Archive for December, 2018

Quiet

I seem to be following themes this year. The path is a winding one, leading to new places and revisiting old from a different direction. Sometimes we move in circles, or get caught in whirlpools, until we’re ready to move forward – or get thrown forcibly on to the next challenge!

It’s Yuletide, the centre of the Christmas season for the world outside my window. So much is going on, with the news full of chaos and uncertainty. People are having to take stock, to actively consider what’s important to them… because 2019 may bring deep and personal changes. Apathy, ignorance or abdication of responsibility will not be an option.

For now though, I sit. I haven’t wanted to write. I haven’t wanted my voice to drop into that ocean of media. It’s midwinter. The word that sums up life for me right now is ‘Quiet’.

That’s not to say things have been quiet. I’ve been battling hard over recent months, and making it through is not always a certainty. But I’m still here.

The latest fight has been against inner voices telling me that nothing I do makes a difference. That my own voice may as well be silent, for it adds nothing. I’m not wanted. I’m not here.

I pause as I write these words. They may seem mad – well, they are! They are irrational, provably false. When you’re in your own dark places, these words ring so loud, it’s almost impossible to block or even attempt to dispute them.

But I hold on. I take a deep breath. I speak.

I call out for help as best I can, and while I’ve been notably ignored by the systems that should be in place to assist (an overwhelmed NHS), friends have more than proved their love by listening, sharing, sending gifts and kindness across the miles. More than anything, I’ve wanted to post myself somehow to where they are, to show my gratitude in person! Because I want them to know how much they  have helped in my fight.

It’s easy to feel isolated when it’s dark. You can’t see anyone around, can’t hear them… you feel so alone. But even a whisper will be picked up by someone. Friends care enough to listen, to hold space (even across the Interweb), to join you in the wish for peace and healing.

A dear friend provided much needed humour and distraction this week, reminding me of a quote from a favourite TV show: ‘Family don’t end with blood.’ She didn’t realize at the time, but that brought me to tears – because it’s deeply true. Your family are those who are there for you, who step up fearlessly because they love you and will fight alongside you without a second thought. They don’t hide when times get tough; they sneak into the blanket fort alongside you (and bring snacks).

A shared image or phrase. A simple ‘hey, how’s it going?’ The touch of a virtual hand at your shoulder. These things cost so little, yet can mean everything.

So I sit, quiet and alone. But still breathing. Still able to reach out to those who are there. I try my best to use my word-powers for good, after all, so the least I can do is honour those who listen – and help in return, as much as I can.

For me, this midwinter is about cutting through the noise to find the inner truth. Hold that quiet space within, just sit and be. You can do this; even if you need to take yourself physically away for a while, to take a break from the seasonal busyness. Seek out that light burning inside you, and let it warm you for a little while. Remember what’s important – and feel those who love you for it be with you, be it in body or spirit.

Deep in the darkness, the fire burns, and with it the bravery and strength needed to move forward in Yourself.

Try to feel the Truth of this time of year. The lights and the laughter, the sharing and gifts (not always tangible!). We do our best, whatever that may be. We set our space, hold ourselves firm, stretch out with our roots and prepare for the months ahead. We’ve adventures to face together.

Season’s blessings, dear ones.

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Addendum: For those of you who’ve been kind enough to support me on Patreon, I’m sending a little seasonal gift – a small rite just for you, in the spirit of the season but also in the light of my thoughts here.

I can’t thank you enough for supporting me, lovely friends. I’ve definitely got plans for you all next year!

Yuletide blessings x

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Self

The dark nights of winter bring dark thoughts. Not negative, necessarily – more necessary. Those things we’ve been avoiding, not seeing, preferring not to think about.

As has been the case for the second half of this year, I’ve been finding the days extremely difficult to face, while the nights are calming. Quiet descends. Even the wee Yuletide lights are soft, not glaring. We’re decorating the house with green, with a baby tree to be planted outside come Spring. Himself is working on Yuletide and Christmas Day, so I will likely be too. And that’s fine.

I’ve been finding myself pushing back against what’s expected of me. Or rather, what I feel I should be doing. Be with wider families at Christmas? Impossible and impractical. So having our own plans at home. Stiff upper lip and keep going? Nope – rest and recharge, ready to move forward again.

That phrase, ‘finding myself’. It comes back to that, I think.

At various stages in life, I’ve reached the point of ‘I’ve had all I can stand, I can’t stand no more!’ (with thanks to Warner Brothers). I’ve stood in the street and yelled. I’ve chosen the untrod path that has opened up to me. Life has been very… unusual as a result.

But I’ve always wondered who sets these rules. Ever since I was small, I can remember wondering who established those social dictates. Courtesy and manners, sure, but so much of the social dance is made up of falsehoods and lies, smiling when you feel awful, hearing yourself speak nonsense to fill the silence.

Is this really necessary? I was told off for being rude when I was encouraged to honestly answer a question. You want honesty? Brace yourself.

Of course, that’s not always true. But honesty tempered with false flattery is diluted. And, I truly think, disrespectful and unhelpful.

