Elephant in the Therapy Room

Back in undergrad when I last had insurance and access to the on-campus mental health services, I just never brought up religion or anything that might sound a little too ~woo~ to say to someone evaluating your state of mind. There was some online back and forth that ‘xyz clearly means you’re delusional’ around that time, and I just didn’t have the energy to deal with that while trying to go in for help with depression. It also didn’t exactly help that any attempts on my own to look into the interplay between psychology and religion that didn’t deal with delusions were Christian focused therapy services. (I’m sure that can help someone, just not me.)

I mentioned in “Ghosts of Hypomania” that I have a particular brainweird event from back in high school that initially didn’t seem noteworthy, but in the years since, it’s gotten harder to say it wasn’t awfully similar to hypomania. There may have been other instances that seem to meet hypomania’s requirements a little more closely since, which is why that 3 day window is still relevant. I’m still trawling my memory while preparing for the intake to see if it’s For Sure hypomania (probably bipolar II) or Almost hypomania (probably cyclothymia), but I don’t want to cover everything about hypomania in this post.

{For those who haven’t been trying to figure out if they too have experienced this: Hypomania hits most mania symptoms, so I’m not being particularly careful about someone using mania or a linked source focusing on manic episodes instead of specifying hypomania.}

I stumbled onto ~sadiepickles’ post about creating a Mania Manual, had the free time, and clicked on her example. There’s several bullet points under Sample Signs of Mania that I should return to, but what instantly stood out under Grandiose Beliefs was the first bullet point, “Increased religious beliefs or spirituality”. Rather than spend a lot of time creating a personalized meme reaction, I just wrote it out in a post:

Was anyone going to tell me – “increased focus on religion or religious activities” is included in (hypo)mania* symptom lists

Or was I just supposed to read that – as an offhand comment in someone’s post – on my own?

* Even outside of delusions with religious themes, in terms of more religious participation. Might have something to do with mixed episodes for some (possibly coping).

Link 1: Religious Factors in Bipolar Disorder. Pretty good overview in terms of different presentation, touching on delusions, and noting that cultural norms are important to keep in mind. Some may like their sources for more info.

Link 2: The relationship between religious involvement and clinical status of patients with bipolar disorder. (Full public access to the study at the link.) Part of the conclusion, “Compared to patients with bipolar disorder in depressed, manic, or euthymic states, patients in mixed states have more active private religious lives.”

Link 3: Why spirituality may be important to your quality of life. Pretty much what it says on the tin (basically, has the potential as a coping mechanism), and it does note that hyperreligiosity may impact the usefulness of spirituality as a tool in bipolar management.

So, religion has the potential to be useful for some people when it comes to coping, but it also may feature into how symptoms present. How do you tell these apart? Well, I’d suggest ignoring the people cracking jokes about ‘believing an old man in the sky’ because ‘all religion is delusional, period’. (Despite trying to talk about all religions, the references were pretty clearly Christian. Do people recovering from Christianity need a place to vent? Sure, but maybe not where other people are trying to figure out if they’re experiencing delusions.)

Advice that’s more likely to be helpful came from ~relatable-psychosis: “With delusions and the like, cultural and religious background are to be taken into account and one is to go over whether or not what they’re experiencing and how they’re responding to it is culturally sanctioned, IE whether or not what you’re experiencing is considered abnormal to your community. […] Factors like conviction, functional impairment, and uniqueness would be taken into consideration” (source; also mentioned in this post and this post).

I’m aware that some religious Christians (and cultural Christians in different religions) are already a little lost when I bring up something that, for lack of a better term in informal conversation, gets lumped under the Pagan umbrella. (Not to mention those who lose any tact about religions other than Christianity when they get some anonymity online.) But that’s not really the comparison point I should be making. Are my beliefs considered ‘abnormal’ within Pagan spaces? Not really. It’s not a guarantee that everyone that gets sorted under Pagan will share every single belief, but ruling out delusions with religious themes goes a significant way towards ruling out psychosis, which points to mania instead of hypomania in what I can find so far.

