Almost two weeks ago now, I had a fall and hurt my right knee.  My left knee had been giving me trouble and I had just walked around Rivercrest twice without it hurting, and was feeling pretty good.  Then BAM!  Two boisterous dogs hit me from behind.  I fell forward hitting my right kneecap and my chin.  Lying on the pavement, I felt utterly finished.  Maybe there was even a little voice inside that said “See. It isn’t safe to feel good.” My friends picked me up, got me in a car, took care of my dog, took me to the clinic. Dr. Dacey felt all around the kneecap.  Nothing hurt.  She said nothing was broken, to ice it, exercise was important.  I walked back from the clinic to my apartment, very slowly, but without discomfort.  So I thought it was going to be OK.

But each day it seemed to get worse.  There were sudden jabs of intense pain.  I had to ask friends to help walking Mocha.  The accident happened on Monday, April 5. By Thursday, a huge (hand-sized) bruise began to appear on my thigh just above the knee. A friend loaned me her second walker.

Over the weekend I had another bout with nausea and headache. They’ve been happening for a while, about every month. I used to have them a long time ago, when I was struggling with systemic yeast. I’m pretty sure they mean that my system is toxic, because of allergy, probably to food, but possibly pollen, cleaning fluid, etc.  Now I wonder if they might also be due to emotional stress.  I also wondered if it was related to the accident.  So I stayed in bed most of Saturday and Sunday, ate very little.

Monday, a week after it happened, someone came to do a fall evaluation.  The concern was that I might be at risk for more falls.  Given that this one was caused by dogs, I don’t think I’m at risk.  She said something about physical therapy, and I thought she would notify them.  Not hearing anything, I called PT on Tuesday, and Nancy came on Wednesday.  She felt all around my kneecap, which didn’t hurt, and had me do some exercises.  Some of them were easy.  Some hard: sitting on a chair and lifting my right leg to horizontal was impossible.  I couldn’t tell if it was because of the pain, or because the muscle wasn’t working properly. Nancy gave me a compression sleeve to pull over the knee, and recommended ice and ibuprofen.

The rest of the day was really difficult.  A friend was supposed to give me a ride to a medical appointment.  But she said she’d meet me at her car, and I thought I’d see her on the way to her car and didn’t.  It all worked out OK in the end, but I fell apart pretty badly. I felt broken to pieces, couldn’t stop crying, hid in my room. I think my PTSD had been triggered, though I’m not sure what was the specific trigger.

I did the exercises before I went to bed. I was able to sleep better because mu knee didn’t bother me so much during the night. When I got up in the morning it hardly hurt at all. That’s when I knew there was hope that it would get better. Up to that point, while I knew that theoretically it would get better — Dr. Dacey didn’t seem concerned — I didn’t know what had happened, didn’t know what to do, the sharp pain didn’t seem to coordinate with any particular movement, and the pain was worse each day. Nausea and headache over the weekend didn’t help.  Despite any “knowledge” my feeling was that it was never going to get better.  So it was a great relief to have something to do that clearly helped.

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An Anarchist Quaker’s Prayer to Soothe Anxiety

This came from Yes! Magazine.  I copied it into a document I call “Resource,” which I go to in times of trouble.  I’m doing really badly right now, and this seemed appropriate.  I wish I could manage to soothe myself, but I think that ability has been badly compromised by the social distancing.

An Anarchist Quaker’s Prayer to Soothe Anxiety

Hello sweet one. I see how much you care about the world, about your communities, about all of us surviving plagues and capitalism and a world on fire.

That clench in your throat, the knot in your gut, the tightness in your breath — this is how our bodies try to hold the world’s anguish. We write the wrongness into our bodies, a beautiful and devastating lament.

Just because your body can hold all the tragedy, the panic, the tension, that it is holding right now, that doesn’t mean that you must go on holding it, all, forever. The loving grandmother in you knows this to be true.

