The Blank Slate

I don’t like the saying “where ever you go there you are” — and I have said that before. It infers that if you go somewhere to get away or start over–you will always have your old baggage.

I can tell you, that’s total bullshit. I lived in Boston for 32 years and we were planning on moving out of the city when we could. We were not sure exactly where we were going to go, but after much debating and back and forth we decided Arizona. Flagstaff to be exact. I was NOT happy in Boston. It was to dense, to over populated, to noisy. I didn’t like the false sense of community or the “yuppy hippies” that were permeating the area with their fake idea of what it means to be free-spirited. It was suffocating. I was tired, restless and began to have a lot of health issues. Yes, I had baggage! Divorce, people who I thought were my friends who weren’t, a dead-end job that initially had the promise of growth.

So we moved. And you know what? None of that baggage went with me. It stayed put in Boston. I came to Flagstaff a complete blank slate.

And not only did I leave my baggage in Boston, but I left what I thought was “identity” there as well. For over 10 years I was “Zehara The Belly Dancer” — For 10 years I taught, performed, traveled across New England and hosted and organized more shows than I can remember. Zehara The Belly Dancer was who I was….or at least thought I was. I was initially given the name Zehara when I was initiated into the Temple of the Seekers, a Ceremonial Magick coven I had been involved in for 8 years. I was Zehara the Priestess LONG before Zehara the Belly Dancer. And Zehara the Priestess and Melissa (my given name) were always one in the same. But the belly dancer persona became my identity. She was who I was. My alter ego who was not shy, bossy, could take on the world, and had no fear. And when I started sprouting branches that went beyond the scope of belly dance, I found it increasingly more difficult to find that balance between Zehara the Belly Dancer and Melissa/Zehara. It became even harder when I started wellness practice. While I understood that I was outgrowing  my dance persona I just could not fully let her go. She was me. For ten years I created this person-This tantalizing, sexy, Snake Charmer. She consumed me. And whenever I thought I was ready to let her go—I would get a pit in my stomach and say “not yet.”

Then I arrived in Flagstaff. And one of the first things I struggled with was the Zehara The Belly  Dancer and being in a new place–where no one knew her or her accomplishments. She was just a new dancer in town. And I freaked out!!!!

OMG! NO ONE KNOWS ZEHARA!
I finally secured my first performance…..and….then…..

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I realized that Zehara the Belly Dancer was gone. During the performance, I felt nothing. Zehara The Belly Dancer became a shell and Melissa/Zehara was emerging. It was a strange feeling.

When I got home, and washed away the glitter and changed into my pj’s….I said out loud, “I cant do this anymore.” It felt amazing. Slowly but surely I began to sell my dance wears—-and I felt no second thoughts, no regrets, no sadness. She had a good run. But now its time for her to go. I was finally being able to just be……..me……Melissa with my magickal name Zehara for my magickal work. I was no longer the belly dancer or snake charmer. I was just me.

Then I made the biggest and most difficult decision I have ever made in the 10 years I had been dancing and in the 15 years that I had them. I rehomed all my snakes. It was painful. I cried for about three days. But, while they were more than dance partners, I just couldn’t devote the time anymore. And also, after  my friend and dance partner Kaala died, the desire to snake dance died with her. She was special. She and I had a connection that I never had again with any of my other snakes. I was very fortunate to find an amazing woman in Flagstaff who has a reptile sanctuary They are all living happily in retirement. It was a decision I did not make lightly, but it was the right thing to do.

Finally letting Zehara the Belly Dancer go was an amazing feeling. She did a lot of amazing things! But now its time for me to be me again.

And with that, I became a blank slate. Creating a new destiny for myself. Creating a new chapter in my life (or maybe an entirely new book!).

I am focusing on my Reiki practice, branching out into animal reiki as well! And I am focusing on starting my own Coven in which pagans of the community can come together and celebrate the God, Goddess and Earth energy together.

I feel so blessed. So light. So happy.

The Dark Side of the Moon: When the Light Fades

There is always a light and dark side to everything in life. And for those of us with depression, the dark side tends to be the most prominent. I have battled depression most of my life, with an attempted suicide at age 14 followed by panic attacks later in life and then several shrinks. I finally found a therapist I liked and from 2009-2013 I saw her and a psychiatric Nurse Practitioner during the darkest hours. I am very open about having clinical depression because I have to be the voice for the thousands out there afraid to talk about because they are afraid of being judged. In 2014 I was doing great—so great my social worker decided that she only needed to see me on as needed basis and my NP tapered my meds. I was feeling on top of the world.

