Ranée

Solace

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a walk in the nature preserve near my neighborhood, so today, I did just that. There was no one along the length of the paved path when I arrived and the rays of sunlight shone through the trees like a beacon.

I decided to take the pond trail loop this time, wondering if there’d actually be a pond now. There was no one else on that path either, at least, no human, and as I strolled along, the only sound apart from my footfalls and the crunch of dead leaves beneath my shoes was the occasional gust of chill wind rustling through the trees. Less often, I heard the chirp or call of birds.

I’d been walking for maybe ten minutes when off to my right, a little ways off the trail, I noticed a sign that warned: Danger! You are no longer on the path. Turn back! Part of me was tempted to venture into that forbidden territory, but today didn’t seem like a good day to get lost, so I smiled to myself and kept to the path. Some water had collected in the depression among the leave-covered ground, after all, I saw, when I neared the pond site, though not much; its depth was surely no more than a few feet at most.

I walked on, past fallen trunks, a tree whose twisted branches looked as though they were clawing at the earth, and a tangle of leaves and vines that had grown into a beautiful natural arch. The leaves of the arch had a bluish tinge to them in the light that I found quite lovely and I though of Alice stumbling through that archway into her magical world.

A bit father along, some logs had formed what were almost small steps and as I neared them, I heard a rabbit whom I’d apparently frightened scurry away through the brush. When I left the trail, the sight of the leaves fluttering slowly down to the ground so captivated me that I stopped to film them.

As I emerged from the tree-lined path, I saw that the sky was a brilliant, clear blue with only a few wisps of cloud. A lone woolly worm crawled across the asphalt in front of me and a bronze-colored object caught my eye. I’m not sure what the sparkly copper-colored object was, but I decided to leave it where I’d found it; it wasn’t mine to keep.

On my way back to my car, I passed other nature-lovers now who smiled or nodded, some exchanging a greeting or wave with me. Kindred souls, I knew, who also took solace in the wild beauty of this magical place. I spied another, smaller arch, this one a single vine, before I heard the shouts of children come to ride their bikes teasing their mother who balanced on the curb. I could feel the spell breaking.

As I neared the parking lot, I glanced down to see that some leaves had left star-shaped imprints on the sidewalk—shooting stars, I thought, smiling. I walked to my car and noticed the crude words my son had written in the condensation on the dirty windows a day earlier, showing clearly and sighed. I should probably wash my car.

On Writing, Ranée

Disorder

Creativity requires a certain amount of disorder—a good kind of chaos, if you will, and I fully admit to being a bit Scarlet-Witchy (OK, more than a bit). However, in this post, I’m talking about the bad kind of disorder, the sort that comes from a lack of clarity and has nothing to do with creative spirit.

I’ve spent some time this week migrating content that I’ve written for my current story from my notebooks into Scrivener and, in the process, I’ve come to an important realization—I should not be writing when I’m depressed or stressed out unless I’m just writing about how I’m feeling. I haven’t got much of substance to show for the months when I’ve been trying to write while feeling bad; the little that I do have is a jumbled mess. All of the more organized threads that flow into actual chapters were written prior to depression and anxiety setting in. It is exceptionally difficult for me to maintain a decent level of concentration and to organize myself when I am depressed or anxious; that’s always been true. The difference now is, I’m aware of it. I know now that this was the real reason I could never finish a book let alone really get one started—my emotional struggles caused me to lose focus to the point that I just couldn’t get it together.

The other lesson I’ve learned is that I need to follow my own advice and when nothing good is coming or I’m just not feeling like working on a particular project, then I need to write something else, whether that something is journaling, writing a blog post, or working on another creative project. With regard to the latter, I’ve been forcing myself to stick with one creative writing project at a time out of fear I’ll never finish anything if I don’t make myself plow through, but I’ve realized that, by doing this, I’ve been hampering my own creativity (and as I noted above, the real problem for all those years was depression, not my tendency toward chaos-witchiness). I hate doing the same thing all the time; I get extremely bored and end up feeling constrained. I certainly need some structure to keep me on track, but instead of forcing myself to push on when my heart’s not really in it, I should instead embrace my own dynamic nature, be flexible, and work on whatever project I feel like on a given day (employ an organized chaos, so to speak). My hope is that by changing things up, I’ll avoid stagnating and will instead keep the embers of my creative fire burning.

Along the same lines, while my story ideas tend to be nonlinear, with scenes/flashes coming at random, I need to write in chapters. If I have a scene in my head, then I will write it but I also need to write what goes around or with it, connecting the dots. This will save me having to go back and fill in loads of blanks later and will help to keep me organized. I mean, even when Wanda was completely disrupting people’s lives, she still provided a substantial amount of structure. The least I can do is turn random scenes into full-fledged chapters (the fact that I have already done it is proof I can do it again).

So this will be my new process once I’ve moved over the stuff I’ve got in my notebooks. Maybe I’ll even consider going back to writing on the computer. Ha! Sorry, but computer writing for creative projects is reserved for revising . . . unless I find a good electronic approximation for a pen and notebook that can be transferred straight into the computer and integrate with Scrivener, but that’s another topic for another day.

Ranée

The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Grounding is all about connecting with nature and the outdoors, which is root chakra, or muladhara, territory. Much of the work that I do involves using a computer and I tend to sit at my desk indoors while I work, so I try to spend at least some time every day outside. Sometimes, I’ll take my laptop with me and do some work outside or sit in the grass with my notebook and pen, writing, but generally, when I’m outside in nature, I want to enjoy it without distraction.

One of my favorite places to venture

One of my favorite ways to get in touch with nature or “get grounded” is to go for a walk. I live quite close to a nature preserve and park and that’s my absolute favorite place to go for walks. I also live in a relatively quiet neighborhood that doesn’t get a lot of traffic, so tend to go for daily walks by myself, with my dog, or with my family.

Most days when it’s warm weather and not raining, I’ll just step outside and stroll through the grass in my bare feet. I hate shoes and don’t even wear socks unless it’s super cold, but walking barefoot is more than that for me. I find the feel of the grass beneath my feet comforting; it’s a reminder that I’m always supported. You can’t accomplish much without first having a strong foundation. The ground beneath my feet is a tangible, literal reminder that I have one.

Apart from walking, I’ve also come to enjoy gardening, something I never really thought I’d be into. It was and still is one of my mom’s hobbies. And now I can sort of see what she loves about it—planting flowers, trees, vegetables, and herbs in the earth, cultivating life. I’ve come to love watching my plants grow and I hate seeing them dwindle. And, yes, I talk to them. I’ve even named some of them.

Whenever it’s raining or snowing or temperatures rise to sweltering (above 85 degrees tends to get intolerable for me) and I can’t go outside, I have to find alternatives. I’ve brought nature indoors by getting some indoor plants (a couple of succulents and Artemis, my aloe plant, who is thriving).

