Western State Cemetery

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I am not afraid of the dead. I love cemeteries, the older the better. I find them peaceful and if there are restless spirits, they likely belong to the living. A visit to an old cemetery is my idea of time well-spent.

Near where I attended high school is Ft. Steilacoom park and within that park is the cemetery for Western State, a hospital for the mentally ill. Buried in the cemetery are over 3000 patients, their graves originally marked with numbers to spare the families the ‘humiliation’ of mental illness. In high school there were dares to go to the cemetery at night–visions of deranged ghosts in teenage minds. I was never afraid. I thought the falling down, grown-over stones in the moonlight were beautiful.  I didn’t know that in the early 2000s a group called Grave Concerns Association had begun the work to match up names to the numbers and mark the graves more fully.

We have come a long way from the days that Western State was named Insane Asylum of Washington Territory (for the care of insanity and idiocy). But still, there is stigma attached to mental illness. This cemetery was utilized from 1876-1953. I was struck, as I wandered around, how many woman were buried there. That even with the matching project, many of the deceased had incomplete records, such as a date or even year of birth. I saw a couple marked with “Indian.” I wonder how many of the ‘insane’ were depressed, or anxious. Or if their insanity was being not white. First homesteader of Des Moines, WA John Moore is buried here. He had Alzheimers. There is a Civil War Veteran. I wonder if he had PTSD.

The entire time I was aware that had I been alive during that time, I would likely have been a patient there. That one of these gravestones could be mine. It renewed my commitment to be open about my struggles with depression and to continue to belligerently insist that mental illness be openly discussed. It is not shameful. It is not something to be embarrassed about or to hide. It simply is.

Please peruse the gravestones I photographed.

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Mirror

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Dozens of tiny white scars surround my nose and mouth
Invisible to all but me
A larger zigzag scar
Lightning boltish
In the middle of my face
When gravity won

Deeper slashes
Thicker white lines
Mark my belly
Surgical remnants
Of life

Quarter inch white gash
Tear repair
Permanent reminder
Of balance lost
And life divider

The mirror shows me all of these
But cannot show me the
damage
of
neglect
Being ignored
Voiceless
Scars on my body tell a story

Scars on my soul mark
Where my story didn’t end.

Violated. Betrayed. Pfft. Rising.

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2017 is off to a less than stellar start. After spending several wonderful days with my sister and her extended family on the Oregon coast, I returned to work today to find that a coworker has complained that I get preferential treatment because I have a flex schedule to accommodate weekly doctors’ appointments for my chronic depression, traumatic brain injury and (latest addition) ADHD. A doctors’ note will put this to rights yet I am annoyed that a colleague would first of all have an issue and secondly then tell our HR that I “don’t really have any disability.” It’s a problem many with ‘invisible’ disabilities face, but this is the first time I’ve had it smack me in the face like this.

And then mid-morning my housemate called, upset. She did not have work today, ran out to do a couple of errands and came back to find the front door kicked in and cash and gift cards stolen. The police were called. Evidence collected. The door frame repaired thanks to a handy brother. The house was not ransacked–hinting that the burglar knew where the cash was hidden. It doesn’t really matter. The fact is, somebody felt that they had the right to break in.

It’s only the second day of the year.

And so while I could wallow in betrayal and violation–because these instances are serious occurrences– I will not. I will not allow a petty, bitter person to steal my joy. I will not allow someone bent on vengeance take my peace.  As a dear friend says “They throw rocks at things that shine.” I will not allow my shine to dull. I lift my head and I continue on my journey, more determined than ever to Rise. To Create. To Love. To Live Ferociously.