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Posts Tagged ‘magick mysticism and mental illness’


A Little Kindness, by voodooxfishy

First, I’d like to dedicate this post to Dorothy L. Wood, whom I knew to be talented, enthusiastic, kind and despite her troubles, a truly mystically-inclined person.

WOOD Dorothy Lyn Wood was born May 24, 1985.
She was a beautiful and unique woman.
Dorothy was a talented artist, and free spirit. She was empathetic, loving and bright. She had a passion for nature and travel. She was loved by many, and will be deeply missed.

This was originally going to be part 5 of my series, but following the death of one of the contributors to the Persephone devotional, I decided to bump it up to edition #4. There is a huge deficit in the pagan and magickal communities on how to deal with mental illness, and I think one of the areas of focus of these groups as New Religious Movements (NMRs) should be some kind of “pastoral” training on sensitivity to and how to handle mental illness. There are a great many people who struggle with mental illness, but are able to keep it under some control. There are a lesser amount of people who need constant or frequent supervision-those who live in residential communities or are under hospitalization, for example (hospitalization, I might add, being a short-term solution). There is a large amount of people, also, that fall in between…who have severe and persistent mental illnesses, who have a lot to give and contribute magickally and religiously, who need to be able to count on their support group (which may include the coven, group, etc.) for help when necessary. Seeing an episode in full swing, without warning, can make support difficult to grant due to the extremes of emotions that are provoked on all sides.

There is A LOT that goes into episodes of any kind. Using my own example, I was simply AWFUL for about three years because of misdiagnoses (major depressive disorder and anxiety rather than PTSD and Bipolar I disorder…kind of a huge difference, there), taking the wrong medication (I was on Lexapro for depression which contributed to delusional mania, as SSRIs are found to do), shoddy medical care (a doctor who insisted I keep taking the Lexapro despite the obvious contribution it made to my mania), a substance abuse problem (drinking too much certainly didn’t help) and various stressors I won’t bore you with. It took two and a half years, a harsh wake-up call, an accurate diagnosis, kicking my substance abuse problem and a hospitalization to get the correct medication to straighten me out.

I was lucky to be able to get any of this- there are those who are unable, either because they don’t know how to get this help, or don’t realize that they are ill and need help, or they are simply too overwhelmed by their illness and don’t know how to find a way out of it without intense intervention. There are those who are continually marginalized and screwed by the system, written off  as “undesirables” or seen by the medical community (that’s supposed to treat them) as just another paycheck.

Some people can’t get out of it, and it is in no way their fault- there are severe enough versions of various mental illnesses that some people will be disabled by it all their lives. The structure of their brain, the imbalanced chemical components, the complicated neural wiring or the trauma they’ve experienced can be life-crippling.

Those who are mentally ill don’t always see it. It’s common to deny, ignore or just accept the way you feel as normal, perhaps because of the stigma associated with mental illness can feel so overwhelmingly burdensome or because you’re so used to feeling that way, you sincerely believe it to be normal. It took me an internet search about bipolar disorder and the movie “Mr. Jones” to realize, “Wait a minute…this is really familiar…” This was around late 2007. I had accepted it as reality by the time I went to be screened for it- however, the PTSD diagnosis came out of left field for me. Not so for everyone who knew me, who had known me for years… and reminded me of the things that I had been doing that supported the diagnosis- nightmares, obsessive thoughts of revenge, reliving the events, etc. It’s a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees- you’re in the middle of it. You deal with it, you become inured to it, and since you are dead smack in the center, you have no idea how big the problem is or even if there’s something outside the forest- hypothetical meadows where you can see clearly, for instance.

Now…imagine dealing with all this as a member of lodge, coven, house or online group. Imagine trying to run a lodge, a coven or a group of someone kind and someone starts exhibiting some obviously maladaptive behaviors. I *imagine* (know) that it can be overwhelming for everyone involved, depending on the illness and how it manifests.

Group Dynamics in Pagan/Magickal Groups and Mental Illness

I want to illustrate a couple of examples regarding the way I’ve seen mental illness handled in groups, real life stuff.

Example: Healthy Dynamic

A group I was in had one of its “important” members suddenly afflicted with a severe psychotic episode. I am not going into details about the event because I don’t want to cause said person any embarrassment should they come across my blog. Needless to say, there were emotional and financial concerns, as well as practical concerns as to the running of the group.

Everyone stepped up to the plate, at least those who knew of the events, and offered support in whatever way they could. The person in question was allowed to step down from the position without recrimination and a new person was put in their place. Members of the group checked in with said person as best they could, or minded their own business. There was no ridicule, there was no judging or blame, and the person was welcome and as far as I know is still welcome at other events as they wish to attend. Financial issues were cleared without finger-pointing, jeering or pitying shakes of the head.

