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Category: Help! Coping With Hard Stuff

Crisis mode. Panic. Anxiety attack. Sad to say that I’m intimately familiar with these things – so here are some of my strategies to deal with it.

Let’s talk about grief

Let’s talk about grief

My very bad joke of the last two weeks has been that, gosh, if I’d known that grief would cure my sleeping problem, I would have tried it ages ago! (Or not.) For weeks, I’d set my alarm, wake up when it went off, put it on snooze, then fall soundly asleep for another hour or two. I just need so much more rest than I’d been giving myself. Now when my alarm goes off, I stare at the ceiling while my body numbs itself again to the pain and grief of the last two weeks.

And now I sit at home with time to focus on school work for the first time in a week, and I feel too numb to focus.

On Monday, Nov. 7, I was keeping my friend supported and taken care of while she pulled through a mental crisis. The possibility of a Trump presidency was starting to feel like it could actually happen, but I couldn’t let myself focus on it, lest I break down in fear.

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, I put on my “I Voted” sticker and told myself that love for all will win this day. People in the United States can’t possibly have that much hatred for their fellow humans. Love and unity would win that day.

Later in the day, I got my last phone call telling me that my grandfather was in his final days. I’d thought I’d heard this before, I’d thought he would keep going as he has been for months. I steeled myself, but I hadn’t really expected him to die yet.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, I woke up in a world I hadn’t thought possible. Anger and hatred had won. We weren’t going backward as a society, we were going backward as humans who care for each other. I somehow made it through school. I texted almost all of my close friends. I told them we would hold each other close. I got ready for having a planning meeting on Friday evening to talk about where we would go from here. I told everyone I could that I am there for them, too.

On Friday, Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day, I woke up and laid in bed for an hour, staring at the ceiling. My phone rang. My mother had had a medical procedure the day before and was still recovering, so my dad gave me the news: my grandfather had passed overnight. Did I still want to go with them to the funeral in the state where my mother’s family lives? Yes, I did. We texted flight plans while I emailed everyone I knew I needed to to say that I was going out of town for the funeral. Professors were supportive. Friends brought me food, hugs, chocolate. One friend I made a key for to take care of my cat while I was gone. Another made sure I got to the airport safely and that my car was fine for the week I’d be away.

I’d had a Sierra Club meeting scheduled on Friday, and there plenty of staff had red eyes from crying. We fumbled through our meeting, changing everything about what we’ll do next. That night I had a planning meeting with friends about how we will hold each other. On Saturday, Nov. 12, I emailed one of the few classmates who I like, a Muslim woman, to tell her that I’m here for her during school. She responded that there have already been incidents of hateful words said in school.

I don’t know how to keep it together.

On Sunday, Nov. 13, I met my parents at an airport and commenced a week of stress, secrets, and lies. We met with an attorney four times to get the ball rolling on closing my grandfather’s estate. I sat with my mom each time, to help her navigate the confusing words that attorneys say. We spent six hours at the viewing of my grandfather. We went to the funeral, and we watched them lower his coffin into the grave next to my grandmother. We dealt with realtors, we never figured out how to navigate disputes over who gets his deer head mounted on the wall. The air outside was fresher than indoors, so I breathed better outside than inside for the first time in years. We learned of a long-kept secret while one of my aunts decided to keep secret from her husband the truth of something that happened that week because he couldn’t handle his own emotions.

It was a long, hard week, and I ignored the results of the election the entire time.

I’m not sure even now how I’m supposed to feel about all of this. I am not sure I can feel for a while yet. I think I need to get through the next two weeks of school. I hope I can hold it together until then. I know I can hold my friends as much as possible while I get through this. I know that my communities care for me no matter what. I know that this will get me through.

We will get through together. That’s a promise.

Radical self-care: Put your damn oxygen mask on

Radical self-care: Put your damn oxygen mask on

It’s been a rough week and a half for us Stateside, so I want to implore you all to make sure you’re taking care of yourselves while fighting injustice. Do you need to keep off the news as soon as you wake up to get yourself grounded and feeling more ready to take on the world? Do it. Do you need to take a break one evening and watch a silly movie with a friend? Do it. Do you need to go to an animal shelter to pet cats and dogs and let go of some stress? Do it. Do the things that fill you with strength.

It’s a radical act to care for ourselves and our whole well-being, but it’s worth it. It’ll keep us strong enough for the long haul, and that’s what this will be. Stop and assess yourself now, and continue fighting and watching news only if you know you have the strength for it.

