Art about loss

I’m working on business development a lot at the moment, with the idea that I’m running two – one as an artist and the other as a consultant. But life continues to be demanding, and I find myself at times running away from my consulting and hiding in my studio.
This week loss and grief were in my heart.

This artwork was painted with two carefully chosen inks: called Rose and Heart of Darkness. I’ve waited years to be able to afford Heart of Darkness and more to have it available after a manufacturing shortage. It’s beautiful. I’m working with a dip pen rather than a fountain pen here and the line variation is glorious. 

I’ve always loved my poem and ink painting combinations, inspired by Haiga. This has been created using a Diamine shimmering ink called Silver Seas. 

I had a tough day today but I’m finding soft places to fall, good people and good mentoring. We’ll get through things, and I’ll keep working. I’m blogging on my phone while sitting in the backyard, nursing Poppy and soaking up the change in the weather. It’s a beautiful life, for all that it’s hectic and stressful and sometimes needs more of me than I have. The sky is silver and smells of rain. My heart, though bruised, is full. 

TEDx Behind the Scenes

tl:dr Being a TEDx speaker has involved a lot of background work in many areas for me. Also, I now I have a mailing list. It will be great for staying up to date with my events, launches, openings and so on. You can sign up here.

I’m pretty sure the volunteer organisers behind TEDx have had a much bigger job than I have, but it’s been a huge project for me as a volunteer speaker too. I was thinking about it the other day and how much goes into making something like this happen, so little of which is evident on the stage (all going well, that is). It’s felt like several fairly large projects interconnected, for me.

Talk Preparation

The most obvious project has been preparing for my talk. It took me several weeks to craft the script. Emotionally Safer Sex is a huge topic I’m really passionate about. The format of TEDx is very different to what I’m used to in my other speaking experience. I don’t usually write a script but instead have a series of dot points to keep me on track, and I can expand or shrink the points depending on my audience. I also never memorise it – that’s been taking me way back to drama class at school. The sense of pressure is a lot higher due to the larger audience, tighter time frames (pretty rare for me to speak for under 15 minutes!), lots of other moving pieces, and the filming.

Illustrating the talk stalled for a bit because I found I needed to completely restructure it to shave off 5 minutes. Also because I loved the idea of creating large scale paintings that could be hung at SHINE SA during my residency… but changing the format so much from what I’m familiar with was too much to deal with. I found it most productive to go back to small scale ink paintings as I usually do for talks.

Online Abuse and Trolls

One concern I had going into the TEDx talk was the possibility of dealing with some abuse once the video went up. It’s a personal, sensitive topic and I’m female (or female presenting) which can mean trouble online. I did a bit of looking into what other people’s experiences have been and was pretty horrified by what I heard. At least one other TEDx speaker has had significant ongoing troubles with harassment and abuse since their talk. They described a regular torrent of dick pics, rape threats, and death threats. That gave me pause.

I had to really think about what I am doing this, and what price I’m prepared to pay for it. I reached out to a number of people I know navigating public life and gathered some resources. If this happens to me (it may not!) I want to have a strategy on hand to deal with it. The methods I use at the moment work well for the level of abuse I currently encounter, which is only occasional. Sometimes I deconstruct it publically such as this anonymous email and this facebook post. Often I simply let it go. Sometimes I engage directly.

Like bullies, online abusers are diverse. There is no one best right approach. Calling them all trolls is unhelpful. Sometimes people are trolling – ie deliberately trying to provoke a response because they are sadists and pain and distress amuse them. But it’s certainly possible to be abusive without being a sadist. Other people are angry or hurt and lashing out. Abuse often comes my way when I am dealing with someone suicidal, for example. When I was a kid in school I was bullied by many different kids for very different reasons. Some lacked empathy and had a lot of power. Others were being abused at home and taking out their frustrations on me. Some were simply making sure that someone else was at the bottom of the pecking order. Some were attacking anything different without even understanding why it made them feel so uncomfortable. Different bullies needed different approaches, and those of us who are attacked have different resources and skills available to deal with it.

So I get pretty frustrated at the ABC advice out there – sometimes ‘don’t feed the trolls’ is the way to go and sometimes it means you don’t get to say the things you need to, to take care of yourself, or a troll attacks you and savours your silent suffering instead. Sometimes silence is the language of power and sometimes it’s just being silenced and blaming the victim for crying out when they are harmed.

Amanda Palmer and John Scalzi are two people who’s approach to abuse I admire. Scalzi grades his hatemail. Palmer gathers so much support from her community online that mostly the abuse is drowned out. When it can’t be – she withdraws and is hurt for a time. Then she comes back. Pretending to be okay isn’t her style.

So there’s been an interesting reflective and investigative process started on the side since TEDx kicked off. What happens online and how are people dealing with it? At the moment I’m feeling okay about my approach. I know where to reach out if that changes.

Post Show Blues

A long term issue for many performers – I’ve just learned. That’s rather helpful to know! I have written about this many times, which is handy because I’m giving it a lot of attention at the moment. Why is it sometimes much worse than others? What helps me? I wrote about the crash afterwards for me from the Voices Vic Conference. Things were a little different after speaking at the World Voice Hearing Congress because that was the time that Rose was dealing with an assault. At first it looked like caring for her helped me skip the post talk crash. But no, I found it had merely delayed, my journals show that the next week I was in a really rough place.

