Monday, May 14, 2012

How I Keep the Demons at Bay

By James Mullaney

Therapists, the Goddess and meds

I’ve found psychotherapists to be the only persons I can trust when talking about my mental issues, largely because I don’t feel rejected by them when I open up and describe my thoughts and feelings. It’s impossible to do this with nonprofessionals. My problems are aberrant and abnormal even by DSM-IV TR standards, and would be too disturbing to discuss with anyone other than a mental health professional. No one else is trained to handle it.

When a therapist is kind, open minded and nonjudgemental toward me, I internalize and assimilate her attitude toward myself, so that I’m not torturing myself with constant shame, feelings of inadequacy and deviancy, fear, self-loathing, and despair. This alone has been a lifesaver for me. My therapists have given me the courage and the confidence to face and embrace the part of me which Jung called “the Shadow”: The secret desperado lurking in the backalleys of everybody’s psyche, who happens to make inordinate demands on my conscious attention and who must be placated somehow in order for me to avoid ruining my life in a mad crescendo of violent self-destruction.

Psychotherapists “give me permission” if you will, to explore my own darkest feelings and desires, and to express them in a dialogue with the therapist, without having to act on them. This has been a safety valve for releasing pent-up psychic pressure and tension which otherwise would have exploded in some unthinkable act of self-harm.

For instance, with the moral support of my therapists I have learned to sublimate certain problematical and dangerous sexual fixations into a religious practice, e.g. worshipping the Goddess and practicing earth magic. In 1987, at the age of 24, I experienced a sudden, spontaneous, and involuntary vision of the Goddess, who appeared to me as a beautiful, wise, and omnipotent Witch, right in the middle of my bedroom, where I lay in darkness with the lights off. In Tantric Buddhism this is known as the “vision of Vajrayogini,” a rare and highly prized experience. A Jungian psychotherapist might explain it as an exteriorization of the unconscious Anima; for a Catholic, this might be a mystical vision of Saint Mary Magdalene. In any event, it was a major turning point in my life, really the most important one. I knew from that day forward that I must dedicate my life to worshipping and serving Her.

To me the Goddess represents both the deepest unconscious levels of the psyche and the vast expanse of the Universe; moreover, the two worlds, inner and outer, are mirror images. So to worship the Goddess I meditate in profound silence for one hour daily, as I have for 22 years, on the mystery of my inner being (Buddhist dharma helps with this); then, several times a week, weather permitting, I gaze into space and praise the Goddess in spontaneous, heartfelt prayers, in her incarnation as the constellations of the Milky Way Galaxy and every other galaxy in the Cosmos. Often I praise her as Diana, (the full moon) and as the planet Venus, the Morning and Evening Star. She is the intelligence underlying all life and space. The Earth is her incarnation as our Mother, the source of all life, so I honor her by keeping a small herb garden during the spring and summer months and by staying current on the ecological and environmental emergencies we face, such as deforestation, species extinction and global warming. The climate change conference recently concluded in Durban, South Africa was a time of special urgency.

All this has kept me grounded in an actually existing reality.

I often marvel at the endurance and resiliency of my therapists because I know it’s not easy to sit there and absorb this stuff. They offer me feedback and insights, reality checks, faith and encouragement, empathy and compassion. The way I often put it is this: A psychotherapist is a unique person in your life, because she isn’t a friend who you’d invite for dinner and a date, but she’s more than a casual acquaintance who’d be put off by taboo or eccentric disclosures. I can share my most naked emotional conflicts, fears and desires with my psychotherapist and know that she’ll still be there with a smile and a kind word the next time. That gives me the safe and secure feeling I need to carry on.

Now, psychotherapists have to pay bills just like everyone else, so they need to draw a salary. That’s why the neighborhood clinic where services can be paid for with Medicaid is so critical to the welfare of society and its less than affluent members. The clinic I attend is run by Catholic Charities. The care they offer is first rate, you don’t have to be a Catholic to belong, and they don’t proselytize. The staff are competent and courteous, the premises are clean and well maintained, and it’s a very pleasant experience to go there.

I’ve been to some other clinics that were run-down dumps, and the effect that that kind of environment creates on me is the depressing feeling that nobody cares how I feel here, nobody respects me. I’ve never been able to feel mentally well in places like those. So the environment where I’ve been receiving psychotherapy is also crucially important. There has to be a level of quality and decency to the place, or I’ll simply be too discouraged to continue attending therapy. Only Medicaid makes this kind of operation financially viable, so it’s imperative that our elected officials not decimate Medicaid spending in their current deficit reduction mania.

Finally, with antipsychotic medication, taken daily and for life, I’m not twisting in some bottomless pit of devils and chimeras, shouting obscenities at me, making dire threats and issuing prophecies terrifying enough to chase me wildly through the streets. But I’ve found that not every medication works for me. I’m fortunate in that I have an experienced and concerned psychiatrist at Catholic Charities who solicits my input and feedback regarding the medication and the effects it’s having on my mental and emotional equilibrium. If adjustments are needed, we make them. If the medication just doesn’t work for me, she prescribes something different. The important thing is that my doctor listens to me and partners with me in my treatment. My Medicaid insurance pays for the medication that helps keep me in reality. I could never afford to pay for it myself; another argument for buttressing Medicaid.

Mental illness is a cross. Mine doesn’t finally end in some cure:  It has to be managed for the rest of my life. With the help of a good psychotherapist at a neighborhood clinic that accepts Medicaid and provides psychiatric treatment so that I’m able to combine therapy with medicine, and express my religious longings without being made to feel like a heretic, I can wake up in the morning without the dread of being swallowed up in a wolvish maw of madness by noon.

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