Spiritual v. Religious

My whole adult life people have said I am a deeply spiritual person.  Well, anyone who is deeply spiritual knows that all of us are deeply spiritual.  We are spiritual creatures.  We are self aware.  We ponder life and death.  We ask questions about the meaning of life, if not as a whole, then certainly as events and situations occur along the way.

Spiritual?  Yeah.  More spiritual than others?  Absolutely not.  Mystic?  Yes.  Is that a “special category”?  Not really.  Does that make me special?  Again, absolutely not.  Does all of this mean that I’m conscious of this aspect of our being as distinct from others who are not.  Probably.  Does that matter?  Not in any positive way that the past 40 years have taught me.

Throughout my adult life, I have also been intensely, even compulsively, religious.  My behavior has been consistent with a “good Christian.”  I studied Biblical Studies and Ministry as an undergraduate.  I went to seminary and studied Divinity.  I engaged in Christian ministry for many years.  As a librarian now for over 20 years, I retained my religiosity.  Attended Church and Church functions.  Sat on and occasionally chaired committees and a task force now-and-then. Taught adult education.

But now, as I’ve become increasingly aware of my mental illness, I’m reviewing all of this religiosity.  Spiritual life is going deeper and broader.  My love for and care for and compassion for all other sentient beings is increasing.  Clear lines of moral demarcation are growing vague and immaterial, ceasing to exist altogether.

My openness and appreciation and interior bond with people aligning with other faith traditions has blossomed to such a degree that we are as one seeking the answers (Well, OK, maybe not answers.  More like solace.) to the same human questions brought about by the same common life circumstances.  Affection and understanding of those claiming no religious tradition is firmly established.

Some people would say that because I’m “loosing” my outward signs of religiosity, that I am effectively loosing spirituality.  They are absolutely wrong.  I am more spiritually attuned today than I was a year ago.

Maybe the folks who do not struggle with mental illness are not as well as we are.

Two Months In

PTSD and depression are deep and debilitating.  I see a therapist once a week.  I take heavy duty meds.  I have Hunter, the amazing service dog.  And, to be sure, things are much improved.

But, invasive thoughts.  Things are going just fine with family or at work and something happens that triggers images and feelings from long ago and I can’t shake them.  They persist.  I don’t say anything because I don’t want to be a “wet blanket” but now everyone’s having a great time but me.  Self pity?  Probably but I don’t care.

Went for a walk in the neighborhood.  Got to a corner and heard a car coming so I stopped and looked.  Normal enough, eh?  So why did a memory of my being hit by the car and dragged down the street come to mind?

So now I’m depressed — therapy, meds, even a dog.  Time is running out.  I’m older now.  As good as things are getting, I’m gonna die with PTSD and depression.

Well, ain’t this a post everyone will want to read?

What is redemptive in all of this?  I’m sleeping!  Therapy, meds, and dog have soothed me enough that I’m actually sleeping and having good dreams, not just nightmares.  I’m beginning to look forward to bed time.

I went to Whole Foods, Costco, and Fred Meyer all in one day.  A month ago I may have been able to manage one — maybe.  Certainly not three!

So, writing this helps me realize the progress I’ve made in just a couple of months.  Not bad. Maybe there’s not so awfully much to be depressed about.

A Major Change and Increasing Improvement

He’s already a friend.  Gradually, he is becoming my comforter.  Soon — very soon — I will trust him entirely to have my back.  We are always together, never separated.

As I write this post, he is at most 3 feet away on my right.  We’ve had a tremendous learning curve to discover one another’s habits, likes and dislikes, customs and expectations.  I have to get up at 5 to make sure he is fed and exercised before heading to work.  He has to adjust to the ways of a 60+ year old “pack leader” when he was trained to work with and for a child.

But without question, we love each other.  He may not like it when I brush his teeth but once he’s “punished” me by moving somewhere I can’t see him, he comes back and we reconcile.  He loves me to clean his ears and to brush him.

