Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Avoid Activist Burnout

"The negative energy exuding from this group can be exhausting"

Not my words, but those I read in an international women's rights group this morning. This was the weary comment from one woman on yet another depressing article about the shocking abuse of a sex slave. Quick to jump were many who deemed her words uncaring and self centred, but others recognised that she spoke a truth. This stuff is exhausting and she was suffering from activist burnout. She had read one article too many for herself in that moment and she was done. Negative might have been a wrong choice of word, but she was right. It wasn't a positive. Any group filled with articles and posts on all the wrongs and horrors of the world is rarely going to exude positivity. And whilst I don't buy into the "surround your self only with positivity, spiritual by-passing, I'm alright Jack" vibe, there is something here that needs to be acknowledged.

To be at the frontline of raising awareness about injustice and abuse; taking action against horrid, mind blowing cruelty in the world; or caring deeply about the planet, or human and animal rights can come at emotional and mental cost in a world that at times seems hell bent on destruction, greed and harm.

Those that care profoundly are often those that surround themselves with images and stories of that which they wish to change. There is a constant reminder that it is an uphill struggle and no matter how many marches they go on, or petitions they sign, or letters they write there is an endless swathe of more to attend to. It is exhausting. It is soul shatteringly exhausting at times. Activists do burnout. It leads to depression or a kind of mania. The kind of depression where you've run out of anger and fight to do anymore, and you feel all action is hopeless. It is an overwhelming sense of doom and loss and grief.  Or it spirals into the kind of manic desperation where your life, your conversation, your thoughts, your words are consumed by trying to make change and get others to care about the things you care deeply about. This also becomes overwhelming and there can a loss of self in this. A loss of the things that make you whole.

Recognising the symptoms is key to stop the overwhelming grief and hopelessness. When you find it hard to be happy or have fun, because in the back of your mind are the things you are campaigning about, a constant pull or presence, then think about doing some of the following:

  • If you are frontline, as in a public face for a specific cause, it's ok to get help from admins, take time out from organising, blogging, vlogging and posting etc. It's defnitely ok to prioritise your safety and deactivate accounts if needs be in the face of bullying or personal attack.
  • Mute or unfollow certain social media chats and groups from time to time, you can still look when you want to.
  • Leave certain social media chats and groups and only stay in a few key ones if you feel the need. 
  • Hide or unfollow other activists who post a lot on your social media. Snooze them for thirty days on Facebook and give yourself a break from a full newsfeed.
  • Give your self time out, days off, weeks off, a month or two off when needed. It's ok to take a break. Real battles are won in separate campaigns, new strategies, and frontlines being held. Frontlines can be held in shifts and rotation. You don't have to stand there sleepless holding it solo. There are others who care like you. The whole thing won't fall apart if you take a break. 
  • Reduce the amount of imagery or stories you feed your mind with. Stop looking until you feel you really can. There is no obligation to damage your mental health by forcing your self to be aware of every bad thing in the world.
  • Pare your activism back to petition signing for a while via petition groups like Avaaz, 38Degrees or Change, without reading reams about each topic. Petitions do work. 
  • Choose a positive real time project closer to home for a while
  • Limit the amount of time spent on marches and vigils. Allocate a percentage of your free time and stick to it. Or only choose key ones to attend. 
  • Limit the amount of topics or problem areas you invest your time in. What calls you the most, honestly? Remember you can switch from time to time. Just trying to take it all on at once is asking for burnout.

Most importantly once out of the burnout or before burnout hits make sure the following is a priority:

  • Make space and time for the good things in life.
  • Make space and time for friends and family outside of activism.
  • Allow yourself to grieve, don't bypass the sad feelings just because others around you don't feel the same. Their being less affected does not invalidate your feeling that things are far from okay. 
  • Invest in your own self care via food, nutrition, relaxation therapies, exercise and uplifting activities.
  • Balance the sense of hopelessness by focusing on success stories and positive changes as well.
  • Get enough sleep and time in nature.
  • Ask yourself this every now and then. If the thing I'm trying to change was changed overnight  and there was no need for me to protest, what would I then do, and what life is there outside of me trying to make that difference? Make sure there is something. Maintain that something. 