Two Tarot cards next to one another: XIX The Sun and 5 of Pentacles from the Fey Tarot.
Basking in the things that give you strength now will keep you able to continue fighting injustice.

If you need healing, consider getting healing tea blends from Asali Earthwork. Or a supportive Tarot reading from Siobhan’s Mirror. Maybe smoking herbs and crystals are more your style. For a Tarot reading that connects with your ancestors, High Moon Femme Tarot will be your conduit.

We’re in it for the long haul. Let’s make sure we take care of ourselves so that we have the strength to keep fighting.

Self Care Is Not An Option

Self Care Is Not An Option

My therapist likes to tell me that I have a “tricky body”. I hope that encompasses tricky brain chemistry, too. December is never a good month for me. It’s usually when I get a cold which mutates into no asthma control and bronchitis, so I’m huffing, puffing, and wheezing come January 1st and everyone expects that I should have worked more, because don’t we have a rush this season? Are you not carrying your weight, SJ?

Why hello there, brain demons, I don’t remember inviting you in. But that’s also what happens when there’s not enough light, so I’m fighting both my mind telling me I’m not good enough, and my body screaming and pleading for rest.

It’s not a good month.

While other people are spending time with their families to make up for the lack of light, I haven’t seen my blood-family for December holidays in six years. I feel more and more alone as I’m asked to work more and more hours, living in a culture that places more value on whether I’ve made money than whether I’m feeling well.

This year, I’m starting off the month with well-controlled asthma, but sometimes it seems like the smallest thing will nudge it into being bad again. I have to be extremely careful. I succumb to viruses pretty quickly as well, and it frustrates me when in the beginning of the virus I rest a lot, it still turns into a full-blown snot fest and I’ve already used up my excuses. That’s why I’m fighting having to rest right now, when there’s a tickle in my throat, because I’m afraid I’m wasting time I could be spending on the things that are important to me, and later I’ll barely have the strength to get out of bed.

I have a tricky body, and this time of year is tricky to begin with. I know that when I stop writing, I need to reexamine what’s going on with me. I’ve stopped writing for about a week and buried myself in stressful things. How do you hit “pause” on the stressful parts of life to give yourself energy for the things that bring you joy? So far all I’ve been able to do is barely cope. The stressful things are pretty time-sensitive, so I get them done and then try to take care of myself with some knitting and cat snuggling. Reading blogs? Writing my own posts? Ha! Just try to survive right now, SJ. Keep your head above water.

It’s frustrating, living in a culture that talks about valuing family and home at this time of year, but keeps us on our toes and too worn out with end-of-year work and deadlines to really appreciate what we have.

Just another reason to work toward opting out.

This time of year, and every time of year, if I want to keep functioning, self care is not an option.

This is what disability looks like

This is what disability looks like

On Sunday, I woke up with a catch in my throat. “But that’s no problem,” I thought. “I’ll just take some extra albuterol [inhaler] this morning and I’ll be fine.” I did that. Felt better. Then decided that I was sick of the garbage accumulating in the kitchen. Rather than thinking, “It’s kind of cold out, that’s an asthma trigger, and I am already weak this morning, so maybe instead of multiple trips carrying things up and down stairs, I’ll ask a housemate to take care of it later,” I went ahead and took out all the recycling and compost.

As I finished my last round, panting, a housemate came home and found me noticeably shaking and breathing heavily. Sitting and trying to catch my breath back.

Two hours later, I went in to work my part-time job. Finding I was stationed somewhere with a lot of standing and talking to people, I went to find a supervisor to move somewhere less active. The supervisors took a look at me and told me it would be fine for me to just go home, and are you sure you don’t want the EMT to make sure you’re okay? Let’s find someone to walk you to your car to make sure you don’t collapse on the way there.

On Monday I got a second letter about a doctor’s appointment my insurance failed to cover. Last week I got my monthly premium bill saying I didn’t owe anything, so I assumed it had taken into account that I am not working and would be covered for insurance. Now I am going to have to spend a lot of time on a phone tree trying to understand what happened. Phones make me anxious at the best of times, and this certainly is not that.

Looking out of a rain-splattered window to a tree and garage
The dull, dreary view out of my kitchen window this week

SAD is rearing its ugly head, with the time change and the ugly drab grey days filled with rain. Time to take extra vitamin D and use a sun lamp after waking up. Try to conserve energy as best as I can.