It’s not always talks that set it off, sometimes I meltdown following intrusive intake assessments or being interviewed. There’s possibly two different processes going on for me – a vulnerability hangover from being alone and naked in front of the crowd as well as post show blues from the wrap up of a big project and rest phase of energy cycles.

But it’s not always the same, sometimes it is more like the ISPS conference At the end where it was a very gentle experience of transitioning out of that space. I experienced it intensely this week after merely doing a talk run through with the SHINE SA staff – which surprised me greatly. So I’ve been thinking and reading about this too – why do I give talks considering how they impact me? Why do they sometimes have a worse impact than others? What helps other people deal with it? What might work for me?

So far my plan for TEDx is to:

I’ll see how that works. Maybe I get better at handling these, or maybe I do less of them, I don’t know yet.

Business Development

Will I be ready to reach for opportunities that might come? TEDx is a bigger platform, not just for my ideas, but for my work. One of my first conferences was interstate, speaking as a mental health service user about my experience of peer workers. It was the first time I had ever stayed in a hotel. I was caring for a family member who had been in terrible crisis for months. Just before I left I discovered they had a suicide plan in play during my trip. I was drowning and clutching to my work to help look after my own fragile mental health. I arranged boarding for the pets, hospital for my loved one, and finishing painting my last illustration a few minutes before leaving for the airport.

I got a standing ovation and a lot of hugs. Someone approached me about creating a logo for their new NFP. People wanted to buy my poetry and share it. A book publisher gave me his card and asked me to get in touch. I was ecstatic and overwhelmed. I went and hid in the toilets until everyone left for the next talk.

Then I came home to the anguish and exhaustion waiting for me there, and I did not have what it takes to reach out. I still have the publishers business card and contacting him is still on my to do list. Many of the opportunities dried up before I could grasp them, and others were so overwhelming I never even tried. Responsibilities elsewhere, life crisis, and anxiety kept me down.

I have some big dreams. I want to support my family and use my skills in the world in a sustainable way. The gap between where I have been and where I am going is huge and some of it is about networks, some about skills, and some about managing the psychological shifts. It is in the things I don’t know, and the things I don’t know I don’t know. My sense of value of myself, of entitlement, of morality. The culture that is my norm, my people and the tremendous tension in trying to stay connected and at the same time, leave for something better. Honor my past, love my tribe, but build a better future.

So I’ve started a process of business development with Christina from Creative Consultancies and recruited help in the form of an awesome Office Manager. I am setting myself up. A new website will be coming soon, and in the meantime, a clearer business with better project management, admin structures, and marketing processes. I’m already holding off a number of people and exciting project opportunities while I get my ducks in a row so I can schedule my time better and pick up those I love most without winding up working until 3am on a regular basis.

I’ve also finally set up something people have been asking for for years – a mailing list to keep people updated with the big events without having to trawl my blog to find the details. Once TEDx is done, I’ll send out the first email.

Now I’m going to run off to the Adelaide town hall to check out which of my outfits works better and do yet another run through of my script. There’s still some tickets left if you want to come. Wish me luck!

Developing my business

It’s been a fantastic day. I’ve spend the morning working on business development and TEDx preparation, and the afternoon adding to the underpainting of my oil painting from the techniques of the masters class I’m doing. 

I’ve taken some big steps investing in my business and I’m feeling less confused and a lot more excited. For starters I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do and hiring an office manager with special skills in marketing. Outsourcing my weakest areas! She’s brilliant and I’m incredibly excited to be working with her. This means several things fur me. For starters, much better biographies, such as: 

Sarah K Reece is a creator and humanitarian, whose portfolio is as diverse as their experiences.

A survivor of homelessness, domestic violence, and trauma, Sarah draws on personal experience of tragedy, joy, passion, and the complexity of human relationships to create art that connects people. Sometimes confronting and always compassionate, Sarah’s art delves into hidden, private, or marginalised experiences, expressed with aching beauty and quiet joy. They work in oil painting, inks, body painting, sculpture, poetry, and book making, among many other media.


Sarah is known for their work within the mental health community, partnering with government agencies, NGOs, and volunteer organisations to help them create better relationships with their service users, and to service servicing the community with innovative and authentic approaches. They have also been interviewed on their experience with multiplicity by organisations such as Muse Magazine, The Messenger, Radio Adelaide, and SANE Australia.


In their travels Sarah has met with then Prime Minister Julia Gillard to discuss service user experiences; presented internationally (including for Google and Hearing Voices International Conference); co-designed, facilitated, and illustrated a state-wide consultation process for the SA Mental Health Commission; worked with a team to create the short film Regeneration (awarded Best Drama Under 10 Minutes in the Picture This Film Festival); written over 1000 blog posts since 2011; hosted their own solo exhibitions; and donated thousands of unpaid hours to developing and facilitating social networks and support groups face to face and online.


Sarah offers consulting services related to their fields of expertise, and is always on the lookout for their next big adventure.


Isn’t that great? And accurate and feels like me… I’m starting to get along with marketing now I’ve realised the good stuff isn’t slick or manipulative. 

The other thing this means that once I get my act together, I’m going learn better time management skills and between that and extra help I will actually get on top of my emails! I can’t wait to see how much better I’ll sleep without 4,000 emails in my inbox. 

