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.


Trusting my intuition

I have a hard time trusting my intuition. It’s something I’ve been exploring deliberately this year. I’ve also found myself in situations where there are no other sources of information, and intuition is all I’ve had to go on. At this point I’ve come to the conclusion that I can afford to trust what I intuit.

One of the single biggest problems for me in all of this is that I suffer from anxiety. I have a powerful imagination and can come up with many ways in which a situation could go wrong. There are reasons, rooted in my history, that make it hard for me to imagine good outcomes. It is hard to trust my intuition when my anxiety is screaming ‘you’re doomed’ and my imagination is playing out all the worst case scenarios. It’s not easy to tell what is just anxiety screaming, and what might be something else.

Being an anxious person, I tend to assume that any hopeful feeling is just wishful thinking on my part. I have been in the habit of writing off any good or uplifting feelings on the basis that they must be irrational. This hasn’t been helpful.

The answer has been to make time and really sit with whatever I’m feeling. To pay attention to what fits in my habitual thoughts and what doesn’t. If I interrogate those impulses I can often tell what is just anxiety as usual happening for me. Alongside that I’m making a conscious effort not to dismiss out of hand any possibility that doesn’t lead to crushing failure, disappointment and distress. Sometimes things do work out well, and I have evidence of this. I no longer live in a situation where there is someone intent on crushing me, and I no longer need to assume the worst for my own safety.

My intuition has room for the best in other people. It has room in it for hope, and good outcomes. My intuition is much more open to trust than the rest of me. It’s a small voice, long ignored, but this year it has held up where conventional sources of insight have failed. My intuition has kept me going where otherwise I might have broken down entirely. I do not have to accept a life without hope and possibility. I can consider that better outcomes are possible. I can afford to trust existence and the universe to be neutral towards me, not actively hostile. I can trust myself, and I can stop feeling that my more hopeful impulses are naïve, self indulgent or ridiculous.


Seasonally out of kilter

I’ve had a few periods in my life where, despite my best efforts I’ve not felt connected to the season. Getting outside and being with wild things under an open sky is a longstanding part of how I do my Druidry. Health permitting, I walk every day – there have been times when poor health has been the reason for my disconnection. Usually, that time outside allows me to engage with what’s happening. I see the changes in plants, insects, creatures, I see what the trees are doing, I experience the temperature and weather conditions and I am properly inside each season as it unfolds.

Currently I’m out of kilter. Part of this is me. I spent September frozen. I walked regularly, but I wasn’t feeling anything much and even though I made the effort to try and connect, I was doing so from inside a glacier, emotionally speaking. I’ve had this sort of thing happen before and the only answer is patience and persistence. Depression can leave me so numb that I don’t feel anything of what’s going on around me and I lose my sense of joy in the wild things. These frozen times pass. I think I’m experiencing a thaw at the moment.

However, as my emotional state thaws, I’m still finding myself out of kilter with the season. This is because the season is out of kilter. It’s mid October, and many of the trees haven’t even started to change their leaf colour. It wasn’t so long ago that leaf colour went autumnal reliably in September and you could expect the leaves to be down by Samhain in this part of the world.

A few days ago I saw my first catkins. I’ve never seen hazel catkins on a tree this early before, and I’ve never seen them on a tree that also had green leaves on it before. I have no idea what that tree is doing. Maybe the tree doesn’t know either.

This is climate chaos in action. Calling it climate change suggests a process with some coherence to it. That would be more feasible for living things to adapt to. What we have is chaos. Unpredictable, unseasonal temperatures. Storms. Hot days in the normally cold part of the year, and back in the summer, really cold days. I’m out of kilter, but in some ways that means I am more in harmony with what’s going on than I would be if I clung to the idea of what this time of year is supposed to be like. I don’t enjoy it, but I know how important it is to engage with what’s happening, not what we think should be happening.


Hopeless, Maine returns to North America with Outland Entertainment

There’s a lot going on in the fiction side of my life, so, some news from Hopeless Maine for anyone who is curious about what I’m doing.

This blog usually has new content twice a week and tends to have more original fiction and poetry with art than anything else.

