Self care on Mother’s Day

I meditated this morning because I couldn’t sleep. I’m still sick and low on coping. Curled into a tiny warm nest alone in my bed I would drowse to sleep then wake with a tiny start a moment later, like surfacing from warm water into a cold breeze. I needed that sleep, so badly. Heartbroken I settled for rest. Finished my ebook – re-reading Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg, translated by Felicity David, which is both lyrical and brutal and contains lines such as


Deep inside I know that trying to fathom things out leads to blindness, that the desire to understand has a built-in brutality that erases what you seek to comprehend. Only experience is sensitive.

Peter Hoeg

Stunningly succinct. There are many ways of knowing, none of them are complete and few can even be translated.

There’s no simple arithmetic for life’s distribution of happiness and sorrow, no such thing as a standard share.

Peter Hoeg

How often are we told this when we talk about resilience? How often is resilience treated as an individual heroic quality when it is about invisible resources of community, about the luck of the share of sorrow allotted us.

Mother’s Day yesterday was strange, full of unexpected things. We all have the flu or some mix of head colds, flu, sinusitis, tonsillitis. Rose and I woke up to a cold sunny morning still full of the stunned wonder of being parents and no longer feeling like our hearts have been raked over on this day. There has been so much illness lately our gifts were small. We are too contagious to join any gathering, too exhausted to make any fuss. We spoke to mothers and daughters on the phone, exchanged a small painting and some warm socks. Tag teamed Poppy all day who is better enough to need activities but too sick to have much cope. It was not a bad day, if a little lonely, constricted by the weather, slightly sad. I kept myself busy with a movie while Poppy and Rose napped in the afternoon and when it ended found myself down a rabbit hole of the mind and feeling suddenly skinless, vaguely suicidal, and terribly vulnerable. I woke Rose and we played a small card game and the world tilted back on it’s axis and normality returned.

A friend once told me at the point of not being my friend anymore that it was obvious I hated being a mother. I find myself swallowing protests when I share about illness – I adore her, I adore being her parent. I wish I was less ill. It has been a hard 6 months for my health. I find myself trawling social media feeling heartsick and alone and diffused with a vague bitter resentment. Catching no flies with vinegar. Trying to hide my rage at what’s been allotted me. Remembering the way the boy who stalked me returned to my school and how we each in our pain asked different things of our mutual friends: me for them to see the profound changes in me, imperfectly labelled ‘PTSD’ and stand by me, connect me to my world again, be comforting.

His silent plea was for a closed door behind us. Let us never speak of it again, let things be as they were before.

How could my need ever be honored over his? It wasn’t and it rarely is. The one who is ashamed asks so little, aligns so well with what we already want – silence, disconnection, ‘moving on’. The one who is suffering needs so much of us, unbearably too much. To find words for unspeakable things, to see the wounds.

I am reading about Indigenous history and health in public health and touching the vague shape of a most terrible fury and despair of the colonised. The tiny words pinned to pages trying to explain the ravages of racism are like withered brown leaves trying to evoke the shape of massive trees. There’s a desolate rage under everything.

I am constantly confronted with the phrase to ‘ask for help’ when in trouble. It is a papercut, a stinging pain, a gathering storm. I recall the diversity of suffering beneath the behaviours of eating disorders when I was a peer worker in that sector. Under one common banner were so many wounds, children staggering beneath the weight of ill parents, domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty, deep unspoken grief. I would so dearly like to ask for help, some nights. To lay myself to rest in the care of people who will tell me what to do, and I will follow the advice and be healed. But obedience has never led me true.

I can never forget my first efforts to heal from trauma, being given a meditation CD by the psychologist and told to listen to it twice a day and follow the instructions to relax my body, step by step. I did so as my guts churned and the hairs rose on my arms. The choking sense of oppressive control crept over me like a weight. I went back in distress saying the CD was making me feel worse. I was told to try harder and listen more often. After weeks of distress I gave up. The psychologist was frustrated with me. I crept away from therapy feeling like a failure. Years later I read 8 Safe Keys to Trauma Recovery where Rothschild calmly mentions that about one quarter of people with severe trauma find calming/relaxing exercises distressing and need a different approach. Rage bottled in my throat.