That’s it. End of story. Boundaries were respected, this person’s feelings taken into strong import and support offered as it was appropriate. It was as simple as that.

Example: Unhealthy Dynamic

And of course, for those of you brave enough to slog through my post on bullying (part 1…there will be other installments), this will be a familiar story. There was a group I was involved in where a member had bipolar disorder. His behavior was erratic and troublesome, but he did not deserve the manipulation, ridicule and jokes aimed either behind his back or to his face.

I remember him always being slighted by members of the group. Rather than being gently told that he needed to take care of himself or to take a break from the group, he was “dressed down” in front of others and encouraged to drink heavily at group events, even with his current medications (the combination of alcohol and meds would eventually cause him to have seizures).

And, you may remember me mentioning that he had tried to commit suicide. And you may also remember that the group “leaders” decision after this event was to ridicule him, and “strip him of his attainment” (his rank within the group) since in their minds it was no more than he deserved. After the group split up, he left the state and I am unclear as to what became of him.

The person in question, ill or not, is responsible for his own actions, absolutely. He hurt others with his behavior and he probably needed alone time and further treatment before being healthy enough to participate in a group. However, he STILL did not deserve the utter cruelty of those he was trying to lean on for support, who in turn encouraged his dependence- it should have been the leaders, as caretakers of the group, to encourage him to care for himself, offer him support or tell him to leave the group until he was recovered enough to participate.

It’s not hard to see the distinction.

I won’t lie- mental illness can cause disruption in group settings, especially during intense magick or mysticism if an episode is present or about to occur. But so can interpersonal dynamics such as failed relationships within a group, bullying or other things that are common. Sometimes, I think wherever there is human interaction there will also always be drama and disruption- Eris will find an opportunity to fling an apple and we’ll all prove ourselves flawed fighting over it. Mental illness is not the only cause of group disruptions or even the worst of them.

The disruption that active episodes can cause can be mitigated by understanding and right action, compassion mixed with pragmatism. In some cases, the person in question may have to leave the group for a short time, or permanently, or perhaps not- it really depends on how the situation is handled and how it all affects the group as a whole. As we can see from the two examples above, acting with kind efficiency leads to a cleaner, more satisfying result for all involved than cruelty.
Seeing someone have an episode can be confusing, disconcerting, annoying, worrying or even frightening- especially if no one understands quite what is going on.  The person who is experiencing the episode is perceiving and feeling things markedly different from the way everyone else is. A person’s reactions may be deemed extreme when to them, they are acting reasonably…or are partially aware that they are episodic…or, in the cases of many highly-functioning mentally ill folk, they are aware they are in an episode and still cannot stop themselves from feeling as they do, though they control themselves as best as they can.
There are those who will say that getting over a mental illness is just a matter taking responsibility for what you do and not engaging in maladaptive behaviors anymore. IT IS NOT THIS SIMPLE. Taking personal responsibility is only the beginning of what could be a life-long struggle, and depends on so much more than just what a person can control in their lives. There are many examples… Not everyone with PTSD can avoid triggers. Not everyone with depression can just “buck up”. No one with schizophrenia can just stop having psychotic episodes because they don’t want to do it anymore. Not everyone with bipolar disorder can just calm down. Not everyone with mental illness can be so vigilant that we avoid episodes or triggers all of the time, and there are times when we can do everything right and it’ll creep up on us anyway. It is difficult to treat and cure pathological conditions that occur in the brain. While there are many who will disagree with me (and this is fine), given my own study of how mental illness effects the brain (remember my references to brain structure, neural pathways and chemicals?) or rather how structural and chemical differences in the brain can alter behavior, I am of the school of thought that mental illness is a brain disease, an illness that is and is not an illness like any other. I’ll get more into that in part 5, which will talk about divine madness, mental illness and spiritual emergency. Nevertheless, like any other chronic condition, those who are afflicted with it learn to live with it and learn to manage it to the best of their ability.

While the illness does not define you, it’s a part of you that you live with as long as it is active. When a person is in treatment and they are medication compliant and they still sometimes experience epsiodes, do you know what the mental health community calls this? Normal. These lighter instances of mental illness are called “breakthrough episodes” and commonly happen at times of stress, good or bad, even as the person is taking medication.

This is a point that needs to be kept in mind when dealing with people in pagan or magickal groups who are mentally ill. They do not deserve recrimination, or even pity. They deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, yet also with firmness where necessary. We don’t blame the person who develops diabetes, thyroid disorder, cancer or epilepsy (and two of those can cause similar changes in behavior)…why blame someone for being mentally ill?