In terms of a potential diagnosis, that seems neat and tidy, but I wasn’t prepared to feel so rattled by trying to take stock of my beliefs in relation to community acceptability and outliers. Sneeze in the wrong online space, and someone can start throwing around ‘delusional’ and ‘crazy’, especially when whether incorporeal entities can communicate with humans (and how) comes up. What about discussions about Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) and interpreting communication accurately where there’s no tradition specific priest and/or diviner to verify (probably a solitary)? From what I remember when those were fresh topics of discussion, most Pagan bloggers were taking the default position that they were obviously sane and it was a matter of tradition differences about the acceptable divination and confirmation processes (or ignoring people who disagreed about other topics looking for an easy insult).

It’s not to say that resources out there about checking your interpretation and when to use/share UPG aren’t valuable or helpful. It’s just that when Step 1 assumes you trust that your perception lines up with reality, things get a bit shaken up when you’re trying to gauge whether you’ve had delusions or hallucinations (Bipolar Psychosis overview). It’s one thing to mostly rule out delusions (unless someone outside the Pagan community really goes for delusions of reference when it comes to communication), but it’s another thing to wonder about hallucinations. In order of most common to least:

  • Auditory – I’ve heard my name while in an empty room on a handful of occasions, but afaik, it’s a rather common fluke that brains can do. It hasn’t been related to an attempt at communicating with Anyone (or involved commands/directions to do anything).
  • Visual – I’m confident the one instance was a byproduct of being tired or an illusion while getting ready for bed (instead of an outright hallucination).
  • Tactile – I don’t know how to explain away the physical feeling that’s fairly consistent in range of location and perception that’s a “Someone wants my attention” ping. It only occurs in relation to incorporeal communication, and it’s only happened ‘in my room’ (across two dorms, my assigned room at two hotels, and my bedroom at this current home, which translates to happening on and off for about seven years).
  • Olfactory – None.
  • Taste – None.

I suppose I just wasn’t prepared for the vulnerable feeling of not being sure if I can trust myself. The strong draw to structured prayer and holiday schedules back in undergrad. I had that incident where I thought I just got a batch of miscommunication (Jotnar holy days, Tribes, and all that). The peculiar Faces (aspects of deities, not literal faces) and UPG.  All the different waves of Leaving, and Who’s circled back around on and off. Reigniting feelings over ‘I got something out of it, but it was wrong’ mentioned in “Echoes of Faith” (with the added worry that I wasn’t just operating with wrong info, it may not have even been real).

What if a solitary practice that includes UPG has too much room for personal error? (Let alone touching on PC Paganism and Modern Paganism….) What if a majority self-created path is too open to grandiose thinking? Where’s the line between ‘it’s alright to have a unique personal path’ and #actuallydelusional? Is it alright as long as I’m not claiming to be a leader (encouraging anyone to act similarly) or offering divination (claiming to have a clear line of communication with the divine)? Is it alright because deities have encouraged seeking professional help, self care, and haven’t hindered mental health management?

Honestly, I’m pretty sure some anxious part of my brain is just picking this apart and reading too much into events that haven’t involved me harming myself or anyone else, being a threat, personal distress, or throwing up a functional obstacle to life. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe it’s a smidge odd, but not altogether abnormal (Is it Normal to ‘Hear Voices’?). Maybe it’s weird, but it’s at least non-threatening, neutral, and doesn’t occur with more serious symptoms (Hallucination Types, Causes, and Examples). Maybe the connection between bipolar symptoms during episodes and one’s interpretations of religious experiences aren’t cut and dry, and it’s okay to still apply personal religious meaning to what’s happened over the years (“The Awful Rowing toward God”: Interpretation of Religious Experiences by Individuals with Bipolar Disorder).