Last night at 2am with Poppy still sleepless I exploded from patience into furious, helpless, ashamed meltdown. Rose tagged and took her back to the lounge while I sobbed hysterically in bed, PTSD pulling every tendon in my body so tightly they thrummed. Irritability and anger pushing away people I love and making less safe those who depend on me and should never be made to feel responsible for my feelings.

You cannot exercise enough self care to accommodate being in a house on fire. Rose has had a long road back from the kind of mental health care that medicated her as an 8 year old and left her convinced of her own brokenness, hyper vigilently monitoring her moods and mind, utterly cut off from the story that would have saved her: you look crazy and your abusers look sane. This is the heartbreaking reality.

They are more successful at forgetting, you, despite the pathological blindness of an entire industry intended to address human suffering, you cannot forget entirely. That industry, mental health, can save you. It has the power to see what you cannot and patiently, lovingly, help you reframe what you see as personal weakness. To give context – like a forensic process. This is shape of the knife that made that wound. This is why you are hurting. This is why you hurt those around you. This is how to stop.

When it is blind the power is also blinding. Suffering is stripped of human context and relabeled as illness. Self care becomes a parody of itself, a deepening of this willful not knowing. Meditation as rejecting of the disturbing thoughts, the messages from nightmares. Eating salads and taking antidepressants as an obedience to the social contract that sees health as a virtue, a sign of strong individual moral character, determination, self control.

The psychological distress symptoms of traumatized people simultaneously call attention to the existence of an unspeakable secret and deflect attention from it. 

Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery

Asking for help evokes the most powerful rescue fantasy I’ve ever known, paralyzing me. Self care is an easily corrupted concept, containing excuses for ignorance by the comfortable, the exploitation of the vulnerable by those who wish to offload responsibility for productivity and efficiency without providing for needs, and the severed mechanical meeting-of-needs of the ‘mentally ill’ who are trying to atone for their inexplicable brokenness.

I meditated this morning not to make the pain or the anger go away but to help myself make room for it. To ease the frantic despair that seeks solutions, resolution, answers where there are no quick fixes. So that I could sit at my table this morning and see the light falling through the leaves of my tree onto my keyboard and feel one tiny step further from shame, a tiny step closer to accepting who and how I am in the world and shaping my ‘self care’ to fit me, rather than change me.

Today it was enough.

Medieval merriment

I currently have pluerisy, a very painful inflammation of the lungs that can happen when an infection hangs around too long. Rose kindly helped me get to my favourite fair of the year anyway and I did my best to stay warm and avoid too much smoke from all the cooking fires. Poppy went as a dragon, and apart from being unpleasantly car sick part way there, had a great time watching the dancing and fighting and playing in the skate park and a big burned out tree. It was lovely to touch base with friends and familiar faces. The campfire space looked after by two Aboriginal women is one of our families favourite places to rest. Today we ate damper and yarned and felt at peace amongst the hubbub. A friends dropped in this evening for 5 minutes and stayed for 3 hours while we ranted about health and science and parenting at each other. 💙 I’m crawling into bed exhausted but sated. Today has carried me along like a leaf in a river and tumbled me gently into exactly what I needed. Rare and precious.

My journal and bone pen are calling my name. Nights like this alone in bed for a little while in the shadows I find myself breathing sweeter air.

