Monday, February 18, 2008

Bag Lady

I had a powerful experience this morning. One that I did not expect. My husband and I care for disabled relatives. Both are adults. One of them has schizophrenia w/ early dementia. Mental illness is not a joke. It’s insidious, poisonous, and can pull the caretakers (read: me and Rom) down into a morass of the other person’s madness. This is the reason why I have chosen to go raw vegan. I have to care for myself because I care for so many other people.

So this morning, I watched my relatives leave, as they do every morning, to go to their medical day program. The younger one walked out first, as she always does, practically running for the bus. The older one, walked out second. Once she was outside, I saw that she was carrying not one, but two bags. One was stuffed with stuff as it always is. And I couldn’t tell what was in the second one. In that moment, it was like a flash of lightning hit me in the chest. “She’s a Bag Lady,” I thought to myself as I watched her get on the bus.

My relative is weighed down by everything. She walks stooped over, at an almost 45 degree angle. Scoliosis and two back surgeries are the medical reasons why she is stooped over. Nineteen years of agoraphobia, no exercise, and the mental weight of never letting go of her traumas are the real reasons. Call that last one mystical or metaphysical if you want to, but I know that a person’s thoughts create her life. And in her previous home, before she moved in with us, her bedroom was a perfect metaphor for her life: chaos. Black trash bags, filled with newspapers and magazines, covered the floor. A tiny trail led from the door to her bed. Her dressers where filled with more newspapers, some from a decade ago. I realized that if she didn’t have us, she would be a bag lady on the street pushing the shopping cart full of stuff that means so much to her, but is in fact, weighing her down.

I have bronchitis right now. I promptly cleaned my living room when she left. And I so want to go from room to room and throw out crap that we no longer need. I want that Salvation Army truck to come pick up things right now.

I do not want to live my life holding on to things that no longer serve me. That is one of my intentions this year. Magazines from 1993, and mailings from 1995 (things I have found in my relative’s room) serve no purpose. Cleaning out to make room for the new makes the most sense. It has been a long road with me and this relative. I can honestly say, for the first time, that I can see her major purpose in my life. She teaches me that living in the past, not forgiving yourself and others, and not dealing with your pain, leads to a life filled with sadness and anxiety. I only have an inkling of what happened to her. Some of it was traumatic, yes. The bulk of it we will never know because her parents are passed, her ex-husband is MIA, although he did show up for a minute to fill in some clues, but he rolled out again too, and the rest of her relatives don’t want to have anything to do with her.

But I know mental illness can be healed. I know two people who were very sick, but now lead normal lives. And I am so curious as to how two people can experience the same trauma, but one goes mad and the other uses that experience to heal herself and others. I think of Oprah, Louise Hay, ImmaculĂ©e Ilibagiza, who survived the Rwandan Holocaust and lost all of her family members except one, and that was only because he was in another country at the time. She hid in a bathroom for ninety days with five other women. And she forgave her family’s killers. My God. I can’t even say I could do that. I have friends who have been through some serious hell. The one thing that all have in common is their faith, regardless of what it is.

I’ve had enough spiritual experiences to know that God is real. I channel Angels. But I also know that we live on Earth. We are here for God to experience life through us. We are here to love each other, enjoy each other, and to live as spiritual, mental, and physical beings. I call it “keeping your feet on the ground and keeping your head to the sky.”

I just had to get all of that out. Spiritual teachers don’t usually come draped in robes, full of enlightenment. Most come as ordinary people, some wise, some mad. All have something to teach…if you pay attention. ◦

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