Tag Archives: personal

The quest for peace

I’ve blogged before about my anxiety issues, which have been with me for some considerable period now. However, the last few weeks of my life have brought a new development into the mix. I’m experiencing periods – sometimes hours long – of euphoria and a tremendous sense of inner peace. This, I am tremendously grateful for. However, it is in the nature of me to think about everything, to want to understand what is happening. After all, if I can unravel where this oasis of calm has come from, I might better be able to maintain it.

I think there are a number of strands to this. Firstly is, as previously commented, the strange, amorphous anxiety I live with has everything to do with reasons for fear having become normal in my life. There’s been a huge shift on that score. Emotionally, physically and psychologically I am very much safer these days. Home life is not fraught with tension and arguments, but is instead warm, companionable and supportive. Most days, nothing scary happens. And so by slow degrees fear has become less normal and happiness more so. I think somewhere in the last few weeks the balance tipped. My sense of normal is all about the life I now have, finally. Not being told off, not facing anger, not having to continually justify myself, makes a lot of difference.

I’ve taken up being gentler with myself, too – a deliberate move prompted in part by advice from my counsellor last year. I don’t push continually beyond the boundaries of my exhaustion. It helps a lot that I now have the support to rest when ill, to take it easy when tired and to take time off. And again, feeling more secure makes it easier to give time to myself.

I sleep more – because I give myself the time, because I am relaxed when I go to bed, I have nothing specifically to be anxious about in bed, so sleeping comes easily. If I do wake up in a state of panic – it still happens- there is someone lovely to curl up against. Often I’m the first to wake in the mornings, and when the day’s anxiety rush has passed, I’m overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude, and on some days the decadent pleasure of lying in as late as 8am, in good company.

Being valued by the people around me, has done a lot to ease my anxieties about myself, and to help me build a new sense of who I am, and my place in the world. This in turn contributes to my sense of calm. I do not need to prove anything, so much, these days. I am not short of friendly attention, I’m with someone who enjoys what I do. Pretty much all of it. That makes it far easier for me to enjoy what I do, too. And here again, this process of acceptance makes me feel more able to accept myself. It is not easy to be free from inner conflict when the external world is conflict laden. External peace makes it a lot easier to cultivate inner peace. Of course, inner peace that depend on a calm external reality is a partial sort of thing, and for best effect I need to be able to hold my calm optimism even in face of adversity, but that could well come, in time.

There was a time when I could not imagine feeling whole in myself. A time when I could not imagine being free from fear. That seems a long way behind me now. I got this far in no small part because other people did not give up on me, and did not let me crumble entirely into despair. And also because all the way through, I have dared to hope that maybe there was a possibility things could get better. Sustaining hope can be very hard work indeed.

I am full of gratitude for the small things, the little acts of warmth, compassion and kindness that crop up every day. The smallest beauties, the little moments of good fortune. And I know how to laugh at the setbacks. I’m writing this blog on a train station, because we got stuck behind a funeral, a tractor and a bus, and missed the one we were aiming for. It’s a small set back. A chance to linger longer, and I bought a book. I’m getting better at seeking out the silver linings and life is getting better at presenting them.

I’m going to blog more at some point about the relationship between the experience of slowing down, and the quest for inner peace, because that’s too huge a topic to cover in this round. As I type, the sun has just peeked out from behind the clouds again. The air smells of rain. My child is ambling about doing nothing in particular, my bloke appears to be deep in contemplation. I draw a deep breath. This is my life. My real life. The one I have. It is the life I want, and I’ve been a long time finding it, but ye gods I am glad that I did not give up.


Personal and political

I’m following on from yesterday’s blog, and Jayne’s comment about it. “So many people out there who obviously have grievances and feel the need to bore other people with them. What has happened with sharing your problems with those closest to you?”

I’d like to begin with a counter quote from George Eliot, “There is no private life that has not been determined by a wider public life.” (From Felix Holt the Radical 1866).

We all exist in a social and political context. That which afflicts one person, often afflicts others too. Aside from the pettiest of our personal gripes, many of the things we experience have their causes at least in part in wider systems and social structures. The most personal things are often the most political.

When my grandmother was a girl, no one talked about child abuse. It was kept private, spoken only to those closest to you. The same was true of rape, and domestic violence. We chuckle about the silliness of modern health and safety laws, but death in factories used to be common place. And I know there were plenty of people who felt it inappropriate to talk about rape, and child abuse, and poor people dying thanks to unsafe working conditions. Silence upholds the abuser. It supports a system that enables violence and misery to continue.

We may have moved on from then, but we’re a long way from being the open, compassionate society I dream of. We still stigmatise mental health problems. There is no shortage of anti pagan intolerance out there, along with plenty of other faith, race, gender and class based hatred. We do not fix that in silence either. When there is fear of rebuke, isolation and stigmatisation, it’s very hard for people to talk even to those closest to them, about their problems. The more socially acceptable it is to admit to difficulty, the easier it is for those private conversations to take place.

