It was remarked to me this week that based on my blog posts alone, folk might find it difficult to talk to me. I’m always appreciative of feedback, but this was a bit surprising – I try to be chatty, inject my writing with humour to make it accessible (rather than just ‘do this’ absolutism or suchlike). The writing represents me, after all.
Then I considered her words more deeply.
These little essays of around 1300 words each are tiny slices of my life, thoughts that have been germinating based on whatever’s going on at this moment. Since I started writing here, my views have no doubt changed on some issues. Quite a few are topics that I’m still working through. That’s life. It’s interesting to see how such notions have evolved (and continue to, moving forward).
Also, I’ve no idea who’s going to be reading my words as I write them. Presumably your good self, whoever you are – as I’ve often said, thank you, I do appreciate your interest. But the internet is the ultimate public forum. This blog is now read widely enough that the majority are those who don’t know me (instead of the reverse).
I’m no guru with Ultimate Cosmic Answers. The fact that I’m writing this means, quite simply, that I’ve got an idea and I’m going to write it publicly, in order to share it. That’s all. Take from it whatever you will – I have no control over that. But my intention is to provoke thought and hopefully inspire or help in some way.
So this post is a combination of an idea that’s been rumbling around my mind for a while, one that isn’t often looked at in Paganism (or generally), but which should be. It’s an intrinsic part of our lives, our spirituality, our quest for meaning and our relationship with ourselves and others. It’s also extremely personal to me, as some of you may know.
Life is hard. Fact. All spiritual systems deal with this to some extent, as we try to work out why we’re here and what we’re doing with the time we have. Buddhism specifically moves its ideas around this key tenet. We all have our ‘crosses to bear’.
Life also has its ups and downs. But for some of us, those times are more pronounced than others. I’m not sure who sets the standards, but there are those of us who are affected by events more deeply than others – or at least, less able to ‘cope’ with that very British attitude of ‘carry on regardless.’ This doesn’t make us any less strong; sensitivity and empathy is not a weakness. It means our perspective is different, that’s all. Perhaps seeing reality in slightly finer detail than those who coast through, apparently with no problems (but I’ll tell you a secret: they may just be hiding it better).
For a few years now, after some extremely bad life events, I’ve been suffering from depression. Apparently it’s ‘unipolar’, rather than the currently popular ‘bipolar’, but this means that without (fortunately gentle) medication, I’ve been stabilising at such a low mood level, I’m pretty much useless. The world is covered by a grey cloud, everything seems worthless – especially me.
At its lowest ebb, I admit that I’ve had the thoughts that the world would be better off without me. My pain overflows, I’ve cried for hours, held by my wonderful partner, but feeling even worse for that somehow; I hate how my own battle affects him, but am so inexpressibly grateful for his strength when I’m working through my darkness.
Every task, no matter how small, seems insurmountable. From talking to friends, getting on with household jobs, even going otside – everything’s impossible, as my brain fights to somehow escape my head, panicking like a threatened animal before lapsing into catatonia and hopelessness.
And it’s all very well to give me a list of my achievements during this time, reasons for why I’m not worthless. But that’s easy, says the Black Dog – you’re just really good at fooling people. They don’t know the real you, the selfish cow, the pointless, useless woman. Every insult ever given, every criticism, they are all paraded in front of me.
I have no idea what biological purpose this serves, other than some mysterious misfiring of neurons in my mind, but at base level… it hurts. To the extent that I’ve described it to others, and they’ve just stared, unable to comprehend the battlefield that I and so many other people face regularly.
But this is how we deal with it. Through story, metaphor, visualisation. If it’s a battlefield, what are my weapons? If it’s a Black Dog, how do I tame it? I can’t escape, I can’t ignore it – so turning to face it, in the knowledge that it’s transitory, that ‘this too will pass’… the challenge is to survive.
And this is the gift of the darkness. By diving deep into it, standing to face it and yelling ‘OK, that’s IT, I’ve had enough!’ you’re reclaiming your strength, standing within the darkness and allowing it to be part of you. And then moving forward. A very Druid perspective, as we use our love of story and awareness of the Otherworld to actively help.
I’ve actively worked with my Darkness. I’ve been held in a ritual setting while I face it: crying, screaming, emotionally stripped bare. But then I’m forced to face my own strength, my inner fire, my urge to survive. And my Gods, standing with me. My loved ones, my ancestors. I’m compelled to open my eyes and see. I’ve been dragged physically outside, forced to face reality – of which the pain is a part.
In the ancient writings, the Ovates are described as those who stared into the darkness, to prophecy and learn. Their eyes became black with magic, as they stood with a foot in the Otherworld and one in this realm. You cannot come back from such a thing unaffected. I’ve been told that during my time facing the Darkness, my eyes became black. Terrifying, but perhaps unsurprising.
Last year, I was accidentally made to step into the Darkness. In a public rite of many dozens of people, working with the Cauldron of Cerridwen to inspire through its powers of transformation. But that wasn’t my journey, I was no Gwion Bach. I was with the Goddess as she screamed, within the Cauldron, finding my power in the darkness. Through my pain.
I was held by a true White Goddess at that time, as my heart cracked in the middle of a field one Saturday afternoon. Others avoided us, perhaps thinking it part of the rite (I’ve never understood our societal fear of a crying woman, why this makes people run, but there it is). Some even took pictures from the sidelines. Here’s one:
My stick holds me up, as I’ve often said. My old, woolen, scorched cloak wrapped close. The wisdom of the Goddess before me – white angel on one side, black cauldron on the other.
And I know that this is my role. I’ve been told it often, by others far wiser than me. I hold the space, provide the balance, using my time in the darkness to help others going through it. But it’s not over – I go through it myself still, regularly. Varying shades of black. The trick is to get through it. The fear is that one day, I won’t. We all fight this battle – it’s called Life, and we cannot always win.
In the meantime, yes: I doubt myself regularly. I’m very aware of my responsibilities as I stand publicly as Priest. But I have vowed to do my best for those who ask. I offer this vow again, with my blood and my spirit. I stand as true as I can be. I tell my tale honestly, that others may hopefully be inspired. I live more strongly because of my awareness of the need for balance. I appreciate the purpose and challenge of both the Light and the Dark.
I’m a real person. Please don’t ever be afraid to talk to me if you wish.
As for depression, there are so many resources that can help, depending on your preference. Once told by a GP to ‘go away and cheer up’ (the absolute worst thing that can be said to a suffering individual), being me, I headed off to the bookstore. I’ve included a list of gems below. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. If in doubt, visit the MIND website for resources and ideas – they have been a lifesaver.
‘Sunbathing in the Rain
‘Journeys with the Black Dog‘
‘The Trick is to Keep Breathing‘
And the absolutely wonderful documentary: ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive‘.