The Hopeless Vendetta

Hello people! (and others)

We can now reveal that Hopeless, Maine is returning to North America with Outland Entertainment! The first two volumes will be printed and released soon, along with illustrated prose novels by Nimue Brown and Keith Errington and the Hopeless, Maine RPG is in development and may well be out at the same time. Here is the press release! 

Cover art – collaboration between Nimue and myself.

View original post


Not Punching Nazis

Realistically, I am never going to punch a Nazi. I’ve never punched anyone, I’m not especially strong, and in an emergency, it is unlikely to be my first response. If it was a case of fighting for my life or trying to protect someone else, I’d be more likely to kick than punch, but in a scenario where there is violence, I am going to be injured, or die.

What I can do more usefully, is put my body in the way. I’m large, white and female. Some of that might function as privilege in some contexts. Some of it might make another person pause for a few seconds. And also, I have size. I can do a fair bit of getting in the way. I’m heavy enough that I can be a nuisance to remove. I can put my body between people who are more vulnerable than me, and possible threats. It’s something I’ve already explored a little bit and is one way I am confident that I can be anti-fascist in a physical context.

I’m openly queer, openly polyamorous, openly Pagan, openly anti-capitalist, anti-racist, openly opposed to fascism. These are not things that can automatically be identified by looking at me. But I have no doubt that if the fascists took over, I would be on a list fairly quickly. I am exactly the sort of person to be disappeared in that kind of scenario. I would like to think I’d manage to put up some kind of fight, but it would also depend on whether I would make other people safer or more at risk by so doing.

The state of the world frightens me. But, resistance is important, and there are many ways to resist. Kindness is resistance. Putting love and beauty into the world is a good way of pushing back against hate and intolerance. Make good things, share good things, take care of who you can, speak up when you can, amplify whoever you can. Vote, petition, march. Share, gift, feed people, help out. A culture of kindness and inclusion is the only thing that will work for the longer term. Punching a Nazi doesn’t deal with the underlying causes of fascism, and we need to deal with those underlying causes.

One of the key things that takes people into far right thinking and the desire to hurt and harm others, is lack of empathy. We can learn empathy. One of the most powerful teaching tools for building empathy in others is in fact the novel, as through novels we can live many lives, understand different perspectives and learn how to empathise with others. (There is science! The novels-empathy thing is evidenced.) Buying books for people might be more effective than punching them. Writing books and telling stories turns out not to be some kind of self indulgent silliness that has no place in the revolution… art may in fact be the revolution. It may be our best way of saving ourselves from the worst parts of each other. And if all else fails, I guess hitting a Nazi with a really heavy fantasy hardback is always going to be worth a thought.


Shadow Work

I admit the idea of shadow work always scared me. The idea of it – based on what little I’d read – seemed really intimidating. Go down into the most awful parts of yourself and face them… Mostly I try and keep the awfulness locked down, under control and hidden away. I can’t bear to go there. This year I’ve had no choice.

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a keen sense of my own awfulness. There are parts of me that, if they got out, or out of control, would do terrible things. It has always seemed very important to be very in control all of the time and never drop my guard to let the awfulness out. Except, when I’ve tried to face it, I struggle to find any evidence to support that.

There are things I’ve been told about the kind of person I am, that have made me afraid of myself. The idea that I’m so terrible that I can’t even see how terrible I am is not one I came up with by myself. I’ve been told if people knew what I was really like, they’d want nothing to do with me. I’ve been told, relentlessly, how difficult, unreasonable, prone to over-reacting and whatnot I am, and I’ve stayed afraid of the things in me that I must keep locked down at all costs. I’ve accepted that because I am a monster, it’s not just ok, but necessary to punish me, control me, keep me inline.

Delve into the shadows, and all I can find is the times I was told what an awful person I am. Not the bit before that when I did the awful things. There are no pets I killed, no violent assaults on anyone, no rounds of being suspended from school or taken in for police questioning. There was nothing I set on fire or deliberately broke, I did not threaten anyone with violence. I was a quiet, fearful child who could barely get a sentence out without stuttering. I was an anxious, nervous teenager trying to be more than that. I was and am flawed in so many ways, but there’s no real evidence for the dire monstrosity then, or in my twenties.

