Mourning Whispers

This is a strange time for all of us. Its been a long time since humanity faced something together head-on. I am not going to lie. When I initially heard about the coronavirus I was not really worried. I thought it was an isolated thing. But within a few short weeks, I went from not being worried– to very worried—and very anxious.

Echoes of the past are slowly seeping into our daily lives. The past always has a way of repeating itself. It may be a different century, a different pandemic… but it’s all eerily similar.

Wearing masks, being quarantined, staying at home, hospitals overflowing…it goes on and on.

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COVID-19 may not be the same as the Spanish Flu, but its effects on society and the way our lives are now are reminiscent of the time when “Don’t Spit” was a main slogan.

And the deaths.

Not just the deaths of the victims if COVID-19, but the death of what we knew as life. Everything has changed so rapidly. We had to leave our jobs, we had to worried about loved ones. We also worry about the healthcare workers and first responders-dealing every day with a virus that has no vaccine and no signs of stopping.

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If you are feeling depressed or anxious during this time, your feelings are 100% warranted. You have the right to feel sadness and grief. We are living in a time that many never thought we would see in our lifetime. Some of us already deal with depression on a daily basis (chemical depression), but most people have never been exposed to feelings of societal depression. We mourn our lives before COVID-19. We mourn our loss of freedom in the outside world. Confined to our homes, worried about how we are going to make it by; uncertain of if or when this virus will stop. We are standing on the precipice of the unknown. For once, despite everything, we are no longer in control- and that is scary. 

If there is one thing that I learned from studying the 1918 flu pandemic, its that this to shall pass. The Spanish Flu exited the world quietly when there were no more victims for it to wrap its darkness around. Will the same happen with COVID-19?

The one main thing that separates the 1918 pandemic to this one is the fact that we have better science. In 1918 they had no idea what was causing the illness and even after the virus had vanished into history, it took years for scientists to figure out that it was a virus. They had no sophisticated testing, no high strength microscopes. We are fortunate to live during a time where we can get answers, get tested and know what it is – and how to prevent it. Luxury the 50 million victims of the 1918 flu never had.

We as human beings are now connected to one another. And we as human beings will move on from this- and get our lives back. When? Who knows. But when they say we are in it together- we truly are. We may be mourning the death of our society as we knew it before, but, very much like the survivors of the 1918 pandemic– we will pick up the broken pieces and move on. And hopefully, we will be a little bit kinder, a little more grateful.

 

 

All The Damn Lies

:::: Before you read the following post, please note that I do believe that murderers belong behind bars. I feel that anyone who can take the life of another person falls in the category of the vilest type of human being. I had a close friend of mine murdered and watched the heartbreak and pain of another friend deal with the murder and loss of her niece. I am well aware of the ripple effect that a murder has on family and friends of the victim. And I do believe that anyone who is capable of taking a life should be locked away from society. This is not about freedom or sympathy for murderers. It’s about understanding humanity as a whole and our willingness to get revenge–even when innocence and mental health are obvious. ::::

I recently finished watching “Confessions of a Killer” on Netflix. I knew nothing about Henry Lee Lucas. Which was nice. I was able to watch the documentary roll out as if I was a juror in a trial- remaining unbiased while taking in all the evidence.

Initially, when hearing that Lucas had murdered his own mother and supposed girlfriend- I thought to myself that that was clear cut. After all, he confessed. But then when I started seeing the video clips, it became obvious that things were not what they seemed.

Lucas was not only mentally ill but, he was being manipulated by the authorities to confess to not one murder but somewhere near 600. The hardest bit, for me at least, was the fact that he was put on death row for a crime that he didn’t commit. And there were those who were more than happy to cheer on the fact that an innocent man was going to be killed for killing.

Why are humans so eager to watch people be executed? I think that’s for another post.

This post is about how quickly we are to assume one side of a story. I am not saying that this is true of all cases. It’s not.

Was Lucas guilty? Of course. He killed his mother.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative–  for every 9 nine people executed, 1 is innocent. I am not going to get into the death penalty debate in this post, but you can assume from this that I am strongly against capital punishment.

