RSS

Tag Archives: mental illness

Inch by Inch

One of the things that marked my two years of hell was an overwhelming sorrow that I almost always felt. I mean, the sorrow wasn’t new — I knew it was there. But when my brain finally gave up the ghost, the floor that had separated me from that sorrow seemingly disappeared and I was dragged into the sorrow-filled depths below. I have no clue if its accurate, but I feel as though I’d been stuffing all of my sadness into this big ol’ hole in my head, and then disassociating myself away from it as not to let it effect me. Likely, this is due to the fact that my family doesn’t deal well with emotions. Crying is just not something you’re really allowed to do, and so I did everything in my power to never cry and never show any emotion that could be used against me.

But when the floor disappears and you’re drowning in it 24/7, there is no real way to escape it. It becomes an all-consuming totality that is your waking existence.

As such, we tried to address this in therapy. We didn’t talk about the Ocean of sorrow very often, but whenever I’d brush up against it, I’d tell her that my sadness was too large to handle or figure out what to do with. And whenever I got too close to it, it became too overwhelming and Too Much for me to even maintain any semblance of control or ability to even do anything with the feelings that were consuming me.

During one of our last sessions together, I went into a place that existed astrally, but had seemingly been inaccessible to me since 2016. I navigated through these dark hallways and came to a large sphere where my ocean of sadness was seemingly held (don’t ask me, that’s just how it goes with this stuff.) I told me therapist that it hurt to look at it, hurt to touch it. That there was no way I could do anything with such a large sphere. It was too big and too precarious to move, and any attempts to make it smaller were not producing anything.

But because in EMDR-styled therapy we’re bypassing a lot of your conscious brain and letting the subconscious bits do the work, my mind showed me that we could poke a bunch of small holes into the sphere. And that slowly the water would drain, making it more manageable for me to handle. I remember the therapist asking me why I didn’t do these smaller things that would help with the sadness, and I told her that I didn’t fee like it was actually doing anything. She reminded me that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that each journey is made of a bunch of small individual steps. That if I wanted to make progress, sometimes that progress has to be made one tiny little inch at a time. But reminded me that it’s still progress.

I spent years not handling the sadness, partially because I didn’t know how and partially because I didn’t want to, and by the time it came to a point where I needed to do something about it, lest it end me, I found myself expecting to be able to do one or two “somethings” that would make huge dents in this sorrow, and therefore bring me relief.

If there is something that I think many of us do that ultimately hinders our progress in life, it’s that so many of us seem to walk around with the idea that we just need to perform one or two Big Actions to make a Thing happen for us. We lose track of the fact that all of our decisions matter. Every single one of them. And if we want to make the most progress, we shouldn’t only place an importance or emphasis on one or two choices, but on each and every choice we make.

Not to make my segue too harsh, but I saw a couple of posts a few weeks back that were spawned from a series of tweets that Ed Butler had put out into the world. For those who don’t want to click on the link, here is a copy of the tweets in question:

Someone says they want a relationship with the Gods. Tell them to wander out into the desert and nearly die, or to take an entheogen that will have them puking and hallucinating for hours, and they will do it. Tell them to put a little food in front of an icon and they will not. This is because the former, as hard as they are, are easier insofar as they support the person’s vanity, whereas the simple acknowledgment of the reality of the God embodied in the offering of food to an image is like a mortification. One could say that this is because the sinfulness of idolatry has been peculiarly thoroughly indoctrinated into people, but I think that the strangely stubborn aversion in those otherwise nominally inclined points instead to a resistance based in narcissism. Or perhaps a person feels too self-conscious making offerings to an icon; after all, one can hardly feel self-conscious while dying of thirst in the desert or imagining insects swarming over one’s body. But how interesting it is that they fear the one more than the others.

When I read these tweets, I had so many thoughts as to why someone might choose to do something big and grandiose but not something simple and basic or mundane. And while I do think that Butler is correct in that there is a percentage of us who only want to do things that don’t make us uncomfortable or speak to our vanity (or are, for all intents and purposes, performative), as sat talked about in their post, I think another factor of it comes down to the notion I was talking about above (which is similar to the take that this post over here took.)

