irrational wisdom & childlike joy

Maybe I am only seeing myself everywhere, but I have found myself in a recurring conversation lately. I keep seeing so many people around me saying one thing and doing another — saying they are exhausted, but not able to slow down. It’s like a permanent state of being that has become the norm … this is in raw format, maybe a little preachy, but here is my recurring conversation:

For two and a half years, I waited for life to return to an increasingly-distant memory of ‘normal’. Once this is done, once that is done; if I can just get through this, then everything will be okay, and it will all be so worth it. Hold it together a little longer …    Two and a half years.
For all that time, I had an inner voice telling me to stop; telling me I was deeply unhappy, and that what was happening was only continuing to weaken me. I kept telling myself to think positively, believe in myself and fake it ’till I made it.

No one in their right mind was going to tell me to walk away …. from the awesome work I had done to create a society … from a $30,000 National Leadership Award … from a marriage … from a career …. No one in their right mind was going to tell me I needed to stop trying to be so strong and consider reaching out for some help and taking some time to heal.

In my experience, all of life’s catastrophes happen when we don’t listen to the inner voice and find the support in ourselves and others to act on it — often against all things rational, logical, and practical.

You don’t have to keep up with the person your ego says you are, or other people think you are; you have to be true to the authentic voice evolving in you, each and every day, despite what your ego and others might think.

If you had cancer, or you lost a leg, would you still have to do this, or that, or that, or that? Stress and exhaustion kill just as cancer does; so why do we treat them so differently?

When we experience connection and child-like joy, we are generating more of it in the world; this is how we create change. This is what the world needs more of. Where there is no space for spontaneity, connection and joy, there is no space for the Universe to work it’s magic, and no change can come. When we sacrifice these things for what we think is a greater cause, we are shooting ourselves and our purpose in the foot and spinning our wheels pointlessly.”

I’ll leave you today with a video I have posted before, but it’s so fitting with this post. It’s called ‘Growing is Forever,’ but I might rename it something like ‘What Trees Know’. Please take a moment to slow down, press play, and take this in:

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for when i’m 80

a snippet of my week in the big city:

2 of my closest friends and i had a day together on Monday. we had been estranged from one another for several years. we took a day trip in a convertible, hiked down to the ocean and ate pie. here is us together again, celebrating everything that brought us to this moment.

music is Ho Hey by The Lumineers

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let’s humanize the term ‘mental health’

image and text by UndergroundIn the States, this month is BPD Awareness Month. Here in Canada, this week is the Canadian Mental Health Association‘s 61st annual Mental Health Week.

Along with awareness events taking place throughout Canada (though none that I can find yet here on Vancouver Island), there have also been several articles and reports on the news about the Mental Health Commission of Canada‘s recent proposal for Canada’s first ever Mental Health Strategy, entitled Changing Direction, Changing Lives.

Reading the articles, I began a train of thought on the question, ‘What is mental health?’. So, in honour of Mental Health Week, here’s what I have to say:

Why mental health matters to everyone:

Mental health is the well-being of human beings. Our ability to feel connected, of service, and part of something greater than ourselves; our ability to experience fulfillment and provide for ourselves; our ability to establish a sense of belonging and feel like a valued member of community; our ability to lend a hand, and reach out for one when needed; our capacity for diversity, our resiliency in the face of adversity; our ability to establish and maintain balance of work and play — all of these, as individuals, communities and the planet.

I’m going to play with a controversial stance here and say that I don’t believe in the government as being responsible for these things. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the proposed $4B would be a bad thing at all; but, at some point, it is the people of a society who must make a change in the accepted norm, and the criteria for success. The government’s role is to inspire such changes in its people.

The contained and self-sufficient family is a failure. The norm of productivity, aesthetic beauty, and material things as criteria for success is a failure. These things are making for great suffering, epic depression, loneliness and estrangement.

People are estranged from their families, by geographical location, death, violence, lifestyle, religion and abuse; estranged from their communities by shame, ignorance and stigma. Counseling replaces the meaningful heart-to-heart conversations we used to have with friends and family members; support groups become the modern-day spiritual practice that brings us together to remind us of our common condition and the bigger picture of why we are here.