Root chakra isn’t just about getting in touch with nature, though, as I’m learning. It’s also about being at home in your body, nourishing it, caring for it, paying attention to its cues (eating when hungry, resting when tired, examining aches and pains). Now that I know this, it makes sense to feel invigorated after physical activity and to feel satisfied after eating a wholesome meal. The things that you put into (and, for that matter, onto) your body really do make a difference. I didn’t really start taking care of my body until a few years ago. I didn’t eat well, didn’t exercise, and ended up feeling really bad. I noticed such a difference when I began working out, eating healthier, and finally stopped hating my body. I felt like a new person! I have to say that I was only able to tap into higher spiritual levels and wake up the upper chakras after I got grounded. To me, that makes perfect sense. You can’t build on a shaky foundation.

A part of muladhara that I still wrestle with from time to time is fear and feelings of security. I experience some anxiety and worry at times over things like money and job security, though it’s nothing like what I previously went through. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that whenever I’m out among nature, with my feet on the ground, I don’t feel that stress. I guess in that way, grounding helps me to clear my mind, regain focus and clarity. And it brings me solace. As I reflect on that now, I realize that Mother Gaia has always brought me that sense of comfort. She was there when I was a little girl running around barefoot in the yard and she was there when as a teenager I’d lay out in the grass at night gazing up at the stars. I lost that sense of joy and peace for a while when school, work, and other obligations kept me more indoors than out, and I drifted for a long time. She was there all that time, though, waiting for me to finally get my feet on the ground once more, and she welcomed me back into her nurturing arms.

On Writing, Ranée

Welcome

Welcome to the blog portion of this site. You’ll find posts related to writing, such as writing prompts, tips, and other musings on the craft under the category “On Writing.” Weekly writing prompts, posted every Wednesday, have their own subcategory. You can find posts about me, my work, and my personal healing journey under the category “Ranée” because I would not be here and RE:Written would not exist had I not risen from the metaphorical ashes.

On Writing, Ranée

Atmosphere

I love to write when it’s dark out; the quiet, the solitude have always been inspiring. Some of my best writing has come in those moments very late at night or early in the morning when everyone else is asleep, the house is quiet, and it’s just me and my thoughts, some candlelight and music. I also find dreary, rainy or stormy days to be perfect for writing. Today happened to be one of those days. Just me and the dog, so the house is relatively quiet. I sat down at my desk with my notebook and a pen, lit some candles, put on my Stormbringer playlist, and began filling in some blanks in my work in progress. I tend not to write linearly, instead just scribbling down whatever scenes come into my head during any given session, but it gets me in trouble because I end up with lots of gaps. In the past, those gaps have felt more like chasms and kept me from finishing stories. Not this time.

I can’t tell you just how much I needed today. I haven’t had many days like this one since the pandemic began. By that, I mean days where the house is quiet and I’m the only one here aside from the dog—perfect writing days. And, honestly, I’m not likely to get many of them in the future either, so my goal is to make the most of those that I do get to have, but also, to create that atmosphere whenever I don’t have perfect writing days, my calm inside the storm so to speak.

How will I do that? Well, low light, candles, and music go a long way toward creating that environment of inspiration for me. And I always have music, even when I haven’t got the others. I’ve previously written about just how influential music has been in my life, how it never fails to inspire me (see Cosmic Dancer). It transports me to another world, the one of my imagination, where I see and hear only the movie reel of my characters’ story playing out in my head to an ever-present soundtrack. So I don’t need the dark or the silence or a rainy day as long as I’ve got music.


For those who are interested, my stormy/rainy-day playlist includes the following songs:

  • “Lightning Crashes” by Live
  • “Riders On the Storm” by The Doors
  • “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage
  • “Cloud Riders” by Tori Amos
  • “Stormy Blues” and “Gloomy Sunday” by Billie Holiday
  • “Mood Indigo” by Nina Simone
  • “Prayers for Rain” by The Cure
  • “Rain” by The Cult
  • “Wind of Change” by Scorpions
  • “Fool In the Rain” and “The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin
  • “Purple Rain” by Prince
  • “Stormy Weather” by Etta James
  • “Calm Inside the Storm” by Cyndi Lauper
  • “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor
  • “Africa” by Toto
  • “Atmosphere” and “Disorder” by Joy Division
  • “Elegia” by New Order
  • “Building a Mystery” by Sarah McLachlan
  • “Five String Serenade” by Mazzy Star
  • “All Along the Watchtower” and “The Wind Cries Mary” by Jimi Hendrix
  • “Cloudbusting” by Kate Bush
  • “How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths
  • “Shelter From the Storm” by Bob Dylan
  • “Shadows and Tall Trees” by U2
  • “I of the Storm” by Of Monsters and Men
Ranée

Name

Birth names, given names, first names, middle names, last names, surnames, nicknames, pet names, found names, dead names, pen names, code names. How many names do we have over the course of our lifetimes? I’ve thought a lot about this, not just with regard to my writing and my career in terms of which of my names to publish under but also with reference to my personal life. I’ve had internal debates with myself over what my true name is, why that’s so, and why and just how much it matters to me, so needless to say, I don’t subscribe to that notion that one’s name or what one chooses to call oneself holds no meaning. Quite the opposite.

I have been called many names, but there’s a short list of ones that I’ll answer to these days. I was born with the name Jamie Ranee Kunkle. That’s one on the list considering that a lot of people knew me by that name. I also published an interview with mystery writer Jan Burke (Clues: A Journal of Detection, Volume 25, no. 4) under my former name. My current legal name is Jamie Ranee Aughenbaugh (not Mrs. Scott Aughenbaugh) and that one’s also on the list of names I associate with myself since it appears on all legal documents. I also publish this site under the name Jamie Aughenbaugh, it’s the one that appears on my business cards, and it’s the name in which my LLC is registered. All posts on the blog portion of this site are attributed to Jamie Ranée, my WordPress ID, and that’s another name on the acceptable list. Given that my first name is only two syllables, you’d think that I wouldn’t have a nickname, but a few people have still tried to shorten Jamie to something else. The only nickname that I’m OK with is J.R., but my dad’s the only one who calls me that; that’s also the reason why I like it.

Of all of my names, my middle name, Ranée, is the one that I now know will always be with me. It comes from the French word rené (masculine form) or renée (feminine form), the English equivalent of which is “reborn” or “born again.” The name and its meaning are inextricably linked with my totem, the phoenix, a mythical bird of fire that dies, consumed by flame, only to be born again from its own ashes. During a meditation session, I heard the name in my mind and saw a very powerful vision of myself and the creature. Ever since, both bird and name have signified hope, faith, courage, perseverance, and strength to me. They are a reminder of my own metaphorical rebirth and I know now that whatever befalls me, I will always come back.

She rises from the ashes, her soul aflame
Ranée

Rainbow Connection

Site of the momentous occasion

Today marks a major milestone for me—I did an unassisted handstand! A couple of months ago, I set a goal for myself that I would do a handstand for real, by which I meant nothing supporting me but my hands. I’d been practicing against the wall during my third-eye and crown chakra yoga routines. I started by balancing on my hands, with my feet braced against the wall, my body in an L shape. I gradually started inching my feet farther up the wall. My husband eventually cleared the PERFECT space for me to practice right next to the Army of Darkness poster in our basement. I say perfect because (a) it’s Army of Darkness and Bruce Campbell and my goal was to kick fear’s ass just like Ash kicked those demons’ asses, and (b) when I fully stretched out, my feet just managed to touch that area of dropped ceiling. Well, today, I braced myself with my hands like I always do, then stretched my legs up toward the ceiling. As the toes of one foot brushed the lower ceiling, I thought to myself, I don’t need to brace my feet. In that moment, I let go, and I did it! I did a handstand! Then I got so excited about the fact that I was doing it that I fell, but that’s OK. The important thing was I did it and now I know that I can do it again.

