Category Archives: Observations

Taking a leap of faith

I was really ill over the winter – lots of pain, and stiffness, no energy, regular run ins with anxiety and deep depression. It was a hard time, and it made me take a serious look at my life. For some years now, the majority of my work hasn’t been creative. I’m not making most of my living as a professional Druid, either – these are not things that tend to pay anyone enough to live on. I’ve done all kinds of jobs – usually many small jobs all at the same time. In recent years I’ve been doing a lot of social media work.

I’m good at social media work and I genuinely like helping people. But, it is one of the most tedious things imaginable, and you can’t afford to be careless or complacent about it. Each twitter post is an exercise in tone, brand identity, PR… and when you’ve got multiple accounts, identities brands to keep track of, that takes a lot of thinking. And by December, I was very, very tired because of that.

I put down the work that required most effort for least personal gain. Those were hard choices. For self employed people, putting down a paying gig is always going to be uneasy at best. But, I was getting too ill to work, and that’s a bigger risk. I took time off, I rested a lot, and I thought about things.

Creative work is almost always uncertain. You mostly don’t know where the next gigs are coming from. Pay is erratic. Big projects that might pay better take time, energy and attention. So there’s a gamble in investing the time in doing a more substantial body of work that you think you can sell, because you might have to turn down other paying work to do it. Also, creative people are not machines. Ideas don’t flow without time to think, without space for inspiration. Creating and doing a day job and doing the things that support and sustain your creativity and dealing with household stuff and trying to be healthy and and and… The juggling is hard.

There may be some large, interesting and well paid creative jobs out there with my name on. I may be able to make the leap from exhausted and ill part time creative to being a person with decent creative jobs and a decent quality of life. So I took the leap of faith and I made the life changes that would give me a shot at those bigger and more exciting things. I started making the moves to get into the right position so that if any or all of this starts to move, I can go for it.

We’ve landed an American publisher for the Hopeless Maine graphic novels. That alone won’t change everything, but it certainly helps. There’s a kickstarter on the go at the moment, which may be of interest if you’re in America… https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hopelessmaine/hopeless-maine-the-graphic-novel-by-tom-and-nimue-brown

It could be a very interesting year.


Learning to learn

At no point in my life did anyone teach me how to learn. How do you learn a dance routine, or a dance move? How do you learn a piece of music, or spellings for a test? I have some very early memories of being frustrated by not knowing how to do something and just being shown the same thing that hadn’t made sense to me in the first place. I have memories that go from there to my twenties of being expected to learn from having seen something once, or somehow just by magic.

Learning how to learn was something I had to figure out by myself. Without that, you’re limited by what you can do naturally and easily. You’re limited to what’s obvious to you.

Of course it’s tricky because everyone has different things they need to work on, different ways of working, and will learn in different ways. Some of us need theory first before we dive in. Some of us learn best by observing and copying. Some of us need step by step guidance on what to do. And it may well not be the same across all our areas of learning. I’m good at learning patterns of physical movement and I can learn that by watching and copying. I can’t learn a language that way, and I need a lot more technical input to work on my art or music skills.

This is a huge consideration for anyone who makes teaching work part of their Druidry. Students will be different from you. What they want to learn and what you most want to teach won’t always neatly align. How they learn can be varied indeed. How much of a student’s needs can your teaching style accommodate? What do you do when faced with someone who does not know how to learn?

A student who is frustrated and who seems to make no progress can be really annoying to deal with. Quick students who pick up what you say are rewarding to the ego of the teacher, and affirming of your teaching skills. But really it is what happens to the struggling and less overtly talented student that measures you as a teacher. Can you teach them in ways that actually enable them to learn? Can you engage and find out what sort of process they need to take them forwards, rather than hanging on dogmatically to methods and content that suits you?

I remember one Druid teacher presenting me with a meditation that I was to do. It made no emotional sense to me and was at odds with my notions of sacredness to the point of being distressing. No alternatives were offered. It was work I was told I had to do, and not doing it in the way described was, it was made clear to me, disrespectful to my teacher and to my teacher’s teacher. Looking back at that exercise many years later, having studied Druidry with OBOD and done some mentoring myself, I have no doubt that the exercise was the problem and it was totally inappropriate for me, and that this mattered.

There’s quite a challenge in figuring out what you, or anyone else needs to learn in the first place. It’s an important question to ask, and to keep asking. This is not an area of personal growth where it is fair or productive to assume that we all need the same things. What lessons do you need to learn? What tools do you need to be given? What skills do you need to develop? What kind of teaching will help you and what are the best ways for you to engage with your learning?

