Navigating overwhelm

Poppy and I spent the day together yesterday. We visited a festival in town, spent a long time learning how to cuddle bunnies, pat baby sheep, not to be scared of the chicks peeping.

It wasn’t one of the easier days. She had meltdowns about wearing clothes, and howled all through the bus trip because I wouldn’t let her kick the window. Sobbing hysterically on the seat next to me, wailing ‘Don’t touch me Mummy!’ as I dug deep for patience. There’s nothing like parenting an unhappy little person to make you doubt your competence! The best moment was when she was dancing to a choir, full of vim and delight and I could sit for a moment under shade and rest my tired brain from the high alert state of watching a small person running around an un-fenced area surrounded by traffic.

It wasn’t one of my easier days, wrestling a sinus infection and struggling to get up to date with the grad cert I’d been a late enrolment in… The challenge hasn’t been the content of the course it’s been the online format, which was a surprise to me.

So Wednesday for example I went into uni and hoped to get some work done after an appt, then discovered I couldn’t complete one assignment because the necessary information had been sent out prior to my enrolment, so I didn’t have access to it. So I hopped on a computer and figured I’d listen to a lecture, then realised I didn’t have earbuds with me so I couldn’t do that without disturbing others. So I came home and tried to access the lecture on the laptop I’ve been borrowing, but it’s embedded in a power point and the open office software messed so badly with the formatting I couldn’t follow any of the text. So I dug up a pair of earbuds and tested them in my phone to make sure they worked, then headed off to my office which has the microsoft office suite on my desktop. Where I discovered that desktops can’t process earbuds with inbuilt mics unless you have a splitter to separate the signals. So still no lecture for me. At which point I cried and came home.

The trickiest part is that I’m navigating these challenges I need to keep my mental space together. The more I struggle with things the stronger my sense of anxiety and displacement become – that I shouldn’t be in higher education, that I don’t belong and I’m going to fail (again). I’ve been talking myself gently through all the challenges for a couple of weeks and bouncing back well, but yesterday with uni and a work challenge not coming together I fell in a hole. I got back from my day with Poppy and couldn’t make decisions anymore. Should I try to get more done (everything is due on Sunday! and I’m late with everything!) or try to rest and clear my head? Bath for restoration or bed for sleep? Poppy woke me up hourly the night before and I felt like my head was a watermelon hit with a hammer. Am I getting sick with the cold everyone’s had, in which case this might be the clearest I feel as I go down over the weekend, or is this mostly sleep deprivation in which case don’t soldier through, rest and come back to it.

My mind obsesses about the problems, trying to solve them even when it’s clear I’ve no capacity left to think clearly. It adds in bigger, older ones I haven’t solved – what am I doing with my work life? How am I going to schedule everything? Where’s the next job coming from? Smaller problems get unimaginably large as the overwhelm diminishes my capacity. Everything clusters together into knots where I can’t assess priority anymore. It all feels urgent and impossible, the unmopped floors, the people I haven’t caught up with, the tax I haven’t quite finished, the assignments due in days… I notice the biggest anxiety is in thinking I’m supposed to look like I know what I’m doing but I’m scared it’s becoming obvious I’m unprofessional/incompetent/unskilled. I’m afraid this is the reason I’ve failed at all those job applications, and the more anxious I am that it’s my fault, the more desperately I try to show I’m competent rather than bewildered. A customer texts asking if I’m free for a gig and I seize up, unable to message back because I have a social engagement at that time and I can’t decide if I need the income or the time with friends more, can’t even work out how I would work that out, and my car died last week, very expensively, so if I say yes to the gig I’m also taking Rose’s car from her and making a choice about her access.

The longer I don’t text back the more my head is screaming with alarms about not being professional, and the worse the sense of failure and self loathing get. Once they are too strong, I can’t push through them enough to write back, can’t work out what to write, can’t make the decision, and everything I do, including continuing not to write back, is utterly utterly wrong, self sabotaging, and proves I have brought all the bad luck in my life on myself. I can see it happening but I’m swept along in a avalanche. Every move I make is wrong, and I can’t reach out for help because I think that’s probably wrong too. I open texts and messages and can’t work out what to write or who to send it to. I can argue all the cases (reaching out for help is a good thing, chasing being rescued is a bad thing, so and so won’t mind hearing from me, I’ve been leaning on so and so too much) and I can’t work out a fair or reality based guideline. I’m just lost and inclined to blame myself. My thinking spirals in on itself and the intelligence which is so useful and incisive in some areas becomes destructive beyond my control.

Overwhelm is such a huge part of dealing with parenting and mental health and yet I find it’s not talked about that often. It’s been a big part of my focus in my family for the past couple of months – what sets it off, makes it worse, makes it better? Carving up my life and rearranging it so it’s not part of my baseline anymore.

So yesterday I went to bed but couldn’t sleep, had a bath and felt physically a bit better. Visited friends for board games and found that I couldn’t do the games and run the mental programs of trying to figure out my study and business/work. That was desperately needed and nothing was engaging me enough to get me there until then. The mental break was restorative. Last night Poppy only woke a couple of times. Real rest, mental and physical. So today, I’ve read over the email from my lecturer that has bewildered me every time I’ve looked at it for two days and at last I think I can see what he wants, I think it’s just an odd grammar structure possibly part of English as a second language (wild guess on my part) where the the question asks What but really means How or Why. Maybe this is normal for public health? I don’t know yet. I’ll adapt.

These are the skills and patterns I need to get this cert. I am going to figure this out.

Deep breath. Soothing internal voice. We can do this. Back to it.

 

Adventure gives life meaning

Poppy and I are having wonderful adventures together again. Every week we hang out together for a day, just us two, and do something fun. It’s brilliant. I’ve been working on my garden and backyard, bit by bit, clearing up weeds and junk and setting up more interesting play areas for her. Clearing away the mess of half done projects that were simply out of reach, and simplifying everything. This gorgeous photo is of her laughing in a paddle pool under the peach tree when planted when Tamlorn died. She brings so much joy and life into my world. I love her so much and I don’t want to miss out on her.

My grad cert in public health is in full swing and very interesting. I’m juggling it alongside a few gigs and projects on the side, which would probably drive most folks mad but feels so balanced to me it’s a breath of fresh air. My ideal week is a sample pack, a pick and mix of favourite things: Poppy adventures, a date with Rose, cooking, study, speaking/training, friends, time in the studio, writing, reading, and projects. Enough housework and admin that everything keeps ticking along and my schedules nest all these different activities in well. I was watching a great interview with a favourite artist, Del Kathryn Barton, recently. She spoke about how lucky she was to spend 5 days a week in her at studio and how few artists get to do that. I felt a chill and realised I would hate that. I’d feel so lonely and disconnected in my studio for that much of my life. It was a strange realisation at first – most artists crave more studio time. But it’s not my marker of success. Which is helpful to know before blindly pursuing it.

I’ve been reading a few interesting books lately and getting a lot out of them. One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer has been fascinating and invaluable over the past month. Like many folks with a trauma history I tend towards trying to make huge changes, innovative, life changing shifts in how I do things that serve to destabilise and overwhelm me. This book discusses the power of making changes so tiny our brain barely notices them and doesn’t feel threatened. It’s change by stealth, laying down new neural pathways subtly without shifting so fast we kick off a panicked flight/fight response. It’s working very well for me.

Another is I Could Do Anything, if I Only Knew What it Was by Barbara Sher. Last night I was reading in bed while Poppy slept next to me, weeping through a chapter about understanding why you need to be rescued to validate old childhood wounds. A powerfully fresh memory of being stranded and trapped in school suddenly overwhelmed me. I was not just unhappy, I was distraught. I was first suicidal at 10. I cannot express strongly enough the anguish of feeling so different, so alone, and so unvalued. A gifted, traumatised, creative, multiple, queer young person, an outsider everywhere.

