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Posts Tagged ‘mental-health’

Last year I wrote this piece on what it’s like being a Pagan with mental illness.

Just ran across this vlog from Thorn where she tackles it in video form, and I thought it was good, especially the pseudo-victim-blamey “Oh if only you were closer to nature/drank this tea/balanced your chakras you wouldn’t be depressed” bullshit that seems to get tossed around a lot.

Though old, this piece on WitchVox pretty neatly writes out exactly what the stigma is against mental illness in the pagan community – especially among covens and BTW groups. (Specifically this line, quoting from a coven’s guidelines for seekers: “if you cannot function as a fully responsible adult individual in the mundane reality then you cannot function effectively in the magical/mystical realities and should not even attempt to do so until you have all your oars in the water and they are working all in proper tandem” which was pretty much exactly what I was told in the phone call where I split off from the group I was in outer court with.)

Rant pants on: I dunno what qualifies as “fully responsible adult individual”. Would it be better if I went off the medications and stopped doing the therapy that has kept me from having a major mood episode in almost a year? Do I need to show you my credit rating and my pay stubs to prove that I have a good job and pay my bills on time? What exactly is a “fully responsible adult individual” if it’s not someone who takes care of their shit (mental, physical, or otherwise) to the best of their abilities?

Full honesty here – I miss my witchy people. I love ADF, and I love the study I’m doing and the group I lead, but it’s tiring being in charge when I’ve only been doing this 4 years this month. Sure that’s nothing to sneeze at, but I’m only getting the training I do myself, and there’s not a whole lot of mentorship that goes on, especially on the spiritual side. And I know I’m building a good group, and we’re working on having more spiritual and less scholarly experiences, but I’ve still yet to experience anything that quite matches a group of skilled Witches in a circle. Druids rarely seem to be “up to something” quite the same way that Witches tend to get “up to something”.

For some reason, it’s just hard to move on from that. I’ve gone through a period of intense change in the last few months (up to and including getting a new job), which has put my ADF studies on hold, and still I go back to the 18 or so months that I spent in Outer Court and wonder what life would be like without the bipolar label.

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Lammas week! Hooray! This is one of my favorite high days, so I’m excited to have celebrated it, both with my study group and on my own, as part of my home-based practice requirements. I did not attend my local protogrove’s ritual, simply because I was still getting over being sick, and it was clear on the other side of town from where I live, and an all-day event, and I just didn’t have the energy for something like that. My study group did a Loaf-fest ritual to Thor and Sif, and I did a solitary Anglo-saxon Lammas ritual to Thunor. I left some room for improvisation in the ritual, especially around the key offerings, and I think that went well. (I’m not sure if I need to include the full ritual text for my journal entry, but I don’t have it with me, so I’ll have to add it in later if it’s needed.)

Unfortunately, my mental health hasn’t been so good lately. This is not unusual when I get very busy over extended periods of time – I’m a pretty strong introvert, and need my space – but for whatever reason this particular down-period is both stronger and more persistent than usual. It’s likely that this is a bipolar episode, which is frustrating because I just have to wait for it to go away, but also kind of comforting, because I know it won’t last forever and I just have to wait for it to go away.

I know during tough mental times, I should be turning MORE to my daily practices, but I’m finding it very hard to stay motivated to do anything. My morning practices have all been at work this week, and done more out of a sense of duty than of any sort of joy or desire for the connection. But I am still doing them. I am trying to do more meditation as well, since that can help during rough brain times, but that hasn’t been as often as I’d like. I did buy some new candles for my hearth practice, which is nice – they smell good too.

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I’ve mentioned before that I have some mental health issues. This occasionally intersects with my paganism, but not usually in ways that anyone would notice who didn’t already know I have these issues.

My official diagnosis is GAD, PTSD, and rapid-cycling Bipolar II. Before you decide what that means, let me explain what it means in my case. I suffer from frequent anxiety that is not directed at a source – this can be social, environmental, or just there because it feels like being there. I am fairly easily overwhelmed. I survived several traumatic events and have anxiety and depression related to those events, or things that remind me of those events, and of the three diagnoses a flare up of this is by far the most disruptive. And I have periods of hypomania that last 2-5 days (essentially “high energy” – I’m not delusional, psychotic, or out of touch with reality, but I don’t sleep much, and I might reorganize the filing cabinet 3 times in 3 days, or go on a cleaning binge, or do a ton of writing), followed by 3-4 weeks of moderate to severe depression. Because I have more than three episodes like this a year (in 2013 I had 5), I am classified as “rapid cycling”, and because I don’t have true mania, but experience hypomania, I am dealing with some type of Bipolar II. (Read the Wikipedia links for more info.)

I am under the care of two competent medical professionals to deal with this (just as I am under the care of a competent medical professional to manage my EDS). I take medicine to help regulate my neurochemicals, and I do behavioral and situational management to minimize the likelihood of triggering an episode of any of these. It took awhile to straighten out exactly what was going on (I was in a prolonged state of severe depression when I started this journey), but we’re on the right track now, and just tweaking as we go – for the most part, both I and my doctors are happy with my mental state right now.

