Try This

Try This September 25, 2014

Recently Nornoriel posted a really good piece on his dealings with medication and the mental health system, and issues he has had with well-intended comments from other Pagans recommending the holistic approach. I confess I’m struggling a little to come up with posts right now, and as I’m covering today for Tara I thought it would be fun to continue in the same vein. This is not a countering piece. This is just the lens I see the debate of modern vs. holistic through.
There came a point in my life two years ago where I was completely terrified to cross roads, walk down a flight of stairs, pour a hot drink, etc. My relationship with my family continued to sour, with more and more argument. At the time I viewed it simply. They couldn’t accept who I wanted to be, not that they knew about the witchcraft, the bisexuality, or any of that. They viewed my activism as rather annoying, it seemed like. I viewed their attitudes toward the world as ignorant of others’ value.

When I went to see the mental health counselors at ISU, I was paired up with a guy who knew a reasonable amount about Wicca, which was my professed religion at the time. They gave me Prosak for the anxiety, and a few months later, Zanax for the emergencies.
Therapy at first was productive, and there was a lot of letting stuff out. At one point I brought in a five-page document of all of the things growing up that still bothered me, most of it words and actions that had emotionally left their mark. I don’t want to relay any of the stories here. Anyway I realized that for all the letting out, the anger and sadness just kept bleeding through, like a well spring refilling after it runs dry. It would explain the outright anger at minor irritants I still struggle with today, and the inability to maintain composure in minor stressful situations, especially if my blood sugar is low. The ironic thing is, in a major crisis I’m really good at taking charge and getting things done, as long as its not a personal one.
But then there were these implications, that most of my panic attacks and anxiety were due to my being partially sight-impaired. It just made me feel really, really trivialized, like everything that had happened was minor, and that I just overreacted or something. So I have a mistrust of therapists. The previous three I had, one in junior high, one in high school, one at a fifth year program I attended for independent living skills had all said things like think positive and just breathe.
NEWS FLASH!!: it is not that simple! When your thoughts are in the freaking blender and you can’t see straight, you can’t. And after fourteen years of struggling to emotionally regulate, and thirty hours awake, and no food, you can’t!
But the med’s did some good. I realized I would not get killed walking across the road. The modern medicine opened the way for my spirituality to help me begin to deal with these things.
Yes, there were three therapists in my past. I honestly don’t know why I was sent to the first one, maybe because at the time my family was falling apart, maybe because I was not emotionally regulating well, maybe because I was having some nature calls-type issues and my parents thought they were stress related (although they certainly acted like it was on purpose). I don’t know. The second one was because I was not able to deal with work load sometimes, especially math-related, and was just having breakdowns on a regular basis. They didn’t seem to get that sometimes I just needed a break from the onslaught of thing after thing after thing after thing after thing after thing…
After thing. I knew I needed space, just didn’t realize how much of what was happening related to things at home and in the past, even then.
Until two years ago, when the drugs cleared my head a little, I didn’t realize I had a problem. And then I realized the deep waves of emotion were not normal. Threats and vicious jokes were not normal. Screaming and yelling and things breaking, are not normal.
Not much changed in the following year. I was going through a crazy time, not making the best choices. I got through, and after a year crossing the abyss, my time in Normal when I was afraid to leave my apartment for fear of running into family members and at the same time feeling trapped there, I came here to Champaign. During that time I finished school and so lost medical insurance so I no longer have my anxiety medication. But I came up with a great blend of lavender, chamomile, spearmint, and rosemary that pretty well knocked me out, without the weird dreams that are a side effect of Zanax. I practice a good deal of stone magic, so I usually carry certain stones to ward off negativity, lend me confidence, and ease anxiety. I’ve finally figured out that I have enough vision to light incense sticks, with occasional difficulty, so I keep lots of floral incense sticks on hand, because jasmine, rose, lavender, iris, sandalwood, and things like that are really soothing.
My style is not peaceful. I am not a love and light Pagan. I am a fight for what’s right Pagan, and love plays a part in that. So since I recognize that the well spring is there, I work to create a bottom for it, one that, at least while in meditation, is able to stop inflow of more negativity from below. And then I flood it out, essentially the way oil will float to the top if you fill a greasy pan with water, only it’s more like a tidal wave.
These things aren’t that easy, though. I am an advocate of spiritual medicine as well as modern medicine, working in tandem. But when you have no way to label your herbs so you know what you have, and your senses of sight and smell are not so useful, it’s problematic. My hand-writing is too large for an effective label, and Braille paper doesn’t lend itself well to that. Braille labelers cost a lot. With depth perception, occasionally lighting incense is difficult, because with the bright flame in my face I cannot easily make out the end of the stick to tell if its in the flame. What looks close to me isn’t quite close enough. It took a while to get a hang of it, and if I hadn’t been in such a good mood that night it would have been the birth of full-on anxiety. This discovery, that I could in fact use incense, only came because a friend introduced me to short Japanese incense sticks which are much more manageable than the long ones. Meditation is really difficult for me as well. Because of a lovely little ability called remote viewing, keeping my mind focused on something inside my head is hard. I can focus on a candle flame. I can focus on a stone in my hand. There are a few Pagan songs I can actually put myself into a trance state with, mostly relating to moving water. Everyone just keeps saying to practice, and I try to explain that it doesn’t work that way, it’s not like I don’t try, and they just seem to not hear me. On my own, with nothing to guide, to help me stay on-topic actually, meditation is almost impossible. Funnily enough, it is so easy to slip into a wandering dreamlike state that it can get me in trouble sometimes. Which makes me wonder if that’s why, when I breathe and count, when I prepare for conventional meditation, I have a reverse reaction. My muscles tense; I get alert to every sound and sensation.
So what I’m saying is, before you tell someone to take this or that med, or tell them to just breathe and meditate, or before you say to use this or that natural remedy, think about their circumstances. Right now Illinois Open Enrollment for the government healthcare thing is over, and I make just too much to get medicaid. I have no way to go see a doctor. So the holistic stuff is helping, but only because I’m such a stubborn woman that I found ways to make it work for me. If you are going to give someone advice, on any situation, listen to all the things they have to say about their situation, and tailor your advice to them, or say honestly that you don’t know. You won’t hurt them by saying that, but you will leave them jaded if you give them something meaningless or treat them like they just aren’t trying. That goes for both modern medical practitioners as well as Pagans.

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