Category Archives: Self care

Post Number 200!

Flow at Ardnave, Islay.I can’t quite believe I have written two hundred blog posts for this site since I started it on 18th April 2013!  Thats quite a lot of information to write down, and I’m fairly proud of myself for managing it.  And I am grateful to everyone who has read, supported, commented and subscribed.  Thank you so much!

That said, you will have noticed that posts have been a bit scarce lately.  Please don’t think I have forgotten you. Nor have I run out of enthusiasm for blogging.  I am determined this isn’t going to be one of those blogs that just stops, mid-conversation, and hangs there, never to be continued.  I don’t want that.  Besides, the work of creativity never ends, and neither does learning about it.

Nevertheless, Post Number 200 feels like a turning point.

I dont really know where I am going with this blog, any more than I know where I am going with my life.  I’m always talking about seismic shifts going on in the background, I know.  That’s the kind of life I like to live – one in which I am constantly in a process of of Becoming.  But right now, well, I feel as if I am changing right down to my very DNA.

Let me explain.

At the start of the year, I decided to take part in Sas Petherick and Meghan Genge’s Heart and Hearth Circle, and just after that, something extraordinary happened.  I decided to sit down and do a Goddess Card reading, as I often do.

The card I pulled that day was Kali.

(Cue meltdown.)

Kali is described by Juni Parkhurst in the book which accompanies the pack as follows:

“Kali is black, full-breasted and bloodthirsty, and dances on the bodies of her enemies.  She is alive with power.  She is creator and destroyer.  She is not a goddess to mess with.”

No, indeed.  Kali frankly terrifies me. Parkhurst goes on:

“Drawing this card puts you on notice that major changes are taking place.  Structures around you may crumble and fall, leaving you temporarily lost.  Remember, however, that destruction must sometimes come before creation.  The old, tired, redundant parts of your life must fall away in order to create space for the new and vibrant life that is coming…”

No shit, Sherlock!  Since Kali appeared on my desk that day, its been one darn thing after another.  My mother was taken very ill in January, and I travelled across the country to look after her and help coordinate her treatment (she’s lots better now, thank goodness!).  Shortly after that, Husband was diagnosed suddenly with diabetes, which necessitated a stay in hospital, and a major shift in lifestyle and mindset for us both.  Then I had a bout of profound anxiety and depression, followed by a heart problem (luckily that seems benign!).  And for the last three weeks I have been prostrate with some kind of virus that has affected my throat and reignited my ME symptoms, leaving me utterly exhausted, and unable to mentally process.  Throw in elders with dementia to care for, and constant travelling, and its been a very tough five months.

All this has resulted in some very profound soul-searching, and a readjustment of everything I previously deemed important. In the face of the (admittedly distant) spectre of losing my dear other half, so much that seemed crucial to existence now appears totally and laughably irrelevant.  While he continues to respond well to treatment, I am all too aware that he is a similar age to that at which my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, a sobering thought.

All this is a lot to process, and when one’s brain power is reduced by illness, there isn’t a lot of juice left over for anything else.  The result has been what I would describe as something of a story drought.  Not writer’s block.  I’m perfectly capable of writing.  But I’m finding that no new ideas are being delivered in the usual way.  I’m a person who is used to fresh stories popping into my head on a daily basis.  I’m never short of new ideas.  Except now I am.  So this is something of a surprise.  I am determined not to be phased by it.  After all, its understandable given what I’ve been in the midst of during the last few months.  I’m in subsistence mode.  Life is just sucking up all my neurons at the moment in order to arrange basic survival.  There’s nothing left for cave paintings at this point!

I suppose I must have invited Cosmic Intervention into my life on a grand scale by opting for the Heart and Hearth Circle, and signalling that I was ready to get ‘spiritually naked’ as it were.  I’m not sure I realised what I was signing up for, but do we ever?  Life has changed beyond belief in the last five months, and so have I.  And I don’t know what is going to come out of it.

But it will be something really, really good.

