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Peace – My Word of The Year for 2019

It’s that time again, when Christmas is over and the last few days of December seem to be filled with both confusion (what day is it, again?), and reflection on another year passing by.

I find that this almost limbo stage of the year is the one where I either find a renewed sense of hope or I am filled with a sense of despair. There doesn’t seem to be an inbetween state for me, and more often than not my despair leads to overly optimistic plans as I determine to have a better year to come.

This is certainly true of where I found myself last year. I chose the word “Create” as my focus for 2018, and came up with 18 ways in which I could create more health, happiness, and success in my work. I was determined to avoid accepting how ill I was and how much I needed to give up in order to survive. I truly believed I could make things better, if only I tried harder. How wrong I was!

Looking Back at 2018

2018 has been plagued with so much stress and fear and guilt and pain. I barely left the house for the first half of it, and although things got a bit easier as the Autumn came along, it’s still been a long, hard slog. And it isn’t over yet. We still have massive financial insecurity. We still have two tribunal hearings to face at some, as yet, unknown point in 2019. And I’m still sick.

That’s not to say 2018 was all bad. We moved to a lovely bungalow in May, and I have been reflecting over the Christmas period on just how grateful I am to be here and not in our old home. Tim chose to be baptised, and we’ve both become more involved with the church through Bible Study and a few events. And Little Man has been coming on in leaps and bounds at school, thanks to better support and a greater understanding of his needs.

2018 has been a good year in many ways, but I cannot help but look back and realise that my hopes and dreams for this year do not reflect that. This time last year I felt desperate to fix things. I didn’t want to be sick (who does?) I didn’t want to be reliant on the state financially (who does?) And I certainly didn’t want to give up all the things that I felt gave me worth (who does?) Looking back at my post from this point last year, I could say 2018 was the biggest failure ever. But, I’m choosing to see it a different way…

Finding a New Perspective

Instead of seeing all I didn’t achieve as a failure, I’m trying to see it as a necessary step on my journey of self-discovery. I’m trying to see all the times I felt like I was knocked back as a swipe at the unnecessary burdens I placed upon myself to fix something that was out of my control. And I’m trying to see my brokenness as part of my healing, because only in my brokenness do I stop trying to rely on myself and turn to something greater than who I am on my own.

Essentially, I’m hoping to find peace. The word came to me as I tried to calm my mind before bed the other week. I had started to wonder what word I could choose to focus on in 2019, and it simply came to me. Peace. I tried variations on the theme, things like rest, reflection, and acceptance, but essentially it all came back down to peace. Pure and simple.

But what do I mean by peace? Do I mean an end to suffering? Well, no, not really. Suffering is, unfortunately, a part of life. So I don’t want to find a peace which is reliant on good times in my life, nor do I want to find a peace that exists despite hard times. No, what I really want to find is a peace that encompasses both, one which reminds me that it is okay to celebrate my joy and express my despair. I want to feel peace wherever I find myself, even when it’s uncomfortable.

The Difference Between Peace and Acquiescence

I want to stop trying to fix everything, and be okay with not being okay. That’s not to say that I will suddenly stop feeling passion for change where I see injustice (I’m never going to have peace with a government which cruelly inflicts pain on the most vulnerable in society, whilst protecting those with the most, for instance). But I hope to stop feeling such intense levels of fear, anger, and guilt on a personal level. I want to stop angrily watching the news unfold, with adrenaline coursing through my body, and instead learn how to channel that energy in other ways (what they may be, I do not know, but I hope to find out).

And therein lies the crux of this whole thing – I want to find peace, even when I don’t know how that will come. This isn’t an active thing, something I can force into being. I’ve tried that, and it doesn’t work. If anything, the more I strive the less peace I feel. The more I try to fix things, to find control in the uncontrollable, the more frantic and anxious and out of control I feel.

And as my body has a tendency to overreact with adrenaline (thanks EDS), this constant cycle of trying to control the uncontrollable has led to an almost permanent heightened state of awareness. The smallest things set off a rush of adrenaline these days, and it’s exhausting!

But whereas I have tried so hard to counteract that with affirmations, meditation, yogic breathing etc over the past few years, I now want to find a place of peace where it’s okay to feel out of control for a while, to ride the waves and trust that there is peace to be found within the madness. Because that’s where I’m at right now, and I can no longer pretend it is only fleeting and I’ll suddenly find a way to snap out of it.