No. This post is about how mentally ill prisoners are treated by authorities and the justice system. About how easily we are capable of only looking at criminals through a pinhole rather than looking at the whole picture. A person is either innocent or guilty-no one wants to see the gray bits that wade in the middle. Five to ten percent of prisoners on death row have a severe mental illness. I have already discussed the wrongfulness of placing prisoners with mental illness in a prison in my post on Ed Gein.

How is it ok to place a criminal with severe mental illness on death row?

My guess is that we live in a society that already places a stigma on those who have a mental illness. 

It’s easy to dismiss any discussion or talk on mental illness (and yes this does count even those with major depression and anxiety) and psychiatric care. I am often curious about whether the execution of a mentally ill inmate is more about getting rid of society’s “burden” than it is about the crime itself.

People here “he murdered…” and quickly brush off a defense of insanity. Yes, there are a lot of criminals who try to use that defense. But honestly, someone with a diagnosed mental illness like schizophrenia really is pleading insanity.

Mental illness is a chemical imbalance in the brain. No one chooses to be mentally ill. And no mentally ill inmate should be placed in prison, let alone placed on death row.

Its time society starts to look at the gray in between guilt and innocence.

The Unattainable

We all have something: a person place or thing that lies just out of our reach. So close that you can touch it with your fingertips and yet it’s so far away. And it not that you couldn’t have it- but just that you can’t. You can’t because after all the wishing, work and desire- it is just not meant to be yours. You relish in your mind, the moment that you have it. Even for a little while. You relish the way it makes you feel. The way you imagine yourself in that place where you always wanted to go. Mending a relationship that was shattered. Holding something/someone in your arms that you can almost feel and smell. Hearing words you wanted to hear. All the magic in the world couldn’t change the fact that what you want you may never get. The proverbial “follow your dreams,” just doesn’t happen. It may to some, but not everyone. We all have an unattainable. And there needs to a moment where you take a breath and accept that the journey has gone as far as it can, and its time to let go.

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Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com

Xanax and Caffeine

I am really good at introverting. I think I have surpassed the skills required to be an introvert. Wait? How could I be an introvert? After all, I am a performer. I am a professional dancer. I have performed for audiences between 10 and 500. I am also very outspoken. I say how I feel and fight for what is right. So maybe I am extroverted???

Whether introverted or extroverted, I know one thing for certain: I have an anxiety disorder.

I wake up with it. I go to bed with it. I perform with it. I work with it. It’s always there. Anxiety is a part of me. I am not defined by it. However, I do not believe I would be me if I didn’t have it.

Yes. There are days when my anxiety is so bad, its almost impossible to even walk out the door of my house to go to work. There are days when grocery shopping makes my heart race. There are days when I hate driving because my brain keeps telling me something dangerous is going to happen. Do I BELIEVE that something is actually going to happen? No. But anxiety thinks I should believe it. And that is what helps me live my life with anxiety.

Anxiety makes me want to believe that at any moment, the floor is going to fall out. I experienced this daily. But I do not let it control me. When it tells me something it wants me to believe, I have to mentally challenge myself to realize it’s a lie.

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Do I require benzodiazepines? At one time, I thought I did. I was hooked on Ativan. It was my lifeline. I became dependent on it because my anxiety wanted me to believe that if I didn’t take them- then something was going to happen. It took me years (and therapy) to learn how to control my thoughts and feelings. How to talk myself down from panic attacks. Not that I do not have one here or there. I do. And I do have Ativan to help me. However, I only take it when I really need it. When I can’t control my thoughts. And that’s ok.

There are still days when I have to cancel plans last minute or think it’s just to peoplely out there. I know those days will always come. But I have worked hard to recognize when I am able to talk myself down from a panic attack. I have recognized when my anxiety is trying to make me feel scared- and I have learned how to quiet the noise.

Whether I am introverted or extroverted who knows! What I do know is that learning how to live with anxiety so it doesn’t control my life is what is really important.

What IS Happiness?

