Posts Tagged depression

Overcoming Fear

A week ago, I had a call that should have made me happy and excited. I’d won a makeover and photoshoot with a local company, so Himself and me would be off to their studios to be looked after and made to feel like stars.

I was terrified. I was so close to saying ‘No, thankyou’ and hanging up the phone. Because the prospect of such a thing was almost too much for me.

I’ve always hated pictures of myself. I know this isn’t unusual, as we never quite look like we imagine from inside (I always think the ‘residual image’ of Neo in the ‘Matrix’ films would never be quite as effortlessly cool as they present it to be!). But years of mockery at school combined with the usual personal anxieties as an adult have not made me tremendously comfortable in my own skin.

But something in me seemed to rise up and silence those naysaying voices. ‘Nope. You’re doing this.’

For the last few days, it’s been an undercurrent of worry, rising to just under panic levels the night before. What do I take to wear? What will they ask me to do? How can I hide?

Ridiculous, perhaps. But so runs the track of irrational negativity.

Even on the morning we were due to set off, I sat for a while in a heap, not knowing what to do. Finally we both shoved some things in a bag and set off. Keep moving. We’re on the way now. I took knitting for the journey (yes, as passenger!), to calm myself as best I could. I know that my lovely husband was nervous too, but he seemed so calm, so ‘together’ and at ease. I was envious.

I’m so glad to say that I needn’t have worried. From the makeup lady to our host, to the merry and talented photographer, we were both put at our ease from the first. I was convinced to undertake what they called a ‘boudoir’ shoot, and throughout, the voice behind the camera kept telling me ‘beautiful, lovely, yes!’ The negative niggles kept telling me ‘she’s lying…’ but I gritted my teeth and kept smiling. Or looking moody. Or just gazing into the middle distance at a random stepladder out of shot.

Much fun was had when Himself was convinced to fetch his armour out of the car, by the way. In case you didn’t know, he does full-contact medieval combat (HMB) – so the sound of a cutlery drawer falling downstairs was in fact a real Knight stomping down the corridor. Everyone was impressed. Not your normal day in a photography studio, I imagine.

We were taken into a room and shown the results. Jaws dropped (ours). Smiles began… and grew. Laughter. Hugs. Stories shared with the photographer. She’d never guessed that I was so scared, nor that I fought depression, anxiety and panic every day.

I look now at the pictures we made, and the smile rises again. Ultimately, all I did was show up – the skill was all in those who crafted the images (and did the makeup). But stepping through the door was almost too much. Leaving my house was almost too much.

I’ve undertaken rituals to face my own darkness. I’ve been forced to look at myself, inside and out. This day may have been primarily fun, playing with props and clothes, guided by skilled hands. But it was no less a rite of passage, facing the unknown, overcoming my terror (I’m really not exaggerating there) and stepping forward.

I’m keeping copies of my favourite pictures handy, to remind myself when I’m feeling fearful. I left that studio feeling so brave, as if I could do anything. I want to hold on to that, to remind myself of what I can do when those negative voices rise. Because the deeper voice is remembering how to speak, to say ever more loudly ‘You can do it, you know.’ And here’s the proof.

Images and makeup by Chique Photography. Shawl is ‘Morticia’ by Boo Knits, yarn by Posh.

(I’ll be including a little more story and some additional images for my Patreon friends – please do hop over there and support me if you can!)

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Living Magic

I promised that I’d write about my Samhain ritual this year. It began with my last blog post here, actually, where I was pondering exactly what I’d do. Some planning began, but largely I let things happen as they would. Which led to interesting results.

Several days after writing that, I was very ill indeed. My depression attacked with full force. Medical professionals were called (and were helpful, insomuch as they could be), I battled hard to get through. And I did, for here I am.

Right in the middle of all that was the weekend before Samhain. Most people seemed to be celebrating it then, for some reason, and several journalists called to ask for chats. Honestly, this was the last thing that I wanted. But game face went on, and it was on the telephone at least. Chatting to many people from the comfort of my sofa. I could do that.

The usual questions came. ‘How did you become a Druid?’ ‘What does Halloween mean for you?’ ‘How will you be celebrating?’

