ANXIETY

I watched the other night a not very well well known film by Italian Giuseppe Tornatore called ”The Legend of1900” in English. Starring Tim Roth, it tells the story of a person born on board a cross Atlantic steamer ship on January 1, 1900, abandoned at birth by his unknown mother who most likely got out at New York City, greeting her new life in the so-called new world unencumbered by the challenges of an infant.

What gives this story its main theme is that this infant was taken care of by a workman on the ship, and raised to never leave the boat. Without a passport, identity or name, he was kept in the hull of the ship and tended by the many workers there. We see him as a young boy, learning to read; we see him as an adolescent, first beginning to play the piano; and then he is an adult man, and one of the greatest piano players ever. Beautiful scenes in the film of him sitting at a grand piano, making music and entertaining the passengers as they jitterbug around.

His whole world is the ship. He knows nothing else. He sees people walk off the gangplank and onto solid land at the ports, but he has no desire to know more than the ship. He tells his good friend, a trumpet player, that his music is inspired by seeing the people on the ship and imagining their stories, their lives, their worlds. He says the land is a harsh place, it seems, unending, never satisfied, and that land people always seem to be searching for more, never content with what they have.

I have been thinking a lot about so-called anxiety. Yes, I know, we all sometimes feel anxious about things, which is only normal, especially in the craziness of our current lifestyle. But I am talking about something more than this passing anxiety – I am talking about the kind of anxiety that can seem to take over people and make them feel so fearful, unsettled and – well –anxious about something, anything, that it can almost be immobilizing at times.

I guess I have been thinking about it a lot because I have been dealing with various people in the last few years who clearly have an “anxious” tendency, and trying to find ways both to understand this (as it is not my natural predilection) and also to support and help them. I will be honest, it can make me anxious to deal with people I care about who are anxious.

Yes, I have learned some strategies. And I have also learned a lot from them. Oftentimes, it seems. They want a clear and specific explanation and response. They are reassured by regularity, repetition, and definition. Expansion and open-endedness seem scary, anxiety provoking, fear generating.

Back to this movie. 1900, the young man sees a beautiful woman on the ship and begins to fall in love with her. He plays her his best music ever; and wants to offer to her the one record ever made of his piano work. When she heads off down the gangplank to New York City, she shouts out her address on Mont Street and invites him to visit her.

He tries. Next cross Atlantic voyage he packs up all his things, says good bye to the only home and people he has ever known, and setoff down the gangplank to pursue the woman of his dreams. One step; another. He is halfway down the gangplank when he hesitates. Then he stops. Pregnant silence. We all await his decision.

He turns back to his beloved ship and home, vowing never ever to leave it again. He explains later that the city appeared to him so unending, so limitless, that he knew he would never be satisfied there, he would always want more, always be searching for something he could never find. While on his ship, he knew everything, everyone, and that was world enough for him.

Many of the people who seem to have anxious tendencies that I know appear to me to be sensitive souls, kind hearted people, compassionate and empathetic. Open hearts. Nurturing, creative, beauty loving. Several have told me that they wish they never had to work, and that they could tend to their houses, their gardens, their loved ones. Here I am talking about people as close to me as my mother, my daughter, and others.
They remind me, in a manner of speaking, of 1900.

It used to be, not so long ago in human history and still true in many places in the world, that most of humanity was born and died within a small area of land; they many not venture more than twenty or thirty miles in the course of their lifetime. And their lives were very regular, following the rhythms of the seasons and plantings. Year after year, one knew what to expect and anticipate. Family and friends were key, both for survival and for support.

When I think about the nature of most of our lives these days, and of most workplaces in particular, I shudder. What a complex, and sometimes convoluted society. So many choices, so many options, so much information. It can be overwhelming. It can provoke anxiety in all of us.

Unfortunately, many of these sensitive souls with anxious tendencies can’t retreat back up the gangplank to their safe haven, as 1900 could. So maybe what we need to strive for is to find a balance – a healing balance – between apparent structure and safety and the unknown and seemingly unending expansiveness of many aspects of our life.

