One woman's journey and dawning realization of the slow destruction of her spirit while trapped in the jaws of disability.

Disability is at first an affliction of the body, then a state of mind and finally a shackle upon the spirit.

Lydia M N Crabtree, 2012

Monday, June 10, 2013

My Compassion Deficit

I have been writing for years now on being physically disabled. Most who follow my blog are aware that I am also mentally disabled. I suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Clinical Major Depression. I also have a degree in psychology and am fortunate enough to have many around me who love and support me. I have a husband who helps remind me to take my medications and a great therapist who specializes in PTSD and cognitive therapy which has been the best approach for me dealing with the 18 years of physical, mental, emotional abuse and the rape and torture I suffered at the hands of my biological family. I am well aware that I am screwed up. Not by choice, most certainly; however, as an adult thriver (one who has transmuted past trauma and turned that into fertile soil to thrive – going beyond surviving) of incest it is my job to be responsible for my here and now and I work hard to do so.

I am also physically disabled with a rare genetic condition called Dysautonomia, also called Neurocardiogenic Syncope. I am not as vigilant in my self-care of my physical disorders as I am with my mental ones and am striving to changes this again with the help and support of a close knit family I have chosen and friends who love me.

I have written in the past about prejudices I suffer because of my physical and mental illnesses. I have even discussed these prejudices with my therapist who also suffers from MS which has caused physical transformations that you cannot miss when you meet him.

What I haven’t talked about is how these conditions are dealt with in my spiritual community. I am a witch, a Wiccan and a Pagan. Being a spiritual movement that is generally accepting of much that is considered outside the norm of society, I have come across three distinct views of long term physical and mental illnesses all of which I have touched on at one time or another.

1.     You are not witch enough – the idea that if I was more enlightened, more witchy or pagany or spiritually right then I would not suffer from these issues – anyone inflicted with physical or mental illness that are long term, in fact, should just be a better witch.

2.     If only you would….. – being in a spiritual realm where there is a lot of healing focus and different healing modalities, most people say this to be helpful. If you would only (fill in the blank) then you would be healed. This reminds me of tent revivals I went to as a child where if an affliction wasn’t healed by the circuit preacher then it was a lack of faith – only we pagans are too sensitive to suggest this out right so instead we suggest a list a mile long with an assumption that one of those things would work. My problem with this is that everything about our lives is a lesson – and if my illness that has physical roots as well as psychological traumatic roots was completely curable, I wouldn’t take the cure. I am learning from my life. I could do better at managing my conditions and I try. I am not, however, broken. Do not try to fix me.

3.     A general avoidance – My sister Crystal Blanton is writing about instances of prejudice she has suffered because she is black. In one she describe being isolated at a family funeral by a relative of her husband (who is white) because of her color. It is this issue that I have been thinking about a lot and this issue that has triggered this blog. This issue that I haven’t been willing to look into the mirror and name as something I do. This issue that author DJ Conway brought to a head for me on Facebook.

General Avoidance – Prejudice against the Mentally and Chronically Ill

Conway posted a link which is a discussion regarding a paranoid schizophrenic having easy access to weapons. She then posted the following comments and had the following comments posted in response.

Please be aware that anyone diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic will label certain other people as the cause of their problems & never change that decision. They should be avoided. I know from experience. & a great many of them have guns in their homes.

Penny - I have both a cousin and a brother in law with paranoid schizophrenic... and neither one is violent, or prone to it.. most mentally ill are NOT violent.. most are often the Victims of said violence.... One violent person is NOT the norm for all.. my husband was mentally ill... and he was NOT violent...

it is the stigma of stereotyping that keeps many from getting help, it is the broken, overloaded, understaffed, underfunded mental health system that keeps them on the streets, and it is the lack of caring, compassionate people that keeps them victims.

D.j. Conway I'm NOT labeling mentally disabled people as violent, Penny. Statistics say that paranoid schizophrenics of certain types are dangerous to the ones they believe are the source of their problems.

Penny the key here is "of certain types"... and those types are very rare... you wrote anyone diagnosed as... not certain types of... anyone is not certain types...

Becca I cannot believe what you just said. "They should be avoided" That is entirely unfair, especially as you are a teacher in the pagan community. After the shootings last summer, Autistics were labeled as "dangerous" too. Wanna know how many times people ask if I am scared of my children? Then I come on here and you are throwing anyone who suffers from this condition under the bus???? Shame on you Conway, shame on you. It makes me sad that I have so many of your books when you can throw a blanket of hate over those with mental issues and ask those who follow you to do the same.

Dia Nettles Crabtree I agree with the above. I have thoroughly enjoyed much of your work and long recommended your work. My brother in law is an undiagnosed schizophrenic and dealing with him as been filled with heartbreak. Watching him for signs of violence and watching him deliberately isolate himself from family while trying to cope with a reality that isn't the same as everyone else has been heartbreaking. It has worn heavily upon my husband. Knowing that this haunting illness is hereditary - watching my nephew deal with the beginnings of this illness is also horrible. I agree that most schizophrenic who are not highly functioning can be destructive and their illness is just that an illness. It isn't a result of choice. It is a result of a brain condition that was born into them and the treatments for these types of conditions or terribly complicated. In "When Why If" you talk extensively about harming none and what it really means. This type of indiscriminate categorization of a group of people perpetuates fear and does not promote solutions to those who have these illnesses and those who have the burden of dealing with loved ones inflicted. I agree heartily with Becca - As a leader in the pagan community this opinion is clearly harmful, hurtful and should probably be best kept to ones self. This is not a public service to anyone. This is a sign of a prejudice and a perpetuation of stereotypes and myths that might be best examined in relationship to past experiences and compassion for those who have to figure out how to love and care for those so afflicted. I know that dealing with the mentally ill within the pagan community is challenging and finding and setting boundaries in a compassionate way is further challenging. Yet - as ministers, as worshippers of the Divine spark in everything, do we not have a duty to find constructive ways to approach these issues without furthering destructive attitudes and prejudices. How can we approach families and offer support if our attitudes are colored by negative examples that do not rise above what is commonly accepted? As witches can we not transmute numbers into a look at compassion and solutions and ways in which pagan communities can healthily deal with these human beings and small reflections of the Divine? Their illnesses have not placed them at some rung lower than us or other than us. I am not sure I have a good answer on successfully dealing with mental illness in the pagan community. Perhaps this is the discussion you meant to start?


