Belief

I’m attempting to write out my “core beliefs and values” which I have to say is far more difficult than I thought it would be. From a psychological point of view, beliefs are a determining factor in our thoughts, emotions, behavior, and actions. Religious and spiritual beliefs and practices aside for a moment — the beliefs we hold about ourselves, society, politics, religion, spirituality, the natural world, morality, and every other facet of life determine how we interact with each of these things. I think that religious and spiritual beliefs are a completely separate entity because they deal with intangible, often mystical experiences that, at the core, provide an individual with the basis for forming beliefs about everything else. However, our beliefs about religion and spirituality influence our interaction with even religion and spirituality. Does my view make sense?

Let me try to give an example in order to make this a little clearer. I can only use my own life as an example because it’s what I’m most familiar with. This is only one example. I’m sure I could come up with several. And just because I’m using this as an example doesn’t mean that I still adhere to the patriarchal views of my Christian upbringing; but those beliefs did influence me greatly for the majority of my life. Note that I’m not certain my reasoning here is sound. Like I’ve said before, logic and reasoning are NOT a strength I possess. Feel free to explain any logical fallacies that I might be missing here.


Example: I grew up in a Christian household, specifically a Pentecostal home. My religion taught me to have certain views about a “woman’s role” in society because God said it was so, e.g. women — like children — are to be seen, not heard (especially in the ministry); women are the property of their parents first, husbands later; a woman’s place is in the home, taking care of her children and husband; women are basically evil because of Eve’s original sin; etc. There’s a long list of the “woe’s of women” in the Pentecostal mindset, and the Bible, for that matter. These beliefs influenced my beliefs about me, as a person, because I am a woman, e.g. I’m bad; I’m worthless; I must submit, obey; etc. My beliefs about Christianity and myself influenced my thoughts, emotions, behavior, and actions in regard to every other aspect of life. Specific to this example, I believed my place in society was to marry and raise children. My beliefs that I was already bad and worthless caused me to unconsciously rebel as a young adult, acting out my badness and worthlessness. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I rebelled as I feel I should have when oppression limits an individual’s self-worth, happiness, and understanding of life; but I had no understanding, or comprehension, of why I was doing any of the things I did.


It’s not so easy to discard indoctrination. Often, I find myself fluctuating between past beliefs and present beliefs, which are much harder to define and often result in cognitive dissonance as I feel conflicted in what I should believe. I’ve never sat down and written out, defined, exactly what I “believe,” at least, not in a manner such as what I’m attempting to do. The main reason for this is simply that my beliefs constantly change, as I believe they should. My beliefs evolve as I do.

I try to never hold onto a belief so rigidly that I lose sight of love, compassion, and understanding of the natural Universe and all it entails, including humanity.

Because my beliefs have changed so drastically over the years, I can only write down my beliefs at any given moment, this moment. Ask me tomorrow or a year from now and it’s quite possible that at least a few of my beliefs would have grown into something completely different. In fact, it would be easier to write out what I do NOT believe than what I do.

Growing up I believed solely in what I was taught at church and Sunday school which was based on the Bible (with an emphasis on certain scriptures over others) and the Pentecostal mindset. I didn’t always agree with my pastor or Sunday school teachers; but for the most part, I took their word on most things. I attended a total of 4 different churches throughout my childhood and teens. If you wish to read more about my early Christian upbringing, feel free to head on over to My Story – Part 1 (Childhood Background) and My Story – Part 2 (Off to College & Getting Married Too Young) for a section where I discuss questioning my religious upbringing.

I think even as a child I questioned the religion within which I was raised; but my fears of hell and displeasing my mother prevented me from vocalizing my doubts to anyone other than God, usually in prayers to relieve my doubtful mind. By my teens, I often felt that Christianity distanced itself from God, making It unattainable. (I will NOT attribute a gender to something I consider gender-less, IF It exists at all — I am agnostic to the knowledge of a God, have been for several years; and I am an atheist to the belief in any God that man has created thus far, including the Christian God.) Rather, as I grew older, I had a nagging sense that God is within each of us, a collective consciousness of all that is, no one thing greater than another.

