Looking Your Pain in the Face

I saw a friend today I haven’t seen for a really long time. I’ve been avoiding her, because I tend to find her intensity hugely triggering. She has a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, and has really suffered in her life. She can be dazzlingly insightful and wise, but she can also be massively draining. Being a person who finds the definition and defence of boundaries near impossible, there have been times when I just couldn’t be around her.

 

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a hugely complex ‘umbrella term’ diagnosis which comprises a huge range of tendencies and behaviours. Of course, as is the case with any human diagnosis, no two cases are the same. But from what little I know of BPD it is an excruciatingly difficult diagnosis to live with, and often to be around too. There is a kind of push/pull motion that happens in the orbit of people living with this disorder, with cycles of connection and rejection that can be extremely confusing and distressing to those around them. Difficulties with emotional regulation, and obsessive compulsive traits also seem common, and can make the formation and sustenance of relationships really difficult for people living with this condition.

 

There is some really good information here:

BPD: https://www.borderlinepersonalitydisorder.com/what-is-bpd/bpd-overview/

 

We talked today about our respective struggles, as we always do, and she gave me some really valuable advice. We were talking about what it takes to get better. About how you go about changing your internal state, and addressing the root causes of distress and maladaptive behaviour.

“You have to look your pain in the face”,

she said, and I agreed. The trouble is, I tried to explain, is that I KNOW this. I hear this everywhere I go right now, and whilst it makes sense to me on an intellectual level, I simply have no idea how one goes about actually doing this. What does it really mean to sit with your pain? I feel like I do it every time I sit down, because I AM my pain, but it doesn’t get me anywhere. So how, I asked her, do you do this? What does it really mean?

 

And she explained that, for her at least, it has been primarily about identifying patterns. She described it as deconstructing her behaviour and considering all the patterned habits that define her day, taking each one in turn, and really thinking about how it feels to engage in those behaviours. She used the example of flirting with men. That has always been a part of who she is and how she relates to the world, but she realised that it wasn’t making her feel good anymore. Perhaps it once served a purpose but that time had passed. So she let it go, and she no longer engages in this behaviour.

 

The process has also been about, for her, allowing herself to feel all of her feelings. This was fine by me… another one of those instances where I understood with my mind and not my body, but nonetheless something I could relate to. But then she shared that she has been allowing herself to get really angry with herself. Calling herself a ‘stupid fucking bitch’ and really feeling that rage, regret, and bitter self-recrimination that has consumed her for so long. All the anger that she feels towards herself for wrong thoughts, wrong decisions, and wrong actions. Now my first instinct here was to jump in and say NO!!! Don’t do that to yourself, please! It’s not your fault! None of it is your fault, please don’t do that! It was very uncomfortable to hear this, and it didn’t sit well with me at all.

 

But she explained. These were feelings that she was having, like it or not, and like every other feeling in our bodies, if we don’t allow a channel up and out it will grow, ferment, and slowly poison us from the inside out. She made what felt to me like a very courageous and mature point, that sometimes we need to knock ourselves down a peg or two in order to grow and develop.

 

I said I felt it was a tight-rope, especially for someone struggling with issues around obsession, addiction and low self esteem, as we can become very attached to negative thinking habits. How do you make sure, I asked, that you don’t get lost in that place? How do you know when to stop? She told me that when she truly allowed herself to feel all of her shame, and her self-loathing and her anger, somehow, when the time was right, it disappeared. Of course it hasn’t gone completely and no doubt it hasn’t gone for good, but she described a new lightness in her being, and I could see it in her. There was a calmness and an ease that I hadn’t seen in her before. She looked beautiful.

 

What a brave person she is, I thought, and what a radical idea she has put to me. I have spent my whole life doing absolutely anything I could to avoid, ignore and deny all of these feelings that she talked about. And I have expended enormous amounts of energy puzzling the question of HOW. How do you look your pain in the face? How do you start, and how does it end? How do you make sure it doesn’t devour you?

 

But she has given me new hope, and I feel like giving it a try. I am ready to start considering my habits, and reflecting on how I feel when I do things that feel automatic. And I’m ready to allow a little of the anger that I feel towards the world sometimes, and the people closest to me, to hit the mirror. It’s controversial, and add odds with my understanding of self-care, but I can see that as long as we exclude any part of our emotional experience, we are not truly accepting ourselves as we are. Unheard voices scream the loudest, so I’m going to try and listen a little better. Thank you Sarah, you are a wounded healer and I salute you.

The Little Match Girl, Trauma and Resilience.

