hope, living, mental health, moments, nature, time

Conversations with My Father

by Carmen H Gray

From the novel, Wild Animals I Have Known, by Ernest Thompson Seton

How do you have a conversation with your father when he isn’t quite himself? I’ve been learning to navigate this recently. Tonight I called him to check in on the state of things. He informed me that his sitter had been ensuring that he eats and drinks. He also gave high praise to the people working at the hospital, telling me that they were kind and helpful, but not too helpful because they had to push you do things for yourself as much as you could. He told me about his foibles and again brought up the name of one nurse named Rosa, whom he particularly favored because she was “perhaps even bossier than your mother”.

“What are your big plans for the night?”, I asked him.

“Well, they’ll give me medicine soon that’ll knock me flat,” he answered.

“What will you do in the meantime? Have you attended any classes today?”, I inquired.

“Nope, I just stay in bed most of the day and think about things,” he answered.

I then remembered that I had in my possession several novels by one of his favorite childhood author’s, Ernest Thompson Seton. He’d given me these books 3 years ago and I remembered him telling me he thought my students may enjoy them, but I never did take them to my classroom.

I am glad I didn’t, because I decided maybe it would be a good idea to read to him. So I found the novel, Wild Animals I Have Known in my upstairs library. The first story in the novel is about Old Lobo, a very clever and powerful wolf who evades the exasperated humans. It was written in 1898 and the setting is in Northern New Mexico. My father has always been a nature lover. I stopped every couple of paragraphs to reflect on the story with him and he knew all the characters and the highlights of what we were reading-he told me he’d memorized all of Seton’s stories. I enjoyed reading to him and after about 30 minutes or so, decided it was time to stop and save the next chapter for our next phone conversation. He told me he really liked hearing the story and that it made his evening even better. Before I got off the phone I told him about a dream I’d had two nights ago. I was at the home of his parents. I walked around all of the rooms and though I did not see them, I felt their presence in their home. I walked him through each of the rooms with my words and he recalled those places in his own mind.

After we got off the phone, I remembered a poem a friend had posted recently, The Peace of the Wild Things. And it gave me pause because it is exactly why my father has always held an affinity for nature. I look forward to more adventures with Old Lobo, for he has more days to live yet.

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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, 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

beauty, hope, living, moments, nature, poetry

Courageous

Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

An act of courage is as unnoticeable as breathing

(to the outside observer)

When you’ve kept everything stored up for a potential moment

That has yet to materialize

It is the unfurling of a leaf

The action directly following an extended pause

I don’t agree with Seneca

It’s not some times

It is all of the time

Living is an act of courage

It isn’t involuntary

Like I was taught in biology classes

It’s more like:

Lungs, breathe

Anger, seethe

Heart, beat

Move, feet

Fingers, feel

Feelings, heal

Eyes, blink

Brain, think

Living is an act of courage

So I salute you, my courageous one

Living courageously each minute

Each hour

Each day

Each year

And I honor the beauty you bring to us all

hope, living, nature, poetry, Uncategorized

Suspended

For it’s our grief that gives us our gratitude,

Shows us how to find hope, if we ever lose it.

So ensure that this ache wasn’t endured in vain: Do not ignore the pain. Give it purpose. Use it.

-Amanda Gorman

Suspended

by Carmen H Gray

Fold yourself gently into it, my love

Suspension is the pause

Before you let yourself step further

Even if you trip, have confidence

In the fall

The sweet earth

Contains a purpose for you:

Soft grass reminds you to lean into her for comfort

Icy streams awaken your senses that are dulled

Vast meadows with their worlds within worlds

Show you there is always more to examine

And even the harsh desserts

Where the sea once was

Have vestiges of a former way of being

To teach you

Life can change

And shift, yet even so, it adapts

Everything you need is

Where you are

Let yourself fall a little back to earth

Forces pull you downward, inward

For a reason

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

art, beauty, ethereal, hope, living, moments, mystics, Uncategorized

The Rich Deep Tones of A Cello

drawing.pearl

drawing by Carmen H Gray

The Rich Deep Tones of A Cello

by Carmen H Gray

I’ve heard it in my dreams

As if he called to me

His voice in that same living tone

Of her beloved instrument

The sound waves echoing from our distant past

An expanding ripple of spheres

That reach across time

Pausing to recapture

The rich, deep tones of a cello

That hold so many memories

She ordered resin today

The parentheses have had their moment

I feel the exhaling of one hundred breaths

 

 

 

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