Why we need to tell our stories

I wasn’t going to write any more posts about depression and suicide, but I’ve been thinking this week about a writer I knew, Jonny Zucker, who killed himself last year.

Jonny’s family have just announced the Striker Boy campaign, in which they are donating all proceeds of a new edition of one of his books to the mental health charity, Mind.

When Jonny died, the tributes and memories that poured in all said very similar things. How generous he was, how full of energy and enthusiasm, how funny, and how very loved.

So often, those who take their own lives seem to be bright stars like him, people who have touched other people’s lives in one way or another, but don’t seem to have understood how amazing they are.

So here I am, thinking and talking about suicide again, wishing like everyone must, that there was some way of reaching across the dreadful chasm that can open up around a person and swallow them down.

I don’t think we can convince somebody thinking about suicide how wonderful and loved they are, or how much they matter. Even if we could, would that be enough to reach across the chasm and hold onto them?

Certainly, we can make sure the people around us know we are there for them, and will listen in a non-judging way, if they ever need someone to turn to. We can avoid saying unhelpful things that will make the person feel even worse, such as ‘I don’t know why you’re so hard on yourself’ or ‘Why don’t you just snap out of it?’ But not everyone is actually able to talk about it when they’re struggling with depression.

My feeling is that the biggest thing we can do for each other is be honest and not hide our own darkness. Sadness, feelings of pointlessness, even despair, are all part of the human condition, although that goes against our cultural assumptions.

We think we should be able to be happy all the time and every kind of pain is – or certainly should be – fixable. In our culture, unhappiness feels like failure, and we’re ashamed of owning up to it.

But the golden life is an illusion. We shouldn’t be claiming it while hiding our own darkness, because that make the darkness even more terrifying and lonely for people currently going through it.

What we need to recognise and especially to teach our children is that everyone experiences sadness, fear, despair… it’s natural. Life can be hard, but we can learn to handle it. This is the message in all my kids’ self-help books, including How 2B Happy.

I don’t mean I think we should bang on about our problems all the time, but just be real with each other. Real life stories belong to all of us; they lift us above our own situation and show us our wider human condition. They give us a sense of belonging.

A member of Jonny’s family commented, ‘Mental health needs to be discussed in the open and these personal stories need to be shared.’

I could not agree more.

If you would like to buy a copy of Jonny’s book, the new special edition comes out on October 6th. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Can a shaman cure writer’s block?

I recently listened to a programme on Radio 4 called Butterfly Mind, by Scottish  playwright, David Grieg, which posed the question, ‘Can a shaman cure writer’s block?’

The programme explained the shamanic world view and took us through Greig’s experience of soul retrieval with a shaman, including finding his spirit animal guide.

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One of my animal guides

The process was effective, insofar that although Grieg still experienced some periods of feeling blocked he no longer felt so worried about it, and his conclusion was that ‘maybe we just need new metaphors.’

Finding new metaphors enables a new understanding of situations, and therefore a new way of experiencing them. Images are bridges to the wider mind of image-ination; the wisdom of instinct, intuition and emotion, that dwarfs and contains the narrow rational viewpoint.

It doesn’t matter what system you use to find these metaphors. Maybe shamanic drumming and chanting will work for you, or maybe the wonderful gifts of your dreams.

Many of my creativity workshops involve some kind of image work. It’s easy, instant, exciting and enjoyable – and very effective. I’ve got two collage workshops coming up for the Society of Authors this autumn, one in London with Lucy Coats, who works in a shamanic way, and the other one in Manchester.

I’ve also scheduled a weekend workshop here in Cornwall in January, because that feels like the perfect time of year to share some image work techniques with writers who want to free up their creativity.

What tricks and techniques do you use to give your creativity a boost? Please share!

The dichotomy in the writing life

Every summer I take off with my tent and drop off the radar for a while. That’s partly why I haven’t been blogging.

I almost always head to the far North, where you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no-one around and there’s nothing to do except walk. Usually, at some stage, it occurs to me to wonder if there might be something wrong with me that I choose these solitary times in solitary places.

But this year I had one of those moments when you know everything is just as it should be.

After 10 days in the Faroe Islands, which lie between Shetland and Iceland…

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In the Northern isles of the Faroes

…and a week in the campsites of Ullapool….

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From the top of Stac Pollaidh

…and Durness…

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Balnakiel beach

…I stopped off at Lotte Glob’s sculpture croft on my way to Scrabster to pick up the boat to Orkney.

