Posts Tagged illness

Who Am I?

When asked who you are, what is your immediate response? Your name, your job, marital status, sexuality, hobbies… all the labels that make up that sense of Me.

In which case, my name is Cat, I’m a priest and author, married with two dogs and two cats, cis-female, into books and knitting. Also GSOH (Good Sense of Humour).

But that by no means tells you about who I am inside. The Me that looks out from my eyes, who writes these words and tries to convey (with varying degrees of success) what she means to all of you.

One of the things I’ve sought to actively explore in recent years is who I am. That’s a continuing mission in a way, one that we all share.

As children, our identities are malleable and mostly made up by our parents: those who buy our clothes, sort out our haircuts, tell us what we’re allowed to do and not do, and generally teach us about the world.

As teenagers, we may rebel against this, as we strike out more to find our own identities. We try on different looks, join social groups, follow musicians or sports teams. Community merges with personal identity, giving us a new sense of family through our friends, much of which is formed through schools (specifically, those we come into contact with every day).

When we reach adulthood – say, over 21 – we’re supposed to have figured it all out. Who we are, what we want to do. Job goals, relationships, family of our own. But it’s not that simple now, as the world changes and so many more options are open to us (or closed).

We have so much information now, it’s virtually impossible to remain disconnected from the events going on in the world. We may wish to actively engage, pushing for change, or quietly work behind the scenes on a local (or even familial) level.

As others listen to our opinions, we may find that we have more power than we ever knew before. What do we do with it? Even this blog may inspire someone – I see that in the comments and responses. My actions have weight, even if it seems right now that it’s just me tapping away on my laptop in my living room.

Lately, I’ve felt very disconnected. My new medications have made my thoughts fuzzy and unclear. I’ve made mistakes, got frustrated, stepped back a little. I’ve felt that I let folks down by being ill.

That’s not true, of course. I’ve stepped back because it’s been necessary. I’m still here, after all. Battling the annoyance that I can’t do everything I want to do right now!

We’re on the cusp of Spring. Which I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me. The changeable weather has meant the turning of the year has crept up on me… but something inside has known.

I can’t help but think of the transformation that Spring ushers in. The seeds finally braving the world as they appear from the soil. New life arriving, with enthusiastic yells and insatiable curiosity. Stepping outside and feeling the sun’s warmth after a mad winter.

Working through my illness, I’m exploring who I am all over again. What my new abilities are, my new boundaries, needs and preferences. A good portion of it is relearning who I was before, at heart – elements of myself that have been lost or forgotten during traumatic times. A lot of what I find is new and exciting… and a bit scary.

I’m paying more attention to what is true for me. Yes, I do want to do that. No, I don’t like this. Not just giving way for the sake of others and becoming a shadow in the background.

I may not be able to do as much as I once could, but I Am Still Here. I’m passionate about words, both the writing of others and creating my own. I love seeing creativity in action and supporting creative folk. My spirituality encourages my curiosity, my desire to explore and to know Why.

Which means I have little time now for bullsh*t, for prevaricating and yoghurt weaving (look it up). I’d rather hear your stories than what you think I want to know. I’d like to see behind the everyday masks and make friends with the person beneath, warts and all.

I want to help others on their journeys, without judgement until I know the full picture. I want to know Why things are as they are. I want to poke complacency and foolhardiness, to encourage and applaud transformation, ideas, action and achievement.

The world is changing as we are. Much as it makes me want to hide sometimes, I know that opting out is not an option. I’d rather help, in my small way, to make and be the change I want to see. I can only do this by recognising my own truth, my own Self, but recognising that it’s constantly changing as I learn and move forward.

That’s what life is.

Once again: What Can I Do? What Can You Do?

Go on then. We’ll muddle through together, as we step forward into the new Spring.

Potential

(Desktop art: ‘Terrence the Badass Unicorn’, by MonkeyGhost)

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Constant Learning

One of the first things you learn when starting out in Paganism is ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Otherwise known as ‘Don’t take magic for granted.’

