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.

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Witnesses

Twelve years ago, Disney and Pixar’s Wall·E gave us a vision of a dystopian future where humans lived in a state of perpetual lethargy, sipping on Big Gulps and interacting solely with glowing screens, oblivious to the world around them.  I think we’re already there, just missing the spaceship.  Some would argue that we’ve been there for a while now.  Unfortunately, for many of us, breaking out of that state seems to require something extreme.  My fall-off-the-chair moment came five years ago in the form of panic attacks at work.  The only difference between me and the people in Wall-E is that I always knew there was something else, something more, and I was never OK with ignoring it.  In fact, I continually felt it calling to me, like the howl of a wolf beckoning me to join my pack.

Unfortunately, ignorance and blindness are exactly what the culture we have created for ourselves expects of us and it’s become so ingrained that it’s normal.  We think that we have to do X in order to have Y, that we can’t have what we truly want, which is Z, and we are slowly destroying ourselves with this way of thinking and being.  But what if we all got off those hover-chairs?  Not just fell off accidentally or got pushed off, but actually chose to stand up and look around us, to see things for what they really are.  Holy shit, we just might start a revolution!

But we’re conditioned not to, aren’t we?  I grew up in a household where my dad spent most of the day doing a job he didn’t really enjoy just to make money to provide a house, food, clothes, etc., for us and my mom spent all day keeping the house clean, making sure bills got paid on time, cooking meals for us, and making sure we got to school, did our homework, etc., and while she loved us, she certainly didn’t love doing that.  My parents were doing what they were “supposed” to do rather than all that they may have wanted to do.  At heart, they were creators like me, Dad telling amazing stories and Mom nurturing beautiful things to grow, and I saw what they might have been had those sparks been kindled rather than nearly extinguished.

It’s tough as hell to change it, change yourself, I know, and incredibly scary.  I’ve had several starts and stops along the way, little deaths, if you will. The biggest obstacles were my inability to believe in myself and being thrust into the middle of a game that I never really wanted to play in the first place.  Well, the blinders are off now and I’m done with the game.  When I started having chest pains at work at the age of 37, it was an extreme wake-up call and I knew I had to stop what I was doing to myself and make some major changes.  I might’ve been forced off of my chair, but I’m choosing not to get back on it.  That is the scariest part of all.

I could just tell you what I’ve done over the past few years to right myself, but you don’t just do that nor do you just happen to become a stressed-out emotional wreck one day.  It happens over years, like the melting of a glacier, and you can’t see the full impact until you look at all the markers along the way.  And unless you see the extent of the damage, you can’t fully appreciate how much work must be done to fix it.  I think I need to tell this story not just for myself so that I can fully heal, but perhaps also for others who are too afraid and ashamed to tell theirs because we are none of us ever alone, however much or often we might feel like we are.  Maybe we can heal together.  Stand up together.  Run together.