Family

In  my last post on Yule I spoke about traditions I have with my family during the darkest days of winter. Family is a central part of my life. Family has always been fairly important to me but becoming a parent changed that from a fairly important aspect to a central one. My journey as a mother began just a couple of years after my journey as a Pagan began. From the earliest days of my first pregnancy there has been a spiritual aspect to being a mother from marking stages of my pregnancies with ritual to sharing my path with my children.  I have not brought them up to be Pagan but with the knowledge of various pagan paths as well as other religions so that they may choose their own paths but I am very open about my beliefs and practices.

A few years ago I coined the phrase “Hearth Druid” as a light hearted but fairly accurate description of my path. As I am also a polytheist, if I want to be more descriptive I will say I am a polytheist hearth druid. Druidry is the path I began with when I first explored Paganism and I later developed into a polytheist Druid. For many there is an aspect of service within the Druid path. That service can take many forms and in my case a key part is service to the future by doing the best I can to raise my children to be caring and responsible humans.

Any parent who says raising children is easy is likely to be stretching the truth to breaking point. Parenthood is wonderful and terrifying. It brings some of the most intense joys, some of the deepest fears and the greatest amounts of stress to your life. I am blessed with two children six years apart in age, one son and one daughter. My son is a young man now and I am immensely proud of him. I am incredibly proud of my daughter too who is growing into a young woman. Both of my children have additional challenges to deal with in this modern world of ours because both are autistic. I am not diagnosed as autistic but I still believe that I probably am. I am certainly among the more neurodivergent section of the population.

I am lucky in that both my children are very healthy. They are intelligent, loving and wonderful young people. The additional challenges they have, that I have, are because our society tries to treat us all as if we are the same. We are told again and again that we must meet set targets and milestones in set periods of time and yet very few of us will meet any of these things in the same periods of time or in the same way. Our modern society does not yet value diversity as well as it should whether that be physical diversity, neurodiversity or many of the other aspects of diversity that exist within our human species. In my opinion we are only just beginning to truly appreciate the importance of diversity in nature generally.

Learning more about diversity in various ways, learning to appreciate diversity, is part of the reason I am the polytheist that I am today. I have grown into polytheism and I believe it fits wonderfully with a viewpoint that treasures diversity.

Some polytheists are able to put their devotions to their deities at the centre of their life. Some have incredibly close relationships with a small number of deities, relationships where they are asked to serve their gods in very direct and often life altering ways. I am not one of those polytheists, at the centre of my life are my children. My children don’t need me quite as much as they used to when they were younger but my daughter in particular still needs a lot of support.  I still have deep relationships with my deities but they do not ask me to choose between my love for them and my love for my children. Those I am sworn to understand that I what service I can give them, as with everything in my life, is balanced against family needs.

Other members of my family are also very important to me. I am lucky enough to have a very close relationship with my parents. I had a particularly close relation ship with my mum and I miss being able to phone her up for a chat.  I miss her hugs most.  I had more of a friendship than the usual sort of mother/daughter relationship many people seem to have. Neither of my parents were Pagan when I was growing up, they came to it later in life when I was in my late teens and although I was aware of that change it wasn’t something that led me to become Pagan myself. Our paths differ but we still share seasonal rituals as part of the same local group which used to be driven forward more by my mum with my dad and I in support and my dad now carries on with me in support.

And then there is my husband. Both of us have been married previously and both of us have learnt things from those previous relationships. I now understand so much more about myself, my probably autistic self, than I knew in my first marriage and that learning has been incredibly valuable in my relationship with my husband now. He is my love and my support. He is also a Druid and that gives us another bond. We call him a Land Druid because his Druidry is so closely tied to his relationship with the Land, walking it, taking landscape photographs and being out there.

My relationships with other members of my wider family are also very important to me. I chose my current home for example because I wanted to be physically closer to my brother, his wife and their children. That in turn has allowed me to develop much better relationships with all of them.

