Alternative Tarot Course: Take 2

At the beginning of the year I completed the wonderful Alternative Tarot Course from Beth over at Little Red Tarot.

As I mentioned back then, it’s a great course which Beth provides at a very accessible price.  I got a discount through her newsletter so only paid $20 but full price it’s only $25.  It’s designed to cover 8 weeks but as a learn at your own pace course, it’s obviously very flexible.  And you get possibly life long access.  At least I can still access it now!

So, it’s been one hell of a year.  My life looked so incredibly different when I first started the course back in January.  It was my first venture into learning about tarot in detail.

And I feel like it would be interesting to work through the materials again, in this new permutation of my life and with the tarot knowledge I have developed throughout the year.

I had intended, the first time round, to blog about the course but time and life meant I didn’t really do this, or at least not as much as I’d have liked.  Perhaps this time will be different.

Week One: What kind of tarot reader do you want to be?

I answered this in part in my 10 questions every tarot reader should answer post.

The main answer is that I use tarot as a psychological tool and a way of communicating with myself.

Beth provides a number of prompts and questions to help us explore our journey with tarot, our thoughts around the possibilities etc.  How did you find out about tarot, what is the purpose of tarot etc.

The reason I want to learn tarot is… as a tool for connecting with myself, as a method of self care, as a way of meditating and being mindful, as a way of listening to myself and of caring for my mental health.

I wrote that in January and to be honest, my reason for wanting to read tarot hasn’t changed.  I still use it to connect with myself, to check out if my needs are being met, as a way of listening to myself and a way of carving out a space and time for my emotions.

In learning tarot, I hope to… find a way of listening to myself, and of hearing myself, a way for me to validate myself and acknowledge and act on my needs

I do think I have found a way of listening and hearing myself through tarot. However, I know that I often listen and then don’t act on what I’ve heard.  So I might realise I need to get out the house more but then I willfully forget that discovery and not actually get out the house more.  That’s a rubbish example but I hope it illustrates the point!  I also know I need to look at ways of using the cards to validate my feelings and experiences.

I think my main challenges will be… maintaining a routine, reading and putting in the effort on bad days when my depression is worse, physical challenges because of my hands.

But I will try to overcome them by… keeping the cards nearby, working through this course, signing up for newsletters etc about tarot so that there are lots of reminders and reading isn’t a hard thing, letting other people handle the cards whilst I read them for myself.

Having retired, some of the physical challenges have lessened as I am no longer using my hands all day at work.  I have been reasonably good at using the moon cycles as a way of maintaining a tarot routine.  I do read at other times but I almost always do a reading on a new or full moon.  I have also recently started drawing a card a week, a sort of riff on the Memento Mori that Carrie Mallon is doing.  My tarot cards are in my eye line when I’m in my living room chair and given that I spend most of my time there, this works as a helpful reminder.  It also means I don’t have to put much effort in to getting cards out etc.  I have subscribed to a number of newsletters and as well as the Alternative Tarot Course, I have done Susannah Conway’s 78 Mirrors this year.

There is no one fix for depression

I had a small rant on twitter last night about the NHS’s approach to depression and then woke up to see a tweet about how exercise cures depression.

THERE IS NO ONE FIX FOR DEPRESSION. EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT.

At the moment the NHS is focused heavily on a version of mindfulness.  I say a version of, because, like so many things, the NHS is using a watered down version and assuming it’ll fix everyone and everything.  Depression? Mindfulness will fix it.  Anxiety?  Yup, mindfulness for that too.  Mindfulness is even rolled out for managing pain.

And yes, mindfulness has benefits for some people in some circumstances.  This is not at all a rant about mindfulness.

Before mindfulness, CBT was the fix all.  But it wasn’t CBT as it is supposed to be.  It was CBT delivered by phone, through internet programmes or in very short courses.

I find these trends in treatment aborrent.  Treatment shouldn’t be guided by fashions.  It should start with the person.  A personalised approach is the only way that you should be looking at this.

Medication works for some people.  And not others.

Exercise helps some people.  And not others.

CBT helps some people.  And not others.

Mindfulness helps some people.  And not others.

Are you sensing a trend here?

My experience of different mental health treatments has been varied.  The first antidepressents I tried increased my anxiety.  The one I’m on now seems to be ok.  I tried CBT but that made me worse.  I tried mindfulness and that makes my physical pain worse.  I would try exercise except I can’t.

For me, a combination of medication and Cognitive Analytical Therapy alongside creative work such as art journalling and self check in methods such as tarot, have helped me.

What doesn’t help is being put in a box and given only what the NHS decide is fashionable.  What doesn’t help is being given your four weeks of CBT and then not being able to access any other support because you’ve already had your alloted support.  What doesn’t help is the media pushing cures and people shaming me for not exercising.

