Tag Archives: crisis

When it isn’t drama

For the person in crisis or recovering from trauma, the accusation of being a drama queen is an experience of being kicked when you’re down. From the outside, it can be hard to see what you’re dealing with – especially where old wounds, hidden traumas and invisible triggers are concerned. That it would not be a crisis for you is not a measure of a thing. Context can also play a big part, with poverty, ill health and other such problems turning what might be mole hills for the well resourced, into impossible mountains.

How do you tell what to do when you can’t tell what’s really going on?

I think the first question to ask is about your own resources. If you have time, energy and comfort, if you are well resourced then you can certainly afford to spend some time acting with sympathy in response to a problem. If you aren’t well enough resourced to help much, you have to take those limits into account.

The person who is in crisis is unlikely to try and burden you further if it looks like you too cannot cope. People in crisis know about being pushed towards the edge. However, people interested in being centre stage and wanting there to be a drama that revolves around them are much more likely to demand your help even if you’ve been clear that you can’t do much.

Poverty, debt and illness can lead you into vicious circles and downward spirals and create one crisis after another. Frequency of crisis is not therefore a sign that someone is definitely doing drama. However, people who don’t enjoy drama are often awkward and embarrassed about asking for help. They are more likely also to feel responsible for what’s happened to them even if it isn’t in any way their fault. Drama enthusiasts, on the other hand, seldom feel responsible even when they are.

People in crisis do what they can to get out of the crisis. They may do it badly, they may make bad choices along the way, or be too proud to get help when they could have done, and that doesn’t always look great from the outside, but it isn’t drama. People who like drama can be remarkably good at not finding solutions or getting things fixed and keeping things in drama mode for far longer than necessary. They also tend to want the solutions to come from somewhere other than themselves. The desire for attention is more important than the desire to get things sorted out.

Of course often it isn’t this binary. Drama llamas can have real crises. People dealing with relentless, grinding challenges can become very hungry for care and attention in a way that also blurs the edges. There’s also the factor that the would-be helper isn’t neutral in all of this. If you could help and don’t want to, that doesn’t make the person asking for help a drama queen. If the problems aren’t solvable – as with chronic illness – it doesn’t mean the person is less deserving of what help can be given. If you resent the attention someone else is getting for being in crisis, that might be about you, and not them at all.


Escaping the barbed wire hamster wheel

There are ways of talking about paths we get in our minds that are proper and technical and scientific. Just so that you know – I won’t be doing that. I find it easier to talk in metaphor. It has to be said, that the idea of pathways through the mind is passably literal. When it comes to the barbed wire hamster wheel, I may be straying into the realms of the less technically accurate.

The barbed wire hamster wheel is a terrible thing to be on. All you can do is run in its little circle, while the barbed wire flays you. Arriving, and leaving seem, when you’re on the wheel, to be incomprehensible things. More like acts of god, than anything you could have chosen or changed. When on the wheel, with blood and skin flying metaphorically all over the place, it’s almost impossible to be aware of anything other than the wheel.

These are thought processes it is really hard to express in any other way. They don’t obey reason, they aren’t open to recognising cause and effect, they can’t be argued with. The barbed wire hamster wheel has its own truth, and its truth is that you are awful, failing, useless, worthless, and that you absolutely deserve to be trapped in a barbed wire hamster wheel and obliged to run and tear yourself to shreds in it for all eternity. This is what it seems like when some kind of tortured crisis is underway on the inside.

Last weekend I ran for several days in the hamster wheel. I sobbed, and bled, and thought I would be there forever. Usually I get to stop running only because I become so exhausted that I can’t feel anything anymore. This time I stopped running. The difference? I think it’s a consequence of years of being supported in questioning the truth of that wheel, and being encouraged to question why I am running in it.

This week I’ve been able to give it a name (Tom came up with the name for me). In naming it, I have power over it. If those feelings of frantically running in vicious circles come back, I will know what to call them, but maybe they won’t come back, and maybe if they show up, I won’t have to climb inside and start running.

It is a very hard thing to question your own reality. Those questions can seem more terrifying than the wheel does. That’s part of why it’s so hard to get out of the wheel and think something different. But it can be done, and having done it once I at least know that I can do it again.

