Tag Archives: mental health

When to run away

Anxiety creates strong urges to run away. Perhaps some people get fight as well as flight, but I suspect that panic is more likely to just kick off the flight impulse.

A few years ago I decided to give myself permission to act on my panic. I’d been through a lot of challenging situations where I’d had to stay put, no matter what it cost me. Staying with something that has panicked you so much that you feel an overwhelming urge to flee, is something I find not only emotionally tough, but takes a toll on my body as well. Not running away increases the stress. Not manifesting the stress in any visible way creates massive tension in me.

I talked with my nearest and dearest about strategies to manage my running away. We started planning how to handle situations that looked high risk for panic. It took the pressure off considerably. I’ve had to run away from a few things, and it’s generally been a good choice.

Of course running away is only a delaying tactic for some issues. It can be expensive in other ways. I’ve had two work related panic issues in the last year. Running away from workspaces means running away from money. I’ve run away from jobs before that were making me ill, and I’ve run away from a couple of volunteering situations as well. I have learned to put my mental health first, and created a living arrangement that allows me to get out if something is making me ill.

The most recent rounds have been remarkably different however, because both times, someone else has stepped forward with a solution to help me stay. I’ve said many times that I believe in community solutions to mental health problems, but it’s a whole other thing to have someone come in and offer just that. Situations I’ve stepped away from permanently haven’t offered support or much care that I was struggling. No one was willing to do things differently to accommodate me. Sometimes, there wasn’t even anyone willing to hear what the problem was. I don’t think this is unusual – we place the responsibility for mental health problems squarely on the shoulders of the person suffering.

However, when someone else can step in with a solution, everything changes. It means feeling heard and respected, feeling valued despite these problems. It means being given the chance to work in a way that is sustainable for me. It means the work I can do is seen as worth more than the bother of changing things to keep me viable.

Many workplaces are stressful and difficult. When we expect people to just shut up and put up with it, it is inevitable that some will crack under the pressure. We’re living with a mental health crisis that has been explicitly linked to work stress (but not widely reported – it was in a chief medical officer’s report a few years ago). It’s not that startling to discover that when we take care of each other, stress may be less of an issue and people may be less at risk of anxiety and depression. Community solutions work for illness caused by collective dysfunction, if only we have the will to implement them.

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Rest and Happiness

There is nothing like being exhausted to bring on the depression and anxiety. There is also nothing like pushing yourself to work when exhausted to lower self esteem and make you feel awful. Rest is a basic human need, and if for some reason you can’t have it over long time frames, your mental health will suffer, as will the rest of your body.

We need rest to heal, to recover from illness. We need time to draw breath, reflect on life, make plans, regroup and digest what we’ve learned. Life without this is stressful and feels like constant fire fighting.

I’ve done seven day weeks and twelve hour days – when you’re self employed and not very well paid the pressure to try and do some extra thing for whatever extra pay you can get, is vast. Some years ago I ditched hard work in favour of smart work. I started taking better care of myself. If I’m not teetering on the edge of burnout all the time, I’m faster, more effective, and more efficient. I’m also happier and better able to enjoy what I’m doing.

I normally take weekends off. Sometimes I take afternoons off, or a day in the week. At the end of December I had the wonderful luxury of a whole week off. I plan rest and recovery into my week. As a consequence, I get more done and feel better while I’m doing it. I’ve also seen marked changes in my self esteem. I’ve spent most of my life with low self esteem, easily persuaded that my wants are irrelevant and that my needs aren’t proper needs anyway. Everything and everyone else has always seemed more important. In putting my own need for rest on the list I’ve challenged those beliefs head on. It’s been interesting.

Having made room for my own needs, I’ve become less open to people who want to run me until I break, or use me until I’m used up. I’ve chosen better, healthier and more supportive spaces to be in. This has also greatly improved my happiness and wellbeing.

When you suffer from low self esteem it’s hard to give any priority to your own happiness and wellbeing, or to get out of situations that aren’t doing you any good. Failure to meet basic needs makes you feel even less like a person. Something as simple as resting can have a massive restorative effect. Not only does it replenish the body, but you also affirm your sense of worth and personhood by doing it. You have the same needs as any other person and the same entitlement to meet them, and that can be a huge building block to better feelings about yourself and having better standards and boundaries that will serve you, not someone else.

