I have been thinking about what I should post since the debacle of the U.S. election started this past Tuesday. I knew that I would be anxious, but didn’t realize just how much my anxiety would increase. I kept my head down with work, not watching the news at all. However, my daughter was consistently on social media and would occasionally come to my home office and give me updates.
At one point she came to tell me that she had read that it was being reported that members of certain right-wing groups were sending messages online that if Trump lost the election, they would begin killing people of color and LGBTQ+ people.
Just the thought of this absolutely horrified me. For one, given my previous academic studies into such groups and the general political climate of the U.S. over the past four years, I know without a doubt that there is a segment of the U.S. population that has been planning for something like this for years. In college during the late 1990’s, I was studying militia groups whose main ideological premise was starting a race war that would “cleanse the U.S. of the mud-blood races.” Secondly, I am personally frightened at this prospect because my daughter is a person of color, and I’m queer – so in that catastrophic scenario, she and I would both be targets. Thinking on these things has increased my anxiety to the point that I don’t want to leave my home.
As the election developments have unfolded over this week, I have felt a mix of emotions along with my anxiety – sadness, anger, horror, shock, hopelessness, terror, and disbelief. Why? One of my friends pointed out that it was horrible that even after 200,000 COVID deaths, about 50% of voters are basically saying “let’s have some more of that!” by voting for Trump. My response to that was that it was horrible that about 50% of voters want to further and legally dehumanize people like me and my daughter.
I’m trying as hard as I can to keep faith in the Goddess, particularly in Her form of Kali Maa. May Kali Maa, during this time of darkness, see fit to cut the rotten forces from the decay of our country so that new, regenerative growth can begin. So mote it be!
This is a little late, but our Samhain celebration was truly a gift in many ways.
My daughter and I decorated our Samhain altar with pictures and items that represented our ancestors and our Beloved Dead. For pictures, we had some of my grandparents, my dad, and my childhood mentor. For items, we had a boat to represent my daughter’s Kashmiri ancestors and Beloved Dead, some pins that belonged to my close friend and mentor Okey Napier, Jr., and my grandfather’s Masonic ring. On the night of Samhain, we had a feast consisting of some of our loved ones favorite dishes. For my daughter’s Kashmiri loved ones, she made haak (collard greens, Kashmiri style) and rice, and for our Appalachian loved ones, I made brown beans and cornbread. It was a very nice celebration. Per my previous coven’s practice, we leave the altar us through All Souls Day/el dia de los muertos.
We also did some outreach to any spirits in our home as we have been experiencing some interesting paranormal activity. I am always hesitant in calling these things paranormal or supernatural because to me, in my Wiccan beliefs, these things are completely normal and natural. They are a part of the natural world. For my daughter, she’s not as experienced with these things, so to her, they are a bit unusual. We have both seen an apparition – her more so than me. Things in the home have moved, my soon-to-be ex-husband has felt something touching his feet, and my daughter has felt things like someone placing a hand on her neck and hugging her. The apparition even waved to her at one point.
Now, many people would hear/read these things and scoff at them, suggesting they were mind tricks or hallucinations. As someone who has lived with mental health disorders for many years, I can completely understand this position, and to some extent, I might think the same thing in some situations. However, in this instance, it’s not just one person experiencing these things – it’s multiple people.
I have had a suspicion on who the spirit was, in particular, that it was someone from the Indian side of my daughter’s family. One of the reasons I thought this was because the spirit does not interact with me much, which makes sense considering that I’m cutting myself off from the family by divorcing her father. Secondly, the spirit touched my ex’s foot, which in Indian culture, is a sign of respect when greeting an elder.
Additionally, one day when my daughter and I were talking in the living room, we heard the Amazon Echo in the bedroom start making noise. We went to check it out, and it was playing a song by a band neither one of us had heard of, and the song had lyrics about fathers and sons and about being poisoned (more on that later). This incident was very ominous to the both of us.
Because of these things, my daughter wanted to do a seance on Samhain. I guided her against doing a full seance on the night when the veil is the thinnest because of the possibility of inviting someone in who should not be here. Instead, we used some witchcraft methods to communicate directly with the spirit that is here (I will discuss these methods in a later post).
Given that I already had my own ideas of who the spirit was, I didn’t want my biased energy to possibly influence things, so I let my daughter lead the questions to ask. To make a long story short, the spirit identified itself as the person that I thought it was – my ex’s younger cousin who tragically died at a young age. The spirit also confirmed some things I had suspected – he was specifically here to visit my daughter (the last time he saw her when he was alive was when she 3-4 years old), and he is upset with me regarding the divorce (hence why he doesn’t bother me much). He also stated that he was happy to see various family members that lived in the area close to us. My daughter didn’t ask anything about the nature of his death because she knew that would be too upsetting for both of them (he was murdered, very little known about the case, who or why, only that he was poisoned – and in reference to the above-mentioned song, his father had also tragically died in a traffic accident a few years before him).