In each and every one of us there are aspects of this term mental illness. It is when these aspects begin to seriously and adversely affect the abilities listed above that our needs for these things in life begin to be realized and addressed. Those with the label of a mental illness remind us of what we are all feeling by magnifying it.

Mental illness is the illness of society, not the individuals diagnosed; it is the indicator of a society’s lack of humanity. No government can compensate for this deficiency.

(from the CMHA:)

One in five Canadians, over the course of their lives, will experience a mental illness and what that ultimately means is that every single family in Canada will in some way be affected.

There is nobody in Canada who can stand up and say, “Not my family, not my aunts or uncles or cousins or grandparents, children, siblings, spouse or self.” And yet the reluctance to talk about mental illness, to acknowledge it openly, to treat it as a form of human suffering like any other illness, relates in part to how threatening this set of illnesses is to our sense of who we are. Mental illness cuts across all age, racial, religious, or socio-economic categories.

The Impacts Are Staggering:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by the year 2020, depression will become the No. 2 cause world-wide of years lost due to disability. That’s a profound impact.
  • The number of suicides in Canada is almost 4,000 people a year. For people aged 15 to 24 in Canada, suicide is the No. 2 cause of death.
  • Mental illness is the number one cause of disability in Canada, accounting for nearly 30% of disability claims and 70% of total costs.
  • Mental illness costs the Canadian economy a staggering $51-billion a year, and each day 500,000 people will miss work due to mental health problems.
  • Each year employers and insurers spend a whopping $8.5 billion on long-term disability claims related to mental illness.
  • Mental health disorders in the workplace cost Canadian companies nearly 14% of their net annual profits and up to $16 billion annually.
  • The unemployment rate among people with serious mental illness is 70 – 90%. There is a 60% drop in family income when a breadwinner is diagnosed with mental illness.


the gift and the curse

Black Water Dragon by Glenda Anderson

Black Water Dragon by Glenda Anderson

What comes out in my writing this Sunday is a slice of my dragons and how they play out in my life.

Last week, I added on two classes that I hadn’t been doing regularly before. I have also been planning a return trip to my old digs to wrap things up there, which has been a process in itself (would have to make a separate post).

What that meant was that by the time I got to Friday, and the social event I had been looking forward to all month, I was completely exhausted, and had to stay home. The exhaustion lasted into Saturday, and I realized that it’s a trigger for me when I feel too tired to go through with social plans because I am exhausted. My exhaustion is like the flu; I need to treat it like I am physically I’ll, which I still have a very hard time accepting. I have to spend a lot of time on the couch, or napping. Just eating and sleeping are about all I can manage. I can’t concentrate on creative projects, or even reading sometimes.

By late Saturday afternoon, I felt cooped in and began craving connection. I reached out to a couple of folks, but got the additional trigger of everyone being busy or also too tired. My Sponsor (CoDA) likes to distinguish between those ‘willing, but not able’ and those ‘able, but not willing’ and in my case, it is actually almost always the former.

I often find myself in this place of craving company, having people to call, but no one being able. After years of this experience, I feel quite daunted by it — a little scarred, really. Like there is something wrong with my life, which there truly is, if I keep repeating this experience over and over again.

'Like Two Ships Passing in the Night' by Dan-ah Kim

'Like Two Ships Passing in the Night' by Dan-ah Kim

I don’t know why. It’s like the timing is all off. When there are opportunities, I am needing time alone to process and rest; when I am ready to go, no one else is. The despair I feel with this pattern is more than I can truly let myself feel at the moment. I have gotten very good at passing the time by myself these days, continuing to justify it by being in recovery from the amount of stress I put myself through before this year. And that is true — the amount of pressure and strain, sustained for so long, is astounding to think of, and that someone — anyone — would have survived it. I don’t think I am even being dramatic, and that’s unusual. All the major and recognized stressors of life were present in mine for over 2 years (career, job, marriage, and living arrangements), so it is understandable that I am experiencing fairly frequent and severe exhaustion.