Yesterday I pulled a Tarot card that answered my question as to how to proceed with my writing with dazzling clarity. The key point that I took from the description was this:

“…withdrawing from trauma to focus on emotional resilience.” 

This is the card

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The first thing that I thought about when I saw the card was the story of The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Anderson, and it reminded me of some experiences I had last summer which relate to the theme of withdrawing from trauma to focus on emotional resilience.

 

After the trauma of giving birth to my son some three years ago, I was in a desperate state of permanent Anxiety and insomnia. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress, but given no treatment apart from medication. So I sought out an Art Therapist, and made contact with a wonderful, wise woman who changed my life forever.

 

She was a Jungian Art Therapist, who worked primarily via dream analysis. She would interpret my dreams through the lens of Jungian archetypal symbology, and then ask me to represent particular elements of my dreams either with oil pastels or with clay.

 

The first dream that I related to her involved me standing in a room lighting matches and watching them burn out, one by one. When I told her this, she said that it reminded her of the story of The Little Match Girl. I was highly sceptical. I had heard of Jungian ideas of a universal subconscious, and his theory of shared subconscious archetypes, but how could a Danish fairytale come under this category?

 

Many years ago, a dear friend of mine gave me a book. It is titled ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves,’ and is written by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It sat on my nightstand for years. I felt somehow drawn to it, but rather put off by the title. It sounded just a little bit TOO out there for me.

 

women-wolves

But somehow, I found myself flicking through the contents page soon after this conversation with my Art Therapist. She was of course convinced that the Universe moved me to do so… And I found a chapter entitled ‘The Little Match Girl.’ I was absolutely flabbergasted, and of course, I read the chapter…

 

The story of the little match girl can be summarised as follows:

 

” There was a little girlchild who had neither a Father nor a Mother, and she lived in a dark forest. There was a village at the edge of the forest, and she learned that she could buy matches for a half-penny there, and that she could sell them on the street for a full penny… The winter came and it was very cold…her feet were past the point of being blue, her feet were white; so were her fingers and the tip of her nose… So she sat down one evening saying, “I have matches. I can light a fire and I can warm myself.” But she had no kindling and no wood. She decided to light the matches anyway… As she did, it seemed that the cold and the snow disappeared altogether…. And out of nowhere her grandmother appeared, so warm and so kind…But the Grandmother began to fade. The child struck more and more matches to keep the Grandmother with her… and they began to rise up together into the sky where there was no cold and no hunger and no pain. And in the morning…the child was found still, and gone.”

Pinkola Estes (1992: 319-320).

 

Following Estes’ retelling of this heartbreaking story is an analysis, from her standpoint as a Feminist, Jungian psychotherapist. Estes is a post-trauma specialist. So much do I adore her, I took my pseudonym from her.

 

From Estes’ point of view, the story of the little match girl is the story of the woman who is ‘out in the cold,’ living on fantasies instead of action. When women are isolated and disenfranchised, they can find themselves anaesthetising themselves with fantasy. There are different types of fantasies according to Estes, and not all are dangerous, but when we find ourselves using fantasy as an escape from reality we may be in danger.

 

“Sometimes the fantasy is in a woman’s mind. Sometimes it comes to her through a liquor bottle…” (1992-222).

 

The Little Match girl is lonely and alone. She has no one, and has given up. This can happen, says Estes, when we lack NURTURE. Whether it comes from without or from within, no human soul can survive this life without it. There is a crucial difference, says Estes, between nurture and COMFORT. We could all imagine how we might comfort the poor little match girl. And we comfort each other and ourselves very naturally, as we should. But the difference between comfort and nurture is that nurture MOVES us, somehow, to a place, be it physically or psychically, in which we are better able to thrive. It is nurture that takes us from a place of trauma towards a place of emotional resilience.

 

This point is relevant  to our current preoccupation with the notion of self care. I have not done a great many things in the name of self care, not realising that I was giving myself comfort instead of nurture.

 

“We have to DO something that makes our situation different. Without a move, we are back on the streets selling matches again.” (1992:223)

 

As Estes says: “A frozen woman without nurture is inclined to turn to incessant “what if” daydreams. But even if she is in this frozen condition, especially if she is in this frozen condition, she must refuse the comforting fantasy.” (1992:223).

 

Reading these words was light staring a thousand blinding stars in the face. I was so excited!! And full of thrilled hope and inspiration. The next time I met with my Art Therapist I asked her, is there any vague chance you might have heard of ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves’? She immediately picked up her copy and showed it to me. ‘It’s my bible.’ She told me. ‘It informs everything that I do.’