The problem with religion is that it tries to “manipulate” a person’s emotions into changing that person’s beliefs. I recently read that “psychology is experimental philosophy.” I tend to agree. Religion, like psychology, is a lot like this, experimental philosophy. I doubt that either emotions or belief will ever be quantifiable from a scientific perspective as each are subjective, but both have the potential to either do great good or cause great suffering. I think it’s also important to note that 99.9% of the time, most of our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs influence our lives with little to no conscious awareness of them. This is why so often people react to situations with such strong emotion that it feels like we have no control over our emotions. And often, I would agree. Without that conscious awareness, we don’t. We have no control over our emotions unless we are consciously aware of what is going on inside our minds.

This is an incredibly difficult task to accomplish. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

I’m certain that I will write more on “belief” at a later date because it’s a topic that fascinates me, like religion and psychology. Perhaps, it will become a series of posts as I work out exactly what I believe, as I challenge beliefs that no longer serve me well. I still may be no closer to defining exactly what my beliefs are; but I find myself questioning more often than not what I want those beliefs to be.

Apathy

Nothing is holding my interest today. Nothing. I’m so frustrated. I try playing piano for a bit. All I can think of is the Star Trek intro. What I end up playing is a solemn, somewhat gloomy improvisation. It seems fitting. Rest in peace Leonard Nimoy. You will be missed.

I pull out a watercolor painting I began last night. A few defining strokes of the watercolor pencils later, no, this isn’t working for me, either. My hands are cold, stiff. I cannot get warm today. An empty corner of the painting needs something. I don’t know what. My muse is distracted.

As I sit here writing, my mind keeps wandering away. My attention (or lack thereof) is bouncing around to this, that, and a thousand other things. Peruse the internet for a bit. My joints are aching, making it hard to sit still today.

Get up.

Make a cup of hot tea.

Prop up my aching leg for a few minutes. There’s a bursa within the popliteal fossa. I had to look this up as I didn’t know what the area behind the knee is called. Normally, I would just call it the knee pit. I like “knee pit” better, less formal, more recognizable. This is the first time I’ve had one of these swollen masses there. It’s the first time I’ve had one -period- in a long time, more than a year. The rheumatoid arthritis must be flaring up.

I’m too young to feel this old.

I need exercise.

I was supposed to meet with my case manager today, but she rescheduled due to another appointment running longer than expected. That’s fine. I wasn’t much in the mood to talk anyway. I still have no answer for her about what to do about therapy or if I wish to continue at all. She’s not pressing the issue, so my usual passivity and avoidance of the issue could continue indefinitely or until my Safety Net coverage expires. I could say more, but I find myself censoring my thoughts and words tonight regardless of the need to express them.

Desperation locked away behind a mask of apathy.

High Anxiety in TN

The weather here in Tennessee for the past week has been extremely cold, snowy, and icy. The state of emergency was raised to Level II as the temperature rose yesterday causing flooding and a spike in power outages — 50,459 without power as of yesterday afternoon. See: 21 Deaths Confirmed Due To Weather, State Of Emergency At Level II

Last week began with an ice storm, followed by an inch to an inch and a half of snow. KR was out of work for 2 days. When he got home from work Thursday night, he said his truck had overheated on the way home. It was spraying antifreeze everywhere under the hood. He just replaced that radiator a few months ago; but the frigid temperature was simply too much for his truck to handle. Now, we’re down to one vehicle until the weather breaks enough for him to be able to figure out what’s going on with it.

While the snow and ice have pretty much melted in my area as of now, East Tennessee, where my mom lives, is still under a blanket of snow and slush. I called Mom yesterday to check on her. She sounded in good spirits; but I was concerned to learn that she missed dialysis on Tuesday and yesterday! Apparently, they sent an emergency vehicle to take her to dialysis on Thursday. I was also extremely concerned to hear that she’s losing weight so quickly. She said her weight has dropped from 220 lbs down to 139 lbs since she began dialysis. That’s A LOT!

