therapy journey

My journey to better mental & spiritual health

Tag: happy

Humbled by wonder, joy and truth.

“All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.” ― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.

The search for truth, which I now realise is what the Therapy Journey always was, is strewn with many obstacles, time drains, wrong turns and false gods. My research was leading me down a route I thought was filled with harmony, joy, peace and spiritual truth. I was quite taken with New Age philosophies and practices. I am going to detail the sorts of things I thought were Very Good Things. Some are from the “therapy” part of my journey and some are related to my supposed “awakening”.

-kundalini yoga, Emotional Freedom Techniques, the Zeitgeist Movement, David Icke, chakra opening, chi, Buddhism, ‘Conversations With God’, (some forms of ) meditation, Eckhart Tolle, ‘The Secret’ & the law of attraction, The Age of Aquarius, craniosacral therapy…. Anything connected with New Ageism, ‘alternative’ spirituality.

I’m sure most people will be aware of at least a handful of these aspects of modern spirituality. So what is it that underscores all New Age systems? They are mostly Eastern-influenced, and have a variety of teachings concerning salvation but almost always make man central to the process, for man is the divine co-creator of his reality. It is a theology of feelgoodism, universal tolerance and moral relativism.

Pretty harmless, right? Just tools to help busy, modern people achieve a modicum of calm and inner peace. That’s what I used to believe. But now I have become aware of the truth, that all the above philosophies and more that are connected to New Ageism are nothing but revamped Satanism. Satanism made palatable to the masses!

So what makes these systems Satanic ones?  Look carefully at even the simplified synopsis two paragraphs above, and you will see the belief that the individual can be their own God. Man can look to himself for salvation….

Before I continue with what comes next, I must explain what I reckon my awakening was really about. But first, what it is not. A year ago, I thought it was a spiritual one. Then months later I thought it was a truther / conspiracy theory awakening. I was rather taken with New Agers that reject religion and believe there is a grand manipulation at play which entails sinister power in the hands of the few who control the many. Advocates include David Icke and Peter Joseph. I came to understand at a basic level, the manipulation that is inherent in the structures and strictures of our world today.

Only very recently have I come to realise that the process of my awakening is the path to my becoming a Christian. The truth I have found to be the one and only truth, is directly at odds with the majority of what I have written on this blog in the past. It is incompatible with the New Age philosophies that now dominate mainstream culture, many of which I tried on for size myself. It is at odds with some of my previous writings about belief in God being tantamount to mental illness – a literal mind virus. It was of course, necessary to go through various stages of discovery, because this is part of the journey. Sometimes, you have to go a ways down a road to realise you’ve gone the wrong way, and must turn back.

This has all been part of God’s plan for me and there is no way as a mortal that I can see the smallest fraction of what He can. It is like viewing one pixel for one second and trying to fathom the whole movie. What I can say about the journey to get here, to the very beginning of my eternal walk with Christ, is that I am grateful and humbled to be saved. My turning away from sin and into the light of the truth didn’t happen overnight. There were no visions, no signs, no bright lights or spiritual events. It was a gradual realisation where the truth just dawns on me little by little.

I had tried this religion on for size many times over the past 15 years, since I was a teenager. But in the past there was always a block to actual faith. No matter how much of an academic understanding I had, the faith was missing. I simply couldn’t believe it. Yes, I wanted to follow Christ. Yes, I wanted to believe God came to earth as a man, who then lived the perfect life and shed his blood for our salvation. Yes, I was fascinated by the Bible and wanted to read more. Yes, I wanted to join Christians in worship, not merely as a critical bystander only in it for the architecture and singing. But always there was the nagging thought in my mind, “it’s beautiful, but it’s not real”.

I’ve been aware of belief growing since August 2015, around 7 months ago. I’m truly grateful. I have a constant little thrill in my heart because I have so much in my life to be truly happy and thankful for. That is humbling, that is wondrous.

humble-art-painting

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The active mind.

“How wild it was, to let it be.” ― Cheryl Strayed, Wild

At last night’s meditation class, I had a startling realisation. I can’t meditate! It was freeing. Things we had learned were reiterated: meditation is the ability to look inside yourself. Breath is connected to thought. Sound is to do with emotion. You become the observer of your thoughts, like an audience watching a play, without making the drama a reality. Meditation is said to give energy, and for this reason it is wise to meditate in the morning.

We were instructed to focus on the sound of the heartbeat without consciously trying to stop, slow, or control thoughts. Apparently, by carrying on like this, eventually during the meditation and perhaps after some practice, it is possible to transcend them. It seems like an impossible game. It seems exactly like ‘the game’ – that you lose by remembering the fact that you’re playing the game. During this session’s 45 minute meditation, I believe I truly meditated for no more than 15 seconds. I started feeling a little sleepy towards the end but that was drifting off, not meditating.

For all the talking and writing I do about hardcore meditating, even running a group in which guided meditation is an important part of it, I have never really been able to do it. I enjoy trying and I like the idea of it, but it’s beyond my spiritual capabilities at the moment. I sit there and think, think, think, about every subject under the sun from pop trivia to people I know to mundane matters. I cannot sit still. This is the hardest part for me. I know it’s going to be 45 minutes and I feel every second of it and it practically aches. I don’t have the discipline when it comes to sitting still, doing nothing, thinking nothing. It is literally beyond me.

I know meditation isn’t easy, in fact it’s incredibly difficult. But I have tried it so many times with many different leaders and approaches. Nothing sticks. I’m fine with that, it’s not my time, it’s not in my scope of possibility yet. I’m stubborn so I probably will continue with it, only now I have no expectations.

I think my path is going to be one that’s more jubilant, joyful and active. I’ve heard of ecstatic dance in a few cities and it’s something I’d like to try, maybe in California. I would rather connect outwards than inwards, and use and feel my body and be joyful rather than focussing on the impossible. I’ve started going to acting improvisation classes, which is wonderfully terrifying. It’s early days but I enjoyed the first session and felt like I was alive and not wrapped in the suffocating comfort of home.

There were many exercises including forum theatre, where the two actors improvising a scene change their situation on the audience’s command. There was an activity in the round which a new participant would join a scene and when they do, they change it, and then when the whole group was involved, the same process each time an actor left. There was an activity in which one person reads lines from a script without deviating from that, and the other adlibs. That particular one was such a hoot and I laughed uncontrollably – not great when it was my scene but a real chance to give in to the moment while watching the other performers. There is a chance that down the line we may be able to put on a show at the theatre space where we meet.

So my mind is like that drunken monkey being bitten by a scorpion. It’s hard to shut it down through meditation but I’m not truly ready, willing or able to do that yet. And that’s just fine. It will come as I break free, as I grow up, and I pull in influences, and I experience more life, and when the time’s right. For the minute I’d rather direct it into pursuits that help connect me with others, have fun and fulfil my goal of overcoming fear.

And then I realised I was the earthchild.

The title of this post comes from a creativity meditation I attended a couple of nights ago. I felt it strongly and powerfully and it made my aching soul sing just a little bit. I’ve been feeling strangely misaligned recently – that really is the best word for it. My intentions are out of kilter with my reality, my perception isn’t in accord with true nature, and I’m failing to see abundance and joy some of the time. I’m experiencing anger rising sometimes. I’m rubbing up against people’s bad sides. And I’m experiencing that most ungodly of all emotions: fear.

However this is just one small part of who I am today. Yes there’s fear, neuroticism, panic, worry, anger, paranoia and doubt. But there are also measures of true authenticity, joy, laughter, the ability to see absurdity, as well as magnetism, happiness and the pure sublime. Above all the feeling is freedom, which propels me forward in a world without limits.

My wishes for this most sacred of times, the winter solstice of the year 2014, are to trust myself, to live with authenticity and to see the abundance that is all around. I also wish to be kind to myself, although I find this concept the hardest to understand let alone put into practice. I wish to acknowledge some of my struggles of the past as I work hard to put them behind me. There is literally no time for the past.