Today’s milestone is pretty significant for me in terms of both my personal healing process and my growth as a practitioner of both yoga and meditation. I am so incredibly grateful for the progress I’ve made. A few years ago, when I decided to rehaul my lifestyle in the name of self-care, I vowed that exercise would be a part of my daily regimen. Although it took me a while to settle on specific cardio exercises that I liked and could stick with, there was never any question that yoga would be a part of my daily fitness routine.

I’ve been practicing yoga in general for several years now and I like using the Yoga Studio app for iPhone. A few years ago, before the rehaul, I felt drawn to practice their series of chakra yoga classes. Right around the same time, I began doing some guided meditation and read Mindfulness In Plain English. Although neither yoga nor meditation became a daily thing for me until post-awakening or rebirth or whatever you want to call it, my intro to meditation and chakras was the start of something pretty major—a step in my path toward achieving balance in my life. Since I’ve begun to practice both daily, they’ve made a HUGE difference in my life and healing journey.

Although I’ve been practicing chakra yoga for a couple of years now, I only recently read Anodea Judith’s Chakra Yoga. That book was a game-changer. Judith includes overviews of each of the seven major chakras and discusses specific yoga poses that target each one. She also includes a whole sequence of poses designed for each of the chakras. A sequence focused on the root chakra (muladhara), which is all about connection to the ground/earth, involves standing poses such as tree and mountain that stress a strong foundation. The second chakra, svadhistana, or sacral chakra, is stimulated by hip-opening poses like happy baby, lizard, monkey, and mermaid, one of my favorites (see a pic of my rendition below). Manipura, the solar plexus chakra, is all about ab work. The fourth chakra, anahata, is (literally) the heart of it all. Heart-opening poses include the aptly named melting heart pose, bow, camel, cobra, and wheel. Visuddha, the throat chakra, is stimulated by poses involving the neck and shoulders. Ajna, the third-eye chakra, is best activated by balancing poses and inversions such as headstands and handstands, which require exceptional focus to maintain. The seventh chakra, sahasrara, is the crown chakra. Judith admits that this chakra is much better served by meditation and says that there are not many poses devoted specifically to sahasrara. Her recommended sahasrara sequence follows the path of the kundalini, moving through each of the other chakras in turn, and is designed to open up all of the chakras, activating the crown chakra in the process. I have to admit, it’s one of my favorites. Today’s focus for me happened to be the third-eye and crown chakras, hence the handstand I did as part of this morning’s routine.

After reading Judith’s book, I wanted to put her suggested routines into practice. Well, it just so happens that the Yoga Studio app allows you to create custom classes, so I created some new ones for myself based on the routines in Judith’s book. Building upon her logic, I also added in some other poses that I liked and—because I’m a huge dork who’s totally obsessed with music—I also created custom playlists to accompany each one. I’ve been practicing one or more of these routines every day since. I noticed a profound difference. Since day 1, my practice has become much more wholistic—an integrated mind-body-soul experience. Each day, both my yoga practice and my daily meditation are dedicated to whatever chakras are in need of focus or out of balance. I’ve become quite passionate about yoga this past year in particular; it’s right up there with writing and music for me now. I’ve contemplated getting an instructor certification, but that for now, I continue to develop my personal practice and I look forward to where it takes me next.

On Writing, Ranée

One

Say what?! My LLC is a year old!

One year ago today, I filed the paperwork to establish RE:Written as an LLC. I’m still a bit awed that it’s already been a whole year, but that’s mostly because things didn’t really get off the ground until about five or six months in. Back in February of last year, I learned that the company I was working for had decided to outsource production work on their journals, which meant my job would no longer exist come December. I wasn’t bitter or frightened; rather, my initial reaction was one of excitement. Something awesome is about to happen, I remember thinking. At the time, I had no more than an inkling that perhaps it might be time to strike out on my own, to do something for me, something that I was really passionate about, but it took some more thought and no small amount of inspiration for that notion to become the fully formed idea of creating my own company. Starting a new business at the beginning of a pandemic is probably one of the boldest (and reckless) things I’ve ever done, but I don’t regret it. Navigating this new phase of my life has certainly been challenging over the past year. The past few months have been particularly rough as my severance pay ran out and the job applications far outnumbered the interview requests, but each time that I’ve worked with a client and heard their expressions of gratitude, I’ve remembered exactly why I started RE:Written in the first place and it’s only made my love of my work that much stronger. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have wonderful, encouraging people in my life who’ve been willing to help me with advice, referrals, content creation, love, and support. They’ve kept me going and I am incredibly grateful for that. I thank all of them, my clients, and all of you who follow or read this page or my social media for being a part of the journey thus far. I look ahead to what Year Two will bring with excitement and anticipation because I know it’s going to be amazing!

Client News, On Writing, Ranée

This Woman’s Work

Hey there! Thought I’d give you a little glimpse into my work for this Thursday. The relaunch of Tazeric is a little over two months away (June 1!), so I’m hard at work on John’s revisions this week. I’m also still writing my own novel (I’m deep into the shit-shoveling phase on that) and developing a workshop on dialogue.

I’m armed with a full water bottle, a cup of tea, candles, my notebook, and an Art of Ophelia pen (tools of this writer’s trade). Today’s also the first day in a very long while that I’m actually listening to records while working. Check out today’s rainy day soundtrack in the photos below.

Ranée

Welcome to My Nightmare

We sweat and laugh and scream here
'Cause life is just a dream here
— Alice Cooper 

When I was a kid, I was terrified of clowns. And when I say terrified, I’m not exaggerating. Whenever I saw a clown, my heart would start beating rapidly, I’d feel my throat constrict and my body start to sweat in a panic, and I wanted to either scream or run away. I remember being so frightened of them that I felt safe marching in parades as a majorette because if I was in the parade, then the clowns who were also in the parade couldn’t approach me to try to talk to me or give me candy.

If there’s one incident from my childhood that illustrates just how frightened I was of clowns, it’s the time that my dad’s cousin-in-law, Bob, came to our house wearing clown makeup. The instant I saw him at our back door, I screamed in terror, raced back the hall to my room, crawled under my bed, and hid there. I scared the shit out of my little brother so badly that he ran with me to my room and crawled under the bed too. Bob, still in clown makeup, came back to my room, knelt down on the floor, peered under the bed and tried to tell two screaming, frightened children who he was and get us to come out, but all I saw was a creepy clown reaching under the bed to try to grab me. It was my worst nightmare come to life. I didn’t stop screaming or come out of hiding until that man had washed all the makeup off his face and it took me a long while to calm down after that scare.

