What I Really Believe

I am a fairly vocal a-religious but spiritual/pantheist/non-theist type person. I am not exactly anti-religion. I can see how it helps a lot of people, and while I don’t understand it, I try not to say much about whether I think they should or shouldn’t believe in a particular religion or spiritual system or whatnot. I am usually curious and want to understand a bit more about why it is that they believe what they do, but more often than not I can keep my questions to myself and most people don’t know that I am not nodding because I agree with them but that I am nodding so I am not asked to comment further and thus prevent me from either lying or shutting down the conversation when I tell them I understand. No, I don’t understand and continuing to explain or preach at me will not help.

What it comes down to is that I just cannot wrap my head around the concept that religion is anything more than a construct of the human race. I feel that it is “designed” specifically for the purpose of unifying us as a group of disparate individuals into a cohesive group, but that the actual religious teachings have little to do with why it works. That only says whether something will have any staying power. Some religions encourage more cohesion, more sense of community and unity, usually through some way of demonstrating how the members are special in some way, shape or form and thus creating an “us versus them” sort of thinking.

It is for this reason that I have come to the conclusion that I am a-religions, meaning “without religion.” I’m not atheist, I am not without a god/higher being. Well, at least not in the sense that I would be considered an atheist. Neither do I truly follow any particular religious teaching. I still consider myself closest to being a Buddhist, but pantheist fits just as well and that’s easier to explain that than it is to explain the differences between the different buddhist sects. Not too mention I just don’t practice my Buddhism much anymore. Though, when I do send out a prayer/good mojo energy out into the universe, I always chant. I just feel like it helps and usually I am only praying or sending out those good vibes for a special purpose or person. But that has more to do with the feeling that if there is something to the concept, then why not try to use the tool?

And that’s my problem. I am stuck somewhere between believing in something – truly believing in something even if I can’t express it with words – and constantly wondering “how can I say this is real?” Even as I am able to understand that “real” is also only a concept that cannot be proven and that each person’s reality and thus “real” or “truth” is different, even if only minutely. Maybe there is some truth in each religion – there are people who have devoted their lives to proving or disproving this theory – but what does it matter in the long run? Does it really or truly impact my day to day life? So why should I bother figuring out what it is that I believe?

Except… I have to feel like there is something more to this life that I am living. There has to be more to me, to this world, to what is going on. In my heart of hearts, I need to know that I have been a part of something greater than myself and that my actions have led to greater knowledge and understanding. I want to have something that I can point to as why I strive for doing more for others, why I care so deeply about their well-being, their welfare. Otherwise, everything I do would be so much wasted energy – there would be no purpose behind it. There are those who would argue that there is purpose in action even if there is no universal impact, and I can see and understand it to a certain extent, but I also see how I could do other things that would actually help people in a measurable way. What I do now is pour an overwhelming amount of energy into two dozen or so people who are so stuck in their own versions of hell so that what I can give them does not even light a candle in the dark. Or so I feel. However, if there is that something greater, then that energy is not taken and lost, it is still there, slowly storing up so that there will be change, even if it will be lifetimes from now. Thinking about it like that, while being somewhat selfish, makes it so that I can still get up in the morning and make it to work and still try to have something left over for others in my life.

So I guess in the long run I do still believe in something. I just question and doubt it constantly. I doubt so many things that I believe. I doubt things that I don’t believe. In many ways I am a paradox within my own self. To an extent, it’s probably healthy to always question and process and determine whether my truth is still true, but at the same time I also feel that I am casting doubt upon my very soul. If there is such a thing. If there is a higher power. If there is something that connects all of us. Even as I type that out, I can feel the stronger, older part of myself laughing lightly and smiling mysteriously and shaking her head, “you know what you know, travel whatever roads you must, but soon you will see that all roads are the same.” Maybe one of these days I’ll even listen to her.

