Not Seen

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There was a beautiful woman who appeared on our doorstep one afternoon a few months after we moved into the house. Maybe it was September. We opened the door. She hesitated for just an instant and then rushed in.

“I have some stuff in your garage,” she said. “Your landlord has let me keep it there. Would you mind if I cleared it out sometime soon?”

“Sure,” I said.

Scott said, “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Water please.”

She seemed warmed by our hospitality. She moved further into the room and sat down on the couch beside me. I looked straight at her and smiled. Her eyes filled with tears.

“You are so kind,” she said.

Scott appeared with the glass of water.

“You are so kind,” she said, “both of you, to welcome me like this. You don’t even know me and you welcome me.”

“Of course,” I said.

“No,” she whispered. “Not everyone does.”

Then she began talking about how the world was in trouble and how she wanted to restore peace. She planned to contact Hillary Clinton. She drank her water and tears were running down her face.

“Everything’s coming together,” she said. “It’s all coming together. Just wait and see. Now I must leave. I’m so sorry to disturb you.”

And she vanished as suddenly as she’d come.

I don’t really remember what the woman looked like. She was maybe in her thirties with long brown hair. None of that mattered. What mattered was her extravagantly open spirit. Her reach made her beautiful. The rest was superfluous. It was Scott who identified it. “That woman has stuff going on.” Stuff going on. That was our phrase for someone going through what is commonly known as a psychotic break. Scott had been standing in line at the post office recently and there was a tall man in line dressed completely in purple. He kept spinning one way and then the other. Scott told me about this man and how he had stuff going on. We both knew the perils of such a state. It was not so much escape as a strenuous undertaking. It could bring terror. And a radical aloneness. There was also abundant room for insight, revelation. It would’ve been extra hard to go through such a passage alone; I was fortunate enough to have Scott as a companion, a co-traveler.

“That woman was in an extraordinary state,” I said. “She was so open and beautiful.”

There was a pause and then I asked, “Was I like that?”

“You were different because you’re a different person, but yes, you were open and beautiful.”

“A part of me deeply believed in myself when I went mad,” I said. “But then another part of me believed I was far gone. An embarrassment. Especially when I looked back on it all.”

“That’s the societal prejudice you’re carrying,” Scott said.

“Do you think that altered states make people open and beautiful?”

“They can,” he said. “But then there can be a lot of wariness and fear.”

“Which isn’t beautiful?”

“It’s just different,” he said. “It’s not that glow. It’s more like a trapped animal.”

“It makes me so sad, that this state is completely misunderstood. That woman was more radiant and gentle than anyone I’ve met in ages. And crying like that. She was so exposed.”

A few days later, a card was slipped under our door. On the cover, an angel with one wing in light and one wing in shadow. Inside she’d written: “Dear Souls, Thank you for your every kindness and please accept my apologies for forgetting your # and coming over unannounced. With love, Linda. P.S. Please save this card—I’ll tell U Y later.”

Then we got the call from our landlord. I picked up.

“I hope that woman Linda hasn’t been coming around pestering you,” he said. “I let her store some stuff in the garage to your house and she’s hoping to clear it out. But she’s on some kind of bend. She’s a real nutcase. A manic depressive.”

I felt the familiar sickness. I didn’t want to hear any more, I wanted to tell him to shut the fuck up, but I remained silent.

“Don’t answer the door when she comes by,” he went on. “It’s best to send her a message, to keep her out.”

I knew I should get off the phone, but I’d lost my voice entirely.

“She’s got some notion about Hillary Clinton and how Hillary Clinton is going to help her orchestrate world peace. Goddamn delusions of grandeur.”

How could I tell him that when I went mad I wanted to contact Hillary too? She was one of the most visibly powerful women in the world after all. Later, I realized that I would not have gotten very far in the direction of Hillary.

“So I apologize,” he went on, “for her disturbing you. Like I said, don’t answer the door. She’s gone off the deep end. She’s out of her mind.”

But she was so beautiful. Did you ever see her face? Did you ever see?

I carry an invisible identity. No one can see me. I’ve often thought of Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man. I am The Invisible Woman. Unlike Ellison who was passed over for the color of his skin, I am readily accepted based on my appearance. One of us. A woman with a nice enough bag, a calm demeanor, and well-put-together clothes (they are not “odd,” they attract no attention). You might see me walking my dog near where I live, smiling at my neighbors, making small talk. I’m certainly not one of them. People make all sorts of comments to me about the crazies. They go off on lunatics and nutcases and whackos and freaks. It never occurs to them that I might be among this so-called population. They have a preconception of what a crazy should look like and I don’t match it. It never occurs to them that I was one of them. I am one of them.

For I have not abandoned myself. In my mind, I carry a dual citizenship—in which the two citizens engage with and understand each other. I know people who have gone mad and they turn against that self; they embody the prejudice. I wasn’t one of the crazy ones. I am manic depressive, but I am not schizophrenic. I am not totally far gone. Off the map. You should’ve seen the real freaks I was subjected to in the ward. I don’t entertain these hierarchies. I was after all the ultimate “freak” on the ward. That one who went all the way around the bend. There was no one “worse” off than me. I was confined to the observational room. That third eye watching me. The trouble is, no one could see me. They didn’t see me then and they don’t see me now.

Then, they mistook me for hopelessly confused at best and destructive at worst. They were wedded to a construct that didn’t exist. They stared not at me, but straight at their own invention—which they relied on to remain stable in their vision of themselves. I had to house everything they rejected, despised. The unwanted territories of self: ungovernable, violent, primitive. They came to save me in my misguided, passionate, foreign landscape. They bound me with leather straps and plunged needles into my body. Within this time, I was disassembled, rearranged, practically destroyed.

We didn’t hear from Linda again for a time. It was about a month or so later that a car pulled into the driveway. I opened our front door and saw an older woman in the driver’s seat and Linda in the passenger seat. I took the older woman to be Linda’s mother. Linda opened the car door and stepped out. She was in her bathrobe and flip flops. I raised my hand in greeting. She scarcely nodded.

“I need to get my stuff out of the garage,” she said in a flat voice.

