Rooting for Our Humanity

adult beverage breakfast celebration
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Mostly, I’m searching for answers. It always seems like I’m skirting around the flames, becoming uncomfortably warm, while desperately longing to become ignited, burning brightly. The flames seems so alluring, intense, wondrous, and beautiful.

My mind keeps being drawn back to the origins of our existence. Why are we here? Why this human design and why the gift of insight and curiosity? It would have been easier to operate within the constraint of biological urges, driven by basic needs, and lacking in the ability to question one’s intent and decisions. Why do we dream? What is this intangible part of us that fuels the desire to achieve more and become even more connected? And why do some of us appear to implode, folding in to the walls that promise us a false sense of security?

I’m interested in knowing more about our humanity. Are we losing it? Or are we in transformation? I often desire connection, but retract into hopelessness and at times, despair. I become lonely, a bit isolated. And, then I catch my breath, keenly aware that we are sharing this space together. I’m taking in the same air that you do and sharing with you the experience of now. No matter how close or far from me you are, together we are alive in this moment. There’s so much emotional noise and competition. The energy of life is overwhelming, trapping so many of us in various preoccupations and distractions. I sometimes forget that you are there with me.

Driving down winding roads at dusk, I’m quick to become captivated by your windows, brightly lit up, smoke ascending from the chimney. You are inside, hopefully warm, perhaps busy. You are alive and maybe lost in thought. I hope you are happy and full. Could you be kneeling right now and playing with the children on the floor or maybe you are wrapped up in your lover’s arms, lost in love? It could be that you are simply engaged in routine tasks, preparing for the work day ahead: brushing your teeth, taking a shower, laying out your clothes for the next day. The clothes so many others might notice tomorrow when they come into contact with you. Perhaps you are putting on the necklace that your widowed husband gifted you the year before he passed away. The one that still gets so many compliments. No matter your story, you are alive and we are sharing this present moment and space.

I continue to drive and I pass several cars. My thoughts drift to where you might be headed on this crisp Winter evening. I get lost in the layers of stories and become intrigued by the uniqueness of each person’s individual experience. I become electrified with the energy of life around me and wish I could understand more. Trapped in my physical form and isolated by the practicality of life, I can often only know you briefly in passing. When I see you driving, or in a store, or perhaps on the bus, I entertain myself with stories. I am aware that I am limited by your physical form, mannerism, and any small exchange we might have. But, I’m often curious to know how you are getting along. Life is lonely, at times, and it can be very hard. Sometimes, it’s silly I know, but I nearly wish we’d hug and acknowledge we’re in this existence together.

I go back to the four walls of my bedroom in my small apartment. My roommate is watching the news in the living room and the broadcast sometimes will spill into my room and I’ll hear bits and pieces of it. It’s a bit overwhelming for me and I limit my exposure to an entity that often elevates my anxiety and depression. There is so much noise right now in our world with constant screaming over issues large and small on Facebook. I step back and notice how angry we all are, and seemingly unable to reach consensus. I sometimes get caught up in the chaos, shouting loudly with fingers flying on the keyboard. It isn’t long before I remind myself again to “let go”.

I’m still searching and am confused as to why I am here. Why am I here in this time period, as a female, and in this human form? Why anything for that matter? Why live and why die? Why the biological processes, which are quite miraculous I might add, to sustain our limited and tenuous survival? Why are some leaving us so early, while others stay on? I ask these questions and I often laugh at the absurdity of life. I wish it were slower. I wish I were more connected to myself and others. I wish our communities were smaller and everyone knew each other. I am missing and longing for our humanity. What happened to us? Things feel different and I don’t want to lose you. Remember we are in this together, breathing the same air, sharing this amazing space and present moment. When I see you engrossed in your thoughts or actively involved in some endeavor, I’ll be rooting for you. In our aloneness, we are not alone. We’re ok. I wish you peace.

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Tinsel, Treasures, and Toyland: Christmas Memories

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It’s Christmas.