TW/CW: abuse, sexual assault, substance abuse, self-injury
I realized last night that I’m in a better emotional state right now. I won’t so that I have acclimated to this “new normal,” but I have adjusted toward a life of taking joy in the simplest things, including listening to Christmas music before Samhain because it makes me happy. Many of the old rules no longer apply, so if it gives you joy and harms none, do it.
Having said that, I want to introduce myself a bit for those of you who don’t know me or didn’t follow my blog’s previous iteration.
In this blog, I will focus on issues surrounding mental health and spirituality. Both have had an enormous impact on my life, and in many ways, they have intersected in ways that I couldn’t have imagined when I was younger.
What I write in this blog is my story. What I say may resonate with some of you, but I do not intend for anything I say to be the voice of any particular community.
<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">I experience my first sexual assault by a teenage boy when I was 5 years old. I saw a lot of fighting and sometimes violence in my home growing up. My dad had his own demons and self-medicated with alcohol. My earliest memory of him is me hiding in our basement, scared and crying.I experience my first sexual assault by a teenage boy when I was 5 years old. I saw a lot of fighting and sometimes violence in my home growing up. My dad had his own demons and self-medicated with alcohol. My earliest memory of him is me hiding in our basement, scared and crying.
From the earliest time I began trying different forms of self-injury (SI or clinically referred to as NSSI=Non-Suicidal Self-Injury). Even when I was young enough to have loose teeth, I would press those teeth as hard as I could up into my gums, feeling a bit of relief from the pain – physical pain to distract from the emotional pain. This behavior escalated to punching myself, specifically my upper thighs. Eventually I moved on to pinching, scratching, and cutting. I still struggle with SI as an unhealthy coping mechanism to this day.
By the time I was a pre-teen/teen, I had regular suicidal ideation. Between the ages of 11 and 18, I attempted suicide 6 times by taking as many over-the-counter pain pills as I could find. One time, I took enough that I became so drowsy that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I started to panic, but accepted the decision I had made. I woke up more than 12 hours later, laying on my right side, covered in my own vomit. At the age of 18, my first love made me promise never to try again, and I’ve kept that promise. Whenever I think about suicide, I remember his words.
In my teenage years, my main form of coping was sleeping. Being unconscious was preferable to reality. I would sometimes sleep up to 16 hours. I began to withdraw more and more. Softball was MY game when I was young. It was where I shined the brightest.Every year that I tried out for the All-Star team, I was a first-round draft pick. As a Sophomore, I quit. Not only did I quit, I just stopped showing up. It was no longer important to me.
Band was also a major feature in my young life. At one point I even wrote music and was pretty good playing the saxophone. I would try out for all county band every year and almost always placed first. In the middle of high school, I just stopped. I no longer tried out. I didn’t even practice my sax much anymore.
Adding to my struggles during this time was the fact that I knew without a doubt that I wasn’t straight. I thought that I was bisexual, but knew even then that I preferred women.I wasn’t ashamed so much as I was scared to admit it to anyone because I “knew” what my parents’ reactions would be.I got it stuck in my head that I couldn’t come out and live my life openly until after my parents passed, so I tried to keep it to myself and pretend to be straight.
One thing that did provide a glimmer of hope in all of this darkness was a book my sister gave me to read – “The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess” by Starhawk. This book, in many ways, changed my life – it planted a seed of value within me, my sacredness as a female, and the female essence being divine.This book, along with the writings of Scott Cunningham, began my journey into the world of Wicca and various other forms of Neo-Paganism. These religious practices provided stability in my life by allowing me to connect with my innermost self – even if it was a place of darkness.The practices provided me ways to embrace the darkness, work with it, and expel it as needed. As I have said many times, “The Spiral Dance” helped to save my life as a teenager.As it stands, I have practiced various forms of Neo-Paganism for over 30 years, but I eventually returned home to Wicca, following the beliefs of the Reclaiming tradition, Starhawk’s teachings, yes, I do practice witchcraft/magic (more info on what that really means in future blog posts).
After going to Marshall University in Huntington, West-by God-Virginia, and being exposed to a new world, including my disappointment in my chosen major (journalism), my mental state became worse. I abruptly stopped going to classes and almost flunked out. I decided to take some time off to get my mind clear and decide what I really wanted to do. I returned back to Marshall as a Sociology major. Unlike my previous semester when I received 4 F’s and 1 D, I was nearly a straight A student with getting A’s in all of my Sociology classes.
