Demeter, Kore/Persephone, and mental illness

June 16, 2017

Crystal and I facilitated a Circle on the Goddess and mental health at The Hive a month ago or so and I tackled some of the deep stuff with this investigation of one of the greatest myths of all humankind.

Note: The Greek pronunciation is as follows: “Deh-MEE-ter,” “KAW-ree,” “per-SEH-fo-nee,” and “HEK-uh-tee.” Contemporary Pagans often mispronounce these names. IMO, if you’re going to be working with these goddesses, the least you can do is learn how to pronounce their names correctly.

DEMETER AND KORE/PERSEPHONE STORY

This is one of the oldest Greek myths and one of the most continually told. My summary below is a way simplified version focusing only on the goddesses in the story for purposes of the Circle.

Demeter is the goddess of agriculture and spent her days teaching its arts and tending to the grain. Kore, her daughter, loved to play with the nymphs nearby and collect flowers. One day while playing she saw a narcissus and was captivated — she had to have it! She plucked the flower — and suddenly a great rent opened in the earth and everything shook. In a flash a golden chariot led by four black horses came bounding up from out of the earth. There was a man in the chariot and he seized Kore and took her back underground with him. The earth healed; there was no trace of her passing. All that remained was the echo of her screams as she was taken.

Demeter was working in the fields when she heard Kore scream. She ran, calling out Kore’s name, asking everyone she met if they’d seen her daughter, but to no avail. With mounting terror she began to try to find Kore, despair eating away at her heart. At night she burned torches and kept searching. For nine days and nights she searched for Kore, dressed in black, torches burning, but to no avail. She sat on a stone in silence.

On the tenth day Hecate, goddess of the crossroads and witchcraft, came to her and told her that Kore had been seized by Hades and taken to his kingdom in the Underworld and was now prisoner. Demeter knew then that all was lost. She fell into even deeper despair and began to wander aimlessly.

One hot day she rested on the side of a well, where she was approached by a young woman who got her a position taking care of queen Metaneira’s son in the palace at Eleusis. Demeter shook off her despair and took the boy to her heart. She decided to give him immortality and fed him ambrosia and nectar. At night, she placed him in the fire to burn his mortality away. But one night the queen came in while Demeter watched over the baby in the fire and began shrieking that Demeter was trying to murder her child.

Demeter was PISSED. She threw off her rags and revealed herself in all her splendor, and was recognized as a goddess. She demanded that the people of Eleusis build her a temple, which they did in short order. She took up a seat in the temple and then went into a deep catatonic state. As she did this, all the food on the earth began to die. The grain dried up in the fields, the fruit would not ripen, gardens went dead.

As this went on, the Olympian gods grew anxious and tried to get Demeter to snap out of it. When they realized nothing was working, Zeus sent Hermes to the Underworld to get Kore. Mother and daughter were united and the earth flowered again. All was well.

That’s Demeter’s part. Let’s look back at what happened to Kore.

When Hades seized her and took her to the Underworld, Kore lost it. In most of the written accounts, Hades raped Kore. This is really endemic to the Greek patriarchy and it’s up to you whether you want to go with that account or with the older one where Kore was simply abducted. There are things to learn from both accounts.

Kore had never known a hard day in her life. Every day had been filled with her mother’s love and guidance, with sunshine, with flowers, with laughter, with play. Now she was ripped from everything she knew and held captive in a room in the dark and creepy Underworld. She screamed and thrashed for a long, long time. And after that came a time of stillness, similar to catatonia. She was just—gone.

Time passed. Hades brought her food and drink every day but she did not respond. Then he left her door unlocked. Then he left it open. No change.

This went on for some time. Then one day, she moved. Just a little. She blinked. She moved her toes. She stretched her fingers. She began to come back to herself. But she felt numb inside.

After a few days she got up and started looking around, taking in the different sacred sites of the Underworld and seeing how it operated. After some time Hades came to her and told her he loved her and wanted her to be queen at his side. She turned away and walked off silently.

More time passed. Kore grew more restless in her wanderings. Against her will traitorous thoughts of what she could do as queen entered her mind. And could she love Hades, both the god and the realm? She knew she wanted nothing more than to see her mother again, but what if she were trapped here forever?

As the days passed her mind grew more active and she thought more and more. And then she planted a garden of hellabore and other plants of the Underworld. She used shining gems to line the edges of her plots. As she buried her hands in the earth, she felt life coming back to her. And with life, came clarity. She would choose.

At the appropriate time Hades brought her food and drink as he always did. “Wait,” she said, and he stood silently. Very deliberately she cut a pomegranate in half and ate six seeds. “You may call me Persephone now,” she told Hades. “I will marry you, and I will be queen of this realm.” As she tasted the pomegranate seeds and claimed her new name, she felt a sureness come over her. And with that sureness, life. She had made it through. She claimed her life.