Writing (or discovering) New Faces

I’ve tried writing more than one draft for explaining how I’ve gotten myself into this situation, but it basically boils down to using some element of a deity in a fictional story [a fanfic in this case] and accidentally having Them show up.

It was more along the lines of asking myself what would happen if the Wizarding World kept some elements of P/pagan practices because there were particular elements of magic that couldn’t be separated from them. This means that making an Oath to Someone in “Kai” comes with access to certain magic, benefits from Their temple/grove/hof/etc. (involves priests and priestesses), and a certain amount of protection from the patron deity. F’ex, a certain Vanic Goddess provides patronage around setting prices and enforcing payments, and Her hof also offers food assistance (similar to a food bank).

Keeping in mind that this was originally developed for a story including sex work, I came up with an amount of inter-pantheon cooperation and drawing very specific lines in the sand on what each deity was associated with to make that work. I did not set out to claim historical accuracy on sacred prostitution that may or may not have actually happened in the past, and some of the terminology in the notes may not be accurate to how they were actually used (a hetaira in this story doesn’t provide full service sex work and may have a variety of ‘companionate’ services, f’ex).

Some of the notes are plot specific and/or have very little page-to-life extrapolation because of the fictional magic element. However, needless to say, I got the attention of some of the deities who are included in this, more Faces had thoughts on how an alliance would feature sex work adjacent areas, and Someone decided this was ‘real enough’ to push me in the direction of a messenger for the collective.

Initially, I really thought I had fucked up on my divination/interpretation skills because I’m a civilian, and I just wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with this alliance of Faces. Then I found myself digging into Pose (*), following general sex work info blogs on tumblr, and starting to get exposure to advocacy groups (decriminalization efforts here in the US and international efforts).

(The “no one should breathe about this in your vicinity until you’re 18” tactic doesn’t mean you instantly get a download of all the knowledge you’re supposed to know once you’re “old enough”. But it’s not about being perfect right out of the gate. Sometimes, you read a resource, realize ‘oh, I shouldn’t have been phrasing X like that’, and you change. It’s called growth.gif)

I tend to reblog sex work related content (research, activism, news stories) on one of my tumblr blogs, so I don’t think it’ll suddenly take over here. It’s more that I can’t really deny the Sex Worker Alliance (SWA) is sort of doing Their thing in the background, and I sometimes get poked to support via signal boosting.

(*) Pose isn’t the only piece of media to feature sex workers, but it is a currently well-known example of a tv show produced by a former sex worker showing a variety of characters engaging in multiple types of sex work, which allows for diversity in how characters feel about leaving/doing another type and differences in safety/outcomes.

Wolf Mode (secular explanation)

On some of my other blogs, I have a tag called #Wolf mode, and after running across a comment from someone wondering why Dominant leaning people tend to do the wolf thing, I thought I’d write a bit on how I’m approaching this.

I’ve tried to rephrase this opening to not sound Like That, but really, I can’t avoid the werewolf lit in my younger years. When I hadn’t realized I was trans yet, the physical strength of the women characters (on par with or stronger than the men) and capacity for the women to ‘outrank’ men was appealing. These weren’t women who were fragile damsels in distress who needed a strong man to rescue them, you know? Though problematic in some areas about how the roles were still gendered, the Alpha/subordinate dynamic did make some allowances for w/w and m/m ships, and the fledgling queer that I was, I needed some place to look for that.

Lunar transformation as metaphor for menstruation also provided a way to alter how I viewed my relationship to being a menstruator. These were often big women (not dainty) and often hairier than the smooth, practically prepubescent images of conventional media and porn. As someone trying to deal with social messages about what was appropriately ‘womanly’ (and hated shaving), I found a little relief in a character who didn’t have to get rid of their body hair. Add in lycanthropy as metaphor for HIV (most well known example is Remus Lupin), and I was pretty solidly in the werewolf camp. Being turned and experiencing a second puberty of sorts that seemed awfully similar in some ways to transitioning? Cherry on top.