Things are coming along well. I have a week to memorise my script for TEDx, and it’s been really good fun to spend time with the other speakers. If you haven’t bought a ticket yet (it includes dinner and after party) you can grab it here.

There’s some fantastic projects being sent my way, I can’t wait to see what happens next. 

What am I about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are only two languages, love and fear.

-Leunig

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

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

Rethinking Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Consulting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thriving

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

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

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

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

New Office, new Studio

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

And my studio currently looks like this:

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

Artworks for the SA Mental Health Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My dogs in the newspaper

My dogs on the website

My dogs on a banner

Nesting under critters

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

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

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

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

Ink on my fingers

Today was lovely. Rose is on the mend. I’ve taken a few days off work for everything not urgent, and rallied the tribe to help keep Rose and Poppy company during the couple of meetings or gigs I needed to attend. I’m feeling better myself after getting a bit more sleep – Poppy seems to have reached her sleep regression a bit early, she’s stopped one of her day time naps and is sometimes up in the small hours too. Last night Rose walked her around the block so I could rest up a bit too after cluster feeding her in bed for several hours, and today Rose slept while I looked after Poppy. 

My headspace crashed when I got sick too, but today I really enjoyed myself. I am feeling a little obsessive about some new art supplies and enjoying researching them and how to use them. I played with inks and typographies, and got back onto Pinterest. I’ve also been cooking the past few days which I love. I’ve made warm chicken salad, cauliflower soup, warm pumpkin and sweet potato salad, and pear and rhubarb crumble. As much as I love working I really do enjoy some aspects of home life, and I’ve missed cooking. We are now looking at doing a bit of a roster for cooking because Rose appreciates a bit of time off and having a nice meal made for her too. 

It’s also been really nice to hang out with Poppy all day. She finally fell asleep at 3pm after being grouchy all day and I tucked her up under a blanket and just snuggled her on my chest and smelled her hair for an hour. It was magic. Star and I walked with her to the local playground and we planned parties. Star, Rose, and Poppy all have birthdays within a week of each other! This will be our first year trying to balance them all. I’m determined to make sure all my girls feel special.

I’m also looking into professional development opportunities, trying to figure out which skills to strengthen for my business. There are some very interesting graphic design, illustration, and media communication courses out there, but so far nothing part time or flexible enough to fit around my work… Doula studies also really interest me but the unpredictable career seems challenging to combine with my other responsibilities. Community consultation has been an incredible joy to be part of, but SA is a small pond for work like that. Extending my skills in service design and evaluation, and organisational culture could be an excellent fit, but again the career is a little uncertain. Certainly there are books calling my name to write them, but only madmen consider writing a viable career. I’d love to add some more skills around arts administration and curating too, and graduate level public health is interesting as is community development and policy writing. I just can’t quite see where my next step is or what my particular career path might look like, so it’s hard to know where to prepare and what skills to strengthen. Hmmmm! 

I’m ecstatic to be working full time between my various skills, and determined to grow my business. I’d like to be secure enough to move my family into a larger home in private rental, and to wean off welfare as much as possible. Currently I’m supporting Poppy to have swimming lessons and keeping a second vehicle running for Star to have driving lessons in and I can’t tell you how proud that makes me. I went to the chemist when Rose got sick and pulled $100 from savings and spent it all on medications and vitamins and probiotics and didn’t need to go without a basic need to do so. I don’t really recommend adopting a teenager, having a baby, and starting full time work within the same 18 months, it has been brutal at times and the bad days are pretty black. I have never worked so hard in all my life. But it’s also wonderful, so many dreams come true. I endure the bad days with help from friends, and soak up the rest as best I can. Keeping a small person (and the rest of us) alive for a whole year feels like a massive achievement and I’m looking forward to celebrating it!

Home again, home again

Safely home from the most wonderful trip now, and back into the throes of admin. But I’ve started reading again and I’m so happy about it. 4 books on the go currently, all amazing – Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett (magnificent fiction with a physical and fantastical bent), Somebodies and Nobodies by Robert W Fuller about the essential nature of rank and the hidden abuses of rankism, The Peter Principle by Lawrence J Peter about the inevitable incompetence built into hierarchical structures, and The Brainy Bunch by Kip Harding about an unschooling approach that swaps high school for college and supports kids to follow their passions.

Today I input a years worth of income and expenses. Go me! Accountant appointment first thing tomorrow. It was good to take a real break from all this, my head is much clearer. Just have to get through everything booked into the end of this financial year and I’ll be happy as a mudlark. But for now, it’s date night and we’re off to the late movies with a sleepy baby and toddler size earphones. 😀

Busy and Happy

Running around between consultations and wrestling with the office printer today… First colour run of a stunning zine submitted by a local group for the South Australian Mental Health Commission consultation to develop the next Mental Health Strategic Plan… and it’s beautiful. I’m very tired but very happy. 

Poppy is doing better

We all came home from hospital once Poppy no longer needed a nasal gastric tube to help with the dehydration. There was an influx of sick kids needing the  beds and they were pretty confident the test results would show she had a bout of gastro that was resolving. We brought her home Monday evening, did fluid tracking for another 24hrs during which time she continued to improve.

