Neuroqueer, an offering

All those years ago, when I got to the same point in my degree that my daughter has just reached (perhaps why it has been on my mind lately), as in that grande finale moment where you hover on the blade’s edge, confronted with a choice between abject originality and hang the consequences…or staying with convention to ensure a steady shot at the final grade you so desperately want and deserve to walk away with…I briefly teetered on that brink before going with my truth and intuition (my primary guidance systems, as ever). It became one of the many wounds of rejection of my life, to not have that decision, a grand affirmation on behalf of self-expression, pay-off so spectacularly.

In hindsight, my intuition is not necessarily well-geared for this world “as it is”; more so for a bigger-broader-future version of it in which all is inclusive, each and every subjective viewpoint held valid and originality welcomed. We have yet to mature into such a world (though, thirty years later, we are slowly getting there, or, I hope I can trust the signs telling me so).

My specialism at the time…Virginia Woolf; my angle…a personal tilt on layers of meaning that I strongly felt (notice that implied modality, “to feel”) hovered in the void between the author’s actual rhetoric and its associated sensory cues…colours, patterns, the very spaces between her words strewn with felt nuance…thus a layer of narrative and interpretation that I perceived hidden in plain sight. Because this is how her words strongly impacted me, recieved via all my multi-sensory modes of perception (surely how and why such an author puts meaning onto paper…in the hope of being received thus) but not so easy to “prove” in a paper, though I was prepared to try.

My attempt was, perhaps, over-daring in hindsight but I took as quite literal the request that the work be “our own”, not regurgitated text books. Typical for me in my fierce independence, I chose not to discuss any of this in advance with my tutor as I already knew they would not, really, understand…this had become my ingrained reality through years of school…so why would I waste effort trying to summarise in bullet-points what it would take an entire dissertation to put forth. My attempt to convey this new spin of mine became its own piece of art.

The gamble was daring and it backfired, as I might have guessed if I had been using my logic and not my intuition (the modus operandi of the world as it stands). I was told, in no uncertain terms, that it cost me my predicted “First” so I walked away feeling jaded and mediocre as my first step into an “adult world” of endless incomprehensibilities. It wasn’t an auspicious start and it set the theme of the next few years of my life, until I finally learned how and where to be fully myself without the consequence of endless rebuttal; the denial of how I experience things with all its complexity and many-layered nuances.

Photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash

These days, a new generation of academics more readily approach the potential of literature, even of cinema, to convey neurodiverse experiences and layers of meaning that are far closer to mine and yet which, at the time I was that literary undergrad (the 1980s), were pushed well out of sight beneath layers of conventional, corridored, interpretation. Ironic, really, that even those authors one could easily suspect to be neurodiverse themselves had, by then, been typecast into rigid formulas of interpretation by neurotypical academics and perish the thought that any student should dare to wander off that path. That, now, seems to be on the verge of changing and I wonder if the number of hits on my post Jane Eyre – nineteenth century Aspie Woman and its inclusion in a list of recommended reading by one university’s literature department is a reflection of that.

Plucking out this academic paper “The Fantastic Autistic: Divergence, Estrangement, and The Neuroqueer Screen in Blade Runner: The Final Cut (2007) and Community (2009-2015)” by David Harley from my morning emails today, enticed by its juicy title, I dived in over my morning tea, so eager to gather its many clues that, these days, I might not feel so all-alone in my literary deep-dives of the neurodiverse variety (because who is to tell me my interpretations of VW, or any other writer with whom I feel the kinship of experience, are completely bizarre or off the mark).

It has introduced me to a new term (or, new to me at least), neuroqueer, as explained in this extract:

Autistic scholar and rhetorician Melanie Yergeaucoined the term ‘neuroqueer’ to describe the “cunning movements” of autism when positioned “in defiance against that which is rhetorically normative” (2018: 27).

In Yergeau’s reasoning, autism is an inherently queer category with explicit historical and contemporary connection to queerness through their shared experiences of “disciplining and normalization,” as well as in the evolving discourses of neurodiversity where “autistic people queer the lines of rhetoric, humanity, and agency” (2018: 26).
 
The neuroqueer, for Yergeau, accounts for both the rhetorical and
arhetorical actions of the autistic, the oscillation between the two, and the poetic potential of the condition as “an interbodily, beyond-the-skin experiential of detail and overwhelm and intricacy” (2018: 56). In such terms, the rhetorical redirections of autism offer new and exciting challenges to fundamental understandings of all cultural forms. Questions can be posed of assumed spectators, of what constitutes ‘normative’ narrative construction, as well as new interpretations of character motivation and behaviour.” (David Harley, as above).

The author is mostly concerned in this paper with autism in the context of cinema and whilst this is an area that fascinates me as someone who identifies as being neurodiverse and who typically responds to cinema (every bit, if not more so, than books) in quite a different, more complex and nuanced, way to my neurotypical friends and associates, it is not an area I have considered hugely since I have never “not been me” in the context of watching a film (and have never been marked down for my “inappropriate” responses…).  The difference in the general mode and in the sheer depth and intricacy with which I “meet” the cinematic experience no longer perplexes or upsets me, now that I realise my autism, but it certainly continues to interest me, including the potential for this to be taken into consideration, even catered for, by script writers and the TV and film industries as an entire production unit delivering “experience” to an audience. As with any form of “queerness”, not only should we be included but I see how everyone‘s experience of cinema could seriously benefit from this being the case!

There is something about the inbetweeny nature of the kind of experience that is the natural territory of the neurodiverse way of being that lends itself to evolution, as and when the various methodologies of life unlock themselves from all the rules and rigidity of what is already known and familiar to most, to venture into the territory and meet us there. We naturally inhabit the void where new potentials emerge by virtue of the fact we are non-conformers and this leads into new extrapolations of experience…and expression.

Harley’s paper has encouraged me to consider, not only that my sensory and perceptual needs should be taken into consideration by film producers if I am to be included in the audience of, say, a cinematic film (avoiding strobe effects, lowering “boom” volumes, for instance, both of which affect me so adversely) but also that the film itself could benefit from layers of subtle, a-typical communication that meet the perceptual advantages (yes, I said advantages) and strengths (yes!) of a neurodiverse audience and thus add artistic depth and potential to the film, not just for its neurodiverse audience but to broaden and stretch the conceptual and sensory experience of everyone watching, breaking new experiential soil for all who receive the fruits of such a venture…because isn’t that what “the arts” are all about? Sooo many films and TV programs seem one-dimensional to me (compared to the multidimensions of my actual experience) and I would love that to change.

Just as, say, synesthesia adds a whole other layer of sensory experience, meaning and richness to my world, such layers of cinematography could create a fuller experience for all audiences, compared to all the limitations of the typically strident and linear plotline (the clue is in the world “line”…my neurodiversity doesn’t experience life that way!), the ever dominant use of rhetoric as primary mode of conveyance, plus the over-reliance upon such clichéd dramatic effects as shock factor and formulaic storylines. I lack the specialist knowledge of the film genre to discuss this topic much further except to say I could well-imagine that neurodiverse screenwriters and directors (or those prepared to explore the kind of material that would include neurodiverse experiences and themes in a positive, celebratory light…not always, as the referred to paper points out, “attached to fantastical metaphors of aliens, robots, changelings, and other signifiers of the unreal and mysterious”) would be a beneficial addition to the industry, just as they have added immeasurable colour and depth to the world of literature for far longer than has been fully appreciated.

As I often touch upon in this blog, my sensory differences invariably add richness and light to my experiences when they are met by healthy, inclusive approaches. This is what the author of the paper refers to as the “fantastic autistic”, being an emphasis on what autism brings in the way of insight, playfulness and enhanced pleasures, qualities we could do with encouraging in this world and I live my life as a constant advocate of the same (yes, through my writing as one of my outlets). Literature and film are obvious mediums for more of this; we actively need to make room for neurodiversity in these places. There is a clear link here from fantastic autistic to the fantasy genre and I would say fantasy, playfulness and positively speculative storytelling are some pretty obvious intruments of evolutionary thinking, inspiring hope and innovation rather than dystopia, disillusionment and fear, as so ever-present in our current film industry.

I am also glad to notice, we apprear to be on the rising cusp of an attitudinal shift regarding what constitutes autism and what this brings to the table of human diversity as we shift our limiting beliefs around the faulty idea of what constitutes so-called “normal”; a shift that benefits us all by collectively expanding our awarenesses and, thus, possibilities. Being the same, doing the same, only brings more of the same, and we are all reliant on a considerable shift taking place now, before all of us, typical or no, become quite obsolete on this planet.

Meanwhile, there is so much more to the neurodiverse experience than is currently clichéd out of existence (or treated as “handicap”) by mainstream approaches. If it takes the occasional use of a word such as “neuroqueer” to position neurodiversity in active defiance to such limitation-labeling then so be it, I am neuroqueer and proudly so.

Posted in Art, Authorship, Consciousness & evolution, Entertainment, Fiction, Films, Literature, Menu, Personal Development, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Back in the soup: a first hand account of returning to “typical” EMF exposure levels after a much-needed respite

For the past few days, I’ve been about as “away from it all” as I’ve managed to achieve for ages. Not completely out of it, I should clarify (no off-grid experience this) but the best I’ve managed for a very long time, probably more than a decade when I think about it. We almost managed it a couple of years ago, but our plan went array (as written about before) and my health took a real knock as a result. This time we were away for slightly over a week, long enough for me to notice different things happening in my physical reponses to where we were staying (in fact, quite amazing how quickly the body responds to the more positive offering and begins to reboot) so it served as a real eye-opener.

As far as contrasts go, given how much I had been struggling with nerve pains (several weeks of occipital neuralgia!) and other EMF-worsened symptoms lately, it was very good timing for a trial of, you could say, our future life given the place we stayed was the kind of rural location we have in mind to move to at some point but “how soon?” being the golden question. How urgent is it? Would it really make any difference? I was about to find out…

This time, we were staying in a cottage on what I think of as a passive farm (as in, lots of animals, none of them harmed…) in a valley surrounded by woodland next to a small village with a stream running through it, plentiful country walks on the doorstep, no electrical exposures we couldn’t turn off (and we did, when it came to wifi and smart meter, etc), absolute darkness and quiet overnight if you don’t count the hooting of owls or coughing of donkeys, so we were able to pretty-much unplug and unwind our nervous systems for the week.

The proviso was that we were in that particular county at this particular time to help deal with a very difficult and saddening family situation involving my mother-in-law, who was discharged from hospital after 10 days during our stay, mainly because the hospital required the bed! This presented a very difficult, urgent situation regarding the desperate need for her to go into a care home and for my father-in-law to gain some respite. This was an awful, grief-stricken family situation framing our trip (the main reason for it), with repercussions and complications I won’t even attempt to convey except to say it is far from resolved.

So, in some ways, this wasn’t a true holiday but in others it met every truest definition of the word because it was a respite for me, from the untenable daily normal that feels like it is right at the core of all my physical problems. Yes, I have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, PoTs and all that other stuff going on but all of those feel like effects and symptoms reliant on how exposed I am to modern EMFs, though its very hard to convince all the non-believers that these have such an impact (I’ve long-since stopped trying). So I knew, not so very deep-down, that I was also here, in this off-the-beaten-path location when we could have stayed in a hotel in town near my in-laws, to test out for myself how hard this everyday and assumed thing…living in the modern, urban, EMF-vomiting world…really is for me and how urgent it is that I get out of there, as far and as fast as I can.

High sensitivity is an evolutionary advantage, biology says so

Because I know, already, that I’m a textbook Highly Sensitive Person with a load of environmental sensory sensitivities to my name and, yes, that includes being highly sensitive to electromagnetic forces so this is something I needed to look at straight-on, so that I can make some all-important decisions about the direction of my life (and stop acting as though such decisions about exposures etc are taken out of everyone’s hands, decided for us by the powers that be). But here’s the thing…what I have truly come to believe these past few years:

I believe that every living-breathing human on this planet, and all the animals, birds and insects besides, are highly EMF sensitive, its just that we don’t all realise it yet!

In that sense, people like me (and there are a lot of us) are like the canary in the coal mine, which has been written about many times before so I’m not going to go there. My purpose here is to offer a direct comparison of one experience versus another, for other people who may consider themselves to be subtly or overtly sensitive to compare with their own experiences and thus make their own value call when it comes to asking how do I choose to live my life, what steps am I taking to live my best and healthiest life, with an eye to the future and longterm physical wellbeing (the longterm effects of modern EMF exposures on our health are not yet known, of course, but I am not particularly optimistic based on my own experiences).

And yes, maybe some of us need more respite from modern provocations than others, we are not all made the same, but first we have to identify ourselves as amongst this highly sensitive cohort if we are the ones that struggle and so many HSPs have no idea they are any different to other people, in some quite profound and demonstrable ways (see Elaine Aron‘s work as a starting point if interested). For the record, being an HSP isn’t a flaw but an evolutionary advantage, as has been amply demonstrated by science and history (Elaine covers this in her books). We were always meant to be the natural outliers of the community, by design, so that we could be the first to notice important things that others miss, picking up envornmental cues and alerting others to any danger that we sensed coming our way. Likewise, there are HSPs in the animal kingdom too and they always serve an important purpose in the herd, etc. because while all the other animals have their heads down grazing or engaging with one another, guess who alerts them to the preditor heading their way or the flood waters starting to rise?

While everyone else is so intent upon forming into packs, sharing the same interests, being communal, desperate to connect, hook-up and hang out in crowds, we are the ones wired to stand aside and notice important things so that, in the long run, everyone gets to thrive!

Fringe

But when do we ever get a respite ourselves if that “environmental cue” telling us there is danger in the vicinity is actually coming from within the community, because everyone is so invested in it? What if the pervasive communal behaviour doesn’t suit us or feels all-wrong and unhealthy yet we can’t step away from it as easily as we used to because it is fast becoming the dominant norm? How can we stay on the fringe if our spaces are all gobbled up, even the air we operate in modified to the point it feels completely different and our well-honed senses turned back in on themselves because they are overwhelmed by artificial signals carried on the air. Everything these days is geared towards becoming uniform and we are all meant to comply with, or put up with, significant choices that are made, literally, on everyone’s behalf (5G coverage of the entire planet is a prime example) so that there are very few fringe places left and those are getting smaller by the minute.

That word respite, which has come up strongly this week in the context of trying to organise some for my struggling in-laws, has got me thinking more about how we all need respite from something…but what, if any, options are left for us whenever we reach that point, in a world that presses on with agendas for everything to be made the same, wherever we happen to be on the planet (reliable wifi coverage is valued more than fresh air in such a world)?