(But wait, a reader may be thinking, you’ve also got vampire shit in #Wolf mode? That’s not being in the werewolf camp?) Despite what some franchises would like you think, you don’t have to split yourself solely among vampires or werewolves. Especially when you start browsing romance or erotica, they’re often shelved in close proximity to each other, in a manner of speaking. I view the animalistic, feral, and more Predator aligned aspects with both groups, but depending on what you’re trying to read, some stories focus on that more in the vampire category.

True, it depends on where you’re getting your romance and erotica stories from, but some writers can split kink distribution differently between the two categories. I attribute blood, knives, scratching, biting, leaving bruises, Marking, Claiming, and quite frankly a lot of sadism with either, but for example, a fair number of people default to vampires for biting and blood. (Maybe I’ve gotten a little jaded from a segment of fanfiction, but you don’t have to turn the character into a vampire in order to have blood play. Really.)

(So you’ve got a thing for sadism. How is this any different from other dominants connecting to their inner Predator in this way?) Keeping in mind that I’m not a wolf expert, I’d say pack dynamics and how they are commonly portrayed in werewolf and wolf-shifter stories. Ah yes, the Alpha route that takes inspiration from outdated wolf pack dynamics (notably, Alpha Men™ looking for their submissive mate, who is commonly a woman). Now, it does work for some people in terms of Dominant/submissive and top/bottom, or I imagine it wouldn’t still linger in storytelling and irl roleplay. There can be something satisfying about clearly defined hierarchies and group dynamics, but sometimes, the determination of who falls where leaves something to be desired. (At the person opening with “looking for bitches / females to breed”: Yikes.)

(Not everyone does Alpha/beta like that. You just have to look past the posturing.) My gateway was wolf related fiction (and research for fic), not preexisting D/s or top/bottom roleplay. Packs where humans don’t throw random wolves together in captivity are mostly family units, which means the alpha pair are typically the main breeding pair (mother and father, if you will). In the smaller, one family packs with only one breeding pair, the ‘betas’ and ‘omegas’ are different generations of siblings. Alpha starts to seem like a moot descriptor, since “calling a wolf an alpha is usually no more appropriate than referring to a human parent or a doe deer as an alpha. Any parent is dominant to its young offspring, so alpha adds no information” (source). And honestly, after exposure to A/B/O aka Omegaverse in fanfic, bringing out ‘beta’ and ‘omega’ doesn’t have a wolf / pack dynamic aspect to me.

(I think you might be overcomplicating this. I just want to be a Dom referred to as an Alpha, and I want to call my sub a beta.) You do you. When someone starts bringing in wolf stuff, I have to cycle through what they don’t mean: Wolf/human, Tamer/wolf, Alpha/Alpha (top/bottom/switch factoring, but not necessarily involving D/s), and wolf/wolf (related to puppy play, more or less, with both participants being pack members). One person’s pack is a D/s couple, but another person’s pack can be an Alpha/Alpha pair with each Alpha having at least a sub, cub, pup, etc. Den Mother/Father may not be involved if Cg/l isn’t combined with puppy play, it’s entirely possible to have non-sexual puppy play, the submissives don’t have to be “shared” by the Alphas, etc.

And that’s why the ‘you’re just another ~Alpha Wolf~ dom’ thing feels like we’re on different pages. I’m not necessarily an Alpha looking for a beta, and inhabiting Wolf mode doesn’t always mean I’m a Dominant looking for a submissive. Sometimes I need to let my inner sadist and Predator out to play, but other times I have a strong caretaking urge to be Den Leader taking care of a cub.

