Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Breathe




Souls dance blue whispers through the night
Sea, Moon, Earth, Sky
Lighting their rhyme in the twilight of heaven’s most delicate beauty
Still some dream to know
We too are stardust
   - Christa Rowan


It's funny how places can pull on us.  The desert is calling me lately- jackrabbits and roadrunners, coyotes and sunsets, sage and chollas.  I find myself flashing back to hiking paths and cactus gardens, relentless sunshine and wide open spaces.  Spaces where I could meditate on who and what I was, who and what I'd come here to be.  Spaces where I could dig my bare feet into red gravel dust to feel the energy of the earth and breathe it in.

My grandmother called me a gypsy, always on the move.  Wanderlust is how I used to think of it. It's a beautiful, romantic word but it haunts me with its wistful, bittersweet quality.  It makes me feel as if there is something in me that cannot rest, that I can't be satisfied in a single location.  

I am coming to realize with age that it's not my body that needs to wander, it's my soul. It knows to journey to what feeds it, to what soothes it, to what allows the rest of me the space and ability to breathe.  Sometimes it calls for the colors and breadth of an Arizona desert, others for the rhythmic lapping of gentle waves on Kauai, or, in the greener parts of Delaware the grounding endless roots of a majestic pine tree.  And it's not that it can't be satisfied, it's that its needs are ever-changing as I learn and grow.  

Life is the soul's ultimate change of location.  All the people we've known are inside us. All the places we've been are inside of us.  And often that means that we feel pulled in various directions, faced with endless decisions, crowded with desires, ambitions, obligations, intentions, always wondering what our next move should be. What I am finally realizing is that often the next right move is none it all. Often what we need is just to breathe.

And so when Phoenix or Kauai or Boston are calling I know my soul is pulling on me to access something that I have felt in those places. "Stop" it says, "be still, hear me and breathe".  And I don't have to buy plane tickets, I don't have to relocate again.  

All the places I've been are inside of me, some of which I can't tell you how to get to. Even a scientist who doesn't consider the existence of souls, or how they travel, can tell you that you're made of stardust.  And where on earth do you really need to run to if you consider that you carry stars inside you?  What more could you possibly need to be.

So, breathe, just breathe.

Monday, January 2, 2017

"There's No Use Crying About It"



The castle is in sight -
Weathered and dark but no less a sanctuary.
Bold and strong I take to the path
Old fear trailing behind me like a cape to be untied and cast aside.
I drop it on the forest floor aware that it will slink behind me,
Let it, I think as I forge ahead.
For a while I elude it as I focus on the spires,
Then I trip.
No matter, I'm still moving forward.
But delighting in my misstep the cape glides faster, gaining speed,
Winding around my ankles like a snake it takes me down.
My heart races
"I'll crawl if I have to" I whisper, through deliberate concentrated breaths,
Though I hear it laughing as it looms over me  - 
It's covered my face like a veil before I can rip it away.
Gasping for the cool fresh air near the ground I take it down with me.
Angrily I ball it up and hurl it off the path.
I sit on the ground watching hot tears fall on the gravel -
I'm tired
The path is too long 
I'm tired 
The cape a relentless albatross 
I'm tired
I can lie here and not have to fight anymore 
So. tired.
A voice flying through the night air calls "Momma!"
The princess waiting at the castle.
I pick up my head to look at it,
Beaten and battered and standing tall,
Dark but no less a sanctuary.
Ignoring the tears I stand,
Let them fall,
They bounce off a metal object glowing in moonlight -
Tarnished and dented but no less a crown.
I place it on my head.
Brushing off dirt and gravel I take a step,
Then another
Straight towards the castle.
Weathered and beaten it beckons me.
I'll reach it scarred and battle weary,
Cape at my feet,
But no less a queen.