Yesterday at a coffee shop I began to melt down.  I crouched down, pointed to my chest, and said, “Hunter, here.”  He put his head on my chest, wiggled it around a little, and my anxiety began to drop.  Soon he was nuzzling me and my anxiety passed.  What more can I ask for?  Never once did I feel the need to look around for potential threats!

When I’m depressed and we are home and he is “out-of-pack,” he does regular dog things.  He throws a toy in the air.  Attacks it.  Rolls on it.  Growls at it.  I laugh and I smile.  Depression begins to lift.

Hunter is there for me.  One of the greatest services?  My family no longer has to serve in a manner to assist me as Hunter does.

Service Dog – Hunter

Image

This is Hunter.  Hunter is my service dog.  He’s 2 1/2 years old and lovely.  Right now he’s asleep on a mat beside me at the public service desk.  I’m nervous.  He’s not.

Last week on Tuesday, July 2, we passed our certification as service dog and handler.  It was tough…and a wee bit scary.  We went to a very busy mall.  Always a very tough place for me. The tester did all sorts of things, like dropping a tray as loudly as she could behind us to see how we responded.  It got his attention but, even though I knew it was coming, it really got me.  He recovered, we proceeded to a safer place, and he comforted me.

Here’s an anecdote, maybe two.  I hate grocery stores.  I usually make a list of things I need on one side of the store.  I go in and rapidly get those items and leave.  If I need to get things on the other side of the store, I make a list, and make a separate trip.  Crazy, I know, but how else is it to be done.

The tester/trainer took us both in without a list or a plan.  We wandered all over the place and ended up at the pet section.  By this time I was just nuts!  Without even asking, Hunter began nuzzling me!  What a comfort!  He wouldn’t stop…and I didn’t want him to stop.

The same week, without the trainer, we went to church.  I had Hunter in a down-stay position and went forward for communion.  I really did expect to turn around and see his head  coming around the pew but he stayed!  When I got back, he laid his paw and head on my foot because he sensed my anxiety.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm) allows for service dogs for people with PTSD.  The dogs aren’t cheap!  But my wife, my co-workers and others who interact with me are so happy he’s here.

One problem.  When you’re in a tense meeting with your boss or a subordinate, he responds to comfort me.  Everyone knows how you’re feeling.

Oh well, small price to pay.  But, then again, I’m at the top of my game so who gives a shit!

I have another story about the 4th of July….

My life is about to slow down

In 2 days I meet Hunter, my service dog.

You know how we are always being encouraged to slow down?  I’ve been thinking about the speed of my life.  The time it takes to get out of the car.  The time it takes to move from desk to office to coffee shop upstairs back to the desk and the office.  I will have Hunter with me.  I’ll have to make sure he’s with me.  Although he’s perfectly capable of out-running me, the both of us tethered together will be slower than either one of us separately.

Plus, although this initially seems like it may quicken things, when you think about it, it’s not so.  Hunter will require exercise as often as possible.  It rains a lot here so I have to figure out what to do on rainy days.  This will slow the pace of life too.  I need to take daily breaks to let Hunter run.  I work in a business park.  Where will he run?  Yikes!  Hadn’t thought of that yet.

Life is gonna change in a couple of days.

Adaptive Behavior and Identity

Once in my previous life-time, that is, in my first career, I provided therapy (in conjunction with the Mayo Clinic Psychiatric team) for a woman who suffered from what we used to call Multiple Personality Disorder.  Now I think it’s called Dissociative Identity Disorder.

In those days there was controversy regarding the goal of therapy.  Was it the successful uncovering of the unconscious material and assimilating the associated “amnesic” or fugue states into daily conscious material to which one adapted?  Or, was it uncovering and reintegrating the personalities into a single “birth name” individual?

Whatever the theoretical outcome of therapy, there was the highly personal trust nature of the clinical relationship.

