My husband sent me this link today – it’s a photograph taken of the Milky Way in the southern hemisphere skies, and it’s incredible. It got me thinking – this is something that can be seen with the naked eye, but isn’t usually because of light pollution. It’s awesome, it’s massive, it puts things in perspective. Is it any wonder our ancestors, who for tens of thousands of years would have seen this sight every time they looked at the night sky, were spiritually aware – look what they saw every night. Something bigger than themselves. And it’s no wonder we think we’re gods striding the earth – pretty much all we see is what we’ve made. It’s hard to comprehend the impact we’ve had on how we see our world. As we’ve seen less of the awesome view above us, so our vision has shrunk, until all it seems to encompass is our navels.
As an incipient writer, it’s a thrill to get people to read and enjoy your work, and to get it published is kind of the ultimate thrill really. You know, for us bookish types who don’t go in for the jumping off bridges sort of thrill. And so with my little heart bursting with pleasure, I can say my piece on growing up in Africa has been published in the August issue of The Woven Tale Press <sighs happily>.
You can find it on page 23 of the latest Woven Tale Press along with the mind-children of a number of other arty types, written, painted and otherwise formed.
I inadvertently did something that turned out to be stupid and caused a world of pain before I figured it out.
When I wrote last a few weeks ago I was struggling with the return of the Beast Anxiety, which I had thought I’d dealt pretty well with. Not so much, though. A few weeks into working really hard at my attitude and understanding, and not seeing as much progress I would expect, I finally realised it may have something to do with the whole going off my meds thing….yeah. Little slow on the uptake maybe, but to be fair, there was a lag in the withdrawal effect hitting me. On googling the thing, I found people’s experiences differed wildly from the advice from my GP, which was along the lines of, oh, when you feel well enough just stop – don’t do that. Turns out when you drop your anti-depressant meds you should do so very, very slowly. Like, really slowly. Going from half a tablet to none doesn’t cut it. I have ended up, after all that, back on the meds, planning to go off them slowly this time – reduce to crumbs, is the advice of lived experience to avoid unpleasant side effects.
It was a very difficult few weeks, but still, the experience was instructive. For one, I was motivated to all the CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) one doesn’t have the motivation for when feeling well. I found an excellent online course of CBT at CT Info. In fact, he’s a WordPress brother. The course deals specifically with panic, but is easily adapted to anxiety, and even depression, I think. It was absolutely invaluable – that knowledge is what will take me beyond the meds. I completely recommend it.
Furthermore, it was a time of constructive introspection. I am usually pretty introspective, but more in an observational, oh my gosh, look what’s happening way. This time, the introspection, guided by CBT and Robin’s videos at CT Info, produced a sense of control – I realised for the first time I am not at the mercy of my feelings and thoughts – it’s possible to step back from them and view them objectively, and then choose whether or not to “buy into” them.
It was also something of a spiritual renaissance for me. I’m putting aside my philosophy books – skepticism has its limits. If the only thing one can truly depend on is that there is something thinking my thoughts right now, it follows we have to make some sort of subjective decision as to what level of skepticism we employ in real life. And why remove hope in something greater (and nicer) than oneself? The world is a lonely and echoing place enough. Besides, someone said – I forget who – the spiritual is something that has to be experienced emotionally, not intellectually, and despite that I’ve been trying to approach the thing exactly that way. But who says life is validated intellectually – why do we minimise the emotional, as if we’re ashamed of this thing we haven’t tamed, and “makes us” do things a “rational” person wouldn’t? Who says we’re so rational anyway? According to some psychologists, humans are rationalising, more than rational, creatures. In other words, we prefer to justify or explain – make excuses for – our behaviour, attitudes, feelings, etc, rather than acknowledge the truth and feel the discomfort of being in the wrong – which is the opposite of rationality. It’s ok to admit it, we all do it! It’s not to say we don’t have rational capacities.
In any case, I have a feeling we’re very wrong in our habit of trying to subjugate the emotional part of our being so completely to the intellectual. Perhaps we should embrace our emotional being instead of fighting it; learn to use it properly. Stop just experiencing emotions and tune in. Maybe it’s ironic for me to say this, given the most unpleasant nature of my emotional experience these past weeks, but on the other hand, just because something is unpleasant doesn’t make it bad or destructive in itself. Just as the ability to feel pain keeps us in one piece, those emotions have led me to new understanding of myself, to growth. The unpleasant emotions were still a product of my body trying to do what it does best; keep me alive. It may have been overreacting under the circumstances, but my emotions were telling me something, and understanding them correctly has led me into harmony with myself – and isn’t it really all about harmony?
