Tag Archives: healing

Changing your mind

It is incredibly disorientating when something happens to make you realise that your understanding of the world may be desperately wrong. This is often an issue for trauma survivors. People who have faced a traumatic experience may need support in rebooting their reality and going back to feeling safe. It’s also an issue when you’re emerging from abuse – especially gaslighting – and realise that you’ve had your reality damaged. When you’ve been lied to a lot, finding out about it can leave you unsure of what can now be trusted.

Then there are the people emerging from belief systems – that might mean cults, or family stories, religious belief, political affiliations or anything else that dominates a person’s world view. If something happens to make us doubt our world view, that can be a real blow. At the same time, if we’ve been persuaded by something inaccurate, toxic or controlling, then recovering from that is in our best interests.

When the reality you encounter doesn’t fit with the reality you think you know, what do you do? Who can you safely talk to? How do you ascertain which version is real? How do you decide what to trust?

I’ve been here a couple of times, and I can’t say it gets easier with practice. As a very young adult I was drawn into a web of lies, which enabled someone else to commit fraud, and sexually abuse others. I was used as a decoy duck to make the situation look valid, which was a tough thing to have to square up to. Once I started unpicking what was going on, there was a long period where I felt totally lost and bewildered. All I could do was look for the solid, objective evidence. When it’s personal, this is a lot more feasible than when you’ve had your reality broken by something that has more power over you. If your entire culture has told you that you’re evil because of who you are attracted to, finding a space where you can challenge that idea is much harder.

Trust makes us vulnerable. Trust the wrong person, or the wrong news outlet, or the wrong politician and you can leave yourself open to considerable harm. But without trust, we have no points of reference to build our sense of reality on. Deciding who and what to trust is such a huge issue, and yet most of us make the choice unconsciously, assuming that whatever we grow up with is normal. If we find that we’ve misplaced our trust, especially if that’s around things we’ve trusted since childhood, then rebuilding is really hard.

It is possible, though. I’ve done it twice now in a substantial way. If you are short of useful points of reference, focus on whatever is least subjective. A few pieces of evidence about what’s real and what isn’t can help you unpick the rest. (Choose your sources carefully and consider the qualifications of any expert you turn to. Youtube conspiracy theorists will not help you.) 

If you’re obliged to question your reality, or re-build it, one of the most useful questions to ask is what it’s going to allow you to do. There is no single objective truth about existence, or how to live, or what to feel. When you’re building your reality from scratch, you actually get to pick how you want to think about life, the world, people, yourself. You can do that in a deliberate way and it is entirely reasonable to pick based on what you think would most help you. Start by considering how you might be kind to yourself. If you pick kindness, things tend to go better than not from there. It’s a better basis for making mistakes. Better to be too kind, too patient, too good, than to choose a path of anger and wounding.

Healing and progress

Often, healing isn’t a linear process, and this is perhaps especially true around mental health. It can be unsettling, to hit something that feels like a relapse. It can be hard to tell, when you’re in the middle of a process, whether you’re still overall heading the right way, or have taken a turn for the worse.

It helps a lot having professional insight for this sort of thing. That’s not available to many of us struggling with long term mental health challenges. Figuring out what anything means can therefore be an uncomfortably solitary activity.

It’s certainly true that with bodily healing, things can feel a lot worse before they start to feel better. Building strength, surfacing from sickness and healing wounds can all involve periods of time when things feel worse than they did at the beginning. I know to watch for this with flu – the point at which I usually feel most awful is the point at which I’m starting to get better. 

I find it helps on the mental health front not to assume that any given setback is a sign of disaster. Although of course anxiety makes that a challenging thing to hang on to! However, I’ve been around the various stunts my brain can pull a number of times now, and that helps. Sometimes breakdowns and breakthroughs are impossible to tell apart when I’m in the middle of them. And nose-dives aren’t forever. Even the really awful ones, and the ones that have been slow declines over extended periods of time. I’m still here, and some kind of getting up again has thus far always been possible.

Not everything can be recovered from. This is as true of long term physical illness as it is of mental health problems. Not everyone gets better, many things cannot be fixed. Our very able-oriented society can be rather too focused on the idea of healing as a journey to full recovery and this isn’t always helpful. It can be more useful to think of healing as being about as much wellness as you can achieve. You can be working on healing while in practice simply managing not to get any worse. You can heal, and relapse, and heal and relapse over and over.

