Catholic and Feminist: Living an Apparent Contradiction, Part 1

I am a Catholic and a feminist. This first post explains a bit of how I got there. I will explain more of how I’ve managed to stay there in another post.

I was raised in a religious family and attended church every Sunday for the first 15 years of my life. My internal conflict with Catholicism began long before my rebellious teenage years. I was raised to believe that if I worked hard I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up. Well, when I was about 3 or 4 years old, I wanted to be a priest, and the eventual realization that I couldn’t was officially the first crack in my Catholic identity.

Many years later I entered my teenage years and that was when my religious identity was shattered. It was the beginning of my feminist awakening, and I was already starting to revise my opinions on a number of issues, where I had previously just taken my parents’ opinions. Then I read an interview in Sassy magazine with a woman named Laurie Cabot. I convinced my mother to let me buy Cabot’s book The Power of the Witch: The Earth, the Moon, and the Magical Path to Enlightenment, and my life was never the same.

After Confirmation, I convinced my parents to let me take a much needed break from church in order to do some serious soul-searching.  Over the next ten years, I literally walked through my beliefs, one at a time.  I started with the question of whether I believed in a higher power at all, and worked my way through.  Some things I felt instantly in my gut, others required months of reading, thought and meditation.  By my early 20s, I was reasonably comfortable calling myself a Christian.  I was still hesitant of the Catholic label because of the conservative nature of the religion, and then two things happened that caused me to reclaim my identity as a Catholic.  The first was a book about Mary (I wish I could recall the title, but I had borrowed it from a family member), followed by a discussion with my mother about Mary’s role within the Church. From an intellectual point of view, I appreciated the unique role that Mary has in the Catholic church, as compared to other Christian religions.  It didn’t make up for not being allowed to be a priest, but it was something.  On a broader level, it gave me a way to relate these beliefs to my continued (intellectual) study of Wicca.  Witchcraft as my religious belief system was ruled out very early in my search (due to the fact that they do not believe in a Satan/source of pure evil), but I remained fascinated by the history and the ways in which parts of old pagan religions have been incorporated into modern day Christianity.

The second event had nothing to do with research or studying.  Although I stopped receiving Eucharist a number of years earlier, I had started going to church with my parents on weekends when I stayed with them, primarily out of respect for them and their beliefs.  It was Palm Sunday, 2002.  My grandmother (my mother’s mother) had passed away about a year earlier (the Monday during Holy Week in 2001) from pancreatic cancer.  My uncle (my mother’s brother) had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, himself. Communion had just finished and the choir was singing a meditation piece, “Were You There.” All of a sudden I broke down sobbing. Despite the overwhelming despair, I also began to feel the smallest sliver of peace.
I have no doubt that part of it was the comfort of the familiar, but this was the feeling I had been seeking for the last 10 years. Since that day I’ve once again referred to myself as a practicing Catholic (as opposed to “recovering Catholic,” which is the label I had previously been using).

Yep, I Went There…

Like many other people, I have a Facebook account. I don’t post regularly, and when I do post, it’s usually song lyrics or something very vague (my mother hates it). As odd as it sounds now that I’m blogging, I’ve always preferred to keep my personal life private. There have been a few exception, of course. But the most notable exception was earlier this year, on February 10th, when I posted the following:

“In March of 1999, I was raped. It was about ten years before I could start to say that I was healing. During those early years, I did some things I’m not proud of, the worst being sabotaging a relationship with a man who loved me just because I didn’t know what else to do. As I look back on my relationships since then (one liar, two cheaters, and the very recent what-the-fuck-just-happened blindsiding), I can’t help but start to wonder if I’m doomed to spend the rest of my life paying for the actions of that person I once was.”

Well, no one could accuse me of being vague or cryptic then!

I bring this up for a number of reasons, and none of those reasons involve shock value.  The biggest reason that I’m writing about this is because it did have a huge impact on my life and there are things that have happened (and continue to happen) that really need to be explained in the context of this particular event in my life.  In fact, the original inspiration for Tales From Sick and Twisted (my novel-in-progress) came during those first few months when I realized that I was a different person because of this experience.  It was when I stopped trying to rationalize my trauma into nothing.  It was the sabotaging of that relationship.  So my novel would not have existed without this internal struggle.