So it was a bit of a shock to follow up with her doctor on Wednesday and learn that her test results were not consistent with gastro (not to mention that no one else we know has it or had caught it since she became sick). Brain injury and meningitis were ruled out, which is a relief. But we’re not really sure what happened. And she’s continued to be off colour since. She was severely dehydrated so we’ve been told that if she shows signs of dehydration again, spikes a fever, or vomits twice in a row we’re to take her back to Hospital for assessment. We haven’t needed to do that, thankfully. But it was a long week following.

She’s vomiting once severely every few days, has low urine output, and isn’t sleeping well. Her latch has changed and nursing is painful and leaving blisters.

So we’ve been keeping her close, running on very little sleep, and keeping an eye on her. 9 months in we’ve done both my nightmare parenting scenarios- both parents very sick at the same time, and baby very sick with gastro type issues on a camp. Ye gods. 

So that’s where things are up to. Work is wonderful but incredibly busy and intense. Rose and I both worked at times this week and are frantically catching up on housework and meal prep. I came home wired, excited, and exhausted​ recently and just dropped all my bags by the front door and spent an hour getting muddy in the front garden with Poppy. I knew if I walked in the house I would collapse​ on the couch and not move again. But digging up weeds and getting my hands in soil amidst the last autumn roses was exactly what I needed to calm and breathe again. Sometimes checking out at the end of the day isn’t resting it’s just disconnecting. 

I’ve also been reading about secondary lactose intolerance which can happen following a viral infection that temporarily damages the villi in the intestines, making it difficult to process dairy and breast milk. As the gut heals the villi grow back and bubs can digest everything again, but it might explain the ongoing illness aspect of this. Our GP agrees so we’re just taking it gently while Poppy recovers. If things don’t improve we’ll explore possible allergies but I’m hopeful we’ve got things sussed out. 

Yesterday Poppy spent her first afternoon in day care, which went really well. It’s a Family day care run by a friend with a similar parenting approach to us. There’s a sandpit and opportunities for playing in mud, and a cat and chickens and lots of books. Poppy is very adventurous and fascinated by other children so we’re hopeful that with the right approach she’ll find staying there a treat. Frankly I wouldn’t mind checking in for a couple of days playing in the garden myself. We’re very lucky to have such a quality option close by, it’s a far cry from some places I’ve been in with their obsessive sterilising of toys and anxiety about the weather. 

I guess it’s a little bit like mental health care that way, the most expensive, shiny, clinical settings are often where the worst ‘care’ happens, while the underfunded, homey drop in centre can be where the profound interpersonal skills and human connection that saves lives happens. That kind of ‘impressive professional looking’ and ‘human’ so rarely go together. 

So she and other children played and explored and cuddled and ate together. Rose and​ I fretted quietly. When I went to pick her up she was fast asleep so I sat with her until she woke. On seeing me she cried a little and we talked and cuddled until she felt better. She nursed and slept in my lap all evening, catching up on contact. I felt the mix of anxiety, relief, bewilderment, gratitude, and frank surprise that this is my life that has been a part of parenting since the beginning. We keep feeling our way forwards. My days are bookended by absolute joy.

The Nature of Adventure

We’re away for the long weekend, staying with a friend. Desperately needed, I’m hovering on the edge and need daily effort to help me get back to an okay baseline. I’ve had to put a lot of thought into getting out of work mode and being aware of the impacts of all the changes. It’s been the most wonderful thing to get out of our routine and away from work and clear my head. 

I hadn’t prepared for how different traveling with a baby is! We’re not that experienced at traveling with Star, adding Poppy has been a steep learning curve. We’ve had a couple of super stressful nights with very little sleep and a hysterical tiny person suffering night terrors who will only settle with Star… go figure. So it’s been a weird holiday, absolutely brilliant and restful in some ways, really stressful in others. Lots of work happening to maximise the former and minimise the latter!

We tried a different approach to sleep arrangements last night and Poppy only woke up 4 times, tears but no night terrors. I feel fairly human today now. By last night I was a wreck. It’s tough! 

Yesterday Star and I explored one of the sink holes in town and rose gardens along side it with our cameras. I’ve transferred to a new phone and the camera is amazing. I particularly love macro photography and looking for things we don’t usually record. There’s such a mindfulness aspect to photography where you really pay attention to what’s around you. It’s a delight to see Star enjoying​ it.

Still adapting to my new full time working life. My two main current contracts take a lot of management and I’m making plenty of rookie mistakes there too and learning rapidly. I’ve been taking heart from a great quote about how an expert is a person who has made every possible mistake in a very narrow field… the mistakes are tough but absolutely invaluable and I’m learning loads. Mostly I only make them once. Sometimes the issues and blocks and skills take more time.

Noticing things like the sense of burden that has come with the transition to being the primary breadwinner in our family. The way that I no longer really notice if the lounge is a mess but suddenly Rose who didn’t used to care, feels stressed by it. Transition of roles. I’m determined to use my time as lead parent and household manager to help me be a good breadwinner partner who gets the stress of those roles and provides excellent support. We’re discussing how we share the load and use our skills best, what to do about the areas that neither of us are great at, or both find really stressful. Rose after 10 + years in the workforce is doing the same in reverse.

