Saturday, August 30, 2014

The 7 Most Mindblowingly Liberating Things I've Learned As A Catholic

I finally figured out what matters.
This is it.

(1) I do not need a happy ending in life. 

The Meaning: Life isn't meant to be a fairy tale. Whether or not we become rich, famous or even comfortable is completely inconsequential. We are Christians. We follow the example of Christ, who died a brutal death. The majority of saints (and people in general) also died in unpleasant ways.

The Freedom: No matter how my life ends, I can die a "happy death," knowing that I am at peace with God. I will know my life has been worth living and my soul belongs to Jesus Christ forever, despite all of my human failings and any regrets.

(2) How I feel about my life doesn't matter. 

The Meaning: Whether I think my life is going well or not is completely inconsequential. How does God view it? And how can I improve my efforts to be of service to God? 

Is God heartless? Does he just not care what I am going through? No. He is compassionate. But when my feelings become more important than following His will, I don't need to pay attention to them and no one who really cares about me should pay attention to them either.

The Freedom: Less time wasted with pointlessly evaluating my life in terms of chemical and hormonal reactions to my environment. So, when I am able to accomplish detaching from my feelings, I have more time to actually live. And when I am able to accomplish actually living, all that time spent living is spent more at peace.

(3) How other people feel about my life doesn't matter either. 

 The Meaning: Whether people agree with what I believe and do is irrelevant because what God wants is important and not what they want. 

 The Freedom: I know what God wants is what's best for me. Unless someone is there to guide me towards discovering God's will, I do not need their opinion. So, if people want to insist that I accept moral relativism or reincarnation or abortion, they are not able to influence me at all. I am secure  in my convictions because I have strong roots in my desire to please Him. 

(4) Even if I became a god or goddess, it wouldn't matter. 

The Meaning: Having "personal power," or realizing the greatness in my soul in order to "manifest" whatever "abundance" I believe I deserve is not going to contribute one iota to my happiness or well being. I once believed that detaching myself from judgment, to achieve my desires, was freedom. Now, I see that the desires were the prison, not the judgment.

The Freedom: Who cares who I am? I belong to the infinite Creator of the universe, to all the power there is. To want what He wants is to want the perfect good. As much as I often think I am special or that I need to be special, the truth is that I don't have to be anybody, not anybody at all. Just His!

"Lord, when we ask you for honors, income, money or worldly things, do not hear us."
-St. Teresa of Avila

(5) If I never have sex again, it will not matter.

The Meaning: Sex is not necessary for psychological health.  Saints (those who were Religious or single) lived in deep fulfillment and peace without sex. A confidential survey of priests who have chosen celibacy showed that 90% are "very happy" with their decision. Having sex may be good for relieving stress, reducing blood pressure and it may have other health benefits, but not not having sex is not a proven physical or psychological health deterrent.

The Freedom: One less thing to focus on, feel driven by or worry about. One less empty thing to turn to as a potential "fix" for a lack of fulfillment in life. Less drama. Freedom from the hormones and intense drives and attachments of sex-based relationships. More complex and interesting aspects of myself and others to focus on. Far greater peace of mind. Me= Four years chaste. Loving it.

(6) One thing DOES matter:
Absolute truth is the only truth there is. 

The Meaning: If everything is equally true, then nothing is true. Truth has no meaning then.

The Freedom: I don't need to seek anymore. I have the True Faith. Yes, other religions contain some truth, but I have the full truth. I don't need to justify it, explain it, or convince anyone else. Remember, after all, I don't care how anyone else feels about it. I only need to live it, with deep gratitude.

(7) Never stop asking- "How Could I Do Better?" 

 The Meaning: It doesn't matter what horrible challenges life throws at me- Those are not excuses to wallow in self-pity or to justify selfishness. Nothing but doing my best is relevant.

The Freedom: This is the annoying part, the part that often does not feel freeing. Fortunately for me, (whenever I am able to remember it), I know that it does not matter how I feel. Yet, if I do not push forward, I am doomed to slide backward.  And truthfully, learning to live a Christian life is hard work. Yet, each time I free myself more from an over-attachment to a person, place or thing, it is worth it. Each moment I am not robotically controlled by my emotions and desires, I am freer.

Before my conversion, near the beginning of the RCIA program, our class discussed the goal of the Catholic Church. We were told that the goal is to help each Christian develop a more mature relationship with Jesus Christ. 

