TEDx sneak peak

Today I delivered the first trial of my talk to staff at SHINE SA, who were wonderfully enthusiastic! I need to cut down the time a bit further so I’m going to drop a couple of points and work on making the remaining ones striking and simple.

I’ve begun my illustrations, which are taking quite a bit of time because I want them to be a good representation of diverse people and bodies. I have finished 4 so far. 

It took a lot of time to find the right medium and colour for this series, I love the mix of teal (Robert Oster, Tranquility) and orange (Noodler’s Habanero). Here’s my final test sheet where I found the colour mix I wanted.

What am I about?

For my studio opening I made a little gift for everyone who came, a sticker.

I love it very much. I adore it. And I keep coming back to a question posed in the great ‘Vision and Mission’ workshop by Christina the other day – what am I about?

What am I here to do? What do I believe? What message underlies all my work? This mad business I’m running where I use so many different skills – what thread links it all?

I hit exhaustion not long ago and I still have days where it bites at my heels, reminding me I can’t run on empty for too long. I’m turning my ideas on their head. The things at the periphery of my life need to be in the centre. Wildness is the wellspring of my art, not a treat I get to have every now and then if I finish all my tasks. Relationships are deeply important to me, and while I need some solitary and reflective time, I tend to recharge with people I love and feel safe with. I can find the courage to reach out to like-mind communities – I’m not the only person out there doing what I’m trying to do and I don’t have to be alone or do it all myself. I can ask for help and learn from others.

I’m giving great thought to my business model. What am I doing? What do I want to be doing? What are my skills, and how do I showcase them? Where do I thrive? What renews me? What do I want out of a career? What do I need to do to get there?

My business is amazing and there’s a lot about it that I love. This year has been brilliant for me, I’ve worked with many people I really respect and appreciate, on projects that I genuinely believe in, and have had a huge challenge to my perceptions of the value of what I do. I’ve been tango-ing with success and all that means! It has turned my world upside down, given me my first experiences of real income, and a sense of the tipping point that happens when enough people believe in you and enough projects – especially public projects – showcase your skills. I walked into an art shop a a little while ago and had to stop and catch my breath when I realised for the first time in my life I could buy any item in the store I wanted. So now what?

It’s also been exhausting, confusing, overwhelming, and stressful. I’ve found myself feeling incredibly exposed at developing my business in a public way – showing myself through this blog, my vulnerabilities and learning along the way. I’ve fought intensely with myself to hold my space and not tear down this blog and every other evidence of vulnerability that might make someone feel worried about hiring me. Vulnerability and authenticity are part of what I do. I can contextualise them. I can change my relationship to them. I don’t have to be afraid. Some days it feels like I’m running 20 different businesses and I’m so tired and confused I can’t get out of bed. I don’t really understand what I’ve done well to get to this point, so figuring out how to keep doing it is mind bending.

The challenge I have set myself this year is to use these successes to invest in my business. So I’m looking into different models and mentors and exploring how other people balance art and business. Where does the money come from, and where is the heart free to do what it needs? Businesses do not only need money, they also need all the ingredients that keep you thriving – they run on the things that meet emotional needs, the things that nurture inspiration or renew compassion. What works for me?

Artist and Consultant. It feels like an excellent fit in many ways. I had the amusing experience of catching up with a wonderful client earlier this year and telling them how excited I was to be reading about consultants and facilitators and seeing my own skills and passions – that I felt I’d finally found a thing I excelled at in business. What was amusing is they’d no idea I hadn’t already known this, it seemed so obvious to them. Consultancy allows me to showcase the skills I have, such as facilitation, in an environment that cares little for how I attained them – only the skills themselves are important. It’s perfect for someone like me who has walked a different road to competence than the usual.

Even more though, as I examine this question – what am I about – I realise that the informal way I’ve gathered my skills is part of the heart of this. It’s no accident I didn’t just get a degree like my peers. Each time higher education/formal education has threatened something deeply precious to me, I’ve pulled back. I adore learning and I’m passionate about good teaching but so often what I’ve encountered would have crushed the knowledge base I already had, instead of scaffolding it. I know things that are personal, and nebulous, and difficult to put into words. They are precious because they are part of how I view the world, part of how I live, part of my resilience, and my poetry, my love and spirit. I have had to work hard to keep them safe in educational contexts that have been aggressively dogmatic and intended to produce a standardised result in all the students. We all now make only this kind of art in this way and revere only these artists as ‘real artists’. We all now think of humans and psychology in this way, we revere these people as experts and those we decry without reading. We all think of ourselves this way and practice this way and it is impersonal, inflexible, lacking in doubt, adaptability, freedom, or wildness. It is everything I am not, and in the context of tragedy in my personal life, I’ve been unable to keep my heart safe enough to endure it. I’ve needed those skills daily.

I sat in my first welcome class for those of us who attained high enough results in year 12 to get into the bachelor of psychology with honors program. I sat at the back in my electric scooter, an anomaly in a space dedicated to the most able. They told us that we were the ‘cream of the crop’ in a lecture so reminiscent to the repulsive one given to the doctors in Patch Adams ‘you will not be men anymore you will be doctors’ that I laughed, thinking it was clever satire. It was not satire and I was the only one was laughed. I shut up. I struggled through the first year of the degree, getting high distinctions, dealing with the sense of shame I felt at being so visibly different, dealing with death in the family and homelessness, and PTSD, and not being able to sleep, and the student services shutting me out of the counselling program when I ‘confessed’ to having DID. And then I withdrew and went back to devouring libraries, thinking, reflecting, experiencing, and attaching myself to brilliance and competence wherever I found it in an unofficial apprenticeship. The formal education stopped and the learning continued.

So, what am I about? Who am I in the world? What is the heart that links all that I do?

Sometimes that’s easiest to see in shadow. What I am NOT about is the rote, impersonal, or dehumanised. I am not about reductionism or easy answers. I am not about dogma, violence, oppression, conformity, competition, or domination. I am not about the slick, deceptive, untrustworthy, or parasitic. I am not about disconnection, loneliness, isolation, and secrets. I am not about forcing people into roles, defining them, their lives, their self, their story.

I am relentlessly human. I am passionate about the intimate, the informal, personal knowledge and experience. I am about the idiosyncratic and diverse. I am about freedom and self-determination. Complexity and authenticity over certainty and being acceptable. I am about holding beliefs lightly and the capacity to doubt. I am about community, connection, friendships, and integrity. I am about holding spaces for things it is difficult to face, and finding ways of communicating about things it is difficult to name. I am about the heart, the subtle, the nebulous, the things that make life worth living. I am about speaking to pain, easing suffering and loneliness, and celebrating the hidden beauty in people. I am about the vastness of life, the simple pleasures, the deep anguish, the glorious sublime. I am about using courage and passion and honesty to help all us to really live.

Why? Because these are the things I value and the things I need too, the passing back and forth of wisdom and hope and inspiration and compassion as we warm our hands at each other’s fire. I am not about these things as the expert but as a passionate seeker. I have skills and competencies in listening, communication, connecting, creating, storytelling. But I do not stand on a platform above others, I share from a place among us. Here is a gift I have found in the desert, it is a shining star that I have followed out of loneliness and anguish – use it as you can. And when I am again lost, alone and in anguish, share it back with me. Remind me of the light. Our freedom is bound up in each other’s freedom. We are all human together, and everything we do makes each of us a little more, or a little less human.