So as we move into the next 200 posts together, I hope that you will stick with me through all these upheavals, this drought, and whatever comes out of it.  My brain is currently toying with new sewing, quilting and illustrating ideas.  I am keeping afloat by journalling and pursuing a version of Natalie Goldberg‘s writing practice.  And I will keep you posted as to what emerges, though my missives may be a little less regular than they have been for a while.  I know you understand, and I shall look forward to sharing this new life adventure with you in the coming months.

(And incidentally, I really, really recommend the Heart and Hearth Circle.  I’ve learnt so much, and Sas and Meghan are wise and wonderful.  And I’ve met such lovely kindred spirits too!)

Happy Creating, EF

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I See: Reflections on Creativity and Seeing Part 1

I'm having to abandon my varifocals to read until my new specs come.  Incidentally, Ana T Forrest's 'Fierce Medicine' is a great read for challenging times.

I’m having to abandon my varifocals to read until my new specs come. Incidentally, Ana T Forrest’s ‘Fierce Medicine’ is a great read for challenging times.

Yesterday I went to the opticians for an eye test.

Nothing unusual about that, you may say, and hardly a suitable subject for a blog about Creativity.  However, aside from the fact that every experience is fodder for a writer, I want to tell you what a literal eye-opener it was.

I should probably mention that it is about six years since I last had an eye test, never mind new glasses, since with my cruddy eyesight, the latter invariably involves coming up with a hefty three figure sum.  Luckily, we’d put a bit aside over the winter, and I’ve finally got my chance, which is a good thing since my close sight (I wear varifocals) has got so bad that I seem to manage to slice, grate or peel my fingers every time I prepare a meal because I can’t see what I am doing.

I had also made the momentous decision to give in to Husband’s badgering, and go to his optician, instead of the cut-price outfit I attended before.  You get what you pay for, and my scarcity thinking had ended up with me wearing a pair of specs for six years that were the wrong prescription to start out with.  I don’t even want to think of the potential damage caused as a result, never mind the wrinkles from squinting!

My new optician was breath-takingly thorough and professional.  When he touched my head, or slotted new lenses into the machine, I felt as soothed as a fractious baby.  I relaxed into the the chair, something I had forgotten how to do in a clinical context, at rest in my trust in his skills.

And then he put in the final lens and removed the blank so that I could see out of both eyes with the new prescription. And that was when the magic happened.

I had forgotten the rush, the sheer, giddy thrill of being able to see the world in all it’s crisp, hard-edged glory:

R   V   S   B

Clear as day!

I had forgotten.  I had forgotten how one day, long ago, the school nurse had sent me home with a letter for my mother, saying that I needed spectacles.  My mother cried (a wonder I had never seen before), mortified that she hadn’t noticed how dreadfully shortsighted I was.  Even at seven, I was excellent at hiding it, of course.  I hid my blindness as I hid so much else, not wanting to be a bother, wanting to be a good girl.

I shall never forget the day I was taken to collect my first pair of glasses – plastic, pale pink, National Health frames guaranteed to make you a target for bullies at school.  They were monumentally ugly and unflattering, and they never sat straight on my nose because one of my ears is higher than the other (most people’s are, apparently) and they could never adjust them to get the angle right.  I still have the same problem.

I didn’t care.

Because for the first time in my life, I could see.

I came out of that little shop, and saw road signs and shop fronts, chimneys, roof tiles and clouds, car number plates, birds, litter in the gutters, pebbles and cobbles, a myriad of enchanting details that were entirely new to me.  It felt like a miracle.

Other kids at school moaned about having to wear specs when their turn came, or refused to, point blank, on grounds of vanity.  Some even deliberately damaged theirs so they wouldn’t have to wear them.  I never understood what they were on about.  Spectacles were for me a liberation, a swipe of pure magic in my life, and I loved them.

And sitting in the opticians chair yesterday, looking at a row of illuminated capital letters through a contraption that Professor Brainstawm would have been proud of, I felt once more that giddy thrill of being able to see.