Those of you reading this who have activists in your circle of friends and family, look out for them. Make them a meal once in a while. Make sure they feel cared about and nurtured. Thank them for their part in making change. Support their frontline activities. Share some of their posts. Pay for their transport cost of getting to a march. Buy them a massage voucher. Just because you can't do or choose not to do what they do, don't assume that they feel anything negatively about you. I see many close friends and family of activists look the other way because somehow they feel like it shames then when they do look. That's your stuff to deal with, often not to do with the activist themselves. Don't not support your activists because you feel like you should be doing more. Maybe the more you can be doing right now is actually supporting them. Make sure they have exposure and visibility in the things they are trying to change, ask them how it is going, take an interest, but also make sure they have fun and relaxation, and see them in their wholeness. Don't avoid your activists because they burst your bubble. They make you uncomfortable because they are literally pointing at things beyond your comfort zone. They highlight and wave flags in areas of life that are uncomfortable. They are the truth speakers in a world of veneer and glamour. Thank them for going into the darkness and shining the torch. Thank them for educating you and showing you a bigger picture. Thank them for holding politicians and corporations accountable. Don't turn away, they are not shameful. It is the things they bring a spotlight to that is our collective shame.




 And when you hear the call and cannot ignore it any longer. Take your own action. No matter how small. Thank you for all you do. Take care. Go gently. Take steps to avoid activist burnout.



Heidi x

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Granny Smith

Today and tomorrow I celebrate Samhain (SOW'en), the Celtic cross-quarter day that marks the beginnings of Winter, the end of one year and the beginning of the next. A liminal time, like the twilight is to the oncoming night. a time of betwixt and between, where the realms of ancestors are distinctly felt by the living. It's good to remember that ancestors are for life, not just for Samhain though, but still we are drawn to reflect and remember and celebrate more so this night.

Later I shall honour those dear and dead with a small ceremony and a feast. Candle lights will be placed for them on my altar, and I will listen to any wisdom that drops in.

Let me tell you though about one special ancestor of mine. Granny Smith. A woman of great fortitude and short stature, much sparkle and smile, and one who took a big family secret to her grave. That's a whole other story. There is so much that is a whole other story. But for now just this ...

As a child I always thought it marvellous that Granny Smith had apples named after her. I remember the day of discovering this was not the case. One of those moments when the childhood blinkers fall slightly to one side. That's still not the story. This is ...

Granny Smith was my great grandmother on my mother's side. She lived in a caravan, a largish static caravan in East Sussex. My grandfather also lived there at the time, looking after her till the end. We would go and visit, and I would be enamoured with the trinkets and charm and the garden. But more importantly I was enchanted by the twinkling, dinky woman in the back room. Her gentle sing song voice and her humour, and it was there in the back room, in her bed, surround by her sewing boxes, and fabrics, and buttons and trim, and glitz that my grandmother taught me to make peg dolls.

A quick rewind. My grandmother was known for her dolls. She dressed dolls. In her younger days, as I remember it told to me, she had boldly walked to Harrods with a suitcase full of them and persuaded them to sell them to their clientele, which they did for years and years. Her dolls were splendid and dressed in finery. Victorian; Edwardian; from around the world; ball-gowned and up-towned; all laced, and feathered, and sequined, and beaded; and hand-stitched. I wonder where all her dolls are now.

She also made peg dolls. And it was this that she taught to me when I was little and she was elderly. The first one I made with her was a nanny. With tiny babe in arms. I remember it took us hours and hours. And I wore her out. Her teaching me patiently. Prompting me to focus and pay mind to task. Be neat. Finish the details properly. And voila. A doll. A little doll with a life of it's own. And that was a magick moment gifted to me by an equally magickal lady.

I then went home and made another nanny on my own.


Then I made a whole load more. Grand ladies with feathers and lace. In the mix a Scottish one for some reason and attempt at a Flamenco dance with cardboard castanets,  a blushing net curtain bride, and lost somewhere, there was once a Japanese inspired one, with a white kimono and a cocktail umbrella parasol. The magick of these dolls, as is the spellcraft of all dolls, took me to worlds I had not seen and a life out of reach. And the joy of making. Of being crafty. There is more in those words than we think. Of bringing imagination to manifestation. And the unfolding of something in your own hands, taking form and becoming. Looking back I can see that's a subtly empowering feeling to a child. To be a creatrix of your own world and tiny people.