A friend sent me the link today to an article which puts everything I wanted to say better than I ever could on this auspicious day. We learn that by facing up to our deepest, darkest emotions we can move forward.  I believe that no-one is broken and ‘healing’ is a redundant concept but I agree with the sentiment that self-forgiveness leads to the release of toxic and self-sabotaging patterns. However challenging this may prove to be, writing about it here is one of the steps to making it reality.

As part of the ‘releasing the darkness’ stage, we are urged to write an intention, and then burn the paper on which it is written, followed by smudging sage. I am not doing this myself because I can’t get my head around rituals yet, coming as I do from a tradition full of them, and finding pain and inauthenticity there. Rituals still freak me out. Nevertheless the words Syma Kharal uses are beautiful and I wanted to share them here:

“Dear Higher Self/God/Spirit/Universe: No matter what has happened in the past, I am now willing to release everything about it that brought me fear and pain. I surrender to you all that no longer serves me for healing, cleansing and purification. Help me to forgive and be forgiven by all involved. Align my vision that I may see everything from your enlightened perspective and move forward with wisdom, grace, strength and love. So be it.”

Speaking of rituals, it is my fond hope that in the future I overcome my fear of ritual and prayer, and participate in spiritual rituals in order to experience what’s called “liminality”, derived from the Latin limen meaning boundary or threshold. These boundaries might separate the sacred from the profane. A ritual is a dynamic and engaged creative prayer that allows us to set aside the time to recognise, honour and celebrate seminal aspects of life. I’m currently reading about this in ‘The Red Book’ by Sera Beak. The book is all about igniting one’s divine spark and is intended as a no-nonsense guide for young women.

It’s a very inspirational book that I wish I could have read fifteen years ago. But – no regretting the past in any way, shape or form, as the present time is all we have. That’s why the present is a gift. Beak writes that when we open ourselves up to the divine,

“[…] life becomes much  more flavorful. Profound meaning illuminates even the most mundane of events. My relationships deepen. My voice becomes clearer. My work excels. My personal issues become less draining and dramatic. I am less affected I require less outside approval. My self-confidence beams. I laugh more. I judge less. My sexuality roars. Random acts of kindness become a necessity, not just a whim. […] My perspectives are amplified. I see the world around me at much more than face value, and as a result, I make clearer choices across the board […] I realize I’m not just some well-dressed biped trudging through life but actually an incredibly powerful and integral piece of the divine pie.”

She’s a spunky chick and I aim to go deep with my learnings into my divine spark and how to enhance it and be true to myself. Remembering always that authentic divine truth never separates people from each other, countries from each other, religions from each other. I’m receiving the tiniest spark of divinity but it’s possible to smother it with too much kindling, or to let the fire go out without the right nurturing. I want to see this through. Intention is everything. There will be times when I am rude to people. There will be times I am frustrated and utterly disappointed. I will continue to be angry some of the time, because this is a divine part of me, but these will be fewer and further between, I hope, as intentions and reality align. I am the earthchild, I am divine, I am myself, I am everything and nothing.

“It’s all about paradox, mystery, meditation, sexuality, long walks, and momentous haircuts.” – Sera Beak, ‘The Red Book’.

abundance

Self-transformation leads to global transformation.

I truly believe in the providence that is all around me. It gets a bit cloying me banging on and on about the universe this and abundance that, but it’s the most important thing I’ve learned on my journey so far. There is enough air to breathe and land to plant crops. There is only an imbalance where humans intervene and upset the natural order of things, and made-up nonsense like money, politics and greed are invoked. There is also enough happiness in our souls, enough potential that exists in our minds like seeds in a tomato. With this potential we can achieve anything – yes, anything!

In crisp soundbite form: Self-transformation leads to global transformation. Think about all the amazingness and truth that that statement contains. Our biggest mistake is thinking that we don’t matter. When we believe our voice doesn’t count or our happiness is not paramount or we somehow don’t matter or don’t deserve the good things in life, the universe is so sad, it cries. Its tears permeate every solar system, every galaxy. The only reason you are here is to embrace the benevolent energy of the universe, to share in her innate and singular state of happiness.

We each deserve the best for ourselves, whatever that happens to be and it is different for each of us. We are here to learn and grow through change, challenge, belief, observation and simple enjoyment of every moment. We create our own reality as the universe lovingly feeds and nurtures us. Feeling good about ourselves helps other people. I know with absolute certainty that the more I give, the more I receive. I know that by focussing on what I would like to be, do or have I bring it into existence. My thoughts radiate out to every part of the universe and that influence never diminishes for all of time.

A lot of incredibly fortuitous things have been happening lately and I am convinced it’s because of the place I am in. I have spent my time so far in Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley: together quite a large area hosting almost a million inhabitants. And yet I keep running into people I’ve met before, and that help me somehow and vice versa. On the day I twigged on that I really should look for somewhere to live when my current accommodation ends on Monday, I ran into a guy I had met at the hostel in the City and the first thing he told me was about a shared house which is cheap and creative. The next day I ran into him again at San Francisco Public Library. A couple of days before that I ran into an artist that I knew from the painting class she runs. It turns out that someone I met at a spiritual event just happens to rent studio space with the artist from the class.

Most fortuitously of all, while I was planting beautiful redwoods at a primary school in Oakland on Saturday, I got distracted by a couple of cute dogs on the other side of the fence. I got chatting to their owner and in fact one of the dogs was found two days beforehand and he was looking after her. I said I’d be happy to look after her while she goes to work. And it just so happens that he and his housemate have a spare room and I’ll be moving in there and dogsitting in the daytime. What a great connection – thank you universe!

The people here are giving me so much and I like to think I am contributing positively to society too. I was privileged enough to have the second show of my prints last week, at not one but two galleries, which was a wonderful experience. It’s all thanks to the amazing people that I’ve met here and the friend that lets me tag along and exhibit at her shows. I’ve never been so creatively engaged, except for when I was a mad teenager. I am making all the time, reading, researching, pulling strands of thought together and doing positive things that benefit the community.

I’m lucky that my finances rarely cross my mind but that’s because I live humbly and within my means. I’m making an effort not to buy more stuff especially not after having shipped a load back home. I’ve also adopted a vegetarian diet for the moment and feel much better for it both physically, from an animal welfare perspective, and knowing that fewer of our precious resources have been wasted (70 percent of the grain and cereals grown in the US are fed to farmed animals); land hasn’t been wrecked (grazing uses a staggering 30 percent of the Earth’s land mass) and my meal hasn’t contributed to the 80 million metric tons of methane produced annually by the world’s livestock.

Every day I wake up thinking “I have never been happier”. That is pretty awesome. You should try it.

I cant find the map

Monoculture.

Tuesday 4th November 2014

The monoculture tells the story of the time we are living in. Certain patterns of life emerge, rise to the top and dominate culture until they shape every aspect of our lives and we are unable to see an alternative. The monoculture informs our ideas about how the world works, what we can expect from our lives and from other people. In the seventeenth century, the prevalent monoculture was of science, machines and mathematics. Before this, it was a religious age, ruled by the Church, superstition, angels and demons. Our story today is an economic one. It infects every aspect of our lives from work to relationships with the natural world, community, health, education and creativity.

This is research carried out by F.S. Michaels, author of Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything, a penny-dropping, jaw-dropping read that seems to connect the dots which create a picture of all-pervading economic beliefs that shape our beliefs, values and assumptions at every level of our society. We are so entrenched in our monoculture that we forget our other stories and fail to see our culture in its totality never mind question it. The associated beliefs of our time include rationality, the ability to analyse, and efficiency. The best choice is always the most efficient option that is self-interested and the least extravagant, least scenic, fastest and pleases us most. Entrepreneurs, a phrase coined by French economist Jean-Baptiste Say, shift resources from one place to another to create higher productivity and greater yield, increasing profits and adding value.

Being part of the economic monoculture means our appetites are never satisfied. We’re driven by the desire for satisfaction, but because our individual wants are unlimited, resources are scarce. The gods that rule over our world are the markets. The forces of supply and demand set prices and wages. Peak efficiency is reached when both markets and the competition that occurs within them are as widespread as possible throughout the world. Anything can be bought and sold, and unless it can be shown to be ‘uneconomic’, its right to exist, grow and prosper is not called into doubt.

