Posts Tagged mental health

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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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.

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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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Layers and Labels

Years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to study archaeology. Just for a couple of years, at ‘A’ Level, when a teacher volunteered to go off-timetable for the few who were interested. It was fascinating.

We learned about the layers of history that are visible as you dig downwards through the earth. From the concrete of the crust beneath our feet, through to the soil… but so much more besides. The strata of the ground we walk upon holds as much history as the rings within a tree, each gently layering one atop the other to finally reach the current time. What we see and take for granted – unless, perhaps, it is breached by excavation or earthquake.

Did you know that skin has a similar layering system? Despite archaeology being ‘an ology’ and so SCIENCE!!! (ahem), I know little about such things (so apologies to those who do) – but lately I happened upon this:

skin-strata

We carry this around with us constantly, and all unaware – again, perhaps until something goes wrong and we are forced to notice as these partitions are breached. People would often ask about my dermal piercing; you can see from the image above why it didn’t hurt, as the dermal layer and nerves are separate. Admittedly by mere fractions of millimetres, but even so. The mysteries of the human body in action.

I’m reminded of this recently as I’ve been progressing on my healing journey. Talking therapy has thrown up various thoughts and ideas, with previously very ‘normal’ foundations being rocked as I challenge them, discovering how fragile and sometimes even false they are.

I’m performing archaeology on the strata of my mind, right now. Layers are being peeled back, light is being shone on ideas that seemed as solid as concrete, but are in fact as easily penetrated as the membranes of our skin.

I’ve seen ritual undertaken to explore this idea, usually using external props such as masks that can be peeled away or used to represent different facets of ourselves. I’ve helped others break down the emotional or spiritual walls they’ve unconsciously put up around themselves, initially for survival but then becoming trapped within.

I’ve seen the layers of armour my husband and his battle-brothers strap onto themselves before taking the field at medieval tournaments. We all put on clothes each day to protect and warm ourselves, but also to represent who we are, from hidden undergarments to outer uniforms. But how often do we consider the strata of our minds? The layers that can only be seen when we stop to take notice – what we choose to show to others in terms of personality or persona, compared to the sub-layers of neuroses, fears, desires… all of those mysteries that the psychologists are still exploring.

Part of the realisation of this mental landscape is identifying each section, realizing what it is and why it is there, perhaps with an ‘aha!’ moment of remembering when it was put in place. As with the external masks and protections, internal walls go up in response to abuse, misunderstandings, trauma: scar tissue over the delicate breached skin.

In one sense, I was concerned at the idea of picking at these mental ‘scabs’, but then I saw that the excavation was more like rebreaking a bone to set it properly, or restitching a wound. We throw up our defences without much skill, often reflexively I think, and so it takes gentle care to see what happened and help the healing process.

All of this is done with acknowledgment and intention, and with the help and guidance of one who understands. It has to be, otherwise another false layer is simply being added to cover those wounds. I have various lovely friends who have tattooed their skin around external scars – not to cover and obscure, but to make those tears their own.

This is a process, and as I move forward in life, so it is part of the healing journey that I’ve been on this year. I know I’m not alone, and am so glad that I’m finally at this stage where I can undertake such difficult work.

But in the course of shining a light on old wounds and determining what is ‘real’ and what is ‘false’ – what is truly ‘me’, if you like, what feels like my truth versus implanted protective armour-mechanisms – I’m discovering just how many labels I’ve taken on.

This is something I’ve considered for years, ever since I started exploring my Paganism. Because there’s a label, eh?

As I took on the label ‘Pagan’, then ‘Druid’, then ‘Priest/ess’, so I considered what that meant to me. More and more, I wonder if these truly represent me, or if they’re for the benefit of others – verbal shorthand to give an idea of what it is that I do. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a mixture of both, but what any label means to one person may be completely different to someone else. That old Getafix idea of the white-bearded Druid, for example.

It always frustrates me that people seem to want to define others by those labels. What you should and shouldn’t do, because you are [insert title here]. ‘You can’t do that, you’re a —-‘. This is where the labels start becoming walls, traps, false foundations which identities are then built upon.

‘I have to do this because I’m that’ may be helpful sometimes, but what if it isn’t? I love messing with expectations (not being a white-bearded Druid, for example), but as I’ve said in the past, I also love to hear people’s stories. Nobody is defined by just one or two key words, but by many, many aspects of their personalities. As I get to know them, I see the ones they present to the world – the external strata, if you like – and then perhaps the deeper layers, if I’m permitted so far in.

