Hermit reversed – Terrified & trapped in one’s own mind

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Hermit reversed as dementia

Today, while working with my Dark Goddess and Deviant Moon Tarot decks, I had an insight into how dementia might feel from the inside. I pulled my card of the day from the Dark Goddess Tarot. It was Persephone/Judgement. Using this card as a guide, I asked the Deviant Moon Tarot “How can I integrate what is dying in my life with what is living and growing?” I drew The Hermit reversed and The Star in response.

At first I rather shrugged it off thinking that the Hermit reflected my current social isolation. However the longer I looked at this card the more convinced I became that it was about my mother-in-law. The expression on this Hermit’s face and her body posture suggest fear if not outright terror. The more I looked at this pathetic figure hunched in on herself the more I became convinced this card is a visual depiction of how my mother-in-law feels every day.

My mother-in-law is suffering from some type of dementia. She is not always able to connect with us when we speak to her. She often speaks to inanimate objects or people who are not there. She has forgotten how to care of the basics such as bathing or feeding herself. And yet every so often we get a glimpse of the woman she used to be. She will often cry softly to herself because she realizes this is not how it’s supposed to be. We are convinced that a part of the woman she once was is trapped inside her mind and horrified by what is happening to her. That is what I see conveyed on the Deviant Moon’s Hermit card, especially reversed.

The Hermit reversed reminds me that my mother-in-law is traveling a road that I cannot fathom and she’s doing it alone. No one, regardless of how well intentioned, can help her with this. It is an internal journey that can only end with death. All I can do for her right now is be there and help her where I can. It breaks my heart to see her deterioration. She still recognizes me even if she has no cognitive idea who I am. She will hug me or tell me she loves me but cannot tell you my name. It’s awful to witness but it must be so much worse to experience. Whenever I become frustrated or angry with her I’ll remember the expression of fear and confusion on this Hermit’s face and hopefully it will help me be more compassionate.

Shaming or payback – only you know for sure

For the last few days I’ve found myself thinking about the concepts of tribal shaming and the mother wound. Both are instances where our familial or peer group try to shame or control us because we are not following accepted norms. Both are insidious and subversive ways of keeping us in line. Sometimes they are well-meant, subtle and unconscious; sometimes they are manipulative and intentional. In my experience many times these instances of shaming are thoughtless, an instinctive reaction to our own feelings of low self-worth or jealousy.

I never realized that there was a name for what I experienced with my mother and sister. I know both of them love me but I’ve also had occasions where I felt resentment from them and a sense of schadenfreude when I was having hard times. In their defense, I can often be irritatingly pompous and arrogant which I am sure is not a joy to deal with on a regular basis. So what came first – the shaming or the arrogance? I’m not sure. If truth be told I can’t remember a time when I didn’t suffer from “know-it-all-itis”. So did I (unintentionally, I assure you) shame my mother and sister? Quite possibly.

What is the point of this little post? Quite simple actually – although I do believe there are genuine instances of tribal and familial shaming, I also believe that payback is a bitch. So there may have been occasions when I experienced tribal or familial shaming they may also have been instances of people getting even with me for times when my know-it-all-itis irritated the crap out of them. I get it. I’m not innocent in the shaming or putting down of others. It may not be intentional but I’m sure that doesn’t make it any less hurtful.

So the next time you believe you’ve been the victim of tribal or familial shaming stop a moment before reacting. Think about it – is it possible you may have done something in the past to trigger some of these responses? I’m not claiming it’s all your fault or that there aren’t instances of truly hurtful and underserved shaming, simply that I think we can all unconsciously shame, embarrass or put down each other. Instead of pointing fingers let’s pause and take responsibility for our own behaviors. Maybe if we’re just a bit nicer to others they’ll respond in kind. And if not, you can always take a more assertive, no tolerance stance. Or maybe this is simply my experience and doesn’t apply to anyone else – your mileage may vary.

