returning to life: combining activism and spirituality to heal

I have felt dead inside for several months. Depression, grief, anger, fear. So many emotions coming up while processing and healing from violent sexual assault.

But in the last weeks I have felt reborn. A combination of circumstances, the dawning of springtime, the support of my loved ones, and hard personal work has landed me in a much better place. I can’t predict the future, or know that it will all be alright, but I am able to see a warmth returning to my present moment. A hopeful, reassuring warmth that maybe healing is possible. 

I find myself incredibly grateful that I am alive. I find myself noticing movement in my body that feels good and refreshing, not only the pain. I am suddenly able to experience joy, and really feel it. After months of feeling either numb or miserable, joy is delicious.

I know this isn’t the end of the struggle. Perhaps it will be a short break. But I also know that there were times during the winter that the hopelessness felt endless. I didn’t know if it would transform. And yet, like everything, indeed it has.

As a survivor who chose to tell the story of my assault to the public, and who knows that this process was (for me–every individual is different) a very crucial part of my healing, I would like to share a quote from a friend and incredibly inspirational hero, Wagatwe Wanjuki, from an interview on MSNBC“I really hope that survivors of all identities of color, queer, low-income, with disabilities, trans, gender nonconforming, from community college, in relationships, etc. – will find it easier have their stories heard.” – Wagatwe Wanjuki.

I stand humbled by my privilege and committed to working towards a world where this hope articulated by Wagatwe becomes increasingly possible.

In addition to the activism work I did in speaking out (again, something that is a choice some survivors make, but not something to be pushed on any survivor–healing is all about choice) I also have had to step away from the public, and even from other people, in order to heal. It can be lonely, but this inward time has also felt very necessary for me. Having a spiritual life has always been extremely important to me, and though I am exploring my Jewish roots, a politically painful, challenging, but also rewarding task, I also do not feel grounded in a specific religion, but rather, pulled to words, rituals, and practices that move my spirit.

Recently I have discovered a beautiful song by Sikh musician Snatam Kaur called “Servant of Peace” that includes a beautiful recitation of the Saint Francis of Assisi Prayer “Make Me An Instrument.” The words sung in her heavenly voice have been guiding and consoling.

“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

-St. Francis of Assisi, 13th Century

It is with deep gratitude for the activists, artists, and seekers who have come before me that I feel able to connect with the universe in a new and rejuvenated life.

© 2015 Lena Sclove

healing in deep snow

I took a long walk this afternoon and trudged through deep snow, snow up to my knees, and I didn’t realize just how out of shape I was and how challenged I was by the exercise until I made it back to shoveled-territory and felt the easy of walking without sinking.

Sometimes we don’t realize how bad it is until we aren’t in it quite so deep anymore. Which makes the deepness feel all the more endless.

There are times I can write myself out of the deep. There are other times I choose not to write. When healing is happening in my body, and my mind isn’t able to catch up, writing feels like a disservice to my healing. If my body could write the traumatic energy that is being released without my mind passing judgements, perhaps I would write out of the deep snow.

For now, I follow what is moving.

what makes you feel like a warrior? please share your thoughts!

What makes me feel like a warrior? When I walk through the woods and feel sun on my face and feel the strength of the sun pulsing through me. When I sit up from a Network Chiropractic entrainment and feel my back spasms releasing and joy rising and power to do good returning to my being. When I laugh out loud with friends and remember that laughing is a way of fighting evil. When I speak the honest truth to the world. When I take care of myself.

These are just a few of the many things that make me feel like a warrior. I try to remember them when I feel the illusion of weakness.

And now I ask YOU, dear reader, what makes you feel like a warrior? Please leave your thoughts and ideas in a comment, I would love to hear from you!

depression, freedom, and the peaceful revolution

What if we were free and the system collapsed but there was not chaos or war because we were free in ourselves and the revolution came slowly, gently like a dance, and what if we were free?