The Sunday morning DJ was lovely. I was there on the phone, with a pagan friend present in the studio, and the host clearly wanted our discussion to go on for longer. The fascination in her voice was clear – she genuinely did want to know more.

I felt myself smile. I opened up, shared anecdotes of Samhains past, tried to convey some of the sense of magic that I’ve always felt at this time of year.

(I just typed ‘magic’ as ‘majic’. I kind of prefer that :D)

I spoke of how we feel the presence of our ancestors at this time of year, but not at all in a scary way. These are our family, from those we knew who’ve passed recently to relative strangers only met in ritual. But those who are there care for us enough to come along, to see how we’re doing and share some time.

I felt my spirits begin to lift.

The day came. My husband was at work on night-shifts on Samhain Eve and Samhain itself, so he spent the day asleep before heading out. I was mostly on my own, or with the dogs and cats.

I woke up feeling terrible. The black dog was gnawing at my mind, questioning everything that I had thought to do. Could I even do this at all? Who was I to share thoughts on this when I couldn’t even sort myself out? The movie ‘Practical Magic’ was on – I felt like one of the leading witches, hiding under her blankets, worn out.

I thought of my ancestors. I didn’t want to let them down – a constant challenge in the back of my mind when I’m unwell. I want to honour them in my life, my work, to do my best.

And the sense of many grandmothers were at my shoulder. Not so much saying ‘You can do this’ as gently, encouraging a child. ‘Come on, you can do it. Let’s take the dogs out. Get yourself dressed, nice and warm. Remember hat and gloves!’

I wrapped up safely and walked out into the day. The darkness receded, as my ancestors walked with me. My eyes opened and my spirit too, as I truly felt the connection to the simple, everyday places that are my hilltop home.

I was reminded of the myth of the Cailleach in the light touch of frost on my cheek. It would get a lot colder, but for now I had a beautiful blue sky, sunlight occasionally peeping from behind white clouds, and crisp grass under my feet. Golden leaves surrounded us as the pups played. I looked out and saw the mist over the houses below. Always strange to be ‘above’ that, being so high up, especially when so much of my life was spent a mile or two from the south coast.

I felt my heart lift, and the depression stayed away. I kept seeing and hearing the same phrases around me – to see clearly, to see through the dark. I kept my eyes open, and my thoughts.

And sometimes, when what could be considered an ‘omen’ or synchronicity just whaps you in the face, you can’t ignore it. I realized that I had to see clearly that day – I had an opticians appointment at lunchtime!

The high street was full of seasonal decorations. I sat in the waiting area next to a beautiful little witch with a bag shaped like a cat. I listened to those around me talk and laugh about the things they’d seen (Spiderman had come into the shop ahead of me, to get his glasses fixed after he sat on them). Everyone was in a tangibly festival mood.

Not only was the eye test fine, but my eyes had actually improved. I could see more clearly. I need to change my reading glasses, but I could see more without them. I tried not to laugh.

All day, the mix of the mundane and the magical swirled around me. I never felt alone or overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure how to prepare for the evening, though – what ritual to do. Hmm. Continue to let it come naturally?

Himself and I had a brief hour together before he left, and we saw the children on the street enjoying their monstering. Many houses were having parties, as it’s a school holiday week, and the parents were getting involved as well. The air was filled with subtle lights and woodsmoke.

I had spent much of the day baking – something I’d been unable to do before, due to mood and lack of energy. Now the house smelt of pumpkin cookies and cake.

I sat with my tea after the last small zombie had left. What to do, what to do…

And I walked the house. I started looking out over the garden, at first seeing nothing but the darkness… and then the reflected lights causing shapes to dance in the windows. The kitchen was still warm. The candles I had lit in the living room flickered, reflecting in the mirror.

The spirits of the house were there. The ancestors were there. Not just that evening, but always, should we choose to recognise or call upon them.

The lesson of the day truly was to ‘see’ – clearly and deeply. To cut through the dark, to look over the mists, to see shapes in the negative spaces. This wasn’t about casting a circle or formal words. This was about everyday practice, real and lived. Talismans, incense and special clothing may help, but I carry the magic within me, in every breath. In the words and feelings that I share. In my open heart.