I’m no longer scared of clowns and haven’t been for some time, but I still find them creepy; the same goes for ventriloquist dummies and puppets and, to a lesser extent, mannequins and even some dolls. The episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer titled “The Puppet Show,” gave me the wiggins (to use the Scooby Gang’s lingo) and to this day, I have refused to read or watch Stephen King’s It because I was afraid that it would resurrect my childhood fear and give me horrible nightmares.

Over the years, I’ve pondered just what it was about clowns, dummies, and the like that scared me so much as a kid and I think it was the fact that they’re a grotesque mockery of the human. Dummies, puppets, mannequins, and dolls are meant to resemble humans but they’re not. Clowns, although they’re actual people, wear exaggerated face makeup that makes their features look unnaturally large and phony. To my child self, these things weren’t interesting or cute or amusing but downright monstrous.

Recently, I had a dream about conquering my childhood fear of clowns. I facetiously said to myself, “Well, I guess it’s time for me to finally read It,” but that dream actually meant something quite different and a great deal more to me. I despise lying and deception, dislike phony people, and get particularly disgusted with those who deliberately try to fool, deceive, or manipulate others (really, who are they trying to kid?). To the adult me, clowns, dummies, puppets, and such are a metaphor for the masks that people wear and the very nature of reality, the phoniness and lies that pervade society. It’s a sick sort of reminder that the face that others choose to show to you often isn’t real, that we can’t trust how things might appear on the surface. The message is clear: I need to see the puppet show for what it is—don’t watch the little figure performing who’s trying to distract me, but keep my eye fixed on the one behind the scenes pulling the strings (the true self). I must look closer, deeper, to truly see. If I do, then the truth can never be hidden.

There is another part to this, though. I think my subconscious is also telling me that I need to start outright letting people know that they’re not fooling me. I don’t mean just calling people on their bullshit (the ones who are pretending for meanness sake), but those who show a different face to the world because they’re hurting or afraid or in pain, those for whom the mask is a form of self-protection. Telling people that I see who they really are, that I care, and letting them know that they don’t have to pretend with me or hide from me is even more important.

On Writing, Ranée

Cosmic Dancer

I danced myself right out the womb
Is it strange to dance so soon?
— Marc Bolan

Ever since I can remember, there was music in my life—Mom singing me nursery rhyme songs or dancing around the house to one of her favorite tunes, Dad making up silly (sometimes dirty) little ditties or playing his records, the Pittsburgh Oldies station, 3WS, playing every time we went somewhere in the car. That exceptional early exposure to and shared passion for music left an indelible impact on me. I grew to love music just as much as I loved stories and, just like stories, music has ever been my muse, my outlet, and my savior.

You know that scene in Guardians of the Galaxy where Starlord presses play on his Walkman and dances and lip syncs to “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone? Yeah, that’s me. When I was a kid, I used to dress up, pop a cassette tape into my purple boombox, grab a brush to serve as my makeshift microphone, and lip sync to Jem and the Holograms songs. As a teenager, I performed in choral groups and a musical, knew all the words to pop songs on the radio (even the ones I couldn’t stand and, yes, I always sang along), and made dozens of mix tapes and CDs. Even now, I have songs that resonate with me so much that I consider them theme songs, everything that I write has its own soundtrack, I have something of an obsession with vinyl records, and I have loads of playlists on my phone for everything from workouts to my quasi-pyromania. It was music that brought my husband and I together. I met him at a bar in Kent, Ohio the summer after I completed my master’s degree. He drove me back to my car and we sang along with the radio and in that moment, I felt more comfortable with him than I had with anyone I’d met in the entire two years I’d spent in my program. This is all to say that I truly think my musically obsessed nerdom might be at the Rob Fleming level.

At one point in High Fidelity, a depressed Rob wonders “Which came first, the music or the misery?” It’s a chicken and egg question really and I totally get what Hornby (through Rob) was saying about the power of music. It affects my emotions like nothing else, amplifying or altering my mood far more than any drug ever has. That power was never more evident to me than when I began to heal.

I became depressed back in high school and it stayed with me for decades, festering. Music, like writing, became my solace; it helped me to both embrace my bad feelings (acknowledge them) and escape them. I would write about what I felt, what I experienced, because I didn’t believe that I could or should talk about it. It was a lot of very dark, moody, material, reminiscent of E. A. Poe’s gory, weird tales of horror. I would also write what I wished that I felt, what I hoped that my life might be like, creating characters who talked with each other about what they were feeling, tried to help one another heal, and showed each other love. At some point, the music, like my writing, began to fade. If depression hadn’t made me such an utter zombie, I would’ve seen that as a clear sign that things had gone way too far.

Then one day, I walked into this little record store at the mall where my husband had shopped a few times before, intending only to buy him a record or two as a birthday gift, but as I strolled around the store, browsing the racks, something strange happened. I saw albums and artists that I’d grown up listening to and it began to rekindle my lost love. I hadn’t owned or even really listened to a record since I was a kid, but when my fingers flipped through the “R”s in the Rock/Pop section and found that rather worn copy of Lou Reed’s Transformer, I felt compelled to buy it because it was mine, it belonged to me. When I brought that record home, put it on the turntable, pressed play, and heard the opening guitar riff of “Vicious” issue from the speakers, I was transformed. From that moment on, music, followed closely by writing, re-entered my life again in earnest, turning up the volume on my emotional and psychological healing. It was no accident that I found that record that day. Music and writing are a vital part of my self, my soul; without them, I withered and when I found them again, I began to bloom. They were my voice when I had none and they helped me to finally find my own.

Ranée

Shelter From the Storm

Change is chaotic. Comes with the territory. But I’m a firm believer that change is also positive and necessary for growth. I’m in the midst of what I feel in my heart is a very crucial transition in my life on more than one level. One chapter is ending for me, yes, but another is just beginning.

My professional life is in a bit of an upheaval at present. I just passed the five-year milestone in my current position, which is typically a cause for celebration. However, that role also ends on December 1 of this year due to outsourcing and although the work is winding down for me, I’ve still got plenty to do plus home projects and an eight-year-old in virtual school while both my husband and I are working from home. I’ll admit that it’s been discouraging trying to find other jobs; there aren’t a whole lot of prospects yet the pool of job seekers is growing ever larger. On top of all that, I feel as if I’ve had no time for business development.

Contemplating a career change when you’re in your forties or older can be scary enough. Oddly though, when I learned earlier this year that my position was being made redundant, my initial reaction wasn’t one of fear or even sadness or shock, but rather a strange mix of curiosity and excitement. Something awesome is coming, I thought. Well, that initial optimism has waned over the past several months and I’m now looking for a way to revive it, to remain steadfast in that faith.

In the past, when I felt anxious or depressed, I employed some very poor coping mechanisms such as impulsive spending and drinking alcohol. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that the former resurfaced as I transitioned off my prescription medication over the past month. Fear got me; fear that I couldn’t manage without it. Well, guess what? That’s bullshit. I can cultivate my own calm amidst the chaos because I’ve developed a number of helpful strategies over the past couple of years. I still take a small dose of CBD oil daily, but I made a list of my “will dos.”

