From the Sanctuary

Solo road trip along the lake, Cleveland bound. This journey begins with my being on the receiving end of a random act of kindness when I reached the toll taker arm outstretched, money in hand. She told me to keep my change and proceed on through because someone had “taken care of me.” I continued on in joy; vintage CD’s in tow. These include Queen’s A Night at the Opera, which allows me to perform my personal rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody belted out word for fabulous word with unquenchable manic enthusiasm. This, by the way, is as intuitive as Mooing when passing a field of cows. It’s a rare moment of pure unadulterated satisfactory expression.

My purpose for this adventure is to meet with a likeminded professor at Case Western University who not only understands, but preaches the power of positivity. A historic Gothic hotel is my stay of choice, where I arrive early afternoon and spend several hours writing uninterrupted. Nice. In the evening I turn the television on (I don’t have one at home, so this is an act of bravery) and surf around, landing on a National Geographic interview of the Dali Lama. His words and message send me to a peaceful meditative place before I settle into slumber.

Too cheap to spend the fourteen dollars for the hotel breakfast buffet the next morning, I head to Case Western three hours before my appointment. The campus is much different than the University at Buffalo I’m accustomed to, nicely interspersed with the local community and featuring as many modern buildings as old ones, adding a lot of character to the locale. The nature is different as well. There are groves of fascinating trees with pretty-colored peeling bark that I can only identify as River Birch. I also encounter several red squirrels and a skunk safely observed from afar.

After I wander for a bit, I ask a student on a street corner where the best place to get a cup of coffee is. His friendly response doesn’t disappoint. When I arrive at The Coffee House, I find the perfect spot to my personal liking. No franchise here, instead a quaint local shop in a restored old house, clean with antique furniture and run by a local owner (in our short “small world” chat, we discover that his wife grew up ten miles from me). And they have Jamaica Me Crazy flavor! I hang out there and write some more before taking a long walk, exploring buildings and engaging in people watching.

At noon, I am warmly received by both the Organizational Behavior Department and the professor. As part of their MS in Organizational Development and Change program, he teaches a course and concept called Appreciative Inquiry, a process that focuses on an organization’s and its employees’ strengths to be built upon rather than problems to be solved. This is done through a series of inquiries and storytelling to invoke positive emotional responses. After taking the course online, I know the material and his intense wisdom and insights will add significant value to the work I will be doing in my program coaching young adults diagnosed with mental illnesses to thrive.

Dining over the best college food I’ve ever tasted, we talk about topics that aren’t often strung together… joy, neuroscience, compassion, Alzheimer studies, coaching, how words create worlds and the importance of listening. I show him the draft of what I am working to accomplish and he gives me more contact names and offers to review it and send feedback as I move toward implementation. My serving heart is working its way into a plan, and I am grateful for the encouragement and support.

Spirits elevate after our meeting; I head out into the sunshine to enjoy the waterfront and a stop at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame where I read about the history of Bohemian Rhapsody. I don’t sing it there, at least out loud. My visit provides a fun jaunt through music history and memorabilia and my favorite display cases exhibit the first handwritten drafted lyrics of some of the most famous songs ever written. Words create worlds.

My evening ride home is more passive, with instrumental synthesizer music accompanying my smile, the dimming sunset and some contemplative thoughts.  Reflecting back to seven months ago when I received word that my job would not be renewed, I thought, “When one door closes…”  And then I said out loud, “Let us keep inspiring one another.”

 

 

 

 

 

I prefer Shaman, Thank You

If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; if God talks to you, you are a schizophrenic.” – Thomas Szasz

More than eighteen years after earning the label, “bipolar disorder,” I’m ready to trade in the title. After further review, I’ve found that it doesn’t really suit me. It served its purpose for sure, calling my attention to how misunderstood the mental health concept is in our society, and giving me a fresh awareness to just how embedded the stigma is because I’ve lived it on the other side of “sane.” The usual kind and sympathetic response I get when people hear of my diagnosis is, “I never would’ve guessed that about you.” A well meaning reply that translates to “sick, crazy, beyond your senses, out of your mind, lunatic, insane, deranged, unhinged, off your rocker, stark raving mad.”

My humorous side does not reflect any of these so it’s much more fun to think of myself as cockamamie, batshit, half-baked, cuckoo, nuts, daft, kooky, creative, loco, bananas, loony, unique and genius. That’s more like me, Certified. Yet of all the terms that could be used to describe my condition, “illness” or “disorder” do not factor in at all. As a matter of fact they defy it. I prefer the Shaman diagnosis, prevalent in history and Eastern traditions.

