G – Gratitude (PBP Week 13)

2011 was a really bad year for me.

I left the job from hell in March, literally for the sake of my sanity.  Our plans for an alternative income fell through, and I spent most of the year dirt poor.  Francis’ old army injury kept getting worse and worse until he could no longer work.  Our house was foreclosed upon.  My depression started spiraling out of control and, because I had so many good reasons to be sad, I didn’t realize what was happening until it had almost destroyed my relationship.

Worst of all, a very dear friend of mine passed over that August.

Yeah, 2011 sucked.

In spite of all that – or rather, directly because of all that – I learned a very important lesson that year.  I learned was gratitude is.

It’s not that I’d never been thankful for kindnesses bestowed on me.  I like to think I’ve always given credit where it was due and was not shy in sharing my appreciation.

But it wasn’t until I had been so thoroughly humbled and was completely vulnerable that I really understood.

When we had no money and I needed to see a doctor, we found a free clinic that operated out of a bus and visited our neighborhood once a week.  I made an appointment, and expected to spend the entire day there, waiting to get help.  In actuality, though there were dozens of people there, the whole operation was incredibly professional.  I was at most, fifteen minutes before seeing a doctor.  The doctor asked me questions and genuinely seemed interested in my answers.  After discussing options, I was given a free prescription and told I could come back if I needed a refill.  I felt that I had been treated with more respect and dignity than in many doctor’s offices that I had paid to visit.

These people provided this kind of service for those desperately in need every single day.

I was grateful.

The night Rena died, a volunteer pastor sat with us for hours while we waited for news from the doctor.  She sat with us and just talked.  Some of it was about Rena – how were we related, what was she like.  Most of it was just chatting to keep our minds off of our worries.  Not once, though we had told her our religion, did she attempt to proselytize or minimize our beliefs.  She talked to us as people of faith, giving our Gods the respect They are due.

When the doctor finally appeared and gave us the terrible news, she sat with us while we cried and, when it was time, gave us a packet of practical information detailing what we’d have to do next.  Then she left us alone with our grief, letting us know we could contact her any time we needed to talk.

I was so touched by this.  I thought it would be wonderful to be able to provide that kind of comfort to people in need, but I knew I would never have that kind of strength.

And I was so grateful that she did have that strength.  That she was there.

When my depression got out of control, I found I was able to visit a county outpatient facility and receive free counseling. When we were so badly off that we couldn’t afford groceries or medicine, several institutions provided help – the Vetran’s administration, the local food bank, county medical assistance, state food stamps.

The depth of gratitude I felt in all these instances, and in several others that year, was unlike anything I had known before.  Possibly because the depth of my need was unlike anything I’d known before. It wasn’t simple thankfulness – which is a wonderful thing in itself. Thankfulness, as I see it is a virtue of the mind.

This gratitude was pure emotion, almost primal. To risk sounding even sappier – it made my heart glow.

When my family was in danger, I found the strength to get us the help we needed.

And I’m grateful for that, too. Grateful to my Gods, because I know I wouldn’t have succeeded on my own. And grateful to Francis, who kept pushing me to find help for my illness.

That year has changed the way I live my life.

Now, when someone helps me though they’ve no good reason to, when something goes well, or I feel warm sunshine on my face, or see a smile in my sweetie’s eyes – I can call up that feeling of pure gratitude. I try to remember to be truly grateful to my Gods for the blessings of this life, and to the people around me who give so much of themselves. It isn’t always easy, I get so absorbed in my troubles that I can’t always see the big picture. But when I do, it makes me feel better.

Gratitude can bring a path to joy into the darkest times.

F – Facing the World As It Is (PBP Week 12)

The entire pagan community mourns this week for the death of a woman that most of us were unaware of until she was gone.  Yana was a Syrian pagan who was brutally murdered by rebels after her own brother revealed to them that she was not Muslim.  People all over the world, myself included, have been moved to tears by her terrible fate and some consider her a modern pagan martyr.

(Now comes the part where I piss people off.)

Something’s been bugging me.