For some, family can also become something incredibly painful. While that is not my experience I know that for some the last thing they want is to be close to some or perhaps all of what would usually be called their family. Family is not just about those you are connected to by blood, upbringing or marital status though. Family means different things to different people and for many a spiritual family can be as important or more so than their blood family. In some cases those you think of as family widen out in different directions. A best friend may be closer than a sibling, members of a grove may become like a second family or members of an online community may develop a sense of family brought together by shared interests or commonalities in situation. Families are another area of diversity in life that can be overlooked but what is a family but whom you love the most and who love you in return?

I am very open with my family about my beliefs, they all know I am polytheist. Some members of my wider family are happy to chat about faith matters, others are not so keen. In my wider family there are several Christians and yes, there has been the odd misunderstanding over the years but we have been able to move past such things. When I was a child and for most of my growing years the only faith really spoken about in the family was Christianity. That has changed. When we do talk about religion we don’t just talk about our own faiths, we also talk about other faiths in the world.

In my own home I openly practice my faith, there is nothing hidden and my children are free to join in when they want to or not as the case may be. I have taught them that if someone is at prayer unless it is an emergency you wait respectfully until they are finished before you start talking to them. I have an altar in my dining room, pagan books on bookshelves, robes and cloaks hanging in my wardrobe. Nothing hidden. If anyone in my family is curious about my own path or other aspects of Paganism they know they can ask me. They also know there’s a chance I’ll start getting very enthusiastic and start telling them about all sorts of related information. A question about a Norse deity may lead to a discussion on Norse myths, then myths of other cultures, the place of story in our world in feeding our imaginations, in allowing us to move beyond our own limitations and widen our perspectives. Or it might lead along other paths entirely. I get very enthusiastic and my mind jumps about leaping from trail to trail. My family know this about me and know that if they start asking questions an hour could easily pass as we discuss things. Fortunately they are also quite adept in letting me know when they’ve had enough if I don’t spot the signs myself.

My family, like my faith, is intimately woven into the strands of my life. The tapestry of who I am would not be as colourful or as complex without either of these parts of my life.

A bit of this and a bit of that

It’s been a busy month for me with lots of different things going on which means my mind has often been jumping about from one topic to another.  It also means that I’m feeling a bit drained.  Much of these happenings have been good things.

The first two weeks of April are school holidays here so there were visits from school friends to co-ordinate, trips out to arrange and space for relaxing and unwinding to be managed. This year my son also needed to fit in some study time for exams that take place in May.  Juggling the desires of a highly selectively social teen with a bouncy sensory seeking ten year old while remaining sane myself can be challenging and by the end of the school holidays I am very happy to get back into term time routines!

My husband, Neil, is a keen amateur landscape photographer and on Saturday 7 April he was up at Fort William for the launch of an exhibition with the Society of Scottish Landscape Photographers which including one of his images. I wasn’t able to go with him and I still haven’t seen the exhibition but it’s moving to an exhibition space in Leith, Edinburgh on Saturday 5 May so I’ll get to see it when it’s there.  If you’ve not yet seen Neil’s photos please do take a look at his site Awen Photos, you can also find him on Facebook. Needless to say I am rather proud of his photographic skills!

Saturday 14 May saw Neil and I at the Druid Network AGM at the Bilberry Hill Centre near Birmingham. It’s a location that the Druid Network have used for several years and we are all rather fond of it.  The Druid Network (TDN) AGM has a formal side to it but it is also a time of community connection, discussion, shared food and fun.  It is a full day event and many of us stay overnight before dispersing across the UK the following day.  Last year I stepped into a new role at the AGM, that of minute taker.  I found that having a task to do helped me manage my social anxiety and this year I continued in that role.  I’m not a fan of taking minutes for meetings usually but when both I and the group can benefit I am much more keen. Thanks to years of University committee experience it’s not a role I find difficult and TDN AGMs are more fun to minute than anything I have done in the past.

Just last week I had another AGM to attend.  This one was for the RDA Glasgow Group and I was anticipating a much more boring and formal meeting. I was pleasantly surprised.  It was anything but boring!  This AGM took place on Wednesday 25 April in the evening in the RDA Glasgow Group conference room. The discussions that followed the formal reports were lively and I found the whole meeting much more interesting than I had anticipated.  I was very tired afterwards though as there was a lot to concentrate on.

