Giving Up, And Starting Over

Wisdom And Love From A Mighty Cat

Boris William. Photo by CS Sherin

CS Sherin, Feb. 20, 2019

A Dark Day

I wrote the narrative below, Give Up, at the end of September in 2014. It is about a dark night I went through that I will never forget. It wasn’t the first hard time I have faced, but it was a pivotal one, different from other times.

It was August 11th, 2014. I experienced a deep depression that washed over me quite suddenly. I was to find out the next day, that it was the same day that Robin Williams died. He was someone who had been a bright light for me in a rough childhood — him and The Muppets. Finding out the next day about his death, I realized I had probably felt a “disturbance in the force,” so to speak, that had affected me. Robin was such a great presence on Earth, dear to many, and missed. I am sure his death was a real energetic part of what I felt that night. But there were personal dynamics at work too.

Before that night, I had already gone through some devastating loss. My oldest sister had died four months earlier, after a long battle with a cancer that had turned quite brutal. A few months before that, our elderly dog had also gotten a brutal cancer, and had to be euthanized suddenly. Simultaneously, I had come to a point in my self-employment where I knew I had to make a change. I had been doing holistic spiritual care for over a decade, and didn’t quite know where I was headed, if I were to stop and change.

Introduction

The story you are about to read is about facing inevitable change, loss, past traumas revisited, and grief. It is also about the life-giving transformations we are able to experience while in relationship with other beings, for instance, a cat. Reciprocal positive relationship with animals, and other beings, can be profound and important in so many ways, if we are open to it. I recommend being open to it.

Perhaps one of the reasons that humanity finds itself facing so many crises and ongoing-history-repeating-itself serious problems is because, we are not in active, consistent, real relationships with the countless other living beings we share this planet with — not in a way that is ongoing, respectful and more selfless than self-serving.

The trees, plants, aquatic life of all kinds, rocks/crystals, land animals, creatures of the air, and below ground all have knowing of various kinds in their being. An openness to cultivating conscious, caring relationships with any of those — choosing to be present for it — could be the transformative change we need at this time. It is important to note that any committed relationship within or between other species needs to contain: consistent presence, kindness, honesty, consideration, and mutual respect.

The following story is evidence of the deep, long-resonating, lasting rewards that come from: a balance of giving and receiving, helping and receiving help, listening and sharing, asking and telling – true friendship. I have Boris, the valiant cat, to thank for the real presence and wisdom won during that dark, hard night on August 11, 2014:

Give Up

There is an escalating pressure mounting around and within me tonight. It presses upon me like an ominous darkness of massive storm clouds, which contain a sharp cold front set against the air — stagnant, oppressive heat, humidity and no wind. A violent storm is looming.

Am I wearing rose-colored glasses, not facing reality? Not usually. I do love being practical and realistic, as much as positive and dreamy. Am I the eternal optimist made of ideals? Yes, that is true. There is a tireless, sleepless affinity in me for honesty and ethics…awake in my heart and mind like an atomic clock.

On my bed this day and evening, a powerful depression intrudes, and disrupts my true nature. I cannot continue. I want to give up, for real.

It is painful, blind, anguish.

It feels like that sucker punch in my solar plexus, from the mean boy in 4th grade. I was taken by surprise, robbed of breath and air, with that sudden punch of pain, that dropped me to my knees — sucking tears out of me without permission. He had walked away without a word.

This swell of sadness tonight is too dark, and overwhelms me beyond reason.

Boris, the cat, is by me now. He is the one who always comes running to see how he can help when it sounds, from somewhere in our house, like someone could be hurt, in trouble, or sick. If he were human, he would be a First Responder, a nurse, counselor, and/or healer. I tell him quietly and despondently that I am giving up. At first I am not sure if I mean my life. The darkness was so overwhelming. I ask myself, and feel deeply: No, not my life. My purpose and work — like a spiritual death, it seems. Boris tells me a surprising thing — with his wise eyes and being, Boris says, “Good. Give up.”

Startled into a sudden alert surprised awareness, that breaks the dark spell, I ask, “What?! Why? Don’t you care? You always care. Why don’t you care, Boris?” He answered with nonchalance, “Give up. I gave up once. After I gave up, good people found me, helped me, and then you found me. And now look at me.” He is beaming strength and love, smiling, eyes happy.

