Poem: The hope of spring

This morning I sat
By the window, in the golden
Light, breathless and heard
Very quietly, a small voice
Inside me, yearning
To go outside
To stand, even for a moment
In the sun.

Oh oh, I thought to myself
This is the voice I have lost
The still, quiet voice of my soul
The one I used to follow so easily
That nourishes my spirit and makes me strong
I can hear it again!

Outside my window the sunlight
Fell golden on the lilies and the world
Was sweet with the hope of Spring

I sat inside
By my window and watched it all
Through the curtains with my heart
In my throat and my breath
Caught in my belly and
I did not go outside.

Sometimes the most human thing is not our capacity to soar, it’s the way we find cages and sit inside them willingly, singing sad songs about freedom.

I wrote this a few years ago and now that I am finding some freedom to both hear and follow this little voice, it seemed apt to share.

Starting the new year with joy

It’s been a wonderful start to the year. I’ve given myself some extra time off given I was sick with vertigo then gout through the Christmas holidays and it’s been delightful. I’ve made back into my studio at last and been having some wonderful adventures with Poppy.

This tidal river was amazing, full of beautiful little wild hermit crabs!

I was gifted some cool patches by friends so I’ve been sewing them on too. Getting a chance to do something with my hands most days keeps me more settled.

I had intended to start up again on my Multiplicity book this week, but I’ve been incredibly busy lately with art sales! Embellishing, packing, and mailing or delivering works has been keeping me very busy and making me very happy. Doing a better job of showcasing my art is one of my major goals this year – as is beginning to offer original works for sale. Off to a great start there!

While there’s always a story behind the art, there’s also always a story behind the purchase. Sometimes a celebration or gift, sometimes marking a loss or holding a previous memory. I’m always honoured when people share them with me, and pleased that my art speaks to some and fits into their story in a way that’s meaningful.

I’ve been in my studio nearly a year now and we are finally friends. I love being there and there’s been a huge burst of tidying and organising lately which means everything has a careful place and there’s space for creating and new ventures. I feel incredibly lucky. I’m paying the rent, I can spend a day at the zoo with friends, and while family health remains a bit up and down, we are muddling along. More good days than bad. Lots of love and creativity. Lots of joy. ❤️

New directions for 2019

I’ve had a challenging end to my year. My first experience of vertigo and then gout! Most unpleasant and a vivid reminder to myself why I’ve been steering towards white collar work despite the lure of engineering fabrication apprenticeships.

Fortunately one of my Christmas gifts from my family was a fantastic second hand laptop (my computer has been ailing for some time and doing a death in stages leprosy type thing despite much coaxing and kind talking to). So while I’m very immobilised by terrible pain in one foot, I’ve been able to read books, install software, and tinker about online. I’ve ordered new business cards:

And made up some new little stickers:

Which I find very fun. I’m trying to think of something short and pithy about multiplicity for my next order, and contemplating setting up a patreon account to send art cards to fans of my work and take suggestions for blog posts…

I’ve been reading about the history of illustrated children’s books here in Australia, which is fascinating. I have a special love of unusual children’s books or ones with a dark subject matter and I have a small collection. I now have a fairly extensive wishlist of new ones I’d like to add! There’s some stunning work out there. I recently bought Hortense and the Shadow while in Melbourne, which is beautifully illustrated with a strange but lovely story.

I have put in new orders for gold leaf, I’ve sold 7 artworks in December and need fresh supplies! I am also considering silver leaf for my gilded prints and artwork because I think it would be lovely and I’ve always wanted to try it. I’m super excited about a new artwork that’s being framed at the moment.

I am open for business again for online mentoring, support, and supervision again, and currently offering discounted rates of $110AUD per session.