Set it down. Somewhere nearby, so you can pick it up again when you need to, but just for a moment, relinquish your illusions of control. Allow yourself to See the many-headed Truth monster: it might not all be okay. It might end in flames and death and horror, no matter what you do. Take a moment to acknowledge how fucking awful and sad that Truth is. And how not even the worst possible scenario would take away from your inherent worthiness.

Simultaneously, it is True that human beings have always fought for one another, cared for one another fiercely, and carried the world’s anguish in our bodies. And there are small Truths, like that we cannot control the future, no matter how much we wish we could. (Don’t worry when the Truths contradict one another, real Truths often do.)

No matter what, whether it turns out okay in the end or not, you carry the Divine within you. You are Enough, not because of the things you do but because of who you are fundamentally. Intrinsically. Always and without exception. Take a breath or two to allow yourself to Know this.

And when we pick up the anxiety again, let us aim for flexibility. Movement space for breath to get in and out of your rib cage, gentleness for the things we can’t do, and Integrity giving us the strength and resolve to turn our sometimes-excruciating caring into solidarity, mutual aid, and direct action.

We are each one person, breathing this one breath, with common Divinity.

We can do this. Together.

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Overwhelmed, and Lack of Resources

I am having a very hard time.  My brain doesn’t seem to be working very well.  I keep being badly thrown off by very little things.  It’s true that my left knee hurts, not a lot but it’s obvious that something’s wrong.  I have an appointment with my chiropractor tomorrow, but I just saw him for this same knee.  I’m worried about the fact that it seemed to happen again so soon, and without any aggravating circumstances.  And I have to drive an hour and a half to see Dr. Dean.

This post from 2017 seemed to speak to how I feel today.  I quote the parts that are relevant:

Complex situation     I am overwhelmed — can’t tell I’m overwhelmed.  It’s false for me to take ownership of this whole thing.  “This is all my fault” that’s 12 yr old or younger Jenny

Overwhelmed and under-resourced.  Can’t ask for help.  “I’m fine” is denial of overwhelm & lack of resource.  Nobody to turn to and say “This is too much for me, I need help.”

Erica says I should answer these two questions:
“What is my responsibility in this?”
“What is true?”

I came back from the therapy session feeling upset and confused, not seeing any way to make things work out.  Slept badly, woke up early, feeling tangled pain.  Wrote about it in my journal.       …

What is my responsibility in this?  To take care of myself adequately so that I can function, so that I can make good decisions.  Especially about resisting pressure (from myself and others) and giving myself enough time.  To recognize how easily I go into denial about how hard things are for me to do.  To have enough self-knowledge, and grounding in myself, to be able to see when something is too much for me.  Or to say “I don’t know what to do.  I need more time.”

What is true?  That I have to move to a place where I feel contained enough because I have no “calmly abiding center,” and I don’t know how long it will take to create one, with Erica’s help — can’t do this alone — or if it’s even possible to create such a thing.  I think again how Kendal can be an ashram for me, with Erica as my guide and teacher.

What is my responsibility in this now?  To take care of myself adequately…  I’m finding that enormously hard to do if not impossible.  Somehow I have to find help.  I don’t know who can help besides Erica. I know I don’t have enough human contact in my life because of the pandemic, and I’m too scared to ask for help.

What is true?  I know that it’s possible to ask the Quaker Meeting for help.  They can set up a support group.  Maybe that would help.  I wish I could manage a real breakdown, so that they would have to put me in the Health Center and fill me full of tranquilizers, and then there would be people around all the time taking care of me.  I need to collapse and be taken care of.  I can pay someone to take care of Mocha, or send her to Fiona.

I had gotten this far, typing directly into the blog, and I realized that I was in real trouble, and had better not post “I wish I could manage a real breakdown…”  This was on Tuesday, March 30.  Fortunately I had a talk with my therapist soon after I typed this.

Notes from therapy session: I was really worried about what I said about a “real breakdown.”  So I read what I had written to Erica. “This is a little one who’s overwhelmed and doesn’t know what to do. She’s feeling responsible for something that she never should have been asked to do. How do we help the one that’s overwhelmed, that feels responsible.”