Boris, quite an elderly cat at this time. Photo by CS Sherin

Astonished and awakened, I remembered what he meant. I thought of Boris’s story. Boris had been abandoned by a previous family, along a freeway, that had a tall fence separating it from the countryside. When he was found, the shelter workers told us, he was dirty. The kind of dirty, they said, that only happens when a cat gives up. A cat giving up is a starkly tragic thing. Cats take pride in their self-care and stealthy ability to survive. He had been brought low by the trauma of being abandoned and then trapped near a highway, with bad weather/storms, and no food. He suffered PTSD for a while after we adopted him. He needed antidepressants for a few months, to remember what normal feels like, the vet said. And he did, he got better after those 3-4 months of medication. (Actually, his example back then with needing medication for a while, helped me to address my own needs during a health crisis, not long after his.) It took us a few years after adopting Boris, to fully earn his trust and full affection. In his elder years now, after 11 years with us so far, he is well and happy, fully loved and loving. We know he is no younger than 17 and could be as old as 19.

I paused, and took this moment in.

Maybe the thought to give up wasn’t as bad as it felt at first. It is simply hard to let go of work that I have given all my heart and effort to, along with sitting with the layers of grief. I am loyal. I am a hard worker. Yet, I need to let go of some big things, and adjust to a changing reality and changing needs. Boris is right. I looked over at him in awe. The four-legged, hairy, mahogany-red with white, tall, thin, elder fellow is right. I didn’t expect that from you just now, Boris. Thank you!

King Boris, or Chewy Bill, as we sometimes call him, gave me a jolt of understanding that allowed me to release the fear and illusion of failure. Boris helped me to boldly take up courage, and be okay with letting go — even if it feels like dropping off a ledge on a tall building with no net or cushion below. Boris has an intimate, expert knowledge of major endings that are like deaths, and how rebirth is on the other side of it, waiting for us — something much better, and really right. A really wise cat, that Boris. What a gorgeous guide! I scratched his cheeks and massaged his head and chest in thanks. He smiled his open-mouthed smile with twinkling eyes, that reminds my husband of Don Knotts. That makes me chuckle. What I see is a cat who blazes and shimmers, a noble being, who commands his new life with joy — a new life, that found him. He knows — he gained all of it after he had given up.

Afterword

Back to 2019. What I didn’t know yet, when I wrote that story, was that we would yet have to face the death of our elder cats, first Abigail, and then Boris in the following year. Living with, and processing all that grief, led me to shift and channel it, and the love, into practical, tangible work for healthy sustainable living (toxin-free) via Recipe For A Green Life, which took up nearly three years of my life, from start to finish. It was a big leap, and a big risk. It certainly didn’t pay well. Yet, it is and has been important, honors what and how I love, and speaks of our collective, interrelated, priceless connection to all life in totality.

Boris was such a strong presence in our lives — a magnanimous, extraordinary spirit, even for a cat. He always knew that humans are too often so slow to catch on to what animals know, and try to communicate. He was always persistent, and maddeningly so. I actually gained so much respect for his persistence — it can be an endearing, admirable quality. He never gave up on trying to communicate with us; helping us to understand what he needed or wanted, in quite obvious, when his subtle gestures were missed by us.

Pawing At My Heart

For a time before he died, he kept pawing at my upper chest, like he wanted to climb inside my heart. He did it so often. In my distracted, clueless, human way, I thought it was cute, yet strange that he kept doing it. Then, I found out that he was terminally ill. After a while of processing the two things, I finally understood what he was saying to me. He was saying,

One of the times that Boris had just been pawing at my chest. Photo by CS Sherin

“Keep me in your heart.

Don’t forget me.

I love you.

I will always be there.”

When I finally realized what he was saying, it loosed my tears, along with the enormous love grown through a positive, loving relationship with another being over so many years. It still loosens my tears of love, years later.

I picked him up, hugged and assured him that I finally understood. I told him that I would, always. He never did it again, so I know that he knew the message was received. I am so thankful that I was able to drop my human distractions for long enough to truly hear him before he had to leave us.