I am horrified and grief stricken when I imagine what this poor woman went through.  But my heart also breaks for the thousands of other people dying horribly in the clusterfuck that is today’s Syria, and in many other places around the world.  People are being murdered in Syria because they are Christian, or Jewish, or not the right kind of Muslim.  Women are killed because they aren’t dressed properly, or dare to be in public without a proper male escort. Or for any other reason they don’t conform with someone’s particular interpretation of Islam.

Why does the fact that Yana shared a label with me (and not even a religion, paganism being what it is) make her more important that them?  Why is this what it takes to wake us up to the fact that people are dying over there?

We tend to empathize with others in direct proportion to how much they remind us of ourselves.  But is that really empathy?  Or some kind of reflected self-preservation instinct?

I don’t know.  I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  It’s a human thing.

I mourn for Yana.  I pray that her Gods look after her soul.

I am not saying that her death was unimportant.  I’m saying no one’s is.

If this horrible crime has awakened you to what is going on in the world, please use this knowledge well.  Do something with it.  Support Doctors Without Borders or the Red Cross/Red Crescent or Amnesty International. Do whatever you can think of to make life a little better for those who aren’t as safe and privileged as you are.

 

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F – Feminine Mysteries and Fertility Worship (PBP Week 11)

photo: wikimedia commons

[Warning:  this post may be a little TMI for some people.  I’ve been trying to be a bit more open about all aspects of my life on this blog, and it occurs to me that this might come as a shock to some…]

I’ve never felt really connected to the feminine mysteries.

Intellectually, I object to people being categorized by their biology when it is only one aspect of our selves. Mainly though, I just never got what was so great about the things we were supposed to be celebrating. OK, yeah, the ability to bring forth life is a Big Deal.  Obviously.  And I’m sure many women find deep meaning in connecting to the cycles of the moon and the fertility of the earth.

It’s all in those pesky details.

Menstruation for me, at least after the first time which was very much a rite of passage, was usually a painful and often disgusting experience.  The fertility is symbolized was completely unwanted. I don’t do well with children.  I am, I think, a great aunt when the kids are tiny, and then again about the time they reach their teen years, but I’ve always known I am not mommy material.

In my mid-twenties I was diagnosed with large uterine cysts,  and I opted for a partial hysterectomy instead of the more dangerous, fertility preserving, cyst removal.  After that, I had the hormones, but no blood.  (And no cramps.  And no regular migraines.)  I completely lost track of my cycle.

So when I recently found myself lying in bed night after night feeling like I was still living in Phoenix and the air conditioning was on the fritz, it took me awhile to figure out that this is most likely due to night sweats and/or hot flashes.

Fertility, or lack there of, had suddenly imposed itself on my life again.

When I was working on my Dedicant Program for ADF, I had to write an essay on Fertility, one of their nine virtues.

I came to the conclusion at the time that, with over 7 billion people on the planet, the idea of literal human fertility as some kind of moral virtue is ridiculous.  In times and cultures where a large family meant survival it was a different story.  Today, in the West, the virtue lies in controlling one’s fertility – not in having a large family, but in nurturing the family that one has.  This can be expanded to taking care of the world around us.  Nurturing each other and the planet.

Of course, there is also creative fertility – a fertile imagination and the hands willing and capable to see those ideas through to fruition.  Even here, it is not simply the birth of ideas, but the willingness to see them to fruition that is a worthy thing.

In my mind it is this aspect of nurturing, of seeing things through rather than simply propagating, that makes any form of fertility a virtue, rather than mere biological fact or imagination run wild.

Nature and/or fertility based paths that focus in this direction tend to be much more inclusive.  Those that are purely biologically based tend to alienate a large number of people who, like myself, just don’t fit into their simple binary categories.  The union of opposites is a beautiful idea, but in practice it always seems to be imposing a black and white framework on  a grey – no, technicolor – world.

What a Difference a Week Makes! Also, Doggies!!!

In a recent post, artfully titled “Bleh” I wrote that life is basically a big poo sandwich at the moment, and I was surprised to find that I still had faith that something good was just around the corner.