I admit, I haven’t been as present as I would like to be. I’ve been pulled emotionally into familiar spaces, lamenting the loss of loved ones: those who are no longer living and those who are too distant to allow connection. At times, I’m swept up in grief which leads to isolation due to my angry and embittered tongue. The noise of life, its complexities, and heartaches entrap me. Still yet, there is life, light, and peace expanding around me. I often feel guilty for this newly discovered joy that continues to blossom despite the chaos that enfolds personally in my life and on the global stage. Life is messy, hard, and heartbreaking at times. Christmas is soft, beautiful, and peaceful. The contrast has captured my spirit, leaving me longing for acceptance of “what is” while increasing opportunities for joy and peace.

The holidays have a way of leaving you longing for more, desiring the magic and intensity of when you first experienced them. As a child, you were mesmerized by the sights and sounds of the seasons and protected from much of the harshness outside the season. I can remember sitting in the dark with only the Christmas tree lights, listening to Doris Day singing Toyland and other captivating tunes. The lights twinkled and I was completely absorbed in the present moment. Christmas parties meant delicious goodies from lemon bars caked in powdered sugar to cheese balls covered in nuts with fancy crackers. My senses were often overloaded as I gazed upon the decorations of the Season, my favorite being brass angel chimes with candles. It was all magical to me at the time. The presents, the lights, the music, and the cheer made for an exhilarating, exciting time. I was never once disappointed at Christmas. As an adult, I realize now that the world was spinning the same then as it does now, but my parents had protected me from ever seeing their exhaustion or worry. It is a blessing I am eternally grateful for having received.

I continue to embrace the season with excitement, but often get pulled into the struggle of life. I’d like to let go this season and embrace the child who was captivated and full.

I miss my Grandmother and her huge heart during the Christmas season. She was a foster parent and she ensured all the children in her care had gifts to open up Christmas morning. I will never know how she did it as I never asked her. But, she’d make 12 dozen or more sugar cookies and decorate them all! All the presents were wrapped and under the tree when Christmas morning came. Often there were so many gifts that they’d spill out filling the whole room and were stacked up behind the tree, taller than her. It was a magical sight to see! She usually had 15 children or more in her care and she made sure each child, big or small, got presents from Santa. I can remember most of the kids, including myself, getting roller skates! She lived in Florida and had an outdoor patio where we would skate all day outside when it wasn’t storming or raining. These memories are so long ago that they are faint, but still near and dear to my heart. She always loved Christmas, and since she has been gone we all try to make her sugar cookies, but they never turn out just like her cookies did. I’ll be making a batch soon, hoping to get close to her magical sugar cookies!

My mother continued the tradition of big Christmases with lots of gifts and treats. Our family grew up in the Lutheran church and Christmas Eve always meant going to the midnight candlelight service. The end of the service was beautiful as we each held a lit candle singing silent night among other carols. We would head home and I would often jump into bed with my older sister and try to sleep a wink. LOL. I was always the early riser, sometimes getting up by 4 or 5 eager to see what Santa brought! Looking back I really don’t see how my Mom and Dad didn’t want to kill me for waking them when they probably had just fell asleep!  I’d run out to the Christmas tree and scout out any unwrapped gifts. I’d go back and let my sister know what was left out, unwrapped. One special year, I remember being delighted to get a shiny, new Schwinn bike. A stuffed snoopy was sitting nearby and my sisters stereo also was left out, unwrapped. I was my big sister’s informant and she often rolled over, still sleepy, encouraging me to stay in bed. I’m forever grateful for my parents for letting me be a kid, excited and eager, often unable to wait to tear into the presents.

Writing this has left me in a treasured space. I don’t have children and am currently estranged from my sister and her adult children. It’s hard, but it is “what is” for now. I have been struggling to accept where things have landed and writing about these beautiful, treasured memories fills me with joy and peace. I will always be eternally grateful for parents who not only allowed me to “be a kid”, but actively ensured each Christmas was joyful and happy. They should feel full for the memories they created every year without fail. They were such special times and I felt very loved and cared for during the season. I was oblivious to any care or concern they might have had and they both worked, my Mom often working nights, even at Christmas, as she is a nurse. I know they were often exhausted and I was a burst of excitement and anticipation. They never acted annoyed or tired. It is a true gift in the end.