A lot of the Paganism 101 books say this, but as beginners, it’s easy to ignore. Ritual is fun, right? An excuse to dress up, cast spells for what we want… and other stuff we’ve seen on TV.

Easy to forget that even movies like ‘The Craft’ and ‘Practical Magic’ show why this is a bad idea.

Even if you don’t follow the ‘Rule of Three’ idea (that whatever you put out into the world is returned to you threefold), if you put something out into the world with energy behind it, don’t be surprised when you get a response. But it may not be quite how you expected.

This is always the learning curve. Complacency is not an option.

Last week, I performed several Spring Equinox rites, two with quite large groups. Generally speaking, we  were bidding farewell to the passing Winter and welcoming in the Spring, but also wishing to be rid of those things we had no further need to take forward with us into the coming months. Positive, gentle, affirming… good stuff.

Then the day after the first rite, I was hit with a ridiculously bad bout of depression. I don’t talk about it much publicly in terms of how bad, but this time it was… Well, let’s say my Dr (nervously) asked ‘Are you having those particularly bad thoughts?’ Hard not to laugh. Yes, yes I was. I got through it. I love my infinitely patient partner and supportive friends.

I got on. Gently, but determinedly.

Then (again) less than an hour after the final rite of the week, I was home and falling over. The next day, I was in considerable pain from the back/joint condition that I suffer from occasionally, plus exhaustion, plus the beginning of a cold (or so I thought). I suspect now it’s somewhere between cold and flu. Either way, virulent and nasty.

I’ve now been basically moving between sofa and bed for several days. Work has been cancelled. I’ve been in severe physical pain, plus mentally fuzzy as all hell. I’m being forced to stop. 

The first day or so involved frustration, then self-pity, then my usual ‘bad patient’ attitude of crossness that I can’t get on regardless. But then I realized something.

I was getting precisely what I needed from those rituals. I had to stop, to take stock and reassess. The deluge of emotion had been and gone – I don’t feel at all depressed right now. The physical sickness is removing any amount of yuk from my body, which is clearly not needed.

I’ve had to prioritise. I don’t have the strength to do much, so what needs doing? Certain tasks are being jettisoned or at least set aside. Wise advice from friends about setting boundaries is ticking around my head.

I must face what needs to be left behind with the Winter, as my body Spring Cleans. I’m already looking forward to being well again, but with awareness – as best I can – of not getting so complacent again, or running myself down so badly. It’s nice to be wanted, but I’m not invulnerable or indefatiguable. Where does the energy need to go?

The last couple of nights have featured fever dreams, with interesting lessons. I’m being reminded of things I was taught years ago, but which I’d kind of forgotten – or rather, they’d been subsumed with the busy-ness. 

I’ve been asked a lot lately ‘do you do magic?’ And I’ve thought about it. Yes, yes I do. Perhaps not ‘spells’ as such (or at least, not often) but the causing change through will – yes, absolutely. We all do, to some extent. But it’s recognising what we’re doing with that, owning that intention, bracing for the consequences… we can’t anticipate everything, but we can trust that we get what we need, based on what we ask.

I’m riding the flow again now. As the nastiness leaves my body and mind, so those new shoots can bloom. I stepped outside this morning, barefoot, with the sun on my face. Just because.

I’m sure I’ll face this lesson again in future, in one form or another. But so we move forward. By noticing and acknowledging, so we can be part of those changes we are wishing for.

I do hope this post makes sense and isn’t just self-indulgent claptrap – my brain wanted to write it, so here it is. Now, if its all the same to you, I’m off to find more tea… 🙂

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An Otherworldly View

The Autumn Equinox is upon us, and the world does feel like it’s turning, to me. The leaves are beautiful as they hold on for just a little longer, the fruit is ready for harvest, the fields are being prepared for winter…

But here at home, it’s change of a different sort. New challenges ahead, requests for work and projects, lots of ways to spend the days as they grow shorter and we look inside…

And I’ve been able to do none of it.