It’s always good to seek the best outcomes you can – but what that even means is really individual. A person doesn’t have to expect to be completely fixed for it to be worth them seeking healing. Whatever recovery can be managed is worth having, even if it’s only temporary.

It’s also good to consider our expectations around other people’s health, and to make sure that the assumption of total recovery as end goal isn’t informing what we do. A person can waste a lot of time and energy chasing total recovery when that effort would have been better invested in management and making the best of things. 

Druidry check-in

I find it helpful to pause and take stock every now and then, considering where I’m focused in my Druid journey, what’s important for me and what’s changing. It’s good to review things, to consider the journey deliberately and to think about where I might want to go and whether I need to make any deliberate changes.

Service: This used to be a much bigger part of my path, but I’ve been less involved with activism and with running things in recent years. I’m doing a teensy bit of mentoring. I do my best to help amplify other people, and I continue speaking up about mental health and domestic abuse. Otherwise, my main area of concern is looking at how we tackle things collectively. So many problems – and most especially the climate crisis – are being treated as things to deal with individually when that doesn’t work at all.

Meditation: Meditation, and contemplation have been major parts of my Druidry. I find at the moment I’m tending more towards contemplation and gestating ideas. I need to think about things, to build ideas, to channel raw inspiration into action.

Ritual: Including celebrant work, and having a steady prayer practice, ritual has really fallen by the wayside for me. It’s not what’s calling to me at the moment and I’m fine with that. I don’t have the right spaces or the inspiration at present.

Healing: This is becoming a major focus for me as I work on strengthening my body and doing the things that enable my mind to recover. This is a key underpinning – my ability to connect with the natural world has been sorely limited by how bodily ill I’ve been in the last couple of years. My ability to perform, to do rituals, to travel for events even, has all been compromised. Improving my health will give me a lot more scope to explore the path again, and that’s looking feasible to at least some degree. Honouring nature as it manifests in my own body is going to be more of a thing.

Deity: I have had an ambivalent relationship with deity, to say the least. Those of you who have been following me for longer will have seen the mix of longing and disconnection that has mostly been underpinning how I approach deity. That seems to be changing for me at the moment, and is likely to be a major focus going forwards.

Bard Path: This has always been the centre, for me. The idea of inspiration as inherently sacred, is the heart of my life and no doubt always will be. I’ve had a profoundly fruitful time of it lately in terms of being inspired, having projects I’m invested in and fabulous co-creators to work with. I’m doing more to take my creativity out into the world in all kinds of ways, and I feel really good about all of that. This is what I am for, and this is how I best handle all the many aspects of my Druidry, exploring, expressing and offering to others.

Magic: The idea of magic has always been with me, but depression can be made of disenchantment. Things have changed for me on this score, as part of the same process that has me exploring deity and feeling much more inspired. It’s become possible to have room for wonder, enchantment and a sense of possibility – partly because I’ve been surfacing from the depths of depression, and partly as a thing that has helped me pull out of the depression. I suspect this is something I’ll be talking about a lot more once I’m further into the process and have a better understanding of the mechanics.

Practices change over time. Druidry is a very large forest with a great many ways through it and a great deal to explore. Staying in one part of that is just as valid as wandering about.

Healing and sacredness

My sense of the sacred is something that has shifted a lot over time. It’s not a hard pattern to trace. In my teens and early twenties, I was infused with feelings of possibility, open to a sense of wonder and able to imagine divinity and magic as part of the world. 

Things happened in my twenties that closed me down. It’s a long and unhappy story – which is perhaps all anyone really needs to know about it. I became uncertain, depressed, anxious, and I lost much of my sense of wonder and possibility. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which hope and confidence are necessary for feelings of faith and wonder. At the times when I’ve been least able to believe in myself, I’ve also been less able to believe in much else. With the current political state of the world and the looming realities of the climate crisis, it is not easy to stay open to beauty, to find joy, to be hopeful. Without that openness, the scope for experiencing anything numinous is much reduced.

This autumn has taken me on a transformative journey that is steadfastly changing my life. At this point I’m confident in naming it as a healing process, but I can see it will be more than that. I’ve faced up to many of the things that have locked me down. I’ve made my peace with many things, I’ve gained insights and I’ve changed. I feel more like the person I am supposed to be and considerably less like a ball of scar tissue. Alongside this I’ve seen my creative output increase dramatically and take new shapes I’m excited about.