An update:

I start my new job at 9 AM tomorrow.

A veteran’s resource group may be able to help us with about $800 towards our back rent.  (Or they may not – it’s up in the air due to some question about income requirements.  We should know tomorrow.)

Our land lord is willing to take payments on the past due rent.  With the $800, this is totally doable (though it will be tight, especially on 1 April since I won’t have had a chance to save up a whole month’s worth of paychecks yet.)  Without the $800 it enters the realm of fantasy.  But, said landlord apparently “likes us” and is willing to let us move into a more affordable property if we show them we can pay for it.  (Worst case scenario.  I SO do not want to hall all that crap down from the attic that I just finally moved up there.  But in the case of back-breaking labor vs living in a cardboard box with an eviction on our records?  Back-breaking labor wins hands down.)

I took these photos on 6 March 2010 at the cer...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In other news, I’ve spent the last ten days excitedly following the Iditarod.  I hadn’t thought about it much since our honeymoon (where we visited Anchorage and saw the ceremonial start) – so much has happened in the intervening year.

But when I realized it was the first Saturday in March again, I found myself getting all obsessive.  They even have a Fantasy Iditarod League.  (Like Fantasy Football, only with dogs.)  My team is currently ranked about 235 out of 400+.  But I’m very proud of the fact that one of “my” mushers it in the running for Red Lantern.

Apparently I am capable of getting caught up in a sport – it just needs to involve puppies.

Aliy Zirkle's dog team is primed and ready to go

Aliy Zirkle’s dog team is primed and ready to go (Photo credit: Alaskan Dude)

Also,  I have to confess to spending the bulk of the morning joking that the new Pope named himself after my husband.  Or worse.  (“I didn’t even know you were Catholic dear.  Do I have to kiss your ring now?”)  Personally, I was still pulling for “George Ringo II” (since the most recent Pope didn’t do justice to the name.)  But Francis I is all kinds of awesome.  At least at our house.

 

(3/22/13 – Edited to add:  I feel the need to clarify, the NAME “Francis I” is all kinds of awesome.  The Pope?  I was hopeful since he is a Jesuit.  And I really admire his stance on the poor.  However, his recent comments regarding homosexuality are disgusting.  In other words – I’m not optimistic.)

Bleh

Today would have been my father’s 80th birthday. The day after tomorrow is the 30th anniversary of his death. March is not a good time for my family.

I need a job now. Well, I actually needed a job months ago. I keep going on interviews and getting really positive feedback. Then they hire someone else.

My husband is really depressed and we are both really terrified of getting kicked out of our house.

I feel the depression coming back and I am holding on to my recovery by my fingernails.

The weirdest thing? I actually have faith that something good is coming around the corner. Faith has always been hard for me, but for once it’s relatively solid. I just need whatever is coming to get here. And soon.

When real life collides head on with the important stuff…

Nothing like a job interview at 9AM the morning after a night of sacred revelry to make a girl feel really at her best.

I was going to try to imbibe moderately last night, you know – just enough to be polite.  Yeah….  right.  One doesn’t worship Dionysos moderately.  One worships Him with everything they are.

Still, He took good care of me.  The hangover was very mild, and unnoticeable at the interview.  I think it went well.

Tonight is… problematic.  We have social obligations that can’t be cancelled and do not mesh well with the spirit of the day.  Thinking of dining with guests then supping with Orestes after.  After that, the park – dolls and swinging for Erigone, and then the crazy sex.

We have the best holidays.  Even the really disturbing ones.  No, especially the really disturbing ones…

As for the job interview, that’s now in the hands of the Gods – which is really the best place for it to be.

D – Depression and Devotion (PBP week 7)

First, I’d like to be clear that the following is addressing my own personal experiences with depression and isn’t meant to speak for anyone else.  (I’d think this should be a given, as it’s written in a personal blog, but one never knows.)

Anne-Louis Girodet, Erigone

The God I follow is, among other things, a God of Madness.  This is appropriate, as I am mad.