Competition on a personal level is of course a vital component of the story on a personal level. You compete with others for jobs and with other buyers for sellers’ goods, and other sellers for buyers’ dollars. Relationships with others in markets are impersonal and transactional. The quality of the information we possess gives us an advantage with which we can make the most efficient choice. Economic growth, measured by GDP, is an unequivocally good thing and translates to better standard of living, even if citizens are unhappy, feel unsafe, or live in areas rife with crime. Choice continues to grow, giving us the illusion of freedom and prosperity. One story changes everything.

For me personally all of this seems incredibly sad, but true. I struggle with buying new things as am often plagued with guilt by having made purchases, the momentary satisfaction so fleeting. I have fallen into the pitfalls just like anyone else – striving to define myself by what I own, giving into desires to buy a big-ticket item or unfeasibly cheap fashion piece that will make my life complete, and competing with others over promotions at work.

Now, the way we work has changed. Gone are the days of loyalty, commitment and reciprocity between workers and their employers. In the increasingly global marketplace, companies want a flexible workforce consisting of employees who are themselves expendable, like the products they peddle. Job security is no longer to be relied upon, and less training and investment is made than previous generations. The companies play a clever game by institutionalising values and investments in environmental, social and arts projects which bring higher stock valuations, a more motivated workforce and a boost in corporate reputation.

Markets encroach on our home time as well. In a society where women go out to work, domestic work is outsourced. Researcher Arlie Russell Hochschild wrote, “Efficiency has become both a means to an end – more home time – and a way of life, an end in itself”. Efficiency and flexibility are key. Family life in its traditional sense runs counter to this, making people less available to service the needs of the markets. The markets in our monoculture want us to remain individuals without close long-term relationships: thus ready to relocate, work harder and longer and less likely to defect due to personal commitments.

As well as community, work, education, creativity, public life and health (there is an enlightening chapter on the changing obligations of medical professionals, not just here in America but all over the world) being treated as markets, even our spiritual needs are being met in the marketplace. A church is an efficient and eager firm that exists to create, maintain and supply religion It operates according to the laws of supply and demand, with no particular code of morals, except what consumer preference demands. We are customers with requirements that might be strictness or permissiveness, exclusive or inclusive, geared towards older people or children. America’s most successful churches model themselves on businesses, with MBA-staffed management teams, strategy teams, consulting services and thousands of customers.

Isn’t all of this deeply cynical? That’s one way of looking at it, but the evidence speaks for itself. I, like many others, feel there is something wrong with our society. Something is rotten. I can’t put my finger on it exactly but it encompasses overconsumption; fakeness of people and things; single-minded preoccupation with accumulation of wealth; over-competitiveness; disengagement from others; and the expectation to be able to define exactly where we are in our lives, who we are and what we ‘do’. We live in a throwaway society, each of us ruled by markets and self-interest, that much is sure.

“[The] independent life begins with discovering what it means to live alongside the monoculture, given your particular circumstances, in your particular life and time, which will not be duplicated for anyone else. Out of your own struggle to live an independent life, a parallel structure may eventually be birthed. […] The goal is to live many stories, within a wider spectrum of human values. This is what it looks like to live free from the economic monoculture’s manipulation, to live the breadth and depth of all our stories, to live with dignity.” – F. S Michaels, ‘Monoculture’.

our way

How to be a social dynamo. And then some.

Thursday 30th October 2014

As part of my ongoing journey which has encompassed research on academic subjects, therapy for mental healing, and ideas for spiritual wellness, my personal development quest has taken me to the realm of social intelligence, and how I can improve mine. My interest was piqued when I heard about a group called Jaunty here in San Francisco that promises social mastery through use and understanding of social science, psychology, the science of attraction, neuroscience and human behaviour. The organisation calls itself ‘Higher education for social intelligence and people skills’ and is run by Eric Waisman.

It’s a really simple premise and one that is definitely in demand in this city – the class participants numbered over 20 and places were filled up well in advance. A lot of these people were at the top of their games in various fields, and wanted that edge that sets them apart. Social anxiety is an increasing problem for many individuals, and is it any surprise with the varied forms of communication in which we all partake, and the resultant disconnect from actual human beings?

It all starts with our old, reptilian brain which is responsible for our basic survival needs – feeding, fighting, flight and f**king. From that we evolved into our mammalian, ‘middle’ brain where love and bonding come from, with a decreased number of young and a long gestation period. Lastly is the newest part of our brain, the uniquely human logical brain which we use to analyse.

To enhance our social intelligence, we need to understand how all of these parts of the brain fit together, and sometimes overcome the more primitive parts which threaten to overwhelm us. For example a car crash seems to happen in slow motion because one’s senses open up, everything is on high alert, meaning you take in visual and auditory information that you wouldn’t normally. This was how it was for me when I was involved in a minor car crash twelve years ago, I remember each and every moment of it like it was yesterday: the other car not stopping, the sunroof shattering, the airbags inflating, the sound of the crash.

With practice we can avoid falling into the traps of the reptilian brain, which evolved to deal with threats to survival in a hostile world. Social intelligence is the ability to connect with and get others to get along with you. Let’s say we meet someone new. At the bottom of the attraction pyramid, the foundation on which everything else rests, is our status and our health. So we look at a person’s relative position in the social group, confidence, skillset and belief system, as well as external status such as wealth, possessions and power. This relates to the reptilian brain. Next up is the emotional connection which encompasses their intelligence, uniqueness and the uncertainty of what could happen, which we thrive on as humans. Right on top is the logical part in which we can apply our own rational analysis of this person. (Just as a tangent, confidence is defined as ‘getting as close as you can to mastering a skill’.)

Interestingly in the online dating game which I have had some experience of, this pyramid of attraction is inverted, as the first thing we use to make a judgment is our logical brain, then we make an emotional connection and finally when we get to meet them we can judge their status, health and hygiene! This theory of social dynamics is to my mind just one of the many reasons why online dating doesn’t work, except if you get two people of matching desperation.

We were taught seven skills which will hopefully help us to be social dynamos. They only work if they are practised regularly as by exercising the skills, you break the neural connections that the old reptilian brain has forged unhelpfully in response to non-existent threats – which results in social anxiety.

1. Body language
Anxiety is betrayed by the way you hold your body. Defensive stances cover and protect our vital organs. Open body language helps other people feel relaxed as well. Humans are contagious!
2. Conversational agility
Always have good stuff to say. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward! People respond to whatever you present them with. Make a situation seem like the most normal thing in the world! People will be like ‘Oh this is how we’re doing it, cool’.
3. Assertiveness
The ability to express your views, opinions, beliefs and feelings while respecting the other person. There’s aggressive, passive and assertive. If you truly have good, respectful intentions you are simply not responsible for the feelings of others. So just be assertive!
4. A sense of humour
5. Magnetism & charisma
The art of storytelling. The use of touch to create bonds. Sexual presence.
6. The approach & introduction
First impressions matter.
7. Mental pattern shifting
Positive reinforcement. The attitude ‘what’s stopping me?’

One thing I was surprised to learn about is the strength in vulnerability. We say snooty people stick their noses in the air but what they are really doing is exposing the most vulnerable part of their body – their throat. Moving slowly and deliberately helps to create an air of dignity and grace. I’m known by my friends for my jerky and unpredictable movements, which says it all really!

The exercises were awesome and this is where it really took off. Standing in a big circle, we locked eyes with someone across from us for a few seconds, then caught someone else’s eye. There was a lot of tittering. Then we paired off and were asked to look our partner in the eye for five whole minutes. A lot of people expressed difficulty at first, and the awkwardness seemed to come in waves before settling down. We were told to put aggression into our stares, then gratitude. We all really felt it, and my partner reported feeling a twinge when I first turned up the aggression. Regrouping in a circle, we repeated the staring-across-the-group exercise. This time, guess what, it was so much easier and everyone was happy because we’d spent five minutes overcorrecting, and thus crossed the boundary that made it awkward.

