Door to the Beyond

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part I

Introduction
Merry Meet, my name is Moss Bliss. I have been an Initiated Wiccan since 1983, the middle part of my spiritual trek. (The Third Movement, so to speak, is developing as I learn to integrate all spirituality into one through my studies in Kashmir Shaivism, adding a couple thousand years' worth of written works to my pagan beliefs.)

I have also been considered "weird", "sick", "disturbed", etc. since about the age of three (due to a period of sexual abuse by my uncle and brother, which my mother has begun to accept recently). I went from doctor to doctor, my parents trying to find some medical excuse for what was "wrong" with me.

Many of you will recognize this pattern; some of you will identify with it. Most of you won't even bother to ask the question, "What has that got to do with paganism?"

The answer, unasked or no, is that many of us don't feel like we fit in to the "normal" society, especially with all the negative judgments we receive from whatever church to which our parents caused us to attend. You start looking around. You find other churches, which is almost safe for you, but they don't fit any better, just more strangely. In the 1960s and 70s, there didn't seem to be any other options, so you either stopped going to church or stopped believing (whether you continued to attend or not). My own path to Wicca culminated in 1982.

But that's not the whole story, is it? Even though you find a group of people who accept you as being "different", even if they're the same kind of "different", you are still being judged by the people around you. In my time, I was diagnosed as some form of "mentally ill" long before I found the Goddess (or rather, before She found me), and paraded through legions of social workers, therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists before learning how to ritualize – both to rid myself of the "bad" and to celebrate the "good" (and learn what the heck the rest of it was and how to deal with it). Guilt and shame are not effective tools for healing these issues.

By the time I was 12, I was on Mysoline (primodone), an anti-convulsant. Another doctor put me on Valium. The medications started to add up. One neurologist said I was "borderline epileptic", but if any doctor had bothered to read a medical journal I could easily have been labelled "ADD" and put on Ritalin. These drugs made others think I was "better", but they only made me feel like I was about 2 feet underwater, scratching for the surface.

It wasn't until I was 31 that I was given a psychiatric label – "mild cyclothymic disorder" – and placed on lithium (carbonate). That was the first ANYTHING I had been given that made me actually feel better.

And when I was 48, my kidneys failed from too much lithium. The carbonate form is such that the effective level and the toxic level are so close as to keep the doctors monitoring your kidneys, but unable to tell anything until you're in great danger.

My doctors began what I call the "Medication Guinea Pig Dance", changing me from one drug to another, using drugs that were toxic only to my liver to give my kidneys a break. I have taken just about every psych drug on the market. None of them felt as good as lithium, all of them had "side" effects that made me hurt again. All the doctors repeatedly told me there were no alternatives, and these drugs would "cure" me.

In mid-2003 I was directed to the ALT-therapies4bipolar Yahoogroup, and learned that there were natural alternatives. By early November 2003 I was entirely off all medications and felt better than ever. My doctor told me that they would no longer treat me or meet with me, until such time, as he cheerfully predicted, that I relapsed and needed their drugs again.

As that prediction has not been fulfilled, I thank Goddess for showing me the nutritional deficiencies I had and what I can do to help myself heal.

At the present time, I am functioning as Owner of ALT-therapies4bipolar and am also a Moderator of Bi-Polar_Pagans Yahoogroup, and am also a co-founder of the Asheville Radical Mental Health Collective. I also have training as a leader in Recovery, Inc., which provides a number of helpful tools in keeping one from making one's symptoms worse (or preventing them in the first place), and have been a group leader in NAMI CARE.

It is my opinion that all cases of "mental illness" are caused by nutritional deficiencies coupled with traumatic experiences. If you take care of the nutritional aspects, you will be much better equipped to deal with putting your brain back together. I do believe in talk therapy, although I know there are probably as many good therapists as bad ones, and there are always other ways to work things out if you know where to look. I have also learned that at least 90% of the diagnoses themselves are based on politics, to allow doctors to sell you drugs – and that a lot of people are afraid to hear that. My opinion should not be taken as Law, and I support everyone who tries to heal from or control their "disease" regardless of the method they choose to employ.

Just as in religion, there is no One True Right and Only Way to heal from "mental illness". I hope to provide information on some of the easier ones to find and use. Most of my information applies mainly to "bipolar disorder", although I have known it to work equally well in cases of schizophrenia, PTSD, "unipolar" depression, and even multiple personality disorder (or whatever the "in" term to use may be).

A good High Priestess will help, as much as a bad one may hurt. I have known both – those who understand, and those who refuse to even talk to you because they are afraid of you (or your diagnosis).

That should be enough for an introductory article. If you are curious as to some of the methods I employ, you are welcome to visit my website, Hippo Haven, http://moss.witchesgathering.com, or join one of the groups mentioned above. Write me at zaivalananda@yahoo.com if you would like more information or an invitation. If you need a hint, the magic words for you may be, as for me, "fish oil".

Bright Blessings,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part II

…As we left off in our last effort, James and Carey were trapped in an old mineshaft… no, wait, wrong story. Last month, we hinted at the magick words, "fish oil". What has this to do with either mental health or paganism? Hmmmm…

I apologize in advance that this month's article will be almost solely dedicated to this issue; I will discuss other helps in coming articles. It will be hard to bring it back to paganism much, but I will try, and will refocus in future articles.

Anthropologists tell us that, not that long ago, there were 3 or 4 competing hominid ("man-like") species. One of these groups lived along the lake, and ate a varied diet including spearing fish from the lake; the others did not get the benefit of eating fish. According to these anthropologists, those who ate fish regularly had their brains grow to 3-4 times the size of their competitors, and were thus able to use their new-found brainpower to out-compete the others and become the only surviving species of man. (Source: paraphrased wildly from "The Omega-3 Connection" by Andrew L. Stoll, M.D.)

Is this not a gift from Goddess? It would seem so to me. I would venture to say that these distant ancestors were likely moved to use these brains to think about the world and universe around them, discovering the Grace that the Lady had given them.

How does this affect us today? When we are born, over 60% of our brains are made up of fats, with nearly all of those fats being the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These fats get used up, and are replaced through our diet. If there is EPA and DHA to replace them with, our body uses those. If there isn't, it uses whatever fatty acids are available (commonly AA, Arachidonic Acid – an Omega-6, in the American diet). Our bodies can manufacture EPA and DHA directly from dietary fish, or from grains or vegetables high in a third Omega-3, ALA (Alpha Linoleic Acid); it cannot manufacture an Omega-3 from an Omega-6. The typical American diet is VERY high in Omega-6s, high in Omega-9s, but unless you eat a lot of fish or flax, virtually no Omega-3s. (I can discuss what these terms mean privately if you like… suffice it to say that our brains NEED Omega-3 and not the other types of fats, and do not work properly without sufficient quantities of them.) With the proper fats, our neurons fire off in proper sequence; without them, we're out of synch. (Same source as above) This appears to be a MAJOR (physical) cause in depression, mania, schizophrenia, and other types of mental illness or distress.

Yes, there are environmental factors, behavioral factors, etc., but the Goddess gave us these brains and we need to feed them properly.

It has further been studied (and so far mostly proven) that, as foetuses and babies, we suck our mothers dry of their supplies of these fatty acids – it's how we get them in the first place, either through the placenta or through mother's milk. In fact, a mother with a diet insufficient in Omega-3s is sucked so empty of them that it appears to be the almost sole cause of "post-partum depression".

How can we get sufficient quantities of these substances in our diets?

That's it. There is no other way.

There are questions about fish being polluted with mercury; a careful study of the subject shows that no major brand of fish oil (or DHA) has any measurable amounts.

How much does it cost? Well, you know what it costs to buy fish, or can check at any grocery store. Fish oil can be obtained as cheaply as 300 1-gram softgels for under $7 (Sam's Club, similar price at Costco), 250 for $10.50 (Walmart), up to 100 for $19.95 at various health food stores. It has been shown that nearly all (regular-strength) fish oil is processed and produced at only 3 factories in the world, so the expensive stuff at the health food store is exactly the same as the cheap stuff at Sam's Club. (I recommend that you do not buy "Icelandic Health" from infomercials or "OmegaBrite"; these are untested formulations at VERY high prices. Standard fish oil contains 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA per gram of oil.)

How much should you take? If you suffer from clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or another diagnosed disorder, I would start at 4 grams (softgels) and think about trying 6 if you can afford it; less than that is shown to not be effective, more than that just costs too much and there is no shown benefit to date.

What problems can I expect? A very few people are allergic to fish. These should investigate flax seed or hemp seed oil. A few people have gastric upset from fish oil; these should either buy the "enteric coated" fish oil softgels (a little more expensive, but not much) or consider taking some Taurine (an amino acid which helps with lipid digestion) along with their fish oil, and might consider taking their fish oil only with food. Otherwise, there are no known problems – and a LOT of benefits I haven't even begun to talk about (read "The Omega 3 Connection" by Andrew L. Stoll, M.D., for the full amount we currently know about the benefits of fish oil – be prepared to be astounded, it is good for so many things it starts sounding more like "snake oil".)

Will fish oil "cure" you? If you don't notice the benefits CLEARLY within 2-4 weeks, stop taking it (or decrease your dosage). In my own case and many like it, I could almost literally feel a weight lifting off my shoulders within a week. It (and a few other supplements we'll talk about in later articles) literally gave me my brain back, rather than "control" (i.e., dampen) it like the various psych drugs did. I still have the psychological issues I had before (but I'm working on them, and have many fewer than I started with), but I have the capacity to work on them and expect the change to "take". (While on psych drugs, I always felt I was fighting the drug to accomplish anything, and often the change would not "hold".)

I would like to emphasize several things here. I am a Priest of Wicca, not a Doctor of Medicine. These statements are based on a LOT of anecdotal evidence and a few studies done at Harvard Medical School and affiliated university hospitals. If you are diagnosed as "bipolar" (or "manic-depressive", same thing), feel free to join the ALT-therapies4bipolar Yahoogroup, where currently over 180 other people are talking about what they are doing for themselves, usually without any drug therapy whatever. We also have a group called Bi-polar_pagans, which includes people -- on any therapy -- who happen to be pagan. If you need help contacting these groups, please write me.

Moss Bliss
zaivalananda@yahoo.com
Asheville, NC

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part III
July 2006

Thank you for welcoming me back for another walk through the Door.

Our next question is, what is the relationship between "madness" and Paganism? Quite simply, the answer appears to be that the special gifts which others view as "madness" and those which others view as "psychic abilities" appear to come from the same place – our Inner Child. Do you hear "voices"? They could be your spirit guides, or bad experiences with your family "environment" repeating themselves as though the person who first said those things was saying it right now.

The following is an extract from website information on "The Icarus Project" (HIGHLY recommended): Does anything sound familiar here? Icarus Project has taken the lead in demystifying "mental illness", changing the terminology from "sick", "brain disorder", etc., to "Dangerous Gifts".

We all have dangerous gifts. Even the most benign healing powers may do harm, or you may need to do harm in order to heal (i.e., killing cancer cells, psychically "cutting tissue", etc.).

It is these same gifts which made us feel "outcasts" in our parents' religion, uncomfortable no matter which church we attended, and caused us to keep searching until either we found Goddess or She found us. It is these same gifts that our religion (with a good teacher or lots of good books) trains us to use, "always harming none." It is these same gifts that are written about in all the Pagan literature, and "The Old Laws" are full of references.

It would be easy to write all Pagans off as "mentally ill". The truth of the matter is that, under current psychiatric definitions, every man, woman and child in the U.S. could fall under some psychiatric diagnosis – or several, or different ones depending on the diagnosing physician. This is not to say that Pagans are "crazy", or any crazier than the rest of the country (or the doctors themselves). Our difference is our strength, the welcome the Lady extends to us, the acceptance (however slowly) of those gifts and the desire to do good with them, the desire to grow those gifts and powers.

It would not do anyone any good to recite the stories of the people who have come to me about going to a "Pagan teacher" and being told that s/he refused to teach them because of their "illness". What will do good is to recognize all our potentials, the safe and the dangerous, and be willing to teach what we know or have experienced.

I hope you remember my earlier belief statement: "God/dess is Love. Love unites; Judgment divides." Turning a potential student away because you are uncomfortable with them, or afraid of them or their "illness", or because of something in their past (especially if they have worked hard to get beyond it) is an admission of your weakness, not that of your potential student. Embrace your Dangerous Gifts as your Lady embraces you.

"Mental illness" is a combination of factors – abuse, poor nutrition, bad experiences, bad drugs, and lazy doctors appear to be the main ones at the time I write this. People with multiple personalities probably developed them to keep their "center" "safe" while their body was being abused by someone. I do not believe that it makes them unacceptable as a Priest or Priestess. I hope I'm not alone in this belief.

Back to the nutritional angle, I wrote last month about the lack of certain essential fats missing from the typical American diet. There are other deficiencies noted throughout the country, and I'm going to discuss a few of them here.