QT Binder

“The Transgender Day of Remembrance was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999.” – About TDoR

“The Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), also known as the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, has been observed annually (from its inception) on November 20 as a day to memorialize those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia.” – TDoR Wiki

I’m trying to look back over my notes for communication and divination throughout the past few years to figure out when I was first asked to compile a TDoR binder, and I’m honestly not quite sure. I can definitely pinpoint an entry where I was checking in with my trans dead in July of 2015, but I’m fairly confident it was brought up before then by Someone (probably Jormundgand or Hela that far back). I have notes from Nov 2016 where I wrote down that year’s list, but I admittedly haven’t done very well with writing out prior years [1] and looking for compilation lists outside of tdor.info [2].

In 2017, I also got various nudges to include historical QT dead, those famous in death, death day vigils (collective + individual), awareness days, and celebratory days (broadening the binder into more of a QT focus than just TDoR). This past TDoR (2018), I checked in with my dead and got: Also being considered for inclusion in the binder – historical notes (admittedly, crossdressing and queer stuff turns into a complicated overlap beyond a certain year, but some of it may be relevant to what we now call ‘trans’ stuff) and Deity / religious notes (‘trans’ Aphrodite, crossdressing in Norse myth, how current religions handle trans members, and such).

As of drafting this out (1.28.2019), there are some components like the TDoR lists that my dead would like me to have handwritten out in the QT binder, but a lot of the research would be easier to compile into a Gdoc or blog post, particularly when looking into historical people and people famous in death. The effort and attention of handwriting even a summary of their research would ‘solidify’ them into my dead, which some don’t really want. (Some prefer the generalities of just being part of the QT dead.)

[1] A page with an Excel spreadsheet with some names from before the start of TDoR (1970 – 1998) and names for TDoR from 1999 – 2012; memorializing pages (select from dropdown menu) for 2007 – 2017.

[2] Some journalists and individual events will include known deaths that are not transphobia motivated homicides because these lists are for those who died “because of anti-transgender violence”, which does not include other deaths like suicides or domestic violence victims. From FAQQ: How is it decided who is and is not on the TDoR list of names?

Chatting With Trans Dead

Initially, I just intermixed communication with all of my groups of ancestral dead with deities, spirits, and the like. I didn’t necessarily sit down at a certain time and consistently check-in, and some ancestral representatives would go a while in between communicating anything. I needed somewhere that I could just write and process stuff (if I had felt comfortable sharing it online, it would fall under my tumblr #wtf gender shenanigans tag), and I sort of just referred to it as ‘chatting with my trans dead’.

As a person who menstruates, it was very noticeable in terms of timing to get in the habit of writing during my cycle. (Not to mention, that PMS and menstruating used to knock me out of being able to communicate with A/anyone other than my dead for a while, so it was easy to sit down with a Rep.) Eventually, I sorted those written pieces out into their own Gdoc (“T 2014” is the earliest year), and over time, other ancestral Reps and occasionally People would stop by with a writing prompt. Sometimes, I would be tasked with coming up with a particular to-do list and wouldn’t actually write anything.

Some of these entries are wildly out of date and inapplicable for sharing by 2019, but while scrolling through these Gdocs trying to find something else, I realized that there are other entries that might be shareable with a little tweaking and polishing. There’s not really anything that’s academically rigorous, highly researched, or new in the sense that someone else hasn’t already asked this question somewhere else, but I’m not exactly here proclaiming myself to be writing anything like that. It ranges from the silly (brainstorming decorating a Xmas stocking + stocking stuffer ideas) to the introspective (I wouldn’t be happy with Sacred Sovereignty as a subset of spirit-work/Job, and given that Someone gave me a choice, I declined) to the serious (psychiatric, therapy, and mental health stuff).

Darkling: Ophiuchus (Ch 1)

[Cross posted from my fandom tumblr where I started sharing some excerpts as I uploaded each chapter. Backdated to align with when the chapter was uploaded – 9 Oct 2018.]