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Then, I recently, and abruptly had a life change. Within two weeks, my boyfriend and I were packed up and heading to Arizona. There we were on a Saturday night enjoying some wine and sake listening to some old school tunes in an apartment I lived in for 15 years to suddenly packing boxes on Sunday, renting a U-Haul and driving 2300 miles away from the only place I had called home. It happened so fast I had no time to comprehend what the hell just happened. The whole cliché of having the carpet pulled out from under you—is serious shit.

Here we are in Arizona and the adjustment has been difficult. We went from a major city to a new town. We know no one. Have np physical support system here and are basically fending for ourselves. I have to find a job pronto to make sure we can pay rent which means finding meaningless work to pay the bills.

And what happens but that the dark side appears. I woke up one day in tears. I was crying to the point where I couldn’t stop. My depression had returned. YES—the move was the TRIGGER—but not the reason.

People who don’t have depression don’t understand what it’s like. Imagine that you are just moving along a bright sunny day when suddenly someone throws a pitch black can’t see shit bag over your face and never ever takes it off. It’s like that. A dark cloud that just doesn’t go away. And thoughts-bad thoughts come in your mind. And YOU CAN’T HELP IT. It’s just there.

I have had so many people tell me it’s the move. To give it time. To find joy in the things around me. Believe me…I am trying. We have gone to canyons, creeks, walked, enjoyed the beauty of the place—but my lack of happiness isn’t with where I live…it’s chemically going on in my brain.

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I think that’s hardest thing about depression–people think it’s an external thing that can be “fixed”–when it’s a chemical thing that can’t be fixed just “adjusted”….and I appreciate everyone’s helping…. but depression can’t be fixed with a walk or giving my move time…if it were…I would be walking all day every day and loving every bit of Flagstaff. It’s hard for people who don’t have a clinical diagnosis to understand that depression is not always due to outside circumstances. I appreciate everyone’s kindness and offerings of advice during times like this, but want I everyone to understand that it’s not going to “fix” what’s happening inside my head. I can’t just flip a switch and “be happy”—nor can I flip a switch and decide that all the chemical mishaps in my brain will fix themselves.

Being supportive is awesome. Being able to just be there—and listen—is even more awesome.

The Dark Side of the Shaman

Shamanism is not for the weak. Nor is it something one dabbles in. Shamanism is a spiritual path that one takes because they are called. And once called, and you accept, it’s not always a bright shining path. People see me now and they think “wow you have such great energy” ~ but it took awhile for me to get there. And a LOT of darkness and loss along the way.

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For a very long part of my life, I suffered from severe anxiety and deep depression.  I struggled to “fit in” ~ and not on a social level. On an every day I live level. I always liken it to feeling like I was a visitor on Earth, someone on the outside looking in. An observer. It wasnt until I was in my twenties and started meeting people of like mind that I started to feel “normal.”  In any case, meeting like-minded people, continuing my spiritual studies and finally finding Shamanism….I started to…..unravel.

From December 2011 to March 2014, my depression and anxiety got worse. In fact, I was having frequent panic attacks and my depression was so bad that I would spend days on end sleeping, crying and not eating. Sometimes not going to work for days. I found little joy in things, though I was able to put on a smile when I had to. I eventually ended up seeing a therapist and going on medication. IT was the ONLY way I could function. I am not, against medication when needed to HELP you see clearer. While digging my shoes deeper into the path of the Shaman, I began to loosen the strings and ties that had held me down for so long. It was a dark and scary. I had to acknowledge deep pain — emotional, spiritual, mental and physical. Barriers I set up a long time ago to protect myself. Pain I didn’t want to acknowledge. Past hurts. Present hurts. Things about myself that made me not a good person. It was like standing in front of a bunch of fun house mirrors and seeing myself warp into different people–yet remaining the same. So many layers of skin shed away. Things I thought I wanted and needed—I realized were a lie.

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As the weights slowly came off, the depression lifted. And while there was still a fog around me, I was able to see a bit clearer…..I was finding out WHO I was and WHAT I wanted….Because of that, I started losing people close to me….Phone calls stopped. Emails stopped. Chats stopped. People I considered family simply vanished from my life. I  was okay with that. They were there for whatever time they were meant to be there. I know that now, though at the time, it felt like my world was shattering. I got divorced and realized the things I needed in a relationship were not just things based purely on the idea of love. My perceptions of relationships, love and friendship changed.

I quite literally, became a whole new person.

