My Hawthorn Mind

Beneath the tall blue sky the white-blossomed hawthorns dance. Twisted, gnarled, they are beautiful in their imperfection. They cast no judgement on themselves or others.

People are not like trees with their constrictive norms of body and mind. Look at me from the outside and (aside from the lockdown hair which resembles something between a hedgehog, a mushroom, and a duck’s arse) and you will see a ‘normal’ thirty-eight-year-old woman – able-bodied, physically fit, average-looking. Talk to me at a Pagan or poetry event and I might pass. Get to know me over a few days, a month, a couple of years and you may notice the scars, physical and psychological, catch a glimpse of my hawthorn mind. The twists, the gnarls, the thorns turned out and in.

Since primary school I’ve felt mentally crippled. Highly intelligent but socially inept. Being speccy-four-eyed, pot-bellied in my puppy fat, and lower middle-class with a southern accent at a school on a northern council estate (which was once referred to as ‘the Beirut of Preston’) didn’t help. I was mercilessly bullied.

Eventually I learnt not to talk about the fairies at the bottom of my garden or my imaginary friends. To feign an interest in the other children’s gossip about each other and celebs and to watch the soaps so I could join in (even though I hated them and would much rather have been lost in the imaginal worlds of the Faraway Tree, Narnia, or Krynn).

When I hit my teens I found a crutch. Alcohol. It helped me disguise my social limp, to keep limping along when otherwise I’d have fallen flat on my face in a gormless heap. It quickly became a cure-all. It obliviated, for a while, my feeling of being different. It helped me find words when I had none, to kiss boys when I had no desire to, to find oblivion when I could not sleep, to dance when I wanted to lie down and die.

Between the drink and the drugs and working hard toward my philosophy and English degree I sometimes wondered what was wrong. It wasn’t until my third year when I had a particularly bad meltdown during which, in vision, I was sitting on a rock at the end of the world unable to decide whether to live or die, that I decided to seek help.

I got a standard diagnosis of ‘anxiety and depression’, a packet of anti-depressants, and a referral to a psychiatrist who refused to help me because I wasn’t suicidal at the time, despite having constant panic attacks, suffering from insomnia, and self-harming.

The anti-depressants worked and, perhaps partly because I couldn’t drink on them, I excelled in my final year. I gained a first by getting 80% on my dissertation on the sublime, the writing of which, unknown to my tutors, was my way of understanding the undoing of my own mind by panic brought about by social and/or sensory overwhelm.

After failing to get funding for my PhD, with a career in horses, and to write a fantasy novel, all the while continuing to battle with anxiety and depression and using alcohol again as crutch, I finally met my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd. He helped me find meaning and purpose in my life as his awenydd, taking me to other worlds, and out of myself to perform poetry. For the first time in my life, in service to him, I did not fail. I wrote three books and the climax was the performance for Gatherer of Souls.

My depression lifted. I found I didn’t hate myself, others, or the world so much any more. When I discovered the possibility of finding paid work that fit with my vocation and hoped wouldn’t be too taxing on my mental health through volunteering with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust I found the strength to kick away the crutch.

Yet the anxiety I had been using alcohol to medicate remained and threatened to be my undoing as my dread of social situations and feeling of being overwhelmed grew. I tried the doctors again and, this time, refusing anti-depressants, was offered counselling.

Three months on, in the midst of lockdown, I’ve started CBT and, during this period, had a revelation that came not from my counsellor but from my mum which explains why I feel so different: she’d always thought I had Asperger’s, but didn’t know how to tell me!

Suddenly everything made sense. My highly focused interests: philosophy, horses, visionary poetry, Brythonic polytheism, my singular devotion to Gwyn. My problems with social communication and human relationships and inability to understand how other people can want to talk about each other and celebrities rather than pursuing ‘that one thing’. That my feelings of panic and overwhelm are symptoms of autistic meltdown.

That this is the reason I have been stuck in a constant cycle of wanting to find paid work and to have a small role in my communities locally and online, but failing because I don’t recognise the limitations brought about by Asperger’s, which lead to me getting anxious, overwhelmed, and burnt out, and giving up, and feeling like a failure.