There are only two languages, love and fear.

-Leunig

I welcome your thoughts too. You have a different perspective to me, looking from the outside in. What am I about?

And if you would like a sticker about diversity, let me know. ❤

Rethinking Money

For my Studio Opening last weekend, I created a goody bag of treasures. This was partly to deal with my anxiety about charging tickets for the first time. I was charging tickets to deal with my anxiety about catering for an event when numbers were unknown. I also like to use small events like this to test run tools or things I want to offer such as my point of sale system, ticketing, or catering. There’s always glitches to iron out and skills to learn, and I like to figure this stuff out small scale first. The irony in this instance is that selling tickets created such severe anxiety for me it nearly completely incapacitated me to actually run the event. I’m working on this. I’ve been reading and exploring about Abundance through a book The Abundance Code and video by Julie Ann Cairns.

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Julie explores the things that block us around money. Anyone who has been following me here on this blog knows I have some big ones. At first I was embarrassed to even be seen reading a book like this. The word ‘money’ on the cover was bad enough, the word ‘rich’ was unbearable for someone who has been choked by the idea that being a decent person and earning money was frankly incompatible… that intentionally seeking money was vulgar and repulsive. I’ve also been pinned by an intense sense of responsibility to support my family and give my kids opportunities. Crushed between these ideas my anxiety has been extreme and I’ve been grappling for a path I can walk.

So I’ve been reading in small doses and journaling, and my thinking is shifting. I’m exposing myself to people who are ethical about money, people who want to make money but without exploiting or harming others, and people who care deeply about social justice and vulnerable people. I’m digging into my history and pulling out the stories I’ve been told or telling myself. With the tickets for my opening – $4 each to help me nail the catering and not get caught running an open tab in case a million TEDx people turned up unexpectedly (numbers are more likely to be accurate when people spend even a small amount on a ticket) – I finally found the thorn in my heel. That it was okay for others to value my work but not for me to assign it value of even the smallest amount. I wrote on my heart that day ‘You do not have to like, value, understand, or pay for what I do. However, I’m allowed to’. And finally, after 4 huge meltdowns, I’d named the distress and the panic drained away so I could breathe again.

The model I’ve run my networks in is one of charity, which is brilliant in some ways but problematic in others. Not being included in a community with something of your own to offer – only being the recipient of care – carries a cost and a distress I’m all too familiar with. 

The model I’ve been running my business on, where I scatter myself across many skills and let clients set the price and value of my work also needs rethinking. With good clients it doesn’t work so badly, with some it leaves me vulnerable to exploitation. Either way it’s an irritating unexpected hassle to deal with when hiring me should be simple, comfortable, and create confidence that of course I will do, to a high standard, what I’ve been contracted to do. 

Rose and I have transitioned from her working and I run the household to the reverse, which has been a huge goal for many years! I am thrilled. Now I want to grow my business with the goal of moving us out of public housing into a secure, larger home. But I’m also taking the pressure off myself. I’ve realised the brutal imperative I’ve been experiencing to be financially independent now, is really not borne out of my values, but a parasite that’s attached itself to me from other’s beliefs. Right now it’s most important for my family to have a parent who is somewhat sane, connected, and nurturing. Burning myself out costs all of us too dearly.

Not so many years ago I was homeless, profoundly ill, isolated, and struggling to survive. My business has been a passion for many years and it is growing well. It’s okay that it’s not supporting us yet. It’s okay that I still have skills to hone and tools to develop. It’s okay that I’ve mistakes the way. And it’s okay for me to explore my values around money and deliberately set out to create a sustainable business. To find my own elegant and ethical way to blend my passions for creativity and meaning with income. 

Exploring Consulting

As I’ve branched out into consulting with this year I’ve been looking around for good resources to strengthen my skill base. I’ve reached out to some more experienced mentors, taken up some brief training and workshops, and read some excellent books. I was startled and thrilled to discover that I felt extremely at home with the materials around facilitation and consulting. They gel so well with my skills and ethos! I’m fortunate that the client who contracted me thought this was obvious… Sometimes it’s much easier for others to see things about ourselves! 

Oddly enough there’s a surprising overlap of skills between facilitating a therapeutic group, supporting an individual without pushing what you think they should do, and contracting with an organisation. The requirements to be ethical and trustworthy, to be honest and attuned, and to hold onto hope in the challenging times are all similar. 

Here are a couple of my favourite quotes so far about consulting work:

“Organisations naturally move towards growth and healing. Much is already known within the system about what its own health might look like. Masterful consultants do not have the knowledge or own the outcome. They ask the questions and facilitate the learning. Help the client explore their aspirations and the factors that facilitate and inhibit living them.” R. Shaffer, High Impact Consulting

“To meet the client’s goals, we must first ask: Who is the client? For most consultants, the answer is simple: the person paying your bill. This person’s needs must be understood and met. Hence, his or her goals dictate the consulting process.

An alternative school of thought is that the whole organisation is the client. This view defines consulting success as meeting the goals of the total system and leaving the whole organisation healthier as a result of the consulting process… This view requires that the consultant bring to light potentially competing goals embedded in the client organisation and seek to resolve them. It requires that the consultant be willing to put the consulting engagement at risk in the service of the greater needs of the organisation.” Keith Merron, Consulting Mastery

It’s been a real joy and a privilege to be engaged in this kind of work and I’m exploring the possibilities for me in this field going forwards. I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions about what I want and where I do my best work and where I thrive. I feel that consulting is part of the answer. 

Yesterday I attended an excellent “Vision and Mission” workshop by Christina Giorgio who supports artists and creatives in business development and goal setting. I highly recommend her work. It was excellent and lined up well with a lot of my experiences and observations such as the importance of defining what ‘success’ means for yourself, that there’s no shame in using a day job for income and pursuing your passion without forcing it to be an income stream, and that knowing your personal goals and vision and being able clearly articulate them informs your business goals and vision. 

I’m still wrestling with what’s at the heart of my work, it’s nebulous and complex and at times hard for me to see simply because I’m in it and also in some ways tremendously experienced but in other areas only just learning. I’ve been on a long journey of unpicking beliefs that have held me back (such as that you cannot make money and live a passionate, creative life) and looking to see what others before me have done and how, and where their income comes from, and how they balance it all. This year with so many new opportunities and doors opening I’m making time for planning, reflecting, learning. Reaching out to good people and new communities, soaking up new skills and experiences. 

On that note, some of the lovely goodies for the gift bags for ticket holders at my Studio Opening this Saturday have arrived. They are going to be gorgeous! Grab your ticket here

Welcome to my Studio Opening!

Come and celebrate with me! 

Sat, Oct 7, 2:30 pm 

I’ve wanted a studio for many years, and this space at Tooth and Nail is really special. It’s pretty rare to get invited into the place where the art happens, but it’s actually usually my favourite place to be allowed into. For me it’s kind of sacred, a threshold between worlds. I’d love to share it with you, it’s the culmination of a dream and a lot of support from some pretty special people. This is my chance to show how beautiful it is, and say thanks to my amazing tribe.