I mentioned cautiously to friends recently that I have started talking with a psychologist who specialises in gifted people. I told them that I’ve been so careful not to discuss it most of my life because people are so threatened and uncomfortable with people who are gifted. My friend looked baffled and said she loves taking to smart people, why would I be worried and hide that? It’s finally occurred to me that I am trying to hide things about myself to appease the insecurity of people who never liked me anyway.

Unlike the other case studies Barbara mentioned, I blamed myself rather than others for my misery, loneliness, and humiliation. I was isolated and bullied because I was a freak who deserved it. In some ways I am still waiting to be rescued from school, to feel wanted and loved and deserving and important enough to care for. So my tangled career reflects this too, a fear of being trapped, ambivalence and confusion, a vague hope someone will ‘discover’ me and fix things for me. Not expressed with blazing narcissism, but a kind of confused helplessness. If I make it because of my own work, that need to be saved goes unmet. As of course, it must. No grand deliverance now could ever take the pain of those years away. But I can live differently with the scars.

Fascinating book. Since the first chapter a curious change has happened in my miserable inner voice ‘I hate myself’. I still have bad days where it loops, but most of the time if I remember, I can say ‘I don’t understand myself’. And it concurs, and leaves me in peace. A strange inner quiet to contemplate just what that means.

Life is a strange and wonderful adventure. That’s a good thing for a life like mine to be, because adventures give pain shape and meaning and context. It’s not called an adventure if everything is comfortable and all goes to plan. Threads of sorrow, anguish, and darkness all belong in adventures, they can be part of rich and deeply lived lives. I am untangling and learning and find myself feeling very alive lately. I step in and out of poetry, of Narnia, looking at the world sideways to see how it changes. To see what I want and where I could fit. Standing in the hallway of Torrens University, a new student, lost in all possible ways, and feeling the thrill of belonging, being part of something. Is it not the work of our lives to understand the deepest desires of our hearts and seek them? To grieve the dreams lost and turn fresh earth to grow new ones? We are strangers to ourselves until we can bear to look, and look again.

One of the questions in Barbara’s book, designed to help us better understand ourselves, was ‘If you could spend a day with anyone in the world, living or dead, who would it be?’ Names of brilliant artists starting flicking through one part of my mind. Quite unbidden an answer welled up from my deeps: Rose and Poppy.

Already here, and blazing so brightly in my life.

Glitter tattoos are awesome

There’s nothing better in the world than spending a busy afternoon giving face painting and glitter tattoos to a happy crowd of young and the young-at-heart, followed by going home to a hot bath, chocolate, and a book. ❤️ Endometriosis be damned. I’ve becomepretty good at freehand glitter tattoos, at this event everyone wanted their names sparkly, including my namesake here. 😊 The weather is warming up and parties are in fine swing. It’s such an excellent side business for a visual artist with brush skills who loves kids. I’ve got rent for my studio, time with my family, and all is right with the world.

I’m back at uni!

I am very pleased to share some wonderfully good news. I have been accepted into a Graduate Certificate of Public Health by Torrens University! I have been on tenterhooks all week awaiting their decision. I’m starting immediately, in fact the course started 2 weeks ago so I’m slightly late to it, but tremendously excited. Here in Australia a grad cert is about the equivalent of an honours. Usually you need a bachelor’s degree to access it, but I got in on the strength of my resume (showing 7 years work history in the field, and my cert 4). I’ll be studying online for the first time, back at uni for the first time since Poppy was born, and I can’t wait to get started. My first subject is epidemiology. I’m going to have to brush up on APA formatting. Eeeeee!

I am hopeful this may help with my severe imposter syndrome, and give my work a little more credibility. I’m looking forward to learning new things and having access to interesting books and theories. It also opens the doors to a Master’s or PhD should I decide to pursue that road down the track. I’m also just incredibly excited that I finally have a resume that a faculty head described as impressive. ❤️ That’s been a real labor of love and I wasn’t sure that freelance work would be seen in the same light as a string of jobs, but there’s some pretty fantastic projects in there. I’m very proud of it.

In a funny twist of fate, I have also contacted my old art school where I had been part way through a bachelor’s degree that was defunded. They are now offering a new bachelor of visual arts that has exit points at diploma and advanced diploma levels. It’s looking likely that they will credit me for some of what I’ve already studied and if I complete a couple of extra classes in second semester next year, I could graduate with a diploma and have something to show for my work. So I’m going to investigate that further too.

The news couldn’t be more welcome, especially considering that today was otherwise horribly challenging with a number of unpleasant surprises such as my car radiator cracking and dumping coolant into the alternator. So, bring on the higher education! I’ll be studying online so I don’t need a car for that anyway. 😉 Rose and I will book our van in for a bit of extra love given all the traveling and camping we’ve been doing in her, and share that instead. Onward and upwards.

Family Joy

My wonderful sister was married on the weekend! Rose and I were bridesmaids and Poppy was a flower girl. It was very beautiful, very moving, and I cried through most of it! We were not as helpful in months prior as I’d have liked to be, Rose being in hospital was unfortunate timing. But we were able to help a bit with their gorgeous newborn baby so preparations could happen, and I helped make a bouquet and the fresh flowers and pails for the flower girls and boys to scatter.

Most of the petals were harvested from my garden that morning, keeping to the theme of purple with a little white, pink, and red, and everything chosen needed to be soft for any bare feet to step on.

My clever sister designed her brooch bouquet with gift brooches from family and friends. I wired it up and helped secure it all in place.

This was the bouquet part way through construction: a bit less glam at this stage! Don’t ask me to make another one, I swear I’ve got more grey hair!

Funny story, I was finishing the handle with some small nails the night before the wedding when Poppy grabbed a jar of nails off my desk, tipped it up to her mouth like a cup, then coughed and spluttered. When quested she told us she’d swallowed a nail so we all had to trek into emergency again. There, the nurse stripped her down and discovered she set off a metal detector over her chest and back, faintly! We were facing possible surgery and most of us not making it back to the wedding. But the x-rays came back completely clear, so after many unhappy hours of nil by mouth, we were able to take her home and continue as planned. Lucky!

There was a surprise naming ceremony for my tiny niece at the wedding too, and I was so honoured to become a godparent. ❤️ My sister is a truly lovely, brilliant, and kind person, one of my closest friends. To celebrate and part of such a joyful (exhausting) time in her life makes me very happy. I can’t wait for our kids to play together. And maybe sometime for Rose and I to celebrate our family too.

Reconnecting with my daughter

Poppy is two now! She is one of the greatest joys of my life. I never thought I would meet anyone else who loves swings as much as I do! We spend hours on this little swing in our back yard, or bigger swings at the park. ‘Higher, Mummy!’ She sings to herself on them, her own complicated versions of Twinkle Little Star or Indy Wincy Spider, concluded with giggling. Sometimes like yesterday, she stays on so long so rocks herself to sleep. Her little head droops and eyes close. I gently bring the swing to a stop and gather her into my arms, soothing the storm of tears about wanting to be back on the swing until she calms back to sleep.

Most mornings we share breakfast together in the back yard. Porridge, cereal with banana, eggy toast, and tea. Under the tree my heart expands, wakens more softly and looks at the day with a hopeful spark.

All my life I have so deeply wanted to be a parent. I am so grateful and so fortunate. She is glorious. And over the past month, I’ve learned to my surprise that I love and am well suited to being a stay at home parent. When both Star and Rose needed great care I quit work and felt like my life had ended. A sense of fatalism and despair. But I also felt something I didn’t expect. Joy, relief, new hope. As I match my days to Poppy’s needs and rhythms, a life emerges that is splendid. There’s peace, and fun, and connection. So I keep building on it. I find that my ideas about work are deeply poisoned. I am trying so hard to understand and recover from them. It is slow, painful, frustrating. Full of flashes of insight (work is my punishment for being on welfare) and such profound shame and self loathing I cannot understand anything or progress anywhere. I sit in front of my shrink sobbing until I want to throw up and there’s no understanding.

