Tag Archives: writing for healing

The Annual Samhain Post

This year's haul of jack o' lanterns, carved by the Husband

This year’s haul of jack o’ lanterns, carved by the Husband, with lanterns and baby pumpkins decorated by Lottie and Michelle.

Dear Friends,

On my old blog, I used to celebrate Samhain every year with an annual post, looking back over the previous year and looking forward to the coming one.  A kind of taking stock.  Most people do that at the turn of the calendar year, but we Pagans tend to do it at Samhain – or Halloween – as well.  And it struck me today, in the wake of a serious pumpkin-carving and trick-or-treating with my little god-daughter last night, that such a tradition might still have some value.

In Review then:

My ongoing absence from this space lately should tell you all you need to know.  We continue to struggle with elder care, and the stress it involves.  Just when you think things are settled for a while, another crisis arises.  My poor Husband is skating perilously close to the limits.  I try to support him.  Between us, we attempt to do our best in a situation in which there is no answer, no magic wand, no way to be right, or to even be appreciated for our efforts.  The best we can hope for is that in years to come, we will will at least be able to sleep at night, in the knowledge that we did everything we could.

As an antidote to all this, I have set to work on remaking a novel from an idea I came up with years ago, in the hope that it will give me something productive to focus on for myself, something outside the ‘wrinkly situation’.  After an enlightening session with a great Life Coach, I’m trying new approaches, new ways of thinking, new ways of working.

And honestly?  Its fantastic!

No matter what is happening, this delicious landscape is chuntering away in the back of my skull, building up details, accumulating momentum, reminding me constantly of who I am apart from my situation.  I am doing something for myself.  I am doing something that gives me enormous pleasure.  And it feels great.  (More to come on that project in future posts!)

So much has changed for me in the last 10 months.  My choice of the annual word ‘Ease’ turned out to be laughable – I haven’t had any!  Oh, but I am so much more easeful in myself in countless ways.

Giving myself time off, allowing myself space to grow, has enabled exactly that.  I can see my writing, my creativity, and my very self in so many new ways.  I truly have grown.

And now for something completely different?

No, not really.  More of the growing, changing, evolving, I hope.

Less of the stress in future, I hope, now that professional care is in place for the elders.  Things aren’t going to get any better, but I hope that I can give up fighting reality, wishing things were different.  Accepting where we are seems to be the only way forward at this point.  Giving up struggling against the situation means having more energy to put into what can really be helped and changed.  And into looking after myself and my man, so that we come out of this with at least something of our sanity intact.

More investing in myself.  More self respect.  Stronger boundaries.  Taking less shit (ie “don’t fucking ask me how I’m going to make money out of this damned novel when I haven’t even finished writing it yet!  Can’t you see that its the PROCESS thats important, not the bloody money that may or may not come at the end?”)

And more journalling.  Lots and LOTS more journalling.  Because it is an outlet for all the feelings.  And in this situation, there are LOTS of feelings.

In the meantime, I am in the process of remembering how to write again.  I’m rusty.  My fingers are stiff.  The words are clunky, the metaphors are tired.  I need to practice, strengthen the muscles, write every day, do a little bit, often.

And reading.  Lots of reading.  Because as writers, we learn so much from our peers.

I’m changing.  I am different even to the person who wrote the last blog post here.  Next time, I think I will be different again.  But if we do not evolve, we die.

And as for Samhain:

Dear friends, I wish you a peaceful, happy Samhain.  May your ancestors gather around you in love and support.  May you step out on the path of peace and creativity in the coming year.  May you know yourself, and find peace therein. May you find healing.  And may your path be strewn with joy.

with love,

EF

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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

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