Tag Archives: illness

Lemon Lessons

Hilarious card sent by our niece to cheer us up.  It worked.

Hilarious card sent by our niece to cheer us up. It worked.

You may have noticed a distinct absence of Evenlodeness on your dashboard lately.

This is because here at the Evenlode Burrow, we have been struck by a hail of lemons.

Yes, I was ill.  Quite ill. Verging on very ill.

And then Husband got diagnosed with diabetes and taken into hospital overnight.

This was, despite all expectations, a major shock.  Diabetes is endemic in his family, so we can’t say we weren’t expecting it, but somehow seeing him in a hospital bed still felt horribly distressing, not least because he is close to the same age that my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Both my father and grandfather died at the age of 52, and Husband celebrates his 50th birthday this year, so the rational part of my brain sort of went AWOL.

Matters were further not helped by the fact that the doctors can’t decide which sort of diabetes he has.  Type 2 is what you would expect given his age, but apparently his blood tests are not clear.  Trust him to be awkward!  He could be either, so the quacks are going with treatment for Type 2 for the next fortnight, and if the tablets don’t work, reassessment will follow.  Cue uncertainty on an epic scale.

So many people have been telling me how their relatives live healthily with diabetes of either type, and believe me, I know, I know.  Husband’s brother has been living well with Type 1 for thirty-odd years.  I’m well aware that its not a death sentence, and that it could be a lot worse.

But it has still rocked our world.

There are, however, unexpected gifts even in this hail of lemons:

1) Yay for the NHS

Here in the UK, we have the National Health Service, and it is one of our national sports to complain about it incessantly.  But when the s**t really hits the fan, the NHS is there for you, BIG TIME.  Yes, we had to sit in a corridor for three hours the first evening, waiting for a bed to become free.  Yes, we had to wait two hours for a doctor to be free in order to prescribe two paracetamols for Husband’s headache.  And yes, the information we came home with was not what you might call exhaustive, to say the least.

BUT, and this is a HUGE BUT, we didn’t have to worry about paying for any of it, a fact that we were profoundly aware of, and grateful for, throughout the whole process.  We were treated with unfailing kindness and courtesy, and given everything we needed.  Husband came home with equipment and medications without paying a penny.  He can ring up for help any time he needs to.  He has a series of further support and assessment appointments to attend, none of them requiring him to cover fees.

To me this is a sign of a civilised society.  Anyone who thinks people should have to pay for healthcare needs to reassess their capacity for empathy, which is the key quality of a human being,  And anyone who has ever had a sick relative or partner knows just how important it is.

2)  Hey, I just stopped giving a stuff!

When the life of the person who is the centre of your world is threatened, suddenly everything becomes very, very simple.  All the things that seemed so important have now become completely irrelevant.

Please note the use of the word IRRELEVANT.

I no longer care about all the SHOULDS and OUGHTS that seemed so important to my future last week.  I don’t care about having the right filofax or whether the kitchen floor needs mopping, or what people think about the fact that I don’t work, but don’t look sick either.  I don’t care about not having a career at 47.  I don’t care what people think about me not having children or an income.  I don’t care about the piles of stuff we are keeping in the house. It doesn’t matter what people think of how I wear my hair. It doesn’t matter what I think of how I wear my hair.  It doesn’t matter if there is nothing in the house for lunch, or the DVD player gets bust – we’ll just buy another one if we have to. (We did!)

Because its all IRRELEVANT.

3) Pure Freedom

The consequence of all this IRRELEVANCY is pure freedom.

I can concentrate on being here, now, with the man I love, which is all that matters.

This is a freedom I have never been able to give myself.  The freedom to concentrate on getting both of us well.  The freedom to be myself and not worry about trying to start a business or get published or do all the other things that my friends and acquaintences think would be the sign of success, but mainly, the things that I put myself under pressure to do because I don’t think I am enough as I am.

I don’t have to think about any of that now.

My sole intention for the next year will be to get both us well, and to enjoy every single second of the time we have together however the hell I can.

Because nothing else matters.