The sculpture garden is extensive, full of little trails with sudden nooks and vistas, where the visitor is constantly surprised by weird and lovely little treasures. It was raining hard  but I wanted to see it all and not miss anything, so I just let myself get soaked.

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Weird little objects that seem to spring organically from the peaty Scottish soil

I thought how wonderful it felt, this magical garden in the vast emptiness of the surrounding landscape, and it made me think of the part of the creative process where we leave the world behind and venture alone into the spaces of our mind, looking for unexpected treasures.

I love that time, just as I love my summer wildernesses. I need that feeling of independence and adventure you get when no one else is with you and you don’t know what you will find.

Now I’m easing myself back into the more sociable side of my writing life, reconnecting with my writing friends and networks, planning workshops, organising schedules for the books I’ve currently got in production and talking about ideas for new ones. I need that sociable time too.

That’s the dichotomy in the writing life; writers spend so much time all alone, but the drive is a deep desire for connection. After my wonderful travels in the North I’m always happy to be back here blogging in the House of Dreams.

Do you have a favourite kind of holiday? Do you think it reflects something of your nature too?

 

 

 

 

A home-made four-poster bed, an out-of-body experience and a flash of inspiration…

I’m delighted to welcome Dutch therapist, Susanne van Doorn, into the House of Dreams today, to tell the fascinating story of how she came to start her dream journal, years ago. She even includes some tips for you if you’d like to try it too.

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When Jenny invited me to write something about journalling, I immediately thought about my dream journal. It all started when I was 16.

I had a very romantic self-created Four-poster bed with old curtains that gave me the feeling I was embraced and secure when I retreated at the end of the day. It was all designed so I could secretly read without getting caught by my parents.

When I was 11 I had an out of body experience because I had gotten really ill from undiscovered type one diabetics. That whole experience, of flying around an unknown hospital and seeing (and nurturing) my body from above had ignited a fierce interest in spiritual books.

So, that specific night I want to tell you about, I had the book ‘Creative Dreaming’ from Patricia Garfield in my secret hideaway place to read. It was a revelation to me…

For the first time in my life I read that you have the ability to guide your dreams to give you an answer to a certain topic (and believe me, like any 16 year old, I was an accumulation of questions).

For the first time in my life, I read that you had the ability to ask the persons you meet in a dream for a gift.

I immediately turned out the light and went to sleep. You will not believe what happened…

In my dream I met my deceased aunt An (I am named after her: SusANne). I was thrilled to see her but than I remembered I had to ask her for a gift. So, like in most dreams I communicated telepathically to her and asked for my gift. She gave me a yellow rose, a sign of friendship.

You can imagine that such an experience had me craving for more. So I started writing down as many dreams as I could remember.

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Here is part of a dream I had the night before my first date with the man who would later become my husband.

“I am on a train, looking out of the window and I enjoy the sun very much. All of a sudden a drop of water touched my arm. I am amused and enjoy the coolness of the water.”

Being on a train is a symbol of the journey of life. We are all in it together, you have little influence on its direction after you have chosen a certain destination. But in my dream i enjoy the warmth of the sun.

The water is a symbol, of life, a symbol of the goddess if you will. It is like life gives me support to let me know that I am on the good track. The sun is shining, all the ingredients of fertility are there.

I hope that my blog will encourage the idea that you lay a pen and paper next to your bed, and write down a dream whenever you remember something. You’ll see that the more times you write something down, the better the memory of your dreams will be (I have 10 tips to improve dream memory in an ebook on my site).

And even if you don’t believe dreams have any meaning, you’ll be surprised how many times dreams have pointed out something.

Try to write in the first person’s perspective, even though it can be hard (dreams are often in the third person perspective). In this way the dream keeps its “juiciness”.

Jot down the main emotions you had the day before. Emotions are often the key towards attaching more mening to your dream.

Write down all the symbols in your dream and put your first association behind it.

Now re-write the story, using your associations and see if that gives you some useful insights into your personality.

The great thing about dreams is that they ignite your creativity (for example, I took a course in tarot because of a dream, I organised a trip to England searching for King Arthur also because of a dream). So for me the question if dreams mean anything or not is really not relevant. For me, dreams are a key to creativity.

I want to thank Jenny for giving me the opportunity to tell you something about journaling.