The main problem is that the little one is only a baby, she can’t realistically take care of me. But it’s too easy for me to get stuck in her, and dissociated from Adult Jenny.  This has been especially problematic during the pandemic, where social distancing triggers the feelings and helplessness of a baby who’s been left all alone.

I did manage to get to my chiropractor, who worked on my left leg.  We both agreed that what was going on was more complex than just the knee.  I have been trying to pay attention to how I use my left leg and movements that might be affecting it.  I realized that this whole last year I have been eating most of my meals at my counter, sitting on a stool, and resting my left foot on a big plastic storage box that’s out to the left.  Before the pandemic, I had been eating both lunch and dinner at a table with both feet on the ground. So I managed to find a box the right size to fit right in front of the stool and rest my feet on it.  that seems to be helping.

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“Real Substantive Engagement,” reprise

This is from a longer post.  My therapist praised (October 14, 2016)  “Your tenacity in wanting to be engaged in real substantive ways.”

It’s an important concept for me.  I think it’s one of the reasons I’m doing so much better.  Seeing my fierce and relentless search to create “real substantive engagement” with the world, knowing that this is how I’ve lived my life, committed to engagement, to deep connection and conversation with everyone and everything I meet — this is not a wasted life.  I see that when I failed to engage — as I often did when I was younger — it was either because I didn’t have the social skills, or because my wish to go deep could not be met by people who were afraid to look at the truth, or who were in denial and couldn’t even see that there was truth.  The words “real,” “substantive,” “engagement” describe the truth I’ve been committed to searching for all my life.  This is what my life is about.

This is NOT a wasted life.  This is NOT stuck in depression.  I see that I’ve lost it right now, at least partly because of COVID and social distancing.  My efforts to create “real engagement” too often bring me to experiences of not being met, and even being criticized for being “stuck in your misery” by “people who were afraid to look at the truth.”  This triggers me into younger states, because not being met with understanding, and being misinterpreted are things that happened far too often in my childhood.  This misunderstanding caused me to have an experience of who I was that is not the same as who I really am.

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Paradigm Shift

Recently I realized that the two worlds I shift between, the one where I’m stuck in depression, worthless, living a meaningless broken life, and the one where I haven’t wasted my suffering, and my work on myself benefits everyone — that these two worlds represent two different paradigms.

The old paradigm, based on the Newtonian clockwork world, says that God made the world and then left, only things we can measure are real, only the “fittest” survive, etc.  I realize that my interest in science and my degree in Astronomy have allowed me to update the scientific part of my paradigm to one based on relativity, quantum physics, etc.  I’ve also updated my understanding of “evolution.”  It’s not the fittest organism that survives, it’s the most complex and resilient eco-system that can maintain itself.  Life did not happen by some random process, but by a natural tendency to “self-organize.”  (See my blog post called “We’re at Home in the Universe.”)

But I haven’t been able to update my understanding of myself.  Sometimes I even find myself saying things like “God loves everybody…  except me.”  Actually those kinds of thoughts mostly don’t get expressed in words because as soon as I give them words, I can see how stupid they are. God, if there is a God, of course loves everybody.  When I’m in depressed mode, there is no god.  Of course when god says “You want a tougher vocation than PTSD?” I have to laugh and that takes me out of it.  Sometimes I feel like a ping-pong ball.

In the new paradigm, everything is connected to everything else, and my work on myself benefits the collective.  When I’m able to be in that place, I don’t feel that my life and my suffering have been wasted.

I think that our whole culture is presently also struggling between these two paradigms.

A quote from my journal for March 25:
I like my idea of the two paradigms.  The old one in which my work on myself is “self-involved,” the new one where my work on myself helps everybody.  I bounce back and forth between them.  I’ve also been seeing that I think my biggest problem is the one who hates me and keeps kicking me to get me to “shape up.”  I know it’s a younger one who doesn’t have all this new information.

This both inspired me to work on the blog post, and just now, as I was typing it up, I realized that it’s possible that the one who keeps trying to get me to “shape up,” even though she does it by criticism which doesn’t work at all, it’s possible that she sees how much I am capable of and is upset that I’ve been able to enact so little of it.  She doesn’t understand the damage that was done to me.