I’ve quit work. My work now includes peace and connection. There’s moments I simply sit and look at the sky. There’s tickling Poppy while she shrieks and tickles me back. There’s holding her as she falls asleep and feeling my heart expand and burst softly in my chest. A hundred invitations to be present in my life in a way I haven’t been.

Softly softly, the carer counselor tells me. We lose connection with ourselves and want to change everything, make it all right, now. Little changes for carers drained to the last drop. Choose what I want for lunch. Sit in my favourite place. Don’t always offer to do, eat, watch what the other person wants. Undo the impulse to destructive self sacrifice one tiny decision at a time, a few times a day. Tuning back in to my self and owning my own choices.

Rose and I realise that I’ve also stepped back from her pain in a way that’s blocked me from connection. She’s vulnerable, as the non gestational, non biological parent. Even more so with a terrible history of losses. I am sensitive to her fear, her desire for closeness to Poppy. When Rose is around Poppy, I fade into the background, unobtrusively. I cook or clean and care but I do not play or adventure or adore. I don’t step into the place that makes Rose sad or afraid. And in this way, for the best of reasons, I step out of my own life in a tiny thousand ways. My own relationship with Poppy. I become a caretaker instead of a parent. Rose has always seen this and been puzzled by it. She would try to cue me back in touch, help me notice when Poppy was trying to get my attention, encourage us to spend time together. I would read her buried anxiety and unthinkingly step back. Love as sacrifice. A vicarious life. My needs last. It’s hard to have a relationship with someone so out of touch with themselves they are barely in the room.

Rose emerged from her breakdown to find what she’d been hoping for has happened. Poppy and I sing to each other, snuggle, connect. She invites me back in, learns to celebrate alongside the little wince when I’m connected. I pay attention to my pull off course, the inclination to fade back and make small course corrections, a hug, eye contact, a few shared words. This child has two parents.

I am discovering the power of limits as well as nurturing. That a deeply loving yes must be bounded by the capacity for a deeply loving no. A willingness to let the other hurt in pursuit of their own growth. I adore Rose but should never have withdrawn from Poppy to make her more comfortable. Nor would she ever have asked that of me! There’s a kind of nurturing that is life giving and a kind that stifles, incapacitates, infantilises, wounds. I have mixed them up together and not been wise in my caring. Those I love and tend have grown both stronger and weaker in my care. I did not mean to harm but I have harmed. Stripped of agency, responsibility, the belief in a person’s capacity, they drown in their own vulnerability. If we never hurt we are unable to learn or choose. My love and caring has set people free and eased loneliness and suffering, but also created a kind of institutionalisation I did not foresee, and trapped me in a dungeon alongside them, also being tortured by their demons. Most carers know these places, these dilemmas. They are deep and difficult.

We are taking many steps a to a new life. Small errors are turned by time into routes way off course. The power of leadership, parenting, caring amplifies our weaknesses and impacts those we’re responsible to. Growth is a lifelong process, and sometimes tiny changes have huge impacts. Poppy takes me by the hand and asks ‘Swing, Mummy?’. We go swing.

The tide starts to turn

It’s been an incredible week here. Rose took me camping to my favourite place last night, by the sea under the stars. My heart is so full.

Poppy had hand foot and mouth this week, poor love. Today she was recovered and no longer contagious so she could go back to day care.

We couldn’t take her anywhere near other children and she was very bored and frustrated, so yesterday while recovering from the conference I took her to the beach for a picnic. It was an absolute joy. One of the silver linings of the terrible crisis in my family has been getting a chance to spend more time with her and connect in a way I’d started to lose. I was doing admin and housework and running around being responsible but missing out on snuggles, and being told about dinosaurs in a very serious voice, and the warm fuzzy wonderfulness of parenting her.

Things are easing. I’ve handed in the final draft of the prison magazine project I’ve been working on and the feedback has been stellar so far. I’m starting to cast a careful eye over the next possible projects with dawning excitement.

Rose is healing from the devastating breakdown, a little more present each day. More stars in our skies. We both step back from the edge, baby steps. She’s exploring study options and thinking of retraining in a new field. We are starting to dream about our future again.

And Georgie, Beyond Blue CEO, has tweeted this, which feels like it belongs on a book cover or something. It’s a beautiful summary, I’m happy to try and live up to that.

Disability and Employment

Some weeks ago, I was asked if it would be okay for Julia Gillard to quote me in a speech. I said yes, and she described me as ‘erudite and charismatic’ and quoted from my video with the SA Mental Health Commission about Mental health in the workplace, in this speech to the Diversity Council of Australia. Which is pretty awesome.

Julia is the Chair of the Board of Directors for Beyond Blue, and they were pretty keen on the message too. CEO Georgie Harman got in touch to share the video and invite me to speak on a panel at the Disability Employment Australia Conference #DEA2018. So today I trundled off to the Hilton to meet some new people.

There were some seriously awe inspiring folks there showing us what can be achieved with a disability. Which is inspiring and fantastic, if not intimidating. Conferences tend towards the shiny. So I did my thing and was vulnerable in public. I spoke about failure and shame. I told them I was possibly the least successful job hunter in the history of the world, and gave them a 5 minute run down on hundreds of job applications, rejections, sad experiences with DES providers, a microbusiness cert 3 for people with a disability where we were repeatedly told business is easy (spoiler alert, it’s not), NEIS, freelancing, jobs that evaporated after I applied, jobs that evaporated after I’d been successful at applying, training as a peer worker and still not being employed! It’s no bad thing to have someone speaking from failure. There’s so much you miss otherwise.

I was honest and passionate. It was hard. I thought TEDx was the most exposed I would ever feel in a talk but this was bizarre because it’s still something I’m wrestling with. It’s raw. Career has been my holy grail my whole life. I don’t come to a Disability Employment Service Provider for a job, I come for an identity! For a sense of purpose and meaning and connection. So I don’t have to be a bludger, a leaner, a long term unemployed, a hopeless case, a complex needs client, an underachiever, a dropout, a misfit, a failure anymore. I come because I don’t want to be poor for the rest of my life and I don’t want my children to be poor. I come because I’m so tired of pity and shame. I want to be a real person with a name tag and a business card and a place in the world.

So I talked about adversity and diversity and the complications of our lives where we don’t fit one box. Multiple intersections of difference and disadvantage, complex diagnosis, chronic pain, queer identity, homelessness.

We were asked how to motivate people to want to get help into work, and I said of course we want work – make it safer and make it more dignified. I talked about how essential work is but how risky too. Job hunting can put our financial safety nets at risk, can expose us to bullying and toxic workplace cultures, and can put more failure and rejection in front of us than our mental health can cope with. I also talked about how out of reach work can be during crisis, that often my personal definition of success is painfully simple – everyone I love is still alive at the end of the week.

I said that I’ve learned that I can’t successfully job search when I’m drowning in shame, terror, and rage. A bit like dating, I need to be okay with myself as I am. That means we all need to understand just because I don’t get paid, doesn’t mean I don’t work. People like me work a lot. We are often well suited to informal roles that fit around our disability. We run unpaid support groups on social media, we raise kids, volunteer at school, help out friends, care for family. We often create our lives in the gift economy, and transitioning to paid work is a very different culture. I shared how I’ve needed psychological support to help me see that having to make hard choices – like caring for a family member in crisis over finishing a degree, doesn’t mean I’ve failed.

I shared how many folks like me wind up freelancing so we can navigate our disability, and what a baptism of fire that is for many of us. I shared about the amazing Freelance Jungle and how essential that support has been to me. I talked about how changing my focus from what skills I want to use, over to what business model suits me best, fits around my limitations and causes the least stress has been far more helpful for me. Finding my own way of using skills that more closely mimics the informal work I do fits so much better than the rigid 9-5 model, or the huge, impossible to schedule projects that take years to finish and pay. It’s not about the skills, it’s about how the work is done and how well that fits. So I’ve moved away from project based work and back to gigs – short term, easy to schedule, and much less stressful for me. I mentioned that there’s a certain level of absurdity about funding an organisation to help me find work instead of just hiring me.

