Winter approaches

Call it what you will Samhain, Halloween or Nos Calan Gaeaf that time has come and here in Glasgow I feel the winter approaching.  There’s still time to jump in piles of leaves if you can find any that haven’t been soaked in rain but the year is shifting.

I like this time of year.  I know for some the increasing dark brings a range of problems and they dread it.  Most of the time I like it.  I don’t like hot days and I struggle in bright sunshine as being in the brightness gradually hurts my eyes and can give me headaches if I’m not careful.  But the dark is gentler for me.  I’m fortunate enough to be able to keep warm and dry, to listen to the wind and rain outside and enjoy it most of the time.

This time of year for me is also about family celebrations so that’s another level of warmth I can bask in. Not just the winter solstice, Yule and New Year activities but birthdays too.  Family birthday celebrations are not usually very big gatherings so I don’t have to brace myself for increasingly large social gatherings.  I’m happy with that.  I’m happy in my understanding of why I struggle with larger social activities.  I’ll happily sit down and have a cuppa with one or two friends in a quiet place though.

For me darkness is comforting.  If it’s clear at night I can see the wonder of the stars, it’s very rare that we are in complete darkness.  And the dark night of the soul or the dark gods and goddesses?  Without darkness how do we appreciate light?  I’m not saying these things are easy but they can be embraced.  And we can learn from the things in the darkness too.

If you struggle with darkness you are not alone.  Neither are you alone if you welcome the dark.

 

 

 

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Reflections on a state of mind

I wrote the core of this in a Facebook post earlier this week.  I’ve decided to add to what I wrote there for a post here.

Tuesdays are now my busiest days, I plan for the tiredness that follows by usually having fairly quiet days on Mondays and Wednesdays. Tuesdays are busy because of things I choose to do so I am not complaining just noting for background to this post that they are busy.

Last Tuesday though I also got hit by nebulous anxiety and wobbly emotions. Part of my difficulties could have been caused by one of the cats staying out until 1am Monday morning. It was very unlike her so I worried and had trouble settling to sleep.  Eventually I chose to check at the back door just one more time at 1am and there she was at the door!  I settled to sleep fairly quickly after that knowing she was safe and sound. Part of the difficulties could also be worrying about my lad going out on an overnight camping trip with a group from school. Camping for the inexperienced is challenging and this trip included a fair amount of walking too as it was a practice for a Duke of Edinburgh Award overnight expedition (I think that’s the Bronze level). I worried about how this was going all that day and the next until I saw him again and heard that it had gone reasonably well.

Part of my problems on Tuesday could have been hormonal, although I don’t usually get the emotional surges at that stage in my cycle, anything is possible though.

All I really know is that I struggled emotionally on and off all day.  I carried on with my usual Tuesday activities which include some hours of voluntary work at a Riding for the Disabled Association stables in Glasgow. Usually after a bit of time at the stables whatever emotional state I might have been in when I arrived is soothed with the presence of horses and in the feelings of being useful.  Not on this occasion.  I cried; at the stables; in front of people! Fortunately I held it together during the lessons where I was leading horses but between one lesson and another I cracked. Those that saw me were lovely about it by the way, tea was applied and soothing company.  I was asked if I wanted to be alone but I wasn’t really sure so someone stayed with me for a while. After a bit I calmed down enough to feel able to help out in another lesson side walking this time before leaving to collect my daughter from school.

I remained a bit mentally and emotionally wobbly throughout the rest of the day but didn’t break down again in the same way.  I struggled through.

This is me as well in terms of my mental health as I’ve been for a very long time. I still get odd times like this.  Fortunately at the last appointment I had with psychologist she said that there might still be times when I struggled.  This wouldn’t necessarily mean it was a relapse as the journey to improved mental health is not usually a smooth one, it may just mean a wobble, a temporary dip that I would be able to move beyond myself without seeking further assistance.  In this case I feel that is exactly what this was, a temporary dip in the journey rather than the beginnings of a relapse.

Many of my friends struggle with mental health on a daily basis. The type of experience I have shared here is the tip of the unseen iceburg of mental health.  It’s hard to talk about situations like these, hard to experience.  It is even harder trying to explain this type of thing to someone who has never experienced levels of anxiety, stress or depression that have affected their health to the stage of needing medication, counselling or both either long or short term.

And so I’m writing this for those who can’t find the words to explain. I get it. I have struggled with finding the words, I still do.
I’m writing this for me, something I can look back on and say this is where I was then.  A year after a period of my life where I was on medication, having nasty anxiety attacks and beginning counselling.  This is a major improvement and this is a part of who I am and I am proud of who I am!

I’m also writing this for those that haven’t had these experiences. Here’s a window to peek through.

The difference in a year

This time last year I was preparing for my wedding day.  Tomorrow will be our first anniversary so it feels apt to do a little reflecting on what changes this year has brought.