And to anyone who has struggled with learning, let me say it may not be your fault at all. Good teaching teaches what the student needs, not what the teacher wants to hand out. Good teaching helps you overcome barriers and go beyond whatever innate talent you have. Good teaching enables you to grow and develop on your own terms. If you’ve not had that kind of experience, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn the things, it probably means you need better resources.


Time out

Rather excitingly, I’m poised to have a week off. I didn’t manage to take a whole week off at any point in 2020 – one of the problems with the kind of work I do is that I have to do all the same work ahead of time to get a week off, which is arduous and I don’t always have the energy for it.

I’m in the process of changing how I work. My aim is to have my work life be less exhausting in the first place. I’m also looking at things I can do to reduce pain and improve sleep. I live in hope.

I’ve got the blog set up to post in my absence – thanks to contributions from guest bloggers it hasn’t been too difficult to keep up a content flow while also taking a break. If you’d like to guest blog with me, I’m always open to that sort of thing.

Time off is essential for mental health, for quality of life, for creativity and functionality. The UK government has been making some ominous noises about cutting worker’s rights now we are out of the EU. As someone who is self employed, I don’t really have those rights, but I am more than prepared to stick up for the people who do. The way I’ve been living is not optimal and I have no desire to see anyone else stuck in the same kind of relentless work grind.


Positivity and Self Harm

Some time ago I decided that maybe the problem is me. I’m too negative. I don’t practice gratitude enough. I invest too much energy in feeling sorry for myself. A better, more positive attitude would, surely, make me happier and nicer to be around?

So I scoured the internet for positivity memes, and I wrote them in my diary. Every time I felt the panic or despair coming on, I’d read them out loud. Everything happens for my highest good. My life is full of blessings. I am grateful for how good and rich my life is. That sort of thing, and other statements like it.

I did this for some days.

It did not result in me feeling happier, better, or more positive. It did however give me increasing feelings about the invalidity of my distress. I did not become more grateful. The final stage of this resulted in me crying, hysterical, howling things like ‘my life is so great and I feel so happy right now’ while pummelling my fists into my body. Which compared to the violence I wanted to perpetrate on myself at that point, was fairly mild. I had to be physically restrained, and it took me some considerable time to recover.

I can’t recommend it.

Trying to paste inauthentic ideas and feelings over the top of distress does not make the distress go away. It adds to the distress. If I hadn’t been in such an awful state to start with, I would likely have remembered that I think this kind of positivity is toxic. But I was desperate and in a great deal of pain, and I felt like the problem was me. This kind of ‘positive’ thinking perpetuates the idea that you, the individual, are the problem. Not your context, not your socio-economic status, not your health or the people around you, but you personally and how you ‘choose’ to think about things.

Not everything can be fixed by changing how you think about it. In some circumstances, trying to tell a more positive story might be a really dangerous thing to do. It certainly didn’t go well for me.


Self care and feeling good

I don’t do performative femininity. I have a very female-appearing body but for most of my adult life, I haven’t wanted to present that for the male gaze, or do any of the things that feel like performance. As a consequence, I’m not going to be uplifted by a make-over. I don’t want a new hairstyle, I am not cheered by new shoes (unless those shoes are practical). The kinds of things that are often pedalled as self care and feelgood options aren’t going to work for me. I also worry about the way adverts pitch performative femininity as self-care so much of the time.

We’re in the season when the diet industry doubles down on the message that to be happy you have to be thin, and that being thin will solve all of your problems. The fashion industry, which is greatly harmful to the planet, tells us that happiness, confidence and a better life are available if we buy new clothes. The car industry shows us how a new car will make us feel better. Psychologists however are pretty clear that once your basic needs are met, material wealth doesn’t do much to improve your happiness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what actual self care might mean. Being warm enough is important – I’m fortunate in that I can afford at the moment to heat my home to a reasonable temperature in winter. I grew up in cold houses with ice on the windows, I’ve lived in badly insulated, badly heated places, I’ve had plenty of years when money was tight. If I’m not warm, my body gets stiff and sore more easily.  I’m a big fan of snugly blankets and hot water bottles too – these feel like self-care. There are days when it takes some effort to remember that I am allowed to be comfortable.

Self care is one of the things you aren’t allowed to do properly when you live with an abusive person.  One way or another, you won’t be allowed to be comfortable. Being warm enough may cost too much and not be worth it if you’re dealing with someone who is financially controlling. Your bodily wellbeing may be constantly framed as something that doesn’t matter. Feeling ok can become being selfish and unreasonable when you are being gaslit. Learning how to feel like I matter has not been easy, but self care is nigh on impossible without that basic assumption in place.

