Getting to Know Your Illness: A Call to Go Deeper

Getting to Know Your Illness: A Call to Go Deeper

When I was first diagnosed with mental illness I thought it was traditional western medicine’s job to fix it for me. It seemed as though the answer was pretty straight forward: take my meds, see my therapist, go to classes and everything will get better eventually, right? Not necessarily. What I’d been unknowingly handed in that moment in time was a call to action that went light years beyond the aforementioned docket . It was a call to get a real grip on the who, what, why, when, and how of my illness.

It hit me about 4 or 5 years into my journey when I realized that as much effort as I was putting into the assigned duties of managing my illness, that I’d hit a wall with my progress and wasn’t getting any better. As per usual whenever I got hit by something major, I got desperate. Except this time the desperation led me to want to understand where all of this was coming from because, maybe, if I could start untangle this web that had been weaved over 20+ years of my life that continued to run and ruin my life, I could get to the root of my issues and remedy them on a level that doctors and prescription medicine couldn’t touch.

I started with research. I figured if I wasn’t going to get out of bed or leave the house in the first place, I may as well spend the time educating myself. I began by just googling my illnesses and learning about them, what’s behind them, and other people’s experiences with them. I knew there had to be another way out.

Mental illness for me wasn’t just a chemical imbalance that decided to show itself as soon as I no longer had ‘teen’ following my age. It wasn’t just the stress of adult life becoming insurmountable. It wasn’t just a congenital disorder that I’d inherited. Turned out it was all those things, and more. What I’d learned is that it had always been there in the form of PTSD from the trials I’d endured in my life thus far, genetic predisposition, and likely my history of operating purely on survival skills, lying in wait for me to drop my guard and be able to succumb. Waiting for the point in my life where I was no longer forced to just cope and slog on. Waiting for me to open up just enough to start to feel feelings, and through this process, allow myself to heal.

I had no idea what the healing process was made up of at the time. I thought I’d been broken down to this bottom-of-the-barrel level of existence. I thought all this weight I knew I’d been carrying but never had the chance to acknowledge was culminating in this explosive, all-consuming shit storm that was actively destroying my life as I knew it. I thought I had no solution as to how to bootstrap myself out of this on my own. I was right on all counts, but somewhere deep inside myself I knew the healing had to go deeper than just talking it out weekly, and chemically balancing neurotransmitters daily with my doctorate cohorts, and hoping for the best. What I’d unknowingly come upon by my own accord, was a functional medicine approach to my illness.

While traditional medicine aims at solving the problem chemically, functional medicine works toward the actual root and cause of the problem itself. It digs so much deeper than the band-aid that comes in the form of a prescription pill, and aims to treat the whole person, not just their symptoms. Bingo. This was my call to work to find another solution to breaking down my recovery wall. I went deeper into myself to try and find out what it was inside me that wasn’t being conventionally healed, and how I could work on it more unconventionally. I knew it was going to get worse before it got better but I was in for the ride because I felt like I had few options left, and I refused to give up on myself.

No matter how painful the things I was feeling at the time were, once I began actually paying attention to them instead of trying to mute them and make them go away, I started realizing I had something in me. I could almost feel it in my core as though something was stuck there, not necessarily in just my brain. It no longer felt like an illness of my mind, it was in my being. My mind and emotions were working against me in tandem with this thing; a pain, or trauma, or demon, or scar or whatever seems most appropriate to call it, that kind of didn’t want to let go. It wasn’t ready to heal, but it kept rearing its ugly head every time something would trigger it. I didn’t know my triggers well enough at the time to be able to tame it on my own, but I knew I had to do something about it to get me over this last, albeit massive hurdle, and onto the other side of illness.

