The empath & the cotton-tail

Growing up in Northeast Texas, I learned to shoot. Starting out with a BB gun at a young age, I eventually learned to shoot an M-14 about the time I was 20 years old. I grew up around hunting, target-shooting, guns around the house — and Gods help us, if my brother or I EVER touched one without permission or supervision. I remember folks visiting our property for hunting and seeing the animals all lifeless and limp and sometimes slightly bloodied, afterward.

Not mine.

Looks like a cap gun I had when I was a kid.

But nothing has ever died by my shooting it, nor had I ever witnessed an animal being shot then watch it die until I was around 10 years old.

And down the rabbit hole we go …

There I was, standing over the still-jerking body of a cotton-tail rabbit, laying in the green grass peppered with tee-tiny yellow and purple flowers that were spattered in the blood that was oozing out of the orifices of the soon-to-be carcass. (And my brain has probably filled in visual information that wasn’t originally there.)

I could argue that I was sensitive to the picture at my feet, as I had an affinity for animals that spurred multiple, friendly arguments between me and other family members. The image itself could have been just traumatizing enough that I felt over-sorry for what was supposed to be a future meal. After all, it was a wild animal that was ethically hunted, with the intention of feeding my family.

Desert Cottontail Hiding in Foliage

Cotton-tail rabbit

Even now, I still call the rabbit “it,” as though I’m attempting to distance myself from the inundation of emotional vicissitudes that have stayed with me for 30 years.

Because I can tell you what it feels like — the dying. Specifically, what a rabbit feels when dying from being shot.

A fear overwhelmed me that sent my feet sprinting, just like I had witnessed the legs of the rabbit spasming as its nervous system was shutting down. Its eyes were black, and the whites ringed them all around.

And I cried — floods of tears. I sat on my bedroom floor with my knees pulled up to my chest, leaning against the window sill.

It would be another dozen years before I understood what had happened and why. At the time, I thought simply that (from an adult’s point of view) I had been over-sensitive to the killing of the rabbit. Knowing the kind of kid I was, this is most likely true.

But there’s more to it than that.

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No idea where this image came from. If you have the source info, please let me know, so I can update.

Being empathic means that the person can sense the emotional state of others, and in extreme cases, take on those emotions  and even physical symptoms as his or her own.

This is different from being in empathy with someone, or empathetic, which means the “ability or state of sharing someone else’s emotional state or experience,” as though two people could experience the same event in exactly the same way. I don’t believe this to be entirely accurate, as one’s reaction to one event could be colored by previous, personal experience  not shared with the other person.

Empathic, however, “describes someone who has an unnatural or uncommon degree of empathy.” (Source: English Language & Usage)

It is unfortunate, that in the broader academic writings, there is not much differentiation between empathic and empathetic, unless one is a science fiction writer, pulling on a Star Trek-type ontological lexicon. We are, therefore, dependent upon the writings and wisdom of spiritual leaders within alternative or forward-thinking faiths, if we want to develop and establish the difference. (And there’s my academic moment for the week.)

Jenna Avery has a very interesting article, “Understanding Empathy,” in which she states:

Some schools of thought hold that empathy is a form of psychic ability, but my training has led me to believe that empathy is actually a form of having weak boundaries. Clairsentience is the fully developed and highly functioning form of empathy and is a psychic ability. Clairsentience, when it’s working properly, allows us to experience the emotions, energies, and physical sensations of others, without being personally affected by them ourselves. This state is an advanced skill – the ultimate form of empathy. The first step toward harnessing it is learning to balance and manage our empathy.

In advancing this skill, there still need to be boundaries, or more specifically, filters. Because the danger of simply being in empathy, as Avery differentiates here, could affect even an advanced clairsentient.

Earlier in her article, she mentions that this is a gift — a state which I had a difficult time with until I learned how to filter and cope. For most, including myself, this is a trial-and-error process in learning to recognize triggers, like managing anxiety attacks or similar.