And interestingly, it may just be in finding this balance that we are also helping to create kinder, gentler and more nurturing society for all of us. There are so many gifts and teachings that these sensitive souls give to the rest of us – as we strive to understand our differing ways of interpreting the environment in which we live and work. After all, 1900 was considered in the movie the greatest pianist ever. Emily Dickinson one of the greatest poets our country has produced so far. And maybe, just maybe, someone you know who has anxious tendencies may be one of the greatest people you have ever met.

Published May 2015 in the “Monadnock Shopper.”  by Skye Stephenson.

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A Thyroid Story

One of my intentions via this monthly column is to contribute in some small way to helping heal individuals and our community through personal stories. Today I am sharing with you what may just be one of the most personal stories yet – about one of my children and her journey towards improved health. My hope is that this story may be of use to others.

Actually, this story begins long before my daughter’s birth – with my maternal grandmother. It is the height of the great depression, and she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant for the third time. Her husband is away from home most of the time working as a travelling salesman, and my grandmother who had grown up as a wealthy southern girl is now running a boarding house in northern New York State. She ends up hospitalized with a thyroid breakdown during a good part of this pregnancy, until my mother emerged into this world.

My mother claims that she never felt like she had energy to get through her day. As a young child she was often sickly with a variety of ailments and allergies. Her quest into natural medicines of all types during the course of her lifetime was in large part to help heal herself. She told me that she had been diagnosed with Hashimoto disease (thyroid autoimmune disease) but that the medication made her feel worse and she never took it.
For many days in my childhood, mom stayed in bed most of the time until around dinner time. Sometimes she angered easily, unexpectedly, for no apparent reason. More then once I wondered if she really had a grip on reality, but then again don’t most children wonder this about their parents?

Flash forward to my generation – seven cousins that trace our lineage back to our common grandmother. Of this small group, two are permanently hospitalized with severe mental illness, and one is on disability for bi-polar disorder. Of those of us who are sort of sane (whatever that means) we have all gone through periods of low energy and each of us on our own have found that the only way we can feel okay is to stay away from gluten and to have good quality protein frequently.

All my other cousins and my sister decided not to have children, several because they were concerned with our family’s clearly not stellar genetic material. Two adopted children. I was the only one to choose to have children, and I had my children after more than 15 years of being gluten free and having built my body’s energy up through mega vitamins and more.

Given my family’s history, perhaps it was not a total shock when my daughter began to exhibit some signs of paranoia a few years ago. She had been low in energy for some time, as well as exhibiting some other behaviors that almost reminded me of my years living with my mother. Still, her descent into paranoia was distressing and scary for all of us.
It prompted me to begin what I call the two-fold path in seeking help for her. On the one hand, we worked with psychiatrists and psychologists. On the other hand, I also sought out a wide variety of so-called alternative treatment for her.

The first psychiatrist who saw my daughter said within ten minutes that my daughter was schizophrenic, and prescribed anti-psychotic medication which we were told she would need to take the rest of her life. The next day a chiropractor who was seeing her for something else proclaimed that she had a thyroid problem and that we should not give up hope. What radically different opinions!

While she stabilized somewhat, my daughter continued to have low energy and find it hard to get out of bed. She told me often how her legs ached, her body hurt, and that she felt bad all over though she could not explain more. She sometimes seemed disoriented. She had problems finding her way around.

After more than two years with a different psychiatrist than the one named above, no name had been given to what my daughter was experiencing. All he did in the monthly check ups was to prescribe medication, which he liked to increase in dosage. When my daughter told him that the medication didn’t help and made her feel worse, he refused to believe her.

Finally, I learned of a psychiatrist with a different approach who was willing to accept my daughter. His practice was a long drive but well worth it. In the first appointment, he wrote out a battery of blood tests for her to take. He explained that he always starts by checking to see if there are any physical factors that could be causing what may appear to be mental illness.

The results showed that my daughter’s thyroid autoimmune response was much higher than it should be. And while her T3 and T4 levels (the standard for many thyroid tests) were in the normal range, clearly something was going on there.

Around this time, my daughter moved overseas to spend some time with her Chilean family members. A family friend there who is a medical doctor skimmed the blood test results and immediately got my daughter set up with a top endocrinologist. After some more blood tests, the endocrinologist said that my daughter has Hashimoto disease (auto immune thyroid disease) and prescribed a thyroid hormone pill.