Some time later a messenger from Zeus arrived and told her she was free to come back to her mother. Persephone leapt into the chariot, called Hades to her side, and rode up to the surface. Mother and daughter fled to each other and held each other tight, sobbing. It felt so good to see the sun again. And how she had missed her mother! But strangely, she felt different now. Her mother kept repeating her old name until Persephone said “You must call me Persephone now.” Demeter drew back and for the first time saw her child, no more a child but now a woman.

Persephone told her she had eaten six pomegranate seeds. While Demeter was horrified, since she knew what this meant, Persephone was calm as she said, “I ate six seeds of the Underworld, which means I will spend six months of each year in the Underworld with my husband as queen. And the other six months I will spend here with you.”

At first Demeter was aghast but after the other gods and goddesses chimed in and she grew more used to the idea, she accepted it. She gave the people of Eleusis the Eleusinian Mysteries, a set of religious rites that promised joy in life and no fear of death. These rites were the primary religious ritual in Greece for two thousand years.

DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE, DECONSTRUCTED

The story of Demeter and Persephone is very famous, has been re-imagined countless times, and can be used as a metaphor for just about anything. For me, I have used it as a way to understand my mental illnesses. You may also feel so called. So let’s deconstruct the story and figure what’s going on.

The story starts with Demeter and Kore. Demeter is a mother goddess and Kore is practically a nymph, filled with the joy of living moment to moment. She doesn’t have a job or work the way Demeter does. When she sees the narcissus flower, she is entranced by narcissism, which is a condition whereby you are extremely self-involved. You are fascinated by yourself and don’t really care about anyone else. She plucks the narcissus, choosing narcissism, and all hell breaks loose — literally. She is ripped from her known way of being. Being simply abducted is a gross violation, but if you tell the story that she was raped, it’s even more horrific when you consider the carefree girl she was.

So let’s leave her there are go back to Demeter. Demeter first acts like any parent — she searches for her daughter. This is the search we as adults all go on for our innocence. We yearn for simpler times when we had fewer cares and responsibilities. In the waking world, this may mean that we take a day off work which then becomes several days and then becomes weeks until we’re fired. We just drop everything and go searching for something else.

At the end of the ninth night, Demeter has given up hope. She thinks she’s hit rock-bottom. But no, here’s Hecate with the awful truth — her daughter will never be returned to her again. This is where we realize that we can’t get in touch with that inner innocence. We fall into the pit of depression and begin, like Demeter did, to wander the earth so to speak. This can be a mild depressive episode where all color leaches out of the world. We can’t seem to hold onto anything. We stop sleeping, we either stop eating or start bingeing, we lose our sex drive.

But then Demeter gets a job. And it’s taking care of a baby to whom she decides to give immortality. What is she doing? She’s trying to make another immortal Kore. She is going to force the issue and make reality conform to her demands. She is refusing to accept her life and believes that through sheer force of will she will feel better again. In my own life, some of my most damaging behavior comes about when I am whipping myself to get better, get better, get better. This is what Demeter’s doing — she’s trying to force things into place.

But then she’s discovered and she gets PISSED. For me, this is that moment where I say, “GodDAMmit!” We’re just so frustrated that we can’t make anything happen. We’ve tried as hard as we can but we can’t get anywhere. We may not demand a temple be built for us, but we find a place of stone and we go in it for good. We become catatonic. We are in a severe depression, bordering on a psychotic state. It may be a complete dissociative state. What we know is that everything is bleak, there is no purpose in life, and everything we encounter is dust in our mouths. Or maybe it’s bad enough that we are no longer there at all — we have entered what in the vernacular is called madness. In the waking world, we may be hospitalized and given medication.

After she’s reunited with Persephone, Demeter bestows the Mysteries on Eleusis, “that which gives joy to life and takes away the fear of death.” She has gone through the depths and come out with wisdom to share. She has become the “wounded healer.”

So let’s leave that there and go back to Kore. She is locked in a dark room in the creepy Underworld and as far as she knows she’s there forever. Whether she’s been abducted or both abducted and raped, her life will never be the same. Many of us are survivors of some form of sexual or physical assault and we all have our own ways of coming through that. But regardless of the trigger for Kore’s experience, she is now thrashing and screaming, completely out of her old way of being. She protests and rages against everything that has so suddenly and cruelly been taken away from her. But it’s more than just a rage — it’s savagery. It’s animalistic. It goes beyond just being pissed off. It’s chthonic. Primal.

But at the end of it she’s spent. And she, like Demeter, falls into an extreme depressive and even mad state. I have always felt that Kore had it tougher than Demeter. Perhaps that’s because I identify with her so closely. Your experience may differ. But both these goddesses experience being outside consensual reality.

It takes a long time for Kore to come out of it. In the Sumerian myth of Inanna’s Descent, when Inanna comes back to life in the Underworld, it’s because water and food are brought to her by demigods. But the Greek myths are pretty silent on Kore’s processes, so I have imagined what they are based on my own experience.