Writing this has renewed my spirit and inspired me. Often we forget and lose our way. I’m going to let go as much as I am able. I’m going to make some of my Grandma’s sugar cookies, go see the lights of the season, and listen to Doris Day’s, Toyland. It really doesn’t get any better that this! I’m feeling the spirit now! Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you find the peace and joy inside of you!

Cultivating Self Compassion: I am Enough

woman looking at sunset
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There is something forming in my conscious that sounds familiar, but has felt foreign to me until recently. It’s a seed that is growing in size, full and impenetrable. It’s resting on the collective conscious of “what is” and longing for the wisdom and strength of what has left us. My spirit gravitates toward a space that is shared between what I have absorbed and what I have chased. This new landscape is difficult to articulate, I only know it is defined by my very own view of the world, and, I trust it.

I’ve spend many years in anguish. I didn’t feel I was enough. I was never smart enough, kind enough, talented enough, good enough, organized enough, wealthy enough, etc. There was never enough of me to feel “enough”. Every endeavor was designed to be a means to an end. It was as if every activity I engaged in had to have a value assigned to it. If I relaxed completely, letting go of counting the “inventory” of successes and failures”, I’d feel anxiety and shame for letting down my guard and not fulfilling my duty. I’ve always been driven, a perfectionist, determined to excel at the activities in which I invested time and energy. One can see quickly where this is headed. Over time, I grew deeply disappointed, depressed, and anxious.

I wanted more for my life. I expected more from people. I even expected more from the world. I was downright devastated when I awakened from the dream where I had expected those around me to be kind, honest, and authentic. I did have a few people in my life who were healthy individuals. However, I had spent most of my time in conflict with those in my life who were unable or unwilling to change. I allowed these people to suck up my time, energy, emotions, and thoughts. It was my mistake. I’m still unraveling and unpacking the last few years where the trauma of my past became intertwined with the trauma of certain loved ones. Was I indeed trying to save myself by holding on too tightly to their trauma? Again, this elusive seed that is growing within me tells me that it’s all about to change. I’m often giddy and joyful, nearly feeling free. It’s a foreign feeling as I sit in the space of so many colliding and conflicting emotions, but having the ability to process without impulsively acting. This is new for me, and I’m sure I will backslide a bit, but I like this feeling a lot. I’m going to work to maintain this.

I had a session a week ago where I was talking to my therapist about the distance I have purposely created between me and a loved one to “keep me safe” currently. This person is a relative and so it might be difficult to completely remain disengaged permanently. It is someone who has hurt me quite a bit and her lifestyle continues to concern me. My pattern has often been to confront when I am concerned. This has not benefited me as the person I am confronting does not want to change. My therapist, was pushing me a bit, stating that I could be engaged on some level if “I accepted her where she was at right now”. I quickly shared reasons why I could not do so. They were good reasons. It’s very hard engaging with this person and our relationship is quite fractured. Still yet, this “push” from my therapist of acceptance bloomed inside of me. I cannot quite articulate how so, I can only say that it was another window into a different way of existing outside the “cage” I have been inside of for years.

And so, all of this has been filling me with curiosity and even joy. It’s as if I took the pliers  and gently took off one of the steel bars of my cage.

Tonight, I sat making Christmas ornaments for my loved ones. It was an imperfect process and I realized some things were a tad off. In the past, that would have bothered me a great deal. I let it go this time. I said to myself, “I don’t have to be perfect”. I noticed the tension rising: “I should redo it, it’s not perfect”. It dawned on me how most people probably would’t even notice what I saw as “imperfect”. When did my world become so calculated and precise? That isn’t the world! I instinctively knew it was not! I know the trauma in my past created a pattern of perfectionism. I smiled at myself at the thought of finally being free of this pattern. It dawned on me rather quickly that because I had placed such high expectations on myself, I extended the same to loved ones. And often if people were unable to meet them, it was a reflection that I was “not enough”. Somehow, their inability to meet my expectations was my failure. I believe this is why I have fought so hard, at times, with these individuals. Truthfully, I should have “accepted them where they were at” and retained my dignity by not fighting or pleading for their involvement in my life. It was this realization, that I’ve had before, that has now cultivated a greater awareness. It’s as if another layer has nearly been revealed and I’m eagerly awaiting for the next chapter of my life to begin!

