On self-compassion and the elusive ‘fix’

We acknowledge that this is a moment of suffering

I’m so tired, fatigue seeping deep into my bones. In the empty moment between sleep and another day, I hold my breath. Silently wondering how.

We know that we are not alone; all human beings are imperfect, suffering is a part of life

In my mind’s eye, I see a barren path. Dust swirls, cloaking us as we press on towards the horizon.

May we offer ourselves comfort and kindness in this moment

I press the soles of my feet to the floor, breathing in. I let the breath go, hand to heart. In the empty cavity of my chest, sadness sits quietly by.

stabilizers

The whole point of stabilisers is to support the child as they’re learning to pedal their bike. When the stabilisers are eventually removed, the child will not be able to balance independently because they have become used to their support. Stabiliser graduates still have to learn the primary skill – balancing – with a sudden transition from being supported to unsupported, which can result in wobbles, crashes and loss of confidence

https://www.littlebigbikes.com/why-not-use-stabilisers

Seven years ago I was prescribed a mood stabilizer for the first time to manage a major relapse of depression. I have a Bipolar II diagnosis which is the somewhat miserable younger cousin of Bipolar I with its more characteristic extreme highs (mania) and subsequent periods of depression. We Bipolar II’s may only have had one major mania in our lifetimes, but we get a lot of depression and sometimes periods of ‘hypomania’. For me these periods tend to feel like a rather enjoyable stretch of creativity, boundless energy and feelings of synchronicity with the universe.

Seven years have passed, and the relief of being ‘well’ and a fear of falling over has kept me stuck on the same confusing combination of medication I was prescribed in hospital. I take an antidepressant (lifts mood), an antipsychotic (sedates and dulls) and a mood stabilizer (reduces fluctuations and can prevent relapse).

In the meantime I’ve been seeking out the balance that comes from deeper listening within. Immersing in wild water; making space for stillness; shedding unrealistic expectations of myself; building my community; weaving and sketching; writing; resting when my mind and body are tired.

Entering my mid-40’s I am being challenged by tighter corners, hormones throwing me off-balance. I’ve been pondering on the analogy of children’s bike stabilisers these past few weeks. I feel as if I’m leaning in the wrong direction, one wheel scraping on the ground as I grasp for stability.

Wobbles, crashes, loss of confidence. I’ve booked to see a psychiatrist privately who treated me after Little One was born. A doctor who saw me at my most desperate, my most unwell – convinced I had already taken my own life and was living in purgatory in an eternal psychiatric ward. Bound by God or some other deity of Judgement to witness the terrible effects of my illness on my family. It was a living hell, which neither I or my loved ones will ever forget.

And yet, I think I might want the psychiatrist to help me take the bike stabilisers off. The antidepressant that I’m relying on even though I haven’t had a clinical depression in six years; the antipsychotic when I haven’t had a delusion in ten. Would a mood stabilizer on its own be enough now that I have been practising on my ‘balance bike’, leaning my body and mind into their own intuitive rhythms?

Children who learn to ride a bike with stabilisers have to re-learn to trust, to respond to changes in direction and terrain intuitively when it’s time to ride independently. Perhaps it’s time for me too.

Flux

flux – noun

1. continuous movement and change

2. a flow; an act of flowing

I always thought there would be a point of recovery where I would reach the destination – be well for good, whatever ‘well’ really means.

Life had other ideas for me. I think for all of us, life is a state of flux – of adaptation, change, movement. Lately though, for me, the fluctuations of energy, mood, hopefulness, motivation have had me rattled. Perimenopause and bipolar disorder are proving to be a tricky combination.

And yet, I’m learning something about flow, the act of flowing. Can I sink into the river of my inner world and let myself be carried? To understand that the narrow channels where the current picks up pace are not to be feared? To have patience with the meanders and deepen my rest in the eddies.

I have often wanted to be like a tree by the riverbank. Solid, deeply rooted. Unmoveable. But I am the river. Moving, eroding, flowing ever onwards.

Census

I am a flower quickly fading; here today and gone tomorrow

A wave tossed in the ocean; a vapour in the wind

Casting Crowns “Who am I?”

If you’ve read me for a while, you may know that I often write about the deconstruction of my faith during the season of Easter. 2021 marks the first UK census where I have ticked the box “no religion”.

These short few days of Easter are so interwoven into the fabric of my world that I think there will always be unpicking, sorting through the threads, finding the colours that make some sense now.

The Casting Crowns lyrics are from a cast-iron evangelical song about sin, redemption and belonging. Yet for me now, the quoted lines (referencing the Psalms and Isaiah) speak of beauty, fragility, impermanence and an Earth that holds knowing far beyond our short lives.

There are more questions than answers to “Who am I?” nowadays. I like it that way. Maybe there is no “I” but more “We” human beings, creatures, plants, stars, planets, atoms… resonating with life, be it short or infinite.

May we turn to each other and acknowledge the infinite, the Love, the suffering and the solace. In being human.

epiphany

something med school did not cover
someone’s daughter, someone’s mother
holds your hand through plastic now
“Doc, I think she’s crashing out”
and some things you just can’t speak about

only twenty minutes to sleep
but you dream of some epiphany
just one single glimpse of relief
to make some sense of what you’ve seen

with you I serve, with you I fall down, down
watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out, out
with you I serve, with you I fall down, down

watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out (Out), out (Out)

Lyrics – Taylor Swift, Folklore 2020

I watched the 10 o’clock news tonight. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 frontline NHS workers will suffer from anxiety, depression or PTSD as COVID-19 continues to take its toll. A tidal wave of distress is preparing to hit mental health services, chronically underfunded and unable to meet even the current needs of our society.