First, mineral deficiencies. Doctors try to tell us of the dangers of excessive mineral intake, but they rarely tell us the rest of the truth. All minerals have an essential level, a therapeutic level, and a toxic level. I don't care if you're discussing radium, oxygen, or calcium, the above is a true statement. For some of those minerals, the essential level may be miniscule; for others it is quite large. The typical American diet does not come close to providing essential levels of magnesium, potassium, or other minerals, while it exceeds the levels for sodium, chlorine, and a few others.

Magnesium appears to have a large role in the treatment of "mental illness", particularly stress, anxiety, and panic responses. The amount of magnesium your body needs can range to as high as 3 grams per day or higher; most diets include between 300 and 800 milligrams. The problem with supplementing magnesium is that many forms, in adequate quantities, cause periastalsis (diarrhea, which ends as soon as the excess magnesium is flushed from the system). This is both a plus and a minus, as magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) has been used for generations as a laxative.

The problem is, what form are you taking? Magnesium can be supplemented as oxide, sulfate, carbonate, or even orotate. The trick is to get the magnesium out of your bowel and into the rest of your cells. One common supplement that has been found to aid in this process is malic acid.

The other trick is to use as many of the possible sources as possible – magnesium sulfate is most likely to cause periastalsis, oxide and orotate least likely, but if you balance them you can avoid it entirely. (At least one supplement company sells a "Magnesium Complex" supplement.)

Also, supplementation of magnesium at high levels will throw your calcium level out of balance; always take additional calcium when you're taking extra magnesium. For a variety of reasons, I do not recommend mixed calcium-magnesium supplements.

A much-overlooked mineral is lithium, except when you have been diagnosed as "bipolar" or "manic-depressive", in which case your doctor prescribes a common – but very toxic – form of lithium, lithium carbonate. In a combined medical-geological survey in the 1950s, it was noted that some areas with lower rates of "mental illness" than other areas had measurable amounts of lithium in their drinking water.

The only organ in your body which appears to need lithium is your brain. Lithium carbonate is dangerous in that it does not easily pass the elemental lithium past the "Blood/Brain Barrier" (I know it sounds silly, but look it up, they really do use this term). The solution, in the mind of medical science, is to flood your body with enough lithium carbonate to get enough lithium to your brain. The negative of this is that your other organs do not need lithium, and this causes many "side-effects" including eventual kidney failure.

The natural solution is to take lithium orotate (lithium chelated with orotic acid, a natural amino acid). Lithium orotate contains a very small amount of lithium, and the orotic acid carrier has been shown in many studies to pass essentially all the lithium through the Blood/Brain Barrier. (Years ago I was taking 1800-2100 mg of lithium carbonate daily, giving me from 756 to 882 mg/day of elemental lithium. I currently take 360 mg of lithium orotate, supplying less than 15 mg/day of elemental lithium.)

I asked my doctor about taking lithium orotate. She stated plainly, "I know nothing about it. I'm not going to talk about that." What is interesting is that she annotated my patient file with the words, "Advised pt. strongly against it." Unless you have an exceptional psychiatrist or doctor, you will likely get the same result.

Excessive lithium intake also tends to degrade or damage your thyroid gland. Lithium orotate has shown (in a few cases, all anecdotal to date) that it does not cause that harm, indeed, in one case the person's thyroid (having been damaged by intake of lithium carbonate) improved and her doctor cut her Synthroid dosage in half.

For information on this and other natural therapies, especially for bipolar and depression, please visit my ALT-therapies4bipolar website.

That should be enough to hold you until next month. Question, read, study, talk to others. In particular, I have gotten a lot of support from the Bi-polar_pagans Yahoogroup people.

Blessed be,
Moss Bliss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part IV
August 2006

Come with me in our fourth monthly walk through the Door.

Look up the words, "paganism", "ritual" and "mental illness" (or "mental health"), and you will find a vast number of websites and articles. Look them up together, however, and you will start seeing stuff about "satanic ritual abuse", "obsessive-compulsive rituals", and a number of other dark issues.

Let me state categorically that there either is no such thing as "satanic ritual abuse" or it is so rare that the police cannot find anything. The people who are running workshops on the subject are simply in it for the money, whether they call themselves "seminar presenters", "ministers", or whatever. (If you doubt this, you can contact Kerr Cuhulain of "Officers of Avalon" for details. This organization can be reached through http://witchvox.com if you can't find another way.)

Other "rituals" regarding "mental illness" seem to be in the area of frequent washing of hands, eating so many bites at each meal, talking to your "voices" (a feature which current study seems to show is promising in helping the problem), and so on.

But we're Pagans. Whether you call yourself Wiccan, Dianic, eclectic, or whatever, we still mostly come from the same Western culture, but often act as though we are from a different culture (or time or place). As Pagans, we feel we have a connection to God/Goddess that involves more than simple lip service. We know that we are responsible for our actions, which is often in conflict with what our doctors tell us. We talk to Goddess, to ourselves, to our Guides, to our Inner Child, about our healing. And we expect results, as we enjoy the love of our Deities and guides.

We do rituals. Simple, complex, poetic, plain, wordy… rituals. This month we will discuss and create rituals to deal with our mental health issues.

Why rituals? Because we are Pagans, because our Inner Child controls our emotions along with the rest of our Magick, because it gives us a frame for our day that is easier to catalog the rest of our day with… because we celebrate Life in all its aspects, including the parts of ourselves we may yet to become comfortable with.

Why write simple rituals? Because we don't need to spend 2 hours (or 20) each day doing ritual. Because if it's too difficult, you will read it and say, "That's nice, I don't have time for that." Or you will dismiss it as not being part of your Tradition. Or maybe you are just looking for a reason to not do ritual, or to not take care of yourself. We all do these things. Many of us with mental health issues, especially Pagans, are still building our self-esteem from near-zero levels. Do something simple, see how much it helps, and you can choose to keep doing the same thing or come up with your own personal modifications.

"A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value, which is prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. … In any case, an essential feature of a ritual is that the actions and their symbolism are not arbitrarily chosen by the performers, nor dictated by logic or necessity, but are, at least in part, prescribed and imposed upon the performers by some external source." (from Wikipedia)

Some external source. Or, in the case of obsessive-compulsives or schizophrenics, some internal source which is not connected to their own reason. The best way to end a useless, thoughtless, uncontrollable ritual is to construct a useful, thoughtful one. Let's do that.

Morning and Evening Rituals

In the morning walk outside and stand facing East. Call the Watchtowers, invite God and Goddess to be with you. Let your arms hang at your sides. This starts to let your mind feel the Earth. Let your fingers feel the power of the Earth come up through them. When you feel the power start to enter your hands gently rotate them. Let the power flow into your whole body. To finish raise your hands above your head to release any extra energy. Thank the God and Goddess.

In the evening just before bed walk outside. Face the moon. Invite God and Goddess to be with you. Raise your arms up to the Moon (if the Moon is not evident, face West). Relax your mind until you feel the light of the Moon come into your heart. Lower your arms and let the excess energy fall back to the earth. Thank the Goddess and the God. Dismiss the Watchtowers.

You have now put a simple, effective beginning and ending to your day, which will frame all your actions between those two events. It will keep you mindful of your own choice to allow yourself the full range of human emotions and actions. You will be mindful throughout the day of the love of Goddess and God, Earth and Moon, and Guardians throughout the day, which in turn will inform your actions and choices. Any time you find yourself leaving this position of balance, you can do a simple grounding ritual and work your way back to center. Be mindful of the fact that this ritual keeps the Guardians with you throughout the day.

You will find that taking a few simple actions like these will make the rest of the day go more smoothly, and your actions and choices will reduce the amount and time of the work you have to do.

The two rituals above were written by Caamora, a dear friend of mine who lives in the Western US. In fact, this whole article was written as a result of my calling her and saying, "I have no idea what I'm going to write about this month; do you?" and her response, "Why not write about rituals for mental health?" Feel free to modify them for your own needs.

I am also begging any of you to write me and give me ideas for future articles, or perhaps to tell me what you have gotten out of the articles I've written. Write me at zaivalananda@gmail.com.

I'll join you next month for another stroll.

Hugs,
Moss

(Moss Bliss is an initiated Wiccan living in Asheville, NC. He has written on the Craft and on many other topics since the mid-1980s, often under another names, much of which is preserved on various sites on the Internet. Moss' personal website is Hauen Ypotame (Hippo Haven) [which you are on right now]. He is also known as a fallible human being, and is diagnosed and on Disability for his "mental illness". He has parlayed these experiences into a life of mental health activism, counseling, and leading self-help groups, and hosts and writes many websites, groups, forums, blogs, etc. He is in his 2nd term as President of Asheville Homeless Network, the nation's only membership organization for the homeless, and serves on many local non-profit boards. He is a known Pagan musician and filker. He tends to have panic attacks when he looks at the list of things he is doing…)

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part V
September 2006

This month we take a darker walk through the Door. Please come with me. If you are in a fragile place, I would recommend you wait until you are stronger to read the rest of this article.

Yesterday a friend of mine, one of the three co-founders of Asheville Radical Mental Health Collective, died. We know that he was self-medicating, and had many toxins in his body at the time of his death. We do not know that it was an intentional death.

Mosca was a warm but private person. As with most of us, we are private when we need help "wrong" times and warm and giving when others need help.

The statistics say that 1 in 5 people with "Bipolar Disorder" die by their own hand, usually before the age of 33. For those of you (us, for I'm one too) who have passed that age, now is the time to give yourself all the endorsement you can. You can never endorse yourself too much, and living is one of the hardest things to do at times. ("When Mozart was my age, he had been dead for over 15 years!")

One of the next hardest things to do is to not feel guilty when a good friend is one of those who did not succeed at this difficult task. Mourning is especially hard for us, for we want to be with all our friends... and sometimes choose to join the ones who left us, rather than stay with the larger number of those who are still here.

A dear friend of mine tells me that she contacted her brother, a suicide, last Samhain. The message he had for her was that he was not allowed to cross the gate into Summerland until it was his appointed time. This is found to be both encouraging, in that it makes us want to keep going with our struggle, and scary, because we don't know all the "rules" for entry into our resting place.

It is a time to enumerate our blessings and forget about our challenges, at least for a while. A time to remember all the things our friend did for us and with us, not that he is gone and left us.

Rob Breszny writes in his book Pronoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring To Shower You With Blessings: More than most people, we who have been labelled as "mentally ill" accept that delusion, often revel in it. Often one death or bad thing happens on the same day of the year as another did years before.

Let me be clear: the road to mental health is no simpler (and no easier or harder) than accepting and recognizing the blessings, not the challenges.

I know in my own recovery, I learned (after years and years and years of people telling me, and me not listening) that I worked many times harder to emphasize the bad things in me than I would have had to work to accept the joys and blessings.

I now am working at remembering to start every day with a prayer of thanks. The one I use goes, "Beloved Ganesha, thank you for smoothing my path today, with harmony and peacefulness reigning supreme. I appreciate your walking before me, clearing all obstructions that could impede my progress. Help me see the blessings within everything today. Thank you." (This prayer is courtesy of the IndoPaganPaths Yahoogroup, and I believe was written by Len Rosenberg, aka "Black Lotus" - dec. 11/2010.)

You are encouraged to insert the name of your favorite goddess or personal deity; neither Ganesha nor your deity will be offended by the fact that your prayer was originally to Ganesha.

The fact that you are breathing today (even if that is a struggle itself) is a blessing. The fact that every day you awaken to air that is breathable is a blessing. The fact that you have your needs met, no matter how hard you have to struggle to meet those needs, is a blessing (indeed, the fact that you are able to continue the struggle itself is a blessing).


I have been blessed this month with several letters from my readers. All but one of them was thanking me for something I had given them. (The other showed that I sometimes need to listen better, for which I thank the writer.) Please add your message to the list if you can, when you can.

Often I still find myself practicing the habit of helping others before remembering to take care of myself. Your life, your nourishment, taking care of yourself, practicing good mental health, that is the primary function that will bring you mental health. Practicing good health is a business, not a game.

A good resource I have used is Recovery, Inc. Dr. Abraham A. Low founded this technique, and was met with so much resistance from his peers that, more than once, he despaired and ended the Recovery Association. His patients, each time, would not hear of it and continued without him, then recruited him to join (and lead) them yet again. By his death in 1954, there were over a thousand Recovery Groups in the US and elsewhere, and today over 12,000 people meet each month to practice the method. You can learn more about this method from Recovery International, and you can find a copy of his book, Mental Health Through Will Training, new and used all over the Internet (the current edition is in print, and available for $20.00 postage paid from the website just mentioned).

Join me in celebrating life. After all, isn't that what being a Pagan is all about?

This article is dedicated to Mosca Avocado. May he find his rest, and prepare to rejoin the celebration.