I believe it’s a “way of living” that I have missed out on due to trauma and my continual entrapment within it. I know it starts with me and knowing that I am “enough”. I am inherently worthy, we all are. Operating from that optic alone frees me from a lot of desperate behaviors where I was relying on others to affirm my self worth. Whoops! Not a great idea as people are often totally oblivious to your struggle and have their own full plates. And then, there is the awareness that I no longer need to listen to the voices of others either defining me or telling me who I am or not. I am accepting all of me, the imperfections, the mistakes, the mess, and the comeback. I can see all the complexity and  I embrace it. I don’t have to explain it to others. I am at a point now where despite all the messes, I’m pretty proud and impressed at the way I’ve cleaned them all up! I am learning to live more in the moment and I enjoy using all my senses as I lose myself in the experience of life.

The complexity of life, the sadness and the joy, are held simultaneously in one space in my heart. I am more level as a result and joy is finding me in many places. I’m sure I will be able to express the growing light inside much better in time. I’m glad it’s been uncovered and it is glowing brightly. It was there all along, but had been dimmed by many years where I was searching. Just thought I would try and share tonight as I continue on my journey of healing from the pain and confusion of trauma. Love and light!

“Morning Has Broken”: When Suffering Becomes a Blessing

Morning Has Broken
~Cat Stevens
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world
Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass
Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morningBorn of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise ev’ry morning
God’s recreation of the new day
Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world.