 

About Susanne

Susanne van Doorn, PhD (The Netherlands) is a Dutch therapist working for Therapeut van Binnenuit and blogging for Mindfunda, where she reviews new books about dreaming, spirituality and mythology, interviews authors and teaches several online courses.

Author of “A dreamers Guide through the Land of the deceased”, Mutual Dreaming: A Psiber Experiment with co-author Maria Cernuto published in Dreamtime spring 2014, translator of “Theory of Dreams” by Vasily Kasatkin (2014).

She is a regular presenter at Iasd conferences since 2013, In the Netherlands she gives presentations about dreams on a regular basis. She has a vibrant internet presence on Twitter: @susannevandoorn, Facebook and Linkedin.

You can read Susanne’s review of my book, Writing in the House of Dreams here.

Writing, dreaming and voting: it’s all the same!

I was astonished, a few days ago, when a writer friend told me she was fed up with politics and wasn’t going to vote in the General Election next week.

I’d known, of course, that there were people who felt that way – like everyone else, I saw the clip the BBC aired repeatedly just after the election was announced, of a woman in Bristol grumbling about what an imposition it was, being called upon to put a cross in a box for the third time in two years.

But as far as I know, that woman was not a writer.

Writing is a solitary act, but it’s about community; it’s about sharing the best of yourself with other people you don’t know, and trying in your own small way to make life better. Reading is about community, too.  Hearing other people’s stories fosters empathy and understanding, enabling us to recognise how deeply we all share the experience of being human.

Dreaming is arguably an even more solitary pursuit, but dream awareness brings a deep sense of connection with all our tribes, from family and friends, to nations and the whole  of humankind, now, in the past and in time to come.

We don’t only become aware of the collective layer of consciousness through dreaming – we also understand that just as we draw from it, we also contribute. Our thoughts and feelings, our beliefs and experiences, become part of that realm that connects us.

Voting is connection, too. We are privileged to be able to contribute to the wellbeing of our communities, by trying to understand the issues and make the best choices we can, according to our lights.

It doesn’t matter which way you vote but, if you don’t bother, you are missing a precious opportunity to care and connect in a positive way.

Every vote matters, just as every book in the multitude of books matters, and every dream in the dreamspace we share. Each one is like a drop in a pond; it may seem so small as to be insignificant, but without drops there is no pond.

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If you’re in the UK, and you’re eligible to vote, are you planning to put your cross in the box?

Journals to fall in love with

With the most beautiful journals we’ve seen yet in this series about personal writing, my guest this week is Angela Brookman – gardener, artist, friend.

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Angela Brookman

I have diary envy looking at her exquisite covers and title pages. Here’s how her practice evolved, from the page-a-day diaries of her teenage years.

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My first journals, diaries really, started around the age of about 15, and about the usual stuff teenagers wrote about in the 60s, boys, pop songs, the horror of school, controlling parents etc. I always bought a page a day diary so I could get lots in. Writing got smaller and smaller, codes for secret stuff, just in case parents got hold of it. It would be so interesting to read these diaries now, but unfortunately they are all gone, no doubt burned by my ex husband when we split up. I’d forgotten they were still in the attic! Hopefully he didn’t read them first, although actually in the beginning I was so Crazily Madly Deeply in love with him, pages dripping with sex and passion that I guess he would have enjoyed those bits at least.

I didn’t really get back into journal writing till about 25 years ago, although I did once or twice get into Dream journals. Keep meaning to again, as I do dream quite vividly. Time—and all that!
Anyway my counsellor I was seeing at the time encouraged me to write a few sides of A4 a day, filling them with thoughts, feelings, observations, dreams, lots of things. This got me into the habit of daily journals, and opened up a sea of writing that has never stopped.

One good thing about keeping old journals, for me, is to see how things have changed in my life. One thing is dramatically different in that when I was younger I seemed to be playing out the “dying of love” dreamy Bronte style heroine. I loved people saying to me “Why do you look so sad” I revelled in that. Even 20 years ago pages got filled with the disasters of my relationships, would I ever be happy? What a difference now. Now my journals are pretty joyful really, full of appreciation for the wonderful life I live here in Cornwall. I think it’s good to write about gratitude. It’s easy to think about, write about, all that goes wrong, but when I stop to think about all I’m grateful for in the day, I find I could go on for ever. I realize that when I wrote about all the negative stuff, day in, day out, I just drew more to me. Now the opposite is happening. Of course it wouldn’t be real to not record the not so nice stuff, I guess I just do it in a different way now that doesn’t increase the energy of it.