With a new understanding of my illness, I went the complete opposite direction of western medicine and began researching every alternative therapy I could find. How else could I bring healing into my mind, body, and emotion, and what was the right way for me to go about it? Not unlike induction into western medicine, it’s a lot of trial and error. I just tried my best to be as deliberate and instinctively guided as I could about the decisions I made. I’d also found that once I began paying attention to my feelings that my personal intuition as to what was right for me, and what was going to bring me the right kind of healing at the time I needed it, got a lot stronger. I already felt better relying on my inner guidance rather than the doctor’s.*

It’s like working from the inside out rather than the outside in. I started with a lot of self-reflection, and attempting to uncover and face whatever that thing was inside me that was so volatile and needed so much healing. I knew meditation would be a key factor for me, I did a 10-day silent Vipassana course, as well as making a habit of frequently practicing at home. I started realizing what I was putting in my body with my convenience food diet, I cleaned up and went vegetarian. I learned about the gut-brain connection, and how I had completely disrupted it by constantly being in fight or flight mode because of my illness, so I began seeing a naturopath to detox my system and get it back on track without prescription drugs. We all know exercise is a big deal when it comes to wellness, I began running a few miles a few times a week. I kept going to therapy because I’d finally found a great psychologist who gave me one of the best tools ever, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I realized the energetic force or being within me and how important harmony is within it, and I began going to acupuncture. Once I became more energetically sensitive I began also seeing a Shamanic healer to get a deeper regular energetic cleanse and re-balance. Most importantly I never stopped educating myself on how to quell the different facets of my illness as I continue on my path to wellness.

I now feel free of the thing that had its grip on me, and I was eventually able to slowly quit medication all together. This has been a process over the last 4-5 years though, and nothing ever happened overnight. If anything, holistic healing takes longer to see results because you’re specifically aiming for the root of the cause instead of band-aiding it. Sometimes it almost felt true to the adage “if it doesn’t burn, it’s not working”. Over time my tools and implements have become dynamic, I don’t do all of them all the time. I do what I need to, as I see fit. I prescribe my own regimen to myself and I’m really grateful to be in a place where I can successfully do that. My hope with this project is to be able to help others do the same for themselves, however they see fit based on what they feel is right for them.

Peace, love, and wellness.

*I want to make a disclaimer that I do not disregard or dismiss traditional western medicine on the whole in any way. It served its purpose in my life and does so for many people. I felt as thought I had personally exhausted the modality by the time I began seeking out alternative therapies.

Training Day, Every Day

Training Day, Every Day

Remember the 2001 movie Training Day, with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke? Here’s the gist — “Police drama about a veteran officer who escorts a rookie on his first day with the LAPD’s tough inner-city narcotics unit. Training Day is a blistering action drama that asks what is necessary, what is heroic and what crosses the line in the harrowing gray zone of fighting urban crime. Does law-abiding law enforcement come at the expense of justice and public safety? If so, do we demand safe streets at any cost?”

Now think of your life with mental illness as the blistering action drama, and your environment as the tough inner city where your illness is the incessant daily onslaught of urban crime. You are the combination veteran officer and rookie cop, and it’s your job to decide what is heroic, and what crosses the line in the name of fighting your illness. Every day you’re forced to make decisions on behalf of your wellness, but at what cost? How do you even begin to weigh the cost-benefit analysis, and what are the repercussions of making the wrong choices?

Sounds like a lot of weight to bear, right? Those of us with mental illness, especially those in the throes of active combat as opposed to solely daily management of relatively quelled symptoms, go through this to some degree every single day of our lives. It’s exhausting, and still people wonder why we fall short in life sometimes. They also wonder how such menial successes in our lives can mean so much to us. They don’t understand because they’ve never had to fight this fight. You’d be doing yourself a favor by not expecting them to.

You’d also be doing yourself a favor to let their understanding fall by the wayside in favor of consistently putting your core focus on yourself. Not all of us have that luxury all the time; some of us have spouses, children, clients, employers, friends, family, peers, etc. that also must absorb our resources if life is to carry on. But if every day is training day, you have to remember you’re both the veteran and the rookie at the same time. You can’t do it all, you probably don’t even know how to as mental illness is constantly throwing us new curve balls we’ve never dealt with before. In many ways we’re just learning as we go, guided by the wisdom of our past experiences.