Unfortunately, my diagnosis did not make me any friends in my previous attempt at paganism. My former HPS has written that people with bipolar should probably not be witches, because they have enough trouble differentiating reality. Personally, I think that’s more than a little unfair, given that there’s an entire bipolar diagnosis that doesn’t include true mania or psychosis, but she’s allowed to run her coven however she would like, and I understand that there can be a lot of fear and stigma about mental health in communities that practice alternative spirituality, trance, and energy work. (Also particularly in the BTW community, where a bipolar person caused a lot of harm several years ago, so they are understandably wary of anyone wearing that label.) That said, I think I have the capacity to be a pretty good witch when I put my mind to it – something I have been doing more often on my own of late.

One thing that was troubling for awhile was dealing with what seemed to be energy feedback/rebounds after doing ritual though. It worried me because I really LIKE doing group rituals, and didn’t want my brain to get in the way of that.

However, I have figured out where my energy work was causing problems, over the last year or so, and have fortunately been able to entirely resolve it – I don’t have any energy issues with group ritual anymore. Basically, I was dealing with high social anxiety and large amounts of highly concentrated energy without the self-care to know I needed more time than most to ‘come down’ off the spiritual high, or risk kicking myself into depression for a week or two. Now that I’ve figured out what I need to do – manage my anxiety through various behavioral practices, give myself a few minutes alone after a ritual to make sure I ground REALLY well (which I can struggle to do in social situations), and make sure I have some down time before putting myself in another stressful situation – I’ve stopped having mental rebound issues after rituals. I realized this was probably mental health related when I was having trouble in group ritual, but not in ritual by myself. Also, since figuring this out, I have not only participated in, but led several group rituals that had high energy components without issue.

ADF thankfully has no issue with mental illness, but occasionally I struggle with common things asked of members of ADF – especially trance states. I am not the only person to struggle with this, though, and I know I can learn to do it, given time and practice. I have gotten much better at meditation since working with ADF, so I know it’s possible (even on medications!) and even likely that I will be successful at working in trance states. I’ve learned so far that having some kind of audio – drumming or “white noise” – dramatically helps with my ability to focus and zone out enough to approach a trance journey. Also that laying flat on my back is more useful than sitting cross legged or in a chair. It’s just a matter of figuring out and training my particular brain – chemicals and all.

All that said, I am not defined by the classifications in my doctor’s chart, or by the medications I take. I am still a highly functional person with a lot of motivation, a good job, a supportive family, a stable relationship, and generally a stable life and lifestyle. I occasionally bite off more than I can chew, but I manage that like anyone else would. When I go through periods of depression, I hunker down, turn up the self-care, and deal with it until it goes away. (Therapy is helpful for this.) It doesn’t define my life, it’s merely one aspect of who I am as a person – and thus is something that will always be part of my Paganism. For the most part, I am as normal a Pagan as any of us are.

I’m sharing this largely as a statement to say that mental illness and mystical experiences are not mutually exclusive. Yes, it’s hard in the midst of a depressive episode to feel really connected to your Gods, but it is possible, and often helpful, to maintain a devotional practice even through those depressions. I use the meditation techniques I’ve learned both as spiritual exercises and as ways of managing anxiety. I rely on routines to help me get through tough times, and those routines often have a spiritual component to them.

It’s all interconnected, and it can all work.

Stigma against mental illness is a very real thing, even in the Pagan community. I’ve debated about posting about this for awhile, because I don’t want it to blow back on me later. But I think it’s important for people with mental illness who can afford to be open about it to do so where they feel safe. (I don’t share this at work, for example, because I don’t want to risk the repercussions of it.) We are members of your community – huge numbers of people suffer from depression and anxiety – and I’d venture to guess we’re a larger part of the Pagan community than most people guess. (Often people with mental illnesses leave mainstream social and religious groups because they don’t get the care and support they need.)

ADF does a good job of being open to people with mental illnesses, as much as a small religious organization can. I imagine there is a lot more support in areas where there are active groves. So far it hasn’t hindered me in my studies there (or even come up, except when I have mentioned it as something that is affecting my work). I hope I can continue in that trend as I lead my study group and work towards the Initiate’s Path.

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Meditations are slowly creeping along this week. Beyond the meditation I did in my Beltane/Maitag ritual, I did a few other sitting meditations, but I ended up cutting most of them short, either due to frustration or anxiety. This is probably the opposite of how I should respond (instead I should sit and meditate longer) but there are days when it’s just … ugh. So I give myself credit for making the effort this week, and we’ll move on from there.

I’ve had what I can only call an agnostic sort of week, spiritually. It’s not that I doubt my own experiences (which I always have done, and will probably always do), it’s more than I’m doubting what my motivations are for even seeking out the Gods in the first place. I do my devotions and I did my Beltane ritual, and that all is going well enough. But I just keep getting this nagging feeling that none of it really makes any actual difference regardless. That if something bad happens, nothing – not my relationship with the Gods, not my prayers, not my working to change it – will fix it. It’s half “why am I bothering” and half “do They even care anyway.”

This is probably a symptom of some of the bigger mental health issues I’ve had recently, but it’s made it hard to stay motivated about the DP. I have another virtue essay finished, so that’s a good step, but my next essays are to start working on the Three Kindreds and Personal Religion requirements, and I’m just finding that I don’t have any gas in the tank to tackle them right now.

I am hoping that I can do some focused visualization to reconnect with the experiential side of Druidry and see if that helps out some.

For anyone out there with a better experience of spiritual guidance, I’m open to suggestions. I know Rev. MJD says that belief follows action, so I’m still doing the actions. I’m just a bit discouraged about it all I guess.

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