4) Creativity Caveat

This doesn’t mean I am going to stop writing, or being creative.  Rather the opposite.  It frees me up from all the SHOULDS and OUGHTS.  I can do whatever I like, whenever I like, whenever I am well enough.  And I can concentrate on him whenever I need to.  I can use my creativity to process and express this new journey we are on.  I can enjoy doing it for the first time, instead of making it a labour of OUGHTS.  (In fact, I started a new story today.)  Its just that from now on, I don’t have to apologise for doing what I want.  All that matters is to be happy and healthy with the man I love.

Because when it comes down to it:

from @geraintgriffith on Twitter

from @geraintgriffith on Twitter

I don’t know where this journey will take us.  I hope that you will join me as I endeavour to go on using my creativity to live up to what is increasingly speaking to me as my own motto:

SPEAK YOUR TRUTH

In the meantime, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported us during the last week as we have negotiated this crisis.  To all our dear friends, supporters and readers, we owe you a huge debt of gratitude, and I hope that you know that if you ever need us, we will be there for you too, no matter what.

With love and gratitude to you all,

EF

 

 

 

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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

Deep Breath

The view from my bedroom window.

The view from my bedroom window.

Samhain is past, and we are well into the Mourning Moon, a time of releasing the old, and accepting our own power. Here in rural South Norfolk, we’ve had soggy and unseasonably mild weather, which has lately meant long days of grey skies and continual downpours. The last of the trees to shed their leaves, the oaks, have begun their brown weeping. The landscape is smudged khaki and brown and yellow, the edges blurred by autumn mists.
A fortnight has passed since my last post, a space during which I have been trying to recover a little of my strength, and some of my thinking capacity. The first week was one of complete surrender. After it, I felt more rested than I had in a whole year, I think.
The second was more tense, punctuated by a day-long dash to Oxford and back, to take the elders to the doctors for important assessment and treatment. Seven hours in a car, split in half by four hours of pushing a wheelchair and repeating myself every ten minutes, was enough to exhaust almost all the good will my body and I had built up between us. Since then I have been lost in a hormonal, anxiety-ridden mist, feeling OUGHTS and SHOULDS mounting up like an impending avalanche over my head. Add to that the impending doom of the Christmas season, and life-changing news from several friends, and I’m not sure I’ve come out of this much recharged.
Let’s just say, this has been a time of reassessment and reflection.
While I have come a long way in my year of ‘DARE’, I’m not sure that I can face another action word year. After ‘REVOLUTIONARY’ (2013) and ‘DARE’ (2014), I’ve attracted way too much change into my life for comfort, and I think I need a rest, thank you, Mrs Universe. I’ve decided that next year, I need a gentler world to ease my way. ‘BALANCE’ or ‘NURTURE’, perhaps. Or even just ‘EASE’. A reminder to be kinder with myself, something that, like most women, I find difficult to allow myself to do.
Tectonic shifts are happening in my creative life too. The relief I felt at giving myself a rest from blogging caused a delicious upsurge in other creative outlets. I immediately went off and made the back door curtain I’d been meaning to sew for the last six years. I’ve been hand-quilting a Christmas stocking for my guide-daughter too, which is enormously satisfying. I hope I manage to get it finished in time. Being able to sew again feels fantastic, although I had a few scary moments trying to remember how to thread my sewing machine!
I’ve decided I need to be using my journaling practise in a much more systematic way, too. I want to try a lot more guided journaling, by which I mean journaling from prompts rather than the simple stream-of-consciousness method I have always used. I’m feeling the need for more deep self-exploration, and I want to use my creativity as an integral part of the work I do with my Gestalt counsellor on a weekly basis to effect this.
I haven’t stopped writing, in the meantime, even though I haven’t been blogging. I’ve got two big fanfics on the go at the moment, great sprawling things that seem to be growing every time I look at them. My head is full of scenes stored up to be written out. That’s not a brilliant way of writing, especially when my head is so blurry. The other day, I sat down to write a scene, only to realise that of the two emotional points I wanted the characters to thrash out, I could only remember one.
A bit not good.
The result was some serious re-evaluation of my notebooking habits, which I still haven’t resolved, but hope to share with you soon.
As well as putting some conscious intention into my reading habits, I’ve been contemplating a new original writing project too. In the wake of the In/Famous Engagement, and the storm that followed it, I came to the conclusion that I needed to get away from fanfiction. And yes, I know I’ve been saying this for ages, but sometimes it takes a big event to push us to make real changes. So much is shifting in my life right now, and I want to move on to something fresh. I don’t think I’m going to be able to give up writing fanfics, nor do I honestly want to, but there is an idea knocking at my door, scratching at the wood like the ghost of Cathy in ‘Wuthering Heights’, and it won’t go away. As I used to say to my school friends:

‘I think I’ve got a story coming on’.