We are convinced Boris was a mighty spirit that took on cat form for a time, someone we were lucky to know and love. I could tell many stories about Boris’s ways. Like the Easter morning that he jauntily brought in a baby rabbit for me to cook for the holiday. Or, the nap we took beside each other, and the dream that we had — where he taught me to make healing balls of light (it was hard — he was really good at it). Or, how he always came to everyone’s rescue, never once afraid. And, how he wanted a dog so badly, and how he fell in love with her, when we did finally adopt a dog. And, how he had a soul mate, little Abigail (ginger cat) — and how they had an actual impromptu wedding ceremony in our back yard one Spring.

Boris, back in 2011 or 2012, with an orb of light near his paw. Photo by CS Sherin

Yet, for today, what I will say is this: The time, love, and presence of Boris, that strong bright being, lives on and is in my heart always. That alone, gives me courage and the warm action of love for this life — no matter what.C

The Gift Of Perspective

An Artist’s View On Perspective, Astronomy, And Astrology

The Most Crowded Place In Our Galaxy (The Milky Way). Arches Cluster in the constellation of Sagittarius. Credit: NASA/ESA 2015

Please take a moment to do the following before reading further:

  • Take a deep breath in through your nose, drawing the breath from below and around your belly button.
  • Hold the breath in for a couple seconds.
  • Then, release it slowly through your mouth like an audible sigh.
  • Now, smile. Yes, even if you don’t feel like it, and it feels kind of fake. Smile, and then release any tension you are holding in your body with another belly breath in and out.
  • Take one more deep breath, in and out, in the same way. Then, smile again.

Now, consider this. You are here:

  • You are an inhabitant on the planet Earth, also known as: “The Good Goddess”, “Gaea”, and Terra Mater
  • The Good Goddess: Terra Mater, is the 3rd planet from her (relatively young) Sun, which is known as: Sol or Helios
  • Our Helios solar system orbits the galactic center of our slightly warped barred spiral galaxy, which is called: The Milky Way
  • We are within the minor Orion “spur” (near the Sagittarius and Perseus major arms) of the Milky Way
  • Our solar system is estimated to be one of 10 – 100 billion solar systems in our Milky Way galaxy. 
  • Astronomers now estimate that there are at least 100-200 billion observable galaxies in the Universe.
  • At the galactic center is Sagittarius A, which is near the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius.
  • Sagittarius A Star, in the Sagittarius A area, is a newly discovered radio source, and is also near the location of what is believed to be a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.
  • The first photograph of a supermassive black hole was shared on April 10th, 2019. This black hole was taken from a neighboring galaxy to Sag A*, M87. Messier 87 is further away, but larger than the supermassive black hole in Sag A*.
Artistic rendition of the Milky Way galaxy, created Sept. 12, 2013.
NASA_JPL-Caltech/R.Hurt

It is still a mystery what the true nature of our universe is…

It is important to keep in mind, that the Earth itself is invisible within scale of size compared to some of the universe’s most gargantuan heavenly bodies.  If the Earth is invisible in scale to some heavenly bodies, what does that make us? What is beyond invisible?

Yet, we are present and in relationship with all that is. This is amazing and good to orient ourselves in this way, beyond the mundane, while remaining rooted in facts of reality, as we know them so far!

This is what we call perspective on the grand scale…thanks to astronomy.

About Perspective

Perspective is personal and subjective.  And it can change suddenly, with a new experience, new thought, and by getting distance from things we have become too mired in.

As an artist, I find that when I work on a piece, sometimes I become too close to it, and lose perspective — much like a teenager focusing too much on one feature — losing all perspective on actual proportion and objectivity. 

Often, I need to walk away from a piece of art I am working on, stand at a distance, look at it upside down, and even put it away for a while in order to see it with fresh eyes, and as it really is. When I do that, then I can appreciate it, and know what it needs, or that it is done.

Differing perspectives can grant us new glimpses of reality that we hadn’t considered. This can actually shift our mindset and cycle of thoughts and habits for good. Perspective can give us  space  to breathe, imagine, and create anew. 

Perspective can release undue pressures, and refocus our attention on facts of core, maybe overlooked, importance. If you did the breathing and smiling exercise at the beginning, and then read the astronomy “you are here” facts, did that change your mood and perspective in any way?

