Archive for May, 2015
Online mental health self-help culture has its pros and cons- most of these are also true of other medical conditions and disabilities- particularly ones that are less well-understood or acknowledged by mainstream health care professionals and institutions. These are some observations I’ve made after long-time participation in autistic adult & neurodiversity communities. Note that I am far more familiar with helping adults with autism & parents of kids with autism than say, people who have bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
* Spread of good information about mental health, self-help techniques, both mainstream & alternative mental health resources
*More access to information & support particularly for people in under-served populations- uninsured, low-income/working-class people, people of color, GLBTQ individuals, folks with disabilities in addition to mental health issues, people in countries or regions that have minimal or non-existent mental health care
*People finding community, sometimes pride in neurodivergent, mad, disabled and queer identities.
*More understanding for family, friends, community members and mental health professionals
*Advice on how to navigate healthcare/social service/education bureaucracies, and less conventional ways of accessing basic needs (barter, sharing, crowd-funding)
*Peer supported/confirmed self-diagnoses for people who might have a harder time accessing formal diagnosis. Sometimes a person later gets an official diagnosis, services and accommodations.
*Spread of bad information on mental health, ineffective or inappropriate self-help techniques (either for everyone or for specific individuals) Framing either mainstream or alternative mental health structures/techniques as either 100% good or bad.
*Professionals & family members who are otherwise unaware of the broad range of mental health self-help communities may see more extreme factions and assume they are representative of the whole. But this is a problem with every subculture, internet or otherwise- especially if something is either unfamiliar or someone is already prejudiced against it, they will pick the most extreme version of it, and that’s the part that becomes most well known, even if it’s a small minority. (This is why respectability politics never works!) And if some part of the media gets involved, well St. Dymphna help us!
*False self-diagnoses that lead to a person to engage in self-help and self-medicating that harms them, spreads inaccurate information about a condition to others. (I’d add “uses self-diagnosis as an excuse- but those of us with official diagnoses are so frequently told that “we’re just using X as an excuse, it’s all in your head, not real, that didn’t exist in my day, blah blah” that quite frankly I doubt that many people specifically seek neurodivergent labels for themselves while knowing they are not accurate. Yes, sometimes there are hypochondriacs or maybe even trolls that try to infiltrate communities. But this is not something people seek out to be “cool”.
*Confusion by both participants and outsiders between identities and subcultures perceived as unusual/eccentric- such as- otherkin, multiple systems, various alternative spiritual beliefs & practices, gender & sexual minorities that *do not* by themselves indicate a person having mental distress issues vs. assuming that if this person claims this identity they must necessarily be mentally ill, add extra stigma helping.
How to we increase positive results of our communities while reducing negative results?
*Self-care and knowing your limits- do what you need to do to take care of yourself, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. If that means taking a break from these communities- both online and in-person support groups, fine!
*Figure out clear boundaries for what you are and aren’t willing to do to help others- a therapist can help with this.
*Get out and be social, hang out with people who are supportive but don’t have mental health/substance abuse issues themselves
*Get lay-level training about how to deal with mental health crisis- both for yourself and others from orgs like National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Note: I know some of my fellow activists don’t care for NAMI- I am just suggesting them as a baseline, you don’t necessarily have to agree with them on everything to learn from them.
*Suggest and redirect people towards groups that focus on resources in their area (I’ve often encountered pleas like “I’m about to become homeless/lose X type of benefits etc” from people without them telling us where in the United States they are, let alone where on the entire frickin’ planet!
*Encourage people to seek out in-person help in their local area, and not wait til things have gotten to an emergency level (or what they perceive as an emergency!)
*Recognize when/if you have a Savior/Martyr/Compulsive Parent Figure Who Must Help/Adopt all the Lost Puppies & Orphans type mentality. Helping people is a wonderful thing! It can also become an addictive and dysfunctional behavior!
*Learn about Minority Stress Theory, and particular issues facing various minority groups that can affect them while accessing mental health care. Learn about different cultural views of mental health
*Share information about how to get professional help, while being understanding of concerns people may have about doing so.
*Moderators of different communities/fora should talk to each other to share information about problematic individuals. Even if some of their behavior is related to their mental health or neurodivergence, that is not an excuse for breaking rules that are clearly stated, being disruptive, or harassing and bullying other people. Hence why, in these communities in particular to clear rules that all participants agree to, and steady & active moderation. Confidentiality is also a must.
