Summer is upon us. We have the light of the sun until well past the "normal" 6:30pm dinner time. I'm reminded of how much my body and biology is governed by the natural rhythms and cycles of the world beyond my little air conditioned space. Every summer dinner gets pushed back later and later until one evening I realize that it's not being served until 9 o'clock at night. I prepare dinner when I feel hungry for dinner and I'm not hungry at 6:30. Instead, I am hungry when nature's light begins to fade. No matter how much I try to discipline my body and control my schedule, I'm simply not hungry at what is considered a "reasonable" dinner time. Even if I force myself to eat at the so-called decent hour my stomach is growling as the sun is setting. Personally, I figure Mother Nature knew what She was doing when She built that little when-to-eat-instinct into me so I go with it - much to the dismay of certain parental and grandmotherly types in my life.
Such a realization drives home the importance of Mother Earth and Father Sky in managing mental illness. I need to work with them. Get outside into the full-spectrum light provided by our sun instead of that provided by the special bulbs I bought for my lamps. Breathe the fresher air beyond my front door instead of the recirculated air around me right now. Put my feet on the ground instead of the foundation of my house, a concrete sidewalk, or the black pavement of a road. I have a million reasons to not do those things. It's hot. The sun's too bright. I'll get all sweaty. I'll get a sunburn. I don't want to get off the sofa. I'm watching a movie. I'll go later.
Yesterday I pushed myself into the great outdoors. A handful of fellow explorers and I set out on a trek into town and beyond. Our mission: to find caches. The planned geocaching route was a little overly optimistic and was edited a few times along the way. Our fearless tracker took point with the intention of finding 26 hidden treasures. 26. Four miles and an hour and a half into the trip we finally stepped off the concrete and onto the trail through a nature preserve. Deer. Butterflies. Lavender. Cactus. Trees. Scattered throughout were all the caches we were to locate with GPS coordinates, a few hints provided by the person who hid the items in the first place, a little creative thinking, and some keen eyesight.
We are terrible geocachers apparently. Twenty-six?! Not a chance and I knew that from the beginning, but I thought we would do better than two. Ten miles and five hours and all we found were two caches.
Was the time wasted? Not at all. We had a good time. I slept better last night than I have in quite a while. As I'm writing this I am realizing that anxiety has not crept up on me today. Mother Earth and Father Sky were good to me yesterday and I feel better today. I'm grateful.
I was reading a blog about spiritual abuse called "Led2Truth" recently. It struck a terrible nerve in me and sent me on a little research journey. It prompted a little soul searching, too. Most people, surely, can relate stories of bad experiences in one church or another. I certainly have a few but I've come to terms with them. I've grown up, made my spiritual decisions, and I'm content with them. Why, then, did this blog about church experiences hit so hard? I'm prone to empathizing, easily taking on the emotions of the people around me whether they are physically with me, on-line, in print, or on television. It's rather annoying sometimes. This was different somehow. The posts triggered something from my own past. When I found this site http://www.micsem.org/pubs/counselor/frames/spiritabuse.htm and this list, I understood. Point #1. "Abusive church leaders in abusive churches are into power and control. Enroth writes, "The spiritual autocrat, the religious dictator, attempts to compel subordination ... [and] dominate-submissive relationships."
My experience with this sort of abuse was not at the hands of Christian church leaders. It was at the hands of an atheist, an atheist I trusted, and I didn't recognize it for many years. The Atheist did an amazing amount of damage to me before I caught on. I'm horrified that I could be so blind and still feel guilty from time to time.
Point #2. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches are into dichotomous thinking. With them everything is black-white, either-or, this-that, us-them. Dichotomous thinking is generally expressed in overt or implied terms such as "we the true followers of Jesus" versus those others "who are not as spiritual as we are." Of course, dichotomous abusive church leaders are the judge and jury on who is or who is not spiritual, who is or who is not fully walking with Jesus.
