Snow, Icy and Anxiety

This week we have had quite a bit of snow.  As usual the snow gets compressed by the passage of people on pavements and cars on the roads and surfaces become icy.  Snow looks lovely but I don’t really like it.  I know it can be fun to play in the snow especially if you are wrapped up nice and warm, my daughter adores it. I don’t and I think it’s probably because with snow there is more ice and I hate icy conditions.

This week the weather has disrupted normal routines.  Tuesday was the worst day with local road, even the main ones, becoming gridlocked.  My kids both get school transport provided, every day for my son and at the moment two days a week for my daughter. My son’s transport was about 40 minutes later than usual which isn’t bad compared to some problems that day.  My daughter’s transport didn’t show at all because they got stuck somewhere. Eventually we took her to school ourselves much later in the morning, my husband doing the driving, and by that time traffic was flowing reasonably well.  We picked her up from school that afternoon slightly early again with my husband driving.  If he hadn’t been home doing work on our bathroom we wouldn’t have gone anywhere because I feel far to nervous about driving in that level of snow and ice.

Wednesday main roads were much better but the street outside our home is not a main road and it was still covered in compressed snow and ice.  My son’s transport was still late but not as bad as the day before.  My husband drove my daughter and I to her school and I walked her into her entry point while my husband stayed with the car.  By the afternoon things were looking a bit better.  There had been a touch of a thaw and some grit had been spread on our street now but pavements were still icy.

That evening the forecast was bad, particularly for areas further south and east than us with further snow and wind forecast during the night.  And it would be a little below freezing during the night too so more ice!  I cancelled plans I had made before all this snow to go out and meet a friend the following morning. I was too nervous about what the weather would bring.  Our area didn’t get more snow overnight.  Local roads first thing this morning were icy in places but not too bad.  School transport turned up on time for both kids.  I’m beginning to feel better but still anxious.

When my son was only a few months old I fell on an icy street on the way to work.  The fall didn’t seem that bad at the time but I wrenched my back.  I had six months of back pain after that fall and walking to work became too painful for that period of time.  Eventually I had some treatment from an osteopath and that helped the injured area to finally heal.

Not long after I had finally passed a driving test I bumped into the back of another car because I couldn’t stop my car due to ice on the road.  I was going very slowly but that feeling of being completely unable to stop what I could see was going to happen stayed with me.  No one was hurt at all, both cars got bit scratched but nothing worse than that. But it scared me.  I have remained nervous of icy roads.  I can manage it it’s only icy patches but the last few days our street has been much worse than icy in patches.

My anxiety in this weather is founded on very real fears but I still feel I should be able to manage better.  I recognise those feelings of inadequacy are also part of the anxiety but…

 

And I turn to thoughts of my ancestors through the ages. The cold weather, the arrival of  snow, the fear of icy footing.  Many, if not all, would have felt these things. Injuries are more common in icy conditions, healing from anything takes longer. Outdoor tasks are harder and take longer. Water can freeze over and before the mains water supplies we often take for granted frozen water supplies could be a big problem. And keeping warm also became much, much harder.  I believe fear and anxiety during winter conditions would have been common to my ancestors.  I am not alone.

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No resolutions for me

This time of year people start talking about what they are doing for their new year resolutions.  This isn’t a post about resolutions because I don’t do them. If you look at a dictionary definition of a resolution you will probably see a number of different meanings some of which are specialist terms in scientific and legal contexts and one which says something like ‘a firm decision to do something’.  That definition of resolution is why I don’t make new year resolutions.  My life over the past few years has meant that the idea of making firm decisions to do things is something I feel that just sets me up for failure. I prefer to set myself up for success.  Instead of resolutions I have aims and intentions.

My intentions for the coming year are:

  • to continue to support my kids, as they continue to grow and develop
  • to continue to support other members of my family that need a bit of support
  • to continue to learn how to ride horses
  • to continue to write my book
  • to try and write more blog posts
  • to try and write a few articles for Pagan magazine and/or websites
  • to knit more socks (I’ll probably knit other things too)
  • to continue to take part in the support subgroup of the Autistic Allies Facebook group
  • to learn more about horse care
  • to learn more about the Riding for the Disabled Association and in particular the local RDA group in Glasgow.

I’m pretty sure I will be able to achieve all of these things in the coming year and hopefully more besides but I don’t as yet know what the more might be.

 

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!