This morning I woke up depressed and hopeless and was identifying with those emotions. And then I had a second of clarity and discovered I was obsessively trying to figure out why I was feeling so depressed. I was racking my brain for reasons, for something that was terribly wrong. But nothing was working so my anxiety was getting higher and higher. When I noticed this, I felt a separation occur in my mind. I felt the physical feeling of being depressed and I felt the chaotic stirring of my brain trying to make sense of the senseless. When this separation occurred the melancholy did not disappear, but a wave of relief did wash over me. And for a moment, I did feel free.

An unexpectedly light-hearted afternoon with a dear friend made me feel caffeinated. Jazzed up. A feeling of possibilities.

Many times this week I have wanted to skip town. I have wanted to escape because the work of healing the mind and the body is treacherous and a voice in my head suggests if I ran away from it all, I could reinvent myself. But I am reinventing myself. It’s just more painful than I could have ever predicted. I know my demons and ghosts would follow me on the bus or train or plane. But isn’t it wonderful to daydream, sometimes, about starting completely over? About a clean slate?

I am finding freedom in hopelessness. I have no idea what I am doing right now except healing. It gets very tiresome. It gets boring. It is my work. Though I often feel I don’t deserve the title, I still strive to be a freedom fighter in the most radical sense of the term. I am in the movement. I am in the peaceful revolution. But I am in my turtle shell for now, allowing my presence to be all that I can offer. Desperately needing that to be enough. What if I let go? What if I release my plans, and my need to succeed and my need to be somebody and my desperate need to be a good person all the time? What if in that separation between my depression and the monkey-mind brain nonsense trying to make sense of the depression—or between a traumatic event and the desperate attempt to find a way that I could have avoided it—what if in those slight chasms a world of freedom is opening. Beyond education and career and success and failure, maybe there is something bigger. Maybe I have been tied in an invisible net for long enough and as it becomes visible I realize I not longer need it. It is no longer protecting me. Perhaps it is time to give myself permission to be free.

© 2015 Lena Sclove

IMG_3994

back on the guitar train

My guitar teacher Diane Sanabria and I have both been unwell. Yesterday after nearly two months we had our reunion lesson. We both felt rusty. I for one know that I was nervous. After many weeks not teaching, I watched as she re-inhabited her body and her incredible gifted self as an educator and music guide.

I was thrilled to see her, but worried my weeks of not practicing (full disclosure: did not even take my guitar out of her case even once in the last couple of months) would set me back completely. However, in the course of our time together I found my hands remembered more than my brain did. The body remembers in horrific ways, but the body also remembers the healing arts we teach it. I was rusty, but the music, the finger picking, the lyrics…they were still in me. I just had to turn my brain off and let the music flow.

My worries continued (full disclosure: I’m a worrier.) The lesson was amazing, but I dreaded the crippling fear of returning home and having to do the un-doable: take my guitar out of her case. All alone. Without Diane. Music is powerful. Diane tells me how healing it is, but also how emotional and painful it can be. It taps into places we aren’t always prepared to go.

I couldn’t do it last night. But this afternoon I took a walk in the frigid air as the sun was setting over the pond, and when I returned home I was determined. I unzipped the case. I tuned her. I opened my music binder.

I do not care if it sounded terrible. I do not care if it sounded wonderful. It is the pride of feeling back on the train after missing the last several trains that have gone by. I hopped onto the train. It still might be bumpy. But I’m going somewhere. All aboard!

y1pOWOFB6zIHYYAZ9Dp8NkPrDdvd1OhvM7gZCoC6WfMLEx3poMlewMZAa1aUJ8932zDsoi9Y7bO8iw

i want to check out all the books in the library

I want to go to the library and check out all the books. I know I won’t read all the books. But I never read all the books I check out, even when it’s a more reasonable number than “all the books.” Which isn’t even a number, really.

I want to check out all the books in the library and lie them out on the floor of my apartment (in stacks, because my room is very small) and I want to make intentional piles. Books I wish I had time to read. Books I really will make time for. Books I wish I myself had written. Books I wish had never been written at all. Books that look like they might cause me to experience an enlightened spiritual state and stay in it for the rest of my life. Books that genuinely look like they might end white supremacy and homophobia and genocide and depression and sexism and racism and environmental destruction. Books that were written only to make money.