This time last year I was on fluoxetine, an anti-depressant, and had been for six months.  I remained on it for a further six months but I am currently off that medication.  It wasn’t the first time I had been prescribed fluoxetine and I have no idea if it will be the last.  Some people feel guilty for taking medication to aid their mental health.  I don’t. I needed the support at that time and it helped.  At present I am doing well without prescription medication to support my mental health.  This doesn’t mean that I am “cured”, it simply means I am in a better place and have some better strategies in my mental health tool box for helping me manage my mental health.

My biggest ongoing issue on the mental health front is social anxiety.  I still have anxiety attacks and I probably always will in some circumstances.  Where the anxiety flares up the most is when I am going somewhere I don’t know or to something with people I haven’t previously met or have had bad experiences with in the past.  I do my best to manage this without running away but I don’t always manage that.  When I do run away from situations I then feel ashamed of myself for giving in.  I shouldn’t feel that shame, I know that, but I do. I have discovered that I cope with things much better if I have a set task or role for the event or meeting.  It gives me something else to focus on and a job to do which help me feel useful.

This time last year I was waiting for counselling through the NHS.  I was extremely fortunate in having some cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy sessions with a hypnotherapist I know while I was waiting for NHS support.  These and my later counselling sessions helped me to work though some things and build some better strategies for coping in the future.

In July I started with a series of counselling sessions with a psychotherapist through the NHS.  I had eight sessions if I remember correctly and they were very helpful.  The therapy approach was a compassion based one, similar in some ways to cognitive behavioural therapy but with out the focus on changing thought patterns, more about accepting and trying to move forward.  It suited me.

One of the more stressful situations in my life last year was my employment.  I had been having problems with work related stress for a few years.  If I’d only had the work stress and no other areas of stress maybe I would have been able to manage better but I didn’t and when you get stress in too many areas something has to give.  I ended up going through the work capability process.  This is supposed to help support you back into work.  It is supposed to help but personally I found it a very stressful process to go through and not helpful in the slightest.  Part of that may well be down to personality conflicts, part down to my mental health, but I have to say that I still feel that part is due to the powers that be deciding that I wasn’t really worth supporting even after 19 years as an employee there.  I could feel very bitter about the whole thing but I don’t.  In July last year I was officially dismissed on capability grounds and it’s one of the best things that could have happened to me!

One of the immediate concerns on losing a job is how you are going to cope financially.  Well I had three months pay in lieu of notice to help with that transition.  As I had been off work on mental health grounds I decided to apply for ESA (Employment Support Allowance) which is a benefit for those not fit to work for whatever reason.  The forms are almost as horrid as the DLA and PIP ones (Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments) and I had to go to an assessment.  Needless to say I was deemed healthy enough to work.  While going this process for myself I also went through the process of applying for DLA for both of my children.  In their cases I was successful and that meant I could also apply for carer’s allowance.

The experience of going through the ESA process myself has been helpful in that I have a much better understanding of what others go though and can better support close friends and family going through the similar process of PIP forms, assessments and appeals.  It truly is a horrid and very stressful system!

In September last year I contacted the Riding for the Disabled Association Glasgow Group with a view to starting some voluntary work there.  My psychotherapist was very pleased with me at the time for taking this step without her suggesting I try and do something like this.  In October I had my induction and I haven’t looked back since.  I absolutely LOVE my voluntary work at the RDA stables.  I go there on Tuesday and Friday mornings during school term times and usually help with the classes that are on either leading or side walking, whatever is needed.  I’m now in the process of completing forms for my daughter to go on a waiting list for lessons there and to have lessons myself.  After about forty years or dreaming about learning to ride it looks like I’m finally going to be able to do it.  Most of the RDA lessons are designed for those with impairments of just about any type but they do also do a small amount of lessons for those without impairments.  If you want to know more please do visit their website, Riding for the Disabled Association Glasgow Group

In January I started taking my daughter along to dance classes with Indepen-dance. This is another fabulous organisation.  I’ve known of them for years as one of their staff gave music and movement sessions to my son several years ago now.  That wonderful person gave my son about a year of free sessions, enabled by another wonderful person who allowed us to use a suitable room in a place she owned and managed on a free basis.  So it’s lovely to be a formal part of the Indepen-dance family now with my daughter.  She absolutely LOVES her lessons with them!

The school year has progressed reasonably well for both kids.  There’s been glitches along the way but that’s life.  I am blessed in having two wonderful autistic kids.  I have been for an adult autism assessment myself but did not meet formal diagnostic criteria. I have however had a few lovely peer confirmations of my neurodivergent state.  I am proud to be a neurodivergent Druid.

In February I started a Counselling Skills course and I’ve recently received the official certificate for that.  I’ve written about my experiences and what I gained through that process elsewhere.

I’ve also had changes in my patterns of devotion over the last year.

So a year of marriage has seen me though all these things and more.  My wonderful husband Neil has been further developing his photography skills – do look at his site Awen Photos and have a look at some of the wonderful images he has taken.  I’ve also seen much more of Scotland with him than I did before as going out and finding new and interesting places to take photos is something he loves doing.