One of the mental shifts I needed was to start seeing my feeling good as something that mattered. I’ve had a lot of years in my life under pressure to treat myself as the least important thing, and even in kinder circumstances, those habits are hard to break. It is no longer the case that self care might actually put me at risk. I can say no to things, I can ask for nice things – if I can work out what those are. I can ask for care, support, help and time off without risking wrath or ridicule. It’s taken a while to get here and I suspect I still have a lot to learn.

I see a lot of other folk online who clearly find it hard to look after themselves. Not because they’re daft, or incompetent, or masochistic, but because they too do not know when it is ok to treat that like it matters. This is hard stuff to figure out on your own, and easier to do collectively. How do we meet our own needs? What even are those needs? Because they probably aren’t the ones we’re being encouraged to imagine by the adverts we encounter every day.  What can we do to feel safer, be well, be comfortable, be happy? That may call for some uncomfortable poking around in the reasons that we don’t feel entitled to those basic things in the first place.

Self care can be really hard. Feeling good can seem transgressive, even dangerous. Sometimes it is – which is a sure sign that you need to get the hell out as soon as you can. Everyone should have the time and resources for a life with gentleness, peace, rest and restorative things in it.


The darkest hours and the dawn

The hardest thing today seems to be concentrating. Gathering my thoughts takes effort. I’m used to relying on my brain and my ability to work quickly. This is exhaustion in action, and hopefully having a few days off will improve things.

I need some space in order to think. I need to think about how not to mostly be in a run-down state of exhaustion and despair. 2020 hasn’t helped of course, but I’ve spent too many years too close to the edges, and it takes a toll.

There are things in the ether that might change a great deal for me. I might be back in a week or so with good news and ways forward. This might be the proverbial darkest hour before the dawn. Only that’s rubbish – I’ve sat up enough nights. You can see the dawn coming for ages, in the hour before the dawn the sky gets lighter. The darkest hour is some time in the middle of the night when you have no idea when the light will return and it starts to feel like the answer is ‘never’.

My thanks to everyone who piled in with support in recent weeks. It’s made a lot of difference. There is rest in my destiny, there is time to ponder, and there may be ways forward. I am at least at a point where I can imagine there could be ways forward, even if I can’t imagine much that is specifically good. It is progress on a few days ago – which really was the darkest hour by the looks of it. I hope so, at any rate.


New to managing your energy?

There’s going to be a lot of this about – people who used to be fine but who now need to manage their energy carefully. Fatigue is a common symptom of long covid. The psychological and emotional impact of lockdown is leaving people depressed, burnt out and exhausted. How do you cope?

My husband Tom recently had a stroke and went from being someone who could safely assume they had plenty of energy, to someone whose energy is unreliable. It’s come as a shock to him. So, be ready for it to be a shock and give yourself time and space to process that.

Often when people talk about poor energy they talk about spoons, and waking up in the morning and having to decide how to deploy whatever energy is available.  Only in practice, you won’t know – especially not when you’re new to this – how far the available energy might go or how tiring any specific activity might be. Things that used to be easy will no longer be easy and you will, at first, have no idea how to budget for that. Learning how to assess the energy cost and to budget for it takes a while – try to be gentle with yourself while you figure this out, and know that you will get it wrong sometimes. It’s ok to get this wrong, this is a steep learning curve at a really unhelpful, under-resourced time.

You have to decide what’s most important. If you want any hope of getting out of your low energy state, you have to decide that your health is the most important thing, and the people around you need to support that choice. (This isn’t always an option, sadly.) You then have to start off in the morning with the things that will most help you with your health. That’s going to be personal and will also need figuring out. Budget in time to rest, move slowly, but try to keep moving because you will feel better if you’re able to get something done – that might be a shower, or an email, or a small walk – whatever works for you. Set your sights low, aim low, but try and manage something.

You’re going to need patience. You’re going to have to forgive yourself for what you can’t do and be ok with asking other people to cover for you. Give yourself time. Healing takes a while. Learning how to manage what you’ve got also takes a while.


Life stuff

Usually when I post about my life it’s because I can use examples from my experience to explore an idea and make a point. Sometimes I blog about seasonal experiences in nature and about overtly Druidic things I have been up to. Mostly I don’t blog about what’s going on for me in an everyday sort of way.

This week, has however dealt the kinds of curved balls that are having an impact, and may well continue to do so. This year in fact has dealt a number of curve balls that continue to have significant impact, but not all of that is about me, and without explicit permission, I don’t tend to write about what’s happening with the people around me. Some of the impact I’ve been writing about while missing out the underlying story.

