The Hot Itch

Say Hi to the PopeLast week I met my new primary care provider.  I’ve been searching for a doc for a couple of years since the Best Doctor in the Whole World retired.  I try not to hold everyone to his standard.  I got spoiled.

So, everyone who’s anyone has recommended this OB/GYN nurse practitioner.  Great, I thought.  I was a nurse.  We can relate.

And, indeed, she was vivacious, and friendly, and practical (gotta love that).  Then, we took a sharp turn into The Twilight Zone.

I would characterize this NP as an evangelical Christian, which would normally be a non-issue for me.  As a self-proclaimed mystical atheist, I’m always interested in what other people believe.  I told her that.  She laughed and said she wouldn’t try to convert me.  I laughed and said it wasn’t possible.

So, with that bit of self-disclosure out of the way, she asked if I ever had thoughts of harming myself.  I gave my standard Psych History answer—”I tried to kill myself once.  I still have suicidal thoughts, but I recognize them as symptoms and a signal to get help.”

She said, “We all have bad thoughts, and most people go through some period of depression.”

(Okay, I thought.  She’s not a psychiatric nurse practitioner.  She may not know the difference between clinical and situational depression.  Just go with it.)

“Where do those bad thoughts come from?” she asked (rhetorically).  “If you believe in God, then you have to believe in the Devil…”

I must have gotten a LOOK on my face, because she stuttered to a stop and started talking about vaginal health.  Was I imagining things, or was this educated, medical professional about to tell me mental illness was caused by the Devil?  I was so shocked, I don’t remember what else she said, just that we wrapped it up pretty quick, and I was shuffling to my car in a daze.

The daze turned to anger before I left the parking lot.  Are we in the Middle Ages, I fumed.  What was next?  Burning at the stake?  Dousing?

Rage fueled a deep hopelessness.  I missed my old doctor.  Did I have to choose between the cold, condescending woman who took over his practice or this kind-hearted religioso?  Did I have to start the search all over again?

I met with my meditation group later in the day and felt righteous satisfaction in their outrage as I told the story.  It’s a hot itch, indignation.  It gets under the skin and festers.

AbsinthineSo, as we sat together in silence, I took a step back from what I was feeling.  I called up the part of me that observes my thrashing around with gentle curiosity.  What happened?

I saw that I’m not as tolerant as I like to believe.  I don’t like people pushing their religion at me.  I don’t like the blank stares when I say I’m an atheist.  As the pastor at the First Unitarian Church in Des Moines said on Sunday, I’m more than willing to share my faith with people who are genuinely interested, curious and open-minded.  But, that happens rarely.  It’s just easier to keep my mouth shut.

What does it matter anyway?  I tried to look a little deeper.

My ego hates to be misunderstood.  It hates to be dismissed or categorized.  And it really hates to be discredited.  I’m proud of how hard I’ve worked to regain some functioning in the world.  Proud.


I looked at my choices again.  Cold, Condescending Beeyatch or Evangelist?  I tried CCB the last time I got bronchitis, so I knew what to expect.  I had a feeling the Evangelist would be kind and thorough.  I suspected she would take very good care of my body.  And that’s what I needed her to do.  I might have to set some boundaries.  If I could nudge my ego aside, there might even be A Teaching Moment.

Coming home from meditation with my friends, I turned up the music and sang down the highway.  The ego is a stubborn little cuss.  Mine can be paranoid and hysterical if the mood is right.  Anything can offend it, and it defends itself with teeth and claws.  But, like a mediocre poker player, it has a tell—that hot itch of indignation.  When I feel that under my skin, I know it’s time to back up and look again.

I’m glad for that signal, and I’m glad I know what to do with it.

Thanks, Ego-Girl.  Keep raging.




handmade greeting cards, collage artI did something this morning I’ve never done in my life—I threw a book in the trash.  And it was by an author I adore.

I can just hear the Fires of Hell stoking up like a wheezy old furnace.  I’m headed there.  I know it.

Julia Cameron saved my life back in 2008.  I started writing Morning Pages as outlined in The Artists’ Way—three hand-written pages every morning to start scraping the scum off the surface of my mental pond.  My creativity was in a coma after ECT and the collapse of my previous life.  Julia’s humor and gentle guidance brought it back to the surface.