Another way I find my journal useful is to remember what the heck I did last week. Sometimes I sit on the edge of my bed last thing at night, start to write, and can’t even remember what the heck I did this morning, well I can if I think hard enough. Don’t think I’m quite losing the plot just yet! But it is helpful when I suddenly think “when on earth did I sow those carrots, I did sow them didn’t I?” Just look at my journal, it’s all there. Actually if someone got hold of my journal in a few hundred years, they could probably could write “An old Cornish Woman’s Gardening Journal” Not that I am Cornish, of course.

I write a lot about the natural environment around me, the many creatures that seem to be drawn to here, and have been my friends over the years. It’s lovely to look back and remember them, the pheasants that ate from my hand, the swallows that nested in my woodshed that I had many a conversation with face to face, that I felt proud as any Mum when the babies first took flight, how I cried when they left for warmer climes each September. Foxes, badgers, deer.

There’s a lot about my garden in my journal too, but I also have written for the past about 8 years an actual Gardening Diary, since having my poly tunnel. To start off with, everything was an experiment, so it felt very useful to record everything. Times of sowing, what I grew, how things did. So that the following year I could refer back. I also, quite diligently grew everything by the phases of the Moon. That’s not happening so much these days – maybe I should get back to it… If it’s raining a monsoon when you’re supposed to be sowing your parsnips, you probably ain’t going to do it. And that happens quite a bit.

I used to always buy my journals, with beautifully decorated covers, people would give me lovely ones too. Now I love to decorate my journals, making them very personal to me. That’s quite an enjoyable part of starting a new one. I buy a very cheap, thick, lined note book. The paper needs to feel nice, not too coarse. Then I just let the decorating happen. I quite fall in love with the present one, really appreciating it each time I write, don’t want to fill it up( that’s why I buy a very thick one so I can appreciate it longer!) But then the next one gets decorated, and it’s even better. I love it!!!!

I sometimes think how lovely it would be if I were to come across a journal written by my Grandmother, or even further back. Feeling this, I’d like to think that maybe some day a descendant of mine might come across one of mine and find it of interest. I shall keep writing anyway, till the end of my days. Might be quite useful then, and entertaining, when my memory’s shot, to look back on my life.

 

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Angela doesn’t have website links, so here’s a pic of her stall at a recent craft fare, with her email if you’re looking for a lovely handmade woollen rug.

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Have you ever taken a cheap notebook and turned it into a beautiful journal, like Angela? Are you tempted to try?

Blogging: Does Size Matter?

Susanne van Doorn mentioned in the comments of A good week for a writer like me that views of her excellent Mindfunda blog were down because she’d taken a break, and we had a really interesting email chat after that about blogging.

Her reduced hit rate was, it turned out, about the same as Writing in the House of Dreams in a good month, so that got me thinking about how we bloggers measure the success or failure of our blogs. Do the numbers matter?

I guess you can only measure success in relation to why you are blogging, and what you want your blog to achieve.

Here are my blogging goals:

  • to express ideas, and have them affirmed or challenged, so that I can progress my thinking.
  • to maintain a kind of shop window, where people who enjoy my writing might be tempted to try one of my books
  • to find themes I might develop into new writing projects
  • to build a community, where people interact with me and with each other in the comments

You’ll notice they’re rather like my writing goals – quite modest in terms of a more mainstream definition of ‘success’, which you would have to measure in visitor numbers and views.

Every time I put a new post up, I get a few new followers, and there’s no doubt that if I blogged more often, that number would rise faster. I often take a break, even though views gradually drop off, and sometimes my blog holidays can run into several months.

But I always come back, because my blog does everything I want it to do. You challenge my thinking or, more often, augment it with your own experiences. Like this blog post, new ideas for writing come from random exchanges with people I meet through blogging (hello, Susanne!)

I’ve got two books in development at the moment that have come directly out of my blog – one about personal writing and one about depression and the writing life, as something I have noticed from the numbers is that my posts about depression and creativity seem to attract the most interest.

I do have a sense of community when I write here. I feel we come into the House of Dreams to share our thoughts and experiences.

I remember years ago someone telling me that when you go to a conference you shouldn’t be trying to get round as many people as possible – you just need to make sure you meet the right one or two.

I don’t need thousands of visitors to this blog. I just need you!

If you’re a blogger, what do you think – does size matter?

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