Mental Illness and Online Pagan Communities

The internet is perhaps one of the most visible ways mental illness plays out in the pagan and magickal communities. It offers the mentally ill individual the power to express themselves, for good or for ill, and give voice to their distress, their delusions, or anything else. While being heard can have the potential to be healing for the individual, being heard in that state by the internet…not so much. People on the internet are very quick to attack, to humiliate, to judge without knowledge of the situation…even well-meaning folk. So-called friends may take from locked posts and “spread the word”, mentally ill folk may be called out on blogs, online communities or even YouTube (yes, I’ve seen YouTube) and their own blogs are often lobbed with ridicule. Further, there isn’t as much opportunity as there is in face-to-face magickal and pagan groups to SEE the person outside of a post fueled by depression, manic or schizophrenic delusion, or PTSD/Borderline rage. There isn’t as much opportunity for the mentally ill individual to “prove their worth” to the group, so to speak, to be known outside of their illness, or even at times to be seen as more than a post on a computer screen.

And yet…I can understand the alarm others may feel. Dealing with those who are mentally ill online (especially if you don’t know the person, especially if you’ve never seen them at their best, especially if the person is talking about things YOU hold sacred, especially if the person’s behavior is frightening or what we consider blasphemous)…it can be difficult to know how to act. We have a right to disagree with someone and call “bullshit” on charlatans, phonies and attention-seekers, so long as we aren’t cruel in how we do it. We have a right to call ideas into discussion and, if we ourselves are targeted by people stridently stepping on our toes, we have a right to tell them to back off.

This is all well and good under the usual circumstances. However, in the instance of the mentally ill person interacting dysfunctionally with the online pagan community, it will only create a cycle of distress on both ends. Remember what I said in part 2 of this series about “sense of noesis”, something mystical experience and psychosis have in common- the sense of being let in on an important, wonderful secret that brings with it a sense of ecstatic joy or terror. A part of this is the desire to share these things with others and one of the key differences often lies in how the information is shared, as well as other characteristics of the information. “The quality of the psychotic, however, is that no amount of evidence to the contrary [of what he or she believes] will convince him.”

So, imagine it: The mentally ill person, in the grip of a delusion which makes them feel incredibly ecstatic or frightened, feels that they are obligated by some duty or driven by some fear to air some of their deeply seated, but wrongly held, beliefs. And they figure, online! Everyone will see it there! And everyone does. Those who may not quite understand what’s going on see the post, and think, “WTF is this, who does this person think they are?” They argue back, trying to call the person out for what they see as offensive, blasphemous, etc. The person is thrown into deeper distress (potentially providing a trigger for further behavior) and stridently argues that YES, this is really happening, and they are completely sincere in their belief. Arguments ensue: the mentally ill individual may attack those who don’t believe them online, calling them out, or may stridently insist in further posts on blogs, community forums and email lists that what they are experiencing is real, which further inflames those who see it. The cycle continues until the mentally ill person’s episode passes or those online get tired of arguing the point.

Some may address the issue without calling attention to the person in question- addressing a general trend rather than pinpointing one source. This is fair. These people may be targeted anyway for respectful disagreement or the post in question… attempting to spare the mentally ill person humiliation while addressing the overall scope of the relevant problem may still lead to being called out by said person anyway. There may be threats. There may be demands for recognition. There may be justifications for beliefs and behaviors, there may just be a plea to be understood. The mentally ill person will still feel targeted, wither or not they are right or wrong.

Everyone, in all groups, is doing their best as they see it. What do you do?

A quick note… there are the ones who just find it funny or expedient to make fun of those who are mentally ill or use their distress to make themselves seem wiser in comparison. Who snicker, laugh and deride the person for the pain they are honestly going through. These are trolls and cyber-bullies, have no excuse for their behavior and I’ll be dealing with that in another post.  But for the record: those guys are fucktards.

Another note…there are also those who are obviously just seeking attention and will do anything to get it. Ignore them, avoid them, and if they’re disruptive, ban them from your group or forum. There are also those who are young or very new and may *seem* ill when they ask questions like, “When am I going to learn to shoot fireballs?” (No, really, I’ve heard this one.) Give them a break. If you can’t do that, ignore them. If you don’t want to deal with them, respectfully send them on their way with reputable resources. They’ll probably remember you well for it if they take something valuable from your interaction.
That being said…

Generally…

Be educated about mental illness and learn to recognize the signs.

Know that a mentally ill person truly cannot help what they going through and if they can control it, they can only control it in varying degrees.  Know that mental illness is an illness just like cancer (yeah, cancer), just like diabetes or just like any other serious or potentially serious, chronic disorder. Know that sometimes, mental illness can be cured (in cases of social anxiety, etc.) or that it can go into remission (for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.) Know that mental illness can be worked with, worked around and in most cases is very, very treatable. Know your limits and needs, and that of the group. Know the person in question also has limits and needs.

And know what you’re looking at! No book or class will prepare you to make an accurate diagnosis on anyone (nor would I encourage you to do so unless you’re a trained professional in an appropriate setting), but being knowledgeable about mental illness and how it manifests would go a long way to helping everyone involved reach some sort of satisfactory consensus, with the least amount of drama and pain as possible.