And I am making plans for my book about multiplicity. I will be contacting my list and making a call out for interviews shortly! My plan is to get a lot of interviews and reports done before uni returns and I’m busy with assignments. My 2019 is shaping up well. 🙂

To the new year

For all those bringing in the new year from hospital, from suffering, from your own private hell, take care. I know how lonely pain can make us feel. You are not the only ones struggling. I know it’s precious to clear a little time in the year to celebrate and it hurts when life swamps us. There’s a bitterness there brewed more strongly by the brightness of the stars around us, by the beautiful dreams in pieces at our feet. People aren’t supposed to die at Christmas. No one should spend New Year’s Eve bleeding on the floor.

For all the freaks and misfits out there… we are people too. For everyone who feels alone, alienated, lost, the world can be a cold place. A crowded place, but you are not the only naked one in a sea of faceless people. Despair comes to us all sometime. No life is untouched by tragedy. Stay with us.

For everyone who’s life is ending, who is watching it all burn down around them and wondering who they will be tomorrow, hold on. Life is powerfully strange. It takes unexpected directions, unpredictable turns. At the end of everything, a new chapter starts.

To myself, many new years ago, crying silently on the bed with loneliness. You are brave. You will find friends. It won’t always hurt like this.

Goodbye to the old year, to the dreams that ripened, and those that fell to storm or frost. Goodbye to the losses and hurt, to the joy and beauty.

Hello to the unknown. I wish for you that whatever it going on in your world, you find a moment to feel alive. To feel naked, stripped of name and role and obligation to the world. That the stars or the earth or the trees or wind or rain would call out to you and nourish you. Feed you on strangeness and mystery. Life is so much bigger than we make it. Everything speaks with a language and we understand only a few of them. Remind us of our smallness in the world, of our need of it and connection to it. To feel the spaces between the places we are known, the stories we are familiar with. Here, we breathe a different kind of air. We are a different kind of creature.

Run from violence and doom. Risk love. Hold hope. Be true to your many hearts, the broken and the whole. Burn that which must pass and plant that which must grow. Grieve and yearn under the same skies. It is hard to be human at times. Don’t make it harder. Be.

Christmas is extra sweet this year

We have come through a lot this year in my family, eating disorder and breakdown and a lot of challenges. We’re approaching Christmas now with this sense of how lucky we are. Things could have turned out very differently. We came close to tragedy but we are all still here, and there’s a sweetness and joy in that. Making it a fun and special time of year for Poppy is a focus, so we’ve been doing lots of fun things but pacing ourselves so it’s not too much.

We’ve made our own Christmas cards, late. Baked lots of fun gingerbread – dinosaur shapes for Poppy. Made dairy and gluten free treats for friends with intolerances. Visited the pretty light displays. Wrapped gifts. Put up a toddler friendly felt tree. Had naps, swims, and bike rides to the park. Went to a queer friendly rainbow carols service at a local church. I’ve been happily embroidering gifts and getting loads of extra time in my studio gilding prints. It’s been a busy art month for me, I’ve sold a lot of work! It’s been wonderful. ❤️

I am absolutely loving reading more about book illustration and have begun to map out a couple of roughs for possible short books next year. I may launch into my multiplicity book instead though, and I’m keen to exhibit Smooth Seas never made Skilled Sailors locally, preferably before uni kicks back in. I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

Christmas can be a painful, exhausting and stressful time of year. It can be meaningless, overtaken by other troubles needing attention. It can also be time to celebrate surviving whatever the year threw at you, to remember our departed with love and light candles for them, to celebrate and reflect and wind down from the doing and the plans and goals.

Whatever you are dealing with, I hope you have some sweet among the bitter, someone who loves you, someone to share with. ❤️

Art that’s available now

Contact me quick if you want one. Happy to arrange for you to pick up from Shine SA Woodville before Christmas. 🙂

If you need it mailed I can put it aside and mail next year. Framed art cannot be mailed.

$100

Even the cats have graves

Digital print reproduction of my original etching, hand embellished with 24k gold. Framed in 8×10 inch, black.