Our minds too often fixate and replay old thoughts and stories without taking in enough of what is happening, what is real now, and the scale of our experience across the dimensions of time and space. Breaking out of those confines means opening ourselves to new thoughts and points of view, literally, figuratively, and through movement, like travel.

Myth, Mysticism, and Symbolism

While astronomy is able to give us that amazing perspective on the grand scale, as demonstrated at the beginning of this article, astrology accomplishes this as well, only in different ways.

Symbolism and mythology are, and have always been, a basic foundation in all schools, cultures, eras, and approaches of astrology worldwide. It has also always been a way to frame the spiritual and mystical with symbolic interpretations of our life experience on Earth from our viewpoint “below” that reflects some of the “above”.

The deeper meaning found in astrology asserts that we matter, and have a right — a place (birthright) in the scheme of things in this galaxy — whether we have power, wealth, recognition, privilege, or anything else or not.  This is fertile ground for symbolic and archetypal self-exploration (the microcosm reflecting a macrocosm) and mysticism.

Zodiac Anatomy. Art by: Limbourg brothers circa 1411/1416, US-PD.

The 12 Zodiac Signs

The twelve zodiac signs, used in western astrology charts, are largely rooted in names and stories that come from Greek, Roman, and even Babylonian and Egyptian mythology and symbols.

The western zodiac signs are symbols based on the zodiac constellations, yet they are not the same thing. The zodiac was documented by ancient astronomers, many of whom were also astrologers at the time. Astronomy has since moved well beyond the twelve signs used in astrology.

It is important to understand this: astrological signs aren’t astronomy’s constellations. The constellations are numerous, vast, and literal. The astrological zodiac signs are symbolic, limited to twelve, and are related to our point of view from Earth. Astrology’s signs aren’t real in the astronomical sense. They are symbols created by math and the Sun’s relationship to the Earth throughout a year’s time — something called the ecliptic. The astrological zodiac is an area in the sky that is seen from our, on the ground, point of view.  Astrology is personal and symbolic. Yet, that doesn’t limit the depth and relevance of this esoteric tool.

The Astrological Birth Chart

The birth (natal) chart is the foundation for most every kind of personal report in astrology. The astrological birth chart is an imprint of us, our total life here, from the vantage point of our geographical placement (latitude and longitude) and time of birth entry on this planet, and again, in relationship to some of the main heavenly bodies in our little solar system neighborhood.

The birth chart contains personal potentials in the many areas of life — from the deep and shallow, daily and routine, to the mystical and esoteric. The planets, stars, and other heavenly bodies used in astrology are utilized as symbols that enrich our point of view, and help us to gain new perspective about ourselves and our possible life trajectories.

In addition to the 12 zodiac signs, western astrology uses:

  • Mythology and mythological archetypes
  • Symbols: elements (earth, air, fire, water), modes of dealing with change and collaboration (fixed, mutable, cardinal), and yin or yang energy
  • Aspects, which are dynamics of energy, based on degrees of relationship between heavenly bodies and our time and place of birth
  • Ancient to modern methods/calculations based on the heavenly bodies’ relation to when and where an individual (or other event) is born on Earth, down to minutes, latitude and longitude  

The birth chart itself:

  • The chart is a mandala (circle) that is divided into 12 sections, called houses, which represent different areas of life, from the personal and private to the public and transpersonal
  • The calculation of the astrological birth chart is the basis for all other calculations and reports made in astrology
  • The birth chart is relevant for the individual’s lifetime, and covers nearly every important area of life with some surprising detail
  • The birth chart encompasses a lifetime, therefore time is represented (past, present, potential future), yet it is also timeless — filled with spectrums of layered potentials, strengths, and challenges

Astrology is an incredible timely, yet timeless tool, which can illuminate many things, including: influences, patterns, cycles, inheritances, and dynamics in our now, in our past, and even our potential future. The main heavenly bodies in our solar system, in western astrology, represent qualities of personality, lessons, patterns, cycles of energy, phases, and time, as well as dynamics and tendencies related to myth-inspired archetypes.

For the astrologer, the planets and other heavenly bodies of focus (asteroids and mystical points, for example) amazingly mirror our inner and outer realities in perplexing, yet accurate ways. The tool is complex and layered.

