It’s been maybe a decade since I last wrote here. I used to write about my artwork, my creative process for all sorts of paintings. I bared the soul of my healing journey separately and through art therapy, expression.
I would like to re-enter this loop in the world, this discussion that may mostly be one-sided, as I begin again to clear my mind of things that bring me joy, despair, anger, grief, etc. There’s a lot in me to let out, in everybody. Everyone’s dealing with something, even several things in their own lives. I always try to remember that.
My friend Kristen Chapman Gibbons, community artist and storyteller beyond belief, came to visit what she calls an oasis in our home. I love that she feels that way about our home and our time. I try to listen best I can, as well as relate my experiences or thoughts here and there, to let her know I see her, that I can understand.
She suggested as she was heading out, that I restart my old blog, but this time share my stories, all my stories, details about each day. See, I do things in the community. I’m also a community artist. I’m limited by disabilities, though. It’s not possible to work full time, because I would need so much time off, personal time, doctor appointments, and healing. I do a lot of processing during waking hours, and I guess through dreams overnight. It’s my responsibility to manage myself, to have a moral code, to do my best each day. I’m not able to anything on a regular basis, but I can do things in short, intense spurts of activity here and there.
I can’t predict when I’m able to have those productive periods though. I’m not able to do everything I want to do, because of severe mental illness and chronic pain conditions. I have fibromyalgia since 2013, and early onset osteoarthritis. I’ve had eight surgeries: both knees, my neck, my lower back twice, both hands, one shoulder, a thyroglossal duct cyst of all things. Two jaw surgeries for temporo mandibular joint disfunction. I’m on federal disability because of things that happened to me growing up. I have PTSD, Dissociative Identity Disorder, and Major Depressive Disorder. I’m also OCD. Constantly monitoring everything I do to be the best of my ability. I abhor any imperfections in myself. I try to be perfect all the time. So I’m also setting my bar for personal best higher with each accomplishment. That’s just an example of how the world is for me inside.
My counselor yesterday, who I’ve known since 2015 here in Nashville, TN, said what I’m doing now to reframe my healing every day is a lot of progress.
I have a dark underworld, which I think is literally my subconscious, which used to terrify me. I would hear insults, negativity, criticism, as well as goth, dark, morbid thoughts. Hard to make sense of, in one sense, to try to understand it, but on another level, knowing now that I’m older, how I came to be this way.
Lately, as in the past two weeks, still coming to terms with what it means to me to literally have multiple personalities, with advice from my counselor, to tell each alter, We escaped, we got away from all of them, we’re getting better now. It has helped so much for all of the alters, to begin to understand that is is safe now. Safety is a joke I tell myself, is a line from a poem of mine. But now I’m beginning to feel a bit safer, not in less pain, but less crisis. Each of the alters expressed recently that they are in a lot of pain even though I escaped. I have expressed, through talking and listening to their experiences, that I’m here to talk about it, and help any way I can.
I spoke to the dark world recently, realizing its indifference, absolute depression, on the edge of remembering suicide attempts and suicidality for most of my life, and asked it, Is there Light down there? No. Is there love down there? Maybe. I also can feel that dark space, and everyone who feels safe down there, where they hide, glad and responsive, now that we are able to talk. I’m not afraid of it anymore. It is beginning to share its pain with me. Monday I asked, Can you stand up from down there? Yes, but it will take time.
I realized over this past weekend, in writing an email to my counselor as a break from this constant processing that I do, that perhaps my groundedness is deep down in that darkest space that holds the majority of all the hurt. That if I reach back to that little girl, however old she is, that gave up on life and joy, love, an end to pain, a long time ago — that I’ll find a place to be, or stand up, from down there.
I used to want to be Beth, in Little Women, because she dies, and everyone loves her so much. She is so stoic, so beautiful, loving, sweet. I wanted to be all of that, and tragically die young, so everyone would love me, too. Even as a little girl, I wanted to die. I told my family I wanted to be Beth, there was concern, we talked about it, but nothing changed ultimately, with the dark things, secret things, that I couldn’t tell anyone about to save me from them, that made me want escape from them, death, mercy at last — continued.
I understand how I dissociate most of the time. How even in our garden, I’m not totally at peace, not totally able to see or feel the beauty of Nature around me. Nature is the guiding Light in my life, showing me so much over time. Perfect Imperfect, beautiful, abundant, giving, wise Nature. Endangered world. It affects me on a deep level that we are in such a crisis for our planet. I sit in the garden and can hardly stand it. I see the beauty, noting growth and blooms, health of each beloved plant we are growing here. There is some joy, but not all of it is accepted by this darker world inside me.
