Dark Days

Well here it is again.

Right on cue.

How can I possibly forget this phenomenon?

Every year, just around the time I feel the impetus to write some Christmas cards, I feel a wave of abject misery roll down my body, plunging me in to unbelievable gloom.

To be clear it’s not the thought of writing the cards.

The timing is familiar, a week or two before the shortest day of the year.

The December premenstrual time for me.

My worst cycle of the year.

Last year I came across the concept of Wintering through Katherine May’s book of the same name. 

I resonated so much with the idea she presents of the need for all of us to acknowledge and survive periods of life which feel unendurable, until the season changes one way or another.

(Personally I thought her book was largely about Peri-menopause although that didn’t really seem to get a mention!)

As a response I decided to make a gentle plan for winter last year. Anticipating low mood and energy in December I gave myself permission to ‘coorie doon’ and keep cosy by the fire. Films, books, knitting. Like a montage from a favourite film. Nice. It seemed to go well.

This year I organised a pilot version of a weekend retreat for women- an Autumn Pause I called it.

The idea was to acknowledge the change in the seasons and also other changes in life with an opportunity to mindfully plan around them.

It was simple with walks and a sauna, stories round the fire, nourishing food, furry hot water bottles and great conversations.

It was a lovely experience and I didn’t realise until I was in it how much I needed it- and from the feedback of those who took part I wasn’t the only one.

Like so many of us I generally tend to pay more of my attention to what my head is saying to me and give less attention to what is going on in my body. 

It’s one of the reasons I care so much about women’s experiences of sexuality. 

I know how hard it is to have my body and mind working together even in moments of pleasure, never mind difficult situations where I can cut the body’s experience out.

Even some of my self care practices are things my head says I should be doing for my body rather than as a result of any kind of intuitive internal communication. 

I have been trying, I thought I was paying attention but I wasn’t.

In the last couple of months though my body has been claiming my attention in a way I cannot possibly ignore.

My thyroid is slow, I’m severely anaemic, I’ve got fibroids which I didn’t know I had, causing heavy blood loss I didn’t realise was a problem. 

My jaw has been clenching like a demented robot dog without me knowing it, actually killing off my own teeth due to the relentless pressure leading to a horrible extraction, and antibiotic aftermath. Oh yeah and lots of pain.

My nervous system basically went into overdrive. I couldn’t sleep, eat, relax, cope generally and wanted to sob constantly.

I had a physical breakdown really. 

In case it’s helpful to you here are some notes about how I began to feel better:

The one thing that allowed me to feel better at first was when I made the decision to clear my diary of everything that felt at all threatening and stressful including travel. 

I had to make myself feel safe, to signal to my body that I was now going to look after myself regardless of anything else.

The other thing that helped was seeing a woman who did bodywork who helped calm my nervous system down.  Sue Matthews did this with her skills in reflexology and cranio-sacral work but most importantly her very strong belief that my body absolutely had the capacity to heal given the right environment and knew how to go about that. Something I couldn’t believe for myself at the time.

Another thing that has helped is having the support of so many people who love me making me feel safe. I include here a community I am part of called Remarkable Women who are chumming me on my journey.

And of course it’s not simply that I took my eye off the ball in looking after my body for a few months while I concentrated on a big piece of work (which I did). I might have made that interpretation in the past. Now I understand it’s the cumulative effects of 54 years of thinking and behaving in certain ways in order to survive, succeed, care for others and for myself.

I‘ve come to understand that my body now requires me to work out what the elements are of my previous way of living, however helpful they may have been in the past, that are now harmful to me. I need to think differently and make some changes in my behaviour. Mainly I need to think differently. And it will take me a while to even work out how to do that but that is what I am doing next. Even as the world around me seems to be struggling in so many ways.

The yearly cycle of depression in the dark days should have alerted me sooner but now I understand how reasonable it is for my body to ask me to: 

Slow down. Do less. Be present. Pay attention.

If I hesitated to do so before because it seemed self-indulgent (feel free to insert your own limiting belief here) I am not getting the choice now.

All this means I will continue to be less visible over the winter as I recover and restore my personal capacity. What I hope it means is a more healthy and present version of me in 2023.

Something I wish for you too.

With so much love,

Marie Louise

Queen of Revelry x

Thanks to Nuala Gormley for the photo.

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