While I will likely refer to this in a number of future posts, I will generally avoid detailing that night, mainly because it’s not the events themselves that are of consequence, but how I changed as a person, for better or worse, as a result.  In other words, the real story is found in the days, months and years that have passed since that night.  In general, here are the only things I consider relevant to any future posts or discussions:

  • It was date rape–I knew my attacker
  • While I did ultimately report it, I chose not to press charges
  • The Emergency Room visit was its own level of hell
  • It was the first and last time that I ignored my gut (generally referred to as the “Psychic Chick Sense”)
  • While I never thought I would post something on Facebook, I’ve never shied away from discussing it if the conversation was relevant (I consider this my personal form of advocacy)

I also want to add that I was humbled and felt immensely blessed by the outpouring of support that I received from my Facebook friends.  It was amazing because I didn’t expect anything.  It’s a tough topic and tough topics are hard to discuss.  In fact, my motivation for writing the post was a sudden need to put forth my own apology for some of my actions.  I know that I was dealing with my own pain, but even as I worked through my pain, I had never actually apologized for the pain I caused others during that time.  I expected my post to fade on the Facebook newsfeed, maybe seen by others, maybe just lost in the middle of other posts.  I wrote it for myself, to purge my own inner demons, and not for the purpose of eliciting any sort or response from others.  So when those responses flooded in, I was surprised, but I was (and I still remain) grateful.

So now that we’ve got that out there… how about those Orangemen?

Depression Does Not Equal Pity Party

When I was at work yesterday, I was talking to one of my co-workers who had just read my blog the night before.  She told me that she really liked it, that I wrote well, and then added, “I feel so bad for you.”

Why?

Sure, I’ve lived through some difficulties, but who hasn’t?  Yes, my head is pretty messed up at the moment, but it could be so much worse.  I have a good job, I have family and friends that love me.  I have a roof over my head and food to eat.  I have my spirituality, and my connection to a higher power.

I’m not saying that I’ve never wallowed in pity and despair before.  There have been times when life seemed dark and overwhelming and I had no idea how I would make it through.  But I did.  The truth is that I’ve barely scratched the surface of describing my inner demons and the various challenges I’ve faced.  But I’ve survived all of them. There’s no reason to feel bad for me; that’s certainly not the response I’m hoping to get from readers.

I have a friend who has been through more than I can possibly imagine; yet she continues to push forward.  We were talking one day, and she expressed frustration about the way people interacted with her.  She said many people felt bad about ever expressing unhappiness or complaining about their situation because they felt like they had no right to be upset about their pains because they were nothing compared to the pain she herself has endured.  She then went on to say one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard.  She essentially said that just because others may have been through “worse,” it doesn’t mean that your own despair isn’t valid or justified.

Over the years, my father has often apologized to me for being wrapped up in a battle with his addictions through a large portion of my childhood.  I always tell him that an apology isn’t necessary.  I am who I am now because of where I’ve been.  And the truth is that I like who I am.  I recognize where I have room to grow, but I realize that life overall is pretty good.  Faith Evans sums it up perfectly in her song Again:

“If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t take away the rain ’cause I know it made me who I am.”

If At First You Don’t Succeed

Although I asked my mother if I could go to therapy when I was 13 (see my previous post “It’s Official: I’m Crazy?” for details), once I started therapy a year later I quickly soured on the whole idea. Don’t get me wrong, I never doubted that therapy could be useful for people, but I became very skeptical about its usefulness in my own life. My very first therapist was a man named “Gary,” who I soon found out was treating my father. Although I tried to explain the depression and despair, Gary decided instantly that my mood issues must be directly related to my father’s drug addiction. There was just one small problem with his theory: until Gary started talking about it, I was blissfully naive/ignorant of my father’s continued drug dependence (my father’s official sobriety date ended up being about 2 months after I started therapy). Of course this minor detail wasn’t enough to deter Gary from his theory. And thus began my skepticism.
Over the years I’ve attempted therapy several more times and was either unimpressed with the therapist or had to discontinue due to insurance reasons (it is very rare that I have positive words for President George W Bush, but he did sign the parity law in 2008 that eventually ended the ability of insurance companies to limit mental health visits if there were no such limits for other providers).
Given my skepticism, you know it took a lot to decide to try therapy again. It happened when I started to realize how bottled up my emotions have become: when I realized, after waiting for over a year to breakdown over the loss of my favorite grandparent, that the tears just couldn’t come out; when I spent hours staring at a blank computer screen and couldn’t get the words out; when I realized that I hade become paralyzed by my feelings.

