Those who’ve been reading from the beginning may know that I used to maintain a blog called The Painted Hide, where I wrote about my experiences with spirituality. I had to take a break from active practice, though, as my illnesses and situation worsened. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling more of a call to return to my spiritual path. I also no longer see the use in maintaining a separate blog for the purpose, as I have come to realise that my faith and spirituality are inexorably linked to my place in the autistic community.
For those of you who don’t know the story, now is as good a time as any to recount it.
I’ve been struggling with ill health for a long time. I’ve been dealing with depression, anxiety, joint pain, muscle pain and fatigue since I was very small. As I’ve gone on, they’ve all worsened. Recently, I was diagnosed with joint hypermobility syndrome with mentions of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia in my medical notes. I became too ill to work, and I lost my home and my job. The exact details of my symptoms, though, are only vaguely relevant. What is relevant is that I am suffering. Like most people, I search for meaning in my suffering because to give it a context beyond simple bad luck in the genetic lottery gives me strength.
I’ve always felt drawn to pagan practices, and felt more drawn the more my illnesses worsened. Perhaps the most helpful resource I have found has been Neolithic Shamanism, a book by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova. The first important concept is that of Shamanic Sickness. As far as I understand it, those called to the path are called by a God or spirit that “claims” a person. The God may drop hints as to what they want you to do. If you refuse, or if you’re not bright enough to work it out, you become ill. The illness serves the purpose of being powerfully persuasive, but also opens the way for a potential next step: Shamanic Death. This is a symbolic death, usually a near-death experience or an extreme illness that risks actual death or insanity. During this sickness, your God can take the opportunity to change and rebuild you, to make you fit for the purpose they have in mind. Raven describes the experience as a hallucination during unconsciousness from blood loss, during which their God rebuilt their astral body.
I view the pain that I’m in in a similar fashion. I’m not entirely sure which God is leading me down the path, nor whether my illness is as punishment for failure to comply with their wishes or an exercise in rebuilding me to be capable of the job I’m meant to do, but my pain is not without purpose. As I explore my thoughts around my suffering, it becomes more and more clear that my suffering makes me valuable. Had I not suffered the bullying and ableism that comes with my wonderful autistic brain, I would not have found a community, nor would I have found purpose in blogging here. I consider that to be my first trial, I was rebuilt for empathy and to contribute to my autistic tribe. Raven writes about the purpose of Shamanism in terms of practical service to a tribe, not necessarily one based on family or geography, but on shared traits. If I’m to serve a tribe, one of them must certainly be the autistic tribe.
Now I’m suffering again. Homelessness, physical pain, weakness, exhaustion, the attendant depression and anxiety. I’m suffering through the lengthy process and waiting game of accessing assistance to transition into a shape that better reflects who I am. There is a great deal of pain, but also a great drive to reorganise, change. This is my metamorphosis. I don’t know what it’s turning me into, but I’m trying to figure it out.
The common theme for me is storytelling. While I might never have written any fiction worth reading, the true stories here are how I cope with my pain, and also how I try to help others. If I have been claimed by a deity, it would make sense for it to be a deity associated with storytelling. Perhaps, given how often I’m forced to move, one that is also associated with a travelling lifestyle. Or perhaps, since I write in order to heal, one associated with healing?