Saturday, June 21, 2014

I Am Free. (And it's not what I thought It was).

I'm Laura Paxton and I am free.

I am free to play, to create, to express myself, to explore my world. I am freer to think and to reason and daydream than I ever have before. I read more. I have meaningful work that I enjoy very much. I wake up each day with the joy of purpose before me.

Only about five years ago, I existed in a cramped, dark apartment where I had given up on life, agoraphobic, eating mostly chocolate bars for sustenance and playing online scrabble all day long to keep my mind off the pain trapped deep inside. How did I end up there?

Let's face it... I'm autistic. I'm bipolar. I've lived on the dangerous edges of life. I've been raped,  survived a near fatal suicide attempt, was almost successfully murdered and lived homeless at times in my teens. Over the course of my life, I've also been taken advantage of, tricked and abused because of my poor judgment, (which was poorer than most people's to begin with, because I'm autistic and don't judge social situations well). Add to that how I had a mother who rejected me. Compound that with how I was immersed in the "New Age" since childhood and my spiritual practices became more and more satanic-leaning over time. How am I alive? How am I even here? 

About five years ago, out of the blue, I decided to read a book on contemplative prayer by James Finley. I got to the part about how deeply people desire God and I wept. The sad tears turned into happy tears, because I realized I could finally feel again. It had been so long since I had felt anything! Best yet, the first thing I felt after many "dead" years prior was the desire for my God. I knew I needed to go back to church, and soon.

Through the past few years, I have come to experience freedom- and it only took over forty years to find it. Freedom is the opposite of what I always thought it was. 

My early ideas of freedom came from my parents, of course. It was really important to my parents that I have freedom- freedom to create, play and explore the world. The only problem with that is when there are no limits to it.

When I was a young teen, I could ask my parents whether I could go to an adult cocktail party and drink all I wanted and the answer was, "We don't believe in telling you what to do." I never had a curfew. I was never grounded in my life or put on any sort of restriction. I lived an anxious life, not even sure about what was safe or not a lot of the time. Being a total nervous wreck in a state of constant crisis, drama and repeated trauma caused by all the above wasn't exactly what I would call freeing!

There was only one thing in my life my parents absolutely forbid me to do- becoming Catholic. I told a friend this on the way to a retreat recently and she laughed so hard, I think soda came out of her nose.

I wanted to become Catholic very much. I was happy in the Church community. I had a good relationship with a nun named Sister Dorothy there and I would go and talk to her. I loved learning in CCD. It all made sense. And no, I did not go to Catholic school. I just found every way possible to spend as much time as possible at the Catholic Church, from late childhood to my early teens. Yet, eventually, my parents forbid it completely, when I was about fourteen. It was their first strong, "No." And why? "Catholicism will disrupt your direct relationship with God," they said. "We want you to think for yourself and we don't want a saint or a priest or a nun or anyone else to influence you."

Sooo... How did that work out for me? Not really well! There is no feeling I know better than the sense of being "lost."

"Lost" would be my area of expertise.

In my thirties, I followed a spiritual path for about six years which purported "total freedom" to be one of its goals. I haven't seen them put forward a consistent definition of what this means recorded anywhere, but the goal seems to rest on concepts like, "manifesting whatever you want in abundance," and "not being attached to anyone else's judgments or opinions of what you choose to do." I can't even begin to describe anything more constraining and spirit strangling.

Why? Because it's all a game of, "I believe, so I get," or "I believe, so I realize I already have." Because it's centered on "personal power" which is nothing more than worshiping at the altar of selfishness. I am. I have. I do with my power. There is none of the, "God alone suffices," of St. Teresa in that. You may find "all the love you need within yourself," and feel blissfully good, but you've only found a clever way to convince yourself you don't need the more deeply gratifying "meat" of spiritual life. And what's wrong with that? Nothing, if you don't mind the shallowness and emptiness that philosophy and lifestyle creates.

I can also tell you, just because you go to a different satsang or drum circle or circle ceremony every night to find spiritual freedom, you are not necessarily freer for it. By always seeking to break through the next set of limits, (or "limiting beliefs"), you will be searching forever. Of course, there are a limited number of "winners" in this way of life, who will tell you they have found what they were looking for. Those are the ones who make money through selling you this "freedom."

Freedom is actually free.

Someone told me a fable yesterday about a group of children who wanted to play ball next to a steep cliff. Of course, they were afraid to play. They could fall over the edge. They could lose their ball. So, they just sat huddled in a circle, afraid and not having any fun. Later, some people put up a fence and then the kids felt safer and they could play happily and freely. And, that would be a good description of my life today versus my past.

Freedom has to have bounds of some sort- edges, limits, containment. In fact, without a sense of outer security, inner peace is difficult to cultivate.

Now, I've talked to many people (mostly "reverts,") who grew up on the opposite, ultra-strict extreme and they are just as "messed up" as I was. When kids aren't given any room to play at all, that can be like living in shackles. So, often they end up throwing away all limits in life as a reaction to that. For either reason, once a person makes the decision to pursue "freedom" as a "limitless do my own thing," kind of an existence, they don't end up happy in the end either.

