Norfolk is hunkered down under leaden skies these days, waiting for the bitter northerly winds to blow in from Scandanavia. They’re late this year, as everything is. The weather is unseasonably mild. We still haven’t had a proper frost. As a result, nature is confused. A delphinium is still flowering under my window. The last of the trees to drop their leaves, the oaks, are finally strewing the garden with dulled copper, a month overdue because we haven’t have a gale to tug them from the boughs. More than ever this year, it feels like the land is holding its breath. Normally, it would be in anticipation of Spring, but right now, it feels like we are being held at the Gates of Darkness, keeping vigil.
We are entering Bear Time.
It is hard to feel creative when the weather is so dour. If you, like me, are subject to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), you will no doubt relate to the desire to snuggle up under the duvet until March.
Lots of people channel their creativity into the preparations for Christmas, decorating the house, planning parties, conjouring an endless stream of fancy food for their guests. I put up some twinkle lights in my bedroom the other day. It was just a simple little thing, but it makes me feel snug and cosy when I settle down to bed at night, and often when I wake in the morning.
Midwinter has always been a festival of lights, and it is important to remind ourselves with candles and twinkle lights that the sun will come back. As I settle down in my ‘bear cave’ for the winter, I find myself needing to remember that more than usual. Its been a tough year, one way and another, but this is a time to go down deep and reflect on what I’ve learnt, a time recognise what I have achieved this year, and to think about what happens next. While we are still submerged in caring for our elderly relatives, and will be for a long while yet, it is easy for everything else to be subsumed. So I am taking this time to submerge myself in quiet time, put the annual shopping marathon on hold, and take care of my own needs.
I cannot look after others if I don’t look after myself.
This is true of all of us, not just those who, like me, have a chronic illness. I find myself surrounded by people who are chronically stressed and harrassed, many of whom have gone through major life-changing events this year, and who are about to dive into the Christmas Rounds without taking a moment to stop and be still, to take care of themselves. The result of this will no doubt be a round of really nasty illnesses on the other side of the festive season, when we all fall into the chasm of January! I for one don’t want to go through the misery of the last two years again, when I lost two or three months at the beginning of each year, first to influenza, and then labyrinthitis!
You can use your diary to slow down and take stock.
Plan yourself an evening alone. Send Husband out to the pub, get the kids to bed, pour yourself a glass of wine, light a candle and sit down with your journal. Some gentle music might help. Take some time to reflect, enjoy the stillness, and then write what you need to get out of your system:
Where are you now?
What is going on inside your body right now? Any aches or pains that need tending to?
Are any emotional issues niggling away that need to be talked over with the person concerned? (Don’t leave it, because its bound to blow up during the Christmas season, making you and everybody else miserable.) Can you write this person a letter in your diary, saying all the things you want them to know? (This way, you can be brutally honest, knowing they will never see it.)
If you’ve been through a tough time lately, maybe you could take some time to write about the good things in your life, to focus on something positive instead of pain or loss. Even if you feel so bereft that you can’t see anything good, maybe just writing down a simple list of basics – having a roof over your head, food in your belly, the freedom to write a list and say what you think, the chance to be able to learn to write at all – could help.
When writing out your feelings, express the first words that come into your head, because they are invariably the most authentic. Even just making a list of words can help.
You could channel how you feel into a drawing, painting or collage. This could be especially helpful if you feel that the emotions you currently have are ‘unacceptible’ or ‘bad’. Perhaps you feel angry, jealous, hurt, self-pitying, and that these are not ‘allowed’. The fact is, though, that:
Everything is allowed in your diary. There is no need to judge yourself.
Instead, express your feelings, even if those feelings feel hard and scary, and you will find that you move through them far more quickly.
The only way out is through.
Take the time to honour where you are right now, no matter how hard that feels for you. It is important to experience our emotions rather than bottle them up, otherwise they always come back to bite us when we least want or expect them. And you can take my word for this because I am an absolute PhD in it!
I hope that as we head towards the Christmas melee, you can find some time for yourself. I hope that you are able to nurse your wounds and nurture yourself. I hope that you can use your journal to practise self care. Because self care and creativity go hand in hand. And creativity is the beating heart of human existence.