Tag Archives: healing

The Friday Review No. 3: Processing

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It’s the last day of March, and I’m home after a fortnight of running around like a headless chicken, attending to family duties.  Its been one long, continuous To Do list.

Honestly, I’m knackered.  Even if I didn’t have ME/CFS, I’d be wrecked.

The problem is that there has been so much mental processing, so many emotions, that my mind feels full of fog.  I can’t think straight.  In fact, I can’t think at all.  I feel like I need to be still, wrapped in silence, on my own for at least a week, to get my head around what just happened.

Sometimes, life takes over, and then drops you like a stone, and it takes a while to get back into the groove of who you are and where you want to go.  I have come home to my life of writing and blogging and drawing and being me, and I feel like I have lost the connection with that life.  I feel like an alien to myself.  But all I need is time.

Often in the creative life, we try to force things.  Something monumental happens, the illness or death of a loved one, a new baby, our own ill health, moving house or job, anything that makes for a big upheaval.  And we try to pretend it hasn’t happened, that we can just carry on.

Sometimes, we can.  Sometimes keeping writing or drawing or making music is the thing that anchors us through the storm.

There are also times when we need to sit down and just be.  Times when it is important to assimilate what has just happened.  Times to lay down the pen or the plectrum and give ourselves time.  Time to let this new reality sink in.  And caring for your creativity, and yourself, depends on the skill of knowing which to do.  Today, my gut is telling me to rest and process.  And I am listening.

So I’m giving myself time, and not forcing it.

I had my session with my writing coach, Heidi Williamson, yesterday, and it was great.  So much to think about.  I’ve kept up my writing practice sessions, twice a week, just as I promised myself, and Heidi, and you, dear reader, throughout my travels, which I’m very proud of.  And that felt good.  And I’ve been reading – I finished ‘The Name of the Rose’ while I was away, and thought a bit about that.  So progress has been made.  Nevertheless, I know I need to wait till my brain comes back to normal service before I launch into more writing.

I have learnt one important thing this fortnight, though.  It is one I always have to keep re-learning.  (Duh.)  And it is this:

I need to write in my journal.  Every day.  Otherwise I don’t know who I am.

I sat down with my journal last night for the first time in two weeks, and wrote, and somewhere amongst the pages and the scribbled blue shapes of the letters, I found myself again.  Over and over, I neglect to write through difficult times, and then when I come back to it, I realise how much it would have helped me to cope, if only I’d made a priority of it, if only I’d made time.  That can be hard to do when you are at the beck and call of another, especially if its a family member who is sick and needs you, and as a result does not recognise any boundaries and expects you to be on call 24 hours a day.  Its very hard, especially if you are a woman, to set aside half an hour come what may, to be alone with your diary every day.  But if that is the only way to keep your sanity, then it must be done.

And that has been this week’s important lesson for me, I think.  That journaling is the key to my creative practice.  And my sanity.  And probably my identity too.  And it must be sacrosanct.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, must get in the way of my journaling time.  And that includes me!

With that, dear readers, I will leave you, and go and have a soak in the bath with my paralysed, fog-filled brain, and hope it comes back to life soon.

In the meantime, happy creating,

EF

 

 

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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

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!

Journal Friday: Outflow – Making Lemonade

LemonsPart of being a writer is the dance of self-acceptance.

I have to deal with a chronic illness, which has radically altered my life for the last fifteen years, and shows no sign of waning.  This means I have to manage the delicate balance between self-care and doing too much.  When I overdo it, I end up exacerbating my symptoms and have to face extended periods of bed rest and being confined to the house.  Anf brain fog.

So sometimes I can’t write.  And its not that I don’t want to, its just that I literally can’t.

As I have said before, however, that doesn’t mean I’m not writing.  In my head, at least.

Sometimes life deals us lemons, and the lemonade is hard to make.  But even when I feel like I am buried under tonnes of lemons, the dream is still there.  The memory of how fantastic it feels when I am able to write, when the flow is happening and I am submerged in a scene.

This is where my diary comes in.  At times when I can process language, when I can hold my pen, I write in my journal.  It may only be a few lines, a sentence or two, but it is self-expression, getting the feelings out onto the page, and it feels fantastic.