I haven’t much time to write at the moment, as I really need to run to the grocery store since I’ll be without my car all week. Hopefully, this was enough to clear my head a bit before heading out.

Worth Less

I am one of the 280,000 Tennesseans without healthcare insurance. When I think about the new mandatory healthcare laws, I feel completely overwhelmed and frustrated. KR just went to get his taxes done today. Even though we’re not married, he is allowed to claim me on his taxes since the burden of my existence falls on his shoulders. No, he wouldn’t put it quite that way; but it’s how I feel. He was charged a $160 penalty fee because I have no healthcare insurance. Tennessee is one of the states that chose not to expand Medicaid for its low-income residents. As it is now, I was told that only women who are pregnant or who have cervical cancer qualify for Medicaid (TennCare). I’m ineligible. Hell, so is every man in the state because there are apparently NO options for men to receive Medicaid at all.

Basically, low-income individuals have no affordable options for healthcare in the state of Tennessee. Recently, Gov. Bill Haslam proposed a bill that would “extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans.” Even had Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” proposal passed (Why does the Koch Group want me and 279,999 others dead?), I doubt that it would have helped me. You still have to be able to pay the copays and premiums.

I’ve been unemployed for close to 10 years. I’m not proud of that fact. Quite frankly, I’m ashamed to admit it despite my struggle with mental illness. For 5 of those years, I was on SSDI, disabled due to severe mental illness, with Medicare coverage. Even when I was on Medicare, I couldn’t afford to use it. That’s around the time that I realized healthcare is simply not an option for me. I came to the conclusion long ago that hospitals and doctor visits are for rich and people who are afraid to die. The rest of us are forced to suffer through life and die without a fight. We’re not even offered the option of humane euthanasia when the suffering becomes too much.

“Life’s not fair. Get over it.” My sister’s words echo in my mind from so long ago. “Everyone has to work.” A neighbor’s words echo in my mind. “Sounds like you should just get a job.” My therapist’s words echo in my mind from that final visit about a month ago. I’m still ruminating on what I did wrong to push another therapist away.

I “get” part of the reason, though. I only had the “Behavioral Health Safety Net of Tennessee” to cover my mental health treatment. It’s difficult to find counselors who accept this form of payment. My guess is that the reason for this is that being a state-funded program, the payout to counselors must be a fraction of what they would normally receive from other types of healthcare insurance or clients paying out-of-pocket. The rate of payment from what I can find online appears to be $61.50 per 60 minute session. That doesn’t sound too bad; but considering the going rate for most therapists nowadays is anywhere from $75 to $200 (or more), well, lets just say that anyone using this form of payment wouldn’t exactly be the most desirable of clients. In effect we’re worth less. I am worth less. I struggle to accept that different rules apply for different people simply because they’re worth more “monetarily.” This would also explain why I only saw my last counselor once per month rather than the usual weekly or bi-monthly appointments that I had with past therapists. I was also told that this particular counselor no longer takes clients using the Safety Net for payment. No doubt he was eager to “finish up” with the ones of us he already had.

All of this is beside the point, now. I’m not allowed to be content being a “homemaker.” Unless I work outside the home and actually earn money, I’m worth nothing to society. No income is no excuse. Pay up or get out or in this case, die.

Numb

Physically, I’ve not felt well for the past couple of days. Headaches, dizziness, light-headed, low body temperature (96.4°) — just a general feeling of malaise and tiredness. Before dinner last night, the headache turned into a full-blown migraine. Dinner helped some, but afterward I became so dizzy and light-headed that I saw stars, exactly like in the cartoons. It felt like the blood drained from my head, and I thought I might pass out. Today hasn’t been much better. I woke up with a headache and dizziness again. I can’t get warm even though I’m constantly under a blanket. My hands and feet are cold as ice, yet the temperature in the house is the usual 70°. I should have run garbage to the dump and run to the store for a few groceries, but dizziness and driving aren’t a good mix. I figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

Emotionally, I feel numb. I would still rank the depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts higher than my normal; but my emotions (as well as the voices) feel blunted, distant. I’ll take it. I needed a break.