Resting gives you the time to look at how your energy is used and to reflect on what’s working. The person who is run ragged all the time doesn’t get space to plan an escape route, or energy to question what’s happening. Rest enables reflection, and reflection helps us make much better choices. Not only does rest help with mental health issues, it opens the way to being actively healthier and happier. It’s not a quick fix – the more entrenched the problems, the deeper the exhaustion the longer it takes to get on top of this. To begin, you have to treat it like it matters, and that can be hard. If you can’t treat resting like it matters, there are some huge questions to ask about your life, and you’re going to need to make the time to ask them. No one can run flat out forever.


Crazywise

Last night I went to a showing of Crazywise – it’s a film about alternative approaches to mental health crisis. It will be of particular interest to Pagans because it does look a bit at how mental breakdown is handled in indigenous cultures around the world. The website for the film has a lot of good material on it – https://crazywisefilm.com/

There’s also a great deal of material on Phil Borges’ youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9yq8Z0q-3XAjNKcRxOpAPA

One of the things I found really validating is that this film talks about the need for community solutions to mental health crisis. There’s a lot of reflection on the way people become isolated through mental illness and the way isolation enables mental illness. Further connections are made between our relationship with the world around us and our mental health. To be well, we need people, and we need the natural world.

I’d come to similar conclusions based on observation and experience. It’s something I can feel more confident about expressing now.

For me, Druidry is very much about relationship – relationships between people, relationships between people and everything else. I know I’m not alone in finding Druidry to be a way of navigating through my own issues and wounds. Over the years, doing the Druidry – prayer and meditation, ritual, walking, contemplation, and all the community aspects – has been key to my overcoming trauma and getting depression and anxiety under control. Having that framework in which to approach what’s going on in my head and body has really helped me.


Dealing with being overwhelmed

The point at which you are overwhelmed is not the ideal time to be trying to find a strategy for dealing with this kind of thing. It is as well to have some plans in place before you are struck down. If you suffer from poor mental or physical health, you may be especially vulnerable to becoming overloaded. Here are some things I’ve noticed that I hope may prove helpful to others.

Rest is the best antidote to being overwhelmed. However, if everything is getting on top of you, then you may feel too panicked to rest, or unable to stop. If you are overloaded for too long, you may not remember how to stop, much less when to do it. It is important to plan rest time in advance if you think things are going to be tough. It’s good to be in the habit of planning rest time and setting time aside for it so that you have reminders that this is a thing you need to do. It’s surprising how easy it is to forget this in a crisis.

Good things can also be overwhelming. I find this one all too easy to forget and am often caught out by it. Good things need processing and digesting too, and need recovery time.

Know what helps you process things and cope. For some of us, reading, or walking, or crafting can be a quick route back to sanity. Know what works, and make sure that the people around you also know what works. That way, if you are overwhelmed and unable to think straight, someone else may be able to steer you towards the wool, or the woods, as required.

Planning ahead is good – if you know something is likely to be tough, planning the rest and recovery time is a good idea. Pacing is good – pay attention to your limits and respect them more of the time than not and you may be able to stay on top of things. However, it is so easy to be knocked sideways by the unexpected, and you can’t see everything coming. Try to keep some slack in your routines so that you can deal with the unexpected. Don’t be hard on yourself if you’re caught out by things you didn’t anticipate.

Anyone can be overloaded. A person who is overloaded too much and for too long will find their mental and physical health deteriorating. None of us cope with this well. There is no shame in being unable to bear the unbearable. There should be considerably more shame attendant on piling stress onto people, with unreasonable deadlines, impossible workloads, unfair demands on time and so forth. There should be considerable shame in asking people to act like everything is on fire, every day. Too many employers do it. The government does it to us as well.


Tommy Catkins – a review

Tommy Catkins is the new novel from Stephen Palmer, whose Factory Girl Trilogy I was very taken with. It’s a story that mixes history and fantasy, and does not encourage you to feel confident about what’s real, and what’s delusion brought on by trauma.