From her other books, I knew she was a recovering alcoholic and lived a 12-Step program, that her relationship with God was deep and meaningful.  So, when I found her book on God, I was thrilled.

Now, God is a touchy subject.  For some, even the word “God” sets off a whole cascade of resistance, prejudice, and fixed notions.  There’s a right way and a wrong way to God, according to most, and folks are eager to show you their road map.  I’m an “All Paths Lead to God” kind of traveller, and my atlas is huge and dog-eared.  I happen to have my own beliefs, but I love hearing what other people find comforting and useful.  I’m the only person I know who actually invites Jehovah’s Witnesses in for a chat.  Who knows what lovely bit of God might trail in on their shoes?

In God is Not A Laughing Matter, Julia Cameron presented her own path to God through writing, walking and opening to the wonder of nature, which are beautiful and full of poetry.  Again, she led readers into an exploration of their own relationship with God through journal questions and proposed activities.  I was lulled as I always am by her words.  So, my shock was profound when she ridiculed the practices that are most meaningful in my life—meditation and a vegan diet.

My Julia?  Intolerant?  It didn’t seem possible.  But with each chapter, her scorn got a little sharper.  The very thing she was preaching against—Spiritual Bullying—seemed to be happening right there on the page.

I shut the book before I let it spoil my relationship with her.  She helped me remember who I am as a writer and artist.  I took courage and strength from her books.  I won’t let the fear and misunderstanding I just witnessed ruin that for me.

Obviously, Julia hasn’t met the right meditating vegan yet.  We’re not all rabid proselytizers and spaced-out stick-eaters.  I like to think that if I rang her doorbell, she might invite me in.  I like to think she’d see that I might have a bit of God stuck to my shoe, too.

So, okay, maybe the book doesn’t belong in the trash.  Maybe I’ll just think of it as unfinished.  She’ll write Part Two after we have coffee.  And maybe take a walk out into the desert.  That’s one path we have in common, and I’m sure we’d find an atlas-full of more.

Winter Solstice

The World Tree

by Carol Singer

Surely, deeply, a holy Tree grows in your heart.

Ancient wisdom is there in a touch of its bark.

Its joyous leaves catch Heaven’s light,

The roots are strong with Earth’s own might,

To keep you through the longest night

And lead you out of the dark.

∞ ∞ ∞

The longest night of the year.

For those of us with bipolar disorder, this day is more than simply the beginning of winter.  It’s a reminder that even the darkest nights end, the deepest depressions, the craziest mania.  While in the dark, we can’t see an ending, we can’t feel the Earth turning and tilting.  But the Universal cycles continue nevertheless.  Winter Solstice reminds us of the turning and the promise of Light returning.

An image often associated with Winter Solstice is Yggdrasil, or the World Tree.  In Norse mythology, it embodies the concepts of renewal, it’s branches reaching into Heaven, and it’s roots into the Earth and Beyond.

Today, I invite you to take a moment from your day to mark the Solstice.  Remember yourself with branches reaching into the Divine and roots deep in the safe, warm Earth.  Standing tall in the dark, feel the moment of Light returning.  Feel the promise fulfilled.  Breathe, and be at peace.

Happy Halloween

Samhain (“sow-in”) is the traditional pagan New Year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest and communication is possible with those on the other side.  In the Latin American tradition, The Day of the Dead allows the spirits to revisit their families and taste again their corporeal joys.  Christian tradition adds All Saints Day, which honors those who have passed on, and All Souls Day tomorrow, which is a time to pray for those in purgatory to be released to heaven.

Whatever tradition you enjoy, this is a time for reflection on our own lives in relation to those who have died.  We remember and give thanks for how they touched and blessed us, and we turn our attention to making better choices, and living in a way that honors them.

On this day, may the Spirits touch you gently and bring you peace.

Navigating Grief in the Bipolar Sea

If I thought life in general was hard to navigate with bipolar disorder, life in a state of grief and profound adjustment is like charting unknown waters.  I’ve been preparing and processing the eventuality of my dad’s death all summer, so these feelings that rise and fall are familiar and almost comforting.  I’ve also partnered with my sister and mom in his care, so I know how they respond to their own feelings.  I know what to expect from them, which is also a comfort.  Bipolar demands consistency or it flies off its fragile fulcrum, becoming symptomatic.  At least it does for me.