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Shamanism is not an easy path. It’s a path that forces you to accommodate the LIGHT and THE DARK. I always explain to those interested in the Shamanic path…that you are like an ocean: you have your deep dark parts and your clear sparkling parts–the catch is being able to allow the two parts to flow together not apart–they are not separate. These two worlds, the dark and light, must be constantly fluid. Moving together.

As I began my career as a Shamanic Reiki Practitioner, more things came to “light” — more gifts opened up that once again forced me to look at myself. I had to learn how to deal with my new abilities and deepening intuition. I had to again, deal with the light and darkness that resides not only in the world around me, but in myself. Friends came and went, relationships changed…..But I went with the flow.

Being a Shaman is about becoming a master of the balance of light and dark.

The Growth of the Butterfly

All of us are on a journey of self discovery–whether we realize it or not. Whether we want to or not. I have always been and always will be, starting new chapters in my life. Life is a book. Last year was the beginning and ending of a very long chapter. Yes, I am happier than I have ever been. I have found my calling. Learned what I want and need in order to grow, and have taken steps to follow through on my dreams. But along the way, I realized, that sometimes the more we love the more we have to learn; that nothing hurts more than holding on.

I have always had major trust issues with people.  I spent such long time fighting who I was and I wasn’t always true to myself. The past 10 years has been a struggle for me. The hardest part of changing and growing-is losing people in your life that you always thought would be there for you in the darkest of times.

I thought I was surrounded by friends who were essentially my “family” ~ friends who I truly believed would be by side regardless of situations. In the end, I only found the truest people were the ones I never expected. I remember at my wedding I had invited people who I considered family. Friends who I was involved with for a long time. Friends I cared about and who I thought cared about me. More than just casual acquaintances, but true friends. Then the day came when I got the text from my ex that he moved out and took everything we had together with him. I came home to an empty apartment-literally void of everything save a few pieces of furniture. Though I knew it was coming-though  I could see the writing on the wall–nothing is real until you see it. The illusion was finally shattered. My life was flipped upside down and I was forced to look at myself and the darkness inside myself that I pushed away.

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Devastated, hurt and confused, I texted, called and emailed my friends. Those who were at my wedding, those who were in my wedding and those who knew me long before I met and married my ex. The ones who I thought were apart of my life through thick and thin. Who I could count on for council, advice, a good laugh or just a shoulder to cry on.

Only three of my friends responded. Only three of my friends showed up at my door to be by side. And after days and weeks went by, only three of my friends even bothered to see how I was. The day of the divorce, only one of my friends was there to support me. None of the friends who I considered true friends even bothered to drop a line just to ask how I was doing. It was like I had ceased to exist. The curtains fell down and I just became another person. That hurt me more than my ex leaving and more than me having to face the darkness alone. I felt abandoned by the people I needed the most. Learning that all these relationships I had were nothing more than shadows. Maybe they didn’t even really exist at all. Maybe I created them – reveled in the idea that I had all these people in my life who I felt I could count on when shit hit the fan or I bottomed out. Everything was an illusion-a dream–gone in a puff of smoke and leaving me standing in front of a foggy mirror. I was involved in “show biz” then–a professional dancer and performing artist. A lot of friends were performers as well. Perhaps we were all actors?

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Months passed and still none of those friends even bothered to just see how I was. It was like they completely fell off the face of the world and I was left standing alone. I was suddenly shut out and shut off. It hurt. It still hurts. Save for my three friends who made sure I was ok. Friends who are only your friends when things are bright and cheerful–or when they need you for something–or can benefit from having you in their life for selfish reasons. TRUE friends and TRUE relationships in your life, are the ones where people actually care ABOUT you. When you are sick, down, going through a shitty time-they just drop you a line to say, “how are you,” or “thinking about you.” I started to delete them from my contacts. They became just more shadows of my former self.

It takes me a long time to forgive. Its something I am working on. But I have had to let go of a lot of people in my life because things were not what they seemed. Its hard seeing someone who you believed considered you family and think “wow, this person didn’t even bother with me when I needed them.” I remember the first time I attended an event and saw some friends who were at my wedding and they didn’t even bother to say hello–in fact, one of them walked passed me to get to the bathroom!

Part of growth, is realizing that not everyone is going to be with you along the way. It was a hard lesson to learn. And painful. It will always take awhile to forgive those people.

Now I am writing a new chapter–with new relationships–and learning to trust……all over again.

