are… Which is where I hit the real wall in Chicago. I internalized those critiques. Critiques I have scars inside my mouth to this day from, trying to keep myself from showing others the weakness and art school crime of feeling too much about your creation… Critiques that eventually hit too hard during the very initial days of my first mystical experiences and the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced.

I remember driving away from Chicago, watching the city’s skyline get smaller and smaller as we drove back to Iowa. I remember the bitterness of a dream I worked years to achieve not being anything like I’d imagined it would be. I remember the promises of returning to visit friends who had supported me the best they could those hard months and understanding at a very gut level that I’d never see them again. Never mind the friends that I’d not gotten to say goodbye to before leaving.

Never mind that a decade later, the voices of my teachers there have grown into the monsters that try to hold me back. I think I’m starting to understand that I internalized these voices as a weapon against myself. I feed them by listening to them.

I don’t think I will ever get rid of them, but I can learn to ignore them. I can grow back the pieces of me that I have tried to keep from growing due to fear of being judged by people I care about. It’s none of my business what other people think about me, and if they really want to be vocal about it then I need to start reconsidering if they really deserve to be a part of my life.

In the garden that is my own life, I am the one who has the final say in what seeds to allow to grow and which sprouts to pull. I have the right to remove anything that threatens to spread to the point of choking out the beauty I have planned. This is what I tell myself. This is a theme that keeps returning this year for me, and amusingly I discovered just last night that according to numerology I’m in the finalizing 9 cycle for the year.

It’s time to let go of things that no longer work for me: Ideas, habits, people.

This isn’t as easy as I would like it to be, but it’s necessary for growth. That’s what Apollon keeps telling me. That is what all the Gods, major and minor, who take the time to speak to me say. If I don’t let go of these things on my own accord, they will be ripped out from me anyway.

But as I work on removing these things, I find old parts of me buried underneath. Here is my art. Here are people who support my work and my Work. Here are pencils and paper and praise. Naysayers I’ll never see again in my life but somehow weaseled their way into my brain be damned. If we rip off the old skin, I can see the woman who has been silently healing underneath all along. Maybe a little scarred and worse for wear but complete all the same.

It’s funny how some things you simply can’t escape. You think you’ve done it, but suddenly you find instead that you’ve come full circle back to something.

Art just happens to be one of those things for me. I have officially given up fighting it.