The next exercise was in verbal dexterity. It was a game of ‘threading’, or using our partner’s last conversational titbit as a springboard into one of our own stories, opinions or trivia on a totally different subject. We would latch onto one word they had said then turn it around on us, using the phrase ‘speaking of…’.Very simple and we all learned a lot even though some people said it felt a little weird to commandeer the conversation rather than overcoming nerves by asking questions about their partner’s conversational subject matter.

The final exercise was a ‘cold-reading’ and quite revealing. This is something you can do to bolster a person’s ego because you get to complement them! We followed a script which began ‘so what do you enjoy doing?’ they answer the question, and then it’s ‘so what is it about that activity that you like?’ And when they’re answered, your response is ‘It sounds like you’re a really [insert incredibly perceptive adjective here] sort of person.’ Repeat to fade. I got a comment back from someone that I was ‘introspective’, which kind of riled me a little because while pretty close to the bone, wasn’t that complementary. I said she was visionary.

I’m not sure if I’ll remember to put all of this into practice in my day to day living but I will try. The energy and the vitality of the group’s leader, touched us all and inspired us. There was something about the zany start-up culture that was evident in the company’s cool offices, way over-subscribed session and Eric’s infectious humour that I aspired to.

start with yourself

Inflammation, mutation, sex in the religious biosphere. A token mother rant.

Tuesday 28th October 2014

I’m going to continue my musings on how believe I religion is a virus after reading Darrel W. Ray’s excellent book. I had talked about the parallels between religion and a biological virus, both of them infect people, propagate the virus, create antibodies to make itself stronger, spread to viable targets using certain covert methods and ultimately take over the host to the point where they are no longer a useful, intelligent member of their wider society, and unknown even to themselves. So, the God virus infects the individual and inoculates that person against other viruses.

On a pathogenic level a strain of virus mutates over several generations. Mutations can either be eliminated by the original virus or as in biology they survive even the strongest defences and the mutated strains infect totally new populations such as Martin Luther’s god virus of the sixteenth century which swept through uneducated populations of northern Germany faster than the original Catholic virus had done a thousand years previously. Buddhism similarly swept through India from 480BCE – 180BCE which was a mutation of Hinduism; Islam in the Middle East from 600CE – 800CE.

Sometimes it pays to exist in a crowded religious biota or in the highly pluralistic Western world, as an ecosystem develops in which viruses actually depend on one another to strengthen each other, as well as giving the illusion of choice to the infected, but only where there is little threat to each competing pathogen. In Islam for example the polytheistic viruses that live side by side are weak in comparison. Judaism is not parasitic and Christian sects are fragmented. Islam is in fact the only virus to combine religious and political controls – it is institutionally incapable of separating the two.

Fundamentalism is an inflammation of the virus. Just like in human immune systems, inflammation is a tool for fighting infection but should only occur for a short time, until the threat has subsided. Otherwise, uncontrolled fundamentalism can feed on society itself, upending it, left unchecked. But unfortunately inflammation can continue even after the immediate threat has passed as in the case of hay fever and rheumatoid arthritis. Fundamentalism, and with it terrorism, serves the parent religion well for the short term but causes collateral damage to institutions and the very fabric of society after it has served its purpose and the usefulness of the inflammation has passed.

So what is the antidote to the virus?  Like a hangover there is no cure, only prevention. Time can also have a healing effect, but unlike a hangover, to many infected the effect of time only makes the virus stronger. A preventative measure as far as one exists is a solid education in the sciences.

“Rational parents want to raise well-educated and well-balanced children with full logical and critical faculties. But once infected, no parent is rational. As a result, parents are unable to teach their children critical thinking skills with respect to religion, especially their particular religion.” – Darrel W. Ray, ‘The God Virus’.

Infected parents use guilt and fear, more related to the emotion of shame which feeds off anxiety. They ensure that every available resource is utilised to infect the child. Thoughts are sure to evoke primal fear of letting god down and failing in the eyes of others. Anxieties in sex-negative religions such as the one I grew up with centre around sexual shame and guilt. This prevents rational discussion about sex and relationships.

I have always been privy to adult matters, even as a child. When I was undergoing therapy recently in the village where I was raised, my mother grew suspicious of me. I came home once and told her that I had been out at an appointment, and she demanded to know where. I told her only the name of the road, and later heard from my father that my mother believed I was sneakily visiting a childhood friend of mine (who in fact lives 130 miles away, incidentally) – and by simple virtue of his being a boy, of course mum had cooked up in her head a scenario in which he was living in her village, corrupting her angelic daughter.

I thought this was so disgusting and pathetic of her, on a few levels. It demonstrates total lack of trust, it represents invasion of privacy, it betrays her paranoia, and I think more than any of that it’s really f***ed up. She has raised me to be pretty much asexual – I’m not supposed to have a sexual side to my being until I get married. Yet when I exercise the teensiest bit of freedom while under her roof, the conclusion she jumps to is that I must be with a boy? And surely as she knows so much about my life over the twelve years I’ve been away, it must be that I’m seeing the one and only male that she knows I am close friends with?

Is there any wonder that having been raised by a woman who expects me (even now) to be a nun, I have always sought illicit thrills wherever I could? I actually avoided meaningful relationships until I was 23 years old, and I only then renounced sluttiness because a boy that loved me very much pursued me relentlessly for two years. Before him, I was so deliciously wrapped up in creeping around, getting drunk and laid wherever and whenever I could. It was a taboo in my household growing up, despite it being talked about a lot and having to keep my dad’s affairs secret – the idea that I might have boyfriends growing up was an unequivocal no-no. For my entire sexual youth I had no idea about respecting myself, being safe, and falling in love. For me, it was all about screwing. Love didn’t exist.

This is the f***ed up result of bad parenting from my mother. If there are any parents reading this who are infected by the god virus or just prefer to bury their heads in the sand as regards the subject of their young daughters having sex, don’t. Be real, be honest and wise up! It’s going to happen anyway, and if it doesn’t then you’ve raised a freak. Your daughter can either respect herself and not be embarrassed, or she can sneak around and get it from wrong ’uns who fuel her self-contempt because they don’t love her.

beautiful burnout

The God Virus.

Monday 27th October 2014

Once in a while you get a revelation that, like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle, makes everything to fall into place. You finally see the big picture that was staring you in the face all along. This is how I felt when I read a book that flipped my mind upside down a few days ago. The book was The God Virus by Darrel W. Ray. The truth is that religion affects our society in different ways that we might not realise. It is prevalent and it is a disease. But what makes it so powerful? What makes people blind to the irrationalities of their own religions yet clearly see the problems of others? I wrote about my mother’s painful hyperreligiosity and how it might be some OCD-type condition, but reading this book has got me thinking that the compulsion towards religious devotion works far more insidiously and on a biological, rather than purely mental, level. That makes certain people genetically susceptible, whereas I have never been able to follow a religion or believe in God even when I have very much wanted to in the past.

The book outlines the ways in which is a virus that infects the minds of its devotees in the same way as biological viruses do. Both religion and viruses have the following five abilities that are present in varying degrees:

  • To infect people
  • To create antibodies or defences against other viruses
  • To take over certain mental and physical function and hide themselves
  • To use specific methods for spreading the virus
  • To program the host to replicate the virus

The God virus infects the brain and alters critical faculties. Neurological science has shown that religious visions can be recreated with brain stimulation. William James, in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience wrote about this as long ago as 1902. Dr. Olaf Banks, neurologist at Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, explains that the true explanation as to why the supernatural is invoked, is a very natural one, the brain’s attempt to make sense of conflicting information.

To go into the five properties above in a little more detail, infection takes place usually early on in childhood. This is a symbiotic method of infection, a vertical strategy in which one is born into a system and the virus remains strong as it binds the community together. Certain religions such as the Druze, Yazadi and Amish communities even have a further stipulation which prohibits outsiders from joining the group. It pays in these viral communities to preserve the unit of propagation, namely the family. Islam for example limits female freedoms and has always sought to expand male power. Sex is mandated as a procreative activity with extramarital relationships banned.

The other type of infection is the parasitic kind. Cults are the number one form of the virus which go down this route. The Unification Church maintains that for example marriages must be approved, if not arranged, by the Church ostensibly to propagate its virus across cultural boundaries.

