Shooting Star

I come from a singularly unmusical family. My mother loved Elvis for his acting fer crissake. I owned the only record player in our suburban home, and when holidays came around my family would always remind me that I could ask for “something good” NOT just records.

But all I wanted was records…Hell, I already HAD a horse.

I’ve never met a person battling mental illness who did not cling to music as an absolute lifeline. We do without meds, without medical or psychiatric care, without money, food, or shelter…life without those things is part and parcel of being mentally ill. But we can’t hang on without our music. I’ve needed and needed those magical sounds since a babysitter gave me a stack of her ‘outgrown records’ when I was very small. (and I’ve never ‘outgrown’ some of those records…Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” was in that stack.)

But the Christmas when I turned twelve, I didn’t ask for records. I asked for headphones. Because I had heard this music on the radio…and I wanted to ask for the record for my birthday…but I knew if my parents heard the music even one time, that I would never get to hear it again. (Thank you, AC/DC for teaching me that lesson early! I only heard ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ one time prior to high school) Anyway…I got the headphones for Christmas. They were HUGE and heavy and they retained the oddest plastic-y smell. They had a curly cord like a phone cord, but best of all…nobody could overhear what you were listening to. We tested the headphones extensively between Christmas and my birthday to be extra extra sure.

The next step in my plan was to think of a lie. It was necessary. My parents feared black people, homosexuals, sex, and Democrats in seemingly random order. But I knew those things were not gonna fly in our house…so began the longest-running lie of my life.

“Seriously, Mom…he’s from India!” (believe it or not, she bought it)


So Prince entered my life. And I wore out two copies of “For You” it was so good…still is. All the hospitalizations of my late teens and early twenties were accompanied by Prince cassettes and my faithful Walkman (remember those things?) I have listened to his music on endless cycles of repeat when I was frail, freaked out, totally crazy, and desperately suicidal. That little ‘pop’in the guitar part, that bounce, that thing the experts assure me is funk. The range of the voice, the depths of his songs, the sheer diversity of his creative output.

Prince’s music has always spoken gently to the raw wounded places I keep hidden away from a world that is often cold and unfeeling. He could hang a guitar solo in the air that blazed like a shooting star…and that shooting star was so real that I felt like I could tuck it in my pocket like a good luck charm. And yesterday, that star finally blazed out. And I feel it. Jesusmaryandjoseph I feel it.

I’ve never been in a mental hospital that didn’t have a music listening group that you HAD to attend. And I’ve never seen one of those groups where someone didn’t pick a Prince song. Whether it was “Sign O the Times” or “Thieves in the Temple” or “When Doves Cry” all the crazies would sit quietly and listen. They would nod their lunatic heads. Any other artist might garner some moaning and complaining, but not Prince. Among all his other acclaims, he was a prophet to crazies.

And we sure are gonna miss him.

New Job, New Hopes

So. So I was lucky enough to land a phlebotomist job that pays handsomely. I felt very blessed by the-literally-hundreds of prayers and well-wishes that supported me through the interview process. But the job has a major drawback. I travel to different nursing homes to draw blood. My daily commute is now 177.87 miles.

That’s a lot of driving. And let me tell you a secret, sports fans: I hate to drive. Driving gives me panic attacks. And these nursing homes are deep in the country, out where the cell phone doesn’t ring. If anything goes wrong, I’m totally on my own. That does not help the panic attacks.

Tribal Rhino
Image by: Pamela Alexander
Standing in Hope

And I’m driving twisty turn-y back country roads, so getting lost is something that happens, too. (But less today, as my route is finally getting into my muscle memory.) But, needless to say, adapting to my new job has been stressful. Highly stressful. Did I also mention that I need to stick patients very quickly to stay on schedule? or that I must fight morning traffic to get back to our office in Pittsburgh to drop off the blood? Yeah, that, too.

So I had to think of ways to make the drive less stressful.

Last night I listened to J. S. Bach Chorales and said the rosary over and over. I focused on the Sorrowful Mysteries, if you are interested. It helped a great deal. My dear friend and teacher suggested I give the Luminous Mysteries, instated by Pope John Paul II a whirl, too. I think I shall look them up and give them a try.

But trying to outwit my anxiety makes me think of how anxiety works. Anxiety thrives when we fall too deeply into ourselves. It thrives on silence and solitude. And anxiety loves the darkness. Saying the rosary lifts me up out of myself, it lifts my spirit up. The darkness ceases to be ominous, it becomes close and holy darkness. The silence, when filled with prayer and contemplation, ceases to menace. The solitude of my drive becomes nurturing.

As spiritual practice goes, saying the rosary is not particularly rigorous, but it is enough. And it nourishes the parts of me that still adore the Roman Catholic Church. Tonight to feed my Pagan parts, I shall pull a card from my beloved Stone Circle Oracle Deck and contemplate that while driving.

Anxiety is such a beast for so many of us, and there are very few simple fixes. I’m grateful I’ve stumbled upon something that works for me. I’m trying very hard to let my hopes outweigh my fears as I struggle again to rejoin the land of the living. I really feel that I have walked that Proverbial ‘Valley of Shadow’ and I finally feel that I am beginning to see a light.

I am placing so much hope in that faint light. And in J. S. Bach, but we know he stands up well.