A New Start

I’m back again! I’ve decided to pick up the blog from where I left it a year and a half ago. A new beginning…

When I set up the site several years ago I was in a very different place from where I am now. Then, I had collapsed under the burdens of work and life, and was trying to untangle myself. I’m still trying to do that, but have come quite far on that journey compared to where I was!

Now, I’m on leave from my academic life until the summer of 2019 and am currently training to become an organic gardener and entrepreneur. It’s all very exciting! (The photograph above is from a glorious morning a few weeks ago at Skillebyholm, my college.)

I don’t yet know what my life will look like in a year’s time. Or five. I might be back at my University job. If so, I’ll be much better equipped to to a good job than what I was before I went on my two year break from it. However, I might find myself running my own green business in some form or another. Or I might be working part time at a nice garden centre and writing novels in my own garden as I grow food for my family.

Whatever I do; gardening, ecology, sustainablilty, politics, creativity, wholeheartedness, ethics and writing will all be active ingredients. And I will start my own company, regardless if it is on a hobby basis or the source of my income. Here in the blog, I shall continue to tune in to myself, develop my thoughts and refine my visions. Whoever wants to share some steps in this personal (but not private) journey is welcome to join me on the way ahead.

So! Here we go again! Welcome here, or welcome back!

Damson days

I was quite overwhelmed with all the response I got after I posted my experience of “Kraken days” last week. I had comments and messages on Facebook and messenger, I got emails, IRL-conversations and phone calls from so many friends and family. Your concern really touched me and I felt very uplifted. Thanks, all you gorgeous people. How much you mean to me!

Fortunately, and this is a major difference from a year ago, there are also many “Krikon days”. (Or, because the alliteration is better in English, “Damson days”.) Yes, I had a few down days and they were not nice at all. Quite horrible, in fact. However, they were followed by good days. And this is normal in life. And what, when you come to think of it, is “good” in this context? When I stretched out a hand from a Kraken day (articulating what I probably never would have done on a Krikon day) it led to a shower of kind words, of people stretching out their hands to me. If this isn’t good, I don’t know what is. This is, however, a sign that I am better. When I was at my worst, I couldn’t grasp a stretched out hand. Now I can. I hope.

For being better, or even well, doesn’t mean that all is well always. But it does mean that the view from the bottom doesn’t have the power to define what I perceive as “me” or “reality”. It is challenged by the other stories, the experiences of happiness and fulfilment and people close to me who love me – and whose love I can accept because I can, despite my feelings of otherwise, see that I am worth it.

I think this is the worst part of bad days: Not feeling worthy of love. The deep embarrassment of being who I am, cringing with and crippled by shame. And not being capable of taking in another person’s story of who I am. On bad days, the story I tell about myself is told by what I on good days can see is an untrustworthy and destructive narrator. She (my shadow?) holds up a black mirror to my inner self. And I believe that my own voice represents true reality. I cannot do otherwise. I cannot challenge my own, false – or rather, narrow, story. That is what the sickness is. The black mirror of depression and exhaustion.

I want to develop some thoughts I had at work today which relate to all these personal experiences. This is an aspect I love about my job: it gives plenty of opportunities to really think things through, in dialogue with bright minds. The trick is, though, to carve out time enough to actually think som long thoughts…

In preparation for our weekly ethics seminar this afternoon, I had the opportunity to think about narration of life (a favourite theme), with special regard to the relevance of narrative perspective. Is life, and thus morality, told from the first, second or third person perspective? From which perspective ought the ethicist work? We discussed a new book by a person I admire very much, the theological ethicist from Åbo in Finland, Tage Kurtén. In his book, he claims that moral language must have a first person perspective and that we as ethicists ought to be wary of the claim of a neutrality of a third-person perspective.

I really enjoyed thinking about these patterns of thought. It also occurred to me that although I agree with the primacy of a first-person perspective, a more distanced perspective is needed for the first person’s complex subjective experience to be fully articulated. (I don’t think Tage disagrees. What I am saying here is not in opposition to his book. It is a personal spin-off.)

Let me take an example. Think of a coin. And it’s two sides. It is impossible to see both sides from a single perspective. But both are needed for the coin to be considered valid as currency. They belong inherently together – but can only be seen in full one at a time. You have to know, or trust, that from a different perspective, the other side exists.

When I fell in love with my husband, one of the things I fell for was his relaxed and tolerant attitude, his laid-back-ness and, not least, his acceptance of me. Warts and all. Now, after ten years of marriage, I sometimes need to remind myself that these exact character traits are the still there and typical of him (bless him), but that I sometimes only see the other side of them. The dark side.