The second on the list, the antibodies of the virus offer religious immunity which protects the beliefs and that of the children once they have been affected. Antibodies take the form of the creed of the religion. Ideas such as heresy were developed to protect the faith. Individuals rarely switch allegiances once indoctrinated. Eighteenth century physician Edward Jenner demonstrated that infecting a person with the cow pox virus immunised them against the small pox virus.

The overpowering of faculties occurs as followers fall back on doctrines that they learned as children. It is so strong that it hides even from internal detection. The individual sees their belief systems as self-evident. It might be activated by stress and traumatic experiences, as it was in the case of my mother who lost her high-power management job around eight years ago due to her misconduct, abuse, victimisation and negligence. A lengthy court case ensued, which she lost and in the process many tens of thousands of pounds. It was around this time that she began to turn to religion in an unhealthy turbo-charged way, as if it was going to save her or something when everyone else had let her down – she had no friends, family or partner in whom she could confide, she couldn’t tell me (her only daughter) and her ex-husband had no sympathy.

A virus needs an effective vector – a organism that transmits a disease or parasite from one animal to another, such as a mosquito in the case of malaria. In the case of the God virus it is spread usually by religious leaders who are reengineered to become effective carriers. Vectors are expensive for the ecosystem to produce so they are protected and supported to an extreme degree, as in the case of recent paedophilic sex abuse cover-ups. In the symbiotic strain, where the virus goes down a family line, the vector (priest in Catholicism) effectively commits genetic suicide by remaining celibate in order that his church may propagate. Just as the rabies virus takes over the brain of the host animal and infects specific neurons which induces the host animal to act aggressively without regard for its own life. The animal dies but the virus propagates itself by infecting those that are bitten.

Indeed, groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses take the view that each and every baptised member has a divine mandate to spread the word to the best of their ability. Members are required to submit regular reports on their evangelical efforts, and failure to do so will result in disfellowshipping. A recent article from Priceonomics projects a simplified formula for viral growth to account for and predict its advancement in the U.S, albeit modest.

The fifth on the list of parallels is programming. The host’s children are not usually immune. They are plied with guilt-inducing ideas that create a sense of security in incur the wrath of God, condemnation from respected leaders, hellfire damnation etc. I remember all of these threats from my own childhood, when I was very little they seemed real. But it only took me until I was ten years old to figure out that there was no God and I was free to do as I please in this life.

I’m no longer a dyspeptic critic of religion, or of anything else for that matter. I find a lot of atheist discourse self-indulgent claptrap in fact. But with such a convincing argument, I have no choice but to agree with Ray’s elegant and compelling elaboration on Richard Dawkins’ meme concept. Religion is dangerous and doesn’t show any sign of abating as it isn’t seen as a threat to public health, merely a harmless lifestyle choice. The God virus is real, it hurts people and tears families to shreds, it kills people while they are still breathing.

What is truly mine to do in this moment?

 Sunday 26th October 2014

As part of my journey I am attending events and talks that have a spiritual bent, as well as continuing to indulge in a bit of lino printing at an amazing workshop I am privileged to feel a part of. It makes me very happy. I attended a ‘guided meditation’ run by Carsten Spencer called Awakened Living, ‘A truly unique spiritual experience. This is not your normal Sunday morning service. It is a morning filled with interactive processes, inspirational messages, connected community and spiritual exploration!’ The theme for October was ‘BEING in Community’ which seemed appropriate to my learnings at the minute.

Asking the right questions is something we need to open our eyes to, and with it we will find our time to bloom. A question that matters is ‘what is truly mine to do in this moment?’ Who we surround ourselves with in a spiritual sense doesn’t just mean our spiritual leaders, it is everybody in our lives, even those seemingly unenlightened, who strangely enough can teach us very much on this journey. Two favourite sayings Carsten cited were ‘Don’t just do something, sit there’ and ‘Relax, nothing’s under control’.

Coming back to the metaphor of blooming, which I really like, the group mentioned spirals, launching pads, trees and renewals quite a bit. It’s a simple idea but releasing the stuff we no longer need like a tree does, is the only way to allow the new to grow when the season is right. The significance of a spiral is that we often think we are trapped in a cycle or a rut, endlessly the same, whereas a spiral moves in a particular direction and thus is more synonymous with the journey of our lives. We truly grow when we shed the old deadwood. The tree also makes us think of the ancestral tree and that we embody each of our ancestors – they live within us.

There was more beautiful imagery when two of the group’s participants cried, both of them ‘happy tears’ and Carsten pointed out that tears are chemically the same as the ocean. Crying is an ultimate expression of now. I hadn’t thought about that before but I do agree, crying isn’t always bad, it’s just a release though it can bring awkwardness to others. The two women that cried were either side of me in the circle of ten, and I gave them both tissues. Before we left, Carsten put on a song, Van Morrison’s Into The Mystic. The song is about a spiritual quest and being part of the universe. It had personal meaning to the leader of the group who moved to San Francisco after emotional events in his personal life, and now the fog seems like home to him; the melding of the air and the ocean into that unknown place.

When we trust in the unknown of the fog, we make a commitment to human experience and thus we trust in ourselves. In this way we make the best use of the fact that we are expressions of the divine. The best message from the session was: just be present – break the attachment to the outcome. Someone in the group explained in her share how she was going for a job that she wasn’t really that interested in, i.e she wasn’t focussed on the outcome. She was honest in explaining to her potential new employers what she couldn’t do as well as where her skills lay, and she was successful and had a productive strategising meeting which was exactly what the boss was looking for. She was in the now, with all the honesty, trust and submission that that entails. I’d like to apply this learning to my life.

Desires of wanting take us away from ourselves. Wants are what we create to avoid confronting deeper feelings within. Our needs are simple – shelter, food, water, warmth, sleep, love – but we confuse needs with wants. Signals I think get confused in our materialistic world and it is hard to keep your head and rise above the messages of advertising, keeping up with the Joneses and the desire to have our own style and define ourselves by what we own. The group leader read a poetic prose piece he penned in Central Park, New York with lines like ‘Instinct and intuition like digestive juices dissolve the things I thought I knew’.

During my share I explained about my journey, my creativity and my last relationship ending and said that this was only the beginning. Carsten said I was probably further along on the journey than I realise. The choice consciously to reject spirituality that I made in the past (and have since gone back on) was itself of course a spiritual choice. I am glad I realised the errors of my ways and am getting my life back on a more authentic and fun track. On my way back, I walked slowly and unplugged myself from my loud music. I felt lighter and rejuvenated.

light

Community living & disposable cultures.

Saturday 18th October 2014

I am thinking about my role as a consumer while reading The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard – an essential read that should be on every school curriculum. It is an exposé on the West’s dire overconsumption from a sustainable and human rights point of view, critiquing many of the industrialised processes that we as consumers are not informed about, and lead to our waste being dumped on the doorstep of third world countries, toxic PVC ‘offgassing’ in our homes, and babies being born with over 250 toxins already in their blood. It’s the most disturbing read I’ve experienced in a long time, made all the more scary by the exponential march of what we are forced to term ‘progress’ with its inbuilt planned technology obsolescence, exploitative and cynical practices, human rights violations and moral vacuity.

Reading this book has got me angry – but this time in a good way. There are so many depths to the filthy system we are all trapped in and bound by to whatever extent. What is missing is the social self – the citizen of the local community. The idea of feeling a part of where I live has been on my mind a lot at the moment as I flit from one place to another. I don’t have a fixed abode as such as I am moving around California and have nowhere specific to return to in England. This is a fine situation that I have designed for myself as it allows total freedom but I accept that others may find it disconcerting or unconventional. They may not understand that this is exactly where I need to be at the current time.

I am enjoying slumming it in Oakland, a bosom of enterprise, creativity and the dispossessed. I have never seen so many homeless or hopeless people. Every wall I have seen in my fleabag hotel is pockmarked with dents and craters: scars from murders, scuffles and madness. You would not stay in a place like this unless you had no other choice. Which makes me wonder what the assorted vagrants that pass through are running away from or hurtling towards, that is so terrible that staying at this hotel is their best or only option? One cheerful long term resident gave me some advice to be careful after dark, as one block over is where “murders and injuries happen”. I took heed and wasn’t horrified. I am fascinated by this decrepit run down place, by far the most squalid I have ever visited – and this is coming from someone who has spent her entire adult life thus far in London ghettos in Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Lambeth.

