hope, living, time, writing

The Invincible Summer Within


In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.
“-Albert Camus

A is for Aprazolam

B is for Buspirone

C is for Cymbalta

I can name many medications in the anti-depression/anti-anxiety and mood stabilizer categories that begin with almost all of the letters in the alphabet. I’m familiar with many of them. They’ve been thrown around since I was 16, when I discovered my youngest sibling on a terrifying downward spiral mentally.

I am familiar with psychiatric care and with alternative methods to regulate a hijacked amygdala. I’ve seen the evolution in psychiatric care over decades and I’ve seen the stigma associated with it diminish in the last decade the most. I’ve seen the greatest breakthrough in a reckoning with mental healthcare in the last 2 years, mostly due to the pandemic. For the general public, words like “trigger”, “anxiety”, “impulsive behavior”, “suicidal ideation”, “depressive episode” are now part of a common awareness that didn’t exist (out loud) when I was 16. Back then, those words were not casually thrown around in conversation. Back then, they were whispered in hushed conversations and even considered sinful (I grew up Catholic-you didn’t talk about attempted suicide or suicide at all. Like sex, if you didn’t talk about it, it wouldn’t happen). I had to learn all of these things during the course of my life. They were things I feared and wanted nothing to do with, but you know, what you fear the most is often what you end up having to face.

from a hike last summer in Colorado-feeling invincible

I’ve had to be on suicide watch, use my mindfulness/yogic breathing to help bring loved ones back to the present and to help me come back to the earth more times than I can count. Each time it has been an opportunity for me continue learning.

The first time I learned about anxiety was when I was in college and I was experiencing a panic attack. I had no idea what was happening to me. It was frightening. And, because it was not something you talked openly about to others, I suffered quietly. Until I couldn’t. I got physically ill and could not eat. A dorm mate, whose name was also Carmen, must have had some understanding of what I was going through. She held me and rocked me through a particularly bad panic attack. Finally, I went back home to speak to the same psychiatrist that my younger sibling saw. I just knew I was crazy and something very terrible was wrong with me. When he explained what was going on with me, it was such a relief. And years later, when the anxiety popped up again, the therapist I saw helped me further by explaining what was physically happening to my brain/body when I had a panic attack. That helped me the most, I think. It seems so simple. But it was a stepping stone to what we now refer to as “mindfulness”, which is something I now teach to others. Being aware of your body, your breath, where you are in space at the present moment. It came in handy when my own children suffered with their mental health struggles.

The Body Keeps the Score (written by Bessel van der Kolk), the go-to book for understanding trauma and how it is stored in your body, was introduced to me by a Somatic Therapist in 2016. I knew a thing or two about trauma at this point in my life-I’d attended trauma therapy with my daughter from the cancer she’d experienced and from the divorce I subsequently went through afterwards. I thought I understood trauma after that. I recall the therapist explaining how the mother suffers acutely when faced with her child battling cancer. She taught me that when the brain is in trauma mode, a person’s thoughts and behavior change. I was making connections with prior trauma that I’d experienced and how it triggered anxiety. But there was more to learn.

This Somatic Therapist and I met at a Shamanic Women’s Group that I attended weekly. She taught me about trauma that is bone deep. And ancestral trauma-how it is carried from one generation to the next. There was still more to learn about how to slow down and to be present. I gave the book to my daughter, a few years later, after she came home from treatment of a major depressive episode. She’d learned about it in treatment already. She also came home talking about DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). She’d superseded me in her knowledge. I observed how we return to a situation when we haven’t mastered the lesson. That is exactly what life does to all of us. Life was nudging me, saying ”you’re not finished with the lesson”. There was definitely more to learn.

My father has suffered with his mental health, as well. In the last year of this pandemic, it has been especially difficult, but truly the last 7 months have been a living hell for him. My mother, a nurse by profession and caretaker extraordinaire, has been dealing with the day-to-day duties of supporting a loved one (yet, again) with depression. She is in her 80’s, but here she is learning more about mental healthcare. My daughter visited her grandparents and could empathize well with her grandfather. I can chat away with my mother about all the therapies and medications and the caretaker perspective. But there is still more to learn. And I like to think, with each layer that is peeled back, we are learning and we are healing. We are learning how to maneuver collectively. Learning about acceptance, love and facing our fears. Learning how to tap into that Invincible Summer Within.