As anyone coming out of a severe depression knows, it’s often a slow process of awakening. Yes, there are times when one day we can’t get out of bed and the next we are up in the morning and going about our business, but in Kore’s case she’s been severely traumatized so her healing is a process.

She wanders, as we so often wander in our healing process. Unlike Kore, we often work with therapists, medications, and Goddess, Goddess, Goddess to find our way. But for Kore, it’s when she puts her hands into the earth that her soul is really touched. She wakes up to the possibilities around her. For Kore, it’s time to move into the next phase of her being. In the strictest terms, she’s changing from a child into a woman, but for us it’s more likely to be our next stage of development.

So. The pomegranate. The Greeks are very vague on this. And conflicting — I’ve read she eats three, four, or six seeds. You know now that she spends a month in the Underworld for every seed, so on the surface this is a story of how long winter lasts, when Persephone is withdrawn from the earth. I chose six not for historical accuracy but to reflect my own spiritual path. Anyway. The big question, the question that none of the Greeks answer, is: why did Persephone eat those seeds? She’s a goddess — she eats ambrosia and drinks nectar. She doesn’t eat human food. So why does she eat them? Does she do it unconsciously or consciously?

I choose consciously. I like to see her as an agent of change in her own life. She chooses to eat the seeds because she knows what the consequences are. And she wants those consequences. She doesn’t just want to frolic and play anymore. She wants a vocation, she wants a path of her own, and she wants to seek the ways of justice and mercy as a queen. Oh, and she wants a groovy husband. You can skip that bit if that’s too Hearst syndrome for you.

So she eats the seeds and she takes on a new name. “Kore” means “the maiden” but “Persephone” means “to destroy” and “wise.” Quite a combination. For me, choosing a new name and a whole new life means Persephone is stepping into her power. I call on this myth when I’m going through a life change and I need the courage and the clarity of mind to release my overwhelming anxiety and depression and step into my power. It is only then that we see Persephone moving into adult life. For me, I want that agency. And the thing that touches me the most about this story is that Kore is violated in the most fundamental ways we can imagine, and yet from that place of violation she CREATES. That, to me, is women’s power. We can dig down within us, deeper than any pain, and find that deep core of inner knowing and create.

There are a few stories of Persephone in her role as queen but for me, the takeaway of Persephone’s life is that she now moves between the upper world and the Underworld effortlessly. She takes the newly dead by the hand and shows them to their place. She provides justice and mercy. And she knows days of sunshine and flowers, too. She moves through all the aspects of life smoothly, gently. She may have deeply disturbing days but she moves through them. She isn’t untouched by them, it’s not like she’ll never be depressed again, but she is now part of a cycle. For those of us who live with chronic mental illness, Persephone is a model of how to balance our moods and minds-bodies-spirits. She is a walker between the worlds, able to deal with all states of being. Persephone’s transformation in the underworld prepares her for ecstatic spirituality and shifting states of consciousness, as well as development of psychic abilities. Persephone becomes the wounded healer.

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Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher, and me

January 9, 2017

I was on holiday in California when I got the news that Carrie Fisher had gone shining. I didn’t want to ruin my holiday groove so I buried my feelings until I got home.

I was 10 years old when Star Wars came out. Princess Leia just exploded off the screen. I’d never seen a strong woman onscreen before. Films during the ’60s and ’70s showed women as victims or men’s appendages if they showed up at all. I couldn’t identify with any of them. But when I saw Princess Leia, I saw courage and grit and power and sarcasm and resourcefulness and a clear, principled will. Here was something I could identify with! She had a huge impact on me. And Carrie Fisher was spot on, save for the occasional English accent wandering in (in books, they say she was mocking Tarkin, but I feel like that’s trying to cover up a bad directorial decision).

I have seen A New Hope probably 50 times and she is still a revelation to me. And when she reappeared in episode 7, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. In the expanded Star Wars universe, Leia is one of the only Jedi who is never even tempted by the Dark Side. She has a clear moral compass and is willing to do whatever it takes to bring peace and justice to the galaxy. She’s smart, she’s sassy, and she’s no one’s fool.

So that’s a little about Princess Leia. Many years later Carrie Fisher did a one-woman show that was translated into a book I read: Wishful Drinking. In it, she talks frankly—really frankly—about mental illness and her experiences with treatment. While she first entered my life playing a fictional heroine, now she was a heroine in the waking world. Instead of speaking in hushed tones about her challenges, she is sarcastic and funny and informative. She helped me see that I didn’t have to be ashamed of my own mental illnesses, and she gave me courage. And a new hope.

As I write this I realize how paltry the words are in comparison to the vastness of my thoughts and emotions. She burned brightly, fiercely, and I owe a part of my self to her. Thank you, Princess. Thank you, Carrie. Go shining.


Sex and sometimes love

December 4, 2016

I haven’t had sex since 2002. And I don’t miss it.