  • Meditate/pray
  • Practice yoga/exercise
  • Listen to music
  • Write
  • Spend time in nature/stargaze
  • Spend time/talk with loved ones
  • Do breathing exercises
  • Burn candles/make a fire
  • Engage in other creative projects

All of these things are proven ways for me to face any fear, anxiety, and depressed mood that arises. They keep me grounded and focused, remind me that I’m a strong, capable person with much to be grateful for, afford me outlets for expressing my thoughts and feelings, and help me to combat any contributing negative forces. These are the foundations on which I will build my shelter from the storm.

Ranée

Crimson and Clover

Ever since I started menstruating at the age of 12, my uterus has been the bane of my existence. I had witnessed my mom’s awful experience of abnormally heavy and painful periods and I dreaded it happening to me. The day that I got my period for the first time, I was so distraught that I cried. I remember laying in bed for the rest of that day, just sobbing into my pillow.

I came to call my experience the “Mean Reds,” a term I borrowed from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The “mean reds” is Holly Golightly’s term for something worse than getting the blues. I chose to borrow that term because it seemed a fitting euphemism for a terrible period. And the Mean Reds were terrible—for three decades. They quite literally disrupted my life.

From Day 1, the Mean Reds lasted well over a week for me. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the cramps I experienced were sometimes so bad that I’d start sweating, get dizzy, and feel as if I was going to pass out or throw up. The excessive bleeding led to anemia, which meant I had very little energy as well. In addition to that, I spent far too much time in the bathroom because even heavy flow pads and extra underwear just weren’t enough protection most of the time.

I didn’t find a way to ameliorate the Mean Reds until I was in college, so I went through all of junior high, high school, and the first year or so of college hating my uterus and my body for most of the month. I was late for class and even missed class at times either because there seemed to be no ebb to the flow and I just couldn’t leave the bathroom or because I was so dizzy I feared I’d pass out if I tried to stand up. I often had embarrassing accidents and can recall one particular time when I had to go the nurse’s office in junior high, have them call my mom to drive in another pair of pants all the way to school for me so I could change, and then got flack from my algebra teacher because I’d missed half the class. I took to wearing dark colored pants and tops that would cover my rear-end just in case because I never knew when an accident was going to strike and figured it’d be obvious if I changed my clothes during the day. It was hard for me to concentrate in class at times because of the cramps and other associated problems, but not to the point that it ever affected my grades. The Mean Reds did keep me from doing things, though. I definitely didn’t attempt to go swimming or engage in much physical activity whenever they were happening. They were one of the reasons I quit cheerleading after my freshman year of high school. All I wanted to do really was curl up in bed and stay there til they went away.

I went to the gynecologist for the first time when I was in college and told her about the Mean Reds. She sympathized and told me that what I experienced was not a “normal” period and that the Mean Reds could be controlled by medication. For over a decade after that, the solution to the Mean Reds was birth control pills (oral contraceptives). While they certainly lessened my flow both in terms of volume and length of time and they reduced the pain of cramps, making life far more bearable for a while, they caused a host of other problems which I didn’t fully realize until many years later.

The pills I was prescribed always contained estrogen and, unbeknownst to me until much later in my life, my body was already producing too much of this hormone. Unfortunately, an imbalance of hormonesspecifically higher levels of estrogenis known to contribute to the growth of uterine fibroids, non-cancerous tumors that grow in the uterus. Oral contraceptives also affect mood; they are known to contribute to depression in some women and this was certainly the case for me.

When I moved to the DC Metro area after grad school, the first doctor that I had focused on women’s overall wellness and she was the first to discover that I had fibroid tumors growing in my uterus. Uterine fibroids are quite prevalent in women and they account for the vast majority of visits to OB/GYNs for women’s sexual health problems. There is also evidence that uterine fibroids may be genetic; the Center for Uterine Fibroids is enrolling eligible participants in a study to uncover genes that may cause fibroids. My then-doctor advised me to either stop eating meat or eat only organic meat so as to avoid added growth hormones, which could further aggravate fibroid growth (I am finally taking that advice, however, I feel it necessary to note here that it’s actually illegal to inject poultry with growth hormones, so, technically speaking, no chicken or turkey should ever contain these).

Fibroids cause all of the awful things that I had experienced from the start of my period and, as they worsen over time, they can also cause things like breakthrough bleeding (bleeding in between periods), painful intercourse, and infertility issues. Yes, I experienced all of those things too. Shortly after my husband and I married, the Mean Reds had become awful again like they’d been back in high school and, what’s worse, they’d become almost constant. I bled more days than I didn’t.

A series of ultrasounds and other tests followed and my doctor referred me to a fertility specialist for treatment. The first question she asked me was whether I planned to have children because my condition made it very unlikely that I would be able to. The second thing I remember her telling me was that I would eventually have to have a hysterectomy. She presented it not as a possibility but an inevitability. At the time, I was certainly not ready to become a parent; as a teenager, I had sworn I would not because I’d always feared that I’d end up like so many women I’d known who did most if not all the parenting themselves and had little to no support from their male partners. But, there was also a part of me that understood that this was my only shot; if there was any desire at all in me to be a mother, then ready or not, I had to act on that. I spent a lot of time reflecting on the fact that a baby might never grow in my uterus because it was so infested with these parasites, these invaders, that had made it their home, and it made me terribly sad. My husband and I decided to give it a shot, knowing the odds were against us. I stopped taking birth control pills and, amazingly, it was as if a light came on inside me because I actually felt good and happy—-really happy—and I couldn’t remember feeling that way for a very long time. Clearly, the pills had been screwing with my mood, contributing significantly to the depression that I’d experienced for over a decade (see Silence Is Golden and other related posts for more on my depression). Without the pills, my mood definitely improved, but all of the horrible problems that came with the Mean Reds had returned with a vengeance, of course.

Over the next year and a half, I underwent a series of both laparoscopic and more invasive surgeries to remove the largest of the fibroids in my uterus as well as to reset my uterus, which was tipped. Ever present in my mind was the knowledge that even after all of these operations, there was still a huge possibility that I would never conceive. I’d had enough of the Mean Reds and was about to give up trying altogether when I discovered that the miracle had happened and I was pregnant.

The new OB/GYN who saw me through my pregnancy scheduled a C section birth because I was at risk for bleeding out. I actually went into labor the week before my scheduled operation, which was frightening; I was terrified of not reaching the hospital in time. But the worst was yet to come. What should have been the happiest moment of my life became an incredibly traumatic one because even after the precautions of the C section delivery, I still hemorrhaged. Later that same day, I had to have a second procedure to stop the bleeding. I spent an entire week in the hospital vomiting because of the anesthesia they’d given me with the second procedure, sick because I was unable to eat, weak from blood loss, upset because I was trying and failing to breastfeed my newborn son and was unable even to hold my baby for much of that time because I felt so miserable. I remember my parents calling to check in on me after the birth and my mom’s face said it all: sheer terror was the expression she had and she could barely hide her tears. Dear God, I thought, I must look like death. I honestly think my husband feared I would die. I’d lost a lot of blood, so much so that my doctor finally ordered a transfusion. I saw the fear in my husband’s face when he read the pamphlet and I consented to the procedure. I looked him in the eyes and told him confidently that it was going to be OK as he fought back tears. The scary part was already over for me, though the after-effects of that compound trauma lasted seven years.