It’s like, no matter the positives or negatives of my life in the present, all the alters deep down are not moved, touched, impressed or able to let go of the weight they each carry. I understand that. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I’m deeply depressed and angry. I put on a pleasant face to the world, because that is the respect I give them. There is no need to present what I’m really going through and ruin their day, unless they are a dear and trusted friend. But honestly, deep down, nothing touches that blue. Eeyore was an early friend of mine through Winnie the Pooh. I so related to him.
That darker side cannot be placated for now. All the abuse that happened growing up, ritual abuse from people I loved, analyzed, watched every move, tried to please with everything I did early on, later rejection in college — all that pain, grief and loss reside down there in an underground safe place. No matter whether I’m putting on a laugh or smiling face, even if I seem calm and at peace, I literally am the opposite deep down.
I’m constantly in the process of trying to release old pain. It’s my responsibility to reach out to it, listen to it, try to help it understand, get over, survive, stop being in flight or fight, and help express, get out, all the various sources of pain inside.
Above all of that, in my upper body and mind, there is hope, there is constant activity, analyzing, turning over of all the possible things I can think about, trying to figure out the puzzle of myself, how to heal, the puzzle of the world, how to save. I literally feel like it’s my responsibility to help save the world somehow. I’m very worried right now about the corruption and dishonesty of the Senate and this Administration right now. It is entirely destructive of so many beliefs I have. Compassionate beliefs lead me to severe anxiety, worries about the world, all its systems, ecosystems, wild and tame. Human and plant and animal. We have to turn the ship around now.
My days are unpredictable. To have a night of sleep, usually with nightmares, waking frequently to get into a comfortable position, or sleeping the night through rarely, I wake up in physical pain, stiffness that I have to work out with stretching, movement, resting, and yoga. I don’t know what it will be like from day, whether I’ll get anything done at all, a few things, or one of those intense few hours of intense activity.
It’s also possible several times a week to have to lose the whole day to rest. I get overwhelmed and fatigued, exhausted very easily. I’ll need a day frequently through the week to rest and process what just happened to make me so tired or achey. Each day is a pain du jour, I like to say, ankles, knees, shoulders, spine, hips, hands, neck, headaches, overall tenderness and achiness, all of which is so hard to cope with.
I’m a huge fan of managing myself as much as I can. I really have to, especially since things are so unpredictable each day. I’ve learned over the years about neuroplasticity, how you can literally change yourself, with practice over time. I have had so many internal thought and behavioral loops to dissect and unravel for decades now, and am still sorting through old patterns of unhealthy stuff I learned to do to to cope, or was taught to be, instead of who I was, early on.
I’m trying to reach back to what was good of me growing up, my potential as a person, and make a link to the good in me now. I can now, recently, begin to say, I was a good kid. I am still not able to accept that as an adult, since growing up into now, that I am a good person. I think that’s a bit fascinating to watch progress. I literally have internal resistance with the thought that I’m a good person. Achievements, whether it be washing dishes or doing anything productive for myself, my husband, or the community — don’t stick. Instead of being able to affirm what I’ve done on a complete and grounded level of self esteem, it breaks like the surface of so much water falling away from the upper levels of my awareness. Depression and pain resurface in response.
I’m trying to balance the past feelings with present feelings, to sort that out as it occurs to me, as it happens. Alters are not able to control when they come up to remind me of something awful that happened to us growing up. For now, no matter what I’m experiencing in the present, there is part of me that wants to be alone, curled up, resting, not having to interact, the dark depression, the anger, are always there in a huge block of me deep down.
So it’s good we’re making progress with me interacting with all that is down there. We shall see how I unfold. Right?
This first re-entry blog entry is almost like coming out for me as a mentally ill person, even though I shared a lot of my daily struggles and creative process in the earlier blog writings. There is a stigma with mental illness, even inside me, judging me constantly inside, but especially for those who either don’t understand it or don’t want to, as if we were crazy people who would hurt them, weirdos, or whatever. Someone they can’t cope with.
I believe in telling people I trust what has happened to me growing up, and how it affects me every day. They begin to understand what life is like for me, who I am, what I can contribute, what I need to get better, to cope every day.
I’m on a lot of meds for my age, at 54. I literally am bedridden and not able to cope, without my medications. I resisted going on the mental health medications in 1998 but finally accepted the help from them. It takes tweaking over the years, as new meds come out, and really none are designed for what my symptoms are, only what seems to have reduced symptoms for others. I do accept the help, and my responsibility to stay on them and do my pill box with all its combinations for each pill, once a week.
So now I’m wondering, now that I’ve written all of this, whether it was helpful, interesting, informative, changed your perspective about the challenges of mental illness or not. That’s up to you, really.