Eris – dealing with my discordant nature

Today I had an interesting experience. I’ve been working with the Dark Goddess Tarot (and two friends) on creating an inner labyrinth journey using the Major Arcana cards. This week I’m working with Justice/Ma’at. I asked what she could tell me about myself? In response I drew the 5 of Fire/Eris. I am familiar with the story of Eris, the goddess of discord and the chaos she caused by tossing a golden apple designated as “for the most beautiful” among the goddesses at the wedding of Thetis and Peleus. This act led to the Judgement of Paris and eventually the Trojan War. Eris was motivated to do this because she felt insulted at not being invited to the wedding.

Eris is blamed for stirring up strife and chaos. This stopped me in my tracks. Am I like Eris? Do I stir up strife, chaos and discord? I know I can be confrontational but I didn’t think I was that chaotic. What’s ironic is that I’ve been trying to convince myself that I wasn’t always the somewhat prickly porcupine I can become. I thought back to my childhood and thought it just might be possible that I had become this way as a defense mechanism. Perhaps I developed this protective coloring as a way of dealing with feeling like such as outsider with classmates. Unfortunately a brief conversation with my mother disabused me of this notion. Apparently my rather confrontational style expressed itself when I was quite young.

This made me wonder why I felt the need to try to justify my personality. Most times I don’t have this urge; I accept myself as what and who I am. Sometimes I become defensive – especially when I’ve heard the comment “Gee, why don’t you tell us what you really feel?” One thing I know about myself is that I probably just did exactly that. What frustrates me is that I feel as though people are subtly trying to shame me; make me embarrassed for my outspokenness. Don’t misunderstand me – I am well aware that I can sometimes come off as abrasive and opinionated. I am both of those things but I am also relatively transparent, what you see is what you get, and I don’t play games. I have a low tolerance for bullshit and try to avoid being a hypocrite. I don’t’ see myself at better than anyone else or worse for that matter. I simply am who I am. I don’t know how to be anyone else or any other way.

So what lesson has Eris offered me? She helped me realize that I’m engaged in a pointless battle. I’m fighting against my true self and it serves no purpose. She also reminds me that this is only on aspect of my personality. I am more than just an occasionally challenging, confrontational creature. I can be quite loyal, supportive, weird, and funny. I can seem like a firecracker going off in your midst – sometimes explosive and sometimes a burst of energy; sometimes enjoyable and sometimes annoying. I guess I’m like most people – a tapestry of positive and negative aspects and that’s okay.

A case of the “mean reds”

I always remember that in Breakfast at Tiffany’s Holly Golightly refers to her bouts of anxiety as the “mean reds”. I like that expression although for me it tends to refer more to bouts of self-doubt, jealousy, anger and anxiety triggered by realizing I’m not where I’d thought I would be at this point in my life (such realizations usually occurring when I learn of something wonderful happening to a friend and feeling happy for them and jealous of their good fortune). I suffered a bout of my own mean reds the other day. They were triggered by the realization that I am no longer the new kid on the block, the new generation of anything or the young turk. I’m not a prodigy anymore. I’m going to be 50 soon and while that doesn’t preclude new and interesting experiences, it does pretty much ensure that opportunities to feel like a young turk will be as rare as hen’s teeth.

I don’t like feeling this way. It makes me uncomfortable with myself and resentful of friends’ successes, which really sucks. So I have decided to take the mean reds by the horns and try to develop a strategy so that I don’t get lost in them. I pulled out my Tarot of the Hidden Realm and asked how to handle bouts of the “mean reds”. I drew the 9 of Cups crossed by the 8 of Cups. My first reaction at seeing the 9 of Cups is that I need to look inside my own heart and see what resides there. What do I truly wish for and desire in my life? Many times I realize that although I’m happy for a friend’s success, I don’t wish to so what she does. That changes the dynamic and shifts my perspective. I’m don’t wish for their success to become my own. I don’t wish I had their lives. I just wish I felt more like a success in my own life. The first step to achieving that would be to look inside my heart and see what I find. Instead of a vague “I wish that was me” type wish, I really wish for success on my terms.

Tarot of the Hidden Realm Nine of CupsHidden Realms 8 of Cups

I believe the 8 of Cups is telling me that before I can manifest any wishes or desires in my life, first I need to go on a bit of a quest to see what that would look like for me. There are things I need to let go of, things that I used to enjoy but have now become a distraction. Once I can release those items along with their emotional charge I hope to feel less burdened and freed up to find new joys and new satisfaction with my life. I’m realizing that carrying around all those unfulfilled hopes and dreams is burying me. The only way to free myself from these negative emotions is to simply let life wash them away; let them stay in the past.