That was three months ago. I have just returned from visiting with her and she is so much better. We walked all over the city and her energy was better than mine. She no longer seems disoriented, and she is able to carry on a good conversation. She has no signs of paranoia. As she told me, “Mom, I told you my body did not feel right.”

While her healing journey is still continuing, she is so much better it is a joy and happiness for all of us who love her. And yet I am also mad at myself, and even madder at the system. I should have listened to the chiropractor who told me it was her thyroid more than three years ago. Instead, we almost believed in the pronouncement of her serious mental illness with no possibility for recovery that the first psychiatrist told us.

The other day I went on line and put in the words “paranoia” and “thyroid”, and multiple sites popped up. One claims that thyroid disease is one of the most underdiagnosed maladies in the world today and that there are countless millions who suffer from thyroid disease, which can mask as many maladies including bi-polar disorder and more. A man on the site tells of how one day he had a paranoid breakdown and was institutionalized for several years until his mom got him out and tested for thyroid problems – now he is back functioning successfully as a businessman.

In my family’s case, the initial impetus for this disease may have emerged from the stress and malnutrition brought on by the Depression. And the weakened thyroid has been passed on to at least four generations. Of course, my family’s case is not unique. We now know that malnutrition and stress can cause genetic abnormalities.

I just hope that one day soon any person who experiences what may appear to be depression or anxiety or paranoia will routinely be tested for a variety of physical imbalances including iron deficiency, thyroid problems, gluten intolerance and more first. Many people who have been told and believe they have long term psychiatric disorders may not after all.

Published in the Monadnock Shopper,  March 2015.  Author Skye Stephenson.

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The Way of the Sage

THE WAY OF THE SAGE

Sage is a wonderful plant that has been bringing me much joy and “good vibes” in the last few years. As I attempted to grow my first herb garden two years ago, a small clump of sage was one of my first plants and has proven to be one of the most prolific and hardy. This summer, I had several large clumps of sage that blossomed and grew leaves, and it seemed that the more I clipped them for teas and smudges, the more they grew.

The calendar is bringing us round to the dark time of the year, and now my sage stands blanketed in snow, with a few of its silvery grey leaves still poking out from under the initial white cover of late autumn.

Two days ago, I was just about to get a cold…I could feel it coming upon me. And so I ventured down to my basement, and brought up some of my dried sage – now stored in a large mason jar.

While the water was boiling, I placed some dried sage leaves along with a pinch of thyme and some dried yarrow (all from garden) into a pot. When the water was warm enough, I let it infuse the herbs for a while.

I chose my favorite tea cup – delicate and thin lipped. Not a more massive mug that seemed less sacred somehow to me at that precise moment. I poured the steaming liquid through a metal strainer and into the porcelain cup.

Sitting quietly and alone at my kitchen table, I looked out into my backyard that always inspires me with its beauty as slowly and very mindfully I sipped the medicinal liquid.

It seemed to taste more delicious than any tea I had imbibed for a long time; and it also tasted powerful and yet familiar. I wondered if this was because it had been harvested from my own garden, tended by my own hands. Perhaps this gave it special powers to help heal me when I need it.

For whatever reason, that cold never took hold. A few hours later, I felt mended and renewed.

I wrote this poem some time ago about sage, both the plant, which is a wise healer, and “sage” as a wise human mentor.

The way of the sage
Is the gentle extreme
Not tending to any direction
Not focusing on any goal
But rather committed
With whole-hearted honesty
And a mind that is crystal clear
To being of service to all those
Things that are near and dear.

So on this holy season
That bodes of changing cycles
And ways, I salute you
Today and call upon the power
Of the sage
To remind us all
Of our gentle soul
And the beauty of this earth
When we behold all of its treasures and lore.

So hold on tightly to your loved ones
And all that you hold dear
In this time of gentle beauty
And holy-day cheer.

About the author: Skye Stephenson, PhD, is an author, educator and LECORA crystal healer. She is also founder of The Jade Journeys Institute. Her recently published “Crystal Companion Cards: Messages from the Stones and a Star,” is a 52-card deck and accompanying booklet. If you would like to receive a weekly crystal message, please email her at crystalhealing.lecora@gmail.com. She is also available for individual crystal card and LECORA crystal healing sessions, and for sacred place healing. See http://www.jadejourneys.org.