I must have started half a dozen or more posts over the past couple of weeks, but none expressed exactly how I’ve been feeling lately. Neither does this one. I blame the headaches. I think I need to go lie down for a bit… again….

Blog For Mental Health 2015

Blog For Mental Health 2015 badge by Piper Macenzie

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2015 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.” 


My experience with the mental health system of the United States began in December 1994. I remained a client, off and on, for the better part of 20 years, accepting psychiatric medication for 13 of those years. My Story is long (a total of 13 parts). I spent most of last year writing about my life in an attempt to gain some insight and understanding about how I relate to this world, how I experience and process emotions, and to simply share my experiences with the hope that someone going through similar circumstances might not feel so alone in their struggles. My plan is to continue writing with that same goal in mind.

Alas, at this time I’m short on faith in our mental health system here in Tennessee, USA. I fear I will slip through the cracks in the system yet again. That’s another story for another day.

I believe that compassion and understanding are paramount in erasing the stigma of mental illness. I believe that compassion and understanding are paramount in improving the systems of mental healthcare around the world. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go before we get there. The goal should be that of “caring” for the whole person and actually “helping” individuals through life’s challenges rather than attempting to medicate symptoms away or offering unhelpful platitudes that lack a shred of sensitivity. Put simply, the mental healthcare system needs to step up and treat their clients with the respect they deserve as human beings. There must be a better way of connecting people with services that provide more help than simply “coping” or “surviving” another day.

Stigma is the negativity that surrounds a diagnosis of a mental illness. Stigma is the dismissive attitude of friends, family members, society as a whole, and even professionals in the medical field when confronted with an individual in crisis. Stigma is a belief that a person with a mental illness is weak or not trying hard enough. Stigma is shaming, blaming, bullying, or discriminating an individual who constantly has to guard his/her vulnerabilities. Stigma is invalidating another person’s experiences. Stigma is invalidating another person. Period.

I’m committed to raising awareness about mental health and fighting stigma because too many people are suffering at the expense of ignorance. I write because too many lives, including my own, depend on it. Our mental health is as important as our physical health and our spiritual growth. Treating mind, body, and spirit as ONE is the first step in recreating a connection to others that will heal us all.


If you would like to participate in the “Blog For Mental Health 2015” project or for more information about this project, please, visit: The Official Blog For Mental Health Project.

Cat and Mouse

Yesterday morning, I went to bed early, well, early for me. Like I’ve said before, KR works second shift; so our sleeping hours are off from the norm. I went to bed at 3 am. I awoke a little after 5 am to KR snapping on the bedroom light, moving the large dresser in the corner, and banging on the wall. My confused, blinking stare received a response. “I can’t sleep with that gnawing!” he exclaimed.

Mice.

Mice in the walls!

Shaking the sleep from my weary brain, my first thoughts returned to my childhood. I grew up in an old two-story farmhouse. I don’t really remember those early years, but Mom told me that when we moved into that house we had a serious mouse and rat infestation. I do, however, have a vague memory of waking in the middle of the night as a child to that same gnawing sound from within the walls and feeling terrified. I’m pretty sure I had more than one nightmare as a kid that involved rabid, giant rats trying to eat me.

Had KR not awakened me, I probably would have been none the wiser. I knew mice would be an issue here due to the country setting and the sheer amount of mouse droppings resulting from this place being vacant for so long. Hence the reason for spending a couple of weeks cleaning/disinfecting prior to us moving in. Honestly, I thought the fact that we have 5 indoor house-cats would be enough to deter the little vermin from venturing indoors again.

Apparently not.