Sean articulates many thoughts I’ve had over the years about being autistic. Also why I Just Can’t Deal with mainstream autism groups anymore.
“Within myself I know I am Different” — Cora Anderson
My magic, my poetry, my politics, and my medicine all arise from my experience of the world as alive — and that experience is a product of my divergent neurobiology.
My senses take in torrents of information that sometimes overwhelm my capacity to process them, making me miss things that would seem obvious to most, but at other times (and sometimes simultaneously) make me aware of subtle presences in the world that elude others’ attention. My brain process processes information in non-linear ways that make it easy for me to perceive patterns and connections in the world but difficult to complete a step-by-step process like paying the electrical bill. I have a complex relationship with language — sometimes loquacious and poetic, other times completely non-verbal. When I speak in metaphor, people tend to take me literally, and when I speak…
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I’m excited to see how international my readership has become. While more than half of folks who view my blog are located in the U.S. (whether that means they live there or are travelling), it’s also fun to see where else my readers are located I recall seeing: Argentina, Jamaica, United Kingdom, Brazil, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Japan, South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, the Faeroe Islands. I myself follow blogs written by people in Canada, Portugal, New Zealand, the Philipines, Kuwait, Israel, France, Germany, Britain, Australia…not sure where else!
I also keep an eye on the search terms that lead people to my blog- some I’ve noticed recently: mental illness and paganism, “I’m wiccan but mentally ill, mental health prayer wiccan, pagan flower communion, perennial philosophy unitarian, jack in the box origins, trickster, pop culture paganism. I do have plans to write more on mental health & spirituality- when I first started writing on the topic, I could find very little about Paganism specifically, let alone any one Pagan path or any mental health conditions beyond depression and anxiety. I’m glad to see more people writing on the topic, though of course there can be mixed results sometimes when people start giving amateur advice! More on that later.
Well I was thinking about to have a truly global perspective as a blogger. It’s tricky enough keeping a multicultural view just within the United States that includes all the regional variations. I’ve also only had the opportunity to travel to Canada & Mexico- far more than many have- but then again just the traveling I’ve done within the country is far more than some do as well. The awkward part is that growing up, we are taught very little about world history and other cultures. Even what we learn of U.S. history tends to be limited to A Series of Wars, Conquest and Cool Stuff Done by White Guys, with heavy emphasis on memorizing dates of battles. What we learn about Europe is mostly limited to Britain, France and Germany (mostly military related) and aside from the Italian Renaissance and the Spanish empire, the historically Catholic nations of Europe are ignored, and Eastern Europe is a shadowy realm of feudalism and communism. Africa is That Country That Has Starving Children that Angelina Jolie sometimes adopts, Asia (China & Japan) is Exotic & That Place That Has All Those Smart Kids that Dumb American Kids Need to Work Harder to Compete With and South America is Where The Drugs Come From.
So yeah, you get it we’re ignorant. You already knew that, I’m sure! The tricky thing is, when the rest of the world knows more about your culture than you know about everyone else’s- but at the same time which parts can you assume they know and which can’t you? So I try not to- I try to remember to explain origins of distinctly American holidays and customs. But there are other differences I have to remind myself of, especially since I write about topics that tend to be “off the beaten track”- that is when I look up info about a particular country, I’ll have to do more digging to find out how say, autism, bisexuality or magic are viewed there, and if these concepts even exist in their languages! One thing that does give me an advantage, is I live in an area with many immigrants- refugees in particular from Southeast Asia, Eastern Africa and many other places. Having these folks as neighbors, co-workers, classmates and friends has challenged my “Of Course Everyone Does That” style assumptions, as I’ve ended up explaining “Why Do Americans Say/Do X Thing?!!” to them, and they’ve done the same about their own customs and habits.
Caer Jones has a bunch of great articles on her blog about developing devotional practices that can be useful for people of many traditions- or even folks who haven’t yet figured out what path they are on yet. Even if your practice ends up being totally different than what she does, it gives you some ideas to work with.