Strangely though, perhaps as a result of being ‘homeless’ myself, I am engaging with this community and this city far more than my previous homes. I am, in true Annie Leonard style, reactivating my inner citizen and I am enjoying the feeling. This place is proud of what it is and there is no pretence there. In amongst the derelict department stores there are reclaimed wood-panelled boutiques and coffee shops that proudly display messages and sell wares declaring civic pride.

This isn’t my city but the idea of my own conscious societal displacement segues nicely with what I am learning about the importance of social relationships. There is evidence to suggest that people with strong social ties live longer and of course feel safer. A small example from Leonard’s book: the filmmaker Judith Helfand made a documentary about a massive heatwave in Chicago which killed six hundred people. She explains that most of the victims were socially isolated and didn’t have trusted neighbours so nobody to check up on them or their facilities at home.

On a planet where we are rapidly running out of resources (since 1986 every year we have been consuming more than the earth is able to regenerate in a year), think how many fewer resources we could consume if only we shared? From cars and vegetables to tools and homes, not only would the planet be saved from having to produce ever more stuff to sustain our insatiable desires, we would enjoy the satisfaction and pleasure that comes from interaction with other humans! Not only a good in itself but it would lead to numerous other benefits like being able to call on each other for favours, having the good company of others, and saving money and time in myriad ways. Participation gives us a warm glow but unfortunately it’s so easy to shun this on the basis that you can’t trust people these days, you haven’t got time (too busy working like donkeys so we can pay for all the meaningless crap we just can’t live without). Or maybe, just maybe, quality of life overall could be improved if we made time for each other and got over our own reserve.

From my vantage point as an elected outsider, I can consider how it might feel to be part of a community. I have never really engaged with my local area before and certainly not considered ways to make local people come together and help each other out. The way I had previously conducted my social affairs was to keep my head down, avoid looking at anyone and set my heart on the next place I’d live, where surely everything would be perfect and I’d have no trouble wanting to play a part socially. The truth is it’s going to be difficult putting myself out there, risking ridicule or worse, being ignored. I might not feel like it. I might be too busy or tired. I might have other problems. But I can try and remember that the community aspect of being human is important to individual and collective wellbeing in conjunction with other socially-aware initiatives.

more stuff

Living with borderlines: anger.

I first started writing this blog in January of this year. The very first thing I ever wrote was in regards to my anger problem:

“I am a very angry and aggressive person. I guess it would be true to say that over time, I have developed strategies for dealing with and managing this in front of other people. But often I find myself seething inside, with terrible bad feelings often mixed with neurosis and circular thought patterns.”

Back then, I didn’t know how bad things would get. I couldn’t have predicted my ever more violent rages, bouts of drunken grappling and harsh words spoken with the intention of wounding. Nor did I know how much hope I would eventually muster up from within, which would help me to face my demons. Being understood (albeit by a textbook) is a great relief.

I am thinking about anger in relation to borderlines – what makes their anger different, at whom it is aimed, how and whether it can be understood and what can be done to help them, at least as a damage-control measure. Of course, what I’m about to discuss will be a generalisation and for every rule there are a great many exceptions, but the following certainly rings true for me and was originally written about in greater detail by Kreisman & Straus in their book Sometimes I Act Crazy, about living with Borderline Personality Disorder, or surviving a loved one who has it.

What sometimes distinguishes borderline rage is its concealment and its unpredictability. Some borderlines supress anger, believing its expression will lead to what is most feared: abandonment by a significant other. It has also been said that depression is anger turned inward, and in fact BPD has a high rate of comorbidity with depression. However, interestingly there is a trend for anger to be less intense in those borderlines who are depressed, in contrast with other psychiatric patients, studies have shown, in whom high levels of depression are correlated with increased anger and violence. How can this be? Perhaps depression somehow diminishes the experience of anger, or maybe anger is a defence against depression. After all, both are associated with serotonin irregularities and are two sides of the same coin.

Aside from supressing rage, other individuals deflect their rage back on themselves and become self-destructive. For others still, anger is unplanned and startling. There appears to be no observable progression from minor incident to violent eruption. What is clear though is that borderlines feel angry much of the time, even when the anger is not expressed. Frustration and self-reproach can unleash rage which is often directed towards the borderline’s nearest and dearest. A study of male domestic violence perpetrators demonstrated that they had a greater likelihood of exhibiting borderline characteristics than control subjects.

Anger is one of the most enduring characteristics of BPD and intertwines with other criteria that define the condition such as mood instability, destructive and self-harming behaviours, unstable relationships, fear of abandonment and persistent sensations of emptiness. One study found that over a two-year period, intense anger remitted in only 7% of subjects in contrast with suicidal behaviour resolving in 54% of cases over the same timescale.

Anger for borderlines stems from frustration and as a preemptive measure to guard against perceived expectation of disappointment at a later date. This was how it was for me, if you can imagine a person who feels she is utterly empty, that everything is pointless and worthless, so get it over with already. In other cases the anger may be camouflaged by opposite behaviour such as attempting to please everyone, though ironically this fruitless quest only leads to more frustration as the need for reciprocal nurturing isn’t met.

According to the authors of Sometimes I Act Crazy, it is essential to understand that in some situations the borderline needs to be angry. This is quite a difficult subject to write about, much less to do, as it seems counterintuitive to encourage a person experiencing irrational anger to let it out. Rational argument, apparently, doesn’t work – logic goes out the window during a borderline’s debate. He may even switch sides halfway through. So what is the proper response to a temporarily insane person’s uncontrollable rages?

The advice given sounds very simple on paper but must, I fear, by almost impossible for anyone not noted for their Mother Theresa-esque appearance.

1. Understand
Anger usually is the outward expression of fear and pain. It is easier to be angry than scared. Anger can be a way of gaining control over an unmanageable situation. Anger might be used pre-emptively or in a variety of different ways.

2. Prepare
Borderline rage is like no other in its intensity, irrationality and apparent whimsy. But you can prepare for it, and learn to read the signs and the cycles, as you both begin to unpack the triggers of rage.

3. Communicate
Communicating with a furious borderline is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, empathy and self-control are needed. On the other, he must be made aware that his outbursts are unacceptable.

4. Don’t fight fire with fire.
Borderline rage feeds upon itself and off that of others.

5. Don’t tolerate anger.
If you show that rage is acceptable, this will only reinforce this idea in the mind of the borderline

6. Leave
If the borderline refuses to settle, take a brief respite until he calms down. Accept that change takes time.

It sounds a bit like training a dog, and it is just as absurd probably.

Right now I can honestly say that I have never been less angry in my entire life. I was an angry child that grew into an angry adult. I believe I have truly changed for myself as I continue learning how to appreciate what is around me, how not to feel everything is pointless and worthless and ugly. I am in love with nature, I love animals – even insects! I can control my moods far better now, in large part thanks to previous relationship issues being over. I know the beauty of the universe and the beauty that is me.

Living with borderlines: identity disturbance.

“If you can learn to accept disappointment yet maintain commitment, you are establishing an identity – because you are accepting yourself .” – Jerold Kreisman, ‘Sometimes I Act Crazy’.

Picking up from where I left off last time, I believe I may have Borderline Personality Disorder though I have not been in a position to seek a psychiatric evaluation yet. I know that just as you shouldn’t try to diagnose your own heart condition, it is not productive to set about finding out what’s wrong with your head. I however feel that I am acting bravely but cautiously, helping myself sort out a prickly issue without being convinced about anything. I could be wrong about it all – time will tell.