$150 SOLD

The Gap

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand embellished with 24k gold. Unframed, packaged with custom cut matting and backing ready for your 12×16 inch frame.

$100

You are my world

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand embellished with 24k gold. Framed in 8×10 inch, black.

$310

After the Storm

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand embellished with 24k gold. Framed in 16×20 inch, gold.

$150

We Float

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand embellished with 24k gold. Framed in 12×16 inch, black.

$100

Waiting for You

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand embellished with genuine crushed amethyst. Unframed, packaged with custom cut matting and backing ready for your 8×10 inch frame.

$135 SOLD

Haven

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand torn deckle edge displayed. Custom framed in approx 13×18 inch, gold.

$80

We came so very far to find you

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, unframed, packaged with custom cut matting and backing ready for your 16×20 inch frame.

$525

Grief

Digital print reproduction of my original ink painting, hand embellished with 24k gold. Framed in 20×30 inch, gold.

My 1,500th post on this blog

Woo hoo!

I have handed in my last assignment and finished my studies for the year. Now it’s time to celebrate, I’ve been so long forward to writing this post, number 1,500.

Did you know I’ve written a total of almost 800,000 words since starting in August 2011? Wowee. In that time this blog has had over 100,000 visitors. That’s amazing.

At the Melbourne State Library for The World of the Book Exhibition. Image shows a woman in purple lipstick looking happy in a large library room several stories tall.

I used to write about one post (article) a day, over the past few years since my kids came along I dropped back to about twice a week. I now average about 55,000 words a year, spread across around 100 posts.

My topics shift and have been difficult to categorise helpfully for readers. Posts are often either about art, personal updates, or an educational/thought post, reflecting on or explaining something. Often these merge back and forth. The content is determined partly by whatever I’m encountering in my personal and professional life, and partly by requests from readers, moving across mental health, grief, love, parenting, and work… Everything is approached with an eye to authenticity, compassion, and engaging complexity and depth in accessible ways.

I knew very little about blogging, online accessibility, or SEO when I started out, which is pretty evident from the unhelpful titles I tended to use and the lack of image descriptions on photos. Looking back there’s plenty I’d change! But the task of updating and upgrading such a huge collection has been too daunting so I march along as it evolves, muddling through. What started as a way to update family and friends without having to copy and paste across multiple emails evolved into education and activism, and then most bewilderingly into something that closes some employment opportunities to me while launching me into consulting and freelance work. My readership has grown modestly, expanding across different topics and socioeconomic groups.

My most popular posts are often found through Google searches for help, especially around mental health. Here’s a few of them:

Blogging has been a strange, wonderful, painful, complicated, and delightful part of my life. I have strict boundaries about what I share, and there’s several threads of reasons why I’ve chosen to blog. My blog has been a voice, a call to connect with a broader community than I could find face to face, it’s been a way to humanise multiplicity and mental illness and madness. It’s been about developing inside out language – experiential language that shares from a place of how something feels when you are experiencing it, not viewing it from outside – reclaiming language about suffering from the clinical sector who observe rather than embody it. It’s been a legacy in case I didn’t make it. A set of keys to understand me if I wasn’t here anymore to try and explain my life, my thoughts, my suffering, my love, my art. A bridge, an invitation. It’s been about loneliness and alienation and wanting to ease that for others because they are heartbreaking and skin searing and soul crushing to experience and silence and shame perpuates devastating myths of singularity, of being the only one to feel or think or hurt or need or experience the world the way you do.

It’s been about the informal and imperfect, a zine instead of a book, a conversation rather than a lecture, a brush of the arm instead of a handshake for someone not sure how to be in this world or claim space or speak truths without doing harm or being harmed.

