Retrospective Revelations

I’m not sure if it’s because of all the change I’ve been through in the past 18 months, or if it’s because I work with college students, but lately my introspection has been mixed with a sizable dose of retrospection. I’m looking in and looking back, at who I’ve been, what I’ve done, and how I’ve grown and changed. None of it is bad, though not all of it is good either. Mainly what strikes me is how unplanned so much of it was, and is, and how malleable my ideas for the future still are.

Right now a couple of things are really coming home to roost. Seeing those college students, I think of myself when I was that age. Everything that I thought was important then, isn’t important to me anymore. Some of the things that are important to me now, I couldn’t even fathom then!

Even the me of today has shifted priorities and plans compared to the me of just a few months ago. The book Hippie Homesteaders is partially to blame; I picked it up on my Tamarack trip because I wanted to know about my people (hippie non-natives) in my new home state. It is a marvelous book that weaves together individual stories to really examine the back to the land movement in the 1960s. It also opened my eyes about what is really possible when you choose a principled lifestyle as the impetus for your life.

I’ve recently found that my thinking about the future has shifted from what I want to DO with my life, to how I want my life to BE. On a daily basis; on an annual basis. I was thinking a lot about what to major in, now that my work affords me free tuition and I can finally get my degree. That I could focus on Environmental Studies, with a side of Sociology, Political Science, and Appalachian Studies. But where does that lead? To work that I could believe in, yes, but that has me in an office still, from 9 to 5 or maybe longer, or out in the field busting my butt in all conditions, probably for pay not much better than I make now.

Now I think it’d be nice to take up ceramics, to make something with my hands out of the Earth and offer it to the world.  It’d be nice to have some land, with woods and a log home and cats and a dog, and with fields to hold gardens and orchards, horses and goats and chickens and bees. To spend my days tending the animals, plying my craft, selling my wares online and through local shops. To have time and energy for my partner and tend the land with him. A daily rhythm as soothing and regular and meditative as the spinning of the pottery wheel. To have my year to tied more to the land and the seasons, punctuated with occasional trips, for leisure and study and work.

Some of this is a bit outlandish, I know. I haven’t touched clay since middle school, though I intend to enroll in a local class next month. But the inspiration has struck. My dreams are more earthy, humble, simple. I’m not sure what this means; perhaps that I no longer have anything to prove, to my parents, or my partner, or myself. But it feels good. I’m not ruling out college, just back in pondering mode. And I’m excited to get my hands in the mud and play.

Paroxetine and Animism

Well, I decided to get back on antidepressants, even though it’s been something like ten years since I last needed them. One of the benefits of this not being my first experience with depression is that I can recognize the symptoms for what they are, and I can (slightly) more easily suck up my pride and ask for help when I need it. When symptoms were interfering with work and personal life, I had to take action. I Listened to my experience and my body, and took the needed Leap.

One of the benefits of working with a bunch of nurses is that I can get a prescription fairly quickly, and get things turned around sooner rather than later. I still have an appointment to meet with someone, but I didn’t have to wait for it to start the meds. I’m not sure I’m going to pursue counselling. I feel like I have things well in hand, I can weather the storm and know myself, I just eventually hit a wall where my perseverance runs out and my brain chemistry needs help.

Another kinda cool side note is that since the last time I was on it, Paxil/Paroxetine has gone generic. That means a month’s supply is under $5. Which is nice, and significantly cheaper than the supplement I was using as a stopgap. Score!

I am not the young thing I was the last time I took an SSRI, I’m feeling side effects now when I recall none in the past. Nausea, intestinal distress, that spacey feeling I usually associate with Benadryl (and is why I never take it), dry mouth, the works. I know that most side effects abate with continued use, but I was worried for a while. The spacey feeling is unpleasant, and interferes with functioning as I’d like to, but it’s finally started to easy off. Now dry mouth is the last one hanging on. I can live with it if needed, though I hope it goes away too.

During my shamanic apprenticeship, my mentor shared a story of a client of hers who was undergoing chemotherapy as part of her cancer treatment. Chemo is known for its severe side effects, essentially because it’s poison that kills cancer cells faster (hopefully) than it kills healthy cells. The client used shamanic journeying to work with the chemotherapy, treating the chemical as a sentient entity. They talked, struck bargains, formed a partnership. And her side effects were quite mild, all things considered.

Animism says that all things are imbued with Spirit. This is easy to accept when we talk of the natural world, but can boggle the mind when you start talking about man-made molecules. But if you really think about it, why not? If I talk to my car, and name it, why not a medicine? If folks work with plant-based entheogens, is the leap to antidepressants really that big? I say not at all. So I am not just taking this pill, I am building a relationship with a chemical, leveraging all my knowledge, and using all the tools available to me.