Not everyone has someone close they can trust. There are people who kill themselves as a direct consequence of this. I would rather listen to any amount of someone’s personal woes, and support them, than risk pushing away someone who, for all I know, could be wondering if there is any point in them continuing to live. Not everyone has people around them with answers. The ‘only gay in the village’ scenario. The ‘only pagan in the family’. Or perhaps ‘the only person on our estate who is going to uni next year.’ There can be all kinds of dramatic upheavals and changes in a person’s life that alienates them from their usual support network. Sometimes it can be very hard to burden those closest to you with secrets, or with pain. One of the best things about the internet, I think, is the way it’s enabled people to find fellow travellers, whatever they are facing. Bereaved parents. Transgender folk. People suffering chronic and obscure illnesses. And too many others to list.

When someone stands up in public and says ‘I do not like this thing that has happened in my life, it is not ok,’ the world changes. It used to be totally socially acceptable for men to beat their wives. If no one had ever spoken up, or spoken out, if every female victim had kept that private and dutifully avoided washing her dirty laundry in public, it would probably still be totally socially acceptable and there would be a lot more of it going on.

I remember when I was a child, very few people would publically admit to being pagan, because they were afraid of the consequences. We could have sat silently on that one, too. Fortunately for me, and those other pagans of younger generations, we can be ‘out’ with a fair degree of safety, because of those brave souls who spoke up first.
New ideas, evolutions and revolutions do not spring into life, fully formed and with a glorious leader ready to enact them. They grow slowly, out of sharing. People dare to imagine that what is currently normal may not be best. They dare to dream of a better world. And then, only then, can there be scope for making it happen. In the UK, Mind and others have a campaign to encourage people to be more open about mental health issues. One in ten of us can expect to be hit by something in our lives. We need to be able to talk to each other.

We don’t get social change by suffering stoically, in silence. We don’t build a better world by telling people off for ‘whinging’ about things that are not yet right. Sure, there are people who devote a lot of time and energy to grumbling over pointless things, but perhaps if it was easier and more normal to talk about bigger issues, fewer people would feel the need to focus on the small problems that can more readily be aired. It’s easy to complain about other people. It’s hard to make change. But when people are talking to each other, all manner of things become possible. Sorry Jayne, if my sharing personal things offends you. But you don’t have to come here and you don’t have to read. I would say to anyone, if you don’t like something and it isn’t harming anyone, you have the freedom to go somewhere else. I’m not obligatory.


Freedom

This time a year ago I made a momentous, life altering decision. I took my child and fled from a situation that was causing us both colossal fear and anxiety. A year on it seems like a good time to take stock, and to celebrate the freedom I have.

None of us are entirely free. The constraints of living alongside others, the calls of duty, responsibility and the limits of budget mean we all have to compromise on what we do. How much we compromise, and the point at which we should say ‘enough’ are well worth pausing to reflect on. Freedom is a precious thing, a soulful, vital aspect of being alive. The basic freedom to live without fear of harm, is widely recognised as a human right. Yet even in the UK there are plenty of people in constant fear and real danger thanks to the behaviour of others. The freedom to be your own person, and make your own choices is so important, and so easily compromised.

I’m not free from fear. I woke very early this morning, anxious. This is not unusual for me. But these days what I get is more like been chewed on, rather than torn apart. None of the threats are so immediate. My child is not free from fear either, but he feels safe enough to run off and play. This time a year ago, he was just clinging to me and afraid to be out of line of sight. We have made a lot of progress. I still find it hard to ask for help or admit when I’m struggling. If anyone around me becomes irritated I become anxious. But these days that situation doesn’t lead to anger or being told off.

I have learned in this last year that freedom is not very straightforward at all. It does not occur at the moment when the prison door flies open, or the slave’s shackles are taken off. The metaphorical and literal prison doors and the shackles stay on, inside your head. Being unfree and knowing it is far less of a problem than having been indoctrinated into a state of compliance. When the latter happens, the loss of freedom is as much between your ears as anywhere else, and that takes a long time to fix. I am learning, slowly, to think for myself, to want things on my own account even when they aren’t wholly convenient to others. Those basic, basic rights to self determination and to not feeling afraid are going to be hard won, but ye gods are they worth fighting for. Every day is to some degree a fight towards my own sense of personhood, and my ability to be free.

Issues of budget and normal restrictions aside… I can eat as I please. I can sleep undisturbed. I can say ‘no’ without having to be fearful of the consequences. I can make decisions for myself. I can choose what I wear, and I can make that choice for any reason without needing to justify it. I can be happy without fearing some kind of backlash (although I still don’t entirely trust that, but I’m getting better.) I can take time to rest.

I’m not even slightly interested in the kind of sick ‘liberty’ that enables people to do whatever they want to whomever they want without restriction. I don’t want any freedom that costs some other person unfairly. But there are very basic freedoms that we all need in order to feel whole, to feel like people. Stripped of the right to self determine, stripped of control over your own body or mind, is a terrible thing to endure. I have that freedom back now, but I am all too aware that far too many people do not have those same basic things. Not just the victims of terrible regimes in distant countries, but people whose own families, employers, and partners have made slaves of them. The sex trafficked, the abused children, the beaten women, the illegal immigrants in work gangs… there are so many for whom loss of freedom can be a step on the way to loss of life.

Cherish the freedom you have. Do not let anyone tell you they have the right to take away your own freedom to think and feel as you choose. Freedom is the most essential, precious thing and can be stripped away all too easily. Until we are all free, any freedom held individually is partial. There is a great deal of work to be done.