But it is also part of what I am beginning to call the Gift, which is essentially being more sensitive and living on a deeper level than most. I am beginning to meet others with this gift — many of us being survivors of trauma. Honestly, I’m not sure which comes first: The gift or the trauma, but i don’t tend to care.

Maybe it is part of an explanation of why it is hard for me to make connections. I am different from the status quo, and I always have been. This processing time I need, my ability to become over-stimulated so easily, the detail and depth with which I engage with tasks and relationships, and the creativity that demands to be integrated with it all somehow; the fact that my best functioning hours are between 8PM and 2AM, the amount of time it takes me to wake up and become ready for even the simplest conversation.

Clipart Illustration

Clipart Illustration

Sometimes I feel lazy because I cannot participate and/or accomplish as much as other people; because a 9-5 M-F workweek would kill me (I know this from experience, and I mean this quite literally). And, sometimes I feel like a loser because I do not make friends easily, people who have not been through recovery don’t understand me and think I’m wierd, and because I end up spending a lot of time alone, which is the dragon of all dragons and the subject of this post.

So there is the gift of vibrant (if transient) creativity, intuition and intelligence, and the curse of not fitting in, not being productive in the traditional and generally-acceptable meaning of the word, and of loneliness.

My sponsor asked me in our last meeting how I feel about being gifted. I said I didn’t like it, and that I experienced it as isolating; and both of us looked at each other and knew that this is my work in this life. To live the gift and thrive with it. I realize that calling oneself gifted, or seeing oneself as being ‘special’ is a recognized ‘unhealthy’ core belief in many schools of psychology. As of today, I’m just not sure what to make of this, how to reconcile it with how I feel in the world. I certainly don’t use the word to imply that I am better than anyone else; it does not come from a sense of arrogance, just recognizing that I don’t fit in and that I have talents for things that are harder for the status quo to allot value to.

The questions burning in my heart this evening are how to thrive in the reality of me. How to feel connected and accepted in the world, how to find a sense of belonging, and balance; and if I am not productive in the traditional sense of the word, then how am I productive? What do I produce? What do I contribute to the world, and how do i turn it into a sustainable way of living?

I’ve been entertaining the notion lately that what might be commonly known as an illness may just be a different reality, with value and benefits of its own. What if society found a way of harvesting the value / productivity of this reality, instead of labeling it as a disability? What if all the  (however many) millions of people in the world living on disability funding began seeing the value of our “condition” — what if there is a practical purpose in the world for being this way?

A friend of mine who is a long-time recipient of assistance expressed to me recently how she felt like a hypocrite — hating the government and yet being dependent on it. That many people tire of hearing how we get to flit around doing yoga classes and expressive art therapy, and after nearly a decade, and continued symptoms that prevent her from working etc., she felt a growing sense of guilt for all the self-care activities she does. My response in the moment was to consider my own situation (on assistance since May, but not yet long-term disability status):

Im realizing (/rationalizing) that all these things (yoga, voice, movement) serve to open my vessel by generating joy in me. Seeing as how my life was so devoid of this for the last few years, i think i am doing some catch-up work too–remedial joy-making. At any rate, it’s just what I’m meant to do right now. Maybe the Universe works through the system (government subsidy) to support us in generating joy, opening up the universal flow in the world. Maybe we are sent here to do that.

Maybe we are sent here to open the flow of balance, well-being and creativity in the world, to compensate the whole for all the current depravity of the working class; maybe that is our unacknowledged purpose. Maybe things could be different if the common point of view were changed. Maybe if the accepted work week were 25 hours per week instead of 40, the canyon between health and illness would not be so vast, or exist at all; the cost of health care would return to balance with all of us, and disability assistance would cease to be necessary. What if we all found purpose and value.

When I write these things here on my blog, when I create images and words, share my gift of movement, voice and music in an amateur, community-minded setting; make my own journals and crocheted clothing, I feel my sense of purpose and connection return to me, I feel the inspiration to be alive return to me.

That is the truth of now.

