I remember in college when I was going to art school that I kept a postcard up on my locker. It was a photograph of a golden eagle soaring in a clear blue sky. That photograph reminded me of a spiritual experience I had at the top of a mountain in the Rockies on my 13th birthday. It was a long, tiring climb, and it was my first ascent up an actual mountain. At the top was a revelation that engaged my whole being. At the top I could see across the range of mountains. At the top were trees, and ponds with tiny fishes or tadpoles, and very close above me was the silent grandeur of golden eagles soaring. Everything I saw and was a part of transformed me. It is an indelible experience and memory for me. The postcard was an image that kept that kind of energy present in my consciousness. It set the tone for every day that I earned my Studio Art degree. The meditation for today is photography, and specifically images that are meaningful to us.
When Autumn begins, the leaves fall, the air gets chilled, and I naturally begin to look forward to bedtime when I snuggle under the weight of blankets at night like a little squirrel in a nest. I delight in having reason to heat up some hot cacao to drink, and my inner bear feels the deep pull into, not hibernation, but into the inner cave of introspection, where I look back at what the summer was, in photos and dream journals mostly, and then look at what is changing outside, and what my goals are for the coming winter. As much as winter can be a challenge sometimes, there is nothing like transitioning from season to season, embracing each one as much as possible, flowing with the ancient rituals of our Earth’s rhythms and cycles.
I push aside the stresses that would demand my attention. I shut off the social media. I walk away from the phone. I resolutely choose, over and over, in each season, to walk in nature with my beautiful little dog, Samantha and with my husband and daughter. I choose to write and photograph what I see, what grabs me in the moment. And that is what they are, passing moments captured on digital photography. And it becomes not only a memory preserved, but also awakens a deeper appreciation in me of what potential, wonder, and beauty there is in every moment.
“People take pictures of each other
just to prove that they really existed…”
~ “People Take Pictures Of Each Other” by The Kinks
If that statement in the song by the great British Invasion era rock band, The Kinks, is true–there must be a fevered desired like never before to prove our existence to one another and ourselves. Yikes. Yet, I would like to think that even as we try to grasp beyond chronological time and the fleeting moments that slip on and on, just like the waves upon the shore of our ocean–that each art piece, photo, and movement for creativity is a stepping stone on a wonderful journey that is actually filled with mystery.
My inner bear of introspection is feeling very happy to share some of my favorite pics that journal moments in this past summer leading up to now. I have added some in-the-moment poetry with the images. May this be a joyful meditation and moment of recharging for you. Happy Friday!
NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) designates this week as “Mental Illness Awareness Week,” with a goal to promote “CureStigma”, which illuminates the needless stigma people with mental health issues face in our culture.
Mental health and mental illness are important, huge issues in our world. There are so many aspects we need to address, I cannot begin to elaborate on it all here and now. All in all, we need to create systems that are healing and healthy for people, communities, and nature — and dismantle the corrupt, abusive systems, which contribute to trauma and mental health disruptions.
From a personal perspective, mental illness shaped my early life, as my father was mentally ill. In fact, he was a sociopath and/or narcissist. You can be sure there is a stigma to those words. And this is the first time I have said it in public. The repercussions of his mental illness, and the actions he took while mentally ill, are still felt in my life to this day. It has always been hard to deal with, whether he was present and alive, absent and alive, or now absent and deceased. In short, he was a product of an institutionalized infancy (state orphanage till the age of three) and institutionalized systems, like the military. Many institutionalized systems that care for children can create narcissists and sociopaths.
Beyond that, I faced my own mental health issues as an adult. I had a traumatic childhood, and faced unfriendly peers and teachers in elementary and middle school. As a young mother , I experienced a trauma that caused me to have PTSD, which I saw a therapist to treat. That was the trauma that was the tipping point of traumas, a culmination that started in childhood. A couple years after that, I became severely ill from Lyme’s disease. It was not diagnosed right away, and I ended up not being able to work for three months.
This caused what the doctors diagnosed as mild depression that was joined with IBS, anxiety, and panic attacks. After slowing recovering, and having taken the medications and therapy that I could from western medicine, I sought deeper and more empowering methods to heal my inner wounds and traumas.
That started me on the path of spiritual work like reiki, and holistic wellness in general, which I applied to myself before sharing it to help others. Looking back at all that I went through related to the spectrum of mental health to mental illness, I can tell you some of the key things that really helped and made a difference for me. We are each unique, and we each find our way to health and wellness in our own ways, but perhaps some of the following things we have in common. Here are four things that helped me the most as I climbed out of the dark abyss, known as a mental health crisis, back in the early 2000s:
I asked for help. I knew my brain chemistry had literally changed from the trauma and illness, and that I couldn’t help myself this time, no matter how independent and private I love to be. I asked for help, and I needed it. I went to my doctor. I went to a therapist. I took an antidepressant for a period of time, and it helped. I was dedicated with a strong desire to find myself and climb out of the dark abyss I had fallen into of panic attacks. The most important and helpful thing that the therapist told me is that: my reactions and mental health crisis had to do with things happening to and around me that weren’t normal or healthy. Therefore, my reaction was healthy and normal, and my mental health crisis was a part of that health. That was a big relief, and goes a long way to removing the stigma.
I read a book that helped me to see that the terrifying panic attacks that made me feel like I was dying a horrific death were actually an opportunity to connect with a deeper and truer part of myself. The panic attacks were an opportunity, it said, to face fear in order to rise up stronger. That book is called, Riding The Dragon by Robert J. Wicks. Books, dancing, and music have always been lifelines for me. That was one of them.
I found life-giving support from people who know, love, and support me — people I trust and feel safe with. For me, that was my husband, sister, mother, and a close friend. The faces of the people in our lives may change at different stages in life, yet the important thing is to find at least one or two people, who are safe, healthy, loving, supportive, kind, and honest. When there is no one that comes to mind, that is when finding help and community through support groups and counseling can be the best alternative.
I used the free tools that I had been taught as a teen and young adult. I had an unusual childhood, and not all of it was bad. I had some unusual, stellar, rebellious-in-a-good-way mentors, friends and family who taught me skills and tools that serve anyone well: breath work exercises, exercise/walking daily, singing, dancing, meditation, yoga, art/creativity, retreat, positive visualizations, prayer, healthy diet, avoiding toxins and chemicals, and spending quality time with loved ones, animal companions, and in nature.
The truth is, mental health issues affect everyone.
We are all on a spectrum of mental health to mental illness, and it fluctuates according to our experiences, environment, and many other factors.
There are few if any people I know who don’t experience some kind of mental health issue in some way, at some points in life. Grief, genetics, disasters, violence, war, abuse, corrupt and broken systems, institutions all play a part in how our brain chemistry balance fluctuates, and our in our ability to manage in insane conditions.
What helps me to speak up now is knowing that I was lucky to have the help and the tools. I was lucky to find a way through it. I was lucky to know I needed to ask for help.
Now, like too many other Americans, I don’t have and can’t afford health care on a regular basis. I may not need it now, but that doesn’t mean I can count on that always being true. I am proactive, and use the holistic tools that have served me well. But that isn’t always enough.
We cannot remain silent. Not only do we need to dispel the stigma of mental illness, we need healthcare and insurance to serves a higher purpose of wellness with ethics, inclusivity, accessibility, and transparency.
If you struggle with mental health issues, the stigma of it, and in needing help but not being able to afford it, you are not alone.