I do my best. I live my practice, and my truth. Sometimes the darkness rises to overwhelm me, but I know it. I know that it can be beaten back or overcome.

I hold on to my faith – in my Self, in my ancestors, in my Gods (who were absolutely looking on and laughing as I came to each realization through the day). I share my stories, and smile as I hear the tales of others. We all move forward into the winter together, and we keep each other’s light burning to help guide us all.

What are we doing? Whatever we can.

***

A small addendum. As we enter the ‘quiet’ months, I’m working more from home, but am still definitely here. I have a Patreon, which very much keeps me going when I’m not out and about ‘doing’ a lot – there will be more stories on there every week (as well as other unique creations!), as a thankyou to those who support me. Please do join in if you’re able, as every little really does help ($1 = 60p approximately!).

Samhain blessings, my friends xx

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A Single Light

Sometimes, everything seems difficult. Life is overwhelming. Physical or mental pain may seem to take over our world, events just keep crashing down on us, there seems no way out…

What we need at those times is a single light. Be it an actual flame – the pause as we light a candle and take a breath – or something external that ‘sparks’ us back to ourselves from admist the chaos… we need the reminder that we must hold on. We battle through, for the sake of ourselves and those who love us.

As Pagan folk, there should be any number of Inspiring Things which help during crazy times. But that’s easier said than experienced. When you can’t see the path for the sheer noise around you, you might simply not be able to see what you need to, what’s right there waiting to help.

We need that candle-moment, that pause, that breath. It’s a skill, certainly: cutting through with a mental laser, to reach who we are at source. The I, Me, Self, who may well be sitting, trembling, curled in a ball and unable to move. Or who’s banging on a thick glass wall, trying desperately to be heard.

It’s impossible to act truly if you aren’t truly in your Self. If the true, inner Core of you has been squashed down, nullified and silenced by sheer busy-ness. Once that Self has been rescued, the breaths will come more easily. You throw your Self a lifeline, remembering who You are and what’s important. What do you need to do, right now? The rest can wait.

One thing at a time. What can you do? Even one breath, then another. One Thing. One spark, to light the flame.

Once you’ve accomplished that, the rest begins to flow more easily. The flame within you remembers that it’s needed to keep you alive and warm.

I always have an actual candle lit by me when I work. It keeps me reminded. Sometimes the hardest thing is to get to the point of lighting it… but once it’s there, I believe that I can do what is needed.

Know that this light is burning for you as well, my friends.

Candle

(Originally published on my Patreon, 7 September 2018. To see an exclusive post such as this every week, please do consider supporting me – it really does help keep me going.)

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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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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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Moving

I don’t know how to start this.

It’s been an age. I feel like I’ve been in a holding pattern for the last year. Lots to overcome or work through in life and health, but now feeling the determination again to move, to do, to speak up…

One of the worst aspects of being pretty much unable to cope with anything much of the time due to my mental and physical issues was the lack of ability to write. Obviously I could if I wanted… but I just didn’t want to. I couldn’t bring myself to even open the laptop. And if I did, the words didn’t flow. I felt like I’d be just banging a drum randomly, making noise but with no sense or feeling behind it.

Writing has always been my outlet, my creativity. To not have that was like having one of my senses go dark. Alone, unable to be heard, unable to connect… I’d lost something of myself.

Then at the end of last Summer, a wise friend told me that Spirit was telling me to write again. That I had to. She’d been told to tell me. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but hey – who am I to question?

So, like a cripple learning to walk again using battered and weak limbs, I began. Just notes here and there, but as I became absorbed in research for upcoming books, I felt the flame flicker and begin to burn brighter. It had never gone out completely, but had been smothered, almost, by a miasma of depression or (unhelpful) medication.

The fact that I’m pushing, doing, feeling the Awen again, is itself a huge inspiration. I’m forcing myself to reach for it, and it’s there, waiting. I’m still myself, at the bottom of the pit, a flare of bright amidst the darkness.

Yesterday, I started pushing in earnest. Emails were sent to restart projects, research continues… and I dared to share links to my books again. Resulting in ‘Facing the Darkness’ going back to #1 in its category on Amazon.