(Moss Bliss is an initiated Wiccan living in Asheville, NC. He has written on the Craft and on many other topics since the mid-1980s, often under another names, much of which is preserved on various sites on the Internet. Moss' personal website is Hauen Ypotame (Hippo Haven) [which you are reading now], and his mental health website is ALT-therapies4bipolar.info. He is also known as a fallible human being, and is diagnosed and on Disability for his "mental illness". He has parlayed these experiences into a life of mental health activism, counseling, and leading self-help groups, and hosts and writes many websites, groups, forums, blogs, etc. He is in his 2nd term as President of Asheville Homeless Network, the nation's only membership organization for the homeless, is one of the original founders of the Asheville Radical Mental Health Collective, and serves on other local non-profit boards. He is a known Pagan musician and filker. He tends to have panic attacks when he looks at the list of things he is doing…)

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part VI
October 2006

You've been through it all. The soaring highs. The mind-numbing lows. The bursts of anger, of sorrow, of self-hatred. Bipolar? No, I'm talking about being in Love. Let's take another walk through the Door.

There is nothing more fulfilling and life-affirming than a new relationship. And there are few things more capable of sending you to the hospital. When it's great, it's better than your favorite manic episode. You're with someone you believe completes you, maybe you even used the word "soulmate". You have given away your power, given yourself wholly to her or him. You are at your most vulnerable.

Even if it's the right person, they can hurt you and send you into a tailspin, often without meaning to, sometimes with just the one wrong word. When it's the right person, they can also bring you out of it, with the right word, with a hug or kiss… and, of course, with good, magickal sex, one of the best grounding and healing tools we possess. (Be aware that the biochemical changes that happen during sex can also send a few of us into one of our tailspins of depression – and so can less-than-good sex. Self-blame is a mother, as they say.)

When it's the wrong person…some of us need a standing reservation at the local hospital, others just let it roll off. Some of us get so good at moving from one relationship to another that the idea of a relationship makes us yawn, while others are depressed, even suicidal, when they are not in a relationship. One thing is for sure, unless you find a near-perfect partner, you are not likely to find a stable, life-affirming relationship if you are suffering from a real mental disorder.

Let's say you do find that perfect partner, and that she also has a mental health issue. If you're lucky (or unlucky) she has the same diagnosis you have, and you understand each other's needs. Or you have known a lot of people with that disorder and have a pretty good understanding of the needs and challenges. This can be wonderful and lead to many happy hours together and lots of mutual support. We all know the other side, however – when you both experience your symptoms at the same time, and are not available to support each other. When your partner does not, or cannot, support you, or when you are unavailable to them, it feels worse than a betrayal. But at least you can understand, after the crisis has passed, and forgive each other.

Or you may not understand your partner's mental health challenges. Either you don't know about the issues, or they look like your issues but turn out not to be. Or perhaps your partner does not have these issues at all, or has not been diagnosed and rejects ideas that they might have these issues. Or she has issues and you don't.

It all comes down to emotions, the good ones, and the bad ones. The most damaging emotions include confusion, feeling judged or judging, and feeling out of control. These emotions can destroy you, and can destroy a relationship.

I do not expect to have covered all the possible situations above. We are infinite, and are infinitely capable of creating new situations and nuances. The question is, what do we, as Pagans, do about it? How can we use our spirituality to help nurture a successful relationship, or remove ourselves from a bad one?

Use your tools. It is not betrayal of your loved one to put up magickal shields (it will probably be considered so to push them away or lock yourself in your room). If your partner is also pagan, invite them into Circle and seal the Circle as well as you can. This can tell you whether the problem you are having is due to outside influences; a properly constructed Circle will shut everything out but you and the Guardians and gods. It can also forge a stronger bond between you and your loved one.

A caution is in order here – while in Circle, you will be open to your emotions more so than in the Outer World, if only because it is a safe place. You may say more than you should – giving oaths from your heart that give away too much of your power. You should go into Circle with the understanding (with your partner) that things said are what you feel, what you believe, but may need to be modified in dealing with the Outer World. If you tell your partner in Circle, for instance, that you are bound to him/her forever and you will go mad if s/he leaves you… it may be considered a bond between you, although the gods and Guardians will likely be forgiving should you break it. I like to think I keep my oaths, but an oath made to another is also bound by the other's willingness to keep up their end, so making such an oath leaves you quite vulnerable.

Rest assured that I have made all these "mistakes" (they will only be mistakes if, indeed, you make them with the "wrong" person). If you over-commit to a new relationship, it can be a strain on that relationship, and only the strongest partnerships live through this kind of strain. If the relationship breaks and you do not have enough support outside of it to help hold you together, you may find yourself in a padded room soon enough – if you hold together enough to make it there.

So the answer is simple: don't forget your disclaimer clauses. Some good ones (some courtesy of Marion Weinstein) are…

Always consult your Guardians or Helpers, and certainly the Lord and Lady, before totally falling into a relationship. You may or may not choose to consult these sources when searching for a relationship… if you use spellwork to find a new love, please include the disclaimers. Binding yourself to someone before they love you is always bad news. I highly recommend reading Positive Magic by Marion Weinstein for ethical and safe love spells… they are not what most young lovers want to hear, but you will not go wrong with them.

I may as well reveal some information here. I have recently fell in love myself, and it has been a blessing and a struggle as most are. We will be handfasted soon… and my Beloved is also pregnant, something I did not believe possible. (Some of this can be attributed to some of my newer findings in healing methods, which may be reported on later or added to the ALT-therapies4bipolar website). As stated above, I may not have done everything "right" in my in-Circle commitments, but we both feel "pushed" into this "from above" so it will likely work out… or she will release me from my oaths. Wisdom is often the result of your own mistakes, unless you choose to listen to the mistakes of others and learn from them.[Note After the Fact: WRONG! Relationship ended, cost me lots of money.]

Until next month, when we take another walk through the door, Blessed Be!

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part VII
November 2006

Last month in our walk through the Door, we covered the effect of “new love” on our stability and health. How about the other end of the roller coaster? How do you hold onto your sanity, and what as a Pagan can you do to help, when the relationship’s over?

As Neil Sedaka said, “Breaking up is hard to do.” When you’re in a mental health challenge it can be a lot harder. Are you someone who can shut the door on a relationship and walk away from it, remaining angry at yourself for “falling for” that person, or angry at him/her for “wasting” your time? Do you look at the situation as a lesson, or even a blessing, and try to see what you can do to move on?

Or do you agonize about what you did wrong, and the breaking up itself is a tearful event? Do you spend months agonizing over what you did wrong, or could have done better, or whether you are even capable of making a choice in a partner?

The best advice I can give in any circumstance is to go into Circle (or however you deal with ritual) and ask for help. The world does not need any more angry, depressed, or lonely people… but healing is important, and getting the gods working with you as soon as possible is a good part of that healing.

What good does it do to tell everyone what a horrible person s/he was, how s/he messed you over or took advantage of you? The important thing is, s/he threw you off balance, and you need all the friends and allies you can get. Those of us with mental health issues are always wondering if we are “right” even when we know we are. Friends and allies, guardians and gods can validate your feelings without tearing the other person down. Remember, they, too, are children of the gods.

Now, what do you do with your time? You probably filled your life with him/her, and now you have all that time-space as empty as your heart feels. In my opinion, take some down time and talk to your friends. Don’t take too much – the longer that time-space is empty, the more you will feel the emptiness. Find some other projects to do, or get back into doing more of the things you’re already doing.

Remember that you give a lot of yourself away in a relationship. When you’re doing ritual, remember to reclaim that power, and maybe find a safer place to put it. Remember to cleanse your living space (sage and other incenses are good, but please include your intent, without which no magick works).

If you can talk yourself into it, JOURNAL. Write down your feelings, either flow of consciousness or as poetry or just simple writing. How you feel is important, both in terms of your individual growth and recovery and of your competence as a priest/ess of the gods. Make sure you write down your dreams, especially the clear ones.

I wrote last month of a new, wonderful relationship. It turned out to be frightening, upsetting, unbalancing. I have had to fight to remain “sane”, and have been helped by people telling me I’m the sanest guy they know (I’m trying not to laugh, they are being sincere) and that anyone can go through that. My support groups, online and off, have been wonderful, and have said and done mostly the “right” things – supporting me rather than attacking her. I also started a new class on the Shakti Wicca website. Devi has put together a remarkable online teaching method, and I look forward to learning what I can.

You may be blessed with many friends, as I am. Some of them may want to call names – don't let them get away with it, for that ties their own power into the other person. Some of them may want to take care of you, whether what they feel prompted to do is appropriate or not – remember your boundaries, and remember that they are fragile right now. Thank them for their offers, but remind them that you need time to grieve and don't need to be sidetracked. If they wish to be included in your ritual, make the best decision you can. And don't beat yourself up for not making the “best” decision – you are human, and are making a decision that any of us could have made regardless of what it may be.

In the area of dream journalling, here’s one of mine from last week: I posted this to a few of my groups of allies. However you choose to interpret it, it was a powerful dream, and showed me many things about my health and stability (note that there was an important woman in the dream, that I did not take responsibility for her rescue myself but found others to do so, and then did not re-attach to her.)

I wrote a few poems, and a new song. I have a recording of the song, and may post it to my website as soon as I get it separated from the podcast it was included in.

I’d love to hear from you… how you deal with pain and separation, how you deal with anger (directed at you or from you), how you shut off your feelings of self-blame, what you do to regain your balance. Also whether you feel you need to change anything about yourself for the "next time" or just within yourself.

Until next month, when we take another walk through the door, Blessed Be!

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part VIII

I have been blessed with new ideas and topics each month to carry you with me as we walk through the Door. Sometimes my readers have given me an idea or a subject, sometimes something just drops into my Inbox. This article is the result of the latter.

NewAgers and Pagans have long known that we create our own reality. We don’t believe it, but we know it. We work on it. We try things to see how real it is.

Dr. Joe Vitale has just written a book called Zero Limits. In it, he tells of his discovery of a Hawaiian shaman/doctor who single-handedly healed an entire patient population at a hospital for the criminally insane… without even visiting the patients.

Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len told Dr. Vitale, "that he never saw patients. He agreed to have an office and to review their files. While he looked at those files, he would work on himself. As he worked on himself, patients began to heal… 'After a few months, patients that had to be shackled were being allowed to walk freely,' he told me. 'Others who had to be heavily medicated were getting off their medications. And those who had no chance of ever being released were being freed.'"

"'Not only that,' he went on, 'but the staff began to enjoy coming to work. Absenteeism and turnover disappeared. We ended up with more staff than we needed because patients were being released, and all the staff was showing up to work. Today, that ward is closed.'"

What was the incredible method Dr. Len used? He forgave them. He picked up their file, read it thoroughly, learned what he could about what harm had been done them to turn them into the person they were, made it a part of himself and said to himself, in his mind, repeating over and over, "I’m sorry. I love you." As he healed himself of this problem, the patient healed.

Dr. Len realized that all his external reality was actually internal, he created his entire environment, so he brought that environment within himself and healed it. (For the entire article, visit http://www.mrfire.com.)

Does it work? It did for Dr. Len, and Dr. Vitale has used the method so much that he had to write a book on it. Is this another "Hundredth Monkey" ruse? (For those of you who may not know, Ken Kesey wrote The Hundredth Monkey as fiction and published it as non-fiction. There never was a test colony of monkeys as described in the book. But millions of NewAgers have practiced as non-fiction, and it seems to have at least some of the desired effect.)

Why don’t you try it and see? While you’re at it, I recommend putting Zero Limits on your list of must-purchase books, as I will on mine.

Forgiveness is a powerful thing. Dr. Len forgave himself and healed his world. A quotation I use often is by Mary Manin Morrissey – "We practice compassion through acts of forgiveness, releasing resentment, anger and hurt. We understand forgiveness when we realize that every act is either an expression of love or a call for love."

Here is a poem I wrote a year or so back. It took a lot of years to get to where I could write it… and only minutes to complete.

I Forgive Me

I forgive me.
Maybe you can't do that right now
But I can, and I will
You probably have someone more important
to forgive right now
Someone else who hurt you
Or maybe just yourself

If you'd like me to forgive you
I will
If you want me to just listen
I will
And if you want me to just go away
I will do that, too

But maybe you just need to hear
someone else say it
so that you can become brave enough
to say it yourself

I forgive me.

 

May your healing come swiftly and easily, and may we together heal the world we live in, with the help of our gods, within and without. I’ll see you next month for another walk through the Door.

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part IX

This month we are taking a walk through a much lighter Door than usual. I hope you find something to laugh about… and heal yourself with.

How can we use humor to relieve the stress that goes with mental illness (in fact, is a major cause of the illness)? Let’s look at the causes and effects of stress, and how humor helps. With a good laugh, you can immediately feel the release of emotional tension. You feel as if a tremendous emotional weight has been removed from your shoulders. It's hard to hang onto your anger and anxiety when you're laughing.

Humor is effective in reducing feelings of both anger and anxiety. While most "therapeutic humor" is spontaneous, sometimes a set joke works as well.

If you're already angry, anxious or depressed, then any new anger-arousing, anxiety-arousing or depressing event that occurs will have much more impact because you're already stressed. The new event will seem heavier than it would if you were starting in a happy state.

When you have one bad day after another, you can feel yourself start to drag. You become emotionally heavy. For some, this takes the form of depression. You get so depressed that you feel like you're scraping the floor as you drag yourself lifelessly from one place to another. You have less energy; it's as if it drains you to just move around. Everyday tasks that are usually done without much effort and thought become a burden, and it's hard to call forth the energy you need to do them. So you increasingly just stay home--and get heavier and heavier.