I’ve been writing a lot of poetry. There are themes through it about connecting with divinity. It’s become a process of re-enchantment, for me, and rediscovering what it means to feel wonder, awe and inspiration. Being able to feel those things is changing how I feel about myself. 

I’m taking this winter to look inwards (a surprisingly conventional response to the wheel of the year, but there we go!). I have a lot of inner work to do, alongside keeping doing the things that are supporting this whole process. I am investing time in following the calls of inspiration, and seeing where these emerging feelings of wonder and hope might take me. At the moment, I need to hold carefully the process itself – at some point I might be able to talk usefully about how all of this has happened, but not while I’m in the middle of it.

What I can say is that all of this growth and change is fundamentally rooted in experiences of peace and safety. I know the theory is that we do our best growing on the edge of the comfort zone. I’ve lived for a long time outside my comfort zone, sometimes not even being sure where the comfort zone would be anymore. Folding into peacefulness, into security and gentleness has been transformative. Sometimes the healing part has been brutal, but it is the feeling of safety that makes it possible to go through that.

Expressing difficult emotions

Recently on the blog comments I was treated to a little lecture about how harmful it is to wallow in misery. It struck me that this would be a good topic to explore. It’s not an unusual thing to hear if you’re a depressed person dealing with people who apparently have decent mental health. Of course the primary function of this is often to make the depressed person shut up so that they do not make the comfortable person uncomfortable. Or perhaps it’s about not requiring the person who is in denial to think too much.

It is essential to be able to talk about how you are feeling in whatever ways makes sense to you. Anyone who denies you that space is someone to avoid – they may have their own issues, and sometimes stepping away from each other is the best choice. Working through your feelings is essential for getting on top of them, locking it away will only make it worse.

There are a lot of productive ways of expressing emotions. Pouring it into music, art or poetry can be a really good ideas, as can venting it through physical expression. I’ve found dance exceedingly helpful for processing things I couldn’t think my way out of. Difficult emotions can take time and effort to process – significant injuries, traumas, profound losses – we don’t automatically integrate these things or know what to do with them. Coming to terms with anything of this ilk takes time and most of us do better when we can engage consciously with those feelings.

Accusations of wallowing, or loving your own misery or simply making a fuss for attention is one that most depressed people are familiar with. It adds to the burden of distress. Having it thrust at you as an attempt at help, or for your own good just adds to the unpleasantness. So let me be clear that this is never about the good of a person who is suffering. Needing to spend time with difficult things you are feeling is not a moral failing or some kind of character flaw. It’s doing the necessary work that moves you, inch by inch, towards healing.

When we are accepting of each other’s emotions, we lend support to that healing process. When we listen, show care, and make space for whatever anyone else is struggling with, we help each other. I’m constantly grateful to the people in my life who share their own experiences –  l learn from all of that, and I know that in turn what I share of my own journey is at least occasionally useful to others.

I’m not sure what to do with people who respond to distress with unpleasantness. While I’m deeply invested in the idea of community resilience and mutual support, I think we’re all entitled to have and hold boundaries. There’s a very strong likelihood that the people who want to shut down others for expressing distress are speaking from places of having their own hurt, and unmet need. Perhaps they find some comfort or sense of self worth in hurting people who dare to express hurt. I don’t know and thinking about it taxes the limits of my empathy, I’m finding. 

The question of how best, as communities, to take care of the people who have little or no ability to participate well in community is something that impacts on all of us. How do we respond to people who come intent on causing hurt? Even if we’re confident they do so from a place of distress? I don’t have any decent answers to this right now, and I think I’ll need to be better resourced in myself before I can explore this in any significant way.

Why I’m not fixing people

I find the idea that one person can ‘fix’ another person implausible at best. There’s a lot wrong with it as a concept. To want to fix someone, you have to first perceive them as broken, and unable to fix themselves. There are exceptions, particularly for medics fixing broken bodies and others acting to save the lives of people who have little or no scope for agency. But mostly, it’s a really bad idea.

Fixing people can often be a cover for taking power and agency away from them. Casting yourself in the saviour role can make you feel powerful, at the expense of making the other person feel incompetent, useless or really annoyed. Telling people you are fixing them and doing things for their own good can be controlling and manipulative, undermining a person’s feelings that they can make good judgements for themselves, and limiting or removing their choices.