Below are links to common mental illnesses that I and others have noticed in the pagan community. As mentioned, PLEASE do not use these to diagnose or fling at people simply because their disagreement with you has left you butt-hurt. Use these as educational tools….cheesy educational tools.

Depression

Bipolar Disorder- A Manic Episode

Borderline Personality Disorder

Histrionic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Schizophrenia (a child’s diagnosis)

Schizophrenia (an adult)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Often, the symptoms of the various illnesses can mimic the others. So yeah, don’t diagnose others…just know what you’re likely looking at.

Be compassionate, but be practical.

Don’t be an asshole. Don’t make fun of the person. Don’t ridicule them. Don’t laugh at them. Try to treat them with some kindness and even if you can’t understand what they’re going through, give them enough room to be heard and validated. Sometimes, a little understanding can really make a difference in someone’s life.

A good example… I used to be an avid WoW player. (Alliance, Night Elf Druid, level 82…take that, Hordies!) One night while playing WoW, someone came on chat and typed in all caps that they were going to kill themselves. Over and over. There was a large chorus of “Do it and shut up!” from most of the people online at the time. Now, in mental health training, from the lowest caretaker to the psychiatrist doling out the diagnoses and medications, we’re always taught to take every suicidal thought seriously. No matter what- if it’s a cry for attention or a sincere wish, they need the benefit of the doubt. So I told everyone they were a bunch of assholes and I PM’d the guy. Though the course of the conversation, he revealed that he had a serious form of cancer that he wasn’t sure he was going to beat, and while much of the time he felt good about his progress, sometimes he didn’t, and wished he could be heard in a way that wouldn’t upset his family. After we talked (he assured me he felt better), I sent a note to the administrators of the game about what occurred (including the heckling).

Was he telling me the truth?

Does it matter? If he was lying, no skin off my nose. If he was telling the truth, hopefully he felt better.

If you can’t handle it? Then don’t. Walk away, unless the person is in danger- then have the decency to inform someone who can help or who is in a position to do something. Politely excuse yourself. There is no shame in stepping away from a situation you can’t handle or don’t know how to handle- there is shame, however, in being a prick to someone who is likely in a lot of pain. Know what you can handle.

Remember, the person experiencing the episode IS NOT CHOOSING TO DO THIS.

No one in their right mind would CHOOSE to go through a severe manic rage, a psychotic episode, or to think and feel so terribly that they frighten, anger or hurt those around them. Those with active mental illness are suffering. They are people, like you, like me. I’ve known a brilliant would-be physicist who experienced his first psychotic episode and watched his dreams go down the drain. I’ve known (several) artists who are bipolar. Mentally ill people aren’t just in hospitals, residential homes and yelling at you on the bus or train. They’re sitting next to you at work, helping you figure out what your jerk client wants. They’re the soldiers fighting overseas and developing PTSD from the constant stress of war. They’re doctors, they’re teachers, they’re chaplains, they’re clinical psychologists.
They have feelings, needs, hopes…they need love and respect, just like you do.


Don’t write someone off right away just because they’re mentally ill.

Some of the most dedicated, creative and all-out wonderful people I have ever met were mentally ill. I have a friend who has FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) and there are times when he says some wise shit that knocks me flat on my ass. (And he’s a ton of fun.) I have many friends with mental illness who are great people, hands down, no arguments.

People with mental illness can have a lot to offer. Personally, materially, magickally. Crowley is a good example (NPD if I ever saw it, and you’ve gotta wonder about some of his impulse control issues). Many of the better magicians I know are mentally ill, to tell the truth.

Skeptical? Here, NAMI has a list for you…some pretty famous people who contributed a good deal to the world, in their way:

People With Mental Illness Enrich Our Lives

Have resources ready.

NAMI

NMHA

Here’s a few examples. These are good to have on hand, should the need arise.


Be open to the person coming back, if they must leave…remember, many mental illnesses are HIGHLY treatable.

The course of mental illness is variable. Some people with a serious diagnosis have one episode, and they’re done. Most tend to vary. Just because a person has a mental illness, doesn’t mean they have to be permanently excluded. Don’t be afraid to play it by ear, trust your gut and wait.

A list of tips, since I am getting very lazy and tired of writing…

Tips for the mentally ill joining magickal/religious groups

1. Check the group out as thoroughly as possible. (Look online, ask around, hang out as a guest and keep your ear to the ground. Some things take time to come to light.)

2. Consider disclosing your illness to the group leader. (This can be iffy…consider it though. TOTALLY up to you.)

3. Keep the group leader informed if you feel you are becoming episodic and may need to take a break. (This, on the other hand, may be a must. At least inform the group leader that you are having a health concern and need time to yourself.)