Some issues we are surely pros at by now, and with some we are still very green. For some of us we are just getting to know ourselves through our diagnoses, some of us have been chipping away at it for years. Either way, we are all still simultaneously veterans and rookies no matter where you’re at in your life or with your illness. Acceptance of your circumstances should bear no less weight than putting yourself first. After all, the veteran officer is not going to walk into a scene, deny what’s happening, then put the rest of the team’s needs first. If he’s going to truly serve his purpose, he knows better than that.

You may know better than that as well, you have been with you all your life. You probably know yourself pretty well by now, that’s the veteran side of you. But with mental illness always lying in wait to present us with a new challenge, we are repeatedly being placed back in the vulnerable rookie position. How do you balance and at what expense? That’s the million dollar question because at times there truly is no balance when it seems like every day you’re waking up a rookie to your new assignment at the same job you’ve been working for years. How do you perform under all this pressure, and where is the veteran officer to guide you through the ride-along?

These are the tough decisions and sacrifices we are faced with on a daily basis. The only answer is to shake down your illness the best you can with the arsenal you’ve extracted from your veteran days, and the wide-eyed hope and perseverance of a rookie, every single day. Just like on the streets of the inner city, every day is different, and presenting you new challenges. As such your decisions and sacrifices will vary. You may not agree with them, nor may others. But you don’t need to abide by that because you’re doing what you have to do to survive each day, and that’s what matters. At times your wellness will come at a cost. In the end you’re taking care of you, and we all know you can’t pour from an empty cup.

It’s a mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual battle to constantly be in shake down mode. Akin to daily battles in the streets officers face, the daily battle of mental illness that everyday people face is our lot in life and we are given the choice to quit our job or press on.  Some days you may concede because you’re tired of the fight. That decision and its corresponding sacrifices are ok, too. Everyone needs a day off, so long as you get back to taking care of yourself when you’re ready. As the saying goes — It’s ok to not be ok, but it’s not ok to stay that way. There is no definitive answer as to how to go about this blistering action drama that is your life, and there is no one right way except for embracing your position as officer and never giving up on yourself. You are your job. Try your best to do what you love, and love what you do.

Peace, love, and wellness.

 

 

 

The Bible: Lloyd I. Sederer, MD Edition

The Bible: Lloyd I. Sederer, MD Edition

I’ve known for a long time that I was cut out to help people. I spent a while sorting out how I was going to make my dream a reality, then I woke up one day and conceived the idea for this project. I quickly realized the need for clear fundamentals upon which to build the foundation so I immediately turned to my favorite fallback of books. What I now refer to as my bible, immediately fell into my lap. The Family Guide to Mental Health Care by Lloyd I. Sederer, MD arrived in my mailbox and I immediately tore through the entire book in a week, furiously highlighting, annotating, and transcribing the wealth of information within it.

To my surprise it was no average layman’s guide authored by your average white coat. It was thorough, comprehensive, but high-level enough to efficiently guide both veterans and newcomers alike through the realm of mental health care. I was first greeted by a foreword from Glenn Close who heads up Bring Change 2 Mind, a non-profit aimed at ending the stigma of mental illness through public education. Beyond that I read through the following chapters that perfectly outlined the fundamentals I was looking for.

It starts with compassion, goes into education, breaks down what good care looks like, how to go about getting help, the various illnesses and how they show themselves, medication, rehab, insurance, recovery, and resources. Along the way its dotted with hard-hitting factoids and numbers, gems of wisdom, and incredibly substantial pieces information that no one on this journey should do without, yet is so hard-pressed to discover by their own accord. It wasn’t necessarily all new information to me, but I was blown away by the end of chapter 1.

What I didn’t expect was to learn what a pioneer Dr. Sederer is and has been in the mental health community. Bravado aside, I found Dr. Sederer’s guide peppered with his own innovations and achievements in the community, and I went from impressed to awe-struck. The term “pioneer” doesn’t really cut it, he’s been dubbed New York’s “Chief Psychiatrist”. He is currently serving as the Chief Medical Officer for the New York State Office of Mental Health, which annually serves over 700,000 people, and includes 22 hospitals, 90 clinics, 2 research institutes, and community services throughout a state of 19 million people. That’s a lot to wrap your head around.

