Sunday, 29 December 2013

Home



How many times have I said,'I don't really get journalling...it's not for me...'? Turns out, it is.

Every morning, after the dogs have been out and before the child wakes up, I make a pot of redbush tea and I sit and write. It is a transformative process and one I hope to stay within. It is taking me into powerful shadow work that is long overdue and as a result I am simultaneously staring the hard stuff in the eye and feeling a sense of comfort and 'home' within myself. I feel no need to write about it here and bore a handful of people with it. Heh.

As usual, the outside mirrors the inside and we are swinging from clear, sunny blue sky days when I can see for miles and sound is crystal clear, to gales and rain and floods and mud mud mud. On these days all I want is to shut the doors and stay in by the fire but my lovely dogs ensure that I don't get to define my conversation with nature...we meet her in all moods, on all days. That is just part of their gift to me.

All is well in my little family. Christmas was quiet and relaxing and full of happy. I am a lucky, grateful woman. I hope yours, or any variation on the theme of time off that you may have been enjoying, was the same.

I'm trying to clear my head from the food-induced toxicity so that I can start contemplating Things of the New Year. I'm looking forward to 2014 but I think, as ever, I will be at least a few days behind. Maybe the first new moon will be a marker for me.

I have two words jostling at the front of my head for Word of the Year status. Both a little, er, 'odd' but they've made it clear they're staying. I had two words last year - joined by a third in the spring - so I think I'll stick with what was a winning formula for me. I may keep last year's too. Start to build a word tower.

Elsewhere in here I'm thinking and feeling my way around how I balance being a part of the whole, a thread in the tapestry, a note in the song and part of All That Is, with being a unique, individual expression of All That Is. Where and what are the boundaries? How can I define my Self while still being connected to and part of everything else? It is clear that I need to but at the moment it's a bit beyond me. The solution seems to require more dimensions than I am able to envisage. Perhaps the thing to do...is just to do. The thing to be...is just to be. Trust.

I've no idea when I'll be here again but hello. Happy new year!

x

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The way through

A month ago I finally came off anti-depressants. It's meant - despite a gentle withdrawal period that lasted many months - a lot of change for me but all in a positive way. My ability to get to this point was helped a great deal by being able to find online the voices of others who've gone before me and so it feels important to me that I write a bit about this process. Even if one person reads it and feels better informed and able to move forward themselves, then it's worth it. I know there are issues that others deal with waaaaaay beyond the situation that I found myself in and I am not for one minute suggesting I have answers for them. This is about my experience with anxiety, depression and SSRIs.

A bit of background. I first took antidepressants (citalopram or Cipramil) in 2002. I came off them about 18 months later and stayed off until early 2007. That winter was a hard one. I was buoyed by the arrival of Evie but physically I was exhausted and SAD hit me particularly hard. Despite my deep happiness at being a mother, I fell into the black hole. Cipramil got me out. I tried giving it up a couple of times but went too fast and - as is typical in such circumstances - rebounded into an even bigger black hole. Back on the pills I felt safe, functional and disinclined to repeat that last mistake.

My depression takes the form of anxiety. Intolerance. Despair. Loss of all hope. Withdrawal. Disconnection. Topped off with a big old dose of apathy. It was a combination of reaction to events in my life - and a perceived lack of control over them - and, I truly believe, my naturally low levels of serotonin. This is implicated in migraine, SAD, PMS, anxiety, OCD, depression...all things I'm familiar with to varying degrees. I am exactly the type of person SSRIs were invented for.

I'm not going to write the thousands of words it would take to outline how I built myself a structure that supports me without SSRIs. Or rather, how I discovered that it was there all along. That's a whole other thing and probably far too subjective to be of use. What I want to talk about is what happens when you stop taking them.

I cut my dose from 20mg a day to alternating 20mg/10mg about six months ago. Maybe even longer. I was in no hurry so I didn't have a time limit and I wasn't watching the calendar. When I was certain that I was absolutely fine on that dose, I cut back to 10mg a day. I went back to 20mg a day for a while and repeated the process above. My doctor trusted me to know what I was doing and knew about all the changes I made. After three months on 10mg daily, I cut back to 10 mg every 48hrs. I stuck with this for about two months before going to 10mg every 72 hours. I think it would have been better to keep cutting the dose not the frequency but I worked with what I had and stayed aware. This lasted for about a month and I began to feel as if I were simply renewing the cycle every three days. I felt stable and strong, so I stopped completely.