4. If you are definitely episodic, stay home until it passes. (Take care of yourself.)

5. Know who in the group you can trust. (Some groups have great people in them…)

6. Know who to avoid. (…and some do not.)

7. Be careful what you share with others. (You may not need to divulge all the details of your episodes- spare yourself the potential for embarrassment and recrimination.)

Tips for the mentally ill joining online forums/starting blogs

Everything above most certainly applies. I would also like to add…

1. Check the group history online for how they handle mentally ill folk. (If they’re jerks…yeah. Don’t stick around.)

2. Be on the lookout for trolls. (Use the handy “ignore” or “block” button.)

3. Think before you post. (What goes on the net, stays on the net. Which is why I sweat every time I make one of these mental illness posts.)

4. Know when to walk away from the computer.

Tips for dealing with the mentally ill in magickal/religious groups

1. Be sensitive, but don’t be condescending.

2. Be as supportive as you can. (Don’t drain yourself or the group, but also don’t be afraid to help if you can.)

3. Know when to let something go. (They will probably be embarrassed about something said or done later…know when to walk away from an argument or a statement.)

4. Be skeptical of odd beliefs, but don’t write them off right away. (After all, magick can lead to some odd stuff.)

5. Encourage supportive group unity as much as possible.

6. Do not condone unacceptable behavior- in either the mentally ill person or in the group. (Put a stop to unacceptable behavior from BOTH the ill person and the group.)

7. Don’t be afraid to direct the person to the appropriate avenues.

8. If the person is violent or self-destructive, don’t be afraid to involve the authorities when necessary.

9. Know when you’re in over your head. (Don’t put yourself or the group through what you all can’t handle.)

10. Know when to let go. (Know when the person is beyond your help and needs to move on, for the betterment of the group and yeah, themselves.)

Tips for dealing with the mentally ill online

A lot of the above applies. Net specifically…

1. Don’t let a shit-storm start over it on your forum. (Seriously, it makes you look terrible as a moderator.)

2. Cut down on trolls. They’re assholes anyway.

3. If the posts are just on a free-floating blog and not in a group setting…just ignore it. Or better yet, reach out to them and ask if they’re okay.

4. If the person is threatening violence (actual violence, not delusions of spells and magick powers) or self-harm, report them to the appropriate avenue.

5. Know when to reprimand, block or remove the person from the forum.

To conclude…

Dorothy L. Wood was a wonderful, lovely person with a good heart. She was a talented artist, a compassionate and helpful person, a writer…everything said about her in her eulogy was true. I only knew her through the devotional for Persephone, and later through some of her troubles as they appeared online, but this was a person who had a lot to offer once her possibly very treatable illness was addressed. (Many of her symptoms reminded me of myself, a while back.) Without her contribution, the Persephone devotional would have been missing something very beautiful and poignant in the stark, black lines of her drawing, the youthful but wise depiction of Persephone she brought to life. She died at only 27- plenty of time to grow, plenty of time to explore herself and her illness, plenty of time to find peace and a new way of expressing the magick and devotion to the Hellenic gods that meant so much to her.

Dorothy was really someone special, and I don’t think many people got a chance to see that side of her.

Safe journey, Dorothy. I hope you’re okay in the world below.

Persephone Sketch by Dorothy L. Wood

A Piece Dorothy Wrote on Hermes for Neokoroi

Picture Credits

1. Kindness, voodooxfishy, http://voodooxfishy.deviantart.com/art/a-little-kindness-64680524

2. “Persephone Shows The Way” (Sketch detail) by Dorothy L. Wood.

 

Oh, and PS… while your thoughts, disagreements and agreements are always welcome, anyone commenting with negative crap about Dorothy will be reported, deleted and blocked.

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Frail Equilibrium by Olesya Novik

Magick and mysticism are unbalancing. They are meant to be that way because they tear down the preconceived/illusory notions upon which we base our lives. We cannot have our foundations ripped from us and expect to remain perfectly balanced and stable: it is up to the magician to rebuild his foundations as necessary. Four quotes sum this up perfectly for me:

“Sanity is the lot of those who are most obtuse, for lucidity destroys one’s equilibrium: it is unhealthy to honestly endure the labors of the mind which incessantly contradict what they have just established.” — Georges Bataille