Being human in a crisis

I got online this morning to find that, in the last 24 hours, a lot of really awful things have happened in a lot of different places. We live in an age where the woes of the world are rapidly available to us. While part of me feels shock and sorrow over what yesterday brought to a lot of people, another part of me knows this is nothing new. These things have always happened, we just didn’t always know about it. Big disasters, be they natural or man-made, can catch us in a number of ways.

Some of us respond by trying to find meaning. Did we anger the gods? Did we damage the balance? What caused it? How can we prevent it, or better mitigate against the next one? Answers and action give back a sense of control. We like having something to blame. If we’re realistic, this can be helpful, if we come up with some lunacy like ‘god is punishing us for gay people’ then we’re going to make things a whole lot worse.

Some of us respond with despair. Life is short, nasty and brutish. Nature red in tooth and claw. Man’s inhumanity to man. It’s all horrible, we’re all horrible, eventually we will all die. Grief is an essential part of our humanity, but if we let it run too far, and too deeply, we become powerless to act, unable to see the good in anything, and that doesn’t help in the slightest.

Some of us respond by trying to help. We donate to good causes. If we’re really keen, we head out for the area of disaster to help deal with the immediate crisis and the rebuild afterwards. We don’t ask why it happened, we just get on with sorting it out, and in the short term this is often a good response, but if we don’t stop to ask the awkward, uncomfortable questions at some point, things that could have been changed go unchallenged.

Some of us enjoy it. Perhaps because of the challenge, or the drama, or we find it exciting. Perhaps it validates a personal belief or we enjoy the suffering of others.

Some of us go numb, we tune it out, we refuse to feel, to know or to care. It’s not our problem, not our responsibility, we don’t want to know. We think we’re protecting ourselves by not caring, but there is a cost to hardening your heart and looking the other way.

The meanings we ascribe to events, and the choices we make may not have the power to radically change what’s happening out there. What they do is inform our own lives, and shape who we are, and what we do. World events are nothing more than the combined effect of many lives. Each small part may seem irrelevant when viewed alone, but what we do collectively has huge impact.

We can respond with blame, rage, violence. We can respond with apathy and inaction. We can try to help. In the long term we can think about why things happen as they do, and we can think about how to change things. We have those options.

Life Without Drama

*Somehow I messed up posting this – my computer was down and I was writing on an unfamiliar machine, sorry about that! Normal service resumes now…*

I’ve had more than a month with no real drama, although there have been plenty of intense and challenging things going on. None of the big stuff of late has happened with extra arm waving from me or anyone else. It’s been a very measured time, with things being tackled, not expanded. I’ve not missed the drama at all, but have experienced this as a relief. I’ve had arguments that were all about the content and the issues, not about how I should be behaving differently.

Life throws everyone curve balls, and when we’re connected to other people, the odds are at any point we’ve something to fret over. Friends with cancer. The colleague who fell down the stairs recently. The colleague suffering from stress, the various people I know who are dealing with counterproductive management from the hierarchies they have to engage with. The people who have been hurt, and undervalued… I have a long list at the moment of people dealing with difficult things. And yet none of it feels like drama. It feels like life, and people trying to deal with life and qualitatively that’s really different.

Drama is not about problem solving, it’s about drawing people into the crisis, and directing attention towards the person who wants to be in the middle of it. Looking back I suspect patterns of desire for power and significance. Drama created so that someone can suck up time, energy and resources and in so doing, feel important. Drama created to silence me when I needed to talk about something I was having a problem with.

My problem has not been that I like or manufacture drama – I feel fairly confident of that, now. My problem has been that I take other people’s drama seriously and try to be helpful. As I’m a finite being with limited time and energy to deploy, I need to look carefully at where I step up and where I step back. I’m seeing people tackle enormous, life altering things with no drama at all, I do not have to burn myself out for people who create situations so they can demand my help, or for people who have to be at the centre of things and will do anything to stay there.

Drama versus intensity

I’m a very intense person. I feel things keenly, and emotional experiences stay with me. I love fiercely, throw myself into things heart and soul, am tortured by anxiety and depression, and I get my heart broken all too often because I care deeply about things. Recognising that I can’t have the highs without having parallel lows, I have long since accepted myself as I am, and while my responses perplex people now and then, I have no desire to change them.