If you don't have the skills to let go of stress, it just builds. If you're upset about something, and don't talk about it or take steps to resolve the problem that's making you upset, the anger increases until you either explode or start developing health problems. You have arguments, lose your ability to concentrate, and make more and more mistakes. The potential for disaster is easy to see. Your sense of humor is your tool for dumping this emotional weight.

What techniques do you know that work for emotional "weight loss"? Talking about your problems is always helpful. However, we don't always have access to a good listener when we need one. A good laugh provides the stress reduction we need in these times.

One of the most important ways in which humor helps is that it helps keep your problems in perspective. Most people have some kind of conflicts or problem to deal with every day. You discover that your car battery is dead as you leave for work. The photocopy machine is jammed! You're out of coffee! Someone cut in front of you in the line!

If you learn to lighten up, you realize that these problems are just not worth the price you pay by getting bent out of shape by them. Finding the humor in these situations lets you to take a step back from them; and from this better vantage, the problems lose their control over you.

Anything that helps you maintain a more positive mood puts you in a better position to cope with that stress and better take care of yourself. But extended periods of stress can cause you to fall into a negative mood. This adds further to your stress by making you less able to deal with the cause of it. If you can find humor in the situation, it can prevent the mood disturbance from occurring. The emotional state that results from genuine humor and laughter simply cannot live alongside anger and upsets.

Bad moods (especially depression) also weaken your ability to take action. You feel that there's no point, since you're likely to fail anyway. You're more likely to feel powerless and decide that things are hopeless. The improved mood that humor creates stimulates hope and motivates you to take action.

A perceived lack of control, or sense of helplessness, is probably the most important single cause of stress. An unwanted event occurs, but you feel powerless to change it--sometimes because several problems have developed at the same time. Finding something to laugh at in the midst of these problems helps you feel more in control. You're taking control over your emotional state. Rather than allowing the circumstances to generate feelings of anger, anxiety or depression within you, you create a positive mood--which supports your ability to deal with the problem.

A recovering alcoholic put it this way halfway through the "8-Step Humor Skills Program":

"I take control by looking in the mirror and having a good laugh before I walk out the door in the morning. I leave with the intent of passing on a smile to whomever I meet. It changes everything . . . A good laugh helps me take charge of the things that used to upset me. I can get through the nuttiest traffic situation now, and it doesn't bother me. I just let them be who they are, and I go on my way. Before, every little thing that happened on the road upset me. But if I can manage to find a bit of humor in things, it keeps me in a good mood. By the time I get home, I may be tired, but I'm not beaten, depressed or angry. And it's all under my control."

When you find something to laugh at in the midst of difficult circumstances, you can notice a change in yourself. You feel like you've beaten it, like you've risen above it.

In support of this view, researchers conducted a study of Israeli soldiers in war-like conditions. Soldiers who joked, told funny stories, or clowned around more were judged by both their peers and commanders to be coping better with the highly stressful conditions of combat training. The researchers concluded that the humor initiated by the soldiers increased their feeling that they were in control of whatever situations came up, and that this enabled them to perform at a higher level. As you improve your own ability to use your sense of humor on the tough days, you will discover this same feeling of being more in control over your emotional reactions to the stressors you have to deal with.

Conditions Where Humor is Inappropriate

  1. During any acute crisis. (But it can help adjust to the crisis afterwards.)

  2. When you need to cry.

  3. When you need quiet time.

  4. When someone very close to you is very sick or dying.

  5. When you are trying to come to grips with any emotional crisis.

  6. When you are trying to communicate something important to another person. Nothing is more frustrating than having someone appear to not take seriously something you're trying to communicate, and that is very important to you.

  7. Avoid:
      a) Ethnic jokes, sarcasm, and mockery.
      b) Humor at the expense of any other person. Laugh with, not at.
      c) Joking about any person or their condition (unless you share the condition, and the joke).

      If you have any doubts about the appropriateness of humor in a situation, try another approach (e.g., compassion, concern, and touch). Even so, often the attempt is more important than the effect, and you can easily be forgiven for trying.

Did you hear the one about the crazy guy who writes an article for this magazine? Oh well, I tried…

Join me next month for another walk through the Door.

[The concept and much of the content of this article was borrowed from a forgotten website; the focus was changed from the nurses to the patients.]

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part X: Bringing It Home

It is now May, and time for the Anniversary walk through the Door.

Last month’s Walk was difficult for me, but in a happy way. I had too much background material to work with, and if I had not edited it greatly, it would have been 10 pages long. (I try to keep my articles in the 2-to-4-page range, printed in Mickeysoft Word.) The result was a wonderful article… without a single mention of Paganism.

Allow me to talk about my Family for a bit.

My Brother Nightfall had been a humorless man, who managed to find the Craft and a wonderful lady at about the same time. His problem was, she was warm, loving, happy… and he was miserable. He hated himself, for he previously had no Light in his life. But his lady changed that, and he knew he needed to change himself.

Nightfall did what few of us would have had the courage to do. He taught himself humor. From scratch. He started with puns and bad jokes and worked his way up. He then started teaching all of us, his spiritual Family, about humor – both light and dark sides. He wandered around our various Gatherings wearing or being something funny, often wearing a Jester’s Cap and carrying a large rubber chicken. With a squeaker in its neck. He always offered anyone he encountered a chance to “choke his chicken”. Needless to say, he was a hit with the children of our Family. I always sought him out at Gatherings, and we often got into a competition of bad puns (is there any other kind?).

My Brother Amergyn was a large, friendly man, buff enough to get away with very minimal leather outfits (often his codpiece was its own attention-getting device). He was the Family’s Bard (officially or unofficially, depending on which Family member you talked to). He wrote many songs, often about Dragons… but his most popular song at Gatherings was an extremely ribald piece he did not write, called “Cats on the Rooftop”. I was constantly amazed that parents encouraged their children to ask him to sing this… if I had sung it, it would have caused a scandal. But hysterically funny it was, if you allowed it to be.

Amergyn and I shared many stages as performers (both of us being musicians, guitar and vocals). I was asked to be a witness to his first Handfasting, which surprised me because I did not remember at the time that I already knew him. By the time the ritual began I was calling and holding a Quarter. Over the next few years, we met often at Gatherings, and rarely outside of them.

My Brother Ravenwind was a quiet man, offering few opinions. When he got to know you, if he came to trust you, you would quickly find the depths in this man, even if he only revealed a few bits now and then. He was a few years younger than I, and walked a somewhat different path. Among other things, he was my personal computer tech. He also taught one of my lovers many things of the Craft that she needed to know and that I could not teach her.

In November, Ravenwind passed due to a heart attack. Then, before this past Yule Gathering, the Family was made aware that both Amergyn and Nightfall had inoperable cancers. At this writing, Amergyn and Nightfall have each taken their own road to Summerland.

My Sister Rhea protected me through my hard times, even though she was dying at the time and had been for several years. While there was no hope for her, she gave me all the hope I needed. She offered me her own home as Sanctuary, when some members of my Family were deserting the Family over my "situation". She remains as one of my Guardians, and a dear sister (the woman Amergyn was handfasting on that day) sent me a picture of her; I do not know that I met her in life, except through email and the phone, but she is with me now. She passed in 2005.

While it is very difficult to write these words without crying, all I remember is the good things we had and still have together, the warmth, humor, wisdom, and all the other things that brought us to the same Family and keeps us there, in either body or spirit.

How many of you reading this lived through the Twin Towers massacre and felt the whole world crushing down on you? How many felt nothing? I’m sure we have people from both groups reading this. (I, myself, felt nothing; not a commentary on the loss, just the lack of connection, or something…)

What we, you and I, need to always remember, being considered mentally ill, challenged, sick, or whatever, is that we are the healers of our community. We are the ones who laugh the loudest, cry the hardest, feel the most deeply. We are the ones who have been through so much and come through so much that we understand how to get through, how to persevere, how to survive, and how to keep the long view of what it means to be Pagan, to be Family. The hardest part is to keep our heads when we are considered by some as being part of the crisis, rather than the solution… or to be among the first to regain our balance in these situations. And when we do not feel the pain of others, it is because we are called to the healing, not the hurting.

Are we made to feel as though we are the problem, not the solution? The truth will come out in time. Make sure you live long enough to see that time come. We, the most broken, are the healers. YOU are a healer.

How did we come to be the healers, when we are often seen as the most broken? My theory is that it is because everyone is always trying to fix us, and they keep changing their minds about how to do it. We get more quack theories – and good ones – than most others around us, and have more experience in finding the things that work and recognizing those that do not. Maybe we aren’t the most listened-to, but maybe we have a good Priestess or Brother or Sister in the Family to do the advocating for us.

And the best thing we can bring to the table is our sense of humor. Even when we pick the wrong time to crack a joke, our Family knows that we are trying to be helpful.

What if we do not have this sense of Family in our community? (And I pray that each of us can find this.)

Start something! Maybe you can find friends online who you can relate to (like my many friends in the Bi-polar_pagans Yahoogroup, or the many other groups I’m in). If you don’t have one, search for one; if you can’t find a group that fits, start one! Search MySpace, Tribe, Tagged, Yahoo360, Meetup.com, NoLongerLonely.com, and other such sites for people (a) with your interests, and/or (b) who are in your local area or region. If you can find a local Gathering to go to, contact them and make arrangements to go. (If you’re in the Southeast US, by all means visit serpentstone.org.)

Remember that not all first attractions turn out to be real. The people may not be who or what they claim, sometimes more so on the Internet, and real relationships take years to build. But you have to start somewhere.

And then laugh with them. Play with them. We are so lucky to live in a time when so many people reach out to us through our monitors and we can reach back through our keyboards. Thank Goddess for the Internet, and the friends you find through it.

We feel the most. We hurt the most. We help the most. Our role in our community is to be the most needy, and the most needed. So we must laugh the most, and heal the most.

So saying, I thank you all for reading my articles over the past year. I welcome emails and other contacts from my readers, especially if you choose to give me an idea for an article.

Join me next month for another walk through the Door.

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XI

This month I have asked another writer to take us through the Door. This article appeared a month or so back in The Witches' Voice, and I received permission from Our Editor and its author to republish it here. I will spend the next month cogitating and scribbling, trying to come up with something for the July issue.

Join me next month for another walk through the Door.

Hugs,
Moss

Pagan and Crazy
by Alex

I remember meeting my first prospective High Priestess and High Priest in a coffee shop. I arrived agonizingly early, purchased a chai tea and seated myself facing the door, scrutinizing everyone who entered. Finally a man and woman fitting the description arrived to greet me. We sat and chatted. I was charmed by them and eager to learn more about their group and their practice; intrigued by the faraway look the Priestess had in her eyes when she said that a Witch was essentially a Shaman. I nervously wondered when the right opportunity would come up in conversation for me to mention a potential deal-breaker. I suffer from what most people consider to be a severe mental-illness. As the conversation wound down to a close, the two Witches were satisfied with me and invited me to visit their home for their next meeting. As the gentleman gathered up his coat he jokingly said, "you're not a psycho or anything, are you?"

""Actually," I said, "there's something I have to tell you about." We all slowly sat back down. I explained to them that I have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, an incurable brain disorder that causes me to experience disorganized thinking as well as altered perceptions.

At the time of this writing, I have been managing my illness for about five years, and have been Pagan for considerably longer. My Pagan path has led me to British Traditional Wicca, which can be a complicated route to follow when mentally-ill. Not only do I deal with the psychological issues inherent in any religious practice that involves the supernatural, but Traditional Wicca requires that I work with others who are historically cautious about the company they keep. In fact, Ed Fitch wrote a document titled "So You Want To Be A Gardnerian" that implies that the ideal prospective coven member is, "not currently in psychological therapy." Coven of the Wild Rose does not accept people who take psychotropic medications or require therapy and writes as a footnote to the above document that, "if you cannot function as a fully responsible adult individual in the mundane reality then you cannot function effectively in the magical/mystical realities and should not even attempt to do so until you have all your oars in the water and they are working all in proper tandem." Their view may seem extreme or even discriminatory, but it is not unusual. In fact, most coven leaders that sincerely care about their members will at least view a mental-illness as a red flag. After all, they owe nothing to an eager outsider, and it is in their best interest to be careful with whom they let into the most intimate part of their lives. Not only that, but there can be a real danger to the a mentally-ill person. Some worry Witches may worry that their fellow Shaman may never return from the other worlds. Some religious practices might exacerbate an already precarious mental health situation. Ultimately, the decision as to whether to admit a mentally-ill member is up to the individual coven or group in question.

Issues with reality differentiation be a monkey-wrench in a coven's engine, after all, nobody wants to explain to the psychiatrist on duty at the emergency room just what the patient was doing naked in the covenstead when he or she had a psychotic break. (Ironically, the reality issues for a Pagan in the psych ward goes both ways. I can't tell you how many times my religion has been considered a delusion by a health worker who can't even spell "Pagan.") A mentally ill Witch can trouble Elders in other, more subtle, ways. Although schizophrenia is not a mood disorder, I know that other Pagans with emotional problems can have trouble finding a spiritual community. Prejudged as potential trolls, individuals with bipolar disorder or depression inspire visions of tearful melt-downs. It is often reiterated to prospective members that a coven is not a substitute for a support group!