This is a relatively small thing, but to me, it’s huge. I’m in such august company on that list, and people are reading my words and hearing me… I’m able to reach out again. What I have to say is worth something. When in the worst low places, that’s impossible to believe, that you’re worth anything at all.

Today, I took a single picture while out walking the dogs. I’ve used that to restart my Inspiration blog, Drops of Awen. Just one post a day, no word limit, to share a little of what inspires me. Also, to kick me into actively seeking out decent inspiration that’s worth sharing!

It’s foggy outside today. We’re still mid-winter. But I’m seeing many articles about Brigit in the run-up to Imbolc. May that wise lady of inspiration guide me, as I move forward into the year ahead.

Much love, my friends. Thank you so much for your patience and help through this darkest of times.

Onward.

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Secret Strength

I’ve been finding mornings exceptionally difficult lately. I’m not sure why, but since the turning into Winter Proper (ie when the clocks changed), I’ve been finding it harder to get myself together and get on first thing. I’ve been feeling far more myself come evening, with the sunset bringing calm, the darkening skies like a beautiful, cool blanket.

However, most of the world seems to function during the daytime, so this hasn’t been helpful. It’s been interesting to see what I’m pulled to do at different times, with more creativity and inspiration in the darker hours, but increasing challenges during the day.

Today, I’ve been feeling the difficult thoughts trying to rise as I go about my morning routine. I’m meeting a lovely couple about a Handfasting later, so have to sort myself, walk the dogs, and so on. But my mind is incessantly telling me how I simply can’t.

This is my depression in action, by the way. I’m not making it up or being difficult – the Voice of Depression really doesn’t have your own best interests at heart (despite the foundation of ‘fight or flight’ that it apparently comes from). Its’ demands are often deeply irrational and usually unhelpful. I know this isn’t the case for everyone, but this is where I am – not just the regular ‘Monday blues’.

And there – see? I’m justifying myself. It was tough enough to even pull out the computer and write (because who wants to hear about this, shut up, stop, you’re just boring everyone with your whingeing). There it is again, in the background. I suspect this is familiar to some of you. It’s ok, I get it. In a way, I hope you don’t understand, as I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

This morning, I’ve been reading about lovely friends and their adventures, seeing their happy pictures on Instagram, bouncing footage from concerts on Facebook, tiny Tweets of ‘good morning!’ I can feel that connection across the media that is so prevalent in our world.

Last night, the words of these friends made me so happy, I sent out my own image, a Selfie taken at Stonehenge. I don’t do selfies generally, but this one made me smile, and I wanted to share me looking out of the screen at all of you lovely folk around the world.

The voice was still going, mind you. ‘Don’t do that, nobody wants to see it. Urgh, look at you, you’re so tired and worn-looking.’ etc etc etc.

But people did enjoy seeing my smile, as much as I enjoy seeing theirs. I’m hopeful that you enjoy reading my words this morning – hello! Image a virtual wave as I raise my coffee cup to you.

Blogging on a Monday was initially a kick in my rear to get writing again, with a deadline of sorts, a commitment to do something to share each week. But it was also with the wish of wanting to send out words to help those who also have difficulties with these early hours, or even the regular working days.

I may sound like I’m whingeing, above; but I’m more trying to show what those voices within can sound like. I don’t really mean it, and wouldn’t say it aloud. They don’t need that kind of power.

I’m nervous about presenting this publicly, so I’m typing super-fast in order to get it out before the doubts stop me. Backspacing only for typos. So I hope this is ok.

Oops – there’s that justification again.

I know that banishing negative thinking is a modern industry, but it’s not in any way as easy as the self-help books would have you believe. It’s finding what trick works for you, and that may change from day to day. What buoys your mood, what gives you strength? Maybe me sharing my nonsense voices; maybe looking out of the window on your commute; maybe greeting workmates or neighbours with a smile and a friendly word.

And sometimes, the tactic is more subtle.

I’m slowly giving myself permission to dress in a manner that I want, as I did as a fearless youngster. Ignore the voices that tell me my arse is horrible, my hair all over the place, that I’m too old, too fat. I’ve been looking at my smile, my woman-curves, remembering the value of a hug or a hand taken with love. I hold on to the look on my husband’s face when he sees me and is happier.

