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Ruminations with Rumi…

I feel like I’ve been fighting my whole life. There is a war that rages between my physical deterioration and my mental or emotional strength. The weapons used are cruel, there is little respite and the stakes are fricken enormous.

Rumi referred to emotions – all kinds of emotion – as “unexpected visitors”. Rumi thought we should let these callers in and let them visit with us for a while. Give them a cup of tea and get to know them type thing. This concept from the 13th century passed the stiff upper lipped British by. Why do we feel the need to be restrained and remain resolutely defiant when an emotion comes calling?

Rumi writes beautifully. Well, the way he has been translated from Persian to English is beautifully done anyway. I’ve only relatively recently been introduced to his writings and they resonate with me pretty deeply. I read all sorts for all sorts of reasons.

I read because I desire to understand. I read because I want to learn. I read because I need to get lost in a world that isn’t mine. I read because I long to escape. I read because I must. I read because I can. For now, reading is an ability that has escaped the tortures of my mind and body. Reading takes it all away. It’s my shelter and my comfort. It reaches into my soul and makes it laugh, makes it think, makes it feel invincible and makes it forget. Reading nourishes me. Language fascinates me. Evolving language, at once, gives me joy and makes me long for the days when Mr. Marshall taught me that “focussed” has a double s!

When I hear someone describing reading as boring, I can only think it’s because they haven’t found the right book yet. Going back to Mr. Marshall for a minute (he was one of my English teachers at school), he always said there was no such thing as a boring activity only boring people. I’ve turned that over in my mind a lot over the years between him first saying it (he said it a lot) when I was 14 and now when I’m 46. I came to the conclusion a few years ago, that what he was trying to say is that everyone is different and will feel differently about every activity, be it reading, playing football, singing…whatever. That means the activity in itself cannot be described as boring. Boring people, however, are those that choose not to engage in any activity at all. That’s what I think he meant. He’s dead now though, so I can’t ask him. I wish I had at the time. But, well, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Anyway, I’ve digressed. I do that a lot. So, why do we find it so difficult to sit with our own emotions and acknowledge that we have them? Are we conditioned to believe that we should only feel positive emotions? Are we only allowed to feel happy, excited, thrilled, delighted, amused, loved, loving? Why do we feel its ok to acknowledge that we feel angry about something but not that we feel hurt by it? Why do we feel it is a weakness to be able to show vulnerability, but at the same time not be shocked when we get hurt? Why do we see it as inevitable that if we display an emotion that is not perceived as socially acceptable that we will somehow be thought of as a lesser person? Who decides what is socially acceptable??

My experience of showing emotion has not always been positive. I didn’t show my true feelings for years after I was told that my tears were pathetic and weren’t going to be put up with. I was 15. In order to swallow down the emotions I felt (& god knows at 15 I felt them ALL), I built some bloody fantastic walls. My grandad, a builder, would have been mighty proud of my structures. The wolves were not going to huff and puff and blow my house down! My house. There was no door. There didn’t need to be. I wasn’t coming out and you weren’t getting in. Simple. I was described as having ice water running through my veins. Apparently, it was discussed at length by people other than me, that I felt nothing. I felt baffled by this. If I showed that I was upset or hurt or confused or in pain then that was wrong, but if I showed nothing at all then that’s wrong too?

As a consequence of this inner conflict, when my emotions burst out of me as they are want to do, they were generally inappropriate. I couldn’t control them. I tried to channel them in the various sports I engaged in, although I didn’t know at the time that’s what I was doing. I was young, I was scared and I felt alone. So, I stuck everything in my solid house, climbed out the one window and tried to live a life that wasn’t full of anger and frustration. And I did.

I’ve had many, many wonderful adventures in my life. I’ve seen a lot of things others can only dream about. I’ve done a lot of things that others can only wonder about. My memory bank is full to brimming with wonderous colours, sights, sounds, people, noises, feelings, music and laughter. The flora and fauna of many a country are stored away to be brought out in writings or in musings or just to give a little colour to my day. All of this is juxtaposed with my house.

It’s only been in the last 10 years or so, that the window to my house has been cracked open. There is still no door. So if you want in, you have to really WANT it. One of Rumi’s most famous quotes is “the wound is the place where the Light enters you”. I liken that to the cracking open of that window and allowing someone other than me have a bit of a wander around. It surprises me to this day how hard I find it to let people into my life. This blog helps me immensely in my journey toward sorting through my house and throwing out old rubbish. I know now and acknowledge that I’ve been suffering from depression for most of my adult life. Acknowledging that was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but liberating at the same time. For a few years, it was only me and my GP who knew. (When I think about this, it isn’t so. I suspect a lot of people knew that I was suffering, but god forbid they suggested it to me.) When I decided to go public, it was done so casually that when I think about it now it makes me giggle. I would just drop it into conversations. As an adult, I’m better at knowing when it is and is not appropriate to do certain things. So while I would throw out this comment about “my depression” it was always in the right place in the conversation. It had to be.