She was hunched over and beaten down. I didn’t know if it was the drugs, the hospital, everything. She was clearly being chaperoned. She looked dead, a shadow of herself. It looked like she was broken. Her spirit: gone. A temporary knockout one could only hope.

The contrast between the live soul who’d entered our living room with world peace on her hands and tears of gratitude running down her face, and this husk of a woman—dull-eyed, impassive—was hard to take in. I went to the garage and opened it for her. She didn’t look at me. She went inside and started shuffling through boxes. Her mother remained in the car. I never saw Linda again.

I didn’t like to have any contact with our landlord after that. I felt that I should have spoken up. But I knew this was naive. In the first years, I had spoken out over and over. It’s a dangerous proposition. Most people are fools when it comes to this issue. They do not understand, they turn away, they make a discriminatory remark. There’s only so much I can subject myself to. It is not worth the risk. I bargain with my survival. I carry around my hidden identity like a secretly beating heart, like a child I must shelter. Like a veteran who’s seen it all. And who won’t say a word to the prejudicial public.

R.D. Laing wrote in 1967:

Sanity today appears to rest very largely on a capacity to adapt to the external world—the interpersonal world, and the realm of human collectivities.

As this external human world is almost completely and totally estranged from the inner, any personal direct awareness of the inner world already has grave risks.

But since society, without knowing it, is starving for the inner, the demands on people to evoke its presence in a “safe” way, in a way that need not be taken seriously, etc., is tremendous—while the ambivalence is equally intense. Small wonder that the list of artists, in say the last 150 years, who have become shipwrecked on these reefs is so long—Holderlin, John Clare, Rimbaud, Van Gogh, Nietzsche, Antonin Artaud . . . .

Those who survived have had exceptional qualities—a capacity for secrecy, slyness, cunning—a thoroughly realistic appraisal of the risks they run, not only from the spiritual realms they frequent, but from the hatred of their fellows for anyone engaged in this pursuit . . . .

The outer divorced from any illumination from the inner is in a state of darkness. We are in an age of darkness. The state of outer darkness is a state of sin—i.e., alienation or estrangement from the inner light.

Linda was all inner light when she appeared on our doorstep and sat so close to me on the couch. And then the tears started running down her face when she realized she was welcome. She would not be turned away, banned.

I agree with Laing that there is hunger and ambivalence and hatred for the inner realms. Which madness can encompass. And yes, his assessment that survival depends on a capacity for “secrecy, slyness, cunning” is something I’ve been forced to learn in the face of all my natural instincts to impart. To confess. I’ve been forced to learn to hide. Over and over. To be secret is to consent involuntarily to invisibility. To speak (to the “normal” public) doesn’t necessarily make one more visible. It can lead to another sort of invisibility. The sort Ellison wrote of. The despised skin color or the despised crazy: passed over. Not seen. Seen through a tragically distorted lens. Not seen.

***

Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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58 COMMENTS

  1. You captured invisibility brilliantly. I’ve always looked at being on the street as being a spy (maybe I’m more paranoid) who has to constantly avoid blowing his cover by acts of public strangeness (now easy to do after saying goodbye to caffeine, the one tell something’s amiss when I refuse a coffee).
    Being an advocate of certain biophysically based approaches to serious “mental” conditions (not drugs or lots of ECT), I can sometimes intervene when catcallers of the publicly unusual say something ignorant about such folk. I simply suggest that, if the street critic’s body chemistry were similar to the victim’s, he’d be likely walking down the street chatting with his invisible friends, or staring in wonderment at God’s appearance in the sky, or whatever unusual acts our persecutor is deriding. Then, I can give him an explanation if (when?) I see incomprehension on his face.

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    • Thanks so much for responding bcharris!

      Yes, I can certainly understand your feeling of “being a spy” on the street–trying to avoid blowing your cover by “acts of public strangeness.” I think the feeling of being watched and judged–when we are in altered states–is so powerful. What’s more, I think it would be great if there was more acceptance and understanding of “acts of public strangeness.” It sounds like you are trying to wake people up who are “ignorant.” Great job! I wish you all the best with your journey going forward!

      Elizabeth

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      • I am in good enough shape to avoid the amphetamine-like paranoia that makes one’s life miserable, but I easily slide into grunt-like caution (I was one in Vietnam, where it kept me from returning in a plastic bag) in unusual circumstances. I don’t like people to be crass around the hallucinatory, but I’ve got the sense not to get moralistic around folks with fixed notions about right, wrong and reality.

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  2. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story! I was standing in front of my craft booth when a middle aged man bragged about his Halloween costume for an upcoming party. He was going to dress as a criminally insane escapee from a lunatic asylum; a murderer complete with an axe and lots of blood. I walked up to him and asked him to please reconsider because my daughter was in a psychiatric unit and she was being chemically restrained with toxic drugs that were debilitating and life threatening. He apologized and backed away, embarrassed. Perhaps change happens one person at a time; by people like you and me, survivors and loved ones, holding our ground with the truth and hoping that your message will break down years of toxic media confabulations about madness and NAMI propoganda

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    • Thanks so much for your response madmom!

      Wow. You have quite your own story to tell! I’m so impressed with how you spoke out to the man who was bragging about this awful and deeply prejudicial Halloween costume. I’m also happy to hear that he could hear you! Great work on your part!

      I’m so sorry to hear that your daughter’s been through so much psychiatric abuse–and am wishing you and your family all the best! Keep speaking out madmom!