Then in 2016 when I started the Mini Maidens Girls Circle of our Red Tent I took my peg dolls and the tale of Granny Smith to the first four girls there, ages between seven and twelve at the time. I taught them over the course of a year about the four feminine archetypes, and each season they made peg dolls. They made Maidens in spring, Mothers in summer, Enchantresses in autumn and Crones in winter.



And the loveliest thing, two of those girls have now had their menarche, and those archetype dolls were brought from home to place on our altar for their first blood ceremonies.

I may not be able to pass on the peg doll making to my own daughter, but in memory of Granny Smith, and possibly because of Izzy, it's my joy to teach it to other girls.

So this sacred day, I honour my beloved dead, and am grateful for their imprint on my heart and soul, their whispers in the wind, and the imaginings I still venture into.  I shall tend a flame and raise a glass to you, my Isadora Magdalen Moon, and to you, my Granny Smith.



Heidi x

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Just Watch Your Witchin'

We move ever closer to "sexy witch" time of year. See me roll  my eyes; gesticulate dramatically in a two-handed facepalm; and then see my cross witch face as I get out my waggy telling off finger and point in the general direction of countless seasonal aisles across the country, and at potential Halloween party goers and parents of mini trick-or-treaters.

There is nothing wrong with being sexy.
There is nothing wrong with being a witch.
There is nothing wrong with being a sexy witch.

But ...

There is a whole lot of wrong with the"sexy witch" Halloween costume. Not least cos a lot of it seems to be aimed at a rather underage market. Why are you trying to make your nine year old a sexy anything? And why are all the commercial Halloween outfits always a "sexy something" for the women and femmes. Jeez. Can we move past sexual objectification of women already?

But there's more ...

Witches are currently portrayed in two ways. One as the ugly old hag, crooked nose, warts, probably evil as fuck, and a bad thing. That trope has been around for over a couple of hundred years now. It says witches are bad. Being old is bad. Straying from the socially acceptable norms of appearance is bad. Magick is bad. The old ways are bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Witches. Not a good thing. And then there was a kind of reinvention, a reclamation of sorts, of the witch. In 1964 Samantha t-witched her pretty little nose, Morticia flirted darkly with Gomez, and hey presto, the witch was back, but only the sexy version: the tempting scorceress or the cutesy, ever-so-husband-helpy housewife. Not abracadabra, the witch is back in her personal power just for herself. Nope. Only if she appealed to men and they could imagine her in their beds. And there we have stayed. Old witch or sexy witch.

And in those two popular media portrayals we have that old patriarchal bullshit of "old wise women are bad, sexy young available women are good" .  Women's power and wisdom once again sidelined and dumbed down to black attire fit for a kinky bedroom session.

Here's the undumbed down truth. Being a witch is a way of life. Once, it was a way of life, a beingness that got you killed. In some places it still does. Here in the UK around five hundred were hanged for witchcraft during the dark times, and in Western Europe around two hundred thousand hanged or burned. Elsewhere, the number of false trials, torture and death toll mounts up further. That wound and trauma imprint still resides within the familial and cultural psyche. Having stood on several witch hanging spots, I can tell you it sits heavy in the landscape too. The shame of the wise women still makes it hard for certain people to walk their truth tall and proud, stepping out of the shadows and not hiding their shine. The fear may seem irrational, but having seen many women, and experienced it myself, sense the noose tight, the knot at the back of neck, the choking, and the subsequent clearing of the throat, during certain energy work or ceremony, I can tell you that  fear is still there in our national psyche. It's going though. Many of us work to clear it from land and place and person. There is nothing sexy about a hanging, innocent , terrified woman.

The other truth is that witches are not a thing of the past. The witch exists now. Some are old. Some are sexy. Some are old and sexy. Some are young. Some are middle aged. But honestly you are more likely to be stood next to one in the supermarket queue and not know. The ordinary witch. How the hell do you dress up as that? I can tell you now the last thing you are wearing when gathering herbs or the morning dew is a skimpy bit of black lace and a pvc bra. High heeled black boots and a crushed velvet cape is also a fairly useless look when stood out in the pissing rain in the middle of the heath on a barrow at midnight chatting with the old ones. Most witches don't dress up. They just put on clothes. Sometimes we have fancy shmancy ones for special days, and they may or may not be little black dresses made of shimmer and see-through, but on the whole not so much. Sometimes we do have pretty wowy ceremonial clothes, but there is too much playing at being a witch out there, full stop. Not just this time of year. The social media culture of sexy witch ignores much of this real chosen path. The ones who hone their craft. The ones who know the true meaning of "spelling". The ones who cut their herbs with moon. The ones who reassure the ailing. The ones that sit as hearths at the centre of community. The ones that go unseen in landwork and sacred activism. Some are even working polarity sex magic, which honestly is full of fucking shadow work and horrid self realisation, and often rather the opposite of sexy.