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WOW! Have you ever had one of those moments of clarity where you feel so centered and deeply rooted that it genuinely surprises you? Suddenly you’ve arrived at the summit, a little winded and a bit fatigued, but completely joyful as you fall into the present moment, free and fully satiated. Determined to savor this slice of bliss in its entirety, you scan the horizon, using all senses, desiring to retain as much of the landscape as humanly possible. These are the moments that define us, the ones we work and wait for, and the ones we reminisce about, often sharing the stories multiple times throughout our lives.
My milestone came to me late this evening in an ordinary way. I wasn’t climbing a mountain, giving birth, or competing in a race. I was actually drying off from a hot lavender soak in my small tub. LOL. It was at the end of another uneventful evening. Both my friend and I have been hacking away with colds that we got right before Thanksgiving. As I often do, I had spent time earlier loving on my pup, Gracie, and throwing her green, squeaky toy down the hall for her to chase. It didn’t seem like anything was brewing. It was a very uneventful, gray day with rain on and off and a high wind warning in effect. I only went out once all day to take my pup to the dog park as it was dismal outside. The Fall and Winter months in the Northwest can be trying for those who suffer with depression, it gets dark early and rains often.
So, yes! Back to my milestone! It was late and I had taken a bath and was drying off. And that’s when it hit me, like a ton of bricks. The type of bricks that you can use with mortar to build an intricate, yet solid, foundation. Yes! My building blocks that I have been unknowingly waiting on forever, have finally arrived. No one ever shared with me that things might just snap into focus one day to reassure me that I not only had everything needed for me to rebuild, but I’ve also been granted the time to do so.  And, if they had told me, they surely didn’t tell me that one of my defining moments, would be after a day of literally no consequence, after having taking a hot bath. By the way, I’ve always loved a hot bath. It seems fitting, in an odd, but lovely way.
I had spent time earlier today lamenting to others about how I had recently been denied my SSDI and SSI benefits. I’ve been advised by two of my providers to hold off on going back to work until I complete a program that will hopefully help me develop better skills to cope with the stress of work and relationships. I’ve not been working for nearly a year and a half due to increased episodes of mania and depression and a weakened immune system where I was getting sick too often. However, I am becoming increasingly restless to get well. I am hopeful one day to be well enough to work again and contribute to society, helping others heal. I have always been in positions where I have helped others, often in recreation programming serving seniors or disabled adults. It was a meaningful job and I miss it. Living without money and being dependent on others is also very difficult when you have been relatively independent for most of your life, often living alone. It’s been a huge transition.
And so, as I was drying off and searching for my glasses, and then, it hit me. I suddenly recalled how many times over the past several years my spirit pleaded for rest. “Lord, I am weary”. Let me rest.
The details of my struggle are too great to mention here. I’ve been suffering as a result of running from pain and as a natural consequence to experiencing some unfortunate stressful events that continued to keep me hooked in a downward spiral until I literally loss the ability to work.
I knew in an instant, standing there with bathroom towel surrounding me, that I had been granted everything I needed to heal. I had prayed to heal for years. When you are living with chronic pain and anxiety, healing becomes a priority. I would say to myself: “If I only had the time to take off of work to truly get well and get the help I need”. Often these prayers were uttered while laying on wrinkled, warm sheets from tossing and turning throughout the night. The prayers were said when I had locked myself in the bathroom at work, pacing and trying yoga poses, to try and stop or prevent a panic attack. The prayers were uttered when I lost jobs and I was sobbing through broken tears saying again: “If I only had the time to get well”. The prayers were uttered when I was alone and broken and in physical pain.
I never felt that I had time to relax, I was always running from one job to the next. I was running to save an unsalvageable relationship with a Narcissist. All the desperate endeavors were exhausting and led me farther away from myself and into suffering. I prayed, read devotionals, sobbed, and hurt both physically and emotionally. I just did not know a way out yet.
The last couple of weeks I’ve been sulking, unhappy. I wanted to have more money. I’ve been too broke to go out and buy myself a coffee. My attention was gently drawn to the fact that I have two people helping me currently, my Mom and my ex-Spouse. I was reminded of my warm home with all my belongings. I already have two, not just one, Christmas trees up for the holidays. I actually have no money in savings, but I have people who are here for me and they are willing to help me as much as they can. My housing is provided for as I live with my ex-spouse currently and my mother pays for my car payment. My ex rents and we just recently moved into a two bedroom where we have more space. I have more than many and less than many. I actually have everything I need at the moment.
As I was doing this inventory in my head while drying off with my towel, I acknowledged that I really am ok. This is when it hit me like “a ton of bricks” that my prayers had been answered. I knew instantly that I had been granted the time and the help to truly rebuild my life. And now, I also possess the knowledge and know-how to not just build a flimsy structure, this time it would be an ornate castle of sorts where every stone placed will have been passed through my hand. It would be my design.
If I had not been through the struggle, I am certain now that I may not have understood the importance of rebuilding my life with each brick being bound by the mortar of “self love”. In the suffering, I was able to dismantle the cage and unravel the parts of me that needed inspection. The suffering had convinced me that change was definitely necessary. I remained frozen for awhile when the archaic structure fell to the ground.
And so, I am standing at the summit tonight! I’m looking forward to rebuilding so that I can reach even greater heights. But, for now, I will sit here and relish in the moment of receiving a true gift, time. I have been given exactly what my spirited needs. I have the space, the support, and the time to complete a treatment program and to do what is needed to be in a healthier state both mentally and physically. I was too busy surveying the loss to celebrate the victory. And now, I know better.

Grateful to Have Enough

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It’s Thanksgiving. It’s raining heavily outside. Blue Christmas light strands adorn the parameter of my apartment front door. I’ve carefully placed four blinking snowflakes outside on the front lawn, behind them is my front window encircled by more blue lights. My Christmas tree stands behind the window sparkling with white lights. It’s cheerful and it warms me inside. It’s enough, for right now. Enough.

I’m sitting in the dark with both Christmas trees lit, listening to Christmas music, alone. My friend is taking a nap. We’re in the middle of preparing our Thanksgiving feast and we have a bit of time to rest while the turkey cooks. My dog is here with me in the living room, napping quietly on her small bed. She looks peaceful.