I’m becoming more involved with the RDA.  While I was recovering from my unscheduled dismount and not fit enough to help out in classes I helped out in the office instead and took on the RDA Glasgow Newsletter preparation.  I will be doing the next issue too although I’m not sure what’s happening after that as yet.  I’ve also been doing a bit of work on updates for the RDA Glasgow website (feedback always welcome by the way).  I’m now building up my fitness for helping in classes again and it’s great to be back doing that but I still plan to help out in other areas.

Which reminds me, today being the last day of April is also the last day of Autism Awareness month for several countries. World Autism Awareness Day is 2 April each year.  Some areas of the world use the whole of April as Autism Awareness month.  In the UK the National Autistic Society held a week long focus of events from 26 March  – 2 April.  Anyway, RDA National has been working on a new addition to its online learning courses aimed primarily at RDA volunteers and staff.  This one is on Autism Awareness and it’s going to be officially launched very soon.  I took part in the testing of the course and I am delighted to say that in my opinion they have done a really good job on this course with a good balance of information and practical suggestions.

These are a few of the highlights from my busy month.  I’ve also been continuing in my book writing efforts and trying not to let self doubt stop me.  I’ve been healing from my own injury and continuing to coordinate requests to the Pagan Healing Circle. And, as always, I’ve been continuing to devote time to my family and my devotional practices.

 

 

Reflections on 2017

A new friend on Facebook recently asked what people were proud about from the past year and that got me thinking about the past year a bit more resulting in this post.

The first half of 2017 was quiet on this blog because I had signed up for a an online course in counselling skills.  I completed and passed that course and at the time I investigated the possibility of gaining further qualifications in counselling skills.  After much thought and investigation into options and costs I decided it is not the right time for me to commit to trying to gain further qualifications. I am however prud of having completed the course successfully and gaining new knowledge and confidence.

In the last year my devotional practices have continued to develop and deepen.  I’m now beginning to settle into a devotional practice where I am spending some time in prayer and contemplation on six days of the week.  In the last year as well as relaxing into my relationship with Loki I’ve also started developing a devotional relationship with Gofannon.  It’s almost two years since Loki started making his presence felt in my life so both of these deities are still relatively new to me. I also continue to be a flame tender with Clann Bhride, a practice I began on Imbolc 2015.

I’ve now been involved in volunteering with the Riding for the Disabled Glasgow group for just over a year. I’ve learnt so much since I started there and I’m still learning more including finally having riding lessons myself.  I’ve wanted to learn how to ride horses for as log as I can remember and this year I have been able to begin that journey and it’s just wonderful!  I literally cried tears of joy after my first couple of lessons, that’s how much it means to me.

This time last year I had completed counselling sessions to help me with managing my social anxiety and had also just come off medication for anxiety and depression.  I have remained off medication this year and have not had a relapse.  I still get the occasional anxiety attack with social situations and have had a couple of more severe panic attacks too this year but I am still improving.  I have managed social situations this year that I could not have done last year.  I am proud of my progress.

My daughter had been attending dance lessons with Indepen-dance for a full year now.  She’s absolutely loved these lessons so I know this will be continuing for the coming year.  My daughter has also joined her school choir this year and has experienced her first performance with the choir outside the school as part of a carol service.  She also had a solo to sing during that carol service.  I am extremely proud of how well she did, not only with her singing but also with her behaviour during the service.  Sitting quiet and still is not an easy thing for my sensory seeking, bouncy Aspigirl. So proud of my girl!

This year my son completed his Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award. To complete this award he had to do some voluntary work, develop a new skill, do some physical activity and complete an overnight camping expedition with the group from his school taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh award activities.  His physical activity was hillwalking, his new skill was pyrography and the voluntary work was organised by the school and took place at an allotment.  I am incredibly proud of his achievement!