Participatory Research

My favourite article of the week has been this one on Community Based Participatory Research by Green and Mercer. I particularly like the discussion on the first couple of pages about the common subjects of research getting entirely fed up of the process and refusing to be involved unless they were treated as knowledge holders themselves rather than merely objects of study. As a person who lives at the intersection of multiple forms of disadvantage, I feel this! I’ve witnessed many people become utterly fed up with being part of research into their experiences and despite their passion for learning and knowledge and health, step out entirely. I’ve participated in a great deal of research myself and it’s incredibly uncomfortable how frequently my experiences don’t fit the framework provided, or are distorted by underlying assumptions I can’t correct.

For example, as a voice hearer I am often invited to be involved in research about voices. Most is predicated on the idea that voice hearing is a harmful experience or that voices are either helpful or harmful in a simple, fixed binary. For those of you who know, my voice is neither. She generally speaks the same phrase on a loop (“I hate myself”) and I would describe her as profoundly distressed. Trying to answer questions about her and my balance of power in relation to her often means I’m aware my data is being warped to fit a theory that was conceived light years away from my experience – and worse, that will not be impacted by my actual experience in any way.

So, participatory research. Fascinating, collaborative. Like so many of these things, it often works better on paper than in practice where lofty words like collaboration and community become code for collusion, petty arguments, and the plundering of the cheese board at the meeting. It’s harder than it sounds and like any genuinely collaborative venture, it’s easy to derail if anyone involved wants to poke a stick in the wheels.

Some of the better research I’ve been part of has given me space somewhere to share what I think and feel or how my experiences do or don’t fit. It also follows up in some way with the conclusions. There’s a relationship, a sense of reciprocity at least in the process even if we don’t agree at all about anything else. It doesn’t have to be participatory to be collaborative in that sense. Nor does participatory research bypass issues of exploitation or harm in and of itself. The nature of community is the diversity of perspectives and voice – it is rare to be able to accomodate each of them.

The other kinds of research (and I include interview here) feel exploitative. My experiences are collected as evidence of ideas I don’t agree with and contorted to fit arguments that don’t include me. Or they are simply inept, using my time to educate themselves on matters they haven’t bothered to read about. If I had a dollar for every interview that began “So, what does it feel like to have DID?”…

Research fascinates me. It’s something we all do in our own way, whether it’s asking our friends online, checking out a review, reading a memoir or book, we are all constantly in the largely unconscious and informal process of gathering data and testing hypothesis. How did they do that? Does it work better if I do it like this? Perfecting a recipe, buying a car, learning to ice skate, dealing with grief. We navigate experiences, community, and skill building. Sometimes giving a little thought to that process can hone it in powerful ways for us. Who are we looking to? What questions have we not thought to ask? What’s unsayable? And how do we relate to each other, as objects of study or scrutiny, or as people who likewise are looking at us?

Good research is powerful. May there be much more of it.

Poppy’s green pigs

Poppy and I had the most impossible adventure day of all time recently. My phone gave out. Our bus tickets ran out. All plans went astray. I tried many things to fix our situation and merely wound up feeling incredibly stressed at not being helped by people who could easily have done so. Cried all the way home.

Rose sat with us while we tried to put my head and our day back together. Poppy found a texta and drew me on my left arm. Mummy being sad. On my right arm she drew Mummy being happy. Then she covered the drawing in hundreds of green dashes. According to Poppy, this is why Mummy was so happy. Because she was covered in small pigs. Ha! She’s glorious.

I am so struggling with depression at the moment. It’s invisible one moment and drowns my whole world the next. I feel so alone in it, thrashing in so pain I can’t seem to ease. It’s frightening to show it, to feel like I’m a bad actor trying to play myself and it’s leaking around the edges, ready to overwhelm and terrify people. I feel so angry and disconnected and frustrated. And yet there are green pigs. And tonight, watching Brene Brown on Netflix and laugh-crying at her experiences, feeling her pronouncements – if you are brave you WILL fail – soothe a deep pain in me. It’s raining, the light is strange and stormy. We’re sleeping with the window open, the cold night breeze full of wet garden smells. It’s a beautiful world here. Listening to Rose argue with Poppy about getting into her pajamas. Ruminating on research I’m doing about universal basic income schemes for an essay. It’s good to be able to stretch my brain when my heart is feeling so bruised. At least something makes sense to me.