How does any degree of EMF sensitivity fit side-by-side with a world that is pressing ahead, with great urgency, along agenda routes intent upon filling all our spaces, yes rural ones too, with an EMF “smog” quite impossible to ignore? We are all about to find out.

Energetic hangover, the toxic “hit”

Thankfully, for now, there are still some small pockets left out of the loop and the place we were staying is one of them, for now (it was quite charming to find our phone signal so poor that the sending of a brief message depended on the level of the wind during what was a stormy few days). Yes, the nearby city was a visceral hotspot for me as we skimmed its edges. Then, the main “A” road through the county was a bit tricky in places, mainly along the stretch near the biggest market town, where my in-laws live, where I noticed a considerable amount of masts including a 5G monstrosity, looming on the fringes but, really, I only noticed them there because I felt them first, even on journeys when I had my eyes shut. We quickly learned a back route we could to take in and out of our village to visit the in-laws and, whenever we had the time or the road wasn’t flooded, we went that way instead!

I also felt systemically “hit”, like a monstrous hangover, by the one night we spent having a meal out with other family members. The pub was a popular gastro eatery, thus pretty crowded and stuffy on a Saturday night. I will never know if it was the food that “got me” or the EMF convergence of just so many people with “live” phones about their person (or just being in a room with more people than I have been close to for a while) but, starting from the journey home and building up into the following day, I felt as though I had been hit by a juggernaught. This was utterly galling, given I had noticed a marked and steady improvement in myself all week, enjoying my best, least painful, most energised day for MONTHS immediately prior to the evening out (you should have seen me stride out on our hike that morning). Following our meal, I had my one bad night of the trip and was in awful pain and PoTs symptoms for the whole of that day, nauseus and unsteady on my feet until I made myself breathe some sea air and go for a walk, and still purging the next.

It was an intresting juxtaposition. We were now four days into our trip and, I believe, the gradual detox of my system had started to show real benefits…until the pub, as it were, chopped me off at the knees, sending me a-tumble, straight into a visceral reminder of what “back home” generally feels like at its worse, and it was horrible. Thankfully, after another three days, I had recouped all the benefits and was feeling marvellous again…until I came home. Coincidence (though far from the first time I’ve made such observations), or have I just had a taster of my alter life, in some future rural location we have moved to, where (5G allowing) my experience of daily life feels very different?

Comparing how two very different enviroments feel

So, to keep things simple (this is pretty much a comparison post) here’s what I now notice after a day and a half back in the Thames Valley urban EMF “smog” I call home and, below that, my comparison list of how I felt while I was away from home staying in a wooded valley with next to no EMF exposure at all.

Effects are listed in no particular order, though the first bullet-point is something I realised within ten minutes of stepping into our house, on its busy road with its endless flow of traffic outside, close-proximity housing, small industrial units nearby and at least a dozen wifi routers detectable, even when we have ours permanently switched off. Bear in mind, these are symptoms I experience all the time “normally” but which feel all the more pronounced, thus conscious, because I have been away and not had them for a week so they sound extra dramatic, even to me, as I now list them. If you don’t want to read through these lists, you can scroll down to the summary and discussion below.

  • “Acidic” stomach, vaguely nauseous or hungry sensation, all the time.
  • Tingling “electric” feeling in face, lips, tongue, fingers and toes, skin, all-over body.
  • Internal tremble of pulse or subtle hand tremor at certain times.
  • Random eye nerve twitches.
  • Feel “toxic”, headachy, inflammed, sore.
  • Inentense occipital neuralgia or pressure and flashes of trigeminal neuralgia causing tooth and facial pain. Miraine type headeaches and aural flashes.
  • Neck becomes stiff, painful and prone to spasm if not carefully stretched, kept warm and well supported (indoors hats and scarves).
  • Itchy ears.
  • Tinnitus (I always have) that takes on a much sharper tone and varies more than usual, with occasional rushes of sound or shrillness like phone interference.
  • Vision blurring to the point of almost snow blindness (also noticed this in the pub and a coffee shop we went into, both times unable to see the menu properly, even with glasses).
  • Regular blood pooling in hands and feet, alternating with Reynaud’s, red and white blotchy extremities, pressure and pain in lower abdoment and against bladder.
  • Restless or twitchy legs.
  • Feeling irritable, snappy, blunt (flight or fight mode behaviours).
  • Generalised “low serotonin” feeling.
  • Regular urges for a quick dopamine fix (comfort food and other compulsions).
  • A thinking mode that easily becomes pushy and dogmatic, stuck in a rut, leaving little room or cope for just being aware, fully present or using intuition
  • An active urge to ground the body, eg by standing with bare feet on the bare earth, if I ever remember to this simple thing for myself, because…
  • At regular times, brain fog descends like a grey curtain of unclear thinking, thoughts acquire slippery sides, a mist of forgetfulness hangs over even those intentions set just a few moments ago, executive function suffers.
  • OCD behaviours start to take hold, grown out of the sheer determination it takes to to stick to a given task (given the above challenges); the problem now being how to stop doing them.
  • A profound longing for cool sensations and an intense dislike of stuffiness or heat (as a foil for an intense internal inflammation that feels ever-present) but, here’s the sting, also unable to bear the slightest sensation of cold because it significantly increases sensitivity and pain!
  • Therefore, needing layers of clothes, socks and hats indoors, heating on, windows shut if there is any cold or wind-factor.
  • Clothes feel cloying, annoying, some fabrics (nylon) irritate or seem to burn, even my own skin feels uncomfortable to be in at times.
  • Itching, burning skin and dry discoloured eczema patches appear on torso.
  • Burning/electric peripheral neuropathy to lower abdomen in line with computer tech, have to watch videos at 3 metres distance.
  • Unable to tolerate live mobile phone for more than a couple of minutes, feels like a hot potato I have to put down and switch off.
  • Hot flushes for no apparent reason, day and night.
  • Stuffy sinuses, not to do with mucus so much as feeling of intense pressure as though nasal passages narrow and sinues are being squeezed. No doubt this is also provoked by other urban pollutants such as traffic…but I am also convinced by my own experience that EMFs trigger cellular inflammation and tissue laxity, especially around the neck and head region, a combination that leads to congestion and poor functioning of sinus sacs and lymph nodes.
  • Feeling of intense intercranial pressure at certain times.
  • Lymph gland pressure or feeling of fullness or tenderness in neck, behind ears and under armpits.
  • Intense random tooth nerve pain, sensitive to cold and toothpaste.
  • Joint stiffness or pains and widespread generalised tissue pain, prone to spasms or episodes of sudden connective tissue laxity.
  • Unrestful sleep, even with no electricity or wifi on in the immediate vicinity (I use an isolator switch at night).
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome ever present, worse when EMF exposures are strongest.
  • Constantly craving carbs to refuel and because they feel like a pain buffer.
  • Waking at a run, as though adrenalin-pumped, even if still tired in the morning.
  • A profoundly defeated, disempowered feeling that hovers, like being a maimed animal waiting for the final blow without a struggle…disillusoned, as though my body is clearly signalling what is wrong but I am not able to take the necessary action to save myself.
  • Interstitial cystitis, IBS and other dysautonomic glitches on a regular basis.
  • Random PoTs symptoms such as dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, spacial challenges, blood pooling, vision disturbances, heart palpitations, shallow breathing (have to remember to breathe properly!).
  • Any dietary lapses such a a small amount of sugar (see below) profoundly increase pain levels in this environment; there is no margin of tolerance so I am back to a strict avoidance diet.
  • Experience energy lows or outright crashes at regular intervals during the day and after every meal.
  • More sensitive than ever (or, noticing it more)…cars that go by send a “whoosh” of energy through my system, nerve endings feel jangled, raw, over-stimulated, wired yet tired.
  • Cloud cover (thus October weather!) tend to make the intensity of the feelings worse.
  • Loads of visual noise in the dark of night or shadow areas of my vision (see below).
  • As soon as I feel hypersensitive, I become tunnel visioned, fixated on what is right in front of me, unable to expand my consciousness to the wider scope (because awareness means more pain) so I close down into the narrowest version of my senses as self-protection (compare this with how expansive I felt last week…)
  • Find I musn’t allow myself to stagnate in this energy as sitting too long etc worsens the toxic effect but then moving becomes progressively more difficult due to more pain, caught in catch-22.
  • I start to become a self-doubter, negating my own experiences, telling myself that I’m imagining these effects, that its unrelated to EMFs, that its just something I have to put up with.
  • My environment feels like an electric fence that zaps me if I unfurl my sensory awareness too far outside of my body; thus I learn to recoil, which reflects as rigidity in my body.

By comparison, this is how I felt during my time away, taken from notes in my journal:

  • (A really stark comparison was) I could easily bear the cold, in fact I loved keeping the house just the right side of chill, with the heating mostly off and the window open at night, even during the storms we had (normally, as above, I have to keep the house hermetically sealed, dress in multi-layers, shawls, socks and hats indoors as the slightest hint of cold or wind makes my nerve pain unbearable and my muscles and joints seize-up).
  • I slept on a “normal” firmer mattress without the topper I had brought with me and far preferred this (at home, I need a foam mattress to cushion my overnight pain levels but this also makes me hot and can worsen hypermobility issues).
  • I was able to get out of bed nimbly, with no stiffness or limping, even in the middle of the night.
  • No need for my usual pain relief supplements, except on the day after the pub.
  • No need of hats and scarves indoors.
  • No need for guided meditations to get me off to sleep or in the night.
  • No prolonged night-time wakefulness or ruminating at 4am.
  • Joint pain almost non-existent, except in relation to long walks and time spent on a shingle beach in a fresh wind (fingers and wrists fine, legs expectably sore from walking, so what I call honest pain, rather than systemic meltdown).
  • No teeth pain in response to cold, food or toothpaste.
  • No inconvenient sugar lows or energy dips to speak of, even on outings.
  • Able to sit for longer (say, doing crafts) without toxic feeling building up in body.
  • No occipital or trigeminal neuralgia, though I had had this intensively for 6 weeks prior to the trip!
  • Complete absence of brain fog, thinking felt extra clear, wrote loads, chatted vivaciously.
  • No PoTs head symptoms (spacial issues, wooly headed, dizzy, vision issues etc) apart from the day after the pub meal, when they were severe.
  • Some blood pooling effects of PoTs when standing for longer periods but far less than usual and always with an obvious explanation such as an extra long walk (not completely random, as at home).
  • No fizzy nerve sensations, tingling, crawling skin, eye tics or other random “energetic” sensations.
  • Able to reboot with just a 10 min nap once or twice a day (not the usual sluggishness that tends to hang around).
  • Clear thinking, able to prioritise, not obsessional or “stuck” in rumination.
  • Creative! First time I had picked up a pencil to draw in a very long time, also did needlework, edited photos etc.
  • No need for calming supplements (normally take several throughout the day/night), needing less calming herbal tea, even able to drink caffeine with no ill-effects.
  • Able to eat some of my usual food avoidances such as refined sugar, in moderation, with no registerable adverse effects, which is extremely rare.
  • No sinus issues, able to breathe freely day and night, no need whatsoever of the steam inhaler used daily at home to enable me to get through the night.
  • Skin comfortable, clothes weren’t bothersome and in fact kept remarking how pleasant things such as fabric and the cut of my clothing felt.
  • Able to sleep perfectly well without the isolator switch that I have at home (that removes electric current from the room) as long as wifi and phones were off.
  • In spite of electrical overhead cables very close to the cottage, these didn’t bother me as they usually would and it felt as though the wide open spaces and low personal load of EMFs made all the difference.
  • Able to go out straight after a meal without experiencing a sugar crash.
  • Able to walk and go on excursions or spend time with family for longer, with quicker recovery times.
  • Able to tolerate shops and crowds in small towns without crashing fatigue or other adverse effects.
  • Able to use my phone on cellular and wifi for far longer times than normal if needed (usually manage a couple of minutes) because, once I turned them off, I was able to recover fully from the effect due to the electrically quiet location. Also, no doubt, because I wasn’t also getting exposed to many other routers and phones at the same time.
  • Sleep felt replenishing and noticed I was feeling more recovered, by degrees, every day.
  • No visual noise in the extremely dark nghts; dark looked dark, not loaded with sparkles (see below)!
  • Able to stand for half an hour at a time with the donkeys, my mind quiet, lost in an impromptu meditation whereas I normally struggle to stand for more than a minute without intense pain and my mind is seldom still for that long.
  • Cloud cover made no difference, I was fine on dull, rainy or damp days.
  • My mind was generally calmer, clearer, able to be still for long periods of time so that I could be fully present with my surroundings (normally, my mind seems to have to keep itself hyper-busy because awareness of my surroundings causes aggitation and pain).
  • Even when I could feel EMFs around, for instance if we put the wifi router on for half an hour, it felt as though the open spaces and, especially, trees were mitigating or absorbing them (those same trees councils are cutting down because they absorb/block 5G signals…).
  • I felt open and expansive, able to unfurl my awarenesses to notice everything that was going on around me in my environment because it didn’t feel threatening or painful. So I was joyfully able to notice every nuance of the changeable weather, all the sights and sounds of nature and animals on the farm and become a broader version of myself than I can be back home, where I feel like I’m flinching in pain a lot of the time (the electric fence effect, as above).

Good honest pain as compared to systemic meltdown

This phrase rang out to me on one of the days I was enjoying a good stride-out with none of my usual, intense, pain and discomfort levels through all of my bodily systems (how I typically feel as a base-line), just the healthy, stiff aches of a fifty-something woman who had been on a few good hikes over recent days. Here’s the thing, I’m not adverse to pain, or a “wuss” or extra-feeble or anything like that (I think these criticisms are often aimed at people with chronic pain conditions by those who don’t try to understand), its just so hard to explain that the kind of pain I generally live with is on a whole other level to standard headaches or muscle gripes from doing some gardening…which I don’t mind at all, they are a fact of life…its this whole other layer of all pervading, toxic-feeling, systemic discomfort that reduces my quality of life every day of the week, and it simply wasn’t hanging around as much while we were staying in this quiet place.

I have to add (its now a day and a half since I got back) that, by contrast, I now feel aggitated and like I want to crawl out of my own skin if I pay my body any attention. That skin is itchy/burning in places, making me want to scratch my torso and losen my clothes, as though I am bathed in static. My knee joints are painful and spongy, fingers and wrists hurt as I type, I have back my stiff painful gait, difficulty climbing stairs, feel bloated and sore in my stomach, soft tissues feel irritated and I’m generally sore all over. In the night, though we do a good job of blocking the blue street lamp, my vision is noisy, the room seemingly full of sparkles, the same effect as I glance into the shadow areas of this room during the daytime; I never seem to see true darkness in this environment because it appears loaded with energy. I can’t settle to anything much, except for wrtiting this post, because it feels as though there is a fire that needs putting out and my body is sending out the alarm, day and night.