In 2002 as New York’s director of mental hygiene services, his agency was charged with overseeing the response to the psychological consequences of the 9/11 attacks. By 2004, 1.5 million NY residents had received outreach, crisis counseling, and education through Project Liberty.

In 2004 as mental health commissioner in NYC, frustrated with the poor detection and treatment of depression he spearheaded a screening and management campaign by placing posters in subways and kiosks advocating for screenings. Depression screening and evidence-based management is now showing up in a growing number of primary-care settings across the country.

His laurels also include being an adjunct professor at Columbia, he has worked for a Harvard teaching hospital, as well as the American Psychiatric Association. He’s been given several accolades for his contributions, published 7 books, authored 500 articles in medical and non-medical journals and publications, he serves as the mental health editor for the Huffington Post, and does regular radio appearances.

I feel confident with the direction of this book as a basis for my service. I would highly recommend it for anyone who feels they could use guidance at any point in the process of utilizing mental health care services. Whether you’re the patient or a loved one who cares for a patient, this could be an invaluable resource to navigating a broken system. He says it himself in the first chapter “If the mental health care system were not so broken, if it served patients and their families as it should (and can), I might not have had to write this book”.

Peace, love, and wellness.

Make America Get a Grip Again

Make America Get a Grip Again

This isn’t a political soap-box, it’s a blog on mental health and this was supposed to be a post on anxiety. Politics and anxiety just so happen to have the misfortune of colluding with one another today.

The last week and a half have been rough. I’d been doing so well for continuous, vibrant, healthy months with all elements of my illnesses and their respective triggers in check, and well-managed. That’s not to say I didn’t have an occasional off day, but it was pretty smooth sailing. Then something hit me. It crept up at first building its momentum, to which I admittedly turned a bit of a blind eye to because I thought I had it handled. But it continued to build and grow as I carried on with a little voice in the back of my head telling me something was off. I can’t totally fault myself because as well as I think I may know myself and my illness, sometimes I still have to get burned to learn.

Finally it all came at me at mach speed last Monday manifesting itself in the form of some pretty raging anxiety. I woke up early way before my alarm, I immediately began feeling the stress in my mind, body and emotions. I felt panic in my chest, I was hyperventilating which worked its way into tears. My mind and heart were racing, I couldn’t think straight, and I couldn’t control any of it. I felt so helpless and scared.

I’m cognizant enough of myself to know that once I’d understood the trigger in this instance, everything I was feeling was mostly irrational. I knew exactly what was going on underneath all these symptoms. I’d been there too many times to not be able to intellectualize the process. Most importantly I realized the trigger this time just so happened to awaken some deeply rooted fears that were being brought to the surface by this situation, and it was time for me to confront them. This was clearly a call to action. Still, I couldn’t make the anxiety stop. It felt so real, and at the same time I knew better than it.

I can’t explain how anxiety works in the brain and the body. I can tell you it’s all-consuming, terrifying, and incredibly stressful on your mind, body, and emotions. Thankfully I’d realized this was a challenge for me to go deeper within myself, and heal whatever shit was currently being dug up. I was able to see the blessing in disguise, so I relinquished myself to the process and hoped it wouldn’t absorb too much of my life. I also took as many pro-active steps and measures as I could that I know personally work for me in my times of need, to try and aid in the healing process. I may have spent a lot of time lying on the floor, but you can’t say I took this one lying down.

I have spent a lot of time on the floor lately, I find it grounding. Bed, when I’m not feeling well, sometimes just exacerbates things. I may not be able to go out for a run, but the least I can do is roll out of bed, cocoon myself in a massive blanket, and try my hardest to breathe, meditate, remind myself that this is only temporary, and it’s part of my process. I culled a massive amount of personal growth out of this experience, and I’m proud to say that now that I’m on the other side of it.