      Elizabeth

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    • This story is a great illustration of why peer support is one of the best, most underdeveloped resources we have. Lived experience and being on the sharp end of the needle is likely to make a person kinder, more compassionate, more open minded, and in favor of choice and alternatives. But not always, The only individual I ever met who said something unkind about people with lived experience was an individual who was open about her bi-polar diagnosis. She had a website, and ran a thriving business selling several self help books on finding the right medication, coming to terms with having a disease, living successfully with bi-polar, etc. I was amazed at the primacy of the role that medication plays in her website and literature until she disclosed that she had received a fellowship from Eli Lilly to launch her ‘educational’ business and it all made sense. Does anyone know about this kind of individual astro turfing by big Pharma? I’ve seen a lot of poor quality books on the topic of mental illness selling on Amazon and I’ve had other parents give me books on bi-polar that were absolutely AWFUL and I suspect that this type of subsidizing of people telling their personal story, as long as it is consistent with the disease model narrative is really common. Anyway, she was on the board of a status quo mental health advocacy organization and as she sat across from me at a conference she told me that when people refuse to stay on their meds, they would go and do something crazy and end up in jail. She didn’t seem to have a clue about trauma, psychiatric abuse, the trauma of being isolated, restrained, forcibly injected, institutionalized, the connection between non compliance and and adverse reactions involving psychiatric drugging, etc. Also, it is easier to tell the truth to strangers than it is to people you have to see everyday. Courageous people like you are doing more to reduce stigma than all of the Pharma funded stigma busting campaigns, town hall meetings, and mental health awareness days put together! I’ll never forget the fear on a fellow parishioner’s face when, as a volunteer, she was tasked with handing out breakfast food and coffee at our church’s weekly free breakfast for the homeless. She was absolutely terrified at being about six feet away from an individual who was talking to himself. It is possible that some people have had traumatic events with people who were in an altered state or are they just victims of stereotypical information in the media? Either way, perhaps people who are scared of madness deserve our sympathy as well as psychiatric survivors. After all, we have all been duped and victimized to a certain extent while big Pharma laughs all the way to the bank.

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      • It’s always so discouraging when someone with a diagnosis expresses such prejudice toward others who are in altered states. And no, this woman doesn’t seem to have a clue about the horrors that can go down in the MHS. She takes money from big Pharma and delivers the “brain disease” message–and all that goes with it.

        And I agree with you–peer support is the way to go. This way, we all keep empowering each other to stand up for a much needed justice! Thanks so much for your voice madmom!

        Elizabeth

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    • This is a rather ironic, though true observation about NAMI propaganda. I used to belong to that group till I found it was merely a front for big pharma and abusive parents.

      It amuses me to imagine how upset and angry the NAMI activists would become if they read your comment, MadMom. “What? Don’t we fight stigma all the time?”

      If it weren’t for the lying hypocrites or NAMI nazis we wouldn’t have the level of stigma that we do. Undoubtedly it would exist, but National Abusive Mother’s Institute has made it ten times worse. And no, they don’t score points with me for whining, “Stigma alert!” once a month or so.

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  3. I think Mad people’s so-called “delusions of grandeur” held in greater contempt by the public than are any of our other extreme states. Not threatening or unintelligible, this extreme state is, nonetheless, cruelty belittled and savagely pathologized. In general, people in our society are allowed only two methods for acquiring and assuming important and powerful social statuses – family pedigree and brute force or pedigree. Linda broke that rule when she tried to command more respect and recognition from people by moving them with the force of her electric personality. Apart from Ms. Hill and her partner, everyone punished her severely for being an “uppity” Mad woman.

    Like me, Linda was plagued by only two insurmountable forces, neither of which had anything to do with biology. The first of those forces was the natural and VERY prosocial need for human beings to tell other human beings about their dreams and plans for creating social justice in our world. An absence of a “co-traveler” and the intrusive, violent presence of a rabidly sanist community was the second force.

    Ms. Hill, God bless you for writing about the personal and interpersonal value of expressed ideas that are highly abstracted and completely intolerant towards every societal gatekeeping structure.

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  4. Thanks so much for your response J! You express so much here…

    It’s so true and important what you say–Linda was moving outside the norm regarding who is allowed to possess and project a powerful vision. No one listened to her meaning–and she was crushed.

    I’m so sorry to hear that you too strove to share your “dreams and plans” and endured the “intrusive, violent presence” of a world gone truly “mad.” It is all so upside down: where people should be honored for engaging so deeply with a vision, they are “savagely pathologized.”

    Thanks so much for your beautiful and inspiring voice,
    Elizabeth

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  5. I’ve not been active on this site for a long while. Every once in a while I’d lurk about, and find myself mostly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of resources and commentary that has accumulated so remarkably on this site over the past several years. I wish I had the time and energy to engage them. When I first came here I was not looking as much for kindred spirits as for information about the risks of neuroleptics and the courage to try to walk away from them (I’ve so far managed to go down 85%). And then, mostly, to try negotiate some kind of relationship with psychiatry that I could live with (still working on that). But this piece, which was the first I saw upon returning to the site, and your prior piece, immediately resonated in new ways. Your account of your own (what I will refer, for simplicity’s sake as) psychosis in the prior piece was strikingly and amusingly familiar, and was the secret kindness and solidarity of which you speak in this piece. As much as my own partner and other loved ones offer in the way of insight and protection, you remind me that there is no better tonic than a kindred tale for those of us living in the shadows.

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    • Thanks so much for your response N.I.

      I am so glad my pieces resonated for you 🙂 I think it’s so true that–no matter how much loved ones may offer support (and I’m so glad you have this community!), there’s such a deep level of understanding/solidarity that may exist between “those of us living in the shadows.” (And I love that phrase by the way!). Your response reminds me of how important it is that we keep speaking out and connecting to one another.

      Congratulations on getting down to such a low dosage on the neuroleptics–and yes it can be quite the challenge to “negotiate some kind of relationship to psychiatry.” Good luck with all that…. Sending my best wishes, Elizabeth

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  6. Thank You for inspiring me to reply .The psychiatrists and underlings of the Behavior Control Unit will go to great inappropriate extremes to shut us down as rapidly as possible while maintaining a distance between themselves and us that allows them with their pseudo science embedded in pseudo compassion to make cold-blooded decisions about what poison chemical combinations they can best addict us with . After a couple weeks then a 180 day commitment obtained in a kangaroo court hearing followed within days by a launch to the outside after being coercively cornered into signing that I will comply to an unsurvivable plan which includes among other absurdities orders not to leave the county or else. Life goes on after a compassionate stay at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene , Oregon that out does even the Murphy Bill today or that is a precursor of it . By the way in bold raised letters on the wall before you enter the 4 door maze entrance can actually be read BEHAVIORAL CONTROL UNIT .No pretense about any kind of health here. I’m not kidding . And I’m thankful it wasn’t me . I’m out here acting . But it was someone I love and it hurts . I hear the sound of psychiatry circling the wagons.