In looking at only one or two aspects of a birth chart, like the Sun sign, Rising (ascendant) sign or Moon, the big picture is missed, and  key facts may be missed or misinterpreted. This is most often due to other areas of the chart that are more dominant. This can significantly change an interpretation and understanding. For example, I had a client that was an earth Sun sign, but never felt it was accurate or applied to her. It wasn’t obvious in the Sun, Moon, or Ascendant, but she was actually predominantly a water person, with all of her other planets in water signs. When I explained her natal chart to her in a consultation, she found relief and happiness in hearing, finally, aspects of her own experience mirrored accurately for her in the astrological interpretation.

Experiencing the in-depth interpretation of a birth chart is an esoteric and mystifying perspective, and so interesting to experience and share.

No belief required.

Astrology is an esoteric spiritual tool that can provide pivotal and helpful insights, which come from interpretations of symbols in relationship to each other that are based on astronomy, mythology, and earth-based symbols, patterns, and cycles.

We do not need to believe in astrology in order for it to be useful and real. It is just like how we have no need to believe in a paint brush, a wrench, or in clay in order to use and benefit from any of them…just like we do not need to believe in meditation in order to practice it and benefit from it.

Astronomy VS Astrology?
How About A Holistic Vision Of Both/And

Instead of lumping astronomy and astrology together, and instead of comparing them as competing practices, I find that it is much more reasonable and fulfilling to abandon the either/or approach in favor of a more holistic both/and approach to different disciplines, and ways of seeing and interpreting things.

Astronomy is a scientific discipline that gathers and develops information, research, evidence, discoveries, theories, and facts about our physical existence on Earth, in this solar system, galaxy, and universe. All of the information and exploration, as well as the images, and growing knowledge about the true nature of our universe is the result of a legacy from ancient astronomers that evolved into what modern astronomers and scientists now provide. It is captivating and inspiring to learn about and explore. Astronomy is fascinating and inspiring. It certainly has the power to lift us up into breathtaking and mind-boggling new perspectives. We need that!

And, despite the adversarial and dismissive tone taken by some scientists and astronomers about astrology, astrology also remains strong and relevant. They may call astrology a pseudoscience or placebo all they want, if that is what they need to do in order to distance themselves from astrology and assert their specialized authority.  However, this doesn’t change the fact that astronomy can and does enrich the ancient and vast traditions of astrology, yet…it can never replace it.

As someone who has overcome great odds with the help of creative and spiritual tools and techniques, I understand the importance of spiritual practices — meaning, ritual, and the rich sacred value of symbolism, intuition, and imagination.

There is also great value found in ethical science, logic, and critical thinking.  I refuse to abandon either one. We don’t have to.

A holistic approach and vision means that science and spirituality don’t have to agree, speak the same, or see the same…AND neither one can, or needs to, replace the other. They are individual, loosely related, and part of a whole — which is much bigger than either one.

Most of us need some sort of deeper meaning and context in order to enrich our lives, and experience fulfillment — we often don’t limit that deeper meaning and context to one discipline, genre, or perspective.

Our intelligence (emotional and intellectual), and our spirit (energy and consciousness) thrive when we are able to place meaning, and a deeper sense of purpose into the fabric of our lives — while also addressing, in real ways, what is broken, what needs to be faced, and what needs to be encouraged — in order to begin or continue healing. Partly, this often involves weaving many different aspects, disciplines, and points of view together. We are well within our rights to synthesize and adapt what we see, learn, and know. Our ability to work with symbols, mystical aspects of life, and apply deeper meaning within scientific claims and discoveries is a part of our unique perspective and being as humans.

Free Will, Fate, And Improvisation

As human beings, we have free will, choice, action, instinct, common sense, intuition and presence. This is despite qualities and energies that seem to be or are, in some sense, fated or fixed. We are not bound by fate entirely, in life or in astrology — even though there are some fixed dynamics in life and personality in some ways. 

For the most part, l i f e is an improvisational dance…unpredictable and changeable.

Maybe what is really needed, is to discipline our thoughts and emotions; practice awareness, and exercise our sacred imagination for collective and personal benefit and enrichment. If this is true, it is good news, as long as we are willing to face and take responsibility for our shortcomings, continue learning, growing, and respond and act on the information we are given in the best ways possible — unique to each of us. That means looking at our blind-spots, wounds, and shadow qualities as much as our gifts, talents, and amazing potential.