Even with the silver lining to it, it took about 8 days of me riding the wave to fully pull through, get my life back on track and myself back in order. I missed some work, I had to spend some money to get specific care I needed, I lost some productivity, I lost some time. These are all things I’ve conceded to long ago, and I’m happy to in exchange for having a grip on things again. Yesterday was my first good day, uninterrupted by symptoms.

So here we are, post-election day. I got one day to feel like a proper human being again. And I was still nervous as hell all day over the potential outcome of the election, but I still felt pretty decent. I don’t think I’ll ever forget last night. I’m not going to say that today I’m anxious, nor am I going to say I’m depressed over the way it turned out. Sad, disappointed, dismayed, disheartened, scared, shocked, baffled, speechless, amongst many other sentiments. Not speechless enough however, to at least be able to say that this election is also clearly a call to action.

It’s time for us to accept this as a challenge to go deeper within ourselves and with each other, to ride this wave, and allow it to help us grow. We should not concede to the implications of the outcome of this election, we should allow it to motivate us in whatever way we can to take a stand, be a catalyst for positive change, and let politicians (who often seem to share a lot of parallels with mental illness) know that we won’t take this lying down. It might get ugly for a while but as long as we keep pressing on knowing this is only temporary, I believe we as a country have what it takes to unite over such grievous circumstances and pull though this together with a positive outcome on the other side. Find faith in the part of humanity with which you can relate, and never give up on yourselves or each other no matter what stands in front of us, we’re all all we’ve got. America can get a grip on itself again.

Peace, love, and wellness.

 

 

 

 

Good times bad times

Good times bad times

This isn’t going to be eloquent…No matter how well your illness has been overcome on the whole or how well it’s managed on the daily, you’re still going to experience bad days. Simply being human dictates you will have off days at times. I’m no exception. I’d intended this blog to be about my project, and my past experiences as the anecdotes behind it. Given what I’m feeling today, especially in regards to my project, I’ve decided to just do what I feel with my blog. If I’m going to open myself and my life up to people in order to try and help them, then my current struggles should be relevant to my project as well.

That said, I’m feeling a lot of things today. Things where I can only overcome them though acceptance. This project isn’t moving as fast as I’d like it to. That falls on no one but me. So I’m feeling a lot of guilt, discontent, even sadness because in reality, given the resources I currently have, there’s only so much I can do. I work full time, I work really hard because I have to. No one hands me anything in life nor was I ever set up with abundant resources that allow me to freely pursue my passions.

When all that’s in your heart is the desire to set something good up to help people and you continuously hit road blocks, it gets a bit defeating. It weighs on you. You start to look around you at everyone else and feel almost destitute. All of this leads to frustration, which feeds into sadness which ultimately  begins to steal me away from who I am at my core. Who I’ve worked so hard to uncover and embrace and who I know I truly am. That core being that I’m speaking of, she knows better than this.

Yet here I am. Struggling. This project is all I want to do. I just want to build a community of wellness, health, and empowerment. To create something that will change people’s lives for the better and every day I go about a career that I enjoy and pays the bills, but I just don’t give a shit about it. It gives me no freedom in almost all the ways. It does not fulfill me in most of the ways. It’s consuming all this time and energy I could be wholeheartedly devoting to my project. I could be essentially rocket-fueling my dream into a reality right now. But I can’t even seem to consistently devote the mental energy to getting a blog posted every week, let alone bootstrap and launch an entire public service outfit.

I’m not an entrepreneur, I have no idea what I’m doing, I just want to help people. I know I can, and that’s enough for me. It’s like being pushed up against a brick wall by a tenfold force of gravity then being repeatedly hit by tsunami waves. It hurts. I feel all the feelings. I want to burst. I want to loathe, cry, scream, lash out, fold, hide, disappear. I also want to persevere, love, laugh, create, contribute, and just be. It feels like being torn in two. It’s painful.