When we set out to fix someone else, we’re doing that on our own terms. It starts with our assessment of their brokenness – a case in point would be the way some neurotypical people want to ‘cure’ autistic people rather than recognising that as valid difference. What we fix someone into is also about our agenda not their needs – fixing autistic people to help them pass as neurotypical people does not do autistic people any good and can cause considerable harm. The expressed intention to fix someone is all too often a cover for the desire to make them more like us. Torturing queer folk with conversion therapy is an example.

Helping people is an entirely different issue. Being genuinely helpful means supporting, empowering and uplifting others. We might do that by sharing knowledge, skills, stories and ideas. We might talk about what worked for us. We might offer to step up in any way the person being helped would find useful. We centre them and follow their lead, we do not try and make them do the things we think would help.

When someone is growing, learning, healing or otherwise overcoming their problems, it is vital they have ownership of that process. If we don’t feel we own our processes, then they won’t really embed, for a start. We won’t be able to trust the progress we have made, and we may feel problematically dependent on the person who did this for us. If we’re made to feel like our achievements belong to someone who ‘helped’ us then we’re in a vulnerable and unhealthy sort of situation.

We’re all flawed, messy and complicated. We all have the scope to help and support each other in many different ways. No one needs fixing. We just need space and opportunity to take care of ourselves.

Gratitude for the second chances

Like most people, my life has been messy and thus far has not gone as I hoped or intended. I muddle along, as we all do. There was a younger version of me who was alive with plans, hopes, dreams and the will to try and make them real. I’ve had varying degrees of success.

I’ve been through things that broke me down and damaged me. I’ve lost parts of myself to those experiences. I’ve knowingly cut bits off myself and tried to be smaller on numerous occasions, in the hopes of being safer, or being left alone at least. There have been people in my life who hurt me by accident because they too were lost and scared and flailing. That’s always forgivable, even if I don’t always choose to stay around for more of it. There have been people who did the best they could, but where that wasn’t actually much or enough, and that’s forgivable too. We all have people like that, and sooner or later we are also people like that.

I’ve had a few years now where the best I could give in any aspect of my life wasn’t really enough. It’s been hard all round. I am hugely grateful for the time and space to recover from what’s afflicted me, and the opportunities I am given to try and do better.

What’s done me the most damage were the individuals who set out deliberately to harm me. I recognise that I’m not good at holding boundaries, but I’m also not into victim blaming. I have a lot of anxiety around not being good or useful enough and that’s an easy thing to exploit, which in no way excuses the people who saw those weak points and exploited them.

I have learned some lessons. I’m getting better at not appeasing people, and not being instantly persuaded that I am wrong and everything is my fault. I have some considered responses to conflict now. For the people I am really close to, I will get in and try to explain and work things through no matter what we’ve run into. If I commit, I commit hard. For most people, I’ll try and go at least a few rounds sorting things out if there is difficulty. I’ll check for miscommunication, I’ll try to understand their perspective better and so forth. If I can make headway, I’ll stay in. Decline to meet me half way with that, and I’m gone.

There are now a lot of things I don’t give people second chances over unless they genuinely matter to me. I just move away. I don’t want the drama or stress of people who want to fight and don’t want to listen. I do not stay if I’m just going to be a punchbag or scapegoat.

Alongside this I’m increasingly aware of having been given some amazing second chances recently. These aren’t second chances with other people, although I would not have got to this point on my own. This week I wrote a story that felt like the kind of thing I was writing in my early twenties. It gave me back a part of myself and I feel more whole and functional for that experience. I’m also becoming able to reclaim other parts of my previous self, especially how I used to think and feel.

I feel like I’m getting a second chance to be myself. I can’t unknow what I’ve experienced, and I remain affected by what’s happened in the last twenty years or so, but I feel like I’m back on the trajectory I had as a much younger person. I can carry all of what’s happened, and reclaim my whole self, and carry on from here as the version of myself I wanted to be, back before pain and shame taught me to think that person was not ok.

That person was ok. I am ok. I am not someone who deserves to be knocked down and humiliated. I’ve got to a place where I can get on with doing what I’m called to do and being the person I am. 

The Path to Healing is a Spiral

This is an incredibly grounded book, full of humour, compassion and wisdom. Anna McKerrow explores various approaches to healing while steadfastly resisting ableism and toxic positivity. It’s a powerful read with a great deal to offer anyone who needs to take better care of themself.