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Navigating the Realms

I posted the Story of Persephone because it is such a beautiful description of the two worlds I navigate on a regular basis.  Except that for me the dark realm is most often painful and confusing, with times of depression, terror, and despair, and the light realm can be piercingly beautiful, but too often it reminds me of all the beings that are suffering.

I’ve had a number of names for the dark realm: Symbolic World, Heraldic World, Invisible World, Imaginal Realm, Shamanic Realm.  In the post where I talk about them, I quote Carol Lee Flinders:

Inherently “more real” than everyday reality, this noncorporeal world has always been thought to surround and sustain it and to percolate up into it at regular intervals, visible and audible for those who are attuned to its presence.
Carol Lee Flinders, Enduring Grace, p 84

I say about my experience:

I knew, without being able to articulate it, that the symbolic realm was no colorless abstraction of Platonic Ideals, no far off heaven somewhere up there, that this realm was colorful, magical, mysterious, and contained the true beings of the trees and birds and streams I loved. 

I talk about my struggle as I travel back and forth in a post about Ereshkigal:

Ereshkigal says to me: The reward is great depth of perception, great power in expressing what you see, and the glorious moments of bringing through a truth from the shamanic world.    The price is self-doubt, and conflict, a struggle to keep your balance among the great spinning wheels, constant effort to see truly, rejection of easy answers.  The reward is the satisfaction of encountering truth: bone-hard, bone-deep.

Other posts about bringing through a truth:

Awakening Kali 

The Truth Express

Writing the Real Story

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The Story of Persephone

My friend Elizabeth sent this to me, in the form of photographs of the pages.  It was hard to read, so I typed it up.  And then wanted to share it.

In the world of the dead there is no time.  Yet every autumn, as the days grow shorter, the spirits of the underworld sense that Persephone must soon return.  They grow restless, and call to her with lost, hollow voices.  In the world of the living, the sound of their cries becomes the sound of the wind sighing in the dry grass and moaning through the bare trees.  For many of the living it is a sound that speaks to them of the frailty of life and the ultimate, unknowable void of death.  They draw closer to the fire and to one another, and they cherish the warmth of life.

When Persephone hears the first, faint sighs of the dead in the cooling autumn winds, she is filled with dread.  “They call to me.  They call to me,” she thinks as she gathers the harvest.  “But how can I leave this life?  The sky is too blue, the sun is too warm, the air is too sweet to leave behind.  The spirits of the dead cannot understand.  They are cold and remote.  They have forgotten the beauty of life.”

The wind grows cold, and the cries of the dead become more insistent.  Her promise to return to them weighs in Persephone’s heart.  Her blood slows.  Her steps falter.  It is inescapable.  She knows that she must make her farewells to the people and pleasures of the upper world, and descend to her appointed place in the realm of the dead.

She gathers the last sheaves of wheat and baskets of fruit to take as gifts to the dead souls so that they may remember, if only briefly, the joys of life.  When her preparations are complete, she spends one last day gazing on the beauty of her world, drinking in its colors and sounds and fragrances so that she will not forget it during her long stay in the dark.  Finally, at dusk, she stands of the edge of the world and weeps as she watches the sun touch the horizon.  In her hand she holds a pomegranate, the symbol of her promise to the souls of the dead.  The sun drops behind the bulk of the earth, and Persephone lifts a single pomegranate seed to her lips.  

The light shifts and ripples.  The crash of thunder rips through the world.  A screaming wind tears at her hair and stings her eyes.  Before her, a chasm appears where the sun had been only moments before, and Persephone cried out in horror even as she leaps into the void.  For a moment that seems like eternity she forgets who she is, where she is, and why.

Then, darkness . . . silence . . . warmth.  The spirits of the dead surround her.  They speak without voices.  They sing without sound.  They cry and laugh as she presents her gifts from the realm of the living.  And they welcome her with gifts of their own.  The gifts of the dead are those of knowledge and mystery and paradox.  In this world of darkness, their eyes see patterns of incredible beauty, yet the patterns have neither color nor shape.  Their ears hear rich, complex music, yet the music has neither pitch nor duration.  Here, every thought, every perception has endless variations.  Persephone is fascinated and she begins to remember . . . .