Step 1: admit that I need help. Check.

Step 2: find a therapist. Shit.
You would think that working in a hospital would give me tons of leads on finding a good therapist. You would think wrong. After staring blankly at a list of over 250 possible providers, I ran into a good friend who was currently in therapy. Fortunately, she was happy give me the name of her therapist. Okay, now comes the hard part.

Step 3: actually call and make appointment
This took me a few days, but I didn’t drag my feet nearly as much as normal. And finally…

Step 4: keep appointment and see therapist
Today was the big day. And drum roll, please… I loved this woman! Once she started talking energy and quantum physics, she was speaking my language. I know one session isn’t a whole lot, but it’s honestly the most optimistic I’ve ever felt after a therapy session. And this comes from a hardened skeptic. Could it be possible that I might become one of those people who actually gets some benefit from therapy? I eagerly look forward to learning the answer to this question.

Breaking Down the Walls

During my first semester of college, I was required to take a writing class (as was every other incoming freshman).  No sweat, I thought to myself.  After all, I love to write and had been told that I was pretty good at it.  Then our final assignment provided the ultimate twist.  We had to analyze our own writing and write up a report.  I’m not ashamed to admit that this is when I ended up with my very first ulcer.  Although I’ve always been an avid reader and writer, literary analysis has never been something that I particularly enjoyed, and especially back then, was something I didn’t think I was really good at.  In the end, it was a great project and really taught me a lot about myself, even if I did make myself sick over it.

Last night, after I finished writing my previous post, I looked briefly at my full list of posts and had the sort of sudden insight that would have made my writing professor proud.  Completely unintentionally, I analyzed my own writing.  And once I understood what I was seeing, I became very grateful that I made that appointment to begin therapy tomorrow.

I realized last night that my posts are very reminiscent of my two sessions with my psychiatrist.  One of her biggest concerns has been that I don’t present like a typical depressed person.  I can be talkative, I laugh, I make jokes (especially about myself and my situation).  I explain about entering a semi-vegetative state once I get home and not being able to move.  But I talk about it in a very matter-of-fact way, almost as if I was talking about a totally different person.  I can discuss my thoughts, and even my feelings, but have a way of doing it where I’m still not really being open about anything.  I can verbally express feelings of despair and/or vulnerability, but cannot actually demonstrate these emotions at all.  And this is what I saw in my writing last night.

I began writing this blog for two different (but very intertwined) reasons.  The first reason was to give myself an outlet as I work through my current depressive episode and try to understand the bipolar II diagnosis my psychiatrist has been considering.  I feel like I’ve been holding so much in for so long that it’s started to affect me physically and mentally, even if it’s not readily apparent to other people.  The second reason is because my regular writing has stagnated.  The book bearing the same name as my blog has always been more difficult to write than I ever imagined, and I found that I did my best work when I was in one of those somewhat emotional states.  The problem is that apparently as much as I’ve shut down what I show to others, I’ve also shut down my own ability to channel those feelings into my writing.

I sincerely hope that as time goes on I’m able to let down my walls more and really let my feelings come out through my writing.