In a stressed daily life and from the perspective of a bad mood, I can interpret these traits in negative terms. Hubby therefore sometimes sometimes comes across to me as lacking in initiative and responsibility, a person who lazily accepts problems without trying to solve them and who doesn’t challenge my story when I need it to be challenged (at least not in the way I want to be challenged). If, however, I can take a step backwards, I can remind myself that I am seeing HIM in a black mirror. I therefore need to challenge my first person perspective. I need to take a step back from the story I am telling in order to incorporate both, true sides of who he is. And I need to listen to HIS story, his first-person narration.

I also need to see both sides of my own, dominant character traits. When I’m up, I need to remind myself to take responsibility for the dark side of myself. When I’m down, I need to remind myself that all is not hopeless – that I am worth something. That there is value in who I am. Although I can’t see it when I am down, I need to trust that it is there. Like both sides of a coin, for it is difficult to see both at the same time.

So. That all became rather complicated. But Krikonkraken is, in many ways, a project in which I am exploring all these double aspects of life and identity. I have Kraken days, and I have Krikon days. Both are ambiguous. Life IS complicated.

A very concrete example of a Krikon day was last Friday, when a friend and I visited the major Swedish Garden Fair (Nordiska Trädgårdar). Guess what I now have in my garden: Gamla Wasa blåkrikon! I have been so frustrated, because damson has been almost impossible to buy in Sweden. And I really wanted one. My friend saw it first, and the rest of the fair I walked around with a big grin trying not to poke people with my little tree. It is, in fact, not much yet. As you can see in the picture above. But it IS a damson.

To close this rambling post: There are ups and downs, straight aheads and status quos in life. The trick is to go with the flow, I find. Not panic, but live through the downs, enjoy and relish the ups, try to navigate where to go ahead and allow restfulness in status quo. Also, and this I have learnt is important: to accept backwards steps. They can lead to new directions and different perspectives. This blog is a way in which I try to cope and understand all these movements and directions in my own life. And to see that Kraken days can, in fact, highlight happiness, friendship and love.

Kraken days

In earlier posts, and in my presentation of myself, I have said a few words about depression and exhaustion. I have been meaning to expand on this, and write a longer post on “stress related fatigue syndrome with depression” – which was my diagnose. I have thought that when I am well, I will write retrospectively and wisely about being ill. Fat chance.

I’ve found it too difficult to sort out my thoughts about being (mentally) ill, and what I want to go “public” with. I do want to write about it because so many I know are affected, and I think we need to talk about it in public. Not that it is never done. It is an affliction which is getting more and more attention in the media and in society. But still: How ought I write? It is difficult to write about and talk about as there is so much shame and embarrassment connected to mental illness. And I don’t want to be too private. But how not be private, if we are to talk about it in society?

Also, I haven’t lately had much time or energy to reflect, let alone write about it. All my effort has gone into managing work and family. What little time has been left I have gardened, sown and prepared for the growing season – and spent time at the summer house in order to gather some of the precious energy spent otherwise.

Finally, and the main reason for why I haven’t managed to write about it, is that I am not through it yet. And I don’t think I will be for some time. I will have to write in medias res. From the middle of muddle. So. The short story of the last year is this:

In March last year, I “crashed”. Escalating stress and depression which had built up over years floored me, and I couldn’t cope. All physical and mental capacities just closed down. I slept. And slept. And cried. And hid from the world. Apart from these “activities”, all I could do the first months was to watch the sitcom “Modern Family” and read old favourite books for the millionth time. Terry Pratchett, Susan Howatch, James Herriot… I couldn’t take in a whole film or a new story. Watching or reading the news was unthinkable. The world was too big for me.

I couldn’t plan a meal. After a month or so I had a close friend to visit, and decided we would have herring and potatoes for lunch. That would be easy, I thought. I forgot the potatoes. I’d always forget the main things I needed when I went shopping, even if I had a shopping list of five items. I’d forget to look at the list. I went out without my purse one day, and had to go back home three times to get it – but kept forgetting it because I went to the loo, or couldn’t remember why I’d come back. I thought I might have alzheimers. It was horrible. I couldn’t get my daughter to cello lessons in time, and missed the few appointments I had.

With April and May last year, spring came and I started to read gardening books and watch old gardening programmes on You Tube. They were easy. I could just open a book anywhere and dip in. No “whole” to cope with. Just a chapter on asparagus here or a film on permaculture there. The weather was good, and I’d be able to do work in the garden. I didn’t have to do anything, so whatever I did was a bonus and gave me a sense of meaning. And the garden was full of symbols. The image of “Krikon” represents all the hope, power and beauty of life that I started to sense again. Spring. New life from dead material. The garden saved me from sinking too far, dragged down by “Kraken”. I got foothold on land, and slowly managed to climb up.

In August last year I came back to work half time, which was tough. But I managed, more or less. I didn’t do a good job, but every now and again things went all right and I thought that I might have a future at the university after all. Only on the first of March this year I came back to full time work after a year of sick leave. Now, in my second month back at work, I cope most of the time. But not all the time.