So, here we are, the converts and the reverts, two sides of the same coin, really.

I am Home again and I can breathe again. And life beat me to a pulp to get here. Because I have "been there, done that, tried almost everything," I know more solidly than most people do how there is no remote possibility that anything other than Catholicism is the Church Jesus founded. Here in the arms of the Church is the only source of the living bread and water our soul hungers and thirsts for so very much.

We need the chalice of God's love to hold us and fill us. Unlike "spiritual teachers" through the ages, Jesus was truly God. Jesus said He was,"The Way," not "a way." Because this is so, there must exist a true way, a path of certain and steady ground. It is not an act of cowardice (such as running from difficult questions) but an act of great courage to recognize and stand up for the answer when you find it. We are deeply blessed. We have the deep, solid security of knowing, "The Way."

Freedom really isn't "just another word for nothing else to lose." Freedom is another word for "nothing more to gain," and to gain everything is absolutely possible. As C.S. Lewis put so well, "A person who has God and everything else has no more than someone who has only God." With God, we truly do have nothing more to gain. And we are free.

(A related quote.)

"In John 8:32, Jesus tells us that the truth will make us free. However, the mentality mentioned above, so prevalent today, is one which fears the truth. It holds that truth is a relative category, and that the truth claims of the Church are not freeing, but rather enslaving. To counter this, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that Christians today need to counter the skeptics’ question, “What is truth?” with a question of our own: “What is freedom?  What do we actually mean when we extol freedom, placing it at the pinnacle of our scale of values?” Taking up this call, I believe we need to learn and find ways to creatively present the now classical distinctions in moral theology between freedom of indifference and freedom for excellence, on the one hand, and morality of obligation and morality of happiness, on the other."

-Matthew J Ramage, PhD

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Open Letter to You, A Bipolar

Dear Fellow Bipolar,

Just the other day, I was talking to a friend about all the various projects I love to do, such as creative writing, graphic design, web design, book cover design and app development. She said to me, "Of course, you do all that, you're bipolar. Bipolars are tremendously creative!" 

Suddenly, it occurred to me how I used to believe that going on medication would stifle my creativity, which seems to be the consensus in most of the bipolar community. But, I thought it would be helpful to tell people that the opposite has been the case for me. I'm more focused and so I'm more capable and I am more free to be creative.

No one wants to be on medications. I fought them. A doctor told me and my parents when I was sixteen that I would have to be on medications my entire life. After feeling the absolute numbing effects, the weight gain, the stomach problems and many other issues, I said, "Absolutely not." I believe that over the span of age 16-36, I was on medications about six years, and that was not consecutively. My life during those years was a casualty. It did not turn out the way I wanted, either in career or family life.

You see, what I did not understand was that it takes time to adjust to medications- like several months, or even years sometimes. You need to be patient and bipolars aren't good at that. You will probably need a cocktail of medications. It is extremely rare that only one medication will work on its own. And you will have side effects. And you will hate them. And you will NOT feel creative. Yet, I promise you that this will pass.

I also promise you that your creativeness will come back and your artistic freedom and ability will amaze you.

Staying on medications is better than frequent hospitalizations. It's better than a series of shallow, failed relationships, or blowing money and going into bankruptcy over and over again. It's better than suicide, and the frequency of bipolars killing themselves without medications is about one in five.

Do you want to stay alive? Do you want a life worth living? Then persevere with medications until they work for you.

Over time, I've learned not to take on too many projects or life ceases to be fun and my creative ability becomes too constricted. You see, I'm not in the creative arts business for the money. As much as I love new things sometimes, I've learned that money isn't going to make me happy and it actually adds nothing to my overall quality of life. I want to support myself and have money for the things I need, but I'm mostly in it for the fun and I try to use my abilities to be of service to God at the same time. That is greatly freeing.

I couldn't do that as an unmedicated bipolar. No, as an unmedicated bipolar, I always took on way too much, to the point of nervous breakdown later. I was too pulled and stretched in too many directions to really do anything well. And I was drawn to quick and flashy things that usually involved spending money and taking ridiculous risks.

As a bipolar, you have immense potential. Unfortunately, all of that potential is usually wasted because most people do not stay on medications.  Don't let that happen to you.

Nine years now of staying steadily on meds and five years stable. Four years of knowing it was worth it and waiting patiently through the process of getting it right, even though it seemed to take forever. Even during those first four years of shakiness, waiting for the right drug combo to be discovered, the quality of my life was better. And for the past five, it's gotten immeasurably better.

It's worth it. You are worth it.

The depth of high and low is still inside me, believe it or not. I can still sense and draw from the extremes. Yet they don't define my life experience or who I am and they do not control me. That's how medications have helped me. I am more content. I am happier. I have huge fun creating things and my creativeness does not overwhelm or control me. 

Right now, at this very moment, I have exactly the life I want. I am content. And I am still growing. 

I am writing this now because I want that for you, too.

Laura Paxton