Sometimes I lose the threads. I wake up and can’t remember why I write here and I go silent for awhile. At times I’ve felt embarrassed by my relationship to my blog and my readers, I’ve felt anxious about any sense of my own need, more comfortable with the distance of altruism. I’ve celebrated numbing and felt strong when I didn’t want to write. I’ve been embarrassed by previous sharing or in a new context, confused and frustrated that blogging comes easy to me now but sources of income from these skills have eluded me. I’ve been depressed by the way staying grounded in the story I have the right to tell – mine – has left me with a body of work entirely wrapped around my own life and perspective. At other times I’ve celebrated that. Cast off the master narratives we’ve all heard before and gone deeper into something strange, raw, ideosyncratic, utterly my own. This is my experience, my life, my reality.

I made a large, strange, beautiful thing. 1,500 strong, and I’m proud.

Advocacy, Success, and Vulnerability in Public

I wrote this post a long time ago and let it rest until I felt ready to share. I’ve wrestled a lot over the past few years with these issues and I’m making my peace with an imperfect and very human place in the world.

I miss this blog, but my world has changed a lot in the last year and I’m having to find new ways to engage and deal with new risks. I’m in a strange place it’s difficult to find words for – so much has gone right lately and I’m so ecstatically happy. I’m also so stressed, sleep deprived, and vulnerable. All the happy endings don’t take away the pain that came before, they just make it harder to accept and speak about. They add shame and confusion about why you’re still hurting when everything is so perfect.

I had the strange experience the other morning on my birthday of waking up and being excited to be online because I knew I was going to be getting birthday messages. For a few hours I felt special and cared about and safe. It made me realise even more strongly how unsafe I’ve been feeling lately. This blog is reaching a new audience, of people in positions of power and wealth. I feel exposed in a way I haven’t felt before. My lovely video about diversity in the workplace reached thousands of people and I found myself feeling embarrassed to be handing out my ‘face painting’ style business card to CEO’s and heads of industry. Thrilled and excited to feel like I have a career path, and also exposed and ashamed, even by this beautiful blog. I want to hide how I got here, how these skills were developed.

I use myself as an instrument. It’s a key aspect of my work as an artist/poet/writer, and also as a facilitator. I tune into my self and my body and I notice things. I notice when I feel defensive and I get curious about that. I notice when I feel afraid, or angry, or when I want to hide. I accept the feelings and the gut instinct but I try not to act on them until I’ve thought them through more. My world has changed a lot lately and I’m sailing through some pretty intense mood swings as I navigate the excitement and joy of that, and the stress and fear of it too. For the first time since I started sharing online I recently found myself gripped by an intense fear about having this blog public. The change in readership, or rather, the new readership has thrown me. People with power and money are people I find difficult to see as people and tend to see as embodiment of their roles, distant authority figures. My experiences since early years has been that they do not understand me or my life or the ways in which I am harmed while I am under their care.

I am practising spending time in new cultures, practising dealing with my prejudices and stereotypes, making myself make eye contact, speak as equals, see the people behind the roles, have empathy for them, understand them, find our shared humanity. Trying to get over a lifetime of instinct to flinch or snarl. Wrestling with a lifetime of thinking as these people as ‘the other’ and not being able see the ways in which we are alike, the burdens they labour beneath, the loneliness of their roles, the ways in which they too are brilliant, or unsafe, or wounded, or split off from their own truths. The contexts in which they live and the pressures that shape them. What does courage look like in that world? It’s different to what it looks like on the streets or in poverty. What does compassion look like? What are the things it is impossible to say, or even think? Where is the pain held and what does it look like? What does love look like in this place?

I came home a while ago from a shiny event with people who have done many impressive things and fought off the impulse to tear apart this blog. I felt unbearably exposed and wanted to go back and pull down everything in which I struggle, every post that showed my confusion or distress, every evidence of pain, every raw expression of loneliness or bewilderment or grief. It was unbearable. I quivered with distress. I sat with it and did nothing but listen to it. What is going on, my heart? Why?