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    • Thanks so much for your response Fred.

      Wow. It sounds like you have been through a lot. This Behavior Control Unit is horrifying. And yes, psychiatrists certainly (through maintaining that distance you describe) can certainly make the most “cold-blooded decisions.” It is as though the “patient” is not real or human. And so the travesty goes on….

      I’m so sorry someone you love got caught in all that hell. They’re certainly lucky to have you on their side.

      Best wishes to you,

      Elizabeth

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  7. It is interesting that so many of us share a similar desire, while in our “altered states,” for a better world. I, too, felt I could have hope in a fellow Chappaqua, NY and Chicago woman, when I was going through my first drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity manic awakening, one I call my ‘it takes a village’ awakening. Since it was one in which it felt like those in my IL village, at the time, but also seemingly those in a similarly named village in NY, and recollections of my childhood friends from Chappaqua, were trying to help me heal. It was an awakening in which I learned of the so called collective unconscious.

    And it is bizarre that the internet is now filled with people who share my concerns, from my second and last drug withdrawal induced manic awakening, regarding the fiscal irresponsibility of the Federal Reserve bankers. I’m an ethical banker’s daughter. It is almost as if the dreamweaver’s web of connectivity within the collective unconscious, is becoming the collective conscious on the real worldwide web today. Maybe it’s true, we do need to collectively evolve and bring about a more just world? And maybe belief in the unseen, is not unwise? The Nicene Creed recommends belief in such.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and I agree, “The outer divorced from any illumination from the inner is in a state of darkness. We are in an age of darkness. The state of outer darkness is a state of sin—i.e., alienation or estrangement from the inner light.” I was awoken to the inner light, to a knowledge that we are all connected, and it does seem like the internet is allowing many to awaken as well. I hope we can learn to peacefully, collectively evolve, past psychiatry’s newest, materialistic age of darkness, defamation, and torture. And move on to a world where we collectively work together for the betterment of all, rather than continue to compete and try to destroy one another. There is a better way, and the psychiatrists who try to kill all who see such, are the enemy within.

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    • Thanks so much for your response, Someone Else!

      I really appreciated all your reflections. And it is interesting that so many of in our “altered states” strive for justice and a better world. It’s also awful–that such a quest (rather than being honored and engaged with) is pathologized and crushed by psychiatry…. I also really connected to what you said about the “collective unconscious” and also about how you were “awoken to the inner light” and saw that we were all “connected”…. And it’s true that the web can generate so many connections and awakenings…. It’s an amazing vehicle!

      So yes, let’s keep fighting for this better world!

      Elizabeth

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  8. Your story reminded me a little of some of Jung’s ideas about the “shadow self” and how what we repress has power over us. I’m thinking on a more global scale – that our society represses a lot of who we are, and that folks like you and your visitor are sensitive to and able to express the repressed or “shadow” side of society and bring it to the light. But of course, most people don’t WANT to see the ‘shadow’ (that’s kind of the point, isn’t it) so YOU become the enemy instead of being able to see their own very similar internal conflict of having to repress who they are in order to “fit in” to a more and more unaccepting and restrictive social norm.

    We do, indeed, live in dark times. Thanks for sharing your light with us. I am saddened (but not surprised) that you have encountered so much prejudice and resistance that you no longer want to risk sharing your reality with people you don’t know will be receptive, and I’m very glad you were willing to share it with us here.

    —- Steve

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    • I really your appreciate your kind and thoughtful words, Steve!

      I found your thoughts on the “shadow self” so illuminating…. I agree that extreme states can contain a whole word that is disallowed/denied by the larger society. And as you point out–so many people turn on this world b/c it reflects their own hidden conflicts that they have repressed to “fit in.” I think the society others this state rather than trying to understand it b/c they don’t want to get too near to all that underground dynamite and (I might add) deep knowledge that these states can contain. It just shakes everything up! So let’s shake it up, as things desperately need to change!

      Thanks also for getting that I have been essentially driven into silence by all the prejudice.
      I spent so long speaking out (into such terrible resistance from those nearest and dearest to me, that was the worst), and I’m a naturally communicative person, so it is sad, as you say…. But in the meantime, I have people like you who get it and who hear me, so thanks so much for this!

      I also really appreciate all the work you are doing to bring in the light!

      Elizabeth

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      • I am glad my thoughts resonated with you! I am cautious about trying to speculate about situations or experiences that I have no personal knowledge of, but this felt right to me, and I’m glad it felt right to you, too. The power of social repression and denial is incredible, and it always seems to be the most sensitive and the least powerful who have to carry the pain for the privileged and the boorish masses. Pisses me off, really. I have found that getting in touch with my own anger at social injustice helps keep me going when it all seems to be too depressing to think about.

        Thanks again for a great article!

        — Steve

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        • Yes, it certainly felt right! I was very moved by the depth of your response….

          And yes, it does seem like the “most sensitive and the least powerful”
          have to pay a high price indeed–though I like to think that ultimately I am freer and more whole (than people who deny and shut down) due to the journey I’ve been on for so many years…though god knows it’s been harrowing at times….

          I also agree that anger is key. It’s saved my life again and again!

          It’s been great “talking,” Steve. I hope we’ll have more occasions to pursue a dialogue. All my best to you…..

          Elizabeth

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          • Portland is my favorite city in the USA.

            I’ll send you a note if I’m heading to NYC, though it’s been a long, long time. I do get Upstate sometimes, as my brother and his family live in Ithaca. And my family is in Philly, a mere 90 miles away. So who knows? Let’s stay in touch!

            —- Steve

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          • Hi Steve,

            I’m actually replying to your very last message–but there was no “reply button” for sone reason on that message.

            So yes, please be in touch if you do get back this way at some point. It sounds like you have family in the northeast.