For a little while the pain eases. I can breathe again, can see in colours other than blood red. Breathe them in, my lovely ones. Try to give them what I have, not only pain but poems, laughter, clean washing, so much love.

Shadows

Locked for precious moments alone and naked in the shadows. I’m safe at last among my ghosts, dreaming of the moments where art is as easy as vandalism. Running laughing along the edge of night with paint and knives in my hands, every window smashed behind me. All the trees burning. The smell of it. The apple trees on fire.

It’s a glorious day indeed when I don’t miss you. My pen runs away on the page, speaking atrocities with a blue black forked tongue.

There’s a wind on my back. Paint under my nails. Crushed by love and broken by hate there’s no trace left here of any of it, absolutely no scar, no signature. I’m free to start again.

I find the truth in the old words, and my hands come back from the netherworld, flickering between broken and whole. There’s sweetness like honey on my tongue, bitterness like tears.

I am not her. We are not her. We are not always her. She is us. Waiting like a skin slipped out of. She lingers in the shape of my mouth, the way one foot slips shyly beneath the other. The season turns. The lightning comes. I remember so many other nights like this.

Uncountable nights where I could not be captured. I ate the world and it ran wet down my chin. In the company of nightmares is the only safety I’ve ever really believed in. The only place I’m whole.

Using language to support parent infant bonding

Language is so powerful. When Poppy was born we found many people would frame our experiences or her behaviour in ways that were not helpful for us. It’s amazing how many of our common phrases ascribe bad intentions to the child. It may seem like nit picking to fuss over a word, but words build the story that impacts how we understand each other. They create the filter through which we interpret each others intentions.

I first learned about attribution theory in uni, studying psychology, and a lot of things clicked in my mind about people I’d known. Most anyone when depressed or overwhelmed sees the world and other people through a filter that makes the innocuous seem hostile and the mildly difficult downright sinister. Some of us are more prone to this more of the time, living in a world where grey runs to black. How we feel can strongly change the way we interpret others and the world around us.

Many of the stories created by common phrases used about children would pit Poppy against us, as if she was indifferent or even cruel. People would say things like she was “being a jerk” if she wouldn’t stop crying, was “too smart for her own good” if she climbed something and fell off, “had us wrapped around her little finger” if we went to comfort her after she fell over.

On one level this is a way to be light-hearted about the stress of parenting, laugh it off, and validate how awful and exhausting it can be! But for some, in the context of stress and sleep deprivation, this can also take the relationship between parent and child into dark and risky places.

It can be difficult to understand just how painful things can get if you haven’t been there. In the early months of Poppy’s life, I was often sick, very sleep deprived, and feeling at the end of my tether. I’ve noticed that a kind of flip in thinking can happen when things are really bad. If you feel stretched past capacity enough, at some point it feels like it’s not possible for everyone to survive. Survival instinct and maternal instinct start to contradict each other. The maternal (or parental) impulse to protect and nurture is powerful and we tend to see it as the norm. But it’s not always the way, and when threat levels are high and bonding is distorted it may diminish or become secondary. The impulse to protect the child may dissipate next to the sense that there’s simply not enough resources for everyone.

Things can get really desperate if the child’s behaviour is framed as a threat in some way to your own survival. The shift in thinking from ‘we are all in this together, having a tough time’ to ‘they are sucking me dry’ is a risky one both for the relationship and the child.

This interesting article, the neuroscience of calming baby explores what’s going on behind a common phenomenon – babies are calmer when carried and held but will often become distressed when put down. It talks briefly about how important it is to understand that this is an inbuilt mammalian response, to “save parents from misreading the restart of crying as the intention of the infant to control the parents”. Soberingly, this is important because “unsoothable crying is a major risk factor for child abuse”. This is not in any way to blame a child for being harmed, or to excuse harm done to children. It is to examine the context in which otherwise devoted, well intentioned parents can find themselves struggling with furious impulses or not coping.