I have struggled with this question for most of my adult life. What does it really mean to be happy? Is anyone truly happy? Or are we just content? Is happiness a permanent state of mind or is it something that happens in little spurts?

I am not unhappy but I am also not happy. I know that makes zero sense. I am happy right now with my life; however, I am always looking for that “something more.” Maybe it’s just my personality– but I find that things and places get old for me fast.

 I am always looking for the next big adventure, meeting new people, stardownloadting a new hobby and of course, being a life long learner. And all while I am chasing this idea of happiness- I am also craving stability and normalcy. I am seeking happiness in just being content with myself and my life. 

I often find myself jealous of people who seem content in their lives. Married, with a family in a little home and jobs they love. What is that like? But then I have to question– are they really happy?

What defines happiness?

Money? Love? A home? A job? Marriage? or is happiness something much more? Do we trick ourselves into believing that happiness are all the things we are supposed to have and want in life? Or is happiness just something we occasionally experience? Is true happiness deeper or spiritual? 

And is anyone really happy?

Your Life is Going Down The Toilet

About the only thing I like about Facebook is when “Memories” pop up. The other day a memory came up from a former friend. It was a memory from 6.5 years ago.

“Girl. What is going on with you? Your life is going down the toilet.”

As I said, she was a former friend.

Her comment probably pissed me off then, but it pissed me off even more now. Seven years ago I was in the midst of a major upheaval of my life. One of those times when your life gets shaken up and you have no idea where you are going to fall.

I was ending a six-year relationship with someone who I thought was “the one.” He broke me financially and emotionally. I was always last in his life, and it hurt. I was tired. I was also experiencing a deep depression and major anxiety. The job that I loved was in jeopardy due to changes and I had no idea what was up and what was down. It was a time of tears, sleepless nights, heartache and fear of the unknown.

On the outside, yeah my life looked like an impending train wreck. It was. But was my life going down the toilet? When we are going through a major shift–does it mean we are flushing our lives away?

No. Absolutely not.

Naturally, when we are in the midst of life chaos, it can feel like our lives are dissolving. Every choice we ever made seems to be under suspicion. We spend time reflecting on what-ifs and why ifs. It’s not that our lives are going down the toilet. It means we are growing!

My relationship ended because I realized who I was and what I wanted in life. I also realized what was triggering my depression and anxiety–and it was a simple fact that I was unhappy. Do I regret the choices I made that brought me to that point? No way.

Regardless of how old you are— you are constantly growing. And with growth comes change. Most often that change is painful. At the moment, it feels like your life is going down the drain and if you will ever stop falling. And then by choices that you make- things fall into place.

No one’s life is ever going down the toilet. Even those who have made bad life choices. I work with patients who are recovering drug addicts. They have lost everything they had because of their choice to do drugs. By society’s view, these people are garbage. They are labeled “crack heads,” “tweakers,” “meth heads.” Yes. They made some fucked up choices. However, when they finally choose to get help and move forward-not only do they grow and acknowledge their past and choices- but they become beautiful people.

Wherever you are in life. Whatever you have done. Whether good or bad were all your choices. But even if you are hanging by a thread–your life is never going down the trash. You are learning, growing and changing. You own that.

Death Denial

bc7df36ec1efdcedd1bae56db709ecf8One major flaw with humans is our ability to deny just about anything. Even when it’s right in front of our faces. Especially death.

After the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic– no one ever discussed it. If it was discussed, it was in a passing comment or a three-sentence paragraph.

Same thing for the 1831 cholera pandemic in England and beyond. After more than 52,000 lives were claimed to cholera- it was never discussed or mentioned.

Oh yes, and the Black Death? The bubonic plague that decimated Europe for three years; again, rarely discussed.

The 1918 flu is never mentioned in textbooks when World War I is discussed; even though it killed more than the actual war itself.

Is it our fear of death that prevents us from actually acknowledging its existence? Even when its everywhere? Are we so afraid to acknowledge our own mortality?

I understand the trauma of seeing people dying every day. Seeing coffins stacked up. Mass graves being dug. But after it’s over…..