            And I’d love to get out to your amazing city!

            I look forward to staying in touch 🙂

            Elizabeth

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  9. Thanks so much for your response The_cat!

    Yes, I agree that so many “normal” people are a real problem because they refuse to think outside the box and respond–even when the truth is staring them right down!

    Here’s to honoring/celebrating the “freaks!”

    Elizabeth

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  10. Hi Elizabeth – Thank you for this post, I found it so moving and have shared it with the people I work with as a reminder to always see and attend to the person. I agree with you totally that people with passion, love, intensity and innocence are so often crushed, when the qualities that they are giving are the ones they need in return.

    The, them and us, dynamic is so interesting and people’s views so changeable and confused in my experience, perhaps that is because that is the true nature of humans. We are looking always for clues that indicate we are okay, and clear opinions and beliefs give something to hold on to even if they fly in the face of reality and what internally we feel or know to be really true.

    Anyway thanks again and I look forward to reading more of your writing.

    Best wishes
    Matthew

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    • I really appreciated your response Matthew…. And thanks for passing my post around 🙂
      And yes, I agree that people who are in the most vulnerable and passionate places are so often turned against for being “different” rather than shown the respect and love they deserve…. You say it more eloquently….!

      Thanks also for the wonderful work you’re doing. I read your recent post–“Finding clarity through clutter”–and was so thankful for your compassionate understanding of “hoarders”–who are all too demonized. I love how you look at the pain that is so often behind “hoarding.” You look at the real person! I also really related to what you wrote about “hoarders” being told “they lack insight” or are “hard to engage” if they don’t accept all the dehumanizing pathology that is imposed on them. The exact thing happened to me when I rejected my diagnosis of “psychosis”–which carries so much negative charge, and dismisses the whole meaning behind the experience!

      Keep up your great work….! And best wishes….

      Elizabeth

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  11. Elizabeth, your story really engaged me. It reminds me how we are all connected through our light, as one universal consciousness, and mirror reflections of each other. What we perceive outside is a manifestation of what we carry inside of us, there is no separation. As we shift internally toward our true integrated self, we discover our power to change what is external to us.

    Thank you for the inspiration!

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  12. Thanks so much for your response Alex!

    What you say really resonated with me–and reminded me of a central insight I had when I was undergoing my “breakdown.” I felt that we were really all one at bottom, and derived from one primordial source, and that each of us showed up as various expressions of this source….. I felt like the whole point to life was to reclaim this light/source, and to express it as powerfully and directly as possible.

    Thanks again for your illuminating thoughts…..

    Elizabeth

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    • Elizabeth, you have just stated the exact perspective from which I navigate my life (well, by intention, in any event, takes practice and patience for sure). I learned this in my healing journey, as well, it was so freeing. A true paradigm shift, in every respect.

      You bring to mind one of my favorite quotes, by Marianne Williamson, which I’ve shared a few times on MIA, and which feels totally relevant to what you say here:

      “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

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  13. Thanks so much for writing back, Alex!

    I’m so glad you find kinship in my reflections…. And I certainly find kinship in yours…..

    The quote you included speaks volumes to me. I in fact have the first two sentences of this quote pasted up on a wall in my kitchen! And the last sentence of this quote, I recently sent to a friend of mine. I’ve never had the whole quote in entirety, so thanks so much for sending it my way. It’s a real treasure. It’s always important to be reminded to let that light shine forth! I wish you best with shining your own light 🙂

    Elizabeth

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  14. Thank you so much for writing this, Elizabeth!
    And thank you for seeing Linda- in another time/place/culture, she would have been recognized as a shaman, someone who has placed herself in the deepest part of the river of consciousness in order to serve her community and bring them the wisdom. Her community would have graciously received her gifts, demonstrating their appreciation for her service by seeing to her physical needs in this world while she is Otherworldly, and address her as Wise Teacher upon her return.

    So many of us hide in plain sight! You inspired me to write this poem:

    Playing in the Shards

    The sign says: I Make Jewelry from Recycled Stained Glass!

    It does not say that I play in the shards to create beauty from brokenness, but that is what I do. It does not convey the sacred healing wisdom that is enacted each time I transform a pattern that was fused in the flame, the power I reclaim as I crack the patterns I want to re-form, re-arrange, into a new creation of my own design. The sign does not betray the kinship I feel to these broken bits, because I have been shattered, so many times; and though some would look at these sharp, jagged edges and feel they aren’t safe to hold, or look at, or gaze through– indeed, most would insist they be swept up and tossed in the trash (carefully wrapped in newspapers first!)– I see their inherent value, their remaining beauty, their potential to be more. My shards are never discarded- they tell the stories; yes, of the blows that shattered, of the pressure that caused the cracks, yes, but also the tale from there. Of how even the smallest sliver has its place, that even the tiniest chip of mirror has something to reflect.

    No, the sign simply says : I Make Jewelry from Recycled Stained Glass!

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    • Thanks so much for your response, LavenderSage!

      And yes, I agree that Linda would’ve been supported and honored in “another time/place/culture.” As she so amply deserved to be!

      Also, I am so touched that you shared your poem with me. It’s truly beautiful and inspiring. I love how you create your own design as you “crack the patterns.” This is a powerful, creative and self affirming act. I also love how you guard all the shards that the world would rather discard because these shards tell your painful/traumatic life story. And these shards, as you write, have “value,” “beauty,” “potential to be more.” I see you as honest, brave and triumphant within your poem. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom 🙂