It was stressful, fun, exhilarating, exposing, and surreal. There were many interesting people to talk with, which I greatly enjoyed. My anxiety was pretty off the charts at times, but that’s the nature of that kind of personal work.

Georgie gave a fantastic talk about how we need to take care of our staff and our workforce too, to lead by example and prioritise mental health in the workplace. She was a strong advocate of the value and worth of people with lived experience. We both promoted the value of peer work in the disability employment context: that if you have never seen anyone do what you are trying to do, that is a very large gulf to bridge. People who share their experiences – the successes and failures – give us so much richness in figuring out our own paths.

So I hope I held a space for the human experience of disability and unemployment. There was a great deal of passion and sincerity from the people I spoke with. I was glad to be included.

 

Peace in the night

Home, at night. Poppy playing in her bath. I feel a whirring fan in my chest start to slow, ease off, fall silent. I can hear something other than the blood rushing in my in my ears, the screaming fear. There’s such peace here, in the quiet house at the end of the day. I move about, cleaning and sorting, ear finely tuned to the sound of play, coming past the bath every few moments to check on her. Behind the sounds of laughter and splashing is a silence that speaks to me like nothing else in my world.

I am reminded of living alone for the first time at 23. So lonely and so afraid of solitude, when I would return to my caravan I would find not terror, but peace. The silence would sing to me, vibrate with a kind of resonance. Each time I returned I would find only relief that the nightmare was not real. Being alone was not more lonely, only more peaceful.

Rose is out of the ED and back in the psych facility again. It seems these terrible bouts of vomiting and high blood pressure are part of her current breakdown. No physical cause could be found. It’s an intense stress response if that’s what it is.

I remain deeply worried about her and about my capacity to care for her as well as Poppy. I have never cared for more than one person at a time before. Even in the worst of Star’s eating disorder treatment, I could leave Poppy with Rose knowing they were both safe and well nurtured. I often feel very afraid and overwhelmed by the task before me.

I don’t know how we will get through this. But right now, everyone is safe. The house is at peace. My tasks are simple ones, food, cleaning, cuddles, play, sleep. Nothing has been broken past healing or ruined beyond reconciliation. We are not alone.

Waiting for you

Today tastes of spring. I find myself thinking often of my garden, aware it needs the winter prune to bring the roses back to size, and weeds have sprung up between the plants. I’m restless to reinvigorate it, it contains now the bones leftover by many different plans each toppled by the next. A old path still leads nowhere where potted trees used to rest. They’ve been taken out back now Zoe dog isn’t there to turn them into small sticks. Herbs have grown unruly and out of reach now shrubs are too large to pass between, or sheilded by the thorny remains of a miniature rose that burrowed under the entire length of the garden to throw up prickly arms without flowers at unexpected places. The most difficult patch, with heavy shade in winter and insufficient water in summer is bare where many species have been trialled but died. Only the arum lilies thrive there, today I can see the first leaves regenerating in the morning sun.

Only my outer perimeter of roses, like a thorny moat, remains a valuable feature. A neighbour recently rampaged up and down the street, venting his spleen on everything vulnerable in reach. One neighbour had the harmless geraniums I’d planned for her torn out whole, the other her collection of trinkets and statutettes smashed on the drive way. To my ring of 6 foot high established roses he contented himself merely with tearing off some flower heads and scattering the blossoms.

Nevertheless it lacks cohesion now, in colour, form, or theme, and my eye cannot find a comfortable whole anymore but jumps from aspect to aspect in a fragmented way. I look forward to revisioning and designing it anew. Perhaps a Mexican theme? Roses, succulents, and colourful statues?

It’s been a hard, black week, but this morning is sweet. Birds are singing in the sunshine, my daughters are happy, and I’ve rested in bed all morning, rereading the wonderful Henghis Hapthorn series by Matthew Hughes. Between the bare patches and the weeds my white violets are in bloom. The last pomegranates hang on bare branches. Jonquils are small pops of colour and perfume among the tangle. Today the washing will dry on the line, the windows are all open to bring in the smell of a bright new day. The bees are in the rosemary.

We are waiting for a baby, a new niece or nephew, to arrive. It’s a good day to be welcomed to the world. So much love awaits you, little one. Between all the sorrows and troubles of the world is also such beauty and tender joy.

I am in love with a glass cube

This delightful cube is my latest find. I have booked in to a visual art exhibition during the Feast Festival later this year. Feast is our SA Queer cultural festival and I’m very pleased to be involved. The cube is relevant because I’ll be exhibiting small sculptures as well as paintings this year. And everything I create will fit inside a cube like this beautiful, shiny example.

Here it is in my studio for context:

And this is what the whole display will look like in situ:

A lovely horseshoe of glorious cubes! Clear glass, mirrors, lights, reflections… It is speaking to me and I’m delighted. Without that voice, the is no art worth making. It reminds me of my Broken City sculpture. I’m dreaming of wings and lights and shadows.

I saw a GP today about my asthma and meds to make sure I was still on the right regime. He told me none of the antibiotics I’d been given were effective for a chest infection, which is why I’ve been so unwell these past two weeks. So that was a bit of a shock! Lots more rest proscribed.

Meanwhile I’m deeply into my current project, hand painting a book. I spent today at my office scanning and editing the pages in Photoshop.

Some alchemy has occurred and my stress is radically reducing. I feel calmer and more centered than I have in months. Time in my studio? Starting to recover? Working on a single project at a time? The meditative effect of painting for hours? Quitting most of my work over the past couple of months? Extra sleep and rest this week? I’m not sure. But I am clearer and less overwhelmed and that’s very welcome. I feel I’ve found my rhythm and I’m no longer feeling under terrible pressure or panic about project wrinkles that need ironing out as they occur. Whatever it is, it’s delightful. Another week or so of painting and editing and hopefully we’ll be sending a draft off for approval to all the organisations involved.

Bagpipes for lungs

I’d like to be updating you on my my projects, but it’s just my health. I got half way to the studio today before having a huge asthma attack. I had to choose between going to the doctor, the hospital, or home for my inhaler, or pulling over and calling an ambulance. Not easy! I started to go to the doctor, then changed my mind and came home. I found I could breathe provided I did shallow breaths through my nose. Rose met me at the door with an inhaler and we got the next appointment with a GP. He’s changed my antibiotics to a different type and said the ongoing infection is triggering severe asthma. So I’m now on a stack of new meds and a nebuliser. It’s going to be a fun night of waking every 3 hours to dose me, Rose has her hands full with me and Poppy to look after, and there’s the constant vague worry of trying to decide when it’s time for hospital. My chest aches and when I breathe I sound like a kitten attacking a bagpipe.

But, I’ve got a soft bed, Netflix, the cuddliest bug around, and hopefully I’ll be feeling better in a couple of days. Fingers crossed.

I’m so glad I’d already recently decided I can’t pull off a primary income for my family (at the moment). This time last year Rose was in hospital with a chest infection. My family has a lot of extra needs. I simply can’t check out for as many hours a week as a primary income requires. But I can focus on income streams where I can shine even when unwell or on call as a carer. But what I can do is take the pressure off a bit, earn enough to keep my studio open, help with medical costs, afford my shrink. It’s not what I was hoping. But it’s a lot better than banging my head against a brick wall every week. At some point you just have to adapt! It hurts but it’s also taking a lot of pressure off me. I’ve sold four artworks this week, booked two face paint and glitter tattoo gigs, and things are going well despite coughing up a lung. I still have my art residency with SHINE SA and feel a great sense of belonging with that community. A career doesn’t have to be primary to count. It’s isolation that does so much of the harm. I was thinking of the years I’ve spent hanging around mental health organisations, and how it’s been within a sexual health organisation I’ve finally found a genuine understanding of diversity, and a sense of being valued. I’ve got art exhibitions planned and some in the works, and as soon as I’m better I’m going to finish and show you this beautiful handmade book I’ve been working on. I feel terrible but I still feel part of life and that’s so precious to me. ❤

Painting in bed

All last week I was awake half the night with Poppy who was very unhappy with a throat infection. Pratchett, who died 3 years ago, has been keeping me company through an ebook on my phone. There’s an astonishing kind of magic there, that he can have been dead for years and still be present in a way that’s warm, human, and real to me. I fall in love with books all over again.

