Tag Archives: wellness

Excitement is the best magic

This winter I have been obliged to think about what lifts my spirits. I struggle a lot with depression, especially in the cold, grey months of the year and especially when my body is unwell. There’s been a lot of that lately. I’ve come to the conclusion that while there are no 100% reliable magic bullets for anything, excitement is about as close as it gets.

Excitement is apathy’s natural predator. It also deals with invasive problems like despair and disenchantment. When there is excitement there is often also hope, activity and room for joy. Having things to be excited about can pull me out of terrible headspaces.

There is, in here somewhere, an excitable inner child. It’s complicated. Like most younger humans I had a fair capacity for throwing myself wholeheartedly at things. Excitement is also something I remember getting told off for, a lot. On the grounds that I would end up in tears if I got too excited, or would make myself sick, or wouldn’t be able to sleep.

There was a night at an event last year when I was so excited about so many things that I really couldn’t sleep and just lay there being excited. That wasn’t really a problem. And yes, sometimes if I get really emotional I cry, and that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with crying. As for the throwing up – I don’t think that ever really happened and it’s a risk I’m prepared to take.

I need that inner child excitement, unfettered by anyone else’s beliefs and expectations. I need the people who make me feel excited. I need to do things I can feel excited about. Perhaps most importantly, I need the space to be someone I can feel excited about. I need to squeal and roll around with pure delight. I need to be so excited that I can’t actually sleep. I always did.

For me, that particular emotion is not only powerful but is the foundation for most of my other positive feelings. An absence of excitement will leach the joy and hope out of me. I’m now trying to work out what I can do on my own to cultivate more excitement in myself, and who I can collaborate with to create more excitement generally. 

What if we took mental health seriously?

At the moment here in the UK we have badly funded mental health resources and long waiting lists for anyone in crisis trying to get help. It’s an appalling situation. But, what if we didn’t even start at the point of trying to fix people’s mental health? What if we took mental health so seriously that our laws, culture and ways of living actively supported us in getting to be well? What would need to change?

Stress, and particularly stress caused by poverty and insecurity undermines mental health. If we wanted as many people as possible to be as well as possible, we’d have to deal with those problems. The money and resources exist. Universal Basic Income would remove a lot of fear from people’s lives, which would have wide reaching mental health benefits. 4 day working weeks, and work policies that promote mental health would be great. Shorter shifts, better breaks, kinder and more humane working conditions would all help considerably.

We’d have to take the climate crisis seriously. Distress around the loss of species and habitats is affecting many people’s mental health – especially young people. The insecurity and uncertainty caused by climate change impacts mental health. Flooding, drought, hazardous heat waves, crop failures – we can’t afford this level of uncertainty and threat. We can’t protect our mental health without protecting the environment.

Everyone needs green space where they live and free and easy access to that space. The relationship between mental health and green space is known. We also have better mental health when we have time, energy and opportunity for exercise – being able to move about outside is the cheapest and most sustainable kind of exercise available. That should be on everyone’s doorsteps. To improve everyone’s mental health, we would have to fill our towns and cities with plants and set more space aside for walking and cycling.

We need healthy bodies – good food, clean water, prompt medical care. We need the time and resources to be able to take care of ourselves, which isn’t available if you work long hours for not much money. A great deal of depression and anxiety is caused by being ill and being in pain. Taking mental health seriously means we need a culture of physical wellness too – you can’t separate body and mind.

Good mental health also requires social engagement and feelings of belonging. It calls for dignity and a sense of self worth – much of which would be tackled by dealing with the points I’ve made above. We need laws that uphold dignity and treat people as valuable and not disposable. We need systems that do not punish people for the accident of their circumstances.

We have to stop seeing poor mental health as a sign of personal failing or weakness. It’s a symptom of sick systems, broken relationships and inhuman ways of treating humans. To change that, we have to start thinking that kindness is better than exploitation, that wellbeing should not be a privilege for the few and that consumption is not the answer to everything.

Healing Work

As a culture we’re passive about healing. We expect to show up at the doctors and get some pills, or some surgery that will make the problem go away. Or we want a magic herb, wand or laying on of hands to the same effect. We say ‘healing work’ when we mean the work that healers do, when perhaps we should be more willing to apply it to ourselves. We all get sick. Many of us will experience mental health problems too. Healing work is something we could all do with paying some attention to.

There are a lot of ailments that can be tackled, and if not sorted then alleviated by lifestyle changes. Diet, exercise and sleep patterns have a lot of influence. A good diet isn’t merely about weight, it’s about giving your immune system some decent raw material to work with.
Exercise isn’t just about weight either, keeping the heart healthy, working off stress, building physical confidence, keeping mobile. We do a lot of healing work when we sleep. If we don’t give time to sleep, how do we expect to heal in a timely fashion? Diet, exercise and sleep all impact on mental health, which in turn impacts our ability to deal with other health challenges.