My studio is just around the corner from Viva Expresso cafe where there will be coffee and muffins, and prints and artbooks at very good prices. They are opening especially for us, and roast their own beans.

I didn’t want to make this an invite only event, everyone is welcome. So to help me know numbers for catering I’m selling tickets. They are only $4 each and only over 18’s need one. Grab your ticket here.

The studio is not wheelchair accessible sorry, but the cafe is. The studio is not safe for kids either, but they are welcome in the cafe and don’t need a ticket.

I’m putting together a little goodie bag of great treats for every ticket holder, which will include a free coffee voucher. 🙂 So grab a ticket and come over. The Facebook event is here. I’d love to see you there. ❤

I’ll be speaking at TEDx

I’ve been selected for a TEDx talk in Adelaide 2017! There’s a fantastic line up of speakers, I got to meet most of them earlier this week. See the whole bunch of us announced here.

It’s brilliant, exciting, overwhelming, and my topic is personal so I’m putting thought into my supports because the highs and crashes on this one might be big. 

It’s an amazing opportunity to get some ideas out there that can make a difference to people’s lives. I’m thrilled and honoured. Thinking about authenticity on a larger stage, how to create connection in a bigger setting. There’s a lot of support available and plenty to learn from previous year’s speakers. I spent this morning feeling overwhelmed by everything I wish I could have ready before the talk – my next collection of prints, my new website… And decided the best thing to do to prepare was let the rest go and focus on giving an excellent heartfelt talk. As nice as it would be to feel I have all my ducks in a row, the other projects can wait. I’m looking forward to a beautiful online gallery of my art, and restocking my Etsy shop, but all things in their time. TEDx is a bigger stage and I don’t want to fall off it. I spent this morning feeling teary and tired, this afternoon having a lovely conversation with a friendly lawyer about collaborative arts practices, and then getting ink on my fingers in my studio, and now my heart is calm and settled. 

Testing a package of new ink samples

As I find that place where it’s safe to think about difficult things, I can invite others into it, and good things will happen. 🙂 Watch this space!

Thriving

I’ve been enjoying going to monthly workshops with Calligraphy SA. I’m not madly into lettering but I love ink and paper and I like to explore new styles and tools. Today I used a dip pen for the first time (I’m a fountain pen person, which is very different and uses completely different inks). We were exploring decorative letters which was playful and fun. 

This afternoon I invited a couple of friends over and made up a big batch of fluffy pancakes. 

Only a handful weeks back, I was diagnosed with exhaustion by my GP and psychologist. Staring down into the pit of anguish I know so well from my last experience, it was all coming back to me. The haunting death sense, the feelings of failure and meaninglessness, waking up and spending hours crying before being able to get out of bed… Terrifying, overpowering, and bleak.

Things are turning around, and this time it’s quick. I’ve taken decisive action before reaching the deeps of that place. Focusing on developing a more sustainable work life, prioritising settings in which I not only do work I’m proud of but also thrive rather than sacrifice myself, and reaching out for peer support have all helped. I’m prioritising developing more skills and understanding around exhaustion and burn out – clearly there’s a pattern here for me which I need to break. I’m making progress. An important discovery has been that my internal compass doesn’t let me know when my choices are causing me great stress, it simply behind clouded and I can’t tell what I need. That cloudedness is the indication I’m off track and at risk. It’s hard to pay attention to, and even harder to know at times what the best choice is, but a crude navigation can be achieved by noticing the choices that make me feel confused and those that help me feel clear and connected to myself. 
I’m hopeful. I’ve been waking up feeling good about life again, cheerful, productive, connected to my family. It’s been a huge year of learning and growth. I’ve been fortunate to have many brilliant teachers and generous peers around me. I’m soaking it all up, putting it into action. There’s a path forward and I’m finding it.

A brilliant day

Today, Rose gave me a sleep in because I was awake half the night with Poppy. I had breakfast in the backyard and did some more reading and reflecting about money myths (I’ve stopped feeling vulgar and embarrassed to want to understand it better, which is nice) and my ideal life… It occurred to me that in many important ways I’m already living it. My family has been a dream for such a long time and now it’s here. I absolutely adore each of them and I’m so happy to have such a loving, brilliant bunch around me. 

This afternoon I had an interesting experience being part of a focus group to provide feedback for a mindfulness and aerobics class intended to support people to connect more to their sexual feelings. 

Then I spent most of the day wrangling a new purchase for my studio: a huge set of map drawers. It is extremely heavy and took considerable effort to get it across town on a trailer, then piece by piece up the stairs into my studio!

But now for the first time I have somewhere safe and dry to store my papers, and I am so happy it feels like my heart will burst. I used to buy a single sheet of the quality watercolour paper in A1 size and then tear it down as best I could into smaller squares and rectangles. These I’d keep in a shoe box and when I felt like painting I’d select the one that spoke to me. It was a good system, but it meant all my art was very small in size. To be able to do the same thing but on a much larger scale with watercolour papers and canvas paper, it opens so many options for me! Safe place for blank sheets and works in progress. It’s amazing.

It’s a wonderful year. 

Adelaide Healing Voices Film Screenings

If you’re local and haven’t had a chance to come and see the Documentary Healing Voices, this is your chance. As the person holding the online space for the SA Hearing Voices Network, I’m collaborating with a few other locals who are part of the hearing voices movement in various capacities. Rob runs a local group and has instigated a couple of film screenings coming up soon. I’ll be there in a support role to help facilitate conversations after the movie. It’s an excellent film, very thought provoking, honest, and really shows the experiences in a very different way to what people have seen or heard in the media.

Even better, it’s free.
Please bring a plate of food or some nibbles, to share. 🙂

FOR YOUR FREE TICKET, PLEASE REGISTER HERE:

Thurs Oct 5th, 6.30pm at the Box Factory Community Centre in Adelaide

or

Sat Oct 14th, 1.30pm at Adelaide South West Community Centre in Adelaide – On this date, there is also a monthly shared Community Meal from 6pm. You are welcome to stay and participate – please bring a plate of food to share.

The Shared Voices community peer support group, the Adelaide City Council the Humane Clinic, and a group of Adelaide based psychosis support group specialists present the documentary Healing Voices. It will, for many, change the way you think and talk about mental health.

“Healing voices goes a long way to healing our fear of people commonly labelled as “schizophrenic,” “bipolar,” and “psychotic.” The message of this film is that understanding and love—not fear and stigmatizing labels—are what people who have experienced these altered states need.”
Bruce Levine, Huffington Post.

Any questions please contact Rob on sharedvoices@nym.hush.com

New Office, new Studio

The moving is progressing well. My office currently looks like this:

And my studio currently looks like this:

I am tired and excited and so looking forward to the next time I get ink on my fingers. It has been a long couple of weeks and there’s a lot of work to do sorting all the little fiddly bits yet. But it will be wonderful once it’s all up and running.

Moving into my New Studio

In more amazing news, I’m moving my studio out of my home and into a shared artist studio in the city! I visited many studios over the past month and thought a lot about what I need and how I work best. In the end I decided to go with my gut and trial a space for a few months. I’ve never had a decent studio space before, I’ve always been working off dining tables and out the back of my van… Art in captivity. I don’t know whether I work best in large spaces or small, messy or neat, with company or alone… I can’t know until I try. 