That it’s likely I have Asperger’s was confirmed when I scored 7/10* in the AQ10 test on the phone with my counsellor a couple of days ago. I’m hoping for a referral to the Lancashire Autism Service (which I understand will take a while particularly at this time).

Looking back a part of me feels bitter. If I’d received a diagnosis as a child perhaps I would have recognised my limitations, wouldn’t have hated myself so much for being different, wouldn’t have got so anxious and depressed, (yet another whispers perhaps I’d have felt worse…).

Another part says I wouldn’t have learnt the lessons I’ve learnt. It’s possible that, living a more sheltered life, ‘the doors of the perception’ to the visionary realms would never have opened, that I’d never have met Gwyn and never become his awenydd.

My gut feeling is that now, during the lockdown, when I’ve got plenty of time to reflect on and process it and work through how it might affect me in the future and plan ahead, is the perfect time to find out. I might have gone to pieces otherwise.

As I walk beside the twisted white-blossomed hawthorns I come to understand my differences. To not only accept but celebrate the twists and gnarls of my hawthorn mind.

*6/10 or above suggests somebody has Asperger’s.

11 thoughts on “My Hawthorn Mind

  1. Aurora J Stone says:

    Sometimes the road is uneven, treacherous, overgrown and the way forward is arduous and dispiriting. If we try to keep to a path that is not right we get pushed off of it. I know. The path we thought was well laid out all of a sudden ends. It can be a wall or a cliff edge. Either way it is necessary to rethink, turn another direction, still moving onward in some form.

    Our journeys shape us, even more that we shape them. As you said, had you known in the past what you know now you would not be who you are. You would not have the insights. You would not have the vision. You would not write the poetry you do that challenges and comforts, that opens ways of seeing that others don’t have, couldn’t possibly have.

    I hope what you are now discovering about yourself will make your way forward a little less fraught, but I have a hunch with Gwyn it will never be totally a comfortable or easy ride.

  2. Greg Hill says:

    The important thing is to accept yourself as you are; count the blessings and not dwell too much on the regrets; have aspirations to achieve but don’t beat yourself up about not being other than you are. Reflection undertaken in this way can be positive, but worrying away at things can be destructive. You obviously know this, but I honestly think you have much to be proud of and much to offer to others by the example you have set in your devotional practice.

    The path you have chosen is a demanding one, and you have not shied away from those demands. But you should also allow yourself time to reflect on the positive contributions you have made. Whatever material benefits may come from the assessments of counsellors and psychologists, in the end it is your positive attitude to the difficulties you face as well as to your own value that will carry you through spiritually and emotionally.

  3. Thornsilver says:

    I know it can be immensely powerful to have a name for what’s going on. I felt the same way when I realized it’s likely I have ADHD (or something that mimics it very closely). I wish you luck on your journey of self-understanding and getting whatever support you need.

  4. Bogatyr says:

    I agree that this is a powerful piece, and a courageous one. There’s a lot here that I could write about my own life. I’ve also come to wonder in recent years whether I might have Asperger’s; it would certainly explain a great deal. No way to get tested at the moment, though. Like you, I’ve found CBT counselling to be very helpful over the years. Still, there’s no benefit, really, in “What if?”. What was, was, and that’s true for everyone. We did as we did at the time, and the time comes when we look back with more years of experience and often wish we’d done it differently. Learning from that, and altering the way we do things in the time remaining to us, is the path to Gwynfyd.

    Which reminds me: I appreciate this is none of my business whatsoever, But. You’ve discussed how you are under lockdown with your parents. Can I urge you to take the opportunity to get them to talk about their lives? What their hopes and dreams were when they were young? What they think, looking back at their lives, about the decisions they made? Look at their old photographs. Learn who the people are who appear in those photos, and the stories your parents can tell about them. I never really got the opportunity, and never will now.

  5. potiapitchford says:

    If you want someone to talk to about this, or indeed several someone’s do get in touch. As you know I identify as autistic and have been working through the layers of masking in my life for the last couple of years or so. Hugs offered 💜

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