The central character – Tommy – is a massive enigma. The odds seem good that his name is not really Tommy Catkins at all. He’s lied about his age. He doesn’t remember a lot of what happened to him. He doesn’t know if he’s mad, or too afraid to go back to the trenches. He doesn’t know if what he sees in the puddles and river are real, or manifestations from his own broken mind. In some senses he’s an everyboy, all the kids who signed up to fight in the First World War, and who paid with their minds and bodies. There are hints about a personal background, but we’re never allowed to see it, we can only wonder. The story keeps us very much on the outside of his experiences, which of course we are bound to be, because we weren’t there, and we don’t understand.

For me what was most interesting about the story is the way is catches shifts in mental health understanding. Up until the First World War, mental anguish was often treated as a female issue – hysteria – and not taken very seriously. The impact of shell shock on officers and men alike changed public and medical attitudes to the issue of trauma. We went from shooting men for cowardice to taking their broken nerves seriously. The novel explores some of the appalling methods that were attempted as ‘cures’ and the pressure to get sick men back to the front. The idea that mental anguish in face of experience might be the root cause, not a physical reaction, is something the book explores.

This isn’t a comfortable read. It’s a haunting and deeply uneasy book that won’t offer you tidy solutions. If you’re looking for uncomplicated escapism, this isn’t it, but it is a book that can speak in some unsettling ways to that urge for escapism.


Depression and the loss of meaning

One of the things I find hardest about depression is the way it strips the meaning out of everything. All efforts and hopes seem futile. It’s not something I can write about when I’m in there because the feeling of pointlessness is silencing.

Loss of meaning brings a loss of direction. It takes all the energy out of anything you might have been doing. It makes it impossible to see what any action might achieve or how it could be useful. On bad days, this can mean even basic self care. Why get dressed? Why eat? Why bother? What’s the point, even?

When nothing I do seems meaningful or relevant, the world around me seems different to me, too. It’s just a cold, mechanical universe in which my actions have no consequences. All the love and light and colour are stripped out. I am at my least able to do Druidry when this happens. I cannot do relationship, or wonder, or magic, or possibility. I feel very alone, and it does not seem that there is any way out of it.

I don’t have firm beliefs about the meaning of life. I don’t have rules to go back to so that I can get through the bad days. My uncertainty is really important to me because it keeps me non-dogmatic, open minded and able to change. Uncertainty offers few comforts in times of mental anguish. When I’m at my most certain, I think that meaning is a human thing and that we make it, or don’t. On good days I find meaning simply in experiencing life, interacting, creating, doing stuff. On my good days I need very little meaning at all to keep going.

I don’t experience meaning, or the loss of it, as a solitary issue. When I have no sense of point or purpose, I depend on other people. I might not feel like doing anything for me, but I’ll get up and go through the motions for the sake of the people around me. Sometimes, not making things worse for those closest to me is all I’ve got. I keep this blog going because if there’s any chance I can say something useful, there is a point to trying. I couldn’t create that on my own. That sense of worth and possibility is held for me by everyone who leaves comments here.

When depression destroys my sense of worth, it is other people who keep me going. It is through the words and actions of others that I find reasons to try. Sometimes all it takes is not giving up, to eventually pull through to a better state of mind.

We never know really what someone else is experiencing. I do know however, that the gestures we make to each other in small, everyday ways are incredibly powerful. I don’t think personal affirmations will save anyone from mental health struggles, but other people’s affirmations can really help. You are loved. You are wanted. Your work makes a difference. Your presence is valued. We find you useful. You brighten my day. I am glad you are my friend. You’ve made a real difference to me. And so on. These are words of power and magic, that can save someone and ease their suffering.


Trees for mental health

Trees in our environment improve mental health. Walking, and being amongst trees can also help with mental health. Trees are good for us. They don’t solve everything – if your brain chemistry needs changing, a tree won’t do that for you. If the rest of your environment is hostile, stressful and making you sick, then the reprieve of tree time won’t fix that. However, we do all benefit from access to trees.

Trees are good company. They don’t judge, criticise or demand. They’re usually full of birds and other wildlife. They give us soft, generous light, protected for the greater part from sunstroke, heatstroke, and sunburn. In autumn they bless us with colour. They are beautiful as they age, beautiful when diseased, when gnarly, or twisted, or stark in winter. They help us challenge our limited ideas about acceptable physical shapes.