I think we all need to reflect, investigate and be responsible for all of our own issues. Without that self-reflection, we can become hard to deal with, interact with, love, understand why we act the way we do, seemingly out of control. When you deal with your own shit, honestly, your life improves. You can see a way out of things you need to change about your life to be a better person, the person you were born to be, the best you can be. You can reach your potential, your dreams, contentment with yourself and others, your life, the world, be at peace, happy.
What is this about Gestalt? I wrote a line many years ago in my uber-long ode to Summer, Summer Thicket, the line, melodic gestalt. This month I’ve been trying to come up with a new name for the poetry open mic I host every month. As I read that line, the word gestalt popped out for me. My thought writing melodic gestalt was that walking through or being in Nature, with crickets and cicadas, wild life of all kinds all over the place, that cacophony and abundance of life cycles simultaneously, was kind of like the world, human society,also. It was musical, and moving in multiple directions, in this case positively, growing.
I looked it up on the amazing instant encyclopedia that is the internet, and found multiple meanings. In German, form or shape. In Gestalt Psychology, however, it became challenging and intriguing. I scanned that part, seeing that it was grouping of the ways people perceive things. Literally shapes and things visually into our mind and system, but also other types of perceptions.
I wondered then, how do poets perceive the world? Any differently from anyone else? So this became a curious name for the open mic. It has multiple levels of meaning to explore, but what came to me was a vision of folks coming together to share their issues and stories via poetry and spoken word. It is a safe space, for first timers and veterans, to express their deepest selves. That is my hope, with the renaming.
For this blog entry, it means opening up the various levels and types of perceptions I have about myself, others, Nature and the world beyond and right here in my community. I do work in brief spurts, nudging folks in the community to begin to collaborate, supporting and encouraging expression of individual, community and worldwide truths. On my level, it helps me understand how to organize myself a bit better.
I have innumerable alters, due the the years’ long ritual abuse by multiple trusted people. Things are grouped down deep by experience, abuser, feelings of emotions, and reactions to repeated pain by the body. I’m not often in my body, our home, with my husband, the garden, others, as much as I want to be connected and in the present. I dissociate mostly. Who lives here? not recognizing my own or Rob’s things, the garden, like I’m not really here. I am a grouping of perceptions and experiences, feelings, thoughts, core spirit of love.
For me gestalt is analyzing my perceptions all the way through until I’ve cleaned it of pain. To be at peace with myself, so I can better be present with the world and people I love. That is the goal. I can’t feel it or see it, but somewhere above the persistent darkness of my past experiences, I have immense hope. Not sure how that works, but that’s how it is right now.
I do hope that anything I’ve coped with or experienced might be helpful to others in their journey to heal and be the best they can be.
Kristen told me to tell you a few more bits of my life, so I will close with those.
We were sitting outside under the Mama Magnolia tree, where many birds and their young find homes and shelter year-long. Listening to crickets, seeing flowers and grasses blowing in the wind.
I confided to her that I’ve been conversing with one or more female Cardinals this Summer. We will make eye contact, I will speak to them, Pretty Bird, Pretty Bird, Aren’t you pretty? I will make a ticking or clucking sound with my mouth that gets their attention in a nice way that makes them curious. They fluff their feathers and begin to preen, shake, when I say, Are you a good Mama? Yes you are. Ha. Really, they come closer and chirp in different ways, cocking their head and making eye contact.
I blink often so they aren’t threatened. They sit on the top of the arbor or the nearby tree and chirp. We have a few minutes of this communication and hanging out in peace. Eventually they fly off to catch a bug or so. But they return, and we continue. This is somewhat the case with enormous, vivid, starkly crying Blue Jays, Goldfinches, Robins. I do my best to make them feel welcome. Mockingbirds, though, are so territorial, they and I keep our distance. I interact a little at the start, then look away from them altogether so they can do their thing. I’ve had too many attack me over the years while walking, to mess with them very much.
Another aspect of my life Kristen wanted me to share, after being in the garden with me, is how I will wave to the folks in each car going by. Sometimes they wave back. Sometimes they don’t want to, or don’t understand. About half or more will wave back, especially when they are out on the weekend or holidays. Folks are for the large part, so sweet and nice here, that as I’m out gardening, I’ll say, Good morning, or wave to passersby on foot. They will say Good morning, and I’ll ask them how their day is going. They will tell me and ask me. I’ll say, Have a blessed day, so will they, and we’ve each brightened the other’s day. I love doing that so much.
My husband Rob and I are restoring a Victorian built in 1884. It has a good-sized lot, maybe a 1/3 of an acre. We are gardening geeks, for sure, and look forward to this time of year ALL WINTER. Ha. We are the white minority in our neighborhood. We live a few blocks from Napier and Sudekum public housing. We are on redevelopment committees along with community residents, public housing residents, community partners in metro government, police, churches, social services, the local library and health service.