So, my mental state is on one side and the deterioration of my physical packaging is on the other. The MS diagnosis is still fresh and raw and I struggle every day to find positives in it. At the moment, most days, I don’t see any bright side at all. Well, other than the one that lets me say “it could be worse”. I was at the hospital a few days ago and tried to get answers to the muscle weakness, the internal inferno, the other changes that are happening to my body. There are none. No-one can tell me if the weakness is a relapse. They think it probably isn’t, but they can’t be certain. No-one can tell me if the weakness is the beginning of my MS getting worse. Right now, there is nothing to be done. There is nothing that can be done. Although I feel the time is right to start saving hard for whatever future is ahead and what kind of walking aid I may need. I contemplated building an extension to my metaphorical house. I decided not to. I can’t always articulate my feelings, but I no longer want to bury them. Mainly because I simply can’t be bothered anymore. Its hard work pretending to feel something that you don’t and it’s even more exhausting trying to deny a feeling that is pervading every cell in my body.

So, I know to expect my depression to be with me. I know that the medication I take for it allows me to deal with it, in the main. I know that the medication doesn’t make the depression go away, but it does give me a bit more of myself (if that makes sense) to be able to cope. I also know that, for me, I have to sit with it alone for a while so I can process it enough to share it. I’ve learned there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to dealing with depression. I know that what works for me, won’t work for everyone. I know that just because I’m willing to share my story, doesn’t mean that everyone wants to hear it. That’s ok. That’s actually how it should be. We aren’t all wired the same way. We aren’t all moved by the same things and we aren’t all disgusted by the same things.

Thank goodness!

So back to the words of Rumi…my body may seem meek, but my spirit does somersaults in the sky! At least it will when depression has finished it’s cup of tea and it’s visit is over.

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Hidden Illnesses and the Kindness of Strangers…

When we hear the term “hidden illness” most of us think immediately about mental health issues. And yes, mental health has become somewhat of a poster child for the phrase. That’s actually a great thing, awareness about different mental health concerns absolutely needs to be raised and the topic needs to be discussed much more readily. But what about all the other conditions that you can’t see?

I’ve talked briefly about hidden illnesses before. But this time, it’s personal. Let’s take a look at my immediate family and take a little checklist of the qualifying conditions. Bear in mind, these are just those that I know about. My family has the absolute right, as do you, to keep their hidden illnesses, well, hidden. Private is probably a better word. So, there is depression, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, congenital heart defect, migraine, arthritis, cancer and anxiety disorder. Some mental health conditions, some auto-immune conditions, some wiring problems and some organ issues. If I lined my family up, you could not tell by sight who suffers from what. Hidden. Invisible.

What other afflictions, conditions, diseases, disorders are out there that you simply can not see? Diabetes, digestive disorders (Crohn’s, IBS…), chronic pain, Fibromyalgia, Aspergers, Endometriosis, Lupus, Lyme disease, spinal disorders, narcolepsy…the list goes on and on. Most of these are not just conditions whereby you take a couple of painkillers and you’ll be ok in the morning either. Many of these are actually classed as a disability. That entitles you to certain benefits and in the UK, sometimes even the hallowed Blue Badge parking permit. Yet, many suffering these disabling conditions are subject to abuse for it, because there are no outward signs.

The individual stories of my family members are not mine to tell. So, you will have to make do with me…

CPTWN

This is me about to cage dive with Great Whites in Cape Town – do I look depressed?

RARO

This is me trekking on a South Pacific island – do I look like I have epilepsy?

SKYDIVE

SKDV

This is me skydiving in NZ – can you see my MS?

BTRD

This is also me. Have I had an accident, was I attacked, did my partner beat me? No, I was on the receiving end of an unforgiving seizure.

Not so many months ago, I was in a shop looking a little worse for wear. My hair wasn’t washed, I was very pale, had huge dark patches under my eyes and I had bruises and needle marks on my arms. People avoided me. Why? They saw junkie; they didn’t see the after effects of almost a week in hospital on a steroid drip to try to save my sight. Judged by appearance.

I’ve been seen falling in the street in the middle of the day. I’ve been left there while people walked past me, assuming me drunk. They didn’t consider I might be ill. I didn’t look ill. There was no car that had hit me, no stone I tripped over. I was judged, again, by appearance. Strangers picked me up and helped me.

I don’t look sick; most of the time. A losing battle with epilepsy often leaves me bruised and a bit battered, but on the whole, I generally look ok. I smile, therefore I’m not depressed. I laugh, therefore I’m not in pain. I don’t use a walking aid, therefore I’m not disabled. I’m not wearing a cast, therefore I’m not broken.

I’m not a religious person really. I have a set of beliefs that I hold to me and I keep them private. There is one bible quote, however, that resonates with me. It’s from the Gospel of Matthew – “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you”. I feel that it’s actually not so much biblical but rather plain old common sense, and it matters not whether you attribute it to Matthew, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed, the Dalai Lama or your Gran.

Don’t judge others, unless you wish to be judged yourself. And if you do choose to be judgemental, then remember that what goes around, comes around. We, in general, have very little clue what goes on behind closed doors, but remember what you physically see will never be the full story.

As an adult, still in control of my faculties, I’ve chosen to share with others my hidden illnesses. I do this for a variety of reasons. Some selfish, some selfless but in there is the desire to bring some conversations to the front and centre. I don’t believe that you have to spill your guts to all and sundry to be part of the discussion, but I do think we could all be a bit more forgiving with our thoughts and jump not to the conclusion that the person who isn’t walking in a straight line and looks like they may fall, might be drunk but they are just as likely to be ill and in need of assistance.

Would you be willing to offer kindness to a stranger?