Gods above alone know how I could have survived so much sexual abuse, assault, and harassment and yet ended up with a sex-positive view. I love sex. I love intimacy. I was fortunate to have, on the whole, good lovers. But then, something went Terribly Awry. This story is not an invitation for you to invite me to have sex with you. Please pay attention.

My last lover was impatient and our relationship was completely fucked up. I knew we shouldn’t be together after our first night but he wore me down with arguments until he finally found my Achilles’ Heel: “Think how old you are now. How many more chances are you going to get?” Good basis for a relationship, eh?

The last time we slept together he might as well have been masturbating for all the difference it made that I was there. I knew he didn’t like my more creative style so I swallowed my disappointment and just endured. Gods. Wretched. It’s hard to know if I was just responding to patriarchal conditioning and submitting to my man or if I genuinely felt the poor guy should get a break. But it sucked for me. And he broke up with me shortly thereafter.

I spiraled into a depression. No surprise there. But the fucked-up-edness of our relationship didn’t stop when he broke up with me. He still rang me three or four times a day. I went to his condo several times a week to take his dog for long walks and cry into his ruff. And I’ll admit, once I suspected my ex was seeing someone new, I went through his drawers until I found the condoms I’d bought for him when we were together and took them all away. Childish, but devilishly satisfying. Why should I pay for his sex?

Did I mention things were fucked up? I would drag myself to my computer in the mornings to check for work email, sobbing, then crawl back to my bed and watch Lord of the Rings on my laptop, sobbing. As 11am approached my anxiety would shoot through the roof and my heart would pound and my chest contract and my hands sweat and my mind run as I desperately tried to think of how I could entertain him. And sure enough, at 11 on the dot he would ring and say lackadaisically, “So what’s going on?” Then I would try to delight him with trivia or gossip and play the sexy fetch. I was terrified he’d find me boring. I performed. Terrified. Until the phone call ended and I would collapse back on my bed sobbing. This would be repeated at 4 and 6 and sometimes 9. Every day. And if he was road-tripping, he would ring me at the start and expect me to talk him all the way home from Fort Wayne. So I did.

At the same time I was executing A Plan I’d devised in the week after we broke up. I am excellent with plans. I am a Capricorn. I live for plans. And this fabulous plan was that I’d take 3 months to get my head together, 3 months to build a wider circle of friends, and then I would try blind dating. At this point I could tell a hilarious story about the only blind date I’ve ever been on, but let’s stay focused on how screwed up I was. Surely if I got a new therapist I could be well in 3 months, right? And another 3 months is plenty of time to make friends in! And no, I don’t “date” in the traditional sense, I only have relationships, but just because it’s a really bad idea doesn’t mean it won’t build character! C’mon! Execute plan!

So I found a new therapist but my behavior didn’t change. My depression got worse. My anxiety got worse. Every time I expressed concern that I didn’t seem to be getting better she’d have some Buddhist maxim for me. I’m not a Buddhist. How were these things relevant? They weren’t. But I couldn’t see that. I thought that if I just tried harder, I would understand more, that I would feel better.

The first 3 months flew by. Then I hit Match.com to meet prospective friends. I didn’t put a picture up because I’m instantly recognizable and I didn’t want that vulnerability. So even though I said in my profile I was ONLY looking for friends, almost all the men who contacted me badgered me for a photo and when can we meet when when how’s now what’s your problem why not NOW? Tedious men.

I met up with about seven people ultimately from different walks of life, some male and some female. I seemed to hit it off with several but I was being very calculating in how I presented myself. I still spent most of my time sobbing but when I connected with these people I was oh so diverting. Funny, smart, sarcastic, deep, shallow, whatever the occasion demanded. But I wasn’t real. And I think they saw through that. So one by one I lost them.

As the months went by I became increasingly mentally ill. This is still with 3-4 phone calls a day from the ex, by the way. I was screaming a lot. Throwing things, hitting things. Not cutting, surprisingly. But seriously ill. I told my therapist I no longer felt like I had a self and she told me how great it was, that I was having a Buddhist enlightenment experience. Looking back, I know I was going insane. But in the moment all I wanted to do was try harder to be what she wanted.

Lots of things happened. Bad things. I fell.

There was a morning where somehow I ended up on the floor in a fetal position, babbling away, perhaps in gibberish. I say this now because I lived through it. At the time there was only unconsciousness. At some point a pinprick of light appeared along with the words, “This is not rational” across my black internal mindscape. It went away immediately. An indeterminate amount of time passed, me babbling away in total mental darkness, and the light and words came again. This happened repeatedly until the light held on long enough for me to realize where I was and what was going on. And that light was right, this was definitely not rational.

I lost my mind. Not in a metaphorical way. Not in an exaggerated way. I went insane. All conception of “I,” of “me,” of “Cairril” was lost. It was not an abyss. If there’s an abyss, there’s a you to observe the abyss. There was no me. There was nothing. And that’s not all that was happening. It was, however, the worst.