When I have my appointment, it will be interesting to talk with someone about where to go from here. On the one hand, it’s a vast improvement from where I was. On the other, I still feel lower energy and prone to repetitive thoughts than I’d like. The question is, do I stick it out a while longer and see what comes, or try another tack? We shall see what comes!

Self-Awareness and Depression

I am depressed.

It’s not the first time depression has come to roost in my head and in my heart. My first spell was in middle school, as I struggled with glasses, braces, a perm, and being the smartest kid in class. The second time was in college, when I was being called into a more spiritual life but didn’t have the understanding of what was going on. I just knew that traditional schooling and I were not getting along, and I let things get quite bad before I sought help. It’s come back a few times since then, as well. Usually it was tied to my attempts at going back to school. I suspect there is a message there, but I’m still not sure I’m ready to hear it.

Now that I’ve totally upended my life, I knew there would be a “change hangover.” A person can only take so much. So I tried to take my time and make sure I was taking care of myself. But as the months drag on, I think it’s time to face the music and call a spade a spade. My depression is back.

My energy level is abysmal. I struggle to keep my fires lit to make it through the workday. On weekends I am both restless and exhausted. I could stay in bed forever. As I try to get a handle on the new job, consider returning to school in the spring, and feel called to learn ceramics, I have no idea how I can muster up energy for it all.

My resilience is also shot. Any piece of bad news or a misunderstanding between Neal and I throws me for a loop. Instead of it taking minutes or hours to recover, it takes days.

And poor Neal doesn’t get the best of me. He gets used up me, at the end of the day, and the end of the week. We’re still trying to get our communication styles aligned and it’s been a bumpy road. It doesn’t mean we love each other less. But I certainly don’t feel very lovable or loving.

This time around, I have more tools in my toolbox. I am self-aware and spiritually connected. But it is still very much a struggle. No one would know from looking at me, I’m very good at keeping up my “everything’s fine” mask. (Perhaps with the exception of being at home with Neal, then it slips.) But beneath the surface, there is a very surreal, dramatic, exhausting battle taking place. Most of the time it’s just a steep uphill slog against exhaustion and a gray demeanor. But when it’s bad, it’s bad. Adapted from my journal:

I am close to the edge of despair.

This is how depression works. This is how the illness feels.

I want to RUN. I want to NUMB this pain so BADLY. I don’t want to feel this way anymore. I don’t want to feel at all.

I hate feeling helpless, but I know I’m not. I know I am strong, and that I have support.

I wish I drank.

I’m thankful I don’t drink.

I wish I could turn this emotional pain into physical pain, then it might be more bearable.

I’m thankful that I’m too squeamish to hurt myself.

I wish I could give up.

I’m thankful that I’m too stubborn to give up.

Right now I am just trying to accept that it is what is. And I pray, asking my Spirits for help. And I wrestle with how to talk about this with the people I care about, and who care about me. And I mull over whether it’s time to see a professional. One day at a time, I’m making my way. I’m thankful for the little edge that self-awareness gives me.

Talismanic Jewelry

I mentioned previously that I have a thing for talismanic jewelry, and that those with the interest and the observational skills could “read” what I wear to glean a bit of what is going on in my life. But that doesn’t mean that my appearance screams, “occult,” or even “hippie.” In many ways, I’m just like everyone else. My use of talismans isn’t something I do to advertise anything, but it is very much about making everyday things, like jewelry, have meaning. And leveraging that meaning.

To try and explain exactly what I mean, here’s a run down of my current everyday pieces:

  • A small pair of natural garnet stud earrings. The gemstones are rough, and were found by the same person who made them into earrings. I’m not someone who does a lot of work with crystals and gemstones, but there are two gemstones that I have built relationships with and work for me. One is garnet; I find it great for supporting courage, the more active form of courage that involves doing. I wear it to support my learning of the ropes at my new job and my desire to go back to school. It helps keep me going even in the face of obstacles. The other gemstone is aquamarine. It also supports courage, but the more passive kind, that has to do with being, or even surrender. I keep a chunk of tumbled but unpolished aquamarine in my purse. It’s unique texture makes it a good worry or fidget stone.
  • Two narrow, hammered sterling bangles. Both are stamped on the inside: one with, “Soften Into Kindness,” and the other with, “Express Gratitude.” These are intentions I am doing my best to hold in my relationship with Neal. The bangles remind me of them, when I feel them move on my forearm and jingle against one another as I go about my business. Sometimes I get very swept up in my own world, and lose sight of the important things. These help me to keep my attention on the things, and people, that matter most, especially when life gets challenging.
  • A magically crafted compass rose talisman pendant. I spoke a little bit before about why this symbol feels resonant to me. It has a lot to do with knowing where I stand in relationship to everything else, with sussing out my direction and next steps, and in listening to the call: finding and moving towards True North. All of it feels very relevant to my life right now, having undergone huge changes and anticipating still more on the horizon. This is the deepest energy I want to work with, and the most overarching, and so it gets the spot over my heart.
  • At work I wear a lanyard with my work keys and ID on it. To it I’ve also attached a silver casting of a bobcat claw. The bobcat is the mascot of the college at which I work, and it’s also been a helping spirit with which I have worked before. Bobcat is a spirit that has much to do with matters of my heart. But weaving that aspect in with my workplace, where there is already an existing link via the mascot, I hope to make my work into work I love.