Since I posted last I’ve been continuing to experience some symptoms of anxiety, but I’m learning to manage them. Just knowing you have the ability to manage is very powerful in reducing anxiety. The knowledge from the AnxietyBC website, and techniques including relaxation and calm breathing, along with, probably, the beneficial effects of St John’s Wort, which I’ve been taking 2-3 weeks now, and also my new supplement, 5-htp, which you can read about here and here, and which appears to have helped in the two days I’ve been taking it.
The St John’s Wort I am taking is this one – it’s combined with ginseng and ginko. Now, I’d thought that St John’s Wort took a while to work, but I felt benefits in my overall mood within a few days (though sadly not the anxiety) so I don’t know if this could have been the ginseng or ginko I was feeling the benefits of, but either way, it’s been a good supplement. The one big downer is that St John’s Wort (henceforth referred to as StJW) renders the contraceptive pill ineffective. On the upside, it has many reputed benefits, including even for ADHD, and more studies show it is effective than not – so don’t just go by the latest headlines.
I wonder if the 5-htp might be a substitute for the StJW without the effects on the pill, but there’s not enough information available on whether or not 5-htp affects the pill to be sure. For now while things are rough though, I’m taking both supplements. Some people recommend against taking both StJW and 5-htp because of the perceived risk of seratonin syndrome (read about it here) but Michael Murray, a naturopathic doctor, assures us that in severe cases, taking both is what he would recommend.
So, caution is recommended, but for now I am taking BioBalance 5-htp as well as StJW. Because 5-htp works quickly in the system, many people only take it as needed, not long term. This seems to be mostly because of the concern of overdose. I have felt slightly nauseous the couple of times I’ve taken it, which is not an uncommon symptom, and some people avoid the nausea by taking it before bed, but Michael Murray has advice on his website on dosage and managing initial nausea. 5-htp is also reputed to help with migraines, and insomnia, and in fact, one side effect is that it can cause drowsiness, in which case taking before bed is prudent. However I don’t find it makes me drowsy on the 150mg dosage. As my husband suffers frequent migraines, I will let you know if it helps him. Watch this space.
I am also taking magnesium. Magnesium is an excellent all-round supplement, supporting among other things, sleep and stress, as well as migraines. I’m trying a different form this time, as the last brand I used didn’t seem overly effective. I have been sleeping quite well since taking it, but it’s early days yet to see effects on mood. This is best taken in the evening to assist with sleep.
Other herbs and supplements known to help depression and anxiety are passionflower, kava, or the amino acids theanine or tryptophan. This is worth knowing, as different bodies respond differently to medications.
It’s also worth looking into diet when treating depression and anxiety as there is some evidence that foods we eat may aggravate or even cause many maladies, physical and mental. Tabitha at Tabitha’s Gluten Free Dishes has some information on that, and AlternativeMentalHealth.com has some thoughts on how allergies may affect the brain. Yvonne at The Reluctant Archaeologist has a great post about sugar here. Be aware, though, that changes in diet will probably take weeks if not months to show benefits in how you feel, so don’t give up too soon if you try it!
I’d also add that there’s nothing wrong with medications if they work for you. I had an SSRI which really helped with the anxiety, and the only reason I came off them was that I figured I would need something for the rest of my life, and I doubted the docs would prescribe meds that long, so I needed to find an alternative.
Well, that’s me – I hope sharing my experiences may help some people. But when using drugs, whether natural/herbal or synthetic, please use caution, as we are talking about substances which affect brain chemistry, and don’t take SSRIs alongside supplements such as I’ve reviewed above. There are also contraindications with StJW and 5-htp which you should be aware of as with any other medicine. Ideally you would find a naturopath or a medical doctor who is naturo-receptive to advise you about some of the things I’ve mentioned, especially if you’re wanting to try something new, but also be aware that many in the medical community are not open to natural/alternative remedies though they are available and have been found to be effective in many people, so don’t be shy to talk to a few different professionals before giving up. And usually the friendly and knowledgeable staff at alternative health shops will be able to advise in your individual circumstances.
And another very brief post from me today – since I wrote the other day about the demon Anxiety, I’ve come across a fabulous resource – Anxiety BC. It’s a website which is packed with all the info you need to understand the psychology and physiology of anxiety.
Here’s a couple of choice quotes:
“Most people do not recognize their anxiety for what it is, and instead think there is something “wrong” with them. Some people are preoccupied with the symptoms of anxiety (e.g. stomach aches, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, etc.).”