Success has a kind of draw, I’m finding. A lure, like a light in the deep ocean, the fish come close and everyone hopes to be part of it, to have a little of the glittery phosphorescence rub off on them too. I watch people elevate or dismiss me depending on who in my system is out that moment, and whether we are showing our shiny side or our vulnerable one. I watch myself respond to the environment with pathological shame for my humanity, and a desire to conceal my awkward fumbling. I am not and never was uncertain. I am not and never was hurting. I am just shiny. I am success embodied. I am desirable. I never make mistakes. I never hurt. I am never lost. My livelihood depends on this. My life depends on this. Be the shiniest fish in the dark deeps. Don’t let anyone see anything else.

No one is saying these things to me overtly. But I feel the fear in the air, magnified through my own terror and my own vulnerability and my history of powerlessness. The carefulness in how we present ourselves, the concern about what others might be thinking or saying about us. Image management. A deeply ingrained caution, a reluctance to be seen. I feel it in my own impulse to run, in the way that we flinch from rawness, the honing of our masks of professionalism.

And the wrestle that comes with this, as I gnaw on my limbs and feel shame and distress. Why am I feeling this way? What of my values and beliefs? What am I turning into? Self destruction like a lure beneath the struggle, my own terror of being changed into something I do not recognise or respect. My instinct to set my life on fire rather than face my own darkness. I too, want power, and money, and crave status. I too, want an easier life for myself and my children, even at the cost of others ease. I too, can choose not to see what is inconvenient for me to acknowledge about the shadow I cast, and the prices we pay – or make others pay – for success.

The struggle itself is so worthwhile. There’s something beautiful in it. Even in the aspects I feel ashamed of. It tells me things about the world and myself, and about people and what we bring out in each other.

I resist the urge to hide. I retreat from being public at some times and in some ways, but don’t destroy the evidence of my humanity. I hold tight and look and learn and decide how I will respond.

I’ve also been able to see some things more clearly that had eluded me before. Like fish in water, in some ways it’s most difficult to understand the context you are most familiar with. I’ve spent so much of my life so anxious about the effects of power and the lure of money that I’ve not appreciated the effects of powerlessness and the harms of poverty. My ‘safe place’ to return to when I am afraid of my own ambition is not safe. It is merely destructive in a different way.

When I was very young
I was taught that power corrupts
No one mentioned the acid of powerlessness
The way it leeches you of worth
Hope, value, voice. 

I was warned of the dangers of money
But not of the grinding misery of poverty
The way it is like a thorn in each heel

The chronic pain of it, how it shapes your movements
Closes doors, leaves scars. 

(I think of all my friends who died of exposure,
And I remember all the ones who died for the lack of it. -Nick Cave)

I’ve been so pinned between
My fear of success and my horror at failure
Devoured by my demons in a place without peace
The truth is – there’s no limit to the number of days
I can sacrifice on the altar of proving myself worthy.

There is no way to live without risk
And the first loss is joy
It is lightness and laughter and play. 

Surely, if I have found ways
To be human despite all that’s befallen me
I can risk success?
If poverty has not destroyed me, I can risk money?
All my life I’ve feared losing myself, 
One hand on the self destruct button
Who says poverty and vulnerability are safe from harm?

They are no haven of purity, just
A familiar kind of hell. 
Just devils I know. 

A life deeply lived calls for courage
Sometimes courage looks like walking out onto the street
With no idea of where a bed or meal or kind face will next be found. 

Sometimes it looks like putting on my best clothes
Going to work, and getting paid. 

Insomnia as an Invitation

It’s too beautiful to sleep here tonight. The wind is restless and roaming the garden, slipping in through open windows to creak and sigh the doors.

I have little shorthand explanations of things that often help remind me of approaches I’ve found useful in the past. For insomnia it is this: I can’t sleep when my mind decides there’s something else I need even more urgently than I need sleep. If I can figure out what that is and meet that need even in just a small way, sleep will come.