My first big pay came through a couple of days ago, the first time I’ve been the earner in our relationship. Rose spent the day quite stressed and checking in with me if I was upset or angry with her. We call this her ‘foster kid mode’ and it’s one of her threat responses to particular kind of stress. Sometimes it means I’m leaking suppressed anger or taking control in ways I shouldn’t. Sometimes it’s nothing to do with me but some other stress going on. By evening we took a couple of minutes to check in together and investigate what was setting it off. The massive change in our dynamics and the fresh vulnerability of money in different roles was what came up right away. We named it and that was enough to bring down the stress for now. Simply bringing things into view safely is so valuable.

I’ve brought my usual rest and relaxation things with me and found it’s not quite working. Even making art, which I’m enjoying, is not settling me like it usually does. A whirring anxiety is chronically present in my chest. Today we did Easter gifts, Rose arranged chocolates and something else for everyone. Star was given a jigsaw puzzle. She and I started it this morning and I calmed. Now that art is part of my working​ life in a much bigger way, making it is still triggering that sense of trying to be productive. It’s still output. ‘Doing’, not the ‘being’ I so desperately need in order to calm down. Everything changes, the risks are no longer what they used to be.

So much has changed. At the moment, while I navigate new work, new roles, new cultures, new relationships, new clients, new kinds of work, two kids at home and all the differences that come with this, it is very much like a controlled period of crisis. I’m in a stage of intense personal development and high levels of self care. I’m learning from rookie mistakes such as- I can’t sustain working all day then doing housework all night. That skipping meals and running on constantly broken sleep isn’t sustainable. Or not making time to pump milk during my work day results in severe engorgement and bruising. 

Transition. Adaptation. Transformation. Moments of dark distress and others of pure magic. Learning how to be a family together, how to support each of the dreams we’ve all worked so hard for, how to attune and tend to each other. Yesterday was hard. Today is joyful. That’s the nature of adventures, and it’s what we’re teaching our girls. The hard walk up the hill gets the view. The effort to pack good supplies is rewarded when you have insect repellant on hand. It’s worth feeling a bit of fear about heights to be able to stand on the edge of the dormant volcano and see the swallows dancing over the dark water far below. To be alive.

The discomfort and hard work are the cost of the magic, those moments of bliss and awe and feeling deeply. It doesn’t need to be perfect to be absolutely wonderful and worthwhile. (something the disability community are constantly trying to get us to understand) 

There’s always a cost, to everything, your values, your goals and dreams, everything. The secret seems to be to try and keep the costs bearable, and then to bear them willingly. Don’t allow them to steal the joy or consume all your attention. 

In a way it’s hard to define, the costs seem to be part of the magic. Those who have wealth enough to insulate themselves from all of some kinds of costs, who helicopter to the view instead of hike, find themselves insulated also from the wonder and the beauty. My friends who have a lot of money are dissatisfied by and return to the kitchen meals that being me great joy. Dissociation is social and financial as much as it is personal. 

Striving seems to be part of it all, the burn in your muscles and pebble in your shoe that demands attention. An indulgent endless diet of dessert loses joy. A life deeply lived and rich in experiences is one with risk and pain and discomfort and hard work, alongside joy and love and contentment and peace and awe. 

So there are adventures all around at the moment, personal and professional. I’m overjoyed and incredibly fortunate. Learning the new risks of burnout, the new skills to find my sustainable rhythms and follow my joy. Managing and embracing the costs. Living with my whole heart.

Learning new things

I’m really exhausted. So much had been going on lately and my usual energy cycles are being distorted. I’m struggling to keep rest, reflection, downtime, and debriefing spaces as everything is pushed into output. It doesn’t work of course, doing all the time is extremely unproductive. My generation tends to talk about how tired we are of ‘adulting’ but watching lovely tired 16 year old Star crash out on the couch the other night I thought it’s really not just about adults, is it? It’s about being responsible, hiding strong feelings, trying to be functioning, in output mode. It’s about being ‘on’ all the time and having your downtime feel numbing instead of refreshing. Its following the schedule that feels like it’s killing you because you don’t even have the energy to rebel. Its what happens when you fit a living organism to a mechanical structure. The ebb and flow energy cycles of one get pushed into the steady constant output of the other. The requirements of ‘public’ presentation – no strong feelings, disconnection from self, impulses, needs, intuition, it’s far far too many hours of forcing yourself to do things you really don’t want to do. Star flops down on the couch and I flop down on the armchair and there’s more shared ground here than difference. I’m struck as I have always been by the way we idealise young peoples lives and tell stories where responsibility, fatigue, and disconnection are only part of adult experiences. I want to be a good role model in my working life for her. 

Today I’ve had a good day, unexpectedly because this week has been a long session of crisis management and I barely slept last night again. But there have been good conversations and I’m hopeful things will improve for me. I spent the afternoon on the neighbours lawn while Poppy played. It was delightful. I feel human again. I’ve got ink on my fingers and I’m going to make cookies for dessert. 


Poppy took her first unassisted step today, not holding onto anything. I’m wrestling to keep myself going with the tremendous challenges of work. She’s struggling towards her own milestones, working just as hard, picking herself back up after falls. I’ve been embarrassed at how much support I’ve needed lately, I’m drawing on every resource I have to help me process and debrief. As I hold Poppy wailing from a head bump it seems we’re not so different. Learning new things and dealing with falls takes courage from us and love from the people around us.