Everyone is different.  Let’s start treating them differently.

Let’s have a range of tools and see what helps.

Feeling safe enough to feel

When i was living at my parents, i would hide away under my desk or in the bottom of my wardrobe.  I had a torch, a night light, books, notebooks, saved snacks and a bottle of water.  I would stay in my den for hours and hours and pretend that the outside world wasn’t there.  My mother got annoyed with me because I wouldn’t answer and she couldn’t find me (the door was shut on the wardrobe).

When my latest period of depression was at its most soul wrenching levels of pain I would long to hide under the desk at work.  I would shut myself away in the toilets and curl up as small as I could.

Partly I didn’t want to take up space.  I didn’t feel I should take up space.  And partly because sheltering under a table or behind a door felt safer.

All children make dens and hideaways.  But I suspect most children or teenagers don’t seek refuge in their wardrobes day after day after day.

As a physically disabled adult, I can no longer hide in my wardrobe or under a table.

For a while, my psychologist provided me with a safe place.  A space where my feelings could be felt and would be contained.  She held the space and the room gave me boundaries.  But that is gone.  I am no longer able to access that support.  I have had my alloted hours.  The limited support I get from the mental health team now does no offer me that same sense of safety.  I am not able to use it to access my emotions in the same way.

And I don’t know how I can create, both in time and in space, a similar safe place for myself.

Thinking back, the wardrobe offered comfort and it also offered a space away from holding the mask in front of my depression.  It offered me a small, well defined repository for my emotions.  Closing the door on the way out closed that space.  In the same way that walking out of my therapy building offered a clear transition away from that vulnerable emotional place to the rest of the world.

I have numbed myself off a lot since therapy started drawing to an end. It’s not a conscious thing.  It’s not a reaction to feelings.  I have numbed myself out in preparation for feelings.  I have techniques and tools for helping manage my depression but I don’t have a place I feel safe enough to allow my emotions to come out.  In my check ins I get odd little tiny glimpses, academic insight into how i should be feeling or why i have reacted in particular ways.  But I am not able to really feel the feeling.  It’s like I can almost see it but I am not yet able to feel it.

My mental health support team, what little remains, isn’t turning out to be very helpful with this.  I get told to just let myself feel… If anyone has suggestions, I would be grateful.

Modern Slavery: a brief introduction

“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”

– The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948

It is estimated there are nearly 46 million people enslaved around the world today, this is more than at any other point in history.  Although modern slavery is more often referred to as trafficking.  This change in language may seem minor but it is a change which erases, or hides, the epic history of slavery and anti slavery campaigning.

Why are there so many people enslaved today? 

It’s obviously a multifaceted answer but a few key aspects include higher international populations leading to supply far exceeded demand, widescale corruption and poverty (and with it the related lack of education, lack of opportunities and health impacts) as well as the increased globalisation of the economy.

Comparing the situation today, to the slavery of the 1800s which most of us are more familiar with:

  • The price of slaves has fallen significantly since the 1800s: The enslaved fieldworker who cost the equivalent of $40,000 in 1850 costs less than $100 today. This dramatic fall in price has forever altered the basic economic equation of slavery.
  • Slaves are less of an investment: The return to be made on slaves in 1850 Alabama averaged around 5 percent. Today returns from slavery start in the double figures and range as high as 800 percent.
  • Slaves are disposable: They are cheap and widely available, thus there is less incentive to look after them and if they are unable to do what you want from them, it is cheaper to just get rid of them.
What does slavery look like today?
Slaves are used in many industries and the chances are they will have been involved in the production of goods that are in your home.  Slavery Footprint allows you to work out how many slaves “work” for you and highlights all the different industries which are touched by slavery.
Types of slavery include:
  • Child trafficking; Young people are moved around the country or the world so they can be exploited.
  • Forced Labour; People forced to work against their will, with little or no pay and the threat of violence.
  • Debt Bondage; Loans are taken out by victims (eg for school tuition or health care costs which they can’t pay without the loan).  They are then forced to work to pay off debts that realistically they never will be able to. This debt may be passed down to their children.
  • Sexual Exploitation; This includes forced and abusive sexual acts including prostitution, escort work and pornography. Women and children are the main victims but men can also be sexually exploited.
  • Criminal Exploitation; Slaves are used to carry out criminal acts such as cannabis cultivation or pick pocketing against their will.
  • Domestic Servitude; Victims are forced to carry out housework and domestic chores in private households with little or no pay, restricted movement, very limited or no free time and minimal privacy often sleeping where they work.
In 2013 the National Referral Mechanism, the UK’s victim identification and support process, received 1,746 referrals of potential victims of trafficking – almost a 50 percent increase on 2012 figures. 64% of the referrals were female and 36% male.  74% were adults and 26% children.  They came from 112 countries of origin. The five most prevalent being Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania and the United Kingdom.  Obviously these are just the people that the UK Government had referred to them.  There will be many more who are unknown or unreferred…
What about the law?
As mentioned above, a lot of slavery goes ahead in countries where corruption is rife and bribes allow slave owners to avoid the legal ramifications of any law that a country has around slavery.