Even just a few months ago, I called this “dealing with health issues”. Or “I have invisible illnesses”. But if I have days where I go in to work and have someone look at me and tell me it’s okay to go back home, then I am more than justified in taking back the word disabled. Disabled in our minds looks like using a walker, or wheelchair, or blind, or something we can see when we look at them. It doesn’t look like days that are fine and then days that suddenly I just can’t breathe. It doesn’t look like a pretty, vibrant young adult (woman) with strong energy and a sharp mind. It doesn’t look like me.

A black cat snuggled into the bed covers
This one wants all the love in this weather.

But these are the realities I deal with. I don’t know what it’s like to wake up with a healthy body. That’s never been a part of my reality. And as I’m getting older, my disabilities are wearing down my body. I’m in my 20s. No one expects someone my age to not be able to trust their body and mind. I’ve internalised this mind set so thoroughly that I have barely let myself be comfortable with disabled, and that means I haven’t let my body be what it is.

It’s time for me to take back disabled. To forgive myself for spending most of my day taking care of my body and mind. To not expect myself to do too much, and to understand that things like navigating phones are going to take a lot of energy, and it’s okay to treat myself gently. It’s okay to not be perfect. That’s a hard thing to get used to. After all, we have a social narrative that demands we fit in to how our lives are supposed to look like. Disrupting that is a challenge.

I hope to live up to that challenge.

When each step is a hurdle

When each step is a hurdle

I can tell winter is looming from my desire to never empty my pot of tea. I have candles burning in the room I’m working in almost daily, and my cat requires serious pushing to get her to stop snuggling up against my wrists. It’s been grey out. Getting myself out of bed to face another day has been a challenge I’m not sure I’ve overcome. I have so many things I want to be on top of, but really all I’ve been able to wrap my brain around is my knitting.

Happily, it’s been so long since I last was able to knit regularly that this is a wonderful source of delight. But it doesn’t keep me on track with my few real-world commitments. I spent seven hours last week trying to figure out the design for this site, and then got frustrated, or scared, or some feeling that’s stopping me from setting it all up again and trying again. I need to try again, because I have some better ideas of how to go about coding the things, but it’s so hard to just start. I’m afraid I’m putting something else out. I have a lot of emails I need to catch up on, because I have had such a hard time working on that lately. I have some kitchen reorganization that would be helpful to have. And I have the demons in my head telling me that what I’m doing right now is not good enough, and will never be good enough, and that’s not fair to me, either.

So I’m taking baby steps to getting back in the game. I should have gotten up and grabbed some paper to write down the List of things I should take care of, but I started a list in my head. Today so far I’ve figured out how to get to the Overcoming Racism conference I’m going to on Friday and Saturday. I’ve done some reading and responding for a workshop I’m attending next week. I’ve started boiling some tins to sanitize them. I’ll use the tins once they’re dry to store tea and to make some lotions (though those things don’t have to happen today, although getting started would be great). I’ve snuggled my cat and written a list of the people I need to email to follow up with.

Baby steps. I can do this. You can do this. We can do this.

That said, how about a draw from the Fey Tarot about what to focus on right now?

Three cards from the Fey Tarot arranged in a triangle
4 Pentacles, 6 Chalices, I – The Magician

It seems like you’re juggling everything right now, but with a focused will you won’t lose your balance. Good luck.

Using the cards in the right state of mind

Using the cards in the right state of mind

One thing I want to combat with Witchling in Flight and my writing is the tone of articles on the Internet about how you should do this or that, but don’t give you the author’s experience with it. So much of what I read these days is about how this person did something, and you can do it too, or BuzzFeed lists of “how to” that have no personal voice. I grew up with blogs and LiveJournal and teenagers on the outside trying to find a place to fit in on the Internet because we couldn’t find our place outside of it, and that’s the ideal I hold in my head for what we all could be when we share our stories here. I want to talk about things from my experience, not from scientific trials and research conducted by big companies. I want to tell you what I have found to be true to my soul, and I want to hear your stories too.

So I can’t lie to you about why I’m not able to pull any cards today.