Uppers, Downers, and Sideways

Much to the shock of my friends, I’ve often stated that my parents should not have had kids.  I don’t say this to imply that they were bad parents.  I say this because some gene pools probably should not be allowed to continue.  Before the move towards electronic medical records, I started bringing a typed medical history with me whenever I saw a new doctor for the first time.  I started doing this after getting tired of running out of room in the section labeled “Family History.”  It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that if a condition has any sort of genetic tendencies, it can be found on at least one side of the family, if not both.  Hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, cancer… the list goes on.  With the odds stacked against me like that, it’s no wonder that I find myself on a ridiculous amount of medication at only 36 years old.  

At first it didn’t seem too bad:  some prescription strength ibuprofen for frequent headaches, the occasional round of anti-depressants… then the ENT group got a hold of me.  During a follow-up after having a severely deviated septum corrected, my surgeon commented on the size of my tonsils and asked me if I snored.  The next thing I knew, I was attempting to fall asleep while connected to an array of colorful wires and sensors.  The sleep study didn’t show any apnea (very fortunate for me, since those C-PAP masks aren’t especially flattering).  What it should instead was that I move my limbs in my sleep.  A lot.  The condition is called Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD), and it’s a cousin of the better known Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).  Most people with RLS will also have PLMD, but not the other way around.  Because I come from one of those extra special gene pools, I have the RLS/PLMD combo.  There are a number of possible medications available, but the more popular choices are the same medications used to treat Parkinson’s Disease.  So, add one more medication to the list.  

I should also explain that I have some long-term neck and back issues: bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, arthritis of the spine–you get the picture.  I have always declined narcotics and pain medication stronger than ibuprofen for two reasons.  First, I have a strong family history of drug and alcohol dependence.  Second, I didn’t find that they really worked much better (and in fact, percocet gave me one of the worst cases of heartburn I ever experienced).  After throwing out my back, my doctor wanted me to try a muscle relaxer… you can see where this is going.  Now let’s add in the ADD med, the allergy meds, and the reflux med (I don’t think I have the willpower to give up spicy food).  The end result is that I find myself in that viscous cycle where the meds start to have their own side effects that require more meds to treat… meds that will help me sleep, meds that will make my brain able to function at work, meds to ease depression, meds that will allow me to keep my cats without resorting to taking a power drill to my sinuses.  And try remembering to take them all when they’re supposed to be taken, especially with ADD brain!

It is in this context that I finally sought the help of a psychiatrist, after three years off of antidepressants.  While I’m thrilled to finally start feeling less like the zombie I had become, I am reminded of how much it thoroughly and completely sucks to try to find the right medication regimen.  I already have the disadvantage of being very sensitive to mood issues from medications.  Those muscle relaxers I mentioned earlier?  First one I tried caused severe depression, second one made me feel like a zombie for two days after I took it.  I was lucky that the third time was the charm.  I once had a psychiatrist make the mistake of prescribing me klonopin for what she saw as anxiety.  That one was a particular favorite, which made me want to slit wrists.  

I realize that I reached a point where medication is necessary (whether it’s ultimately an antidepressant, mood stabilizer or both).  I realize that I need to just suck it up and do whatever it takes to feel better.  It doesn’t mean that I have to like it, and in this case, I really don’t like it.

Friends and Lovers

I have a very good friend- let’s call him Dave. I’ve known Dave for almost nine years now, but we’ve become very close friends over the last several years. I can’t say that Dave is my best friend because our friendship is unique from any others that we have. We relate to each other in a way that we don’t relate to other friends. We can have entire conversations without speaking. We often joke around about sharing a brain. We refer to ourselves as partners in crime.
I often struggle with mixed feelings for Dave. Sometimes I think it would just be so perfect if only… Then I think about the inevitable drama it would create in both of our lives and wonder if our friendship could survive if a relationship couldn’t.
I’m pretty sure Dave feels the same way, at least based on the conversations we’ve had about it. I’ve been told that I’m hard to read and my psychiatrist warned me that I probably have difficulty connecting with people on any really significant level (in retrospect I can easily see this being the likely cause of my ex unexpectedly ending things at the beginning of this year). I know that’s not an issue with Dave because I’ve already let him see the good, the bad and the ugly. There are very few people I ever let into my life like that.
I guess what it comes down to is that I can’t decide if it’s worth risking it all for the small possibility of having it all…