I recently had a patient who lost her grandmother. She was a wreck when she came into the office.  I offered my condolences and some advice on keeping healthy during a time of intense grief (I have experienced it way too many times). The following week she came back in, and while she looked tired, she didn’t seem like someone who just lost someone. I asked her the obvious question: How are you doing?

Her response was basically, “I am working two jobs and going to meetings so I can’t think about it.”

I jumped right away into healer mode. I explained to her how bad it was not to acknowledge the death of her grandmother, but also her own grief. Keeping in grief will only cause more damage in the future than actually dealing with it when its there. When I worked in hospice I saw it all the time. Family members not dealing with the reality that their loved one is dying. When death came they would just brush it off. The “we knew it was coming,” quote I heard a thousand times.

What about death is so frightening that when it’s right there we ignore it? Never discuss it. Never want to deal with it. Even those with strong religious and spiritual lives deny the obvious.

We are all dying.

Accepting our own mortality, even in the face of death itself, can not only empower us with the ability to live our lives to the fullest but also give us the strength we need when our loved ones pass away. We are not as fragile as we think we are. Pretending that death will not happen–or, that death happened on a large scale– is only denying our ability to recognize our own mortality.

And as for those who passed away- how horrible is it to just forget them? Forget what happened? Forget how they died? Never discussing it again. Don’t they deserve respect? I was so happy when I hear that the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia was holding a mournful march to honor those who died in the 1918 flu epidemic.  Finally acknowledging not only the victims but also death itself.

Until we can stop denying the obvious- we are never going to truly live.

 

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.

Cominando: The Walker

I believe, truly, in cosmic intervention–even when said intervention comes in the form of disruption, chaos, deceit and selfishness. Sometimes cosmic intervention–is not kind and circumstances arise that literally force you onto the path The Universe wants you to take. But when The Universe decrees something–it is to be so. The Universe works on its own terms and has its own methods. And even though you know you are going to make a change, The Universe will make the change happen when it is supposed to happen–not when you want it  to happen. So yes, its good to make plans, but not concrete ones, because they are always apt to change.

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One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the past few weeks is that, when you have nothing to lose–it’s often the BEST time for changes. You do not need to hit “rock bottom” or be irresponsible to have nothing to lose. But when you realize that you have exhausted yourself — spiritually, physically and mentally— that’s when you realize that you have nothing to lose.

I realized that I had nothing to lose a few months ago. I was in a job that was going nowhere, not happy  with my living situation, and was feeling spiritually fatigued. My loves and hobbies did not give me the joy that they once had. We were planning on moving in August, but then, The Universe decreed it was time for us to go now. It wasn’t a pleasant, and it left me feeling a lot of anger and hatred toward several people (something I have finally gotten over after realizing you can not change a person–or people–and that sometimes cosmic intervention comes in unpleasant forms). We decided, it was time to go.

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I decided to literally up root myself. After living in the same place for most of my life, I decided that in order for me to reconnect with everything important to me, I needed to move forward–take a leap of faith– close my eyes–and free fall. We packed our stuff in 2 weeks, found an apartment and decided to move cross-country to Flagstaff, Arizona. As most of you know, I had a profoundly deep experience when I went to Sedona, AZ in 2014. It was the first time in my life that I was somewhere where I felt that I belonged. And so here we are….

I am starting a whole new life. Like a flower that has been uprooted, I am being replanted in a bigger space with love, life and the ability to blossom like I have never done before. I am walking a new path, in a new place, filled with new bright adventures. Reinventing myself. Cracking out of the egg. Flying out of the cocoon. I feel–free.

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And of course it doesn’t come without fears. Fear is normal. I am starting from scratch, a whole new life. And it scares me. But of course, I know if it was not meant to be The Universe would not have delivered it right now. But it did.

Taking leaps of faith are scary. But with a leap of faith–only new beginnings can occur.

So if you have nothing to lose–I highly recommend….closing your eyes, free-falling and taking that leap. There is no backward..you can never go back. Only forward.