hope, living, moments, poetry, time

Half Moon

my hand outstretched in half moon pose today

Half Moon

by Carmen H Gray

Today, as I leaned down into the ground

Connecting to the floor with the right hand and foot

While lifting the other half of myself skyward

Gravity pulled drops of sweat down

To puddle together near my right fingertips

I was invited to remember

How two opposing energies

Generate a power that is greater than its singular parts

And how each difficulty we encounter

Requires an equanimous state

Though we have toppled over many times

We are drawn to keep seeking

That pause in a perfectly balanced pose

Between the Moon and the Sun

It is quite exquisitely powerful and subtle both

Like a knowing look

Shared by companioned hearts

ethereal, poetry, time

What Lies Inside

What Lies Inside

by Carmen H Gray

What stirs her

Only the burs that stick inside the lace lined white socks

Oh the flutterings of the old, burned burrows

Drawn in the straw colored grass, they come out

Reeling from thorns that are still sharp

Yet certain steps retrace forgotten paths

Altering the trajectory of the stars, as it were

Never to be known the same again

That is what lies inside

Like chards broken into bits

A mosaic of light and sound

Sometimes dimmed in an overly bright world

Too fast, too demanding

Get off of the merry-go-round

Stand still in the centripetal force

Felt on the periphery

Or be that force itself

That is what lies inside

living, moments, mystics, nature, poetry, time

The Ancients

by Carmen H Gray

one of the many trails I’ve hiked in the pacific northwest

Time passes

it is a path of fallen petals

strewn across soundlessly, like dew drops

upon fresh blades of grass

they are just as temporal

each petal holds a moment

whereby a day was lived,

gladly or sadly

depending on the circumstances

they disintegrate

softly curling inward

becoming part of the footpath

where little bare feet tread

scattering with the wind

and nestling into the ground

resting under layers

of newly fallen petals

the soil and rocks

collectively guarding all

the knowledge and secrets

of each day lived

and each night spent

here on earth

hope, living, poetry, time

The Healing House

“Before you can hear, much less follow, the voice of your soul, you have to win back your body. You have to go on a pilgrimage beneath the skin.”

―Meggan Watterson, Reveal

The Healing House

by Carmen H Gray

one day they may come back to you

have your prepared yourself anew?

have you gone on your own pilgrimage?

have you faced your very own umbrage?

for when these lessons return to know

the breadth and depth of your adagio

this is when all is revealed

the stalwart strength in your shield

the gentle bend that did not break

regardless of the commanding quake

you will then come to find

that in the midst of all that time

the stumbles and the thorns helped form

a compelling foundation to transform

your healing home inside of you

a precious place of highest value

it never stops until you end

the effort put forth to transcend

each new lesson to teach you more

that is what a healing house is for

hope, letting go, living, moments, poetry, time

Phantom Dog

Phantom Dog

by Carmen H Gray

Why does it hurt so much?

You having to leave?

Perhaps your existence is a metaphor

Your eyes mirroring all of the humanness

That we experienced in a certain set of years

A living/dying time capsule

God gave us such creatures to teach us

How to hold space

How to pause time and embrace

A lifetime of lessons

A dog’s life being a condensed version

Some creatures are here to fast forward

And simultaneously flashback

Our perception of an era.

ethereal, moments, mystics, time, writing

From A Dream

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”-Oscar Wilde

From A Dream

by Carmen H Gray

You and I, we made such vagaries of the mind

We called ourselves by unrelated names

And wandered into an altered world, where our ages

Were neither young nor old, nor anything in between

As if we were ageless, we were

I saw you writing and you watched me daydreaming in this distant place

I could not remember who I was anymore

As if I had disintegrated into no one, but everyone at once

And you were there to witness such an existence

What strange lives we have lived together

Thought I

 

art, hope, letting go, living, moments, time

Dark Night

profile                                                     Art & Poem by Carmen H Gray

I wrote the poem below 25 years ago. Found it today rummaging through old things this morning and it inspired a self-portrait. Although I am quite sensitive/empathic, in all these subsequent years, but especially in the last 5 ones, I have learned how to shore up my psychic boundaries, practice self-care and self-compassion. This has created a firmer foundation for me to explore who I am and what I feel, apart from others around me. It has led me to shed the burdens that I have allowed others to place upon me. In other words, I have a better sense of me. I read this poem now and realize, I no longer feel these emotions. I absolutely can and do sense the grief and heaviness in others, especially I can tap into this during my reiki sessions with my clients. I hear the feelings/experiences that are present in their subconscious.  But, there is no need for me to take on another person’s healing process now. I am there to reflect it, but not to feel it for them. For my own healing unfolded, and for this I am grateful.

Dark Night

To be alert and eyes wide open,

Heart exposed, vulnerable organ that it is,

Is to be both cursed and blessed.

But it is the only way to truly be

To truly live, and see and feel and die.

As I witness sad souls beat down in this world,

My heart feels heavy with the weight of their sorrows

How insignificant it may be, that in my life

I am present when your restless soul seeks

The warmth of another, reaching, hands outstretched, searching, searching…

How common that I mourn for you

When nights are long and painful

The senses are heightened

For every smell is sickening

And even silence is too loud

How simple to share moments of despair

When a blanket of nothingness surrounds you

Groping, blindly for hope

Hope, hope…this is what will save us

Returning to our human condition

Sharing our dark night of the soul

 

art, beauty, ethereal, living, moments, mystics, nature, time

Sundays in Autumn

tree

art and poetry by Carmen H Gray

Sundays in Autumn

Sundays in Autumn are alive

In and amongst the decay

The burnished rust revealing

That even an exquisite crown

Moves from its gilded beginnings

To evidence of archaic vulnerable venerability

All this I see with a deep inhale and an exhilarating sigh

That great oak, grande dame, standing

Gazing back at me

Telling me these truths

That’s what Sundays in Autumn are for