Ascribing bad intentions to a baby starts to activate a sense of threat, that the child is wilfully harming the parent, deliberately denying them basic needs of food, sleep, and relief from distress. When bonding is good and parent needs are getting met, these things don’t matter so much. But in harder times they can contribute to a sense of being tortured by the child rather than by the circumstances. It’s desperately important to see a child’s distress as distress rather than an attempt to control, manipulate, or do harm. Language is part of how we do this, helping to interpret and contextualise so we don’t distort what we’re experiencing.

It’s also critical not to set up impossible expectations such as “when you cry I will make it better for you” with a child. Overburdened by this sense of responsibility, parents are at risk of feeling intense distress in the form of failure, agitation, and frustration if confronted by distress they cannot sooothe or silence.

Rose and I translated a lot of common sayings when we encountered them. Someone would say to us things like:

  • “She’s fighting sleep” and we would agree but shift the intention- “yes, she’s struggling to sleep today”
  • “She’s not a very good baby” becomes “she’s having a hard time settling at the moment”
  • “She’s got you wrapped around her little finger” becomes “she sure is a little cuddle-bug”

This was incredibly helpful for me in a few instances where I was struggling. In early weeks I was prodromal (warning signs of psychosis) partly due to severe sleep deprivation. I would get Poppy confused with Tamlorn, the little one I miscarried. Rose and I would tag team Poppy all night to give each other some sleep. There have been times I’ve handed Poppy over in sobbing distress and Rose has taken her out for a morning drive because my nerves are shredded by her crying and my nipples are mangled from her biting and I’m losing it.

It makes a difference to understand that Poppy is behaving as she is supposed to, not to harm me. Human babies often want to be held all the time and use crying to signal fear, pain, hunger and every need they have. It’s also a biological norm for infant crying to send us round the twist, and being able to see our own limits coming up without hating ourselves for them is valuable. Infant needs can be more than a parent can meet, or impossible to understand at times. Nurtured infants need nurtured parents and few of have invested in those kinds of communities before bringing a baby into the world.

Parent needs are deeply important to meet in order to buffer that sense of threat and reduce the fight/flight response being activated in distress. Staying out of crisis mode is partly achieved by treating adult needs as real and significant, and using language wisely to tell the most helpful story about the situation.

So we found it helpful to say ‘squeaking’ instead of ‘screaming’ for example. “Our little person is squeaking again” sounded less dramatic and helped us keep perspective. We talked about “witching hour” and planned around the time every evening that Poppy would be overwhelmed and inconsolable. We used baby wearing to manage her desire to be close in a way that reduced our fatigue and back pain, learned how to rest her face on our shoulder so her screaming didn’t go right into our ear, and use as a mantra “I’m here with you, you’re not alone” in place of wanting to fix it when nothing was working.

In our case, ‘colic’ was managed by reducing stimulation. The lights went off every night at 6pm, Poppy had a warm bath as soon as she started becoming distressed, and we didn’t go out in the evening for many months until she passed through the phase.

Language is a big part of what helped us navigate these huge challenges well. The risk of psychosis in the early days, serious difficulties with breastfeeding, and a baby with undiagnosed functional lactose overload and colic caused by sensory overwhelm. Combined with 2 deaths in the family and a range of illnesses for Rose and I, it was not an easy start. We were and are ecstatic to have Poppy, she is an absolutely beautiful, loving, curious, adventurous child. Tending to the stories we told and the language we used helped us to bond together during those difficult times.

Many creative projects

I made it into my studio for a few precious hours today. I bought this lovely drying rack for hanging wet artworks, and worked more on my illustrated poem project. You can see some of the pages drying on the new rack here:

I have been often ill lately with high pain levels and have not had as much art time as I’d hoped. The top priorities I’m keeping up with: my time with family, my studies, work gigs of various kinds.