- Christa Rowan
(With a nod to Halsey)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Walking Semicolon

Before you read this:
I don't want to accidentally trigger anyone. If you are a rape, assault or suicide survivor, you may not want to read.  If you have lost someone to violence you may not want to read.  If you were a member of the SSPJ class of 1986, this is going to stir up bad memories.  Please take care.




I used to have a lot of hangups about naming what I've got going on.  I thought PTSD was reserved for people who have or have had far worse life experiences than I've had, as if you have to earn it by reaching a certain benchmark of awfulness.  I've come to see that that just isn't true.  There are no parameters, trauma is trauma and how it affects your psyche, how it changes your brain, is not in your control.  You can only manage the damage afterwards.

There is a world full of people who have it worse than I do.  I am very conscious of that and it often keeps me quiet.  But this is a difficult time of year for a lot of people who won't speak for themselves because they can't. They may be your family members, your friends, your coworkers or facebook aquaintances; no matter who they are, what you say to them matters. What you say about them that gets back to them (because these things always do) matters.  But they won't tell you that because, frankly, in addition to the demons that they fight in their heads everyday, it's just too damn hard.  "We all have demons", you say.  And yes that is very true.  Some demons are more powerful than others though. They take more time and energy to manage from people who may not be as well equipped as you and I are. I believe that there are reasons that I walk my own specific spiral of anxiety in this lifetime.  I think perhaps the biggest reason is that when I get a reprieve from my own fight, I can put things into words for the people who can't.  These are the people I want to speak for, and I am going to get real and raw and specific as I do so.

I have had a horrendous eight months.  In March, believing I had finally beaten my own demons, I began to view life as if I was free to really, truly live it without the limits that an anxiety disorder puts on you.  I didn't know that this belief was at the core of what had originally shaken me, that by approaching life with joy I was unwittingly just pulling off another layer of the deep seated fear that lies at my center.  Within days of  reaching that happy conclusion I was taken down by the worst panic attack I have ever had. I almost didn't come back from it.  The truth is that this time I didn't know if I wanted to. What was the point if after twenty plus years of fighting, of countless types of therapy, of stints on various medications, of mustering up all the courage and strength I could find to defeat another round of panic attacks, wasn't enough.

Thirty-three years ago a man murdered my friend after stalking her to rape her in the woods.  He took her life before she'd had time to live it.  He stole time that I needed with her, time that we would have used to finish our conversations about God and faith and the universe, time where maybe, just maybe I could have convinced her that the problems she had been confiding to me could be solved, time where maybe I could have eased her soul before she returned to God.  There was so much left to be said between flute lessons and band rehearsals and recess but we never got to say any of it. A man I'd never heard of violently ripped my friend away from all of those who loved her and in doing so he tore apart our souls.  It's taken me thirty-three years to say all of that. Thirty-three years to wonder if I am just too broken by the past to have a future where I am not haunted by fear and nightmares and the belief that anything good can be ripped away in an instant.

I told someone the other day that I haven't focused on things involving Christmas because I have a lot going on. I was met with this response: "oh yeah, what do YOU have going on."  What I have going on is that I am still collecting pieces of my soul from a schoolyard on Long Island where they lay waiting for a friend who will never return.  I am slowly and painfully trying to put them all back together, mend them well enough to be a good mother who won't instill crippling fear or pain in her own daughter as she approaches the age where my friend died.  I'm slowly recovering from joint pain and swelling caused by the medication that was supposed to make my brain function better. I am praying that the panic attacks won't return when it's out of my bloodstream.  I am monitoring my kid for signs of damage I might have done to her by being debilitated by anxiety and depression all summer.  I'm working on convincing myself every morning and every night that this fight is worth continuing. I am a walking semicolon. But I shouldn't have to say that.