I’m on YouTube: “Sarah K Reece on the enriched workplace”

So, I recently accepted the opportunity to speak on camera about mental health in the workplace for the SA Mental Health Commission. This is a big step for me! I’ve written before about the challenges of visibility for those of us who are multiple. I have moved from the written word, to public speaking, public blogging, radio, and now film. I am very proud of myself and very appreciative of the great people who worked with me on this project. Big shout-out to Tracey Hutt for awesome support during the filming, and the great film crew Mixed Mediums. 🙂 There was some back and forth discussion about whether it would be better for me to speak in person or on video about this. I’m very comfortable speaking in person for events, video is new territory for me. But I’m incredibly glad we went with the video – the event was today and I currently have laryngitis! Haha, fortuitous indeed!

California

Gofundme!

I have been invited to speak in California in June 2017, and I need to bring Rose and Poppy with me. My expenses are covered by the client, and I need to bring along my little support tribe so I can breastfeed and have Rose there to look out for me. I adore my talks but they can exact a toll, particularly when they are personal and a long way from home. So as with all my work I’m being careful to make sure I have backup and the resources I need to do my best work.

My family has started a Gofundme Campaign, through which I am offering lots of lovely art gifts to say thankyou. So, if you’ve benefited from my free resources, or just want to lend a hand as I develop my business, any help would be appreciated. For those who have already made a donation, please send me your mailing address and I shall send arty gifts!

If gofundme is not your thing, you can donate instead via

Bank Transfer to:
Sarah K Reece
BSB: 085-005
Acc: 24 376 1381
NAB

Paypal to skreece1@gmail.com via Paypal. This button will set up payment via Paypal or credit card:

PayPal Donate Button

Or you can mail a cheque or money order (please, no cash) to me at:

Sarah K Reece
PO Box 165
Brompton
South Australia
Australia 5007

You are still welcome to enjoy the gifts listed on gofundme – just give me your mailing address when you donate!

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Link me up

I’m also looking for additional work while I am there, so if you have any contacts in the US who might be interested in training, workshops, or an art exhibition, please get in touch! 🙂

Come along

I am in the process of arranging a free local talk and silent art auction in Adelaide for a fundraiser. Watch this space. 🙂

End of the working week 

My boss took this photo when Rose and Poppy joined us after work. It’s been a huge week and I’m glad to have reached the end of it. I need some downtime to digest, and some cuddles with my family. Poppy cried when I left this morning. Rose told me last night that her sixth tooth had broken through. I’m a working Mum now. I hear about these things instead of see them. Poppy cried and I kissed her and said goodbye and walked away. My heart feels a little broken. So I’m just making room for that. Listening to the wisdom of it. It’s a big heart and it’s been broken before. I’ve learned to pay attention. It’s telling me not to look away. Not to pretend I’m not doing this, or that it doesn’t hurt. To look her in the eye, look myself in the eye, acknowledge the cost and the sacrifice, acknowledge the hope and the joy. I leave my daughters with a gentle and devoted mother. I’m so lucky. They are loved. I come home and my heart tells me to sit. We watch the light fading in the trees together. Poppy wakes weeping from her nap. We sit far from the bustling world and do nothing at all together, nothing at all that can be measured or is productive or even visible. We just be, together. 

Sensory play

Yesterday I looked after Poppy solo for a few hours while Rose supported Star to go driving – she’s doing brilliantly as a learner! I decided it was a good day for some sensory play. I baked pear and rhubarb muffins while Poppy played with bread dough, ripe pear, and lavender flowers. Then we went outside in the light rain in the garden. Poppy played in the dirt and ate parsley leaves. I weeded the roses. It felt amazing. So alive and connected. I love finding these moments of calm amongst the busyness to just marvel at my daughters and my life. It’s hard work, incredibly hard work and long hours. I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder than I have these past couple of months with home and parenting and business and talks and face painting. But such a joy! 

Then we had a bubble bath together and washed away the dirt. Poppy napped in her hammock after nursing. I did a load of washing and drank a hot Chai latte and did an hour’s work. It was blissful, reading through research methodologies with a hot drink while my sweet baby slept.

I find I shift between feeling very connected and feeling like I’m babysitting someone else’s child. Working outside the home Mum challenge? Times like this seem to click things for me – when I’m caring for Poppy by myself, able to focus on her needs and get a bit of rest for myself too. I feel lighter and closer and my heart opens up. I’m pulling away from the idea that only one person’s needs can be met at a time. Sometimes that’s true, but sometimes thinking it must be that way all the time makes it hard to act differently… sometimes what Poppy needs is also what I need. Looking for the overlap there’s rich experiences there, a kind of synergy and peace. Exploring the garden barefooted in the rain. Blowing bubbles at each other in the bath. I didn’t know I needed that but it was exactly right. What we call sensory play for her we call grounding for me. Different language, same connection. ❤

I’m visiting America!

I’m very excited to announce that I will be coming to California towards the end of June 2017! I have been booked to speak at an event and I’m very looking forward to it. This will be my first time in America so I’m open to suggestions about travel, accommodation, people to catch up with, things to do and see. 🙂

So, if you are in America and would like to invite me to anything; to collaborate on a project, set up some training or education, facilitate a workshop etc then please get in touch! You can learn more about my work here. There will never be a better time as my expenses will be very low given that I’m already in the country. I’m also looking for an opportunity to host an art exhibition while I’m visiting. Talk to me if you have any ideas!