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Australian Bush Flower Essences

Australian Bush Flower Essences were developed by Ian White during the last twenty years. Currently there are 65 of them, all derived from plants native to Australia. In September, I attended an advanced workshop in Sydney, Australia to learn more about these unique flower essences, which have had some well documented success in treating illnesses of various types, including a wide range of physical and psychological ailments, as well as addressing other human frailties such as addiction, depression, disassociation, and more.

Flower essences are obtained by infusing water with the energy of a particular flower or plant, via sunlight. The use of flower essences by humans to promote healing and well-being extends back to the very first human healers – millennia ago. For instance, the Australian Aborigines obtained the beneficial effects of a flower essence by eating the whole flower, which would have dew upon it. They used many different types of flowers for resolving specific emotional imbalances. Many other cultures and peoples, including the Egyptians, used flower energies in this way.

European folklore on the healing power of flowers dates back at least to the medieval times. In the 16th century, the great healer and mystic Paracelsus collected the dew from flowers to treat emotional imbalances.

Dr. Edward Bach (1886-1936) is considered the modern pioneer of flower essences. In earlier articles, I have written about some of the flower essences he developed. He believed that his repertoire of essences covered the entire spectrum of human energetic imbalances and that by using the appropriate flower essence(s), subtle energetic corrections could be made that could halt physical ailments from manifestation.

In recent years, flower essences have been developed in various locales around the word by gifted spirit healers (actually, anyone can make a flower essence as it is quite a simple process….yet to come up with an entire line of unique flower essences with their uses clearly understood is a life project for just a handful who feel this call.)

As Ian White puts it, the world that most of us live in is quite different from the era in which Dr. Bach developed his essences. Ian believes that new flower essences are now being revealed to help us cope with this current era of such complexity and heightened change.

Australia is one of the oldest lands, from a geological standpoint. It never experienced the ice age, nor does it have deep tectonic factors that cause earthquakes and volcanoes. Add to this its geographic isolation, as the largest island/smallest continent, and you have a plethora of unique flora and fauna in the red lands “down under.” Most of the Australian Bush Flower Essences come from plants that only grow in this very special part of the globe.

I myself wondered as the only non-Australian at the workshop whether these Australian made essences would be meaningful and useful to friends and clients in this area of the United States. Why not use more place-based flower essences, instead of drawing upon plants from so far from home?

My only response, which may explain why I was so guided to attend this workshop during my recent travels in Australia, is that they sure worked for me. I have used Bach flower essences for years, and will sometimes recommend them to clients to complement the crystal healing work I do. I have also worked with a few other types of flower essences, plus I make my own gem essences.

All I find powerful and transformative, and yet during the workshop and afterwards I was transformed at a very deep level by the Australian Bush Essences we used at the workshop. Their energies almost seem to harken to feel of the Australian lands and waters themselves – bold yet gentle, fluid yet solid, hardy yet alluring.

Right now, I am taking Boab for two weeks –morning and night –which is the standard recommended way to use these essences. This plant grows only in Western Australia. It said to help clear negative patterns of the ancestors. I’ll share my experiences with this in my next article.

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Different Views of Mental Health

When I wrote my column last month about the Robin William’s memorial in Keene, it never occurred to me that it would still be in place when I wrote my next column a lunar cycle later. And yet it is still there, a memorial to Robin Williams and perhaps, for some of us at least, also a way to remember and acknowledge ritually people we have known whose lives were marked indelibly by their so-called “mental illness” challenges.

What is “mental illness”? Around the world, there are very different ways of viewing behaviors that in our mainstream culture are currently termed “mental illness.” In fact, there are some cultures and peoples who consider those individuals who experience profound mental crises to have some important and unique gifts that can be used to help their community in very positive ways.

This point first came clear to me a few summers ago when I led a group of college students to Cuba to explore African diaspora spirituality. By the luck of the draw, about half the group were psychology majors. As the trip progressed, the students began to notice that many of the spiritual leaders we met with recounted how they had become spiritual priest(ess) due to having profound experience that would have been defined as psychotic crisis in our standard terminology.