Beware complacency and self-doubt

If this is my old “normal” then, rather than continue to take it for granted or lapse into complacency, I now see it in the full light of day, in stark contrast to how I was a few days ago and that can’t be ignored. Yet, already, I feel that part of me that becomes defeated and self-doubting under these pressures wanting to give in, delete this post and put up with it all as inevitable. But for this brief moment of contrast, I still have my determination intact and I know I need to harness that while I still have the will.

Because its one thing to accept “this is my lot in life” due to some chronic condition that I may have to face up to living with for the rest of my life because its apparently not fixable, but quite another to realise that it can be switched on or off (or at least down) according to the kind of environment I place myself in and the exposures I accept as normal. Its a whole other matter to realise that a version of the world touted as that so called “normal” (rapidly being rolled-out as the new “everywhere”…) can make a person feel like this, versus a far more natural environment, while such a thing exists. If I am the canary around here then surely other people should want to be made aware of this.

Determination

So what is my take-away here and what is the point of making a note of it while these observations are still fresh in my mind?

Well, I’m a person who has lived with chronic pain since about 2006…that fact remains…and many of the contributing factors to that still remain valid. For instance, gluten, glutamates, sugar, sulphites and oxalates all make my condition much worse, true, but I don’t believe its these food substances (in moderation) per se that my body rejects. What they all have in common is their effect on the nervous system. They all make a sensitive person (I would argue, any person) a whole lot more sensitive and therefore susceptible to the effects of EMFs; ironic, since modern day lifestyle advocates them all, to excess. We sit in crowded places, bathed in EMFs, and we gorge on the hidden sugar, added sulphites, modified wheat products and bottomless flavour enhancers that lurk in nine tenths of the food served up by commercial eateries and supermarkets, and this is deemed normal, by most people.

I know from direct experience, the healthier my body is (fuelled by a home-prepared organic diet), the easier I can cope with EMFs and, when my symptoms are at their very worse, I languish in a state of abject helplessness because I can’t even gather the energy or the brain power to do or think anything about it (this week away has given me SUCH clarity when it comes to acknowledging this one terrifying realisation about my predicament). Having made all the most dramatic lifestyle and diet adjustments possible over the past few years, and helpful though they are, yet still finding myself in severe pain, I can attest that these tweaks are just not enough to see me through another load of years living where there is no respite from the current, or ever increasing, EMF exposure at the same time as going through the inevitable aging process of my later decades. As it stands, the odds are stacked against me.

This week has shown me, I can be around technology, on my terms and in moderation but when I am bathed in it with no respite, I become severely unwell. If I can dip in and out of such exposures, I can manage my health reasonably. However, the opportunity for any of us to experience such a respite is fast becoming a figment of the past as there are very few places or situations left out of the scope of hefty EMF pollution.

The precarious situation I am in feels akin to holding a a tray of rolling pingpong balls, somewhat steadily, above my head on one hand, which takes all of my effort and focus yet knowing (not so deep down) that one day, fatigued as I am becoming, I will inevitably drop some or all of those balls…if I continue living this way. I can’t ignore the direct route from the kind of cellular inflammation, endocrine meltdown and nerve damage I am currently prone to, towards diabetes, dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, stroke and so on, especially post-menopause (since which my symptoms have increased hugely), and I have already had enough warning signs to alarm me. I am engaged in a constant juggle of precious, overlapping, self-managed symptoms…but, having now known what it might start to feel like if they were to abate, at least to some degree, I am left wondering how I might have felt if I had stayed living in that quiet location for weeks or even months. How could my experience be reinvented, like choosing a different timeline (which is, effctively, what I am talking about)?

Following my week away, I know I have to take action to move myself to a place with far less EMF exposure, pretty much NOW to have a chance of bouncing back from the worsening effects. This presents its own shed-load of problems and we have our family fill of those at the moment but I also know I have to apply my own oxygen mask first.

I have to garner this new found clarity and determination and give it form in these words and other reminders to myself, so that it lasts beyond the point where the depletion of my energy kicks in more regularly (as it will after a few more days back into so called “normality”), so that I continue to do something about the situation and MAKE the life-affirming choice that needs to be made, though it can be all too easy to surrender to the familiar. Without this provocation, we would be unlikely to move house for a handful of years as we love our house…but I have to make it all far more urgent than that, and I need to remember the importance of this, daily and without complacency.

A crowded place isn’t my place because I’m simply not wired that way

I know that part of this problem, for me, is that I also “feel people” as part of my sensitivity (and Myers Briggs stack as an INFJ – I am an Extroverted Feeler, and then some). In other words, its not just a sensory problem (Extroverted Sensing) and I do pick up on people in proximity. Yet somehow these two components are not disimilar to each other because they both amount to a version of “crowded”, whether I am crowded by the energy of people or the energy of their mobile devices. Either way, being crowded is not something that feels comfortable to my introverted nature and modern life has a tendency to bring those crowds right into your personal living space, something that makes my whole system scream for help. What helped me thrive on the farm was the proximity of animals, particularly two donkeys I formed a close bond with, and this is something important to know and accept about myself…I thrive far more when around animals and birds than around hordes of people, especially strangers frenetically charging past my door on their daily commute. This isn’t something to ignore or apoligise for; it needs to be factored into my vision of the future, as an essential component of my health plan, as for any introvert, especially the most introverted.

Proactive and positive

If, by thinking these thoughts aloud, I happen to assist one other person with these sensitivities to rememeber that they, too, have a choice and can stand by their own traits by curating their own life experience, stepping out of mainstream to claim their own unique corner of comfort in this world, before it is all gobbled up by sameness, then it will have be worth the sharing.

Meanwhile, if changes can’t be made immediately, there are things we can do to mitigate the worse effects. Yes, get out into wide open spaces, into Nature, as much as possible, regardless of the weather (this healthy habit can slip for me as the weather turns cold and my body goes into more pain…I need to make sure it doesn’t). I can get away more often, and we already have plans to do so, approximately once a month if we can. I can get stricter about my diet where I have let some of those foods that make sensitivity worse (such as sugar!) slip back in over the summer, and can stick to a light and healthy, plant-based diet with fresh organic produce, regardless of the autumn/winter season, and plenty of water, so that inflammation and excess fat storage are kept at bay as these really don’t help.

I can work with energy to mitigate the effects, for instance I have a course from Prune Harris called EMFs, 5G and You just sitting there unplayed in my stash of things to catch up on so its time that I sat down and listened to her material so I can make it part of my daily routine. I can use “devices” around my home (this is where you need to do your homework, many of them are bogus) to mitigate the effect; I always use the Memon plug-in, even in my car, but also one that isn’t really a device at all, called Focused Life-Force Energy (FLFE) which factors EMF mitigation into its packages for the home and as a portable solution. I have used this for over a year and the immediate, noticeable effect was astonishing, as was the adverse effect when I accidentally turned it off for a day and felt awful. There are lots of studies shared on their website so I suggest you explore for yourself. There are so many more resources appearing all the time as more people notice the detrimental effects of EMFs on their bodies and quality of life, you just have to scout around.

The summary of all the above is that I have to stop panicing and stay proactive!

There is a distinct point, right after we turn that all-important corner by heading towards something we really want, instead of running away or shrinking back from what we don’t want, that something magical and potential-filled starts to happen. Its is as though we are presented with the opportunity to harness an incredible new source of energy that we never even dared imagine existed, let alone that we would have direct access to it. In fact, we had probably reached the point of assuming we had no personal power left at all and were on the verge of putting up or giving up.

That’s the point I am at, today, as I both notice what I am sliding back into but, also, recognise that I have known…and felt… something quite different, which is all that it takes to break through the hard ceiling of a stuck paradigm. And this is key for me to acknowledge because, by nature, I am an Intuitive first and a Feeler second (INFJ), so once I start to listen to these sources of information I really know that I am coming home to myself and harnessing my gifts, speaking my truth. If other people don’t want to listen, well, that’s up to them and we each have our own journey but I know what I feel and what my intuition is telling me about that, and I am taking direct action, not by trying to change the world but by doing what I can for myself, modelling that potential, leading by example because its what I have to do for my own long term wellbeing.

Due to this unplanned experiment in life choices, I have rediscovered my morale, pumped up my determination, polished all my hopes of achieving a different daily experience than the one I generally make-do with, and this is the key. At this precise moment (in spite of the fact I feel all the physical effects described above) and largely because I still carry visceral memories of my week away in the very cells of my body, held as memories that warm my heart and make me smile when I think back to them, I have been reminded that we each have a choice; we don’t have to languish in any situation that is wearing us down, which is a universal truth applicable to many more of the so-called “stuck” or “inevitable” situations of our world than I could possibly count; we are only stuck for as long as we believe that we are.


Disclaimer: This blog, it’s content and any material linked to it are presented for autobiographical, anecdotal purposes only. They are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing. This article does not constitute a recommendation or lifestyle advice. Opinions are my own based on personal experience.

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Getting a grip on your weak spot

It can take evolving our most challenging foible, our most persistent Achilles’ heel, the very weak spot that repeatedly catches us out, dumbfounds or blind-sides us, to make the next evolutionary leap. Sharing a post I just published on Living Whole which feels pretty darned revelant to anyone looking to deep-dive this, sometimes, painful yet profoundly rewarding area of self-enquiry.


It’s been a while since I wrote about Myers Briggs personality types though the method remains one of the most consistently useful tools I have ever used to come to deeply understand myself.

Yesterday, I happened upon a particular foible of each personality type called a “grip stress” state, something I had never come across before. It quickly became the jigsaw piece that has filled in one of the most substantial gaps in my self-understanding, ever…so I became resolved to share about it in a post. Here’s the portion of the article that really caught my attention:

“Grip stress makes the INFJ suddenly start behaving like an unhealthy, imbalanced ESTP. We lose our long-range focus, our typical empathetic nature and become focused on indulgence and sensory pleasure. We may become impulsive and reckless, seeking out thrills or enjoyment even if it’s dangerous. For some of us this means overeating, for others it means bungee jumping.”Understanding INFJ “Grip” Stress – Psychology Junkie

I think this description is all the more shocking to an INFJ personality (or anyone who knows what that looks like) simply because its all the very qualities that are most unlike an INFJ, bundled into one horror-show of a package that I can relate to having experienced for myself at certain points in my life (and, as its author continues, “it usually isn’t pretty”). 

Grip states apply to all Myers Briggs types, each one being determined by whatever the inferior function of that type happens to be, but the version of this foible that presents for the INFJ personality seems to be the example most often written about because it is just so extreme (there’s a surprise; INFJs never do things by half!) and, as it happens, I am that definitive INFJ type so I can add some personal insight to this topic.

So, to start with, I intend to draw on a few of the articles I’ve found most helpful, to give you an overview. Then I will fill in the blanks of some of the things this new understanding has enabled me to garner about my own most-bewildering life experiences, which may then be of use to other INFJs who see themselves with this foible and who may have had similar experiences of acting completely out of character when the chips are down.

As I said, the foible I refer to is called a “grip stress” state (a wonderfully evocative description which conjures for me exactly how I feel in certain circumstances where its as though I am in the grip of some strange external power causing me to behave quite differently from my normal personality traits although, really, its all generated from the inside). Here’s another summary:

“When we are under pressure, we tend to fall back on, and start to over-use, our usual preferred style of operation – our leading Core Character or dominant function. If the stress is too extreme or continues for too long, we will exhaust all the energy of our dominant function and our psyche flips into the opposite Core Character – our inferior function. In Type dynamics terms, we are caught in the grip of our inferior function. That is, we are taken over by the least preferred and least practised part of our personality. People experience this process as being overwhelming, finding that they behave and feel quite unlike themselves, which often comes with a degree of embarrassment or remorse. “ Core Characters under great stress: the grip experience – The Myers Briggs Company.

So, as I mentioned, this tendency to default to our inferior function when under severe stress affects all personality types, however the INFJ has a particular version of it.

“Grip stress occurs when you, as an INFJ, have worn out your mental resources and are completely burned out. This form of stress is more severe than “everyday,” manageable stress”. When It All Becomes Too Much: The INFJ Under ‘Grip Stress’ – Susan Storm, Introvert Dear.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the Extroverted Sensing (Se) cognitive function per se (its a wonderful, useful faculty to be able to immerse fully in the moment, navigating via the thrill of direct sensory experiences), except, for an INFJ, it is our weakest skill-set and, when under extreme stress, we seem to default to a particularly archaic version of it, a description borrowed from this passage from a book on the topic by Naomi Quenk:

“As their hold on their dominant and auxiliary functions further diminishes, the qualities of inferior Extraverted Sensing manifest in an obsessive focus on external data, overindulgence in sensual pleasures, and an adversarial attitude toward the outer world….What the introverted intuitive represses most of all is the sensation of the object, and this colours his whole unconscious. It gives rise to a compensatory extraverted sensation function of an archaic character. The unconscious personality can best be described as an extraverted sensation type of a rather low and primitive order. Instinctuality and intemperance are the hallmarks of this sensation, combined with an extraordinary dependence on sense-impressions. This compensates the rarefied air of the intuitive’s conscious attitude.” “Was That Really Me? How Everyday Stress Brings Out Our Hidden Personality” – Naomi Quenk.

When intense stress happens, we INFJs become oddly impulsive, almost as though seeking proof of life through extreme sensory stimulation (or, this is my experience). Perhaps its a case that we can no longer see that all important (to the INFJ) “bigger picture” and so we demand to find other forms of stimulation in equal proportion to the amount of thrill our awareness of the whole universe usually provides to us (again, how it feels to me). Unfortunately, this demands an excessive amount of thrill and sensory feedback and can lead straight into impulsive, inappropriate, excessive, compulsive, repetitive, destructive behaviours. The way in which Extroverted Sensing can be underdeveloped in an INFJ bears comparison with the skill-level of a child and this is a theme I keep reading about; how our Extroverted Sensing can be like a three year-old run amok.

“Your behavior will be completely out of character in the grip of extraverted sensing (Se). You may become obsessed with details about the outside world. You might start overdoing sensing activities. You try to control everything in your environment and make endless lists. You may walk through your house and become hyper aware of all the things that need fixing or that are out of place. External blame often pops up for INFJs in the grip, too. If you stub your toe on your bed, you may immediately get mad at the bed for being there (or the person who put it there)! Any activity that involves your senses can be overdone (eating, drinking, exercising, watching TV, etc). INFJ women in the grip are especially susceptible to obsessing about an aspect of their physical appearance and how they appear to others.” “What happens to an INFJ “in the grip?” Leslie McDaniel Coaching

Such a grip state can often follow a phase of being required to “extrovert” too much (when, as an INFJ, you are designed to be deeply introverted) and I can very-much relate to that as a source of profound stress and even chronic fatigue and illness. Of course, most people can probably recognise being in such a grip state at some point, perhaps especially introverts provoked by too much need to engage externally. 