Same atheist. Comments I made, discussion we had, often ended with him being right and me being ignorant. He pitied me and explained that I was still under the control of a religion I no longer claimed to be part of. Scientists, which we were both trained to be, did not believe in any sort of higher power. If they did then they were not true scientists. Over time these discussion eroded my sense of self. Without a solid core of who I was, I relied on him for my opinions.
Point #3. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches are into legalistic perfectionism and perfectionist legalism. Again, legalisms are not about holiness; they are about power and control....
Apparently atheists can fall into this trap, too. Rigid adherence to particular secular philosophies is just as damaging as doing so with spiritual ideas. His philosophies were right and mine were wrong. My views were explained away and after a while I started to believe the explanations. Certain traditions were done away with in his secular legalism. Do I bow my head, at least out of respect, with the rest of my family when my father says grace over Thanksgiving dinner?
Point #4. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches have a tendency towards isolationism. Some of this isolationism may be more social than physical. Abusive groups will not mix with the impure or with the unholy....
We hung out with a particular crowd and had a rather elitist attitude. I didn't realize it at the time but we did isolate ourselves from certain people and certain world views. I'm ashamed to admit that I went so far as to cut long-time friends from my life because The Atheist did not approve.
Point #5. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches are obsessed with discipline and even excommunication. In some abusive Christian circles, to question the church leader(s) means questioning God Himself. Abusive Christians are so certain that they are right and that they have the mind of Christ that they can be extremely punitive if they are not obeyed.
This one may not apply exactly. The Atheist never hit me or yelled me, if that's what is meant by punitive. He did shame me, though. If I didn't see things his way then I was just not as intelligent as he was. I was less mature, more like a child than an adult. Maybe my character had not fully developed yet? Truth be told, my character was dissolving away and I was less and less capable of trusting myself.
Point #6. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches discourage church members' having contacts with people outside the fellowship, including family members. Obviously, church leaders that tell young people "Do not listen to your parents, listen only to us" should be suspected.
Check. The Atheist did this, too. We didn't use the word "fellowship," of course. My contact was limited to certain people, people we considered friends. Family was definitely left out of the loop on many things. I saw them on a pretty regular basis, but some topics were not to be talked about. Their side of topics were explained into nothingness as coming from weak-minded, closed-minded, or uneducated people.
Point #7. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches install surveillance systems (read "pastoral care") within their fellowships. Of course, for abusive church leaders a surveillance system is all about a spiritual concern regarding people's souls and how to best pastorally and brotherly look after the sheep of the flock. However, these surveillance systems go way beyond pastoral care. They are about power and control.
Towards the end of our relationship this sort of behavior started. I was thoroughly cut off from any of the people who could have helped me see what was happening. The people who were in my life, fit squarely within The Atheists view of what life should be like and gladly reinforced his opinions when he was not around.
I get it. Now I understand why her blog bothers me so much. My relationship with The Atheist lasted for years and years. When certain traumatic events were occurring, my mind was so shocked that I finally saw some of the truth of our life. I weighed less than 100 pounds and my personality had disintegrated so much that I thought it would turn to dust. If it died so did I and I was well on my way.
I hate politics. It's stressful and I hate the way stress feels in my body. Anxiety takes hold and doesn't let go for the longest time. In the meantime, I tremble, feel sick, can't quite think straight. In short, I feel like a bumbling idiot. I know I am smart, well-educated, usually well-spoken, but when stress starts to speak for me I come across as possessing everything except those characteristics.
Understanding the political process from an academic perspective is hard enough. Throw in the human element - all those people with their goals, values, and unique personalities - and voila! You have yourself a tangled pot of spaghetti akin to that found in Strega Nona.
I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.
By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.
I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.
D.J. Haswell, blogging A Midlife Adventure, pledged me. It's a fantastic blog. Thoughtful. Honest. Touching. Most importantly perhaps, it's helpful. D.J. gives me one more reminder that I am not alone.
