How I work with my house of helens

Please see the explanation post to understand what my house of helens is.

Ok, so there are five helens and a cat living in the house of helens:

  • little helen, a young girl who is probably about 6 who likes playing outside and getting dirty.  she is the youngest member of the house but she has her own voice and is listened to and respected by all.
  • hennie and charlie cat come as a duo most of the time these days, she is older than little helen.  she’s had a tough life and is quiet and is slowly learning to identify her needs and try to meet them.  she loves reading and writing and is slowly gaining in confidence.
  • chariot, the warrior of the house, is confident and sure of herself and is the activist, the campaigner, the advocate and the fighter.
  • big sister is, as you might expect, a big sister type figure.  she first made herself known when little helen was dealing with some big and intense and painful stuff.  she is there in hard times and there for fun times.  she has a maternal nature and does a lot of the tea making and cake baking in the house.  she loves nature and has a lovely herb garden.
  • mana, the grandmother of the house for want of a better term. often she is quietly going about her business in the background, helping things run smoothly with a kind word here and there and a hug or a kiss.  she first came to me in a dream and was the archetypal ancestor as angel type figure.

So that’s a quick run down of the gang.  I wanted to share that to make it easier to talk about how I work with the house of helens.

Check ins

One of the main things I do with my house of helens is check in with them.  I aim for once a week but sometimes more, sometimes less.  To do this, I close my eyes, take three deep breaths and as I take them I visualise walking through the gate, up to the house and through the front door.

When I haven’t been to see them for a while, there is a part of me which gets scared no one will be there.  But so far, its never happened.  That said, when I didn’t check in for quite a while, I did have to deal with the fallout and the hurt feelings that caused.

So I go in through the door and I don’t know what I’m going to find.  Quite often there is someone in the kitchen and I might have a cup of tea with them and a chat.  If there is something in particular on my mind, I might seek out a particular helen and see how they can help me.

Sometimes I turn up and they’re all in the garden.  Other times I’ve arrived only to find them in the attic.  One occasion they were in the middle of a film night (their time zone does not run in sync with ours!).

When I was being sick a while back (I hate being sick), I went in and curled up by the fireplace in the kitchen.  Little helen gave me a little hug before going back to whatever she was doing.  Mana wrapped me in a blanket and stroked my hair.  Big sister went and got some herbs and made me a healing tea.  Hennie hung round the edges, afraid but not sure why.  We managed to chat a little and she was scared something was going to happen to me even though she knew I just had a bug or something.

What the helens do is not guided by my consciousness and that is what I find most powerful and helpful about this practice.  It taps into my unconscious which has a much better idea about what might be bothering me and how best to remedy the matter.

One to one

Recently I’ve been doing some one to one work with my helens.  This is where I intentionally seek out a particular helen and we talk and get tot know each other better and look at their strengths and weaknesses and their skills and interests.

With most of them, this is currently being guideded by Jailbreaking the Goddess by Lasara Firefox Allen.  The book shifts goddess work from the traditional trinty- maiden, mother and crone – to a five pronged version which isn’t build around maternal status.  Helpfully for me, there are five helens and they fit quite neatly into her five faces of the goddess!

Before doing this work, we had a house meeting and talked about whether people wanted to take part or not and what their hopes and fears were.  Big sister went first, mostly so she could see how appropriate it would be for little helen.  Hennie is not currently ready but was worried about missing out.

With Hennie, instead of jailbreaking the goddess, we are working through some stuff around attachment.  I went on an afternoon course about it a while back and she found it really interesting and relevant to understanding herself better.  This is intense work and although we are both tempted to rush through the material we’re using as a guide, we know that is not the best approach.

The same is true for jailbreaking the goddess.  It’s a great book and I want to read it all now but I need to work at the right pace for the helen in question.  And we need breathing space and reflection time.  And I need a gap between each helen so that I can honour them better.

Asking for help

The other main way I work with my helens is to draw on their strengths for certain things in my life.  The most potent example I have is when I went to my ill health retirement interview.  This was going to assess how much of my pension I was entitled to based on whether the assessor thought I stood a chance of working again.

This was intense, life changing stuff and I knew I had to be strong and clear about my illness.  Which is hard because we tend to spend our whole life minimising its impact.  I had to give the assessor an accurate and detailed picture of my life, down to intimate details.  I had to explain to a stranger, coherently and persuasively, that I will never work again.  Despite only just starting to come to terms with the idea myself.

So, the night before, I sat down with the chariot and we talked about how we wanted the interview to go, what strengths I needed to use and what approach we wanted to take.

I went into the interview more confident because of that and when I came home afterwards, I went into my house of helens and collapsed at the kitchen table.  The chariot was no longer the helen I needed most and big sister took over with tea and little helen danced and revitalised me a bit.