Series: Darkling || Part One Title: Ophiuchus || Ch 1: Mingling Blood [ao3]

Characters: Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore, Narcissa Black Malfoy

Ship(s): Draco Malfoy/Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy & Harry Potter, Hermione Granger & Harry Potter & Ron Weasley

Tags: Dark Magic, Alternate Universe – Canon Divergence, Alternate Universe – Dark, Dark Harry Potter, Accidental Marriage, Accidental Bonding, Blood Magic, Parseltongue Magic, Dark Culture & Customs

Notes:  My apologies to Professor Flitwick, who is the Head of Ravenclaw in canon, but I went with Professor Sinistra in this story. I mean no offense to those who study the Brythonic or Brittonic languages, but the ‘old’ language used within the Dark community called Brythonic in the story actually makes use of Modern Welsh. This is a Pro-Dark story inspired by the Oath Breaker series, but reading those fics is not necessary to understanding this one. Beta’d by my friend @nocturnal-milk-dud but not Brit picked.

Summary: Harry’s meeting with Snape after the Sectumsempra fight with Malfoy in sixth year takes a different turn, revealing a Dark core that Harry has been failing to repress. His fight with Malfoy mingled their blood, bonding the two together and Harry to the Malfoy’s lineage of Darkness. Involves helpful talking snakes, an accidental marriage, serpent and wyvern crossbreeds, demisexuality, and the intersection of the Light and Dark communities.

Link to Spotify playlist for this fic ~

TDoR 2017

A poem for my beloved dead titled, “Murmurs”.

 

A silence that deepens

crumbles down into the ground

where muffled voices lie trapped

sentences cut short, screams echoing in the air

sobs choked back into the silence

 

An emptiness where voices should be

leaves a taste of expectation

metallic, like singing blood

I am here, I am here, I am here

You cannot silence us all

Body as Shrine

I’ve been sitting on a request since January of this year (7 months and counting) to include treating my body as a shrine in my path. I’m not new to the idea, and I’ve seen some people who mention this in relation to self care on my tumblr dash before, but I haven’t quite gotten to a full scale implementation. There wasn’t one sole reason for this, tbh, but it’ll help to bring seemingly unrelated debt and requests together I think.

[Text post from tumblr user @dattebayo-basa: my body isn’t a temple, it’s a condemned building covered in prophecies in the form of graffiti. my soul is a shrine made of garbage and neon and i am holy, hallelujah. (Source.)]

May Full Moon

Possible names include: Flower, Corn Planting, Milk, and Hare Moon. Mani indicated that He would like me to use “Flower”, though I make no guarantee He’d want someone else to do the same. The following is a piece of sacred fiction.

. . .

“You smell that?”

Hati inhaled and glanced up at Mani, “Flowers?”

“Not just any flowers.”

While he noted that Mani was leaning out of the wain, Hati couldn’t bring himself to get overly concerned. After a few centuries of Mani pushing the limits on how far he could reach out of the wain, it had stopped fully registering on his radar.

“The moonflowers are opening up.”

Hati sniffed the air, a little puzzled, “That’s more than just moonflowers — ”

“They’re opening for the moon, so they are all moonflowers now. I don’t make the rules.”

Hati sighed and continued to keep pace with the wain. They’d hit that point in spring.

April Full Moon

Possible names include: Pink, Sprouting Grass, Egg, Fish, Seed, and Planter’s Moon. Mani indicated that He would like me to use “Fish”, though I make no guarantee He’d want someone else to do the same. The following is a piece of sacred fiction.

. . .

The horses were walking their usual path, and everything seemed to be going along rather well for the moon’s path that night. A small projectile flew out of the driver’s seat and sailed past Hati’s nose, and he knew he’d spoken too soon. The projectile dangled below the star path but was connected to something; Hati walked around the edge of the wain.

“You’re fishing?”

“For people.”

“Are you sure this is – ?”

Mani yanked on the rod and pulled the projectile into the wain. Attached to it was a small slip of paper. He read it and tossed the projectile back among the stars while thinking, “It’s going to take a little while to get this prayer into motion, but it’s not a no”.

“Just don’t disturb the horses.”