Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Phoenix

I have been thinking a lot about the mythical Phoenix and how it exists in our own lives - even when we have no idea that it does. Some one once wrote that the Phoenix represents, "our capacity for vision," and that it creates, "intense excitement and deathless inspiration." 

Now I am not exactly sure how this (the Phoenix) came up but it keeps returning to my mind once or twice a week. This weekend it was following a conversation with my sister. She said that moving to, and staying in, Portland took courage. Which is ironic because I moved here in large part out of fear. Fear to continue my life as it was and knowing that if I were anywhere near by I would go back to it. Regardless of all of the other things that were going on at the time, part of me had gone missing and I guess I thought a little could be found somewhere else. But I never thought of it as a courageous act to look for it - I thought I was kind of a coward and a disappointment. 

A small part of me believed that it was huge for me to be so far away because I had never done anything on my own before. I hated ordering food without someone else's opinion, mainly my sisters (still do really) and yet I did the unthinkable, I left my entire life. I am the only one in my immediate and immediately extended family to do that. We have always all been within a couple of hours of each other and here I require a flight or a looong drive to visit.

It was never my intention to stay. But it was my pride that kept me. I couldn't go back. I had done so much damage that the idea of returning to my own ashes was too hard. How could I? So I stayed. And here is where I feel like the Phoenix, though without the amazingness of being the Phoenix.

Things fell apart; I mean really, they were at their bottom. And for the life of me I could not imagine them ever getting better again. There was no reason to stay and there was no reason to go. I was such a wreck and so alone that going back would involve more humility than I could muster but staying meant more pain than I wanted to feel. Pain trumped humility. 

It is nice to hear it called courage. Then I could rewrite or reimagine my history as courage trumped fear. The courage to keep going and not stay in my loneliness but to keep going to therapy, to go back to school to cut out a hurtful friend when I really had no other friends to fall back on, to trust love, to carve out a life. Or to make a stretch here: To rise from the ashes anew, like the Phoenix.

I think my favorite Phoenix legend is the Greek one. In one telling of it the problem for the Phoenix is that it gets lonely because it is the only of its kind and for another one to be made it must die. When it feels death coming it builds a nest with the finest aromatic woods, sets it on fire and is consumed by its own flames. From the pile of ashes a new Phoenix arises, young and powerful. 

Whichever legend you choose the Phoenix is associated with starting over, resurrection, new beginnings or what not. For me, in my audacious claims of feeling a similarity to the Phoenix, it is that I had to know it was time to let things die to build that fire, embrace it, and begin to live again. 

Sometimes I am unsure of where I am in this process or if I am repeating it many times. But I know that there is courage in living life in general and it takes courage for me to be this far from home - and it isn't even that far - and to keep living and building. I guess you could say, to keep flying. 

Like the Phoenix I have felt so lonely. As if I was the only bird of my kind. Unlike the Phoenix I am not. But because I am the only me, I still needed the process - build the nest, go into the fire, start again. 

The first the nest was really, really hard to build - especially since I knew that once it was done there was fire waiting for me. It has been scary. But despite the pain of the consequences that I always feel the need to recognize, despite that, knowing the life I now know is worth stepping into the flames and starting over. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Tale of Two Kitties

She was the best of cats, she was the worst of cats. . . 

Yesterday I heard a terrible clanging sound - it was my vertical blinds smashing into both each other and the window and from where I sat on the couch I could see this flash of orange and brown fur bouncing into the air and hear it smacking into the window. 

As I approached the window calling for Chakoah to stop, I assumed there was a crow (her arch nemesis) or one of the big outdoor cats that sit on the patio taunting her, but no, to my surprise there was this adorable orange tabby kitten. She was shivering beneath a chair I have on the patio. It had been raining and was cold and she looked scared. Chakoah being the relatively evil creature that she is ran up and down the length of the window essentially posturing at this poor kitten. She even tried to run her head into the window. She was so wound up and as the kitten crept to the entrance end of the sliding glass doors Chakoah got more and more amped. 

I took Chakoah upstairs and put her in a room so I could see if this sweet and adorable kitten was alright. I opened the window and she came up to me. I dried her off a bit with a towel. She had clearly been walking in the muddy pathways of my building and she looked up at me with the cutest little face, mewing. There was no collar and I thought of bringing her inside to dry her off and then go ask my building manager if they knew to whom this kitten belonged, but I was afraid of three things:

1. My landlords.
2. Bringing her inside and risking Chakoah discovering her presence and attacking her.
3. Leaving her outside and her running into the street. 

As I have learned from a previous heart-break with a patio kitty, cats that come to you so easily have humans and I assume hers are in this building and she just got locked out as the rain hit. She wanted to go back outside, so I let her which seemed wise. At least it was sunny by this point. Besides, I don't much care for kitty accidents of any kind inside my house so it seemed best. And I didn't really fear she would run out of the building.

So she went outside and I let Chakoah out and she spent the rest of the day Chakoah looking out the window, poised to pounce, should another cat dare to come near her window. Yes, fierce kitty behind glass that she is. 