      Best wishes,
      Elizabeth

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  15. I’m also reminded of an experience I had in my junior year of college, which for me didn’t happen until my mid-20s. I had decided to add Social Work as a double major (was already getting BS in Clinical Psych, which I later came to realize was my way of knowing the enemy, learning the tools/lingo of their oppression so it could not be turned on me, but that’s another post) because I preferred the systems approach: that asks not “what is wrong with you?,” but rather, “What has happened to you?” and “What is wrong with the systems you are immersed in, or their point of contact with you?” as the starting point to address distress. And I had had a lot of distress, definitely falling into that Wounded Healer category. So one of the classes I added had a community-service component and I decided to do my hours at the local state hospital, but their regular volunteer activities did not fit my crowded schedule so other arrangements were made for me, and I got to do my service hours in activities that other volunteers had rarely participated in. But it took awhile to arrange so I started late. So when I accompanied a group into the gym for volleyball and a long-time patient introduced himself by name and dx, and asked essentially “so what’re you in here for?” and I grinned and stuck out my hand and said “volleyball- I’m a volunteer, and this is my first week. It’s good to meet you!” and the guy was so embarrassed, like he had offended me by assuming I was a patient (not at all!) and tried to explain: “You don’t act like a volunteer! They all act real scared and keep checking where the door is and if anyone gets close they really get nervous! But you didn’t act like a Staff either, you know, all in-charge, looking-down-your-nose. Your smile was too real to be a Staff. So, yeah, I assumed you were one of us. I’m real sorry!” I told him, sincerely, “Not at all; in fact, I take it as a high compliment. I believe people ought to treat people like they are people too, no matter what, so thank you very much for letting me know I’m doing okay with that!”
    I was the only one in the room who knew that about a year and a half prior, I’d spent a couple weeks in a Respite Center deciding whether and how to live on after swallowing plenty enough sleeping pills to die. Somebody called an ambulance and ER docs pumped my stomach, but I’d ingested a lot and was unable to carry on a conversation (high as a kite!) so they let me sleep it off but insisted I talk to a social worker before I checked myself out AMA. I agreed to that, and the guy was very real with me, somebody I felt I could be a bit real with too. They had just opened the Respite Center- was out in nature, very tranquil, private rooms. I read the rules of the place and their mission statement, and there were no contradictions in the two. So I checked myself in there. The staff were ever-present, available, supportive but not intrusive. I did a lot of reading, and writing, and sitting out on the back patio that faced a forest. I was there almost a week and still pretty angry at having had my plan to be free of all that tremendous pain I was in be thwarted. It was night, and I shook my fist at the sky full of stars and issued my ultimatum to the All-That-Is (what some would call “God” but I do not) that if I would not be supported in pursuing death, I’d damn well better be supported in living because this half-assed life of barely surviving the emotional blows that just kept coming too hard and too fast was not acceptable! I set out my conditions for continuing: that each next step in my path be illuminated, recognizable, and that everything I’d need to take that next step would always be provided. I demanded that my life from there on out had to be meaningful, and do-able. “You do that,” I said, “and I will live on faith. But you gotta provide, or I am outta here!” After about a week of inhabiting that mind-space, the staff and I both agreed that I was strong enough to leave and be okay. And I pretty much was. I found new sources of strength, some that had been there awhile and just needed to know I was needing it, but also places within that really only get spelunked in the depths of existential crisis.

    Nobody but me knew that even though I was playing volleyball as a volunteer that day, it was not long before that I’d had my turn serving from the other side of the net, so to speak. But it showed, and I was glad to have been seen.

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    • Hi LavenderSage,

      Thanks so much for sharing you story (or some of it–I know there’s so much more!) with me. As with your poem, I am so impressed with how you always hold onto your authentic/whole/open self. I felt you doing exactly this when you interacted with the patient at the volleyball activities. He obviously felt how kind and real and connected you were (not othering him like the other volunteers did or looking down at him like the staff did).

      I was very sorry to hear about your suicide attempt, as I recognize the horrible pain and hopelessness behind the decision to take one’s own life. I was happy, however, to hear that you found such a supportive and respectful environment in the Respite Center. It sounds like you really faced things down in there, and that you ultimately found the strength you needed to create a new path for yourself.

      I love how you end your post with the fact that (when doing your volunteer work with people in distress) your own crisis “showed, and I was glad to have been seen.” This is beautiful and strong and true–as so many people want to bury/deny their time on “the other side” and just fit into the mainstream at all costs. And yet you seem to truly value this self (as you do in your poem) that others may want to discard and hide! I feel the same way in my own life, but you really inspire me to have more strength and pride in this regard! So thank you so much!…. Elizabeth

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      • Hi Elizabeth! Thanks so much for replying to my response!
        I learned pretty early that I had to hold tight o my authentic self or risk losing annihilation of it. From before birth, my purpose in my family was set out for me as fulfilling others’ needs and agendas. Conceiving me provided my teenage mother an escape from her horrific home life when she came to live with my father’s parents- my grandparents were thrilled to have a baby girl in their home that they could pretend was theirs (this grandmother had longer for a little girl to dress pretty ever since she was a little girl herself, but only ever had boys). But I was often at odds with her: I was not quiet, I did not “go along” and I insisted on my point of view being heard even before I had the words to articulate it. I was feisty, like my mother, which Mammaw hated. I was that kid in Sunday school who insisted on knowing how Adam and Eve’s kids had kids, not the kid who would drop the subject because it flustered the adults. And I was stubborn, in the sense that I refuse to cede to someone simply on the basis of their authority. So she quit acknowledging my existence when, at age 7, I refused to sign up for another year of tap dancing and insisted on baton twirling instead. Being alone with her was awful, but school was no refuge either- I had no friends, and had been the object of torment, ridicule, and well-declared ostracism since kindergarten. That’s the first existential crisis I recall, wondering whether (like that tree falling in the forest) you cease to exist when there is no one to acknowledge the fact that you do. Profound loneliness, and the first deep spelunking ensued.

        For me, the need to be known, to be understood (or, at the very least, not mis-understood) is primal, vital as breathing, and as impossible to repress as the need to pee!

        Claiming my authentic self has not been easy, because so much of my identity goes against the grain: at 8, I knew I was a Feminist (capital F) though I may not have known the word. I knew that it wasn’t fair that boys got things girls didn’t (like early dismissal to be a crossing guard) so I told the school principal what I thought of that and became the first girl crossing guard. This was at a Baptist school, same school where 2 years later I kissed a girl under the mistletoe, and was confounded by the ensuing uproar. I grew up in the 70s in the Midwest, though, so the notion of bisexuality didn’t even really occur to me until my early 20s, so I was a bit late coming out of that closet. I discovered Wicca as a teenager, though, and came out of the broom closet as a Witch. After 2 short marriages, I realized that though my sexual orientation (who I’m happy sharing a bed with) was bi, my relational orientation (who I’m happy sharing a home/life with) was not, and my wife and I celebrated 20 years together last month. Our vows did not include fidelity, though, because I had discovered another facet of my identity is that I am polyamorous, not monogamous. What we promised is to each walk our path with integrity and support the other in doing the same. And we mostly have.

