Archive for mental health

Inspiration from A Bad Day

Last weekend, I had  the pleasure of attending Pagan Pride in Nottingham. I’ve been there every year since the very beginning ten years ago, and it’s always a joy. I’ve seen it blossom and grow, under the careful tending of hard-working volunteers, a community truly coming together in friendship and shared interests.

As is usual, I gave a talk – this time about mental health, and how my Pagan practice helps me to manage it. There were tears, and I felt myself falter several times as I struggled to put words to very amorphous feelings. But I think I helped.

Pagan Pride 2018

(Picture by Victoria Furminger)

The weekend was glorious. Dear friends stayed over, Pride was a full and fun day… but then came the inevitable fallout. I had called in credit on spoons, it seemed, and my inner overdraft had hit its limit.

I’m often asked how my life is, on a normal regular day. I suspect some people imagine me rising with the dawn, greeting the sun and then feeding the dogs and cats like some sort of Druid Snow White, before heading to my desk to crank out a novel or two… 😉 Not quite!

So. For those who’ve asked, and as a PS to last weekend’s talk… here’s what today has looked like.

Today was A Very Bad Day, in terms of health. Mentally, my brain was done. Out of energy. Unable to focus. But still believing that it could, it seemed to be careening all over the inside of my skull like a pinball – or rather, with ideas like multiple pinballs, not letting me catch one for long enough to do much. And then all the balls would fall to earth with the weight of The One Ring. And I would collapse.

Physically, this meant I was almost exhausted. Regular fits of tears (today has been a Three-Hankie Day, so far), feeling like an exposed nerve in terms of anything setting me off, headaches, tension, aching joints, having to force myself to eat. Unable to focus, remember?

I did call my local Community Mental Health Team at one point, by the way. But my regular (lovely) Doctor wasn’t there. A random CPN was less than helpful.

I know going for a walk may do me good. I know I have to work to get better. But in the depths of crisis… not an option. (I do wonder if these individuals, well-meaning though they are, have ever experienced such intense feelings. I suspect I’d know if they had, in the same way that I see the solidarity in the faces of those who come up to hug me after the aforementioned Talks.)

The thought of leaving the house was terrifying, daunting beyond belief. I should have been getting on with jobs – going to the Post Office, joining my husband at an event that he’s enjoying. No. Impossible. Which led to the inevitable guilt, that my illness was taking over my life, I’m useless to everyone, what’s even the point, I might as well stop… spiralling down, ever down…

This is the Darkness which I speak of, which I’ve written of. It begins quietly, like a small tug, but quickly becomes an undertow and then a vortex. The easiest metaphor is to ‘ride the waves’, but often it’s just keeping a head above water.

Tactics were tried. Knitting was a good one, with a special skein of beautiful, tactile yarn that had been saved for just such an occasion. Tea, of course, and cookies. Amusing podcasts or Youtube clips, to provide friendly voices. Ultimately, however, the blanket fort was needed. Bed, with a book.

Books have saved my life so many times. And duvets. Each should come with vouchers to obtain the other.

The sun is now setting.

I am still here. The window is open, and my little guardian who has stayed by me all day is busy hopping outside and then back in, to check all is well. She slept with me today, but always with an eye cracked if I moved. In case of fuss, you understand.

Ink August 2018

I sit, looking around, and just letting things be. Breathing. The trick is to keep breathing. To find the stillness that I know is here, in these late hours of this day. The tiny magics are the most important, right now.

I’m knitting, with yarn from a friendly local shop. A beautiful, simple pattern that will make a portable hug.

I’m breathing the fresh air from my garden, combined with sweet incense gifted by a dear friend. I can hear the blackbirds singing. The last few cars heading home.

Himself is away, busy with his Knights. I should have been with him, but am hearing stories from those who were there, having fun and sharing their pleasure.

Ultimately, I’m being kept afloat by the love and good wishes of others. Through gifts passed on, carefully-made items that make me smile (and often well up, but in a good way this time). Through stories, quick messages of understanding. Chatting to friends miles – and hundreds of miles – away, who get it and who give a virtual hand to hold. Cooking a lovely meal from something  Himself prepared a while ago and froze, for just such an occasion as this.

I have another event tomorrow. Part of me has been terrified at the prospect. But the louder part, which is now winning, is reminding me who it is that keeps me going.

I have friends. I have those who care, and for whom I care in turn. When those ‘brain weasels’ arrive to tell me how useless, awful and unloved I am, I can prove them wrong. As I said last weekend, the tears sometimes have to flow, to let that vileness out. The pressure will ease. I can breathe freely again.

