naming the problem

For me, the spiritual life has to be about finding a viable, sustainable, functional way of life that delivers intrinsic worth. The quest for these things has long been part of what philosophy does, while we often use the methods of religion to create a sense of peace and meaning. I often find I need to poke my life and experience to try and find better ways through things.

I’ve been through some really shitty situations, and there is a pattern. I notice how reluctant I am to name and acknowledge the problem. Part of it comes from a desire not to complain, or blame anyone else. Part of it comes from the insane belief that if I keep slogging away and working hard, I will magically get there.   When there is a problem, naming it has consequence. You have moved from denial to acceptance. That acceptance implies a need for change and may well create the momentum for it. Based on experience, owning and naming the problem is often the most frightening and painful part of the process. Once that’s done, everything gets easier.
The most recent example is a simpler one because it is not tangled up in relationships with other people. It is underpinned by my whole history, though, by how others see me and see my work, by a desire to validate myself through my work and to make a point. It’s underpinned by not wanting to admit defeat or to acknowledge what I’m not. There’s a second strand, too, which was a belief that I wasn’t really good enough for anything else and that I would not be able to get a proper job anyway. Make it as a professional author, or be thrown on the scrapheap. I’d convinced myself this was all I had.
Last week I said ‘enough’. I can’t make a living as an author. It may well be this is because I’m not good enough – not commercially minded enough to be a Dan Brown, not creative genius enough to be an Ursula Le Guinn. Going through that naming process was agony. It took days, in the midst of burnout and exhaustion. I cried a lot, and I felt like my whole life was falling to pieces around me. But rather than reassure myself that somehow it would all magically be ok, I started looking hard at how I was feeling, and why, and what was going on there.
I got to a place of saying ‘this is not ok and something needs to change’. That really helped. Deciding that it is not ok to slog away, striving and exhausted and not earning enough to live comfortably and not having time, energy or resources to do the things I want to do… that was important. Recognising that I don’t deserve to be worked to death in a state of miserable exhaustion. That helped. Maybe the failure is mine. I accept that, so be it. In that acceptance, eventually came peace and relief.
After a while I started feeling able to let go of the dreams and aspirations that had kept me on the treadmill for so long. Realising that I don’t have to achieve anything specifically, was a relief. Realising that maybe I could just spend a while going after things that would make me feel better, and that I could find work that I also find meaningful – that was liberating. Once I got past the pain of naming the problem, the pain reduced. I became able to think. I started making decisions, and choices, and being able to see a way forward.
Change is scary. Owning a problem is scary because it means facing the things, people, arrangements, aspects of self that aren’t working. It can seem easier to deny the issue, and keep going as though it was all right really. Toxic workplaces, dysfunctional relationships, destructive peer groups, depressing homes… we tell ourselves ‘better the devil you know’ and we stay. The comfort and security of staying where it hurts and doesn’t work, is a myth. Sometimes the novelly of a new and unfamiliar devil is at least a bit of respite and a change of scenery, even if ultimately you do end up with the same old shit. And sometimes, the alternative is better.
I don’t default to tearing everything down for the sake of it. Sometimes though, tearing everything down is the only way to go. Then you can see the painted scenery, the strings on the puppets, the fake moonlight, and you can get out of the carefully built illusion and find something else. Maybe a new illusion, but possibly something real and worth having.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

11 responses to “naming the problem

  • Niamh Arthur

    It’s interesting to read this, as I’ve been enjoying Druidry and Meditation and thinking how amazing it is that there is someone out there who can help guide me a little on the spiritual path.
    I’ve got the opposite situation of working towards a dream of success and entrepreneurship and having it be wildly successful… only to realize I have a gap in spirituality and a drive to find out more about myself. And you’ve really helped me there. Through reading your blog and books I’ve evened the balance a little and managed to have BOTH success and spirituality and peace within myself.
    The path to success at an endevour is not worth shutting off from who you are, but often can be achieved by tweaking your approach rather than saying it can’t be done.
    If you are ready to give up, then you are ready to make a change and open to maybe doing it in a different way that doesn’t make you feel hopeless. Try a different approach before you give up all together, marketing can be fun and creative too!

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for sharing this, really appreciate it. What I’ve seen a lot of where I’ve been wobbling in public, is just how many people have their lives unbalanced in some direction or another. It is so hard to get a decent balance of needful things, and I do not think anything in our wider culture supports or enables that. Not least because we are so often constructed as consumers, and not as whole beings, I think. So, I’m trying to balance my life up, and work out what I need. I will keep with the blog, I am repeatedly humbled by how others value that, and it gives a rhythm and coherence to my life that I value, and I’m seeing what else is out there. I’ve always done other things to some degree – that’s no source of pain. It’s the having spent years imagining that multiple publishers and books would represent the point when I could stop running so hard, and feel like I’d achieved something, and the reality is not at all what I might have expected. It doesn’t work, and because of that, everything else needs a rethink.

  • syrbal-labrys

    I often go through such stages, and refer to it as those “Anvil, meet hammer,” moments of life, when I do have to put myself back in the forge of creation and sharpen myself back to a sticking point.

  • flameinthesnow

    “Recognising that I don’t deserve to be worked to death in a state of miserable exhaustion.”

    No, you don’t. Naming is a sacred process. Balance is important to find. I, for one, see your blog as a beacon in a sea of gobblety-gook on the internet, but believe you should do what is more important for your soul at this time.

    • flameinthesnow

      PS I recently realized I had been over-working myself and had to take a step back to breathe and even to say: wait a moment, everyone! I need help. It is difficult for some of us to admit we cannot do EVERYTHING. 🙂

  • syrbal-labrys

    Reblogged this on Experiential Pagan and commented:
    Nimue says it rightly, about the struggle for a balanced and authentic life — of capabilities and roadblocks.

  • Christopher Blackwell


    Best of luck in whatever way you go. Having been very poor most of my life I have my doubts about how spiritual being poor is, because it keeps you i a tizzy on how to pay the bills and that means focusing on money and how to get it.

    Now though I would still be considered poor by many, the bills get paid routinely and most emergencies can be handled without worry about the cost. I have time to think on other things, including my spiritual practice. [Grin]

    I think getting the point of not having to spend your time worrying about the bills will free you up to do what you want to do.

    • Nimue Brown

      I’ve long been skeptical about the way in which many religions encourage poverty in the masses while not seeming to have a problem with extreme wealth in their own hierarchy. Not being an obsessed materialist is one thing, but yes, heartily agree that its very difficult to have a spiritual life if you are involuntarily hungry and worrying about the electric bills and the such. Sufficiency, in all things, should be available to all.

  • The Varied God

    I too have spent many years working to be an author, without much success. Two things I found very liberating: one, I became a librarian, which allows me to be still immersed in the life of letters, and is a ‘helping’ occupation which does not feel like surrender to the corporate world. Two, several years I wrote a long essay called Why I Have Decided Not to Be a Writer. It spelled out all the many frustrations (some of which you echo in your post) intrinsic to the goal, and how I have experienced them all. I set that essay aside, I set aside all pretense that I would ever be a paid, published author, and ever since then my writing has improved immeasurably. Good luck!

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