Which is that so many of us seem to think that one or two Big Things is better than regular/daily smaller inane “useless” things.

I can give you countless examples where I’ve seen this play out in so many different ways across various communities. Where people discount things that appear to be too simple, too small, too mundane. We’re waiting for the One Important Thing that we have to do that will kick off the middle-of-the-movie montage that will rocket us towards our future Selves that we were always supposed to be.

And in that context, I feel its less about appealing to vanity, and more that we’re waiting for one or two major decisions to balance out all of the smaller decisions that we neglected to own or make–for a multitude of reasons (giving up power is another post.) Just like my younger self choosing to tuck those emotions away instead of handling them, I gave up the chance to work through that sadness while it was still small and manageable, up until I had no choice but to face it in its overwhelming totality. And even then, I thought that the idea of letting out a little bit of sadness here or a little bit there was never going to amount to anything of note. I wasn’t trying to turn it into a big production for my ego, I was simply underestimating how much power can be found in these smaller bouts of release.

Now, I want to add a caveat for all of my spoonie readers out there — please keep in mind that this isn’t a post about running yourself into the ground. This isn’t about doing all of the things all the time, nor is it about bludgeoning people in the head with ideas about how gods won’t ever possibly like people don’t do “enough work” in their religious lives or anything like that.

If anything, I am urging everyone reading to remember that every decision has weight. That we can all accomplish more in our lives if we do the tiny things that seem insignificant now, but will ultimately bear fruit later on. That there is no shame in making a practice or life of small, simple things, because those things may lead to amazing places if you let them.

I have found that handling my sorrow a little bit at a time, scratching out some notes here or there, drawing a picture or two, writing a blog post… that these little things slowly allow me to let my sadness out, and allow me to heal a little bit at a time. I don’t feel healed or 100% better yet, but I can tell that it’s getting easier because I keep working at it little by little.

Even if it seems too simple, remember that there is power in simple things. Just because its small doesn’t mean its insignificant.

What role does simple acts play in your practice or life? How often do you consider the weight of these simple acts?

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Evolution of Mental Illness

I was recently participating in a discussion on Facebook about the negative voices that live in our heads, and heka that can be done to keep them at bay. In the post that was sparking the discussion, the author suggests that giving the negative voices in our heads a name and a form can help us to sit down and discuss things with them. It allows us to interact with parts of ourselves so that we can learn more about who we are, and more importantly, what causes some of these voices to speak up as they do. The long-term goal, as far as I could tell, was that by conversing with these voices, you’d hear less from them in time.

This got me thinking about the voices that pop up in my own head. Of course, I’m not talking about the voice of the gods or spirits that I work with. I’m talking about the voices that often tell me that I suck, or that remind me that I’m not doing as much as I’d like (often stated as “not doing as much as I should“). I’m talking about negative voices that often come with mental illness.

The more I began to mull over what those voices that embody my mental illness try to tell me is the “proper” reality that I live in, the more it really hit home that conversing with my internal voices probably wouldn’t do much for me. Why? Because I’ve found over the years that my mental illness evolves. You see, when I was younger, those voices would still tell me that I suck, but they’d use different reasons to showcase why it is that I suck. For example, when I was younger, I was a lot more isolated from other people, and I was frequently wracked with loneliness. So my voices would remind me about how no one really liked me, and how I could very easily just disappear and no one would notice, and I believed what my mental illness told me because I had nothing to prove them wrong. But now that I’ve worked through some of that baggage? It’s no longer used against me. If my voices want to bring me down, they know that that angle won’t work anymore, and so they choose a different soft point to poke at (such as “this particular person doesn’t like you and never will because you suck” etc.)

This is probably even remotely possible for me to detect on my end because of the shadow work that I’ve done over the past several years. I feel as though my trudging through life with all of my issues was a relatively plateaued affair until I began to actively hack at it in my late twenties via shadow work. Or in other words, my mental illness could hit me in the same spots over and over again when I was younger because I wasn’t making leaps and bounds worth of changes in the mental illness arena. The same issues and concerns I had in late high school were relatively similar to the issues and concerns I had in my early twenties. It only really shifted once I began the shadow work process.