But I do know that when I walked into Tooth and Nail I felt light, hopeful, and safe. Something inside me said ‘I can create here’. So I signed my first ever lease on a studio space and today I am demolishing my house pulling my art furniture out.

This is the space I am moving into:


This is my view of the windows and garden:


And the other artist’s spaces set up already:

This is how my studio at home started out today:




My two huge easels finally out of the rain in the backyard:


And this is currently the rest of my house:




Zoe is keeping me company and guarding the next round of supplies to be taken:


I have decided that I’m so excited about having a new studio I can hardly think straight, but that the prices of setting one up and getting everything out of my home and disentangling it from my cooking things and everything else is hideous and I never want to do it again. 

Once I’m moved in I’m going to have a studio-warming. There will be coffee and celebrations and if you are local you can come. 🙂

My Artist Residency at Shine SA

Brilliant news! I’ve just signed a one year artist in residence agreement with SHINE SA. I’ll be setting up my office in their Woodville building, introducing myself to the staff at a morning tea next week, and visiting the sites around Adelaide to say hello and scope for art hanging spaces. 

Myself and Poppy with lovely SHINE SA staff Holley and Tracey

What this means is I will be working next to Cottos, who have the best chai lattes I’ve tried anywhere. I’ll have to budget for this!

For those who don’t know, SHINE SA are our sexual health service. They are great people, and offer incredibly valuable services and resources such as counseling, education, school resources, and of course – a library. ❤ I always love a library. I’m a longtime champion of their work, and I’m thrilled to be sharing their space. I know some of the wonderful people there already, and I’m looking forward to meeting everyone else. It’s a great opportunity for mutual support and collaboration.

My new digs waiting for me to move in

So this will be what I think of as the ‘dry’ workspace. (My ‘wet’ workspace is my studio and involves paint or woodworking tools) It will house my office where I do all the admin, Skype or meet with folks, care for my networks, and do all the digital aspects of my art. 

It will be brilliant to have space and time to get a couple of big art projects I’ve had on pause, back into gear. They require good stretches of concentration which is difficult to arrange in a home office. 

At the moment I’m bouncing between feeling like taking my computer away from my house is like tearing out my heart and scattering it across the city… And feeling that I’m finding myself places in the world where I feel at home. ❤ 

Poem: Marriage Equality

Here, we are having a postal vote about marriage equality- equal rights for same sex couples. It’s been a nightmare, triggering abuse from strangers and bringing up terrible memories. Both Rose and myself come from backgrounds where who we are and how we love was not at all okay. There’s deep wounds there. It’s hard to understand what that feels like if you haven’t lived it. So here’s a small extract from my journal, recently. 

I’ve no words for this, no words
No persuasion, no speeches, no points strung together in sequence
What I have is a strangled cry
Tears I can’t weep
I’m frozen and desiccated
An old tree curled over itself
Here is where my heart broke.

This is me, as a child, curled on the floor
Weeping and silently screaming as I beg god
To make me other than how I feel.

This is me, wanting to die
In my body is still the memory of that shape
Laying on the floor, wrapped around myself
My hands like claws, the taste of vomit in my mouth.

My body at night remembers the shape of that pain and returns to it
I lay on my side, curled around a self hated so deep, a terror so profound
I have no words or even tears, just the deep grieving in my bones
The void in the pit of my gut
The sickness in my heart, a kind of keening
Oh, oh, ooh
Let it not be
Let it not be like this
Let me keep my face turned from those days
The voice in my head that tells me I’m worth less and should die
Don’t make me look at the fear and loathing in your heart
The darkness in your embrace, the disgust in your eye
The purity of your sacrament that is not for me
Let me keep my arms around the peices of my heart
Don’t tear me open like this
Don’t tear us open where
All your hate falls out
All your brokenness.
How am I to bear it?

I’m asked to speak
To write, to share, to show
We are normal/sane/loving/safe
To lead from fear to hope but
I’m not here anymore, I’m long gone
I’m the little girl on the floor and I don’t have those words
I’m stuffed with darkness and the night and the violence of your rejection that leaves no bruises
I’m broken on the floor while the most sacred parts of my life
The deepest and most beautiful things in my world
My love, my beloved, my children, my friends
Are tossed around me by
People who are not choking on a memory of pain so vast
It still reverberates in my mind and binds my tongue
I’m still on the floor, screaming in fear.

My little girl nurses at my breast
Through the small hours where my sadness
Demands company and keeps me awake
She will not know this anguish
It will be alien to her, outside of her
One of your voices, perhaps, but not
My voice
Not her own voice
Taken and used against her
Not set into her blood or bone
A wound from outside perhaps, but not
Swallowed and poisoning from within.

That is the world I want for her.
No hand turned against itself
No bloodletting agony or self flagellation.
Where I know your rejection so intimately
I want her to know only bewilderment, only confusion.
To be outside of it,
To have grace for it,
To know for certain that she is loved.

Gastro for everyone

It’s been a rough couple of days after a really wonderful week. We’ve all caught a particularly nasty strain of gastro. Poppy came down first and has recovered, Rose and I have been hit hard. Star has just come down today. It’s played havoc with Rose’s other health challenges. I managed to get her through the echocardiogram she’s been waiting for several months to have. Then all hell broke loose that night. It got me while I was walking Poppy to the shops to buy groceries, I struggled home. The world’s most useless home doctor visited for Rose who had been violently ill for hours, took no vitals and gave her an anti nausea med to pointlessly vomit up. With Star in the kitchen and me on the couch vomiting into a bag with Poppy on my lap, Rose got up and passed out, crashing to the floor. It was terrifying. I called my Mum and an ambulance. We were all really stressed, and Star wasn’t sick yet so I couldn’t even give her a hug.

The sadness of missing out on the marriage equality rally in town with so many friends and beautiful families.

Rose is still in hospital but slowly on the mend. It looks like she fractured her kneecap in the fall, but although she smacked her head she’s got away with a lump and a nasty headache. It’s taken a long time to rehydrate her and weird and worrying test results which are slowly coming right. It’s horrible not being well enough to go be with her.

So I’ve stayed home in an angry agitated state of helplessness, sickness and anxiety. Star looked after Poppy all yesterday, thankfully. I dealt with the nights, a cycle of vomiting, crying, nursing, and napping. I put out a call for help but the few kind souls who offered I told to keep away, they had important reasons not to be exposed. Families are so vulnerable in times like this, we have so few formal supports. If I was employed in child care no one sane would ever put a child in my care but there I am putting out the rubbish and vomiting into the driveway, and sorting out my meds and water bottle while a one year old screams and  hangs onto my trousers. We are very lucky to have such good informal supports. My Mum came and cleaned for us, Rose’s Mum did some shopping and took Poppy to hospital to visit her. 

Hopefully we will all be together again and recovered very soon, because that has been a tough couple of days and I could sure use a hug!

Artworks for the SA Mental Health Commission

A little while ago, I delivered 17 original artworks to the SA Mental Health Commission, custom framed and matted, with engraved brushed aluminium title plates.