Last year (2016) I went through the assessment process for adult autism diagnosis.  I didn’t meet diagnostic criteria.  Perhaps part of the reason for this was that at the time I went through the process I was also suffering badly from stress and anxiety.  Needless to say I didn’t agree with their conclusions at the time and I still don’t agree.  It’s still something that irritates.  I have been peer recognised as autistic by a number of autistic adults as well as by my wonderful kids and that recognition means a great deal to me.  I am immensely proud of being neurodivergent and probably autistic. I still hesitate over calling myself autistic because I didn’t meet the diagnostic criteria during my assessment.  I know many within the autistic community are perfectly fine with self diagnosis and if I had never attended and failed the assessment I’d be happy with self diagnosis too. Failing the assessment makes me doubt myself and means I often don’t feel comfortable in saying I’m autistic without adding the story of not meeting diagnostic criteria.  Anyway, this year I have becoming more aware and more confident of myself as neurodivergent. If you are unfamiliar with neurodiversity as a concept here’s a good staring piece on the neurodiversity paradigm

My other area of achievement this year is still very much a work in progress.  I have begun writing a book about being a polytheist.  It will have a great deal in it about my own practices.  My tentative working title at the moment is “Life as a British Polytheist”.

To all my readers on this last day of 2017 I hope you take pride in your achievements whatever they may be and I wish you a very happy 2018!

 

 

Autism Acceptance and Awareness

So this month – April – is international Autism Awareness month.  there’s  a growing movement to make that Autism Acceptance month instead of awareness.  I was just moved to write the following on Facebook as a public post and have just decided to put it here too.

“How do I get the words right?
To be aware of autism is good, just as it’s good to try and be aware of the challenges faced by transgender people or black communities or the homeless or… I could go on. Do I need to? It’s good to be aware, yes BUT it’s even better to accept.

I accept I will never intimately know the challenges faced by many other people each and every day of their lives. I accept that many people will never intimately know that challenges faced by autistics each and every day. I accept that I am different and that you are different. I want you to accept my differences, I want you to accept your own differences. I want you to treasure our differences! I want us to work together to make life better because of our differences and not just in spite of them.

Awareness is good, Acceptance is better.”

 

I know there are issues I am not very aware of but I try and improve my knowledge and awareness.  I accept that as a white, British, cis-gendered, woman with no visible disability that I live in a world that gives me a level of privilege that I am not fully conscious of.  I hope that even when I am not fully aware of the privileges I have or the challenges you may face that you feel accepted by me. I hope you feel I value you and the differences between us.  I hope you feel accepted, treasured and loved exactly as you are.

Autism and me

I’ve been brooding about writing this post for a while now.  I’ve also rehearsed several different ways of phrasing things for this post in my head.  I’m now finally sitting down and writing which means some of this will be a stream of consciousness.

Last year, around this time actually, I went from wondering if I was autistic to saying out loud that I thought I probably am autistic.  I was off work with stress and anxiety and decided to request referral for an adult autism assessment.  As is pretty normal in the UK I then had to wait for a first appointment. In the meantime I worked on improving my mental health and managed to return to work late May last year (2015).

I had my first autism assessment appointment on 4 September 2015.  I had been sent material in advance that told me that this would be an initial assessment.  At the end of this first appointment I would be told that either I was not autistic or that there was enough evidence from this first session to investigate further.  There was enough evidence to investigate further.

This was a huge relief for me.  At least I now knew that there was something in my behaviour and history that indicated I could be autistic.  I had discussed this with family members who were very supportive and with a couple of female autistic friends who said that in their opinion it would not be a surprise for me to be diagnosed as autistic.  But this was verification of the possibility by experienced professionals.

The process continued with several other meetings. My mum came with me to all but one appointment which was great as I found the process extremely stressful.  The appointments were an hour and a half in length and I didn’t feel very comfortable with the person who led the interviewing process from the start.  The process was completed in mid November and I was told that in their opinion I did not meet diagnostic criteria (for those interested I was assessed against the criteria for ICD 10 F84, Childhood autism and ICD 10 F84.5 Asperger’s Syndrome).  It had become apparent a couple of meetings before that this was likely but they continued the process for me in order to provide me with some level of information about my ongoing difficulties.

I didn’t get the official report from this process until mid December and it’s taken some time to process this result.

