Friday, 13 April 2018

Let this be a lesson to me


I'm writing this with my fingers crossed but here's a thing...

My ongoing struggle with what has become chronic migraine is something I've whined about quite a lot but hello...43 of them (plus the after effects and medication side effects) this year, so I don't care. I was at a point of being properly depressed and feeling hopeless. I couldn't plan anything, couldn't commit to anything, couldn't do much. I felt I was letting everyone down all the time, most of all my daughter who is very understanding but also 12 and a bit fed up with me being monosyllabic, depressed, and in a dark room. I booked yet another appointment with my doctor and prepared to sit in her office, with my migraine diary, until she gave me a referral to the specialist clinic at the local hospital (they are not keen on doing this and my request would have been my third attempt).

My migraines tend to be something I wake up with - they come on in the early hours - but lately they'd been starting at random times, quite often in the evening. "Oh", I thought. "More menopausal change." Then almost three weeks ago I sat down in the living room to watch a documentary with Evie in the morning, for 'school'. I had been fine but within 30 minutes I had a full blown migraine. 

Huh.

Where am I most evenings? The living room. What was happening most evenings? Migraine. What was in the living room that could trigger migraine?

We live among fields in a wet climate. We have three dogs and all six of us like to be outdoors at least part of the day. So we do a lot of laundry. We only use our drier for emergencies (it saw a lot of school uniform back in the day) and so we have clothes drying around this tiny house almost every day (and it drives. me. crazy. But anyway...) Our water here is insanely hard - line-dried clothes will be crunchy - so we use fabric conditioner.

I? Am a skinflint. While Charlie will buy something as expensive as he can, because quality (he thinks, I don't), I will go for a bargain and I'm very fussy about smell. While he buys some ridiculous "Oriental Jasmine and Lily of the Valley" style Comfort for a million pounds, I prefer a massive bottle of Asda's Fresh Cotton for 2.99. Not so smelly and dude, it lasts way longer. That's what we'd been using on and off, most days, since forever.

Oh. Oooohhhhhhh.

We immediately stopped using it (and any other conditioner). In those 18 or so days I have had to use my medication three times and two of those were,"I think maybe...perhaps...feels a bit off...sod it I'm taking it". I am a migraineur after all. I get them. But what if I only have to get them three or four times a month? 

WTaF? I used to think I was quite bright but now...meh. I won't get in a car that has any kind of air freshener in it but I'll fill my tiny home with cheap fabric conditioner? I'm all "Essential oils and plant medicine" but I do this? And put it down to my poor, tired, much maligned hormones? Crazy. It is accepted that sensitivities - should you have them - tend to be heightened at menopause, I guess because your body is already coping with so much. I've always been aware that chemical scent could trigger migraine but it had never happened at home before. Now I'm even more aware; at home, in shops, in other people's homes, and waiting rooms. At least one of the occasions I've had to take medication recently was triggered in a shop that was very smelly. BUT OH MY GOD WHAT A RELIEF. I'm doing a little dance every day that I'm clear. It's a Springtime miracle! Suddenly I have a life again, which means the rest of my family does too.

This has been a Public Service Announcement. Go easy with your laundry, folks. 





Thursday, 29 March 2018

A crack of golden light


We had another snow day. If anything, more glorious than the first, although it literally lasted 24 hours and was gone. I spent several hours in it - just Dooley and me - and we decided, the two of us, that perhaps in another life we lived much further north because the snowy landscape made us both skip like puppies. I've just remembered as I type this that, during my attempts to journey to an upper world to meet my teacher/guide I always found myself in a night-time snowscape, walking from trees to a log cabin barely visible under the whiteness of it all. Clearly, this is 'a thing' for me.

Anyway, that was two weeks ago and we're nearly back at the full moon. The dawn goddess Ēostre was celebrated at the vernal equinox, bringing the light, and here we are at the Easter holidays. The clocks have moved forwards into BST and it's light until 7.30pmish. The blossom is about to burst on the fruit trees in my garden and, despite the rain, I can sense a tiny crack of golden light deep in the murkiness where I've been living for a few months.