Often it helps. It could be pressuring trying to figure it out, lying in bed exhausted and confused. That would be incredibly unhelpful. For me it’s more an invitation. It changes the problem from one of distress without meaning, something difficult and frustrating that just happens without cause and that I can’t control, to something that makes sense and is meaningful where I have power and influence. My mind and body for reasons unknown to me have prioritised something above sleep. What is it?

Sleep hygiene is important of course. It helps when you understand that melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep, needs sunlight in your eyes for you to build it, preferably early in the morning. So insomnia can be helped by sitting in the early morning sunlight and helping your body build enough hormones to restore sleep routines. It helps when you learn that teenagers tend to have very vulnerable sleep routines that get out of whack quickly and need more sleep than they did as kids – and that some adults retain this and find that one late night means not being able to get to sleep at their usual time for days or weeks. Understanding the way blue light from phone screens interferes with sleep is very useful. All that biological stuff is good and important and sometimes it’s sufficient.

Sometimes it’s not. I’ve had terrible trouble with insomnia at times, and when there’s been other things going on no amount of sleep hygiene would help. Severe nightmares have made sleep a terrifying thing. I’ve stopped sleeping at times for weeks, heralding severe dissociation or psychosis. Very few sedatives work on me so there’s little help from that quarter.

So for me I’ve needed to find other ways to approach it. Thinking of insomnia as something that happens when something is wrong paralysed me. Thinking of it as something that happens when there’s something I need more urgently than sleep was useful. When I can’t sleep, I use the time to tune in and notice what’s going on. I might journal or write to a friend online and chat (it’s useful to have friends in different time zones for this reason). Sometimes I need to think about something, feel something, express something. Sometimes I’m too buzzing with excitement and need to do more to settle and calm my mind. Reading fiction often helps me, on a phone app with a blue light filter and the screen set to black and the text to white I can read in the small hours without disturbing roommates.

Sometimes Narnia is calling me, the night, the wind and stars, poetry beating in my blood. The ordinary world fades away with the dark, and for just a few hours I can taste my own soul, feel the wings at my back. Sometimes that’s a call I need to answer, more than rest, more than sleep. To creep away from sleeping household and stand under stars or paint with inks by lamp light in the silent house.

Some needs are bold and strong as lungs demanding air or stomach craving food. Others are incredibly quiet and can only be heard when the world is asleep or we are alone and without responsibilities. Questions we need quiet to ask or contemplate, trees that need to be breathed in. The dead remembered, the dreams counted. Sometimes it’s only at night the tears can come, or the poems, or the hope. And then it’s a blessing to be awake, that they do not slip past us unnoticed as we forget that the daylight world is not the only one we can walk, and that who we are in all those roles is not the whole sum of us.

Peer Work and Activism

Peer work – using your personal, lived experience in some way to support others, is a passion of mine. Peer work may be a paid role, an informal willingness to share, or an activist passion in your life. They all count, they are all essential and wonderful, and they all have risks as well as offering opportunities.

I have been engaging in peer work and activism since 2010 when I delivered my first talk outing myself about my mental health challenges. Since then I’ve shared extensively on my blog and other online platforms, and cautiously engaged the media on occasion.

My top posts about navigating, understanding, and struggling with Peer Work:

Some examples of my own advocacy and sharing:

Freedom

Hey folks… I’m caught up on my business admin! I’ve reconciled my accounts to date, separating my income streams so I can easily see what’s going well – face painting, mentoring, community projects, speaking, training, and art. (Currently the first four are carrying the show, mostly because I haven’t had an exhibition this year yet…) Not that that’s a problem, but it’s helpful to see what’s paying the rent. 🙂

I wasn’t 100% sure if the breakthrough extended to business matters too or was more of a creative unblocking… I’m not saying I wanted to spend the day doing admin or that I had no anxiety, but it was manageable. I gave myself good snacks and breaks and was kind and THAT WAS ENOUGH. I didn’t cry or have a meltdown. I got a huge page of things done, sorted out all my work emails, and finalised my tax. This has been the biggest change for me in years. And today is a day off with Rose. ❤️

For a treat I mended trousers and watched an episode of The Good Place on Netflix. I’m finding I just have to do something with my hands every day, even if it’s just mending a hole. Poppy and I now have favourite pairs of trousers back, with tiny felt patches. ❤️ The garden has been soaked in anticipation of a hot few days. Everything is in order.