Anyway ...


Go buy your Halloween outfit. Dress up. But pay mind to the witch. Hold all this in your heart and honour the life and the source of your costume. Read up a little for yourselves on that you wish to be for one night of the year. Tell your daughters and sons that witches are real. That you may even know one and not know it. Tell them that witches are wise women, healers, valuable assets to community, wayshowers, wisdom keepers, land protectors, sacred activists, and have probably fought frontline for some of the rights you now have. Tell them also, not all witches are women.

Just remember that your dress up may borderline on badly stereotyping a well loved life path and a spiritual belief system for many. Bring honour and truth into your costume. Wear us well. Go be a sexy witch if you must. Or take inspiration from a recent picture of me out on a pre-sunrise walk, looking rather fetching in a blanket, wellies and pyjamas. Nah, go and look fabulous. Feel magickal. Go and step into power. Just watch your witchin'.



Heidi x

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Welcome, Women All

Last night I sat shocked and dismayed as a misinformed, uneducated, transphobic Facebook post garnered support and equally compassionless comments in a well known international women's circle networking group. There were plenty, like me, who commented with counterarguments and stood in solidarity with our trans sisters, and the sentiment that yes they should be welcomed in women's circles ... because they are women!

I've been saddened and gutted many times recently when some of my sheroes have take a similar negative stance on trans sisters. It's like the bottom drops out of my "sacred women's world" for a nano second. I can't imagine how it feels to be a trans woman and read some of it.

I want to share my personal experience here. That of my complete lack of querying my gender. Ever. Not one jot.

I was a feisty little child. In those days, labelled, in that charming (not), old fashioned, sexist way, a tomboy. Climbing trees, playing football, running about like a loon, arm wrestling the boys, and building dens. I did plenty of flouncing in finery, dancing, reading and arty things to balance it all out. What I would consider normal really, having ditched gender stereotypes many moons ago. But still the tomboy.

In my twenties a night out with my girl friends would sometimes see me in a pin stripe suit, even with the occasional cigar in hand. And yes I ended up taking some of those friends home to my bed and me to theirs.

I've also happily worked, way back, mixing concrete, hod carrying and laying a few bricks, and there was a time I only drank pints and most of my friends were men.

In all those times, and in all that experience from childhood to where I find myself now at fifty, I have never wondered if I was a man. I have never even thought to. It's never been on my radar internally. I have never ever questioned my being a woman. Happy and settled in my vast range of experiences and desires as a woman. I've unhappily questioned a whole host of other things, but never that.

My trans friends tell me a different story though. Their unease, their self-questioning and their confusion over identity was like a neon light daily for their whole life, peaking and troughing through layers of coping and masking. Their misgendering was felt constantly and deeply in some way, even if not consciously till their full realisation. No matter the activity or status they knew something wasn't right. To have that level of querying, where I have not had one moments thought to it, tells me that their experience is vastly different from mine. It's that experience I listen to. The fact that I have not given it one jot to being "assigned female at birth", and to them it means everything, lets me know I don't understand and my opinion should take a cue.

Sometimes we know ourselves truly not just by the labels we desire, but also by the labels we wish we could throw off. The labels we know, in every fibre of our being, are not ours. So for some born without wombs, vaginas and vulvas, the label "man" is one such tag, which sits like a burning brand of not being seen or heard as their true selves. It is those women whose path to sitting comfortably in their own skin is a warrior's path. It is those women who along with all others I welcome in to my circles and Red Tents, and the wisdom and perspectives we share together lead us all on into greater understanding, personal growth, collective healing and spiritual evolution.

It is with all of this in mind that a while back a group of us, all women's circle leaders or with vested interest in them, got together and brainstormed this, feeling there was a need to make it absolutely clear which women's circles were safe spaces for all women. We got Sophie Green, artist and designer, to come up with a logo. This is the circle she put together and we are proud to have it stamped on our inclusive Red Tents and women's spaces. Please if you would like to use it, see the instructions, message Sophie asking for permission and make a donation to Mermaids. You can see it in use here on our New Forest and Southampton Red Tent website.