Myth:Reading, thinking, and learning about anxiety will make you even MORE anxious.
Fact: If you do not know what you are dealing with, how do you manage it? Having accurate information about anxiety can reduce confusion, fear, and shame. Anxiety is a common and normal experience, and it CAN be managed successfully!
Which I completely agree with – the first impulse can be to run and hide, but this knowledge is the key – and WILL help you see off the demon.
(Find more here.)
The website has info for adult sufferers, but also for parents of anxious kids. And there’s also this little book for kids which I’ve ordered but hasn’t arrived yet – From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears. I’ll review it once we’ve used it.
So there we go, onwards and upwards – or less politely, kick ass.
In the last week or so, I hit a writer’s block of sorts. I had thought writer’s block was a dearth of words (and ideas), but that’s not what I experienced; I just couldn’t get into the creative headspace in the time available. It was partly that my time that week was especially broken up, and its hard to be creative in bits. But also, the demon Anxiety returned.
I could shut up about it, but I feel that would make me the good little bitch again, and screw that. I would imagine that most people who the demon visits feel the same as myself; you don’t want to talk about it. So we don’t communicate. I know this is how it was for me, from my earliest childhood experiences. I lived in a big black hole for years as a child, and not even my parents knew, because I never told them. I couldn’t, because the threat of anxiety is that if you talk, things will get worse, way worse. Like an abuser. Creepy.
So I’m breaking the rules. The demon has been hanging around in the shadows for a few weeks I guess, and last night he leapt on me as the sun went down. I was backed into a corner and so I called on my old friend Jesus (though we hadn’t spoken in a while). My religious/spiritual journey has been long and winding, and is still a work in progress, as is everyone’s. But more recently, I had lost not just my religion, but my faith also. Last night I had nothing left I to pull out of the hat; I’ve taken my supplements, and was doing CBT techniques, but I was drowning. I’d had a conversation earlier in the day with my mother in which I’d queried the validity of calling on Jesus , as suggested by an auntie to another over-thinker who’d been a friend of my cousin, who killed himself earlier this year on account of the demons. I challenged it at the time, but that evening I had nothing to lose, and I’ll say my bacon was saved, and leave it at that.
Today life is good, better than it’s been for a while. The trees in my garden and the ones I can see over the road make me happy. There’s a world of leafy green out there. The sun is setting, but the starkness of the winter-bare branches of the liquid ambar against the silver sky raises my spirits.
There are labels for people like me, one of them being “highly sensitive”. Labels are complicated – they have their place; for one thing, I’ve appreciated their Google-ability. But for whatever reason, I’m reluctant to take on another label, or be defined by it. However, I am very sensitive, and that explains a lot. I wondered for years how a person with no trauma or abuse history could end up in such a black place at 8 years old. My family were no more dysfunctional than the next family, which is to say they were not perfect, but it was a loving home. Things were complicated by my lack of social ability. It was like every situation stood alone; I wasn’t able to bring any previous understanding, sparse as that was to begin with, to bear on any given subsequent circumstance. That sort of thinking does have advantages – if every situation is new and fresh, then there’s always a new way to approach it, and that means thinking outside the box, that is, creative thinking. But a child like that who has no support will be very vulnerable, and I was, and every blow to my self-esteem was felt way more deeply than it warranted.
I recently heard of a lesser known Romantic poet, John Clare (lesser known to me anyway, even with an English literature major), who went mad enough to spend the latter part of his life in an asylum when the common lands in the English countryside were fenced in during the Agricultural Revolution. That’s how I heard it, anyway. Of course there was a preamble to his eventual madness – but you could say it was as simple as his sensitivity. Why not? What makes a person mad? Psychologists label brain chemistry and wiring, but they’re just describing a thing that is, with or without whatever words they use to describe it. Sometimes I’m so aware of how barbaric some of our medical, and especially psychiatric, knowledge and practice still are.
In any case, I think the world does conspire to make sensitive people crazy, and I can understand how someone who had found healing for a troubled mind in wandering the countryside freely would be affected so profoundly by a restriction to that saving liberty in his lifetime.
I think if you were to ask any sensitive type, almost every one would say that nature is soothing and healing, and living in an environment where nature is subdivided and caged and fenced off is a strain. We take the way we live today for granted as if it were ever thus, but obviously it wasn’t. In fact, for most of our history, the land on which we’ve lived has been open and unowned. We don’t tend to think much about it, because it was a long time ago in relation to an individual lifespan, but hunter-gathering is still our most long-running way of life as a species. A profession older than prostitution. I’m not saying that iteration of society was perfect, but it’s what our species is adapted to. We haven’t had long enough in evolutionary terms to have adapted to living in close quarters and away from the land. So it stands to reason that the most sensitive of us will suffer, and the more we struggle, the more demand on our serotonin, until it’s depleted, which then leads to depression and anxiety, and a host of other problems.