I wish for so much more. I am only capable of so much. Perhaps this is just my lot in life. It seems as though struggling in certain ways has always been an overarching theme to my life, why would this project be any different? No one has ever picked me up off the ground, told me its going to be ok, given me what I needed, and held my hand until I reached where I needed to be. I’ve always done it all myself. Here I am once more, I’m just intensely aware of the end result this time and it literally eats away at me sometimes.

The fact is that I can never lose myself. Much easier said than done. I may momentarily forget about her, but I always have to return to who I am at my core. It’s where my strength is, it’s where my grit is, it’s where my inner Andre the Giant is. That’s what everything I’ve been through has fundamentally taught me; the end-all be-all for me is that I’ve got an immense, unstoppable, warrior’s spirit force within me. It’s why I’m still alive. I’m beyond grateful for it.

I hesitate to call myself a fighter because the connotations don’t necessarily fit my personality, but I will fight these feelings and press on. I can accept them, they can run their course. But I will commit to myself and to the fight by making an internal pledge to cease looking around me, comparing myself and my successes to everyone else. It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t have right now because it will come as long as I never give up. I commit to accepting my situation as it is and allowing the growth of my project to come to fruition as fast as I am able to make it happen. Or as slow as it needs to happen because there’s only so much I can do.

In the end I know in my heart, mind, and soul that I absolutely refuse to concede. There’s a fire inside me, where I know that as long as I keep breathing, and returning to the savior within myself that is my warrior’s spirit, no one and nothing will ever stop me. It may take me forever, I’ll still have bad days, but I will make it happen no matter what, everyone else around me be damned. This is my path and I’m going to forge it the best I can. Along the way I commit to myself to inhale the good shit, exhale the bullshit.

Peace, love, and wellness.

Mission Statement

Hello!

Thank you for stopping by to learn about my mental health project. I’d like to share what it’s about, first a bit about me — My name is Meredith, I’m a thirty-something California native living in San Francisco. I have a diagnosis of clinical depression, major anxiety, and ADHD. I work full time, I enjoy music, books, pizza, outdoors, dancing, and my friends and family. I live a full life, but there was a time not that long ago where I enjoyed none of the above, including life itself. My illness consumed my entire twenties. I was fortunate enough to find my way to the other side of it, but it was the fight of and, for my life. I found my purpose along my journey to wellness, and that’s why I’ve begun this project.

The problem I can help solve:

  • The mental health care system is broken. Via private or public care, the key piece that’s missing is the necessary follow up, and follow through on both medication and therapy, i.e. a continuum of care.
  • Lack of guidance on how to go about acquiring and navigating care or insurance.
  • Lack of substantial coordination of community resources, as well as comprehensive formation and execution of a recovery plan for each individual.
  • The system fails to persevere with care when the patient lacks the wherewithal. Forcing someone who struggles to make it day to day to advocate for their own care in a broken system is cruel. There needs to be a service within the system to bridge the gaps.
  • The path to mental health is an arduous one that often leaves people feeling like abandoned, disheartened lab rats who, in spite of their best efforts, often fall off the path because they don’t know what to do or to whom they can turn to for support, guidance, and much needed hope.

How I plan to solve it:

  • I’ve built a service open to everyone 18 and over, based on the peer perspective of my own experience in navigating, bending, and pooling mental health care resources to help chart a path to wellness for those who feel they need help getting help.
  • Providing facilitation and third-party accountability in order to focus on the individual’s bigger picture. No two paths to wellness are alike. To try and shuffle vastly different cases through a very narrow, disorganized system with no checks and balances to ensure people stay the course is failing them and they’re falling through the cracks.
  • The path is tailored specifically to your needs, to be shaped over time through evaluation of your current state and end goals at regular intervals, with comprehensive follow up ensuring you’re seen through to achieving your goals.
  • Think of it as a personal road map allowing you to circumvent the gaps, thereby wasting less of your valuable resources, to get your life back on track faster and more easily by someone who is invested in your wellness.