I've done some good thinking down there. Most of which is purely for my own consumption and will never make it out into the world. But there is one thing I thought I'd write about. Not because I'm fascinating or anything, but rather because I think it might resonate with someone else who struggles with the same thing, even if it dresses a little differently.

One of the more lasting versions of "How do I identify myself" that have gained popularity in recent years has been the extrovert/introvert thing. There have been blogs and books and TEDtalks and Pinterest boards and data-gathering Facebook quizzes about it. We introverts seem especially fond of it because it gives us something we can point at when we can't find words. It excuses us from all sorts of things and keeps those pesky extroverts (who must surely be sick of being the Bad Guys by now) at bay. I know that for me, it has explained a lot about my life and my family history.

Like my father, I'm an introvert's introvert. I score at 98% introvert in my INFJness but even I am not anti-social. That misconception does not die and it's annoying. I like people. I enjoy people. I simply have very, very low capacity for them so I can't party all night. I can maybe party until 9pm, twice a year. If I absolutely have to. It's not the people I don't like, it's the feeling of being the party-pooper who needs to be carried home in a bucket. It's horrible.

Energy for being 'out' - physically, verbally or emotionally - is in such short supply that it gets used up quickly. An average day of interacting with my partner and my daughter, maybe a phone call from my extrovert mother, a neighbour having a chat, taking my daughter to a home-ed activity where the mothers are expected to sit and chat and arrange more sitting and chatting...by the time that's done, at about 4 in the afternoon, I can barely function. I wish it were different but it's not. I'm not.

I know some true introverts who do have quite a large capacity for outness. As long as they get their alone time, they're good for pretty much "normal life". Not me. At least not at this stage.

Alongside this is the HSP thing. The term Highly Sensitive Person was coined by Elaine Aron, more than 20 years ago. Because I'm grumpy and judgemental on Tuesdays and the occasional Friday, I always thought it was a bit over-indulgent (that tends to be my go-to insult when I'm being less than my best self). When I tested high on the scale, again and again, I just rolled my eyes and refused to see it. I'm no more sensitive than your average double decker bus. Not when it comes to the traditional five senses. Except maybe sound. And temperature. And bad smells. But my pain threshold is at the "chop off all my limbs with a rusty knife and I'll just calmly stare you in the eyes" level so I can't be an HSP, right? I am, I have been told on several occasions,"Tough as an old boot" and damn proud of it.

But...

In my dark, wintry quietness I've come to recognise that I am, however much I may dislike it, highly sensitive to energy. On some days it's like wearing your skin inside out. My own energy, other people's, places, other beings. Being sensitive to even the positive energy tires me and because I've been so determined to defend my bootness, I've failed spectacularly to build myself any protection or find ways to function well. Boundaries have not been part of my life except as an emergency, fire-fighting construction. I have regularly tried to push myself to do more than I'm capable of doing out in the world. Because I'm determined not to be an HSP, and introverts are not as socially acceptable as extroverts so we should all try to be more like them or we will shrivel and die.

None of the above is what I actually believe, deep inside, but I was dancing to the old tunes. Even when I thought I was smart and compassionate enough not to. It took grinding to a halt to make me see. #highpainthreshold

My last attempt to just pull myself together and get out there in the world or fail miserably at life, again, was to tell myself I could take something that made me happy and sell it as a lifestyle and business. Yep, oils. I love the oils; I like the company and its outreach into community projects; I have zero problem with network marketing when it's done well; I love some of the people who are doing it successfully and ethically. So why not me? I'd just need to get over myself and get "out there". I'm busy home educating now but before long I'm going to need an income. I'm in my 50s, out of the work force, and getting "a job" doesn't seem likely or very desirable to be honest, so here was a chance. And I see plenty of very successful introverted HSPs out there being, as they say, "Boss".

Couldn't do it.

Trying to make myself stand up straight and reach out to people felt like trying to bend my knees the wrong way. I did tapping, I did guided meditations, I journaled, because clearly I was experiencing "fear" and I needed to push through it if I was ever going to succeed at anything ever again. Most of all I felt like a massive failure. I started losing sleep trying to force myself to feel "brave".