It is work. It takes effort and discipline to try and change your lifestyle, change harmful thinking habits, and maintain wellness. This needs recognising. People who expect the magical fix (from the doctors or the reiki) will get disheartened by the lack of a magical cure all, and won’t stick at doing the needful work. There are no ‘cures’ there are things that supress symptoms, ways of cutting out problem parts of the body, things that boost the immune system and things that prevent you getting the disease in the first place. Whatever route you go, your body has work to do, healing from the experience and sometimes from the knock on effects of the treatment – as with cancer, or having an operation.

I’ve been trying to fix my head for years now. I’ve had brief stints on medication, had cognitive behavioural therapy interventions (all on paper) had one to one counselling, time with a support group, self help books… and I’m still not there. Depression and anxiety continue to flare, affecting my body as well as my mind, and limiting what I can do. There are days, I confess, when it feels pointless to keep fighting this stuff. Then I stop and look back and think about how much more ill I was a year ago, two years, three… I’ve come a very long way. The effort that went in was worth it, and I remind myself that it’s going to take more effort to go the rest of the distance, and that it can be done.

It doesn’t help that we aren’t really taught to feel responsible for our bodies. We could take huge strain off the health care systems just by learning how to look after ourselves, learning how to work at being well. Maybe not all the time, but enough of the time that we aren’t flirting constantly with disease. That would mean taking stress seriously too. Stress is not good for your immune system, heart, nerves. Stress begets mental illness, makes us sleepless so we don’t heal, makes us feel we can’t stop to take care of ourselves. If we took stress seriously we might have to face the uncomfortable truth that a lot of workplaces are contributing to the ill health of employees in big ways, and then it might be possible to sue, and big business isn’t going to like that. So keep taking the magic pills, and don’t ask any awkward questions…

Working with energy

Nope, not a New agey post from me today, more a pondering of how the biology works, or in my case, doesn’t, partly prompted by reading some excellent material from Dorothy Abrams. I don’t have a deep understanding of bodily energy systems, but I can observe, and am starting to notice, and question a few things.

For the last ten years or so, I’ve run flat out whenever I could, punctuated by times of illness and burnout when I could barely move at all. To do this I have learned to ignore pain and exhaustion, which is something I’ve been trying to unpick for a while. Yesterday I noticed that my muscles can be tired, while the rest of my body jangles with restless energy. It’s like being on a caffeine high, without drinking the coffee, and it contributes to not being able to sleep. My guess is that it’s the adrenal system.

Adrenaline is there for short term bursts of life saving fight and flight activity. It’s there for emergency dashes to the water hole, and for when you’re going to need to walk a long way to find any food. It has its place and its uses, but we aren’t supposed to use it all the time. I find I’m easily tipped into anxiety and often feeling threadbare in a way that leaves me wide open to depression, and I think this is because I’m pumping more ‘energy’ into my body than my body is realistically able to use. What I’ve been calling ‘running on willpower’ might better be labelled ‘running on adrenaline’.

In the last few months I’ve started to feel like I need to take proper care of me. I’m tired of living with pain, and the depression and anxiety are no kind of fun. I’m looking for root causes. Most of the circumstantial causes have gone, leaving a legacy of thought and behaviour habits to tackle. If I kick into fear/adrenaline mode at the start of each day, I start pushing and forcing myself from the moment I get out of bed, and then later fall into bed so wound up I don’t sleep, thus perpetuating the whole cycle. I can afford to stop doing that now, so am trying to get my adrenal system to step down.

This is another form of being vulnerable. Risking saying ‘no’ to things, and people. Not trying to do everything right now. It’s a process of learning not to think of myself as a commodity that should be available on tap, but as a person. I still struggle with that one, it’s another legacy issue. When people don’t treat you like you’re a person, you can end up believing it – it’s such a tidy explanation, you don’t have the same rights as real people because you’re too flawed to count. Intellectually I’ve been resisting that for a while, but the emotions often move more slowly.

I think that to move forward, I’ve got to explore making the constant adrenaline drive stop. I’ve got to let myself be tired and sluggish and a bit useless for a while. Then perhaps I can get some better rhythms going around being able to rest and recharge. There’s every reason to think that if I can sort this, I can reduce pain, exhaustion, depression and anxiety such that I end up with more energy and more scope for doing things. That helps me feel less self-indulgent about the process, because I still struggle with ‘because it would be better for me’ as a justification for anything.

Being with someone who supports me, and who will manifest that support in practical ways, is a huge difference. Being with someone who soothes my anxiety with gentle physical comfort, and who encourages me to take care of myself, not because I’m a massive inconvenience if I get ill, but because I am worth taking care of. Having the space in which to do this is so important. Head space as well as right physical environment. Having the inspiration from other Pagan writers to challenge my ideas about physical and emotional pain. I’m going to try and do something radical to change my life, and to be well.

Can a personality be disordered?

Prompted by a friend on facebook, I spent some time at the weekend looking at what Mind (a UK mental health charity) www.mind.org.uk has to say about the subject of personality disorders. It’s not a thing I’d given much thought to before. Just the name suggests that there are things to be uncomfortable with here –what is more personal to any of us than our personalities, and what could be more damning than to be told that there is something wrong with yours? Much of the additional language around specific disorders, is pejorative, and I imagine, demoralising for anyone diagnosed.