At the same time I also believe the past holds some of the keys to finding a fulfilling and enjoyable life for myself. I need to reconnect with young me, hopefully a truer me who remembers what I enjoyed doing before working and the expectations of supervisors and coworkers mutated what I love do into what I’m good at doing. This part of the answer isn’t especially new to me but it is something I haven’t focused on much lately. Obviously I need to change that. I’m sure I’ll develop other techniques for dealing with the “mean reds” but I think this is a good start.

Shadow Side Saturday: Supernatural’s Nasty Angels & Humorous Demons

Okay – I might have mentioned that I’ve become a fan of the show Supernatural (okay, full disclosure – I love the Impala and Dean). One of the aspect I’ve found fascinating is the portrayal of angels and demons on the show. The writers have chosen to make these creatures complex, multi-faceted characters. There is no simplistic belief that all angels are good and all demons are bad. There have been angels who commit atrocities in the righteous belief that they are doing God’s work. There have also been demons who help the shows’ two protagonists (monster hunting brothers Dean & Sam Winchester) due to enlightened self-interest. This is one of the most appealing aspects of the show for me (well after the two brothers).

Sam & Dean Winchester with Baby

Sam & Dean Winchester with Baby

In many New Age and modern traditions, angels are seen as winged guardians and helpers; beings who are there to protect and help humanity when possible. However when one explores more ancient Judeo-Christian tradition we see far different descriptions of angels and their responsibilities. They are God’s soldiers and police force. When humanity doesn’t toe the line and Yahweh has had enough of his recalcitrant, disobedient creations he sends his angels down to smite us. Let’s face it, Michael the Archangel could give Norman Schwarzkopf tips in the art of war. How many times has Yahweh punished humanity using the angels? Yahweh can be fairly unforgiving and rather vindictive. The angels are the ones who administer Yahweh’s justice.

There are angels who watch humanity, recording and remembering what we do. Apparently they do not interfere in humans’ lives unless instructed to do so. There are angels who support Yahweh’s throne and sing his praises. The archangels are often portrayed as Yahweh’s right hands, his lieutenants. There are the cherubim with their four different faces (ox, lion, human and eagle). None of these creatures seem to be the warm and fuzzy angelic beings so prevalent in New Age thought today.

Uriel

Uriel – an angel who has no use for humanity

Over the course of the several seasons since angels have appeared on Supernatural they have proven to be vindictive, violent, willing to maim, torture and brutalize in order to achieve their goals. They often cloak their actions with claims that they are God’s will or for the greater good but they are as violent and destructive as any demon. Their willingness to smite entire towns in order to achieve their goals is frightening and quite eye-opening. When the angels turn their wrath on each other, the havoc created is . . . cosmic.

Naomi

Naomi – angelic torturer

There are angels who willingly torture other angels during various battles for supremacy in Heaven. Angels who willingly ally with demons to achieve their goals. There are angels who happily sacrifice human lives and souls in pursuit of their agendas. Many of the angels in Supernatural are portrayed as looking down upon humans – referring to them as “mud monkeys” and “larva”. These angels are infuriated by Yahweh’s favoritism towards humanity. They may be forced to help us but they’re not happy about it. While the individual angels may not be based in ancient tradition, some of their actions are similar to those described in the Bible.

CastielSeason9

Castiel – a helpful angel (most of the time)

In the Supernatural universe, even demons have different levels. Some demons are humans whose souls were corrupted due to their behaviors and decisions while living. Some (like Lucifer and Azazel) are fallen angels who defied Yahweh and were punished. Others (like Lilith) were created by the fallen angels and never lived as humans. You also have such well-known demons as Cain and the Knights of Hell he helped create. Based on the description, the Knights of Hell sound like the demonic equivalent of archangels. Demons can possess humans and take over their bodies, forcing them to engage in horrific acts that often leave the hosts traumatized, assuming they survive the experience.

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Meg the demon – a former enemy turned mistrusted ally.