So keeping all that in mind, how is there any way that I could ever look to any religion and find my truth? The Abrahamic God is too… human. As are the vast majority of the pagan gods and goddesses. I could maybe accept the explanations that they are described and androgenized as they are so that people can understand them, but that feels so false, so misleading to me. Why would anyone want to follow a deity that must make themselves less so that you can understand them? Shouldn’t the entire point be that you expand yourself, your understanding and experiences so that you come closer to the deity/higher power/universe, whatever you want to label it. So what if it takes lifetimes – that is the entire point!

Ah, but that is where something that I believe (and apparently cannot deny even as I try to say that I don’t believe anything) comes shining through. I suppose that it really doesn’t matter if I can’t explain what it is that my heart of hearts and soul know. It comes out in my speech, in the way that I live my life, in the way that I interact with others, in the way that I try to inspire them.

You know, I think I can live with that.


A Work in Progress

Forgiveness seems like it should be a one time thing. Something happens and you get hurt. The person that was a part of making that thing happen apologizes, you forgive them and life moves on. Or you get hurt several times over, give up that person or that thing, forgive yourself and them for your parts in the cause of the pain and move on.

I used to think that was how this worked. Actually, right up until the last year or so it was how I thought such things worked. It is only after I have thought things over that I have started to realize that forgiveness is not a one time deal. It is a way of thinking and way of acting and a way of being.

There are several people in my past that hurt me, whether they intended to or not, whether I meant them to or not, it happened. Some of these actions are years and years in the past and I thought I was over whatever was going on there. Except that there are random times when I am at home, in the shower, dreaming, reading, driving or whatever other quiet moment I find myself in, when I will think of X person and S action and wonder why it happened and why I still felt the pang of hurt from it. I had already forgiven myself, forgiven them, forgiven the others who were peripherally involved…

What I have discovered is that it’s not enough to “forgive and forget.” If I completely forget then I will not learn from those mistakes of mine and the act of forgiving no longer means anything. If I never forgive then I will very likely continue to attract that sort of action/behavior/people into my life and will slowly be eaten away by the anger and pain associated with unhealed pain. That isn’t such a great option either.

What I have been doing for some time now, years actually, is to forgive myself and others every time I reflect on a particular event or that person in my life. There is still an echo of that pain, still knowledge of that lesson, but it is nowhere near half so painful or troublesome as what it would have been if I had not learned how to think, process, and forgive multiple times over.

The thing I find the most amusing about all of it is not that I have been doing it for years, but that it has taken me so long to be conscious of what has actually been a very good coping mechanism for me. One would think that this would have been an obvious thing. I think the only reason why it even came to my attention at all is that now that there has been a greater distance of time and emotion from my ex I am reflecting more upon the things that I learned from him, but it is taking more effort, more time to complete the ritual. Think, process, forgive, move on. This has not been working so well, at least not easily, as what I am used to, and so now I am having to take on the part of a full and active participant in my own mini-therapy session.

Now the important thing for me to figure out is if I’m the only one that works this way. If not, hey, there’s a new thing that can be suggested for people relatively far along in their recovery, or at least past the grief stage in their own processing. If so… hey, at least I know what works for me.

An Uncomfortable (Impossibly So) Feeling

Brene Brown is a therapist/researcher that I was recently introduced to through TED Talks and work. There are several patients that we currently have at the residence who have appeared to benefit a lot from this woman’s work. Honestly though, I think it is helping some of the staff more. Partially just through being out there. We struggle working with some of our patients who have particularly powerful and ingrained, negative thought tracks. It just doesn’t seem as though our typical DBT/CBT therapies are getting through to these patients. They “know” the words, they “know” the actions, they “know” the coping skills, but they haven’t been able to embrace them and open themselves up to the scary, dark places in the center of their beings.

You know, many of the people who work in the field have similar thought patterns. Sometimes they are just as ingrained, sometimes they are more temporary or related to stress levels. But we all suffer from shame and the dialogue this woman is opening up for us internally as well as externally is just as powerful as those thought patterns, that self-talk.