 

 

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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Orkney part 2 -guided journeys

Breakfast at our accommodation was excellent and very good fuel for the day ahead.

At 9am our wonderful guides Helen and Mark Woodsford-Dean of Spiritual Orkney joined us. We hadn’t met them face to face before although I had known Helen online for a while. I’d contacted Helen while we were planning the honeymoon trip to ask if she had availability in her calendar for the week we were going to be in Orkney.  She did and we had an exchange of emails and Facebook messages to arrange things during which she planned an itinerary for us based on what I’d told her about the sort of things we wanted to see.

It is possible they might have shown us a couple of places if we’d asked out of friendship  but personally I would have felt guilty taking up their time and expertise during the peak tourist summer season when tour guiding is one of the ways they make a living.  Besides we wanted to see lots of places and having experts showing us around was something we wanted to do. And not just expert tour guides but fellow Pagans and people we knew a bit about.  I can not stress enough how delighted we both are that we went down this route.  Helen and Mark are lovely people and great guides.

Our itinerary for our first full day included the Stones of Stenness, Barnhouse Neolithic Village, Ness of Brodgar, Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae and a couple of hours on the Brough of Birsay.

As we journeyed around we were treated to a wonderful combination of archeological information, including from their own experiences digging at the Ness of Brodgar, and local folklore.

I’m not going to write huge amounts here about these wonderful places for a couple of reasons.  One is that so much has already been written about them, the other is that the experience of being at these places is unique to each person.  What I do have is a few of my husband’s photos to share as a picture can be worth a thousand words.

 

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Stones of Stenness

One of the more profound experiences for me visiting these places was that, thanks to Helen in particular, I could understand more about these places than I would have done otherwise.  Little details that helped me see something more of that ancient way of life that I’m pretty sure I would have overlooked without her explanations. Encouraged by Helen to really look at the houses of Skara Brae for example I could see not only the similarities between each structure but also the little differences that made me think of the way we all like to personalise our own spaces when we can.

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Skara Brae

On the Brough of Birsay (which is reached via a tidal causeway) we saw puffins, fulmars, razorbills and skuars flying from nests and resting places on the cliffs.  We also saw the Viking ruins there with their excellent drainage systems (again I’d never have realised what we were seeing without Helen pointing them out).  We also had the opportunity to scramble through a cave towards the top end of the Brough which Helen referred to a rebirth cave.  It was a couple of steps down to the entrance and then as you made your way through the cave it narrowed  until you came to the opening at the other end and had to crawl to get out.  While we didn’t have the opportunity to make a full formal ritual around doing this it still had that rebirth effect for me at least.

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Puffins on Brough of Birsay

Our second day was also spent with our lovely guides and on that day we visited the cliffs at Yesnaby, Kirbuster Farm museum, the Broch of Gurness, the Tomb of the Dogs, Rennibister Earth House, Happy Valley and Unstan Cairn.  Again I’m using some of my husband’s photos to help show something of our experiences but as there’s less written about some of these places I’ll try and write a bit more too.

The cliffs at Yesnaby are wild and parts of the landscape look like they have been transplanted from another world.

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Top of cliffs at Yesnaby

On the heath before the cliffs you can find the rare primula scotica. This is a tiny little plant and not easy to spot unless you know what you are looking for so it will probably be no surprise for me to tell you that Helen found them and once we had been shown them we were able to find more in that area.

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Primula Scotica at Yesnaby

Kirbuster farm museum is a fascinating place.  Part of the buildings date back to the 16th century and there are recognisable features from the styles of buildings at Skara Brae and the other neolithic sites that have clearly been continued through the ages such as the sleeping alcoves and built in wall niches.  This is also a free museum with very knowledgable and friendly guides – well worth a visit.

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16th Century aspect of Kirbuster Farmhouse

By a narrow margin I think my favourite part of that day was the visit to Happy Valley. This lovely place has very unusual gardens by Orkney standards that were planted by the former owner who was something of a recluse during his life. Luckily the building and gardens are being preserved and cared for by the Friends of Happy Valley group.  It is a beautiful place and has a magical atmosphere to it.  I wish we could have stayed there much longer but my need for certain facilities meant we had to move on as the house was locked up.

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Happy Valley Gardens

I think I will write a separate post about experiences with tombs, cairns and the Rennibister Earth House and bring this section of our Orkney experiences to a close.

All photos copyright Neil Pitchford, Awen photos.

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.