There are three levels of side effects when you come off SSRIs: physical, mental and emotional. Physically I experienced the typical 'brain zaps' - little buzzing feelings in your head as if your brain is short circuiting, which in effect it is. I had them quite badly despite my long tail off period but I knew what they were and knew they would fade. I'm still getting them now, a month later. Mostly if I'm very tired and nowhere near as frequently. I also experienced quite extreme light-headedness. The first two or three days I might have been better - and safer - to just stay in bed and wait it out but life goes on and so did I. The physical stuff is annoying but if you're aware of the causes and their temporary nature, it's not a big deal. It's a bit like being very slightly drunk while totally sober. Which is clear. Sorry.

What was most important for me this time was a better awareness of what to expect mentally and emotionally. A common occurrence is that you feel incredibly anxious. Naturally, the tendency is to mistake that for your new/old normal and go running back to the pills. But! Wait up! Turns out, coming off these things makes you anxious and it passes. I read this on many forums so I was ready. It didn't make it any easier to get through but I was able to grit my teeth and do it.

It was bad. Every time I left the house WAS my last. I WAS going to die in a car crash and/or so were Charlie and Evie. Probably as they accidentally ran over both dogs as they tried to get away from our house which was going up in flames. All my family were in mortal danger. Even the ones I haven't seen in years. I was almost certainly riddled with various terminal diseases. My mantra concerned my imminent departure from Evie's life and went,"BUT SHE'S ONLY EIGHT!". Over and over. Day and night. My brain's reaction to this was to get all OCD. People needed to UNDERSTAND that if they didn't do things the way I understood they could safely be done then people were going to DIE. Or be horribly scarred. Or spill something. My way or the highway of doom, Dude. Seriously. WTF? If it wasn't my way of doing things I was thrown into a spin of panic and intolerance. Inbetween times I was mostly crying because OH...it's so SWEET, so SAD, so HILARIOUS, so AMAZING, so TRAGIC. You get the picture. One day I'll look back and laugh. And probably walk straight into a lamp post BECAUSE WHO DOES THAT??? Don't look BACK and keep walking. Oy. Your lizard brain is superb at protecting you. Give it chemical superpowers and it will protect the heck out of you. Take away those powers and it freaks out.

So yes. That. That happens. And then one day you wake up and it's gone. Mostly. It's only been a month and I am almost entirely non-ridiculous (for someone with my basic personality which is INFR - The Ridiculous Idealist).

Here's the thing. I would go back in a second if I felt I needed the help. I am always a supporter of SSRIs as a tool for recovery because for most people, they work. Of course they're not to be taken lightly and anyone using them needs to monitor themselves and keep their doctor informed at all stages, but they just work. They saved me when I felt as if I was beyond saving. Twice.

The way I have described it is this: if I see life as a house on four floors, including the basement, I fell into that basement. It was dark, cold, damp and entirely lacking in light or hope. I have never been suicidal but I already felt as if life were over. The apathy is the worst. I had no motivation to try to reach the stairs out of there because I KNEW they had rotted away. I was stuck. And I didn't care. About anything. I could pretend to my nearest and dearest by shouting extra loud so they thought I was just in the ground floor kitchen and okay. But I was not okay.

Cipramil came along and gave me some extra serotonin and one day I just woke up in that kitchen. It was light and airy with lots of windows and cupboards full of goodies and a radio playing happy songs. I wasn't ready to try going upstairs to the next floor and certainly not the one above that but it didn't matter. A good life was to be had in that there kitchen. Occasionally I would think about sneaking a peek into the basement but I couldn't find it. It had been filled in and the door bricked up. Going back was no longer an option. The sense of security that gave me was immense. I had metaphorical new foundations.

In these early days I am experiencing some really good things. For a start I appear to have regained a good 20 IQ points. My brain is functioning - steadily - in a way it hasn't in years. I'd put this loss of ability down to age but no, it's back. I can do tricky sums again and this week at work I grasped and used a concept in data navigation that has eluded me since forever. Being a bit of a geek (I know, I cover it well. Ahem.) this made me very happy.