And me? I thought of how much I would love a sweet, loving and adorable kitten. Don't get me wrong, I love Chakoah, but she is sort of like an unruly ewok - which is just not the same. 


I have felt normal for almost two weeks. Now I realize normal is a relative term and may sound like an odd or dramatic description, but I have been pigeon holed by myself and others so greatly that I am very aware of the subtle differences in my day to day. Especially when I either interrupt my days to check or intentionally reflect on them. 

I have recently become more in touch with the reality that people who know I have a diagnosis have decided that they can define me by that diagnosis. Even when they are usually incorrect and when they have taken away the human element. This is particularly true within those I know in the mental health field (or say, who are students thereof). 

I say all of that because as I have moved away from seeing myself as someone who fits a specific DSM criteria, I have realized what a grave mistake it has been to, so often, be so open about my struggles or simply my "label". (Ironically I am being open about it right now). And, I know, it is me who needs to move away from labels, like a particular diagnosis or even descriptors in my life of big events that need not be tossed around because they become identifying characteristics when really they aren't. 

But were I not open about some of this, I could not write the following.

Three weeks ago I was very stressed. In fact so much so that I was in a lot of pain as a result from it and the chiropractor I went to see pointed out that my pain was essentially self (i.e.; stress) induced and something needed to be changed. But I didn't have time. I had too much homework. I studied a great deal for a week and didn't sleep very much etc. And then on a Monday morning, two weeks ago, I woke up early and left my house at 6:45 for my 9am Midterm. As I drove to school it was this amazing crisp morning, it had stopped raining not long before and the sun was beginning to cross the sky. I found myself practically dancing in my car on my way to a class I had been really stressed about. 

After the exam I went up to the rose gardens and looked out over the city. I enjoyed the day and found some perspective. That is when I began to feel normal.

Normal. I mean that in the last two weeks I have had regular days where parts were a sad and parts were happy but they are what I imagine a "normal" person's life is like. I know I am "normal" in the general sense of the word, but when you live beneath a label and people, friends even, point out their views on you based it on "criteria" it is hard to feel normal. But I have. And I have loved it. And it feels real. Ups and downs are wrapped up inside perspective. 

There are some things I am going through that I am really not very happy about, but I am also aware that other people go through similar things and that I will just continue to live one day at a time and figure out what to do and where to go. But as I embrace Dr. Berardi's reminder that "life sucks and then you die" I can focus on how to respond to the in between - because that's what matters. (Really it is actually an inspirational reminder that I should probably share sometime)

So tonight I watched the move and I felt and I enjoyed feeling. I have spent too much time in my life being numb and feeling deeply is something I love to do. I love to feel seering joy, but to really experience it you have to know terrible pain. Most of us have known that and how much more does our joy mean? I can feel sadness deeply and know it is part of it, but not all of it. 

It rained hard on my way home; I watched it crash on the asphalt. I played with the condensation on the inside of the car window. I moved through my feelings about the film and about my current life situations and allowed them to sweep through my head and heart. And I felt the rain in my bones, and I came home.  

Rachel's Getting Married - a reaction

Tonight I saw Rachel Getting Married. It was a compelling and moving film. The depiction of sisterhood - with its' ugliness, richness, joy and severe pains - plus its' unspoken rules - was stunning. I don't believe I have seen a film that captured the dimensions of family dynamics in the same way. 

Within each family there are, of course, roles, rules, rituals, lies and secrets as well as truths, histories and healing. A family where something tragic has happened and where there is continual fracturing has a certain capacity for pain where each wound tells a story and each healing a memory. So was the family in this film.

I cannot articulate what I am thinking about this film at all. But as I watched it in my cozy red-velvet chair at the Kennedy School and listened to the rain pour onto the roof of the building and dance against the windows, I was able to slip away into this family and feel their reality. The passion for life and desire for death were feelings I could taste and even remember. Remember feelings that were possibly never my own but because on some level, on some collectivehuman experience, I felt the shame, embarassment, hurt, love, joy and hate that flowed through the veins of these characters.

I also identified with the brokenness and the loss of self that addiction, disease or a disorder can hold on you. Especially when it has become who you are and I know that the reclamation of self is hardest in the presence of family - because you are who you were and they know what they knew, but present and past have blurred and therefore futures feel disorted. 

I don't think I can continue to try to explain it; all I can say is that it is a rare film. While not a new story, it is a new experience. 

About Me

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Portland, OR, United States
I am a daughter, sister, friend, wife, counselor and colleague. I am a work in progress. There may be some pieces out of place and things might be messy, but it's okay. I would rather accept that I am still unfinished than think that this is it. You can find my comments on faith and spirituality on my blog: And my comments and anecdotes on life at:

Books That Matter. Well, some of the many that matter.

  • Magical Shrinking: Stumbling Through Bipolar Disorder, Chris Wells
  • Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • An Abudance of Katherines, John Green
  • Dave Pelzer
  • Franny & Zooey, J.D. Salinger
  • I Was Told There'd Be Cake, Sloane Crosley
  • The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris
  • The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are, Daniel J. Siegel