With barriers like these, is it possible for a mentally-ill Pagan to find a group in which they can be accepted? Though your mileage may vary, expect delays. The wonderful couple that I met that night in the coffee shop politely and compassionately asked me to leave the group eight months later, the Priests last words to me that day were, "sorry we chickened out on you." After trying out a couple more groups, I was initiated into another coven a few years later that I currently consider my Family.

My mental-illness extended my seeking process and may make my training much longer as well. However, this journey has taught me a few lessons I might otherwise have overlooked. First, I learned to be honest about my limitations, not only with myself, but with others. It could be argued that if I hadn't told anyone about my illness, they might never have known, but that wouldn't have done me any favors. It would have been especially cruel of me if I had to tell them later by telephone from within my local psych ward. I learned, also, to enjoy the time that I am spending with those who are with me, however brief that time may be.

I've also learned to be just as critical of potential Elders as they are of me. For the mentally-ill, this can be an especially vital consideration, since our risks of being victimized can be greater and our pool of potential covens may be smaller. The mentally-ill are not always shunned in the Pagan community. Some groups consider being mentally-ill akin to being an oracle! It's important to be cautious of groups that pursue aggressively, and at the same time it is a fact of life that some groups do not desire mentally-ill members. I have my own strengths, and even Elders have their weaknesses. Don't "settle" for questionable leaders simply because others may not be as welcoming. If you're a mentally-ill Pagan and are asked if you're a "psycho," you may do well to answer, "Why, yes! And what's your dysfunction?"

Alex is a local tarot reader. 10% of online sales at http://www.earthshod.com will be donated to fund schizophrenia research.

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XII

In last month's walk through the door, Alex took us to a careful examination of how pagan teachers handle potential students with mental health issues. Fortunately, I had a teacher who told me about that, but who was on medication herself (with her teacher's knowledge), so I only got this information second-hand.

However, I was in treatment with psychiatric drugs for most of my life, and now that I've been off them for more than 3½ years, I've been watching others who are taking psych drugs in Circle, and have been able to recollect and reflect on my behavior while on drugs. The same probably goes for "recreational" drugs, perhaps even more so since there is less control over the dosage.

To be honest, I was a wreck. I'm amazed that anyone would want me around them with the effects I was experiencing. I went to SerpentStone Family Gatherings where it was all I could do just to be there, and can only remember a couple Gatherings where I actually attended all three major rituals (opening, main, and closing), and a lot more where I couldn't get there at all. People were taking care of me (thank all the gods, willingly) who were also among the most in demand for administering the Gathering itself.

While I am convinced that being on psychiatric drugs is highly detrimental to learning and practicing the Craft, I cannot turn my back on a sincere student. We much have teachers for these people, and the most understanding teachers are the ones who have been through it themselves. I guess that nominates me. I have often been told by other teachers that they could not have handled students that I have taught, and am blessed by the fact that these comments are quite often followed by admiration for the way the student turned out.

It ain't easy, to coin a phrase. Not only do I understand how bad the student feels from the medication, it is a challenge for me to not try to prescribe my regimen in order to get them off the meds. There is no one regimen of natural treatment for everyone, and not everyone is strong enough to go through withdrawal, which is always much worse than most doctors will tell you (indeed, they probably don't know, having likely been lied to by pharmaceutical representatives). There are always setbacks, and they are more to be expected if the "patient" feels they are being pushed rather than helped.

Then you have the subject of what to teach. Not all disturbed people are unstable, but you can be assured that the meds make them more so. Teaching heavy magick is probably not a good idea. But the Lady needs teachers of the religion, not just of the magick, and from my experience far too many pagans have nearly forgotten that there *is* a religion. This tends to result in the "party pagans" and "whoopie Wiccans" that show up at many large festivals, and the vast amount of workshops on "Sex Magick".

Don't get me wrong, I fully believe that "all acts of Love and Pleasure are My rituals," as our Lady has been reported to have said. But there is a distinct difference between an "act of Love and Pleasure" and trying to have sex with every member of the opposite sex at a Gathering, especially if that is being done to draw power. The way I read the dictionary, there is a distinct difference between "Love and Pleasure" and "Sex and Power". But I digress.

We should all learn the religion. The best teachers of the religion may indeed be those of us who cannot or should not practice the magick. Make a place for them in your Circles if you can. You may save a life, and that life may go on to show dozens more people the path to the Goddess.

A bit of background: I have been in treatment with radically varying diagnoses since the age of 12, and my parents were looking for a doctor to "help" me for years before that. My teacher (at around age 31) had shopped me to nearly every other teacher in the area (she felt she had a conflict of interest) before one teacher she honored firmly told her that it was her job. After a few years, our relationship fell apart, and the community treated me as a pariah. It was another year before I received my promised Second, and through a series of other causes and effects another thirteen years before my Third. But it happened, and my Family cares greatly for me.

You should also check out whatever teacher has offered to teach you, but don't believe everything you read. There are many jealousies throughout the Craft, and good people are slandered as often as bad. Check out Maryam Webster's Pagan Student's and Teacher's Bill of Rights, and see that you are doing your part as well as your teacher doing theirs. Remember, the teacher who charges for enlightenment is likely only attempting to en-lighten your wallet.

If all else fails, there are many Books of Shadows made public on the Internet, including about 95% of my own (http://mosshippohaven.info) (some articles removed for copyright issues).

As for those of you who are reading this that indeed have the issues discussed here (i.e., psychiatric diagnosis and/or prescription psychiatric drugs), don't give up hope. I am certain that if Goddess (or God) has called you, there is a teacher for you. It may not be local, and it may not be right now, and you may have to move, or whatever. I can do some teaching online or over the phone, but there are some things you just need to do in person, therefore I am reluctant to accept students who are not in my area without truly special considerations.

Do what you are Called to, and all will work out somehow. Goddess Bless, and I'll see you next month for another walk through the Door.

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XIII

OK, so you've fought (and won) your battles with or against your psychiatrist, with or against your medications, and with or against your fellow pagans and, perhaps, covenors. Now it's time for the battle with yourself. There are several steps to this.

The first step is this: Stop assigning blame.

You know whose fault it is that your life isn't perfect. Your boss. Your teachers. Your ex-lovers. The ones who hurt you, the ones who abused you, the ones who left you bleeding. The Universe. The Gods. Sometimes you even blame yourself. You've been telling yourself your whole life whose fault it is. Knowing whose fault it is is a wonderful way to absolve yourself of any responsibility.

Forget about it. Let it go. The past isn't real. Maybe it was real 10 years ago, or last year, or last week, but if we're not talking about something that is real and present and in your life right now, then it doesn't matter. Nothing can be done about it. Don't spend your energy dwelling on it — you have other things to do.

This sounds too simple, I know. That's just bloody tough, it is that simple. Get up and keep moving. You can't do anything about yesterday; you can do something about today, tomorrow, and the day after that. Give yesterday to the Goddess and start over. Dump your baggage (in the appropriate dumping grounds, which does not include other people) and move on. If you need a counselor or therapist, get one. Many Priests and Priestesses are trained well enough to help.

Next step: Find the demon.

It's the little voice in the back of your head that's always whispering, “You can't.” You know the demon. You love it. You tell yourself you hate it, but you love it, you belong to it, you let it own you. You do everything it says. Every time there's something you want, you consult the demon first, to see if it will say, “You can't have that.”

I've got news for you: your demon doesn't know anything. It's an idiot. It's nothing but a parrot, repeating back to you anything negative that it's ever heard, anything that makes you hurt, makes you squirm. If a teacher once told you “You'll never accomplish anything,” it was listening; it hoards words like that and repeats them back to you to watch you jump. It doesn't care about you, or even about what it's saying.

Exorcise yourself.

You can take me literally or not, as suits you. But do, please, the next time you hear that voice in your head, imagine it, visualize it, as something physical that you can get hold of; tear it out of you, feel its fingers weaken and lose their grip on your spine, and grind it to dust, to nothing, under your boot heel on your way out to dance in the streets.

You can. You think you can't; but it's telling you that. You can.

You're saying, "But Moss, you're not perfect. Why should I listen to you?" Except it's not you saying that – it's your demon. Nobody's perfect, nobody should be expected to be perfect. Just be the best you that you can be, and keep looking for ways to improve.

"Oh no, I blew it that time! I can't do this!" Relax. Take a deep breath. Nobody ever succeeded the first time. See if you can do it better next time, and pat yourself on the back for EVERY step you got closer to success. "I didn't yell as loudly this time." "I fought my need to curl up into a ball and hide." Try, fail. Try, fail. Try, succeed. The only failure is to give up trying. Excuse yourself for doing what nearly anyone else would have done in your shoes, don't accuse yourself of not doing "well enough".

If someone says something that triggers you, and you fall into past behaviors, spot the trigger, spot the behavior, and time how long it takes you to get over it and back to "your usual self". Make a game of it – "I recovered in only 35 seconds that time..."

There are basically only two attitudes in a negative reaction – fear, or the idea that you did something wrong, and anger, or the idea that somebody did something wrong to you. Everyone has these reactions – it's your response that can be varied. If you hold on to the hurt, nurse it, feed it, you will get worse. If you find some reason to excuse what happened, you will let it go and go back to "your usual self" in no time. LOOK for those reasons, don't wait for them to happen. Time yourself, have fun with yourself, get over yourself. And don't be afraid to ask the Lord and Lady, or any lesser forms of deity including your friends, for help when you need it.

These are such hard lessons, I'm going to knock off for now and give you a month to practice. Feel free to respond to me personally at zaivalananda@gmail.com – use subject line "Door to the Beyond".

Until next month, when we take another journey through the Door...

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XIV

It has come to my attention that a MOST valuable guide has become available. It's a 40-page booklet from The Icarus Project entitled "Harm Reduction Guide To Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs". It's a free download. Get it at http://theicarusproject.net/alternative-treatments/harm-reduction-guide-to-coming-off-psychiatric-drugs.

There are many problems with psychiatric drugs. First there are the harmful side-effects. Then there is the fact that many drugs do not work at all for many patients (the doctors just pick another drug and switch you). Then there is the toxicity of long-term use. And what the doctors don't tell you, because most of them simply don't know, are the effects of withdrawing from the drugs.

The pharmaceutical companies don't tell them. It's that simple. They just tell your doctors to prescribe the drugs and tell you that you'll need to take them the rest of your life.

It ain't so. While there are a few psychiatric drugs which help a few people for a short while, not one of them has been shown to help long-term. They neither treat nor cure the problem they are prescribed for, but they do mask the symptoms for a while (in addition to all those wonderful side effects). One drug has been tested for as much as 4 months; to my knowledge, no others have been tested in a clinical setting for longer than 6 weeks. So the drug companies just look at their bottom line and decide it's cheaper to tell doctors to keep pushing the pills, rather than do real research into determining how long they are safe to use.

Doctors prescribe antidepressants to children or adults who have suicidal tendencies, and do little or no follow-up. The statistics show that these drugs cause a staggering increase in suicides, not a decrease. The United Kingdom attempted to ban all antidepressants for use in children, but under much pressure (very green pressure, I might add) they decided to allow the use of Prozac, which apparently had a smaller increase in suicides than, say, Paxil or Effexor.

Patients like me learn that the drugs are hurting more than helping, and then we learn that our doctors are not listening. (For more details on how much they are not listening, visit my friend Pat's blog at http://beyondthepsychiatricbox.com.) We then have come to find that there is nothing out there that will tell you how to get off the drugs. Many of us just stop them – and then get all those wonderful effects of withdrawal, which according to some European doctors may be worse than the symptoms we were being drugged about. One doctor also showed that it is almost impossible to tell the difference " between your "disease" symptoms and the withdrawal symptoms. Apparently the drugs have been masking your symptoms, and when you remove the drugs you get all those stored-up symptoms.

There are safe and effective ways to do this. Nobody tells us, but there are. There have been some excellent books about surviving the process (Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs, edited by Peter Lehmann, and Broken Brains or Wounded Hearts by Ty Colbert), and a book on withdrawing from the drugs called Your Drug May Be Your Problem by Peter Breggin M.D. and David Cohen, Ph.D. But this new booklet from Icarus Project may be the simplest and most concise.

If you're mad as hell and are not going to take them anymore, you might want help and support. If you're bipolar, the Icarus Project is a great place for support and information (they have expanded to include other conditions, but they are mainly for bipolars). Icarus Project also has some affiliates in cities other than New York; check their website for details. One of the joys of the approach Icarus Project takes is classifying our "symptoms" as "Dangerous Gifts", and then they take the extra mile to show you how many people with bipolar have helped humanity in a myriad of ways. This helps remove the "mental illness" stigma, so you can approach your life in more positive ways.