“…there are some kinds of madness that are gifts from the gods.” — Plato

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor Frankl

“What doesn’t kill us, makes us stranger.” — The Joker from The Dark Knight

If doing magick doesn’t upset your balance, to quote several pagan forums I’ve seen, “UR DOIN IT WRONGZ!” Nevertheless, just as magick is meant to imbalance you, it should re-balance you as well, though the efficacy of one option or both really depends upon the efficacy of the magician. Magick is meant to “break open the head”, to redefine one’s perceptions and spiritual/mental boundaries, and it can take quite some time before you are able to process all that you’ve learned. This can be painful, but in reality, it is a gift, and an opportunity to forge yourself as a weapon and through the fire become stronger than you already are. I can certainly say (and I think I have) that overcoming my mental illnesses daily is both the making and the breaking of me, an almost constant opportunity to transform myself when the old ways no longer suit. No matter how severe our illness, no matter how tenacious against medication, most of us still have a choice in how we perceive the hand life has dealt us and what we do with the cards we’re given. Even more so, those of us who are mentally ill who practice magick, since we are doubly undergoing transformative experiences that can meld one into the other. There have been times I’ve utilized my mania enough to teach me spiritual lessons…and there have been times that I’ve been too out of my mind with mania to do much of anything. Mental illness and magick can be a potent combination, yet certainly hazardous if not used correctly and with caution.

In the end, I can say the same thing about mental illness and magick- it doesn’t leave us in a safe, normal little place. We’ve grown beyond our own boundaries and re-erected them, and often grow beyond the confines of what society expects of us. Some of us are more apt to protective camouflage than others. While I think everyone needs a little protective camouflage just to be able to keep your head down when you need to, I am also heartened by the fact that magick and mental illness both force you to confront the truth of yourself, to dig deep and find in the muck of all that pain something valuable, something beautiful and worth polishing until it shines like a star.

We’re getting a little Orphic, aren’t we? I suppose it’s appropriate.


But, can magick itself make you crazy?

You know, there’s a wide variety of answers to that question and usually needs more questions for clarification. Can magick make a perfectly normal person go nuts? Does there need to be precursors, such as stress, predispositions to mental illness, etc.? How do you tell the difference between mystical experience and mental illness?

There is really no simple answer to this question, and pagans/magicians are going to come out left, right and everywhere in between. I can only give you my opinion, which I’ve based on my experience with my own madness and with my own magick, observing others in the pagan community struggling with similar stuff, and my experience in the mental health field in being able to observe first-hand diagnosable conditions which mimic divine experience. It all, really, should be judged on an individual basis. But, to answer each generally…

Can magick make a perfectly normal person go nuts?

Sure! But what doesn’t?

Thinking logically, dealing with something that is unbalancing absolutely has the potential to make you crazy, BUT doesn’t necessarily mean its going to. There are plenty of people who do their magickal work and work through the imbalance it sometimes creates to rebalance themselves. Magick, as I’ve mentioned, also serves to rebalance you, and rebalancing is a part of magick’s natural progress. In that sense, magick could also help make you sane, eh? It really depends upon you and the kind of work you’re doing- and honestly, there’s no one work I would call “taboo” to the mentally ill or say would make you nuts, even if it seems that way in many cases. Some people I know can NOT handle Goetic work and it’s majorly triggering for them; however, I also have friends who thrive on it! While Satanism has never worked for me personally, I have a friend for whom it changed his life for the best. For every kook you have in chaos magick who doesn’t know what he’s doing, there may be one more who thrives on it. So, you know, don’t judge.

I’d like to say that any “unbalancing” thing could make you a little nuts, potentially. Trauma, life events (good or bad)…it’s up to you to rebalance yourself.

Does there need to be precursors, such as stress, predispositions to or existing mental illness, etc.?

…well, it certainly helps. But again, it’s no guarantee. Some may have all the perfect predispositions and come out fine. Predispositions are what they are and there’s really only so much you can do to mitigate them, depending on how you live your life.

Existing mental illness can definitely lend to more “crazy” coming out with the magick, but it depends on how you handle it. Honestly- it’s going to happen. You have to know yourself well enough to deal with it.

If there’s any imbalance in your life, you are certainly going to feel it when you start doing magick. In my experience, magick tends to root out your issues and throw them in your face so you deal with them. I can name a whole slew of things I have observed in others, but I don’t want to risk embarrassing anyone. The only way around is through- when magick throws something in your face, DEAL WITH IT. Fix or leave your relationship, get that pain in your side checked out, make a therapy appointment, start saving money, end that toxic friendship, stand up to the bully in your life, etc. Don’t sit and ignore it or whine, that will only make it worse and a further source of imbalance. It’ll be stressful, sure, but not dealing with it will be more stressful.

How do you tell the difference between mystical experience and mental illness?

Sometimes it’ll be pretty obvious. Sometimes it won’t and you’ll never tell the difference. Sometimes it’ll be a little of column A and a little of Column B. Check your experiences against the previous entry (Psychosis and Mystical Experience) as well as your own experience. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard, probing questions of yourself.


