Mysticism or Mania? Hiking the Doll's Head Trail
Isn't it odd how you can be with a group of people and feel completely different from how everybody else is feeling-or at least seems to feel? Last week, I was at a gathering and even though I was surrounded by friends I felt very alone, lonely, and out-of-place. That is an unusual feeling for me now, but a few years ago I felt that way at gatherings all the time. Fortunately, I was able to reassure myself by telling myself that I don't usually feel that way, so I knew that the feeling would eventually pass. I reminded myself that these really were my friends, even if I felt out-of-touch for the moment. I have been struggling with some depression off and on this holiday season, mainly because of a medication change, I think. It's annoying to experience my moods go up and down more than usual, but I just try to enjoy the good times as much as I can and self-soothe myself during the bad times. I have started coloring again, which is very soothing to me. It lets me be creative without thinking too hard about what I am doing.
From the coloring book, "Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon"
Another time when I could tell that I was feeling different than the people I was with was actually a very positive time for me-my roommates and I went hiking on the Doll's Head Trail at Constitution Lakes State Park in Atlanta about a month ago and I had an intense spiritual experience looking at the wonderful folk art along the trail.
To get to the trail, you first have to walk on a boardwalk through a marsh, where I took this beautiful picture capturing the turning leaves.
Instead of blazes of spray paint to show the way of the folk art trail, you follow little fishing bobs nailed to trees.
The trail is in the spirit and style of Rev. Howard Finster and other folk art heroes.
The folk art around the trail is made of doll's heads and other trash that have flowed into the area after flooding.
The best part of the trail, to me, were the inspirational quotes and sayings on old bricks and other "trash." Many of it was urging people to be more ecological and many more was urging people to love one another.
"There is purity and strength here
and places sacred to the People
Places strong in the oneness of
earth and sky and of all things
I AM INDEED ITS CHILD-
Absolutely I am earth's child.
~Navajo Song of the Earth
An eye for an eye will leave everyone blind."
"Keep searching-you never truly find who you are."
"Spread love. It's easier than you think."
Taking in the beauty of nature and the beauty of all the positive, loving words really lifted my soul. I felt light and enraptured. I love the symbolism of turning "trash" into meaningful works of art, just like what can happen to our lives when we immerse ourselves into a DBT program. I believe God and I together have made my life into something very positive and hopeful when previously it was full of negativity and despair.
I walked very slowly through the hike, taking dozens of pictures, very glad that my patient roommates would wait for me at every fork in the road. I realized that I was the only one having a spiritual experience when in reply to my exclamation of how much I loved seeing the artwork, one of my roommates said that she thought it was creepy. Creepy! Yes, we were surrounded by doll heads sticking out of the ground and lone limbs reaching out to the sky, but in my mind, I was witnessing the transformative power of God and humanity working together, which is beyond beauty.
As we left the park, I carried the many messages of love with me everywhere I went. It actually took several days for the feeling of overwhelming peace and rapture to fade. I was very emotional and sensitive during this time and I started to wonder whether what I was experiencing was mystical and beautiful or just an episode of mania.
I really did not want my experience to be pathologized as a symptom of bipolar. I felt like I was having an intense mystical, spiritual moment, but many times the world does not see our feelings and experiences in that way. When I had my next counseling appointment, I told my therapist about my intense hike and said that while I had experienced heightened emotions and feelings of ecstasy, I had not experienced the other symptoms of mania, like increased energy or excessive speech. I wanted to know if I could count on my experience as being a genuine spiritual encounter or if I should make an appointment with my psychiatrist. To my relief, she said that she believed my experience really was spiritual-that just because someone has a diagnosis of bipolar does not mean that they are not allowed genuine spiritual and mystical experiences. Of course, if other symptoms of mania appeared then I may want to reassess the situation, but at that moment in time I seemed very sane.
How validating! Her words validated that I can trust my own intuition and that there is nothing wrong with being a naturally sensitive, spiritual being. Sometimes when people are being treated for mental illness, our sense of our own spirituality can be diminished or even mocked. I am glad to know that there is a place for extra sensory wonder, even when diagnosed with a mental illness.
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