At times when things are tough, my journal is my life raft.

At the moment, as I struggle with another period of sickness, I am working with this book.  When I have finished squeezing every drop of goodness from it, I will tell you how I got on, a little review of sorts.  In the meantime, I offer you this quote, from the marvellous SARK, patron saint of creative women, quoted by the author, Jackee Holder:

“I love journal keeping because it has helped me to discover and uncover myself, to encourage my own bravery, sort out difficulties with other people, to invent new ways of being.”

SARK, Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper, 2008.

Happy Journalling,

EF

Journal Friday: How to write yourself out of a hole

Lighthouse at Dusk, Islay, Scotland

Lighthouse at Dusk, Islay, Scotland

(DISCLAIMER:  I am not a qualified counsellor, psychiatrist or doctor.  I am just describing what works for me.  If you are suffering with depression I urge you strongly to reach out and get help.  You do not need to suffer.)

I have suffered from bouts of depression since I was a child.  Depression is not having a bad day, or feeling blue, though both of those are unpleasant.  Depression is a soul-crushing, heart-lacerating misery that debilitates and destroys everything in its path.  Do not deny it or under-estimate it.

That said, over the years I have found ways to help myself, and believe me, helping yourself, feeling you have a little control over something that feels like it is controlling you, is a real relief.  Journaling is one of those ways.

So what to do if you find yourself at the bottom of the depression mine shaft?  Or even if you are just having a bit of a black dog kind of day?

How to:

Get out your journal.

Write down how you are feeling RIGHT NOW, in this moment.  As my counsellor often says, you can’t get to Edinburgh if you don’t know where you are now. (Think about trying to plan a journey that way – impossible!)

Be specific.

Stop and take the time to feel what is going on inside your body.  Do you have particular sensations associated with this low mood?  If so, where are they?  Write them down. They may be indicative of trapped emotions.

How are you feeling emotionally?  Write that down too – a list of adjectives if that is all you can face doing.

Does an image that describes how you feel come to mind?  Describe that.  For example, for me a real, deep depression feels as if my ribs have been ripped open, and my heart repeatedly slashed.  I feel it bleeding inside my chest.  Yes, it is a horrible image, but that is exactly how I feel, and describing it, in as much detail as possible, can be a huge relief.

Do not judge your feelings as you record them.  Do not judge yourself as selfish or unfeeling because you resent the fact that your husband is not doing much to help with your crying baby, or that you are angry because your boss does not recognise how hard you are working..  Have a good rant, safe in the knowledge that you don’t have to protect anyone’s feelings.  You are not being a martyr or a victim at this point.  You are just recognising how you feel.  Do not feel bad about what you write.  Admitting these feelings exist to yourself is the first step to healing, and no one else is going to see what you write.

If you don’t feel anything, write that too.  An absence is just as important.  Describe the void in as much detail as you can.  You may even find, as you progress, that you begin to pick up on little gimmers in the abyss, feelings you didn’t know were there.  Write those too.

As you write, you may find other feelings coming up from underneath the ones you are describing.  Get those down.  I often find that underneath my depression is anger, and underneath the anger lies a need not being met.  When I identify what it is I want that I am not getting, I am right in touch with the small child inside that feels unloved, whose needs went unmet.  Do not judge the need.  Simply recognise it.  Is there a way you can get what you need now, in a healthy way?  Now you know what it is, you can ask for it.

Whatever else you do, try to write daily, and get whatever miserable feelings you are having onto the page.  Once you have let them out, keep writing.  You may find more positive stuff coming through behind, and perhaps even ideas of things to do to help, comfort and console yourself.

Above all, be gentle with yourself. 

Show yourself the same compassion you would to a friend in need. (We often don’t do this, conditioned as we are to berate ourselves for the smallest failing.)

What next?

This is a process of continuing orientation and expression.  If you were on a cross-country walk, you would stop regularly to check your map and compass, to be sure where you were, to work out which was the next direction to take.

In the same way, depression is a long journey.  You need to be taking your own emotional temperature, checking your compass, as regularly as possible.  So make time to write often.