Hind sight is 20/20. I think the short version of my story is best told backwards. My first, almost brave steps, came when I met D (for the sake of anonymity). This was the first person I ever met that was bold and outspoken about having a mental illness. Honest and upfront about having bipolar disorder, D opened a small box of courage inside me. I felt like I could finally admit to myself that something was wrong inside me.
Even so, I didn't seek professional help. The risk was too great. If the wrong people found out, all the therapy and medication in the world wouldn't be able to put my life back together again.
Ultimately, someone near and dear to me hijacked me. Under the guise of meeting my new general physician, I was driven to the doctor to get help. I was angry at being set up like that. It was a short-lived emotion, though. Talking to my gp about what was going on and how I was feeling, a strange kind of relief washed over me. The air around me didn't press down on my shoulders and back quite so hard.
After ten years of manic anxiety that made my skin hurt when someone touched me... ten years of nothingness depression that made me sink to the floor in uncontrollable tears... elation... rage... desperation... and everything mixed together. Like so many others, my story is much longer than this. The point right now is not to write an autobiography or memoir. The point is, while my fears were real and I was taking a genuine risk, the improvements in my life are almost surreal. I have a shot at a real life. Finally. I could not have done this on my own. It sounds cliche, but its true. D stepped up. I must respect that and step up, too. How many countless others only need to see someone, like D, like me, stand up? I am pledging five of my fellow bloggers who have stood with me, and have proven their mettle in my eyes as mental health bloggers.
If you happen upon this without being pledged, I pledge you, too. Feel free to take the pledge! Promote awareness!
If you take the pledge please take the following steps....
1.) Take the pledge by copying and pasting the following into a post featuring “Blog for Mental Health 2013″.
I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.
2.) Link back to the person who pledged you.
3.) Write a short biography of your mental health, and what this means to you.
4.) Pledge five others, and be sure to let them know!
5.) And, as something novel for 2013, Lulu and I [at Canvas] ask one more thing of you.
If you've never heard the song "Drops of Rain" by Train there's a video here for you. It's an absolutely beautiful song. I promise it's related to this post.
People ask me what mania was like and it's so utterly hard to describe. I don't think you can really have any sense of it if you've never experienced it. When trying to answer that question for people, I can almost always tell if they understand me on an intellectual level or an experiential level. Their eyes shine differently. Sometimes I see laughter in them revealing the wonderful experiences that can and do happen during a manic phase. Sometimes it's sorrow and shame. Sometimes it's relief and the weight of silent loneliness falls away.
Trying to describe it to the people that nod their heads politely, "Uh huh, yea, uh huh. I see" is a challenge to say the least. This is where that song by Train comes in.
It's not about mental illness but most of that song does a good job of describing mania. I certainly related to a lot of it when I was falling back to Earth, through normal, and headlong into depressed. Being out there so high that I twirled along Jupiter's atmosphere describes me at that time rather well. Feeling so bright and energized that the Milky Way and heaven are dim and uneventful does too. Yes, the wind swept me off my feet and in the best kind of way. Yes, I did get to dance along the light of day. Line after line of this song resonates with me and I think the poetry of it offers people a way to grab hold of the idea of mania so they can begin to understand.
My morning couldn't have started off much better than it did. D.J. Haswell over at "A Mid-Life Adventure" nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award. Can you imagine my surprise? Thanks D.J. <insert really big smile here>.
The rules of the ‘One Lovely Blog Award’:
Add the “One Lovely Blog Award” image to your post.
Share seven things about you.
Pass the award on to seven nominees.
Thank the person who nominated you.
Inform the nominees by posting on their blogs.
Seven things about me:
I read tarot cards.
I don't have a tattoo, but getting one is on my bucket list.
I have never, ever colored my hair.
I am absolutely terrible at sports - I'm the person who gets hit in the face with the volleyball when I try to play.
I enjoy geocaching.
I love the show "Once Upon a Time" and also "Walking Dead".