Meanwhile, the saga of the Mean Reds continued as well. I had additional laparoscopic surgeries after my son’s birth and I was loathe to take oral contraceptives again so opted to have uterine ablation in an effort to try to minimize menstrual bleeding and, not long after that, a tubal ligation. After what I’d gone through to have my son, there was no way I was going to attempt to have any further children, especially when my doctor told me that my uterus “couldn’t handle” another pregnancy. I knew what that meant: I’d be risking my life if I tried to have another child. I was—and will forever be—extremely grateful for the one child that I am fortunate enough to have.

Fast forward seven years to a hernia surgery that revealed fibroids had grown to massive sizes once again. In my latest appointment with a new OB/GYN, I discovered that the tumors were the size of a 4-5 month pregnancy. At this point, the doctor said that every medical option for treating my fibroids had been exhausted, so her recommendation was a hysterectomy. I had the surgery scheduled, but ultimately couldn’t do it. I wanted a better solution. Frankly, I was done having surgeries on my uterus and I was through with “treatments” that never truly addressed the underlying problem—my hormonal imbalance. I spoke with the doctor and we canceled the procedure and discussed revisiting the possibility in the near future depending on how much the fibroids grew.

After that discussion, I decided that whether or not my uterus was going to be removed, I needed to make peace with that part of myself. I ended up writing a letter to my uterus in which I expressed how much I’d hated it and all of the awfulness and negativity that it had brought me over the past three decades. I also wrote that the only good thing that had ever come from it was my son, the person I loved most in the world. As I wrote those words, I realized that I couldn’t truly hate that part of myself because despite all of the pain it had caused me, it had also brought me the greatest joy in my life. Moreover, hating my uterus was hating a part of myself and I had gone through way too much healing to continue to despise even a small piece of myself. I had to let it go. And I did. I continued to write, thinking about the goddess Shakti, the womb of creation. The void from which the universe was birthed is reflected in me, in my womb; that part of myself is a physical embodiment of the mother goddess(es). So, no matter what awfulness I’d experienced in three decades of the Mean Reds, that creative power was still a beautiful, wondrous thing and so, amid the negativity, I also expressed profound gratitude. I took the letter that I’d written to my uterus, tore it up, and burned it. Burning and fire are a release, and that purge was exactly what I needed. After I did that, I meditated and, for the first time, I felt a deep connection to the mother goddess(es). I felt a warmth and love fill me and surround me as if that spiritual force were acknowledging just how great the significance of my act of forgiving myself had been. I shed tears of awe and gratitude.

That was only the first step to a pretty tremendous sacral healing. Another important one happened back in March when I attended an event held at Crystal Cognizance. The event was on storytelling and healing and included a DIY tea bar courtesy of Juices & Berries Apothecary. Elaina, the owner of Juices & Berries, is an herbalist combining knowledge passed down from her ancestors with the science of plants. There are no accidents. I will be forever grateful to Dahlia Rose for hosting that event and encouraging me to tell my story to the other women in attendance. When I shared my story that night, I learned that a number of herbal remedies have been used to treat conditions such as mine and that Elaina had in fact treated other women who’ve experienced heavy periods and fibroid tumors. I was eager to try treatments with her, seeing even a small improvement in my menstrual cycle as a huge positive. I didn’t believe my fibroids would entirely disappear, but if there was even a chance that I could have a more “normal” cycle and possibly avoid a hysterectomy, which I viewed as an absolute last resort due to the disruption it would cause to my hormones and emotional well-being, I was willing to take it.

I scheduled an appointment with Elaina to complete and review what is by far the most thorough medical history I’ve ever been asked to give (kuddos to you, Elaina!). Shortly after that, I began a protocol intended to (at long last!) regulate my body’s production of estrogen, thereby shrinking my fibroids and finally allowing me to have a shorter, less painful, and less heavy menstrual cycle.

It’s been seven months since I started my herbal regimen. When I began my protocol, my period was a literal life interruption. I had at least two weeks of extremely heavy bleeding (we’re talking so bad I felt I couldn’t leave the house for fear of having a very bad, very embarrassing accident in public), painful cramps, lethargy, an overall poor mood, and an enlarged uterus and lower abdomen. Now, I have about a week and a half to two weeks of bleeding, only ONE DAY of which could be classified as truly heavy, hardly any cramping, and a much improved mood (I only get a little extra emotional and sleepy just before it starts), and the size of my lower abdominal region has shrunk (I’ve dropped a pants size since March). I am overjoyed to know that the Mean Reds are a thing of the past and will be forever grateful to Elaina for how much she has helped me. The amount of progress and healing I’ve made under her care over the past several months has been greater and more meaningful than years of surgeries. Thank you, Elaina!

My hope is that by sharing my story with other women, they too can demand better care that actually addresses the cause of uterine fibroids and heavy periods and doesn’t affect their psychological well-being. It’s no less than what we deserve.

Ranée

Let It Go

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert, Dune, emphasis added

The above lines were in my head yesterday because I was contemplating the purpose of meditation. For me, it’s not about completely emptying your mind and ignoring thoughts and feelings that arise. It’s been my personal experience that repressing things that you don’t want to acknowledge or deal with only leads to further problems and inhibits the healing process. Instead, for me, meditation is more about acknowledging thoughts or emotions that have come up, even those that make me uncomfortable (perhaps I should say especially those unsettling ones), and reflecting on why I am experiencing them. This is the most important part of the Frank Herbert quote for me, the part that I emphasized in italics. By acknowledging and contemplating the reasons behind thoughts/emotions, I thereby learn something about myself in the process and with this knowledge I can then choose to take action to change a situation or alter my behavior or mindset. If what I am feeling or thinking about is out of my control, I can acknowledge it, understand it, and then let it go. Thus, letting go, in this sense, doesn’t mean repressing something or trying to forget about it, but the exact opposite—actually dealing with it, permitting yourself to feel it, think it, experience it, and then once you have, you are able to move on. That weight, so to speak, has lifted. The Dune quote is really quite a beautiful mantra and, for me, a very apt description of what meditation is all about.

Ranée

Silent All These Years

I got something to say but nothing comes
Yes, I know what you think of me, you never shut up
— Tori Amos, "Silent All These Years"

I spent most of my life embodying the above lyrics. I listened to everyone else talk. And talk. And talk. They seemed to never shut up, never pause to actually listen once in a while, and if I tried to speak or by some miracle managed to get a word in, it merely became a springboard for the talkers to start in again. I had things to say too. I wanted to be heard. But I couldn’t find my voice. I was like the Little Mermaid, sacrificing her voice to Ursula to be complacent.