In the world of the living, days pass, weeks pass; in the world of the dead, there is no time.  Persephone measures time in terms of insights and explorations.  In the world of the living, autumn turns to winter, and the nights grow long; in the world of the dead, day and night have no meaning.  Persephone and her subjects traverse the endless labyrinth, traveling ever inward.  In the world of the living, the winter solstice approaches, and the people call forth the light; in the world of the dead, light and dark are one.  There are no dualities.  Persephone and her subjects are at the still, silent, center, in an infinite darkness suffused with an infinite light.

In the world of the living, the solstice passes.  The storms lessen.  The bears and the squirrels stir in their sleep.  And, suspended in her timeless void, Persephone begins to feel the stirring in her own blood.  The voices of life’s children are calling.  Their voices are like the buzzes and chittering of troublesome insects.  Persephone hears their first, faint cries, and she is filled with dread and sorrow.  “They call to me.  They call to me,” she whispers as she floats in the void.  “But how can I leave this?  The mysteries are too intriguing, the knowledge is too profound, the intimacy of death is too sweet to abandon.  The living are mere children.  They cannot understand the depth of this existence.”  But still, the days pass, and as the winter wanes, the cries of the living become more insistent.  In the world of the dead, they create grating, discordant undertones in the pattern of silence and sound.  Persephone’s promise to return burns in her heart.  It is inescapable.  She knows that she must make her farewells to the souls of the underworld, and ascend to her appointed place in the realm of the living.

She gathers gifts of peace and paradox to take to the living, so they might remember, if only briefly, the richly textured beauty of the dark.  Finally, on the eve of the spring equinox, Persephone weeps as she floats in the darkness.  In her hand is a stalk of wheat, the symbol of her promise to return to the living.  For a single, timeless moment she turns her ears to the impossible music that sings to her.  Finally, she raises a single grain of wheat to her lips.

The darkness shifts and ripples.  The world is ripped by a crash of thunder.  The wind shrieks around her.  The void explodes with jarring colors and a cacophony of discordant sounds.  Persephone cries out in terror even as she leaps into the blinding light.  For a moment she forgets who she is, where she is, and why.

And then, gentle laughter . .  the sounds of birds . . . the cool mist of morning’s breath.  She is surrounded by the children of the upper world.  They bring her gifts of iris and apple blossoms, the scent of rain on the ocean, the sighs of lovers.  She hears the whisper of the crocus at her feet welcoming her and spreading the world along the grassy hills— “She returns, she returns, Persephone returns.”  And as the sun rises. Persephone is filled with joy and the wonder of life, and she begins to remember.

— Retold by Irene A. Faivre    (Parabola)

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Social Distancing is Difficult for Me

I suspected that I was having a very hard time with the social distancing because I was traumatized by being left alone too much when I was an infant.  The problem has to do with regulating the nervous system.  Your nervous system resonates with the systems of bodies near you.  As a baby, your nervous system regulates itself by being in contact with the body of someone calm.  If you are upset, you can be calmed by someone holding you, rocking you, perhaps singing or cooing soft sounds.  If there is no one there, or if the person who is there is upset themselves, you are unable to calm down, or perhaps unable to wake up.  Babies left alone too long can become apathetic.

This is from the website, given by the link above:
“Although infants are born with the capacity for stress response (fussing, crying, etc.), their parasympathetic pathways, which help downregulate the SNS stress response, are not online at birth. This means babies can go up, but they can’t come down on their own. (They will go into a “freeze” state if ignored long enough; this looks calm, but it really isn’t.) The baby’s nervous system develops the ability to calm down through thousands and thousands of supportive, soothing interactions with caregivers. At first, the caregiver is essentially functioning as the child’s parasympathetic nervous system. The development of this “braking system” continues throughout childhood, through continued positive interactions that meet the child’s needs.”