One of the things that defines a person as ‘unwell’ in this way, is that other people have a problem with them. I was talking last week about the pathologizing of difference (which is how I came round to this issue via facebook.) To what extent is the idea of personality disorder quite exactly this? To what degree do we need to be inoffensive to others in order to not be labelled as ill? It’s a very interesting question. Social functioning is a useful life skill, we generally do need to be able to deal with other people effectively. But how acceptable do we have to be? And is the bar set in the same place for all of us? I’d be prepared to bet that the more money and power you have, the less antisocial people will find you, be you ever so paranoid and aggressive. Can we pause and think about the kinds of opinions politicians and religious leaders sometimes spout. Disordered, at all?

What really got my attention though, was the discovery that ‘personality disorders’ can be treated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Now, CBT is all about changing how you think. A disorder that can be treated with CBT, is a thinking disorder, pretty much by definition. Not a personality disorder. Not some kind of failure as a human being, but a learned, acquired or induced pattern of thinking that does not work and can be changed.

Would it make a difference if we called them thinking disorders? Paranoid thinking disorder sounds very different from paranoid personality disorder. The former implies hope for change, for a start. Dependant thinking disorder, narcissistic thinking disorder… my feeling is that a change of word there makes a lot of odds and may be more accurate.

Now, if people are getting mental health issues to the kind of degree ‘personality disorder’ implies, with issues that can be treated with CBT… we’re back to how we raise and teach people in the first place. How much suffering could we avoid if we routinely taught thinking skills to young people? If we taught coping mechanisms that won’t render you dysfunctional, if we did more to support self esteem, embrace difference and diversity, to encourage rational thinking, to teach people how not to be eaten alive by fear or to become convinced that they’re the be all and end all. We have the tools. We could not be using CBT restoratively if we did not have the tools. Why are we not using what we know in a more active, preventative way to nurture good mental health?

Of course if people know how to think, they can question the status quo, and that might not suit some people very well at all… call me paranoid…

Druidry and healing

This week I’ve been talking to some lovely people who run a healing space, and they had questions about healing within the druid tradition. Now, I know there are strands in the druid weave where healing is very much the focus, particularly on the ovate side, and that there are druids who work as healers. I also think that in New Age practice, there is a huge emphasis on healing work, and I wonder about this. Partly because healing is what you do after damage. Druidry, for me, is more about the day to day living, and not getting to a place of damage should be part of that.

Relationship within druidry includes relationship with self. We can’t be in good relationship with the rest of the planet if we abuse, neglect and mistreat our own minds and bodies. Lack of care for self opens the way to illness and ongoing damage while care taken will work to minimize risk, and also helps us cope with anything we couldn’t dodge. I’ve been on the wrong side of this, unable to look after my own most basic needs and conscious of the wounding that caused. Good health, bodily, mentally and spiritually, depends on self care. In order to take care of the self, you have to think that’s worth doing, you need self esteem, self respect, a sense of usefulness, some reason to value your own condition.

Druidry is also very much about creativity and inspiration, and I think this is a huge wellbeing consideration too. There’s nothing like being trapped in a situation to push you towards distress and sickness. Inspiration is the tool for escape, for re-writing the rules, reinventing the job, the relationship, the lifestyle, so that wellness can follow.

In terms of mental health, community and a sense of belonging can make a lot of difference. Emotional support and recognition can keep a marginal person sane. Being heard helps to ward off depression. The work we do in ritual, hearing and supporting each other, holding circles of community, helps to keep us well, and upholds the self esteem essential for self-care.

There’s plenty of mainstream science that says being outside is good for you. A little walk relieves stress, and is good exercise. Time in green spaces is good for mental health. A little dancing, meditating, or drumming is good for the body as well. Many of the things that we do as part of our druidry, has beneficial effects in terms of health.

I think when we make healing into an event, focusing on the action of a few hours or days, we do ourselves a disservice. Wellness is not a thing to tag on as an afterthought. It’s not something to do once a week for half an hour. A good life has wellness at its heart. Granted, there are illnesses and setbacks that won’t be triumphed over just by application of regular druidry, but there is no ailment out there that isn’t alleviated to some degree by living well. So for me, druidry is less about healing work, more about not being so vulnerable to sickness in the first place. No amount of magical or new age healing work will save a person who will not change their life. I was unwell for years because my diet was wrong, I was sleep deprived, living with things that made me anxious, and things that caused me misery. No amount of healing intervention would have done more than paper over the cracks. Only a lifestyle change, and a recognition of the need to take myself seriously could get a healing process under way, and take me into a new phase of life where I am not continually being damaged.

I think the move to seek healing can be a way of starting that process, the recognition of problems, and the recognition of self as someone who merits being cared for. But ultimately, being well is a full time job, and the implications of going after it can be enormous.