These are just a few of the many categories I will make if I ever get around to checking out all the books in the library.

library-10

poem for the february sun

It is 4pm in Western Massachusetts in February and

the sun is shining

and it is 33 degrees outside.

Let me repeat that.

It is 33 degrees outside.

IMG_4172

Let me clarify in case you are confused.

I am used to relief

at over-zero.

IMG_4084

Don’t get me wrong.

There is still a lot of snow.

IMG_4168

But after so many

blizzards

and below-zero days

and grey skies

relief flows like water

pulled by gravity.

IMG_4173

I have not been able to motivate myself

to walk out my door

into the cold

and yet

when I pushed myself

to do so today

I felt I was breathing for the first time.

Oh what a joy

to watch my feet disappear

in the snow

to hear icicles dripping

and to think maybe there are green buds in me

about to burst through

just as there are in the earth

unseen but present and ready.

IMG_4174

anthropological look at psychiatry: questioning a system

I am reading a book called Of Two Minds: An Anthropologist Looks at American Psychiatry by T.M. Luhrmann. While a bit on the academic side for “pleasure” reading, it is a fascinating look at the culture and process of how psychiatrists begin to think like psychiatrists. It was published in 2000, and many things have changed in the field of psychiatry in the past fifteen years, but many arguments that Luhrmann makes are, I believe, still very valuable today.

This illuminating quote is a bit long and jargon-y, but bear with me, there’s some good stuff in here. Luhrmann writes, “If a very new resident is asked whether a patient meets DSM [The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] criteria for, say, schizophrenia or paranoia, that resident will pick up DSM and read the criteria for each. She may find that the patient meets some for both and the difference between the two categories is not that straightforward, at least in this case. If you ask that same resident about such a patient one year later, when she has developed prototypes for the illnesses, she will probably not reach for the diagnostic handbook, and she will probably not feel that the difference between the categories is inherently uncertain. She is more likely to believe that there are clear differences between illness categories and more likely to pick up data in a case presentation that correspond to the prototype and ignore information that does not. As this happens, it becomes difficult for the psychiatrist to remember that initial skepticism about the diagnostic criteria. A patient’s illness seems less like a sorting problem–is it like this or like that?–and more like an identification task. Diagnoses begin to feel like real, distinct objects in the body” (Luhrmann 42).

In terms of documenting how psychiatrists begin to think, this is a bit frightening, no? Human beings become more likely to be defined by their diagnosis as a psychiatrist gains more training. Of course, at the same time, the psychiatrist is gaining more experience, and therefore their instinctual diagnoses might be more likely to be on target. Still, given the amount of mis-diagnosing that occurs, and that a diagnosis often leads to a medication prescription, this is a bit scary.

Then there is the topic of stigma, and how those of us who struggle with mental health issues begin to internalize the diagnose(s) we are given. In my case, I am fairly certain my diagnosis is correct. However, has it impacted the way I see myself, and the way I think about how others see me? Absolutely.

I don’t feel I know nearly enough about the inner workings of psychiatry or psychiatric training to make broad generalizations about the quote above (I haven’t finished the book, and even if I had, woe to the person who reads one book on a subject and thinks themself an expert.) However, being on the other side (i.e., being a patient and not a clinician) it feels very personal to read one account of how the minds of those judging my own mind get changed early and throughout their training. The quote mentions the likelihood, over time, to notice more and more what fits with the gut diagnosis, and ignore what doesn’t. We all do this throughout our days, in some form or another, in terms of “selectively seeing” and “selectively noticing.” There is simply too much for us to see and notice to be able to take it all in with equal amounts of attention. However, human beings are complex, and it concerns me that with more training a diagnosis procedure would become less–not more–complex.

I am aware that many psychiatrists have helped many people, including me, and that there is a great deal of good that is done in the field. However, recent experiences have led me to question the system and process itself, and whenever there is an eagerness to question a system, I think we ought to start exploring.