It’s been a year with many unexpected changes and generally I do not like unanticipated change. I tried to stay employed but that didn’t work out.  The results of that change have been much better than I could have imagined and Neil has supported me though it all.

Thank you Neil and happy anniversary my darling!

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Reflecting

For the last few months I have been absent from my blog.  I didn’t intend to be and I have still been musing on various thoughts and ideas but I never quite got to writing any of it down.  Part of that is due to an opportunity that arose in February for me.  Through my son’s school I had the opportunity to do some online study.  There were three courses available all linked to mental health, all available via distance learning and all free providing they were completed.

I chose to sign up for a Certificate in Counselling Skills course.  This was made available through the Skills Network.  This was a level 2 NCFE qualification for those interested in such things and from what I can tell that’s roughly equivalent to a GCSE (English and Welsh qualifications) or National 5 (Scottish qualifications) level course.  Although this was a distance learning course it still had deadlines for unit assessments the last of which was a few days ago.  I submitted my last assessments a couple of days early and have already received my results.  Subject to final moderation I have passed the course.

Today I am writing this as a reflection on how the process of studying again has been for me, where I am, and, what next.

I enjoyed this course.  I’ve learnt some new things and clarified other things.  I’ve had the opportunity to put my listening skills to the test in an observed session with a volunteer client.  I’ve been encouraged to reflect on my own beliefs and values and to consider how they could impact others in a counselling environment.  I have the teaching materials in the form of booklets and that includes links to further reading material so I have a concrete resource I can go back to in the future.  I have enjoyed stretching my mental muscles a bit more again.  It has been satisfying to know I can still put suitable responses together for assessment purposes.

I’ve also learnt that distance learning suits me, being able to pace myself around my other commitments is vital to me.  At the present time attending college classes at a set time and place is not something I would feel able to reliably commit to, I need flexibility.  I completed the course and submitted all my assessments in good time but there were occasions that I struggled to do so and that’s with a fairly short duration course.

In many ways I would like to go further with counselling skills but I have also had to be realistic about what I am able to do and afford at the present time.  To become professionally qualified I would, from what I can find out, need to study part time for at least another two years.  While I could possibly do some of that studying by distance some of it, particularly the practice of core counselling skills, would need to be face to face.  Such study does not come cheap and owing to my previous qualifications and studies I wouldn’t be eligible for certain types of grants for funding further study.  Realistically I can’t currently commit the time or money to develop my skills further.  Even if I had the funds, I can’t commit the time at present.

The door to further studies in the future is not closed to me.  It is just that at present I can’t take that pathway.

Overall this has been a valuable experience for me in several ways.  I have developed my skills and learnt new things.  I have dipped a toe back into the world of study and found I can still do it.  I have discovered that I am good at listening to people, I had thought I probably was but I have had this put to the test with very satisfying results.  And I have found out that my behaviour in a one to one situation can help to put others at ease which is always a good thing to know.

I think one of the best things to have come out of doing this course has been an overall increase in my personal confidence and a better sense of where I am in my life.

So what next?

I still have my voluntary work with the Riding for the Disabled Association and I have recently learnt that there are opportunities there for further skills development. I intend to investigate the possibilities further.

I have my family which provide me with new, and sometimes challenging, situations to learn from on a frequent basis.

I have my Druidry and there are many opportunities there for development in several ways.

My own mental health may still provide me with challenges from time to time, most recently with anxiety attacks, but I have proved to myself that in spite of losing my job on capability grounds less than a year ago I can still learn new things, develop my skills and be useful!

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.

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.

Mindfulness?

I’m not sure I get mindfulness. I’ve had this thought a few times before but it crossed my sleepy mind again early this morning when I was woken by the sound of my son turning over in his sleep and lay there for a moment focusing on the sounds coming from his room.  He’d had a bad night earlier with severe indigestion followed by being sick. While he was unwell I was totally focused on supporting him, helping him to try and stay calm in spite of the pain and doing all I could to help him.

So the sleepy thoughts that crossed my mind this morning were wondering if that was mindfulness, being totally focused on those moments in time with my son?  Or is mindfulness more like the time earlier that afternoon where my partner and myself had spent by the side of Carron Valley reservoir beside the shimmering water, listening to the birds and feeling the gentle breeze on our skin?  I wasn’t thinking about mindfulness or being mindful at either of those times though.  Do you need to be actively deciding to be mindful for it to be mindfulness or does it just happen if you are just in that moment?

I still don’t know.  I do know that that time by the reservoir was beautiful, calming and renewing where the time with my son was draining and worrying. Both experiences were one I was very much in the moment. Were they both examples of mindfulness?

Thoughts and opinions much appreciated on this please.

PS my son is fully recovered, he did his usual bounce back after completely emptying his stomach and then sleeping.