In terms of the UK, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 established an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and makes provision for the protection of slavery victims. As of October 2015, a supply chain clause requires every business with a turnover of more than £36m to prove that it has taken steps to stamp out slave and child labour from its supply chain.  Although this isn’t perfect and there are loopholes, it is a start.

In 2000, the United States passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  It enhanced pre-existing criminal penalties in other related laws, gave new protections to trafficking victims and made available certain benefits and services to victims of severe forms of trafficking.

Slavery and ecocide

One thing you may not have considered is the impact that slavery has on habitats.  Kevin Bale, during his research on slavery, found that it causes environmental destruction which contributes to climate change. Slaves are used for illegal deforestation for logging, protected land is cleared and poisoned for mining, mangroves are destroyed to create space for shrimp processing plants. This has a clear impact on the environment but also damages the wildlife in the area which may lose their homes, food or be poisoned themselves.
To help get your mind around the impact that slavery has on the planet consider all of the slaves today, 45 million people, as a country.  The country’s population would be comparable to Canada, the GPD would be similar to that of Angola (at US $150 billion a year this is considerably poorer than Canada) and the country would be the worlds 3rd largest emitter of CO2 (after China and the US).  Slavery is a human rights issue, obviously, but it is also a climate change issue and an environmental and species protection issue.
I have been doing a Future Learn course on the issue of modern slavery which has really opened my eyes to the extent of the issue.  I’d highly recommend the course and whilst they don’t have a date for it to run again, you can register your interest to be notified when details are arranged.

Feminism and disability

Intersectionality is a big trend in feminism at the moment.  It is a sociological concept which recognises that people can experience multi-faceted oppression.  For example a black, bisexual woman experiences oppression differently to a white, straight woman.  There are different levels of privilege in the world.  You can have two women who both experience gender oppression but one may feel that more intensely or differently because of their race, sexuality, class, disability etc.

The earliest academic work that I’m aware of around feminism and disability was about community care in the 1980s.  The main argument was that women (non-disabled) were getting a raw deal out of the community care acts.  The move from institutionalisation to living in the community was a major change and feminism didn’t seem on board.  In a nutshell, their concern was that non-disabled women were shouldering the burden of this.  The care they were required to give to disabled and elderly relatives meant that they couldn’t work.  They were demanding economical equality.  Which sounds fair enough.

However, this research and campaigning focused purely on care givers and at no stage included the disabled people themselves.  Arguments were made that perhaps disabled people should be returned to institutions and/or that disabled people’s benefits should go straight to care givers because disabled people weren’t responsible or able to handle this.  The movement towards carers rights (which I’m all for, when done right) relied heavily on the image of the dependent, burdensome disabled person.  In advocating for the rights of women and carers, the feminist movement further oppressed disabled people.

It also failed to acknowledge the complexities, many women who are disabled and receive ‘care’ (in whatever form), are also ‘caring’ for family members.  Think of a disabled mother – she is both carer and caree and therefore is completely disregarded by the model that feminists were using.

They also failed to look at the wider picture.  The narrative of disability and feminism focussed heavily on care, ignoring many issues which are more uniting than divisive such as improved public transport on the dark evenings, pressures to conform to a certain model of femininity etc.

“Repeatedly, feminist issues that are intricately entangled with disability – such as reproductive technology, the place of bodily differences, the particularities of oppression, the ethics of care, the construction of the subject – are discussed without any reference to disability.”

Rosemarie Garland Thomson

It’s not just issues of research and policy and ideology.  There are other issues which arise when discussing feminism and disability.  All the practical barriers which prevent disabled people from having the same daily experiences as non-disabled people still exist.

If I want to attend a feminist meeting I have to ensure that the venue is accessible (for me this means wheelchair access, for someone else it might mean a quiet venue due to hearing issues), if it’s in the evening I would have to attend in my pjs because of when my carers come.  There are barriers to information – if you can’t read well or if you can’t read heavy academic books, you are at a disadvantage.  If you can’t cope in crowds, you probably won’t be able to attend a march… and so on and so on.

And feminists, as people who live in our society, often have their own prejudices and assumptions about disabled people which are evident in use of ableist language and ignoring disabled people, their voices and their needs.