On Monday evening, my husband Tom had a mild stroke and spent the night in hospital. There’s quite an age gap between us – I’m 43 and he’s 60. We met online many years ago when a publishing house put us together for him to do me a book cover, and we fell in love with each other’s work. We’ve been married ten years this month. The age gap has obvious implications but even so, I didn’t think we’d be in this territory so soon. On the whole, Tom is a fit and healthy sort of person with a decent lifestyle, but he is also a stress bunny, and that may have been what caused this.

There are economic implications to needing to take time off – we’re both self employed. We have savings, and our situation is not as dire as it might be – this kind of situation can cause financial disaster all too easily. I’m still working, and hopefully Tom will be able to get back to the drawing board soon, although he’s going to be working shorter days for a while.

The help, kindness and support flowing our way has been tremendous, and deeply comforting. If you want to help by throwing money at us, I have Ko-fi https://ko-fi.com/O4O3AI4T and Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB


Learning to learn

I’ve recently dedicated myself to a fairly ambitious learning project, and it’s made me aware of a number of things I have going on around learning and intelligence. When it comes to other people learning I have a clear understanding that room to make mistakes is necessary to the process. However, when it comes to me I have this feeling that I should be able to see something once and then know it, or be able to do it perfectly thereafter. In reality, learning is a process, and it takes a while to get things to stick in your head. What I’ve learned about learning – as it applies to me – is clearly rubbish.

Cleverness is often measured in terms of speed – that’s inherent in taking exams. To get something quickly may be seen as evidence of being a good and clever learner, and it may seem to reflect well on the teacher. In practice, learning is just showing up and doing the work. It’s just time and effort – it helps if you have good resources and guidance, but even if you don’t, time and effort can get a lot done. Cleverness and speed, without determination and application, doesn’t lead to much.

To go from seeing to doing is a leap. It takes time to build body knowledge – that might mean your hands developing the muscle memory for the shape of a tune. It takes time to learn exactly how a specific sort of pen, or paint works. The odds are that on the first go, you won’t perform a dance move in the best possible way. It takes repetition to build insight, familiarity, understanding and to find out how best to do it as yourself. But apparently I think I’m supposed to be able to do everything perfectly at once.

This is a story I have been told. The consequence of this story is not that I feel clever when I get something immediately – because that almost never happens for me. It means I feel stupid when it takes me a few goes. I feel useless when I forget things I’ve been trying to learn. I feel inadequate. I’ve spent the last three weeks fighting these feelings, telling myself the things I would say to anyone who was my student: it’s ok to make mistakes, it’s part of the learning process. It takes time to really consolidate learning and properly embed it. You are doing ok, just keep going over this and you will get it. And, after three weeks, I have learned how to draw and read the characters of the Japanese Hiragana writing system. It’s not exactly an alphabet, it’s phonetic. It was all graft – there’s no innate skill here, no natural gift and that’s fine because learning is mostly about graft.

Intelligence isn’t about effortlessness, it is about being able to effectively apply what you know. Intelligence isn’t about magically knowing things no one has taught you. That’s simply not how anything works. It’s nice when something makes sense quickly, but that’s all it is. It isn’t a measure of anything. How fast you can take something and apply it effectively may be a measure of something, but it’s not the only measure.


Pain speculation

To be very clear, what I’m sharing in this post is speculation based on personal experience. I can’t point anyone at any evidence that backs it up. I’ll start with what we do know – that there does seem to be a relationship between inflammation based pain, and trauma history. People with fibromyalgia seem to be more likely than not to have trauma history. There is growing evidence that what happens around trauma doesn’t just impact on your mind and feelings and that there can be bodily consequences – hardly a wild though, it is all the same system after all.

One of the psychological consequences of trauma, can be hyper-vigilance. You’re always looking for threats, you can’t relax. Busy spaces, people behind you, noise, unexpected touch or sounds – all of these things can cause panic and ptsd responses for some people. But of late I’ve been wondering whether that really is a purely psychological issue.

I carry a lot of tension in my body, and this contributes to experiencing pain and stiffness. Anxiety and stress in the body manifest as fight/flight/freeze/appease responses – that’s been established. So, we might fairly assume there is some kind of process that precedes fight, flight etc. Normal people do not spend all of their time poised to run away, and get to be happier and healthier as a consequence. Cortisol and adrenaline are part of this mix, for sure. What if being on alert all the time is a bodily process? What if hyper-vigilance is something that happens not just in my head, but in my tissues? Could that be why I spend so much time sore and in pain?

If that’s so, then the next question is, how do I persuade my body to stand down? How do I persuade my body that I am safe enough now, and that I do not have to be poised to run away or ready to freeze and disassociate? How do I teach my body to feel safe? I shall be exploring this and will come back if I make any progress.