Other

I have also done tarot readings with them, as a group and individually.  I have done a couple of pieces of art with them.  I use them as a means of talking to my carers about stuff in a way which feels less vulnerable (most of them know about the house of helens).  They are slowly revealing their own birthdays to me so that will be something we will celebrate in the future.  This year we shared a birthday and I lit a specific candle for each of them and we had cake.

As I said in my last post on the house of helens, I’d love to know if anyone else does anything similar.  I know a lot of people do inner child work and it’s sort of related but also not…

My house of Helens

This post came out of the desire to write another post.  I was trying to combine them but it was getting rather epic and unfocused.  This post will also, hopefully, help me to talk about my helens with people which is something I find hugely helpful.

I think I’ve mentioned my imaginary Helens on here before but I can’t find the post and I don’t think I went into much detail.  Essentially, whilst I was in therapy, I “found” a younger version of myself and we worked with her around some stuff.  Then along came a big sister character followed by a maternal, matriarchal figure, Mana.  Then my inner warrior, who was incredibly burnt out, made herself aware to me but didn’t want to see me because I had overused her.  This was the chariot.  After therapy, I also found an older younger version called Hennie and she has a cat called Charlie.

I’ve been doing a lot of work with them on a one to one basis recently and I feel I have a lot stronger sense of Little Helen, Big Sister and Hennie.  But the Chariot and Mana still feel a bit distanced.  As I said, the chariot burnt out in terms of fighting.  This was the result of a long time of trying to get a house, trying to get a wheelchair, trying to get mental health support, trying to get work to become accessible and so on.

Each helen has a tarot card I associate with her and this has been helpful in terms of getting to know them and letting them speak through tarot.  The main reason for this post is just to give some background before I post about the chariot.  I tried writing it just for me and her as a way of getting to know her better but I do write more cohesively and coherently if it’s going on my blog…

Whilst my post will be deeply personal, it will also touch on elements of the relevant card and archetypes which I hope will be relatable to most people.  Even if you don’t have an imaginary helen in your head, you probably have a vague sense of an inner warrior or an inner child etc.

I know this is a very specific way of approaching personal development, self care etc but it really works for me.  I’d be very interested to know if anyone else does anything similar.  It all revealed itself very organically and in a really empowering way.  And continues to do so.  Like any relationship, it is necessary for me to slowly get to know them, to let them reveal what they are ready to share when they are ready.

Nothing I do with my helens is fully conscious.  For example, Hennie was struggling a lot to identify her needs, let alone try and get help meeting them.  Then one day I checked in with my house of helens and charlie cat had wandered into her life.  This is proving to be a really good way of helping her understand that it is ok to get your needs met, helping her identify charlie cat’s needs and hence her own and helping her learn how to ask for help.  If I had consciously sat down and tried to plan that, it wouldn’t have worked.  The same goes for the initial concept.  Had someone, a month before, told me I’d be working with imaginary helens as part of my therapy, I wouldn’t have taken them seriously…  I was really lucky that my excellent therapist went along on the journey with me, not pushing me into it and not pulling me away from it.

“Battling” depression 

I keep seeing things about the fight against depression, battling it, being a warrior, beating it etc… And it’s really annoying me…

As someone who has had depression on and off for many years at different levels, I do not relate to this.

Everyone experiences depression differently and if the battling narrative works for you then that’s fine.  My problem is with it being the only narrative.

For me, firstly, I don’t think I will ever “beat” depression. I think depression is as much a part of me as my faulty joints. Which means fighting depression is not something I will ever win and fighting depression is essentially fighting myself and my DNA. I have spent a lot of years at war with myself, I don’t want to keep fighting.

Secondly, it suggests that if you have depression, you are weak or you aren’t fighting hard enough. Which makes it your fault.

I have spent a lot of my life and a lot of my energy in denial about my depression. My most recent period of depression was foreshadowed by about a year where I was adamantly not admitting to myself that I was depressed again.  And this inevitably made things worse…

By accepting my depression and slowly integrating it into myself, I have found I am much more able to manage it.

When I tell people that I want to put things in place for the next time my depression is severe, I get told not to be so pessimistic, I have to believe that I’m cured etc. But this isn’t realistic. For most of my life I have been depressed, why would this just disappear? And my acceptance of this means I can plan, I can set up helpful routines and check ins when I’m doing better in preparation for when I’m not.  I can work with my depression rather than against it.

Working with my depression means noticing it.  It means saying ok, things aren’t great today, lets engage in some gentle self care, yay you made it out of bed, congrats… let’s pause for today and see if that helps make tomorrow easier.  It means noticing that I am being really irritable and instead of beating myself up about it, I can acknowledge that my depression is playing a role and to ease the irritability, I probably need to look at how I can ease the depression.