Apart from the very bad, unhealthy habit of buying myself things I couldn’t afford, didn’t need, and in most cases, didn’t even want, I didn’t really do things for myself, took little action, and instead just let things happen to me even well into adulthood. As a result, I did a lot of things that I didn’t really want to but felt as if I had to. Those of us who do that seem to have this warped idea that we’re somehow being noble or caring or that it’s good to be so goddamn self-sacrificing because we’re supposed to care more about others than ourselves. Why do we crucify ourselves like that? We can care about others without being martyrs for crying out loud and it’s not selfish to give a shit about yourself, speak your mind, and say “no” to other people (you can do it politely). I think many of us who act this way have been bullied in the past and we’ve gotten used to just giving in to everyone else and forgetting about ourselves. We even find it difficult to figure out who we really are because we haven’t taken the time. Of course other people love you when you’re a martyr—why wouldn’t they? You do everything for them, nothing for yourself, make them look stellar, and you fade into the background like the shadow you’ve become. But, chances are, those people don’t respect you. Someone who respected you wouldn’t treat you like that in the first place and, moreover, they’d want to see you shine, not burn out and fade away. This line came to me in meditation: When you put yourself last, you don’t play the hero but rather the fool and ultimately you just end up resenting all the people you’re trying so hard to please (for more of my thoughts on this see Beginning to See the Light). I think it’s incredibly apt.

It’s still difficult for me to say no to people, to speak my mind and not let things fester. It feels strange. Taking action of my own volition instead of waiting for someone else to do something also feels foreign, but it’ll get easier. The important thing that I now remind myself of is that I have a voice and I need to use it. People will listen. And I can say no to people and things without feeling bad about doing it. Offering an explanation of my feelings helps, but so does knowing that the person I’m saying no to respects me enough to accept my response. If they don’t, then that speaks volumes about the nature of our relationship and is a cue to me that it’s one that perhaps I should rethink.

Blue is the color associated with the fifth chakra, the throat chakra. It’s the color of the candle a dear friend made for me to assist me with healing in this respect. Over the past several weeks, it’s cracked to the point where just moments ago, hot wax started spilling out through a hole and all over the desk. If that isn’t symbolic, I don’t know what is. Clearly, I have found my voice! As Tori sang, “it’s been here . . . silent all these years,” but not anymore.

Ranée

Strange

“You’re so weird!”

I consider those words among the highest compliments. I personally would rather be called “weird” or some synonym of that word than most other adjectives. It means a lot to me if someone truly likes me for my strangeness because the things that make us weird are usually the things that others don’t like about us. If you’re someone I care about and I tell you that you’re weird or a weirdo, it’s because it’s one of the things I love most about you. I’ve been known to say to someone, “You’re so fucking weird! Can we hang out?” And I totally mean it. Most people like to hide their strangeness but I love the ones who embrace it; your weirdness makes you unique. My son, for instance, is totally weird (his *own* weird) and I LOVE all of his little quirks. At this moment in his life, he lets his strangeness shine even when others try to dim it and I hope with all my heart that he stays that way. I don’t want anyone to diminish that boy’s shine.

Granted, there are many different brands or flavors of weird out there and one person’s strange may not be another’s. That’s probably why most people choose to hide their quirks—they fear being disliked. I did. But, look, no matter how hard you try, there are just some people out there who aren’t going to like you and your particular oddities (and vice versa). And they don’t have to. Once we stop thinking we have to please everyone or that we should be liked by everybody, we can just let others get on with their own thing and take solace in the people who find our strangeness endearing or appealing.

To my fellow freaks: please don’t dim your shine—not for anyone. Your strangeness is beautiful and there are people out there like me who love you for it.

Ranée

True Colors

So don't be afraid
To let them show
Your true colors
[. . .] are beautiful
Like a rainbow
— Cyndi Lauper

“True Colors” has always been one of my favorite Cyndi Lauper songs and I’ve been thinking a lot about its message lately. As someone who always felt as if she didn’t quite belong, someone who’d been hurt deeply and was afraid to let others see her pain, it really hit home for me. The message of the song seems so simple: be yourself because you’re beautiful just as you are. But watching Frankenstein (the play) got me thinking even more about the outcast and just how hard it is to embrace the things that others dislike about you, to say, “Fuck you, I don’t care what you think.” It requires a tremendous amount of courage to do that. I was moved to tears by the play because it gives us the Creature’s perspective, not Frankenstein’s, and it’s him with whom I’ve always sympathized. His story is heartbreaking but all too familiar because it belongs to anyone who has ever been made to feel somehow wrong for being different. His tale is a tragic metaphor for how hate and cruelty can twist something that is beautiful, albeit strange, into something horrible. Trauma makes a monster of you all right.

More often than not, instead of loving yourself unconditionally as you should, you see yourself through your abusers’ eyes and come to hate all the things about yourself that they do. You want to be accepted and fear further pain, so you hide yourself in your emotional armor and behind high, thick walls, thinking you’ll be safe. And then someone comes along and unmasks you. Or, scarier yet, you let them see your soul. Either way, they know your secret identity and now they have the power to reveal it to the world. You’ve made yourself vulnerable whether you intended to or not, and you’re terrified of standing naked. Better brace yourself for the hurt. Unless . . . they see the freak that you really are and they don’t mind. What if they love you anyway or love you because of it? Maybe they’ve donned a mask too and, like you, they’ve dwelt in the shadows, so unlike most people, they see remarkably well in the dark. That’s what “True Colors” is about. If you can’t be yourself around the people closest to you or are afraid they won’t love you if you are, then you need to re-evaluate those relationships.

Some time ago, I made a promise to the spiritual forces in my life and to myself that I would stop trying to be someone I wasn’t just to please others or be accepted by them. Those spiritual guardians told me that I had to be true to myself in order to heal, and that by doing so, I wouldn’t be rejected as I feared but loved.

Keeping that promise means not just loving the “good” things about myself but also the parts of me that others haven’t loved, that I haven’t loved. I am a socially awkward, slightly morbid, tragically un-hip, sensitive, introverted weirdo. I’m also smart, caring, occasionally funny, a decent writer, and a good—no, a great—mom. I don’t apologize for those latter things, so I shouldn’t be sorry for the others either. I am the sum of all of them and I will love all of me because the people in my life who genuinely care about me will do the same.

Ranée

Silence Is Golden

I didn’t want to die; I just wanted to disappear.  I remember staring out of my bedroom window, looking down at the snow and imagining myself falling into it, sinking deep beneath the vast whiteness, until I was completely covered over, frozen and blissfully numb.  I wanted to feel nothing because every emotion that I did feel was just too intense to bear. 

That desire to turn off my emotions stayed with me for most of my adult life—for nearly twenty years.  I took all the pain of fake friends (the “cornflake girls” or “mean girls”) and bad, meaningless relationships, including a sexual assault that I blamed myself for, and shoved it down as far as I could.  I became the very thing that I hated—a liar.  I hid my true self behind a mask every day because I was desperate to conceal the turmoil inside me.  I spent an excessive amount of money and time on expensive clothes I couldn’t afford and on perfecting my outward appearance because I was determined that no one would see what was really going on with me.  That’s what we’re supposed to do, right?  If you feel bad, you’re supposed to just suck it up and get over it.  When someone asks how you’re doing, you’re supposed to say “OK” or “good” or some other positive word regardless of whether you’re genuinely feeling that way.  I put up walls to protect myself, to stop anyone hurting me again, to keep people from seeing through the carefully crafted facade, and to keep myself from feeling for them because the last thing I wanted was to feel someone else’s pain on top of my own.  