Earlier, we walked the dog in the rain. I felt nostalgic as I took my time walking through the dense evergreen forest. It’s Thanksgiving in the Great Northwest. The pavement was wet with broken leaves. Something settled within me. Acknowledging that I’ve been running most of my life, something felt a bit different as I scanned the forest floor that surrounded me. “Maybe, I’ll finally reach peace in this lifetime yet”. I knew for this to happen, I needed to accept the ambiguity and embrace the uncertainty of it all.

This Thanksgiving I am unemployed, living with my ex-spouse who happens to be my best friend. My family relations have been strained and I rarely have contact with any of my family members except my mother. I’ve been very angry and hurt, but the heaviness is beginning to dissipate as I continue to cultivate compassion not only for myself, but for others. I’m grateful to be learning a lot. It’s enough, for now. Enough.

I truly have enough, even though I have very little. I’ve been too sick to work and I currently have my mother and ex-spouse helping me. They both know my story completely. They know how hard I tried for many years to work and how it ended up destabilizing me and lowering my immune system. I’d give anything to have the ability to work. But, I am being blessed with the opportunity to get the help I need and to learn the skills required to recover from the symptoms of PTSD that caged me. I have an excellent therapist and I’m growing and learning. I detest being this vulnerable, but I have helped many people when I worked and now it’s time for me to accept the help that I need. The help I am receiving is enough, for now. Enough.

I have a very small support system, but it is mighty. It’s easy to compare yourself to others and feel inadequate, saying “I should have more friends, like so & so”… But, for now, I have a small circle and it is enough. Enough.

I’m retraining myself to acknowledge my blessings and to repeatedly say, I have enough. Often, I feel separate from the materialistic machine that consumes most people’s endeavors. I’m longing to develop a life that perpetually acknowledges that I do actually have enough. I don’t need to become preoccupied with the foolish obsession of always desiring more.

The only thing I truly desire more of is love. I find that I’m often misplacing my desire for love with other more concrete things that do not provide the same benefit.

Tonight, I’m going to sit down with my best friend and my dog, as we feast on a meal that would serve 10-12 people! It’s enough! It’s going to be a beautiful experience of flavor and aroma. We’ll be having Mojitos with our main meal and then hot-buttered rum cider with our pumpkin pie. Even though I am relatively poor at the moment due to my disability (others are paying my housing and bills), I will feel like a queen when I sit down to this incredible feast. There will be Christmas lights & music for ambience and I’m hoping to savor every morsel. Because, at this moment, it is enough. It’s probably always been enough, sadly, I didn’t always see that it was.

There is so much struggle and suffering in the world. I don’t want to deny anyone of that. Life is full of pain and uncertainty. I want to relax within it, no longer avoiding or fighting the reality that exists. I’ve been grieving quite a few losses in my lifetime. And now, I’m ready to move my consciousness into another realm where I am truly awake and aware, absorbing the best of each moment, embracing the joy and the mystery of life. I’ll take my pain and wear it around me like a coat that has weathered a few storms, and it will keep me warm and dry. I don’t feel it’s best to deny grief or pain, it’s an individual process. Still yet, I’m excited and ready to let go and lose myself in the authenticity of each experience.

I’m grateful today. I’m breathing life into my longing for love and recognizing how I truly do have enough in my life.

I’m grateful for the seeds I am planting and the connections I am making with others here on WordPress, Twitter, and on Facebook. I’m putting one foot in front of the other and I’m getting the treatment I need to heal. I don’t know what’s next, but I’m optimistic about it. I thank you all for taking the time to read about my journey. I’ve been given some excellent advice  & support here and that means a lot. All of this continually restores my faith and belief that people are truly caring and want to help. I sincerely hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving (for those of you in America)! I’ve got to get back to preparing the feast!! Happy Thanksgiving!

 

It’s Nearly Time to Take Flight: Abandoning Your Cage

nature animal park birds
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Long ago, a bold, little bird was stuffed into a small, steel cage. There she sat, on her wooden swing, occasionally belting out a sweet, soulful song. She was careful not to sing too loudly.

Behind the steel bars, she felt safe. The steel structure became a way of life for the little bird. Inside the cramped cage, she was often lonely, but the distance surrounding her kept her boundless energy and enthusiasm somewhat confined and at a tolerable level to those who were easily annoyed by the sometimes boisterous bird.