Looking at other people, it has been difficult to tell whether I’m seeing drama, or intensity. No doubt people looking at me have the same problems. To some, I probably seem excessive and melodramatic. I’ve suffered considerably, and repeatedly by being drawn into drama. I’ve noticed a distinct pattern, and the more time I spend around people who are also intense, the clearer the pattern has become for me.

Like all the other intense people I know, I hate drama. I hate getting things overblown for the sake of it and the relentless effort to turn all molehills into mountains. I can be reduced to tears by a painting. I’d much rather be free to get on with that, and not being reduced to tears by people for whom that’s a spectator sport. People who like drama manufacture it. They create crises that require everyone else to run around. They may weep extravagantly, yell, stomp feet and act out a great deal of emotional expression, but instead of being exhausted from so much emotion, they feed on it, and they feed on the exposed emotions of those caught up in the play, and so they keep making sure these things happen. With a drama enthusiast, things never settle down, never become calm and workable.

Based on observation, there are a number of possible motives. The drama enthusiast is always at the centre of the whirlwind, and the centre of attention. Drama makes sure the world revolves around them, and anyone in their orbit is kept circling and attentive. There are clearly ego temptations in being the centre of attention. Intense people who are in extremis are more likely to slip away and try to do it quietly, without the added burden of attention and other people’s reactions to deal with. The drama enthusiast needs to feel important. They seem to derive a kind of pleasure from all intense emotion – especially other people’s. They may have a vested interest in being seen as temperamental and passionate – it fits in with an identity that appeals to them.  They tend to be attracted to arts scenes and spiritual spaces, where a heart on a sleeve can look a lot like authenticity and it’s very hard for anyone to challenge them.

I have repeatedly mistaken drama queens for truly intense people. I like the company of other people who feel too much because there are things I do not have to explain. Intense people shun needless drama, and tend, I have noticed, to try and bring situations down to more manageable, bearable levels rather than escalating them. Intense people are a lot more reliable as friends, too, and less likely to throw a hissy fit and run off over some minor thing.

I spent a lot of years being told that I’m unreasonable and melodramatic. I guess on some level I internalised this as meaning that I belong with the unreasonable and melodramatic people. Except that I hate all that stuff. I like quiet, reflective, thoughtful people who feel things too keenly to want any unnecessary screaming and shouting in the mix.

Druidry in a crisis

While I’m mostly going to take the Druid angle for this blog, it could equally be about parenting, or being an author, an artist, or learning to cook. The same broad things apply (I think) to all areas of human endeavour.

There are always setbacks. If you care about what you’re doing and how well you are doing it those setbacks can be brutal. The point of finding out how little we know about ancient Druids is a classic crisis moment for many. The ritual that is a depressing failure. The first time someone calls you out over what you believe and how you express it, the second time… Life experience at odds with spiritual expectation can give us crushing blows. There are a number of ways to go at this point.

You might put belief, including belief in your own rightness before everything else. That can leave people disturbingly at odds with reality. You might be so overwhelmed and distressed that you quit. As possible for parents as for Druids. Neither of these are good outcomes. All that exists on the other side, is getting in there and wrestling with the problem.

When we start anything, we tend to see the bits we’re naturally good at. I have a lot of bard skills, which gave me a mistaken degree of confidence in my ritual skills. It took me a while to learn how to take care of a circle; there were people skills I only later realised I needed. I think this is often the way of it. Only when things go awry do we start to see what we always needed to know but weren’t aware of. That can be a huge confidence blow. There is always more to learn and more to know, and a consciousness of that creates a good degree of insulation from the pain of hitting one of those setbacks. If you know there will be some, you can at least recognise it when it happens, and get on with coping rather than flailing about. It is often only when we start doing things that we get to see where our weaknesses are, and what we need to swot up on. There is no one way of being a Druid, a parent, an artist, so no one can tell you upfront what you ought to try and learn before you start.

That said, trying to learn something, anything, before you start confers significant advantages. Not least, when you hit a crisis, you’ll have some idea where to go to find what you need for moving on. You’ll be more aware of the myriad ways in which other people are doing things, so you won’t expect one right answer, either. That helps. A knowledge base isn’t the same as wisdom, but it is useful!