If you want to fight back, then join MindFreedom International (http://mindfreedom.org). One of the problems of the books I just mentioned is that they are largely available only through Mad Market at MindFreedom International – and you can only get to Mad Market by joining MFI. It's a $20 annual donation that I have found to be more than worth it, but that's a judgment each of us needs to make for ourselves. We are learning that the causes of schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, etc. are genetic protections built into our very fabric, not some "disease" to be "cured" (which could easily explain why there are no cures, only doped-up patients and rich doctors and pharmaceutical companies).

MindFreedom International has also revived a forgotten dream of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. -- International Association for Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. This concept was mentioned in several of Dr. King's speeches, but the media assumed he was joking and reported it as such. MFI has picked up the gauntlet. See the MindFreedom site for more information – anyone can join, it's simple and free!

What can we do as pagans to improve our own mental health? Ritual goes a long way, especially if you have a good coven or Family to work in. In terms of the Internet, a Yahoo Search "'mental health' +paganism" reveals that two of the top 10 results are mine – this article in PaganPages, and my personal website – and most of the rest are near misses. There is one exception on this page – Beliefnet's mental health page, which is found at http://www.beliefnet.com/index/index_472.html. You might also like to read "Spirituality Unbound – Mental Health and the Witch", found at http://groups.msn.com/SpiritualityUnbound/mentalhealthampthewitch.msnw

Obviously, there is need for more writing on this subject, and more rituals, spells, and counseling methods. Alternatively, the lack of such writing may show a lack of need... but is more likely to show a lack of thought or a denial of the issue. (See the Guest Article here in August)

The biggest thing you can do for yourself is to believe in yourself. God/dess believes in you. So do I. (See last month's article for some good ideas.)

Until next month, when we take another journey through the Door...

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XV

Welcome to the Door. Let's take yet another walk through... I'm a member of an online group in which we help each other to eat better and lose weight and exercise, not necessarily in that order, which site also includes a lot of pagans (several different groups in the forums). (If you are looking for a group like this, it's called SparkPeople.com.)

Someone in one of the forums had just berated themselves for the fact that they wake up feeling great and set these high goals for themselves, but at the end of the day they have failed in meeting them.

With the concept of Dr. Low's statement, "Lower your expectations and your performance will rise," I responded with the following:

'You need to start looking at "failure", as you just put it, as a minor success or even a group of minor successes. We all too often set our goals too high, and the striving for these goals means we did better than we would normally have done. You may have tried longer, or you may have succeeded in not eating as much fat or sugar or meat but still "failed" in your overall goal -- which, again I say, was set too high. It's called "carrot and stick" -- you ate too many carrots so you beat yourself with the stick, or something like that.

'I would suggest setting lower, shorter goals, ones that you can and will meet, and then endorse yourself for reaching ANY of those goals (whether or not you reach ALL of them). Liking yourself enough to pat yourself on the back when it's DESERVED does a great deal for self-esteem, just as knocking yourself after you've actually done well will take you back a few notches.'

Sometimes I amaze myself. Many of the statements I make sound like somebody really wise and learned said them. I keep looking around to see who it was.

I took on a new student last month. I have known her online for a number of years, and her life was not really working, and she asked me to teach her. My first assignment was to get a copy of Rob Brezsny's Pronoia. I rarely start out with anything other than basic Wicca, but this was a special case – or maybe I just had an inspiration. As with many of these things, I also noticed that I had not read more than about 10 pages of my copy of Pronoia, so it gave me an assignment as well. (I do that a lot...)

The entire concept of "Pronoia" is to show us, each and all, that the Universe is constantly conspiring for us. There are so many thousands, perhaps millions, of things that go right for us each and every day. Of course, limited beings that we are, we only notice the 2 or 3 (okay, some days it may be 4, or even 8) things that go wrong. That's like saying, "I won the scratch-off lottery 8,000 times today, but I didn't win on the other 3 cards I bought. My life is just horrible."

And have I mentioned Gratefulness Logs? Keep a separate journal, and at the end of each day write down 5 things you are grateful for. Try to find different things every day, but if you have a lot of repetitions that's still a good thing. That's another task I have assigned several students and still don't do myself... I'm going to buy a notebook next time I go to the store, I promise!

Remember that those whom you consider to be wise, which might even include me, don't always walk their talk. In my case, I do the talking as much to remind myself of the journey as to prescribe a similar journey for others. I used to get criticism for one of my blogs (since discontinued) that it was nothing more than good fortune cookies... I replied to the complainers, 'I'm writing those because I need to hear them and not forget. If you get something out of them, I'm glad.'

So, if you enjoy what I've written, in this article or any other I've written, remember that I'm writing them for myself. Sometimes I just have to try to help people, but more often it is to help myself. Which you should remember when you try to help others, and learn the lesson if it is yours to learn. Many of my teachers have taught me that you should learn as much from the student (or the lesson) as you teach, and this has been a significant part of my teaching.

Until next issue.

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XVI

"So there were myself and over 5,000 other people, throwing eggs and bottles at the Pfizer labs. And then the police came, and started beating on us, and hauled us all off to jail..."

Ouch. I just had a dream where someone saw two of my activities, and liked the second, more violent one, better. Thought the first one was too soft. I wonder how many of us think like that?

Well, it's not the way I think, and it's MY Door. So let's take another walk through it together, shall we?

July was the month for MadPride activities, sponsored and somewhat coordinated by MindFreedom, International, an organization which I proudly belong to. MadPride is a way for we Labeled People (your doctor chooses the diagnosis, and you are no longer a real person) stand up for our civil rights. I "disorganized" Asheville's first-ever MadPride Day... I had tried to get people to come together last year, to no avail, and this year I at least got a few people wishing me well if not working with me... So it wasn't great, but it wasn't destructive, and as there was another quiet protest going on at the same site, we made some friends and connections.

The MadPride events in London and Toronto were week-long events, with movies, coffee or tea house meetings, bed push events (you read that right -- teams each take a hospital bed and push it through the streets or a park), all kinds of "crazy" things. The Portland, Oregon even had a ritual where they were worshipping a giant pill... there is video and pictures at the MadPride page (http://mindfreedom.org). Wish I could have done something like that, but...

I did something. Some people noticed us and supported us vocally. Nobody got into trouble, and we made friends. We struck a blow for the civil rights of "crazy" people, and nobody pointed angry fingers at us and say we were "crazy" for doing so. On top of that, we now have an event under our belts, and people interested in joining us next year for a similar action. I call that a success.

Mike Adams, The Health Ranger © has been running article after article on the continuing fraud which is the pharmaceutical industry, or Big Pharma. Dr. Rima Laibow has been hopping all around the world with her Natural Solutions Foundation, trying to stop an evil law called Codex Alimentarius from going into effect December 31, 2009. Codex will essentially define all vitamins, minerals, and herbs as toxins, and make about 70% of them illegal (even if you grow them yourself!) and limit the others only to amounts that are not enough to "poison your body (if the substance has any effect, it is defined categorically as a "toxic effect", whether harmful or beneficial). Canadians are up in arms about a bill in Parliament called C-51, which in effect "harmonizes" (Dr. Laibow says "HARMonizes") Canadian law with Codex.

We are rapidly losing our rights to live healthy lives. We're being lied to about everything from the latest drug to the latest war to the latest law. (If you want to see for yourself, sign up for daily mail from Brasscheck.com.) It's not just the people with mental health diagnoses anymore, it's everyone. We are rapidly losing our complete civil rights, and it's being swept under legistlative carpets all over the world.

So what do you do about it? Get mad and start sending letter bombs to legislators and drug companies? Curl up in your closet and never come out again? Well, I would say somewhere in the middle.

I'M INFORMED AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE ANY MORE.

Do some study, and learn what is going on, and decide for yourself if you need to do something. Then let everyone know that you know what is going on -- friends, legislators, enforcement agencies, the companies themselves.

But you can't do it angry. We Labeled People fall apart when we get mad. Here are some quotes from the late Abraham A. Low, M.D., to put things in as good of perspective as I can:

In other words, if you let your anger get control of you, you will be taken out of the game by your own psyche... if you expect it to end after one big push, you will be disappointed, angry, and afraid to try again... but if you don't do anything, nothing will get done.

The minds behind Codex are literally the same minds behind the Nazi death camps. If they can control what you can and cannot eat, and what you can and cannot keep yourself healthy with, which they fully intend to do, they expect nearly 90% of the human population to die of malnutrition and its diseases. Note that many of the chemicals being put in our foods are there to help us contract malnutrition diseases. Eating every day at McDonalds is something they WANT us to do. They get all our money, and we die of poor nutrition.

OK, this sounds like a madman throwing up puppet villains, or going into a paranoid schizophrenic delusion. I wish it were that. The only difference between Codex and Nazi Germany is who the beficiaries are -- they are willing to accept non-Aryans, so long as they are rich and will support the program -- but the instigators were, originally, the same people. I wish this were a delusion.

Let's put this in a Pagan perspective. Codex Alimentarius classified you - and about 5.5 billion other people - as "useless eaters". They will depopulate the Earth of these people. They do not care about the environment, they are doing this out of greed, not worship. If they denude the Earth of the Warriors of the Goddess, there will be no one left to stand up for Her, and they will then denude the Earth of anything they can consume for themselves. They are doing this with the same cold precision which they used in the 1930s and 40s. They expect us to either make some futile, grandiose flame-out of a gesture, or to have our rights taken from us without even finding out about it. There is a bumper sticker: "Earth First: We Can Rape The Other Planets Later".

This is a call to action. But beyond that it is a call to humor. If people are laughing with you, they listen more to what you are saying. So do something kooky, but thought-provoking. Pass out fliers describing what you know to be the situation, wearing a clown costume, or dressed like a giant pill, or ... be creative. You can do it. I know you can. I'm doing what I can, whether that informs 2 people or 200,000. Endorse (pat yourself on the back) for doing something. If you can't do a lot, do a little. The effort is what is important, and your effort could mobilize many others to do what they can do.

Make 'em laugh. Honor the passing of such greats as George Carlin. But, like George, keep on message. Maybe, just maybe, they'll notice that you're Pagan, and that your actions are performed out of love. The more people see us as part of the "Good Guys", as they are doing in many cities throughout the country and the world. "By starting to work on the outside, we're gonna fill up the walls within." (Melanie Safka)

I hope to be with you next month for another walk through the Door. Perhaps it will be less rabble-rousing, but there are times the rabble needs to be roused. May the blessings of the Lady go with you.

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XVII

Rest & Recovery

Last month we talked about action. In this month's walk through the Door, we are walking to our campsite, blowing up our air mattress, and climbing into our sleeping bags, in the company of our Family.

There are two things to remember about community action – 1. Always work FOR something, and 2. never do more than you can, which includes resting up. If you have pagan Family or good friends to rest up with, you get a double recharge over doing it alone.

I'm writing this on a tiny Netbook in my tent. My closest friend is getting handfasted tomorrow, and I'm “best man”. The Drum Circle is sounding great; our best drummer, Greyfix, is back after a long absence. The crickets and tree frogs are adding their music. There are probably over 100 people here, it's Friday night, and more are coming in tomorrow. I've given-and-gotten more good hugs in the past 8 hours than in the previous 5 months. (I haven't been to a Gathering since Litha.

Each time I come to a Gathering, my Family comments on how much better (more well) I look than when they last saw me, which is needed feedback; each time I return, my local friends comment on how much more relaxed and recharged I seem. It's a great cycle to have going. I think I've mentioned before how this Family has stood by me through times when it was all I could do to lay in my tent and whimper. By contrast, I am now working two of my own non-profits, putting in time on a third, writing several websites, doing this article, and working professionally as an editor. This is not being said to puff myself up, but to show you how much improvement is possible, to give you hope in dealing with your own recovery if it is needed. It was not a rapid recovery – I came to SerpentStone in 1996 after years of mixed rejection and acceptance elsewhere.

There are lots of good Families out there, and lots of local and regional Pagan Festivals. I recommend finding the “family” gatherings over the “whoopie Wicca” festivals, but that is my choice. (There is a lower chance of long-term rejection among people who want to be together, rather than those who are looking for a good time.)

Every step along then path was magick. The magick involved asking for help, finding it, and accepting it. Wanting to change is the first step, being willing to change comes next, and then accepting the opportunities to change... and accepting the length of time it takes to walk the path. I found my Family 12 years ago; found the people who wanted to start the ALT-therapies4bipolar Yahoogroup 7 years ago; started taking some supplements 6 years ago... and got totally off psych drugs November 5, 2003, almost 5 years ago. Each step was an act of magick, each step required some amount of faith on my part, and I was not taking these steps alone... but having Family would not have helped a bit if I were not willing to take the risks, to do the magick.

It wasn't a straight path lined with constant successes; probably far more failures than successes. I took offense many times when none was intended, and gave offense often when that was not my intention. Most of the time I was sure nobody could screw up as badly as I was doing... (Ever feel like that? Then you're probably bipolar.) Some people helped me feel like that, but it's not like I needed a lot of help. But I knew I didn't want to feel that way, and kept trying to do better.

There were a lot of setbacks. I didn't give up, but I sure took some long breaks before getting my resolve up to try again. It will likely be just about as hard for you. (I truly hope some of my readers are ahead of me, and can pat themselves on the back for doing it better than I did.) “Try, fail. Try, fail. Try, succeed.” - A. Low, M.D.

