Posts Tagged friendship

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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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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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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Judge Not…?

It’s interesting to see the Pagan community grow these days. We’re still young, as a faith – yes, I know about the ‘Old Religion’, but contemporary Paganism is still very much finding its place in the 21st century. This isn’t an idealized Summerisle-style community either, but rooted in the lives that we lead, here and now, in city and country, through good and bad.

And so we have to deal with difficulties.

I’ve spoken before of personal issues, the challenges of balancing the hard times and the good in life, as well as the inspiration which can come from darkness. But there are various aspects of life which we as a society still find so hard to deal with that we are happier to ignore them. Death is one such issue (although Kristoffer Hughes is writing about that well enough). Myself and others are looking at mental illness and isolation.

Today I’m pondering the issue of Judgement.

The media has been quick to wield the Stick of Truth (ahem) in the past, castigating the ‘evil Pagans’, weirdos who gather together in their ‘occult rites’. Many of us know how frustrating this is, to read about and to be represented in such a ludicrous and disrespectful way. The idea of a Pagan ‘caste’ system has always scared me – I’ve spoken before of idolizing and the creation of celebrity ‘gurus’, but this is the opposite side of that dangerous coin.

Because now in my work, I’m finding myself meeting and getting to know some of those ‘evil Pagans’. Those whom even the wider Pagan community seems happy to ostracize. Sometimes I’m ashamed of my community, as they act in no better manner than those torch-wielding mob-rousers that they profess to hate when on the receiving end. Love, light and peace? Not for all, it seems.

Sometimes issues can seem black and white. With its soundbite-nature, the media is content to let it be so. But life isn’t that clear-cut. We know that, right?

I’ve seen a Pagan man weep about how he was represented in the papers, with provably false words printed that were later retracted – but the lies were on the front page, and the apology hidden inside. Can you guess which ones his friends, those who knew him better than any journalist, believed?

I’ve seen repentance and apology, the quest for redemption. Acknowledgement of wrongdoing and the punishment – far greater than any Judge can bestow – of having to live with that for the rest of their days. Justified, perhaps? 

A movie summed it up well for me this week, actually: 

‘Just because someone stumbles and loses their way, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever.’ 

(from ‘X-Man, Days of Future Past’)

I’m not saying that Pagans never do wrong. We all stumble; it’s the degree of stumbling, and the consequences, which need to be judged on their own individual cases. But we need to unite as a community, with maturity, honesty and bravery, to acknowledge that Bad Things Happen. What are we then to do about it? 

As Pagans, we find ourselves often tribal, in our own geographical areas of moods and social groups. That’s fine. The difficulty comes when someone strays from that, and is effectively ‘cast out’ from that tribe. 

I’m seeing calls today to ‘cast out’ someone from Paganism as a whole, for crimes committed. I’m shocked and saddened by this, because to me, it’s the mob mentality that’s so hateful to us in other circumstances. Not to mention a ludicrous idea – nobody has the right (or ability) to take another’s spirituality, and I would protest loudly if anyone tried. Perhaps this blog is that protest. I’m writing it in the hope that my words are read and understood, not knee-jerked and sound-bited. But I cannot stay silent, not today – that makes me complicit with that (scared, angry) mob, in my mind.

Yes, crimes are terrible, I’m not denying that. I absolutely cannot understand the mentality of some folk I meet, particularly those who do not (yet?) acknowledge their guilt  – but even though I can feel sick or scared, I still have to minister to them. I’ve chosen that path, and so I do my best. Not everyone can, and I know that too. It’s bloody hard. But so I raise my voice, because they are Pagans too. And human beings. Like it or not, we have commonality.

I’m suggesting that as Pagans, we need to act as an adult community, as a responsible tribe. We support those injured by the crimes, of course, but also acknowledge that sadly, such things will inevitably happen, and as a group we must deal with that, for all concerned. 

We’re human. Everyone has their issues, and some are expressed in ways so deeply socially unacceptable that it feels natural to kick out in response. The law of the land seems insufficient sometimes, and calls for death are easy to make on social media. But again, I’ve met those people whose heads are being demanded, spoken to them and looked into their eyes. They’re not the Devil (remember, he doesn’t exist in Paganism) – in fact, most are so confused, they cannot recognise themselves in those headlines, so sensational are the words.

As Pagans, it is part of our spiritual path that we are all responsible for our actions. The challenges there are part of our journey. So the wrongdoer must be responsible – and accept that he may have lost much of his life as a result. But is he then not allowed the opportunity of redemption? Is his community reduced to just me (a scary thought, I don’t mind admitting)? Or can we try to help him, should he ever return to those who called him friend?

A wise (and very realistic) Prison Officer once told me: ‘We can’t judge. The Judge did that. We just have to be there for them now.’ 

It’s not easy, I know that. I don’t know if we’ll ever find a solution. But as other faiths pray for those in pain, those lost and suffering, so I pray for those Pagans who’ve stumbled and fallen. Because if they hadn’t, I would possibly have once called them Friend.

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