What I can do for you as an individual, and our community:

  • I want to see the entire mental health care community working together to create a cohesive, welcoming environment of wellness, advocacy, and access to care.
  • I want to see a society that is educated on mental illness that has broken down the stigma, and can approach the topic with open minds and hearts.
  • I want to see individuals who are happy to be alive, can hold down a job, take care of themselves and their families, get off the streets, who are doing the things they love, and loving what they do.
  • I want to see those afflicted with mental illness and their loved ones who care for them be able to live the most free, fulfilling, and happy lives they possibly can in spite of the challenges they face.
  • I want those in their darkest days to know that someone is always there for them when they feel lost, to know that someone is invested in their recovery, to feel safe and secure reaching out for help, and to feel hope for themselves and their future.
  • I want to completely change the way mental health is regarded and the way care is administered. I plan to begin one person at a time, then one city at a time starting here in San Francisco, eventually bringing my service standards to every major city in the country I can.

Disclaimers:

  • I am not a health care professional in any way, nor do I plan to dispense health care in any way. I am here to advise, advocate, educate, navigate, and instill hope as a peer.
  • This project is a work in progress. My guidance will be based on trial and error as all mental health care already is.
  • I do not have personal experience with all mental illnesses. I am more than willing to help anyone facing any mental illness with the understanding on your part that your illness may be new to me but I can still help advocate for you.
  • I’m a resource for an objective and clear path to recovery, attempting to test my proof of concept, not a therapist or an emotional outlet.
  • Any information provided to me either verbal or written will be kept strictly confidential.

What I am looking for:

  • Individuals afflicted with any type of mental illness who feel they need help getting helpThis is a free of charge service.
  • Those who truly want to get better, who want to take their lives back, and want to become empowered to do so.
  • Those who live in the Bay Area and are willing to meet with me in person.
  • If this speaks to you at all, and you understand that this project is in beta mode, I invite you to contact me via the form below.

Thank you for your interest in my project, I look forward to hearing from you!

You’ve got to burn to shine

You’ve got to burn to shine

I just got back from over a week in the desert, also known as Burning Man. If you’ve never been, you can eschew your preconceived nothing-but-sex,-drugs,-and-dance beats-notions now. Those things exist there, but it’s such a blip on the radar of what actually can and does occur on the Playa. My heart is so full of love and gratitude I can feel it in every fiber of my being. There is a palpable feeling of warmth radiating in my chest as though my heart wants to explode, and a vibration in my body tuned to nothing that isn’t on the wavelength of love. In my core nothing can get me down right now. Life has already tried and I’ve only been back at it for 3 days. I’m just too jovially overridden by the love frequency.

It’s a magical week, but also a very difficult one on so many facets. It tests my being in all the ways. It’s labor-intensive, expensive, the elements are harsh, creature comforts are few and far between as is sleep at times, there is constant stimulation 24 hours a day, I’m hard pressed to find any real alone time or peace and quiet, self-care is easily forgotten about in favor of the whirlwind of activities, and I have to rely entirely on myself for everything and anything, while still actively participating, and giving of myself and my resources. At least that’s that the precepts dictate. It can be so incredibly draining on a person, especially when you live an innately hyper-sensitive existence.

So why do I subject myself to this? You’d think someone who lives with clinical depression, major anxiety, and ADHD, who is also intrinsically highly empathic and generally sensitive to the world around her would run with her hair on fire from this type of thing. This is burn #4 for me, and I do it for the love, for the challenge, and for the love of the challenge. I get so much out of this experience, good and bad, it does so much for me as a human being, and moreover as a spiritual being. The experience is what you make of it.

That said, I set my intentions for this year’s burn shortly before I left as it took me that long to really flesh out what they should be at the heart of my experience. In addition to the opportunity to ephemerally exist in the presence of a specific density of radiant spirits, kissing the annoyingly cumbersome real world goodbye, and of course dancing like it’s my job. Namely this time around my intentions were self-empowerment, and seeking out love. Seems simple enough, right? Well, I worked for it. I think that everyone who goes out there, whether they have intentions for themselves and their experience or not, has to face the music at some point unless you make the conscious choice to not take the opportunity to look within yourself. I think the same song of “What is this, what am I really doing here, and how long can I sustain this?” plays for everyone. Maybe it plays only once, maybe it plays on repeat.