I fear only two things in life: rape and insanity. And while technically I’ve never been raped I had now gone insane. I can’t explain the terror. The vulnerability. The realization that at any moment you can lose all that makes you you. You think you can control it. You’re reading these words, you’re perhaps thinking, “Well, if that happened to me, I’d [fill in the blank].” I tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about. This is so far beyond most people’s experience that they can’t comprehend what it even means.

My great-aunt Mary was made a ward of the state and put into an insane asylum in the early 1920s after a fever caused brain damage. I never knew she existed until one day when I was about 15 my parents said, “We’re going to see Aunt Mary.” I’m like, “Who’s Aunt Mary?” They just said she was in a nursing home and would probably be speaking in German. When we got there I saw a little old lady hunched over in a chair babbling in some kind of language, but it sure as hell wasn’t English. We left. And we didn’t talk about it. She died about a year later and we went to her funeral. And we didn’t talk about it. It was like it never happened.

Aunt Mary’s father, my great-grandfather, went insane on his 60th birthday the year after Mary was put away. The family tried to care for him but soon he, too, became a ward of the state. Mary spent 60 years in asylums. Great-grandpa Ruth spent his last 13 years in the Longcliff Asylum for the Insane in Logansport. And no one talked about him. My mom, his granddaughter, didn’t know anything about this until her sister told me in the 1990s. He’d been disappeared.

And as if that wasn’t enough tragedy for that family, Mary’s brother, my great-uncle Leo, loved a girl in Wisconsin. He proposed. She turned him down. So he drove his 1938 Mercury coupe down a back rode and shot himself in the heart. It was front-page news in Wisconsin and in Indiana. The family tried to deny the story because of the shame involved but all the evidence pointed to suicide. So he got disappeared, too.

I learned this stuff from my Aunt Dolores, who didn’t speak in hushed tones behind her hand. She just talked about it the same way she talked about playing Canasta. She wasn’t afraid of it. But my parents were. My mother had been told by her mother, “Don’t ever tell anyone about Aunt Mary or you’ll never get married.” That was totally a product of society, not a character flaw of my grandma’s. It was a terrible scandal to have mental illness in the family. We live with that prejudice still.

That morning on the floor made me realize that no, this was not a Buddhist enlightenment experience, this was insanity. And something must be done. Insurance was actually helpful for once and they got me into a couple places to be evaluated. At Bloomington Hospital the bored doctor asked, “Do you want to stay?” I said, “Should I? You’re the doctor!” He just said, “Well, if you’re a danger to yourself or others…. No? All right, sign here.” When I pulled my car out of my parking spot and headed down the garage ramp I pressed the gas to the floor, my eyes glued to the concrete wall in front of me. At the last minute I remembered that I was going to be evaluated by a different hospital, so I slammed on the brakes.

At Meadows Hospital they didn’t want me to leave at the end of the evaluation. They were practically strapping me to a stretcher (not really, but that’s what I was afraid of). By this point I had stepped outside my brain and Great-grandpa Ruth had walked in and was doing the talking to them. I was having his flashbacks. At one point someone stepped in and, without a word, snapped my picture. I started screaming. I have the photo Longcliff took of August Ruth when he was admitted. And he looks like a crazy man. So here I was in an asylum having my own experience of being photographed and simultaneously having his experience of being photographed.

I was psychotic. Also suicidal, but that was so common with me it seemed normal. But my brain no longer functioned the way it was supposed to. I remember when the nurse was going through my stuff to pull out anything potentially harmful. I’d ask him, “Why are you taking that out?” and he’d tell me why. Before the first word was out of his mouth I’d forget it so I’d repeat the question. Over and over. I just couldn’t hold onto the English language anymore. Bless him, he was perfectly patient. But it was terrifying to be unable to communicate. It was terrifying to keep slipping out and having Great-grandpa slip in. It was terrifying to think they’d drug me up or give me electroshock treatments or, Gods above, wall me away so my family could pretend like I didn’t exist. I was terrified of being disappeared. I still am.

This is a long story. A lot happened. The happy-happy-joy-joy part is I got diagnosed and was put on meds that actually stabilized me. I continued to have psychotic episodes for three years after Meadows but slowly clawed my way back to sanity with the help of good doctors and therapists. But let me tell you, the whole experience put me off the idea of having relationships.

Remember sex? Where we started? This is my point: in my mind, being in an intimate relationship and having sex became connected with psychosis in my mind. To even start a friendship is to risk madness. And in the maelstrom before I went into Meadows, on some deep level of my self I swore I would never go through that again. I’d kill myself first. So to go on a date or even to start a friendship means I’m taking both my sanity and my life into my hands.

Is it any wonder I don’t miss it?

 

At the same time:

I believe in intimacy. I believe in sex. I believe that such things can make you a better person. They can make you stretch, make you grow. They are fun. Like when your lover puts their cold feet on your warm ones and laughs hysterically as you shriek and pound on their chest.