One of the big problems with mental health care at the moment is the emphasis on individual responsibility for good mental health. Let’s look at the tree issue again. Access to trees is not purely an individual issue. If your council cuts down all your street trees, the loss is yours, but the choice wasn’t. Planning decisions that destroy green spaces are often beyond our control, however much we might protest. Industrial landscapes where there are no trees probably aren’t your choice either, but you may have to work there. Affordable public transport to access green spaces isn’t something you get much say in. Accessible treed spaces for people who are less mobile are also not individual choices.

Our mental health is profoundly affected by the physical environments we inhabit. The role of green space in alleviating stress and promoting good mental health isn’t factored in anything like enough. Being in poverty increases the chances that you’ll have trouble accessing green space because you just won’t be able to afford to get there. It’s no good telling people to walk under trees to help with their mental health if they don’t have any trees they can get to. It’s no good assuming that everyone has a car and can afford to drive it to their nearest wood.

Our systems aren’t run to maintain good mental health in the populous, and what happens around trees is an example of this. We tell people to spend time with trees, but governments don’t enable that in any way. Trees should be readily available to all people, you should not need to make an effort to seek them out.


Healing challenges

When there’s just the one thing wrong with you, healing can be fairly straightforward. However, when multiple things go wrong, there can be conflicts within your body. To give a simple example – if your back needs you to lie flat, but you have a stinking cold and can’t breathe easily unless propped up. When the side effects from the ideal medication interact with some other problem and you have no options.

There are a number of things I need to maintain my mental health. I need to walk and spend time outside. I need social time. I need to be creative and I need things that are mentally stimulating. None of this goes well with any kind of bodily illness. Needing bed rest and needing time with people do not easily combine. If I stay put and focus on getting my body well at the expensed of my mental health, this doesn’t go well for me. Equally, poor bodily health will undermine my mental health every time.

This is one of the reasons that unsolicited medical advice from random people can be such a miserable nuisance. Especially when said people are pushy and adamant that they have the magic cure for your ills and get angry with you if you say no to them. Because they didn’t know about the inner conflicts you have, or the things that won’t work with the magic cure. It’s no use telling someone to do yoga if being told what to do with their body is a major panic trigger (this has happened to me). It’s no good telling someone who also struggles with low blood pressure to take something that will, as a side effect, lower their blood pressure.

People with complex, multiple illnesses don’t tend to list off everything that’s wrong. Sometimes, people just want the relief that comes from being able to say ‘this is really shit right now.’ It’s no good insisting they should cover their face in bees if you don’t know how they respond to bee stings…

Pushing medical ‘solutions’ onto people who are ill can be incredibly bullying and demoralising. It’s the kind of bullying that hides behind the lies of ‘I’m only doing it to help you’ or ‘for your own good’ while offering no help and no good. Sharing information is always a good thing. ‘This helped me’ can be useful. The problems start when we insist people act on our information and refuse to hear their reasons for not wanting to.


Guest blog from Jason Lewis

Jason contacted me by email to ask if I’d host this post. It’s interesting stuff – I think we should be doing more to explore the social impact of religion. I don’t think you need to believe anything specific to benefit from many of the things a religious practice can do – themes I’ve explored in Spirituality without Structure and When a Pagan Prays. I think what Jason says has relevance for all faith groups and its interesting to think about how we might apply this to a Pagan context.

 

This Is Why Seniors  Should Attend Church

Whether you’re ultra-religious, simply spiritual, or somewhere in between, church can give you perspective on life’s ups and downs in a safe environment. While people of all ages can benefit from a weekly prayer session, it can be particularly helpful for seniors — here’s why.

 

Mental Health

Due to life circumstances that may be unique to their age or health concerns, elderly people often confront a variety of emotions or mindsets that may be somewhat debilitating and hard to bear. These include a sense of isolation, loneliness, boredom, and grief, as well as others. Seniors need activity in their lives to help ward off isolation and depression, which can lead to risky behavior like substance abuse. Studies show that seniors who regularly attend church have greater mental health than those who do not. In fact, depressive symptoms improved and they were able to cope with illness better later on in life.