A Road For the Spirit to Pass Over

As most of you know, I consider all people with mental illness part of my Tribe. Suffering from a major depressive disorder and anxiety–I know the pain of the darkness. With love, support, therapy and psychiatric assistance–I have been able to move past those dark days. But some in my Tribe cant. And while its not always the case, most people in our Tribe have suicidal ideations….We think about the “S” word—often–but doesn’t mean we would do it….Some people have no idea what that’s like. During my last bout in the dark, when my meds stopped working, I was thinking about what it would feel like to just not wake up. I am open about my illness. I don’t pretend and I refuse to hide it. I am open to everyone about my battle. I am not ashamed. Now I am new meds and starting that fun roller coaster ride again……..

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Sadly, while the majority *think* about suicide in our veil of darkness–some in our Tribe find it the only way out of the shadows. When a member of our Tribe dies—whether it be by their own hand, natural causes or whatever else–it hurts us all. When a member of our Tribe, whether we knew them personally, whether they were famous or our neighbor, departs this realm, all of us in the Tribe feel it differently than those who don’t suffer. We get it. We really get it. We have been there.

I will say this though, I do not believe suicide is a selfish act.  I believe its an act of desperation. When you cant see beyond the veil. Nothing forward. Nothing back. Just a wall. I never blame the person who commits suicide.

In 2011 a coworker, who seemed so happy, left work early, went home, and shot himself. I remember the grief counselor coming in to talk to us. My coworkers all sat around the conference table and everyone had to talk about how his suicide made them feel. I was the only person who said I was angry. While everyone said how selfish he was, how he did not matter anymore.  I was angry–I said it was because it did not need to happen if people were not so afraid to talk about mental illness to begin with. If my coworker didn’t feel ashamed–if when you asked him, “how are you” — and he gave a real answer–not just one to end the conversation–he may never have made that choice.  My other coworkers didn’t quite get that. When I said that I had tried to kill myself when I was 14, they all gave me that judgmental “she’s a crazy” look.

I am going to state these statements–and they are based purely on my own feelings and thoughts towards suicide and mental illness:

1. Suicide is not selfish: Nor can it be ignored. People who take their own lives do so because they see no other option. Suicide is part of a much larger picture. Suicide isn’t something somebody does because “so and so” needed attention. Actually suicide doesn’t need to even occur. If the stigma about talking about your feelings wasn’t so blatantly destroyed in this society, less people would feel the only way out was taking their own life.

2. Suicidal talk is not just talk: If someone says, “I am thinking about ending my life,” the WRONG response is “well don’t talk about it, just do it.” When I told friends when I was in high school that I wanted to end it all–that was the response I got. Looking back-they were not my friends. The CORRECT response would be, “lets go and talk.”

3. Don’t blame the person: Blame the society we live in. Back in the 1800’s, people in my tribe were locked up in asylums and never spoken about. Why? Simple. Self preservation. How horrible would it be if Mrs. Smith divulged that her daughter was locked away in a “looney bin”? What a shame it would bring about on the family! So in the act of self preservation, our Tribe has to be made to feel like outcasts. Keep our feelings in less be judged. If a person decides to take their own life—its because they felt there was no one or no place to turn to. Imagine what that loneliness feels like.

4. No one dies in vain: I truly and honestly believe that death–any death–happens for a reason. Whether a still born baby–an elderly person from natural causes–a murder victim–and a suicide victim. The Universe does not take away without giving back--even if that giving back is hard lesson. And with suicide, most times, the lesson is about the stigma surrounding mental illness.

5. Don’t scurry around the issue: Nothing pisses me off more than when I hear: “X was going through a divorce so X was feeling really depressed,” “X had a severe drinking problem and went to rehab because X was depressed,” “X’s friend is in therapy so X just wants attention,” “X just moved to a new school so X didn’t feel like they fit in.” Lets not skip around the issue. All of those “things” X was going through—-the key word is X was DEPRESSED. It has nothing to do with mommy and daddy issues, the wife bailing and taking the dog, the asshole boss. Depression, believe it or not, typically has NOTHING to do with what is outside the person. Being put in a new situation, life stress, drinking, divorce–those can exacerbate the depression–but major depression, just like most mental illnesses are biological. People in my tribe cant help what they feel. Its like your happy as hell–your life is amazing–but your brain is telling you the opposite. Imagine a constant tug of war between your brain and your heart. Rationalism and non-rationalism. All the time. Non-stop. We cant rationalize what our brain is telling us otherwise because somewhere–our brain chemistry is on overdrive.