I’ll be clear here, I am disappointed with this result and I don’t think they have got it right in my case.  Verbally though in the last appointment they did say that I do present in an autistic way and that they wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of years down the line I got diagnosed via another route.  Right at the start I was told that diagnosing adult women was extremely hard.  At the end they confirmed that there is a level of subjective opinion about the diagnosis too (which having gone through this for both my kids I was already aware is the case).

The report confirms that I have social anxiety issues and recommends some form of talking therapy to address issues related to emotional literacy and self esteem.  They also recommended I do some self help on anxiety management.

My children both knew I was going through this process.  My daughter wanted me to be diagnosed so that we would be more alike.  When I told her (she’s 8 by the way) that I didn’t get the diagnosis she put one hand on my shoulder and said with a serious tone “Never mind mummy, you’ll always be autistic to me”.  My son also said it didn’t matter as I was still weird.  Both of them sympathised with my disappointment while making sure I knew it didn’t really matter to them, I was still part of the club as far as they were concerned.  I’m extremely proud of this, not just because of the sensitivity they both showed but also that they clearly see being autistic as something to be proud of and rightly so!

I’m glad I have gone through this process even though it was difficult, even though I didn’t come out with the diagnosis I had hoped for because it has verified that I do have challenges with social situations.  Whether this is inbuilt or as they have said in the report a belief that I have developed is not so important at this stage.  The reality is that in either case I have social anxieties and these are now recognised by others.

Part of my anxieties is a fear of not being “enough”.  Often that’s not being good enough but it can be not social enough, not autistic enough, not neurotypical enough or all manner of things.  Logically I know this is something I impose on myself, judging myself against a hypothetical standard others almost certainly do not judge me against.  Emotionally though, knowing that is probably the case doesn’t help.  I still feel I am not “enough” to be clearly one thing or another.  I am working on emotionally and spiritually accepting that maybe being in a place between one state and another is where I am meant to be and where I can be most useful.  Maybe having not enough of something, not being good enough at something, will help me be a bridge between one thing and another.

 

Knowing yourself

The vast majority of Pagan paths encourage the individual to take responsibility for their own development, to delve into themselves and explore different aspects of their emotions and personality.  I’ve used various techniques over the years to explore aspects of my past that I felt were blocking me from moving forward. I’ve worked with my emotions and my personal history to cut myself free of things that were holding me back and to develop a greater acceptance of parts of my personality that I’ve had mixed feelings about in the past.

All that somehow pales into insignificance with my current journey of self discovery.

I have realised that I am not the person I thought I was and yet at the same time I’m also more truly myself than I think I have ever been before.  Finally I am hearing the whispers on the breeze, finally I am seeing into the shadows.

And the reason for this is that I am finally understanding that I am autistic.  I don’t know yet where I fit into the spectrum, I’m still undergoing diagnostic investigation but I’ve now had that professional validation that I’m not imagining things.  I’ve had that confirmation that there are enough traits to make it worth while fully investigating.  It’s possible that the end of the process will not give me a formal diagnosis but I think it might.  Even if it doesn’t, I know I’m more autistic than not and that is already helping me make a different sense of my life to this point.  I’m already using this new vision of myself to help me understand how I react to all sorts of things and to develop different, conscious strategies for situations I find challenging.  I’m being more accepting of myself, less critical.

And while I go through this process I find that generally I’m more inclined to turn inwards to close family, my home and hearth, and my gods.  My devotional life has increased in depth and frequency of devotions.  Much of that is personal and solitary but sometimes I am now hearing calls to do more, to be more.

As I said to my mum the other day how can you tell what is an external voice if you don’t really know who you are?

I thought I knew myself pretty well.  I’m learning that I only knew a fraction of myself.  I only knew a me that had unconsciously covered parts of myself with heavy concealing veils.

I’m now getting to know myself unveiled. I wonder what else I will find as I learn more of what lies beneath my veils.

Countryfile, cows and caves!

Advisory notice: Random streams of consciousness follow!

Weird dreams last night following a draining day.  The main difficult part of the day was an absence review meeting at work with a representative of Human Resources (HR) and a  union representative accompanying me.  This took place late morning.  I’ve been off work now for almost six months officially with stress and anxiety and it has been during this time that I have come to fully realise that I am almost certainly on the autistic spectrum.  The meeting was an example of my changing awareness of my ability to cope with certain types of situation.  I knew it was going to be difficult and had taken what steps I could to prepare in advance but ultimately I didn’t really know exactly what might be brought up at the meeting so there was a limit to what I could prepare.