So, I said, "Wow. What would that look like?" The answer, from our teacher, Marybeth, was "saints." I was a little jarred, since I'd imagined that people who just believed and did what they were told could not be very mature.. but it's not WHAT you learn as much as HOW you learn that changes you, forms and matures you. Like everything else in the Church, it is paradox. 

Now that I understand what matters, I will spend the rest of my life working toward actually doing what counts. 

Every day, it seems I see how much worse I am at doing that. But, that's just how I feel, and that... 

doesn't matter.

Friday, August 29, 2014

ISIS is Herodias

I just returned from Liturgy for the Memorial of the beheading of St. John the Baptist. I could not help thinking the whole time about James Foley and of all the poor children who have been beheaded for Isis for the "crime" of their being baptized. This parallel will probably crop up everywhere in blogs today, because it is probably so obvious, but Herodias didn't like St. John the Baptist's righteous opinion (true judgment). It threatened her pride, the root of ALL evil. This is exactly the same issue with ISIS. Christians believe we have the true faith, although we don't want to take away anyone's freedom to choose any faith they want. Our "opinion" (i.e. truth) is not a threat to Muslims or Pagans. But, I think deep down, they know we are right. They know we hold the Truth. And their pride cannot handle that. Isis is Herodias. Destroying a righteous person does not destroy goodness, love or justice- not at all. And that is Christ's victory from the cross. The battle is won, no matter how much ISIS wants to terrify us that they are somehow stronger. Every martyr for our faith strengthens our faith. Every tear. Every drop of blood. #WeAreN

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hypomania. Here's How To Manage It.


What is hypomania?

If you are not bipolar, "hypomania" may be a normal, pleasant part of your personalty. Some people are naturally high-energy and don't need much sleep. Hypomania won't make you have problems in your life. You won't fall into depressive episodes in your life either. And yes, you are very, very lucky. 

If you are bipolar, hypomania is a low-grade mania. If you are Bipolar, Type II, this is the worst your mania will get. It can cause problems for you with making poor, impulsive decisions. It can "crash" into a deep depression that could be morbidly deep. So, yes, you do need to manage your hypomania, because it can do a lot of damage in your life.

But, unless you are Bipolar, Type I,  it won't grow and exacerbate to the point where it can make you psychotic or need to be hospitalized. Hypomania, for Bipolar I, is a sign that you are not stable and you are in danger of attaining great heights of instability. Sadly, I am a Bipolar I. Happily, I now know what to do about this problem.

Experienced sufferers of Bipolar I may go into terror when they hear their doctor tell them they are "hypomanic." Will the mania grow to an all-consuming point where you will be unable to contain your behavior? Truthfully, you don't know. Even with the best hypomania management techniques, there are no guarantees. Yet, if you don't try, it's likely your hypomania will escalate.

So, here is a very simple guide of what to do.

(1) Stop Freaking Out About It: "Freaking out" and worrying about it and feeling powerless and helpless will ramp hypomania up.

(2) Let the people you are closest to and see most often know the symptoms of hypomania and ask them to point them out to you when they see them. 

Common Early Symptom List:
*Intense, high-anxiety.
*Unusually strong irritability.
*Behavior out of the ordinary for you (You might hear people say, "You're not acting like yourself.")
*Ability to do much more work than usual, more efficiently.
*Something traumatic happens and you feel no reaction. "I must be dealing with this really well!" Um, no. (Caveat: Yes, you may be learning to cope better- Yet numbness followed by euphoria may indicate that you have been blindsided by something.)
*Intensely happy, out of the blue, for absolutely no reason. "Wow. What happened? Was I just enlightened?" Um, no.

Full List

(3) Follow your doctor's instructions to the letter even when that is the last thing in the world you want to do- and it will be. (If you are laughing hysterically alone in your apartment like you are naturally blissfully high, do you really want to take that pill your doctor said to take right away to make it stop?) I can answer that easily for you. NO, you will certainly NOT want to do that.

SO.. Poster time. Post, somewhere in your home, what can happen if you do not follow your doctor's instructions.

Sample Poster Contents:
*Mania feels good but mania will not be good if I let it control me.
*Mania can land me in the hospital.
*Mania can quickly lead to bankruptcy.
*Mania leads me to do things I'm ashamed of later.
*Mania scares my family.
*Mania can crash into severe depression.
Stop. Do all you can to make it stop. (Personalize this more based on your experience.)