“She changes everything She touches, and everything She touches changes.” Nobody has the power to prevent Goddess from helping you, and even the power you have to keep Her from helping you is limited. As the Hindu teachings state, Grace (Anugraha) is unlimited and always available; the only thing you need do is believe yourself worthy of asking for it – and then ask.

I'm aware that perhaps not everyone's path involves totally discontinuing psych drugs, but be aware that it can be not only possible but quite safe, with help and support. Part of that support will come straight from Goddess, but it won't happen if your love of yourself does not eventually catch up with your love of Goddess. Don't be hard on yourself along the way, but give yourself a huge pat on the back for each step you take, no matter how small you think it was. Every step adds up.

And soon you will join me walking through yet another Door: The door to freedom and mental health. I will see you next month.

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XVIII

Stars and Dung>

I tend to read my horoscope every week. Not the silly one in the daily papers, but Rob Brezny's Freewill Astrology. It's amazing how close to home he hits, although I often get the idea he's talking about what I just went through, not what I'm about to go through. Here is the one for me (Sagittarius) for the week of October 15-22:

I really think that fits all the bipolars I know, not just the Sagittarians. We are all too often being told that we are dung, and quite often feel ourselves among the stars, while in our humbler moments we are busy feeling like dung while others are trying to lift up our hearts.

I have often been told that "it isn't what you know, it's who you know." If I had ever believed that, I wouldn't have gotten half the opportunities I have. In fact, I think it's safe to say that a valid demonstration of what you know could easily lead to knowing somebody who can help you get somewhere.

Let me give an example or two from my own life.

Nine years ago, I volunteered to do whatever I could for the Western North Carolina AIDS Project. (I hope most of you can see that there are very few, if any, items on the agenda for gays that are not identical to the items on the Pagans' list, and I did this although I am not gay and do not have AIDS.) After several months of working with individuals and doing mailings, I got the opportunity to take over working on their website. I learned quite a few new things doing that, and it has helped me beyond measure in my later websites.

Six years ago I let a homeless couple use my couch for several months. Sure, there were times I wanted the place to myself, but I like helping people. The woman came up with an idea that, as far as I can find, had never been thought of – a membership organization for homeless people, especially the ones who are working to rise above homelessness. I couldn't see anywhere that would go that would be helpful, but I attended the meetings she arranged. I then volunteered to write the website (from what I had learned at WNCAP). We got a lot of good attention, and then she left town. I couldn't see keeping the organization going, but a couple people encouraged me to do so. In January 2006 we got our first press (in December 2005 I scraped the money together for legal incorporation, and sent out a press release, which was ignored by all but one local paper). Since then, some months we have had too much press to keep up with. We got one large donation last summer, and while we spent it all we did quite a lot of good with it and got a lot more notice. I have been President of the Asheville Homeless Network for over 3 years now, and can pretty much name the time and place for meetings with a number of City staff including the Police Chief and two City Councilpersons. It took a long time, and there were times I was about to give up, but here we are.

Last Spring, I felt I wasn't doing enough. (Funny thing, one of my friends said I was doing more than any other TEN activists she knew, and I don't particularly consider myself an activist.) So I went to an orientation for volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, and found my services very much wanted for fixing bicycles that had been donated. (I fix them, they sell them, and it makes money for their building projects.) Since that time, I have gotten a new recliner for $34 (which they delivered for free, since I was a volunteer), a dresser for $12, and just last week a 21-speed mountain bike for $8 that would have cost at least $350 new. That is only a small part of what I have gained from this experience, but I think you can see the benefit.

In terms of getting to know the right people, I have long had a personal ad on NoLongerLonely.com (a totally free site for people with mental health diagnoses to meet others without the stigma of your diagnosis holding you back or being hidden.) One woman I had some conversations with added me to her MySpace Friends, and we talked, without any intent of a relationship forming, for quite some time. In March, she announced that she had purchased a struggling publisher of eBooks, Eternal Press, and was looking for editors and copyeditors. I was hired in April as Administrative Editor. My June quarter royalties were a whole $4.01... my September royalties were over $50 and our sales climbed 384%. I have very high hopes for December and beyond. If I hadn't stuck my neck out on a dating site, I plainly would not have even known about the opportunity, let along gotten the job.

Those are a few of the highlights of my last 10 years in Asheville, NC. Each step has made me feel better about myself and given me something to do other than sit at home and live off my SSDI Disability check. I really think Uncle Sam has gotten his money's worth out of me. (If you want to see a list of ALL the things I do, which is extensive enough that I have an anxiety attack every time I look at it to update it, send me an email.)

In the past year, my parents have twice told me they were proud of me. When they said that in January, it was the first time I have ever heard it (to the best of my memory). If you don't think that feels good, then you're not a bipolar Pagan with hardworking, mainstream Christian parents and there's nothing I can say. My father now regularly reads all my blogs and articles and asks my progress in some of the other things I'm doing.

OK. This is me. It took a lot of growth, prayer, and magick to get here. You're Pagan, you have all the tools I do. If you're also a Diagnosed, Labelled Individual as I am, you have the same (approximately) challenges as I do. All it takes is to find your friends, and find a niche that might help them (no matter how long it takes to develop). Maybe find two or three or four such niches (Multi-Level Marketers call this “multiple streams of income”), but don't even do more than you can and be ready and able to cut back when you don't have the same energy. Keep a plan of what things are easiest to cut back, what things mean the most to you, and what friends and other support systems you have in place.

Then keep doing what you're doing. It took 3 years for Asheville Homeless Network to get the least amount of media attention; by the end of 4 we had more media attention than we could keep up with. But even that was at the end of years of learning and developing and struggle.

Please feel free to contact me, for ideas, support, or just to let me know how you're doing (or how I am). And we can walk together to the next Door. Talk to you next month.

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XIX

Hope and Audacity

Ah, my friends, the door once again beckons. Let us push on.

Hope. With it, we can do anything. Without it, or with the perception of being without it, we feel lost, and many of us choose this time to attempt to "end it all". Sometimes we need attention, sometimes one of our friends catches us and kicks our ass and we get back to it.

There is hope around us. For some of us, it may be the first time we have allowed ourselves to hope. With every glimmer, there is a rock in our path. Are we going to step over the rock, or are we going to howl about stepping on it and refuse to go further?

If there was ever a time for not just thinking outside the box but destroying the whole damned box, this is it. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called several times for the formation of a National Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment; MindFreedom International has now done so, only on an International level, and has even hired (the real) Patch Adams, M.D. (not Robin Williams) to run the organization. Crazies like us power the imagination of the world, and we now have an umbrella organization to deliver that power.

Some of that power went into the recent US Presidential Elections. While the results were, for most of us, highly encouraging, we have not yet seen the end of the dismal jimmies and control freaks. The election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States is not even the end of racism in our country. We all hope it is the death knell, but dying organisms stink a lot until you bury them. (For those conservatives among you, this event is also not the end of America... for those racists among you, get over yourselves.)

America has never dealt with its inherent racism. It merely stitched the wound closed without treating it, leaving it to fester. This election opened the wound -- hopefully to clean it out and let it heal -- but the deep infection is exposed, and it smells awful. It is up to each of us to pray for real healing, rather than reseal the wound in its untreated condition.

I am reminded of something I learned while working in wastewater treatment in my youth. Most treatment ponds tend to attract vegetation and other life. Since the vegetation tends to grow roots through the sealing layer of the pond, they present a problem, in that the contents of the pond could infiltrate the local groundwater. So for years, people in the business of wastewater treatment would poison these plants. What they discovered was that dying plants suck up many times more oxygen than living ones, and most times the whole pond and all the life in it died from not having enough oxygen in the water to breathe. A dead treatment pond provides no treatment, it just sits there smelling like something died (Can you say “anaerobic bacteria,” boys and girls? Didn't think so.).

Who in this world can inject life (air) into a conversation, into a whole paradigm, better than we? Look for the humor in the situation, and whisper it to somebody. Watch it catch fire. Laugh it up, and be gentle with it. Always remember that the only tested, proven way to dissolve hatred is laughter -- good, rollicking, loving laughter, entirely empty of ridicule. My battle cry is: "PUNS OVER PUTDOWNS". Rid yourselves of jokes AGAINST yourself and others -- find something loving to laugh about. Find the silly chink in the subject, and break out your prybars. HATE STINKS. That goes for hatred of yourself, hatred of the "other guy", "other gender", in fact, of anything "other". Whenever any one person is not equal, there is no such thing as equality. THERE IS NO THEM, nobody here but US. Go ye therefore and heal likewise.

We have been hospitalized, drugged, tortured, and stigmatized, but we find a way to keep going, even to laugh about it. I don't want anyone, ANYONE, treated the way I have been treated... it's all wrong and it keeps us apart. And there is SO MUCH we could do together.

I hope I'm preaching to the choir. And I further hope the choir takes the word out into the world. Come with me and join the Right-To-Laugh Party.

Until next we walk through the Door together, Metaphors be with you!

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XX

New Beginnings - Candlemas

I get the feeling I've been through this Door before, but let's do it again...

I know Candlemas (or Imbolc, Oimelg, or what have you) isn't until next month, but our Gracious Editors have asked us to write our Imbolc articles for this month... soooo....

Most of the year, we Labelled Persons feel we are burning our candles at both ends. In February, we get to burn them all out, get new candles, and start over. In essence, Candlemas is the Pagan version of Mardi Gras. We should learn to have fun at it, like the Cajuns, Brazilians, and others around the world do.

Hey, I'm crazy. I know it. I try to be the best crazy I can be (as opposed to the most crazy I can be). It's not easy, it's not hard, it just is.

Hmmm, what did I do last year... well, I did a one-hour recorded video interview about the homelessness issue on local public access television, which broadcast January 5 and several other times – unscheduled, like me, LOL -- which led me to make 2008 the best year ever for the homeless of Asheville. New programs, a new shelter, more volunteers. Now if I could just get City Council to repeal some of the laws on the books which, essentially, make homelessness illegal without providing any relief for those who find themselves on the streets.

I won't republish my entire Yule Letter here, sorry. There would be no use writing this article if I was just going to republish things I had already written, now, would there? But I had a lot of big things in 2008, making it a hard act to follow. I'm still waiting to hear what my 4th Quarter Distribution for my work with Eternal Press will be, but that could be the springboard for 2009.

So what do you have planned? Is this just going to be another year of surviving for you? Are you going to accept depression, things beyond your control, same old boring stuff? Well, if you've been reading The Door, you probably have lots of ideas for changing all that; if you haven't, you can find the back issues in the archives and at my website, so go be positive and read what has been written. Always good to get a plug in – and I'm always amazed when I re-read these articles how good they were.

Note: I'm usually down on myself, it's an old habit I'm still working to change. It amazes me no end when I do something well or write something good, and even more when I read it later and still find it exceptional. One of the reasons for this amazement is that I tend to write these articles virtually out a mindset of stream-of-consciousness, and rarely work on them after finishing them.

Here's a thought: perhaps one thing you could do is start writing things down, and then you could put them somewhere that you'll find them in a year or six months, and see what you think of what you've written then. If you still love it, polish it a bit and see if PaganPages, WitchVox or another online zine might be interested in publishing it. You might get MY job. I wouldn't be mad, you'd be freeing my schedule up for something else.

Last month, we discussed the new "candles" we are sending to Washington in January. If that was important to you, how much more important would it be to clean out your own house? I don't mean dusting and vacuuming (something I don't do enough of). I mean making changes. Finding little things that you can feel good about, and adding them to your routine. Just a bit at a time. Only what you can do, not some ambitious program that you will back down from when it appears that you have over-reached.

Set large, sweeping goals. Then find tiny steps to take to get there. I know I have been working on my devotion to Deity in the past year. You might understand that I have been working on learning and honoring various Hindu deities as I grow into my path.

I started out getting pictures from online searches. I printed them out and taped them to the wall. I then started building a small altar, along the lines of the Wicca I knew but changing it, one thing at a time, to reflect the Hindu aspects of worship. I then started waking up, and going to bed, with a prayer to the deity (I started with Ganesha, added in my beloved Ardhanarishwara, and then later Brahma-as-Guru). Then I started chanting the mantra to Ganesha (Om gam Ganapatiyei Namah). Later, I made it 5 times through the chant (Discordian that I am at the core). Then added in the chant to Ardhanarishwara (Om Ardhanarishwara swarapaya Namah). [I actually had to search the Web to find that one – which some of my friends have thanked me for). And finally, the chant to Brahma-as-Guru (Om gurur sakshad paramBrahma tasmai Sri Grurama Namah). (General translations available if asked.)

All of this took me 6 months to get going, get consistent with (I still mess up occasionally), and even get to say the chant (that last one took quite some time). Eventually, I will use my mala (meditation beads) to do these chants – which will mean 108 repetitions. Ooh, that will take a lot of work.

You don't have to do the actions I did, but taking the same or similar steps to accomplish your goals is the point. Baby steps. I actually grouped a lot of my steps together above, so if the steps seem large that's because they were.