I’ve often been accused of wearing my heart on my sleeve, but as I undertake my mental archaeology, I realize how much has actually been lost over recent traumatic years. No – not lost, but subsumed. It might have been for my own wellbeing, but what have I actually been showing to people? I’d rather honour those who pay me attention by being the ‘real Me’, not some false front, and I think I have done that – but insofar as I’ve been able. When people have said ‘Oh, you don’t really mean that’ or ‘That’s not you though, is it?’ I’ve been confused, wondering if they know something I don’t. But no – they’re just objecting when I don’t fit into their image of me. That label isn’t enough, so I must be reminded to get back into the box!

I’m looking forward to exploring this more. Of course there’s trepidation, and inevitable pain as layers are stripped back… but also frustration that they had to be put in place at all. But that’s life, isn’t it? The key here is that I’m digging now, learning to my own self be true, to Know Thyself… all of those ancient truisms that are part of life’s journey.

It’s interesting that my dermal piercing recently removed itself after many years, popping free after a little pain and discomfort. Herein lies the parallel, of outer reflecting inner. I can only keep reminding myself that I would rather live truthfully than surrounded by nonsense. If I challenge the labels others place on me, or even simply ask ‘Why?’ then no insult is intended – just curiosity. Because what’s going on in here is a true excavation, but also a positive step in the ongoing battle of my own health.

And as I find myself, I find my smile again. Because that’s something I have always done easily and honestly.

Much love, my friends. Journeying onward.

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Update

Hello, lovely readers! It’s been a long time… but I’m still here. Just a small update today, as my thoughts want to be set down in words, to get them out of my head!

2016 has been difficult so far, for many of us. I’ve been working as and when I can, but spent a good deal of time signed off, with depression and possibly exhaustion/chronic fatigure. I have good doctors, however, so am doing what I can. I have amazing friends, which is a true blessing upon the healing journey!

While it’s been a frustrating time, I’ve not been idle. Much research has been undertaken, and my next book is now under way. Creativity has happened, and my public talks are evolving to new places – as well as being broadcast by video for the first time! Look me up on YouTube if you’re interested, as I have a channel there for easy access.

But what’s been happening within… I started the year exploring the idea of discernment, something our Christian friends undertake when deciding whether to follow the path of Priesthood. The word rang in my head, and I followed it up, curiosity being no bad thing in this case.

Discernment is listening for that voice from the ‘powers that be’, learning to hear something that you’re meant to hear. Lately, that’s been books that leap out at me (well, that’s kind of always happened to this bookworm!), but also music, stories, phrases in conversation… any number of things.

This will no doubt feature in my future writings, but as I listen, I feel as if my mental map is becoming clear. I’m cutting through the mess of clutter and illness, to see the way forward – that’s been waiting to be found all along.

Dreams have become vivid, with a whole landscape becoming familiar for night-time exploration. Certain books demand to be read, places to be visited, skills to be attempted. I’ve learned to listen for that push, almost like a cosmic bell is being rung, a true note amidst the clamour of emotion that depression surrounds me with sometimes.

I carry notebook and pen, or a handy phone app to record my thoughts as and when they happen. If something seems out of reach, I ask on public social media, and someone will come up with the answer. I feel more connected than ever…

But on the other hand, I’m still fighting the darkness. This week, I’m glad to have survived, let alone accomplished anything (another reason to get these words down, as a reminder and a celebration of achievement!). This is clearly part of my journey, a challenge to overcome, but… the days can be brutal. But if I can find something to focus on amidst the madness, that thing has my total attention – and I learn from it.

Recently, I’ve been given tremendous hope. A friendly medical professional reminding me to stay positive, a book that uses Pandora’s box as a metaphor for a lone speck of brightness within the awful. A wise shaman friend just nodding, and telling me very matter-of-factly that I can do it, and need to get on with my work. A wild and wonderful Heathen gentleman confirming that this work sets us somewhat apart from ‘society’, but that’s necessary to be able to do it.

I’ve been walking between worlds, I think – dark and light, madness and sanity, polite society and what lies behind and beneath. I’m learning to discern what’s important, what I need to see and know, the path I must explore in order to report back in my writing.

When I’m stuck, friends have helped clear the way. When I’m lost, a solution appears. When I need sustenance, I’m supported.

I can never adequately express how grateful I am to be able to do this, and to those who keep me going through the ups and downs. I rejoice in the moments of peace, never taking them for granted; I battle through the storms, focusing and holding on to my internal rudder as best I can.

When I work, I give my all. This can lead to exhaustion, but that’s the price to be paid right now. Life is very different to how it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. But here I am.

I’m still here, and moving forward. And I’m so glad that you’re all here with me.

Much love, my friends x

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