(4) Do Things You Really Should Be Doing Anyway:
Go intentionally slowly about your life. LOTS of pauses. LOTS of breaks. REST. Take a "thought vacation." Very little about what you think about while you are manic is meaningful and that often feels overwhelming and frustrating. So, don't even bother trying to figure some things out. Accept confusion for now. Remember- You are not well. So, treat yourself like it. Relax.

DO correct errors in logic. Practice mindfulness more conscientiously. Take almost nothing you are worried about or fixated on seriously. Live your life in little "bites," even though you want to woof it all down at once! Breathe more. Walk more. The storms can pass instead of escalate. But, monitor, monitor, monitor and take care, care, care. Make relaxation a primary goal.

(5) Ride it out, and as long as you are doing what your doctor said, enjoy the creative flood you may be having. Sometimes, hypomania gives you ideas for new projects and the impetus to start to carry them out. As it grows toward increased mania, however, your thoughts will get so scattered and overwhelming, your work will lose focus completely. Watch the process. Monitor and tell your doctor when you start to see this.

Crisis Plan: How To Nip It In The Bud Early

Stressful events and trauma can immediately trigger bipolar disorder, creating a mess of misfired neurotransmitters and chemical flooding. So, make a list in advance of what you will do, step by step, as soon as you have the awareness that something traumatic or stressful has happened to you, even if you don't feel a thing. Follow this list very carefully. 

#1 should be, "Call your doctor." Yes, your doctor. Call him before you call your family, your therapist or your minister. Doctor. He needs to know you need more monitoring. #2 and the rest are up to you, but "choice options" are best. For example: "I will sit and say certain prayers OR I will call my Aunt Mary." You don't know what you'll be in the mood for, but you will need simple choices, so don't give yourself more than two to choose from for each line. Write down your own personalized steps for crisis time. Add your crisis plan to your poster of why you need to do what your doctor says. That's the best idea.

Possible Other Helps:

* Intensely emotional music. Some recommend not listening to intense music, because it could make you more emotional, but intense music contains my hypomania. Unsure why. I have really strong feelings, get tired and let go of them when the song is over. So, give me Imogen Heap or Regina Spektor, Rachmaninoff, or Andrea Bocelli. I don't care the style. Just give me intense. For others, soothing music might be better, but I am just not a "Yanni person."

*Take your mind off worry with art, poetry or musical composition. 

*Meditation and prayer.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Don't Hate Me Because I Don't Care If You or I Am a Goddess.

You are whole. You are weak, but with God, you are strong. You are a precious child of God.
When you read these words do you feel the truth of them ringing in your bones?

If not or if so, why are your feelings the barometer of what is true or not true?

Or do you feel the weight of the desire for self-aggrandizement and self-absorption, the deep-marrow fear of not being good enough, and the exhaustion of seeking your value outside of yourself?
Good news. You are not good enough (on your own) and you never will be. You also do not have to seek value outside yourself. All your worth and value comes from God. With God, you are always good enough. Yes, we're dependent on Him for all things, but we are precious beyond measure.
If you don't love and honor God, our Creator and Savior with every fiber of your being, if you could use more joyful play and simple awareness of the presence of His Majesty in your life, if you struggle with understanding the tyranny of your passions and desire to be powerful instead of to serve Him, then it is time for an inner revolution. 
It is time to claim your honored position as a Spiritual Warrior for the sake of what is timeless and true, fighting against the empty promise that worship of yourself as a goddess will bring you anything more than a desolate, selfish spiritual death.
The new women's revolution is an evolution from being self-focused to God focused. When our conscience is NOT silenced and suffocated by our selfish desires, we are finally free to direct our energies towards our own creative, purposive and authentic life that will bring true freedom.
When we bring our attention back to discovering who God intended us to be – not who we wish we were or who we think we should be – we begin a sacred path of transformation towards our innate, authentic, embodied ability to love in the natural way God created us to love.
This is the path of the Spiritual Warrior.
This invitation is a window of opportunity to form the most intimate relationship possible with the infinite Creator and Savior of the universe. My commitment is to tell you the truth so that you don't waste your life with lies. 
This is a parody, but it is also by someone who really does care about the welfare of your soul. (And doesn't it sound like a bit more common sense?