I shouldn't have to explain anything to anyone at all.  And neither should anyone else with PTSD or depression or anxiety or any other condition.  So please, this holiday season, don't put them in the position where they feel they have to defend themselves.  Don't ask them what they've been doing. Ask them how they are today.  Tell them you are happy to see them.  Offer to take a walk or get a cup of coffee or a pitcher of sangria. Listen if they want to talk and accept it if they don't. And know that these "broken" people that other people whisper or shake their heads over are in fact some of the strongest most resilient badasses you have ever met.  They will wake up again tomorrow to fight the very same fight they fought today, which is the same one they fought yesterday and the day before. They do it knowing that there is no cure, that they are surviving battles in a war that may never be won.

And to Robert Turley who murdered my friend and stole so much from so many of us, your power over me has worn off.  I used to think that you were the devil who created the storm I live in, but I've done a lot of work in the last few years.  As it turns out I am the storm.  And I'll be fighting with the power of written words I couldn't form before now if you are up for parole again before your release.






Friday, November 11, 2016

An Open Letter to my Friends

I have my whole life been told that I am too nice, too caring, too compassionate. When people describe me this way they shake their heads at what they see as a shortcoming. They assume that a heart full of empathy adds up to an equal lack in emotional strength and intelligence.  I used to let this bother me, a lot.  I learned to employ empathy as quietly as possible so as not to invite more exasperation.

In the last few days I have seen the damage that lack of empathy does.  The time to be quiet is over.  The most empathic among us are not weak or simple. They are passionate and lion hearted. They have the capacity to help carry the weight of another's pain and the emotional intelligence to allow them the time and space to process it.  I treasure each and every empath in my life, each family member, friend and sometimes stranger who has helped me resurface from the depths of my own pain.

There are so many among us who need this comfort now.  Individuals who are being referred to as whiny as sore losers, as if their team lost in the World Series and they are consumed with petty jealousy instead of legitimate fear based on ugly history, and reignited by swastikas and white hoods appearing with a new alarming frequency. 

Don't insult them like that, they don't deserve your disdain.  If you want to insist that your fellow citizens learn to embrace unity in the wake of the election of a man who at best, continues to do nothing to inspire it, then you'd best find a way to foster it.  The simplest method to employ is empathy.  And because I believe in "walking the walk," I'll begin.

To my black friends:
I hear you. I have witnessed your shock and dismay for the ugly names your children are being called. I have seen your accounts of people shouting randomly in the streets at your friends to "go back to Africa."  I have read the family histories you have shared of crosses being burned in your grandparents yards, of relatives having been hunted and shot like animals by Klan members seeking acclaim among their own. I am sorry. I am sorry that your memories are being stirred up so painfully.  I am sorry that you are crying for your children to whom you'd hoped the KKK would always be just a horror of the past and not a regular sight on the news.  I am sorry that there are so many people of my own race out there belittling your grief and fear.  I love you, I respect you, I value your friendships. My life is enriched by your presence in it.  

To my Jewish friends:
I will never forget the day that an older woman came into my toddler classroom at the Squirrel Hill JCC to help me with lunchtime. She pulled up her sleeves to wash her hands revealing faded, but cruelly permanent, black tattooed numbers on her forearm. My blood ran cold as the reality of horrors I had only read about seemed to appear right in front of me. I cannot imagine the pain that is being brought forth in your minds as antisemites spray swastikas on middle school walls like graffiti. You welcomed me into your lives, your culture, and your beautiful traditions warmly and graciously. You tirelessly taught me the lessons of your own faith and enriched my own.  I treasure joyful memories of those years and think of you often.  I light Hanukkah candles with my daughter and find myself humming Shabbat songs.  I am sorry for the ugliness that is staring you in the face more frequently now.  I am sickened that it is being done by people who call themselves Christians.  You have my unending love, support and respect as you begin to navigate this resurgence of undeserved hate.

To my LGBTQ friends:
You matter. You matter because you open my mind further every day with accounts of each of your individual experiences. You matter because your presence in our lives teaches my daughter that love knows no gender or human boundary.  I am sorry for the discrimination you face each and every day. I am sorry that half of this country chose to elect a man who is not likely to honor your right to marry the person you love. I am disgusted that they are hiding their bigotry behind religions, including my own, in their attempt to remove your rights.  Please know that I will always speak out against this.