The approach we are taking in our family, which is stuffed with sensitive, over-thinking types, is that it’s not if or when, we will have to take care of ourselves always, taking a multi-pronged approach to mental well being; understanding the psychology and physiology of anxiety (edit: here‘s a great resource for exactly this), cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, diet, supplements, exercise, recreation, spirituality, are all going to have to be part of our long-term plan.
I’ve suspected for a while that an emotionally sensitive person is likely to be sensitive system-wide, in other words, gut, skin and brain will be sensitive as well. It’s my experience and it seems logical. Something to think about, anyway. Me, I avoid grains, and have drastically reduced my sugar intake in the past couple of weeks. I had been on an SSRI, and it did hold the anxiety at bay, but I was always exhausted and lacking in any go-forward. I never associated those symptoms with the SSRI until I came off it and felt my motivation and energy return. I am now taking St John’s Wort, and I am about to start 5-HTP, which has great reviews. I’m also going to try a liquid form of magnesium. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.
And I tell myself, to put things in perspective so this latest experience doesn’t set up neural pathways of distress, that anxiety feels like shit, but it’s a feeling not a reality, and it’s temporary; when you’re in it, it feels like you always have been and always will be, but that’s an illusion.
And now I’m off to read our nightly installment of Lord of the Rings to my family. It’s cosy, the curtains are drawn and the lights are warm; the night is banished. The kids are still munching dinner, the youngest making those disgusting slurping and chewing noises bad mannered children with negligent parents make. I’ll tell her off (again), and then we’ll be off to Middle Earth.
Writing 101, Day Eighteen: Hone Your Point of View
Craft a story from the perspective of a twelve-year-old observing it all.
They’re sending Mrs Pauley away. The police is there, with Mr Johns, dressed in his suit and tie like it’s a wedding. He’s the landlord. He owns a lot of the houses on this road, like ours too. So I know him. I know what he’s like when rent is late. He’s there on the step next day, no waiting, frown on and hand out. It’s not like the people here wants to cheat him, but mostly they works at the factory, and sometimes there’s trouble, and it closed for a few days, and then there’s no pay. And then rent is late. Like Mrs Pauley’s.
But Mrs Pauley, I don’t think she gonna be able to pay rent ever again. Mr Pauley, he was the one who worked at the factory, and he’s dead. Died from a heart attack three months back, just collapsed there at his machine. He’s just lucky he never fell into it, that’s all. That would have been a worse way to go than he did. And a worse corpse for his wife to bury. When I grow, I want to get out of this town; I don’t want to work in that place. There’s too many accidents, and one way I don’t want to die is in a machine, or later on, all mangled and crying out for the end.
But anyway, Mr Pauley went an easier way. It’s his wife it’s gonna drag on for. I don’t know where they’re sending her, for sending her is what it is. She don’t want to leave. She been in that house across the way from us with her family all my life, and much, much longer. All her boys was born there in that house and I hardly remember the older ones. Steve, the youngest, he only left last year for the city. He got away; all her boys did. I think she made sure they did, though it made her cry when they left. She can’t go to Steve; he don’t have a place of his own yet, she says. She says Robert’s wife doesn’t want her with them, only because there’s no room or money with all their own little ones too. Nobody can blame them, neither does Mrs Pauley. I guess she’ll go to one of the others, but she hasn’t heard from any of them yet.
Mrs Pauley is crying now as she brings her brown suitcase out to the car (black like the hearse that took her husband) that’s waiting to send her away; the tears run silent down her face and drop in big drops onto her chest. Her face is puffy and pink in the wrong places; no more cheerful smiles like she used to have on, when her kitchen smelled like a bakery and she’d have a biscuit for good kids who done her some favour, back when Mr Pauley would come whistling back from factory. I think I’ll always remember those biscuits of hers, better than me own mum’s, though I’ll never say. After Mr Pauley died, she stopped smiling, but she had no time for tears then. Then she had to work real hard, baking and baking, and trying to sell to the markets where they sells to the people who got money for treats. I guess baking makes a person smile less when you got to do so much of it. That and worry over rent. And after all the baking and selling and worrying, it still weren’t enough to pay Mr Johns. I don’t know why he need the money so bad, seems like he got enough, with his new clothes and his big car, shinier than the police one. He look like he got enough to eat too, and more than enough.