“When you experience grip stress, it’s because you have exhausted your normal ways of thinking and coping. You might be ill, suffering from a breakup, dealing with intense grief, or coping with physical exhaustion. All personality types experience grip stress at different points in their lives. As difficult as it is to go through, it is common, and sometimes unavoidable”. When It All Becomes Too Much: The INFJ under “Grip Stress” – Susan Storm, Introvert Dear.

The difference seems to be the degree of “grip” that an INFJ experiences…and just how rudamentary their compensatory coping skills are, because it is their inferior Se function that tries to step in and fill the breach. Hopefully this weak area improves (somewhat) with age and experience, if their coping mechanisms start to calm down or take a slightly different format (as mine have) as life also settles down. However, the legacy of earlier grip stress occurances can leave the reminant of trauma hovering, as I will touch on below, especially if the INFJ personality feels deep remorse or shame, even unresolved bewilderment, around those circumstances.

Now, it just so happens, I had to “extrovert” almost non-stop, in busy and crowded places, morning, noon and night, for three days in a row last week and am certainly feeling the deep fatigue from that extraordinary situation. Having to “extrovert” that much is very rare for me these days and even more so post-pandemic, in fact this was my first time in almost two years! Venturing away from home and being on the go all the time with chronic health challenges is always pretty stressful, even when you are enjoying yourself, because of travel, extra exertion, lack of rest and sleeping in different beds etc, so there was that too, all adding to my overwhelm load. I have certainly experienced a great deal of enhanced pain since we got back and this can often send me into a state of profound overwhelm without me even acknowledging it to myself (my obsessive behavours are often the biggest clue to how much pain I am in). So, here’s a case-study, am I currently in a grip stress state after doing too much “extroverting” a few days ago? Let’s look at the signs…

Fairly classically for this middle-aged version of my “grip” state (excessive research being a typical outlet for it), I notice that I have been deep into researching something profoundly life-altering this week (moving house!), something I would normally be quite loathe to dive into as it is just too triggering for me to contemplate moving just yet. Still, I have been oddly urgent about it these past few days and also uncharacteristically gung-ho since we got back from our trip, not to mention impulsive when it comes to how far I have actually got into “doing” things such as actually speaking to agents (rather than just passively researching). So much so, I think I may have frightened my husband into believing this is all happening rather too fast!

To be honest, I have even managed to frighten myself via how wide I have now opened this project up and a big part of me now wants to stop it. So, yes, I now recognise I have been in a version of “grip” state since our exhausting trip which, as ever, has only added to my stress to the point I feel I need to take a good long pause. Today, I don’t even know who that intense person was, researching the hell out of things that trigger me (I’ve distracted myself away from the activity by writing this blog…), and I simply long to pull back from the whole Big Idea I was cooking up, so that I can gain back my sense of centre and perspective, not to mention my intuition rather than running hell-bent towards some scary objective I became mentally fixed upon “out of the blue” for 48 hours. These two bedfellows of my psyche – the go-head, FAST part and the slow, intuitive part – can be pretty uneasy partners at times when I am most overwhelmed…adding to the overwhelm and stress.

I also notice how intensively I’ve been researching since I got home…for many hours at one sitting yesterday, even though I am meant to be recovering from our weekend and yet I have been pushing myself as though I have an urgent deadline, driven by the intense sensations of time-pressure and stress themselves (as I know I used to be when I was a student, often leaving things until the sense of urgency was really cranked sky-high). I know I have dived into similar projects in the past when most overwhelmed by other circumstances; diverting myself into projects such as planning complex holidays abroad or purchasing large items for the home, all on a similar wave of stress-induced “grip”iness. However, in a sense, I would rather deal with this “mature” version of the trait (which sometimes has a nice outcome such as a well-researched holiday) than the version I used to flip into when I was in my youth, which would get messy and self-destructive.

Because I often come round from these “grip” phases with buyers remorse or in agony over having to live with some of the consequences of this other persona who took me over for a while; somewhat like coping with ADHD yet with rarer (but sometimes bigger, more contrasting) swings of the personality pendulum.

In my youth, a “while” of being taken over by grip could last long enough to do some real harm or create legacies of pain. Like the period of not being myself that turned out to be a whole chunk of my mid to late 20s, immediately following the unbearable stress of being raped by someone I had previously liked and trusted, having no one I felt I could confide in or process this with (Susan Storm describes a similar situation in her article Understanding INFJ Grip Stress). Or the whole year of uncharacteristically impulsive behaviour, drinking, shopping-up debts and socialising, behaving in a haphazard and even reckless way that I engaged in during the sheer terror of my divorce whilst doing a terribly stressful job I wasn’t suited to. I now recognise how those long phases of feeling so disconnected from the true, recognisable sense of “selfhood” that was my personality backbone in the earlier parts of my life left deep scars in my psyche; ones which have hung with me ever since.

Both of those phases of my life left me in such deep remorse and shame that I have never fully recovered from them and the remnant of self-loathing stays with me, still causing me to flinch when I look back. Its like those eras simply don’t match the rest of my life or the person I recognise as the the quiet, introverted, private and deeply thoughtful INFJ that is how I mostly identify. The concept of “grip” helps me to understand them, finally, so I can start to grasp why I became all about the quick-sensory fixes during those times, throwing all the deeper stuff to the wind and behaving like someone who just didn’t care. No other theory that I have tried to apply to these times has ever felt authentic but this makes perfect sense to me and allows me to process the previously unprocessable. 

“Extroverted Sensation focuses on total immersion in the sensory world. It’s the function you use when you dive into the details all around you and enjoy them for exactly what they are. It’s tasting, touching, and interacting with the present moment as immensely as possible. Extroverted Sensation isn’t concerned with underlying meanings, long-term ramifications, and the concerns of Intuition — especially not at an inferior level of maturity. Because of this, if you’re an INFJ who’s in the grip of Extroverted Sensation, you tend to use it in an immature, haphazard, and reckless way that you often regret.”When It All Becomes Too Much: The INFJ Under ‘Grip Stress’

The remorse that comes from it can be overwhelming, in and of itself, hanging around so intensely you feel like you can no longer live with yourself. I can recall feeling, at just 24, as though my life was completely over or ruined to all intents and purpose (the visual I had, the morning after the rape, was of ink tipping over, pouring black stains all over my once pristine life and no chance of ever cleaning it up; INFJs also have the foible of intense perfectionism, which can lead to cut-and-dried perception of times when circumstances no longer meet the high benchmarks we set ourselves). This thew me into such intense stress that it began a cycle of repeated behaviours of excess, remorse and terrible decisions (my first marriage!), lasting a number of years. It was the birth of my daughter that finally snapped me out of it, although I had a marked relapse during the divorce era and, that time, it was my body that called “time” by forcing me to stop because of chronic health issues. Again, the remorse and self-criticism that linger, following a “grip” phase, can be extra-profound for the INFJ and feed into a poor state of health:

“Most personality types feel somewhat critical of themselves after being in the grip. INFJs are very critical of themselves after an episode because it’s seen as evidence of imperfection.“ What happens to an INFJ “in the grip?” – Leslie McDaniel Coaching

So, here’s a big question, could the INFJ “grip” state lead into chronic health conditions? Are my own chronic pain issues a form of extreme and long-lasting “grip” state (a search for intense sensations as distraction from overwhelm), or a post-traumatic reaction to prevous grip stress occurances that linger as sources of remorse, sadness and confusion? 

The thing is, INFJ is not the dull-librarian of a personality type that some may regard it to be. Its inner workings are extremely fast moving and intricate, like white lightning running along wires of awareness as complex and unfathomable as a meadow full of overlapping spiders’ webs, covering everything in sight. Its ponderings get into everything, all imaginable topics of consideration, all pretty-much conducted on the inside. My interests certainly poke around into a whole spectrum of life queries and are deeply metaphysical a their core, nosying into all the corners of the universe and tirelessly seeking connections. No topic is “just” simple, isolated or singular as all things are regarded as part of an over-arching pattern and this is where my personality dwells; you could say, its happy place and natural state.

However, when stress pushes me too hard, something in me flips and all that energy, that entire modality, now turns inside out and begins to look to the outside for the same degree of “kicks” as it got from the inside before…only, the outside world, where senses dominate, is far from my speciality area, being the consumate introvert. In other words Extroverted Sensing (Se) is my weakest spot.

Suddenly, I need my fix from sensations and that can (and has) led to times in life when I have become the unleashed consumer in every sense of the word; spending impulsively (yes) but also gobbling up sensations, thrills, encounters, even danger, in fact everything I could lay my hands on, especially in my younger years, as already mentioned. Following the sexual trauma that I had no way of processing adequately, I not only behaved in ways that I didn’t recognise as being me but which attracted people who thought that persona really was me (a far more extroverted, larger than life, spontaneous, dare-devil person than I really am) when it really wasn’t. That factor has bewildered both me, and them, for years. Who was that? Who am I now? Why have I (seemingly) changed and become so boring, more insular and naval-gazing, than they ever recall me being? Loss of continuity of selfhood, and of friendships, has only added to my stress load over the years.

It was all too easy, given my relative youth at the time, for me to assume that this other chaotic version was the “real” me and that this was who I had grown up to become, if a rather sad and cynical outcome for the deep-thinking and sensitive girl I was before so, for a time, I invested in it further, as though there was no other choice. Now, looking back, I can regard it as just a sizeable blip in my life, compared to the person I am now, who is a steady continuum of the person I was as a child and young adult. One of my closest and most lasting friends is someone who knew me as that very young adult and who recognises me still; from the time before all that grip-causing trauma happened and, as luck would have it, we weren’t so much in touch during that other era when I was behaving oddly, so she skipped all the confusion and I’m glad of that. Other friendships, made during my “grip” phase, have fallen by the wayside, along with the old life I no longer recognise. The stress of this disjunct life led directly into chronic health issues…perhaps, unsurprisingly given a sense of continuation and a need to deeply know, trust and respect myself, are so very important to me. I felt lost to myself, for a pretty long time and that was the worse thing in the world to go through as an INFJ, to whom sense of self is literally everything and far more important than anything material.

During the confused phase, I began to doubt the version of self that had seemed so very rock-solid until that point. If that solid sense of self had been so easily dismissed by a single event then who was I really, what was real, was I even loveable (by anyone else or even myself) or just another fickle personality driven by base urges, the kind of person I had never really understood? Why was I so driven by sensations, suddenly, when I was used to diving for something much deeper and more profound?

Here lies a clue to my health. Chronic health certainly calls in intense sensations…pain of every variety, which is what I still live with daily. Is there a layer of myself where my brain thinks it is “saving me” from worse excesses by sending me these sensory distractions to consume my sensory attention constantly? There have been times that I have wondered something similar to this before, but it is realising about INFJ grip stress that has got me far closer to understanding it.

Here’s another important factor: I see now how I do get carried away by excitement, the kind of exitement that converts pretty easily into a fixation with the thrills of extroverted sensing, when it is not otherwise taken up with more abstract yet, to me as an INFJ, engaging matters. When I am internally focussed, that perpetually excited person is who I am and there’s nothing wrong with that per se, plus its not at all dangerous to get excited by ideas and abstractions. I get excited about a lot of things that other people might consider to be abstract or obscure but, to me, they are everything, making life worth living, bringing me constant entertainment and joy. My innate excitement about “human consciousness”, “nature”, “the universe” and everything in it has carried me though many a dark time when other people might feel as though they are bored rigid or that all the lights have been turned off because their focus is on their immediate, physical environment. Mine is “out there” somewhere cosmic, looking at the vastly bigger picture and gaining its thrill from far more reliable sources of thrill; ones that are far less conditional, always available. This is why I gain so much intrinsic pleasure from my spiritual perspective; without it, its as though all the colours are turned down to monochrome.

However turned around to face the external/sensory field, that excitement can quickly carry me away into the realms of inappropriate behaviour, being or doing too much, too impulsively, just (basically) “too much” everything because, in the world of the physical, we have to set limits and boundaries, we can’t dive all-in. In my younger days, lack of grasping this is what got me into trouble, like the night I was sexually abused, which began as a night when I was quite over-the-top exuberant with the thrill of life and wanted to share it with the world, spilling my own edges with enthusiasm and thus completely off my guard. I, quite simply, didn’t see it coming and my usually pivotal intuition had completely left the building (excessive alcohol always did that to me too, so, when excitement led to more drinking there was a double effect). All these factors added to my self-blame and remorse after the event and I spent many years, unconsciously, wary of my own excitement states afterwards.

I realise now, that kind of excitement can be both uplifting and contagious but it can also (in the world as it currently is…) lead to liberties being taken. Something similar happened last weekend when my husband and I were reunited with our daughter and the three of us must have been beaming joy and excitement to be together as we sat outside a cafe chattering away, enjoying all the sensory thrills of being in a lovely place with good food and each other. This excitement attracted the attention of a character who, in hindsight, I would have avoided quite utterly based on my pure instincts…but, here’s the thing, turned inside out by my sensory excitement, my instincts (usually my greatest super-power) were dialled way down low and I let this guy get a foothold into our family circle since he insisted on talking to us, asking personal things he had no business demanding to know about each of us.

It quickly turned dark and uncomfortable, like a kind of daylight robbery of the energetic variety, making my daughter feel very ill-at-ease since he targeted her especially, and I regret now that I didn’t step up to my full power to close down his attempts to bother us (in the end, we curtailed our stay there and walked away; in hindsight, that didn’t feel assertive enough and I was annoyed at myself). This is what happens to the INFJs strongest traits when they are dialled down to lean more concertedly into our lesser ones; yes, we can seem big or magnetic in our enthusiasm or “light” energy because of how expansive we naturally are (which draws attention) but this is often simultaneous with loosing our foothold with the very skills we normally navigate by. Instead, we are left to our weaker “tools”, similar to when a left handed person is forced to use their right hand or vice versa. 

I have also noticed that, because social situations aren’t my forte as an INFJ, the energetic depletion I experience in socially demanding situations because of that weakness (which has only grown more profound over the years) leaves me vulnerable to this kind of wrong-footed scenario, where the very skills that normally serve me so well are too off-centre to be of use when I most need them. Chronic fatigue syndrome has only added to this effect, making me a walking target if I am not careful about avoiding overwhelm or drawing boundaries.