This is especially on my mind now because I suffer from a sometimes immobilizing feeling of shame, sometimes mixed with guilt, sometimes just the shame. Which is more than enough on its own, so the guilt just ends up being icing on the cake. Last night was one of those nights where feelings of guilt, anger, and more guilt led to being overwhelmed with shame. Shame over many things, some of which I have some control over, others are circumstances which I just happen to be a part of and others are things which I have felt that same shame about since I was a young child.

Feelings of failing in my life because I have not achieved what I should have. Feelings of not being good enough for the good things in my life. Feelings of still being the terrified little girl who can never do enough or be enough to satisfy herself and her family. Feelings of guilt about some of my thoughts or recent failings at work and then shame over those, again, not being enough for what is needed.

I’m pretty sure it was disturbing for my husband. I do not know that he has really tried to comfort someone in that state. I also know that there is some frustration and exasperation over feeling like he has repeated himself several times throughout the last year, “You sell yourself short,” “You are worthy of being loved,” “You are good enough for me and this life,” etc. He’s damn good in knowing what to say and how to say it, and in moments of low self-esteem or guilt, I am able to recognize what he is saying and process and acknowledge them. But those times when I am trapped in the dark place inside my head and there is nothing but the feeling that I am not, nor ever have been or will be, good enough or smart enough or empathetic enough, nothing he says can break through. Actually, they sometimes make me feel smaller because then I feel worse for somehow having tricked someone into thinking any of those when I am not anything that he is saying.

I can recognize that shame is a very intense emotion and faulty, broken thinking outside of those times when I am experiencing them. At this point though, I am not far enough into my own recovery related to shame to be able to do much more beyond that.

There are several things I’m doing to change that. One is that I am reading one of Brene’s books right now. I am watching her videos. And most importantly I am talking about how I am feeling. I was more honest about how I have been feeling last night than any other time before. I’m writing this now. Both things were very hard, but I think there is something to the point that shame is more powerful when we allow it to isolate us and prevent any dialogue, any understanding. In opening up and being willing to share my experiences, I hope to diminish the power that my shame has had over me, to start those dialogues and work on my recovery.

Thank you for actually reading through all of this, and I hope that maybe there was something there to help you to acknowledge your own moments of shame or to be more open and empathetic to others who are experiencing it. Any comments or reactions or thoughts are greatly welcomed.

Deaf or Blind?

I admitted a patient to one of the residential houses today who is deaf. It was an interesting experience and sent me back a few years time to when I worked for the Mental Health Center of Denver and worked with four different deaf patients, all of which also suffered from Mild to Severe Mental Retardation.

It also set off a thought wave that I’ve caught on several different occasions. If I had to experience being blind or being deaf, which to me would be the least difficult way to navigate the world?

This was a really easy question for my husband to answer – he would rather be deaf. He could not work in his field and be blind. He also would not be able to read books, work on a computer or any number of other things that he needs his eyes to do, but does not need to be able to hear. He also made a very good argument that it is much easier to introduce medical and scientific interventions that are more capable of replacing various parts of the whole system related to hearing sounds than interventions for most any part of the system related to sight. The eye is more complicated than the ear, which is really saying something since the ear is a very delicate and fine piece of work by itself.

I have to agree with him that in the modern world being blind is probably more of a handicap than being deaf. But, as I experienced today, the one thing that gives the strongest argument for “choosing” to be blind is that being deaf means a significant loss of the ability to communicate with the world at large. This means far more to some people than to others. I could not do the vast majority of my job as it is now if I could not hear and therefore easily communicate with my co-workers or my patients. At the same time, if I were blind, I could not do most of my job either. Too much hinges upon being able to quickly and easily navigate computers as well as be able to speak. Hell, nursing in general requires all five senses to be able to do a complete assessment, even as a psych nurse I use all my senses (though I sometimes which my nose weren’t involved…) and so I would have to conclude that if I were to be either deaf or blind, I would be stuck with finding a different career.

So, I stand where I have found myself every time I have evaluated this question – I have no idea. Do I give up easy communication, music, and the easy ability to have a general idea of what is going on around me, even behind me? Or do I give up colors, the ability to easily manipulate the technology of today, fewer bruises from bumping into things, and being able to see everything that is around me?