I’m trying to wear or use an item each day to keep reminded of my strength. It’s difficult to even type this – but yes, my beauty too. We all have it, absolutely. It’s just hard to remember.

I’m sending shawls to folks today, for them to be comforted and pretty. Sometimes lip-balm or colour is a tonic, to remind me to be aware of what I say, and to keep smiling. I have particular rings that I can grip, boots to stand tall… weapons and armour that I choose to wear and work with to maintain my Self. Especially when the bad thoughts come knocking.

What item do you have today to keep you going? A necklace, a wedding ring, a favourite hat or coat? This is part of you. It makes you feel better, raises a smile when you catch sight of it. It may inspire others too, as they are actually pleased to see you. This is your magic in action. Really really.

We need our strength these days, folks. And know that when folk speak kindly to you, they do mean it. Tell those inner voices to sod off, or just laugh in their (not really there) faces. See, I can do it too!

This is me. I bid you a Happy Monday, and know that I will be stepping out of my door soon with determination. And excited puppy dogs, fearless and glad to see what the world holds today.

Much love, my friends.

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In Sickness and…

A long overdue update. Spring is upon us (as the rain beats down on my window here!), and I feel like leaving this Winter is almost akin to clambering from a very deep, dark hole…

For the past two months, I’ve been pretty much confined to home. I’ve been very ill, both mentally and physically, and while I have a fabulous doctor looking after me, it’s been ridiculously hard. Not least because I’m a bad patient. If I’m not able to do something with my days, I get frustrated, which leads down the path to… well, bad thoughts. Spiralling down is an apt metaphor, but not fun to live.

So anyway. Today is the first day I’ve been back in my little office for quite a while, and I’m doing my best to do that something. Catching up with emails and marking; the phone is already going with meetings to sort out treatments and work. But my head is still fuzzy, so I’m having to remind myself to take things gently.

One thing which has struck me over and over throughout this is how much we drive ourselves in the world today. This is an old song and I won’t sing it again now, but I’m sure you understand.We don’t have time to be ill, what about deadlines, people to see, things to do… argh!

A huge aspect of my healing has been the voices of friends, reassuring me that it was actually OK to be out of action.They were still there, I could do this, everyone had faith and things would soon be well again. Thank the gods for social media again – all I had to do some days was to reach out a hand and have it grasped firmly across the virtual ether.

It’s hard to defend against such a barrage of loving optimism – and I quickly learned not to try! Seeing the torrent of kindness reaching from around the world touched me deeply, and tears flowed more than once.

I’ve written in the past of community, and this is the best aspect of that, I think. Sure, there’ve been some who sent brickbats – I’m lazy, making excuses, can’t be bothered, etc etc – but those who really saw the battle I’ve been fighting have really stepped up in arms alongside. (I love that image.)

This is the community that I’m proud to be a part of. I’ve met almost all of them through my work as a Public Druid (TM, heheh), and when I remember back years ago to that similarly awful time of unemployment, the prospect of even advertising as a ‘Druid Priest’, how ridiculous that sounded… But I did it. I moved off the map, the 9-5, pension and sick pay, lunch hours and annual leave. Beyond the border of ‘normal’ life, here there be dragons! And it has brought me so much joy. Difficulties, sure, but life is a very different place now because I stuck to those choices, followed the signs and trusted. I wouldn’t be part of this community otherwise.

Being Pagan, of course, teaches you to look for the reasoning behind things, the lessons that we can learn through the downs as as well as the ups. And so my sick time has taught me a few things. A big one is that mental illness hurts easily as much as physical. But sometimes stepping into those waves of madness (especially when you seem to have no choice), standing up and raising hands to others, having faith and just riding things can take you to marvellous, unexpected and wonderful places.

I have to trust that this time has held its own lessons – I’m too close to tell just yet. At its worst, I feared letting others down by my inactivity; but those others stepped up gladly to help me. Love and trust, those tenets of humanity as well as Paganism, genuine compassion, empathy and understanding. Friendship and community, worth more than any gem.

I’m still here.