So I am resolved never to neglect my eyesight again.   Not for perfectly sensible health reasons, of which there are many, and which I entirely subscribe to; not in recognition of my ‘lack of deserving’ habits which explained my recent years drought, nor even to avoid those pesky wrinkles.  No, I shall make sure my prescription is always up to date in in future for the frivolous, delicious rush of childlike excitement, the giddly thrill of seeing.

May your eyesight always be sharp and clear,

EF

Wonder Weeks

Bungay from the banks of the River Waveney

Bungay from the banks of the River Waveney, the perfect place to contemplate my own personal Wonder Week experience!

You see, I haven’t forgotten you!

Taking a bit of a blog break has been less of a necessity and more of ‘I only have so much energy and something has to fall off my todo list in order for me to survive’ thing.

Its not that my life has been event-free; more that it has been so event-packed that there has been no room to breathe.  Recent weeks have been so full of stuff – appointments, health problems, elder care, visitors, travelling, and aggravation – that there has been almost no space to remember who I am, let alone what I want to create.

One thing struck me this weekend, though, as I talked with my song-writer friend.  There are times in life when we have these emotional growth spurts, when life is difficult and challenging, and when all our energy has to go into dealing with whatever mountain we have to climb.  These are the times when we learn and grow.  They are not necessarily when we are in the right place to create the Great English Novel! (Or poem, or song lyric!)

I am reminded of friends who have become parents talking about their baby’s ‘wonder weeks’, those stages in development when an infant’s brain grows to allow it to gain new capacities to interract with its world.  These are often times when a child is grouchy, sleeping badly, and crying for no reason.  Get to the other end of a wonder week, and your baby has learnt to sit up unaided, or vocalise in a new way, and it was worth all the pain and sleepless nights.

As adults, I think we have wonder weeks too.  Its just sometimes we go for months or years without development, and then a dozen wonder weeks come along all at once, leaving us feeling like we have been hit by a steam roller.

If, like me, you are caught in a chain of adult wonder weeks, it’s worth noting that while your brain is preoccupied with making new neural pathways, and driving a bulldozer through old ones, it is unlikely to have any energy, space or interest in anything else.  Time to be kind to yourself.

I’ve had to accept that this is not a time in my life during which I am going to have the ability to concentrate on complicated activities.  I’ve given up trying to read fiction, watch drama or write anything complex.  I seem to be only able to cope with reading books about history (which feels strangely comforting), or wellbeing (which are directly relevant to my situation), or to watch TV documentaries.  I can’t even read blogs at the moment.  I just can’t take them in.

But that’s okay.

My brain is doing other stuff.  So I’m not trying to force it back onto the straight and narrow.  I’m trusting that it knows what its doing, and that eventually I will come out the other end with my pockets stuffed full of psychological doubloons from this unplanned diversion.  It may be an adventure I didn’t sign up for, but that’s how life sometimes is.

Don’t pile yourself up with SHOULDS.  The blogosphere is full of exortations to fulfil your Life Purpose, organise your house, build your dream business, learn Mandarin in a week – but if that week happens to be a grown-up wonder week for you, believe me, trying to learn Mandarin at that point in your life will be the emotional equivalent of trying to run a marathon when you are lashed to the Rack.  And just as pointless.

Give yourself a break.  Don’t live in SHOULDland.

Unfortunately, adult wonder weeks don’t arrive in calendar-friendly order like those for babies.  We never know when the Universe is going to clock us round the chops with the Frying-pan of Enlightenment, or fell us with what feels like a very back-handed ‘opportunity’ for growth.  But that is what they are – opportunities.  No matter how wretched they might feel.

Give yourself a break.  Be where you are.  Accept where you are. 

Stop fighting it.

Rather than try to soldier on when brain and body are apparently no longer willing to cooperate, it is far better to let them do their thing and hang up the whip for a while.  Preferably permanently.

Give yourself a Break.  Choose a new way. 

Choose kindness towards yourself.

In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted as to when I surface from my wonder weeks!

Happy Creating,

EF

Creative Recuperation

Statue by Anthony Gormley on the top of Blackwells Art and Poster shop, Broad Street, Oxford.