The definition of Shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of good and evil spirits. Typically such people enter a trance state during a ritual (or naturally), and practice divination and healing. Indigenous people, including Native American and Eastern Cultures observe that individuals who have experiences that in America today are considered delusional and psychotic were nurtured and revered, because they had transcended into the spirit world, or that spirits had chosen them. In the Shaman world, these chosen ones are assigned a mentor, cared for and looked up to for their wisdom or spiritual connections.  Their gifts are nurtured. If you’re only accustomed to knowing about, experiencing and familiar with the traditional Western concepts of mental illness, that won’t make much sense to you. But if you do some research and look into the history and practices beyond the U.S. paradigm, you’ll find an ages-old, accepted and entirely different perspective. Who’s to say who is right?

I first became acquainted with the Shaman concept after taking a workshop and in a college course about science, religion and nature. As I researched and explored culture and anthropology further, I adopted it. It fits who I am. From birth I have felt guided by a force, which I once referred to as “God” and now call the Universe. And I have close connections with nature and my ancestors. Sensing that calling, I have studied Shamanism further, which draws me closer to the spiritual world. Driven by love and belief in the power of energy, I now have an appreciation for the more holistic approaches to viewing and treating mental “illness.”

Bipolar, Schizophrenia and related Disorders, are merely words to describe conditions that fall under the category of severe mental illnesses, a U.S. term that was born of a complicated layer of laws, policies, government, physician associations and medical codes, the mental health system. I understand the good that they attempt and the patients that find solace in them. And I don’t wish to take treatment choice away from anyone. But as someone who falls under this category, I feel pretty damn good, and not the least bit out of order.   We deserve the experience to be truly who we are and not what the system makes us out to be.   If we are only able to bring ourselves back to the perfection we were before our diagnosis and look forward from there with a different lens, we could see what is right about us rather than what is wrong.

I for one am definitely not out of order. Just deeply in touch with nature and my spiritual self. Shaman. Perhaps a little half-baked, too.  And I think those who know me closest would agree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grand Delusion

A dialog exchange I heard recently:

“Do you think I’m delusional?”

“Only if delusional means seeing the world differently than most of the world sees it and differently than most of the world would like you to see it.” Followed by this statement, “I stand in the delusional place of mastery with all the greats.”

Me too.

As someone who is able not only to think out of the box but spent my entire life living and breathing out of the box, I appreciated that perspective. As someone with a mental illness who has heard “delusional” often associated with diagnosis and flawed perspective, I found it such a relief that it brought a smile to my face throughout the day every time I repeated it. You see, for as long as I can remember, the herd is not what I wanted to follow, the popular crowd has never been my destination and I don’t do trendy. Granted, there have been three weeks out of my life when my mental illness has brought me to the clinical diagnosis of “delusional.” But over my lifetime that leaves more than 2,541 weeks when I have been living it on my own terms.

This means finding alternatives when there are seemingly none. In my latest example, weary and discouraged from the traditional job search process, I told a friend that I am finding one-on-one networking and setting up my own marketing campaign to find employment because I just can’t bring myself to sign one more cover letter “Sincerely yours” when I’m not even close to meaning it, and nothing makes me feel more unproductive than hitting the “Submit” button on an online application for a job designed for hundreds and sending it into impersonal oblivion. She laughed and said she knew I would come up with a creative approach. And that I will succeed.

It is safe to say that somewhere along the line the brilliant minds of the past (Edison, Ford, Leonardo DiVinci, Newton, Goddard to name a few) must have had some level of delusion in order to manifest their ideas for the advances of mankind in such extraordinary ways. After that they were forever referred to as geniuses. When I was a child growing up in my neighborhood, we were delusional as well, only back then it was called imagination. Clouds were pictures painted just for us, back yards were campgrounds, picnic tables pushed together were pirate ships, we were whatever we wanted to be and no one could convince us otherwise. We were awesome.

I am blessed every day in my delusional state to see many things that others don’t.  Like St. Francis, another famous historical delusionist, I see hope in despair, light in darkness, joy in sadness, trust in the Universe which allows me to find alternate pathways to happiness, magic, miracles and a steadfast belief in unconditional love. And while my fellow human beings are enmeshed in drama, anger, gossip, mistrust, feeling victimized, complaining and negativity, I am busy being caught up in my delusion of inner peace and gratitude. That makes every day of my life worry, stress, doubt and anxiety free because what I see is seen through the eyes of my true heart; inner spirit, not clouded by exterior influences.

How’s your vision today?  May it be filled with joyful delusion.

 

Movin’ Out of Virtual Town

The For Sales sign is on the lawn; I’ve packed up am and leaving Virtual Land to head back to the small town of my custom made tech-reduced reality. I’ve enjoyed being with all of my digital neighbors for a bit, but it’s getting crowded, I’m bored with trying to keep up and the neighborhood is changing. Since moving here and trying to keep up with the online life, I’ve become aware of my behavior change from having an inclination to spend physical time with others to clicking along beside them. Facebook became addictive, the first thing I checked in the morning and the last I checked at night before I went to bed. Years ago I joined to connect with old friends; now participation has become shallow. And so has everything else app for me.