Exploring The Power of Peace

When I was thinking about putting this post together, I was trying to find a quotation which might sum up how I feel. And this verse from Lamentations really struck me:

“I have forgotten what health and peace and happiness are” (Lamentations 3:17 Good News Bible translation).

If there was one verse in the Bible which summed up how I feel, this is it! Okay, maybe not the happiness part, I still have that in abundance. But health and peace? Those two I’ve truly forgotten the feel of. I get glimpses of them from time to time, but they are always fleeting. And I believe they are both intrinsically linked for me, too.

Without peace I cannot truly recover my health. For a long time I thought it was the other way around and that a return to health would bring peace. And it would, of course, in some ways. Better health would mean a return to work, a reduction in financial stress, and an even greater reduction in the guilt felt by the pressure put upon my family by my illness.

But recently I’ve begun to realise I’ve been looking at it the wrong way around. Any peace which comes from better circumstances isn’t truly peace at all, but rather ease at the situation. It may seem like I’m just splitting hairs here, but peace and ease are two very different things. Peace, to me at least, means knowing that at some level things are okay, even when on the surface they are far from it.

Finding The Peace Which Surpasses All Understanding

Which brings me around to faith. I’ll be honest with you and say that whilst my faith has become stronger than ever before over the past couple of years, I still struggle with many aspects of it. It’s almost like the harder life gets, the more I turn to God. But the more I turn to God, the more questions I have.

Not about God’s existence, that has never been an issue for me (in my darkest hours I’ve been the most angry with God – it’s hard to be angry with something you don’t believe in!) No, my questions are more about the nature of God and how I experience that in my everyday life.

I feel like God is just out of touch, supporting me and loving me but in a far less intimate way than I would like. I feel like I’ve been holding God at arms length, not quite willing to open up my heart fully. I’ve been stuck in an intellectual desire to understand God, rather than an emotional desire to know God. And there is a big difference between the two.

So with all of this in mind, I have decided to keep my plans for the year minimal. Instead of setting goals such as reading the Bible and doing yoga every day, I want to wake up each morning and tune in to how I’m feeling and what I need that day to find peace.

I want to open up my heart to the possibility of peace, and see what happens. And I want to do so in the knowledge that whatever happens is okay, even if I feel like I fail. Because the peace I hope to find is the, “peace which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Image of two pumpkins surrounded by lit candles on a forest floor

Samhain Reflections

October 31st marks Halloween or Samhain (or even All Hallow’s Eve), depending upon your personal tradition. Halloween has always intrigued me, since long before I began to explore the history and culture behind it. But the more I have learnt about it, the more it has held a special place in my heart. This is particularly true of the more Pagan roots of Samhain.

Within the Wheel of the Year, Samhain falls at the third and final harvest of the year, and so marks the end of Summer. It is a time of giving thanks for the warmth and light of the Summer months, and preparation for the cold and dark days ahead as Winter draws in. And as today was one of the first days we had to de-ice the windscreen before the school run, I am painfully aware of how long the Winter can be!

(As a side note, Little Man refuses to put on his new Winter coat until December 1st, no matter how cold it gets, because for him it can’t possibly be time for that until the month when Winter officially begins comes around.)

But it’s not just the changes within the physical world that we celebrate at this turning point in the year. For many, Samhain is also about going within and reflecting on the changes in our personal lives. And at a time when the outer world is slowly dying away, we can choose to look at the things that are falling away within our own being. Whether that’s old habits, thought-patterns, or actual physical things like ending a job or moving home, there is always some change we can focus on. Because if there’s one thing we can be certain upon in this life, it’s that change will always happen.

In the past, my reflections at this time of year have often focused on the things which I wanted to let go of, or hopes for a kinder future after months of testing times. And had you asked me about this a couple of months ago, when I was completely bed-ridden by the affects of the Summer heatwave on my health issues, I’d have told you that’s where I thought I’d be right now, desperately hoping for change. But here’s the thing, I’ve spent so much of my life waiting and hoping for things to change within my outer world, that I completely underestimated just how powerful inner change could be.

This Samhain I find myself still in a battle with the DWP, back in debt and desperately trying to manage our finances whilst we’re both too sick to work, and frustrated by so much that is happening in the outer world (don’t get me started on what’s happening in the political world right now). But, I am feeling so much more content than I have done in such a long time, and that means that instead of hoping for change to my circumstances I am able to accept them and live my without the high level of fear and helplessness that have been my constant companions for the past decade.