Luv, Underground.

journal cover by me (unknown image sources)

journal cover by me (unknown image sources)


trusting perception + trauma is trauma

unknown artist

unknown artist

For many years, I have lived with a massive confusion in me over how to view my past, and therefore, who I am in the present. whether I am over-dramatizing or minimizing the dysfunction I grew up with, and the adverse events that have happened in my life. I believe this indecision is at the heart of my confusion around identity, personality, status, and whether or not I can trust my own perceptions.

A person I had been dating for a couple of weeks told me last night that they had suffered through “way worse” experiences than me. In the context of our conversation around living together, which felt absolutely ridiculous for me to consider at this point, I took this to mean that he was telling me I should be able to get over my past to be able to live with him. I felt my blood beginning to boil, and in that moment of sudden, acute and brilliant clarity, exited the vehicle immediately, and walked away.

I am, growing more than I have in many years, feeling more joy, spontaneity, laughter and playfulness. I realized last night that this person had been telling me very subtly and indirectly, whenever I expressed needing to move slowly in relationship, that I am putting my own walls up, somehow limiting myself, not being as much as I can be. It is amazing how loving and caring a totally dysfunctional person can appear, seeming spiritual and evolved and enlightened and self-sufficient, meanwhile failing to follow through with any plans or intentions or promises; getting lost, injuring himself, and depending on others for many things. What I realized was that my involvement with this person was like going around in circles. In one moment, he would proclaim that he never got angry, in the next, he would say how angry he was; one moment, he would say he wasn’t dependent on anyone, in the next, he would proclaim that he needed to get his license so he could be more independent. ! And on, and on, and on. It was another opportunity for me to practice reading between the lines and listening to what my inner gut was telling me, even if it was the exact opposite of all the words I had been longing to hear, or of all the things I felt were really going on, deep in my gut. Words can lie, actions cannot.

And that is the link to the source of the confusion epicenter in me and my original trauma of invalidation. That people and situations are not what they seem, or appear to be. The experience of perceiving something that no one else is perceiving, such as abuse, emotions, or relationship dynamics. Because I was a child at the time of the original trauma, instead of judging everyone else as being blind, I developed a chronic confusion, a chronic state of doubt towards my ability to perceive reality. My caregivers and eventually the entire community surrounding me simply denied my truth by inaction – a lack of response to an unhealthy situation–and I became the crazy one. It was this experience that caused the loss of stability in my sense of inner self. And here I was, experiencing it again. Another chance to trust and act on my own perceptions, despite the appearance or the insistence of others that they are wrong.

There is nothing in my past that fits the American Psychological Association’s description of trauma (“… an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster”). I wasn’t raped or bombed, starved, bullied or beaten, and my parents weren’t alcoholics or drug addicts. So why do I exhibit symptoms of a survivor? What can I possibly have to complain about, when so many others have had it seemingly so much worse than me? What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just get my shit together?

My therapist at VIHA recently presented me with a definition of trauma echoing the one I found on the free online dictionary: “An emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person, often leading to neurosis. An event or situation that causes great distress and disruption.”

“…leading to neurosis.” According to Dr. George Boeree, effects of neurosis can involve:

“…anxiety, sadness or depression, anger, irritability, mental confusion, low sense of self-worth, etc., behavioral symptoms such as phobic avoidance, vigilance, impulsive and compulsive acts, lethargy, etc., cognitive problems such as unpleasant or disturbing thoughts, repetition of thoughts and obsession, habitual fantasizing, negativity and cynicism, etc. Interpersonally, neurosis involves dependency, aggressiveness, perfectionism, schizoid isolation, and socio-culturally inappropriate behaviors, etc.”