Sometimes, natural talent is the most destructive thing to live with. If all the evidence says that you are naturally brilliant at a thing, it won’t occur to you to study and craft, to consciously try and develop that. It’s so easy to coast when you think you have natural genius. As far as I can tell, there is only so far anyone can get with that coasting. For some it’s a long way, but always finite. The further you go, riding the wave of innate brilliance, the harder it is when you hit the wall that is your natural limit. The person who expects to have to work, study and practice will get plenty of small bumps along the way, but they tend to be more survivable, and less traumatic.

For aspiring writers, the first crash is usually the first novel. Either unfinished, or eventually loathed, the first novel teaches a person exactly how much they do not know about writing a book. Usually it’s too short, there weren’t enough ideas, its clichéd and overtly a fantasy-autobiography. Doing it can make apparent that you haven’t found a voice yet, don’t have a style, don’t know about pace, or how to handle perspectives or a hundred other things. Hours of work, for something you want to burn. I’ve done it, and seen people do it, and convince themselves that it means they can’t be an author. The awful first book is actually a rite of passage. If you’ve already written a lot of short fics, or poetry, or worked in another form, or have the nightmare of a natural gift, you might skip this, but there’s much to be said for going through it.

This is one of the reasons focusing on superficial measurements of success doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. What you learn about how you need to develop is more important than word counts, or nice robes. There is much to be said for feeling uneasy about what you’ve done and having to go back and find out about all the things you didn’t know. Sometimes, it is good and helpful to fail. The first rejections, the first gaffs and humiliations, the rituals that go wrong because you didn’t know and hadn’t thought, the people who get angry, the mistakes made… these things teach us. They remind us that failure is always an option and that there is always more to strive for. They remind us to try and be patient with other people who fail, and never to get comfortable imagining that we have it all sussed. We never will.

Challenges, Meditation fail and Scarborough

A part of me knows that challenge is also opportunity, a chance to grow and to step up to new things. We do that deliberately to ourselves in rites of initiation and in dedication, shouldering challenges, and sometimes reality keeps dishing them out as well. I’ve had to close my computer lid and just sit here repeatedly this morning. Things I may a have messed up, things that came out of nowhere, things I might yet resolve. It’s been one thing after another this week, and I am sorely worn.

We were supposed to be signing books at Stand Up Comics in Scarborough this Saturday, but at the weekend they mentioned they hadn’t actually ordered any books, what were we bringing? As we’re nearly out of copies of Hopeless Maine, and not too taken with this as an attitude, things ground to a halt rather quickly. I had assumed, foolishly perhaps, that a conversation about the feasibility of order us through Diamond Distribution represented an intention to make an order, given they’d just booked us. Apparently not. But, within a couple of days, Debra, my fab and tenacious lady on the ground there, sorted things so that we can go to Waterstones instead. Hurrah for Waterstones! Against all the odds, I’m starting to feel rather warm and fuzzy about them. (We’ll be there at 11am, if you can make it, please do!)

That’s a typical one. Much of the hassle seems to be of my own making, or perhaps if I was being kinder with myself, it’s a knock on effect of the chaos of moving house. There’s been a lot of chaos. I feel like I’ve been running for a long time, and amongst that, I’ve missed some things, and some of those may be important, and some may not.

Then there’s the really random stuff, which I’m pretty sure I haven’t made, things not showing up, or disappearing, with no explanation. There’s been too much of that, lately.
My perception is that some people are run ragged by crazy shit beyond their control, and some people seem to drift serenely though life, rather in the manner of swans. There may of course be frantic paddling below the surface that I cannot see. I seem to be made of frantic paddling, but perhaps to others I too look like something floating by, untroubled.

It’s hard to put time into being all spiritual and philosophical when mostly what you want to do is scream a bit and then get under the table and refuse to come out. There are times when the closest I can get to Druidry, is to breathe, slowly and deliberately, and in breathing, not actually scream. Inner peace is a lovely idea, but reality doesn’t always co-operate with that, and it’s hard to be peaceful when things around me seem to be falling apart. Of course that is the time when we most need the inner peace, when it would be most useful. Meditating is easy when you’re calm, but being able to do it to resolve stress would be really handy.