Because, for the first time ever, I have become aware of harmful patterns of behaviour that have affected so many of my decisions and allowed me to end up in some of the most painful situations. It started with the sudden realisation, as the Summer drew to an end, that I have spent my entire life seeking approval. It seems silly to say that I hadn’t realised this before, but as much as I had known I had issues with “imposter syndrome” and never feeling “good enough”, I hadn’t made that additional step to realising that my behaviour was one of seeking approval from others. And, more importantly, seeking it from people who would never be able to give it.

I realised that there is a true beauty in the way that I view the world, and that my inability to accept the status quo had led me to trying to create change whilst simultaneously trying to “fit in” so that I gained that approval. I was torn between walking my own path and towing the line. And it was so incredibly painful that it’s no wonder I got as sick as I did. Nobody can live like that.

Coming out of that initial realisation were several further lessons. The first was that I had spent a large part of my life playing out certain roles which didn’t feel right. No wonder I’d never managed to stay in a role for more than 18 months, and had changed careers completely on so many occasions. What I wanted to do (i.e. write), felt like something that other people got to do. I honestly believed life had to be hard. Even when I chose to write a book, I didn’t have the confidence to just do it. I sought approval for it. And even though I knew how hard I had worked on it, not to mention the quality of that work, I enabled a situation where this would be questioned.

That same pattern is reflected in all areas of my life. I felt like I had simply “bluffed” my way through university, instead of realising that I am simply very good at languages. My tutors were right when they told me I wasn’t ambitious enough, and was capable of achieving more. But, instead, I felt like a fraud for receiving the results I did! The same goes for my blog. I’ve spent years feeling like I wasn’t “good enough”, because I don’t get the kind of page stats that others do. And yet, as I said before, I know I am a good writer, and that stats aren’t everything.

Basically, the past couple of months of my life have been a massive unfurling of the layers of personas I have tried to fit into throughout my life. It has reached every part of my soul, to the point where so much deconstructing has been happening that I feel like I no longer know who I am. And yet, I’m okay with that. At times it is intensely painful, and I scramble desperately to figure out who I am if I am not all of these things I always thought I was. Especially when I question whether people will like the “real me”. But mostly, it is a joyous unravelling of a tangled web which has held me captive for far too long.

And so, this Samhain, I am celebrating the falling away of these old masks I have worn. I am saying goodbye to the patterns I have allowed to rule my life, thanking them for the lessons they have given me along the way, but grateful to see them finally go. And I am welcoming the darkness of the coming months, as a time of quiet hibernation and reflection, as I allow the spark within to begin to grow in warmth and brightness. Today I am grateful for change, because it means that healing is always within our grasp!

Happy Samhain.

 

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Wow. I can’t believe that we are already in October and so far this year I have only written 10 posts! So much for my plan to write 50 posts this year. Of course, looking back at my plans made last December, I can see that I have “failed” in nearly every single one of them. And yet, from where I’m standing right now, this does not feel like a failure to me as much as a change of perspective.

At the end of last year I still believed that the DWP were going to expect me to work towards getting back to work. And there was a big part of me that knew I would never be able to do that in the more typical way. I was too sick. So I was trying to find a way to make it possible. I was trying to figure out how to make this blog profitable, once and for all.

But the truth is, I am sick. I simply do not have the energy or health to invest in creating the kind of content and promotion and brand/client networking that is required to earn consistent money from self-employment. The only work I have done for anyone other than myself this year has been for the church, and that has been limited to creating one post for the Facebook page per week, promoting the service. And even that has felt impossible some weeks.

No, working isn’t something I am capable of right now. And thankfully the DWP agreed with me on that one (although how they then went on to refuse me disability benefits, I don’t know – surely, if you’re too sick to work, you’re classed as disabled, no?) Anyway, I digress.

This year has been a hard one. I have been more ill than I have ever been (well, aside from my pregnancy from hell, but at least that had an end point!) We’ve been in a major battle with the DWP, we’ve moved home because I could no longer cope with the stairs in our house, and I have spent a large part of the year completely debilitated by pain, nausea, migraines, and dysautonomia. And as such, I’ve had an awful lot of time where all I could do was lay in a darkened room, thinking about life, and trying to figure out who I am when I am not all the things I always thought I was. Including a blogger.