How wonderful is it to be held when you feel happy? When you feel grief? When you feel lonely? I don’t get held anymore. I get hello and goodbye hugs sometimes, and with my sister there’s the communication of “I love you so much I don’t want to let you go” but for the most part my life has become a touch-free zone. It’s hard for me to believe that most of my life was spent as a puppy cuddling up with other puppies. I love touch. But now it’s dangerous.

No one tickles the inside of my elbow anymore to make the side of my tongue itch (it’s true!). No one pets my back. No one breaths my name in my ear.

I was raised a good Catholic girl and was not going to have sex until I got married. After I stopped believing in God I still wanted to wait to have sex until I was in love. But time passed. And passed. And passed. And while I was having relationships, I was not having love. So I got tired of waiting. My first sexual experience was with my best male friend. I highly recommend it. No pressure. Total comfort. Easy conversation. Tenderness and compassion and laughter. A different way of saying, “I love you.” It was a wonderful introduction.

I have been very fortunate to have had lovers who were on the whole kind, passionate, sensitive, respectful, and fun. People with the breadth of styles so at times you just throw the other against the wall and at other times you take all night. (Ah, the joys of sex with young men—stamina!)

And with my almost-husband, I was able to explore the power and magic of spiritual sexuality. Some of the most profound experiences of my life happened while making love with him. Our bed was sacred space. I didn’t have to invoke the Goddess, I was the Goddess. I was pure love taken form. So was he. And we gave and took equally, generating a golden helix between our hearts. Pulsing with the deep, deep love that fuels the universe. Love that infused every atom of our beings and bound us more deeply than any external cord. Our bodies were love. Our spirits were love. And there was no separation anywhere.

I haven’t had sex since 2002. And I miss it.


The character of water

December 10, 2014

At the end of Season I, episode 3 of Xena (“Dreamwalker”), Xena and Gabrielle are at the side of a small lake. They have a conversation which has always struck me deeply:

Xena: See how calm the surface of the water is? That was me once. And then…(she throws a stone into the lake) the water ripples and churns. That’s what I became.

Gabrielle: But if we sit here long enough, it will go back to being still again; go back to being calm.

Xena: But the stone is still under there. It’s now part of the lake. It might look as it did before, but it’s forever changed.

I take it as it was given in the show—Xena realizes her dark past is a part of who she is. It began when she picked up the sword and embarked on a life of violence and murder. And now she lives with it. Her challenge is not to be controlled by her past, but to assimilate the stone and accept the changed self.

Messages of this kind always strike me because of my own past, where I have not always acted as I wished, and where I have been subject to the nightmare of mental illness. Many stones have been thrown into me. My journey now is to become calm, and make the internal adjustments that bring peace.


Down the Rabbit Hole

September 28, 2014

This is the story I performed at the Storyzilla showcase on 10 September. My therapist quibbles over whether I have psychotic or dissociative episodes, but it doesn’t matter for our purposes. I massaged a couple details in the story to bring it in on time.

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It’s 2002 and I am molasses. I am congealing into my mattress, becoming one with the bed, as I’m sobbing uncontrollably. He’s just left me. And you know how it goes: “I’m fat! I’m ugly! No one will ever love me!”

But I get my ass up and I determine I just need to try harder. I come up with a plan (I’m a Capricorn, I am all about plans). It’s a two-parter: I’ll take three months to get my shit together, and then the next three months will be dedicated to dating. Now, I don’t date. I find that whole, “Hey, how are you, let’s do coffee, wanna see a movie” thing completely bizarre. I have a relaaaaationship. Then I have another relaaaaationship. Serial monogamist. But I figure it’s time to turn over a new leaf, try harder, and make myself better.

So I get myself a new therapist and start working on my crippling depression. I wake in the morning crying, I drag myself to my desk to check email, I sob back to the bed, I watch Lord of the Rings on my laptop, twelve inches away from Rivendell. Rinse and repeat.

My three months are up and I’m worried because I don’t seem to be getting better. But, by the gods, my three months are up and it’s time for: Match.com! But I’m still weirded out by the whole “””dating””” thing, so instead I seek out friends. I write an innnnteresting profile and write innnnteresting emails and soon I have about seven people who want to meet for coffee and hey how are you and let’s go see a movie. But once we meet in person, we don’t quite jibe. I don’t know if they can tell how fucked up I am, but the whole thing turns into a disaster. One by one they all drop off the face of the earth. I am devastated. I am being sucked into the black tar of quicksand and I’m grasping a rock with all my might to keep from being dragged in.

I am setting in my therapist’s office and I am telling her, “I’m really worried. I’m beginning to feel like I can’t feel my ‘I’ anymore. I’m not really sure what’s real anymore.” And my therapist, who is holding my kite string to keep me from bobbing around erratically, says, “You’re having a Buddhist enlightenment experience! Don’t you feel free?” She has just cut my kite string. Snip snip. I spaz around in the sky before divebombing into the ground.