For the past few days, I’ve been unable to work, or do much of anything at all, due to a very bad reaction to some prescription medication. The doctors have been very helpful actually, encouraging me to stick with it and see if I can’t ride out the side-effects, while moderating them… with further medication.

Today, I agreed with another (lovely) medical professional that enough was enough. Alternatives must be found. We’re on the case.

But it’s been a true rollercoaster of a week, to coin an overused but apt metaphor. I’ve been unable to focus on much of anything for very long, but when I have, whatever that thing is receives my full attention. I’ve been devouring one book in a day, but then getting bored halfway through another. Unable to stand doing anything which my brain isn’t interested in, so – entirely involuntarily – I’m being told ‘No, you’re not going to be able to do that’. Or badness ensues.

My perspective is entirely off, my worldview skewed. Alice in Wonderland doesn’t quite cover it, but the analogy isn’t bad – I’m here, but the messages from my senses are being slightly misinterpreted by my brain. Even walking the dogs down the familiar streets is a challenge. Communicating with others… good grief. Let’s just say I’m taking my time and doing my best to understand. And avoiding the News, because that doesn’t always make sense at the best of times.

This evening, I’ve found a rather wonderful documentary about Viking storytellers. With my love of tale-telling, it truly grabbed me… and somehow, my mind began to consider how our ancestors would have dealt with the stories my mind has been telling me this week.

I’m often asked if Druidry is a kind of English Shamanism. I’m not getting into that here (although I agree, there are similarities). But one thing we don’t tend to do over in these little islands is induce trance through drugs. Not since the 1970s, at least, unless I’ve been going to the wrong parties.

But that’s essentially what’s been happening to me now. Unintentionally, I grant you, but my perspective on the world has been totally altered through artificial means. I’m not seeing the generally-understood ‘Pagan Otherworld’, but my connection to the real is more vague. I feel the land beneath my feet, but am not quite sure where the next step will take me, or even if gravity is to be relied upon. I’m walking in another world.

So what must I do? How do I interpret reality when the tried and tested traditions of my senses and physics are letting me down through unknown chemicals?

My appetite has almost completely gone… except for what my body tells me it needs. My attention is fractured… again, until my mind latches on to something it wants to know.

Until this wears off, I’m going to let this strangeness take its course and try not to be overwhelmed in too negative a manner. If the tears come, they do; if strange sights or sounds are encountered, then that’s fine. Like a child in a strange new world, I will do my best to pay attention, and see what is to be learned as I ride it out.

Because I’m finding that stripping back to the essentials is what’s getting me through. What do I need? What can I cope with? Who do I want with me? The barest of bones, necessities, priorities. Those I love and trust.

And so I write it out, because my mind is telling me that I should. I listened to the voices of those wonderful Scandinavians, with their storytelling tradition of so many thousand years, and despite my pounding brain, try to tell my tiny tale here. Because this is the most creative I’ve been for many days, and that’s been one of the most terrible things for me – as you may have gathered, I like to be doing.

I apologise if this post is a little odd. But that’s me, right now. The times are changing, and so this somehow seems to fit. I’m looking forward to the week ahead, to the Equinox itself, to see what strangeness it brings, both in the spiritual and the everyday worlds.

And one rather fun thing to bear in mind: these mad chemicals are considered ‘medicine’, even normal procedure for those who administer such things. I’m not reacting ‘as I should’, perhaps. But my body and mind don’t know that – and are simply responding. Positive and negative are in the eye of the beholder.

Moving forward, gently.

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Living Connection

Perhaps it began with that British urge to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’. During the Second World War, I believe – when things were so bad that it was just beyond comprehension. How on earth were we doing these things to each other? How were we supposed to respond? Stiff upper lip. Keep buggering on. It’s almost a joke on the British, that stoicism and determination. A sign of strength.

Then, in the 1990s, I remember the concept of the ‘New Man’ began to creep in. It was now, apparently, allowed for men to cry, to take on ‘un-manly’ jobs – such as housework, or being a stay-at-home father. Post-natal stress was also found to be real.