It is up to us to use our words with care, to speak our truths in a manner that others understand the intention rather than brusquely steamrollering over someone else’s boundaries. That’s why I’d rather constructive criticism when it’s needed. Other people see things that we may need to be aware of, which we’re too close to see for ourselves.

Other times, I felt that I was the only one seeing the truth around me, but we were all in some unspoken contract to remain quiet, for the sake of ‘niceness’ or ‘not rocking the boat.’ Or people will outright tell me that I’m wrong. Really? Why? I don’t feel wrong…

As I’ve walked further down this overgrown and unexplored path, I remember moments from my childhood that have affirmed it – that I’m going the right way. Children aren’t stupid. They know what feels good or bad, what makes them happy or… not. They’re trying even harder to understand this crazy world.

One thing I’ve learned from others and have shared before is ‘feeling’ truths. It’s pretty simple.

Say your name. “Hello, my name is —.”

Now say a name that’s wrong. “Hello, my name is Bernard.”

(This usually results in giggles.)

Now say something else that’s true for you. And then a lie. The more ridiculous, the better.

Can you tell the difference? How each feels?

The truths strike a chord within, like a note ringing… well, true. The lies are like a gameshow klaxon for WRONG!

Because we know in our heart, mind and soul when something is true or not.

I’ve been exploring my truths for many years now, uncovering new aspects of myself as I grow, learn and get older. What used to be true once is now not. Some things need to be passed over and left behind. We don’t remain static all our lives.

I’ve been having deep truths thrown up to me, both from my subconscious, my work and from simply having thoughtful friends share ideas. Again, gently, in the spirit of discussion and debate, rather than effectively yelling into my face that I am WRONG!

It doesn’t feel that it’s ‘being wrong’, although part of the way we act stems from fear of that. It’s more that we’re ‘not quite right yet’. Following an untruthful path is something that I think we know – after a while, it feels like pushing through deep snow, through treacle, as our subconscious tries to put us back on track. Admitting that is a small victory, not a weakness.

Lately, I’ve been surprised at some random thought popping up. ‘No, that’s not you any more.’ Or ‘Yes! You want to do that new thing!’ I’ve faced events that I would never have imagined attempting in the past, and enjoyed them thoroughly. Whereas everyday, normal tasks have become difficult, almost impossible.

As I pass through another year, I’m trying to allow myself to explore what feels ‘true’, ‘right’… for me, right now. If it isn’t, why not? Is there an alternative route? Do I really need to do that thing? Or is it just challenging?

For example, running is something that is absolutely challenging, but which fires my body and spirit when it goes well. It’s something I was always told I was bad at – but when it’s just me, out there putting one foot in front of the other, I can feel the laughter bubbling up inside. I don’t have the energy to doubt, frankly! I have to keep going, because at the very least, I have to get myself home.

I’ve discovered that some clothes I’ve worn for years are not longer ‘me’. I don’t like the feel of them, let alone the look. It’s time to pass them on, to explore what works for me now.

I did wonder if this was some sort of social ‘midlife crisis’, actually! But then is that not a stage in life which we fail to mark, like entering adulthood or (for ladies) our crone-time? We’re constantly moving from one stage to another. Let’s free ourselves to see what that means, to stay relevant to ourselves, to do what we want to be doing right now, as best we can.

This isn’t about privilege either, although I know I’m blessed to be able to do this. We can get through what is necessary – but maybe in a different way to what’s become stale. Try to see a problem from all sides, or *gasp* ask friends! Again, not weakness, not if your friends truly know and care for you.

Part of my mind has been mourning the loss of that normal world: ‘job, children, workaday week’ etc that many people have. But that’s not for me. I’m so very lucky that I can work as I do. It means I’ll likely never be rich enough to afford a red sports car for midlife! But I’m more likely to be figuring out how to make something as it’s needed that suits me and mine, rather than buy something that I can’t afford for the sake of social appearance.

Perhaps that’s the ‘stage’ that we are constantly exploring how to push through. Appearance versus who we truly are. But giving ourselves the freedom to ‘play’ with it, to try different hats, should be encouraged, not mocked. I’m so very glad of friends who are excited to explore with me, as I applaud their own adventures.

Spending time in the quiet of the dark months allows for these thoughts. I’m (nervously!) intrigued as to what’s coming next…

Season’s blessings, my friends.

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Light in the Dark

This week has been particularly difficult for me (and many others, I suspect). Despite the lights appearing to signify the Yuletide season, it’s proving more difficult to penetrate the darkness within as the days we battle through grow shorter.

I’ve not been able to do much at all. Helpful medical voices ask ‘What do you normally do to make yourself feel better?’ To which I want to yell ‘DON’T YOU THINK I’VE TRIED ALL THAT?!’

But I haven’t really, have I? Because I can’t. The dark thoughts prevent me – from focusing on a pleasing book, finding a distracting movie, concentrating on complex creativity. Several times this week, I’ve been unable/unwilling to even move from my chair, for fear of what might happen.

Instead, I’ve found myself thinking of ‘safe’ places from my past. Like a child having nightmares, I’ve reached out to memories of refuge, which was often needed in years gone by.