I’m returning to a low tech place that could be abandoned by now, yet that was thriving a mere five or six years ago when people were still communicating chiefly through voice and personal interaction, still having fun spending face to face (not screen) time together, enjoying activities and life and each other without the dependence and interruption of technology, videos and photos. A time when words, gestures, screen-free eye contact and real laughs out loud gave electricity to a room and helped people connect deeply, get to know each other, fall in love across a table.

Perhaps because I have a curiosity and background in human communication and psychology and I’m accustomed to observing people I am especially cognizant as to what has been happening to the way we relate. The more ways we have to communicate, the less we connect.   I remember the pre-phone obsession era, so it is somewhat unsettling to be a few feet away from someone who isn’t aware of my presence because they’re staring at their device or to be walking across the campus where I work and see dozens of individuals phone staring as opposed to groups walking and talking with each other.

Admittedly, Facebook has given me the joy of watching the lives of my friends and families unfold. Births, accomplishments, announcements, deaths are posted every day. Yet what used to be moments to cherish are now split second scrolls, lost in volume and quickly replaced by the one below. There is no time to savor, feel the emotion or hold space for any in my heart for long. Meanwhile, in between there’s the mental work of filtering out the vindictiveness, opinions, judgments, politics and food plates. It is not lost on me how closely Facebook resembles my mental illness, the online version of bipolar disorder, reflecting the alternating manic and depressive thoughts that are part of the diagnosis and the world.

I’ve been a part of many conversations where it is unanimous that technology is taking over our lives and dumbing us down, always defended by the excuse that this is the direction the world is headed, so you must keep up. Intuitively, that’s not my world. So, I got rid of my television, cancelled my landline and gave myself a ten-minute per day Facebook limit. The external information clutter cleared from my life, I recovered my peace of mind and got my concentration back. Beautiful.

With Virtual Land behind me, I’m reaping the benefits of my tech-reduced life. It’s way easier on the budget. I’m planning face-to-face gatherings by sending out paper invitations and spontaneous get-togethers through calling (rediscovering voices) and emailing. I hear about my friends’ life events firsthand or through the grapevine; still giving all of them enthusiastic “Likes.” Only now it’s so much better because I have the precious time to revel in these in the much slower way that I prefer, I get to cherish the moments once again. Home sweet home.

 

 

 

Mother and Son

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As my youngest rolls into his third decade on this planet, I can’t help but wonder where the time went.  It seems like just yesterday that you were doing laps across the front yard in your pull ups pushing your Fisher-Price Bubble Mower.  Now look at you working proudly as an auto technician living at home paying your rent and keeping your mother good company

The boyhood years were wonderful, watching you play in our country yard, solo or with your big sister.  There weren’t very many neighborhood children, so you had to be content with those imagination fueled joyful destinations like your custom-made tree house or the immense hole that you dug in the faraway parts of our backyard; perfect for contemplation. You spent all day long there in the summertime and in the winter would come and place your chapped red cheeks in my hands to warm them up while you cried after being out for too long until your little hands were frozen. This became routine in the colder weather.

The hardest times were after the divorce combined with the bullying and cruel years of high school.  Those moments when I questioned your behavior…was it normal teen, depressed, bipolar?  There were pressures from all sides, including inside. Take him to the counselor because of his anger, his lashing out, his verbal abuse his violent actions.  Come to find out you were merely speaking a different language because you didn’t know how to say, “I’m hurting, I’m angry, I’m sad,” and I was so busy trying to overanalyze that I wasn’t able to hear, wasn’t listening.  Until that night in the garage when you yelled profoundly, finally getting through, pleaded with me to understand, and slowing down, I did.  The night that I finally stood still long enough to see what the world was like through your eyes and we both cried.  I remember that being your breaking point into the threshold to adulthood and mine as a parent.

There’s been a lot of learning for both of us.  And even at your worse moments when you were throwing chairs into walls and calling me a f__king b__tch I have loved you.  I’m sorry we had to endure those moments.  But now come the rewards.  Knowing how to communicate your true feelings, facing your trauma and processing your anger have all been steps in you finding yourself.   I’m proud of the man you’ve become and not even because you hug me Good Night now and tell me that you love me.  But because you have experienced the pain that life can produce and keep moving forward anyway.

I’m not sure how this Mother and Son thing is supposed to work. I fell in love with my very first sight of you and never let go. Even when I couldn’t help or even understand you I never gave up on you. And I’m grateful you never gave up on me. To every mother who is blessed with a son I wish the same.