I keep reading all these articles about how to care for your friend with depression, or how it really feels, or “there are more people with depression than we think, we should be talking about this!”, and it never makes me feel like I’m being spoken to as a person. Depression is one of my chronic illnesses, and it’s been flaring this week. I don’t understand why, and I do all of the things I have learned over the years to take care of myself, and sometimes it’s just not enough. The flood of voices in my head eager to tell me I’m worthless, have no value, that no one wants me around sometimes gets too loud and crashes all of my barriers.

Yesterday was one of those days.

I am better today, I think, because I am at the point of being able to recognize that those feelings have nothing to do with me or how my community sees me. But those feelings and thoughts still take over, and it takes all the energy I have just to be awake and survive until I can fall asleep again and hold out hope that in the morning I’ll be stronger. That sleep will reinforce the barriers between the real me and the voices telling me I don’t belong to this world.

Now it’s morning, and they’re reinforced, but still not blocking all of the evil thoughts in my head.

Part of the reason I have had such a hard time staying connected to Tarot when I first got interested in it is because I was in such a deep depression at the time, and I refuse to read the cards when I know my judgment is clouded by my mental illness. It’s now years later and I spend more days happy with myself than not, but I still believe that I shouldn’t take out the cards to read for others when I’m feeling this low and this stuck behind a dark cloud. So this week, I’m going to focus on other things, on trying to distract myself to a better place. It might show up as some extra blog posts about other journeys of self discovery. It might just become knitting and watching Star Trek: The Next Generation for many hours this week. (I’m so happy to be knitting!) I might just set up a few blanket forts in the living room. It’s all okay. I’ll get through this, and come out on the other side again, and then I’ll pick up the cards and be delighted to find my way back.

What’s next for me?

What’s next for me?

I’ve spent a lot of the day today asking myself, “What’s next?” I know what’s next in the health department, scheduling an appointment I’m extremely anxious about. (I’ll do it tomorrow with the help of a therapist.) For my grassroots team, what’s next is a long break, at least a month. (All winter if I get my way.) Now that I’ve spent all day yesterday in bed to recover from an extreme weekend, what do I do with the energy I have?

Sure, I have some cleaning that needs to be done, but what’s going to get me out of bed in the mornings? Like I’ve said, I’ve been asking myself this question all day, and it didn’t occur to me until just now to pull a Tarot card and see what it thinks.

So, without further ado…

XIII Death

An image of the Death card from the Halloween Tarot deck

This Death sure does love a party: a symbol of Halloween itself, a time to let things go for a bit while we make merry. Death is usually a card of big changes, and while I see some of that in this card, I also see setting aside some time to enjoy my achievements. To lie fallow for a few months, sip some tea, have some friends over to break bread, but to not push so hard that I break again.

Maybe part of that is what I want it to be for me, but it is interesting that Death showed up on the day that I’m really feeling the change of seasons and quietly freaking out that winter is on its way again. Maybe, with the veil between the worlds thinning, it’s a good time for me to look into some ancestor work. Maybe it’s time to reach out to spirits and the Otherworld. There are definitely a lot of things I could do with the Death card, but my restless spirit really needs to hear the “slow down and enjoy the fruits of your labor” part of it right now. Despite the pressures in our society to rush rush rush go go go and get things done NOW, I don’t do that well, and I hope to find a balance between (somehow) making enough money to live and not having to rush around.

Thanks, Halloween. Guess I’ll go and try to figure out how to make that work in my life!

Restless.

Restless.

I pretended for too long last week that I’ll be okay and that my body will be fine if I push through and work as hard as I can. Saturday and Sunday my body told me in no uncertain terms that it does not work that way. My body needs me to rest, to sit still for hours, to use as little brain and body power as possible while it knits my lungs back together into usable pieces.

Attempting to rest leaves me restless. I have too much time to compare myself to others. There are too many shoulda, coulda, wouldas circling around my head. Too many things I was supposed to do, ways I was supposed to conform.

And that’s not my path right now.

Last night, I did a simple Past, Present, Future spread for myself.

Three Tarot cards lined up: The Devil, Death, and 8 of Chalices
Past, Present, Future: XV The Devil, XIII Death, 8 of Chalices

Card 1: Past – XV The Devil. Expectations to grow up, get a job, find a career that interests me. This is the devil I know, and it is eating me up inside. Why do I subject myself to this? Because I assume it’s the only way. Is it really?