The big fear is that it exists and I can’t see it. I remember being told how aggressive I am when I’m upset, how I lash out at people and hurt them in retaliation and don’t even know that I’m doing it. And how afraid I became of what I might accidentally do if I was upset and not careful enough about how I expressed that.

I have looked into my shadow, and it is full of pain. It is full of times when I could have used some kindness and patience from others. It’s full of being knocked down and blamed, and made responsible for having been hurt. It’s an ugly mess in there, and not territory I am keen to visit, but I’ve been obliged to, repeatedly.

And so I find myself asking some really uncomfortable questions. What if how I am treated is not automatically a fair measure of what I deserve? What if I’m basically ok, certainly no worse than anyone else? What if the monsters I am afraid of aren’t real, or part of me? What if my shadow self isn’t full of appalling horror that must be kept hidden, but is just where my child self is huddled up, lost and frightened and in need of rescue.


Capitalism and the virus

All the evidence at this point suggests that the environment in which you are most likely to catch the virus is as follows: It’s a crowded space with poor ventilation. In the UK we’ve seen hotspots around university accommodation. Amazon had a significant outbreak in their workforce. Obvious candidates include crowded trains, cramped workspaces, over-crowded schools, and of course busy social locations like pubs.

What these locations all have in common is that they are designed to extract the maximum profit for the minimum cost. Space is money. Businesses that can squeeze more people into less room can make more money because the overheads are reduced. And whether that’s cramming people into a bar or a warehouse, the implications are similar – there is a health risk.

To do anything safely at the moment, we need space between people and good ventilation. This doesn’t combine well with trying to get the maximum profits for the least space. Capitalism does not equip us well to deal with the virus, and it has given us workspaces and social spaces that, by their cramped nature, are problematic at the moment. And really speaking, always were.

Imagine a world in which we wanted nice things. Imagine a world in which workspaces were always comfortable, healthy and good to be in, and where living well was more important than shareholder profit. Imagine well ventilated workspaces. Imagine workspaces where the mental and physical wellbeing of employees mattered.

Capitalism teaches us that all of these things should be sacrificed for the good of the profit margin. But surely there is more to life than profit? If we are to survive this virus, there has to be more to life than profit.


Depression and communication

Depression can make communication very difficult. This is why encouraging depressed people to ask for help isn’t actually that productive – if you can’t communicate, you can’t flag up distress to other people. Putting the onus on depressed people to actively seek help doesn’t solve much, adds to the pressure and it reinforces the idea that solving depression is a problem for the individual sufferer.

People who are deep in depression don’t always know that’s what is happening – especially if they haven’t experienced it before. Around communication, depression can manifest as having nothing to say, no ability to put what’s happening into words, feeling overwhelmed by the idea of trying to have a conversation with anyone. Not being able to do the things you normally do to express yourself. For me, one of the first things to go is singing. I can’t always speak – my throat literally closes up. I don’t write about depression when it is drowning me – I tend to blog when I’m surfacing, or when things are less bad. On the worst days, I can’t talk about what’s happening. The worse it is, the less able I am to ask for help.

Not knowing that the loss of communication skills and the feelings of being overwhelmed even are depression symptoms means that someone suffering won’t know that they might need help. It also means that if you see someone go quiet, you won’t necessarily get much insight by asking if they are ok – they may well not be able to tell you whether they are ok. It’s worth asking anyway, but don’t assume that an ‘I’m fine’ means the person is actually fine. They may be in trouble and largely inarticulate.

Talking about distress when you aren’t ready to doesn’t reliably help. It can feel like having to perform your pain for someone else. It can feel like you have to explain what’s going on – and you may not have the resources to do so. Pushing people to talk about their feelings won’t necessarily help them.

In these kinds of situations, small gestures can be really powerful. Text your silent person. Send them photos of cute things. Bring them chocolate. Offer opportunities to go out, to talk, to do something you would normally do together, but don’t take it personally if they decline. Make a path for them to come back when they are ready. Make it clear that your care for them is not dependent on their being able to perform for you. Keep talking. If someone who matters to you falls silent, don’t wait for them to ask for help. They may not be able to do that. Get in there in whatever way you can, and be as patient as you can be.