I get worse.

 

There is a morning where I get up out of bed, I take a few steps, and then

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A tiny pinprick of white light appears in the back of my brain. As it comes into being, I slowly become aware that I am lying in the fetal position on my floor, and I have been talking for a very, very long time. I can’t even tell if I’m speaking English. The little white light says, “This Is Not Rational.” It goes away.

The thing about having a psychotic experience like this is it’s impossible to describe. You can’t say, “I’m standing on the edge of a cliff” or “I’m looking up from the bottom of a black chasm” because in this kind of episode there is no “I.” You can’t even say, “There is nothingness,” because that assumes there’s an “I” that can observe nothingness.

The pinprick of light comes back. “This Is Not Rational.” It goes away. Over an unknown period of time it comes back with more frequency and stays longer each time. I slowly become aware of how stiff I am from lying clutched on the concrete floor. The light stays. I become more aware. And it says, “Check Your Insurance Policy.” This is the most rational thought I’ve had in nine months. I get up.

I go to my black metal filing cabinet, the repository of all the detritus of my life, and I pull out my insurance policy. And right there, it says, “Mental Health Hotline” with a number underneath.

I ring the number and try to explain the unexplainable experience I’ve just had, stumbling over myself, getting more agitated as I chronicle the downward spiral I’ve been on for almost a year. They say, “You need to go to a hospital immediately for evaluation.”

I am in the Meadows Hospital parking lot. I am terrified. I have just had the most terrifying experience of a life filled with terrifying experiences but the day is not over. What you need to understand is that mental illness runs like a long, black, oily river down the bloodlines of my family, infecting generation after generation. I have two ancestors who were committed to Longcliff Asylum for the Insane in the 1920s and their names were never mentioned again until the day they died. They were disappeared from the family. And now I am setting in the parking lot of an asylum, in the throes of total panic, terrified that I will go in and never ever come out. Padded rooms, straightjackets, electroshock treatments. Nightmares come true. But I’ve got to keep going, I’ve got to try harder, it’s this or die.

I am setting in the intake room with a woman who is asking me questions. It’s a small, dimly lit room and we are talking over a small round table. And as I talk I get increasingly agitated, voices screaming in my head, lights flashing. And then suddenly there’s my great-grandfather looking through my eyes and then, wait a minute, now he’s talking through my mouth and I’m over to the side observing myself and I’m like, “What the hell? This is my body!”

We get to the end of the evaluation and she gently tells me, “You’re going to need to stay here.” And I say, “You don’t understand, I’ve got a client meeting in twenty minutes. ” She says, “No, I don’t think you understand, you’re having an emergency, you need to stay here.” “No, you don’t understand, I’ve got a client meeting in twenty minutes.

I leave. She’s not happy. I gather the shreds of my game face. Try harder.

I’m in the meeting with my client and there are voices shrieking in my head and lights flashing all through my brain and my nerves have been absolutely bathed in acid, I’m on fire, and through my eyes I’m screaming, “I’m insane!! I’m insane! I’ve just been thrown into an insane asylum!” and out of my mouth come the words, “I think if we use some pull-quotes here it would really draw the eye through the layout of the brochure. And if you could get some photos of the students, focus in on the eyes. Focusing on the eyes really draws people in.” And then I’m screaming at myself, “Don’t mention the eyes! She’ll look at your eyes and she’ll see! She’ll see!” And out of my mouth comes, “And if we could get this on iridescent paper, that would really make it pop!”

The meeting is over. I am walking down the hall with her. She hasn’t seen me for two years. As we walk down the stairs, she turns to me and says, “You look great! What’s your secret?”

I have one of those out-of-body experiences where I’m all “What’s real here, is it what I’m feeling or what’s being reflected back to me, what if I’m totally normal and just imagining things are wrong WHAT IS REAL??!?” And out of my mouth comes, “Just good clean livin’!” She laughs. I leave.

I go into Meadows. There’s a whole long story here which we’ll skip because we don’t have all night. Suffice it to say I am beyond hope because I can’t remember the beginning of sentences by the time people reach the end of them. So they say something, I ask, “What?” and they repeat themselves and I ask, “What?” and they repeat themselves and I ask, “What?” and they go away.

I am in the office with the all-important psychiatrist, the one who will diagnose me. And I am determined to try harder, to keep it together and rationally relate the last few days, the last nine months, the last twenty years of my life. He sets with his hands calmly folded over his clipboard. He’s not taking any notes. And then he says, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you,” at which point I start screeching at the top of my lungs, “YOU HAVE TO HELP ME! YOU HAVE TO HELP ME! I AM GOING TO DIE!!!” He starts taking notes.