        But now I’m standing in the threshold of another closet, about to declare my identity as one of the Mad, and make a wider reveal than I’ve had to do. In December, I lost my therapist of 17 years. This is what I wrote in my journal a few weeks later:

        i never understood until just recently how much it meant to have someone in my corner who understood the entire ball of wax- catherine knew all the challenges i face, all the time, all the things you just dont sport around, what nobody sees because it’s just too much, and too ugly in places and too sad, and too likely to get you judged. catherine was already with me on the journey when a whole lotta shit surfaced for me and the picture of this life started to make sense. she was my witness, she never flinched from even the hardest doscoveries, she earned the trust to hold it all with me.
        and now catherine is gone.
        i feel this loss, of her as someone who was an unblemished mirror- could see me, all of me, take me in and reflect me back, warts and all as they say, no warp in the reflection. i had no idea how much i needed her for this- to be known by someone I could always count on to know what it takes for me to live my life, to know the scope of the energy it takes sometimes just to be ok enough to get by,

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        • Hi LavenderSage,

          Wow. You’ve been through a lot! It sounds like you’ve been feisty all your life 🙂 It’s great that you’ve always stood up so strongly!

          I’m glad to hear you claimed your bisexuality—despite growing up in a repressive environment. Congratulations on your 20 year marriage! it sounds like you and your wife are walking a beautiful path together…..

          I wish you all the best in declaring your identity as “one of the Mad.” It seems like you’ve taken an important step in visiting the MIA website, and in sharing your reflections/story here…..

          I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your therapist—and especially such a long term relationship. I know that when someone really stands by you, understands you, loves you for all that you are, well…that is a huge loss….

          I wish you all the best as you make your way in all your various endeavors,

          Elizabeth

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          • Thanks for having this conversation, Elizabeth! I gotta confess to feeling a bit like Linda, in the sense of being a tad overwhelmed by your warm reception to my responses, and your genuine interest. Our interaction is being very good for me- really making me miss Catherine, waves of grief crashing on my shore, opportunities to work that. So, deep thanks!

            You are right- been feisty all my life (and many of the past lives I remember too; it’s a constant); and you’re right that I’ve been through a lot. If all the traumas in my life were a buffet, that story would probably rank with the jello: mild, easy to take in. Not that I’m trying to medal in the Trauma Olympics or anything 🙂 just being real.

            I, too, am glad I have been able to claim a healthy sexuality. Actually, the discovery that I was bi came right on the heels of my first time having sex with a woman, which was not exactly consensual. I had a boyfriend who plied me with alcohol and heavily coerced me to have sex with our friend Karen so he could watch (a fantasy of his). And though that emotional experience with him was rape-slimy, the experience I had with her left me with a lot to think about because I really enjoyed it. Separating those two aspects of the experience was not at all difficult, which surprises me because I was really drunk; I have a low tolerance since I rarely drink. But I went out with my best friend the next night, to our favorite dance club- which was also the town’s coolest gay bar- and talked to her a bit about it all on the drive, my confidante. And I’m out on the dance floor, and out of nowhere I’m hit with this poem about my high school best friend. For me, I get inspired and the words wanna come out in a rush, grabbed napkins off the bar and dug a pen out of my purse, and the words fly out. And when I read it the next day, really read it, I realized I’d had feelings for her that were much more than I had felt safe at the time to admit to anyone, myself included. That poem was my coming out, to myself. (It’s in a journal of mine; if I come across it, I might share it here.)

            It’s kind of a miracle that instead of damaging my sexuality, that experience actually clarified it. Despite what instigated it, my experience with Karen opened the door to a path of self-discovery that allowed me to fall in love with my wife. And for that I am grateful. We have had a real path together- often it’s been beautiful, but sometimes really messy, and on rare occasion downright ugly! Whoever it was that said “Marriage ain’t for sissies!” was not lying! But I suspect you know that 🙂 I read your story Passage, and am so glad that you also found your Person- the one who gets you, and always genuinely wants to and tries to, even when they can’t. I do have that in my wife. But she’s no Catherine.

            Can I just take a minute and talk about that loss? I got Catherine when we were both in grad school- her pursuing her counseling degree, me my MSW. I sought therapy as it was highly suggested by my Family Therapy professor, because the coursework included constructing our own genogram, and as you begin looking at your own family in that context, issues often come up so it’s good self-care to have that support on-board. I concurred, and contacted Catherine to set up an interview-, not an appointment, but an initial consult wherein I would lay out my conditions, and determine by her reactions whether this would be a good fit. I explained that I’d had negative experiences with the “mental health” field before, and knew quite well what I needed as well as what would be harmful. She had to agree to view herself as my witness on my journey, not an expert. She had to be willing to earn my trust by pulling out my file without hesitation if I asked to review it. She had to be very self-aware and not allow vicarious traumatization to occur for her, and never ever expect me to take care of her emotionally. She had to agree to never pathologize me or assign a dx; I paid her out-of-pocket, sliding scale. Most important, she had to accept that I was the only author of my story, the only one able to know what rings true for me. That’s not to say she was not allowed to challenge me to look deeper, or consider a different perspective; I’m more than willing to do that. But when I say what rings true and doesn’t, my inner wisdom will always trump another’s learned knowledge. She was good with all that. Never once did she disrespect me, or judge me, or make any attempt to subjugate me, or “water-down” anything I expressed. Irreplaceable.

            Thank you for listening, Elizabeth. I miss Catherine a lot. Losing her is so very hard. This helps.