There are multiple elements that lend themselves to the experience of an empath, or clairsentient. This is a short list:

  • noise
  • loudness
  • amount of light
  • the number of people and their collective or individual emotional state/s
  • whether or not an area is enclosed and how big or small it is, and the ratio of people to space available
  • elevation, such as air travel, and confinement
  • internalizing of emotion, belonging to others and/or the empath
  • amount of personal space required
  • avoidance of certain situations containing any or all of these elements
  • sudden, inexplicable shifts in emotional states

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There are only a handful of people who have ever heard me sing. More have heard me humming, and may have questioned the timing or even wondered why I would hum in front of folks, but not sing.

When being overwhelmed with my environment, it’s time to come up out of the aforementioned rabbit hole: I need to stay in the present to fully function within an event or experience. Humming helps me find my center: I can hear it, I can can feel the vibrations, and I have to think about the next note before getting to it. I focus on my physical, emotional and mental states with a tune that has spiritual significance for me. Otherwise, I would fall into regular, deep depressions and nothing would get done in those situations.

This comes after years of learning to distinguish the difference between “me” and “other.” Learning to cope with “other” came only after the recognition of it.

  • How did I feel before the sudden shift? How did I feel after?
  • Were the differences in my body or my head?
  • Is there a reason I should be feeling this way?
  • Am I hurt in body or mind?
  • Is the energy coming from within or without? If without, from what direction?
  • If I walk away for a few minutes, does it go away?

It has been several years since I had an “episode,” a situation from which I was unable to walk away. I was flying at 30,000 feet on a commercial airliner, and the passenger sitting next to me probably thought I was either insane or was deathly afraid of flying. It took me until almost to the end of the flight to realize what had happened, as I had not had an experience like that in years: The in-flight movie for the 6-hour trip was “The Pursuit of Happyness.” (It’s a tear-jerker, if you haven’t seen it.)


Still makes me cry!

I didn’t want to pay the $2 for headphone to hear the movie, having decided I could just read the book I’d brought along. The next thing I know, I’m in the middle of extreme sadness, helplessness and longing, tears rolling down my face, and trying desperately not to cry out loud. I held on the back of the seat in front of me and rocked. The feelings would come in waves, coming and going suddenly. In between, I was quite myself and would go back to reading, shaking off the experience as just weird. Once the movie was over, the waves stopped, and I was left feeling happy and content. It was a WTF moment for a few hours until it hit me. Duh.

Dude sitting next to me: Sorry for what looked like weirdness. (And bad on you for turning away from me, absorbing yourself in your laptop and not asking after me. Talking it out would have helped.)

When the absence of feeling others is there (Yes, it does happen!), it can be unsettling. The first time I noticed this, I was on a date. Throughout, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t “feel” anything from him. (In going on dates, I’ve learned to anticipate how things are going and what will potentially happen next.) When he walked me to my car, he suddenly grabbed my face and kissed me. I was so surprised, I started to pull away. In his profession (he was a psychologist), the skill of keeping his energy to himself is needed in order for him to succeed in his career. The problem for me with this is, he needed to learn how to let go of that away from work. (On the other hand, it was kind of refreshing not being able to anticipate. An empath’s Catch-22.)

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Getting to this point, I’ve had guidance and help from friends and loved ones. I spoke with others who had similar experiences (and still do), read up on it (and still do), even went to counseling (not for years). Today, all I have to do is say, “Something feels weird,” to my sister, and the conversation is on.

It has become a survival skill, a tool in helping me make judgements in any given situation, and allows me to help others, especially in my Reiki practice.

Learning to filter the crap and the constant inundation when not by myself took patience and practice. It can be done, developed and utilized for daily and spiritual living.

But to this day, I still won’t eat rabbit.

This post is a part of Pagan Blog Project 2013, Week 10.

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Hardtack ain’t just for cookin’

I learned how to make hardtack this year when I tried out a Greek recipe to share with friends.

It was super easy to make this dense pastry that poured like milk until it baked and set.

Hardtack. Saltines, anyone? (Source: Preparedness Advice Blog)

In case you don’t know what it is, hardtack is basically a cracker but a bit more flakey, softer and more thick.

It’s also a great survival food. Not much to it, easy to make, can be frozen, and will provide some sustenance, even if it doesn’t have all the nutrients your body needs. It’ll fill your tummy.

And the holes are there for a reason. If the steam and heat isn’t allowed to pass through (especially if you’re pouring it onto a casserole), it will crack. I forgot the holes. And craaack — right down the middle.