One man who channeled spirits for healing purposes explained that when he was eleven he started to have fits, that his doctor called epilepsy. His mother however refused to accept this diagnosis, and took him to apprentice with an African spiritual healer who taught the young man how to use his gifts of shifting consciousness to bring in spirit and help others.
Several of the students at the end of the Cuba commented that what they most learned was a very different view of so called psychological illness and how to deal with it.

A more recent story from a different spot in the world. I have just returned from a trip to Australia. While there I was invited to an Australian aboriginal center by my friend Stephanie. She recounted to me how she first met the Aboriginal man who headed the center. When she was a teenager going through some challenging times and living homeless on the streets, she had gone to a weekend workshop during which time she felt a mental collapse and withdrew crying inconsolably to her tent. She felt herself suffocating in her own sadness.

And then this aboriginal man came up to her to ask what was wrong. She could barely reply, she was so down and out. “You need a walkabout” he told her. And he made her leave the tent and follow him into the bush. And he sat with her out there, making sure she put her feet in the water, for many hours, all the while sharing with her ancestral stories from his clan. By the end of the day, she was recovered.

Stephanie is now a very talented massage therapist who works with nature energies to help people in her community heal.

I love these stories of different views of mental wellness and healing because they offer us alternative ways to perceive of mental health crisis situations and those who experience them. Often they are people like Robin Williams and so many others who have very special and wonderful gifts to bring to our world.

Published in “Monadnock Shopper” 10/14

Posted in Community healing, depression, healing, mental illness, Monadnock, New Hampshire, Robin William's suicide, Skye Stephenson, writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

That Dark Place

Robin Williams’ suicide has touched many of us and the familiar Parrish Shoe sign has become a shrine of sorts to his life and legacy. My favorite role of his was as Patch Adams, a doctor who found out that making his patients laugh was a very healing thing to do. It is ironic that the man who played this character ended up taking his own life because he could no longer find any joy in this world.

I venture to forward that a lot of us know intimately what that dark place feels like. And it may be that slight hint of underlying pain and sadness that Robin William’s somehow imparted to all of his characters that made him so beloved as an actor, and why we are all mourning his premature passing so widely.

Apparently, Robin Williams “suffered” from depression most of his life. “Suffered” in quotation marks, because in many cultures and spiritual beliefs, rather than “fighting” against and/or “overcoming” this pain, there is a call to accept it as a natural part of the cycle and rhythm of life. Just as there is day and night; winter and summer – there is pain and joy.

My mother, who herself had many dark times, always refused to give us aspirin. Rightly or wrongly, she said she wanted us to know what pain feels like, and not always run away from it.

As someone who has lived abroad and traveled quite extensively, one of the hallmarks I most note about US culture is our emphasis on trying to ameliorate problems and pains through pills, legislation, psychotherapy and more. It is as if we wish to always live in a Disney movie that ends happily ever after.

But that is in truth a lie, and perhaps one of the shadow sides of our culture is our inability to accept that other side, that dark side, of life as a very important component of wholeness.

There are many different strategies and ways of encountering that dark place, navigating our way through it, and then back into the light once again. Creativity of any sort can be a most powerful technique for many of us, and in fact much of the greatest music, writing, artwork, and visual productions were birthed by people who were in that dark void when inspiration came upon them. I began writing more deeply years ago in my moments of despair over a crumbling marriage and difficult life circumstances, and it was this writing that saved me from the abyss.

When darkness becomes a problem is when it does not pass – dwelling within us so heavily we lose all hope of ever feeling joyous and full of light again. And it is here that the role of loved ones and a compassionate community is so important.

I was once told by a Mapuche man from southern Chile that his people have a way to cure depression that is community based. When someone is in a deep depression, a ritual ceremony is carried out in which all members of the person’s extended family must be present and participate in fully. By forming a circle of care around the person in need and singing and drumming, they can cast out the darkness through their collective presence and support.

Some recent articles have pointed out how Robin Williams felt all alone and abandoned during his last and final bout with depression. Maybe this is what touched us too, our sense that we want to let him know – even if he has departed this world – that he is not alone. He is beloved by many of us, because we too are quirky, different, don’t quite fit in, and we too sometimes feel the pain of those dark places that can crash down upon us and hold us in their grip.