Card 2: Present – XIII Death. This may be the first time I have actually drawn Death. In movies and TV, when Death is drawn, it’s a melodramatic affair. Who will die next? Everyone asks. That’s not what Death stands for. Death stands for a metaphorical death, the same kind of death as controlled brush fires in a forest: the death of old so that something new can come in. This might be the very real death of my expectations and ideals of being “normal”. And it’s okay to grieve that, so long as I am not stuck in that grief.

Card 3: Future – 8 of Chalices. One official meaning of this card I read is to work with limited resources. Which is what I have right now: limited resources for good health. Another friend suggested that this is another analog to Spoon Theory. Fact: I don’t have enough spoons right now. Conclusion: Time to work with what I have.

This card shows a Fae about to embark on a long, solitary road. My first reaction is relief – I’ve been trying so hard to make “being a sociable person” work, but if I can successfully take care of my needs while walking a solitary road, I would be content. In that respect, the card promises better things for me. I just have to let Death take over all the shoulda, coulda, wouldas, clear the ground for me to walk my path, the one meant just for me.

Looks like an auspicious time to try out a new journey and stop fitting myself into the mold that has never worked for me.

Taking our selves back

Taking our selves back

Last night, a friend emailed me a wonderful article entitled Why Women Aren’t Crazy. It made me reflect on how I quiet down in a group, how I defer to others to make decisions, and how NONE of those things are the embodiment of witchyness.

Part of being a witch is embracing strength and our own individuality, not letting someone else dictate how we think or feel. So when I read this article and found myself nodding along in places, it broke my heart to realize that in some ways this meant I am not embracing witchyness as fully as I want to be. So here is my confession, and my promise to keep vigilant to making sure I am a whole person who isn’t afraid to speak.

Whether gaslighting is conscious or not, it produces the same result: it renders some women emotionally mute.

These women aren’t able to clearly express to their spouses that what is said or done to them is hurtful. They can’t tell their boss that his behavior is disrespectful and prevents them from doing their best work. They can’t tell their parents that, when they are being critical, they are doing more harm than good.

When these women receive any sort of push back to their reactions, they often brush it off by saying, “Forget it, it’s okay.”

That “forget it” isn’t just about dismissing a thought, it is about self-dismissal. It’s heartbreaking.

(Emphasis mine.)

When we’re told we’re weak, frail, emotional creatures, we stop being emotional – because maybe that’s the only thing that’s true of that statement, and the only thing we can change so that we can be strong again. So we become “emotionally mute”, afraid to so much as hint at the possibility of having emotions of any kind, despite women supposedly being the Keepers of Emotions™. I’ve spent many years hiding my emotions because I thought I would be stronger; turns out that just fed my depression, because I was denying and dismissing parts of myself.

I can also absolutely relate to the “forget it” act of dismissing myself. “Forget it, [what I think doesn’t matter],” and going on to make someone else’s idea/emotions more important than my own. With gaslighting, I’m told that my feelings are contradictory and my fears are irrational, therefore I should shut up and let someone else dictate what I should feel. After a long time, this makes you feel small, then you stop letting yourself be who you are, emotions and all.

This is anathema to the point of Luminous Emporium, and it hurts that I can relate so much to it right now. But relating to it, realizing that it’s a problem, means I am on my way to a solution. Understanding the problem is the right first step. Taking back my Witchyness is the second. I am a full and complete being, and I am in control of I do and how I feel. It will take practice to own my emotions, but I’m on the path, and that’s exactly where I need to be.

Emergency self-care!

Emergency self-care!

I’m on day 6 of a cold and yesterday I went out and did too much, so I woke up worse for the wear and having trouble breathing. Unfortunately, my to-do list is still miles long and some of the items on it fill me with dread. Then just now, I found out that Sir Terry Pratchett died today, and decided today was a good day for some emergency self-care.

Things in my Self-Care Box o’ Tricks:

  • Last night I downloaded new books to the Kindle from the library! I’ve been waiting to read Divergent by Veronica Roth until all the hype died down and now it’s down and I am looking forward to it.
  • Listening to my favorite band and the music that has made me feel safe and comforted for over ten years.
  • Catching up on The Mystic Foundation, which I haven’t had time to read and digest with moving and such going on.
  • Snuggling with Miss Pepper, who never not wants to be in my lap… and could really use some grooming.
  • Deep breaths and lots and lots of delicious herbal tea.

What’s in your Self-Care Box o’ Tricks?

(I apologize for not posting Looking Forward the last two Mondays. I moved the weekend before last, and I’m not quite back in the swing of things!)

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