There has been progress and there are some great examples of inclusive feminism however I worry that there is also a hang up about calling out lack of intersectionality rather than addressing the issue of inclusively.  Not being an intersectional feminist is often used as an insult from one feminist to another.  And it’s great that we are noticing when feminism isn’t being inclusive but name calling doesn’t progress the movement.  And some people are so hung up on calling out none inclusive feminism that they fail to do anything about making the movement more inclusive.

How using an electric wheelchair can be exhausting (but I still love mine)

Having a disability can mean that simply going outside your home is more taxing than for non disabled people.

There are different things which take their toll for visible and invisible disabilities but for this blog post I am going to focus on my experience as an electric wheelchair user.

I don’t want this post to put anyone off using a wheelchair, they are great for enabling freedom and independence.  Rather I just want people to think about how they treat friends, family and strangers they pass in the street.

It starts before you even leave the house…

There is the planning required before you leave.  You have to ensure your chair is charged.  I can’t unplug my charger so I have to make sure that it’s unplugged when a carer is here.

You have to think about how you are getting to wherever you’re going.  If you want to go by taxi or train you have to book that in advance.  You can’t be a spontaneous wheelchair user unless you have a car…

You have to check access in advance and often this isn’t information available online which means you have to contact the venue which can take it’s own toll.

You have to get into your chair and in my case, most of the year get into my wheelchair cosy, which is considerably more involved than just grabbing a coat and walking out.  I also have a blanket which gets tucked in around me under the wheelchair cosy as I get so cold.

If you know the area, you have to mentally run through what you know about drop kerbs, pedestrain crossings, shop entrances etc.

If you don’t know the area you have to just wait and see which can be exhausting.  You’re constantly looking for drop kerbs and half waiting to get stuck on a pavement and have to retrace your route.

And then there’s illegally parked vehicles blocking pavements or drop kerbs.  Wheely bins and recycling boxes left in the way.  Yesterday (whilst I was running late for my art class) I had the triple whammy of a blocked dropkerb, a lorry unloading onto the pavement and scaffolding.  And I was made to feel shit because I wanted to get past.

You have to make sure other people do not walk into you as they stare at their phone because then they get pissed at you.  I have had someone get annoyed with me because my chair was quiet and she didn’t hear me coming.  I wonder if she’d like me to wear a bell round my neck?

You get stuck behind people who are weaving all over the path and ignoring your polite excuse mes.  As a wheelchair user, you can’t possibly be in a hurry.

And once you’re where you’re going, you have to ask shops to get out the ramp, if they have one, or strangers to reach things off the higher shelves.  If you try and go for a coffee, you often have to get help moving chairs or carrying drinks.

If there isn’t an appropriate toilet, you mentally have to pace your fluid intake.  If there is an appropriate toilet, you have to go through the process of getting out of your wheelchair and accessories and back in again after.

You have to deal with all the comments from strangers.  “Witty” jokes, inapprioriate prying questions, being told how brave you are etc.  You have to deal with the “Does s/he take sugar” approach*.  You get stared at and pitied.  You get utterly unhelpful suggestions to cure your disability.  And offers of prayer.

You are crotch and bag height and have to avoid getting hit.

You have the perfect opportuntity to take all your belongings out with you – just load up the back of the chair – but unless you can easily get in and out of your chair, you can’t actually reach any of your stuff.

Obviously you get cold because you are sitting still and you get wet when it rains if, like me, you can’t put on your own wheelchair waterproof.  And the rain drips down the chair and down your back and onto your seat…

None of this is to say I don’t like my electric wheelchair, I love it, just be aware of all the mental and emotional energy it takes for me to leave the house.  If I say I’d rather meet you for coffee at mine than go out, it’s not because I don’t want to do that interesting thing you suggested, it’s just that sometime the task feels too great.

And this is just the wheelchair related aspects of leaving the house with a disability.  And I’ve not even touched on the coming to terms with needing a wheelchair side of things…

*People talking to the person with the wheelchair user about the wheelchair user instead the wheelchair user themselves.

Trees: a year long project

So this year I have had a tree project running along in the background.  Dipping into it now and then, pondering it when I awake in the night, looking out for ideas in my day to day life.  I’ve really enjoyed it.  Having a longer term project on the go.  And I like the seasonality of it.

So far we’ve had:

Spring – a large canvas collage and mini tree book as well as research and idea storming

Summer – a deck of tree oracle cards made from photos, some taken this year, others taken previously

Autumn – this is stil in progress but the hope is it will turn into something along the lines of:

using leaves that I’ve preserved using glycerin

Winter – currently unclear but quite possibly involving sticks…

And next year I’m thinking butterflies, breaking it down into eggs, caterpillers, metamorphosis and butterflies.  Have you ever looked at butterfly eggs?  They’re suprisingly beautiful and intriguing.  I’m trying not to jump ahead and start now although I do have a pinterest board where I am collecting images.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the heady fun of new ideas and abandon existing projects…!