In my last spell of depression, I worked in my journal like this three or four times a day, for several days, then continued on a daily basis long after.  That probably sounds like quite a lot of effort.  On the other hand, you might take a pill three or four times a day if told by the doctor that it would make you feel better.  And this will make you feel better.

Why?  Because it gets the toxic feelings out of your body and mind, and puts them somewhere else – onto the page.

NOTE:  Do not reread what you write when you are still ill, or at all.  That would be ruminating on your feelings, and will encourage you to judge, feel guilty or ashamed.  Just get it down.  You are looking for TRUTH, not BEING GOOD.

You may find it helpful to write on loose sheets of paper, rather than in your journal proper.  This way, you could opt to burn the pages, ritually releasing the feelings, and freeing yourself.

Whether you are in the midst of a long bout of clinical depression, or just having a low spell, I encourage you to try this way of journaling.  I hope that it will help you to release your pain and move back into the sunshine.

With love,

EF

Journal Friday: The Gratitude Journal

If you trawl self help and wellbeing blogs like I do, you’ll probably have come across the idea of the Gratitude Journal before.  Lots of people swear by them.  You might think they are a bit of a cheesy idea, writing down what you are grateful for in your life every day.  I mean, isn’t it self-evident?

Maybe not.

Think about all the time you spend moaning and complaining about what is wrong with your life.  Our consumer culture programmes us to always want something else, something more than what we already have.  There might be a reason why all those slum dwellers you see in doumentaries look so happy.  Its not because they are glad to be living in squallor and poverty, that’s for sure.  Maybe it’s because they have so little that they value what they do have.

Let me tell you a story about one of the most inspiring people I have ever known:

My Great Auntie Kitty.

She was in her late 80s and early 90s when I knew her.  I was a small child – I think I was probably about 8 or 10 when she died.  I didn’t know her well because she lived in a town four hours drive from our home, so we were only able to visit her rarely, but she made a big impression.

Auntie Kitty was born disabled as a result of problems with her hips and legs, though I don’t remember specifically what.  Suffice it to say that she had never been able to walk properly and had worn calipers all her life.  By the time I knew her, she was severely crippled with arthritis, in appalling pain, and mostly blind from macular degeneration.  She was also quite deaf.  But she had a brain as sharp as a knife, and wit to match, loved to debate politics, ethics and religion, and kept up to the minute with all the news through her radio.  She also loved talking books, which she listened to continually as well.  She was funny, entertaining, and never let you get away with anything, especially self pity or fuzzy thinking.

Like many younger daughters, she had devoted her life to caring for others in her family, nursing her own parents and siblings through old age and into death.  She was the last of her generation to survive.  She had never married.  She had battled her way through a hard life through sheer force of will.

I remember her telling me this:

Every night, when she lay in the dark after the carer had come to put her to bed, she would think of three things in her life to be grateful for.  Sometimes she was in horrific pain, and thinking of anything to be thankful for was very difficult.  But she told me that no matter what, she could always find something.

Every night for the last thirty years, I have done the same.  Three things.  Just three.  Usually there are plenty more.  I could fill pages!  Some nights, if I’ve had a row with my husband or I’m in a lot of pain, as I sometimes am, I can struggle a bit. It can be pretty rudimentary on those occasions:

1.  I have a roof over my head.

2.  I have a bed to support me.

3.  There is ibuprofen in the cupboard.

Most of the time, there is plenty to be grateful for:

1.  I have a wonderful husband who loves me.

2.  I live in a beautiful place that most people would give a limb to inhabit.

3.  I have lots of friends who care for me very much.

4.  I get to write!!  (And so on)

I do this every night, come what may, partly in remembrance of Auntie Kitty, in celebration of her huge personality and bravery, and partly for myself.  Because it helps.

Being grateful shifts us into awareness, not only of what is real in our lives, but what is important.  Having that latest pair of shoes or the new Clarisonic really is not important compared with the people who we love and who love us.  Unlike the slum dwellers of the Developing World, most of us know we have a safe place to sleep tonight, and food in our bellies.  We have other, First World problems, I suppose, but there is still such a lot to be thankful for.  It is so easy to forget how fortunate we are.  Let’s not.