And finally, I’ve got some ideas for non-fiction that I want to have a go at. I think the phrase is ‘watch this space’.
Thank you, dear readers, for sticking with me through this break, and throughout this bumpy year. While I know it is only going to get bumpier for a while, I’m grateful that you are with me, listening to my ramblings. It is good to know I’m not shouting into the unresponsive darkness.
Happy creating,
EF

The Benefits of Giving Up

The Cumberbatch

Gratuitous Cumberbatch photo. Just because I felt like it!

Dear Reader,

I want to tell you about why its sometimes a really good idea to give up.

You weren’t expecting that, were you?

In my last post, I wrote about the folly of trying.  Of pushing ourselves beyond endurance, and as a result, being unable to achieve the things we want.

That post was an example of me writing my own permission slip.  That day, I took my own advice.  I gave up trying.  I spent a lot of time just lying around.  I felt terrible, so why do anything else? I simply surrendered to what my body was trying to tell me.  Which was, in essence, ‘STOP’.

So far, so good.

The next day, I woke up at 8.30am, earlier than I am normally able to do, and in addition, woke with a clear head.

I grabbed my laptop and opened it up.

And I wrote.

I wrote all day.

In between spells of writing, I stripped the bed, put clean sheets on, did three loads of washing, tidied the kitchen, ironed some fresh pillowcases, made some long overdue phonecalls, and cooked a lovely supper for Husband and myself. I got so much done!

By close of play, i.e.11pm, I had written (get this) 6470 words.  Thats 27 pages.

The most I have ever written in one day.

(Round of applause, please.)

And all because I had given myself some much-needed space.

This is why you must learn to stop.  Yes, it is important to write every day.  Little and often is imperative.  Regular practise for any art form is necessary.

And there will be days when you sit down at your desk or in your studio and think:  ‘I really don’t want to do this today.’  And when you start, the brush strokes will be ugly or the words will come out like lumps of lead.  And then you will get going and things will flow and it will be alright.  (In fact it will be better than alright.  Because all the pain and depression you may have been struggling with will fly away, and creating will heal you.)  That is the point of any practise.

I am not saying you should only write when you feel like it.

What I am saying is that you must recognise that there are some days when your body is leeched to a husk, when your brain is too full or too empty to do anything but be.  Those are the days when you need to be gentle with yourself.  To put away the expectations.  And you will know those days.  The days of crisis.  The days when Life just steps in and pulls the carpet from under you.

If, like me, you live with chronic illness, working out which those days are becomes a little harder.  After 17 years, I am getting better at it, but I’m still not great.

The important thing to remember is that when you release the pressure on yourself, the result is often magic.

Its very Zen to say: let go of perfectionism, let go of expectations, but its easier said than done.  We all carry expectations from society, our upbringing, our peers and ourselves.  Letting them go is a daily practise in itself.  I am reminded however of an old saying I once heard:

“Let go, and Let God.”

Once we stop trying, once we stop tensing up and forcing things, the creativity flows through us freely onto the page or the canvas or the keyboard.  When we are free to make crap art, we learn.  And invariably, in my experience at least, when we give ourselves permission to make crap, what comes out is pure gold.

So here I am, in the aftermath of this great day of writing, assessing what I have learnt, what I can take with me from this experience.  I don’t know if what I wrote yesterday was gold or dross.  Chances are it will be about 50/50.  I don’t really care.  To be frank, it was fun.  It was an enormous relief just to spread my wings and fly without judging myself at all.

And I’m looking forward to doing it again just as soon as I can.

Happy creating,

EF

 

The Folly of Trying

My counsellor told me a story:

A man was asked at a conference to come up onto the stage, where the speaker had set a single chair in the centre.

‘Try to pick up the chair ,’ the speaker said.

The man picked up the chair.

‘No, you’re not getting it,’ the speaker said.  ‘Try to pick up the chair.’

The man picked up the chair again.