I would spend many lunchtimes at school hiding under the watchful eye of that most dreadful of gatekeepers: The Librarian. A friend to me, none of those who wished to bully me would brave her door, and so I was safe with Anne McCaffrey, the Dragonlance heroes, or any number of other fantastic and wonderful worlds.

Years later, other lunch-hours were spent in warm cafes, soft jazz in the background as I lost myself in different books. Times had changed, but circumstances hadn’t: my bullying boss would never look for me there.

On trains, in tiny secret green spaces, even walking through the streets with audiobooks being read to me, I would find solace and security in tales of wonder and magic.

Years later (again), I found myself drawn to true stories of magic: Phyllis Currott, Starhawk, Margot Adler. Wonderful, strong women who taught through their own experiences of things never thought possible.

The magic began to spill from the books into reality, as I dove deep to explore the power within me. Words, yes, but whether spell or story, I could do this. I could do magic too!

Today, I opened a book that would ordinarily be called a ‘guilty pleasure’, perhaps. Magic, romance, battles, monsters… all those wonderful things that those who love ‘The Princess Bride‘ know make for the best stories.

At last, the words caught me. I was able to turn the pages, experience the thoughts of the protagonists, see the challenges that they faced and overcame.

As I paused, a thought occurred. This week, I had revisited the very depths of that black hole within me, of illness, fear and sorrow. I hadn’t been able to pull myself out, because I could not focus on my familiar lifeline. The tactics of that Black Dog, Depression, had cunningly found a chink in my armour. By drowning my brain with a morass of negativity, self-hatred and exhaustion, I hadn’t been able to access these otherworlds. Books remind me of what is good, what is worth living for. By preventing me from seeing the words, stymying that connection, I had no way to escape my own internal oubliette. Or even notice that such an escape was possible.

It may sound strange to one who has never felt the touch of mental illness, but it really does seem like a cunning monster – hence all of the personification names. I rather like Winston Churchill’s ‘Black Dog’, but lately I’ve also become fond of ‘brain weasels’ (with no disrespect to either of those real-world animals). Either way, the monsters within try innumerable methods of breaking down your defences, until they find a weakness to exploit.

GK Chesterton (and subsequently Neil Gaiman) famously said: “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

We find the weapons we need within the pages of magic. We see ourselves in the heroes and heroines, both old and new. We tell each other stories, as I do here, in my small way.

Because the power of the monsters within comes from convincing us that we have no power. We have no magic, are unable to stop ourselves from being overwhelmed, because we lack the ability to fight back. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, the perpetual spiral down into the depths.

It doesn’t take much to think of stories that specifically focus on this. ‘The Neverending Story‘ is a battle against The Nothing. ‘Labyrinth‘ is a girl fighting to find her own power. Both feature disgusting swamps that drag you down and make you give up. As does the aforementioned ‘Princess Bride’.

Go back further. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ has flowers of forgetfulness and an all-powerful Witch. Odysseus almost gives in to the song of the Sirens. The original Labyrinth of Knossos swallowed up many souls…

… until the protagonist remembered the way to get through. In each case, friends provided lifelines to help the hero dig deep, to remember what they were fighting for. To keep going, to endure, to make it. (Depression isolates us, remember – another of its tactics).

I have talismans that help remind me of my own power. Sometimes they’re inspiring quotes; other times, comforting blankets, or gifts from friends. Whatever works to help me remember my connection to my own magic, to the life that exists in me and the world around.

Other physical, real-world people may seek (intentionally or not) to take that power away. But this is only possible to long as we allow it. That seems hard to believe, but it’s true.

Last night, my husband said to me something both simple and profound. ‘You know, you are allowed to say No to things you don’t want to do.’

This struck my exhausted brain surprisingly hard. I can do that? Really? Because the Black Dog had been using examples from the past to show me that this is precisely what I could not do. I had to keep my Chin Up and Soldier On. Other people, Authority People, said so.

No.

I sought comfort today, not just the urge to hide. Recharge, not just regroup. Remember that there was always power within me. Stories had always been my lifeline to that: my breadcrumb trail, my ball of yarn (as well as real balls of yarn, of course, but those arrived in more recent times!).

I thought back to those tales of true magic, from modern-day witches, bards and magicians. Every one spoke at one time or another of fighting ‘demons’ – almost like a computer game, through which we access the ‘next level.’ Stories reflecting real-world experience, and so inspiring progress. An upward spiral…

By simply surviving, by refusing to give up that last flicker of power, we win. By stepping forward, by raising our own voice, we share that power with others who may need the reminder. We can be the inspiration, the spark of Awen, the flame in the dark. Someone will hear, you can depend on that.

Sometimes, the Black Dog overwhelms and makes us forget this. Part of my battle is fighting to remember, to hold on and to Stand.

I think now of that modern fairytale, of Keanu Reeves reaching out to gently stop the bullets aimed at his heart, plucking them out of the air with that same realization as Dorothy, Sarah and Bastian.

And so on this tiny page amidst the myriad words on this InterWeb, I share this. As a reminder.

Go rekindle your candles, my friends. Inside and out. May they warm you and help you to remember your stories.

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