The first of this set of illustrations was commissioned in December 2016, and the various images have since been used over social media, in the newspaper, on postcards, brochures, banners, PowerPoint presentations, and even printed on balloons! At times I felt quite overwhelmed by this as it’s on a scale I’ve not experienced before. It was very strange to see my work in so many different settings and stand next to banners for consultations. It takes a bit of getting used to, and dealing with my inner critic who had me half convinced my client was going to be inundated with criticism from ‘real artists’ who would reveal me as the fraud I am… It can be a very strange and even challenging feeling to have someone else value your work. Sometimes art takes courage!

The illustrations were designed as the friendly face of the consultation and development of the Strategic Mental Health Plan, to encourage people to engage.  All the resources have been carefully designed to have a personal rather than corporate feel about them. We created a character, my box faced dog, to be a kind of mascot; a friendly invitation to connect. These dogs were used throughout the consultation process in kind of a blending between art, illustration, and branding. As a relatively new organisation the Commission has had a tough job – to reach out to as many South Australians as possible and inspire us to get involved about mental health. Art as a to for commission and connection has been a valuable part of the way they’ve been able to engage so many people.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and many people have collected and kept brochures and resources for the artworks. I’ve immensely enjoyed these commissions, getting input from different members of the Commission team, buying inks to match the colours of the Commission, and liaising with their graphic designer. I now have a lovely portable folio for use in my illustration work when doing preliminary sketches and figuring out a brief. (Sorry for the confusing terms Commission/commission!)

I was surprised by how similar finalising a big collection like this felt to finishing an exhibition! Previously all my commissioned work has been a single piece, so the scale of this project was a new one for me. There was such a sense of relief in completing everything and handing it all over to a happy client. It’s finally off my hands, my desk, and my mind. The framing looks fantastic and the title plates are very clean and professional. The frame and artworks enhance each other and make the colours seem to glow. My worry about something awful possibly going wrong at the last minute makes way for a desire to sleep for a week. 🙂

During this project I’ve been developing my skills and capacity around illustration work, and I’m pleased to say I’m starting to licence images of my artwork to other clients too. It’s been a very valuable opportunity to open up a new aspect of my art practice, for which I’m grateful. 

I’m currently collaborating with a couple of website designers on a new project to update this website and showcase my online portfolio of artwork in a much more lovely and accessible way. This will help people to find and buy or licence my artwork much more easily. 

I’m also starting lessons today to extend my software skills so I can more quickly and competently handle my digital images. I see illustrations and licences being a regular aspect of my business going forwards. Watch this space! 🙂 

My dogs in the newspaper

My dogs on the website

My dogs on a banner

Beliefs that shape – and break – our mental health services

Our minds attach labels to things in the surrounding world, and we interpret those labels as discontinuities. If things have different labels, then we expect them to be a clear line of demarcation between them. The universe however, runs on processes rather than things, and a process starts as one thing and becomes another without ever crossing a clear boundary. Worse, if there’s some apparent boundary, we are likely to point to it and shout ‘that’s it’ just because we can’t see anything else worth getting agitated about… 

If we were less obsessed with labels and discontinuity, it would be much easier to recognise that the problem is not where to draw the line, it is that the image of drawing a line is inappropriate… 

Even such obvious distinctions as alive/dead or male/female turn out, on close examination, to be more like a continuous merging than a sharp discontinuity.”

From The Science of Discworld by Terry Pratchett p56.

How relevant for the convoluted mess that is our attempt to make sense of mental health. There is no clear line between healthy and sick, or even sane and insane, competent and incompetent, normal and abnormal, functioning and impaired. 

Why do we try to draw these lines?

We are seeking clarity about madness and pain. That’s not a bad thing. Our conceptual frameworks are primitive but the need for them is valid. 

We need to be able to identify incompetence when it puts others at risk. 

We also use labels as a way to limit access to resources. There’s a number of beliefs that come into play here, such as the ‘deserving poor‘, or the ‘genuinely mentally ill Vs the worried well‘. There’s a fear that any truly valuable resource will be consumed by the selfish who’s needs are lesser. I’ve encountered this belief many times. When the resource is money there’s sense to being concerned about exploitation and corruption! But when the resource is a bed in a suicide prevention clinic, or a support group for bereaved parents, you wonder how many who don’t need or deserve support are going to want to spent their time like this.

These beliefs are worth examining because the ideal of fair distribution of resources which is noble and appropriate, has a dark side which is gatekeepers and access difficulties. Whatever means are set up to ensure fair distribution are at risk for becoming the horrific hoops people have to jump through to get what they need. Unfairness, corruption, structural oppression, and inequality abound in such systems. 

Getting back to a practical example: where I live a new scheme came out a while ago where a doctor could help anyone who had a mental illness access a number of sessions with a psychologist every year. It was astonishingly popular. Despite all the concern about people not asking for help and the power of sigma preventing people from connecting with services, thousands of people went to their GP, asked for help, were diagnosed and put on a care plan and went to see a psychologist. The budget for the project blew out. 

We have a number of options at this point. The path chosen so far was to restrict the number of appointments each person could have every year. Restrict allocation of the resource. Everyone gets less. It’s been a bone of contention since, a glaring contradiction between public health announcements telling people to seek help, and massive feedback that 10 sessions of support a year is hugely inadequate for many people who are struggling. 

There are other ways to balance budgets for projects like this and we see these often in public health. Restricting access is a common one- erecting more filters to prevent people regarded to be at lower risk or need or more able to meet their support needs independently from accessing the resource. The NDIS operates in this way, meaning that a whole army of support workers are now administration workers whose job is to help vulnerable clients tick enough of the right boxes to qualify for assistance. 

Filters are valuable but they are also risky. They erect barriers to resources and are never elegant enough to ensure that the most vulnerable are not inadvertently screened out. As an example of that, consider the hundred of people we have living on our streets who do not have the basic financial support of welfare because the process of accessing it – proving their identity, having a fixed address of some kind for correspondence, and navigating the paperwork is beyond them or judged by them as too harmful to their mental health. 

Hand in hand with filters is often the use of expertise. We set up systems whereby those with professional expertise (ie competence) apply the filters, to ensure the right people are accessing the resources. This approach often creates valuable fail-safes. It helps to limit self serving behaviours by those who would benefit from creating dependence on resources and by those wanting to access more than their fair share. It can reduce waste where resources are squandered on a first come first served basis, rather than an allocation of need. It can also provide valuable guidance for those in need so they do not ricochet between different resources trying to find what is helpful.

The dark side of expertise is gatekeepers. People who have the power to deem you unsuitable and block your access. Again, systemic inequality is a huge risk, and the harder it is to become a gatekeeper, the more unlikely that gatekeepers themselves will have much in common with the most vulnerable members of society whom they are intended to facilitate access for. Across these gulfs – race, gender, culture, region, diagnosis, experience – we see that diversity is the stumbling block. A homogenous group of gatekeepers will prioritise access for those people they most identify with, empathise with, and understand. The minority, who are often the most vulnerable simply due to being in a minority, find that gatekeepers all too often erect access barriers and exclude rather than champion. As an example, trans young people locally can greatly struggle to access mental health services. The gatekeepers to these services (doctors, hospital registrars etc) frequently have an uninformed and prejudiced idea of what it is to be trans, and deny access based on these ideas. The very diversity that underlies the need is also the factor that makes access to resources such a challenge. 