6. (I am going to take heat for this) There is no cure for mental illness: We can have studies up the wall. We can make members of our tribe human lab rats. But the truth is, Big Pharma knows it racking in the dollars–hell I am participating in their gas guzzling pill creating industry every time I pick up my Celexa, Valium, Ativan and Wellbutrin. Just like AIDS and cancer–if there is a cure—we will never know. Big Pharma likes the money they can make from our tribe. Whether we want to admit it or not. And Big Pharma’s know, that every drug they make–if it works–at some point people will be desperate enough to drop thousands of dollars on a medicine their insurance will not cover because its “experimental” ~ so what is the CURE. TALK. OPENNESS. When someone asks “how are you feeling”—REALLY give them an answer. Not just “I am fine.” No. Say, “I am depressed and I need to talk.” And if they really care, and if they really want to help break the stigma…….then they will listen.

No one needs to be the next Freud or Jung. All they need to do is LISTEN. Break the stigma by learning how to ACTIVELY LISTEN to how someone is feeling–don’t jump in and tell them “get over it, its ok,” or “your life is perfect.” No. 

Just Listen.

I am writing this post obviously, because of the passing of Robin Williams…a member of my Tribe. May he open the roads for the spirits to pass over……

Time for change is NOW.

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Close Your Eyes and Listen

There are moments in our lives when we have to accept that we made mistakes. That a choice or choices we made were not the ones we should have, and sadly, it was a choice we knew all along was wrong to begin with. There will come a time in our lives when we do not listen to our intuition and just do what we feel we “need” to do. 

I have always listened to my instincts. My intuition runs deep and strong and it has always guided me to make the best choices I need to on my journey. Sometimes the choices are hard, but nothing is ever easy. I have always listened to my heart — except once — and I hurt a lot of people – including myself. If I had only listened to begin with–none of it would have happened.

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Yesterday was my court date for my divorce. Its over now. Things ended badly because we had grown apart. We both made mistakes. Divorce is never a one sided issue. It takes two to tango and its the same for the end of a relationship. There is a reason why someone isn’t happy and there is a reason why someone wants to leave. Truthfully, however, I knew in the beginning my marriage wouldn’t last. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my ex. I did. But to get married–I shouldn’t have done it. My “reasoning” for getting married was because I felt I had to. I was 29 years old. All my friends were married. All my friends were having children. I felt left behind. I also felt some insatiable need to prove to everyone that I could be a “wife” — that me, the most nontraditional, free spirited person, could settle down and be normal. I felt that I needed “stability” – which in itself is a false word. Nothing is ever stable. Things are always changing.

Throughout the entire wedding planning process, my gut and heart kept telling me it was wrong. So much so that I became so that I was having anxiety attacks every day, sometimes to the point where I would pass out or vomit. My intuition was telling me to stop while my head kept telling me to keep going. I didn’t want to be alone. I needed to have someone. I needed to have a husband. It got to one a point that it was so bad that I had almost called off the entire thing, which, would have left me between a rock and a hard place. I would have lost someone I loved and also proved (at the time in my head) that I couldn’t be “normal” — I couldn’t be like all my friends — I couldn’t be married and happy and have a house and babies running around. So I did it. I got married.

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I hated my wedding. The whole time I felt like I was living in someone else’s body. My intuition, my soul, it left me when I stopped listening. I got married and I shouldn’t have. I tried hard to be the wife — but I was also married to someone who wanted to the title of husband, but not the responsibility that goes with it. In turn, because I sent that energy out to the Universe – because I didn’t listen to myself to begin with — he picked up that energy. And then, over and over again, I was never made a priority. I became second or at times even third in his life. Eventually my soul was so tired of lying to itself. I had become a shell of who I was and was not becoming the person I was meant to be. And neither was he for that matter. And thus the end. 

I hurt a lot of people because I didn’t listen to myself. All of this could have been avoided if I had just closed my eyes and listened. Followed by heart to do the right thing. Unfortunately I didn’t. I cared about my ex – but I shouldn’t have said “yes” and I shouldn’t have walked down the aisle. 

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In the end, I learned a major lesson. Always, always, always trust your gut. Listen to what it says. Don’t do things or feel you need something because someone else has it. What you have you are meant to have at this moment because its what The Universe wants. Do not force something that isn’t meant to be.

Sometimes we want our lives to be a certain way– to be the way that we WANT it to be. So we make it. Like taking clay to mold- we think we can just make our lives so it will be a duplicate of someone else’s. We also think its because its what we are supposed to do in someone else’s eyes.

Always listen to your intuition, even if the ultimate decision will be painful, its better than pretending everything will be ok. If your heart is telling you you need to let go of something or someone, you need to do it. Even if in the end you know it will hurt and be painful.