Living Differently - Heartpoint (for Catherine)

I'm still getting over my most recent energy crash. It takes a lot of self-discipline to care for myself this much. And I don't mean the physical side of taking enough rest or eating properly but the emotional component. That one I find pretty tough. For every step I take towards self-compassion a voice rears up in my head reminding me, with great authority, how indulgent I'm being to take it this easy and that I should be doing more.  It's an hourly battle not to be crushed by this inner dictatorial voice and I find myself losing the ability to see what I need with any clarity at all. To feel so in the wilderness with nothing but my own punishing thoughts for company can be a pretty lonely place and I begin to wonder if I'll ever find my way back home. Now I've written this down I can see it does sound rather melodramatic. It's also the truth.

Chronic illnesses have wavering symptoms, ranging from just about nearly OK to absolutely bloody awful and if the ghastly period is unrelenting the fear can hold you pretty tightly in its grip. The whole process of going through a crash, relapse, or flare is extremely traumatising. After the metaphorical storm has passed I find myself wincing at even the tiniest drop of rain. I know I'm not alone in this and that the unpredictable nature of long term sickness can be very anxiety producing. This is perhaps why so many of us turn to meditation, buddhism, a spiritual practice or a creative outlet to aid our navigation through these rough seas.

So, it will be no surprise to hear that recently I had given up on magic altogether, even in its most human form. That was until my friend Dina invited me over to her studio for a prolonged session of recuperative yoga. It's not the first time she's done this and I'm always grateful. The session lasted over two hours and Dina put me in a series of prolonged resting postures on mountains of bolsters and blocks, covering me with cosy blankets until I drifted in to that safe and hypnotic space between waking and sleeping. She is an expert at arranging the equipment and I often felt like I was floating in space, momentarily free of the burden of gravity.

One thing that struck me was Dina's attention to detail. Even my skinny wrists were supported by rolled up blankets. We often think of holding on as something we do with our hands but our wrists can also carry a great deal of tension, the support I had enabled me to let go at last, to take flight. I decided to find out what mysteries our often neglected wrists held and discovered the location of Heart Point 7  described as an acupressure point to quell anxiety. It also served as a reminder to me that when we are feeling our most fragile the seemingly smallest things make the greatest difference and hold the key to our emotional sanctuary. I've called this heartpoint to highlight that even in our most difficult times there are clues everywhere, tiny doorways to love and tenderness and it's in the silence and stillness that they are revealed to us.

NB: This post is dedicated to my friend Catherine who is in the middle of a storm right now.

Living Differently- Making A Mess For No Reason

I was all ready to write about transformation or some other lofty approach to the fact that I've been pretty much, but not exclusively, housebound for weeks and am entirely pissed off about it.  It won't last for ever, it can't. I'm getting so frustrated that I want to punch holes in the sky, uproot trees, fight all of nature, my hair a mess and me all snarly and unforgivable. All this time and so much living still to be done. I'm sick and tired of lessons, of patience, self-compassion and being kind and tender with myself. I'm bored of the hundred tiny gratitudes that I 'm called upon to feel every day. I want to get my teeth in to something, and hard. This cloying exhaustion and obedience to the needs of my body has me broken and vexed in equal measure. Well - that was until I started writing about it. I know I won't shoo the feelings away just by penning a couple of paragraphs but it's good to know that I still have some fight in me, even now. And it was a simple phrase that set me off in the right direction. Making a mess for no reason is what yoga teacher Frances Lewes advocates for those of us going through the perimenopause. She suggests that we create a personal sanctuary where you can put up a do not disturb sign. Not shared and not entered by anyone unless invited. Space to moan and groan and rest and maybe when the energy comes, to be creative and make a mess for no reason. 

It wasn't by design or choice but that's what I've been given here. A small space all my own to create a riot in. As a close friend suggested the other day when I told her how overcome I was with tiredness and the feelings that came with it, 'let it rage' she said. And although I'd rather be working up a dirty sweat, getting muddy whatever way I can, I'm here in my cave making bite marks in everything. Just know that when you come to find me I may not be smiling and pretty but the remaining debris will be something even Kali would envy.


Living Differently - My life, as it is

In my last post I wrote about what it's like to live with terror. By either some cruel coincidence or an uncanny sixth sense that fear has now been made manifest. After some disquieting and unexplained symptoms I have been fast tracked to see a specialist to ascertain whether I have bladder and/or kidney cancer. I had my first appointment this week and am awaiting more tests. I do not know how my body, already pretty torn apart from Lyme Disease, could survive cancer let alone surgery and chemotherapy. I am, as you can imagine pretty blown apart by the news. A friend, who was also diagnosed with cancer whilst pregnant summed it up perfectly. She said that I was like Schrödinger's cat in that I both have cancer and don't have cancer simultaneously, a perfect analogy. So here I am waiting for the medics to open the box to tell me what the next step is. I wonder if there is a peace to be found in this space of both living and dying at the same time. Although my current experience is particularly acute, this is true for all of us mortal beings - from budgerigars to ancient turtles, from the tick that bit me, sequoia trees and even the disco ball stars shimmering overhead - our time here is limited but we are still alive to it all even though we won't be here for eternity.