Emotionally I am stable. I believe my timing has been good. I'm looking into getting hold of another SAD lamp to help keep the blahs away and I'm taking Vitamin D and a very good B-Complex.

What I didn't expect was that I can feel....more. I wasn't aware that the medication was limiting me and yet of course it was. It was holding me safe, wrapped in a cosy blanket. A blanket that restricted my movements and stopped me hurting myself. Suddenly I have a whole new/restored range to my emotions and it's kinda fun. For a week or so I was a bit mad...running around the new space like a dog with the zoomies. 'WOO HOO!' and then 'Oh nooooooooooooooo!' and then 'SHE HULK SMASHES PUNY HUMANS!' and then 'SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEE!'. All the colours in all the sizes.

That passed too. And I wasn't arrested even once.

So look, if you think you need help - and many MANY of us do from time to time or even permanently - science has good guys and they found this stuff and maybe you do not need to feel hopeless. These pills will not fix your life, they will not make you rich or happy or find the love of your life or the best job ever or make you thin if you're not already (in fact be prepared to gain 20 pounds and that often just falls off when you stop taking them so don't worry). They can get you out of that damn basement.

The rest is up to you. And you will be good with that.









Thursday, 28 November 2013

Gratitude


For all the love, laughter, magic, nature, truth, comfort, wisdom and wonder.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The S3 Edict

I'm moving at a gradual pace through this training that will take years. As someone who historically has zoomed through assignments, throwing together something semi-respectable - and thus semi-respected - at the strike of the last moment, working steadily and mindfully is a revelation. And bloody hard.

What I'm doing now is the deepest work we've done yet. Past the basics into some serious business. Our teacher warns us that this is where things can get life-changing. Where you don't always have a whole lot of choice. Where you may be surprised. And I have been.

In a Miyagi-esque turn of events I have been told that I should be sewing. By hand. Needle, thread, go. Don't argue. Shut up. Sit down. Sew. Henceforth referred to - somewhat snarkily and no doubt I'll pay for that attitude - in my head as the S3 Edict.

One morning this week I woke up remembering Jude Hill. I was mesmerised by her Magic Feather Project when she launched it in 2011. I think I ambitiously added a button link to it on whatever the hell blog I was writing at the time, planning to take part. Surprise, surprise...I didn't. The time wasn't right. I wasn't right.

Rediscovering her blog fit like a missing jigsaw piece into the Edict. I spent hours following threads to other places, other women who seem to have made their way to a place Tracie and I have talked about wistfully for years now: the clearing in the woods. Kindred women with scruffy clothes, a good dusting of fur and feathers, distracted expressions and deep roots reaching down into the dirt beneath their feet. Of all the things I thought I'd bring to this place, a needle and thread weren't among them.

I have other things I want to write about here. Things very much of this world, not the woods, because I think it may do some good to share. But today I have a head full of weave and thread and a powerful dose of Shoshin.

Darned by Susanna Bauer



Saturday, 9 November 2013

A constant act of creation

Altar.

In her most recent post, my friend Tracie asked,'Is survival an act of gratitude to the universe?' and it tipped me right back into the internal philosophising that I am (always) doing. As I work towards if not defining, then streamlining my own practise and beliefs I constantly refer to other schools of faith and thought as metaphysical landmarks of a kind.

What I'm always trying to do is chip away the man made parts of the story of the truth and discover the core. The essence. I can't say I've got there or that I would know if I had, but I feel closer. It's a strange thing, a possible paradox. How will I know if what my mind arrives at is pure truth or just my version of the truth and does that make it any less than the truth? Is there one single truth?

What can I tell you? This is my idea of good time. Ha.

My current view (far from unique or new but I'm one of those people who needs to learn her own way) is that all belief systems, religions, philosophies are purely interpretive tools for us to use and enjoy in our physical form. Some are more popular than others. Some are nicer than others. Many are abused. You get to choose or ignore. They are stories. Sacred, beloved, treasured, important stories but stories. What they interpret is the simple truth and for the purposes of this post I'll call that truth Life. Your language may vary.

If we live our lives to serve the highest good of all and everything, we are living to perpetuate Life. Life - at least this time around - arguably started with the big bang. The ultimate creative act. And just as we are all made of stars, we are all made of that creative force. It is what drives us. It is us. From social behaviour, to art, to sex, to scientific exploration, to gardening, what we are doing is enabling the continuation of the source/force that began it all.