It was still tasty.

Uber-kitchen witch I am not. But, wait! Yes, there’s a metaphor here! (How’s that for a segue?)

For more than a month, I’ve written the same blog post draft at least half-a-dozen times. And I’m still having problems getting it done.

It’s isn’t the topic. When chatting with my bestie or sitting around with the girls discussing girl things, I’m perfectly comfortable telling details and the story and so forth.

It then occurred to me: This is a public forum. My private life details, when I choose to write about them, are on display, along with my opinions, hurts and joys.

My hardtack. (There’s the metaphor.)

By not talking about it, not putting it out on display, I become just as guilty as the women — no, the cultural stratification I criticize. There’s nothing here to do with gender, either: Men are just as guilty of not discussing these things as the women. Personally, I’ve never heard a man discuss it and very few women.

There’s a crack forming in my hardtack.

Letting the steam rise

If you’ve ever had to consult with a breastfeeding clinic to get help or had to have anyone teach you how to breastfeed after reading about it, then you may have discovered that this not knowing is a fairly unique thing to Western culture. Women of other cultures who bond together through pregnancy losses and births and the rearing of children were brought up around women as young girls, seeing how all this is done and the traditions that enhance the experiences; they don’t have to go to clinics to learn how to do it all.

Lactation consultant at a breastfeeding clinic.

Because we don’t talk about how to do these things with our daughters while they’re growing up. There’s a taboo on allowing children to see what goes on in an adult’s world. Although this is sometimes appropriate, why are we sending our young women to clinics to learn things we should be teaching them in our social communities  in the first place?

Instead, we either omit the needed information, or we lie, to ourselves and to other women.

After my son was born, a friend of mine was in her third trimester. A few of us women were discussing what happens in childbirth and telling our individual stories. No one mentioned how incredibly, undeniably, excruciatingly painful labor actually is.

In the course of this conversation, I mentioned, “And, oh my God, the pain.”

Another woman leaned over to me, put her hand on my arm, and said, “Shh. You don’t want to scare her.”

Scare her? No.

Prepare her? Yes.

So, here’s a heads-up for some mothers-to-be: It fucking hurts. There is no other pain like it in the world. And it’s not just really bad cramps, no matter what anyone else (including your doctor) tells you.

And at the same time, it’s the most worth-it pain you’ll ever endure.

I have known a couple of women who say that their birthing experiences weren’t that painful, my mother included. With my son, I used meditation, breathing techniques, water, walking — you name it, I did it. Thirty-six hours of labor later, and I was screaming for drugs, telling the nurses at the hospital that I wouldn’t tell them anything until they made the pain stop. (Yes, I’m one of those patients who’s a pain in the ass.)

And no one told me. I was completely unprepared for the amount of potential pain. I had an idealistic concept that childbirth was: cramp, push, baby screams, done.

Little girl lost

Two years before I became pregnant with my son, I lost a baby.

A girl I named Elena Marie.

Before experiencing a miscarriage myself, I never knew how many had gone through the same thing. Almost every woman in my life came to me and began telling me their stories.

Seems this is just another of those things we never talk about.

I miscarried on November 20. It was my first pregnancy, and I was at 13 weeks. I was five months into a new relationship, working full-time, going to college part-time and thoroughly flunking Algebra I, and had recently been in a fender-bender.

That morning, I went into work, as usual, a clerical job that didn’t have benefits and didn’t pay much more than minimum wage.

About mid-morning, I felt a warm gush between my legs. I went to the bathroom to discover I was bleeding.

Then the cramping started.

I started crying, and freaking out a little, walked back into the office to tell my manager that I was leaving to go to the hospital because I was bleeding.  I didn’t wait for her response. I just left.

Once I got to the emergency room, I walked straight up to the window and told the nurse, “I’m 13 weeks pregnant, and I’m bleeding.”

Here’s a clinical look at what a woman’s body is supposed to do during a natural miscarriage. Photo credit: Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research

I was admitted immediately.

The intake nurse was lovely. She let me take my time answering all her questions and patted my hand when I was having a hard time getting out my words. I was then taken into a private room in emergency.