 

Preventative Care

Seniors who regularly attend church are more apt to stay on top of preventative care such as flu shots and cancer screenings. Those struggling with medical costs will benefit from church-sponsored health fairs that offer service like those listed above and more. Church communities tend to promote ways to live a healthier life.

 

Social Life

Research suggests that when seniors retain some semblance of a social life, they can decrease — or slow down — the rate of cognitive decline. It’s likely that they’ll make friends who they’ll see outside of the church environment. Even acquaintances can be beneficial as there’s the possibility of meeting someone younger who can help with lawn work or occasional errands.

There may even be an opportunity to contribute to the community, which can give the elderly a sense of purpose that could help ward off depression. Going to a place of worship gives seniors a safe place to get support through good times and bad.

 

Cognitive Health

Between participating in church services (singing, reciting prayers, listening to a sermon, etc.) to socializing with other members of the congregation, the church environment can help prevent dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other cognitive disorders.

 

Longer Life Span

Studies indicate that attending church can lower stress levels, which reduces inflammation that increases the risk for disease — it actually may reduce mortality rate by 55 percent. Religious attendance is also known to boost the immune system, decrease blood pressure, and possibly change bad behaviors such as smoking, excess drinking, and promiscuity.

 

Increased Optimism

Though it’s not exactly clear why, there’s a link between optimism and attending church. Seniors who attend more than once a week are 56 percent more likely to have an optimistic outlook on life in comparison to those who never go. Churchgoers are also 22 percent less likely to experience depression.

 

Physical Health

Having a reason to get dressed and leave the house may be just what a senior needs to keep moving. Findings show that leaving the house every day — even a short trip — can help seniors live longer. Staying indoors regularly can contribute to physical and mental decline.

 

Improved Coping Methods

The golden years can be an emotionally challenging time because seniors live to see the passing of friends and family while experiencing their own illness. Going to church can help seniors cope through sad and stressful times by encouraging mindfulness.

It doesn’t matter who or what you believe in as the benefits that come from attending a place of worship are the same. Don’t worry if you never regularly attended church in the past. There’s never a bad time to incorporate spirituality into your life.

 

Photo Credit: Pexels


Setting intentions

There are many good points in the year to do a check in with yourself and see how things stand. This is one of them. Birthdays and other significant dates can offer others, and for those in the school system, the academic year also creates good moments for pausing and reflecting. How are things going? Is it as you hoped, planned or expected? If not, why not? What needs to change? What’s most important?

When we ask ourselves such questions we also have to remember that we aren’t exploring our lives in a vacuum. We exist in a cultural context that tells us what we are to prioritise – and so at this time of year many people will be contemplating diets and facing debt. Our main job is to make money for other people, by being exploited in the workplace, and exploited again as consumers. We are to work hard and spend hard, and try to ease our misery and dissatisfaction by buying things we don’t need and can’t afford and that will not save us.

I invite you to question this. I invite you most particularly to watch out for the idea of hard work being a virtue. When you look at something and say ‘I must work hard at this’ what does it mean? Is it that we feel a need to be seen as hard working? Does the appearance of hard work help us in some way?

Don’t work hard this year. Work effectively. Work wisely. Do what needs to be done. Work in a sustainable way that won’t break your mental health. Resist the idea of work for the sake of work. Work is not a virtue. It’s just that if working people are worn out from all the work they do, they don’t have any energy to protest, or to imagine some different way of living. Exhausted people lose self esteem and stop believing they deserve better.

Work wholeheartedly, work passionately, work soulfully, these are all good ways to be in the world. Work because you must, but if it grinds you down, don’t internalise that. Don’t make it who you are or what you are for. Don’t build a sense of identity around it.

I’ve just had a week off. I’ve used that time to dream, to ponder, to rest and let my mind wander. I’ve come back with ideas, and one of those ideas is about taking more time off. I do my best thinking and creating when I’m not trying to run flat out all the time. I also want a better quality of life. I want more time for reading and crafting because this will best inspire me. I want to live as a soft and lazy mammal, not as a busy little bee, because I have a soft and lazy mammal body, not a bee body. We should not be willing to work ourselves to death for queen and hive, or for shareholders and politicians.