To my straight white friends:
We have to allow our minority friends the time to recover from this blow, whether you recognize it for the slap in the face it is or not.  I know that those of you I truly count among my friends are not racist or homophobic. I know that if you voted for our President-elect you did so for reasons based in economics. But unfortunately, the hate comes with it, it was a package deal.  Please stop telling other human beings not to feel, please stop implying that they are less than worthy of your empathy and respect.  Please be part of making sure that the economic changes you are hoping for are not accompanied by changes in human rights. Empathy is the path to the unity you are calling for. I hope you'll follow it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thoughts on the 2016 Election

For frame of reference, let me start by saying that I am neither Democrat nor Republican.  I have voted both parties based solely on what I thought of the candidates. If you forced me to categorize myself I would call myself a left leaning Libertarian.

As I read through posts and links this morning it struck me that there is something no one seems to be talking about.  I'm seeing Trump's victory chalked up to racism, homophobia, xenophobia, mysogyny, angry white men, unchecked immigration, disappearing jobs and Obama.  Yes, there are elements of all of those things at work. But this doesn't rest on the GOP alone. This doesn't rest on Trump supporters alone.  Let's talk about the other side, because as I said, I vote as an Independent, I am always extremely interested in BOTH sides.

When I was a teenager my very even tempered, intelligent, journalist father explained to me that politics is one big game.  My naive, idealistic, 18 year old self was horrified.  I was, voting for the first time and taking it very seriously. I felt he was being flippant and I got angry with him.  He told me that I was going to have to put my emotions aside, decide what issues were most important to me, evaluate the candidates based on those issues, and then let the other stuff go, because there would be no perfect candidate.  It was going to come down to who played the game better. He was absolutely right. My thoughts on this year's game are this: the Democrats played badly.

It's taken me a long time to come around to my current way of thinking, you can call it age, maturity, learned cynicism, or just my particular version of logic.  Here's the way I've come to see it.  Whatever the reasons are, our country is more polarized than ever.  Conservatives have nothing good to say about Obama.The only way to bring them a little left was going to be with a moderate candidate. The Democrats knew this and offered up Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Sanders is viewed as a socialist, he was a non-starter.  And Hilary Clinton has been a controversial figure from the day she became First Lady.  It doesn't matter what she has done right, it doesn't matter that she has a mountain of experience and Trump doesn't, it doesn't matter that it was she and not her husband who was running. Bill and Hilary are viewed as a team just like Barack and Michelle are.  And the fact is that there were, from the beginning, too many Americans who if they don't all out hate the Clintons, just plain don't trust them.  Qualified or not, Hilary was the wrong candidate to unify an already divided country and this should have been clear to the DNC from the start.

The lesser of two evils argument has been used ad nauseam in the last few months.  Let's assume for argument's sake that we were choosing between equal evils. We had a nation of angry voters this year, and the thing about angry voters is that they prefer the devil they know. This year Trump was seen as that particular devil and he made sure we continued to get to know him very well with his own Twitter account.  The thing about people who have lost jobs and are struggling, who have lost their small businesses to rising healthcare costs, who are generally just feeling like underdogs, is that they don't want a candidate that they perceive to have been abusing the privileges of her various offices for personal gain. Voters who feel downtrodden want to vote for the political underdog. With his unapologetically brash ways, refusal to appear politically correct and general lack of political experience, that's exactly what Trump was. The more the Democrats played into that the bigger the divide became.  Americans who feel like the system has failed them are drawn to the candidate who offers them the opposite of that system, not a rejiggered version of what they already have.  Yes his policies are socially backwards and offensive, but as someone once pointed out to me, if you are doing so badly that you are struggling to keep a roof over your head, you aren't voting on social policies, you're voting on what you think will put money in your pocket.