‘No, you’re still not getting it.  TRY to pick up the chair.’

The man put his hands on the chair and then, in a flash of inspiration, he understood.

Because TRYING to pick up the chair is not the same as picking up the chair.

If you TRY, you never actually achieve the action.  You just TRY.

Or, as the venerable Yoda said, in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’:

Try not.  Do.  Do or do not.  There is no try.

(I had that on my door at college.  I don’t think I understood it then.  Now I do, I really, really do.)

This wisdom has really been banging on my door today, as I struggle with a cold, coming on the back of a bad spell of IBS and ME/CFS.  I am busy TRYING.  Trying to get better.  Trying to feel well. Trying to cope with the housework. Trying to write.

Sometimes you have to recognise the wisdom of ‘Do or Do Not.’

Lately, I worry that this blog has become more about illness and less about creativity.  More about my TRYING experience.  But I think it really is an important lesson to learn for creative people.  We push ourselves and push ourselves, driven by expectations and perfectionism and Gods-know what demons we have inside us, deftly planted there, no doubt, by our loving parents. We dance the dance of the OUGHT-hogs.  The SHOULDS.  We are so busy forcing meaning into our lives as creatives, as Eric Maisel ill-advised (IMHO), that we pulverise our souls and our bodies into gibbering wrecks, terrorised by all the goals we fail to achieve and the standards we are incapable to meeting.  Books about how to write invariably advise the student that they have to write every day, no matter what.  I don’t think thats healthy or, frankly, practical.  Of course, it helps if you can.  A lot.  But seriously, who can write when their child has been up all night vomiting, or they have just received a redundancy notice?

Sometimes you have to treat yourself with loving kindness.  Sometimes you have to lower your expectations, and maybe even give in to the avalanche that Life has dumped on your head.  I have been talking to several friends who are all struggling with ill health this week, recovering from cancer treatment or at the end of a difficult pregnancy, or even in bereavement, and I truly believe that this is something all of us needed to hear.

Sometimes you are allowed to stop trying.

Sometimes its good to stop trying.

And then, when you have given yourself a break, a rest, a time of wound-licking, you can get up and go and do what it is you need to do.

MInd you, I have probably just proved myself wrong by writing this blog post, because I’ve spent the last six hours lying in bed groaning, absolutely convinced that I couldn’t write anything today.  So there you go.  Take from that what you will.  Just promise me something?

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Outflow: KBO

Footprints Ardnave 1Today I forgot to post.

I forgot to even think about posting.

It has only just occurred to me, at 9.40pm, and the thought followed hard on the heels of this realisation that this is what my life has been for the last three months.

I’m in survival mode.

I’m just keeping my head above water, just managing to stay afloat.

Sometimes that is how life is, and to be honest, maybe I needed this time of stillness and reflection.  Not that I do much reflection when I am that ill because my ability to think is severely compromised.  It is hard to think about creative plans, or plot bunnies, or even what the next meal is going to be, when you are so tired that you can’t read, write, watch telly or organise a series of logical actions because your brain can’t process.

I’m not saying this to engage your pity.  I’m saying it to be honest, and because being honest is good.  With myself and with you.

This is what the Creative Life looks like.

It is messy and inconsistent and spasmodic.  Sometimes it is filled with elation, and at other times, disappointment.  But it is what it is, and that is why we keep doing it.

I started this year with the word DARE.  So far, as I think I have said before, DARE has become DAREing to keep going, stay alive, and do things I’ve never done before, like basic nursing activities.  Nursing doesn’t usually come within the scope of my definition of creativity, but its definitely under the DARE heading!  So I have extended my skillset, been creative in finding practical adjustments that help, and learnt a lot more about my limits.

Now I have to learn a bit of patience, which is not my greatest virtue.

I’m losing two weeks out of four from my creative cycle because of the time it takes to organise, undertake and recover from our caring visits to Husband’s elderly parents.  I need to find a way to handle the gash this necessary commitment is cutting into my creative time, as well as how it affects me health-wise.  I need to either find a way to drop in and out of my creative mindset more quickly and easily, or to accept that the ease of adjustment I crave simply is not going to happen, and be at peace with that.  Whichever happens, I need to make the most of the time that I do have.  Otherwise I am going to be very miserable, and be unable to meet the intentions I am hoping for this year.