Striking the Spark: Oil Lamps- What, How to Make & Use Them
Part 1 History of Oil Lamps– symbolism, fuel options, types of oil lamps
Building Woo Spaces
Altars & Shrines– How are they different?
Awesome idea that folks of many paths can participate in!
Roughly a decade ago, maybe longer, my friend Krei S. started the “public altar project.” With this project she encouraged Pagans, Heathens, and Polytheists of all stripes to create shrines – temporary, ephemeral, often with found objects – in public places for the Gods. This project ran for a few years and then, due to a number of circumstances, fell by the way side. I had participated in it three times, first with a shrine to Holda erected in Berlin, then one that I did with my adopted mom to Ran, Aegir, and Their Nine Daughters erected on the beach at Big Sur, and finally a shrine to Eir at the base of a tree in a NYC park. I hadn’t thought about the project in years, until last week while on my artist’s residency.
During the residency, each artist had to give a brief presentation on his or her…
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Many religions have a distinction between exoteric- or outer knowledge available to all members of a religion, and esoteric, inner knowledge only available to a smaller class of initiates as part of a mystery tradition or mystery religion. In many cases throughout history and various cultures, this pool of potential initiates could only be from the noble or priestly castes. In others, such as many of the mysteries of Greece & Roman, they were available to any free citizen (some only to men or to women)
To be considered for initiation, a participant must be seen as spiritually, physically and psychologically ready for the intense, trans-formative and ecstatic experiences involved. An initiation often involves an ordeal- a difficult and possibly dangerous test. If a prospective initiate does not pass such an ordeal, this means a denial of initiation at that time or for the rest of this life. It is called a mystery because not only is it secret, but because the participants have gone through an experience they cannot describe to others. In several of the Greek & Roman mysteries, it was believed that one could only gain entrance to the afterlife- or a better afterlife by going through these mysteries- hence they were very popular.
Wicca and witchcraft in most forms are both mystery traditions. It is certainly perfectly valid to practice many forms of Paganism in an exoteric manner- focusing on celebration and regular devotion- as a layperson, or simply in a tradition that does not have a clergy/laity distinction. Other traditions of Paganism exist only in esoteric form, and one must be initiated to participate. In Wicca- there are typically 3 degrees of initiation, and the third makes you eligible to lead a coven and initiate others. Many covens have what is called an Outer Court, which includes people who are not yet initiated, or have only their 1st degree. The Inner Court is reserved for members who at least have a 1st degree. Lots of Outer Court material has been released to the public- starting in particular with Rites from the Crystal Well by Ed Fitch, Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham. As a result, Wicca- or as traditionalists may call it Neo-Wicca* has spread like wildfire. Though solitaries frequently self-initiate, I believe the term *dedicate* is more accurate, and think initiation is something that must be done by another person, generally within a group structure like a coven, grove or magical lodge. I’m not Wiccan, however so really my opinion on this is moot, though we do have initiation in various types of Druidry, such as ADF, the organization I belong to.
*Note: some people will consider the term “Neo-Wicca” to be derogatory, use with discretion. Non-traditional, eclectic or non-British Traditional Witchcraft (BTW) are less controversial terms to use.
Mystery traditions and religions are also found outside of Paganism. Christianity arguably started as a mystery religion, and in some cases still is- particularly in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. This is even more so for priests, monks and nuns. Likewise in Buddhism and Hinduism, there are regular practitioners as well as members of more esoteric sects. Mormonism is also an interesting case- a regular member of the LDS church attends services at a ward, similar in set up to many Protestant sects. But if an adult Mormon fulfills certain requirements, he or she can get what’s called a Temple recommend, and gain access to special ceremonies in the Temple. This is modeled after Temple-era Judaism’s Holiest of Holies, and also has influence from Freemasonry, as their prophet Joseph Smith was a Mason- like Gerald Gardner. So bizarrely enough, Mormonism is in some ways Wicca’s distant cousin.
Questions to reflect on:
What’s the difference between exoteric and esoteric?
Do you need to be initiated or become part of a mystery tradition to be a Pagan?
Do you need to be initiated or become part of a mystery tradition to be Wiccan?
In *your opinion* is self-initiation valid? In what tradition(s)? Under what circumstances and why? (No right or wrong answer here!)
Does the religion of your upbringing (if any) have a mystery tradition or esoteric aspects?