Wikipedia defines trauma as:

“… a single experience, or an enduring or repeating event or events, that completely overwhelm the individual’s ability to cope or integrate the ideas and emotions involved with that experience. …

“There is frequently a violation of the person’s familiar ideas about the world and of their human rights, putting the person in a state of extreme confusion and insecurity. This is also seen when people or institutions, depended on for survival, violate or betray or disillusion the person in some unforeseen way.” defines trauma as “[a] severely disturbing experience that leads to lasting psychological or emotional impairment,’ and lists the following events as “[c]ommonly overlooked causes of psychological trauma”:

  • Falls or sports injuries
  • Surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life)
  • The sudden death of someone close
  • A car accident
  • The breakup of a significant relationship
  • A humiliating or deeply disappointing experience
  • The discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition

The HelpGuide website states that “[t]rauma can also stem from ongoing, relentless stress …” and goes on to say:

“Not all potentially traumatic events lead to lasting emotional and psychological damage. Some people rebound quickly from even the most tragic and shocking experiences. Others are devastated by experiences that, on the surface, appear to be less upsetting. People are more likely to be traumatized by a stressful experience if they’re already under a heavy stress load or have recently suffered a series of losses.”

Silvano Arieti’s Interpretation of Schizophrenia, originally published in 1955, also sheds some interesting light on the definition of trauma:

layered vogue covers

layered vogue covers

“… conditions of obvious external danger, as in the case of wars, disasters, or other adversities … do not produce the type of anxiety that hurts the inner self and do not themselves favor schizophrenia. Even extreme poverty, physical illness, or personal tragedies do not necessarily lead to schizophrenia unless they have psychological ramifications that hurt the sense of self. Even homes broken by death, divorce or desertion may be less destructive than homes where both parents are alive, live together, and always undermine the child’s conception of himself.”

The fact is, that saying others have suffered more than me and that I am not justified to need healing has simply not served me well in my life. In fact, it has eaten me from the inside out like a termite. How many years and how much energy did I waste trying to pretend to be “normal” and “okay” because there was no obvious reason for me to not be okay? There was no reason to not be okay, so I must be okay, and if I’m not okay, then I am horribly defective and I should rot in hell.

That was the prison I lived in. That is the prison I am letting myself out of by adopting a more inclusive understanding of what trauma is.

'light in her eyes' by Lucy Lumis

'light in her eyes' by Lucy Lumis

A very many of the symptoms of trauma are the same as those of Borderline Personality Disorder, which is said to stem from a combination of external events and personal character traits–specifically, intensity of emotions and emotional sensitivity. In other words, an event may not be experienced as traumatic by one individual, but extremely traumatic by another person who possesses the emotional intensity and sensitivity.

I am starting to understand that I have traits of a survivor because trauma is a subjective experience.  The events in my life are subtle in comparison to others, but my emotional responses are not. I am an emotionally intense and sensitive person who has experienced several of the definitions of trauma cited here in this article. Whether my official diagnosis is trauma or Borderline Personality Disorder, my sense of inner self has been damaged from very early on by the false faces of denial – the disparity between what is spoken and what I feel. Subsequent traumas have deepened the wound and created new ones with prolonged periods of extreme stress, depression and pressure. My life in the last 2 years covers pretty much every category under the DSM-IV’s Axis IV, which is used for, “…reporting psychosocial and environmental stressors that may affect the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of mental disorders”:

  • Problems with primary support group
  • Problems related to the social environment
  • Educational problems
  • Occupational problems
  • Housing problems
  • Economic problems
  • Problems with access to health care services
  • Problems related to interaction with the legal system/crime
  • Other psychosocial and environmental problems

When I exited the vehicle last night, I validated myself in my perceptions and in my recovery. I chose not to remain in the confusion and chaos of that relating. I honored my needs as a survivor, for compassion, clarity, honesty and understanding as a matter of life or death. I deemed the absence of these things as being unsafe. I cannot expect myself to toughen up and bear it. The costs outweigh the benefits.

Whether there is diagnosis or not, I believe that everyone has traumas – places in which we struggle to trust and act on our perceptions because of a lack of clarity or resolution about past events. It is how much they affect our ability to live well that pushes us onto the path of healing. Everyone’s tipping point is different, but suffering is suffering; dysfunction is dysfunction, and trauma is trauma.


authenticating my symptoms — manic manifests as confusion

Confusion Pool Optical Illusion (unknown artist)

Confusion Pool Optical Illusion (unknown artist)

Today, I am coming out of a week or so of extreme confusion. What has allowed me to come out of it is to find the words to describe it, and begin the process of identifying myself in the DSM, identifying my own personalized symptoms of unrest and ill health.