But Mrs Pauley been crying probably a week straight, since Mr Johns said she gotta go. Our neighbours is standing on their stoops and in the street, watching. They don’t say nothing, even the little ones like my sister Ginny, leaning into my folded legs; we all know there’s nothing to say. The police is there, and Mrs Pauley hasn’t paid her rent. It ain’t fair, and we all knows it, but we got no voice in this world. Voices are for people like Mr Johns, who owns their own places, and other people’s too. So we just watch. And Mrs Pauley cries, but she don’t say nothing either.
I’ve lived here for many years, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how long any more – time isn’t the same once you’re dead. I don’t completely remember how I even came to be here, I just feel a connection with the place, so I stay. The family who live here, they don’t know I also do. Probably just as well, they’d think it was spooky to have a silent, unseen watcher amongst them. So it’s best they don’t know, although the boy caught a glimpse of me once; a mistake on my behalf. I hoped they would think he had imagined it, the way children do…they seemed to have forgotten that incident anyway.
I don’t want to worry them. It’s not as creepy as it may sound, hanging around them like this, it’s only that I’m lonely. I enjoy being around the living, being near the warmth of their everyday. I vaguely recall the emotions they seem to feel so sharply. I suppose you could say it makes me feel more alive, being near the force of them.
It’s winter now, and there’s a fire in the grate. The woman is sitting before it, looking into the flames. She has a name, but it never stays in my mind. Names….they don’t mean too much to me now either. I think they mean something when the lives of the people who carry them have a continuity to you. To me, though, the existence of individuals drifts in and out of my consciousness, much as they drift in and out of rooms.
The fire would be hot on her face, she is sitting so near. I can’t feel its heat, but I still watch the writhing flames. They appear more alive than me, but it’s an illusion born of movement only. How ironic. Now, though, they’re eating letters the woman is feeding them. This is curious. I remember letters. Usually they are kept if important, and discarded if not. To burn one is symbolic, the giving of a memory, or a promise, to the flame as if it were a funeral pyre. The woman opens a letter and reads it, while others burn. I am interested enough now to wonder what she is thinking. There was a man who lived here once also. I don’t remember when I last saw him, but he was with her when they first came here. There was emotion like a tumult in those days. It blew like a wind through the rooms of this house. Oh yes, I felt almost alive then. But not happy…
She crumples the last letter, the one she has read, and she puts it into the mouth of the fire without another pause, and we watch it burn.
Fear. There’s a topic for you. I know a bit about it myself. Most of us will at some point. Life is a dangerous undertaking, if you’ll excuse the pun in advance. You can tell by the fact that none of us get out alive. Ha.
People say there’s nothing to fear but fear itself, but I’ve always thought the fear of fear was a perfectly legitimate fear. Apparently other people think so too, because it has its own phobia – phobophobia.
There are all kinds of ‘legitimate’ fears – the fear of violence, the fear of bunjee jumping….the fear of clowns…..but sometimes a person can be anxious about some incredibly irregular shit too. Like catching buses, phoning strangers, and Dutch people. Ok I made that last one up. But I’ve had my fair share of being scared, both legitimately and illogically. It never stopped me. I rode long-haul buses, and my first job was cold-calling complete strangers for market research. It was the worst job ever. I must have lasted a month. Though I stopped short of bunjee jumping, I have done abseiling, and caving, and abseiling while in a cave. I once volunteered to help fundraise for a national well-child charity, which involved calling and asking for donations from organisations. I don’t think I did the charity any favours; I was epically crap at it. But I did it to push through the jolly jitters… It didn’t work. So much for exposure therapy.
I’m not scared any more. I think eventually my adrenal system just went, meh, whatever. Or maybe it’s because I got pissed off with being scared. Doesn’t matter, the net effect is, I’m no longer easily scared, and that’s a powerful position to be in – more so I think than if I’d never been afraid, because I know what fear is and can stare the bastard down.
This post by fellow blogger Michelle highlights how life and our expectations of it have changed in a lifetime – she says “I am humbled by the thought of oranges and apples treasured as precious.” Something like what I tell my kids at times. Imagine a different life…..
And she makes a good point – ” “Make do and mend,” a slogan from an almost forgotten era needs to be revived if we are going to become a more sustainable and inclusive society.” I feel like some of us are between two cycles of make do and mend – my parents are old enough to have a lot of that mentality still, and I feel their influence, and looking forward, can see our current way of living is not sustainable, so here we go again…