Generally…some tips for the practitioner:

Take your damned meds

Do I really need to go into this? Take your medication. Take it as it’s prescribed, learn all you can about possible risks and side-effects, have the courage to question your meds if they’re not working or interfering with your life, thought processes, physical abilities, etc. Be pro-active about it. Once you get the right combination of medication (or simply just one, if that works), TAKE YOUR MEDS. Don’t wean yourself off without doctor’s supervision or advice (I’ve done this for lack of decent doctors…it’s not pretty.) Don’t drink or do other drugs while you take your meds and if you MUST, do the research necessary to learn about drug interactions. Learn what foods, herbal suppliments, vitamins or whatever else could interfere with the efficacy or absorbtion of your meds. BUT TAKE THEM.

Learn all you can about what you have

Knowledge is power. The more you know, not just book-wise through the study of your illness, but through the observation of yourself and learning your triggers, your warning signs and how you behave pre-, during and post-episode, and in this case *especially* observing how different magickal practices effect you and possibly trigger you. Different magickal practices can do different things, and it really depends on what you’ve got, how you handle it and what the magick is supposed to do.

Learn the laws and resources in your area

Learn the resources in your area- emergency mental health clinics, hospitals, advocacy groups, sources of information. Learn what the laws are concerning the mentally ill in case you need to advocate for yourself. (See below.) Learn your rights as a mentally ill person- the right to refuse treatment and medication, the right to decide how your treatment progresses, etc.

Get a damned good treatment team

Don’t be afraid to tell a doctor to fuck off if they are: not listening to you or treating you with respect, if they are transgressing professional boundaries, if they are unethical or even if you just aren’t comfortable with them. Find a practitioner you actually like and who won’t just tell you pleasant untruths, but also find one that respects you while telling you unpleasant truths. Find one you can talk to: a therapist whom you can tell if you don’t like your medication, who won’t project their expectations onto you, etc.

And, I speak from personal experience…if your shrink tells you he’s in love with you? RUN!!! It is a violation of ethics in the extreme, and usually telling them “no” will not stop them. They’ve crossed a boundary and it’s best to sever the relationship and find a new practitioner. Don’t tolerate these actions- it is a person who is in a position to help you trying to take advantage of you.

And don’t go to a General Practitioner/Internist for the psych meds. They usually don’t know what they’re doing.

Advocate for yourself

Stand up for yourself. Even if there are times you don’t know what’s best for yourself, you still, 90% of the time and in 90% of the cases, know better than anyone else. Take your doctor’s and therapist’s advice, but don’t be afraid to take the reigns in your own treatment. Don’t be afraid to change doctors if you need to. Don’t be afraid to ask for a new medication or refuse a medication that is hurting you. Don’t be afraid to work with your medical team. Don’t be afraid to disagree with your doctors if you want to try to go back to school, get your own place, have a family, practice magick, etc. Remember that you are your own person, and don’t let others take your power over your own life away from you.

If possible, have a good support network

It’s nice to have friends, REAL friends. Being mentally ill, especially with severity, you find out quickly who really cares for you. Treasure your real friends and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

Conversely, don’t allow yourself to be sucked into predatory covens, groups or lodges. Like some churches or groups of any religions, unhealthy pagan or magickal groups will lull you with promises of friendship conditional on how well you accept their dogma. They are usually the first to leave when you need them most. Don’t sell yourself to these people for comfort. Stand strong and choose real friends carefully.

Take care of yourself

Eat well. Get plenty of sleep. Moderate your stress levels. Develop a functional routine and stick to it.

If you are potentially violent…

I almost didn’t add this in, but I’m going to. I myself have to watch this- in extreme moments (mania, depression, mixed episodes or just binges of angry) I have the potential to be physically violent. Most of the time, I have a lot of really good self control- I can count on 2 fingers people I have physically attacked since becoming an adult, no matter the circumstances surrounding it (one of those people was self-defense). Nevertheless, I still did it, and it’s not something I’m proud of. However, I have a much stronger tendency to be violent to myself, something I have to work much harder to control. I used to cut quite often as a young adult and have attempted suicide a few times. Obviously, I was not successful. Some tips here:

1. Stick to your treatment team and your treatment plan. Unless a member in your team is doing something really unethical, wait for a better time before you switch up. Talk to them about how you’re feeling.
2. Take your meds.
3. Stay away from specific people triggering you. There was a time recently where I was so angry at someone for their treatment of friends and loved ones that I refused to meet them personally to speak about the issue because I didn’t trust myself not to punch them. It’s probably best not to tell them this, as it can be construed as a threat.
4. Find an outlet. Self-violence and violence against others is often an outlet for the violent person’s emotional pain. Find something else. (I always tell people to run behind a door and call my therapist for me if they see me doing puzzles.)
5. If you have sadomasochistic tendencies, learn how to express them functionally and safely. Not all sadomasochism is a mental illness, but it can be taken too far. Learn the value on consent and stick to it- there are people who can take it pretty far but consent is absolutely key. Learn ways to safely hurt others…as much as they WANT to be hurt and under the circumstances you both agree on. If you can’t do this, then you shouldn’t express your sadomasochism.
6. If you find yourself in a violent moment, take the time to calm yourself. Remind yourself the reasons why you shouldn’t hurt yourself or someone else. Use your outlet. If that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to call 911 or to check yourself into 24 hour observation.