I was not having a good week when I read this book back in May. (I had the book well ahead of release for blurbing, and I cunningly stashed a review!) The week in question started with a massive triggering event, and a huge meltdown, then Idabbled in sleep deprivation and then crashed into a period while flirting yet again with anaemia. Health had become a matter of firefighting and trying to keep going. It’s been a tough year on that score with far too many rounds of similar things. I read this book while in a place of urgently needing to heal, and feeling lost and powerless. It was a good book to read in that context.

Anna talks about an array of emotional healing experiences she’s had, and about the kinds of horrible, but not that unusual experiences that meant she needed that. As she points out, most of us will be wounded, repeatedly along the way. Healing is something we need to do. She also writes about the kinds of things a womb can do to your body and more people need to know this stuff, regardless of womb-status.

If you’re curious about alternative healing approaches, there’s a lot to learn here. We get a mix of Anna’s experiences alongside interviews from practitioners, which I found really interesting. This isn’t a how-to book, it won’t tell you how to heal, but it does explore the idea that you could. Some things aren’t fixable, but mitigation, better support and more coping mechanisms are always worth having. It’s a wise and encouraging book in that way.

I think it is people in similar situations to me who will benefit most from this book. It’s for those of us who could do with taking the time to ask what could be made better, rather than just being in a perpetual running battle with the health issues. For those of us with mental illness, it’s a helpful invitation to think about what kind of support we might even need while being offered examples to consider. If your womb has chosen violence, this is definitely for you.

More on the author’s website – https://www.annamckerrow.com/the-path-to-healing-is-a-spiral.html

Healing is not just a personal issue

I caught myself thinking recently ‘oh, it’s just period pain, it doesn’t matter.’ I’m so used to feeling that I have to push through pain – especially if it’s just regular body pain and there’s no threat of taking physical damage by ignoring it. I’m in the habit of thinking that being in pain is something to ignore or minimise and that I should expect to do as much as a person who was not in pain might do. This being an imaginary person who gets a great deal of stuff done all day, every day.

I live in a culture that doesn’t take womb-pain seriously and tends to treat people who suffer with painful periods as though they are just making a fuss. Collectively, we aren’t good at showing compassion and respect for people who are limited by pain or other disabling problems. Resting, pacing and other kinds of gentleness are all too easily treated like laziness. That all creates anxiety.

Pain takes a toll, physically and emotionally. Pushing through it to get stuff done requires a lot of mental effort. That’s a cost I’m not in the habit of thinking about when I just default to slogging on. I’m in a situation at the moment where I can afford to be a bit more gentle with myself around pain. I’m also aware that this is not an option everyone has, and that poverty and insecurity around both work and housing are major factors contributing to people not being able to move gently in response to their own distress. The longer you have to do that for, the more distress it causes and the mental health damage can be huge – and that’s not a pain everyone can afford to take seriously either.

Healing is a social justice issue. We tend to focus on it as an individual issue, but that’s not enough. What scope we have to rest, heal and recover is framed by capitalism, by poverty, by unsympathetic workplaces and unaffordable homes. No one should have to choose between trying to recover from pain or illness, and being able to afford to eat.

It should not be normal to have to ignore pain.

Soothing the troubled mind

Person A: I feel terrible about myself.

Person B: I think you are an excellent person.

Person A: Thank you. I still feel terrible about myself.

Person B: Why do I even bother?

The thing to remember about hurt and wounded people, is that it was seldom one event. People who are depressed, anxious, who have no self esteem and who feel grim about life tend to have gone through a process. However much we want to fix and heal each other, saying one nice thing once won’t restore the brain of someone who has spent years under attack.

Helping someone rebuild themselves means being in it for the long haul. One complement isn’t going to change everything. Over-complimenting can feel weird and uncomfortable. 

The best thing you can do for a person is be affirming. That includes affirming that their responses to their own historical issues are valid and reasonable. Affirm that it’s ok if things are difficult now because of what happened before and be patient while they work on things. Affirm that their choices and decisions are good, whenever you can. Give positive feedback whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Saying things like ‘I understand why it might seem that way to you’ or ‘your response makes sense to me’ can be a good opener if you need to explain that they’re wrong. People can get trapped in perceptions of the world that really harm them and need help getting out of that.

“I can see why this is making you feel bad about yourself, but it was an honest mistake and we all do that.”

“I can see why this makes you uneasy, but this isn’t going to play out the way that other thing did.”

Affirming the other person’s validity as a person, affirming their feelings and reactions can go alongside gently challenging all of that baggage. When we feel valid and safe it’s a lot easier to do the work of healing and moving on from past woundings.