Poppy is recovered now, full of life and somehow extra words and communication now she’s feeling better. She sleeps with her hand touching my back or her feet resting on my leg. I am often surprised at my own wordlessness with her. My world revolves around her like a hatchling in a nest, and we venture through day and night together, yet there’s few poems since Tam. Still stoppered.

It feels like I haven’t met her yet. I don’t know who she will be or what worlds she will walk. Sometimes I live so much in her future I forget she is here now. I remind myself to wake up and look and she delights me with a grin and a kiss. She will never be this age again, never again be who she is right now. She’s astonishing.

Rose has been sleeping upright in an armchair to help manage pain from her ear infections. I find myself awake in the small hours, trawling Facebook, unsatisfied, lost. I’ve read all the books I can afford to buy and I can’t stop looking for something, and can’t name what it is. At last I realise simply that I’m lonely. I message Rose, she’s awake too. She comes to bed for a little while and I snuggle into her warmth. For the first time in a long time I unpeel my spikey armor and bring my soft vulnerability to her instead of sharp, prickly fear. We rest in the dark, wordless, holding hands. Thinking not of the past or the future but simply present in the night, velvet soft and beautiful with the child sleeping next to us.

I’m on day 8 of being sick myself, virus gone bacterial and dropped into my chest. I woke earlier this week to discover that a friend of mine, Amber, had died suddenly. She who survived so much suddenly taken from us. I spent the day crying in bed. I’ve spent the week in bed. I hope I’ll be well enough to attend her funeral.

So much illness brings its own fears. Am I annoying my friends? Have I missed some underlying cause? I find myself picking at the threads of my life, trying to work it out. Why am I hurting? Where have I gone wrong? I’m so depleted – how do I recover? What do I need? The picking brings no answers, it unravels certainty, brings doubt to every choice I’ve made. The only thing worse than being sick is also being afraid everyone else is bored and out of compassion, and that maybe you’ve accidentally brought it on yourself. After a while, with an effort, I stop picking and remember that in the middle of the illness is the worst time to ask such questions. I’ve no brain for it. Rest, fluids, kindness. I go back to bed and buy myself another book to read. Help Rose manage the new and unpleasant ear medicine in the hope of keeping her out of hospital.

Today the infection is worse but paradoxically I feel better. Good news is bouying me. I have new support and new projects on the horizon. I’m planning an art exhibition for later this year, I have a mentor lined up for my guide to multiplicity, and I’ve been selling art this week. I’ve borrowed a laptop while I need to be at home which has helped so much. Today I’m starting the painting for my handmade book for prisoners project, in bed.

Chronic illness and caring complicate my work and career goals, but I’m finally adapting and finding paths through. Letting go of the things I can’t have right now, like the time to create a solid primary income. Instead figuring out what works around my needs and my family, how to have the resources to be on call for them and trickle in enough paid work to keep up with my studio rent and my shrink fees. (Thinking of Frida, painting from bed in her body brace) There’s a kind of power in being able to do this, to still engage, to contribute, to feel connected and chase my dreams even from bed. I’m about to close down some aspects of my business and open new ones up that better fit my situation and my skills. Figuring out a model that works for me has been a major focus for the past year, and it’s finally emerging, as is the support I need to make it happen. I’m excited to launch it soon.

So here’s to life, my loves! It’s complicated at times. Full of grief, loss, sickness, plans gone astray. But also incredibly beautiful. I’m still a part of the world, part of the community mourning Amber, part of a team who cares about prisoners, part of a tribe who turn up with lunch and cry about heartbreaking things and laugh over a board game. I am here, in the heart of it, anchored by love.

Meal planning and disability

Everyone in my home is miserably sick and I’m coming down ill. Fortunately I’ve been doing a lot of meal planning and cooking lately, so there’s been plenty of soft cooked rice meals and soups in the freezer. Poor little Poppy has tonsillitis and a throat infection that’s gone bacterial, so she’s rather ill and has been running fevers for almost a week. She’s on antibiotics now and will hopefully start feeling better in a couple of days. Rose is finishing her antibiotics from her ear infection which is almost resolved, but is now coming down with the cold. Star has the cold which is an especially miserable experience when you have sensory sensitivities. She’s had a rough day and we’ve pulled out all our tools to help manage overwhelm so she can cope with eating and drinking. I’ve been catching up on sleep and cleaning all day. (Poppy’s throat infection makes her cough until she vomits, so there’s been bedding and clothes that need a good wash and dry in the sun)

Since we’ve adopted Family Based Treatment to help Star manage her eating disorder, I’ve been organising 3 meals and 3 snacks each day for her. We’ve recently decided that given I’m putting the time and energy into understanding her dietary challenges, I might as well keep going. So everyone in our home has transitioned to the eating 6 times a day model, tailored for different needs. Basically I’m preparing a tailored meal plan rather like Lite n Easy and similar purchasable models. It’s quite complex in some ways but we’re keeping the family meal a shared one, and usually lunch as well. Everytime I figure out something that works I add it to our meals list, and I’m experimenting with apps that will convert meal plans to ingredient lists for easy shopping. I’m doing larger cooks every week of soups, savory muffins, banana bread and the like, and then adding daily cooks for main meals. Across the day is a range of vegetables, fruit, grains, protein, and dairy. No meal is served more than twice in a row, which is particularly important for Star to help reduce food aversions.

The first thing that’s changed is that we have almost no food wastage at the moment. Scheduling meals and freezing leftovers in portions is keeping all the fridge contents moving before they can spoil. That’s helping with the budget. I find my lists of meals invaluable because even doing this full time I often find myself blank and can’t think of anything to prepare for a snack. I create a weekly to 10 day list of main meals and then roughly plan 2 days ahead for everything else. I simply can’t think or plan ahead further than that effectively, and options need to change depending on factors such as is lunch at home with a microwave to heat up a meal, or out somewhere and needs to be eaten cold?

I’m realising how much mental bandwidth food prep can take, and how often overwhelm is behind not eating. There’s a certain level of relief at simply having food placed in front of you every few hours. Keeping blood sugar levels more stable is helping everyone in a range of ways, and so I’m starting to create a model and series of guidelines that will gradually become more routine and less hands on for me. (For example, meals and snacks should not be within one hour of each other, or more than 4 hours apart. Everything on the meal plan we’re using for Star should be served up at least once every 6 weeks, and served in as wide a variety of ways and flavours as possible to keep variety) Over time more intuitive eating will replace some aspects of the structure for some of us, others may always need a structure as internal hunger cues are not reliable or get overwhelmed by other factors. Right now the cue to eat regularly is helpful for us all and it’s certainly helping me with all the strain on me at the moment.

Less creativity and last minute arrangements and more scheduling and limited options are helping make this complex process manageable. We are even starting to develop standard meals with friends that everyone enjoys and Star copes with, which means that creativity and novelty are channeled in different ways – my favourite recent creation was pumpkin and blue cheese pizza.

The change in approach was far from welcomed at first but it’s working brilliantly and we’re continuing to tinker with it to tailor it to our various needs. As a high needs family with a range of illnesses and disabilities, it’s been an invaluable tool.

Transformational Breakdown

Hi everyone, I have so many half written posts in drafts at the moment it’s ridiculous. 🙄 Life has been weird lately. My psychologist called it ‘a transformational breakdown’. Haha. That means it feels like we’re having a breakdown, giving birth, and blooming at all the same time.

