Category Archives: Observations

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.


Living with exhaustion

I first started having serious, inexplicable problems with exhaustion when I was about 14. My doctor at the time told me that it was ‘psychosomatic’ and mostly because I didn’t want to do PE. That it was impacting on my ability to dance and that I really wanted to dance, didn’t seem to matter.

In recent years I’ve identified a number of things that contribute to me having no energy. I get bouts of insomnia. I’m very hypermobile, this means everything is harder for me than it is for many people. My digestive system malfunctions when I’m stressed (probably because of the hypermobility) and failing to digest food isn’t good for the energy levels. I bleed heavily, so lack of iron can be an issue. I don’t seem to handle salt well so if I sweat or cry or bleed a lot I need to be careful with putting salt in or I wilt. But there are still also days when I have little or no energy and I don’t know why.

One of the things I’ve not had the energy for is fighting for a diagnosis – being self employed I can generally get away with the dodgy energy levels. I don’t want to go onto welfare, and I know there’s not much support available. So, I live with it.

However, one of the consequences of covid seems to be long term fatigue. Lots of people are now suffering with this, and it seems that fatigue is being taken more seriously. The idea that for some people chronic fatigue may be a consequence of having been ill is getting some traction. It is my hope that this will lead to the better treatment of people who were already struggling with exhaustion and poor energy.

The thing is, that if you have no formal diagnosis it can be very hard getting help, or even sympathy. It is difficult to persuade people to take you seriously, sometimes, when you don’t have a diagnosis. Especially around fatigue, where how badly it affects you will vary from day to day, and people may assume you are just being lazy, or uncooperative, or making a fuss. When I was a child, no one was considering hypermobility as a serious condition in need of care. I was still hypermobile. No one ever gave my grandmother a fibromyalgia diagnosis because that didn’t exist when she was struggling with pain and restricted mobility.

Having a condition that is not considered to exist is an exhausting, miserable, stressful place to be. Think about the women who endured post natal depression before anyone decided that was a real thing. Or the countless soldiers with shell shock before PTSD was an available diagnosis. I hope what’s going on now around chronic fatigue will help more people be kinder around these issues, and help more people recognise that just because there’s not much insight into a body problem, it doesn’t mean there is no problem.


Grave Goods

Over on Facebook at the weekend, William Rathouse shared some fascinating content about how we might want to be buried, and what a modern person might choose by way of grave goods, along with some beautiful photographs where people had arranged themselves in this way. It raises some interesting questions.

I’m never really sure what to think about life after death. My working assumption is that this may be all we get. I do have feelings about reincarnation and ghosts and ancestors, but hold it all in a state of don’t-really-know. What you put in a grave depends a lot on why you are putting it there, I think.

If I wanted tools for the afterlife, my priority item would be a sturdy bucket – one of the most useful bits of kit ever. I would also want a small hand axe, a knife and bowl, a saucepan tough enough to go on an open fire, scissors and sewing needles. I’d want coffee and tea – I’d take my chances with everything else I think. Pens and paper would be good.

If I wanted objects that would speak of my life, it would be a really different selection. A musical instrument, colouring pencils, a pen, a laptop, a walking stick and my walking boots, my runes, some of my books, my octopus mug, my oldest toy bear.

There’s also the possibility of being buried with the things the living do not want to keep. I wouldn’t really want to take anything with me that anyone else had an emotional attachment to and might want to hang on to. In many ways I think it makes more sense for whoever is left to dispose of me (probably my son) to make the decisions about what if anything should go with me, and what needs to go to other people. I tend to prefer having things in use, and anything that was important to me might be better employed in someone else’s hands, living on as a memory of me and continuing to be useful.

There’s a part of me quite likes the idea of being buried with little or nothing – just a shroud perhaps, or naked and covered in ochre. Is there a story I need to tell at the end of my life? Perhaps not. Perhaps it will be good just to fade into the soil and leave nothing for anyone to ponder over. Would that read as a choice to some future archaeologist, or would it look like I was very poor and uncared for? So much of how our stories read depend on what we think the context is anyway.


The Tigerboy grows up

Those of you who have followed my adventures for some time, will be aware of the Tigerboy – the young human in my life. Today, he is 18, and legally an adult. He hasn’t been the Tigerboy for some time now, and instead has been growing into the somewhat more adult persona of James Weaselgrease – this is his steampunk identity and the name under which he performs and MCs.

I’ve tended to be careful with him online – there’s nothing on this blog that would show up under his legal name, should anyone go looking. I’ve also always consulted with him about anything going on here relating to him – blogs specifically about him, and about my experiences of parenting. He does read these posts (sometimes) and seems comfortable enough with how I’ve talked about him along the way. No doubt it helps that I have a high opinion of him and respect him greatly. He’s grown up to be a fabulous young man and I’m very proud of him.

So many things are so uncertain right now. Probably this autumn he will be off to university, and I will miss him. I’ve never been the sort of person to feel sad about children getting bigger and not being small and dependent. I’ve raised him to be an adult, not to be a child forever, and alongside that he’s retained his playfulness. He’s a very entertaining chap and his comic timing gets better all the time.

I feel very fortunate to have been part of his life for the last 18 years. I look forward to wherever the future takes us. I have nothing of my sense of self pinned to any ideas about success for him; I just want him to be happy, and if he is able to live his life on terms that work for him, I shall be delighted. He is very clever indeed, and I have no doubt he will have all kinds of adventures and do many interesting things.


The politics of editing

Editing is one of those things that does not self announce as a political process, but is. The impact of that process is with us in so much of what we read. There are class issues, race issues and pretty much any other kind of diversity issue you care to think about.

When you edit for a publishing house, usually your primary concern is to bring the author in line with house style. I’ve had this kind of work, and the notes about what house style is. I’ve also not gone after jobs where I’ve seen the house style information and found it so suffocating that I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that to an author.

Most publishing houses are run by white, middle class people – often men. The bigger the house or the imprint, the higher the likelihood of an Oxbridge education. The rules about what constitutes good and proper writing come out of that background – it is formal and official English and conformity may well be prized a good deal more than diversity. But, that said, smaller houses often seek to emulate what they think the big houses do, and nasty editing exists at all levels.

If your background isn’t white, middle class and educated, the editing process can be one of having your voice changed. An unsympathetic editor won’t necessarily recognise what it was about your voice that was important to you. Having your voice normalised to these standards is an intensely political thing. Being discounted if you aren’t close enough to these standards is also political. And it is not, let me be clear, that standard official English makes for the best writing. It may be clearer and more familiar to people who speak it as their language, but language use itself is far more diverse than this and modes of expression matter. The right to express in your own way matters.

Slang, dialect terms and personal quirks should not be seen as inferior or inherently in need of correction. That can be all about wiping the signs of class and race out of someone’s writing. The flip side of this is the way voices are ‘characterised’ by middle class authors so that the non-middle class folk are represented in non-standard English. The way Scottish accents are fetishised and caricatured is an annoying case in point.

These days I proof read for authors. The only proof reading I’m doing for publishers is at Sloth, where I’m the second set of eyes on works in translation. But, that’s a small house, and there’s no house style sheet.

When you edit and proof read for an author, they are the only person you answer to. At this point, the job is not to standardise them, but to help them do the best possible job of doing what they wanted to do. Proof reading for an author means protecting whatever makes them unique. It means supporting their voice and helping it carry. This is the work I prefer to be doing.

There isn’t enough diversity in publishing. This is not an accident.