I was able to maintain to earn my B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Political Science. Even more importantly, during this time I came out of the closet after forming a support network with the Lambda Society. It was during my Sociology of Deviant Behavior class that I met Okey Napier was a guest speaker, giving a talk about being queer in Appalachia. I SO wanted to come out to him, but chickened out. Instead, I decided to come out to the woman who worked in the library that I had a crush on. She had a partner at the time, but I still became involved with the LGBTQ+ activities on campus, including being the co-coordinator for Marshall’s LGB Outreach office (note: this was the late 90’s, and we were so short-sighted that we hadn’t even incorporated the T in the community designation yet).
During a party at Okey’s, I learned that a woman I had previously seen at Lambda meetings was actually not straight like I had assumed. She and I eventually became involved and would be together for nearly 6 years.
During this time, I still struggled with my mental health, including SI, and my primary care physician prescribed me Zoloft. My reaction to the medication was to be hyperactive, talk rapidly, with everything being like it was on fast forward.I couldn’t take it anymore and stopped the Zoloft after I started seeing a therapist.I learned during that first therapy session that anti-depressants tend to have that effect on people who are bipolar, and the problem was not that I didn’t need the anti-depressants, but that I also needed mood stabilizers. So, I was prescribed Effexor and Depakote.These helped me greatly, but I still struggled with some issues. My opinion on any of the mental health medications that I have taken over the years, at least for me, is that they don’t stop the symptoms of your mental illness – they just make them easier to manage.This is why having a treatment plan that includes both medication and therapy is SO important.
A while after my girlfriend and I started dating, I finally came out to my family. My sisters were totally supportive, my dad didn’t seem to care one way or another, and my mom completely flipped out, trying various ways to emotionally manipulate me into being straight. It didn’t work. What it actually did was increase the mental stress with everything else I was dealing with. But this time, I had a support network, and the night I came out to her, my best friend in college took me to the Stonewall, let me get as drunk as I wanted, then made sure I got home safely.
Things continued to be mentally and emotionally tumultuous up through 2005, with SI, binge eating, binge drinking, and recreational drug use being common features (marijuana and mushrooms only – nothing harder or synthetic).
Things between my girlfriend and I had become rocky to say the least, and when I returned from my first work trip to India, our relationship ended. It not only ended, but it felt like a slap in the face to me because she left me for a man (queer women, you probably get this – it’s not only the end of a relationship, but almost like a rejection of your sexual identity; a real one-two punch).
I was angry and at a loss for a very long time, even after I began another ill-fated serious relationship. Later in 2005, I spent another 6 months in India for work, staying in what I now consider my “Indian home” – Hyderabad.During this time, I met my current soon-to-be ex-husband. Oh, the irony – my ex-girlfriend left me for a man, and I ended up with a man. Maybe the Goddess was trying to tell me something. It’s a lesson I still haven’t figured out.However, in hindsight, he should have been my rebound experiment, but as you realize, we ended up getting married.
During my relationships with my ex-girlfriend and soon-to-be ex-husband, I was assessed by several therapists and psychiatrists in WV, WA, and IL. The diagnoses were almost always the same – Bipolar Disorder II, PTSD (now CPTSD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Binge Eating Disorder – with a history of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and psychotic features including auditory and visual hallucinations and dissociation.
As if this weren’t enough, problems in my marriage began the very first year.Abusive behaviors escalated, as they usually do over time, and included verbal abuse, mental/emotional abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse.I endured this for 12.5 years, mainly because of my daughter, and the fact that he told me several times that A. if I ever tried to leave him, he would use my mental illnesses to prove that I was unfit and take her away from me and B.if I ever tried to take her away from him, he would kill me.
After intensive spousal abuse therapy, I left him on September 22, 2019. The divorce process has been extremely ugly, and he still verbally abuses me every chance he gets. He’s even attempting to use his divorce lawyer to further financially abuse me by requesting the court to force ME to pay child support, alimony, and to pay for his legal fees.
December 2019 was one of the worst months because my daughter decided that she wanted to stay with him for a while. She even looked me in the eye and told me that he took better care of her than I did. I was crushed and hopeless. I felt like I had lost her.So, I relied on my go-to unhealthy coping mechanism – SI. Using a straight razor for the first time – I had usually used scissors, knives, and needles – I cut myself worse than I ever had before.I slashed all over my left arm, left wrist, breasts, stomach, right thigh, and even my face. I still have bad scars on my breasts and stomach. My soon-to-be ex-husband knew what I had done.In his twisted way, he said he loved me and if I didn’t stop, he would call my family and 911 to take me to the hospital. He didn’t. I woke up the next morning covered in my own blood.