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What Am I Doing…

As many of you know, it’s been a hard few months. As we head towards Yule (tomorrow), I feel the long darkness in my bones, and the need for rest. However, this has been manifesting in rather scary ways.

(This is not intended to be a self-indulgent, whiny whinge of a post. Bear with me. Writing helps the thoughts work through.)

So many things have happened in the past 3/6/12 months (I lose track) that the need for rest is becoming a real need. I know that I’m not alone in this, but my inner balance feels like it’s tipping to the point where stopping to reassess is not just a nice indulgence when I get time – it’s absolutely necessary. Here’s what I mean.

Things are affecting me too deeply. Yes, I’m what some would call sensitive (others just a worrier), but some of the flotsam thrown at me lately has hit rather harder than it should. I feel very knocked back, which makes it hard to move forward.

It’s becoming more common that some days, I just don’t care. About anything. Every act is a slog, a battle, with no motivation. OK, that’s depression – but now it’s more often become not caring about myself, at all. That old question ‘What’s the point?’ – with its’ friends Hopelessness and Loneliness lurking in the background – stifle anything that I try to do, including basic necessities such as eating and looking after myself. This is scary.

This means that the stuff that fuels me, that bring me joy and inspiration, is missing. I’ve not been able to write much at all. Recent events have been great, but they’ve knocked me out for days with sheer exhaustion. I feel as if I’m letting people down by my inactivity, my lack of energy. The self-berating voices grow louder, making things worse.

And I know I’m not alone. The world is a hard place right now.

Why is all this happening? What can I do about it? Generally, it’s hard to know. But I’m getting ideas from various places.

The writings of friends, truthful and sincere, about their own ups and downs. Joanne and Nimue especially in recent weeks; just a few words in a brief post can strike such powerful chords. Or the silliness and beauty of Veronica Varlow. Provoking a sincere smile is a real blessing.

My students. The brightness of their work, the freshness of their ideas, the sheer inspiration… one fine example being the stalwart and brilliant Naomi. I cannot thank them enough for what they bring to my life (so I’m embarrassing them here instead). 😉

Randomness. Small things that catch my eye and make me pause, as reminders of what’s important. Re-Connection.

Here’s what inspired these thoughts and this post today, bringing together a LOT of randomness from this week:

The solstice is always a time of change, reset, release of the past, and a movement into a new cycle. This solstice is about anchoring in pragmatism your dreams and intentions.

Your desires should be given top priority. Remember you cannot fix or create intentions for anyone else. Don’t be afraid to dream big. If you are still feeling the weight of what you have carried, changed, released, processed, started or created in these past months, release it somehow in a fire or other ceremonial way. Then take your vision and ground it in pragmatism and practicality.

A quick thought from a mailing list. But I read it, over and over, as other words have snagged in my head recently. This could be dismissed as selfish New Age witterings… or it could be explored. I could let it inspire.

My own ‘magic’ has always been grounded. While ‘escapist’ playing can be fun, when something is heartfelt and sincere, worked with honour and intention for practical effect… well, the difference is quite clear.

The next few weeks are relatively quiet in the calendar. Ideas have been quietly forming. I’m going to take time, to reestablish my own connection to my work, my practice – what used to energise me, make me smile and bounce and run to find a pen. I’m not entirely sure what will come out of this, but it clearly needs doing.

I’m going to start a journal again, longhand, in a notebook. It’ll probably hurt, physically – my hands aren’t what they used to be, and I’m long out of practice! But time has to be set aside for this, space made. The ideas are then invited as the marks are made on the page. And not so easily deleted.

Fires will be made, to warm the household and bring us together. Good food will be made to nourish us. The darkness won’t be a place to get lost in, but somewhere to seek out inspiration. Intellectually I know this – in practice, however, it can prove a tricky quest.

My old question: What am I doing? Actions are to be taken with intention, purpose. I’m holding on to my own magic, recharging it, reforging into something new. That old adage of ‘physician, heal thyself’ rings true – when the time comes again to minister to others, I’d better be ready.

What dreams do I have for the new year? Let’s find out. I’ve no idea where 2014 is going to find me – but I’d rather face it truly alive.

