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.

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

 

beauty, living, nature, poetry, time, writing

In The Garden of The Heart

“A fractal is a way of seeing infinity”-Benoit Mandelbrot

In The Garden of the Heart

by Carmen H Gray

I heard the soft sound of those delicate chimes

And suddenly I was there

Those warm springtimes

Walking, walking in my garden fair

The rosemary sticky with its scent

The artemesia silvery and light

No plant I touched was discontent

The proud lavender, standing upright

In that garden, was I there?

Were those days carefree before?

I wondered that as I lay here

Time is a revolving door

Nature’s fractals I have seen

In that garden where I stepped

The leaves outstretched and deeply green

A lovely place where I have wept

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cancer, living, time, writing

The C-Word Revisited November 23, 2014 8:28 p.m.

When the cancer journey began, back in August, I posted about the C-word. Amazing friends of ours “bombed” us with love and took the c-words from my post that I wanted to imagine instead of cancer when I thought of Ava and propped them up on sticks coming out of the basket of gifts.  I placed the words in a vase with bamboo that still sits on the kitchen windowsill.

Everyday I would see these words looking back at me and I’d repeat them in my mind, even when I was not feeling them.  Especially when I was not feeling them. Every morning when I’d wake up and go into the kitchen to get the day going, there they would be.  Every night when I found myself glancing out the kitchen window, there they were.  Words that I wanted to write into a reality instead of the one we were confined to at the beginning.

I believe that words are powerful.  What we say reflects how we think and what we think becomes who we are on so many levels.  Choose carefully.  I know I’ve regretted some things I’ve said-we all have.  The beautiful thing is, we have a multitude of opportunities to revise and redeem our words.

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living, moments, writing

Las Orugas Monarcas Oct 14, 2014 8:34pm

I am seeing life through new eyes, just like Ava.  I think we shared an unspoken first moment of “we need to give back” right after the diagnosis.  It’s like my friend, Susanna Sharpe mentioned, you just feel this deep need to do more for others after cancer.The other day before I headed to the hospital to be with Ava, I stopped by Half Price Books to grab something to read (not like I have a stack of books already needing to be read!).  While I was there, I could hear a woman having a very loud conversation with her companion over the store phone.  I looked around.  Everyone was just ignoring her, not making any eye contact.  It reminded me of the time in San Francisco when we were on a bus and a woman was complaining loudly about feeling ignored and my son, Pierce, gave her his seat and locked eyes with her, listening to her frustrations and nodding at her.  Telling her, “I know”. Just affirming her feelings, which changed her composure.  Something we don’t really do much for each other.  People just get louder and more frustrated when they feel they are not heard.Something about her compelled me to linger nearby as I made my purchase. She left the store with her two kids and was walking toward the Goodwill.  I followed her and saw tears on her cheeks.  I called to her, “I only have five dollars to give you.  I wish I could give you more and I know you haven’t even asked for it, but I just know you need it.” She looked at me with kind eyes and she cried more.  She hugged me.  I’m sure we were quite a sight to passersby.  This tall six foot woman and petite me telling her,  “It’s going to be okay”.  We parted our separate ways.  Who knows what troubles she was having, who knows what troubles anyone you see is having.  We only have each other.  We have to be our brother’s and sister’s keepers.  I know this now more than I ever knew before.

Today at school in the gardens a few of my students found some monarch butterfly caterpillars.  They cried out, “Mira, maestra, mira las orugas monarcas!” and showed me four fat yellow and black striped caterpillars.  Always a source of surprise and excitement, witnessing the stages of metamorphosis in nature.  A blessing, really.  We are so busy we often don’t pay attention to these important things, but children do.

cancer, living, writing

The Extraordinary World Sep 28, 2014 7:55am

I don’t know what it feels like to wander in this reality as the main character, I can only describe it to you from the perspective of one of the protective mentors who watches over the main character in this story.  She took my hand and pulled me into the world with her, however unprepared I was.  It’s important to have plans, but so many life changing adventures are the ones that catch you unawares.In the Extraordinary world, time passes differently.  You feel and see the love of other people more intensely.  You feel like you are outside of yourself sometimes and the troubles “out there” in the Ordinary world seem….well, they seem ordinary, trivial, meaningless in a way that they didn’t seem before.  If you haven’t traveled here, it’s hard to explain this reality.  An analogy I visualize is swimming underwater.  The sounds of the Ordinary world are muted.  You feel enveloped by the water and you feel a part of a different, mysterious world.  You come up for air and then dive back down into the water again.  Fighting the water makes things worse, so you let it hold you and surround you.  You learn to move where the current takes you.  You let go of the control you think you had in the Ordinary world and you trust in the direction you are going now.