I think it’s fair to say that the work I’ve done in recent years on trying to be a calmer and more functional person has paid off in that I am still sat here, not under the table, and I’m not screaming, and I am chipping away at those challenges and setbacks, trying to climb on top of the various mad things that seem to be happening around me. That is worth something. Often in crisis it is hard to keep track of the progress, to recognise that the current muddles and troubles are less bad, or more readily managed than they might have been.

If you would like to cheer me up enormously, and are in the Scarborough area, do check out http://www.facebook.com/events/list#!/events/1388873817996797/ as I shall be playing with ideas around how we imagine our ancient Pagan ancestors, on Friday night and it would be good to have people along for that. And of course lovely Waterstones in Scarborough, 11am Saturday morning.

Now I get to sit under the table, yes?

The accidental counsellor

There are far more folk who find themselves in crisis than ever there are trained professionals available to help them. It can take months to get counselling in the UK, but people caught in the immediacy of their own grief, trauma or anxiety can’t really afford to wait. The official advice from the UK’s national health service for folk in crisis is to talk to someone.

So, what do you do if you find yourself the chosen ear of a person in distress? My brother found himself with one of these last week, which is what has prompted me to write today. Most of us aren’t qualified, but we still have to step up. And as a Druid, you may attract the need and distress of others, especially if you put yourself forward by running things. I’ve seen this topic discussed on pagan forums, where the fear of causing more harm than good, or inviting litigation, makes people wary about offering themselves. So, we’re not talking about being a counsellor here, we’re talking about being the person who gets the late night phone call from a friend who doesn’t know how to carry on, or being the one a family member confides to about some horrific experience. We don’t get to choose these, they happen to us. How do we deal with them?

The single most powerful thing you can do for a person in distress is listen to them. No matter how much it disturbs you, or whether or not you are able to believe what they say, listening and giving the space for them to speak is tremendously effective. Unless you feel there’s immediate physical danger to them, or someone else, go for listening. Make sure they know you are listening, by making affirming comments. “I hear you.” Don’t be afraid to acknowledge if you are out of your depth. If you don’t understand and can’t relate to it, say so. A person in crisis will not appreciate you claiming you know just what it must be like, if you blatantly cannot know. If you do know, it can be helpful to share.

In the short term, don’t think about trying to find solutions. Focus on the listening, and letting them talk until they are calm. Avoid any comment that in any way might be construed as telling them they shouldn’t feel as they do – they are feeling it, they need to feel it, if you let them talk it will pass. Ask why they are feeling a certain way, ask how you can help, what they need, and if the answer is ‘nothing’ then just keep them talking.

It’s not your job to find a solution. Any solution to the problems have to be the choice of the person in crisis. Making suggestions may be helpful, but be careful to avoid anything that feels like you taking control of things. Crisis is a loss of control, the person in crisis cannot afford to have more of their right to self determine taken from them. Support them, offer advice, but do not give instruction, or do things for them unless you’re down to very physical issues of preserving life, or making cups of tea.

Giving people food and drink affirms normality. People in distress may also be in shock, so make sure they are warm.

Often what people need is a sounding board, someone to test ideas on while they work out what they need. If that’s what you’re getting, questions like ‘will that work for you?’ ‘what do you need?’ ‘how do you feel about that?’ will help them with the process. Avoid anything that seems like you being asked to choose for them. You can say what you would do if it was you, but make sure it’s on those terms.

Sometimes people just need a witness or a cheerleader. They need someone else to believe in them because they’re having a hard time believing in themselves. Encourage them. Praise their courage and determination, acknowledge their difficulties, affirm that there must be a way through and that they will find it. If appropriate, remind them of things they’ve achieved before, of qualities in themselves that will get them through.

In this way, it’s possible to help and support a person without having to take responsibility for them, and without having to internalise their distress. This protects us from being drawn into crisis with them. It keeps control in the hands of the person who is in trouble. It’s very easy to do, and to remember, and is actually the underpinning of talking therapies used by councillors. Listen, encourage, ask and try not to judge. It’s surprising how big a difference these things can make.