What I’m finding is that my deep weariness is tweaking the illness and making me even more sensitive to stimuli.  Too many details to take care of, too many  retellings of Dad’s final days, too many people needing to express their own grief to us, too much odd food.  My ability to flex and adapt is compromised.  I dread the upcoming public events—Visitation and the Funeral.  I don’t think I can stand so many people crowding close, talking, touching.

So, I have to figure out how to do this without losing my mind, how to be a part of this process and not get so overloaded that I’ll cease to function.

Two things are important to me—to be able to support my mom and to do the pieces of the funeral service that I’ve prepared.  Supporting Mom requires awareness—seeing when she needs to stay busy and in control, when she needs to talk about Dad and her feelings, and when she needs quiet and rest.  Supporting Mom means keeping other worries at a minimum (like whether or not I’ll fall apart) and supporting her decisions instead of throwing out my own quixotic ideas.  Awareness requires that I stay conscious of my own inner turmoil and thoughts.  Circumstance and emotion carry a strong undertow now, so keeping my head above the surface is wicked-hard.  I’m already bone-tired, so this added struggle feels like flailing.  I’m doing the best I can, but the waters are winning.

On Wednesday at the funeral, I will lead a guided meditation to send Dad off to his next adventure, then do a reading from Awakening Osiris.  In my old life as a ministerial guide at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community in Minneapolis, I performed weddings and funerals as part of my calling.  I led a weekly meditation service.  Spiritual transitions were what I did best and what I loved to facilitate.  Doing that for my own dad and for those of us grieving him is important to me.  I know I’m not the person I was when I used to perform ministerial functions.  I know it will be incredibly difficult to stand in front of a congregation again.  But I need to do this, and my family is willing to let me.

Part of my passion around this is to balance the service.  My Dad was a devout atheist.  When I asked him once where he thought we went when we died, he said, “We don’t go anywhere—we’re dead.”  If he had a whiff of spirituality, it involved the cycle of the seasons, the power of rain and sun and earth.  He said several times that he didn’t want “someone preaching over me.”

But, I know a funeral is for the living, it’s to give comfort to the survivors and offer hope when the uncertainty of death rises up.  And since the majority of people coming to Dad’s funeral will be Christians, a Christian service is necessary.  But, like my dad, I’m not a Christian.  Scripture and words about “going home” offer me no comfort.  The young pastor from my sister’s church is a lovely man and willing to adapt his service to fit Dad’s beliefs to a point.  But, if I want something to take away from this ritual, I have to provide it myself.

So these next few days will be a crucible for me.  Can I maintain some level of awareness even though my illness is active?  Can I find ways to limit the sensory stimulus so that I can remain a part of the events?  Can I support my mom without sacrificing myself?  Can I call up an old part of myself that’s been dormant for years and offer something of substance to those who grieve my dad’s passing, including myself?

I’ll do my best and, as always, that will be enough.

Funerals & Other Acts of Will

Yesterday I went to the funeral of a good friend’s mother.  It was one of those mixed-blessing deaths.  Matt’s mother had been ill a long time, and the family had been planning her passing for a while.  So, while they mourned, they were also relieved.  Plus, she worshiped in a Baptist church where the message was all about joy, big smiles and being welcomed Home.

Matt is a sensitive, dear soul, and even though I knew he was ready for his mother’s death, I wanted to support him the best way I could.  When we get together, we are obnoxious, irreverent and a regular laugh-riot in our own minds.  I wasn’t sure that would be suitable at a funeral, but I was willing to go where ever he need to.

We ended up sitting together at the post-service luncheon, laughing (like we always do) and talking in British accents (his mother was from England).  He told hilarious stories about his mom and his family, pointing out the story characters to me as they got up for more potato salad or wandered between tables.  At one point, he wiped his eyes from laughing so hard and said, “This is what Mom would have wanted.”

It wasn’t easy for me to plunk myself in the middle of a big social gathering, or to sit through the minister’s propaganda. I’m glad I prepared myself with funeral advice and general social guidelines for such sensitive social gatherings, click here to see what I read to get ready. Even though my courage wasn’t not at full complicity, I gathered myself and stayed strong.   Love can get you out of your chair when nothing else works.  It was a small act of will, a push to do something I really didn’t want to do, a choice to set my desires aside and take action in a different direction.  I felt that tiny expansion inside, and I felt Matt relax.  I’m so glad I went.

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