One night this week we got very cranky while making dinner, drank a bottle of cider, switched to kids who felt stupidly ill because of the alcohol (multiplicity can be dumb that way) then found the couch, a blanket, and Star Trek Next Gen. There’s been a great deal of being very grown up lately and frankly it’s not all that good for us. One of the funky things about our system is that we can kind of shift into whoever is most needed. So if or family need someone unafraid to take a spider out of the house without making fun of them, we can be that. And if someone needs a whole lotta nurturing we’re pretty good at that too. Or research, or arty days in the backyard, or being firm about boundaries or whatever. There’s some things none of us are good at (coughadmincough) but we can adapt and respond to what’s needed of us, at least in personal relationships.

The secret to making this work is kinda the same as the secret to making parenting work for anyone – looking for that Venn diagram overlap area of where your needs and the needs of the kids overlap. If you just meet their needs all the time you burn out. If you just meet your own you’ve got a kid in a 10 hr old nappy. But there’s a kind of dance to figuring out if we all go to the library on Tuesday that will give the eldest time to get books for her homework, we can borrow a new Charli and Lola for the little one and I can pick up the book of knitting patterns and start Grandma’s present, the kids need to get out of the house but I’m really tired so I’ll take them to the playground next to my friends that’s fully fenced so I don’t need to chase them and see if she wants to catch up for coffee…

Of course it can’t all be overlap. Sometimes you do things simply because they need to be done, like dental appointments. Sometimes it is about one person’s needs – there’s no other reason you’d go to a dance by 6 years olds or listen to someone learning to play the recorder. 🙂 There also comes a point where we just need to do our own thing. We lived alone by choice for ages because being hooked into roles and having switches triggered by people around us was tiring and overwhelming. When you’re busy turning into what you think people around you need (or will like, or love) it’s hard to have a sense of self identity, to know who you are or what your own needs are. That’s true of everyone, although perhaps in our case a little more blunt. Sometimes you need to have nobody need you and to just see who turns up. Systems are self balancing, to the best of their ability, they switch out who they think needs to be out. My family are never going to need my poet but we need them out because they take care of our soul and renew our spirit.

We can’t live life with one part forwards all the time without losing out on so much of the world. No one can look at the world through one pair of eyes, one archetype, forever, without missing so much. And while it’s a gift to be able to tune in to what someone else needs and turn into it for them, it’s also a kind of cage if not attended to with some care. Sometimes you need to annoy or even embarrass each other, to be weird, different, inconvenient, and entirely moved upon your own tides. Blue lipstick days. I’m here for you but I’m not here for you, owned by you, of you, made to fit your empty spaces. I’m stranger by far than your dream of a perfect partner, parent, friend, guru.

I don’t buy the dichotomy we’re presented with – that I can be the best ever carer or I can care for myself. To choose between tuning in to another’s needs or my own. We do not recover well when our carers are in crisis and suffering. We are bound in their cages and suffer with them. If I wish to be deeply attuned, my own heart calls too. My life calls too. It’s not one or the other. It’s to listen or to not listen.

“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” Jung

So, I am home, finishing EOFY business admin, having meltdowns, having awful fights with Rose because we’re stressed and broke, feeling trapped in the domestic role I never wanted. Hanging washing and more washing and having strange panics about the cleanliness of the house as if attention to the kitchen counters has become a metaphor for how loved I feel, whether my needs are also attended to. I read blogs about autism and books about giftedness and articles about eating disorders and synthesise it all into a treatment program that is working brilliantly, and at night I lie awake hating myself for not being at work.

There’s hope for us. Today we took a break from the hideous interminable admin to chat with a friendly editor and mentor about our multiplicity book and imposter syndrome and how a blog feels generally manageable but a book is something more formal, official, tangible and we can’t quite transition, can’t quite stop researching and let it be a thing, incomplete and unresolved but good enough as it is. She laughed and we laughed and there was more common ground than difference. She reminded me a little of my late friend Leanne, who was also an editor and would have loved this project, if I’d been brave enough to tell her we were multiple while she was still alive.

We are doing well. I am hysterically exhausted. Star is thriving, Rose has been terribly ill with migraine and ear infection but is finally recovering, Poppy is currently unwell with a chest infection and I’m getting very little sleep.

I have withdrawn from work but I’m also hard at work on a new business model and I think I’ve finally cracked something I can actually do for the next 6 months while I’m also on call and caring so much… which is profoundly exciting.

And I’m still working on a new exhibition for later this year. Holding onto bits of my own stuff and upskilling rapidly in how to run a household with multiple disabilities and challenges in a way that everyone gets what they need – including me. We are still here, still together, holding on. Still kind, still in love, still hanging in there, still believing in better days.

I have no idea what’s going to emerge, but I hope the damn ‘breakdown’ part eases up soon.

Oil Painting: Once I had lain alone

Rose helped me get to the studio for a few hours last week, and I finished this oil painting. It’s a new version of an ink painting I created for my TEDx talk. It’s about a time in my life following a breakup where couples everywhere hurt to look at.

The title is from a poem The Butterfly Token by one of my favourite poets, Maurice Stradgard. I bought his book The Nailing of the Right Hand when I was about 13 from a huge book sale at the local library; the cover intrigued me, it had poppies. I fell in love with the poet and his beautiful poems about love, loneliness, self doubt. The book has been out of print for years, the only other book he published I’ve never seen available anywhere, even second hand. The author himself is almost certainly dead now, his domain name and WordPress site were bought years ago but never used. My book is hand signed and has been treasured. I was never able to find a way to send him a letter to say thankyou. I would never have heard of him or his work without that chance encounter. So much that is precious simply slips us by if we don’t look for it and treasure it when we find it. The whole world is a rain of beautiful, brilliant, illuminating treasures, fleetingly brief.

Surgery was a success

Here we are in recovery afterwards. Poppy is pretty unhappy and we’ve slept most of today on the couch, but it went very smoothly. The four top front teeth were extensively damaged with very intact nerves so we were in for a long painful decay had we not been able to get them removed. Once they could look around more thoroughly they also discovered two back molars were decayed, but able to be filled, so they did that at the same time.

Nursing an infant with teeth removed is slightly disturbing. I looked a bit Germanic battle warrior earlier with blood smeared breasts.

The hardest part of the whole thing was actually the fasting this morning, she was distraught at not being allowed to nurse. I left to go to the toilet at one point and while I was gone they came and took her in half an hour early, because she was so upset they didn’t want to wait. I got back to an empty waiting room while Rose was in theatre comforting her as she went to sleep, which was tough!

She’s eaten custard for lunch and mashed potato for dinner. It’ll be a rough few days and then hopefully a much happier little frog.

We’ve even had one smile this afternoon, gappy but incredibly sweet. What a relief.

Surgery and Watercolours

Poppy is scheduled for surgery on Thursday to remove her 4 front teeth. We’ve been so lucky to have folks rally around us with all kinds of care. We’ve been able to pay the deposits to book the surgery and our fridge is stocked with grapes and soup and pudding.

I am so grateful, so depleted. Wrestling medicine into Poppy on the couch last night, both of us in tears. I am beyond over making my kids do things they find stressful and horrible. I think to myself ‘this is so horribly traumatic!’. Then I think ‘I’m the parent. Make it less traumatic’. So I stop crying, I tell her it’s not so bad, she can do it, it’s only medicine and will be over soon. I hold her when she cries, let her push me away and find refuge elsewhere, wait to cuddle her later. We play and tickle and hide and roar. Humour takes away the sting.

Rose and I went to the studio today, not for work but because I’ve been drowning in caring and need to look after myself too. I sort and tidy and arrange and play and swatch colours. Rose took Poppy to a nearby park with Nana, then came back when she fell asleep in the pram. Rose fell asleep on a couch and I walked Poppy around the studio to keep her settled between labelling drawers and grouping supplies by category into boxes. It was incredibly soothing.

