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.











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