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)

Prince...Godspeed
Prince…Godspeed

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.

Sad Day for Schizophrenia: Grief and the Orisha

A friend of mine left the world today. It is a sad day. He was too young to die, but he had fought the good fight with Sweet Lady Cancer a long time. Saying good-bye is hard.

I woke up to this news, and all I really wanted was to pull the blankets over my head, roll up in a ball and hide. But that is not how you honor a fighter. When you honor a fighter, you fight the good fight, too. Even on a sad day, you fight. You follow the example. So I got up, I showered, I got dressed and I went to the appointment I had scheduled. But the best parts of me were still huddled under the blanket.

My appointment was with the ‘psycho-social vocational rehabilitation unit’ those are people who work very hard to find decent jobs for crazy people. None of that happened for me today. Today was an intake interview-just filling out endless forms. But it is a start, a small step in the right direction. So progress was made, even on this sad day.

I’m glad the appointment was just routine paperwork. I just sat and signed and dated the forms as directed. My mind was free to remember my friend-late night talks about weird and esoteric things, his face at crowded parties, head thrown back laughing, his serious face as he contemplated deep, deep unfathomable things. The memories called up an entire spectrum of feelings, it brought life and brightness into a grey and sad day.

For anyone, mentally stable or not, grief is a slippery state. Grief is a dark sequence of emotions, and they must be carefully traversed, and they must be fully traversed.

In my mind I begin to walk the well-worn path of grief for one who died too young. I really wish this path was the proverbial ‘Road Less Traveled’ but it is not. This path is wider and smoother than it should be. It is more familiar than it has any right to be. When I find this path in my psyche again I know that it is a sad day.

The Orisha calm me on sad days
Obatala from NacionYoruba.com

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I can not grieve only for this man who today died too young. All the others dead too soon crowd around me. I see the faces I will never see again, hear their voices, feel their hands gripping at me. All this grievous company clamor to me. ‘Remember me’ ‘Remember me’ they entreat. As if I could forget them, as if any of us could forget them. And today, there is a new face among them.

This was not the week for me to have to cancel my therapy appointment, but I had to, so it is as it is.

The voices are loud today. Every shadow has hands that grasp. I see a hundred expressions of his face in every reflection. Pete had to go to work early, so I am home alone, and today the house is very haunted.

I remember how we used to flirt outrageously at parties back before he got a girlfriend. Now he is gone with all those sweet might-have-beens.

And I am here.

Sanity is a struggle today. It would be easier to fall into the abyss. Today is one of those days where I would prefer to run toward the voices instead of running away from them. But that is no way to honor a fighter. That is no way to remember a warrior.

I struggle to control my ragged breathing. I stick my hands to the surface of this laptop. I grasp the silvery sides of the laptop, reminding myself that this is real. I urge myself to stay here, to follow the thread of this writing. I fight to remember that this is real. This reality is where I am expected to be. This reality is the place where I must function.

Facebook is overwhelming today. My feed is one post after another of my clan expressing their good-byes. It is a twenty-one gun salute of shock and sorrow. I try to stay away from the facebook page, but it bings seemingly non-stop. Chat windows appear with maddening frequency. Some of the windows are of my own doing as plans are made to attend the service. Rides are arranged, plans are made. Other windows are those who need to talk about it.

I am shaky in my own skin. But people need to talk. I know they are not talking to me, they are talking to the priestess aspect of me. With shaking hands, I straighten my invisible crown. I remember whose daughter I am.

I find it funny.

When my struggles to remain in the material world are so great that I might fall, it is my Gods in the invisible realm who help me stay. Maferefunfun, Obatala! (a blessing of cool whiteness to Obatala whose child I am)

When I am actualized in Orisha, (benevolent spirits, lesser Gods) I feel stable and in control of my life. But it is hard to maintain. Also, you can’t get too religious while you are in mental health treatment. There is a type of religious fixation that is common in schizophrenics-it is a warning sign to the whole treatment team, and it is an express ticket to a psych ward. So I need to thread my way carefully. It is hard this picking and choosing. It would be easier to be completely candid with my treatment team, but I do not care for psych wards, so I must be cautious. I can never share what the Gods tell me. I can never admit that most of the good and sound advice I act on comes from my Gods, not the advice of others or my own good judgement. I can not admit that I see the shining realms and expect to be believed.

There are no role models of how to be Priestess and Patient. There are no good words guiding you on how to grieve for your own loss, but shoulder the grief of others. There are no good ways to explain to your therapist that on certain days, under certain circumstances that the silent eyeless angels come alive, that they have hands and faces and names. To tell that for this next while that I will not ever be alone, to try to explain that there is no discord between the words ‘haunted’ and ‘beloved.’

Beloved of the Dead is how I was named. Nothing could be more true.