In setting up systems of distribution of resources with the aim of fairness, we need to be wiser. First we should always explore and uphold the option of self referral wherever we can. What would happen if anyone could access a psychologist, to return to the initial project I mentioned. Would it truly be a financial disaster as hundreds of thousands of people self referred? How do we know this?

What about if we added to the budget for the psychologists all the money we are currently spending on the experts facilitating access? The thousands of GP appointments to assess mental health and set up care plans. 

What about if we also decided that we would spend less money telling people to ask for help and more money making sure help was there when people asked for it? Add a chunk of anti stigma campaign and educational campaign money to the pot too. Perhaps if the help was more accessible and more reliably helpful we’d find people would tell each other about it and save us the bother.

How is the budget looking now? How is the access looking? Is it choked by the less needy or full of the vulnerable? Are the resources going where they are really needed, generally speaking? Are we erring on the side of risking allocating to some who could do without, or risking some who need not being able to access? This a similar question to one we ask in the structure of our judicial system – given the imperfect nature of all systems, is it better for some innocent people to be punished, or some guilty people to go free? 

We don’t need to stop at self referral. But it’s such a powerful tool and so often overlooked. It’s the nature of governing bodies to want to govern, to assume that more regulation and restriction is what they are here to do and to reach for those tools over and over again in service of admirable values and goals such as fair distribution. But it is also the nature of systems to be flawed, and of all policy and law to have unintended consequences. Wisdom is in assuming flaws and exploring how to mitigate them, assuming there will always be bad unintended consequences and watching for them as they unfold. Trying to set up utopias on paper can be high risk for nightmare realities for those we intend to protect. Self referral is part of self regulation, a need and capacity of all species and all too often overlooked in policy and governance which starts with the assumption of incapacity and then tries to meet the need on individuals or communities behalf. On a personal level, self regulation is experienced as ‘freedom‘, one of the primary universal human needs, and often a key need obliterated by the current operating of our high needs mental health supports.

There are people exploring this idea in practice, for example suicide support services that allow self referral. Part of the difficulty with enacting policies like this is they outrage our sense of the way things should be done – our culture of experts and assessments is well embedded in mental health. They also reallocate many people within the system, making many gatekeeping roles redundant and moving our experts into roles of resources themselves or facilitators. It’s not always a comfortable change. 

Another way we can respond to our basic supply and demand problem with access to psychological services is to explore the demand in more detail. 

  • Why is there so much of it? Can we do anything to reduce the need? 
  • Is any part of the demand an unintended consequence of a policy or public health approach that we could change? For example, are our mental health public education campaigns accidentally making people feel inadequate to navigate life challenges themselves? Are our attempts to ensure fair distribution of welfare causing severe psychological distress? 
  • What is the demand actually for? What combination of needs are people accessing this resource to meet? Could some of them be adequately – or better – met by other resources or in other ways? Could the resources be delivered in a different way and still meet needs? Are the needs being adequately met by the resources or are the resources false satisfiers creating the illusion of meeting the need but actually only increasing it? 

So, for example, are many sessions being used up as people try to find a psychologist with whom they have a good fit, or conversely are people too afraid to waste the sessions and are staying with psychologists they are poor fit with and getting less out of the sessions? We could change the structure to address this if it’s an issue, for example better supporting networks to help people find psychologists with interests in the areas in which they are struggling, creating a different time and fee structure for first appointments, creating opportunities for people to see psychologists work, videos, or writing before choosing one, and so on. 

Would some people be happy in group settings? These are usually less expensive and have greater reach, they also add in access to peers. What kinds of models do people want? A group run by a facilitator is very different to a group designed to be clinical treatment, as is a peer based group. Online and face to face have differences also. 

Are some people primarily bringing community needs – such as loneliness, into psychology sessions where they cannot be met? What other formal resources can we create for these people?

We can celebrate the success of a service without having to erect access barriers. Creatively engaging the challenge of budgeting resources opens so many opportunities for diverse, meaningful community development. Exploring the beliefs we bring to service design and delivery can give us so much scope to see where good intentions founder and to be part of better systems. 

So often I’ve found that when unpacked, the ideas we have about the scarcity of resources come from a very limited perspective. The things that people need, the things that really matter, are not in short supply. Love, compassion, respect… These things are not used up or diminished by being shared. We do not need to be in competition over them. There are a thousand ways a community tells its members they are valued, and that’s as it should be, a thousand different ways people hear that best. So often the question people are really asking when they turn to our carefully guarded, expensive mental health resources are ones of worth. Does anyone care if I kill myself? Does my pain count? Am I worthy of compassion? Am I loved? It is very dangerous to ask questions like these of such a fallible and broken structure as the mental health system. 

When designing services and governing resources it’s worth keeping in mind that most of us will have moments when we will need to ask such questions of our community, whether we are made vulnerable through tragedy, illness, or our own mistakes. We all need a community that answers ‘yes, you have value’. If it is about drawing a line, we should all be on the inside of it, dignified and human. 

5 years with Rose

Yesterday was our anniversary. ❤ I’m so proud of us. It’s strange and a bit painful to be celebrating our relationship at the same time that the marriage equality plebiscite (a postal vote about same sex marriage) is going ahead here. It’s stressful and consuming a lot of emotional resources. We hate it. 

But here we are, 5 years in love. My tiny unit is stuffed to the seams. My once solitary and lonely life is unrecognisable. Through thick and thin, Rose and I have woven something beautiful; dark, bright, strong, and precious. We’ve kept believing in each other, in ourselves, and in our family. Not all the time, sometimes only a little bit, small scraps of hope in dark and painful times. But enough. In the good times we are so strong, so complimentary in our skills, so similar in our values. In the bad times we are strong enough to hold on. Not perfect but not trying to be. We’ve both escaped enough utopias to know that there magic in muddling through. 

Rose and I have now been together, unbroken, for longer than any other family she’s ever been part of. The sheer amount of work she does to have made that possible is hard for people to comprehend. All the times she doesn’t run when that voice deep inside tells her to go. All the ways she’s learned to share and explain and connect so she can function the way she needs to without tearing at our relationship. She’s amazing. 

We are struggling to balance our family, to nurture ourselves and each other along with our children. They are such a joy, so adored and long awaited and we pour ourselves out. There’s little left for each other at times, guilt and exhaustion. But here we are, celebrating us as Spring drips with honey blossoms and rain. We keep holding on, we keep learning. 

Rose sees so much of me, sees me so real. She believes in me, so unwaveringly, and walks with me whatever the path. Her kindness is her shining heart. She’s my safe place to come home to, somewhere where they speak my language and dream my dreams. 

I’ve been incredibly lucky in so many ways. Every year with her is a blessing. She’s absolutely unique and I love living with her, sharing all that we share, waking beside her every morning. She is my beloved and I am hers. 

Remembering Placebo

Tonight I was given a surprise early Christmas gift: a ticket to see Placebo in concert. Stepping out of all the other roles I wear during my day is like coming home. There’s something here beneath everything else, calling my name, reminding me life can be more than this and that those who can’t stand in this place do not meet me, and not should they. You have never met me. 