Epidemiology is wonderful. I’m getting top marks on my assignments and generally revelling in finally being past bachelor level education. The extra credibility is reducing my imposter syndrome way down to manageable levels too.

I’ve found my way. I’m sharing breakfast and a cup of tea in the backyard with Poppy and I have a future.

The Breakthrough

Endo has been kicking my butt this week and kept me home when I’d planned fun outings with family. However it’s not all bad because the major breakthrough I had about my work has been stable for a week now and isn’t fading. This time last week I sobbed myself to sleep with regret for all the choices I’d made about my career. The next day I read a chapter in a book (I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, by Barbara Sher) about people wounded in childhood and stuck. They freeze whenever they approach mastery of a skill. Their work life falls far short of their capacity and is fuelled by very old stories about worth. Early injuries leave deep wounds in confidence and self esteem. They become paralyzed by a need for validation, for someone else to see them as worthy and rescue them. So they are miserable at the prospect of succeeding based on their own skills and hard work. They crave caretaking that didn’t happen and are trapped trying to right an old wrong. There’s other aspects that don’t fit me at all – these people are often narcissistic and lack empathy for others, exploiting those around them, for example. That’s very far from me. My weakness is pathological self hate rather than pathological self love. But the hard work not paying off, the freezing up at points in projects where mastery approaches, and the undefinable but overwhelming misery of trying to ‘make it’ when actually I so want to be ‘discovered’ in some way that would make me feel worthy and cared about… That resonated so powerfully and has unbound me.

Recognising the source of these blocks and starting to unpack those feelings has undone their power. So I’m journaling about how trapped, unloved, and exploited I felt in school, and watching my capabilities come back online. I’m crying for how alone, how freakish and despairing and suicidal I felt then. And feeling the present day traps creak open. Letting go of the vague but powerful dream of being ‘saved’ from intolerable circumstances, and finding my strength returning to do my own work and care-take my own life. Not as a sad second prize because no one else thinks I’m worthy, but because it’s my joy and responsibility and no one else could do it better.

Since then I have been into my studio 4 times! That’s more often than I made it in, in the last whole month. I have picked back up old projects I’d been stuck on and finished them. The blocks are gone. I am full of creative energy and every day I find myself itching to do something with my hands, working out how to fit my day around the primal need to create.

Not only is the creative block gone, but the blocks keeping me stuck in my business are also easing with this new insight. My inbox is organised. I’m keeping up with my studies. I’m writing and preparing my upcoming talks for Sydney and Melbourne. I’m taking time off for days with Poppy. I feel so liberated. Every morning I wake expecting it to have gone away, expecting to find myself full of the familiar exhausting neurotic blocks. It’s like living with a tooth abscess for years and waking up to find the tooth gone and the gum healing. There’s so much joy.

Instead of narcissism overlaying insecurity, I went the opposite direction. Raw vulnerability and destructive, compulsive self sacrifice. So where Barbara’s ‘ragers against the ordinary’ recover through altruism, it’s Rose who realised I will recover through connection to self. The past 6 months have powerfully brought home to me that when love is only ever sacrifice and loss, it erodes something essential. The relationships lose dignity. It corrupts instead of heals. There is something harmful about normalising relationships where one person has no needs, where their needs are never a priority.

This is self denial as habit. It is for me, partly the wounds of spiritual abuse, the child taught in graphic detail she had personally tortured and slain her god. It is the bullied and alienated child in unsafe places. It is feeling unloved and abandoned when I care for myself and wanting others to do it for me – a difficult ask when even I don’t know what I need. How can anyone be attuned to someone so disconnected from themselves?