Sometimes creativity means being realistic. It means learning to do different, in order to take account of how things really are.  Because:

“Life is what happens when you are making other plans.”

(John Lennon)

Living a creative life is not always easy, but it is hugely rewarding.

I refuse to give up hope that I am going to achieve what I want to, that I am going to make some wonderful things and have some wonderful experiences.  Life gets in the way.  Shit happens.  The only thing to do is to find a way to keep going.  Or as Winston Churchill often put it, KBO (“Keep Buggering On”).

Happy Creating,

EF

 

 

Postcard from the Underworld

There is some weird and funky stuff going on with my energy levels at the moment.  And some strange synchronicities keep happening.  Too many to ignore.

The Universe is sending me messages.

Let me explain:

Since Christmas I’ve been struggling with low energy, pain and brain fog.  Being creative has been an uphill struggle.  Most of the time it has not been happening at all.  I mean, who has the strength to be creative when every step feels like walking on broken glass, or when it’s all you can do to keep your eyes open for an hour at a time?

Then there are the synchronicities that just keep on popping up.  Seriously, it is like the Universe is jumping about and waiving it’s arms, trying to get me to notice.

The Persephone Myth.

Bears.

Hibernation.

These stories and images keep arriving on my desk, my desktop, in magazines, on Facebook, in books and on the TV.

‘The only way out is through.’

Today, I was working with my therapist on all the OUGHTs I have piling up inside my brain.  Nigel has been shouting pretty loudly lately, so the first thing to do was to kick him firmly out of the door, SHOULDS and all.  No more SHOULDS or OUGHTS for me, at least for an afternoon!

I talked about the pain and exhaustion I’ve been experiencing, and then I mentioned the fact that bears have been on my mind lately.

‘Let’s look them up,’ says my ever-resourceful therapist.

Bears, according to Native American theology, are about intuition.  They are about being true to yourself, and trusting your instincts as you go in search of the honey of inner truth.  They are about Shamanic inner journeys, visiting the Dreamlodge, the Otherworld, about contemplation and hibernation and ultimately, rebirth.

Not far away, then, from the myth of Persephone’s journey into Hades, her sojourn in the darkness comforting the souls of the dead and learning inner wisdom, and her return to the surface world in Spring, older and wiser.

Bears are animals that hibernate.  In the depths of winter many beasts, seeds, roots and bulbs in the ground are sleeping in darkness, recharging, waiting for the surge of renewal that comes with the returning sun.

Well, you may not be into New Age symbolism, but these are ancient archetypes of the kind favoured by Jung, and it is not hard to extrapolate from these metaphors to the period of hibernation that my low energy suggests.  Human beings were once small, furry creatures that may have hibernated, and who is to say that some of us don’t still carry the imprint of that behaviour somewhere in the primitive vestiges of our primate brains. Anyone who has suffered from even the mildest symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) would certainly agree.

So here I am, dug deep in my cave, wrapped up in the comforting furry arms of my bear familiar, letting the energy of hibernation circulate around me.

It is not static energy, oh no.

I may be resting, contemplative, still, but here in my snug little fug, stories are gestating.  Sometimes we need these times of hiatus to feed our creative souls.  It is not just my exhausted body and drained mind that need rest.  My Muse needs to sleep too.  And while she sleeps, babies grow in her belly.

I have realised that pushing myself to climb out into the sun too soon will be a mistake.  All the plans and intentions, those things-I-am-not-calling-goals, will have to wait until I am ready, physically, mentally, and creatively.  I must remind myself not to rush things.  Don’t birth the babies until they are properly ‘cooked’!

Are you in a time of hibernation too?  Were you propelled into 2014 with renewed gusto, or are you like me, groping your way like a blind mole, struggling to hold your head up in the pale wintry light?

If you are the latter, try to forgive yourself.  We cannot make ourselves energetic if the juice just isn’t there, no matter how much Society nags us that it should be.  Tell your Nigel to take a hike.  Snuggle down, like me, in your burrow and nurture your bear energy.  Find out what the stillness of hibernation has to say to you, how it can nourish you for future months.  Don’t force things.  Wait it out.

Spring, with all its creative renewal, will come soon enough.

Happy hibernating,

EF