Despite my efforts, I could never completely turn off my emotions, even when I tried to drown them in alcohol.  All of the negative thoughts and feelings that I kept locked up inevitably escaped, often in the form of anger or tears. 

Depression is a secret, silent predator because it strikes from within.  It eats you alive.  Depression coupled with anxiety is absolutely paralyzing, like screaming in silence.  The longer conditions like these are left untreated, the worse they get.  You become stuck in quicksand and you can’t even move or try to pull yourself out because you just sink deeper and faster.  It took having panic attacks at work to scare me into finally talking to my doctor and then a therapist and a psychiatrist about what I was going through.  

That was five years ago. I’m still seeing a psychiatrist and have been through a series of reiki healing sessions, but am proud to say that thanks to other changes that I’ve been able to make in my life, including a complete rehaul of my diet and beginning an exercise regimen, my medication dosage has been stepped down to the lowest level. Allow me to pause here to say that taking medication to ameliorate symptoms of a mental health condition is not a bad thing. In my case, my doctor, my therapist, and my psychiatrist all agreed that my specific depression and anxiety were situational, that in order to really battle them, I had to be able to change my lifestyle. I couldn’t have done that without the immensely helpful boost that medication gave me. But not all mental health conditions are the same; causes as well as treatments are unique to the individual, so needing medication or higher doses of it should not be seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of progress. What I’ve learned in my recovery process is that there are two things that are vital for all of us to have good mental health: self-care and a supportive environment.

Self-care means taking care of yourself on all levels—nourishing your mind, body, and soul. I didn’t really start doing that until a year and a half ago. When I did, it kicked my healing into overdrive. Things that have helped me are eating healthier, exercising daily, meditating, spending time in nature, finding a good work-life balance, and making time for things that I enjoy doing like writing. For me, maintaining that creative outlet is essential.

Apart from taking care of yourself, you also have to surround yourself with genuinely supportive people who have your best interests in mind, ones who aren’t deaf and blind to your pain or contribute to it, but recognize when something is off and encourage you to talk openly about whatever you are feeling.  They will do seemingly little but incredibly meaningful things like say, “Hey, I’ve noticed that you seem down/stressed?  Tell me what’s going on” or “How can I help?”  For a long time, I lacked those sort of relationships or kept myself from having them out of fear of incurring further pain.  Now that I do have them, I foster and cherish them.

There is one other thing that I believe is essential to coping with and changing the perception of mental health conditions and that is to talk openly about them and encourage others to do the same. There is still such a tremendous stigma attached to mental health conditions, but we can collectively change that. If those of us who have experienced these issues share our stories, first with each other and then with the world at large, then we can tear up the labels that ignorant, insensitive souls want to assign us. There will be no more screaming in silence but a chorus of voices too loud and beautiful to ignore.

Ranée

Go Your Own Way

My path is not your path [. . .] The way is within us [. . .] If you live your life according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself? So live yourselves [. . .] May each go his own way.

— Carl Gustav Jung

We all know someone with that “my-way-or-the-highway” mentality (maybe you are one of those people?), but that approach is ignorant to all of the other valid choices that are possible. Your way might be the correct one—for you. That doesn’t make it the only possible way nor does that mean that it’s the only path that others can take.

I’m with Jung; I believe that there isn’t just one way to reach a particular destination but rather a unique path for each of us. We must forge it as we go. You might prefer to make a road that will get you to your destination the fastest with the fewest obstacles or stops along the way or you might opt for a scenic route past rivers and mountains or along the beach. Perhaps your path is hidden or you’re on a road but don’t know where you’re going yet. All of those things are OK.

What Jung said wasn’t necessarily a new idea, but it’s one that resonates with me because it’s another way of saying live for your soul, which has become my motto. I don’t think Jung was necessarily rejecting the idea of having a mentor or learning from others. It’s more the act of trying too hard be like someone else or relying too much on another that he was advising against. If you constantly need direction from someone or something else, engaging in no critical thinking or self-exploration of your own, then who are you but a poor copy of that other? You essentially have no self. While I am immensely grateful for the people who have mentored me and helped me over the years, super-nerd that I am, I’ve also really enjoyed discovering things on my own. Jung seems to advocate just that—figuring out who you are, what your soul desires, nourishing that soul, and allowing that to guide you. Put another, simpler way, what works for one person may not necessarily work for you. Maybe you and that person aren’t even trying to get to the same place, so if you try to follow their route, you’ll just get horribly lost.

The other notion that comes to mind for me as I think about this is that there may not even be just one path for you. As you forge ahead, you may take a wrong turn (although we can also debate whether or not it’s really a wrong turn) or encounter detours and other roadblocks along the way. If you hang on to the belief that there’s only one way to get where you want to, that sort of rigid thinking not only inhibits growth and change but also causes you to become stuck so that when you come to one of those blocks or detours, you get angry, frustrated, and distraught because you’re unable to (or perhaps refuse to) see the many other possible avenues that are before you. You can stubbornly try to push on through the muck, sinking deeper into it in the process, but at some point, you need to ask yourself if maybe there isn’t another way to get where you’re going. If you can be flexible, then instead of getting mired where you stand, you can turn around and find a different path instead. Whatever way you go, it’s not wrong as long as it’s your own.

Ranée

Break On Through

For those who knew the previous version of me—that meek, neurotic, broken soul who floated through life like a specter—I recognize that you’d gotten so used to seeing and interacting with her that the radical transformation that’s taken place in me over the past four or five years and, particularly, the last two, has no doubt had your head spinning.  You look at the person I’m becoming and go “Who’s that woman?”  I get it.  I’ve been asking myself the same question and the answer that I’ve come up with is that she is me—the real me, the person I was always meant to be.  That other woman you knew for so long was lost, stuck, dead inside.  She was everybody else’s girl, doing what they wanted, being who they wanted, allowing things to happen to her instead of making them happen herself.  This is how life is when you become so mired in depression and anxiety that you can’t function normally.  It’s paralyzing.  You can’t make decisions, can’t take action—not even to help pull yourself out of it—and life is overwhelming.  Over the past several years, as I’ve begun to heal myself, I’ve started to figure out who I am, to be my own person.  But I know that watching me go through this awakening, or rebirth as I’ve come to view it, from the other side must be like watching a zebra shed its stripes for giraffe spots.  Some of you don’t like this new me; others of you aren’t sure yet.  You’re getting to know her and I guess it really is like meeting a new person; I certainly feel like a different person.  Maybe that’s the best way for us to approach the change—pretend, if we can, that we haven’t known each other for the length of time that we have, put aside the thoughts, feelings, and opinions you had about the old me, the way that our relationship functioned in the past, and I will aim to do the same because there is no going back, only forward.