As the Millennium turned, we suddenly realized what a mess things had become. And in the chaos and confusion, we still didn’t know how to handle things – what we’re doing to each other, and how to deal with the consequences of our own decisions. Buggering on was no longer an option… and statistics began to come out of how many people were on some sort of anti-depressant medication. Or children being treated for ADHD. We tried to deal with it by quantifying it with data, making goals for treatment to show that we’re doing something. Even if it wasn’t necessarily healing.

Lately, it seems that sneering is the next stage – denial, perhaps. Showing emotion is passe now, depression a ‘trend’, a band-wagon to jump on. That awful phrase, ‘just seeking attention’, used to trivialise another person’s pain. Physical ailments such as allergies are acknowledged as real, but then sniffed at by cynical non-sufferers – after all, the coeliac, asthmatic or epileptic is probably just being awkward. There’s a hint that the disabled are viewed in a similar manner (just consider the attitude of ATOS, or even public transport providers). But we can’t talk about that, because it would be Rude. Politeness leads to Political Correctness (not at all the same thing), which leads to disregard. Back to Stiff Upper Lip again – on both sides. ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ has become a buzz-phrase.

None of these responses even gives a nod to investigation or understanding. Nobody really listens to the deeper story.

I’ve always been confused by this. Early in life, it was power-games – one person asserting themselves by abusing or taking advantage of another. Then it was the disregard for what certainly felt like a very real emotion or situation:

“I’m in pain, help me.” “Oh, no you’re not, pull yourself together.”

“I don’t understand.” “Well, you should, you must be stupid.”

I never understood what made one person’s opinion more valid than another; why one truth was somehow truer. And, for a long time, it seemed that I was always the one who was wrong, presumably because of this lack of understanding.

This isn’t self-pity, by the way. As a child (and a teenager) I spent a good deal of time just honestly confused. There appeared to be rules for life, and nobody had let me know what they were. School cliques, in particular, seemed to have the monopoly on ‘how to behave’. This then turned into ‘Workplace Policy’ – put in place, apparently, to help everyone… except those who needed it.

I’m aware, from my working life, that a lot of the Systems that are now in place were originally set up with good intentions. Doctors actually do want to make people better. Teachers want to instil joy of learning in pupils. Scientists want to explore and discover.

But the Systems have trapped us. Because we’re so aware of what we should be doing, what boxes we need to tick, what goals to hit… We’ve become an Orwellian or Swiftian nightmare; the satire has become real. Real People have been subsumed by dehumanising Systems.

What our hearts tell us is right is not considered important. Anything subjective, unquantifiable, emotional, is somehow invalid. How do you make a statistic out of happiness, health or pleasure? What is an appropriate level of inspiration or love? Too little isn’t sufficient; too much is inappropriate. I’d love to see how such things are charted.

As Orwell predicted, language is being turned against us. Forms must be filled in correctly, situations described accurately; if you can’t work those Systems, you’re practically useless, and so fair game. Punishment: benefits cut, medication increased, even home taken away. Never mind that you don’t have the skills (physical or mental) to even approach those Systems at basic level. Double-plus ungood – reject.

People often ask me if I think more people are returning to the ‘Old Ways’ as a response to modern life. I’m not entirely sure. I can see what they mean – but, in all honesty, I think we’re looking back to the past now in an effort to find something that we feel we’ve lost, which contemporary life is not providing. We’re not literally seeking ‘Old Ways’ – modern conveniences are rather nice, especially hot food, clean water and flushing toilets. Nor are we seeking Secret Hidden Knowledge about the Absolutely Infallible Way to Live (although some are always claiming to have this). We’re seeking to reclaim our truths as human beings. Or even as animals, living creatures sharing a planet.

This is where my Druidry strikes a chord. For me, it’s always been about those truths, you see – things that I know to be right, both personally and at a fundamental human level. What works for me should work for you too – not in a fascist manner, but simply as the same species, part of a (theoretically) like-minded tribe, at the point where we connect. We’re all seeking the best way to live our lives, a fact that’s very easily forgotten when we start behaving as Us/Them. Our relationship with each other is being lost, and we need to find it again, to explore and to (re)learn.