There’s a place here where I don’t have to be strong, or professional, or feel anything, or hide what I am feeling. Where there’s no ideal against which I’m being measured or benchmark of success. I put on mascara to weep it down my face and I remember there’s a kind of magic in being able to feel something, or making someone else feel. 

Down comes the night, with that sad song. Such is the power of art.

When I pulled an old handbag from the back of my closest for the concert, I found my fountain pen that I lost two years ago. The old Parker I’ve had since I was a teenager, bought with the prize money from a short story competition. 

Here is the space in which I breathe, the place between worlds where the rain falls. Remembering being sixteen again and finding other freaks for the first time, dancing in clubs. Goths are often such gentle creatures, the crowd parts to let me stand in front with my friends. 

Maybe one day we will stop pretending we fit into the world. Slicing off toes to step into the shoes. Once we walked the world at 3am, barefoot in the rain. What is it that makes you feel alive? What makes your soul take flight? 

It’s right here, waiting. Right beside you, in the shadow of all your longing to belong. 

My Home Office

I’m currently looking into office and studio spaces locally. It’s been wonderful, exploring what’s around and thinking about what suits me best. There’s some beautiful places locally, some geared for women, or start ups, or collaboration. 

Working from home has been difficult but also wonderful. I love the peace in the mornings when I’m alone, access to my own kitchen for lunch, the ability to hang a load of washing between other tasks. I’m not so far away, able to move between family and work more easily.

The room in bedroom mode

Beds packed away

The room in office mode

The difficulties are that shared space is very tight, so my home office shares with my bedroom. Rose, myself, Star, and Poppy, 2 cats, plus my office, art studio, and everything associated with my networks are all in our 2 bedroom unit. And that blurry line between family and work can be a problem for someone like me. When work is available I can do far too long hours, and when I’m visibly present it’s hard for others not to call on me and eat away at my work time. 

So I’ve been touring Adelaide over the past couple of weeks, visiting available spaces and meeting interesting people for coffee. It’s been just what I need, a breath of fresh air and exposure to new people and new ideas to rejuvenate how I work. 

I’m planning a holiday down south soon, so if you have a studio, gallery, or other wonderful site I could visit, let me know! I’m gathering ideas and learning a lot for setting up my own space.  🙂 

Nesting under critters

I’m doing a great deal of reflecting at the moment on my work and career and how I’ve got to where I am now and what’s next. 

One thing I’ve resolved to change is the way my imposter experience makes me relate to others. When people value my work I can become overwhelmed and avoidant. At my first solo art exhibition, several people approached me wanting to buy work. I took their email addresses and promised to get in touch the following week. Instead, I froze up and didn’t speak to most of them for 3 years! 

It’s difficult to run a business with this approach. 😉 So I’ve been making time to meet and touch base with others lately, to hear about their projects, discuss potential collaborations, and gather skills and find resources. It’s been quite wonderful. 

Today was a bit exhausting driving all over for appointments and meetings, but this evening has been wonderful – talking to long distance friends and being nested under critters. I’ve got a lot of good people around me and they make me feel that the blocks in front of me are not so high, and the dreams not so out of reach. ❤

My First International Talk

I’ve reached a few milestones lately and now that some of the big projects are done it’s time to reflect and celebrate!

Earlier this year, I was invited to go to California and speak at an internal Google conference. How wonderful! I actually googled the sender to make sure I wasn’t being pranked. 🙂 Even better, there were others like me at the conference or giving talks of their own. I was ecstatic to meet up with others who were openly plural (their term for what I call multiple) and employed in a  non mental health setting. This is the first time I have ever come across this! The two conference organisers and myself negotiated fees and expenses, I talked to the lovely people at Artslaw about contracts with international clients, and then picked the brains of a few brilliant people I know such as Ron Coleman, Helen Glover, and Mary O’Hagan about their best tips for international speaking. We were then able to get into into the really fun part of audience and topic. These kinds of collaborations are some of my favourite work.

Rose and I started a campaign on Gofundme with assistance from some friends who assured me that I would not actually catch on fire and die if I asked for some support from my community, and helped me nut out some cool gifts for different donation amounts and so on. (I have good friends, thankfully) This was so that Rose and Poppy could join me on the trip for extra support for me and as I’m breastfeeding Poppy to keep looking after her. So after much hand holding and brainstorming, we set it up. I created and purchased my cool gifts to thank contributors and planned some local fundraising events with talks and art print auctions.

As is the way with such projects, we encountered some bumps. They were tough on our team but in a paradoxical way appropriate to the topic – which was self care. I decided that I had no business giving a talk on the topic if I couldn’t show it in action when circumstances became difficult – not just for myself but my clients. The big bump was that the conference organisers encountered some unexpected limitations on how their budget was to be used, which precluded my travel arrangements. We each tried some workarounds that looked promising for a time but ultimately didn’t come through. For a little while it seemed the whole project might collapse, and I felt all the things someone feels when you have a public project hitting a tough spot – anxiety and embarrassment, fear that those who had generously donated would feel used, or that those who had been following my career would conclude I had done something wrong or been less professional, or valuable than my client had first thought. Confidentiality and the need for discretion made things extra complicated.

This year has been an interesting experience in dealing with bigger contracts, larger clients, and my very public career development. Navigating them all in a public context as an artist and blogger has often meant I’ve needed to take time out and really consider how to approach my new circumstances and what ethics, transparency, vulnerability, and authenticity all look like in this new space. I have a very clear set of guidelines and boundaries for my public sharing to be safe and responsible in my personal life – you’ll never read me complaining about Rose, or posting something that embarrasses Star for example. Work clients have their own needs and sensitivities to how they and their collaborators are portrayed. And as a contractor who blogs from the same place I draw my work skills from – thinking, reflections, explorations of ideas, designs, frameworks, approaches – I’m also having to navigate the public emerging of my own career, as my work opportunities are both drawn from readers of this blog, but also put off by willingness to show my vulnerabilities in a context (small business, contractor, entrepreneur) where success and confidence is what sells. (more about that another time)

So, I stopped fundraising, my clients and I negotiated a win/win outcome with what we had to work with, and I bought a decent webcam and delivered the talk online. It was a novel experience, I found myself feeling deeply cut off from my senses. I usually spend time with a crowd before my talk and get a sense of them, read the room during and adjust my material depending on the signals I get back, and – the best part- hang out in a corridor afterwards to chat to anyone who wants to share their response. Online was an entirely different kettle of fish. The feedback was very positive, so the material and delivery were still valuable online, and I’m glad it opens up options to be involved in conferences and projects at a distance. However, the sense of dislocation and disconnection for me were the opposite of my usual experiences of speaking. The connection with others is what I value most about talks and workshops and I hadn’t realised that until this experience. I also missed out on listening to other speakers which was deeply sad. However, the opportunity itself was valuable and very appreciated. I learned new skills, got to work with good people, and I’m proud of the way we all navigated it to an excellent outcome. It was a great opportunity to put skills into practice and develop strengths. The topic of self care is frequently handled very poorly and is incredibly relevant. As usual my credibility was not drawn from having all the answers but from having found the regular answers incredibly unhelpful and really wrestled in a painful, personal, and wonderful way, with the topic. It was good work, and it was good to work.