As I said, everyone has different experiences with depression and for me, accepting it as a lifelong part of me means I am more likely to spend my time and energy caring for myself rather than fighting myself.

High functioning depressive

I’ve been told before that I can’t have real depression because I was able to get out of bed and work.  It was a horrible thing to hear.  Yes, I did get out of bed and get to work but it took everything I had and it hurt like hell to do.  But equally, there was no way I couldn’t not go to work.

I have the curse of high functioning depression.  My depression does not look like most people think depression should look.  And that means I don’t always get taken as seriously as I need and I get dismissed by friends, acquaintances and medical professionals.

I probably look my most professional and most together when my depression is at its worst.  Only then do I wear makeup, dress smartly etc.  I am not me at those times.  If you ever see my wearing a suit, I am probably a complete and utter mess inside.

I was an A* student throughout school and left university with a masters in mathematics and the entire time I was severely depressed, suicidal, self harming and going through periods of anorexia.  No one ever thought to look past that to see what I was hiding.  No one ever saw my depression.

People have told me time and time again how strong I  am and make it sound like a compliment.  But inside I am screaming that I don’t want to be strong.  I want to collapse in a heap and cry and never get out of bed and never speak to anyone ever again.  But I don’t think I will ever be able to do that.  I function with my depression.  Or at least I do my best to make it look like I am.  I go through the motions whilst desperately wishing I no longer existed.

One of my major triggers is invalidation.  And the stereotypical symptoms or pictures people have of depression have led me time and time again to question my own depression.  Doubting myself made me expect the rest of the world to doubt me.  If I doubted it, would my GP just laugh at me?

Depression comes in many forms and looks like many different things.  If someone has taken the time and effort to tell you they’re struggling, don’t tell them they aren’t.

What are your walls made of?

The eight of swords very much sums up where I am.  I have surrounded myself with walls to block out the pain until the walls themselves have caused me pain.

My unhelpful CPN (community psychiatric nurse) keeps telling me to just let myself feel.  And obviously if it was as easy as that I would do so.  I know numbing myself off from my feelings is bad for me.

Then I came across a more helpful question this week:

What are your walls made of?

For me, I think they are made from the fear of feeling worthless, depressed, emotional pain… I don’t think they are so much about keeping people out as they are about keeping stuff (feelings, memories, thoughts) out.  Keeping people out is a byproduct.

“I have a deep fear of being too much,

That one day I will find my someone, and they will realize that I am a hurricane.

That they will step back and be intimidated by my muchness.”

Michelle K

I think they are made from a fear of my power, my authentic full self. I guess the way in school, I always held back my intelligence because it wasn’t a good idea to show it and a part of me is always moderating myself to stop other people from getting hurt or embarrassed etc.  I make myself small to make other people more comfortable.  And the walls are one way that I do that.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you.

– Marianne Williamson

Time and time again, things return to the idea of reclaiming my personal power, even in unlikely places.

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.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

As we head into the colder, darker months, I am trying to come up with a plan of attack for my SAD.

I have a SAD wake up light in my bedroom which makes opening your eyes in the morning a little easier.  I also have a SAD lamp on a timer in my living room.  When I was working I had my lamp next to where I had my morning coffee.

Try and get into the sun; getting as much natural sunlight is an even better option but is often not as easy as it sounds.  As well as logistical issues, there’s the complication that SAD makes you lethargic and makes you feel like you can’t actually be bothered to go out.

Which is where routine and planning comes in.  If you do something every day or every Wednesday or whatever hopefully it will become habit and you’ll be more likely to do it even if you can’t be bothered.  Planning specifics also helps.  If you think you’ll go for a walk one day you might but if you decide you’ll go for a walk to the coffee shop on Monday lunch break you’re more likely to do it.

Exercise is supposed to be good, and you can link it with being outside, but not an option open to all of us.

When you’re feeling low it can be really easy to get into the habit of eating lots of comfort food, fast food or no food.  None of which are going to help your mood.  Eating well sounds easy but I know it’s hard.  Try batch cooking and freezing.  Plan ahead.  Decide what you’re going to eat each day and do what you can to make it easy for yourself.  If prechopped vegetables mean you’re more likely to eat them, go for it.  If shop bought soup is going to mean you’re more likely to eat, do it.  You could also look at vitamin tablets.

If you can, try and get into a healthy sleep routine to ensure you get enough (but try and avoid too much!) sleep.  A disrupted body clock is one of the possible causes of SAD.

Ask for help with tasks you find difficult.  For example maybe a friend could cook an extra portion of a meal and drop it round.  Maybe someone could pick up some things from the supermarket.  Or help you tidy your home.  It can be hard to ask for help but often people don’t know how to help even though they want to.

Medication can also help and if you are experiencing symptoms of SAD please talk to your dr.