And I’ve left.

I’ve left my job, struggling to catch my own breath. When I told little one “mummy’s not going be to be working in the NHS for a bit” – a smile of relief on her face – “Oh, so you can look after me mummy!”

Yes, baby girl. So I can breathe in, breathe out. So I can be the mother you and your big sister need me to be. So I can grieve. So I can fall down.

Forward fold on my yoga mat. I feel every vertebra of my lower spine crackle. The slow release of clenched trauma, impossible hope, tight despair.

I’m so sorry dearest frontline-weary souls. May I return to you a more spacious soul. Keep breathing in, breathing out. You deserve better. May we serve you, serve with you.

Swims that saved me #2

Salcombe Mouth

It’s my last day of being 44 today. I’m in a reflective mood – musing on the turmoil and exhaustion of 2020; the moments of joy and connection.

This swim sums up all that the water has given me this year.

May 2020

The lockdown rules have just been lifted to allow travelling a ‘reasonable distance’ for exercise. After weeks of dunking in shallow muddy streams and a strange smelling gissage in my home town, the longing for the sea is visceral. I’m exhausted from the relentless days of working at the kitchen table and home-schooling.

We walk across empty fields, feeling the buzz of late-spring in the tall grasses.

Descending steep wooden steps to the beach, the sea is glistening – cobalt blue and perfect white horse waves at the shoreline.

The beach is deserted, I throw off my clothes and run into the welcoming arms. I’m almost in tears with gratitude, letting the waves break over my body as I say “hello, hello, beautiful sea”

I want to be enveloped, immersed in the sea with its millennia of knowing. Endless years of gnawing away at the cliffs to reveal their secrets. So many pandemics have come and gone as the sea continues its tides, breathing in… breathing out…

I peel off my swimming costume and stand naked, arms aloft to welcome the sun, the salt, the cold.

I swim, peace descends. It’s just me and the waters that cover the earth.

Swims that saved me #1

Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start.

April 2017

I arrived at Jacob’s Ladder beach in Sidmouth a jangle of anticipation and nerves. I was looking for a lady called Lesley who I would try to recognise from a blurry Facebook photo of her in a bellydancing costume.

I’d been following TEDS (Team East Devon Swimmers) on social media for a good few months, summoning up the courage to join a sea swim. I was nervous of strong, lithe triathletes who could swim front crawl and would probably zoom off around the headland leaving me bobbing about like an abandoned cork.

But today was the day. I’d arranged to meet for one of the regular 6.30 pm swims and dip my toes in the (freezing) water, so to speak.

I noticed the peaceful, rounded silhouette of a woman looking out to sea, sitting on a wall by the railings. There was nobody else on the beach, and the water had a curious stripe of silty brown sienna and miles of cobalt blue that I now know tends to follow rain or high winds at Sidmouth.

Today the sea was still. Lesley welcomed we warmly, and led me through a few tips for entering the water. April is pretty cold in the sea, probably around 11-12 degrees Celsius as it’s had all winter to drop in temperature.

Cossie on under my clothes, I quickly stripped off and I put on neoprene beach shoes to stave off the “ouchy” pebbles so common to East Devon beaches.

And then we were in the sea, up to our thighs almost immediately down a steep shelf.

Nowadays I much prefer Sidmouth like this, at high tide, as it gives you no choice but to commit. I’ve waded out for ages in wild, bitter easterly winds in January and it takes courage to believe the water will feel better.

Once in to waist height, Lesley taught me to gently dip my hands in the water – “it helps to remind your body what’s about to happen”. Then a deep slow breath out to immerse body and shoulders into the water.

A whoop of exhilaration, then an unexpected surge of warmth in my body as I settled into the silky water.

Head up, breastroke, bobbing about, looking up at the red Jurassic cliffs. All encouraged, and tea & cake for afters.

I was hooked. I’ll be forever grateful to Lesley and the beautiful sea that day, for introducing me to a world of connection and adventure.

On earth as it is in heaven

I honestly don’t know how to begin to write about what my world, our world… the world feels like during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Russell Brand told me (not a voice in my head, through Luminary) that people are Googling how to pray in droves.

Perhaps that’s a place to start. Long gone are my days of hallowing a name. But in a glass-clear sea something like prayer welled up in my chest and as I dried my body, tears spilled on the still sun-warmed stones.

So a prayer

Mamma Earth, guide me in the ancient ways. May the seasons of my life unfold, may I listen. To be attuned to the time for sowing or harvest; when to rest my spent and weary soil in furlough. May I gather my little ones to shelter, be it dry stone wall or rustling dune-grass.

Papa Ocean, hold me in your depths of knowing. May I find the wisdom of salt-tears; the peace of a seabird on the wing. May I be a sturdy boat, steering my little ones to shore through storm or fair wind.

Mamma Earth, Papa Ocean; you have trod these paths a thousand, thousand times before us. Guide us and teach us the way.