Time passed and the little bird grew weary. The cage was becoming a hindrance and was getting in the way of connecting with the other birds. The little bird had to chirp loudly to get the attention of the others and often she felt invisible and unloved. What once made her feel safe was now making her feel distant and sad. The little bird often was angry and tense without truly knowing why. She stopped singing and swinging and sat in her small, steel cage brooding over what to do. This went on for quite some time.

Then the rain began. It was slow and steady rain at first and the little bird was able to avoid getting too wet. But, this was temporary as it one day really began to pour, raining “cats and dogs”. The wind picked up and the rain was blown sideways, completely soaking the little bird. And the poor little bird had no idea what to do. So, she sat in the soaking rain, shivering, waiting for someone to come save her. People often came, looking on, perhaps giving her some morsels to eat, but they were just as confused as she was and had their own storms to weather. So the little bird continued to sit in the rain, softly singing a ballad and perpetually wondering what she could do.

The storms raged on night and day. The little bird thought she might die and even longed to on certain days. She felt lost. She was isolated and had become embittered and even somewhat mean, at times. The cage that she fled to for protection was now endangering her life and song. She had stopped singing entirely and it took everything she could muster just to get through the day and survive.

Still yet, the little bird continued to question. She never stopped trying to understand why she was so alone and what to do about it. Was this really her destination? Why? She was persistent and was determined to find an answer.

After years of being isolated and alone, she was studying herself one day and noticed the steel bars surrounding her. She had seen them before, right? Perhaps so, but since she felt she needed them maybe she overlooked them. She started to take a very hard look at the steel bars surrounding her and spent time acknowledging the role they have played in her life. She began to realize that the bars had become “part of her”. She quickly implored: “Are these steel bars not separate from me?”. Instinctively, she knew the bars had held her back. But, she was frightened at the prospect of leaving them. Initially, she did not even know it was a possibility to leave!  She was scared and excited all at once at the discovery that the steel bars were separate from her and perhaps she could leave the small, steel cage! Time passed and these thoughts churned in her mind night and day as she tried to make sense of it all. What does it all mean?

And then one day, it happened. The little bird was swinging in her cage. She had started to belt out a few songs. The sunlight was illuminating the cage. She was studying her cage and her eyes landed on the door. It was ajar! Funny, the little bird thought: “I never noticed that!  How did I not notice that the door has been slightly open the entire time”? The little bird was curious and cautious all at once. Joy flooded her little being. She knew that she was nearly ready. She wasn’t sure what it would be like outside the cage, but she knew that, in time, she needed to abandon the cage to truly recover. There was a way out of the misery that had entrapped her for so long! Her time had come to be free, to soar effortlessly, free from the cage that had chained her.

Sometimes the answer that we long for means letting go of something we did not know we could release. We have to be extremely persistent like the little bird to find the answer. Years can pass and we can nearly give up. But, don’t! Be relentless in your pursuit to find the peace you deserve. It is yours to have. Keep going.

 

Guns and the Mentally Ill: How Scapegoating is Increasing Stigma

 

black pistol with bullet shell in mid air
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Dear American Public,

As an individual who has suffered for over two decades with Bipolar 1, I share with you the same outrage and heartache you more than likely experience when learning about another incidence of gun violence in our country. I cannot imagine the deep despair and sadness that comes with losing a loved one in such a senseless tragedy. Gun violence strips away our sense of security and is another issue that divides our country.

As we struggle to understand the root causes of gun violence, many Americans are pointing fingers at people like “me”, the mentally ill. Given that most of the mentally ill are not violent and are more likely to be victims of crime, I grow weary of the stigma that grows with each passing incident. It looks like, to me, the mentally ill have become “the scapegoat” of the gun violence debate. It’s convenient to state that the mentally ill are the problem, after all, the stigma alone perpetuates fear and misunderstanding and encourages the public to doubt the credibility and stability of the mentally ill. The mentally ill are a largely misunderstood population and often those who suffer do so silently.