Statue by Anthony Gormley on the top of Blackwells Art and Poster shop, Broad Street, Oxford.

We just got back from a demanding time in Oxford, and after the difficult fortnight we have had, I find myself feeling emotionally as well as physically exhausted.  So when I found this post from Jamie Ridler this morning, I realised I had to make a concerted effort to have some healing time.

One of the hardest things to accept about our creativity is that it often comes and goes.  There are times of bounty, when the Muse is flowing and there are so many ideas coming into your head and out of your pen that you feel like you could get hysterical just trying to keep pace.

And there are the droughts.  The times when nothing new has come for months, and you feel like you may never paint or write or dance again.

One of the things that my ME/CFS has taught me, and continues to teach me, is to go with that flow.  There are times of the year when our bodies need downtime, and times when our tails are up and we are full of energy.  Any woman knows this from her menstrual cycle.

The trouble is that we live in a 24/7 culture that requires us to be ‘on’ seven days a week, twelve months a year, and our biology just hasn’t evolved sufficiently to keep up with that. (We’ve only had the lightbulb for a hundred years or so, remember?)  We simply can’t be  in action continually.  We aren’t machines.  We have to stop and rest.

Resisting that PUSHPUSHPUSH productivity mindset is a constant practise, but if you are intent on living a truly creative life, you need to take account of not only your own biorhythms, but also your creative rhythms.

It is time to be gentle with ourselves.

Because if we don’t make time to be gentle with ourselves, our bodies will remind us that we must in no uncertain terms – often with the red traffic light of major illness.

So this week, I am resolved not to make any particular demands on myself. I will be journalling, and watching some old films, eating nurturing food, and taking lots of naps.  Maybe I’ll even paint my toenails, which always cheers me up!  I am going to take it one day at a time and listen to what my body needs.  By doing that, I know my mojo will come back eventually.   I just need to give it some space.

Happy creating – or resting, whichever you need to do right now,

EF

 

The Tale of the Soapy Otters

The view from my pillow

The view from my pillow. Sorry its a bit blurry, but that’s how I feel right now.

This is my life right now.

Lying in bed, sleeping, reading, writing, staring out of the window, watching the clouds, listening to the wind.

I’ve had a real health crash.  I’m back to the ‘having to sit down to brush my teeth and wash my face’ stage.  The ‘having to go back to bed after my shower because thats all the energy gone for the day’ stage.  The ‘oh, shit, how the hell did I get this bad again?’ stage.

Today, I’m regarding myself as lucky.  My brain has picked up again, so I am able to read once more, but to start with it was impossible to take anything much in.  There was that horrible feeling of staring at the page and knowing that the letters and words so familiar to me were completely unintelligible, that even if I could understand them, they wouldn’t stay in my mind long enough for me to make sense of the author’s ideas.  Words become like soapy otters on days like this.  You’ve no hope of catching them.

That’s the hardest thing for me to handle about this illness, I think.  The soapy otters. 

Because I am a reading addict.  I was the kid that read the back of the cornflake packet at breakfast every day (even the list of vitamins) three or four times, just to keep myself entertained.  As an adult, I need to have something to read continually with me, or I get twitchy.

And if I am not reading, I am writing.

Being deprived of this capacity on however temporary basis is agony.  I feel lucky that it doesn’t happen too often anymore, because when I was first ill, some 17 years ago (Gods!  Is it that long?) it was pretty consistent for months. I couldn’t even listen to the radio because the sound hurt my ears, and I couldn’t understand what was being said anyway.

I’m grateful to be better, believe me.

Not least because the soapy otters are harbingers of major changes.

They herald a time when I am forced to lie down and face my thoughts.  They offer me a time to rest and recuperate, but also to realign.  My body may be rusting like that of the Tin Man, but my soul is in hyper space.  Things are shifting.

Soul shifts seem to come in spurts for me.  Nothing for a long time, and then everything all at once.  Maybe that’s why I am so exhausted.