 

I read the rest of the chapter and continued to be awestruck by the resonance of the words. It was like they were written just for me, whilst at the same time making me feel a connection to womankind across time and space. They say that the opposite to addiction is not sobriety, but connection. These words made me feel the connection I had been searching for, by burning my metaphorical matches and dreaming of another way of living.

 

Estes describes some of the ways that women can find themselves in what she calls ‘The Match Girl Condition.’ Times of risk in a woman’s life are times of transition. These can be the transition from childhood into adulthood, falling in love, or, very interestingly for me, giving birth. For a transition to be complete and successful, there is a necessary period of difficulty from which a woman emerges, and can commence “a refreshed and enwisened spiritual and creative life.” (1992:324). These transitions can go wrong, however, if there is “no one within our without to guide the psychic process.”

 

The matches are a significant symbol in the Match Girl story. They represent wisdom, consciousness and creative force. The little match girl is desperate, and her desperation causes her to exchange something of great value: fire, in return for less than she should accept: a penny. Whether this exchange happens for us as women in the world of concrete reality or on an emotional plane the result is the same:

 

“More loss of energy. Then a woman cannot respond to her own needs… When the match girl decides to burn the matches, she uses her resources to fantastise instead of act. She uses her energy in a momentary kind of way.” (1992:235)

 

We can all relate to this impulse. It is so painful to look our pain in the face. It is painful to sit with our pain, to allow ourselves to feel our feelings. And we find ourselves in societies where we are ever more isolated from one another and from our true nature. Social media promises connection. But it offers those of us who feel different, who feel like match girls, out in the cold, little more than the brief glow of a match stick. We sink into that fantasy as we numb out, gripped by the throat by the sweet seduction of the facebook newsfeed. We peer into other people’s lives and compare the emptiness we feel within with the false images of the warm worlds of other people’s ‘happiness.’ It offers a strange kind of comfort and is the antithesis of nurture.

So to go back to the message from the Tarot card I pulled, “withdrawing from trauma to focus on emotional resilience,”

 

I think the key is to focus on NURTURE, and be wary of COMFORT. For me that means using self care more as a self parenting tool, and less as an excuse to check out, and warm my fingers around the brief glow of a matchstick. As Estes says:

 

“It is far better to heal one’s addiction to fantasy that wait around wishing and hoping to be raised by the dead.” (1992:326)

 

Following her analysis of the story, Estes offers her perspective on the antidote, relating this to another beautiful, less well known fairytale. I will explore this next time. Thank you to my Tarot cards for showing me the path to walk for the time being!

 

 

Endurance, Resilience and Humour

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I’ve just bought a deck of Tarot cards called ‘The Wildwood Tarot.’

I’ve never used Tarot cards before, so to start with I’m just getting to know the cards, reading the book, and every few days ‘asking them a question’ by just pulling a card at random to see what comes up. I’ve done this three times so far and every time the result has been uncannily relevant. This time especially so.

I’ve been wondering where to go with my blog, questioning the reasons I am doing it, struggling to gather up my scattered thoughts and find a consistent focus, and most importantly feeling like its all just too serious and boring. I’m convinced that the energy we project reflects back onto us, and I wanted to find a way to lighten the mood. So I asked the cards…

 

and the card that I pulled made me gasp in astonishment and just about fall off my chair!

It was the card shown in the picture above. The Five of Stones, Endurance. Below is a synopsis of the description of the card:

“A child sits in the entrance of a cave, looking out at a dark sky split by lightning. A small fire burns before her….”
“It takes inner strength and courage to protect yourself and survive the challenges of life. This may mean withdrawing from trauma to focus on emotional resilience….maintaining a resilient mind and retaining a sense of humour are most important to our health, along with the knowledge that the sun will rise on another day filled with opportunities.”

Withdrawing from trauma to focus on emotional resilience.

I can’t imagine a more relevant piece of advice in answer to my question! I will endeavour to follow this advice, and will continue to ask questions and share answers as I go.

 

Mental Health Support Groups and Stigma

 

So tonight I went to a support group meeting for Mothers with mental health issues. It’s the first time I’ve been to anything like this, and although of course it was triggering in terms of social anxiety, in coexistence with this experience was the most incredible feeling of warmth and safety. It was unlike anything I have experienced before.

