Posts Tagged mental health

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.

Comments (1)

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

Comments (1)