At the end of March 2020, things spun out of control mentally due to COVID, being on furlough from my job, then constant texts from him demanding money and saying he would take me to court if I didn’t do what he said. I was completely lost.I started having invasive thoughts of banging my head against the wall until there was blood everywhere. I sat on my bed and tried to calm down. I looked at the table beside my bed, seeing all the bottles of my psychiatric medications.I had a very calm thought, almost a moment of clarity – the only way the abuse will stop is if I kill myself. I could take all of the medications and it would be over. Thankfully, my next thought was no, my daughter needs her mother…I can’t do this.So, I called the behavioral health hospital who told me either to come in or they would send authorities to pick me up. I gathered some things and drove to the hospital. After initial assessment and conferring with my psychiatrist, they wanted to admit me for inpatient care.I agreed – and as part of Illinois law, I had to sign a paper that I understood that by being hospitalized in a behavioral health facility, I would not be able to get a gun permit for X amount of years.I signed it while recognizing the irony of the legal loophole – I couldn’t legally get a gun, but my abuser can (in fact, he currently has 2 handguns).
I messaged him that night out of respect for Maya, letting him know I was being admitted to the hospital, but I wouldn’t disclose which one. His last message to me that night was to call me fake and pure evil.
I spent 7 days in the hospital. It was actually one of the best experiences I’ve had where I learned a lot about myself, different cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques in dealing with Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs), ways to refrain from escalating an abusive situation, and what it means to go no-contact (or gray rock) when you have a child with your abuser.
Also during this time, my normal medications were adjusted, a new medication was added, and I was not allowed to have my cell phone. In many ways, it was like a complete mental vacation from the outside world.I did use the hospital phones to call my daughter whenever I could, just so she would know I was okay and to keep that connection with her.In the middle of the week, I asked my doctor if I could use my cell phone because I was having trouble reaching my daughter and wanted to try texting. I was allowed to have my cell phone 20 minutes a day. When I first got it, there was a message from him.He had allegedly called all the hospitals looking for me and was told no information (of course because of privacy and I had removed him from my emergency contact list).Because he couldn’t find me, he called me a liar, said I wasn’t in the hospital, but was shacked up with a “fuck-buddy” having fun while neglecting my daughter. My case manager actually saw the message and had the most sorrowful look on her face.I just shook my head and said, “This is normal for him.”
I was able to text my daughter. She said she didn’t know what was wrong with her phone. He managed her phone account, so he had to fix it. I made the decision to call him – from the designated hospital phones – to tell him he needed to fix her phone so I could call her. Well, come to find out that he had let her prepaid time lapse on purpose in hopes of me calling him, which I did. Since I called from a hospital phone, he tried calling the number back, which was unsuccessful because they’re rigged to not accept incoming calls. He researched the number and was able to figure out that I was in the behavioral health hospital. Although he has no real proof, it’s been another thing he has tried to use against me.
For me, things are better now. I have a good job, have moved into a more comfortable, peaceful apartment, and my daughter is with me almost full time. There’s no court order yet, so although he’s abusive and has an explosive temper, he has a legal right to equal time with her. Still, she now prefers to stay with me most of the time, stating that she can tell me things knowing that I won’t judge her (unlike other members of her family).
As you might imagine, everything that has happened since 2007 – the year we got married – had exacerbated my PTSD symptoms, with multiple psychological triggers, horrible flashbacks, and panic attacks so severe that I almost lose consciousness. With the years of spousal abuse, adding to multiple traumas I have experienced since childhood, I have “leveled up” to CPTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
But no matter what…I stick with my therapy, my doctor’s appointments, and take my medications on time. Although he still takes the opportunity to abuse me, I have not self-injured since that time in December 2019, and I completely stopped drinking alcohol in May 2020.Now to get the binge eating under control.
I know this was a lengthy read. Thank you if you got through it. There’s a method to my “madness.” Just like the people I met in the hospital, if you saw me on the street, you would have no idea about my mental health disorders unless I told you.I do not act like the stereotypical “unstable, crazy person.” On the contrary, I have a medical condition, a chemical imbalance that requires medication. In my opinion, this is not much different from a diabetic who has a chemical imbalance and has to take medication.But diabetics tend to be looked upon with sympathy. People with mental illness tend to be looked upon as suspect, as people to be feared. The overwhelming majoring of people with mental illnesses are not violent. And mental illness is more common than you may think.We need to end the double standard, end the stigma, and treat mental illness for what it is – a medical condition. And with proper treatment, we are productive members of society with invisible disabilities that you may never realize unless we’re open about it.For me, I have been regularly and gainfully employed for the most part of 27 years, and in my marriage, I was the “breadwinner.” I am a successful instructional designer with over 20 years’ experience in learning and development. How unstable can I be?
Some last thoughts – suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for adults in the U.S. If you need help, please get help – your life is worth it. And if you get a diagnosis, it’s not the end of the world. You just have to make a decision – are you going to manage your mental illness or are you going to let your mental illness manage you?
Paraphrased from something I saw on Facebook: With the numerous traumas I have experienced in my life, I’m not a survivor…I’m a warrior.
Paraphrased from the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer: To heal, you have to go on living.
Direct quote from the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “The hardest thing in the world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.”