What am I left with from all this new realisation? Is there any point to knowing about it? Well, just as I have always found profound value in exploring the Myers Briggs method, I have found the same to be true of any system of enhancing self-awareness so that we can see what might otherwise be off to the side, sat squarely in our blind-spot, completely out of sight though it potentially affects our behaviour or our health every day of the week. Awareness sheds light on our unconscious traits, not so we can judge them but so that we can come to understand them rather better and this is, in a sense, a super-power that we then acquire, becoming more valuable to us than to not have the trait or foible in the first place. In a way, we can reach the point of saying “I am glad that I have this trait…now that I see it and understand it, because it helps me to know myself better”.

I recall when I did my first deep-dive into Myers Briggs, gobbling every book and resource I could on the topic, I learned that our weakest trait is usually the one we tackle or master the latest in our lives out of all the four components of our personality stack, perhaps in our middle years or beyond. Until that point, it can remain the one thing, the Achilles’ heel, that constantly causes us to flounder or trip up. Facing up to it makes me think of a mid-life crisis of sorts although, as with every midlife crisis, as we hit up against that one thing that has been bothering us for years, now eyeball to eyeball with it, there is always the opportunity to grow from the close encounter. Perhaps that is what my health crisis has been for me and realising so much about this sensory component, via the “grip” state, could be a big clue to how and why it happened to me.

I have been all-too aware of having hit upon such a “maturity challenge/opportunity” throughout most of my years of chronic health journeying. I am certainly not the same person who first embarked on the trek and would not choose to go back to the beginning, for anything in this world. How am I doing? The jury is still out but I can now look back at my younger self with compassion, if not always full understanding (that is a lifetime’s work) though that is now getting there in leaps and bounds.

This new information about grip stress adds a very large portion of the missing understanding in one go because, to me at least, it makes total sense. Turned inside out, so (in a sense) my innards pointing outwards, I would be a lose canon on deck as the same rules don’t apply in the physical world as in the universal “field” where I have always chosen to dwell and which is my more-familiar place. Do I learn from this that ranging too far, taking anything to excess (even on the inside…), is not such a healthy state for our physical-human form? It can certainly prove to be seriously ungrounding.

I can also start to become more aware of the signs that I am slipping into a “grip stress” state. What can I do to divert or defuse that when it happens, before it takes over? How can I teach myself rules of engagement for those rare times I turn my focus to the sensory more so than the intuitive, so that I don’t overdo it or lose my power? How can I make the sensory realm a healthier place to be, by (I’ve already done much of this work over the last 10 years) seeking my sensory kicks from being in nature rather than immersing in human-devised methods of sensory titillation. I can watch myself for signs of joining in with behaviours that aren’t really mine (defaulting to the dominant “norms” in social settings, in order to blend in…that old foible of mine) which only ever results in me depleting my innate guidance skills and personal power. I can pace myself to avoid getting carried away, whatever my “grip” outlet happens to be on a particular day (such as manic research, impulsive decisions, overdoing some activity or other, over indulgence, compulsive spending, worrying or ruminating obsessively, writing too many words, talking too much or generally oversharing in ways I later regret, spending too long on technology, even taking too many photographs).

I can ask myself “what has got me into this grip?” then use all my tools to let go of its squeeze upon me, liberating myself with breathing and mindfulness, visualising softness coming into any tension points that I happen to become aware that I am holding in various parts of the body (increased body awareness can be another route out of a “grip” state). I can acknowledge the inner child in me that is feeling completely overwhelmed and offer her other outlets (I’d been doing that work anyway). I can bring myself back into the present moment, into gratitude, as a means of anchoring in my body, where stress can’t get to me so very much because I am fully present and aware of my senses here-and-now, not needing to go off in search of them by means of over-stimulation. I can explore the posibility that pain is just an invitation from my body to stay more present with my actual sensory awarenesses, without needing to venture off in search of even more of them beyond the scope of my tolerance levels as a highly sensitive being.

Finding the source…as in, the REAL source…of the stress is the very key to the door, so that it can be looked straight in the eye and dealt with face-on, before it develops or takes over.

So, this has been, for me, a gigantuan piece of the jigsaw of self-realisation and I would expect that whatever Myers Briggs personality type a person happens to be, the same could be true for anyone interested in how they respond to being under intense stress, perhaps causing them to flip towards using their very weakest traits (their Myers Briggs inferior function) to handle their biggest crises, which is a bizarre turn of events when you think about it. Imagine how many of us potentially default to our weakest, least evolved, tools when pressured and the combined effect this has upon the collective when there is a whole lot of stress going about in the world. For my husband as an INFP, for instance, his “grip stress” state is to find himself thinking through all the logical details of life too much during periods of the day (or night!) when he should be chilling-out or using his personal values and emotions, being his dominant function of Introverted Feeling (Fi), as his main guide, as he generally does when not so stressed-out. This is his inferior Extroverted Thinking (Te) function trying to take over in a crisis (and is his absolute nemesis…he loathes to spend time over-thinking and seldom does!) and can quickly lead to panic, overwhelm, lack of sleep, huge amounts of self-criticism and loss of self-confidence (thankfully, he seldom gets overwhelmed as he has such a calm-demeanour, thus I don’t get to see him in this state very often). 

So, as you can see, each type has its own “grip stress” foible to be explored, by looking into the inferior trait and noticing if this sometimes becomes the default mode, in lieu of your dominant function, in times of severe stress. Seeing it in the clear light of day can defuse the grip stress state and lead to far better understanding of how to evolve the inferior trait, enabling you to move through the stress in a new and far healthier fashion, something we could all benefit from learning in these high stress times which are, nontheless, loaded with evolutionary potential if we but dare to do the inner work.

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What are we collecting?

Its an old joke I have with myself (not a particularly funny one) that my husband collects letters after his name and I collect chronic conditions. He has so many he struggles to fit them on a business card (not that he bothers with one of those any more…) and, well, I find it harder and harder to regail people with mine, so I’ve learned to prioritise what is relevant in that moment. Dealing with a hotel, I explain that I need a bathtub and firm mattress because I have hypermobile joints, or speaking to a restaurant I explain I have food intolerances. To be honest, it makes me cringe and I would rather not collect such things, at all.

Yet we all collect things, far more avidly than we like to admit. Kleptomaniacs to the soles of our shoes, we might not think that we collect anything at all…but it can be subtle, oh so subtle. Like fly-papers to the wind, we pick up these things from our birth and, at some layer of our being, we orgnaise them into shapes…like a stamp album we’re very proud of or, at least, that bolsters our sense of self, the very structure of “who we are” in an attempt to “explain ourselves”, to ourselves (and others) in an otherwise abitrary-seeming universe.

Like armoury we use to face the world, these definitions link together like platelets of “hard fact” against the amorphous sea of circumstance. So, we clunck around in our hinged exoskeleton “suits” of self-explanation, armadillos against the world.

These things we collect could be reasons or beliefs. They could be, for instance, all the reasons we don’t trust the world, “evidence” we’ve gathered and stored-up to remind ourselves that life isn’t friendly, the world isn’t safe, people can’t be trusted and are fundamentally different from us. That we are that one-off original and they don’t really understand. Evidence that “they” all made mistakes and now the world is ruined, headed to disaster, and we saw it coming.

We migth collect reasons we feel abused or unloveable, undeserving, why “things never go our way and never will”, why we are doomed to disappointment.

We might collect criteria by which we judge other people even before they open their mouths. Or, behaviours we won’t accept, beyond limits set around some ingrained status quo we won’t ever agree to venture beyond, lest it rock our version of reality to consider that things are wider, less pigeon-holed, than we once thought they were. We might collect criteria for determining what is factual, scientific, reliable, beyond which we refuse to, ever, open our perceptions and posibilities.

Rather, we might collect signs and symptoms of how things are subtly improved today or, even in just this brief moment, how we are feeling a little or a lot better, brighter, against any other odds or logical reason that might seem to stack up “evidence” to the contrary.

We might even collect reasons to be grateful, to believe in the transformative power of hope, even when things seem desperately gloomy yet still scanning for the pinprick of light. We might gather people’s smiles, the light in their eyes, their beautiful quirks, kindnesses, ingenuity and breakthroughs, those things that ring out the highest bells of humanity and all the signs we are collectively waking up.

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Enough

As I’ve travelled through the landscape of grief, challenge and many changes lately, a word has asserted to me, perhaps surprisingly…perhaps not really. And that word is “enough”.

Sometimes, it asserts as “Enough, already!” This feels like the right moment to call time on a lot of old habits that no longer fit.

At other times it’s more of a felt sense than a word…an awareness of having enough, being enough. “I am enough” is all we are, really, here to, finally, realise and I am getting close to it, in flashes and glimpses through the trees.

No need, then, to jump through hoops of burning flame…quite alright to walk softly, mindfully along the lesser known paths of selfhood, and not give a jot who is here to understand or give applause.

On my walk today, which used to be a “given” but not so these last few days where pain has laid me flat on my back, quite literally, I realised my “small” local walk was more than enough; never mind having to jump in the car to go somewhere more auspicious for my thrills…yes, nice, sometimes for a change but this was much more than I could have hoped for. These recent months of “having” to walk local for various reasons, one being that my elderly dog was was too unwell to walk any further, I made my peace with the locale that has been home for nigh on two decades. Finally. Seeing it in all its splendour, allowing that nature touches it with the same gilded brush as anywhere else in the dew or tilted light of an early morning stroll.

I’m so glad to find the sentiment upholds, even after my dog has passed, even now that I could literally walk wherever I choose on any given day. Yes, I have done some of those other walks over the past few weeks, relishing them…but this one meets them all in its enoughness, with the added bonus that its my locale, my slot in the universe and there’s something to be said for finding your contentment with that.

Never mind that I sometimes have to put on noise cancelling headphones to walk the short distance past ever more relentless traffic along my road to get to the stile into the fields…perhaps even a little further some days, until I’m well out of earshot of its roar on a highly sensitive day and if its “rush hour”. However, once I’m into its depths, there are gifts galore in this unassuming place. I just have to be open to their treasure trove; so, the difference was never required of the place, only of the person encountering it!

This morning, in the woods, I enjoyed a brief catchup with some new friends made only quite recently, the effect (I suspect) of slowing down my pace to suit my dog because this had never happened before…in twenty years of not knowing anyone by name within a mile of my home!

See what happens when we slow right down and open up to possibility, wherever we happen to be…

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Once I was alone again, I lost count of how many wrens I caught sight of today, being the shyest bird in the woods, except perhaps for the firecrest I saw just a while back; now, that rare treat felt like a truly golden reward for not forcing myself onto anything, not that I’m here to claim any prizes (in fact “trying” to see a particular bird is guaranteed to keep it at bay, I find). Such encounters are a sure sign of how softly I am treading on any given day, how gentle and unassertive my energy is, which is a good sign. Days when I’m locked in my head, pushing some thought through the sausage machine of my head, my energy repels these softer moments, or, I fail to notice them…but today was full of riches.

It came to me on the crest of this wave that I am bathed in enough. Enough love and support from my family. Enough food on my table. Enough material comforts to call my house a home. Enough to be grateful for, and then some, though perhaps not always measurable in flighty, material, achievement-associated things (or, at least, not the kind that most people collect…) but there’s another kind of achievement that comes from realising None of That Matters…not really, not when the chips are down or the true measure of a life is taken.

The essential tester, if I was given a week to live, would any of that stuff I strive for really matter? And if not, what really would? What do I already have, perhaps in spadeloads?

To glean this and to live by it are two very different things. I have long taken emphasis off the material and placed it, fervently, on the experiential…the feelings, the love, the value of a life spent in mindfulness, awareness, appreciation, kindness…

And imagine, if we all lived by the measure of enough, how quickly would the world transform? How soon would all our problems shrink into proportion as we all slowed down and ceased pushing and grabbing and grasping all that we can. So, I have to believe that in finding it for ourselves, we each play our part in achieving such a world and that that, in itself, is doing enough. More than enough.

Still, I’ve continued to jump through a few hoops, insisted on hedging some bets, grabbing my own pieces of “more” where I can, just in case. None of it made me happier. Much of it threw me straight back in the mire of doing, worrying, ruminating, chasing, apologising, comparing, never feeling contented. Enough came with provisos, “apart from…” tagged onto it at every turn, until enough no longer really felt like enough at all.

What I’ve also found to be true…the more you have, the more headaches it causes, more time it consumes, more ever decreasing circles it sends you in. When you already have a noisy head, when a little too much is usually more than you can cope with, when you’ve had to work really extra hard all your life to seem as though you are coping more than you really are just in order to be left alone in the fiercely independent, quiet lifestyle you want more than anything in the world, and without kicking up a dust-storm wherever you go, this isnt’ a sustainable or healthful option and I know that now. From here on in, I would rather trim my cloth than bust a gut. “Being enough” rather than chasing “doing enough”.

Now, I’m not saying I’m there but it feels more real, more predominant and that’s a new place I’m exploring, letting it coach my decisions as to whether to continue letting this or that nip at my heels or whether to cut-off old habits, undertakings, pretences at productivity (to fit in with the crowd of “do-ers”) and so on…in order to really let it all go and live by enough as an end unto itself.

Or, rather, not an end so much as a beginning because, of all the familiar landscapes visited and revisited in the ever repeating storyline of life, I have yet to see beyond the far hill of enoughness…to experience the landscape awaiting me on the other side. I’m told, by my instincts, the only way to “get there” (we are already there…) is to believe wholeheartedly that it exists.

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Health & wellbeing, Life choices, Menu, Personal Development, Recovery chronic illness, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Courting obscurity

Sat outside a farm-shop cafe yesterday, which was one of the busiest spaces I’ve been in for quite some time, my eye cast over the tables and happened upon the first new newspaper I’d seen in, likely, a couple of years.

Its headline shouted out “money speaks”.

So, the world hasn’t changed so very much during my, what feels like, long absence. By which I mean absence in more senses than one, not only because of lockdown restrictions and choosing to keep out of public places but also, in truth, feeling thoroughly disengaged from the world in an internal sense, focussing on my deep-healing process whilst reconfiguring my priorities during a time of transition with my family.

One of the ways I disengaged is that I stopped, I mean really just stopped, everything. Including putting any energy, at all, into the so-called “marketing” of what “I do” (that troublesome phrase) as an artist. My main, and still somewhat reluctant, outlet other than blogging (which is, at least, where I get to be myself for no other purpose than…) is Instagram because it is predominantly visual so it seemed like a reasonable fit with being an artist, though I’ve gradually learned its what you say and how you say it that really garners the attention you are meant to seek. Yet I also chose it because it seemed friendly, less abrasive and mostly harmless enough in art circles (I avoid most other kinds of account) and I do enjoy the occasional dip into what other artists are doing. Plenty of my art acquaintances seem to chatter away on there almost daily, garnering just enough interest, in a non-hard-selling way, to keep their cottage industries afloat. So, I tried for a long time, yet there was just one problem I kept hitting up against.