– I have DONE so much worse than what was SAID –


Reading Crystal’s posts have perhaps made me hyper aware of how easy it is to be, in general, unkind. It is easy to mean. It is easy to isolate those who are different or express different opinions. It is easy to ignore those who need more help from us than we know how to give. Our lack of knowledge leads to a sense of unease and the unease often is transmuted into actions that aren’t helpful or loving or compassionate.

My most recent transgression involves Jesus’s Shaman. Until Conway’s post I hadn’t thought about him other than some weird and often aggressive guy who comes to a weekly local meet and greet that I feel like I have to watch out for incase he makes women uncomfortable. This isn’t an arbitrary issue. Women have approached the organizer and told her he makes them uncomfortable. When he isn’t around I have gladly joined in “good natured” making fun of him with everyone else. I, can’t even give a real name for him because I don’t know it. He is Jesus’s Shaman to me because when I asked what path he followed he said, “I am a shaman.”

Having Cherokee blood, greatly diluted and having read many essays on how strongly some American Indians feel about Europeans high jacking their traditions, I asked who named him shaman.


Bloated with my self-righteousness, my own knowledge of occult, my own personal background I lambasted him and then swiftly dismissed him as nothing more than something to be avoided and someone that the group needs to run interference against.

It was the last event I attended where I witnessed a person I greatly admire interacting with Jesus’s Shaman that I began to get a reality check and see this young man through a different light. No one has better energy than Dancing Bear and I watch as Jesus’s Shaman looked at me with some fear hiding behind the shadow of the formidable presence of Dancing Bear. I suddenly realized, Jesus’s Shaman was afraid of me. I have instilled fear – not compassion in him.

I have enough training to know that he is probably dealing with some mental illness and I know facts about his life that tell me it has not been easy and his difficulties started as a teenager and have been compounded by some truly horrific events. All of this I kicked under the bus and ignored.

Until today. The problem isn’t just Jesus’s Shaman – it is also a beautiful woman in Tennessee I lost my friendship with. She was yet again someone who seemed to live with a mental disorder and wasn’t really addressing it. In my third degreeitis stage, I tried to fix her. Many years later it occurred to me – if I do not need fixing then who was I to decide who needed fixing and who didn’t? I am glad that others were around this wonderful person and assured her that I didn’t represent the whole of the pagan view on who she was.  I did offer apologies and I am well aware that I lost a loyal friend forever because of my high handed callousness.

This brought me to a realization that has been really bothering me as I have lounged on the beach with my family on vacation.

I am compassionately fickle. To some degree, perhaps we all are.

How easily we are to condemn the words of others without being accountable for the actions of ourselves? I have seen this state of missing compassion in my own child. I am coming to realize that his missing compassion is a reflection on my compassion fickleness. My love that has been selective. My word that has been inconsistent.

I have so many things running in my head around these issues. How do you deal with someone who is mental ill and could become a problem with a community? How do you set and hold boundaries in compassion? How can you define boundaries to ensure that you are setting boundaries and holding boundaries for yourself and NOT projecting the needs of for boundaries – actions or behavior on others? How do you stop yourself from trying to fix everyone? How do groups deal with persons who are mentally ill in compassion and love while protecting the interests and safety of the group?

What do I do about Jesus’s Shaman? I can apologize, however, I honestly believe I have done damage – again – that will not be easily remedied. I can stop talking about him in negative ways behind his back and encourage others to do the same. I can find the threads of compassion given to me and offer them to him. I can follow Dancing Bear’s lead and see if that doesn’t create a compassion in me that is constant. I can hope that Dancing Bear isn’t as callously compassionless to me as I have been to Jesus’s Shaman. I can try to keep this lesson in my front lobe and subconscious so when I face it again I do not fail another person who is mentally ill.

I can say this… DJ Conway is an awesome writer and I have lots of her books. I can completely understand how scary and irritating the mental ill are to deal with. I am sure she is the type of person who is trying to figure out ways to have compassion while maintaining safety for herself and those she is Priestess to. I agree that the mentally ill should have restricted access to weapons that can cause harm, especially guns that even includes me.

And what I have done far outstrips a few words she had to say about guns in the hands of paranoid schizophrenics. Perhaps the mirror Conway is holding is one we can all look into and ask ourselves – are we living and dealing it the mentally and chronically ill with as much compassion as we believe we are entitled to? If we are not – we can focus on that and simultaneously offer love, compassion and understanding to everyone we know, in every situation we are in with every opportunity we have.

At the very least – we can try. In the trying, we can learn. In the learning, we might find the compassion we lack for ourselves that causes us to have a compassion deficit for others.

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