Ironically, the same individuals scapegoating the mentally ill as “dangerous and violent”, are the same who wish to cut funding to programs like SSDI (disability insurance), vocational rehabilitation and other programs that benefit the mentally ill. Discrimination in the workplace is common for those who struggle and as a result employment is often difficult to maintain. The government over the years has done little to decrease discriminatory practices in the workplace and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is often very slow to act, its power is limited. If the public is fearful that the “mentally ill” are violent, the government actually does very little to intervene and instead often places individuals who are struggling in very desperate situations. The point being that the mentally ill are literally pushed to their breaking point with a government that is so slow to act when providing assistance. This puts the survival of many who struggle in constant jeopardy. This is evidence again that the mentally ill do not resort to violence despite the lack of assistance and treatment available and that many are victims of violence and discrimination.  There is absolutely no safety net for the persistent and severe mentally ill in our country. And yet, even with the constant struggle of living with a mental illness, most hold themselves or are held by others through difficult and trying times.

On a personal note, last year I lost my job as a Social Worker with the State of WA, DSHS. I was fired after a medical leave at the first meeting established to put accommodations in place. I was told at this meeting that I was disqualified due to my disability of Bipolar 1 and was granted no accommodations. As a result of losing my job (and other jobs related to my illness), I relapsed and have not been able to work this past year. I attempted to get on to Vocational Rehabilitation Services and was waitlisted indefinitely. I applied for SSDI and am still involved in the appeals process which has already taken nearly a year and I have received no benefits as of yet. I was told it could take another year and a half to get a hearing. If I did not have a friend to live with who was willing and able to help me, I would have lost everything by now. I would be homeless. I only have a small Aging, Blind, and Disabled monthly cash benefit of $197 and food stamps that keep me afloat currently.

I am writing this to share with you the bleak reality of many mentally ill people. My survival and livelihood was attacked by the discriminatory practices of the State of WA, DSHS, and I was denied access to employment as a result. The lack of assistance by government programs that were developed to help people in my situation have initially been denied or waitlisted. This has placed extreme stress on me when I am already struggling with a severe and persistent mental illness.  If I didn’t have the same upbringing or education as I thankfully did, perhaps I might have turned “violent” due to the strain this all has caused me. The point being that the mentally ill often are put in very stressful situations that are often caused by the stigma surrounding mental illness, and yet, we usually do not “break”. I know, in time, even with my illness, I will be back on my own two feet, contributing to society and hopefully being a benefit to others. I have always enjoyed helping others, NOT harming them.

I believe mental illness can play a role in those committing crimes that are violence, but there are other factors that create the psychological makeup of someone who would commit an atrocious act on that level. It is not stemming from mental illness alone. Often the individuals who are planning violent attacks are not going to seek treatment. Therefore, tighter regulations where access to guns is difficult to obtain might be our only hope to prevent some of these incidents of gun violence.

In the end, bringing light to the issues surrounding the mentally ill is not a bad thing. I agree that we need a better system where individuals struggling have easy access to quality treatment that is affordable. There also needs to be short term disability to prevent homelessness and immediate access to vocational rehabilitation programs that provide training to ensure employment is successful. We currently have a disability insurance program that can often take up to 2-3 years to begin receiving benefits.  Putting the mentally ill under that level of stress where some are forced to the streets can cause anyone depression and despair. It is unacceptable treatment towards a population that suffers to no fault of their own. Could it cause certain people to be pushed over the edge? I don’t know. I only know that as a person with a mental illness I have, at times,  been pushed to the edge, but have never once physically attacked anyone.

The mentally ill have become the scapegoat for the issue of gun violence. If you are going to scapegoat the mentally ill, at least address the issues that might push them over the edge in the first place. I personally see gun violence as an issue of easy access to guns that is continually fueled by a society that has become more and more detached and less connected. I also feel that the economic disparity in our country and the increase in hate speech in social media is also a problem. Gun violence is a complicated issue and should be tackled as such. There is no easy and simple fix. It will take time, effort, and commitment to decrease gun violence in our country.

I truly hope we can work together to begin making progress in the area of gun reform. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change, we just have to believe we can.

A concerned citizen (who happens to live with a mental illness),

Amy