Give Yourself A Break. If you're working too hard or too fast on something, you will "backslide" (to use a Methodist term). This is not saying you are doing the wrong thing, just that you are going too fast or are expecting too much too soon. Slow down. Start over, or back up a few steps and resume from there.

Oh, gods, Anxiety. If I don't do things perfectly, I'm just not good enough. Don't go there. "Fear is the mind-killer." – Bene Gesserit saying. Nobody is perfect, nothing you try to do will ever be perfect... but it doesn't need to be. It only has to be Good Enough. That's all. And if you're anything like me, you will need to set your standards a lot lower until you have "Good Enough" set where it is in reach of your everyday ability.

ALWAYS give yourself a break. ALWAYS give yourself a pat on the back. "Endorse for the effort, not the result." Endorsing yourself for every little step is like getting paid for every minute of work. Do it.

This could be the year we learn a new way to burn our candles. Maybe we can learn to burn them only at ONE end... or maybe we just use more artsy candles. However you choose to do it, be inventive, creative, bold, and feisty!

Until next month and another walk through the Door,

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XXI

Getting CHEESy

...and written over the Door are the words: Choice. Hope. Empowerment. Environment. Spirituality. This is the door we walk through together this month.

I spent two weeks in school this month (January 2009). The class was called Peer Employment Training, and the end result was to be a certificate as a Peer Support Specialist, making the twenty of us in the class eligible for employment in the fields of mental health and substance abuse.

The twenty of us walked in with our Superman capes and bulletproof Spandex, waiting to be empowered to lift and carry all our charges into a new world. We were very disappointed, but in a joyful way.

In just the first hour of the class, we were taught how to take off our capes and fit them for each and every person we were (will be) assigned to, and teach them how to learn to use it themselves. Instead of Advocacy, we were trained in how to make each person we serve into their own expert, empowering them to take control of their own case and not live down to their labels.

You know how psychiatry has been these past 40 years. You walk into the doctor's office, you tell him what's wrong, and he doesn't hear but a few key words of what you tell him. He then uses those key words to decide upon a diagnosis, and that diagnosis tells him what drugs to prescribe you. There is little or no talk therapy, and after being given a label, you are never treated as a full human being again. They can take you to court and force you to take the medications, or force you to receive electro- convulsive therapy, or force you to go to and stay in a "hospital", all in the name of Your Own Good, to keep you from Doing Harm To Yourself Or Others.

Voila, you are no longer a person. You are a label, a diagnosis, a stigma.

I've been beating my own head against that barrier for most of my life. I knew I was still a person. I knew the drugs were hurting me. Over five years ago, I told the doctors where to go, and they didn't have enough on me to commit me somewhere. In those five years (and in the two prior years), I learned how to take care of myself, how to get well, how to recover. My recovery is not complete, but I am at least 80% better than I was under their "care".

I walked into this class expecting to get more bruises on my head from beating against the same old wall... and they moved the wall! They had even begun to dismantle it! I grabbed my sledgehammer and did my own best Berlin imitation.

From the first, the word "recovery" was used. We were told that we were people, not labels, and were not to be defined as less than human ever again. We were told about our choices, and we learned that this new paradigm has already been in use in a few areas. There is a new hospital about 40 miles west of Asheville which mimics another hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where there are no physical restraints, there are no labels, and there are more peer support specialists than doctors. The treatment area is called the "Living Room" and is furnished accordingly. People are recovering, and are welcome to come and go as they choose, and are never ignored.

Wow. Add another wow to that. We learned about the CHEES Priniciple, which is:

Peer Support Specialists are experts, but it's a different kind of expert: We are experts in not being experts (and that takes a LOT of expertise!). We are learning how to listen to you, how to lead you to listen to yourself. We do not know what is Right For You – only you know that.

Are you beginning to see why I am so excited about this? Are you beginning to have hope that the System will die and leave s omething better behind? If not, I would be happy to hold that hope for you until you are ready.

To me, the things I learned in this class were more miraculous than if we ever were to elect a black President... oh, wait, we just did, didn't we? Damn. Am I still in the same world I was last year?

I sure hope not. I like the world I'm in now. And if we work together, praise Goddess, we will all have something good to think back on. Why wait for 2012? The old world is ending now. We can, we will create the new one together, in peace, love, and all those old sixties things (minus the drug busts). Remember CHEES and all those bad memories will start to fade.

Let's walk through another Door together... next month.

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XXII

Getting Through

Thank you for joining me in another walk through the Door. Going through it can and has been exciting over the years... but there will always be those our lives, there are times when we don't feel the magick. Many of us with diagnoses tend to fixate on these times, to where it may seem as though all the time is this way. But we know that is not the case.

We can't have excitement 24/7. We just can't. We need down time, time to relax, time to recuperate. If we see this as a negative, it is easy to fixate on it, and to scream that it's over. Many of us choose these times to contemplate suicide, especially if we have had a lot of these times lately.

I give to you the Magick Words which will get you through these times. As nobody has the same preferences of language, I'll say them several different ways, and you can choose one.

It's true. Just as no bad time lasts forever, and no good time lasts forever, no boring time lasts forever. It just feels like it while it's happening.

But what can you do to get through it?

Ah, come on, you know the answer. You've done it lots of times. Read something. Take a nap. Put on some music. Call a friend. Get on the Internet. Go for a walk, or a drive. Anything to fill the time.

You might also find this is a perfect time for meditating. OMMmmmmmmmmm can fill lots of time. My problem is, this is almost always the last thing I think of at these times – and probably the best thing I could do.

Do you feel isolated from everything? Get in touch with everything! The only way to get in touch with everything all at once is meditation. Yeah, I'm preaching to myself again; isn't that the best way to motivate myself?

And if all else fails, you could always write me. Chances are, it will get to me right when I need someone to talk to. A quick email to zaivalananda@gmail.com will likely get you a quick email in return, and possibly a friend – for now, or for life, that's up to you.

What else can you do? What gets you through these periods? Actions, thoughts, meditations, anything. Tell me about it.

And next month we can walk through this door. Together.

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XXIII

Breaking the Blame and Shame Game

This month, I take you through the Door into my past – and, gods willing, your present and future.

I happen to be one of those people who tells anyone who seems interested about who I am and how I got here. You probably know that already from reading this article.

At some point in my childhood, my mother revealed herself to my father as being crazy. He took her to the doctor (after patching the walls where the pots and pans struck them after missing him), and the doctor's reasoned suggestion was, "throw her in the State Hospital and lose the key." (My mother told me about this just a few years ago, the first time she had ever admitted this imperfection.) My father refused to do so, and so I grew up with my mother – diagnosed, but untreated. She refuses psychiatric medications to this day – and perhaps that is where I got my stubbornness on this issue.

But while I was growing up, my mother's "condition" caused her to pass a wide variety of mixed messages to me and my brother. To be blunt, I never knew what was "good" and what was "bad", and from about the age of 5 I was spanked for being "bad" when my father got home.

There are few things more disempowering to a young child than being beaten without knowing what you did wrong. I tried and tried and tried to be "good", only to get spanked again. After a while, perversity set in. It was much easier to determine what was "bad" than what was "good" (or "not bad"). I was going to get a spanking anyhow, so I might as well do something so that I "deserved it".

I got just as many spankings. But I thought I didn't feel so bad about it, because I deserved it now.

Later, as I got older, kids started picking on me. My parents discouraged physical violence (unless they did it to me), so I was told not to fight back. Most of the abuse was verbal. So I did what I was trained to do – I started picking on myself. I told myself, "It won't hurt so much if I know what they're going to say and say it first."

You know what? It took me a lot of years but, as you've read in my articles, I finally figured out that all I was doing was training myself to curse myself. The hardest thing to do that started my recovery was the easiest – stop putting myself down. No matter where the abuse comes from, it hurts. In fact, coming from myself, the abuse had a direct channel to my Younger Self, or subconscious mind, so it likely hurt me more than if it came from someone else.

All of this came back to me the other night as I was reading one of the Great Books of Our Time, Rob Brezsny's Pronoia (How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings). On page 253, he gave me the codification of my Next Step in Recovery.

Say these words with me, or by yourself.

Being Pagan, most of us know that true Words of Power must be said three times, with intent.

There. Feeling better now? I sure am.

Rob included a poem shortly after this magickal statement. I suggest you read it aloud, dedicating it to yourself:

Until we come to this Door again next month,

Hugs,
Moss

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Door to the Beyond:
Paganism and Mental Health
Part XXIV

When you can run with the river...

It's the same Door, but we're making more changes this month. Why don't you walk through it again with me?

You've changed your diet. You've changed your lifestyle. You've changed your habits. Maybe you've even changed your clothing selections. Your life is still a mess. So what's left?

Maybe, just maybe, it's time to change your friends. I'm sure you have some good ones, maybe even great ones... but what about that one (or more) that always leaves you feeling worse than before you met with him/her?

There are many kinds of toxic friendships. Here are nine basic types:

Is your friendship toxic? Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

There are, of course, many more questions you could ask, but this covers a lot of the territory.

So what can you do about a toxic friendship? Doing nothing continues the drain on your energy resources. Talking about it can result in a huge outburst, but usually results in your feeling better at least about yourself, and could start a healing process in your friend. But don't expect it to get better soon, and it could be worse for a while.

Toxic friendships are abuse. Don't sugar-coat it, there is nothing else you can call them. The longer you allow yourself to be abused, the more of your personal power you are giving both the friend and the relationship itself, and the less you have for yourself. A friendship is between two equals. Anything else does not truly constitute a friendship.

You can repair your friendships, but only as equals. Nothing else counts as a true "fix". Sorry to lay it on the line like that, but there it is. Taking control of your friendships (not your friends) is a positive move for both of you, and you should do so in the most loving way possible, without becoming toxic yourself.

"One of the characteristics of a toxic friendship is that the good friend feels she can’t extricate herself from the relationship," says Charles Figley, PhD, professor and director of the Psychological Stress Research Program at Florida State University. "Whether it's on the phone, in person, or from the friendship entirely, you feel like you are trapped, you're being taken advantage of and you can't resolve the problem one way or another."

Whether the feeling of entrapment has to do with history -- you’ve been friends with the person since a young age -- or you feel she has no one else to turn to and you need to stand by her through thick or thin, you need to take action to help your friend, and yourself.

Recognize the toxicity. "The first step is to recognize that the person is toxic," Figley tells WebMD, "or at least that the relationship is toxic. They might not be a toxic friend to others but they are to you."

Take responsibility. By continuing a toxic friendship, you're allowing your friend to hurt you, but you're also hurting yourself. "You have to take some degree of responsibility for the situation," says Figley, a spokesman for the American Psychological Association. "It's a pleaser personality -- you want people to like you, you want to get along, and it's hard to say no. But you can pay the price in one way by having toxic friends." So even though we want to help our friends and have them rely on us in troubling times, take responsibility for toxic friendships and how they make you feel.

Talk to your nontoxic friends. "Talk to other people who may not have a vested interest in your toxic friendship," says Figley. "People who can give you an objective opinion regarding whether the friendship is salvageable and whether you can manage the toxic friend to neutralize the toxicity, or if you need to end the relationship."

Suggest professional help. A toxic friend might need professional help at some point to help her get her career, emotions, or family back on track. How do you approach such a touchy subject? If you point out to your friend how she is treating you and ask her to stop, and she continues to do it, you need to take it to the next level. Say to him/her, "I know you are a good person, but maybe you want to seek help." (Of course, this includes talking to your, or his/her, High Priestess or other Elders, assuming they are not part of the toxic friendship.) But keep in mind that if it has gone to that level, and a friendship is that toxic, it’s going to be destroyed at some point anyway. Better you make an effort to help your friend address her issues.

End the friendship. "It’s difficult to end a friendship," says Figley. "Breaking up with anyone, whether it’s a spouse, love relationship, or a friend, is not fun. It’s even more important in this kind of context. In contrast to a love relationship in which you recognize you aren't compatible, this type of relationship is hurting you."

Third-Party Toxic

It's bad enough when a person has to deal with a toxic friend firsthand but when the toxicity is impacting not you personally, but someone you love, like a spouse or a friend, it can be even harder. How do you handle it? As much as you want to jump in and help, sometimes patience is key.

"The person who is affected by the toxic friend has to approach you," says Figley. "Then, you have every right to provide your observations. But you need to be honest, be objective, avoid criticism, and listen more than you talk. And the worst thing you can do is put down the toxic friend."

Negativity, explains Figley, will have your loved one defending their toxic friend. The focus should be on how you perceive the situation is impacting your loved one, and how you can help.

As you can see, dealing with toxic friendships is a major part of your life, and a major project in reclaiming your energy.

As Ferron says in one of her songs, "When you can run with the river, why run with the river rat?"

OK, take a deep breath, think about what you need to do (or don't need to do, and really relax). And please meet me back here next month, for another walk through the Door.

Hugs,
Moss

Sources: Cyberparent.com, toxicfriendships.org, CBS News article about WebMD, AssociatedContent.com, and the song "Indian Dreams" by Ferron

NOTE: This is the last article I have written in this series. I do not intend to pick the series up later, but "never say never".

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