My diary has taken a hammering since I’ve been able to write again.  Pages and pages.  So has my writing notebook.  And that big notebook you can see in the picture?  That’s my wellbeing workbook.  That is where I write down what my body needs, what my heart and soul need too.  My diary is for my thoughts and feelings.  My workbook is for my vision and planning.  For working things out.  It is my wellbeing memory.  And yes, I like to use brightly coloured pens in that one, not just to draw attention to certain paragraphs and concepts, but because I like them.  They make me happy.  Yay for Papermate Flair pens, I say!

You’ll notice there is another notebook in the picture, too, a black one.  That’s my current writing notebook.  And yesterday, I actually was able to write something in it.  A scene from a story.  I felt so proud of myself.

And when I have exhausted my Bloglovin’ feed, I’ve got books, though they are a bit more resistant to my brain at the moment.  I don’t know why I find the written page harder to understand at times like this.  The electronic one is definitely less ottery.

At the moment I am rejoicing in Danielle LaPorte’s wonderful ‘The Desire Map: a guide to creating goals with soul’, a title which is a bit of a misnomer because actually its about core desired feelings which really hits the spot.  I’m a person who finds it hard to connect with feelings, so using them as a life compass is a huge and thrilling idea to me.

The other book is  Tami Lynn Kent’s ‘Wild Feminine:  Finding Power, Spirit and Joy in the Female Body’, which is feeling more like hard work, but I think that may because I am so resistant to the material.  One of my intentions this year is to connect more to my womanness, and thats why I am reading this one.  I think its going to cause a revolution.  I’ll let you know how I get on with it.

And now, after writing all that, I’m exhausted again.  Sorry, I had better wrap up.  I just wanted to share with you where I am, the good and the bad.  And on the whole, while it is an uncomfortable and frustrating place to be, I find that actually I am deeply grateful for it.

But before I go I want to leave you with an unbearably cute photo of an otter sleeping:

Sea Otters can sleep on their backs in the water.

Sea Otters can sleep on their backs in the water.

Yes, I know he’s not soapy, but I couldn’t find one that was.  Which is probably for the best, don’t you think?

Happy Creating,

EF

Inspiration Monday: Intention

On Ardnave Beach, Islay.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay.

Hello dear friends.

I just got back from a weekend looking after mother-in-law and aunt-in-law.  It wasn’t how I would expect to spend the Valentine’s Day weekend, but actually it was a chance to show love in ways other than romantically.  I did mother-in-law’s hair for her.  I gave aunt-in-law a manicure. I made them pancakes, something they would never be able to manage themselves.  Husband cooked us all a slap-up roast dinner.  On Sunday, Husband and I took some time to visit the centre of Oxford, and soak up the beautiful architecture and bookshops.

It was a weekend filled with all kinds of love.

Now I am home, with a week stretching out before me, and the need to take account of my own health and wellbeing.  I’m in the middle of a ME/CFS flare-up, which means taking a lot of time to rest and sleep.  I couldn’t do that while we were away, just caught enough sleep on the hop to keep going until we got home.  Now I’m flaked.

One of the things I find it helpful to do is to set an intention for the week. I usually do it on a Sunday, but circumstances dictated otherwise this week.  So this morning I am sitting here in bed, considering what should be my priority for the coming seven days.  These are a few of the activities I have in mind:

Rest.

Self care.

Some quality time with Husband.

Doing some drawing.

A bunch of pink roses.

When I’m up to it again, cooking some luscious vegan food.

Catching up with some writing I want to do.

Reading a new book, which arrived on Friday – so excited about this one, as I think it could make a real difference to my health and creativity.

Maybe giving myself a pedicure.

Of course there are a dozen other things I would like to do, and hundreds of OUGHTS and SHOULDS which I am ignoring.  It’s hardly a ‘To Do’ list.  I don’t like Goals, as I’ve said before.  I can’t set targets because frequently unexpected health problems prevent me from meeting them, which only leads to despondency.  Instead I give myself Intentions.

For me, an Intention is the spirit in which I go about my daily life, the ethos that guides me in choosing what I am going to do next. It is a way of nurturing not only my own wellbeing, but my creativity too.

My intention this week is ‘Rest and Recovery’.