Magickally…

Tread Carefully- Gear Your Work According to What You Can Do

If you’re stressed out, pushing episodic and need the rest, don’t start the Abramelin Ritual. Really, just don’t do it.

Okay, extreme example (and some people may quip that’s the perfect time to do it), but you get the picture. Don’t do any magick you can’t handle. To a certain extent, it may take trial and error, but to another you can rely on your common sense. Don’t do heavy Enochian work if your mania is about to blow. Don’t engage in katabasis if your depression is feeling oppressive. (Caveats to this advice, see 2 down.) If Kabbalistic work makes your episodes worse, then wait until they pass. Make a logical judgement as to what you can do, and if you can’t make that judgement, well…

Know when to take a break, even a long break

…then don’t do anything, except maybe meditate. Don’t be afraid to take a break, to stop doing magick until you’re better. The gods and your spiritual journey aren’t going anywhere, and from what I can tell, the gods seem to understand if I need a breather in the name of my mental health. YMMV.

Don’t practice while episodic, at least most of the time

Most of the time, doing magick while episodic is a BAD idea. I’m not talking mild hypomania (the productive kind), mild dysthymia or some anxiety. I’m talking if you’re wildly manic or incredibly depressed. I’m talking if you’re psychotic. I’m talking if you’re severe enough that you need to be in close contact with your mental health professionals. Get yourself under control, first.

Now, I WILL say, there are exceptions to this rule, but they are few. There have been times that regular practice has helped to calm and center me, or the magick I was doing at the time helped me break through an episode. HOWEVER, I’ve also done magick during an episode and more often it made the episode much, much worse.

Keep a journal, monitor yourself

Record not only your magickal activities, but your mental health patterns and how your magick effects these. These can be INCREDIBLY helpful in discovering triggers and how your magick interacts with your state of mental health.

Keep a healthy dose of skepticism

Sometimes, it’s God. Sometimes, it’s you. Sometimes, it’s both. Don’t be afraid to question and examine your experiences for authenticity. Examine your experiences against the examples of the previous entry in this series and your own experience. Does this euphoria seem more like mania? Does this voice seem more like the spirit I was working with a few days ago? Don’t be afraid to parse the difference between magick and madness.

Practice Introspection and Meditation

KNOW YOURSELF. It’s good advice for anyone. Examine yourself intimately (stop it, I know what you’re thinking here) and practice meditation of some kind to help calm and center you. I would suggest zazen, or if you need more active forms of meditation, hatha yoga or tai chi also work. Creating art can be considered both purgative and meditative. The options are endless.

Don’t be afraid to use magickal, as well as mundane, resources

Spiritual people don’t always stop at just the mundane methods. While I would never recommend skipping your meds or eschewing your doctor, I would recommend (in tandem with these things) trying spiritual and magickal methods as well. Talk to various healing gods and ask them to help you balance yourself and to look out for you: Apollon, Asclepius, Hygeia, Isis or Thoth are some suggestions. Or, hell, here’s a wiki list: Go nuts, or not.
Do some uncrossing and centering work. Work with solar energy or if you can be careful, some gentle lunar energy (sometimes, as you all know, the moon can make you nuttier).

Studying your astrology natal chart can be helpful- I shit you not. Mine has “bipolar” stamped all over it, among other things, and knowing the aspects that cause issues help me to better pin point how to handle them.


Know that you’ll make mistakes, and don’t hate yourself

You will probably, accidentally or on purpose, push yourself too far. There will be fall out you’ll have to deal with. This is okay. Just dust yourself off, pick yourself up, and try again when you feel better.

…and take your damned meds.

These are just general points of advice…any practitioner who is dealing with mental illness can certainly tell you that there are specific ins and outs regarding the individual illness. Manic psychosis is different from schizophrenic psychosis is different from borderline personality disorder episodes is different from Asperger’s syndrome and so on, and on. A lot of this entails personal responsibility on the part of the practitioner: being able to own who you are, warts and all, how to deal with something beyond your control and how to express it in a way that, if does not fit into cultural norms, then isn’t illegal or damaging to yourself and to others. While I personally think a lot of our cultural norms are ridiculous, some of these “lines in the sand” exist out of necessity.

Mental illness can make you or break you. The same can be said of magick. It’s up to you to consistently make the choice…will this kill me, or make me stronger?

Next time…Divine Madness and Mental Illness.

Picture Credit

1. Olesya Novik, Frail Equilibrium, http://fantasyartdesign.com/free-wallpapers/digital-art.php?i_i=1776&u_i=2462

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