As the weather got colder, I began hearing the familiar rustle in the leaves next to the backdoor whenever I would go out to smoke. I even spotted a small field-mouse one night. When I shined a flashlight on it, it darted underneath the trailer through a tiny opening where the heat pump connects to the house. So I knew for a fact they were around. Still, the cats caught none. Don’t get me wrong, our cats are usually fantastic hunters. Our male cat commonly brought moles to me during a time when I swear he must have thought I was starving to death. Every night he would sneak out, he brought home a mole. He must have decimated that population! And our oldest female caught two mice in the last house we lived in; so I know that at least those two are capable hunters.

These mice are smart! Highly intelligent.

A few weeks ago, I began noticing that our cats were taking turns standing guard in the kitchen by the washer and dryer, where their food bowl is located. At first I thought it was a dominance issue. Even though these guys have all lived together for the last 8 years, they still enjoy bullying one another — some more than others. Watching their behavior more closely, I recognized that what they were actually doing was hunting. These mice were smart enough to stay just out of our cats’ reach; but the cats definitely knew they were there. So often I caught our cats staring at walls in that eerie manner that only cats can (that stare that makes you think they’re staring at some spirit from the underworld — creepy). Nope, our cats weren’t losing their minds. They simply heard the mice in the walls long before either KR or I did.

Monday night, I noticed mouse droppings in the heating ducts because one of the cats was staring hard down through the vent. I also found mouse droppings under the washer and dryer. Gross! When KR woke me up Tuesday morning, it really wasn’t much of a surprise, but highly coincidental. I told him I would buy some mouse traps later that day while I was out running errands.

I’m too clumsy to set a mousetrap. I’d end up snapping a finger off, with my luck; so I left them for KR to set when he got home from work last night. About an hour after he set them up with peanut butter and placed them in the heating ducts, SNAP! The trap in the kitchen duct caught one of the beady-eyed buggers. KR was in the shower. I thought to myself, “I can handle this. I’ll get it out and dispose of it.”

I put on a pair of rubber gloves and carefully pulled the trap out of the duct. Oh god! It was still twitching! Even though the trap’s arm perfectly snapped the mouse’s neck right behind its ears, it was still twitching! The mouse lay in a puddle of its own blood. I collapsed to kitchen floor — in tears. I bawled like a baby as I gazed into the bulging, glossed over eyes of this poor dead creature. I placed the trap on the floor and tried to compose myself as I heard KR finishing up in the bathroom.

I walked back and told him, “We already got one,” as I began crying again. He gave me a pitiful look, calling me a sap. He gently said, “I’ll take care of it.” Relieved, I blew my nose. I have no idea why I cried for the better part of half an hour over a dead mouse, but I’m thankful that KR used his usual sense of humor and rationale to ease my troubled mind. Yes, I know that mice carry diseases and can cause a lot of damage to homes. My rational mind knows this; but my sensitive heart and soul feels great pain in causing another creature to suffer, even one so small as that mouse.

We apparently have quite a problem with mice because I heard another one early this morning as I was trying to get to sleep, gnawing in the wall again — loudly. KR disposed of a second one before he left for work today. Again, it was in the same trap, the one in the kitchen. This afternoon while I was on the phone with my mom, I found a third one in that same trap. I had to enlist the help of the cats in killing mouse #3 since KR is still at work. Unfortunately, the mousetrap only snapped on the mouse’s arm, trapping but not killing it. It was still very much alive, twitching in agony, rapidly pounding heart. Given my reaction last night (and today), I knew I couldn’t kill it myself. I saw no other choice but to let the cats kill it, hoping they would be swift in their execution. It was more of a slow torture to death. Perhaps it died from shock. Cats are sadistic hunters!

I cried for that one, too. Honestly, I’m not sure if it was dead when I finally took it away from the cats. It didn’t look like it was breathing. I couldn’t bear to watch them “play” with it any longer. I tossed it into the woods behind our house, asking for forgiveness of myself and from the mouse.


 

All the tears in this world for the suffering of others do no good without the compassion to take action.