It wasn't until I ground to that halt that something inside said,"What if, the reason you are unable to do this is because you're not meant to? Or if you won't buy that, what if it simply doesn't matter?". Giving this possibility some light let it grow until it became "What the world needs from you is to be who you are. You are not faulty or broken. You are supposed to be like this. Now be it."

There are bad days when I congratulate myself on finding yet another excuse. Yet another way to cave into fear and run away. But having been given an opening, this new mindset is growing and it feels good. It feels like it's me and it feels like something worth protecting.

Yesterday marked my 40th day this year that required migraine medication. Yep. It turns out that far from being a Tough Old Boot I'm quite the delicate flower. Makes me sneer at myself just to say that so I clearly have some work to do on the old self-acceptance, but I'm getting there.

I have noticed, because I'm keeping a migraine diary, that the days when I do something creative are the days when I'm okay. Chicken or egg? I'm not sure yet but I do know that Actual Scientists say that doing something creative lowers cortisol levels, and cortisol is a major issue in perimenopause and hormonal migraine. I need only go out and take a ton of photos, write a rambley blog post (ahem), or sit with a sketch pad and doodle, to somehow feel better. Is it cortisol dropping or is it the outlet of energy that is too bottled up? Both?

So as part of my own therapy I'm going to do The 100 Day Project and see how I get on. That's a post on its own, so more later. It starts April 3rd. I'll be doing it as a very introverted, 4w5 (I think I'm a Level 6 who aspires to Level 3, and by the way how spookily accurate is the enneagram?), HSP and trying not to beat myself up.

May Ēostre bring you golden light. Be who you are. Be who you're made to be. Breathe.

x







Friday, 9 March 2018

Rhythm



Winter became a slide into not-doing. I had a brief flurry of turning outwards with enthusiasm, just after Christmas, when the jolly and the new yearness of it all sparked something out of rhythm, but mostly I have not been doing.

I have not been taking flower essences. I have rarely been using essential oils. I have not done Reiki. I have not meditated. I have not sat in my sit spot. I have exercised but not as much as I could have done for real benefit. I have not eaten well. I have not kept a journal. I have not taken vitamins. I have not used the SAD lamp. I lost interest in social media, despite attempts to downsize and re-entrance myself. I have not walked. I have not painted. I have not sewn. I have not gardened. I have not really read. Slowly but surely, every single bit of self-care dropped away.

It was replaced mostly by a virulent form of self-criticism. How rubbish am I?

I ground. To. A halt.

Last week we had The Snow Day. For us it was no inconvenience, just an excellent reason for not going anywhere. For not doing. I took my mother to do some pre-snow shopping. I did my father's version of same for him. Bought logs for us and went home to the next day's snow and the quiet. At dusk on The Snow Day I went out into the lane - which wasn't being a lane, it was just white and joined up with the fields - and watched the crows coming into roost in the copse. Rooks and Jackdaws. Their noise was the only noise. No distant hum of the main road a couple of miles away. No nothing but crows. And then silence. It was a full moon and the light off the snow was magical. It reminded me of another magical place - with weeks of snow days - I lived in for a while back in the 80s. The beauty here, and remembered there, brought me to tears.

There is something about water, especially weather-y water, that speaks with me. I get it in mist and fog, downpours of rain, and snow. Maybe it's because the conditions stop 'life' and all the other input, allowing me to hear what's going on; I don't know. But I hear things in mist and snow. I know things.

The next day the snow went, and with it the knowing. But I keep thinking about it. Keep reaching for the message.

Last night I was out in the garden, thinking about how the non-evergreen plants and trees would be waking up soon after their sleep. Their hibernation, and months of not-doing. Oh. Wait...

So I've decided to stop with the criticism and instead recognise that I am simply in rhythm. I withdrew and withdrew. My sap dropped. I had no leaves nourishing me or flowers creating new life, but I certainly did go deep into my roots and spend time taking stock; assessing my self as it is now after all this change. I have felt utterly weak and drained, and then slowly felt life returning. Not much yet, but it's there. It's stirring.

Just as it should.