I’m now going to offer a refund on all donations for the trip, and honor the gifts I promised even if the money is refunded. I’m working on new opportunities overseas so I know some people will be happy to have their donation go towards that trip instead. It’s been important to me to have a range of options, and time to be clear about what happened. I appreciate my community a great deal and I don’t like to let my anxiety or inexperience get in the way of good communication.

So, International Speaker. 7 years ago I gave my first public talk, outing myself as having DID, trembling so much I had to sit for the duration. I still have the powerpoint. Doesn’t life take you funny places. Thankyou for being part of it with me.

Happy first birthday, Poppy

Cake is in the oven, baking. I have backup sponge cake in case of emergency. I’m nursing her to sleep then I’ll make chocolate popping candy spiders for treats, and whip a white chocolate ganache for the cake. Nothing is essential and if anything doesn’t get done, everything will be fine. Nothing needs to be perfect. I can’t quite believe I’m making my daughter’s first birthday cake! I’ve been waiting for this a long time. 🙂

Reflections on the past year:

When Poppy was about 6 months old, I baked peanut cookies. I was gifted a second hand Kenwood mixer for Christmas and I love it. I learned to bake using my Mum’s mixer and I feel very at home, delighted, familiar. Our baker comes out and hums happily around the kitchen, thinking of Grandma. Flour sprinkles into the floor like the lightest snow.
A few months ago was bin night. As we dragged out the bins Rose and I started pulling weeds from the front yard on impulse. It was dark and starry and the garden had been soaked so the earth was soft and wet. In about 20 minutes we filled our green compost bin. We had mud on our feet. Grasping nettles firmly in the dark, fingers fumbling around thorns. A dark joy rising, to be in the earth, in the night, hands in soil, the scent of roses.

Changing Poppy first thing in the morning. She wakes with a sleepy smile and stares into my eyes. Milk runs down my body and spatters like rain on the linoleum. Poppy is so alert and so focused on the world around her but in moments like these it’s just her and I alone and something wordless between us. I have to watch for them or they are easy to miss. It’s a kind of knowing, quiet and strong.

Sick with gastro. Wracked with pain and vomiting. Crying quietly so as not to wake my family. Poppy needs milk. I lie on my side too exhausted to weep and Rose brings Poppy to nurse. I have to hold both her hands or she is like a kitten and folds her sharp little nails deep into my breast, kneading. Her hair is fine and soft as down. I fall in and out of sleep. In my mind I am alone, unloved, unlovable. I have no tribe and no one is coming. The world is dark and cold and everything hurts. It passes.

Zoe has a new passion for escape. She jumps our 6 foot fences and escapes when frightened of fireworks. New Year’s Day I call everywhere and Rose visits the local pound looking for her. I’m a tangled mess of grief, guilt, fear, relief, and shame. She comes home herself, exhausted and sleeps for 2 days. She whines and wakes everyone up several times a night to investigate the back yard for possums. I sleep her in the laundry with access to the back. For one night she is content. The second night she gets into our neighbors yard and then panics and can’t get back into ours. She’s hysterical by the time I find out and go over to bring her home.

Zoe guards our home and barks at passers-by. Each time Poppy is startled she bites me when nursing. One nipple is bloody and mauled. It won’t heal until I get a cream to treat infection. I rest it for days and pump on that side. The air conditioner floods the bedroom. It rains on the nappies that were drying on the line. Poppy loves Zoe and plays with her tail. Zoe kicks Poppy in the face. It’s all too hard. I’m pinned between love, responsibility, and fear. Fear of judgement from others paralyzes me. I can’t find a way through. I spend the morning in bed crying. I’m rescued, family takes Zoe in and cares for her. 

I miss her every moment. My home is so peaceful. People walk past our house and Poppy nurses unaware. I go from 15 bites a day to 1 bite every 3 days. The guilt is like a tidal river that comes up and down. The stress eases away like floodwaters draining, leaving mud and debris and wide open blue skies.

A friend we haven’t seen often visits. I cook pancakes. We watch cute animal videos on YouTube. Poppy loves cats but bursts into tears at the video of a hedgehog taking a bath. Star plays the guitar in her room and my heart melts.

Rose has a tooth extraction. It’s a difficult procedure and there’s a lot of pain. Five days later she’s still hurting. At 4am she’s overwhelmed by it. I hold her. We can’t tell if it’s infected or just slow to heal. There’s only the ER open. We talk through options. I push for hospital but she’s demoralized and afraid. What if there’s nothing wrong and they are mean? Hospitals are not safe places for Rose. I stroke her hand. She falls asleep with an ice pack nested under her ear like a little red and white bird.

Rose is napping and I am cooking dinner. Star has cuddled Poppy to sleep. Frying chicken sets off the smoke alarm. I run out to it and clip our esky  (cool box) on the way, breaking my little toe. Rose races out of bed to help me. “Poor love!” she cries, “I’m so sorry I slept, I can do the rest of dinner.” I push her out of the kitchen, hopping. Snarl at her “Go away! I’m being nice to you! I’m cooking while you nap, don’t wreck it!” Rose wisely decides not to argue. Poppy sleeps through the whole thing.

Poppy shows the developmental signs she’s ready to start trying food. Strawberries, nectarines, and watermelon are big favorites. Banana and mashed potato not so much. As she gets older she discovers the pleasure of dropping food then stomping on it until it’s squished into her toes. She giggles madly.

I crave bed with a single-mindedness that’s embarrassing. The sheets are changed far too infrequently but I’m so tired by the end of the day I never care. Crawling under my blankets is a kind of bliss. My evenings are spent anchored by one nipple to a small person. I learn I can download books onto an app on my phone. If I turn down the screen brightness and add a blue light filter, it’s almost like reading a book but can be done one handed in the dark. I’m thrilled.

Poppy discovers she can squirt milk by suckling then coming off the breast and leaning on it with her hands. She shoots milk up her own nose and giggles. I spend half my life damp. She hates the breast pump with intensity. I pump milk for day care and she stands at my knee howling with despair that I insist on sharing her milk with this mechanical baby. If she can reach it she pulls the plug or runs away with the hose. 

Poppy gets older and doesn’t coo at me like a little dove anymore. But she does sometimes talk to me in soft little hoots like an owl. She lays beside me in bed, kneeding her sharp little toes into the soft skin of my belly. Her eyes are night sky blue and dusted with stars.

Rose takes Poppy on adventures to gardens or the zoo. She comes home full of joy and exhausted and falls asleep on the couch after dinner. Poppy hurls all her belongings over the loungeroom and sits in her toy box. 

I pick Poppy up from daycare. She runs towards me and we snuggle. My heart explodes. She touched a chicken today, I’m told. Or licked a fence. Or carefully piled dirt on a doll. I wish I could book myself into daycare. It’s been a long time since I touched a chicken. She cries for exactly 1 minute, then falls asleep on the drive home, every time. 

Birthday mornings are presents in the big bed. Rose wakes is all for the minute Poppy was born. Star tears a little corner on the gifts so Poppy can unwrap them herself. Poppy tears apart the wrapping with a huge smile. She gets duplo, a wooden toy, an octopus bath toy, a frog book, wooden whistle, small trampoline, and baby bike. Everyone decides 7am is too early and goes back to bed for more sleep. It’s a good day. 

Happy first year, little love. You are my bright and shining joy.