So, you can see there is a lot of energy at work! But on the surface, nothing jumps out. In fact, I’d say I’m actually pretty understated in my appearance. To me, it’s all about the meaning.

 

My compass rose is my second purchase from Tveir Hrafnar. His work is impeccable, and I highly recommend him. My other pieces came from sellers on Etsy. Etsy is a collection of artisans of all types, and if you need something special or custom made, you can often find someone to work with here. Just be warned, it can be addictive! (I have a wee problem, but I’m taking a hiatus from shopping here, I swear!) Here are the shops of the makers of my earrings, bangles, bobcat claw and work lanyard, in case you are intrigued.

Surreality

So, I’ve lived here for over six months, have had a real job for a few weeks, but yet, often this life doesn’t feel like it’s mine. Sometimes I still feel like this extended vacation from reality is ending soon, and I’ll be going back to my old life. I know it’ll take a while for a new sense of normality to take hold. Especially since there is still a lot to learn about my job, and since our apartment is really only a stop along the way to making a real home here.

I am very thankful for my spiritual practices and connections, as they have been lifesavers; providing a sense of continuity and groundedness that keeps me much more balanced than I could ever hope to be without them. This might surprise Neal, since he’s weathered more than a few bouts of my tears as I navigate all this change. That’s just how I roll, dear.

So I’ll just keep waking up and stepping outside to see mountains, until that feels normal to me. I’ll keep going to work at a charming private college until it feels normal to me. And I’ll keep bewildering my partner until it feels normal to him!

The Sorcery of Public Radio

One of the side effects of my moving to West Virginia was my discovery of public radio. Sure, I knew of its existence before, but faced with so many other choices, it wasn’t something I had explored. With less radio choices in WV, I finally gave public radio a chance.

And I totally loved it. Not just the NPR bits, though those are cool, but the regional and local coverage is awesome. Especially as someone new to the area, getting Appalachian and West Virginian news and culture has been so very precious to me. I love learning about my new home, and this lets me feel really connected.

The sense of connection permeates much of public radio coverage. I am frequently moved, to the point of laughter or tears, and I’ve never gotten that with any other news coverage or with any other radio station. I’m profoundly grateful and a faithful convert!

Once I landed my new job I noticed that my employer is also a sponsor, which is awesome. But hearing their ad also triggered a rather magical thought process. In my mind’s eye, I imagine that public radio listeners are generally well-educated and well-employed. I became a listener. I landed a job that is rewarding and challenging work with awesome fringe benefits, including a way to pursue my degree – letting me become well-educated and well-employed. Coincidence?

I’ve never been much of a believer in coincidence. And social scientists of all flavors know that the “fake it until you make it” technique really works. So, while I won’t flat it call it sorcery (albeit rather unintentional on my part), I can definitely remain open to the possibility that I have benefited from the magic of public radio.

Check it out for yourself: West Virginia Public Radio and National Public Radio.

 

A Creature of Habit

I took a week off between jobs, to get my car serviced, my hair cut, and have a bit of fun besides. I’ve driven past Tamarack plenty of times, but always when in serious travel mode, so I never actually took the time to check it out. I did so in my downtime, and it’s really cool! It’s like a giant handmade in WV gift store. Some things are pricey (especially textiles and fine art), but lots of things are still affordable. I did the most damage in the book section (books about WV and/or written by West Virginians) and the WV food and drink section (locally made mead, score!). Their cafe also has yummy and affordable food for those on the road and tired of fast food.

A different day I found a cute little clothing store that is close to home, carries my size, and is affordable, a Holy Grail in this rural state. It was a nice little break from routine.

I’ve just finished up my first week at my new job. It may sound like I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, but the place is awesome! The perks I’m most enjoying and/or looking forward to are: no snack machine in my building (low willpower); a pretty, walkable, treed campus; the library; the fitness center (exercise equipment and yoga classes); the meditation chapel (24/7 quiet time, and a local Quaker Meeting uses this twice a month, I might check them out); the shorter commute; awesome paid time off; and the tuition waiver. As far as the actual work goes, it’s totally doable. I think I’ll blow their minds with my Excel skills (which I promise are only average, but I’m replacing someone who had NONE). I still have to learn the ropes though, figure out what needs doing when, and how. Overall I’m still geeked, and it all compensates for the underwhelming salary.

Having broken routine for a week, and still learning what my new one will be, my writing has gone by the wayside a bit. Once I get some more miles under my belt and figure out the new normal, I’ll be back to cranking out posts!