Reading the chapter on Identity Disturbance in the Kreisman & Straus book, Sometimes I Act Crazy, was one of the hardest because it sliced painfully close to the bone. ‘I don’t know who I am’ is something I’ve often felt in my heart. It’s even become a recurring theme in my artwork without my realising it. I put together an 80-page portfolio entitled ‘I don’t know what I want’. The diary that details my sexploits is called ‘I didn’t mean it’. And a beautiful Postsecret that I sent in back in 2006 read ‘I’m terrified of people getting too close… they may realise how empty I am’. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Just as borderlines’ perception of others whipsaws from glorification to vilification, their own self-image often oscillates between extremes. I have felt at times that I am the greatest artist who has ever lived, and at others, that I am thoroughly, laughably worthless, undeserving even of life.

The DSM-III definition of identity disturbance requires “uncertainty about at least two of the following: self-image, sexual orientation, long-term goals or career choice, type of friends desired, preferred values”. For me, I can honestly say that I currently struggle with all of these matters except sexual orientation. Knowing that I’m not the only one brings huge comfort and relief.

Like the case study in the book, I often feel I am borrowing a self from someone else. The subject in the example realises, due to the unwelcome attentions of others involved, that he unconsciously mimics his boss’s mannerisms, walk, even his accent. It is deeply embarrassing and hard for the borderline to identify, but when he does it only feeds nihilistic feelings of emptiness.

Theorists speculate that identity diffusion, or ‘splitting’ emerges from disruptions in consistent mothering. Healthy attachment to the mother figure from which individual identity develops is disturbed.  Deprived of acceptance from the most important figure in his life, the child perceives the world as unpredictable. The developing borderline, unable to connect past experiences to future occurrences, develops ambivalence and confusion. The security of feeling accepted by others is based solely on the present. To escape this anxiety-producing chaos, the child splits the world into ‘all good’ and ‘all bad’.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I can see this in myself and other close friends who have had difficult early relationships with their mothers. Everyone deals differently with the hand they are dealt, but this kind of early upset can, for some, sow the seeds of various identity disturbances.

This can take various forms. For one grouping, called role absorption, their very identity is defined in terms of a cause. Cult members reflect this pathology. Others experience painful incoherence which leads to a person feeling unreal or describing a false self. This is highly correlated with a history of childhood sexual abuse. Others who experience identity disturbance experience a lack of commitment and constantly change their educational interests, jobs and relationships. It is as if they are constantly seeking to define or discover themselves.

I would like to quote from Sometimes I Act Crazy, this passage on the subtype of inconsistency.

‘The individual transforms into a “chameleon”, whose opinions and values depend on who is in his company at a particular moment, much like the title character in Woody Allen’s Zelig [that I have mentioned before!]. He may assume inconsistent, even contradictory, positions. There may be a strong attraction to a controlling, charismatic figure who offers the hope of consistency.’ – Jerold J. Kreisman & Hal Straus

A few days ago I had a second session with H, my current therapist. I talked about my need to have faith in myself and that going to the US represents a massive step for me in trusting my intuition and asserting my own freedom for the first time in my life. After having been in a recent relationship with someone controlling and arrogant, who wanted to mould me into his idea of the perfect woman, my recovery takes the form of embracing who I am, and being sensitive to my desires. After all, I trust and respect myself and I deserve to satisfy my inner needs.

After hearing a little about the nature of my last relationship, and being involved with others in the past who sought to ‘rescue me’, H understood how damaging that was. It really meant a lot to me that she realised for herself what the upcoming trip represents to me.

We talked for a while about Borderline Personality Disorder and she mentioned that these disorders are very new. I wondered whether they are real – as surely everyone experiences such universal emotions and behaviours as anger, depression, impulsivity, changeability etc. H responded that it is the degree to which these behaviours disturb one’s life that makes one a sufferer or not. A very simple but crucial point.

I think the best advice I can give myself after reading this chapter is to talk to others, to step outside my comfort zone, and do things that bring me closer to who I really am. It is there, but it is covered in so much self-doubt, fear, neuroticism, laziness and confusion. I would like to join healthy groups which work toward a worthwhile goal. I would like to be part of a team. I would like to maintain perspective and consistency.  I would like to feel part of my community. As I open up to people – strangers, friends and therapists – I will feel accepted without needing to guard my words. When I realise gradually for myself that others value and cherish me, then this will go a long way towards cementing a firm idea of who I am to myself.

Living with borderlines: unstable relationships.

I have been thinking over the past few weeks about Borderline Personality Disorder – a condition that I might have. I blogged about it here and the more I have read around the subject, the more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall into place.

The book I am reading currently is ‘Sometimes I Act Crazy’ by Jerold K. Kreisman & Hal Straus and it offers a source of guidance for sufferers of BPD and the people that love them. It contains practical advice on how to manage mood swings, develop lasting relationships, keep negative thoughts and destructive impulses at bay, and treat the disorder clinically. For me this would have been invaluable when I was drowning in waves of feelings I didn’t understand. I would experience states that seemed so palpably real at the time, only to dissipate moments or days later.

An individual must exhibit five of these nine symptoms to receive the BPD diagnosis:

  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterised by alternating between extremes of idealisation and devaluation
  3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
  4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g. spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
  5. Recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behaviour
  6. Affective (mood) instability and marked reactivity to environmental situations (e.g. intense episodic depression, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and rarely more than a few days)
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness
  8. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g. frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
  9. Transient, stress-related paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms (feelings of unreality)

For me, the symptoms of the disease that threaten to undermine and overwhelm me the most are unstable interpersonal relationships, identity disturbance and anger. I want to focus on the first of these facets, but before I do, I just wish to voice what some people may already be thinking: doesn’t everyone go through these states? Isn’t every member of the human race affected by conflict with others, feelings of inadequacy and difficulty finding one’s own self, and feelings of rage? I would have to say that yes, BPD in that respect probably does touch everyone’s psyche in some deeply personal, unique way. It is one of the most common disorders that exist. I have had well-meaning friends saying to me things like this:  ‘there’s no definition of “perfectly fine healthy human being personality” nowhere in psychiatry, hon. Everyone has these personality disorders, more or less pronounced, often more than one at once even, it’s more like traits that form our characters, I think.’ Totally agree and just for the record I personally think I am brave in tackling something that I perceive as real, in the sense it frequently threatens to derail me.

I’m going to cut right to the chase and give Kreisman & Straus’ practical steps for dealing with intense relationships for those who love a borderline. Firstly don’t try to win the ‘no win’. Defer to the borderline. Demonstrate unflagging constancy no matter what. The borderline often feels worthless and expects to be abandoned. Trust is a precious commodity. Much more valuable than what is said is the reassurance that you are going to be there.

Secondly predict the unpredictable. Borderlines live in a confusing, impenetrable world. His reactions may not be foreseen by the borderline himself, but may be easily predicted by those that love him. Tame the chaos. The upshot is, predicting his behaviour and letting him know sensitively, may discourage him from acting in the way you predicted.

Next up, detach occasionally. I would say ‘more than occasionally’. The more time you spend together, the more you end up frustrated and resenting his ‘unwillingness’ to change or to see the errors of his ways. You cannot be everything to him all the time Reassure him of your unconditional commitment to him by reminding him of your need for space – and implicitly, his own need for space, which doesn’t equal a break-up.

Number four is examine your own actions and motivations. Many partners of borderlines adopt a ‘saviour complex’. By trying to become his hero you may only succeed in becoming his goat. Examine your own need to be a hero, which may reflect your needs more than his. You are with this person to love and help him, not to rescue him. Empathy is more helpful than blaming others, blaming the borderline himself, or denying those feelings.

At number five, challenge unrealistic characterisations only when they are negative. The borderline’s closest personal relationships follow cycles of idealisation and devaluation. While unrealistic idealisation oughtn’t be fostered, it needn’t be contradicted. When the inevitable devaluation occurs, proffer reminders that emphasise the difference between the borderline’s feelings and actuality.

The sixth, and in many ways the most difficult, is learn how to communicate effectively with the borderline. There are all kinds of templates and models which offer help as to go about sustainable and mutually beneficial communication, including the SET system which balances all interactions with statements endorsing personal Support and Empathetic acknowledgement of the borderline’s stress with Truthful confrontations of realistic issues.

Hyperreligiosity and mental illness.