 
Within minutes of the meeting a woman was relating an anecdote about a work trip away where she forgot her medication. The dual effect of hearing this small detail of someone else’s life that involved the word ‘anti-depressant,’ and feeling the instant surge of unshaken acceptance and recognition in the room was truly breathtaking.

 
One of the key points I came away from the evening with was how limiting limited ideas about ‘otherness’ are. Some of the women talked about the difficulties they’d had in identifying and naming what was happening to them. They talked about their symptoms not fitting with their preconceived ideas of certain illnesses or experiences, and how stultifying that was for their recovery. For example, for one woman, her experience of post natal anxiety and depression comprised a lot of physical symptoms, like nausea and unexplained pains. Plus she didn’t have any difficulties bonding with her baby, having picked up some pseudo-medical reference from somewhere or another that THAT was the defining characteristic of post-partum depression.

 
I can certainly relate to these experiences. I was diagnosed with bipolar II around four years ago, and have only just begun to come anywhere near an acceptance of my diagnosis. And part of the reason for that has been the extremely limited portrait of bipolar disorder that hangs on the walls of mainstream society. The other problem for me in finding myself under my label was the absurd process via which I was assigned it, and the extremely dubious grounds on which any diagnosis at all is based in the part of the world in which I live. In order to receive a diagnosis of bipolar II, it is necessary only to have had ONE experience of ‘hypomania’ in a lifetime. And really, read with a critical eye anyone with a pulse could be arguably squeezed into this box at a push. To what extent are we pathologising personality types that fail to meet the needs of a capitalist, patriarchal social structure? Or even just misinterpreting cultural difference? Sure, England isn’t a million miles away from where I live now but there are some marked cultural differences. And crudely put I would say that levels of ‘animation’ are certainly one of them!

 
Another woman in the group shared her doctor’s inability to accept what he perceived to be a contradiction in her symptom profile. This woman exhibits a significant and statistically satisfying majority in terms of her depressive symptoms, except for one anomaly. She continues to find social contact nourishing, even on her darkest days. And for this reason the doctor called her life experience, and the veracity of her suicidal ideations into question. ‘But surely you can’t be THAT depressed if you can still get out??’ Anyone who has ever found the courage to reach out to a professional for help with a mental illness has had an experience, perhaps many, like this. The consequences of such an interaction can be truly devastating, and the hurt, shame and anger can persist for a lifetime. It is the back-breaking double burden that so many of us carry every day. The pain itself, and the pain of having your reality denied to your face.

 
If a person is reporting distress, that experience needs to be accepted unconditionally. What threat are these professionals attempting to mitigate here anyway?? The question shouldn’t be ‘under which category should your distress be filed?’ Insisting on finding the correctly sized box for this formless piece of human distress, is, if you ask me, a form of neurosis in itself. The violence and harm caused by our mental health systems is arguably far more dangerous that the symptoms themselves.

 
The other key thing I really noticed after this wonderful evening was, however, how serious and specific the levels of shame and stigma are when it comes to alcoholism and addiction generally. I am no stranger to stigmatised identities, and actually have a pretty high tolerance threshold for owning uncomfortable labels. There’s a distinct stratification though, comprised of three levels. Level one, green light, is Anxiety and Depression. These words are fully part of our everyday vernacular, and a reasonably balanced picture of these conditions is beginning to find form in popular culture. The problem here can be convincing people as to the severity of the experience, when pretty much everyone thinks they ‘know what it is.’

 
Level two, amber light, is bipolar disorder. I have only really just come to see that my symptom profile DOES fit the criteria, and the RIGHT sort of targeted guidance and support COULD be useful. ‘Admitting’ to this diagnosis, however, has been far more difficult for me that owning depression and anxiety. I haven’t even told my parents that I have this condition. I have mentioned it a few times and they’ve made it fairly clear that they dispute it.  So bipolar is level 2. Not something I talk about freely/generally AT ALL, and only a very small number of people know that I have this diagnosis. It was something I had no problem, however, in sharing at the support group.

 
Alcoholism, however, is level 3. RED LIGHT. It is not really possible to talk about this with anyone, anywhere, unless they are afflicted with the same condition. MUCH greater levels of shame are involved, at least for me anyway, which I think are directly related to the stereotyped ideas our society has about addiction, but more specifically alcoholism. I somehow feel ESPECIALLY ashamed to admit an addiction to alcohol.