I've sat with trans women in circle. I've listened to my trans friends talk about their experience. I've spent days, weeks, months, what felt like years, in debate on social media with those campaigning for both sides of the gender issue and women's rights. I've read articles from many medical, psychological and social professionals. I've read many blogs from a trans perspective. I've listened to parents of trans children. I've stemmed the fear of women who worry about "men" in women's spaces. I've read about trans women experiencing shifting cycles before even receiving hormone therapy. I've received vitriol in public from those who would exclude trans women from spaces I am running, and received the same in my inbox for opening my Red Tent to trans women. I'm done now. I don't even wish to lay out all the findings on that score. I just know that what it means to be a woman, and to feel as woman, means more than body parts, more than the physical, and the physical doesn't always get it right. I'm holding that line.

I just wanted this out there.

I am not going to sit in my circle from the place of privilege of having never been misgendered, or ever even questioned it myself, and say to a woman whose only ever desire, or one of them, is to be seen as woman, and deny her sisterhood. Nope. The sacred spaces, the general women's circles, I hold are big enough, loving enough, to hold women who bleed and women who don't; women who have uteruses and women who don't; women with breasts and women who don't have much up top at all; women who are able to have children and women who can't; and women who want to have children and women who don't. Each women's story and journey through this life is unique. It is this diversity that weaves a rich tapestry of womanhood. It is this sisterhood, not just cisterhood, that I will hold tenderly and protectively in spaces where we can grow and heal away from patriarchy, misogyny, and the undeniable different experiences of men, including trans men.

Any circles I hold that are specifically for menstruating or menopausal women, or workshops on womb magick and wisdom will be held in the same vein as a mother and baby group, just not appealing or appropriate to everyone in the wider group of women I serve. See how easy that was. No loss of honouring blood cycles or fertility. No negating the power of the womb. Just inclusivity, and a bit of specialising where needed.

Let's get to it sisters. Let's say "welcome, women all".



Heidi x



Note: Any trans woman near me open to exploring some of the energy work I do with the feminine energy body please contact me, as I'm part of project at the moment exploring a well known international healing modality with regard to reframing some of the understanding of what it means to have a woman's energy body.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

AAA Woman

Yesterday I spent several minutes with my head against a brick wall in alley way near my flat with invisible tears rolling silently down my face. I phoned a friend. I didn't hear her pick up. When eventually her words filtered through to me I heard "I'm here. Just breathe. I'm here."

Rewind.

I've been trying to write "this" for a long while. The writing, deleting and re-writing of "this" has basically stopped me writing about so many things these past few years ... and I miss writing.  I cannot write about other things when my lens is "this" without sharing the "this." There is so much I want to share, but my voice has been stifled. I stifled myself. Fear shut me up. Not entirely sure what the fear is, but I guess bottom line it's being seen as incapable, less than, more than, too much, not enough, vulnerable,

Transparency. Visibility. Truth. Real. Raw. I kind of love those things, but in "this" it's hard. Bear with me.

Here goes.

About eighteen months ago I began to break. The cracks had been showing for some time, years really, but by early spring 2018 it was a full on crumble with chunks falling off here and there. Even if you know me you might not have seen it. I'm good like that. I'm a masking queen. The mask even fooled me. Sort of. Not really. I began to truly see the mask for what it was in a mirror. The mirror being a little girl I used to look after during 2016 and 2017. She reminded me of me some how. Then I had memories of being her age and younger. Wild and fey and otherworldly. Sobbing and shouting. Dancing and drawing. Telling endless imaginative tales. Little by little I began to realise why I felt like I understood her so well. Odd. Shining bright. On a very different spectrum.

At the beginning of May  2018 I was persuaded to go to the doctor. "I just want to be referred and have the diagnosis," I said, laying out all the evidence collated so far. "It'll help, but everything is fine," I masked. "Don't worry I'm ok," I lied.