Today, I lean toward choosing to be deaf, but tomorrow I will likely say I would rather be blind. Honestly, it makes me appreciate more and more just how lucky I am to be able to correct my vision with glasses or contacts so that I can see the beauty in the world around me. I am blessed to be able to hear everything around me from the annoying hum of the TV to the gorgeous music in the background to the sound of my husband’s voice. I am blessed to have two legs of even length with feet with five toes each and two arms of even length with hands with five fingers. I have a heart and lungs and liver and kidneys and stomach and all my other organs that function normally and my brain is at least of average intelligence and capable of abstract and forward processing and thinking.

I am blessed in so many ways and I often don’t even think about it. Today though, I am aware of just how lucky I am and today I give my thanks to the universe for giving me this gift.

Gratitude and Work

I was surprised earlier today by the emotional reaction I had while discussing a case with a therapist at work. The most surprising thing about it was that the emotions I was feeling were a combination of surprise, relief, and the acknowledgement of the truth of her words on top of everything else I have felt related to the patient we were discussing.

The patient we were discussing is a particular difficult case. We’ll call the patient Susan. Susan has been a patient of mine for the last year. She has been in the hospital or a residential treatment facility for something like 8 out of the last 12 months, if not more. Most of the breaks between were no more than 1-2 weeks, if that long. She would be in outpatient treatment and after some time without the support of staff 24/7 she would have an episode of high depression and hopelessness and helplessness and attempt to kill herself, usually through overdosing on her medications. After a few weeks in an inpatient setting she would step down to the residential house I work with and be there for months. It was not only hard on Susan, but also hard on all the people who have worked with her the last year, myself included. I have felt so many different emotions regarding her and her case that I do not know that I could name them all or describe them all.

The thing about all of this is that her therapist, someone that I hadn’t met before because she is new to the center, and I met to briefly speak about Susan. Recently Susan had an episode where she felt hopeless and helpless again but managed to reach out to her therapist and myself. Her therapist took the opportunity to reminded Susan about all the people that care about her. Susan’s mother and son were not the only people she was reminded about, but also her psychiatrist and myself as well as all the clinicians at the residential house because her therapist was aware of just how much Susan meant to us and how much we wanted her to succeed.

She told Susan about all the people who care for her and Susan was able to recognize it and even helped her therapist compose an email to the some of her treatment team and her mother. I received that email and thought it was a great step for Susan, but hadn’t fully comprehended exactly why it was so important for Susan to compose it herself to some of the people who are currently helping her.

What made me realize just how much we had impacted Susan’s life was when her therapist told me today that se had recognized how much the people who had been treating Susan truly cared about her wellbeing and that Susan was able to see it too. That was why it was so important for Susan to write that email, why Susan was taking more steps forward in her treatment, why her therapist was working so well with the psychiatrist and myself; They knew that we cared and that we weren’t just going through the motions.

That was when I teared up and felt so many emotions that I could not process them all. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I am usually able to pull back and keep that professional barrier up, but it is rare to get that acknowledgement from someone who isn’t on the residential teams I normally work with. It brought up all the emotions I have had regarding Susan, plus some ones just regarding my work in general all at the same time. Most of all though was gratitude. Because I know that Susan is with a good therapist who can hear more than what is said, which I have found to be a rare talent even within the mental health field.

It was a very unique experience and I hope that I am able to learn from it. Just writing this here has helped me a bit, but I anticipate several more writing/blogging/journaling episodes will come around before I feel like I have processed through everything. I hope I will be able to tell Susan how much she has helped me to grow as a mental health nurse and that she will take that knowledge with her through her life and remember that she can make a positive impact whether she is the one being helped or the one helping. 🙂

Gaping Hole

For reasons unexplained, every person in the world is born with a large, gaping hole in the center of their chest

This comic is something that I discovered a little over a year ago, around the time when I was trying to learn how to recover from a broken and damaged heart. It was actually one of the most healing things I have encountered to date.