I am taken to art therapy. I cut out pictures of babies which I will never have and when I find photos of smiling women I cut out their eyes so I can make a lovely collage of their mutilated faces for the folks back home. I am in total chaos with the screaming and the lights and the acid and the inability to wrap my brain around the simplest concepts snip snip babies eyes holes glue scissors nurse, nurse in the doorway, little paper cup in one hand, a clear plastic cup of water in the other and I know this is the moment, this is the time when I will have to take the meds will I be me anymore? will I be addicted? will I have to be on meds for the rest of my life? TRY HARDER take the pill, it’s an eighth of a milligram of Klonopin, I swallow down its pink antisepticness and twenty minutes later there is

 

 

 

 

s i l e n c e

 

 

blissful    s i l e n c e

All the voices are silenced.
The lights are gone.
My blood is my own again.
And my first thought is:
“It’s not my fault.”

It wasn’t a matter of trying harder, of outsmarting it. I have a chemical imbalance in my brain. I inherited it. It’s part of who I am. And as long as I take my 17 pills a day, I can manage. There is…a floor to this downward spiral. The ability to cope.

Having some types of mental illness is like having diabetes. It’s a genetically influenced, chronic, potentially life-threatening disease that is treatable through medication and consultation. It’s not about trying harder.

It’s Not Your Fault.


The glass pumpkin

February 28, 2014

Last night at Nell’s Story Play class I told a story about madness. My madness. I’ll try to put it in narrative form.

Lots of stuff happened. It rode up my back and swirled through my brain to wreak havoc on my frontal lobe so that in 2003 I was faced with being institutionalized. It’s a family trait. I’d spent years with screaming voices in my head and my fingers clinging onto the edge of a cliff of sanity and it all got out of control. After counseling with some of the members of my tribe, I decided to check myself into the Asylum for Crazy People. But I promised myself:

“I am only in this for as long as I want to be in this.”

In the hospital I was given a diagnosis that sort of made sense and achieved the nirvana of a silent brain with the help of Klonopin. I came up with a treatment plan and was eventually released.

Years passed. The stories I could tell. Those will wait for another class. Let’s pull it forward almost a decade, an almost-decade of anxiety and crippling depression and grey dissociation and strugglestrugglestruggle.

Mornings are the worst. In the in the in the mornings my in the mornings my in the mornings my thoughts repeat in the morning my thoughts in the morning my thoughts repeat in bits in the mornings in the mornings my thoughts repeat repeat repeat in bits in the bits in the mornings repeat bits so it echoes echoes echoes. Total chaos. Sometimes I just lie in bed and scream. Other times I force myself up to take my meds and drink some milk. That starts to slow the train. Sometimes.

This was a morning like any other morning. I finally got my ass out of bed and drooped to the bathroom. But when I looked in the mirror everything was suddenly…clear. Quiet. Silent. And in that silence was a statement: “I think I’m done.” I gazed into my eyes. “You sure?” I asked internally. “I think I’m done,” I said out loud. And the clarity continued. Silence. Surety. Safety.

I have a plan for suicide and it will take several days to execute (bad pun but I won’t apologize). When I saw my psychiatrist during our regularly scheduled appointment that day, I told her about my decision. She kept her cool and asked if I would wait a day—if I would just come back tomorrow and talk. Still clear, I agreed. I didn’t need to buy the gun that day.

The afternoon passed and it was time for me to see my therapist. I was no longer clear. I was starting to slip. She was alarmed. She tried to reach me but I was going non-verbal. She moved to her files to get the number of the hospital and I came hissing and spitting out of myself. No way was I going back.

“Who are you?” she asked. “What year is it?” Trying to determine if I were grounded in consensual reality.

There was a glass pumpkin suspended in the air in front of my eyes, and each section of it contained a year. I could see “2011” on one slice but it was going to take so much effort to get to that piece. I floundered and spun and reached so hard when suddenly I felt a “snap” like a rubberband whacking you around your wrist and I just let go.

“It’s 1939. I’m 29 years old and I’m on a bus. I’m a secretary. I’m on my way home from work.” I could see the cloth coat I was wearing, feel the bus jostle me as I stood in the aisle, holding onto the back of a seat. A shaft of sunlight shone in the window to my right and warmed my hand. I wore a hat and a dress and I had a handbag. The air had a bit of a chill. It was late September.

My therapist asked me to look at my hands but hands were not the be-ringed gnarled crone hands of Cairril Adaire, they were the hands of this other me, this 1939 secretary me on her way home from work.

When I have these “episodes” (which are either psychotic phenomena or DID projections), they last for a few hours. Sometimes I have convulsions. I usually end up silent on the floor, totally incapable of communication, lost in a silent fog. I stare until my contacts pop out when I blink. After time, some time, who knows how much time, I get up. I put my contacts away. I brush my teeth. I go to bed. Next morning, it’s like it never happened. I hit the reset button by going to sleep. And all I have to do is keep it together through the screaming until the next one strikes.

Needless to say, I didn’t buy a gun that day. With my reset, I was back in the fight.