When I relayed the above to my son and my closest friends  I swear they did a collective facepalm and eye roll. Then they did an intervention, to save me from myself. And as they held me, they explained it was time and that I really did need saving. They gently told me I had done nothing wrong, but that they saw how hard things were for me and that it was beyond the point of them standing back. I let them step in. They made several phone calls.  They sent me back to the doctors, with strict instructions. They all wrote sides and sides of A4 stating my needs and what they saw. They saved my home. That was the thing that had finally triggered the intervention, that and my son realising once he was at university my support system, the one that knew the real me, would be gone. I was one day away from eviction notice. It was that close. It was me reaching out and telling them I was in little spot of bother, but "honestly it's fine" that finally start the ball rolling.

And once that ball started to roll it went full pelt down the slippery slope I'd been trying to climb up all my life.

They continued to hold me and I came apart completely. Finally safe to break, I fucking broke. I came so undone I felt unrecognisable. Had I always been this helpless and incapable? Would I ever recover? Spinning out of control and off into the void. I was in the full nightmare of autistic burnout. It's basically a  complete nervous breakdown with extra special effects reserved for those of us on the spectrum. Apparently it happens to many of us woman with a late life diagnosis. It comes to those of us who have masked our way through childhood and have been unnoticed. Mine came in that peri-menopausal truth bomb of sorting my shit out. This was big ... and it undeniably needed sorting.

Battling every step of the way against my reality, disbelieving most of the time that I really need that much help, I know I tested the patience of my son and my friends. They spent day, weeks months, explaining and showing me how far from norm or easy things were for me. I couldn't really be that bad at stuff could I? Well yes you are, but it's not your fault. Over and over they reassured, but never veering from telling the truth. They had one agenda, getting me the help I needed. The help they knew I deserved. I rocked and cried. I masked and the damn thing fell off. I put it back on, but it was broken now. I shouted and ranted. I slept. And slept. And slept. And slept some more. And slowly I accepted that my lack of daily executive function was the reason my finances and my home were in complete and utter disarray.  I finally saw as they did that my earning capacity was severely limited at that time and had been since the very first, because I didn't know how to get help with the needs I didn't even know I had, and that that impacted on me using my strengths.

As the mask gradually became unpicked more and more, it became so apparent where and how I struggled hugely. The stims I had been suppressing were nigh on constant at times. The social agoraphobia I had always had went through the roof. The sensory overloading that was too much every now and then, was continually turned up to the max.  For two months I hardly got out of bed. Earplugs were in constantly. I couldn't shop. Where I was always a bit sketchy around food prep and routine, suddenly I became non-functioning when it came to the kitchen and couldn't process planning anything. Friends turned up with meals and bags of shopping. Support workers got me food parcels. At one point I remember a dear friend even checked in daily to make sure I'd eaten and to remind me.

Somehow I got out of bed and out of the flat to hold Red Tents, but everything else was put off. Somehow with strategies firmly in place and an understanding and loving sister crew I even managed the Red Tent at two festivals that summer. It was odd, in some ways I learned to manage certain things better, or at least differently, and but at the same time less and less was doable. It's hard to explain that one. Things I controlled or knew how to do as part of my "area of hyper-focus" and so called expertise I could still do relatively well, but everything else I needed my hand holding in, literally, and talking through step by step.

In the middle of all this I had six weeks with no money. Part of the intervention meant that two dear friends and support workers were now staving off every single company regarding unpaid bills, working out pay back, getting every discount going. They fought for me and gradually bit by things got clearer and light appeared at the end of the tunnel. After the years of juggling and muddling through plans were in place.

Having got me to into the clinical psychology and medical system, with an expected diagnosis of "moderately severe autism" from my doctor, they then helped me tackle the social care and benefits system. Through what seemed an endless dehumanising and soul destroying nightmare of dead ends and forms and phone calls, in which I would have given up alone, they fought for me to maintain autonomy over my "care plan". They helped me fight to retain some semblance of my business so that it wasn't sabotaged beyond my return. They banned me from attending assessments solo, because when I did I completely fucked up, naively, confusedly and compliantly, with a full honed autistic people pleasing masked performance. Instead they came and helped me tell my truth, the worst of the worst of it not the best of the best, with my tears and shame and verbal struggle and shutdown, to people who had no boxes for me to fit in and red tape held so high I couldn't jump over alone. They fought for me for nearly a year and got me the financial help I deserved.

In amongst all this friends have helped me de-clutter a bit. They have sat endlessly with me while I tried to figure out me. They have gone a long way to help me understand my particular brand of differently-abled.

So let tell you about me. The bit you don't know and don't see. Well you probably will now cos I'm out.