You see, this was far better at explaining that there is beauty in even unsightly and incomplete things and people. This realization helped me to take a risk that I otherwise would not have taken, or at least would not have taken for several more months or years. I took the chance that someone could see past my damaged and (hopefully) temporarily unsightly heart, the jagged edges of that gaping hole. Maybe this unknown someone would even be willing to help me to heal those edges and re-discover how to live with that hole while filling it with ideas or concepts such as love, hope, dreams, and joy.

Taking that chance was well worth it. I found not only my husband, but some wonderful friends and even re-established older friendships and this crazy and odd feeling of being happy. Even when I am sad, afraid, frustrated, upset or even angry it is still a fleeting thing which is soon smothered by the love I have found. I’m still not sure how he does it, but it is one mystery I have no need to uncover.

I cannot help but wonder what others think of their own holes, what they choose to do with them. Are they satisfied with what they have managed to do or are they still searching? Do they even know? Are they afraid and waiting for something which may not happen? Will they find their own way to listen to the music of the wind? Have I?

I like to think that perhaps I have and that the sounds I hear are reflections of my life. If that is the case then I believe it is something like what you can hear from a Hardanger Fiddle, something a bit haunting and melancholy, but lovely none-the-less. Then again, that could just be the wishful thinking of a woman who still imagines that she has found her way into a fairy-tale where such things can happen. Funny enough, I’m okay with that. After all, I am the one who gets to hear what the wind sounds like when I find that perfect angle.

How do you love?

Do you love many things, many people?

Or are you more restrained, cautious and careful and pensive in your expression of love?

I love many things, many people. It is just a part of me. It’s part of the extremes I use to describe everything in my life. I tend to “love” more things that “hate” or “despise” because they are so very painful and thus something to be avoided (in most instances) but there are so many levels between the love I feel for my husband which is the most… well, the most everything that I feel, and the despair or loathing that I feel for those that intentionally hurt anyone else for their own amusement or pleasure.

The point of this being that I long to know what it is that you love. I long to know how others experience love. I want to experience their love and they experience mine and we can both grow in our own understanding of others and expand how we can love ourselves and others.

I know that the love I feel for the different people in my life is as different as the individuals. There is the sweet, gentle, amusing love that I feel toward a certain 9 month old. She doesn’t melt my heart – her smiles are too infectious to allow such things. Then there is the cautious and protected and slightly painful love I feel toward my father. And the safe and protected and understood love for my mother. The exasperated, eyes-rolling, smiling love I feel toward my brother.

Then there’s the love that dwarfs the others. It’s nearly painful, in an odd sort of way. It’s a sudden swelling over of everything that my heart, both physical and metaphorical, is capable of holding twice over. It’s my brain forgetting to tell my lungs to expand or relax for moments at a time. It’s a rush of energy through my veins, a tingling along every nerve, an expansion of my mind and spirit outside of where I define the boundary between myself and the rest of the world. It’s a desire to feel the soul that can cause all these sensations and experiences to cascade through my entire being. And the relief at that touching? Enough to make me cry when I really allow myself to think about it. And all that is before he says or does something that makes me laugh or smile or shake my head in disbelief that there is someone in this world as absurd and dorky and sweet and wonderful as this man I have tied my life to.

Honestly, it’s quite unbelievable to me that I even have the capacity to feel all that. I was pretty certain I was broken. I had closed myself off to the chance of feeling anything more than the relieved, protecting, gentle happy-sad sort of love that I feel for my cats. See the song Hallelujah for a relatively accurate portrayal of how I felt I would always be stuck at. “Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah…” Rufus Wainwright has one of the best versions of this in my humble opinion, but that is a very mild tangent.

The point here being that I am curious. I want to know how and what it is that other people love. Or hate. Or fear. Or rejoice. Or any number of other emotions. What do these things mean to other people. What do they all mean to me? How are they the same, how are they different? What do I have to do in order to be given the opportunity to understand or know this? Is that even an option? How will my perception of the world change? So many questions, but no way that I’m aware of to find the answers. At least not in this lifetime, not in this world or using my current understanding of reality.