This is a process that the traditional mental health system, in my experience here, seems to continually attempt to skip. Identifying symptoms is simply referring to the criteria for diagnosis and making a diagnosis, then skipping immediately to the actions of recovery that one must inevitably take on their own, such as self-care, structure, routine and balance of play and productivity — “self-reliance”, “self-soothing”, and “mood regulation”.

What is being skipped is what I will call “authentic identification” with the aspects of ill health referred to for diagnosis (below), as well as identifying also authentically, how I have come to this state of illness.

How has/does this illness manifest in me, how has/does it affect my life / ability to live well, how do i know if I am living well, and what are the aspects I most need to work on?

Authenticating my symptoms

When I read the DSM-V’s criteria for diagnosis, some items are easy for me to identify with, such as chronic emptiness, fear of abandonment, suicidality and disturbances in identity; but honestly, the others needed to qualify me as having BPD have felt like a bit of a stretch, or that I was over-dramatizing and exagerating my experience of them in order to fit myself into the illness (because without the illness, there is nothing to blame, and I must really be a totally and hopelessly fucked up person who doesn’t qualify for help. I must be a whiny baby who just wants attention, but doesn’t really need it).

BOREDOM (leads to impulsivity, mania, compulsive escape and denial)

unknown image

unknown image

One of the things that a lot of the literature on BPD talks about is boredom; but, how is that a “symptom”? Of course, we all feel bored. If you are bored, you do something to entertain yourself right? Duh. But I’m starting to see that this aspect as a criteria of illness is not referring to the common experience of boredom. I’m encountering boredom because my life does not have a clear focus, or structure, to it that is acceptable or valid to the mainstream society or to the traditional mental health profession; and what I’m starting to see is that this boredom drives me to my version of a manic state, which encapsulates the other DSM criteria of impulsivity.

My version of mania is a constant state of mental and emotional arousal — always something on the go, ideas brewing, people to call, places to go. This is a state of chaos — procrastinating everything, meeting deadlines and appointments at the last minute, or being late, forgetting to eat, and losing things daily, like keys, wallet, etc; floating in nowhere land, drifting aimlessly from one distraction to the next, getting farther and farther away from the moment, my need for escape intensifying by the day. All the while that this has been developing, there was a strong sense of denial in me — a lie that I became increasingly desperate to believe, that all this activity was a sign of my recovery and my growing ability to return to “normal” life.

Before naming these symptoms and realizing that i have actually not been well, what I was aware of was a state of extreme confusion, and the feeling that there were too many things on my brain to do, which felt like having my hair in braids that are too tight, only it was my brain that was being braided. I was not talking to fellow recovery friends because of this confusion — not knowing how I was really doing, simply escaping into tasks and deadlines of productivity, and being completely blind-sighted by the question, “How are you doing?”

I am learning that what is needed to return myself to balance is to slow down, simplify, pull-back in my external responsibilities and socializing, write, and revise my daily goals to the simple act of living — sleeping, eating, resting at home, and CoDA step work.

What has come out of putting words to these symptoms is that I have written a “diary card”, which I will post separately here. Comin’ up …

HJ Blessings.


reconciliation / amends

forgiveness collage

This afternoon, I was inspired by a brief interaction with someone from my past whom I have worked very hard to forgive. A few minutes after the interaction, I wrote this mini forgiveness manual for myself. I hope i remember to check back here the next time I need to forgive someone.

(HP = higher power in 12-step recovery language)

  1. I thank our HP’s for bringing us together to learn, and for all the good things about our experience together.
  2. I pray for the shortcomings of mine revealed in our relating to be removed by my HP.
  3. I pray for the need to continue re-enforcing my negative core beliefs to be removed by my HP.
  4. I forgive myself and I forgive you for the humanity we lived.
  5. I pray for your continued growth, happiness, health and well-being, like all human beings on this planet, especially those of us in recovery.