My self-reflective song played intermittently throughout the week as I opened myself, my mind, heart, and spirit to everyone who felt safe to do so with. The lyrics guided me through my experience with verses encouraging me to get out of my head and into my heart to connect with people on a deeper level, to let my walls down, to not live in fear or myself, my illness, or anyone else. Other verses reminding me to readily discard the FOMO and heed the self-care chorus (for someone like me self-care will always be the chorus in my life’s song), verses keeping me grounded but open, to stay in the moment, and to let my inner voice shine through from my heart because she is so much wiser than the voice from my mind.

I got everything I wanted and more from this year’s experience. I made an effort to leave my fears and quandaries about being human, the really hard-wired stuff, as far behind as I could on my quest for love. It came down to something as simple as an attempt to put my social anxiety and fear of rejection aside by candidly walking up to someone and just putting an arm around them, whether I really knew them or not, showing them I wanted to be in their presence. That kind of giving of myself was so new, and so wonderful to me. It’s one of the gifts I took back with me to real life and have already had the opportunity to put into practice.

On the flip side of that, on my last day out there I’d had enough of the whole experience and had a mental, physical, and emotional breakdown. At my core I felt at peace, but my mind, body, and spirit were tapped out and I had to relinquish myself to that experience as well. Of course my humanistic ego tried to silently allay the symptoms on my own when I woke up Monday morning and immediately began to react. I lied there curled up in a ball in my dusty tent completely overstimulated, nerves shot, crying, shaking, hyperventilating, refusing to take care of myself and just succumbing to whatever was going to happen.

It brought back that familiar, harrowing, desperate feeling of being out of control. But then, after two solid hours of fighting all the feels, my self-reflective song came on in my head and reminded me that I was there for love and self-empowerment. What that ultimately meant was I needed help from others so I could help myself and press on. Right then and there I had the epiphany of and confessed to the universe that I no longer just wanted people in my life; friends, family, a partner, I needed them. So I picked myself up off the ground, put my biggest sunglasses on so I could still hide just a little bit (oh you, silly pride), and walked out into camp where few remained and everything was being rapidly deconstructed. The first campmate to approach me asked me how I was doing and I immediately realized that was my chance, my moment to burn to shine. I had to cop to the fact that I was not ok, and then allow myself to need others.

This particular experience was all so new to me considering I’ve mostly always dealt with everything on my own, in my own space via my own learned coping mechanisms. It gave me so much nourishment I can’t find words to convey. I can, however, say that it brought my original intentions of self-empowerment and seeking love completely and entirely full circle. I allowed others to support me in my time of need, to give me the love and care that I so obviously needed when I’m so used to being the one to give of myself to others. I allowed myself to be totally vulnerable in the presence of those who I’d only known on a very surface level, I allowed this experience to force me to lay all my cards on the table in that moment. It was absolutely beautiful. I learned that if I want something I never had, I’d have to do something I’d never done. I let the love in.

I continue to go not just for the love and the good times but because this event is an exponentially unequivocal benchmark for my personal growth and progress. I go for the freedom and reprieve from the heavy that is everyday human existence, without being allowed to forget that I am ultimately human, and that in and of itself is a challenge that won’t quit. If I’m not challenging myself I’m not sufficiently subjugating my illness, or my ego.

Allowing something to break you down and build you back up, leaving in your trail the pieces that no longer serve you, is the definition of ego death. The experience of mental illness has afforded me more ego death than any experience ever will, so there is no question as to why I would continue to participate in an event that, albeit via different modalities, still brings me my much sought after, and hard-earned return to my true self. I cannot express the amount of gratitude I have for the fresh reminder of the fact that I have mental illness, mental illness does not have me.

Peace, love, and wellness.