As far as I am concerned both parties failed me this year and that's a huge disappointment to say the very least. As a quasi Libertarian, I don't get a true viable candidate because our two party system doesn't support that option. I went out and voted anyway, but a lot of people in my ideological shoes didn't bother because they were too disgusted. Frankly, I was too. Whatever happens going forward, the entire nation is to blame and as far as I'm concerned, it's up to this entire nation to fix it. So if you're angry today, BE angry!  If you're mourning then mourn.  But then channel it into action for change, because hurling insults at people who voted for Trump today is not going to change a damn thing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Diving Into the Wreck




"There is a ladder. The ladder is always there hanging innocently close to the side of the schooner. We know what it is for, we who have used it."

"I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail."

"We are, I am, you are by cowardice or courage the one who find our way back to this scene carrying a knife, a camera a book of myths in which our names do not appear."

-Adrienne Rich



Adrienne Rich passed away recently. When I heard, I was lead to reread Diving Into the Wreck, one of my favorite poems.  And as I did, I smiled, then with tears in my eyes I nodded, because each line resonated with me, rippling through me with waves of new understanding.

I stopped blogging two years ago as I launched into a new approach to dealing with anxiety.  People asked when I would start again but I felt that I shouldn't be writing about something I hadn't yet learned to control.  I was wrong.  We are never in control.  I've had to learn that, more importantly I've had to accept that.  And then I had to learn to cope, and to recover and begin again each time I can't.

I chose a path of regular massage and energy work, intuitive development, understanding what it means to be empathic, and restructuring the way I meditate.  There was medication when I needed it, a supportive community of new friends with unique talents and insights, some therapy, and most importantly an accurate diagnosis of PTSD.

Just as there is no control, there is no perfect past, we all have wrecks to dive into, a collection of experiences that form an individual fingerprint of fear.  Mine is composed largely of of sudden unpredictable tragedies, each of which shook me to the core when they occurred, each of which left damage to be explored. They have demanded my attention at various points in the last few years, pleading for the grief and sorrow that I had denied them each time I pushed them further and further into the depths in my efforts to move on.  I had to descend the ladder and pause on various rungs to survey the damage, to acknowledge: this is when I learned to never feel safe in the world, this is when I learned that the loss of one individual can set into motion the loss of several others in countless minute ways, this is when I learned the fear of abandonment....

My name would not appear in an account of any of those losses.  The stories aren't mine; they are my friend's, my grandfather's, my uncle's, yet they shaped my inner world, burning their own pathways in my brain.  And in accepting that perspective I learned that there actually is rhyme and reason to my bouts of anxiety and to my panic attacks. I learned my triggers, which while many and varied, are all valid and logical when I view them in light of what I've finally taken the time to see. Some I can avoid and others I simply can't. I learned coping mechanisms and I learned that sometimes I can say 'no' when I don't feel strong enough to cope.  I don't have to spend all my time fighting, I'm allowed to rest.

The "treasure that prevails" is in having found a purpose in all of this.  I can recognize pain, fear and trauma in others.  When I look a Reiki client in the eyes and say, "I know, I get it", they are not just empty words.  I can cry with them, I can give them tangible advice, I can refer them with confidence to other types of practitioners that have helped me on this path as well.  Most importantly I can assure them without a doubt that they are not alone, none of us are, not ever.  And somehow, for each individual client, the right words to emphasize that are given to me, in tiny unique ways.  I could not do the work I do now, the way I do now, if I hadn't experienced what I did. The very anxiety that I curse from time to time has opened doors to worlds I couldn't have imagined.  And so, I have to accept it, even embrace it.

I'm in one of my rest periods now.  The sum of what in hindsight has been several months of countless tiny triggers was a panic attack and a half.  It's alright though.  It had been a blessedly long time since I'd had one and it could be a long time until I have another. For now I am done exploring the wreck. I've put myself on a regimen of exercise, spring cleaning, meditating and listening, really listening to what comes across. Today the message was write. And so I wrote......