 
I can’t help feeling a certain extra sense of grubbiness around this whole business of alcoholism. I’m having treatment in the country I’m living in, and have actually found myself lying about this to some people, saying that I’m there because of my addiction to benzodiazepines. I did have one for quite some years, but dealt with it from a purely medical perspective through my psychiatric nurse. But its funny to notice how I feel there’s more dignity in being a pill popper than being a wino. In fact, I feel I’d rather admit to an addiction to ANYTHING over admitting to alcoholism. Any kind of drug addiction feels to me just somehow slightly less moralised, with a certain pitiable victimhood about it, and just a slight touch of rock and roll. I’m not talking, of course, about the hideous and debasing reality of actually living with any kind of addiction, of course. I’m just talking about that visual that exists in the mind’s eye of society. That PERSON that pops up in your imagination when you talk about that intersection of person/substance.

 
So I didn’t mention this at the support group, and in no way at no point did I feel like I could. Now of course that wasn’t really what the support group was ABOUT but nonetheless I really do see addiction as a mental health situation, if not in itself then certainly as a frequent add on to other diagnoses. I read somewhere that up to 50% of people with a diagnosis of bipolar II also have a substance misuse issue. I just wish I had the balls to stand up and own it, because I know that’s the first brick in the dismantling of the great wall of stigma…. but it sure is hard to be the first one!!

The Wisdom of Coraline

One of my jobs involves teaching a teenage girl with cancer. We’ve just finished analysing the novel Coraline by Neil Gaiman, and honestly, its wisdom and relevance to suffering of any kind has utterly dazzled me. This story has been so meaningful, both to me, a 36 year old woman struggling with mental illness and addiction, and to the young girl with whom I was reading it. Now I’m not saying for a second that my struggles are equal to a child living with cancer. I am hushed and humbled every day by the quiet confidence that this girl exudes in response to her situation. But nonetheless it seemed remarkable to me that one story could mean so much, in different ways, to two human beings in radically different contexts fighting very different battles.

 
It’s a story about a young girl, Coraline, who lives an ordinary, somewhat tedious life in a flat, somewhere in England with her kind but distracted parents. She discovers a door in the flat that leads to another world which mirrors her world, but becomes increasingly dangerous and frightening. Behind the door live her ‘other mother and father.’ The other mother kidnaps Coraline’s real parents, and the story unfolds as a heroic tale of Coraline’s fight to save her them.

 
The story reflects and mirrors classic myths and fairytales of the journey of the dark night of the soul. Like the story of Persephone in Greek mythology and Vasalisa of Russian folklore, Coraline is cast into an underworld where she must relinquish her childhood in favour of something more solid and sustainable.

 

It said something to me about the universal healing balm of storytelling. Ancient stories carry ancient wisdom, and guidance that we need. And what a gift to be able to tell and re-tell these stories in ways that can reach the young minds of today. Coraline was first published in 2002 but as far as I understand it has obtained a kind of cult status, and carried many an emerging young woman upwards on her path to becoming whole.

 

There is a particular chapter in Coraline, chapter 10, that reads very much like a guide to life. It seems to me worth sharing, from my own perspective of addiction and mental ill health, but also just as a human being, lost and confused on her path.

 
Coraline’s other Mother steals souls. She turns them into marbles and scatters them across her ‘other world.’ In a daring act of courage Coraline challenges her. If I can collect the marbles, she says, you have to let my parents and I go home. If I can’t you get to keep me, and I will stay with you, forever and always.

 
The other Mother, to me, represents kind of a shadow self. She is the cold and nasty inner critic that haunts us all in our darkest moments. She is the saboteur, the temptress, and in my case, the addict.

 
The chapter in question can be read chronologically as a way to face our demons. It starts like this:

 
1.      Say it out loud.

‘”I’m an explorer,” said Coraline out loud.’ That is what we must be to find the answers we need. Cultivate the mindset of an explorer. Curious, intrigued and determined, we must be archeologists of our own despair. Stand back, get some distance, and examine it. What is this really all about? We must ask.

 
2.      Say it even if you don’t feel it

‘”I’m not frightened.”… there was nothing here that frightened her. These things were illusions, things made by the other Mother in a ghastly parody of the real people and the real things on the other side of the corridor.’ That is what the creations of our inner critics are. They are illusions, designed to trip us up and keep us where we are.

 
3.      Be prepared for temptation.

‘”Stay here with us. We’ll listen to you and stay with you and play with you and laugh with you… you’ll go home and you’ll be ignored, No one will listen to you., not really listen to you…If you stay here, you can have whatever you want.”‘ These are the words of the Other Father, and for me they mirror so perfectly the voice of my inner addict. Just do it, just take it, it’s too hard out there, there IS no other side of the rainbow, stay here with us… stick with what you know… There is also something here about other people’s reactions to us when we try to behave differently. However unconscious the message might be we often hear ‘change back’ from the people around us. And the fear of the loss of social connections can be another stumbling block for an addict who’s trying to change.