But this highlights for me one of the ultimate caveats to shadow work that doesn’t seem to be spoken about enough–sometimes all the shadow work in the world won’t actually fix everything. I know I talked about this briefly in my post about shadow work being an ongoing process, but it really hit me hard when I realized that as I was beginning to learn how to outwit and overcome my mental illness, my mental illness was evolving to learn how to outwit me.

A side effect of this is that the voices have changed their ‘sales pitch’ to fit whatever topic is the most damaging at any given point in time. Once upon a time, my anxiety and depression could get away with telling me just about anything, and I’d believe it. But now they both have to work a little harder by formatting their statements a certain way in order for me to listen.

This probably sounds like an improvement, and in some ways it is. Due to the work I’ve put in, I can now shrug off certain statements that my brain will fling at me, and certain topics are relatively harmless to my mental health (in comparison to before). But don’t get me wrong–just because these mental illnesses seem to have to work a little harder to figure out what to tell me to get me to sink doesn’t mean that it’s still not effective. Nearly two years of being in mental illness hell is proof that these illnesses are very much in full swing and are effective at crippling me when they want to.

Another way to possibly illustrate it is to compare it to holes in a boat. If I have a boat that has a large hole in the bottom, there is no getting away from the fact that that sucks. Boats with holes don’t float very well. But let’s say that I learn how to somewhat patch this hole up, and now I have two smaller holes instead of one large one–some might consider that an improvement, but my boat still has holes in it. And that’s how I feel when I look at how my mental illness has shifted over the years. In some ways it’s an improvement, but I still have to live with mental illness. And that mental illness is still damned effective at doing what it does despite all of my best efforts.

The biggest point I really wanted to emphasize here is that shadow work will only do so much. Not many of us emphasize it enough, but there is no getting away from that fact: shadow work, therapy, all of these things that we use to try and heal ourselves from our trauma–they only go so far for some things. All of the shadow work in the world won’t erase mental illness, nor will it fix everything. You can definitely wage war against mental illness and push it back a bit, but just like isfet, it is always there lurking at the corners of ones mind. Just like with the gods working to maintain ma’at, the work we put in to stay as healthy as possible with mental illness is a non-stop, never-ending process.

And similarly, if you find that you’ve been working for years trying to get headway with your mental illness, but find that you’re still only treading water, please know this: you’re not alone. Fighting against mental illness is hard and it’s a non-stop battle, and you’re not less for not being able to squash your mental illness down entirely. While so much of the world seems to want to imply that you can somehow teach your mental illness a thing, and make it so that it no longer effects you, that’s simply not true (and honestly smacks against the fact that it’s an illness). And if my experiences are any indication at all, as you improve at waging war against your illness, your illness could get more adept at waging war against you.

Because I haven’t said it enough, remember that shadow work is a tool in your toolbox, and the same way that a hammer doesn’t work that great for putting screws into something, sometimes shadow work isn’t the right tool for the job. Sometimes you’ll do your shadow work exactly as you’re supposed to, and you’ll still come out not completely healed. This isn’t necessarily your fault, but is the nature of living in imperfect bodies that are often riddled with illness. You’re not bad for not being able to fix an incurable illness. You’re not bad for not being able to “magic” such things away. And don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Have you found that shadow work only goes so far with mental illness? How do you combat this? Have you found that your illness has evolved or changed it’s “angle of attack” over the years?

 

Tags: , ,

Spirit Work & Mental Illness

Alternate title: Quit romanticizing my illness.
Alternate title #2: Quit demonizing my treatment.

Every so often I will see little flare-ups in the pagan community that center on two fairly unrelated topics: spirit work and mental illness. Don’t get me wrong, these topics can be related, but they aren’t necessarily related, though many people try to make them out to be. I’m sure many of you have seen articles like this and this that go on and on about how we’re killing our spirit workers because they have mental illness and are not handling it “properly”. And if we’d only just learn how to “properly” handle these “gifts” that we’ve been bestowed, we’d suddenly find that our problems would poof out of existence.