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          • Hi LavenderSage,

            Wow! What a screwed-up way to find out that you like being with women! But it sounds like that experience really opened your eyes to another dimension of your sexuality—ultimately culminating in your relationship with your wife. Yes, relationships can definitely be challenging, but so worth it when there’s real mutual love and support.

            It’s great that you laid out such clear terms with Catherine before you started working together. Your terms are so self-respecting! Way to go. Catherine sounds amazing, and I can well understand that it’s a huge loss….

            Best wishes,
            Elizabeth

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  16. I want to say as graciously and un-intrusively as I can, that I am so extremely moved by the above exchange between Elizabeth and LavendarSage, my heart was on overdrive as I read through this. I was so moved throughout by this dialogue, brought me to tears. Thank you for this sacred moment in time.

    Courage, truth, and heart all rolled into one, pure human authenticity and spirit. What a wonderful example you both are of shining one’s light, very inspiring. Thank you again.

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    • Oh, Alex, thank you! Such gratitude to you, to the All-That-Is (that healing light you spoke of in another thread) moving through you into this sacred moment! Let me explain:

      So I’ve been sharing very openly here, which has been healing and necessary for me but not comfortable (though Elizabeth’s responses are comforting- you noticed) so I’ve been brave, after lurking here on MiA for months. But I recognize that sometimes I share a bit overmuch overquick. I have come to understand it as a litmus test to see whether someone new is solid ground or quicksand- you gotta discern that quick when you are on a journey and feel you’ve spotted a fellow traveler!
      Okay, so I saw Elizabeth’s last reply and was gonna reply something nod-like, but there was no button for that this time. And I wondered whether that was a superpower she has as an official MiA author, to turn off the button as a kind of a “it’s been great talking with you but I gotta go now” sort of cue. Hear them monsters rustling under the bed? 🙂

      So then I see the email that alerts me there’s more on the thread. Lo and behold, it’s from another fellow traveler I been really jiving on, whose comments in other threads been opening up wonderful avenues of possibility in my awareness! Blowing my mind in the best way, the past few days, been letting it all simmer and steep in me before it settled into words, but knowing I’d approach connecting with you soon.

      So even if I was doing my thing that I do, it was worth every ounce of self-doubt, embarrassment, and awkwardness I felt. Sometimes that is the risk, so worth it, this being the outcome!

      I’d like to share another story, about taking risk, being seen, being of service. Many years ago we had neighbors that we became close with- 2 siblings from a large Polynesian family, and when one of them married we were invited. At the reception, some of their family members (sisters? nieces?) performed amazing hula, and I was mesmerized by one of the women- the energy coming out of her hands, her feet, every nuanced movement of her torso. She was transcendent! She was their sister that I had met once before, at a New Year’s party, and I knew little about her except that she’d had some substance-abuse issues. The performance ended, the drummers stopped and the DJ took over, the party continued on. But after we left, I could not shake the memory of her dance- it was her prayer, it was so much more for her. Did she know? Did she see the power there? This is her healing place, the beat of her dancing heart! Does she know? I saw. I had to tell her! Urgency gripped the pen as soon as I found paper, and I found myself opening to these messages for her, messages from her ancestors. Telling her to dance her way back when she loses her way in the darkness. Telling her these dances are as old as the waves of the sea, that they are the prayers that beckon the ancestors to her call.

      Even as I wrote, I understood the risk that I was taking, risking being mis-understood. By that I do not mean the innocuous “misunderstanding” of the oh-that’s-what-you-meant variety. No, I mean the way the landlord was certain he had a complete understanding of Linda, when he had not the first inkling of her. But transcribing the letter for her (for I was not the author, merely the messenger) was something I felt called to do, having agreed to live a meaningful life, one of service to the highest possible good. And I gave it to the neighbors, who looked at me a bit askance as skeptics do, but they understood about the role of ancestors, and had already had enough experience of me to know that I was coming from a good place, and promised to deliver it. I;m sure their ancestors made sure they followed through on that promise, as much they were “thumping” me to write the letter for them!

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      • “So even if I was doing my thing that I do, it was worth every ounce of self-doubt, embarrassment, and awkwardness I felt. Sometimes that is the risk, so worth it, this being the outcome!”

        This is true and authentic courage and trust, the essence of it. That’s what moved me so much, LavenderSage. What you describe is what makes us human. I know that feeling very well. I made a film where I told my story, along with 5 others, and I posted in on YouTube a few years ago. I was hoping that it would help bring clarity to the what it is like going through the system as a ‘stigmatized’ individual, at least in some respects. We cover a lot of ground.

        It was terrifying to post this and just let it go out there, without a clue what would come back to me. It did pay off well and resulted in some wonderful core changes in my life, that had been one of my intentions, to heal my life. But I took a lot of crap, too, which, really, was my opportunity to continue healing on a very deep level. All part of the process.

        If you feel like checking it out, it’s 96 minutes. I have a feeling it might speak to you from all that you say, which, btw, I so very much enjoy your posts, too, I think you’re really on it and have gotten tremendous insights from your journey.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtDGxJWmj5w

        I just made and posted a second film, too, called The Dreamcatchers Follies: Music for the Ages, which is also on YouTube. That’s only 28 minutes. Between the two, which were filmed 4 years apart, you can see the evidence of transformation. My husband and I are in both films. My healing journey was OUR healing journey, no two ways about that.

        LOVE your stories, and obviously you are a channel of light. But you’ve been doing spiritual work for a long time, if you are Wiccan. So very cool!

        Btw, the “reply” buttons disappear after a few posts in the same dialogue thread, so if you hit the last one available, it will show up at the bottom of the thread, in response to the post previous to it.

        Thanks for your beautiful words and all your sharing, LavenderSage. They shed light for sure 🙂

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  17. Hi Elizabeth, late reply, and probably not reading. I know that invisible feeling. I have lived it all my life, and will die that way. Society does not allow me to disclose. If we disclose, a story is created by the listener that has zero to do with us. So I walk around hiding, because disclosing will result in persecution. No one can ever really know me, yet they believe they do. I accepted and at the same time fought this, from a young age. We can be crazy as fruitcakes but as long as we don’t let anyone see or hear, most are happy with that.

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