Poppy is still breastfed and Rose is my anchor so we are currently trying to work out how we can put together the funds to bring them both along. (Star has a flight phobia so she won’t be joining us)

This really does feel like my year 😀

I’m doing a lot of thinking for work at the moment and it occurred to me in the small hours recently that sometimes I’ve missed something important about being authentic. It’s a beautiful and tender kind of vulnerability to show one’s imperfections, lacks, losses, and pain. The soft underbelly we have all learned to hide, the tears we cry in secret. But it’s another kind of vulnerability to show our gifts, what we are good at, where we are shiny and brilliant. I’ve wrestled with that. I recall being in therapy at one point talking about how I developed the model for the peer based support group for people with multiplicity and/or dissociation and how I facilitated it, and having the trauma psychologist gravely inform me that I was describing highly skilled work for which I should be getting recognition and pay, work that few people could do. I filed that away and still struggled to write glowing resumes or really capture and share what I can do.

Right now my artwork adorns postcards and the website for the SA Mental Health Commission and I’m secretly afraid of people calling up to yell at the Commission for not choosing a better artist. Right now many of my friends employed in community services are looking for work in a sector struggling with the new NDIS funding model. So, after years of them being employed while I’m job hunting and trying to define my skills and find a place I fit, things are reversed. I’m so full of passion and joy. I’m a little afraid of sharing how wonderful things are when people around me are hurting. And I’m afraid of showing how brilliant I can be when most of us learn as kids that the fastest way to be hated is to get top marks on your assignments. I get wonderful news and run around to all my friends like a puppy dog – will you still like me if I’m successful? Tall Poppy Syndrome is scary.

samhc

The only reason I even know about the artists I love so passionately like Tim Burton, Michael Leunig, or Amanda Palmer are because they found a place in the world for their skills and some kind of success. It didn’t make them lesser people, it makes me lucky to be able to share in their work and enjoy what they do. So I’m being brave and putting some more language to my skills. And people around me are being kind about how scary this feels to me and helping me figure it out. I have finally taken the next step in my brilliant career! It fits with my commitment to be human and show in public what we hide in private. I love what I do and I’m good at it. I’m eyeball deep in frameworks and models and designing brilliant approaches. And my art is on display, communicating ideas in the universal visual language. Life is wonderful.

America, here we come!

A week of firsts!

Rose, Star, Poppy and I are all adapting to some huge and wonderful changes. I’ve been fortunate to have been contracted on some fantastic projects where I’m getting to stretch my brain and hone my skills. Digesting lots of information, exploring a variety of frameworks, working closely with a small team… there’s a fierce joy in me at getting to do what I love to do and pushing myself further than I’ve gone before. It’s not enough to sit safely on the sidelines, critiquing. Wrestling with language, concepts, assumptions, models, evidence, diversity, communication, connection, being part of creating something. It’s such a pleasure to work. I dress up in good clothes, and go away and work hard at something that’s deeply meaningful to me, with people I respect, and I get paid. The chronic struggle between Rose and I, each saddled with the role we want least, her with a job and me at home, has eased. There’s a calm and a peace as we settle into the roles we’ve most wanted all along and feel best suited to. 

I have done my first pump at work, carrying home precious bags of milk in an insulated lunch bag with a freezer block. Trying to figure out what to write on the sign on the door so no one walks in on me partly nude. It feels so strange and vulnerable! I’m very lucky that there are many women in my workplace who are mothers who once nursed and are sympathic and supportive. 

Rose has done her first 9-5 day with Poppy without me to nurse. She’s also done her first working from home where I care for Poppy. Rose cried a little to leave her. I took Poppy to play on the grass next door so she couldn’t hear every little grizzle and feel her heart ache. She came back brighteyed with pleasure at stretching her work wings again. Star is making sense of her third week of year 11. Star, Rose, and I have each been navigating renewed contact with cut off family members. The process is delicate, painful, hopeful, disappointing, exciting, and triggering. New bridges and fresh starts take courage and work and the risks aren’t always rewarded. Change everywhere. 

Transition is challenging.We’ve never done this before! We are stepping into the unknown and drawing on the grace and experience of others. Anxiety is high and rough nights with teething leave everyone short of sleep and limping along unable to shine the way we want to. I’m watching and noticing where the stress is and what’s working and what isn’t. I ride the waves of my stress, insecurity, and numbness, far out of my comfort zone but knowing I can do this, that this is where the growth is, where the opportunities are. This is what I’ve been working towards for so many years. 

If I can navigate the extreme stress of painful life changes like homelessness without self destructing then I can deal with self doubt, imposter syndrome, and new roles with patience. Tending myself, tending our family as we navigate new roles and routines and resources and pressures. Stretching us and getting a sense of our strength and capacity, where our joy lies, where our limits are. Building the routines that keep daily life running, and shaking loose of the schedule when we all need to break away a little, breathe a different air under a different sky. We are in the spring time of our family, all growing towards a bright sun.