It's that simple and that profound. It's love, creativity, innovation, nurturing, compassion, prayer, protection, any single thing that is good. All smoothing the way. Life...it goes on, they say. And yet it doesn't. Time is our invention and there's nothing linear about Life. The nearest I can get to conceptualising it with my teeny human brain is to see Life as infinite and constant. It is just IS. And has a desire to always BE. We, being 'of Life', share that desire.

Once you've seen (that version of) the truth then all the stories I mentioned earlier seem like quite good fun as long as you're not twisting them. It's all a bit potato/potahto and I for one am not about to go to war for a vowel sound.

Also, it kinda takes the pressure off if, like me, you feel as if you should be finding The Right Faith or indeed deciding on an absence of same. What if the Sikhs were right while I was busy with my Hail Marys/Druidry/Sun worship/sneering?!

Now I think there is no 'right'. That *whispers* it doesn't really matter. If the story that works best for me, speaks to me, sings to me, fills me with power and light, is shamanism then that's the one for me. Doesn't make it right or better, just the one for me. The one that supports me in supporting Life.

So survival, I believe, is the ultimate act of gratitude. The ultimate prayer. The ultimate offering. The ultimate confluence of individual consciousness with the source.

But one thing is clear to me: Life is a constant act of creation. Repeating the big bang with teeny tiny bangs, over and over and over.

What am I creating with my strands of Life force? What are you creating with yours? Is it smoothing the way for Life? That is what matters.


Friday, 8 November 2013

Grounded


Around my neck are a holey stone from the land where I live, and a piece of carved Irish bog oak from the land where some of my ancestors lived. I carry them in an attempt to hold my centre and stay grounded. To stop myself flying away.

Hormones, post-migraine stupor and the last stages of oh-so-slowly weaning myself off the SSRIs I've been taking for way too long have me feeling spacey, light-headed and very occasionally subject to those weird, buzzy little 'electric shocks' in my brain that any of you who have also done the SSRI waltz will recognise. Thankfully I know that the answer is in the dirt, the earth, the mud that is plastered all over everything at the moment. It's come at the right time for me. This is not a big deal, this space in the head. A couple of days of bare feet on the earth, and plenty of water and I'll be fine.

It does me all kinds of good to be at this level for a while. Mindfully bringing my attention to the literally mundane, in its 'of the earth' sense, channels all this spinny excess energy back to the ground. I am going to spend a day or so keeping busy in domesticity. Several loads of washing, cooking, floors to be cleaned and a bathroom to be scrubbed will help. As will moving this body as much as possible in fresh air and yes, that mud; heading out into the woods and fields and trying to stay with the five bodily senses. The others will take care of themselves for a while.

Early this morning, bundled up warmly and standing in the starlit mist, I reminded myself of what I know: that any extreme anxiety I might feel is not based in truth; it's what happens when you come off anti-anxiety medication. It is not real.

Then an owl called out from the woods behind the withy bed to the east and reminded me: 'Sweetie...none of this is real. Enjoy.'






Sunday, 3 November 2013

Morning practice



In the weeks since longer nights and darker mornings stopped me taking sunrise photographs every day I have purposefully developed a new habit. The dogs and I go to the same hidden field. Surrounded by trees, with the woods full of waking rooks and jackdaws at the south side, it's a small, open space - actually an unused paddock with a collapsing barn in one corner and a pleasing squareness to the fencing that lies in disrepair all around it.

Here, every morning, I call in the directions and have a little chat with the spirits of East, West, South, North, Above and Below, and the All-Spirit. Most days I keep it short and sweet: honour, love, gratitude, an intention. Other days I might ask for support in staying on my path. Occasionally I put in a request for some specific guidance. It's my morning prayer.

I've been doing the latter for a couple of days. I needed some inspiration. A little clarity on something. And this morning...bam...every direction was waiting with a gift for me. Clear as crystal. The best team of expert advisers ever. This, and my tendency to lose the good stuff among the endless clutter of the average day, in turn inspired me to sit and write it all out. And now I think I might try to do that every day. Even if all it says is, 'Said thanks, sent love, got rained on. Look up water from the south-west.'

These are the things that set the path of the day. And in my case that path begins just north of the woods.