I was very pleased to collaborate recently with the Greens SA and paint creatures of the Great Australian Bight during a listening post. Illustrating campaigns that are close to my heart is a special joy.

I was also honoured to be part of a panel at Uni SA about alternative responses to psychosis. I spoke from my Psychosis without Destruction perspective. I gave a brief illustrated presentation using journal entries from my first two episodes, and the body painting I did during my second episode which resolved it.

I am keeping up with my public health studies and learning French. I’ve just handed in an assignment exploring the social determinants of health and proposing an intervention intended to reduce cardiovascular illness for people with severe mental illness.

I was planning an exhibition for my birthday but I’m going to push it back a month or so and see how my health goes. I’m happy with my priorities right now. Family, study, and work are all going well and art and other projects fit in where and as I can. 💜

An easy life

Some time ago I decided to make some life changes to reduce stress. I went looking for where I could shift things to be on the ‘easy setting’, given how many things I can’t change that are very much on the difficult setting in my life. My propensity to love people who have suffered greatly shifts that dial right the way over to ‘challenging’. But one area I could easily change was my garden. I had a lovely full pottager garden (a busy mix of flowering and edible plants) which I could no longer keep up with since Poppy came along. Last year was exhausting for me with heavy caring responsibilities and my health has been rough this year so I’m glad I got ahead of this.

With some wonderful help, my garden has been hugely reduced. We removed the rosemary bush, a lovely pomegranate shrub, a huge jade plant, many geraniums, and mostly what is left are my roses. It was really hard! Paradoxically, I love this new garden more. I can see and appreciate the roses better, I’m out in it almost every night weeding and watering. Our succulents are coming along well and will thrive in pots among the roses. Now that it needs much less care I feel less overwhelmed and it actually gets much more care than before. It’s a source of joy again instead of angst. And roses I’ve hardly looked at in years are suddenly center stage again and breathtakingly beautiful. 

It’s been a delightful week. I’ve taken a little time off to cope with health troubles and that’s eased the depression and mental pressure. I’m enjoying my studies hugely and excited about my work and art projects. A new exhibition is in the works which is wonderful, and I’ve started writing my Multiplicity book again after a very long hiatus. I’ve also taken up French lessons through the very cool app Duolingo. I’ve started seeing a new therapist. I’m experimenting with antidepressants and herbal supplements. Life is good.

Today we dusted off our bikes and patched up the tyres for our first ever family rides. It was wonderful. I’ve been wanting to get more physical activity happening for myself but unable to stretch the budget to include sporting fees and memberships for all the exciting things I’d love to be doing like dancing, kayaking, kick boxing… When the depression overloads me the obstacles are so overwhelming. Yet I’ve had a bike in the shed I haven’t ridden in years but loved and saved up for a long time to get. I’d still love to learn fitness pole and wind surfing but right now cycling is accessible and Poppy loved it. 

I have been earning enough money to pay for my studio rent, supplies, and a new membership with the Society for Children’s Illustrators and Book Writers. I feel so proud of this, to have my art and work paying its own costs and even easing the tight family budget makes me feel really good. It’s not the full time work I was aiming for, but with part time study and rest and recovery time needed for health, it’s good. It’s a big achievement and I’m looking forward to more of the sense of peace and accomplishment that the shifts and growth have been creating. Some things are very hard but not everything needs to be. 

Illustrated poem

I recently attended a book making workshop by wonderful local illustrator Sally Heinrich. Since then I’ve been working on illustrating one of my poems.

This is exactly what I’ve been wanting to do for years with my illustrated presentations, to convert them from PowerPoint slides and spoken words to beautifully books. I’ve been learning a lot about illustrations for print over the past 6 months and loving it. The synthesis between word and image just clicks for me. I’m very glad that art has been liberated from the requirement of narrative traditions, but I’m also glad to be finding my own passion for story.