Icy Woods

From

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Shades of Emotion

This is a Pantone chart:Pantone_Chart-2

It’s a basic version – a true Pantone book has many pages for each individual colour – but this single image shows some of the variations of colour that designers can use when choosing a particular shade of, say, yellow or green. No colour is simple; each subtle grade, each depth of saturation, makes it different… and so hints at a different response in the viewer. From cool blue to hot red, for example.

We rarely think of such things in our day-to-day lives (unless we’re professionally employed to do so – no disrespect to the hard-working artistic folks!). But we do all see those shadings around us constantly. From this:

LeavesTo this:

Sunset

From the yarn in my knitting to the shades of fur on my dogs, we are surrounded by varieties of colour. Even colour-blind people see the world vividly. Everything is shades – even grey. And yes, we are lucky to be able to see them.

This past few weeks, I’ve been increasingly aware of such shadings. It has mostly been in the skies that I love to look at as well as the natural world around, but paralleled in my own emotional state. Storm clouds dissipate into rainbows with the passing of so few breaths.

London Rainbow

It’s been an intense time in my world, rising from high mood to low with such speed that I’ve often been overwhelmed – seeing the world through the flickering images of an emotional zoetrope. The joy of seeing the happiness in the faces of those who’ve come to meet me for the first time after enjoying my work… to the sadness of pain and loss, over which I’m powerless.

It’s easy to feel out of control with one’s own emotions. They seem to come suddenly, in waves or bursts, with a thumping heart or chill in the blood. Physical and mental state are mirrored as both try to work out what’s going on, what is causing this reaction, what has to be done… and so the shadings are felt.

Pain – a sharp stab, perhaps, then fading to a dull throb, before numbness. Anger rising slowly, burning, before forcing itself to be expressed in a scream or hitting out. Happiness – from simple smile to uncontrolled laughter. We all have our emotional gradients.

I’ve read the Buddhist perspective, of simply observing emotions as they rise and fall within us, remaining unaffected. I’ve very rarely been able to achieve such a state, passionate lady that I am (born in the Year of the Dragon, in Sagittarius with Jupiter Rising, if you follow such things). I find myself caught up, forced to ride the waves – which has led me to get to know my own emotional Pantone chart pretty well.

I don’t often get angry, but when I do it’s with a hot rush of energy, which can be focused and directed if I catch it in time – before it flashes out to hurt. I feel tears welling within and know that they must be released… it’s being able to find a safe place first. Sometimes not possible.

We’re all expected to control our emotions to some degree, due to societal expectations (not laughing at an unexpected double entendre in church, for example), or simple politeness. For me, that awareness is another level of the shading – but more like a filter this time, through which others see my emotions. Behind which I still do my best to understand what they are and why I’m reacting in such a way. And, of course, what to do when that evil giggle wells up at an inappropriate moment.

I’m often shocked into gaping silence when others try to tell me how to react, how to ‘deal’. I have no idea how others understand or feel their own emotions, and so wouldn’t try to tell them how to act – at best, I can make a suggestion. But ‘helpful’ comments such as ‘oh, you don’t really feel that way, just calm down’ are guaranteed to have the opposite effect. Thus adding yet another societal filter.

Sometimes emotions just have to be felt. Like the brightness of a sunset, they can burn when focused on too intently, but by looking around, discovering how best to view them by the shades surrounding them, we gain perspective. By taking a deep breath and jumping into the sorrow, we can discover what we’re truly feeling, and where it may come from. Because the source of the emotion may not be what we expected. If we knee-jerk physically to that emotional stab, we may be kicking at the wrong target.

Look back over this post again, at those pictures. Leaves – simple. But what colour are they? Not green, not yellow, not brown. And the skies, full of clouds, so many shades of blue (and that quiet rainbow reaching down over London WC1). What emotions do they inspire in you? Pleasure, peace, annoyance, boredom… to what degree? And why?

We explore our emotions and discover more about ourselves. It might be fun or it might hurt, but it’s part of life, not to be blocked out or bottled up. I honour those mysterious forces inside me, even as I’m frustrated by them, or wish them away, or curse their bad timing. They’re all part of who I am, right now.

We experience, learn and move forward, as life goes on.

(All photos in this blog entry were taken by me – please credit me if used elsewhere)

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