Being a spirit worker myself, I read these posts and feel my jaw clench shut as I find rage welling up in my stomach. These posts are so damaging on so many levels, to both spirit workers and the mentally ill (as well as mentally ill spirit workers), and it really bugs me that so many people don’t see what is wrong withposts like this. There are so many flaws with these kinds of posts that it’s almost impossible to know where to start when critiquing them. But here are a few of the main problems that come to mind whenever this sort of stuff shows up on my FB wall or dash:

Your illness is really a gift from the divine!

One of the first issues that I see popping up with these kinds of articles is the idea that  your mental illness is not actually an illness or a problem, but is really a gift from the gods. And if you’d just learn to accept that, you’d feel all sorts of better! This is also sometimes presented as “if only our society would see the inherent worth and value of your mental illness, you would feel all sorts of better”.

The truth of the matter is, most of the spirit workers I’ve met who are also mentally ill don’t feel like their mental illness is “divine”. I’m here to tell you that I don’t perform as well as a spirit worker when my mental illnesses are flaring up and ruining my life, and it seems like many people feel the same way. Even if society were to somehow make it a-okay to be depressed and anxious all of the time, I would still feel pretty miserable regularly, and wouldn’t be able to operate at maximum capacity.

Mental illness is an energy suck. It sucks the life out of you and leaves you feeling drained, tired, and miserable (most of the time). I can’t imagine how anyone would find this to be divine in nature. Quite honestly, I would expect being tired, drained and miserable would be the opposite of being divine. And no amount of outside support is going to change that my illnesses leave me feeling like crap on the regular. You can’t sunshine and rainbows away mental illness. You simply can’t. And implying that this is a gift is like spitting in the face of every person who has to work really hard to function despite their mental illness/es. Implying that someone with mental health issues doesn’t really know what their illness “actually” is is also ableist. Of course, if you are mentally ill and wish to make it a part of your spirituality, or find that it is a source of power for your spirit work, that’s fine. But it’s one thing to believe that your particular mental illness is a strength for you, and quite another to imply that everyone else who is mentally ill should operate the same way.

I’ve also never understood why so many people believe that mental illness always makes you a spirit worker. I have been depressed and anxious for as long as I can remember, but spirit work wasn’t really a part of my life until I was in my mid-to-late 20’s. And truth be told, my mental illness didn’t really play a role in my becoming a spirit worker (and based off of what I’ve read, mental illness was not a common indicator of spirit work in some cultures in the past- physical health was another story, though). If anything, my mental illness often gets in the way of doing what I need to do Over There, and there are many times when I get really frustrated with the constant interruptions that crop up from my brain deciding that it needs to tank my mood right when important work needs to get done.

There are many mentally ill people who are not spirit workers, and who don’t want to be spirit workers. Conversely, I’ve met plenty of non-mentally ill spirit workers. I’m not sure where this idea originally came from, but it’s an idea that needs to stop propagating. You can be mentally ill and a spirit worker, you can be a spirit worker who isn’t mentally ill, and you can be mentally ill and not a spirit worker. None of these things is necessarily related.

Medication is bad, m’kay?

The other factor that I see constantly brought up in these articles is the idea that if you’re using western medicine in any capacity, you’re drugging your abilities away, or ruining the gift that you’ve supposedly been given.

For anyone that has been following me for any amount of time, you know that I have worked on finding ways to medicate myself, and that I’ve had a fair amount of success with it so far. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to go back to pre-medication me. Medication can take all sorts of forms, and since mental illness can’t really be cured, we really have no place to judge what works or doesn’t work for another. So long as you’re being responsible and healthy about your medication choices, that’s really all that matters. The idea that medication is somehow going to ruin you is so damaging, and prevents people from seeking out treatment. It causes people to be miserable because they fear seeking treatment, or they feel like treatment makes them weak as a person.

Everyone really needs to stop implying that medication is inherently bad (you are treating an illness, after all. And if you’d take medicine for a physical illness, you shouldn’t be chastising someone for taking medication for a mental illness). There are so many people I have met (spirit workers and non-spirit workers alike) who have become better and more stable because of their treatments. I have met spirit workers who feel like their medication makes them better spirit workers. Because, wow, you can actually get more work done when your brain isn’t working against you.

Discernment? What discernment?!