Which is, put simply, a core reluctance in me to take part in any of the chitter-chatter noise out there which, this year, has completely got the better of me such that all of my heart and effort went out of social media self-promotion months ago. Though I “could” do it, have all of the appropriate tools to “make myself” do it, bleating on about my creativity just doesn’t feel like me at all. Try as I might to turn “the products” of my creativity into newsworthy sport, the moment I did that self-promotion thing, it didn’t feel like me anymore and this bugged me for years. And its not just the art side of things; I notice the same pull-back when it comes to making small talk with anyone. I used to have the stamina to at least put on a good show of it but now, well, I just don’t anymore. The well as dried up.

You see, I’m a deeply, deeply introverted person, not at all a show-and-tell kind of girl (and, for the record, we introverts are famously rubbsh at small talk, most of us loathe it). Yes, I’ve done that “ta-dah” kind of stuff in my life, mostly at school or in certain jobs, but it felt forced and never felt authentically “like me”. I didn’t even know how much that was true until I stopped doing it and found all this terrible erosion of myself had taken place from the attempt, like I was a moth-eaten old carpet where, once (back in those halcyon days of childhood, when I did things expressly for my own amusement) I felt bright and colourful and intact, especially when I was lost in the inner world of my creations. Life had done that to me; the “need to perform” in order to survive had frayed all my edges, repeatedly, and it came as a terrible shock to realise how the innocence of my earliest motivators had been tarnished by the great drivers of our culture, to succeed, to compete, to make money, to show-off what we do.

So being that Insta-persona didn’t feel authentic and, whilst its clear to see that its only those artists who are truly prepared to share their output and their chitter-chatter (social media’s version of small-talk) everyday, that make a real go of it, I’m simply not happy pushing myself through those hoops.

If I take the very best couple of examples of artists I know who do well on Instagram, one of whom I know to be gregarious and extroverted in person, whose accounts are engaging and feel real and worth looking at, you can tell its “really them” wanting to share what they just made and chatting away to people in the daily comments, which is great for them. As per most extroverts, they are likely energised by their social (media) engagements whereas introverts tend to be depleted by them which means, for us, they have to be really worth it, with other pay-offs such as achieving a profound and satisfying depth of conversation (which you are very unlikely to get on social media, let’s be realistic here). They are able to be themselves, no compromises, and also make a go of social, self-promotional, behaviours as a sort-of byproduct. So, if you were to meet them, they would probably sound just the same as their online persona and would sit you down for a coffee or a workshop demo, easily making friends with you and everyone else into the bargain; the more the merrier.

However, as the introvert, I simply wouldn’t do all that…or, it would be a struggle against my grain, faking it till I make it, just as I had to “seem” more extrovert than I really am to get by at school and at work…usually by closely watching what other people do and then mimicking their behaviours until I “got it right” (whilst feeling I had to hide my differences away from scrutiny). Mimicking other people’s behavours on social media and trying to read their responses correctly is particularly difficult and soul destroying, not to mention fraught with perils, and is another way that I have noticed I was being constanly depleated and defeated by the activity until I stopped.

The big tester being, I would hate to have to deal with people knocking at my door everyday, popping in for coffee and chats whenever they wanted, so why pretend its any different in virtual space, where people expect to engage with you day and night and to have opinions about your life and everything you do? In feigning that I’m OK with this, I have been misrepresenting myself and (the fear deep inside of me) feeling as though, if I suddenly had to appear in front of these same people in the flesh, I would let all their expectations of me down, because this isn’t how I am. Really, I want the art I produce to do ALL the talking when it comes to my artist persona…and to retire into its background…which, thankfully, I can do through the kind of representation where I don’t have to, also, be an art-personality but its a slow business because people “expect” you to also be a Big Personality as well as an artist these days (no such pressure was put on all the, countless, artist…and writer and genius…recluses and introverts of old). It’s the only way that leads to success, so they say; and without it, you disappear into oblivion.

Yet suddenly, this year, oblivion felt preferable, on all counts, not just as an artist. A big part of me yearns (and had always yearned) for disengagement on all fronts, I realised…so, how had I been overlooking its plaintive cry inside of me, screaming at me to disappear into the cracks, to find comfort and who knows what else in there? Once I pulled back, even for the first few weeks, I could see how social media had bent me into a pretzel, just the same as the very lifestyle I had had to give up for my health; the one where I used to pretend to be “other” (less neurodiverse, less introverted, less sensitive…) than I really am. All those pretences led me to falling off the edge of the cliff of my health, breaking up into pieces that I’m still picking up and learning how to reconfigure. So, stopping all my engagements and imperatives, even the virtual kind (except for the occasional blog, which is where I get to be authentic, no strings attached) has been a really good thing this year, but its left me in a kind-of-a void. Having no demands on you feels kind-of odd when you’ve lived a lifetime of high expectations…many of them set up and re-enforced by yourself!!!

Where do these demands of each other, and of ourselves, come from? Really, their root is always to be found in a base idea (or, fear!) of what it takes to survive, which then morphs itself into all those fixed ideas we have about what constitutes “success”. If I am connected and popular and busy, I am succeeding, therefore I can cease fearing that my survival is under constant threat so I can relax at last, or so we tell ourselves. But what really denotes success? Is it “being like everyone else” or is it being truly, authentically, yourself and standing by that, come what may? Does it come from truly knowing what that authentic self feels like, getting to know it intimately, what makes it tick and then allowing it, supporting it so that you can truly thrive as a person (and I’m not talking about income bracket)?

If being yourself means disappearing down the cracks, out of sight, into some-sort of inner sanctum where you feel happiest and most yourself, even if no one can see you being that way because the experience of it is entirely subjective and private, is that wrong? Or is it just a cultural idea of what is wrong; yet another inequality that favours the extroverted and leaves those of us who are natural hermits gasping for fresh air? In being introverted, am I part of yet another subset of people forced into having to disguise or compromise who they really are to be socially acceptable and get by, even (if income depends on it) to materially thrive? What I’m seeing, lately, is just a little bit more give for introverts in the media, because the topic has caught on as a trend, but not, by any means, the kind of acceptance that goes the whole hog. As in, we can afford be a bit quieter than our extroverted colleagues or family members here and there without constant ridicule but we are still expected to yield to a dominantly extroverted framework of existence, especially as regards making a living. Yes, money talks (though I seldom like what it has to say)! What if we don’t want to listen any more? What if the ideal world of an introvert or sensitive or neurodiverse person looks very different to the one in which we are currently expected to “perform” as human beings?

Back to that original headline, does money really talk and if it does, do I have to choose to speak that particular language or can I abstain? Thankfully, having grown so accustomed to an unreliable, often non-existent, income flow from my creative output, along with my chronic health issues throwing my productivity into frequent disarray, we are used to not relying on it so I realise I am in a privileged position, not having to turn creativity into “work” when I don’t want to. So why do (rather, did) I still feel pressured to take part in the way the world “is”? Why do I still subscribe to some life-coach woman’s weekly emails telling me how to market myself as an introvert entrepreneur, against all the odds of my personality type, when I don’t even want to go there? When, to be honest, I’m really not interested, at all?

When I’m true to myself, when I question my deepest motives, as I have this year, I “don’t even care” about the usual drivers for making an impression as an artist, or even as a person, upon the world; they don’t even register. In fact, “I really don’t care” is a phrase that I notice bubbling up inside of me a lot lately when I reach some sort of typical choice point of the kind that would once have determined how I prioritised my day. “I don’t care, I really don’t care either way…” and it’s not that I’m depressed or have lost my way or sense of purpose. It’s more like I’m finding a new one, a truer once. I have no idea what it is but, taking my own advice, I’m allowing the feelings to be felt, those surprise gut-responses to my enquiries to be heard without criticism or deadline and simply allowing them, in their own abstract timescale and winding path, to lead the way. In short, I’m getting really curious about my own “I don’t care” ness instead of feeling alarmed by it, sensing it leads somewhere that I do care, very much!

Perhaps this is my happy place. Perhaps I prefer to question the paradigm as its own kind of “activity”, an end unto itself. Perhaps I chose to make the life-purpose of doing just that. Modelling an alternate way, driven and made curious by all those unique traits that happen to be inherently mine (not someone else’s, not always determined by groupthink behaviours). Now there’s a novelty; but it already feels far better than what I was “doing” before. Just letting go, led by the feelings, embracing the void, the obscurity, prepared to see “what next?” instead of having a plan. After all, “obscure” simply means “unknown”…and I strongly suspect that all our best hopes for the future lie waiting in that terrain.

A blogging-friend recently sent me a wonderful meditation on the topic of what it is to “behold”, a word I’ve always liked (its a wonderful, on-point, article, entitled ‘We are called to “behold”‘ and I highly recommend it). To me, “behold” is a word that adds gravitas to simple moments deserving of pause. “Behold that view!” I can imagine declaring as I fling open the window shutters, “Behold the way that beadlet of water hanging off a single grass blade holds so much light” or “Behold, that person is finally doing something for themselves, straight from the heart!” Take that moment in, it declares, without sullying it with expectations or judgments or opinions. Literally “Be” there and “Hold” space for something without precognition (always thinking we already know what we are about to take in…as we tend to do). Perhaps we even allow ourselves to be held by that “other” thing we encounter, as the article suggests, as in, to surrender into the experience of it, letting go of all our tension and controls. We allow space for the unexpected. We open to receive the gift of it. We allow the gift to be one we never even asked for or expected. We allow whatever it is to insinuate itself without fanfare yet, often, quite the unexpected sense of manifestation or transformation occuring. To be fragile, unsure and yet, somehow, just what we most needed next.

Right now, in allowing my innate quietness, my deepest introversion, my “lack of caring” about old drivers of behaviour, I am doing that very thing…beholding life unfold. I’m holding space for a rebirth, a reboot, to arise spontaneously out of the so-called inertia of my life, which is really a case of stopping what I erstwhile did in order to get out of my own way. Ceasing doing what I was expected to do or being who I thought I had to be (or presumed I was expected to do or be) for long enough to be surprised by what I might otherwise have missed or failed to appreciate and what is likely to be exactly what I most need in order to become more of myself, which is all we are really here to do.

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Health & wellbeing, Life choices, Menu, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grief isn’t linear…but there’s a gift in that!

I’ve been dealing with grief in a number of formats lately, the most recent being that my beloved dog died last week, adding to other versions of grief I am feeling right now, over loss of people, even lost ways of life. As I’m walked through yet another reminder of what grief “feels like”, the above header really struck me this morning; grief really isn’t linear. Just as soon as you think you have “got this thing” and are back on a slightly more even keel, the feelings come up again, like hot oil from a geyser, or ice fingers wrapped around your heart, or something inexplicable that feels lacking, a dark cloud hanging, a rock in your gut, a long silent lonely scream of yearning and sadness. An absence.

The thing is to move…and to keep on moving when the instinct to do so nudges you and in whatever format that comes in (don’t let polite or socially ingrained conventions tell you otherwise…if you need to belly laugh or book a trip away, allow that without any judgement or explanation) so as not to suppress the feelings or ignore them, but to allow them to supply the undercurrent of your movements for the next few days or months. This is your personal journey through the hinterlands, no one else’s (though others may share your grief). Follow the dance of those feelings, be curious, or persuade their heaviness to join you in some leap of faith, into the newness, rather than stagnate, because there’s opportunity and growth in grief too.

I’ve experienced this many times, not least after my mother died which launched, arguably, the biggest quantum leap of my life, though I didn’t see it until years later. There’s energy released when something makes way, leaving a space, so the very same absence that can seem to haunt you can also break open a paradigm, making room for something never even imagined before, because it was simply out of bounds until something that meaningful in the fabric of your reality shifted and, in so doing, caught your attention enough to question the very nature of reality. How can something that meaningful, pivotal, still “felt” as real, still needed and even longed for be here one minute, gone the next?

This really gets us treading those hinterlands of experience, if only in our sleep but maybe also in our waking hours, if we are prepared to remain curious and open to it. We begin exploring and searching and combing for understanding…where did this once living and physically present energy go?…which can take us on an Alice in Wonderland experience into the unfathomable, launching a whole new layer of awareness.

So, as I said, not linear and this in itself teaches us something…that nothing really important ever is! We spend our whole lives being trained, even indoctrinated, into “this” linear reality but, when the chips are down, we find we are all seasoned adventurers beyond the constraints of time space. Because, where the heart leads we naturally go…finding we can transport ourselves way beyond the narrow, fenced-in lanes of conventional experience, to truly be where our heart was the happiest with this person, whenever and wherever that was…and it may truly be an amalgam of several such times, all at once, that we lean into when we spend time with them. The feeling may even lead into the never-never lands of of where we once hoped we would be in some rocking chair future yet which, in this harsh 3D land, was never to be yet, suddenly, we are making that quantum leap without effort…experiencing some key ingredient of it anyway,

How many times have I thus spent time with both my mother and daughter playing together, ribbing each other, sharing moments between them in some golden experience that feels as real as anything, though they were never destined to meet in the flesh? Perhaps, in accessing this, I have somehow been the better bridge between their never-the-twain realities, so that my daughter feels she “knows” the grandmother she never met and I sometimes forget they didn’t. Twenty five long years of water have flowed under the bridge since my mother’s passing yet she is still as real and present to my daily life as ever; seldom far from my thoughts.

Thank goodness I have experienced that first-hand because I am into the territory again over the loss of a very dear friend, possibly the closest of my life, who knows she is about to transition, having had cancer for a number of years (I know she has no issue with me sharing this, whether she reads it or not), my grief over which is so profound right now, though it has yet to happen. In essence, I am missing her already, experiencing the grief of loss that is imminent. Yet, so clearly, I feel us hugging each other in her kitchen, beside the table she has so often described, then sitting on her porch to chew the cud for hours, both of us silver-haired and wise beyond description, sharing the fruit of our several decade’s intimacy, though we have really known each other for just 5 years. Already, I am there so no need to live the experience that will never get to “happen”; it fuels who I am today, what I am capable of, who I step up to be, in my wisest, broadest, most expansive moments…the way my friend already sees me…on days when I don’t buckle or drown in a sense of loss and victimhood and profoundest sadness at the physical absence of my friend. How do you even prepare for that? I am surrendered to the flow of grief, which will surely carry me through to the other side.