And I write. Just to prove that today has not been a total loss. Things had to be moved around, yes, but that was ok. People understand.

I’ll see some of those friends tomorrow, and in weeks to come. No doubt there’ll be ebbs and flows of health again, but I am well-armed, by all of you. To those who stand with me, I am so very grateful. Know that I’m with you too.

Onward.

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A Idea…

A while ago, I was at the fantastic Enchanted Market Pagan event in Bracknell. About to present a talk, I was, as always, a bit nervous. So I sat down at the Colouring-In Table (for children, and children at heart) and took time to calm myself as best I could.

As those of you who’ve visited the Enchanted Market know, they have an area called Steampunk Alley. Lots of creativity and wonderment, with hugely friendly people – one of whom approached me, smiling widely. This was Duke Box, organiser and MC… and he showed me that Steampunks are indeed prepared for ALL eventualities!

Organized in Lincoln via the regular Steampunk events in that city, the Anxiety Auxiliaries are a group of volunteers who help out at large gatherings, assisting people who are a bit overwhelmed by it all. They have quiet space, tea and a listening ear should one be needed.

I was awed. What an incredible idea! Why haven’t I heard of such a thing before?

Then I realized that I had. A good friend had told me about a similar system organized by fans at conventions for the TV show ‘Supernatural’. A system of badges identifies helpers and those who are particularly vulnerable or delicate (for whatever reason). But either way, people are there to assist those in need, with care and without judgement.

This idea snagged in my head. I’m often at Pagan events, usually talking to people about mental health and ‘spoon‘ (energy) issues in general. If ever a group needed such support, it’s us Pagans…

I composed the beginnings of A Plan, and began to run it by some friends. Folk from the Pagan Federation liked it. Their Online Conference organisers liked it. The magical Lord of Spoons himself, artist Tom Brown, is pondering a recognisable logo.

And so, the Cauldron of Calm is being born!

I’m looking for a few individuals who attend Pagan gatherings, willing to volunteer to wear our lanyard and be available to hold quiet space or just provide a listening ear (and maybe medicinal tea) to those in need. This can be due to being overwhelmed by the  crowds, overheated, nervous before a talk (!) or whatever – just someone to Be There. Because this is a community. I often assure people that they’re not alone – now I want to prove it.

I’m putting this plan into the world now at this early stage because I’ll be at the Pagan Pride events in Nottingham and Milton Keynes this month, as well as the Artemis Gathering. Please do find me and give me your thoughts and feedback on this! Ideas are very welcome as I bring it all together. All being well, the official launch will be later this year, probably to coincide with one of the PF Online seasonal festivals, so as to reach as many people as possible.

What do you think? Do you attend many events? Do you avoid them, due to the excess People? Would this sort of thing help?

Let’s make this Cauldron a place for inspiration – and for Calm.

PS – Do feel free to share this and get in touch here too!

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Freedom

I remember when I was first introduced to the concept of ‘Paganism.’ It was in my early twenties via my (now ex-) husband, who showed me some of his Crowley books, told me about the Farrers and how this really was a Thing that People Did. Off I went to Borders, because this is how I operate – point me at a topic and I’ll be off to find books about it! And so things began to move.

I remember reading ‘The Witches’ Bible’ and being a little confused. There were notes here that rang true, but the form seemed wrong to me, somehow. A bit too Dennis Wheatley (given my limited frame of reference at the time).

American witchcraft books were just starting to hit the shelves back then. Of course, I found Starhawk and Margot Adler, then Silver Ravenwolf and that sort of thing. Which convinced me that while it had its good side, Wicca (especially early American Style Wicca, full of lists of Stuff and correspondences) was not for me. Likewise Ceremonial Magick.

Amusingly, some years later, I got to meet and become friends with some first and second generation Gardnerians. Their perspective was much more in tune with mine than the more ‘modern’ Famous Witches. But the difference between the reality and the books made us all smile.

Then came the different ‘flavours’ of Paganism. Pretty quickly, Druidry rose to the top of the pile of Interesting Texts, and upon joining some online forums, I soon found like-minded people, a local Grove and my practice began to pick up speed.

I mention this because recently, I’ve been speaking to friends encountering new situations in their personal practice, and we’ve joked about ‘Levelling Up’. Separate friends, on separate occasions, on very distant continents. But the same feeling.

I find myself thinking about this tonight, as I consider the ebb and flow of my own development – both private and public – and how it continues to evolve. The times are indeed changing, inside and out.