The workshop and project has helped clear a mental block that’s come along with a great deal of sickness this year for me. I love good creative training and workshops, the best are safe creative spaces to fill in knowledge gaps that bringing some unattainable desire within reach. I adore being able to learn art for the love of learning without having to fit my work to a schedule of assessments or the limiting ideas of ‘real art’ of a supervisor. After some inspiration at Writer’s Week too, I’m extremely happy to be writing and painting between work and study. Public health has started up again and if anything I’m enjoying it even more than last trimester. It is such an excellent fit with my values and passion. I’m working towards an exhibition for my birthday this year again. I’ll keep you posted.

Dancing with depression

I’ve been feeling raw and bleak at times lately. Today I was diagnosed with PCOS (a hormone condition) and PMDD (a sensitivity to certain hormones that causes a bunch of symptoms – my biggest struggle is severe depression on day 1-2 of my cycle. Given I already have mild endometriosis and severe adenomyosis, it’s making Poppy feel like a miracle and I’m holding her pretty close.

I’ve also had a severe digestive virus and a UTI/bladder infection which has knocked me for six.

It’s been a rough 6 weeks for me with many illnesses half of which have me quarantined and infectious. In between illnesses I’m happily enjoying downtime, and sunshine, and art, and chasing up friends for some much needed connection. I’m also about to be back in my studio working on a project dear to my heart which is exciting.

I’ve been rereading Lost Connections by Johann Hari recently which is a beautiful and well thought out book. Strangely enough in the light of it I’m about to try intermittent dosing of an antidepressant to see if it might help me manage the one two unpredictable days a month my head caves in. I don’t have a lot of treatment options left to try.

There’s a strange path I’m finding myself walking. Sadness, grief, loneliness all need to be heard and made space for. Given voice and listened to deeply. And the mind and heart also needs tending to ease them. It’s not a desperate fight against depression. It’s being open to it and the messages of it. Accepting and attentive and compassionate. While also working to be restored. The duality is strange. Burdened by a culture that sets us up to fight with our own mind and tries to numb our alarm systems instead of meeting needs and down regulating over sensitive alarms, I’ve swung far in the other direction of accepting whatever comes. Blown about on the tides. Actively working to change my state of mind or feelings is, in a way, as odd to me as most people find accepting and listening to them to be.

I have been lonely and sad at times lately. Two of my close friends are struggling with severe suicidal feelings. I miss spending more time with them. Did you know loneliness makes you much more susceptible to catching sicknesses? I’m reaching out when I can, being part of things. Glad for many good folks around me. Rose is, when she’s well enough, taking good care of me. We’ve been doing a lot of work to listen and empathise and reconnect and we’re feeling so much closer.

I’ve taken on temporary admin role in a beautiful online friendship group in crisis. I love groups and I’ve missed my groups lately. I’m hoping I can help restore some safety and sense of belonging.

I need some Narnia time out in the wilds, feeling the universe as a poem. I need my hands in earth, my feet in the woods. I need meaningful work and hope. I have a few more weeks before uni starts up again. I got a Distinction (84) in Epidemiology (honours level) so I’m feeling good about that, but I may drop a class to ease the stress if the health challenges continue. There’s a future there for me.

I’ve been struggling under the burden of several complex and sensitive old abuse issues for folks I love that I can’t speak about. A few recent days I’ve allocated to work or a Poppy adventure day, I’ve found myself spending most of it crying and calling helplines instead. I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of navigating these relationships and conversations safely, compassionately, and fairly. Hopefully I’ll find a new support person soon.

In the meantime, in between sickness and sadness I watch the sun through the leaves. I touch Rose’s fingers, how soft and beautiful they are. I comb Poppy’s silky hair, listen to her stories, keep house.

And it’s the other way around too.

In between the most beautiful and tender life I suffer painful moments of sickness and sadness.

They weave in and out of one another. I’m here, hurting, and bursting with love. Holding it all to my heart.

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.