That's not all. I have been gripped by such overwhelming panic I can hardly speak, which is pretty unusual for a devoted chatterbox like myself. It feels like that the words themselves will betray me, the box will be opened too soon and confirm that I will die the ugly agonising death that I have always feared. And it certainly could be that way. It could also be that I find that there is another cause entirely and I will retreat back in to my Lyme Life momentarily relieved. One thing has struck me in all of this is that if isn't this current challenge that brings me to the cliff edge of myself something else will. I am a fearful person and until I can soothe that fear in myself there will always be something to drive me here,  clinging by my fingertips in an unforgiving storm.

A lot of people have been loving and supportive. Some of it has been eager but misplaced, encouraging me to be positive about this ordeal. Sincere and well meant as it is, it doesn't help. Any chance of stoicism has fled like a cat from fireworks and I am left feeling like I have let the side down for not being more measured and optimistic in my response. However my usual default of examining all my feelings and giving them expression until they disperse has not worked either.

So what has ? My neighbour gave me a Reiki and crystal healing treatment the other day and it helped enormously. I don't know why but some of the strangulation of impending doom lifted. And, it may be a shock for those who know me well to hear this, I began to to ask for help from a non earthly source. It was my neighbour who said she summoned angels to watch over me and I immediately thought of the film 'Wings of Desire' where angels, unnoticed, watch over everyone especially the hopeless and despairing.  I don't ask specifically to be made well all the time, although of course sometimes I do, instead I mostly ask for peace for myself and those close to me during my current trials. I don't know if it's just by putting my faith in something that I cannot see is what helps, or that there really are angels who are there to love and protect us all. I don't know if it matters really - the thought that my welfare may be of concern to the cosmos is enough to quell those terrible tides of pain and worry.

That this is a life, my life, as it is.

And that I am loved.

Fallen shadows

Living Differently - Naturally Stable, by guest blogger Jocake

Copyright Naomi Woddis 2013 I have been meaning to write a post for months now for the 'Living Differently' series, a project where I explore life with chronic illness. My head is a bit of a tangle and I'm very much in that part of the process where all that glorious chaos just has to be how it is for now. Since becoming ill I've met a number of pretty exceptional people. One of them is my dear friend Jocake. Jocake is funny, wise and has the rare ability of true kindness and understanding. Below is a note she posted on Facebook. I found it so moving and so necessary that I asked if I could repost it here on my blog.

"I was thinking yesterday about strength, and how it is seen in our society, and how we are trained to see it, and ourselves. We are, as we all know, shown images all day of what strength, achievement and beauty looks like: an unachievable for most, if not all, 'perfect life' where financial security, family, house, career and looks are all in place and providing us with happiness. Having just turned 40 myself i have recently experienced a deluge of emotional and mental tyrants in my head, telling me what about me isn't beautiful, isn't strong, hasn't achieved, just because I'm 40 and in the life circumstances i am in. It lead me to think about how illness is portrayed in modern culture, and how the people with illness are seen, and my actual experience in meeting these people and being close to them.

It's clear to me that people with illnesses are seen as weak, or glorified as fighters. Much as I have huge respect for those who are disabled and in the Olympics, advertising still encourages that model of strength where you have to over come something and achieve something great to be seen as strong, strength is not seen in being physically or emotionally vulnerable.

Now amongst my close friends I know at least 8 people or more who have been dealing with a long-term boring annoying debilitating illness, and of course i too have been ill for 17 years. It fluctuates, irritates, bores, exasperates and debilitates us. But what I have not seen, in any of these people, is weakness.

In my experience, being ill for 17 years is fascinating. There is a quality I see in myself, and in others in this position, that is tangible. I think people with illnesses like M.E can be seen as draining, victims, sad,'brought it upon themselves, weak. But when I'm with these people I see a whole different story. They are all funny, good company, incredibly compassionate, bright, have a huge care for the world at large, creative, insightful, bloody good fun, positive, and they have this quality that I can't put my finger on. I think what it is a connection with the true strength in all human beings that they have had to find due to their circumstances.

When you are stripped for years from the very things you are told will provide you with happiness where do you turn? When you can't have children, work to create financial stability, use your strengths gifts and talents and build a career, then where do you go to feel ok? This is what I see in all the people I know who are dealing with long-term health issues, a humility, a deep strength that is bendable and allows for all states, what shines through them is this: the essence of life itself.

This essence of life is what i see shining through all humans. It's in every one of us, life. Life is naturally stable, beautiful, and has already achieved life therefore is stable and happy as it is. This is what we are all made of, but we are not encouraged to look to it and seek its natural validity. Illness pushes you to this, and this is what i see shining through all my friends who are faced with everything you cant avoid.

It is a redefining of strength for me. Strength, beauty, achievement is in the gentle strong shining of life through each human being. You cannot avoid your strength, your beauty, your natural ability, your gifts strengths and talents, your stability. It is you, as you, always."