Maybe I can find a way in my dreams? That would be nice. And a very nice change of pace from what I have been experiencing. On to something new and different? Yes, please.

Observation #253/3 Whichever you want to call it

I’ve been spending the last 11 days or so recovering from having my tonsils removed, which at the age of 25, really is not all that much fun or interesting. It’s actually quite a bit painful and made me rethink several times that being out of commission one day out of every 25 or so for strep wouldn’t have been all that bad if I had truly had any idea how much pain can be perceived by the brain from the mere act of swallowing water. I’m doing much better now after having been on steroids for three days (which I really, really wanted to avoid if at all possible) and after several days of doing absolutely nothing. Which, mind you, is a big deal for me since I have two jobs, a fiance, two cats, friends and family who all vie for my time in some way or other.

So what is the purpose of today’s post beyond making you ask why in the world would a 25 year old woman be stupid enough to get her tonsils removed? Well, it’s actually an observation I made today when I decided to put on something besides a pair of scrub pants and a t-shirt. I truly feel like I am something resembling a human today, which I hadn’t really been feeling like that for the last week and a half. There’s this feeling one gets when one is a patient that seems to seep into the core of ones soul that just won’t go away until some drastic change is made. For some people, it’s the physical relief of symptoms and they are good to go. For others, they cannot have their environment remain the same. And still others, like me, need to make a physical change to themselves in order to start to wipe away that “patient” label from their mind and heart and soul.

What’s funny is that I had initially put on a pair of scrubs and t-shirt and figured I would take advantage of my last day of freedom to “slum” it. But, as I was (finally) clearing out a part of the closet that I had made a mess of, I found an old jean dress that I got my senior year of high school. What the hell, let’s see if it’s worth keeping the darn thing, I had thought to myself. I had a hell of a time with the zipper; apparently my bust has changed more than a bit since I had purchased the dress, and it’s tighter about the hips and ass than it was originally. Luckily, that stretchy denim material that was so very popular in the mid-2000’s is incredibly forgiving of such flaws. Or benefits depending upon how one views the female body. Anywho, I was surprised and pleased with the results of my spontaneous decision. I finished the closet, sorted out a box of shoes that was supposed to have lived in that part of the closet a few weeks ago and found a cute pair of sandals to go with my dress. Since I was more than half-way there already, I decided that I may as well do something different with my hair and pulled it back with one of those large clippy thingamajigs and voila, I not only look and feel human, but like a girl, (for once) and I maybe even look a bit flirtatious and cute.

The impact was not lost on my fiance when I finally made my way out to the main living area. He was playing a game (as he has been trying to just finish this damn game for the last week and it was really getting to him that it just wasn’t over yet) and looked over and did this double-take that made me giggle. Poor man really hasn’t seen me wearing anything truly feminine more than maybe once in a blue moon, and this was very unexpected. It was almost like he was seeing a whole new me too, all shiny and sparkly and no longer his “sickly gazelle,” as he had started to call me after my second strep episode two months ago. I do believe that helped to wipe away even more of that patient feeling from my mind, because it’s really hard to know that someone is thinking “sexy” and still feel “sick” at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, my throat still hurts. It still hurts to open my mouth too wide, to swallow, to chew, to yawn, (which by the way, is the most painful thing in the world, especially when I have no freakin’ control over it!) to eat, to drink, to breath, to cough, or any number of things that have to do with anything at all thinking about going near my throat. However, I don’t look like any of that is a problem at all, and that is making all the difference in the world for my recovery.

So, in the future, I will be making sure that my “slumming it” when I’m feeling sick and tired and lazy is kept to a minimum and that if, at any point in time, I start to feel the sticky “patient” way of thinking and feeling seeping into my being, I will take a shower and put something nice on and try my darndest to be anything but that. At the very least, I’ll be a patient who looks and smells good, which as a nurse, I can always appreciate.