This poor woman suffered abuse that one could not possibly imagine in your worst nightmare!  My own diagnosis is chronic and severe PTSD, much of the abuse I can only recall small pieces of.  But to this day I still shake my head and take a few moments as I remind myself of her intense abuse.

Some of her “personalities” were male.  The Mayo Clinic Psych team estimated the youngest to be around 6 months of age.  Yeah, 6 months, not years!  Some were older but never older than her actual age.  The “personalities” were stuck at the age she was at the time of that particular abuse.

She was married.  I hope she is no longer married, at least not to the same jerk.  He discovered that if he stressed her enough, she would transition to another protective “personality” and do whatever he wanted her to do sexually.

So, the most frequent manifestation during daily stress that became too much was a male named David.  David was fully male.  He dressed male and, according to him, had male genitalia.  This was her personality for protecting herself.  David was fully functional and capable of “hiding” her fear and anxiety.  Beth was her gate-keeper.  Beth, as was true with David, was an unconscious personality.  Beth decided the probable extent of the perceived threat and called upon “whoever” needed to be “out” in order to cope with the threat.

So who was she and what did it mean for her to be well?  Was her “birth name” really her, even though her birth-name did not comprise the total sum of her life experience.  In fact, her conscious existence accounted for very little of her memories.  Nevertheless, her unconscious self informed her birth-name self, even if those experiences were not “real” to herself.  (She denied some of the experiences as being her own.  Too painful.)

She put her poetry into a manuscript and gifted it to me.  Here is one of her poems.  Remember the “we” is herself, not some other individual.

We were brought together by some fate

We learned about each other

We felt each other’s feelings

We knew each other from the heart out

We opened our souls and

saw behind the closed doors

We knew each other By:

Feeling

Understanding

Love

One of us stayed the same

One of us grew in nature’s name

We are no longer united as one

For we are divided by souls that are in

Pain and

We will never be the

Same.

April 1984

 

Choices

Leonard Pitts is one of my favorite syndicated columnists.  Today the paper ran his recent column in which he addresses one of the subjects I suggested I might be able to offer something special about a couple of posts ago.  His column, in our paper, is titled:

He is disgusted by Neil Munro who chides/heckles officials, even the president, at news briefings and events.

  • Munro writes: “Americans have typically responded to stress and sadness by urging stoicism, hard work, marriage, prayer and personal initiative…”
  • Pitts responds with: “In other words, we were self-reliant.  We toughed it out.  And, if I could write this the way I want, I would tell you in detail about a friend who was self-reliant.  She toughed it out.  Right up until she shot herself.”
  • “One sighs at the thought of some daughter reading this and believing her dad chose to be that way [mentally ill]”

I don’t know about others but I wouldn’t choose to be mentally ill.  I wouldn’t choose to panic, like I did this morning just trying to buy a few groceries at Kroger’s.  I wouldn’t choose to have been on the verge of a dissociative fugue state after viewing the most recent Star Trek movie.

I wouldn’t choose any of this.  Nor would I have chosen to be raped, hit by a car and dragged down the street, or to lay my mother down on the grass when she died giving aid to the victim of a racially motivated attack.

The exercise of choice implies the ability to assert a modicum of will into any given circumstance. Will, at the very least for humans, further implies the ability freely to employ some level of moral reasoning to the situation or circumstance and to be free to behave in accordance with the outcome of these deliberations, whether considered acceptable or not acceptable in the view of others.  (Incidentally, I do not, even cannot, believe that humans are the only sentient beings capable of the exercise of choice as outlined here.)

When we are brutally abused, subject to potentially mortal suffering, or witness to events that rip through one’s sense of being, we cannot exercise any of the aspects of a choice of will.

Mental illness a choice?  PTSD a choice?  Depression, whether induced by events or chemistry in the brain, a choice?  Not a chance!

As Leonard Pitts said:  “The notion that mental illness — and mental illness — should be toughed out is asinine.”