You see, over the years, as I have begun to use my media experience to work with clients, I started to forget that it’s perfectly okay to just blog for the sheer joy of blogging. I forgot that a post didn’t have to take 3 hours, when you calculated the time taken to write, research links, edit for SEO purposes, find a decent stock image, create promotional images for various social media platforms, and then share on said platforms. That’s what you do for a client, or for a business site. It’s not what you do for a hobby blog. Or, at least, it can be but it doesn’t have to be.

A couple of weeks ago I almost gave up blogging. Which is sheer and utter madness, as I’ve been blogging since 2006. It’s as much a part of me as anything else. The problem was, I’d forgotten how to blog just for me. I’d forgotten when it was like to write whatever was on my mind, regardless of whether it had any value to anyone else. I’ve never been very good at writing in a diary or journal, it makes my hands hurt for one thing as I can’t form the letters as quickly as I can type them, and I grip the pen too hard and it messes with my hypermobile joints. But more than that, I actually love the creativity of sitting down and crafting a post that, whilst not necessarily aimed at others could still be read by them. It helps me form a structure to my random thoughts, and that, in turn, helps me figure out things I might never have noticed if I didn’t blog.

Plus, blogging means that I have a permanent collection of thoughts and feelings to look back on. I might misplace a journal once full, but I can’t misplace a blog. My first blog is still lurking away on the good old internet. I looked back at it the other day. And my second one. And it was so wonderful to read my little rambling thoughts. To see how much has changed (and also, how much hasn’t!)

And suddenly I realised that this is what I wanted my blog to be. I wanted it to be a collection of memories. A place where I could just come and share whatever was on my mind. I didn’t want to worry about whether it would make sense to anyone, or whether I needed to include background information for something to make sense. I just wanted to write and share. And so that’s what I’ve decided to do.

I spent most of last week trying to come up with a new tagline which really encompassed this new theme for the blog. And then suddenly, out of the blue, it came to me. Life, as it happens… Because it’s nothing more than that. It’s life, as it happens. It’s not worrying about the future. It’s not worrying about where I fit in. It’s simply life. And life is a flow of new beginnings. Every day is a new beginning. And I want to focus on that. Taking each day as it comes. And writing about whatever happens to take my fancy.

But even though I’d come up with this idea, I still needed one last little push to actually do it. And that came in the form of a wonderful group of people who are all taking part in Get Your Happy Back (GYHB). I won’t write about GYHB in this post, as I want to end this soon. But just know that it is an amazing community that once you join becomes like your family for life. They meet 4 times per year to work on, as it says on the tin, getting your happy back. Because we all get beaten down by life, don’t we? And we all need the opportunity to come together and focus on ourselves regularly, right?

I know I do. In fact, I know I need to work on this a LOT. During the group call on Saturday, my microphone wouldn’t work, so I couldn’t join in to begin with. We all had a laugh about it, but it was very poignant for me. I have issues with expressing myself. You wouldn’t think that, would you, really? I mean, I’m a linguist and a writer – words are what I do. But as my dear friend, Rachel (who is an amazing therapist, by the way), mentioned to me today, there is a big difference between my ability to analyse what I think is going on and what I think people want to hear, and actually expressing what I need to express.

I’m so terrified of what lies beneath all the different personas, that I don’t even really know who I am anymore. And that’s scary. Because if I dig deep and I find out I’m not who I have portrayed myself to be for all these years, will people like the real me? Will I even like the real me? Scary stuff, huh?

Which is why she has challenged me to sit in front of a mirror and tell my story. From the very beginning (birth). In chapters. Because God knows I have a lot of layers to work through! And, to be quite honest with you, this blog post is a little bit of a delaying tactic, as I’m putting off getting started. But that means that this is really important, and so I’m going to be brave and I’m going to do it. I’ve got the house to myself until 5, when I have to go to an appointment to remove my Mirena (more on this at a later date – it’s a big, scary, but empowering change!)

So, changes are afoot. I am going to try to stop worrying about who I am and actually see if I can simply find her underneath all of these layers. I’m going to try and tell myself my story. And I’m going to use this blog to document what I call my “Sacred Healing Journey” over on instagram. Because this is life, as it happens…