As far as I can see, no truly-felt spiritual path is ever ‘finished.’ We don’t reach some distant finish line and get a medal. Your first Initiatory experience (again, whether private or public/shared) is a huge deal, but it won’t be the only time it happens. We are constantly exploring, moving forward, occasionally nipping back to go over something again, then proceeding in a slightly different way… but we’re never ‘done.’

Every year, I’ve felt different ‘pausing’ points, where I have to stop and take stock before continuing what I’m doing. Usually this is enforced – something will happen to make me stop and think, review and consider. What am I doing?

Lately, the question has changed slightly. What can I do?

Because many years have passed since that first step onto this path. I’ve grown older, more experienced, but my health has also gone down interesting and unexpected routes. In many ways, life is better; in others, it’s more difficult.

But that’s life, isn’t it? Constantly changing. So I sit here again, pausing to think.

When I’m in the low places, without much energy to think or do, the ‘brain weasels’ of depression tell me that I’ve done as much as I can do. I’m published! That was a goal I’ve reached. What more can I do? There’s so many Pagan books out there, how can I possibly say anything new? Those voices are encouraging me not to pause, but to stop altogether.

Yes, that means what you think it means. When I say dark places, I mean it.

So the challenge has been to grab my brain by its bootstraps (which is an actual visual I’ve had, almost like a cartoon – anything to raise a smile, which is a prime weapon against those weasels!) and do anything. Write, knit, engage with a book or movie, run, clean, make some nice food… whatever it takes. Moment to moment, day to day. Keep living.

Then I notice that despite feeling like survival, these days actually link together. The writing becomes a story. The knitting becomes a blanket. I am actually still doing. Even when lying in bed, unable to do much besides think, those thoughts can be turned to good ideas.

My practice is having to evolve to accommodate my bad days – not giving in to them, but working around them. While I am older and less energetic than I used to be, life is by no means done. Of course I’m not still 20, I can’t do what I could then. But I’m in a very different place, and have new skills and options to try instead.

I spoke of pausing for thought. At various times, those ‘STOP’ signs have felt almost like a trap – I can’t escape my situation, no matter how I try. A bad job, a failing marriage, lack of money… familiar problems to most people. How can anyone do Magic(k) with all the Real World issues weighing them down?

These are the times when we need to reach for that energy, the spirit within us. It’s relatively simple to access on the good days, when the sun is shining and the birds are singing; but can you grab it and use it during the difficult times too? That’s always been a factor in my work, because it’s been important and necessary to me.

I’m having to consider what I can do, not what I’m prevented from doing. Because this trap is a lie, created by the mental illness to keep me from doing anything. ‘You can’t, you can’t’ is a common undercurrent in my thoughts. ‘Why not?’ is the retort.

OK – some days, I can’t, for valid reasons. But other days, I find ways to work things so that I can.

I’m looking at new methods for giving talks online as well as in person, to overcome the challenge of travel. I’m playing with fiction writing, to free me for a while from the More Important books (I don’t know how that perspective came about, but that’s what my brain tells me my work is! Fiction is important too). I’m going out, overcoming my fears to do things that I’ve never done before, and finding them glorious.

I am freer than I give myself credit for. I have a home, loved ones, friends, food. I may feel constrained by constant NHS waiting lists for medical help, but I’ve always found my own way in the meantime, because I’ve had to. I have a supportive publisher. I’m able to help and inspire others, as they inspire me.

I’m still connected to my practice enough to see the guideposts to the next stage of exploration. It’s exciting. Yes, scary too, but I have to trust that if I fall, I can pick myself up, learn and carry on.

Because sometimes, we are as free as we allow ourselves to be. Even when confined by circumstances, we have our Selves – it just can be tough to dig deep and find who we truly are (and who we are not).

I’m remembering the enthusiasm of those early days of magical study, of trying my first ritual (that’s a story in itself), of discovering what worked beyond the books for me specifically. And each time, the affirmation from the Powers that Be – yes, you’re doing it. See how the path opens up once you let go of the hang-ups that hold you back? Come on, we know you can.

Once we get out of our own way, we can accomplish so much. That’s a constant note to remember.

We pause. We nourish ourselves as appropriate. And we move forward.

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Truths and Apologies

Memes are such a constant background noise these days, aren’t they? Cute little sayings, often with a pretty picture, to provoke or inspire. I once sat in an office with walls covered with ‘motivational posters’.

Sometimes that can be helpful. A quick, easily-digestible sentence or two, summing up a feeling or emotion. Validating something far more complex.

But as I love playing with words, sometimes I dig deeper… and find a less comfortable place.