(I was going to take a picture of my Gratitude Journal to show you, but somehow it felt wrong.  An invasion.  Privacy, remember?  I find my reaction about that interesting itself, and I propose to explore it more in my own journal later, because I wasn’t expecting to feel that way.  Its interesting when you find boundaries you didn’t know were there, don’t you think?)

Journal Exercise:

Okay, you get to go out and indulge in the stationery shop again this week!  Go and choose yourself a nice little notebook, one with small pages.  I use this one.

Every night before you go to bed, get your notebook out and write at least three things that you are grateful for today.  Use a separate page every day, and date each.  Sometimes you will fill the page, and wish you had another.  Maybe you will go on a fill another, that’s up to you.  Some days you will be grumpy and resentful, and won’t feel like doing anything other than having a pity party for yourself.  Regardless, remember: write three things.  Just three.  It will help.

At the end of the first month, go back through your notebook and reflect on the things you have written down.  What are your lists showing about what important to you?  Write about this in your journal, if you like.  How has a daily gratitude practise changed the way you feel about your life?

Happy Journalling,

EF

On Process: The Myth of the Suffering Artist

Chatterton 1856 by Henry Wallis 1830-1916(Henry Wallis’s painting of  Thomas Chatterton (20 November 1752 – 24 August 1770), who was an English poet and forger of pseudo-medieval poetry. He died of arsenic poisoning, either from a suicide attempt or self-medication for a venereal disease.)

I was going to start this post with a list of all the Creatives who have damaged themselves for the sake of their art.  I lay in bed the other night, trying to compile a list of them.  There were a lot, and those were just the ones I could come up with at 3am!

And why bother?  We know who they were.  We know the names of Rothko, Hemingway, Woolf, Pollock, Kerouac, Kinski, Dylan Thomas, and so very many others.

We conveniently don’t notice the ones like Grayson Perry, and Tracey Emin, who credit their art with saving them. (I’ve made links to autobiographies here, and I encourage you to read them, as they are enormously inspiring.)

We certainly don’t remember the millions of artists who, over the course of the last two millennia, have lived happy, healthy and fulfilling lives as well as making art of all kinds.

You don’t have to suffer in a garrett to be an artist.  You don’t have to drink yourself to death, take drugs, cut yourself, starve yourself, tolerate life in abusive relationships, live in squallor or destroy your health.  That is not what an artist is.

An artist is someone who makes art.

(Whatever kind of art that is, from writing to painting to dance.)

Just that.  Nothing else.  Just that.

Creativity is the greatest healing force in the Universe.  I know this because I have seen it and felt it for myself.  When you begin to create, you end suffering.  You will feel better.  I promise.

And yes, it will be frustrating at times, and maybe you will cry your way through every chapter, every linocut, every sculpture, every pas de deux, as you work through all the difficult feelings that come up.  Because lets not kid ourselves, people who create great art of all kinds are often driven to do so because of their own difficult pasts.

So maybe writing 500 words a day is like getting blood out of a stone for you?  There are ways to deal with that, but remember that struggle often comes from deep hurts from long ago, from entrenched behaviours that stop you being your most luminous self.  And if you write those words, every day, you will get through those barriers, and you will feel wonderful.

I promise.

I know because it happened to me.  And continues to happen.  Every day.

If you think that you cannot communicate accurately to your readers the misery and suffering of your characters without having lived it yourself, I will tell you the secret of how you can do without nailing yourself to a cross.

Three little words:

Imagination, empathy and research.  And the most important of these is IMAGINATION.

Imagine yourself in their place.  How would you feel?  What would distress you the most about their position.  Read up.  Find out how other people felt who went through similar traumas.

DO NOT TRAUMATISE YOURSELF.

Eat well.  Get enough sleep.  Value yourself.  Work at having loving and fulfilling relationships with others. Exercise.  Meditate.   See the doctor and the dentist if you need to.  Use your art to heal whatever wounds you have.  Care for yourself, and your art will be the better for it.  As will you.

Happy Creating,

EF