Perhaps it is easier to honor Robin William’s suicide than those of local residents, but it bears mentioning that one block away from what has become an altar to Robin Williams a middle-aged man set himself on fire because he was so depressed and felt so abandoned by the system and his own loved ones. And just last month, on the other side of town, a man committed suicide after an hours long stand off with a horde of police.

Maybe one way we can honor Robin William’s legacy is to support with compassion those around us who are experiencing that dark place and are in need of some of our joyous light right now.

Posted in Community healing, depression, family healing, healing, inspirational thoughts, mental illness, New Hampshire, Robin William's suicide, Skye Stephenson, writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apu Mt. Monadnock

In the central Andes, where the second highest mountain chain makes their imposing presence viscerally felt, the indigenous people have since time immemorial venerated their mountain peaks. Quechua-speakers (the language of the Inca Empire) call them Apus.

Certain Apus are designated sacred mountain peaks, based upon teachings of the wise ones. Typically these sacred Apus are found in pairs – one is considered masculine, the other feminine. And to these mountains sacred gifts are offered and special ceremonies enacted at specific times in the calendar year. And at all times, prayers include the local mountain peaks – considered to be protectors of the zone – in the spirits thanked and invoked.
Some of us in the Monadnock area yearn for a deeper sense of this kind of connection with our own geography and place. Some activities an increasing number of local folks are stepping into more boldly these days such as organic agriculture, CSA farming, engaging in ritual and ceremony, healing modalities of many types, community support, helping animals and plants, etc., are being done – at least in part – to contribute in some small way to helping heal and nourish our beautiful environment.

Place-based ceremony and ritual may be one way to contribute to such needed healing.
Back in 2007, when I had lived in this area for a few years and just begun to discover Mount Monadnock, I was faced with a pivotal decision in my life. I was offered the chance to move elsewhere, to an area and job that in many ways were more appealing. Yet I fleetingly sensed Mt. Monadnock whispering to stay around here, that there was work to do in this area. And so I chose to stay.

Last year, my friend Lisa who lives atop a hill in southern Vermont, spent a month in Peru in ceremony and ritual. Months later, on a crisp and clear Fall day, she was on Putney Mountain walking her dogs when she happened to look to the East and beheld Mt. Monadnock silhouetted alone on the horizon. And she sensed its presence, as she received the following message: “You do not have to go to Peru to find the Apus. I am right here in front of you. Look at me.”

Lisa called me all excited and we met and talked about our local Apu – Mount Monadnock. And we decided – as many others have before us and many will do in the future – to enact a ritual ceremony for this powerful mountain that looms nearby us. Mount Monadnock offers us the opportunity to acknowledge its presence and feel its energies if we so desire.

James Beard, also known as Noodin, is a NH park ranger who is lucky enough to live in the cabin at the base of White Dot trail. He is also a white man who has spent many years studying deeply with the indigenous peoples, especially the Ojibway, and he has written a wonderful book about his own life journey along this path of learning.

From what he has gathered from indigenous peoples as well as from the mountain itself, Mt. Monadnock was considered especially sacred because it did literally “stand alone,” as its name attests in the Abenaki language. And due to its sacred qualities, most people walked the base of the mountain and left offerings. Only a few of the very wisest would at special times climb to the peak for ritual ceremony.

How different from today where hundreds and even thousands climb the mountain on a nice weekend day, most viewing it solely as a diversion and exercise. In recent years, money has been charged to visit the mountain and rules enacted such as keeping dogs off, which contribute to making the mountain – like so much in our current society – another commodity to be marketed for profit.

Knowing the long indigenous history in this area and the Abenaki name given to Mt. Monadnock, I was surprised to hear last year at a fundraiser a member of the NH park service say that the first person to see the mountain was a white man sometime in the 1700s or 1800s!

Mt. Monadnock is our Apu, as my friend Lisa heard so emphatically. And as a mountain that does indeed stand alone, perhaps it holds both the male and female presence within it. That makes it even more special for some of us…thank you Mt. Monadock! May we honor you through how we treat you.

Posted in Community healing, healing, indigenous wisdom, latin america, Monadnock, New Hampshire, Skye Stephenson, spirituality, travel, writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment