Friday, September 23, 2011

Makin' Some Money and Takin' My Medicine...

Hey y'all!

I only have time for another short update, so here it goes...

I got a job working for Brian Love, one of Earthaven's natural building contractors. It is going really well. He is building this absolutely beautiful eco-mansion for a newly-wed couple. It is really stunning, and I hope to get pictures one of these days. I have done a lot of sanding and finishing, using a natural finish call Rainforest (which smells like orange peels). Today I had to stand on the (unfinished) counter in the kitchen to sand and re-finished some damaged areas on the joists and the sub-flooring. A few years ago I don't think I would have been able to do it, but having climbed Machu Picchu, I can now handle dangling precariously four feet above the concrete flooring to get that little spot just out of my reach.

I have also been managing a slight head cold. Luckily, I have plenty of herbalist friends around help me heal myself. River Otter made this super awesome elderberry-wild cherry syrup (for respiratory support). I gotta say, I love the good, old fashioned medicines made with fresh berries and herbs, local raw organic honey, and a fair bit of brandy... to preserve it, y'know.

Well, busy busy busy. Off to dinner now.



Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Back in Action

Hello all!

I just want to give a quick update to let y'all know that I am back in action. Which is good, because there is SO MUCH awesome stuff happening.

I am back in the garden, playing with my plants. After several weeks of staying inside and quiet, nursing my poison ivy, I almost forgot how happy it makes me to be with growing things.

I am spending a good deal of time and energy helping to pull off the Village Harvest Festival coming of this Saturday, which promises to be a fantastic time. We are going to have talks and and tours and demos, food and vendors, music and dancing, and playback theatre in the evening. I am really excited!

I also have several jobs prospects on the horizon and an Exploring Member interview scheduled for October 4th.

Life is good.


the MollyWog

Monday, September 12, 2011

Crisis Averted

So I suppose I owe y'all an update after that last crazy entry. Unfortunately, this one is no less tumultuous! The good news is that my many recoveries are coming along.

I am finally done being itchy! It is nice to see that this too does indeed pass. I am hyperconscious, now, of where I am and what I am touching, especially in the garden, but I am deciding to put that focused observation, which can yield great insight, to good use.

Ulcer re-recovery is also coming along. I only got two and a half days in on the cabbage juice fast, but I still think it did well for me. Whenever I fast (and I actually do one-day fasts on occasion), I find it helpful in remembering the difference between physical hunger and appetite, which I think is really important. I don't need to be putting any unnecessary strain on my stomach, and eating only what I physically need and not necessarily what I emotionally want is a big step toward that. I am still trying to eat less and more frequently, which requires a good bit of foresight to bring snacks when I am out and about. I am avoiding spicy and heavy foods, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar, all of which are reputed to be hard on ulcers. I have been drinking herbal teas with a bunch of different herbs indicated for ulcers, stomach, and digestion. Most importantly, I think, I have been (trying to) take it easy. I feel so blessed to be in a space where I can just be "out-of-commission" for a while. Everyone has been so very loving and supportive.

Which is pretty lucky, because I am just turning the corner after a brief emotional breakdown. I am not sure what it was or caused it. I think a bunch of factors all collided for a perfect storm of momentary insanity. But, amazingly enough, I think I have worked through it already. It started on Thursday, but this community holds such a beautiful space for healing that I was able to experience my breakdown, analyze it, work through it, and turn it into a breakthrough pretty seamlessly indeed.

Between the full-body poison ivy and the reemergence of ulcer issues, I was already feeling a whole range of emotions from frustration to fear to anger to inadequacy, and so many more, some of which I cannot name and do not understand.

Then, to add to that mess, on Thursday I started to get really frustrated with school. First off, I am discovering that being a full-time student and a full-time Earthavener are mutually exclusive activities. There simply and literally are not enough hours in the day. Well, maybe if I had the energy to work 18-hour days, seven days a week, it might be an achievable feat – Earthavener by day, student by night. But the simple fact is that I just don’t have that kind of energy (thus the feelings of inadequacy). I could try, but this minor emotional breakdown makes it very clear and obvious that pushing too hard would just be counterproductive. I would just be burning myself out, and I do not believe that that would be a wise decision.

Then this class that I am in, Introduction the Liberal and Independent Studies, keeps asking all these questions like “Why are you in college?” and “What are you hoping to gain from your degree?”

Backtracking a moment to give you some more context: Something that I am learning here is deep and profound honesty with myself and openness with others, which I am finding it very freeing and very healing and very helpful in creating a healthier relationship with myself and others. All those years that I struggled with depression and anxiety, part of the problem was that I was not being honest with myself or open with others. I was not emotionally mature enough to confront my pain and say, “No, no I am not okay, and this is how I feel and why.”

What I have found here at Earthaven is that not only is it okay but it is preferable to express what you are really feeling, to experience it, to share it, to analyze it, to work with it and through it. When someone asks, “How are you?” that person actually expects to hear what is really on your mind. Earthaven is actually home to a new and different (budding) culture of profound emotional health and for the first time in my life, I really feel like the truth is setting me free.

Enter tough questions about my academic and career goals, and two different, emotionally-charged quandaries. First, I was torn between giving a bluntly honest, first-thought response (right now, I am only in college because my family doesn’t want me to drop out... essentially, I am doing the "right thing for the wrong reasons," and I know it) and thinking out the answers that I believe the professor is looking for, which may or may not be what he is actually looking for or would deem acceptable. It doesn't seem like that big of an issue, but when I am newly experiencing the freedom of openness and honesty, it is really heart-wrenching to have to work within the limitations of a culture that doesn't necessarily value that honesty.

Second, being honest with myself about those questions, I find that I am actually very internally conflicted, and frankly, afraid. I am burnt out on traditional schooling and have been for a long time; that is a very simple fact. Another simple fact: I am a radical, and I would never be satisfied with the standard American nine-to-five, which “getting a degree” is supposed to be preparing me for.

At the same time, even at Earthaven or in a similar community, it is not (yet) possible to entirely disconnect myself from the money economy, no matter how much it conflicts with my ethics and values and philosophy of life. So when I see people with BAs unable to find work (except at Wal-Mart), it scares the shit out of me. It seems that these days you have to have a BA to be a checker or a waitress! The economy is so terrible and jobs are so scarce that people are competing viciously over the previously undesirable jobs. While I don’t want to have any part of that culture of scarcity, I still have to recognize that I have to figure out a way to get by while creating a culture of abundance. And while I would be perfectly happy to live on the “economic fringes,” making just enough to get by, it seems that even “just enough to get by” is becoming less and less attainable.

So, yes, it would be a damn good idea to go ahead and get the degree. But, I am still faced with same problems. I am still burnt out. I feel it acutely. I absolutely dread working on my class work, despite the fact that I know that a lot of it is very interesting and engaging. So, despite the above, no amount of fear and “shoulds” are relighting that fire.

What is relighting my passion for learning is experiencing learning at Earthaven. I learn so much every day just by living here. I am not taking tests or writing essays, but I am learning and deeply integrating skills that I believe will be very important for my future.

Fortunately, as a result of all this agonizing, I think that I have figured out an acceptable course of action. Essentially, I am going to finish LIS 301 (Introduction to Liberal and Independent Studies – the course where you design your Liberal Studies degree) and see what happens.

I could continue as a part-time student, taking one or two classes at a time (like Saralin). I already have that independent study on anarchy with Richard Gilman-Opalsky (best. radical. philosophy. prof. ever.) scheduled for next semester. I think that I could handle being an Earthavener and doing a couple of free-form independent studies each semester until I finish my degree. That way, I could be a student and live in a way that is in keeping with my values and ethics and philosophy of life.

I could go back to Springfield next semester and dedicate myself to doing nothing but finishing my degree. If I did that I would graduate at the end of next summer. They might even let me walk in the spring, if I only have one summer class left to finish up. Then, once my college trauma, er, experience, is out of the way, I would be really free to come back to Earthaven and focus completely on being here. However, that doesn't address the burnt-out-ness...

I could take a break next semester and dedicate myself to doing nothing but being an Earthavener and getting myself settled in here. Then, once I have secured a sure place for myself here, I might find myself able to be an Earthaven and a student after all.

I am leaning, right now, towards the first option, but I think my best bet is simply to allow the course to unfold and see where it takes me.

But getting back to my emotional breakdown/breakthrough, I guess what happened was that my issues with school dredged up fear, doubt, insecurity, and pain way beyond the scope of not knowing how to answer a particular question. In fact, it opened Pandora’s box of existential crisis, and I had to face all of the terrifying things that came out. Fortunately, there was hope in the bottom, and that hope is the beautiful community that I am becoming a part of.

My community has been so good to me! It literally brings me to tears just how amazingly blessed I am. Here I am; I have only been here for, what, a little less than four months? I am having these crazy health challenges followed immediately by an emotional meltdown, which have made me (in my estimation) totally useless for weeks. And yet, I continue to feel boundless love and support from my "extended family." They understand and they care and they want me to do whatever I need to do to take care of myself, despite the fact that that means I am not able to be working on certain projects. They keep telling me that they are happy that I am here and that they want me to be part of their tribe. Here I feel like I am so clearly demonstrating that I can’t pull my own weight and that I wouldn’t make a reliable team member… that I am inadequate. I guess I was projecting onto them this (unfounded) idea that they would be better off without having to deal with me and my emotional breakdowns. But when I think about it, if I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t just write someone with so much potential off because she needed healing. If we wrote off everyone who needs healing, who would be left?

And still, finding love and support and understanding where I was afraid that I would find rejection and loss is in itself incredibly healing. I feel so blessed to be here, so blessed to be among people who understand, who love me, who see my potential, who want me to be part of their tribe. Wow.

Well, I guess that is enough for now, huh? It has taken me all day (literally) to digest and process this into something resembling communication, but it has been time very well spent. Eventually, I will tell the story of the crazy events going on all around me in the external world while I was going through the heart of this breakdown/breakthrough. (In short, I was forgotten in town, spent a night at an Asheville community house, then came home to a delightful celebration of Founding Day... on September 11th. It is, in hindsight, a great story, but it must wait for another time.)

P.S. This might look really neat and tidy now, but know that it is the result of several days spent in emotional turmoil trying to figure out just what the fuck I am doing with my life. Breakdown, breakthrough. Praise the Goddess for the cycles of life.

Friday, September 2, 2011

As If Full-Body Poison Ivy Wasn't Enough...

August 29, 2011


I have the poison ivy. And it’s everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE. I have it all down my arms, all over my neck and chest and belly, on my back, down my thigh… it’s even on my face! I have poison ivy on my eyelid! And it is driving me crazy!

I have no idea how I got it. It must have been in the garden, but I am usually so careful and aware. And it mystifies me how it got everywhere. My only idea (and I’m not entirely sure it holds water) is that the day after I woke up itchy the first time, I took a hot shower because it felt good. Having never had poison ivy before (I’ve been so lucky up until now!), I neither recognized the symptoms (for some reason, the rash hadn’t shown up yet and I could not figure out why I was so itchy!) nor knew that taking a hot shower apparently allows the oils to spread. So maybe that’s how it got on my eyelid.

I have washed with poison ivy soap a couple of times since then, so hopefully it is done spreading. But it still itches like crazy. I have been taking cool showers and jumping in the creek. (Although, the weather has been so beautiful – 70’s and breezy – that it almost isn’t hot enough for me to stand the icy creek water!) I’ve been rubbing down with jewelweed decoction ice cubes, using Red Moon Herb’s poison ivy relief spray, and anointing with plenty of tea tree oil. (That stuff is magical! It dries it out the rash and leaves a cool, lingering tingle. I need to find somewhere that sells it by the gallon.) And I will admit that, at this point, I am not too proud and have been slathering on the good, old-fashioned hydrocortisone. I am sleeping with really soft socks on my hands, but I am still waking up several times all night long, scratching, scratching, scratching. I am just really trying not to tear myself up. Especially my face, as the whole “meth addict” look really just doesn’t work for me. I have to say, this would be a particularly creative method of torture.