Ever wanted a baby and just couldn’t get pregnant, meeting with disappointment after disappointment every time your period would come on?

Now imagine seeing that line on the pee-stick, getting the confirmation from the doctor — then having it all ripped away.

Literally and figuratively, something inside you is dying when you see those first few drops of blood.

I was crying, even though I was trying to hold myself together. I hadn’t been able to get a hold of my then-boyfriend, and for another hour, when a friend of mine would arrive, I was alone.

The nurse practitioner who was handling my case was stern and cold. She began treating me more indifferently when she found out I wasn’t married. She told me that I needed to calm down, to which I replied that this was traumatic for me.

“This is not a trauma,” she frowned.

I sat up, looked her right in the eyes, and said, “This is emotionally traumatic for me. I want this baby.”

She gazed back at me for a moment, then left, allowing the door to slam behind her.

Every time she would come in after that, she would make a veiled comment regarding her low opinion of unwed mothers.

At first, they tried to stop the bleeding, presumably trying to save the baby by forcing my body to not have contractions.

Having a miscarriage is going into labor before the baby is developed enough to, at the very least, live with medical assistance. A woman’s body goes through many of the same things during a miscarriage as it does when going through labor after a full-term pregnancy.

It didn’t work.

Click photo for source information.

Click photo for source information.

I had to have a transvaginal sonogram with a wand covered in a condom. One of my co-workers came with me for this part, having informed our office manager that she didn’t want me to be by myself and was taking the rest of day off. She held my hand.

Another friend arrived a bit later to provide support, just before I was given the suggestion to have a D&C.

Actually, it was so highly recommended, along with all kinds of horror stories about bleeding to death, that I was scared into having the surgery. A natural miscarriage was not provided as an option.

Ironically, I had to sign a disclaimer that I understood excessive bleeding after the surgery should be a warning sign of potentially bleeding to death and would need to seek immediate medical attention.

The only words of comfort I received other than the two friends who showed up later were from the anesthesiologist, who said, “It’ll be okay, honey. We’re going to take care of that pain, and I’ll be right here to make sure you don’t remember any of this.”

No placations. No saying that I could try again. No saying that having a baby would eventually happen. No apologies.

While he was being honest, what no one could do anything about was the physical feeling of something missing from my body afterward. There was a hollow space over which I continued to put my hand, expecting that the area of my abdomen would suddenly be filled.

A woman I knew showed up at my house about a month after the D&C. She had been through two miscarriages herself, one abortion and had, at the time, two children. (She’s since had a third baby.) She’s also a Reiki master and had come over with the offer of helping me heal. It was one of the best gifts I was given during this process.

The emotional loss and mourning went on for what would have been the remainder of my pregnancy — 6 months of crying, wishing, asking why.

What I do with the loss

I try to be present.

Not being able to speak for what the men who have been involved go through, I will do what I can for both the women and the men.

I provided a presence, just sitting, fetching, listening, talking, cleaning, helping the women be as physically comfortable as possible as they experience their loss. And the whole time, I monitor to myself any actions, pain levels, reactions, fever, amount of fluid intake, trips to the bathroom, the quantity of blood, availability of immediate first aid and so forth.

A friend once told me a long time ago that witnessing someone’s pain can be the best thing one person can do for another, that it should be an honor that the other person is willing to share it.

So, I offer witness. And I cry with them.

This is how the steam rises through my hardtack.

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“A Witch’s Life” gonna get crunchy

Now, this is interesting:

The above are the most popular posts I wrote last year, in order of popularity. Out of everything I wrote, the most traffic went to articles that stirred up strong opinions and in some cases, ire. These were also all considered, on some level, taboo subjects.

A Witch's Life by Camenae E. deWellesIt isn’t that people don’t talk about these things with their besties, but we don’t talk about them in public, or at least, call them out.

As a general rule, I stay away from politics, preferring instead to write about those things with which I have personal experience.

And I do have a couple in the coffer. I am very interested to see what may happen when I post about childbirth and shaving and other related topics.

What gets you riled up? What do you talk about with your best friends but would never consider discussing in public?

There’s a plethora of taboo and not-publically-talked-about topics out there.

Here’s to ’13 being taboo — and a bit more crunchy for it.

Where the stats came from

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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