Most of the demons behave in ways we might expect – seducing and corrupting humans to the dark side, committing acts of mayhem and violence and bartering for human souls. Some are more violent and aggressive than others. Crossroad demons are rather like persistent salespeople – the won’t pursue you but once you make a deal with one you can be sure she or he will collect.

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Crowley – King of the Crossroads and King of Hell

Over the course of the series some demons have proven very helpful to the Winchester brothers – although their motivations were not always clear or benevolent. Ruby shows up at the start of Season 3 with a demon-slaying knife that aids the brothers in slaying some of the demons that escaped when the devil’s gate opened. Crowley, King of the Crossroads, has proven quite helpful to the brothers during their efforts to defeat Lucifer and short-circuit Armageddon. Even Meg, a demon who was quite an enemy of the brothers in Season 1, returns in later seasons and prove to be quite an asset. The Winchester brothers can never full trust these demons because each time their helpfulness has proven to mask a hidden agenda. Sometimes their aid is not worth the price that must be paid.

Angel or demon, in Supernatural all have the ability to prove dangerous to humanity. As Dean has noted numerous times “Angels are dicks” and if one is a believer in free will this certainly will seem to be the case. Angels appear to ensure we follow God’s cosmic plan for us. If we resist they tend to get aggressive in their efforts to bring us in line. Demons are corrupting influences and, as expected, quite detrimental to humanity’s spiritual health. However they also raise several valid points regarding humanity’s tendency towards self-destruction and the fact that we cause more damage to each other than any demons ever could. I find these portrayals both thought provoking and refreshing. Instead of falling into the simplistic approach that angels are good and have humanity’s best interests at heart and demons are bad, corrupting and evil influences, the writers have created a multitude of shades of gray. For better or worse, these are not your grandmother’s angels or demons.

Thoughtful Thor’s Day: Stagnation and Change – what can I do if I can’t move?

I’m sure I’ve posted before about the current situation in my life – I am a stay at home caregiver for an elderly, ailing mother-in-law and a disabled brother-in-law. Had anyone told me 5 years ago this is what I’d be doing I would have insisted they were certifiable. I was determined that I would never, ever become a mother or caregiver to anything more needy and dependent than my dog. Fate had an ironic way of proving me wrong. After getting fired from my job and realizing that the in-laws couldn’t really live without a caregiver, I ended up stepping into that role. Hubby helps out when he can (which is often a lot) but he also has to take care of things like shopping and fixing things around the house so he is often not here. That means the care and feeding of the inmates falls to me. If I say I detest it with every fiber of my being that still wouldn’t be strong enough.

Don’t misunderstand – I chose to do this because I was unwilling to see them institutionalized. However I did not expect my mother-in-law to still be hanging in there after 6 years. It wearing me out body and soul. I am losing interesting in everything but junk food. I feel like the real me has left the building and what is left behind is someone I don’t know. It’s worse than any horror movie I can imagine.

So what can I do? Well one obvious solution is to throw in the towel, admit defeat and have them institutionalized. This would not be my first choice for a variety of reasons. Once I take that stand then I limit my other options. That means my ability to leave the house is severely limited. So I need to find other ways to express myself creatively, spiritually and emotionally. Having conversations with either in-law is not happening. Inviting friends or relatives over is another pointless endeavor. It’s impossible to give them any undivided attention and sitting here all day sucks.

So what can I do about this stagnation and stuckness? I don’t know. I’m trying several approaches to the problem and I’m not sure what will work yet. One path is journaling. Sometimes just writing all the anger, frustration, confusion and sadness on paper helps purge it from my system. Another option is to keep connection with my social network. This is a bit trickier now that I’m not on Facebook but I can still use emails, AIM and (believe it or not) the telephone. Sometimes just the sound of another human voice and the ability to have sensible conversations can be quite a relief. Another tool that I’ve woefully neglected is spirituality. I know I feel better when I do a daily devotional and yet I keep procrastinating. It’s time to kick my ass in gear and take a few minutes every day to sharpen this saw.