This also means doing the work we are meant to do seriously and earnestly. Still, it is important to not take ourselves or each other too seriously! Good humor is essential. 

Good humor helps us to endure challenges and hardships, maintaining sanity and balance. The best comedians illuminate what is wrong in a way that awakens and frees us, via real heart, mind, and belly laughter. The best comedians touch on truths that jolt us into really and joyfully seeing how weird we and life are, and the dysfunctions that we deal with in our culture. Good humor relieves some of the pressure points of pain, and gives us space to breathe and clarity to see, process, and address it anew. Any discipline, from the scientific to the mystical, can benefit from maintaining humor.

An Ancient, Diverse Legacy

The history and use of astrology in conjunction with astronomy has been going on since ancient times.  Astronomy and Astrology were one in ancient times  —  identical twins, in a way  —  who later parted ways (circa 1400–1700).  Astrological tradition has continued in different ways throughout history and around the world:  Egyptian, Hellenistic, Indian, Chinese, Greek, Roman, Indigenous, and Renaissance Europe.  Each had and has their approach and system/rules for calculations, perspective, and symbolism.  Many are complex and layered.

Byzantine Mosaic Of The Zodiac Wheel. PD

There are esoteric, evolutionary, humanist, classic, modern, ancient, many Indigenious systems and schools of thought. There is the Heliocentric (Sun-centered, using Sidereal zodiac) or Geocentric (Earth-centered, using Tropical zodiac) differing ways to calculate houses, varying degrees for orbs, and more . There are countless origins, approaches, technical details, and facets to astrology.

For example, one school of astrology is Jyotisha, also known as Hindu (Indian) astrology. In more recent history, the Western world calls it Vedic astrology. Hindu beliefs about karma influence Hindu astrology. Also, Hindu astrology uses the Sidereal zodiac. In contrast, Western astrology usually uses the Tropical zodiac.

In ancient times, astronomy and astrology were most often united, rather than separate. Religion and mythology were integrated with the mathematical calculations and observations related to the night sky.

Here is a general and rough estimate of a timeline for some ancient astronomy-astrology origins:

  • Indigenous worldwide (ancient BC)*
  • Mesopotamian/Sumerian (6000-4500 BC)
  • African (3900 BC)
  • Irish (3200-2900 BC)
  • Babylonian/Chaldean (3200 BC)
  • Egyptian (3000 BC)
  • Indian (2000 BC)
  • Mayan (2000 BC)
  • Chinese (1500 BC)
  • Greek (700 BC)
  • Hellenistic (525 BC) Egypt: conquered by Persians, Mesopotamian influence
  • (332 BC) Greek/Roman: Alexander the Great, Greek influence mixed with Babylonian (“Chaldean wisdom”), Horoscopic, and Egyptian
  • Ptolemy (140 AD)
  • Aztec (1300 AD)

*Western history has no firm dates for Indigenous star knowledge and teachings, yet there is an established legacy among Nations and tribes around the world, that belong in ancient BC, before or like — the estimated Sumerian, African, and Irish astronomy origin dates.

The countless approaches in astrology differ greatly, even within one system. There are different calculations within and between systems, different orientation (earth-centric or sun-centric), different symbols, and different philosophies.

Astrology has ancient roots globally, and it endures. The global longevity, with room for different viewpoints, methods, new discoveries, adaptations, and approaches, is evidence of its ongoing usefulness as a tool for personal development that seeks to be aware of being present in the universe, connected to universal qualities, cycles, patterns, and potentials.

However each of us gains new and expansive perspective, it is a gift that aids in our enrichment, well-being, and development. The sky is the most expansive physical reality we experience in this life. Becoming curious and interested in the many ways we can nourish our lives in relationship to it, the better!

Mental Health Awareness Week, And 4 Things That Helped Me

“Hole” by Grafontour on Pixabay

CS Sherin, 10-10-2018

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

“Stop the Stigma” by Geralt on Pixabay

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.

Not only that, some mental illness needs ongoing treatment and care from doctors and therapists. Our healthcare system is broken, and people who need help aren’t able to receive it.

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.

If you need help right now, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to find support and help. They provide resources, hotlines, and a lot of the help is free.