Which is not to deny such feelings but to hear their sad song and express it, perhaps wordlessly (dance has been such a true friend to me these past months), through journalling, through long unaccompanied walks through the woods listening to the trees. By allowing it to move through me, informing my humanness, which needs to be fluid and allowing of all that I am, and that I feel, in order to be healthy.

As it happens, I am reading Peter Levine’s extraordinarily great book “Waking the Tiger” right now and his whole premise is that, in order to heal trauma, we need to remember how to move, to shake, to allow the acute experiences to process through us, as animals instinctively know how to do (as we see them do in the wild when, say, they have been pursued by a predator and narrowly escaped being caught). When these things happen, an enormous amount of energy gets frozen in the body but in the animal kingdom the instinctive process is to shake that energy back into flow, back into vitality and life in order to recover and move on. All too often, we human’s tend to do the opposite, perpetuating the frozen state, holding the trauma in.

Movement is no less necessary when that stuck energy happens to be grief; by letting it move, express, lead the way, explore the new, whatever it takes to keep fluid and soft, we process grief differently than many of us were taught by human example. The energy doesn’t, then, lock in to the flesh, to become next year’s physical pain or long term illness. Stiff upper lip was my forebears downfall; let me be of the generation that hears and learns from, moves, and expresses my grief, in the moment it occurs, allowing it to inform my next iteration. Let it be included in me, not disgraced or denied.

In the day following the loss of my beloved four-legged boy, who had been my close companion for 11 years, even more so since he hasn’t been well for some time (nor I, plus lockdown), my first inclination was to not go out for my usual morning walk, without him…what was the point? Yet, once I had processed a little of my grief through my journal and through dance that morning, the far stronger instinct was to go anyway and to make retracing our steps part of the very processing I was doing. I then fully expected to prick some tears in the woods, on the same winding path that we had had to stick to for months due to his hips not being able to walk further or up any inclines but it wasn’t until I climbed the hill we had avoided since early in the year that it happened…the cracking of my grief, out of my body. Because, just as I reached the top, a remarkable thing happened; a dog that was the spitting replica of him when he was more agile came tearing through the long grass, straight towards me, suddenly dropping down into the idiosyncratic crouch he used to do right before springing. I had never seen a dog of his build or colouring in this place before; not in 20 years!

That was it…I was in tears…and when the woman came up she expressed surprise that her dog was, by now, all over me, leaping to kiss my face repeatedly, because he is “normally pretty wary of strangers and we tend to keep our distance”. What happened next was all the more extraordinary, bearing in mind I seldom strike up conversations with people close to home (people in this commuter belt don’t tend to be open to it) and certainly hadn’t met a woman to talk to for many months. In this case, the only reason we struck up conversation was because of my obvious grief. However, this woman and I turned out to have so many, pretty quirky, interests and mindsets in common (which both of us seemed to be oddly prepared to share with the other “stranger” as though we had known each other for years) that neither of us could quite believe it; she kept saying that other people think she is a bit weird but she and I were like peas in a pod. We must have stood there talking for three quarters of an hour!

So, if I hadn’t followed my more fluid grieving process the moment it fired up like a promising spark of new life (initiated by free-flow writing and dancing my feelings out of me, before which I had woken up feeling almost paralysed into a kind of rigomortis of the emotions that first morning), going along with the flow that urged me to go straight out the door on my usual walk, none of this could have happened. As it turned out, it was a both a healing balm and a reminder that a new life was about to open up, out of the old one, though I have no way of knowing what that will look like…the key being to remain open to the unexpected, not locking myself down into a concept of “how things used to be”.

Having lost a few friends to other kinds of circumstance lately, which can also cause its own kind of grief, this is just what I need to be reminded of; there is nothing whatsoever to be gained from locking down into a holding pattern of loss when there are opportunities for newness around every corner. I want to add that, just because a friendship might feel like it is ready to end, for instance if you grow apart from each other and feel like you are headed in opposite directions, doesn’t mean you don’t grieve its loss, or perhaps even grieve all you once hoped it would turn out to be; something I seem to have been reminded of a great deal lately. Wherever there was once a person that you invested in, who felt like a meaningful, even profound, connection, even for five minutes, a hole is always left when they are no longer there; whether this is to do with geography or changing points of view. This can take a similar degree of processing as any other form of grief; the key being to feel it all, express it, and encourage movement. That includes movement in your body, in your furniture, in your routines, in your location. Use dance, use shaking, use music (which is so powerful in these circumstances); I find I’m having to almost force myself to listen to music rigth now but, when I do, its so powerful as a vehicle for processing grief feelings through and out of the body. Hang up a bird box on your window; their energy and vitality almost can’t fail to move you in your more stagnant, precarious moments. Read “Waking the Tiger”; I am only a short way into it but finding it so very helpful, for processing traumas old and new.

Because grief over our “old life” can be every bit as real as any other kind of grief and I suspect a lot of people are feeling that these days, for obvious reasons. Another version can come out of abrupt changes in family dynamic. I’m all too aware that I largely avoided the sinking feeling of being an “empty nester” when my daughter moved out because of my dog being so needy and taking up a lot of my time and attention. Now he is also gone, the house feels newly empty…oddly so (we have both commented on it, my husband and I) as we rattle around all the considerable space freed-up from two massive dog beds (he was a Rhodesian Ridgeback) and assorted paraphernalia, all the routines of walking and feeding and doling out supplements, attending to all the quirks and rituals of an elderly dog stuck in his ways, of being greeted at the door, preparing for bedtime and listening out for when he was poorly at night; in fact, alert to him all day. One of the first urges I acted upon was to wash and recycle all of his bedding, out of sight, then completely rearrange the furniture so that nothing in the room looks the same, his space absorbed (at least in 3D!) so that now I find I can, once again, be in this room without feeling overwhelmed.

I realise I can also mix up my daily walks, to travel further than his elderly legs allowed, opening to new experiences and people, shaking free some energy out of its previous gridlock; we both can, as we plan more trips away from home at last, which is all a necessary part of processing grief. As in, we do what is necessary to shake up our physical space, remove what is no longer needed, barring a few meaningful keepsakes, then opening our spirits to the possibility of pastures new…if not immediately then at least pointing in that direction. We trust that the deep feelings we hold for loved ones and times past exist way outside of the linear, and are always with us…so, we can then, confidently, let go of physical trappings and make space for the kind of movement that instigates vitality and renewed life. When grief bubbles up again…as it will (as mine is right now, as I finish this writing process) we feel we have some incling, some vague plan (“follow the subtlest movement urge, shower, get outdoors…”), as to where to place our next soft tread on the earth, one step, one day at a time.

Grief can be propulsion energy, if we allow it, not burdening it with fixed ideas that suggest it means “the end”. I’m hoping this is something the whole planet can realise, at which point we not only gain a tail wind out of the collective grief of recent events but start to bend and flex our way out of fixed linear thinking, to become far more than the sum of our experiential parts.

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Menu, Personal Development, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Opening to the new

On my morning heart-to-heart with my daughter today we got onto the topic of making new friendships. Perhaps, its a topic on a lot of people’s mind’s right now as things open up after such prolongued confinement, even for those of us who are introverts (which both she and I are), making it less straightforward than for some. For us, its always about quality over quantity as we don’t reenergise by being around other people as extroverts do, yet we recognise all the benefits to health and wellbeing of having good friends in our lives. The inevitable overhaul that comes with this gradual shift back to “normal” life, along with other lifestyle transitions happening for us both right now, has brought the question into focus.

We both seem to have hit upon the same, eternal, dilemma of craving intimate same-sex friendship (we both, already, have a wonderful supportive partner) where its not about competition or comparison, including bonding over woes, which is neither of our styles. Women are often expected to trade in the currency of sharing their most intimate shortfalls, including those to do with their significant relationship (dishing the dirt on their partners as an exercise in bonding with same-sex friends) and we have both hit upon this one, many times, but won’t play along. This kind of behaviour all stems, of course, from jealousy and insecurity; if your life is going “too well” according to some-sort of barrometer, others will want to hear that its not all roses around the door to make themselves feel better. Women are also (I’m ashamed to say) sometimes prone to feigning loving support when really they are axe grinding behind your back or even spreading adverse gossip, trading information with others. This all feels like an extremely antiquated way of behaving and neither of us are prepared to play ball which, in my case, has resulted in pulling back for a lot of years while she has tended to befriend males as “less complicated or political” so its newer territory for us both as we re-enter it.

Then, she brought this one up, with friends that are equally mindful there is almost nothing left to say…she has a friend who is so conscious and upbeat, who agrees with so much of her perspective on life, that they quickly run out of conversation and drop into silence. Yet, somehow, though I also have a long-standing friend like that in the sense we both share a positive and mindful spin on life, we manage to keep things interesting and never run out of things to enthuse about or discuss together, including how we face some of the external challenges and continue to milk positives from them. I really hope my daughter finds that with the new like-minded friend she has just made!

Ideally, you find someone who approximately shares your core values and angle on life (as in, for me, that’s a universal and optimistic, expansionist, approach) and then you mindfully chat about whatever comes up, alonside having fun and positively visualising the future, not to mention supporting each other when either of you lose traction.

Its also important to know when a friendship has run its course. I made many friendships, decades ago, that I outgrew with time but where the other party felt it could or should continue ad infinitum. In different ways, it ended messily because, when expectations diverge, feelings get hurt. When a relationship has run its course but one or both parties are in denial, fate has a way of throwing something up that one or other will react to “unexpectedly”, perhaps to the detriment of the relationship.

Suddenly, it all feels over and, on the surface, everyone is bewildered and hurt but its usually a sign that the friendship has run its course, at least in the format it once took. Typically, the superconsciousness of one of the parties knew this and acted on it, throwing the rogue granade that does the deed, making a severance of some kind inevitable…because, sometimes, hurts can’t be unsaid or you just know if you patch it up, the same thing will just keep on recurring.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t go your seperate ways gracefully, with kind words and apologies for “the method” that some fatal damage to the status quo came about, nor does it negate “the good times” you have had together. Hopefully, you can shake hands, when the dust has settled, and walk away with less fluster or sting in the tail. In other words, hopefully (though not always the case, inevitably…) you can both be mature enough to take the overview that “its nobody’s fault” per se, no one person “did this”, it just had to happen, was perhaps overdue. Its a natural process, the same as we see happen in nature when a season moves on (friendships also occur in seasons). So then, you can both step back from all the chafing and simply witness the shifting of phases, mindfully and respectfully, with no one having to play the fall guy and no hard feelings.

In short, it can sometimes “just be” time to let go, to give each other space, the same way any good parent knows when its time to give their child more of a free rein and not expect to be so joined at the elbow. That said, some parents and their offspring (and I seem to be one of them) do seem to find their way to remaining intimate without cramping each other’s style and that goes for some long-running friendships too. The key to this is absolute non-judgement and allowing the other party infinite space to grow and express full and uncompromised alignment with their own expansion, wherever that may take them or however it looks, fully accepting that no one ever stays the same as nothing and no one is ever fixed in stone. The universe isn’t stagnant; no one is meant to stay anchored to a particular time-era nor contracted to be and behave the way they did years ago, their interests and angles just the same. The best friendships will weather that..remaining in contact with each other, unconditionally, at the very core of each being (you could say, at the heart and soul). When we see and accept each other via this core-space, longevity becomes very-much a posibiity, even beyond the physical form, as I know very well from personal experience with two of my key relationships so far, and then we are in the territory of the eternal. Here, we somehow know that if we were to meet again in a different lifetime and skin, we would still recognise each other!

Therefore, friendships that build such infinite space into their shared areas tend to last the distance (with no judgment intended for those that don’t…those just happen to serve another purpose). Looking up into the clear sky just now, to enjoy the sight of a pair of kites loop-the-looping way up high in the expansive blue, side-by-side enjoying the thermals together until one of them decides to shoot off at a tangent for a while only to come back together again when it feels right, I realised that this is somewhat how I see such friendships in my mind’s eye. Others, by design, are more like ships that pass in the night, each party taking something they happened to need in that phase from the enounter with the other, and that’s aright. The sooner we accept that, the less we stir drama around so many friendship “issues” and start to grow up, spiritually.

Some of those friendships flower and fruit and then, quite naturally, drop from the bough to the ground, content in the knowledge they seeded something at the time they were most fruitful…with no pathos or regret that the time has now passed. In different seasons of our lives, we need different things and we sometimes have to own that, allowing for change in order to make space for the new to bud and then flower on the bough once again. As it is with all things.

Once we allow the cycle to just be as it is, we cease hindering the rebirth process that arises as we mature, set new intentions and welcome fresh beginnings. Things, then, start to materialise just as our highest intentions have been setting them, such as those kinds of friendships we most crave to support us in our next phase of life’s journey (and only when we open that space will the opportunities start to appear so its important to cease feeling guilty and wounded, even fatally flawed, by what came before). People and circumstances change, its inevitable (nothing is more so) and there is no failing in outgrowing anything or anyone; only, it serves us best to handle it all with far less drama, more love, if we can.

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Life choices, Life journey, Menu, Personal Development, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How social media messes with the very point of art

I’ve let my art profile on social media (such as it was…) truly stagnate lately while I’ve been focusing on the priorities of my health and wellbeing these last few months. My new online shop, which I worked so hard to put together all of last summer during lockdown, has done absolutely nothing and languishes out there unnoticed…largely because Ive done absolutely nothing with it to change that situation. My desire to engage with Facebook and Instagram has been at an all-time low and, when I do, I often really notice, thus regret, the vibe-lowering effect it has on my otherwise rallying mood. When I do think about Instagram and my shop (if I do that at all…) I more-often-than-not think about deleting them than rather than working at them. They feel like a millstone around my neck. The sheer amount of effort it would take to brush up my profile and do what it takes to engage with the largely fickle and despondent audience that might otherwise see my output is gigantic and I simply don’t want to spend my life doing that…chasing after that…at all.

I also don’t like is that there is no half-way measure (like being “a little bit drunk”), you are either “of” that social media mentality or you’re not and, if you are, it seeps into your very motivation for doing art at all, colouring the “whys and wherefores” of everything you do, from “why this subject and style?” to how you present it, or, pimp it to its audience. I hate it all, and the very behaviour traits it demands of my persona, with such a vengeance, and hate isn’t a word I use often…but the feeling is really that strong. And I loathe that you have to commit to a daily practice of it to get anywhere, which smacks of slavery, a word I don’t take kindly to (if I could just use social media from time to time to make important announcements I would, but all the algorithms for being seen and responded to work against such intermittency, like a slow suicide through inactivity). The whole platform seems designed to force engagement and to cultivate a sort of neurosis to do with obsessively gauging your feedback (topic of my last post), whether you like it or not!