I’ve been testing different brands of watercolour lately and attending information nights for them which are wonderful. I want a good set for my travel kit, and one for doing zine making workshops. I also use Marie’s Chinese Paints, which look similar to western watercolours but handle differently for blending with black ink. You can see them in the two rows on the right on that lovely palette. (My favourite palette! It was recommended by the lovely calligraphic artist Gemma Black during her gilding and watercolour workshop at the Calligraphy Society of SA. It’s Martin Mijello Airtight Watercolour 33 Well Palette)

Swatched below, the Chinese Paints are bottom left on the page. The sakura mat watercolours are the left page long swatches. They’re very old student grade paint but quite lovely.

The right hand page swatches are two travel kits I brought recently for my zine making workshops. The top set I don’t love, too opaque, dusty, difficult to wet, and generally just feel like poster paint. The bottom set I really, really love. They are Micador Brilliant watercolours for Artists, 24 set. For my zine kit they are perfect. Each tray of 6 can be passed around a table and shared, the colours wet quickly and are vibrant. The iridescent blends well with the other colours.

I recently sent off another zine, this one created with the local queer youth drop in group. I’m always so impressed by what gets created in these. It’s also a delightful experience.

Below on the right is my absolute favourite brand of professional grade watercolour, Sennelier. I was recently given a sample by the lovely folks at Port Art Supplies and I’m hooked! This colour is PY153, Sennelier Yellow Light, on its own on the right, mixed with Winsor and Newton Cobalt Turquoise Light, which is also a stunning colour.

The Sennelier is a French brand and made using honey. I love the way it handles, it’s sumptuous.

So, we’ve all come home again in the dark. There’s dinner and dishes and hanging washing, talking through homework, managing medications, cuddles and chats about a big sleep and the dentist taking away the teeth that hurt. We’re nervous, grateful, second guessing ourselves, and laying as much ground work as possible to handle a rough few days.

Thank you so much for your support, donations, well wishes, prayers, and kindness. It’s made a huge difference to us, we wouldn’t be in this place without you.

What I want for Mother’s Day

Today has had its moments but overall I want a refund.

I want infant thermometers to use standard batteries that are stocked by the chemist or the bloody hardware store. I want our road not to be the bloody detour for all the roadworks in the area. I want concentrated baby medications that don’t mean forcing 4 litres of the damn stuff down a screaming infant, and a delivery method that doesn’t involve most of it being spit up or vomited out all over us both. I want severe pain in a child to be treated as a medical emergency. I want all my t-shirts currently covered in spit, snot, milk, medication, and vomit to be magically clean and back in my drawer because wearing them for less than 2 hours shouldn’t count given how hard it was to get clean clothes happening this week. I want suppositories to be less freaky stressful and more effective at staying put and doing their damn job. I want a clearer sense of when to go back to hospital and when it’s just a waste of precious spoons. I want a way to painlessly kill the nerves in Poppy’s front teeth, bring down her fever, and stop having to put her through things she’s hating and distressed by, because I feel like having to hold down my screaming child one more damn time this week is too damn much. I want the sense of guilt and haunting uncertainty that maybe I haven’t done everything possible or made the right calls to go away. Should we have yelled at people last time we were in hospital? If only we’d called the dental service again while it was still a business day, maybe they would have changed their minds? Am I 100% sure there’s no faster way to do this? I want the stabbing pain from my sinus infection to go away. I want the bloody remote to be in reach. I want my girls to feel better. I want to sit out in the sunshine and eat something delightful and feel clean and smell nice and have a cheerful little person on my lap.

What I have got for Mother’s Day has been the loveliest card I’ve ever been given, by Poppy. A picture book full of mother cats being amazing, a lovely new shower curtain with absolutely no mold on it, a pretty Spiral-lock to tie up my hair, a cool hat, and a light jacket that looks like the night sky. I’ve got family dropping by with beautiful cooked dinner, friends checking in over text, donations to help us with the surgery, hugs when I yelled at Rose for not answering her phone, a lovely phone call with my own mum, and a living, generally happy and healthy baby cuddled into my chest. I’ve laughed, cried, hugged, snuggled, fought, yelled, pinned down, been soothingly patted (by Poppy), cried on, and loved. It’s far from bad. It could be much worse. It could be a lot better. It doesn’t all even out. It’s just awfulwonderfulhardamazing. It just is.

Muse Magazine Interview: A day in the life of a multiple

About a year ago I was interviewed for the launch of Muse Magazine about my experiences with multiplicity. I was holding off on sharing until they put the article online, but there’s been a hiccup with the mag (hopefully temporary) and it still hasn’t happened. So I wanted to share part of it, I was asked to write a snapshot ‘day in my life’:

Beautiful artwork – not mine though

A few days ago, I was struggling with severe stress at work. My partner, Rose, is worried about us. She’s looking after our baby, Poppy, on standby for supportive phone calls all day. I have a very stressful meeting that doesn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I feel numb and dissociated. There’s very few private places for me to call her. I sit in the empty foyer and phone. My system switches through several people who handle situations where we feel powerless, unsafe, unheard. We are all numb.

Rose is gentle on the phone, human and safe. She directs us outside. We go and stand out by the gardens and the numbness eases. Switching rapidly between parts with different emotional responses and needs, we pace in a circle by the garden, debriefing on the phone. Rose holds the space for us. We calm, like a flock of pigeons that flew up into the air in distress and now feel safer and return to the ground. We can advocate for ourselves again, contain the feelings, feel less frozen.

That night, Rose has a trip planned. I’m home from work and the autumn sunlight is calling to us. I need to be outdoors, I feel dissociated and airless inside. We text our elder girl, Star and arrange to collect her after school from a bus stop in town. We pack nappies and snacks and jumpers for everyone. Rose drives us all into the hills to feel the wind on our faces. We have the windows down. I sit by Poppy in the back to keep her settled. Our primary parent parts watch her tenderly. After a while she starts to wail and can’t be settled. Star needs the toilet.

We reflect inside how we are parents now, not lovers to wander where we will. Now there are noses to wipe and people with short attention and many needs. Rose stops at a park in the hills. I’m enchanted by the trees and switch to a 12 year old who adores trees. Star comes back from the public toilets stressed because the walls are covered in millipedes and she’s afraid they will fall on her. We switch the ones who are frustrated, who want her to be different than how she is away to the back of our system. Gentle parent part comes forward and walks to the toilet with her, feeling for that place between compassion and encouragement. Inside us the child yearns and watches the trees hungrily. The toilet trip is a success. A frustrated part comes out and silently takes a millipede off the wall, not to stress but simply to show that courage is a good thing in life, that the danger is not as bad as it may feel.

For a moment no one needs us. The child switches out, takes off our shoes, runs to the trees. Presses his face against the bark and feels webs in his eyebrows. Feels dead leaves underfoot. Feels human.

Rose calls out for our phone. Poppy is being adorable and she wants to take a photo. We switch to parent again and walk over. Then back to child, enchanted by the sunlight through the leaves. He points it out to Star, but she is feeling cold and goes to sit in the car. Still learning how to be free in these places. Rose comes back with a bag of snacks, shares chocolate and strawberries. The light changes colour. We switch. The carousel inside turns. We soak up life.

Switching is different for all multiples, not everyone switches this quickly or this often or has this number of parts. Some have many more or far fewer or they are all the same age or they switch only every few months or once a year! Please don’t take my system as the ‘norm’.

But that snapshot is quite normal for us, a group existence with many, many switches every day, often quite brief, and frequently triggered by what is needed from us by those around us, or what calls to us in our environment. A carousel that keeps turning.

The Joys of Nature Play

Last week, Rose took Poppy and I out to spend the day in a local forest. It was wonderful. We weren’t alone, it was a big family event and the forest was brightly speckled with kids playing and reading books and flying kites. Nature Play organised it, Rose and I are huge fans of their work. They create opportunities and build skills for outdoor play – like a launching pad to go on to create your own. There’s always loads of low cost inspiring ideas we can easily replicate in our own park or backyard.

I actually approached them when they first started and asked about their organisational structure, because it’s one of the most elegant and effective I’ve seen. Their work is amazing and there’s a powerful team behind the scenes.