For example: How are you? I’m fine.

This is a lie. Powerful images demonstrate this here (warning – challenging pictures). Many people don’t want to see. ‘Fine’ is enough.

I’ve not been fine for a while now; or rather, I’ve had good days and bad days. This is normal.

But I’ve not posted for far longer than I’d like, because… well… I’ve been battling. I’m sure many of you know those insidious thoughts. ‘You’re useless. Nobody cares. Nothing you say is worth hearing.’ And that most evil of all: ‘Just stop.’

I’m not alone in this, not by a long shot. I’ve heard tell of several other contemporary writers who have such difficulties – from Scott Lynch to JK Rowling. Much has been written about the creative fire being linked to mental illness (eg this interesting essay).

But worst of all for me is that inner voice telling me how much I let people down. Because of those precursors to memes, the oversimplistic misunderstandings that we’ve been told all our lives. ‘You don’t think that.’ ‘Don’t be stupid.’ ‘You’re always making excuses.’

From frustrated family members to overbearing bosses, we’ve all heard it. Someone doesn’t want to look deeper, or listen to what’s really going on, so they lash out. Hey – we’ve all done it too, I’m sure.

This is part of the journey, however. As we stop – whether voluntarily or forced to by circumstance – so we realize how awful this is. How unhelpful, degrading and, frankly, wrong.

Nobody is worthless. Nobody is useless. Why can’t I do that? Why shouldn’t I? If there’s a reason, then so there is, but more often than not, the person throwing the demands around is projecting, trying to control, to fit you into their world.

And if you challenge those statements? Have you ever tried? I have, a couple of times. The expression on the person’s face (a teacher and a boss, as I recall) was priceless. It’s as if a disobedient pet suddenly spoke back.

We are often taught to keep quiet, for the sake of peace. As we grow older in this crazy world, though, we discover that while quiet can be nice, safe and cosy, it doesn’t necessarily do much to change things that are wrong. We need to speak up, to challenge, to look deeper.

I’ve had to take time in recent months. I’ve had no choice. Panic attacks, severe anxiety, what is now being called ‘major depressive episodes’. Some days, I haven’t trusted myself to put thoughts together enough to write anything.

Today, a dear friend sent me a meme that summed things up nicely, and inspired this post:

Some Days...

And this is true. Some days, more than others.

Then yesterday, another friend reminded me of my favourite phrase for my Druidry: ‘What are you doing?’

Am I trying? Really? OK. Reboot from Start. Let’s challenge those unhelpful voices within.

I’ve been told that before, by doctors, professional therapists and other ‘experts’. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

So how best do I challenge them? The awful things that I tell myself – would I ever say such things to another person? Of course not. But they’ve been said often enough to me, surely I must deserve them. And so I’m dragged along with the flow of negative emotion.

A few nights ago, struck with insomnia, I found myself reading about deities who challenge. And I thought ‘Hey – I’m Pagan. Let’s ask one of those experts.’

So I quietly called upon that deity to help. To see if they’d listen.

And they did.

I sat for a while, pouring it all out, while that person sat quietly, just listening. Giving me their full attention. Understanding, sympathising. Not judging. Seeing deeper than the trite insults and demands, to the effect they had.

And when I was done, they were there with a hug. And so I let myself be held.

I do believe that as Pagans, we are blessed to have such methods to help us. Ancestors, helpful spirits, deities to call on. We are never truly alone, even when it feels like it. The tricky part is remembering that. And as with friends who are there for you, not being afraid to call them up and ask for a chat.

The key here is to speak your truth. Excuses won’t cut it (and are insulting, to them and you). This is the time for soul-truths, deep and painful. To be excised like infection from a wound. A scab can’t heal if it’s just covering a blockage of pus. Yes – that’s unpleasant. So is this process.

So here I am again, asking for your patience as I work things through. The medics are being helpful at least (another huge blessing!), and those of you who’ve offered help are valued more highly than any coin I can think of.

I am trying. I’m always sorry for letting folk down; I take pride in stepping up to keep my promises, and hate it when I can’t. Please know that if I can’t, I really can’t. It’s not an excuse. Those are the worst times.

But the flows rise and fall, and I work with them, as best I can. I battle through the storms and am so glad of the good days, of things I accomplish – even these wee words today. What I once took for granted, I now see as a huge gift. Perhaps that’s the latest lesson to take from this winter season.

Much love, dear ones. I am doing my best, with truth and sincerity. We move into Spring with tiny seeds planted. Gods willing, they will blossom and bring us joy in mind, body and spirit moving foward.

Onward.

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