So far I’ve just taken some baby steps towards pulling myself out of this stagnating pool that is my life. I still need to motivate myself to keep taking these steps otherwise I’ll be in over my head. The last thing I need is to drown in my own misery. I’m tired of being miserable (of course I do say that a lot). If I want to change things then I need to take action. I know this. I know it very well. Now I have to do something about it.

Jealousy/envy – When it seems someone else is living your dream

Have you ever had a moment when you become filled with envy listening to a friend gushing over some recent bit of good fortune? Have you ever wanted to shriek with fury because you’re listening to your dream come true for someone else? Then you feel awful because instead of feeling happy for your friend, you are letting envy taint the moment? I have and it’s a horrible feeling. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth and (if you’re anything like me) feeling like a lousy, rotten friend.

I’ve noticed that the green-eyed monster tends to rear its ugly head when I am feeling especially unspecial in my own life. It’s when I feel trapped, unsuccessful and unproductive that I am most likely to succumb to envy. It’s a sympathetic, seductive bitch of an emotion. It preys on insecurities and self-doubts. It convinces you that as long as your friend (or anyone else) is successful you can never be. It convinces you that there is only so much pie to go around and if your friend is enjoying a big slice then you won’t get any for yourself.

Of course none of this is true. However the strength of envy is that it doesn’t deal in reality it deals in illusion and self-doubts. It undermines our self-esteem and self-worth. It strikes when we are at our weakest. It sucks and makes a lousy period in your life even more lousy. So what can a person do about this? Not really sure, all I can describe is how I deal with it.

The first step that I find helpful is to acknowledge that I’m feeling envy. Sometimes I’ll even admit to the friend that it’s happened. That seems to take the fangs out of it. Then I need to look at my life and see what triggered the envy. Once I can see that more clearly I can figure out ways to diffuse the envy. Many times acknowledging the envy is the best solution. If that’s not enough then sometimes journaling through it or talking to a friend helps too.

For me, the best way to alleviate the envy is to find ways to feel more accomplished or satisfied in my own life. Focusing on the little things that make me happy – tea, friends, books. Other times I find that something like a gratitude journal or simply writing down a list of things I’m grateful for help improve my mood and attitude. Instead of focusing on what I don’t have in my life (which is often what triggered my envy in the first place), I focus on what brings joy into my life. It’s a simple, small step but I’ve found it’s very powerful.

Shadow Side Saturday – My touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder

I have been in a black mood for the past few days, maybe even weeks. I’ve been moody, bitchy, angry and resentful. Don’t get me wrong, I can slip into moods like this for brief periods of time but they don’t tend to last longer than a day or two. I’ve explored different options to get to the bottom of these moods. None of them felt right or entirely accurate. They each show a piece of the puzzle but I still wasn’t seeing the whole picture.

Then while I was emailing a friend it hit me like a bolt of lightning – it was my old seasonal affective disorder kicking in. In reality I don’t think I have true seasonal affective disorder but what I do have is a black mood that settles over me when it’s “back to school” time and I’m not returning to school. I can sometimes alleviate it by buying myself new notebooks, pens and other school-related items but that only works when I realize that I need to do it. This year I seem to have missed a step. Instead I was blaming my mood on other factors.

Now that I have a clearer view of what is causing this mood I can create a game plan to deal with it. I need to find ways to fill the need I have for structure learning experiences I also need to work on reducing my reliance on external validation and motivation. It’s time to be more internally motivated and validated. In this current situation in my life opportunities for external validation are rarer than hen’s teeth so I need to find another way to maintain my sanity. I know what I should do, now it’s time to start actually doing it.

Shadow Side Saturday: When death’s embrace is welcome

Have you ever wished for someone to die? I don’t mean that quick thought that flashes across our mind towards someone we hate or who has hurt us; that “I wish you were dead” moment. I mean hoping for the death of someone you love; someone who is suffering? I’m in that position right now.

Someone I care for deeply is nearing the end and there is no making her better or improving her condition; merely a slow, steady deterioration. On a daily basis I find myself hoping that that she just won’t wake up one day. The reality is that her death is inevitable (aren’t all our deaths actually inevitable?) and probably much closer than I realize. Unfortunately the lingering slowness of her departure is draining me and my hubby and can’t be fun for her either.