So I had a great time. I brought my travel art kit with me, and was having fun sketching the people and painting the forest with watercolours. While I was playing with it, a small group of kids came over fascinated. I was practising some brush lettering and they asked me to paint their names, and ‘Harry Potter’. Then they practised painting their own names with the brushes. (not shown as it’s their names, obviously)

Most kids never get access to a half way decent brush until high school or later – it’s a real annoyance of mine! Hogs hair stiff bristle brushes are really only useful for glue or oil paint. The rest of the time you need a cheap synthetic brush, well cleaned after each use, and small enough to actually do what the kids are trying to do with it! So they get frustrated and discouraged and think they are no good at painting. Learning to use a brush is like learning to use a pencil – it takes some practice! If we gave all grade one students a bent stick instead of a pencil how well do you think they’d learn? Hogs hair brushes are basically that.

I was working with water filled brushes (similar in design to an Asian brush pen, but filled with water instead of ink) which are cheap and super convenient when travelling as they carry the water inside their handle. It reduces a lot of mess and fuss and kids start to learn the basics of brush work – always pull a brush, never ‘push’ it, how firmly you press is how thick the line goes, how to wipe out one colour before going onto another, and when to stop because the paper is getting overloaded. It’s fantastic.

They had a wonderful time and ended up working on a collaborative drawing for me. This one contains flowers, a bee, several tanks, and a fair amount of blood, I’m told.

Kids can’t resist art supplies. Me neither. It was a great day.

Hope for self hate

I’ve been reading again, avidly, using apps on my phone and ebooks. (Poppy destroys physical books) It’s wonderful. For fiction I’m reading works by Tanith Lee, Patricia A. McKillip, Jonathon L. Howard, Sonya Hartnett, Matthew Hughes… For lovers of multiplicity in fiction I highly recommend his Henghis Hapthorn series!

Nonfiction I’ve been reading about scanners in books by Barbara Sher, rainforest minds (a guide to to the well-being of gifted adults and youth) by Paula Prober, and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Giftedness, scanners/polymaths/multipotentiates, and creatives are all areas I’m exploring. How do other people function? What kinds of work are they suited to? What are their vulnerabilities and how do they navigate them? I enjoyed reading this article of career advice about combining different skills by the cartoonist behind Dilbert. This quote in particular resonated with me:

The weakness of an art is its dogma. And when I’m competing against an individual from a different discipline, I try to find the dogma of that discipline. When I’m competing with someone within a discipline, I try to find their personal dogma. — Josh Waitzkin, Chess Grandmaster & World Tai Chi Champion

How fitting, and fascinating. I recall when I was wrestling with my sexualities in counseling, being revolted by some of the ideas espoused by the facilitators of the local support group for same sex attracted women. I was disgusted by the use of the word ‘het’ as an insult, by bi-erasure, and what felt to me like being indoctrinated into a culture – what music I was supposed to like, clothes to wear, how to style my hair. A closed and exclusionary world. It took me a short to move from deeply intimated and anxious/submissive to stripping away the dogma and embracing the beautiful history, courage, and love that is the best of queer culture. And wearing my hair however I damn well like.

So I’m moving past dogma in other areas and reading about people who are hypersensitive, intensely emotional, rapid learners, who constantly seek challenges and struggle with anything once there’s little left to learn. It’s been quite profound. Scanners as label warms my heart, partly because it’s not linked to anything as complicated and grotesque and risky as IQ, with all the challenges and misunderstandings we have about intelligence and human worth.

It’s a box I’ve left closed for a long time. Opening it has been fascinating. The most interesting outcome so far has been the first shift in my voice “I hate myself” that I’ve experienced in many years, a sense that beneath the rage and self loathing lies a different truth altogether: “I don’t understand myself.”

So I’m working to create a new space. Currently I’m most overwhelmed in the area of work/business/career. I am polarised between being barely able to think about it, and drowning in total overwhelm. I’m using my Morning pages (3 hand written pages about anything, a reflective tool suggested by Cameron) to wrestle a new space: gentle curiosity. Why am I blocked? Where is the pain and fear coming from? If this (life, work) was set up perfectly suitable for me, what would it look like?

It’s always an amazing experience, reading about yourself in others’ stories. It’s happened for me many times: reading about PTSD at 18. About attachment disorders, about victims of abuse. In some ways about multiplicity but mostly I didn’t fit the dogma and common stories there. About queer identity. It’s been some time since I found myself reflected in another face. Reading about scanners and rainforest minds has been the most hopeful thing I’ve found in a long time. There are many other people out there like me in these ways. Brilliant people who take 15 years to get an undergraduate degree, or never do. People who thrive on challenge and are constantly being told to slow down. People who can tie themselves up in moral knots so tight they can’t breathe. Obsessives who can’t “focus” and want to explore everything.

And just as I’ve done with being queer, or being multiple, they find friends who are not threatened so they can shine and struggle. They find careers that are good enough and leave them time to explore, or that embed challenge and variety and meaning in them. They stop trying to be what they are not, and learn what they are, and work with that. Which exactly what I’m trying to do. These books give me hope.

Cookies and campfire

Surfacing from the terrible week, my mind has been clearing. Today it offered only a handful of “I hate myself”s almost like afterthoughts. I’ve been noticing that there seem be to be a particular vulnerability around an bring to do with work or my business. I feel fragile but settled and even joyful.

Yesterday Poppy and I painted in the backyard. She chose a pearl purple paint at Officeworks the other day and spent an hour exploring how it changed her paint water and running it through her fingers. She painted my hand with her finger with such careful seriousness, the moment felt profound. I’m so glad to be a parent, to have these precious girls in my life.

Today we had my birthday party, a backyard campfire with cookies. I decided on cookies because it was much easier to bake a range to fit various dietary needs, and I made large batches and sent gift bags home with the guests. It was such a joy.

Our baker has not been out in awhile, in fact few of us have been out except for the one being totally overwhelmed, and switching was wonderfully liberating. There’s a common misconception that multiple can simply switch out whoever they want, or get rid of anyone being inconvenient. Few systems work that way, and constantly suppressing inconvenient parts tends to have its own downsides. Having someone distressed stuck out is horrible, but it does happen. It has been a relief to get a break from it here and there and see the world through different eyes.

Our baker wanted to make everything, spent a happy morning writing a huge list of everything she c felt like baking and narrowing it to 5 recipes, compiling the ingredients list and cross referencing with what we already had in the house. We made dairy and gluten free peanut butter chocolate cookies, gluten free gingersnaps, regular anzac biscuits, and sugar free banana date balls. We baked spuds on a fire and folks brought toppings with them to share. There were marshmallows and cold drinks. The kids played on the play ground or in the loungeroom with a train set and toy kitchen. It was happy mayhem for the most part.

Birthday over for another year. Thank goodness for that. Hoping this week is better.

Embroidery museum

Today was a treat, Rose and I went out for a lunch date. I took her to the SA Embroidery Guild Museum, which was gorgeous. Their display is small but beautifully set out, with audio and video as well, teaching particular techniques on display. I was surprised to discover their impressive library, amazing catalogue of embroidery samples that some kind souls were hard at work archiving, and a lovely gift shop.

We topped it all off with soup and salad at the central markets, and explored my needlework project collection from the days I was very sick and turning my creative passions to tiny and delicate artwork in the form of beading and embroidery that could be done from bed or couch.

I’d been hoping the extra space of my studio would open the door to large installation artwork again, but today I felt very inspired by the small scale too, beautiful fabrics and threads used to make delicate heirloom pieces. It’s a lovely medium to speak with, and I’m thinking it could work very well in artist’s books or their covers.

Self care

Brr. Self care today is going to an artist workshop. I wouldn’t mind if it was sleeping in instead, but sometimes you go with the self care you booked in a couple of months ago when it sounded like a fun idea! It’s been an intense week and I’m happy to be out of the house for a bit.