Once you have been traumatized, your system dis-regulates more easily.  You go into hyper-activation — anger, fear, upset — or hypo-activation — depression, numbness, apathy.  Seeing people on Zoom doesn’t work to help your nervous system regulate.  I have noticed, as the social distancing goes on, gets more severe with lockdown, that I have more and more trouble dealing with things.  I’m very tired, but I have difficulty sleeping through the night.

Now that it’s two weeks past the date when the last of us had our second vaccination, Kendal has opened up a tiny bit.  We can reserve a table in the dining room, sit there with friends, be served dinner, and eat and chat with our masks off.  The tables have fewer seats than usual, and they are 6 feet apart, and most of the residents still have to get take-out dinner.  So I sat there with three friends, we chatted about ordinary things, but being with real people, sharing food, helped counteract the difficulty I was having with social distancing.  Being with real bodies, sharing food and conversation, helped my dis-regulated nervous system to regulate itself.  When we left, I felt 3-dimensional instead of cardboard, and my heart was fine, no longer feeling “shocked.”

But of course, I will have to have that every night in order for it to make a long term difference.  I realize that in some ways I’m finding it scary for Kendal to open up, even a little.  I helped a friend recently by driving her to pick up something she needed, but I felt like Hanover was a strange city, it felt weird to be driving around.

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“Stuck in Their Misery”

I got an email recently from someone who said I was “stuck in my misery.”  Feeling fortified by the knowledge that I hadn’t wasted my suffering, and knowing that our culture tends to blame people for their suffering, I didn’t buy it for myself.  But of course that’s the adult me, and I also felt “shocked heart” which I realized was all the younger ones inside me who believed it.  When I was about 17 my father told me I “wanted to be miserable.”  I didn’t believe him, but when I saw that all my efforts didn’t seem to change things I started to fear that somehow I was making it happen.  This is a situation guaranteed to cause depression.

From my journal for yesterday:

I did have a hard time most of the day because of the little ones who were so triggered.  I did my best to reassure them.  I even did what Erica suggested.  Put on folk music, held Kiddo in my arms and rocked her.  I told her that her misery wasn’t her fault, it came from something that happened to her that she wasn’t responsible for, and also from being expected to do things that she just wasn’t mature enough to do, especially without guidance and support.  But I continue to feel a little shocked heart.  

Making my second cup of tea, I saw the answer.  The response to someone who is stuck in their misery has to be compassion, not anger.  If I’m angry at myself, that just perpetuates the misery.  What I do is go sit down next to the misery and tell it “I’m here, and I’m not leaving.” And then I stay there.

I can see that my willingness to be present to my depression, terror, and despair, could be seen as “stuck in your misery,” especially by someone who is resisting and denying their feelings of misery.

from my journal for today:

You can call it “stuck in your misery,” but what I do is go sit down next to my misery and say “There, there.  I’m here now, and I’m not going to leave.”  I allow my misery to relax and know it’s not going to be abandoned.  Sometimes my misery softens into grief.  Sometimes I learn something new and worthwhile.  Sometimes a message comes from outside and shifts things completely.  I never know what it will be.  I’m still learning to wait with patience and trust.  I can feel that all the little ones inside who were so upset are feeling comforted.

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Do Not Waste Your Suffering

My therapist sent me a link to a video of Dr. Eduardo Duran on “Healing the Soul Wound.” He is speaking to Native Americans who are part of a Family Service organization working to help their people heal from the wounds of colonialism. Part of this means helping people educated in western methods to gain an understanding of indigenous, especially shamanic, methods for working with soul wounds.  “Soul wound” is the indigenous understanding of trauma.  He quotes a shaman who told him “Do not waste your suffering.”  I found this incredibly helpful.  It validated all the work I’ve done to heal my trauma.  Even though I continue to struggle with terror, despair, and utter blankness, I know that I have used my suffering to learn, and to transform.  It is also possible that I’m working on unhealed trauma suffered by my parents and grandparents, and maybe even Scottish ancestors who were driven out during the Clearances.  I know, without a doubt, that I have not wasted my suffering.

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