I am autistic. I don't have it. I've always been it. I won't ever not be it. It's me. My brain is neuro-divergent and works remarkably and ingeniously in its own way of weird.

My parents told me once that they thought I was autistic when I was little. I hated to be touched and picked up, even when a tiny babe. This was put down at the time to my birth story, operations, lack of parental contact and a long hospital stay. I cried a lot. Then from about six months I would only sit on someone's lap if they had a book open. When the story was done and the book shut I would need out. They used to read to me to get a cuddle from me. I said "no" to everything. It was my go to word. Defiant and fist clenched. I learned to read aged three, and writing was pretty hot on the heels.  I got expelled from pre-school for being constantly disruptive, running amok, and being too bored and way past the making pictures by sticking on bits of macaroni. I kicked up quite a fuss about the stupid pasta pics and my mother was asked never to bring me back. I did do puzzles though. A lot of puzzles. Apparently I did them efficiently, face down, green side up. When I was six I my granddad bought me a puzzle I still have. It's 1500 pieces. I did that one face up.

Then religion and god and obeying and patriarchy hit my life full force. And somehow in amongst that and being academically fine I went undiagnosed. The hours of choking sobs and breath denying tantrums forced into some kind of submission, and it seemed like I was finally conforming to normality. They missed the bits I really struggled with under the banner of a harsh form of Christianity, and everything untoward was seen only within that framework and needing to obey, which happened because of strict corporal punishment.

The tantrums became spacing out. The fantasy worlds became escape valves.  The social awkwardness became a target for bullies and loneliness. Autism became my secret as I learned safety in compliance, and I observed and acted my way through every confusing situation and every confrontation, on into teenage years. But it wasn't right. I remember my dad saying often that for someone so highly intelligent I sure lacked common sense. I guess looking back that was my lack of executive functioning and autistic naivety showing. Diagnosed with depression and put on tablets, I bucked again, knowing it wasn't that, but something else.  I became challenging and defiant. The survival instinct kicked in, the part that knew something was so wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on it. The more I questioned morally and spiritually, the more I was clamped down on. Until at age seventeen I had what I know now to be my first autistic burnout. I broke. I was diagnosed with nervous exhaustion.

Anyway without this becoming an epic ramble, of my whole life, which went from one crisis to another, never quite getting it together, I suspected and kind of did a low level acceptance that I might be on the spectrum about ten years ago. I then figured, oh well, I can still make it all work without needing to go there. Just work harder, just try more.

I have however, over the last year, had to review the ensuing muddle, the leaving home, the destructive spiral, the harmful relationships, the lost friendships, the chaos, the inability to stick at things or see plans through, my mothering and my life path choices through the lens of autism. I see how each step was defined unknowingly by it, and by the invisibility of it. I see someone with sheer willpower and courage surviving. I see a determination to fix the broken, trying for years, and succeeding to a certain extent. Then I see someone finally realising they were trying to fix the unfixable, pushing boulders up hill like Sisyphus and running out of steam into exhaustion, eventually realising that actually it was something else all along. It was like realising I had been running a marathon and no-one had told me my legs weren't like everyone else's. What they also didn't tell me was that I might just have wings.

So here is what I have learned I have learned about me.

The dictionary says autism is a "developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour."

What the dictionary doesn't say is that it so unique to each individual, that it's not fair to generalise or dismiss. There are a number of  points for diagnosis, and for some the symptoms affect them mildly, and for others it is truly debilitating and they need intense lifelong care. Some see their autism as a gift, while it's hard that for some, and indeed their families looking after and observing them, to see it this way. It seems to me that there are many indicators and co-morbid conditions that come under the autism umbrella, but the experience can be vastly different. It's true, there are difficulties in communication, understanding and interpretation even though how that presents differs. The brain filters input differently, and often there are sensory difficulties. The brain can get caught up in restrictive thoughts and action loops, seeking reassurance in routine or finding comfort in patterns and meanings. What is also not often known is that the outdated labels of high functioning or low functioning really don't serve well for those labelled, as they give no indication of the amount of stress someone is under at any time.

My version of autism is made up of a few classics and some co-morbid presentations. I'll write more on these later, but this blog post is already so long, so a list will do for starters. Social anxiety; sensory processing disorder; autistic inertia; stimming; obsessive or ritualistic behaviour; difficulties with transitions; hyper focus at the expense of other things; lack of daily executive functioning; rigid thinking; meltdowns and shutdowns are my indicators, along with a lifelong dollop of demand avoidance, or demand anxiety, and a sprinkling of maladaptive day dreaming disorder.