I don’t even enjoy looking at other artists on social media all that much because these platforms seem to bring out the worst in them, missing the whole point, the very feeling, of their art. I dislike how every single post contributes towards generating a cloud of informational clues as to those who are “clearly making it” (gathering vast audiences and tons of engagement) and “those who clearly aren’t”; a cloud of data for some of the less noticed (which is far from the same as less talented…) artists to choke upon, as though it were dust kicked up in the stampede for attention. Its the equivalent of going to a “quiet” art gallery only to find there is some sort of gizmo fixed to the wall above the art piece, noisily grinding away, keeping score of the exact footfall and length of time that other people have stood in the same spot and playing back their opinions, fatally detracting from all the intimacy and immediacy of your own response; as though you are now stood there in a jostling and opinionated crowd. Art is meant to be personal, real, visceral, three (and above) dimensional, not innert on a pixelated screen nor a crowd-puller or team sport (as an intensely pleasurable visit to an art exhibition in a rambling summer garden reminded me last weekend).

So, can you even get anywhere as an artist without social media (and little to no stamina for the exhibition circuits with their commissions and competitiveness anymore, either)? Is there a point? A happy place? What was that thing I used to say back in the day…I have to paint, its like breathing to me? Is this where I get to prove that very point to myself, as I would still prove the desire to breathe if I was the very last person on earth?

Another reason I recoil from social media as an art-outlet is that I have dived so deeply into the topics of obsession and dopamine addiction this year that I can clearly see the relationship. Yes, those are certainly traits that weave through my ADD personality type and there is no point denying anymore that I sometimes lean into getting the “wrong kind of kicks”. However, getting my kicks out of the transitory thrill of “likes” from people I will never meet and who will have forgotten all about me a moment later is hardly worth depleting my already thin-on-the ground stamina for and I know it, but I do get so easily hooked into the, highly artificial, sense that to be “liked” or responded to, even for just a moment on social media by strangers, is akin to having all the warmth of family and friends gathered around me, giving me some of the attention my inner child still craves to plug in the gaps of her insecurities.

In that sense, I am still that little girl, holding up a picture for daddy when he gets home from work…and that five minutes of grace can carry me through until, well, the next time I need that stop-gap in my emotional splutter…living from one fix to the next. This it not a state of affairs I am at all happy to condone, now that I see it all too clearly as the track-record of my life, as in, living from one moment of vague external approval to another like my life depends on it. That fragmented Approval Seeker persona of mine has been seen now (thank you Gupta Program), and is being asked to give way to the far more authentic version of me that lies deep inside the layer of fake confidence that barely covers the Rejection Sensitive Dysphoric adult that Life has turned me into (yes its a recognised trait involving extreme sensitivity to criticism and perceived rejection and I’ve had it in spade loads for most of my life) and, by the way in case you hadn’t noticed, social media is perilous for the more sensitive personality types. I long to rewind to the essence of the contented and self-contained little girl that I was before Life Happened and that little girl loves to draw and paint, oh how she loves it, but for no other reason than that it brings her JOY! Nothing else, no attachment to outcome to muddy her enjoyment or put her off her next stroke.

It turns out I am far from the only artist who is considering turning their back on platforms like Instagram once and for all. It seems there is quite the trend of it and some of those who aren’t brave enough seem to qualify their decision with “but I daydream about deleting my app every single day” (here’s an article on the very subject). From that article, this quote jumps out being as right on the topic of what I have already said about the dopamine rewards of being a visual artist on instagram and similar platforms. In it, artist Andrea Crespo describes how “Reward systems in social media were influencing my decisions while art making. I would think about what people would think based off of likes and comments.” The article continues: “Because its reception came so fast, and came loaded with so many social and biochemical cues, Crespo began to consider social media activity as an evaluating metric “really bad for art.” You begin making art not for yourself, but for the dopamine rush that comes as each double-tap lights up your phone” to the point it “was negatively affecting his spirituality and mental health”.

I can concur and I guess that is the place I have landed in with a lot of things this year. No longer able to compartmentalise that I am, on the one hand, evolving a-pace and yet on the other I “must” remain a slave to certain behaviours to survive and thrive commercially in the world, I have reached a point where if the one negates the other then something has to give and, obviously, my spiritual wellbeing and health take first priority, always. As-ever the contrarian, the more I feel the growing peer-group pressure suggesting I “have” to master the craft of social media engagement in order to survive, as an artist or anything else for that matter, the more I resist! For now, it all remains in the balance (my public engagements on art-related media, effectively, put on pause) but, the longer that lack of engagement continues, the more it feels as though I have lost all momentum on social media platforms, which only fuels my desire to say “oh well, never mind” and move on.

Posted in Consciousness & evolution, Culture, Health & wellbeing, Life choices, Menu, Personal Development, Recovery chronic illness, Social media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Feedback

As an artist, it can feel like hard work not to get at least some feedback about your art (after all, it is a visual form of communication). Sometimes, you really value that other person’s objective pair of eyes, or validation that you’ve managed to convey what you were aiming for. I was pretty-much guaranteed this when my equally artistic daughter still lived at home; even before her schoolbag had hit the floor, I often knew what she thought of my day’s output, if not always what I wanted to hear… Now, with my husband as my only living companion (apart from the dog!) I’m used to the standard comment, when I’ve finshed for the day, “More green!” (its an old joke and barely raises a grimace from me now). I know he can’t help it, being self-confesedly art-blind!

So, akin to most folk these days, its easy to fall into the trap of leaning more than you’d like to on social media for your feedback; a habit I’ve been breaking out of lately. We all know the perils of social media but, as an artist, it can be the kiss of death or a fool’s game to rely too heavily on the kind of feedback where, for no rhyme or reason, you can be flavour of the moment one day and completely bypassed or derided the next. The internet has become the commedy metaphor for the universal truth that when everyone’s input is invited to the party, you can find every single colour and shade of information, opinion and reaction to the point that you can use it to justify almost any point of view if you try hard enough or, really, they all cancel each other out. Most of the feedback you can gather there is thus rendered fairly meaningless in the end.

This kind of sticking point could be a really problematic one for a highly introverted artist such as I if such feedback was all I “did it for” but, really, I don’t crave feedback as much as I used to when it comes to my art (more on that below). Really, this isn’t the core of my topic…merely an example of one of the roles feedback can play, leading into what I’m about to say.

Because (its true) receiving feedback is part of who we are as sensory, highly interconnected beings in an interactive world. If we truly were a one-person island, it would be OK to say it doesnt matter, but we aren’t.

This requirement can feed straight back into being a Highly Sensitive Person, if you happen to be one, which is a recognised genetic trait (one I was born with but which circumstance has hoaned into a very fine “tip”). As the youngest child of four and the least similar in age to the rest of them, I really craved positive feedback when I was growing up (at times, it felt like a matter of survival!), so it became a currency I learned to work extremely hard for, at school, in my family and from my parents in particular, during my formative years. I collected such feedback and used it, more and more, to evaluate my own self-worth at the expense of other factors that should have been allowed to count.

Another reason it felt like a matter of survival was because I felt “different’ in just so many neurodiverse ways which, not understanding what this meant at the time but strongly sensing it wasn’t going to make things easy for me, made me work extra hard at evaluating other people’s feedback (you could say, prioritising it at the expense of all else) so I could become as adept as possible at adapting, blending in, meeting people’s demands and not disappointing them, in order to survive. This became the ingrained trend of many decades!

That HSP trait itself, especially when taken to the extent of being an empath (another recognised trait which mostly corresponds with people who have a partcularly high HSP score) can also be a sign of being more aware of feedback than the average person. When your entire system is geared at feeding back excessive amounts of data gathered from other people and the environment, it becomes a daily deluge of information, often far more than your nervous system can handle, leading to severe overstimulation, overwhelm, exhaustion and other health issues. On top of being an HSP, any other extra circumstantial demands or pressures such as those I’ve described above can greatly exacerbate the fact that a person already picks up on more sensory feedback than some people, due to how they happen to be wired, because they likely already experience sensory processing challenges (too much feedback!) even before adding social hypervigilance to their list!

Amazing to consider that a person can get in such a tangle and all from the simple, life-affirming, desire for positive feedback, prioritising a search for it over everything else. If you happen to have ADD of ADHD traits on top of any of this (I do!) then there is part of you that actively craves the stimulation of feedback with as much potency as any addiction to narcotics, sometimes without showing any discernment for what format that particular feedback happens to take (as in, not always the positive kind). There are known links between these traits with either genetically lower dopamine levels or malfunctioning dopamine receptors (dopamine being the “reward” neurotransmitter), meaning dopamine itself is craved due to a shortfall and people often default to those methods of “stimming” themselves that worked for them as a child or some other, earlier, phase in their life, even if that just keeps throwing them back in the path of high drama and abuse. When over-stimulation, even from too much or the wrong kind of feedback, becomes its own reward, problems inevitably ensue and, with repeated practice, we can become hardwired for pursuing the wrong kind of feedback all our lives, unless we break the trend. In my case, I can now look back with such a wry smile, given how clearly I see how I used to be such a glutten for punishment!

This is where, as ever, consciousness comes in. As per my last post, when consciousness crosses over with awareness, we start to see wood for trees. We notice trends that had us leaning too far, and too hard, into seeking (not necessarily positive) feedback in the form of the approval of others. My inbuilt Approval Seeker is a fragmented part of me that has been around for a lot of years and that I have been getting to know far better via the Gupta Program. Its a part or personality subtrait that can take many forms but many of us have such a part, calling the tune on our days, busily diverting us away from far more self-supportive and healthy behaviours and choices. Once we become more familiar with this part, we can start to see where we have been giving our energy away, hand over fist, if this part has been dictating to us for years!

As I already said, we live in an integrative, interrelated universe where everything is, indeed, connected; none of us is a separate unit. However we also live in a culture where that interrelatedness has been made “all about” the social; the largely unspoken mandate of having to fit in and conform to survive, which is quite different to knowing we are all related and should be able to lean on one another in a crisis, be respectful and kind. There’s an implicit threat to such an angle (deviate at your peril!) and we are ingrained with it from the moment we are born. Is it any wonder we become so hypervigilant when it comes to gathering feedback from other people, missing the point that this is not even the primary source of feedback we should be “listening out” for.

For starters, we receive a constant information stream of feedback from our bodies but how many of us pay attention to this, most of the time? When we don’t listen, those signals get stronger, pain and problems ensue and so we then want to pay even less attention to our bodies than ever before, distracting and detaching from them. “I already feel too much, I’m in constant pain or discomfort…why would I want to feel any more than I already do” people cry out (subsconsciously) and so they work mostly at anesthetising the pain with drugs and distraction, the modern way of life.

When we truly listen to the body’s feedback, when we give it that airtime, things start to shift. We start to notice what is most consistent about the symptoms we get; and we start to intuit what this is trying to tell us. This is how, bit by bit, we can start to get our health and priorities straight, putting ourselves (quite rightfully) back at the centre of the experience of life. Then, and only then, can we start to do the real work regarding feedback.

Once we can see wood for trees, we might start to appreciate how our body talks to us every minute of every day…and, the more we listen to its intuition, the more comfortable our body, and our lives, get to be. We cease pressing the override button because its “too inconvenient” to register our body’s needs, and so hear that it needs to slow down or even stop today, that we need to work in a different way or consider a change of job, a break from work altogether, a different kind of life..but at least we hear these things before its too late. In a world where our own feedback comes first, these are no longer inconvenient messages but, rather, helpful signposts assisting us in living our best life.

We can cease thinking we need to prioritise outside feedback…as a matter of security, in case something should happen that threatens us…and start to trust that when we are in sync with our own needs, those things tend to take care of themselves, or we are far better equiped to handle them.

Like having any kind of a clearout, sorting through what kind of feedback you are getting (and listening to…), throwing out or ceasing to subscribe to some of those sources and reprioritising what is most close to home can start to make your life a whole lot simpler and more habitable. The feedback that comes back at you starts to be far simpler, less hair-raising. For instance, the way I have noticed this week that I am chronically dehdyrated (you wouldn’t believe how many symptoms, some of them severe, this can cause…) which is very simple to remedy, now I’ve taken the time to notice it. Another one is noticing that you are tryng to do too much, spreading yourself too thinly so, of course, paying attention to this means you remember to pace yourself, slow down, bite off only what you can chew and this can make a massive difference, when its a consistent habit.

Such feedback can require you to make some lifestyle tweaks, for sure, and this can be daunting at first. For instance, it might meaning having to say “no” to a few more people, which can generate its own kind of feedback… but, hopefully by now, we are getting more resilient and even a little bit immune to the kind that doesn’t have our wellbeing in mind.

Then, of course, we are profoundly interconnected with nature, mother earth and the environment…all of this magnificient universe, in fact…and yet some of us only seem to notice their relationship with other human beings or, at most, their pets (it astonishes me) as though nothing else is of consequence to them. When we dial this broader awareness up, we can really start to draw comfort and strength from the kind of feedback we get from this interelatedness we have with all kinds of species and the very ecosystem we are part of. Including, but not limited to, all the positive feedback we can gain from the differences we can make by living a certain way that supports the natural world (like a garden full of bees, butterflies and birds because you went organic, rewilded a few areas and planted certain species of flowers known to support them; that’s wonderful, life-affirming feedback). We can gather a bottomless pit of positive feedback from our interactions with woodlands, mountains and flowing water, from birds, animals, flowers and all the magical synchronicities that start to occur when we pay attention to nature’s signs, cues and abundant inspiration…a whole other langauge of feedback we can tune into.

Once we really start to support these precious moments, the kind where (as I talked about last time) consciousness and awareness cross over, we start to crave spending more time in the kind of state where this is most likely to happen…times and activities when we are no longer bombarded but start to receive the kind of feedback that comes straight from the source, whether you prefer to call that “the universe”, “higher self”, “divine spirit”, or whatever works for you (really, it needs no name).

This ultimate feedback source requires no words to communicate, makes no demands and is entirely unconditional. It “tells us” all we ever need to know in terms we can’t fail to understand and make use of. Certain activities where we are fully surrendered into awareness can support us in getting there: meditation (of course), walking in nature, gardening and so on. For me its (back to the topic of) art, which I gave myself over to yesterday after a prolongued period of artist’s block…yet, just as soon as I picked up those brushes I found myself back in that place of no overwhelm, no more deep and brain-fogging fatigue, not even noticing my pain; just, simply, back in what is, for me, the rarified territory where I tend to receive a constant stream of the kind of positive feedback that readily tops up my soul. Really, that’s the only feedback I ever need as my incentive to continue doing it!

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