So, in small ways, we tip things on their head. Rose makes me choose what I want for dinner. I mourn the dream of being loved and cared for by others without having to be connected to myself, but also find deep pleasure in reconnecting. I can finally name the story that’s been killing me, the trap I’ve had my hand stuck in for years. Not just me but those around me who also felt the unfairness of my story and hoped that one day I would ‘make it’ in some kind of karma or restitution. So much power comes with naming it, the dream I cannot ever have where someone saves the child. I know what I’ve been dying for. Now I can let it go and live.

Passion and Balance

One day each week, Poppy and I have an adventure. Last week we went to the museum and looked at dinosaurs and opals. I thought I might be mildly hallucinating at one point but it turns out one of the taxidermy animals is animatronic and occasionally flicks it’s tail. A little sign about that would be nice!

Then one of us chased pigeons, played in a very small but nonetheless very wet mud puddle, and fell asleep. The other one of us packed up lunch and went to look at all the interesting things in the art gallery in relative peace.

It’s been a very recent development that I enjoy the art gallery. I’m absolutely wild about artists studios but have often found gallery spaces alienating. It’s been weird and a little embarrassing. It’s assumed they are my home territory when actually I used to have a lot of meltdowns after visiting galleries and didn’t usually go there if I had the choice.

But I’ve been doing lots of work unpicking mental blocks and old injuries, and Rose has taken me to some exhibitions where I’ve felt less overwhelmed by my stuff and more about to enjoy them at times. They are not home territory by any stretch (even my own studio isn’t that yet) but they are also no longer hostile territory. I wish sometimes it was a bit easier to be me.

Nonetheless, adventure time each week with Poppy is an absolute joy and doing us both a world of good.

This is one of the last little things I made in my flame work glass workshop, a tiny bee. Unfortunately because he wasn’t annealed in a kiln, his little wings broke as he cooled down. I’m currently immersed in research about kilns and torch types and where to buy oxygen tanks from. I postponed a planned exhibition of small sculptures when Rose became really sick, but I’d love to be able to put it together for next year.

This bead worked perfectly: I was practicing a technique that traps air bubbles under the glass. My teacher said I was the most gifted student with glass she’d had in 20 years of workshops. It just clicked. I adored it and I’m so keen to set up a flame work space in my studio.

I’m also hugely enjoying my studies. Epidemiology suits me and I’m loving falling down rabbit holes of information and getting a handle on the big topics. Today I was digging into health prevention, surveillance, and theories of health promotion. It’s fascinating to see how frameworks that fit one scenario so well (such as smallpox) have been such unwieldy tools in other contexts (such as diabetes), and how poor evaluation can make health promotion interventions look successful (eg education leading to increased health literacy) when they actually backfire and fail on the important scales (eg increased stigma, greater reluctance to engage in prevention or treatment). I’m just enjoying it so much.

My other project at the moment is a couple of talks interstate. I’ll be traveling to Sydney and Melbourne next month to give presentations at big events. This always involves a fair bit of preparation, both for the talk, planning the event with the folks coordinating it, and planning the trip. I’ll be doing a road trip and bringing the family with me to Melbourne, which is very exciting. I’m really looking forward to meeting the people behind the emails too.

I’m still practicing Kaizen and being mindful of Barbara Sher’s types of scanner, hoping that I’ll learn what schedule suits me best and how to set up my projects so they and I both thrive. I’ve several more wonderful projects waiting impatiently in the wings, but right now I’m finding downtime is important and immersion time helps, trying to change hats all day long is exhausting. Hopefully in time I’ll learn more how to balance everything I love so much.

It was a wonderful week and I’m excited about the week ahead too. We continue to muddle through; work, study, friends, home, family. Learning, helping, creating. Good things are emerging. ❤️

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. ❤