 
4.      GROW UP.

Now this is the toughest one, and God knows I’m a million miles away from it, but Coraline, a girl of around 11, sums up in the wisest way I have ever heard what it really, truly means to be an adult. “You really don’t understand, do you?” she says to her other Father. “I don’t WANT whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I wanted? Just like that, and it didn’t MEAN anything. What then?”
This illustrates perfectly for me the state of arrested development that so many addicts find themselves in. It is not POSSIBLE to grow up as long as you are drinking, using, or engaging in any kind of addictive behaviour which prevents you from engaging with your experiences and with your emotional reactions to those experiences. The two are quite simply mutually exclusive. An addict wants what they want when they want it, like a child. So grow up. Like Coraline, and learn to delay and distance yourself from gratification in order to find esteem for both yourself and the world around you.

 
5.      Walk towards that which you are afraid of.

“Coraline took a step closer to the man, and he fell apart.” So much of our avoidant behaviour feeds our fears. What is allowed to ferment in the dark, like so much home-brewed wine, grows stronger.

 
6.      Ignore distractions.

There are rats in the other world. Black rats which could symbolise a multitude of threats. And one of them steals a marble which Coraline is prepared to fight to the death to get back. “Now rats can run faster than people…but a black rat holding a marble in its two front paws is no match for a determined girl…smaller rats ran back and forth across her path, trying to distract her but she ignored them all, keeping her eyes fixed on the one with the marble, who was heading straight out of the flat, towards the front door.” Keep your eye on the prize, basically, and fight against the scattering of your thoughts as your inner critic tries to trip you up and stop you moving.

 
7.      Don’t run too fast, and be prepared to get up again if you fall.

“…she was simply racing pell-mell down the steps in pursuit of the rat, with no room in her mind for anything else…she was running fast- too fast, she discovered, as…her foot skidded and twisted and she went crashing on to the concrete landing.” Coraline falls, but she gets up again. This sounds so simple, but it is oh so very hard to keep doing.

 
8.      Be prepared to feel loss.

There are times when there are no answers, and no neat happy endings. As we grow up we must let go, and sometimes this is very, very painful to do. Coraline is outrun by the black rat with the marble, and she feels grief, and the deepest kind of human sorrow. “…she felt nothing but cold loss…she had failed her parents. She had failed herself, she had failed everything.” Sometimes we do, and there is nothing to do but feel the sadness and shame that that brings.

 
9.      Accept help when it comes, no matter what the form!

The day is saved for Coraline by the appearance of a black cat, another character rich with a lineage of symbolism. The cat has neatly decapitated the rat for Coraline, just when it seemed all was lost. “I think I once mentioned, said the cat, that I don’t like rats at the best of times. It looked like you needed this one, however. I hope you don’t mind my getting involved.” Coraline accepts the cat’s help with a quiet and self assured grace. Just as all help of such kind should be accepted.

 
10.      There is only one way out, and you must take it.

Like the child’s book, ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,’ there’s no way over it, there’s no way under it, there’s no way around it, we have to go THROUGH IT.’ And that’s the way we all have to go, sooner or later, so we really might as well get on with it. Coraline does, with a truly courageous flourish that grants her the highest status of fairytale heroine. “If the only way is past her…then that’s the way we’re going to go.”

 
11.      Find comfort in your SENSES.

Just before Coraline walks through the door to face her nemesis, the other Mother, she ‘checks in.’ This concept could broadly be understood as an aspect of mindfulness, and a grounding, meditative tool. “Coraline walked up the steps one ar a time, heading back to her own flat. She was AWARE of the marbles clicking in her pocket, AWARE of the stone with the hole in it, AWARE of the cat pressing itself against her.(SIC)” This is such a great tool to remember in times of panic and distress. To become aware of small sensations. To focus on physical realities. To ground in external experiences when we feel overwhelmed by storms within.

Neil Gaiman wrote this book for his two daughters. It is the most beautiful and valuable gift I can imagine, and a real work of feminist art. Its wisdom applies, of course, to all human souls regardless of gender, but there is something particular about the journey of a girl towards adulthood, and a woman through trials of any kind. This story meant so much to me, and to the young girl I work with, who truly is MY hero. It landed it our laps like a little piece of heavenly wisdom, and I am so grateful for its message.