The vision is to replace the public housing in phases, maximizing the space for as many units they can build. Green spaces, water park, senior residences, one stop shop social services, smart street practices, future transit stop preparation, urban gardening linked to the excellent local after school program. It’s comprehensive, extensive redesign of our neighborhood over the next 10-15 years.
I tell you that because affordable housing shortages and gentrification, loss of historic communities and properties, are like some sort of Wild West land grab in our country right now. I’m working to help preserve the history in our neighborhood, much of which dates back to 1900 or earlier. The property values under these historic homes built so soon following the Civil War, have skyrocketed. Even one of the local churches is in the same place as it was around 1887. I see some folks might see my husband and I as gentrifying our community. We are doing our best to be great neighbors to everyone, to help be part of the transformation of the community, where the quality of life for everyone will be vastly improved.
I’m rambling and writing more than I thought I would. I do hope the read is of interest to folks out there, though. It actually does feel good to just express myself on all these subjects that are so meaningful to me.
Now for a few graphics, since I’m a multimedia artist. It’s all art therapy for my disabilities, but it’s fun to share.
This is the view when I’m sitting at our dining table. I harvest and dry fresh Italian herbs from the garden for use over the Winter. This is where I do that preparation. I also make huge bowls of potpourri from hydrangea blossoms, and all the mints and lemon balm we have grown. That’s this year’s mix, anyway. 🙂 For Christmas, I give it away to friends. Fun!
This is the view of the developing garden beds to the right of the house culminating the in the driveway in the foreground. Where the large planters are, there is an arbor with a white and a red rose growing up from either side. We plan to create a wooden wall where you see the chain link fence, for more privacy and seclusion. We will still have the open space of the wrought iron fence in the background. We have lots of plans to finish everything, from the garden to the house. We have lots of projects and have to focus and refocus on priorities a lot. That is also home ownership.
This is what we call our Cantaloupe daylily, because we don’t know its real name. Actually, although we have been to nurseries, gone to specialty plant shows, garden shows, and free plant swap meets twice a year, we’ve bought and chosen very little in the garden. We’ve continuously been surprised to find we own this or that lily, iris, foxglove, etc. This is a delight actually, and a little challenge if they’ve been planted in the wrong place. We are recording and watching as the plants grow and bloom, to see if we like where things are. We plan to move a lot of plants around next Spring, when everything is so full of life, and has much less shock after being divided or transplanted.
Rob collects oxalis and iris. I collect day lilies and echinacea or coneflower. Together we collect old fashioned, blowsy roses. We are learning how to care for the roses, as well as the needs of each plant, as we go along. Gardening is a wonderful cardio activity for us as we get older, ha, and also brings us so much joy. We planted tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, basil and other Italian herbs this year. Hoping to harvest and freeze enough basil to make at least one batch of pesto this year.
This is our left side of the house, and how things are developing. There are a large camellia, several hydrangeas, iris, day lilies, a white Veronica, dark cannas that bloom orange, moonflowers, geranium, and a smaller camellia at the end of the wall toward the street. We have three Lady of Shallot, peach roses climbing the wall toward the street. In the foreground is a temporary sitting area to take a break from the exertion of gardening and the heat. The garden bed in the foreground is for herbs and vegetables. The trash you see is what we collect as often as we can. Here, trash blows all over the place, in the street, down the sidewalks, into everyone’s yards. We deal.
This is the front right corner of the lot, where the hundred year old (at least) Mama Magnolia tree is. We have lots of iris, some oak leaf hydrangea, and plants that prefer the shade under here. Largely an experiment, rather than a plan. We are still figuring it out. Immediately before this photo, in the foreground, is where we are able to sit for long periods of time under the tree, in the SHADE. This is priceless. We just try to breathe it in and figure out how we got here. We are still learning to accept it all. We are blessed, we know, but adjusting to a new and foreign positive, in a way.
When we are sitting in the chairs that you can’t see in the foreground, this is our view facing our project, our home, the house. We can also watch the blooms sway, in some cases smell their fragrances, see how the palette of the rainbow colors that are all welcome here, changes over the months. St. Francis of Assisi is beside the front porch, with his bird in hand and head bowed to it. The shrub is overtaking him from behind, a sort of jungle.
We decided these are our golden years. We are able to care for each other and improve the house and garden, sit and enjoy our time together whenever we can.
I think Kristen had a great idea this morning to encourage me to tell some of my stories to you today. It’s been a catharsis to write what I’m thinking and feeling out into the world, the open, like this. Thank you for listening to me, and I hope to write again soon. Feel free to comment, positively if possible. Happy to share information if that is helpful to anyone going through a hard time, if I can relate.
Take care, and talk soon.