Something else I’ve noticed when these kinds of posts are trawled out is that discernment seems to go down the tubes. In many ways, people seem to believe that if you happen to “see” something that “isn’t there”, then it must be a spiritual experience, and can never be a symptom mental illness.

The truth is that many spirit workers who have mental illness will tell you that there is a definite difference between the symptoms of their illness, and what they experience as a spirit worker. I have met people who have told me that their hallucinations have a very different look and feel in comparison to their astral visions and travels. I’ve met others who tell me that the non-existent things that they hear sound different than when a spirit is talking to them. I’ve met others who tell me that their medication has shifted their experiences (sometimes good, sometimes bad) and that once they took a closer look at their experiences, they could tell what was more induced via medication, and what was genuine.

However, when these posts start throwing the baby out with the bath water, and assume that all visions are the same- regardless of your “gift” of a mental illness, then we stop focusing on discernment and learning how mental illness and spirit work actually play together. Because they can play together, and there are distinct differences between the two for most of us who live with both. When discernment goes out the window, you’re creating a recipe for disaster, because discernment is key to staying safe while working with not only the Unseen, but within our community itself.

Why I consider this to be dangerous.

I personally believe that these sorts of ideas are not only incorrect and damaging, but I personally believe them to be entirely dangerous. They are dangerous because they don’t create an atmosphere where people who are mentally ill can actually seek out treatment that works well for them. The notion that all Western medicine is inherently bad and will completely screw you up often demotivates people to consider all possible treatment methods, and may cause people to skip over a particular treatment type that works for them. It may also be a strong enough argument to convince someone to stop treatment, even if it is working for them. And when people who are mentally ill don’t receive proper treatment, we often run into other problems that causes a decline in our quality of life. Buying into narratives that perpetuate this will cause people to get hurt in very real ways. I have met people who believed that they could spirit work their mental illness away, and let me tell you that the results were often not pretty, and in many ways, produced the exact opposite effect of what they desired.

This is also damaging to the spirit worker community and the wider pagan community as a whole. It causes people to feel inadequate in some ways, and gives people power that they wield poorly in others. The idea that all mentally ill people must be spirit workers creates a rift within the community, as those who are mentally ill, but not spirit workers may feel like they’re doing something wrong. “If all mentally ill people are supposed to be special, but I’m not getting anywhere, then I must be a screw-up, right?”  And if you happen to be a mentally ill spirit worker who is undergoing therapy or treatment, you may suddenly question if you’re also doing it wrong, because apparently these things will prohibit you from being as “good” of a spirit worker as you could be. Not to mention that it makes the spirit workers who are not mentally ill feel ostracized in a community that is already pretty small, niche, and hard to get into.

It sets up this expectation that most people will not meet, and that people shouldn’t have to meet, and yet people continue to push this narrative as if it’s 110% absolute truth. These ideas hurt those who are already vulnerable (mentally ill people) and inadvertently sets them up for a very likely failure. It takes the conversation off of important topics that could actually benefit mentally ill spirit workers (topics such as: how do I tell the difference between a spiritual experience and my mental illness, how do I tell the difference between the astral and a hallucination, how do I work around these crippling symptoms I am experiencing from my illness, how do you manage spirit work and mental illness, etc.) and puts the conversation onto a useless topic of “your medication is bad and everything would get better if you’d just become a spirit worker”.

Yes, it is true that our society doesn’t handle mental illness well. Yes, it is true that we would all benefit from having a society that accepts mental illness and treats it like the illness that it is. But I still don’t believe that spirit work is the cure for all mental illness (quite the opposite, really). I don’t believe that spirit work will make every single mentally ill person feel better (I’m still mentally ill), in the same way that I don’t believe that every mentally ill person is meant to be a spirit worker, or is even necessarily having a spiritual/Unseen experience (many of my symptoms have been exactly that- symptoms, not genuine spiritual experiences). In many ways, mental illness and spiritual experiences can have some overlap, but they aren’t inherently the same thing and it’s better for everyone that this becomes a more recognized and understood thing. I would love to see more discussion on their differences and similarities than the constant “they are all the same” that you seem to get in the posts linked above as it would actually help the mentally ill people that everyone is so intent on discussing.

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,