“The beauty of religious mania is that it has the power to explain everything. Once God (or Satan) is accepted as the first cause of everything which happens in the mortal world, nothing is left to chance… logic can be happily tossed out the window.” – Stephen King, ‘The Stand’.

Before I launch into a tirade, I’m going to be honest about my vested interest in this subject. My mother is I believe a sufferer of an undiagnosed mental health condition characterised in part by extreme religious impulses and the need, as she sees it, to preach and discuss religious matters at length with all those around her, including those who actively resent it. Her religion dictates how she must do everything, from personal conduct to household chores to the order of her day. I have no doubt that she would die for her religion, as she honestly believes and has told me that nothing in this life is as important as one’s own continued destiny after death, and that the ‘trappings’ of this life such as family, wealth and happiness are but meaningless distractions from the ultimate goal achieved in the afterlife.

R. S. Pearson in his book ‘Hyperreligiosity: Identifying and Overcoming Patterns of Religious Dysfunction’ defines the condition as:

‘…when the outward forms and other aspects of religion become life disabling. […] Hyperreligiosity is the ill-fitting grasp of the role of religion and God in one’s life. It is the disability that can lead to isolation from others because one thinks God is vengeful and punishing. Others who do not practise religion the same way are believed to be contaminating to the hyperreligious person, and this belief fights the drive to what are considered historic descriptions of authentic spirituality. […] Hyperreligiosity does not produce anything of personal or social value and in fact is often dangerous and destructive.’

The name hyperreligiosity is an uneasy one and makes the condition sound like nothing more than overenthusiastic piety. As our understanding of neuroscience and cognitive function grows it seems possible that this condition is in fact part of something more harmful and complicated. An interesting question is whether hyperreligiosity among the mentally ill is itself an illness, or if it is a coping mechanism in response to an underlying pre-existent condition, much like the cases of those who find respite in addiction to harmful substances or damaging behaviours.

In a paper written by an undergraduate student at Tilburg University, a link is drawn between obsessive compulsive disorder and hyperreligiosity. OCD apparently affects under 2% of the world population at any given time (with 3.5% being affected in their lifetimes) – figures I find startlingly low. Carrying out the obsessive behaviour is of course a means for sufferers to allay or reduce anxiety. So hyperreligiosity, if it is valid to term ‘extreme, destructive, narrow minded excessive religiosity’ that, forms a subcategory of OCD. At the risk of drowning in a diagnostic quagmire, another term, ‘scrupulosity’ gets a mention in the DSM-IV-TR (2000) in relation to obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. It is indicated by an exaggerated sense of morality, ethics or norms.

‘What is striking about these symptoms is that the focus is not on central aspects of religion, like taking care of others, but on very specific, exaggerated tasks, emotions or perceptions,’ writes the author of The Neurobiological Basis of Hyper-Religiosity’, Daniëlle Bouman. Its domains are the Fear of Sin and the Fear of God. Additionally, hyperreligiosity and scrupulosity are both severe disabling disorders which may cause social and/or occupational dysfunctioning. Another aspect that scrupulosity and hyper-religiosity have in common is the abnormal focus on an aspect of one’s chosen religion, such as excessive ritualistic prayer. These are aspects that hit pretty close to home for me, and it saddened me somehow to read how textbook my mother’s case actually is.

There is undoubtedly a parallel between OCD and hyperreligiosity. Both indicate ritualistic behaviour, fear of what will happen if the itch is not scratched, comfort gained in the familiar, personal cycles of constant repetition. From my experience seeing a fairly normal person morph into one who is terrifyingly overzealous, I think there is an element of psychosis in her psyche, that expresses itself as hyper-religiosity. Psychosis is defined as ‘any of several mental illnesses that can cause delusions, hallucinations, serious defects in judgment and insight, defects in the thinking process, and the inability to objectively evaluate reality’. I am sure that somewhere within, the solution is to help my mother, but just like a person suffering from substance abuse, she must recognise she has a problem first. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will ever happen because to her religion is a life and death matter. For her, getting older means getting closer to meeting her maker. The only thing I can do is accept it, which is then part of my journey.

 

Edit Oct 2016: A more thorough list of the traits of those suffering with hyperreligiosity appears on a more recent blog post available here: 

https://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/toxic-faith-the-traits-of-hyperreligiosity/honest to god

Choosing to trust myself.

I am very excited and happy about so many things in my life at the moment. I feel truly blessed. Soon I will start a new adventure in California, which I am naturally looking forward to. The way I am with myself, I concentrate on where I am at the present moment – in the meantime I have plenty of matters, big and small, to attend to. The ‘work’ I am doing currently is more rewarding and more demanding than any paid job I have ever undertaken. I have high hopes and make copious demands of myself, but somehow I know it’s all worth it.

I met with a new counsellor, H, today who is trained in psychodynamic theory. After listening to my life in a nutshell, she said that I sounded unhappy. I was surprised to hear her say this because it seemed to me that I was very sorted. Gradually it dawned on me though that my ideas flit about and what seems like determination is sometimes stubbornness. I am constantly both making excuses for and blaming myself. I have trouble figuring out why I am going to carry through with one particular course of action; I know only that I must do it.

I will only have another two sessions with H in my home village, before setting off on my little adventure, hopefully not returning to this place for more than a week at a stretch in the future. So if I’m not in it for the long haul, what are my aims with the therapy I’m undertaking and for life in general? What I realised during my session was I would like to be able to trust myself. I mean really and truly. When I am violent, it is a complete disavowal of myself and everything I’ve worked for. In a heartbeat, all the positive energy, good habits, honourable intentions and lofty thoughts are broken. In this way, I can never be sure when the beast might strike. So I have to tame that beast once and for all, so whatever arises in the future, violence will not be part of my response to it.

The way I see it, every moment is a part of my life and I choose to enjoy all of those moments, wherever I am. I am learning to avoid the things I don’t like, and to be OK with that. Just because certain friends enjoy sitting in a field chewing their faces off, doesn’t mean I have to find that entertaining myself. I can just walk away from the activities, culture and lifestyles that don’t do it for me. I don’t live for the future or the past because now is all we have.

I spoke to my new GP last week. In fact, being back here again in my village, it turns out he was a doctor that I already know and trust. When I was 19 and severely depressed, he was the one I turned to for ‘a little bottle of confidence’ as I worded it in my diaries at the time. As it happened, back then he refused me the anti-depressants I thought would be the panacea, and instead referred me for counselling with a youth service. That was eleven years ago, and I am grateful for his interventions. He saw that somewhere within me was a happy and capable individual, a girl capable of digging herself out of her noisy mind’s many layers of muck and detritus.

I spoke to him about my self-medicating with Paroxetine (Seroxat). He asked many probing questions and sought to understand what my dosage was, when it was raised, what problems I sought to treat, any changes I have found with it, and any side effects. I told him that at first I took only 5mg, which he believed was equivalent to not taking it at all, being purely homeopathic. As I upped it though, I didn’t feel increased curtailment of depressive feelings, nor an increase in euphoric or reckless behaviour. I just felt the same, responding to my circumstances which got a whole lot better when my last relationship ended at the end of August. Now, I feel very productive and calmer in my mind but I am loath to put this down to the Paroxetine, as I honestly think I’d be dealing with life exactly the same way if I had never touched it.

The question of whether to continue on this path was a tricky one. My doctor discussed it with the medical student that sat in on the session, and with me. At first they seemed to waver towards weaning me off it, as I hardly need it anymore in truth. And as my doctor admitted, it’s not readily prescribed these days because it has a higher than normal level of addiction. But after understanding a little about my circumstances, it was decided I would stay on Paroxetine for a maximum of six months (starting from when I began taking 20mg). I am undergoing various periods of transition – one as I returned from Spain alone, another when I head over to California and yet another when I settle in a different part of the UK on my return to the UK in the New Year. This dovetails quite neatly with the six month thing, so I should be off it by the end of January, start of February. This shouldn’t be a hard habit to kick as I can’t feel any symptoms of addiction, sometimes I forget to take it without realising. I only don’t want the risk of any upset while my life is so in flux – if this is one thing I can keep in check then so be it.

 

trust