Tag Archives: community

Calling Pagans of England and Wales

Pagans of England and Wales, the Pagan Federation is looking for nominations for Pagans who are making a difference in their communities.

Do you know someone who deserves recognition for the work they do? event organisers, moot leaders, celebrants of local rituals, teachers, healers – who do you feel should have their work celebrated?

Surviving is winning

I have a lot of friends who are going through hard stuff, or have been in the last few months. Folks challenged by illness and job loss, others whose worlds have been torn apart by bereavement. People facing all kinds of practical difficulties and personal challenges. We swap notes. Not to compete, not to say ‘my problem is worse than yours’ but because telling tales from the edge makes it easier not to fall over it. Talking about what’s happening is a way of coping and surviving.

And there’s a thing we do, all of us, which I wanted to share because it helps. We point out each other’s successes. Often those are not big achievements by the standards of those involved. There are days when just doing your regular job in a passable way is a challenge of epic proportions, when giving your family something like a normal day is a heroic achievement. So we help each other recognise that, and take pride in what we’re managing to do despite what we’re up against. Sometimes that means going “but hey, you’re still here, still fighting, you got through today, well done.” There are days when not being beaten, dead or incapacitated by the end of it is pretty impressive. Today I did not actually go mad. Today I broke and wept and did nothing but weep, but I am still here. Today I did not walk into the sea, even though I thought about it. There are times, in extremis, when this too is achievement.

There are times when, through no choice of our own, life just swamps us. It piles on more than we can bear, demands more than we know how to do, takes more than we had to spare, and then you get up the next day and it starts again. No amount of saying “please stop I can’t take any more” makes the blindest bit of odds. What do you do when you have to endure more than it is possible to endure? When you have to bear more weight than your shoulders can take? What happens when failure isn’t an option but you can’t see any way out that doesn’t in fact look like fail? Day after day after day…

Some people give up, sliding into absolute despair and inaction. Some people kill themselves, or break down mentally such that they can no longer function.

And some people get through it, crawling where they have to, howling frequently, barely functional, but somehow still moving, still alive. Not successful by any regular measurement, not ‘achieving’ but holding together enough to get through, keeping going enough that there’s just a flicker of hope things might improve. How? Because today, they did not give up. Today, when it all seemed impossible and too painful to bear, they crawled out to face the day anyway, and they tried. Today, they did not commit suicide or admit defeat.

That refusal to give up is the only difference between absolute total defeat, and the chance to make things better. And if that’s all you have left to hang onto, it is both everything, and terrifyingly flimsy.

So if you’re having a hard time, or you know someone who is, remember this. There are days when getting through and surviving is win. It is heroic success and inspirational levels of achievement and needs treating as such. Every small thing you do is a thing to celebrate.

Today I wrote a blog post. Today perhaps I asked the right person for help. Today I did not give up.

What we don’t see

How many times have you seen a dead person, or sat with someone you knew was dying? When did you last have to deal with someone in the throes of total mental breakdown? How about care for an incontinent adult? When did you last encounter someone with serious physical disabilities or learning difficulties? Unless it’s your job to do so, or a close family member has been in this position, the odds are you don’t have this kind of experience at all.

Modern, industrial, affluent culture likes to have things tidy. If you aren’t able to cope with the mainstream it means the odds are you are tidied away from public view. Now, on the one side there’s a lot to be said for having experienced professionals care for people who need extra help – they know what they’re doing. Caring is incredibly hard work, and being able to go home at the end of the day and rest is worth so much – those who look after an ill person at home seldom get much respite. But many people do it, and are very isolated as a consequence, as are the people they care for.

One of the consequences of this, is that when we encounter these kinds of scenarios full on in our own lives, that’s often the first time we have to deal with it. People I know have managed to get into their thirties without anyone they care about dying. Lots of folk only start dealing with the trials and distress of old age when their parents get into difficulty. People who become physically or mentally disabled often do so not having had any prior experience of people in the same situation. It’s frightening. We hit crisis with no points of reference, and no idea of how to cope. We may be the one being shuffled out of the way. That’s a very scary process as well.

Community is about sharing – not just in the good times, but with the harder stuff too. Altruism aside, there are a lot of good, pragmatic reasons for being more involved. If you’ve listened to someone else when they were close to cracking up, if you’ve sat with someone bereaved and grieving, if you’ve kept in touch with someone obliged to go into a home… not only are you supporting them and doing a lot of good, but you are also learning. The hard times are that much harder when you have no idea what’s going on or how to cope. None of us are immortal. None of us are immune to accident or injury.

It may seem like defensive behaviour, moving away from the hard stuff other people are going through. Who wants to hear the doom and gloom stories? Who wants to deal with another person’s grief? It’s all hassle, it’s not our problem. Only it is, and it will be, sooner or later. If we can’t reach out to each other for reasons of compassion, we ought to be doing it out of self interest.

We don’t benefit, as a culture, from hiding away the people who aren’t part of the whole working and breeding system. The sick, the elderly, the troubled… most of us do not have to think about them, most of the time. We are ‘free’ to get on with our lives. Right up until it happens to us. If we weren’t so keen to hide away the ‘problems’ there are a lot of people whose quality of life would improve dramatically. There would be less to fear – it’s bad enough being ill of body or mind without the added fear of social rejection and isolation. We could do so much better with this issue.

Help!

Being a good natured, well meaning chap, James likes to be helpful. We’ve had a fair few interesting discussions around this, as he’s learned about the issue. Like most children, James started out with play helping – and frequently that’s entirely unhelpful. I wondered about letting him do that, but opted to very gently suggest that helping in an actually helpful way would be more use. He turned out to be totally open to this. Since then he’s become really good at responding to requests for help, and asking what help is needed rather than assuming he knows.

It’s very easy, when trying to help, to end up swamping, disempowering or depressing the person you meant to assist. It’s an easy time to accidentally patronise, or make the recipient feel that they’re not doing well enough as it is. “Is there anything I can do to help?” is much better than “Let me do that for you.” Or worse yet, “I can do that properly.” How we offer help shows our respect, or lack thereof for people.

If a person needs help because they are in difficulty, it means pretty much by definition that they have lost control of something. That might be through ill health, misfortune, injury, job loss, or any number of small or vast setbacks. The one thing a person in crisis needs more than anything else, is not to lose more autonomy. Genuine help means not taking more power from that person. It’s always easier to see the solutions to other people’s problems than our own, but rushing in with too much enthusiasm can do more harm than good. ‘Help’ that denies a person choices, or disempowers them in any way, is not useful.

If you want to help, with anything or anyone, then begin by asking what you can do. Don’t assume you know what they need, or even that you know what the problem is without checking. Ask what the other person needs, how you can support them, what they would like. Be willing to listen. Unless they are in a coma or otherwise totally unable to act on their own behalf, don’t act for them without consent, that can add to distress. Give a distressed person as much time as you can to speak for themselves and make their own choices. It’s not just a matter of fixing whatever the short term issues are, consider their longer term needs, dignity and sense of self.

If we rush in too fast, we can cause more harm than good. It’s so easy to railroad a person who is already in distress. The loss of control that goes with crisis creates fear, anxiety, and can make a person feel they do not know how to cope. Coming in and rushing someone can increase the feeling of lost control and make it harder for them to make good choices. To give true aid, it must be offered on the terms of the one who needs it, not on the terms of the ‘helper’ or what we do can easily make a bad situation worse.