Druidry and Pain

There’s nothing in modern Druidry to tell us that pain and suffering are in some way good for us spiritually. If a painful experience comes along, there’s always scope to learn from it in some way, but no feeling of obligation. There’s no Druidic story that we’re here to learn specific lessons, or worse yet, that we agreed to those lessons before being born.

Ancient Druidry may well have included an element of belief in re-incarnation – the Romans certainly thought so, and compared Celtic belief to the philosophy of Pythagoras, because that was what it reminded them of. A Celt might agree to repay a debt in a future life. What’s interesting in this, is that what carries over does so by agreement. There isn’t some great weighing and measuring system that sets you up to deal with past mistakes or learn lessons, by the looks of it.

What the mythology tells us about Gods, punishment, suffering and learning is that it’s all very personal. It is the deals you personally made that you will be held to. It’s breaking your personal taboos that will land you in trouble. There’s no bigger system. Pain is personal too, and it may well be the price tag for a glorious, memorable life.

It isn’t noble to suffer. It doesn’t reliably make us better people. A bit of suffering can be good for improving empathy and compassion for others who suffer, but there are no guarantees. Pain can be a teacher, but only if you choose to accept it as a teacher and only if you have enough resources to be able to work with it on those terms. Pain is not spiritual punishment – unless you did something that brought it on yourself, as Celtic heroes seem to do, and then it’s part of your story.

In life-affirming religions, the physical world is a good place. Yes, it can hurt you and it will kill you, but in the meantime there are feasts to go to, there’s mead to drink and wine, and beautiful other people to try and shag, there’s adventure to be had, and passion and glory. Pain can be a consequence, but it’s part of being alive. In religions that value pain and suffering as spiritual experiences, this tends to go with a denial of the physical. If you’re trying to transcend the body, then making it suffer can seem like a tool for spiritual advancement.

But honestly, having done a lot of physical pain and emotional suffering along the way – it isn’t a great teacher. I’ve learned more from more nuanced opportunities. I can learn more and grow more when I’m not mostly shut down by pain. Often, all pain can teach you is how not to want to be in your body, how not to take joy in it, how to find this life miserable and restrictive and how to have happy feelings about death. There is pain in my life, but mostly I try and use my Druidry to help me overcome it, rather than trying to use the pain to fuel the Druidry – in which capacity it has very little to offer me.


Thinking about Civilization

I’m currently reading ‘Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age’ by Richard Rudgely, and it’s got me thinking a lot about how we define civilization and how problematic it is. Like me, the author isn’t a fan of the narrative of human progress, and that’s certainly a story that has coloured how we think about the past.

As a child, I had one of those illustrated history books, in which the tens of thousands of years of human prehistory were summed up by a single image of some people wearing skins and using stone tools. That the Stone Age was barbarous, superstitious, and lacking in all the qualities of proper civilization is something that we used to take for granted as an idea, and many people probably still do.

History, as we understand it begins with writing, so any culture that doesn’t have writing is assumed not to have history and to be rather primitive. This ignores the ancient nature of stories in oral traditions – that Australian Aboriginal stories record ancient events and creatures is thus easily overlooked. To be a civilization, we moderns think there have to be cities. This means our nomadic ancient ancestors were not civilized, and nor are any modern people who live as hunter gatherers or are otherwise nomadic – this is a view that breeds racism, undervaluing, and intolerance. We only think cities are important because we have cities.

We look to the past for things that validate our stories about the present. Where we see things that fit in a narrative of progress to the present, we tend to focus our attention. There are other stories we might want to explore – that hunter gatherer societies had more leisure time than we do. That so-called primitive people have to develop a very rational, observation based understanding of reality to survive, hunt and gather. That we see civilization in terms of material culture, and that people who live lightly leave little evidence of themselves.

To survive as a nomadic people at the end of the Ice Age, must have meant cooperation. It’s not ‘survival of the fittest’ that will have got our ancestors through those incredibly cold and challenging times when they were first coming back into the UK. It will have been care for the young, and for pregnant women. It must have meant sharing skills and resources, knowledge and experience. It must have meant people working together. And when you can only own what you carry, or what another person is happy to carry for you, the place of material goods in your life is going to be very different.

If we can re-imagine the past, and consider different ways in which civilizations can exist, we might do a much better job of organising ourselves for the future.