Tag Archives: mental health

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.

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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.

 


Mental health support kit

Yesterday on social media, fellow Druid Cat Treadwell pointed out that for physical injuries and disabilities, we use things to help us – walking sticks, being her example. There’s no immediately obvious kit to use as a mental health support. So, I started thinking about things I habitually carry, and things I’ve carried in the past. This is not an exhaustive list. Plus, this probably needs to be personal.

Rescue Remedy (contains alcohol, so not for everyone).

Tissues.

Bottle of water. (I’ve yet to find a situation where water hasn’t helped me).

Something with sugar in it (if you do sugar and if sugar soothes you).

Something hard I can grip to focus my mind (tends to be either keys or crystals for me.)

Something affirming (I used to carry a little plastic figure of Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard in my pocket to protect me from evil. He was totally effective.)

Something tactile and reassuring to touch (I’ve often got a friendly stone in my pocket).

I also find there’s something inherently reassuring about going out with extra gear – whether that’s waterproofs, a sunhat, or other bits and pieces of useful things. I feel more in control when I’ve got some sort of a kit bag to help me deal with changes and thus to face the unexpected. Starting out feeling a bit more in control really helps with the anxiety, I have found.

 


Darkest Part – a review

Darkest Part is a ten track album by Madeleine Harwood. Madeleine won Bard of Hawkwood last year, and has gone on to do all sorts of exciting things since – this album being one of those.

Darkest Part is a really unusual piece of work. The songs are all original, and are sung unaccompanied. There aren’t many people who could pull off an entire album of unaccompanied singing, but Madeleine makes this absolute focus on voice and words work for her.

I’m not confident saying what kind of genre of music this is. There’s a folk influence, there’s also blues, jazz, gospel, and moments that put me in mind of many different female singer songwriters who don’t play by the rules. This is something unique, which has grown out of roots music. It is music as art, but it isn’t like contemporary art music. It is voice as instrument, but the words aren’t secondary. The tunes are powerful, soaring, making use of Madeleine’s vast range and vocal power. They are also earworms, I find they follow me around and snatches of song replay in my head at unexpected moments.

In terms of the lyrics, again this is really unusual stuff. The Darkest Part that the title refers to, is being bi-polar. A number of the songs are very much about living with mental health problems. It is intense, beautiful stuff, and there’s much in what’s said here about depression and anxiety that really resonates with me. There’s also a gorgeous overtly Pagan song about Bablon, which gives me goose bumps every time I hear it. The lyrics are in the CD case so you can read them separately – and they certainly reward the person who does that.

I’ve known Madeleine a long time. We were at school together. I was reading her poetry when we were in early adulthood, and I loved her work then, and I love it now. I’ve been fortunate enough to sit with her in pub back rooms and heard some of these songs when they were first written. The amazing voice that emerges from the CD is simply how she sounds any time she sings. You can hear when you listen that this is a voice presented naturally, because nothing needs tinkering with. If you get a chance to hear her singing live, I heartily recommend that you do.

You can find Darkest Part lots of places, here’s the Amazon link – https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B074Y9CKJ8/


Poverty, diet and mental health

Brain chemistry informs our moods and thinking processes. That chemistry depends on what comes into our bodies. The person who has an inadequate diet is much more vulnerable to mental health problems. Good food is also essential to a physically well body. A good immune system, and the means to heal and repair, all depends in part on what we eat. The energy to be active, or just to get through the day depends on what we eat. If you aren’t eating properly, the resulting poor health will have a knock on effect on your mental health.

The single biggest cause of poor diet, is poverty.

These are not radical thoughts on my part, there’s lots of information out there about all of these things. What there isn’t, is the political will to deal with any of it. Food is a luxury to be sold at the highest price you can because that’s how the market works. The mental health of the poor is just another sacrifice the rich may have to make in the pursuit of ever more wealth. Our collective priorities are badly skewed.

Food has become such an emotionally loaded thing as well. The diet and beauty industries are massive, and spend their time advertising to us the idea that we just aren’t good enough and must buy their things. Body shaming and fat shaming layer on the misery, and skinny shaming is also a thing. For some there’s the additional nightmare of full on eating disorders. Bodies are something to exploit for other people’s profit.

I know from experience that depression and anxiety are not the only possible consequences of impoverished diets. Quite some years ago, an elderly relative of mine in a state of grief, stopped eating. This was only noticed because they became dangerously delusional. They were taken into care, and once re-hydrated and nourished for a while, turned around very quickly. There are reasons some shamanic traditions use extreme fasting to open the mind – the mind does in fact open, and if you aren’t doing it in a supported way, that opening can break you.

I also know from personal experience that food mistakes leading to brain chemistry issues do not leave a person well placed to sort this stuff out. As a small scale example, if I mess up with the blood sugar, I can end up panicking and feeling unable to deal with food situations at all. I find social eating stressful in some contexts, and when the blood sugar is low, the panic sneaks in and can stop me from doing the most helpful things – namely getting food into me.

Poverty is a difficult thing to deal with, undermining a person’s life and wellbeing in a great many ways. Poor mental health is also a tough thing to deal with and a destroyer of quality of life. But what do we do collectively? What do our politicians do? Blame the poor for not trying hard enough. It’s an obscenity, and it has to stop.