Although somewhat hampered in life by much of this, indeed my ability to earn money, manage my time, organise life basics and invest in relationships are a bit messed because of it, somehow much of these things are also my strengths. My ability to hyper focus means hours and days of painstaking research. My rigid thinking means I sometimes don't give up and determinedly carry on with things which I see serving myself and others.  My years unknowingly, yet fixedly, observing human behaviour in order to mask, means I see things others don't sometimes. My brain seeking order and connections in patterns, symbols and words, on many levels at once at computer like high speeds, means I see the underlying threads for myself and others in dreams, life stories, journeys, magick and mythologies really quickly.  Admittedly I miss the dots altogether at times, but some types of dots I just run from one to the other in a thought stream.  My sensory needs and desire for perfect symmetry and colour coordination means the sacred spaces I set up are truly felt by others, and powerfully so. The detailed imagination that dives into a daydreaming disorder is also there when I create meditations, visualisations, energetic matrixes and pathworkings. Holding ceremony and rites of passage are enriched by my deep experiential knowing and real time energetic understanding of ritual and transition. To feel and sense the world so intensely means I not only sense the subtleties of this one, but have had a lifelong sense of the Otherworld too. I see the overarching big picture and the minute details too, yes I miss the entire middle part mostly, often the human real life bit too, but universal and microscopic bits, I've got it. All these things are my skills, and perhaps would not be so if I was not autistic. Who knows. I also know truly that my search for self, my search for voice, expression and autonomy has led me down the path of women's rights and a different, much needed, spirituality, than if I had not been brought up the way I had and with the unique lens I still have. And for that I'm grateful, for it has led me to be insightful, compassionate, passionate, self educated, and seeking autonomy, expression and voice for many many woman and minorities.

I'm learning to be unashamedly more me each day. I'm learning to be proactive about my needs. I'm learning to say "no" or "I can't right now". I'm learning to keep people at a distance who don't get it or negate my challenges. I'm learning to avoid people who see me as weak or easily manipulated because I struggle at times. I'm also learning to say a proud "damn, I'm really good at that".

I'm in a better place. And as my dear friend Forest says, herself an autistic ambassador and an adult meltdown coach, the "autistic crisis" that often happens in late life diagnosis lasts about three years. She says I have whizzed through the worst in a way she's not seen before. Now I'm at the stage of levelling out a little, finding out what is trauma related and what is autism, because unfortunately years of masking and trying to cope in a world I don't always understand or is way too sensory harsh for me, means, like many autists, that I suffer with trauma symptoms too. Picking apart that is hard and ongoing, but also healing and relieving.

So here I am. The soup that was caterpillar, in a cocoon of sorts, is finding it's imaginal cells and sees butterfly me at the end of tunnel. I'm not sure if mixing metaphors is a skill here, but hey whatever!

Anyway. I'm writing again. As I descended into the burnout I stopped writing and I grieved the loss of it so. And yey! I'm painting again. I stopped years ago, frozen and scared I just couldn't, and I can't tell you what if feels like to have that outlet back in my life. I have friendships deepening because I'm not hiding and holding everyone at a distance in case they spot my inadequacies or judge the clutter and chaos behind the scenes.

Which brings me back to the incident I started with. Because I can reach out now and be honest I was able to attempt something that I was wobbling about. It didn't go quite right and I began to meltdown, then shutdown. I had someone who knew exactly what was going on on the other end of the phone without me even speaking. As I waved in and out of panic and consciousness, my dear friend talked me away from that wall, then out of that alleyway and all the way home. I managed to have time out, a cup of tea, gather myself. Yeah I missed the train I was trying to get to and was late to meet another friend, but that friend also knows about me, so was understandingly cool with it, and an hour later I made it down the road and to the train without a hitch. I may have crashed out exhausted the instant I got in my seat and slept all the way to Winchester, waking up as it was getting into the station, but I showed up.

And that's it really. I'm committed to showing up as I am ... a "Triple A" woman.

Authentic. Awesome. Autistic


Heidi x



Notes:
First started on 4th August and finished off on 4th September.
Thanks from the depths of my heart to those of you that got me through. You know who you are.