For I do have days when the Kraken dominates. It drags me down and I have to fight the monster. It is exhausting. Yesterday and today are such days. My mind and body gang up on me and decide to “play dead”. I am constantly tired. Tired in a sense that I never quite understand. Deeply tired. And quite sad.

So why now? I really do not have time for a visit from the Kraken now. But it seems to know when to attack. Last week was intense with lots of classes and administration. It was stimulating and fun, but it took a lot of energy meeting so many students and people, and having to organise all that needed to be organised. This week is full of grading and administration, which is also intense, but in a different way. I can work from home. I should be able to cope.

But no. The Kraken is hovering. I’m behind with my work, and students are waiting for their results and my comments. I just want to sleep and sleep – and have in fact slept away hours. I’ve tried to find some extra energy by repotting plants, which did help a little. Writing this post is a little bit of procrastination, I admit that, but it is mostly a very serious attempt to face what is going on in me and to realise that I am not quite well yet, and must respect that.

In order to fight the Kraken and cope with my work load, I need to tell myself that it is not that I am lazy or a fool or incompetent. It’s just that my mind is not yet restored. Reading and commenting text after text does not compute well in a burnt out mind. And this applies however well the students write, for I am very pleased with most of what they have done. It’s not them, it’s me. And I wish I could give them more than I can. But in order to do the job I need to accept that I’m slow, which is hard. I want to be perfect, which I’m not. I need to fight the perfectionism, as it is part of why I became ill. Why is it so difficult?

So, for whoever has bothered to read, this was a small excursion to one of my Kraken days.

Being Brave

1024px-Carta_MarinaHello, and welcome to Krikonkraken!

Today I am being brave. I am going way out of my comfort zone and inviting friends and family from Facebook to take a look at my new website and blog(s). This project is very much in the making, although I’ve been thinking about doing it for quite some time.

It’s always nervy to open up a far-from-perfect (but hopefully good enough) project to other people’s scrutiny. I feel quite vulnerable, as I’m painting this canvas with lots of personal exposure. However, I am also very excited that you are here to have a look at what I have been doing on and off for the last few days.

I’ve had a steep, but interesting learning curve during the set-up of this page. It’s been great fun, although sometimes quite frustrating when I can’t manage the technical finess I want to achieve. I really enjoy learning new skills and tend to become a little manic when I find new worlds of possibilities. I recklessly think I can do anything, and get miffed when I realise I can’t.

I hope you spend a little time browsing the site, and obviously I also hope you enjoy what you find in here! I’m painfully aware that I’m not a web designer, or a communications expert. So if you have any constructive and good ideas as to how I could enhance a reader’s experience, please e-mail me, or comment below!

The images in this post are the background pics on the website. One is the Carta Marina, the first real map of the Nordic countries. It was made by Olaus Magnus in 1539. He was the last Catholic Archbishop of Sweden before the reformation. The original map is in the Uppsala University library, which is very close to my office. I just absolutely love it, and quite often pop in to have a look! If you look carefully, you can see the Kraken….

The other image is of damsons. Damson is ‘krikon’ in Swedish, and the wild plums are difficult to buy commercially in Sweden. Fortunately, I now have three possible offers of shoots from friends who have damson in their gardens. So I hope that I’ll be able to plant a few different varieties of damson in my garden this year.

Thanks for visiting, and I sincerely hope you’ll come back!

The Ninth Tentacle

…is a category for things I write about that don’t easily fit in to any of the blog themes. For, believe it or not, I am not an octopus. There are more themes in my life than eight. I haven’t mentioned Penguins, Music, Costume History, Interior Decoration, Art or Marine Archeology. Or many other things that defy classification, even if I could identify them.

I’m not, however, going to make a big deal over the problem of categories, because they are a very useful tool to help organise life. I like organising. I am deeply aware of categorical pitfalls, though. It is when categories are seen as absolute, or that we are blind for the problems that certain categories involve, that trouble arises.

When I discuss categories and categorisation with my students, I usually give them a funny example written by Jorge Luis Borges in 1942 (although he claimed that it was translated from a Chinese Dictionary). In the essay “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins” he argues against a rigid method of categorising animals linguistically, and gives this as an alternative example of how animals can be categorised:

  • Those that belong to the emperor
  • Embalmed ones
  • Those that are trained
  • Sucking pigs
  • Mermaids (or Sirens)
  • Fabulous ones
  • Stray dogs
  • Those that are included in this classification
  • Those that tremble as if they were mad
  • Innumerable ones
  • Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  • Et cetera
  • Those that have just broken the flower vase
  • Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

This post is headed by a photograph by Noah Elhardt. The image is of a plant’s “tentacle”. The plant is called Drocera Capensis. I chose the picture to illustrate a point of crossing, an aspect of common ground between Krikon and Kraken. The ninth tentacle, the uncategorised blog, is, however, neither Krikon nor Kraken. The common ground is that it defies category although referring to both.