I will not link to the original invitation to emptiness, egotistical inflation and spiritual death, because I do not think it is fair to target one individual teacher and one program, when there are so many doing such similar things..They promise things, like how you will actually be able to study personally with a very important person who knows all about how to be dazzling wonderful goddess. Aren't you lucky? And just $297.
[The picture above is of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Mother, who is not and has never been a goddess. And it doesn't matter that she's not and that we're not either.]

Friday, August 8, 2014

Strange Islands Beyond the Self-Absorbed

As I was walking home from mass today, I noticed that I was standing in an odd place. Why was I there? I had walked a block from where I needed to turn to go home and I had not noticed anything on my way. My last memory was of crossing the street two blocks before and from that point, my legs moved, but I was lost in my mind.

Of course, most people and not just autistics wander off in their thoughts and get physically lost occasionally.  Yet, this experience is often frequent in autistic adults as well as children. Sometimes, it's called, "wandering," and it can be quite dangerous, especially when children do it. In my case today, it was simple to change my path to walk home, but I cannot recall the number of times this sort of thing has happened to me. At times of my life, especially under stress, it's more the rule than the exception.

The comical part of all this is the content of the thoughts I was having. I was deeply pondering and contemplating why I am often so self-absorbed! Oh, wow. This is the very thing I've been "working on" in my spiritual life lately, and I was too self-absorbed to see it! So, I actually stopped and laughed a little bit, (well, actually I giggled pretty intensely,) out of the blue- also a very autistic thing to do.  I did not care who might be looking on at the "loony girl."

On the way home, I was careful to look around and watch the trees and flowers. I really enjoyed the sense of being more open to the world. I did not want to look at the people, and that is common for me.

The social world is not a "safe place" for autistic people.  The social world is a mass of confusing things- Nonverbal communication is supposed to be 80% of communication and my brain has no area  that works to process such things. I know I'm missing a lot. By only hearing the words, I cannot detect deceit. I also don't pick up on insincerity well. I have to be careful to try to take in the overall context of the conversation anyway, so that I don't say something socially that doesn't "fit," and embarrass myself or offend another person.

People are also over-stimulating in themselves. Just watching their face while I hear their voice can be overwhelming. So, social time is tiring, to say the least.. and the better and more convincing I manage to do at it, the more exhausted I am later.

And, of course, this brings me to the topic of how is it that I can be less self-centered, when being inside myself is my sanctuary? At the end of the day, I look back on the times when people tried to share something about themselves to me and I assumed it was all about me, when it wasn't. I want to be more present for people. I want to be a better friend. To do that, I need to take risks and that doesn't mean I feel comfortable with them.

God did not intend a purely contemplative life in a cloister for me. He has called me to be a contemplative in the world. It's the "in the world" part I don't like. Yet, if I can get lost in a book, in artwork or a game or learning coding, I can get lost in a person and what they have to say as well, when I am determined to do that. People should never assume I'm not interested in them or that I don't care about them because of these difficulties, because it usually has little to do with that.

People who need the most love are the least safe. My Secular Carmelite friends are actually perfect friends. They do not gossip. They do not talk negatively about anyone else. If they do, they are running to confession right away! No, I am not worried about any sort of harm from them.

And yet, Jesus Christ calls me to open myself to people, who can be the source of harm, and to a life of loving, giving and service even to the point of the very crucifixion of myself. Now, it would make no sense to continually force myself to socialize to the point of meltdown every day. The trick is to take good care of myself so I can tolerate more and more time with people. To do that, I need to do more than merely monitor and reduce sensory overwhelm.

I need a deeply secure spiritual core, to provide a sense of emotional safety, so that even if I am in a meltdown, I am at peace. (And yes, that is possible, because a meltdown is the involuntary response of the nervous system to overstimulation, not a psychological issue.) We can have migraines and be at peace, so why not in a meltdown? I am learning this.

St. John of the Cross writes often about "strange islands," which is the experience of finding himself in a state of awareness and experience he has never been in before. He is referring to experiences he has within himself with God. For me, the "strange islands" are about taking God with me as I venture into the wilderness of unpredictable and confusing people.

And so, in this way, I hope I find myself "standing in an odd place" more often, with my deep sense of security in God unaltered.