But, on the bright side, this too shall pass. I have seen a bunch of people go through the ivy torture this year alone, and it runs its course. And while I have it, it has been teaching me some valuable lessons. When I think I am about to completely lose my mind, I have learned to stop, take a deep breath, and just be with it. Just be in my body, accept the reality that my skin is on fire with itchiness, and breathe through it. It is making me more patient. It is certainly making me more sympathetic to other poison ivy sufferers. (Having not had it before, I wasn’t able to really get how uncomfortable it is.) So, as Lyndon and Patricia like to say, here we are. (I love that phrase – it is a simultaneously a simple, honest acknowledgement of the reality of the moment and a call to move forward no matter the current position.)

I am also feeling extremely low energy, which is stressing me out because I feel like I am getting behind. It becomes this crazy feedback loop. I am itchy, so I am not sleeping, so I am low energy, so I am not getting things accomplished at the pace I would like to, so I am getting stressed out, so I am not sleeping, so I am tired, so I am grouchy AND am not getting things accomplished at the pace I would like to, and I am itchy, which continues to stress me out… GAH! I need a nap! And I’m itchy.

September 1, 2011

So, despite the fact that I would much rather stick my head in the sand and pretend like it isn’t happening, after supper last night, I had to get real with myself: I have been starting to experience the same symptoms that I was experiencing shortly before I ended up in the ER for an ulcer earlier this year. Discomfort after eating has given way to general discomfort all the time, and extreme discomfort bordering on pain after eating. Last time this was happening, it only took a week (during which I ate mostly easy, bland foods) for it to escalate to ER grade pain.

So, here we are.

I have been reading up on the approach that alternative medicine takes to healing ulcers, and what I have read is encouraging. According to several sources, conventional medicines, which work by reducing the body’s production of stomach acid, will take care of the ulcer in the short term. However, reoccurrence is very common because the drugs do not restore the natural balance of microorganisms in the stomach, so they will not heal the ulcer in the long term. In fact, acid-reducing medicines set up the body to become permanently dependent on the medicines.

Luckily, I am surrounded by friends and neighbors who are ready and willing to help however they can. Earthaven is home to a wide variety of natural healers, and my housemates are being incredibly supportive.

Since I was finally able to be real with myself last night, I decided to be real with everyone else during house meeting check in. I cried. I am not sure why, but I think perhaps because it scares me (another reason I did not want to be honest with myself), and because it is hard for me to open up to people about my health challenges. For some strange reason, I have this complex of feeling guilty when I have health challenges, as if I am personally responsible for my illness or in some way deficient as a person because I am sick. If I had only tried harder, had more self-control, etc., this would not be happening. Seeing it written now, I realize it doesn’t make much sense, so I suppose that is another way that this experience is providing me with opportunities to heal.

Anyway, everyone rose to the occasion, and I now have the aid of three different healers and the support of my whole community. Along with a variety of herbs and a homeopathic remedy, I have decided that I am going to attempt Rosemary Gladstar’s favorite remedy for ulcers – a seven-day cabbage juice fast. While I am not at all looking forward to consuming nothing but raw cabbage juice (a truly repulsive substance) for seven days, but I am ready to try it because I trust and respect Rosemary Gladstar and I am very serious about healing this ulcer once and for all.

Then after house meeting, Patricia took me into Black Mountain (in her bio-diesel-powered ’82 VW Rabbit) to get a significant amount of cabbage and to wash my laundry. I had at least three large loads, as I changed my bedding and have been changing clothes all the time to prevent the poison ivy from spreading any further. We had a good time. We stopped by the thrift store to pick up some novels (she wants me to be taking it really easy while I am fasting and healing), and she even took me out for ice cream as a pre-fast treat.

I feel so blessed! Here I am in this truly awful situation, and yet I feel strong and empowered. I am surrounded by people who can help me, who support me, and who love me. This is community. I am home.