Studying Environmentalism, I read about how eco-lawyers are seeking to recognise the rights of non-humans. How? Well, while we can’t understand them linguistically, we can safely presume that all living things have the desire to go on living. The next step is the quality of that life. Not luxuries – basics. Nourishment. Happiness. Love. You know, those unquantifiable things. Which some folk feel they have the right to take away or devalue.

OK. Now, presumably we, as living, (apparently) intelligent and articulate human beings, have those same desires? We all eat, sleep and breathe. We have more in common than we do difference.

Life can sometimes seem like a movie – but perhaps one where we’ve lost our script. Everyone else seems to know what to do, and we lose ourselves in the rush to keep up, find our place, do what we’re supposed to. We’re appalled by news stories about the world around, but don’t know how to react. We’re encouraged to have opinions, but not to actually take any action (beyond ticking ‘Like’ on a Facebook page). We feel that our power has been taken away.

Yet we’re still part of that world. We’re starting to see through the filters, the Systems. We don’t want to ‘bugger on’, we want to battle on, to change and to put right. We need to see clearly, to understand the individual stories that make up the general picture.

Remember – or reforge – your connectedness. Whatever you’re doing, whoever you’re looking at, imagine that they are a friend or close relative. Look more deeply into their story; sometimes the most important information is what the news, or the first impression, is not saying. See past the spin, the cynicism, the ‘appropriate level of understanding.’

We each live our story. We write our own script. We connect with everyone else, doing the same. What’s important to you is probably just as important to them. Ask ‘Why?’ Then, when you don’t agree, say ‘No.’ Find alternatives.

Every day has little victories, tiny acts of heroism. For some, just making it through is a huge achievement. Let’s stop the cynicism, the disregard. Let’s celebrate each other a little more, recognising and providing help when needed, congratulations when deserved, and questioning of what we’re told. See variety and potential in our different levels of ability. Be brave and battle on. Learn from our ancestors.

Live.

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Medicine

Today I’m pondering a rather controversial topic, which I thought interesting enough to share here. These are solely my thoughts and opinions, feel free to discuss or comment (as always). But please do read to the end and understand my words as they are presented. Reasoned arguments are always preferred to internet rantings 😉

I was recently given a short course of tablet medication by my GP, with the instruction to ‘try this and see how it goes’. No explanation for precisely what it was or what it was expected to do, just that it would somehow help me, make me better in some way, based on my symptoms.

For the past two weeks, therefore, I have been dutifully taking these tablets. One side-effect is that of a sedative – which will apparently help to ‘make me better’, through a restful night. And beyond, it seems: I have found myself virtually fighting to get through each day through the fug of tiredness and general odd-feeling brought on by these pills. It’s been a trial.

Now, as some of you may know, I’ve worked for the NHS (in an administrative capacity, not clinical). I’m prepared to acknowledge that doctors have access to a wide range of information on ailments and the treatment thereof, and are trained to administer these appropriately. I’m also aware of the opinions  of some regarding those treatments – from the motivations of international drug companies to those of the NHS itself as it deals with increasing numbers of demanding patients.

I’ve seen consultants who’ve forgotten to put the patient’s name on a form, and just a one-word scribbled diagnosis/treatment. I’ve known doctors who work 24/7 to the exclusion of all else, to be there for those in need. I’ve heard patients in need ashamed to call for help. I’ve seen drunks in A&E shouting for drugs.

Much of society is sick. There are good people and bad on both sides of the counter. It’s hard to see the ‘bigger picture’ when not all of those involved are actually aware of it – not always through selfishness, but often through simple human fear as their body (or mind) fails them.

A topic I was looking at recently for my book was that of ‘medicine’ – its definition and meaning, as we understand it. Here’s what I found on the Internet (the first result brought up by Google):

Medicine

  1. The science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease (in technical use often taken to exclude surgery).
  2. A drug or other preparation used for the treatment or prevention of disease.

Interesting. This truly is a scientific definition, based on current best clinical practice – and that’s fine, so far as it goes.