Every time this thought crosses my mind I feel awful. I’m starting to consider myself a horrible, heartless person but the reality is that I completely understand why some people believe in euthanasia. People babble about quality of life and how we don’t have the right to take someone’s life. Why? If someone is going to die anyway (and once again, death is inevitable for us all) then why not limit the suffering and misery such a lingering process brings?

Modern medical technology can extend the body’s life span but it can do very little for the mind. Alzheimer’s and dementia seem to be even more prevalent now because people live longer but not necessarily healthier. Perhaps this is the end result of our relentless pursuit for longevity. We refuse to accept that we are meant to die, ignoring the fact that very often the extension of our lives often results in lingering, miserable existences in our old age. As a result of this tendency, I am left in a position of hoping that someone I love will go to sleep and not wake up.

This makes me feel awful, hateful and horrible. What kind of person must I be to hope for such a thing? My opinion of myself is not exactly very high right now. It’s not that I want her to die, it’s simply that I realize she’s going to die eventually and if the remainder of her life is in this miserable, dependent state I’m sure even she would prefer it end. This is not who she was when she was 5 years ago and that woman would not want to linger like this. I realize I may not have this choice but if I do, I will gladly accept a shorter life span in exchange for being in control of my mental faculties. Is that too much to ask from life?

Shadow Side Saturday: When resentment and envy lead to bullying and ostracism?

I’ve noticed a somewhat disturbing trend among some police procedural shows – especially ones like Cold Case and Criminal Minds – very often the victim of the crime was a shining spirit, a unique and special individual. It’s as though they are sending a subtle (or maybe unsubtle) message that to be special, to rise above the average is worthy of punishment. It’s reminiscent of slasher flicks in which the rowdy, promiscuous and out of control teens are killed but the virginal “good girl” is spared.

You can see this message reinforced on any schoolyard in the country (maybe even the world); the mob mentality. Whenever a child is different – smarter, “nerdy”, awkward, vulnerable, the pack turns on that child. They mock and ostracize the child. Some children learn to adapt and blend in order to survive. Others suffer and eventually snap resulting in horrific situations like Columbine or suicide. There are some who endure, convinced that they will reap the benefits of their unique gifts as they grow older. They are often called adaptive children. They can look at the most horrific situations and see the silver lining.

I sometimes ponder if this type of attitude towards those who are different is because they hold up a mirror to us and we don’t like what we see.  In work situations, I’ve often seen it when a new employee full of new ideas and enthusiasm runs smack into the wall of apathy and dissatisfaction sometimes found in long-term employees.  The newcomer is mocked and derided for being so optimistic.  What is wrong with hopefulness and optimism?  Nothing, unless you have already jettisoned yours.  Why do resent someone else’s success?  Because we see it as a negative commentary on our current status.  Are we not as successful because we didn’t try as hard?  Is it really all about being in the right place at the right time or knowing the right people?  I’m not sure.  What I know is that I often feel an initial flash of resentment and envy at someone else’s good fortunes.  It doesn’t last and I usually acknowledge it but that doesn’t stop it from occurring.

Sometimes even the targets of this type of bullying can become bullies and ostracize peers if the circumstances are right. Have you ever seen a group of artistic students who mock the jock who wishes to participate in their activity? Or the “nerds” who mock the popular beauty queen? Is this a defense mechanism or revenge for past moments of ostracism? I’m not sure. This is certainly a much more complex topic than I can address within the confines of this blog.

What I do know is that I’ve caught myself doing it. When I attend events like the Tarot School’s Readers Studio, I have noticed that the larger the group, the most I self-select with whom I interact. I become more clique-ish and clubby. If I catch myself doing this I often make efforts to stop the behavior but it is usually so unconscious that I don’t realize it. It’s not an aspect of my personality of which I am proud. In fact It’s something I wish to minimize or eliminate altogether.

I would like to challenge anyone reading this blog post – let’s eliminate this tendency to mock or ostracize those who are different from us. Children are not the only ones who bully – adults are just more subtle about it. Let’s try to minimize this shadow in the world and teach children by our own examples. Reach out to someone who is different from you. Who knows maybe you’ll learn something transformative from them.