I will do this week whatever needs to be done to look after myself, and to gently feed my soul.

What is your intention this week?

Happy creating,

EF

 

Inspiration Monday: My Own Little Patch of Earth.

Roses in my own garden.

Roses in my own garden.

One of the things I want to be doing this year, as part of my quest for EASE , is to try and reduce the amount of pain I experience on a daily basis.  And after quite a lot of trial and error, I have discovered that the kind of pain I have at the moment is actually EASEd by movement.

I’m concluding that a main source may actually be the slow atrophy of my muscles over the last 17 years of ME/CFS.  If you are too exhausted to move, your muscles degrade.  Its a major issue for anyone with this illness.  When I had influenza a couple of years ago, my daily yoga practise went by the wayside, and since then, apart from sporadic efforts at walking, I’ve been able to do very little.  I hadn’t realised how much the yoga had been helping back then until I developed back problems, because all my core muscles have wasted so much.  My body can’t hold itself up properly  anymore.  With shooting pains in my legs and hips as well, I’m having to face the fact that if I don’t haul myself off the sofa at least a little bit once a day, I am doomed to a painful existence.*  And that’s not what I want.

But how to find something that motivates me to get off my bum without wrecking the delicate energy balance I’ve had to cultivate in order to function?

The answer came to me this morning:

Just look out of the window, Rebecca.

We have a nice, good-sized, south-facing garden that we have really done very little with since the first year we moved in.  This autumn, it efectively got abandoned as a result of ongoing ill-health and wrinkly-wrangling commitments.

Which is a shame, because I made a lovely garden in the house where we lived before.  It gave me a great deal of joy and healing, and is one of the things that the new owners still treasure.  But when we moved here, I just didn’t connect with the garden in the same way.

Gardening gives me the opportunity to get out in the fresh air, get my fingers in the soil, and soak up all that good prana, even though I don’t like getting mucky, if I’m honest!  It is enormously satisfying when you have finished to be able to sit back, and look at the work you have done.  It is tangible evidence of your efforts.  You can do a little at a time, and stop when you have had enough.  Even a brief walk around outside, picking up a few stray leaves, or doing a bit of dead-heading can make someone in my situation feel so much better.  A little bit of movement in the fresh air gets the blood going and the muscles moving, however gently.

And you get pretty flowers into the bargain.

Its a no-brainer really.

This afternoon, I’ve been out there, raking up leaves.  I didn’t do much.  Just enough to allow me to connect with the muscles in my arms, back and legs.  Just enough to feel the blood in my veins.  Just enough to get my cheeks pink in the nippy air, and the smell of wet earth in my nostrils.    Now I’m inside, I can look out at what I’ve achieved.  The garden is still a tip, overall, but I can see the newly flowering primroses in the bed by the gate.  They were covered with big oak leaves like tanned hands before.  Now they are winking at me, little creamy-yellow faces in the twilight.  Hope that Spring will come.

And yes, my arms are wibbly from the effort, and I feel like I might need a lie down, but I also feel refreshed and loosened up.  I have done something creative, something to nurture myself and the earth on which I live.  That feels nice.

Maybe I’ll get some plant catalogues and start planning what bedding I’ll put in in the spring.  Maybe I’ll work out what I can do with that disastrous centre bed that just isn’t working.  Maybe I’ll work out a humane way to get rid of the moles.  Maybe I’ll get some winter pansies to put in the hanging basket by the front door.  Maybe my peony will flower this year.

With a garden, anything could happen.

Happy Creating,

EF

*I feel like I need to add that this current pain is different from the pain I experience as part of my ME/CFS symptoms.  Its different in character and location.  It can be relieved by movement, which my ME pain cannot.  That is why I conclude that its caused by muscle wastage, and not as a result of the disease itself.  Exercise has been touted as a cure for ME, but its not.  It can only help with the associated muscle loss.  If you are experiencing serious pain yourself, I feel I should encourage you strongly to see a doctor or medical professional before you commence any kind of activity which might exacerbate the problem.  Don’t make yourself worse!