Enjoying my work

I’ve had a wonderful few arty gigs this weekend, my anxiety low and my joy in being around kids and doing something creative high. It’s been a pleasure. The more I make sense of my ideas and values around professionalism the more I’m relaxing and able to be myself. I even shared a bit of lunch with the delightful family of a sweet 4 year old after creating glitter tattoos for her and her friends. 🙂


Even more magically – today while I was away face painting, POPPY DRANK 150MLS OF EXPRESSED MILK! Rose are I are ecstatic. This is a huge breakthrough for helping to reduce stress and anxiety around work. What a champion. 😀 It’s been a lovely couple of days. 

Some days you win

Today Rose held down the fort while I got a very needed sleep in. Then we swapped and I got Poppy to sleep on my back and did the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, hung a load of washing, planned dinner, and walked to the shops for ingredients. Some days you win.

My three lovelies have all been down with the flu. Sickness is hard. Yesterday all three were feverish and miserable when we had a blackout. Rose had the great idea of going to the beach to enjoy the cool wind there. It was beautiful. On the tough days I have to work so hard to contain my fear that I’m not enough, not good enough, not up to this, and that it’s always going to be this hard. Last night my beautiful girls cooled off in our van by the ocean while I read James Herriot by a battery powered lamp to them. Just like my Mum did for us.

I stood in the rain and felt it wash something dusty and old and indefinable from my skin. I splashed in the puddles and drank rainwater from the roses in my garden, sweet with the taste of the petals. The magic still works. I’m a Mum and so new at balancing all these needs and managing my anxiety and wearing so many different hats. I rocket between bright joy and deep contentment and intense frustration and jagged fear. But out in the night under the sweet water falling, I’m still who I used to be. Still enchanted by the world.

I don’t know how to balance it all. There’s days I give and keep giving, I turn myself over and over into what those around me need and I do it gladly or I do it through pain and exhaustion. I do it because that’s my job and I know how it feels to be young and to need someone.

There’s days I make time for myself and find I’m not sure what I need anymore, that I’m numbed and confused and it seems easier to keep giving instead but I can taste the trap in that, the way needs get disconnected and met secretly. I sit at white canvasses and hate what I draw, eat foods I don’t like, feel empty and twisted. The less I listen to my own heart voice the harder it becomes to hear.

And work too, my other great joy, trying to find how Mothers do this. How to stop my work being a kind of alarm that rings under all my time, telling me I am not doing enough and should be doing that instead. To be where I am and rest into plans and schedules and embrace the messiness and uncertainties and compromises with joy. I have worked so hard to have some kind of career. I have to remind myself that it’s okay to be inexperienced and uncertain, that it’s okay that I crave this other part of my life, that I need it too and that it also brings me such joy.

I’m so new at this. When my children are hurt or in danger there’s a panic in me like an atom bomb. I let it go off in the desert in my chest and keep breathing calmly – we’ve got this. My beloved Rose, so generous and kind, sleeps a million miles away on the other side of our bed and I find whole weeks go by where I barely kiss her and the ever present guilt – good enough partner? good enough mother? – drives me further away. But when I ask myself to be selfish I run to her across the room and dive into her arms. I remember my sweet love.

She holds Poppy and I burn my candles at both ends for short windows, replying to emails, painting, taking calls and making plans. Art comes to life all around me. A hailstorm of hope and relief. This is my place in the world. This is the work of my heart. And then the small hours, not doing but being. Poppy nursing by my side and the fuschia blooming through the window in tiny pink fireworks. Stroking Star’s hair. Sitting in the garden with a friend. Stirring soup on the stove. God in the small things. Another load of nappies pinned to the line.

Looking for the patterns through it all. Ways to be present, fully, all the different parts of me that need to be here to breathe the air. The children grow so fast while I am looking somewhere else. The opportunities wither if not grasped. I am loved and valued. My world is a garden full of life and I’m tending it, learning how to grow each different thing. Beyond grateful at my good fortune. Spending my self completely in these things I adore.

Waiting it out

I’m working on these two loom bead projects to help me manage the pain/boredom/frustration of over a week of early labour. The poppy design is a gift for Rose’s birthday coming up, she has a passion for these flowers since they bloomed all through our experience of getting pregnant and losing Tamlorn.

Still no sign of little frog, but everything is looking good and we have negotiated to have the inductions delayed by a week to give her and me a chance to go into labour naturally – which means a greater likelihood I’ll be able to manage contractions without needing to use methods of pain relief (ie meds) we know I have trouble processing. The week of early labour has been moving things along slowly, I’m 80% effaced and bubs is in a good position. Fingers crossed things keep moving along!

In the meantime I’m trying to figure out what project to pick up next – art, writing, study, employment… I put out a HVNSA newsletter the other day about the upcoming World Hearing Voices Day. For a year now I have strictly forbidden myself from doing anything on my networks other than maintaining the online discussion groups in order to focus my energy on paid employment. Giving myself a day to reply to emails and create the newsletter was actually a relief – in all the mess of trying to figure out income and the deep pain that topic causes me, I felt clear as an arrow to my chest, a strong sense of love for this work. This, and my arts, is what I want to be doing. This is where my heart is.

I have been delighted to have been approached by a number of people recently for public speaking work. I am booking in dates from September onwards. It’s good to have things to focus on I can actually do something about. 🙂