Finding an older, more ‘traditional’ definition is somewhat harder. After all, medicine existed before Pasteur and his colleagues, from Imhotep and Hippocrates onwards, and those effects are still felt in modern ‘medicine’ as defined above.

(This is a loaded discussion, and I’m not going to go into it in any more depth here. My own best conclusion is that a good deal of exploration is still needed on the relationship between us as patient and identification of illness (cause and symptom), even before treatment is prescribed. Sheer numbers (of people and sicknesses) in the system make this difficult. However, interesting investigation still goes on – such as the recent discovery of exactly what was in frontier ‘snake-oil’.)

It’s hard to find an older definition of ‘medicine’ that stands up to scrutiny (ie what exactly is meant by the term). Shamanic ‘medicine’ is an idea that many of us know about as a concept, but not exactly what it does.

One definition: ‘Shamanic medicine is a merging of the seen and the unseen; the conscious and the subconscious; and a harmonizing of the mind, body and spirit. It is a healing practice which integrates the natural and spirit world, calling on the relationships the medicine person has forged with her allies to gain insight, wisdom and energy to return to the client.’ (From ‘Dimensions in Healing‘)

Or: ‘Shamanic Medicine is soul work.  It takes us straight into the root cause of unrest and heals at the deepest levels.  When something is healed through Shamanic Medicine it stays healed, because we have asked soul directly what needs to be done.’ (From ‘Misha Hoo’s blog, Shamanic Medicine‘)

OK. Neither of these are ‘ancient’ definitions (and certainly not scientific), but I’m not sure that adds any particular validity anyway, so let’s go with what we have.

Shamanic medicine as it is practiced in today’s society generally seems to work on the principle that all of life is connected. Through exploring our relationship with each other – as individuals, connected species sharing space, lived environment and so forth – we can investigate the root cause of a given ailment and actively engage with our own treatment. This tallies marvellously with my principles as Druid; such connectedness is undeniable to me, as lived practically and spiritually (body and soul, you might say). And it does not exclude modern medicine.

Sure, some ‘shamanic’ practitioners may be as superior or elitist (and full of hot air) as some doctors. Authority figures with SECRET MAGICAL HEALING KNOWLEDGE are as old as humanity, I’d guess. And yes, it’s difficult to describe, let alone quantify scientifically, exactly what goes on in what would be called ‘traditional medicine’. The argument for holistic practice goes on. Both modern and ‘traditional/alternative’ doctors may sneer at each other.

But what we seem to have lost is that sense that we, ourselves, are actively involved in our own treatment. Of course we are – we’re the ones suffering and seeking a cure, after all. A common reason that more people are seeking ‘alternative’ treatments is simply because regular, scientific medicine has failed.

Some ‘experts’ have lost the simple ability to relate to those whom they are supposed to be caring for. Medicine begins from the moment you pluck up the courage to step into a doctor’s office – thereby admitting weakness and/or fear. Sometimes a smile, a caring thought and listening ear are the best start to any treatment. Bedside manner counts (despite the deliciously apt satire of Dr Gregory House).

I have no idea what was in the medicine that I was taking, even after looking it up. I took it for long enough to determine that there was no positive effect – on the contrary, the negative was deeply outweighing any positive healing that it was supposed to be providing.

I will report this back to my doctor and see what he says. I am loathe to take any more random pills on the off-chance that they will work – I will suggest finding alternatives.

If ‘medicine’ is finding health through identifying the source of a malady and working towards a solution, I will gladly do so – with a sense of personal responsibility and awareness.

Yes, my spirituality as I live it acknowledges that shamanic sense of connectedness with the wider world. I think that this opens up the potential for treatment to a new level, but it’s still a matter of exploring. Trying pills is part of this, but I’d prefer to undertake such experiments with awareness of what I’m doing. Hopefully my GP will agree.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of being brave enough to try – and that includes questioning the conventional. The relationship between doctor and patient and medicine and patient deserves to be explored, for the benefit of everyone. Human relationship is part of the wider connectedness spoken of above.

We are still learning.

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