The meeting was an hour long and covered several areas. We talked about how I was now feeling, how I had been recently, whether the counselling I had received had been helpful and that they recommended I see the work based psychological services for further support (I’m ok with that, I don’t think it will hurt and it might be useful).  From there HR asked me what sort of strategies I had now developed to help me and I tried to explain that while some of the strategies were helpful in dealing with anxiety others were less so as I could be affected by environmental conditions and I gave them examples of that.  The discussions then moved onto whether I felt I was fit to return to work and what the options were.  They are not in favour or redeploying me at the current time in spite of the occupational health recommendations but the individual I have developed the biggest anxiety triggers over is currently off work herself and expected to be for some time.  They asked if I’d thought about how I’d like to return – phased returns are the normal for someone who has been off for a long period.

Towards the end of this meeting I started to get upset and felt overwhelmed.  I couldn’t think straight anymore and was not capable of making any decisions about how to progress returning to work or even what to do.  There was so much information and it was a meeting that took place with two people I don’t really know very well which has its own challenges. The meeting finished and my partner picked me up and took me home.  I began to feel better after a mug of tea, some lunch and some time with a good book.

I have now come to the conclusion that my very reactions to the amount of information in that meeting and having to deal with two people I don’t know are part of my autism.  I’ve seen my kids struggle in similar ways when they are in situations that are overloading them.  I’m now recognising that this has drained me more than I had expected.  I’ve often had similar reactions to stressful meetings with school staff over situations involving the kids (not hostile meetings just emotionally laden ones).  It’s another thread in the pattern for me that I am now recognising and this process of identifying patterns is in itself draining.

My evening was not a particularly restful one. It wasn’t dreadful either but my daughter often gts hyper as soon as she walks in the door from school.  She’d not had a great day anyway but as soon as she gets in she’s rushing about one second and launching herself at me for wriggly hugs and sensory impacts the next second.  And later in the evening there was the battle of the homework – spelling work is always the worst.  The issue there is actually writing rather than learning the spelling of the words and even though it can be a bit of a battle to get her to do the work I persevere as I feel she will benefit long term from writing practice. Also if she wins one battle I’m going to have more trouble with the next as she’s wonderfully stubborn.

The rest of our family evening routines continued and eventually all went quiet.  The last thing we usually do before going up to bed ourselves is watch the news and weather.  By that time I’m often struggling to keep my eyes open.  I fell asleep pretty quickly but woke up following some odd dreams that have stayed with me.  And this is where the title of this post comes in.

I was dreaming that I was co-presenting Countryfile (we often watch bits of it on a Sunday evening but we hadn’t watched any of it last weekend).  This particular episode was related to cattle and I was helping move some cows and calves.  For some reason I was then lying down in a field I think with a half grown calf lying across me.  I think the calf had taken a liking to me and for some reason decided to lie on me.  I was feeling rather squashed and trying to get this calf to move off me. I think it was a male calf and for some reason he shifted so he was now lying a bit more on my rib cage and I began to feel as if the breath was being squeezed out of me.  I started to thump the side of this calf and yelled in the dream at it to get off me. I also yelled physically and woke myself up a bit.

I almost immediately drifted off again for a few moments and I was not longer with the cows.  This time I was involved in the aspect of the programme at the end that shows snippets of what’s going to be shown next week. I was both watching these and involved in them and these snippets were of caves. One was like a hole though part of a mountain, it was no wider than maybe a king size bed and open at both ends like a great archway.  The other snippet was of a cave by some coastline.  This one was deeper and darker, it reminds me of King’s Cave on Arran come to think of it. Then I came to again and realised that I had yelled out a few moments before because of bit of dream about the calf lying on me.

Really odd stuff!

Anyway, I’ve now had a chance to properly digest what was discussed at the meeting yesterday and have now emailed work about starting back for the middle of next week.  I’m a bit nervous about it but I think it’s the right thing to do.