Not the I’ve-got-a-hatchet-and-I’m-going-to-kill-my-family-in-their-sleep sort of mad, nor the shouting-on-the-street-corner-about-what-the-voices-told-me-last-night sort of mad.  I’m definitely not the Hollywood-charming-Benny-and-Joon-isn’t-mental-illness-funny sort of mad.  I’m not even Mad Hatter mad or running-through-the-wilderness-tearing-small-animals-to-bits-with-my-bare-hands mad.  At least not all the time, anyway.

(I wish I was Hatter mad.  I really like that phrase.)

My madness is the madness of Erigone.  It can be a despair so total, so soul deep that it blots out all the beautiful things in life.  Other times, it is the simple inability to feel joy, to feel much at all.  Erigone knew the love of a God, and yet her father’s death made her despair so completely that she could not see any good in life.  (Erigone has been on my mind lately, I’ll return to her in more detail in a later post.)

I like to think of my depression as a madness.  Others might prefer the modern, clinical, less stigmatized, terms  “mental illness” or “mood disorder.”  I find comfort in the epic, mythicness of simple “madness.”  It is a vast thing, not to be contained within something as mundane as the DSM.  There is romance in the term.  Depression is crippling and painful – not romantic in the same sense that war is not glorious – but its nature is, in my experience, better suited to this language than the coldly clinical.

Depression is a tricky madness.  It can be patient.  You’ll think you’re doing okay, getting along fine, and then suddenly – WHAM!  Oh, yeah, I’m crazy.  I forgot.

Like many other forms of madness, depression is insidious.  It doesn’t just torment its host, but gets its hook into everyone near them.  And, like a living organism, it has a remarkable instinct for self-preservation.  Anything that would help rid the host of it – medication, therapy, reason, love, faith – is pushed aside as useless, irrelevant or – my favorite – selfish.  (“I don’t have the right to ask my family for comfort.  I’m too much of a burden already…”)

I never turn to my Gods less than when I need Them the most.

And yet my God is a God of Madness.  He has suffered Himself, He understands.

One of the first things that Dionysos asked of me when we became acquainted was to stop taking my anti-depressants.  (If that doesn’t set off alarm bells in your mind as you read this, you’ve never known a mad person.  Or anyone with mental illness or a mood disorder.  Just saying’.)

I did this with the full, if anxious, support of my partner.  I’d been wanting to stop them for awhile, I’d been on the same meds for many years and had never been entirely happy with how they worked.  When I stopped taking them, after the initial withdrawal period, everything was fine.  I didn’t notice much of a difference at all.

I believed Dionysos encouraged my stopping the meds because I didn’t need them.  Maybe I had been misdiagnosed all those years ago.

Heh.

Everything was going along fine for several months, then slowly, insidiously, the depression started to awaken.  The madness crept in.  First, problems at work:  I was unhappy there and was sure no one liked me.  Then, a growing number of fights with my partner.  Lying alone, crying in the back of a car because I knew I was making life a living hell for my loved ones and I didn’t want to hurt them anymore.  Taint them with my madness.

And all this time, not turning to the Gods, not turning to Dionysos, though I kept Him in mind, knew He understood.  Surely he didn’t want this?  I wanted to be able to give him anything, but my family had no such agreement.

It was their pain, especially my husband’s (yes, I got married in the middle of all this,) that finally drove me to the therapist.  And back to medication – the right medications this time.

(Every time I’d gone to a new doctor before and I’d tell them what I was taking, they’d ask me how it worked.  “Well, OK I guess.  I don’t feel like killing myself, anyway” was a good enough answer for them and they’d just prescribe more of the same.  Anyone going through something similar – please, for the love of all that is holy, stand up for yourself!  There are a lot of options out there, one of them will work for you.)

After a lot of work – and medication, therapy, reason, love, and faith – I’ve got a good handle on my madness.  MY madness.  As in it is mine, whether I want it or not, I am not its.

And there was Dionysos, on the other side, saying “Now you know what madness is.  You know the power of it.  And you know you’re bigger than it is.  So enough with this helplessness, then.  Let’s get started.”