Zines and handmade books

I think my new asthma meds are starting to work, it doesn’t hurt as much to breathe today. 🙂 Thought I would share a project with you I finished a little while ago, the zine (handmade magazine) made in my workshop by the members of a local queer youth Drop In.

We had a really good time connecting over art supplies and exploring different things they wanted to say and different ways to express it. I first zine making workshops during the statewide consultation process I helped design and facilitate for the government last year, and of all the amazing submissions, it remains one of my favourites. Some of the entries brought people reading them to tears.

Sometimes amazing art is about tremendous skill with the medium and materials. Sometimes it’s an obsession with capturing the light, with pigments or clay, with developing your craft age pushing your skills to the masterful.

But sometimes it’s about the content. It make take 20 minutes with a biro and a folded piece of copy paper and still have the power to bring someone to tears. Zines can be great art in that way. Created in a few hours like this workshop, there’s simply no time for fretting about getting your prose perfect or how awful your drawing skills are, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s raw, imperfect, authentic. It captures something often lost in more considered, polished works of art. It’s a kind of consultation process in itself – what matters to you? What’s in your mind? It’s an ink blot analysis. When I give you this marker, what wants to come out of you? The speed at which these are made forces us past the anxieties that great art brings, instead of waiting for perfect words and images we speak, uncertainly, now. And we cross out, paint over, play with, interact with, what we’ve spoken. Zines are special that way.

Handmade books are, for me, taking the zine into another space. Where the zine is cheaply reproduced, rough, raw, punk, DIY, uninhibited, the hand made book is more considered. It’s the zine, polished. My handmade books are text and image, the place where my passion for both combines. They are days spent painting or embroidering a single page.

They are rough drafts laid out and arranged and rearranged to find balance.

This is the layout of my current one, all artwork, poems, and articles contributed by prisoners and organisations who care about their health and welfare. It’s the prototype so so much has been learned along the way. I’ve been kept busy figuring out copyright, front matter, submission guidelines, editing long articles to fit the space, choosing commercial fonts that are highly readable for those with low literacy levels or vision impairment. It’s a labour of love, showing off every submission to its best.

I always ask to keep a zine from every workshop, my collection is now wonderful and I bring some of it along to new workshops to inspire. I am very much looking forward to sharing the next zines and artbooks with you.

What I want for Mother’s Day

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

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

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

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!

Celebrating my Blog

I’ve just given this Blog a facelift. I’ve changed to a new theme, created a static front page, shifted to endless scrolling and a more mobile friendly responsive layout, killed the ads, and generally shined her up. Why? Because I’ve now passed 1,000 posts on this blog! What a labour of love it has been.

My first ever post on this blog was back in August 1, 2011: What am I up to at the moment? I rapidly realised it was an ideal platform to share mental health information – 4 days later I wrote my first mental health article Managing Triggers, which is still viewed nearly daily.

Crunchy numbers

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

There were 337 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 29 MB. That’s about 6 pictures per week. The busiest day of the year was August 3rd with 290 views. The most popular post that day was Fat Shaming.

Most Popular Posts in 2014

I’ve been working hard on my websites lately. My Business site is also much cleaner and easier to navigate now, and today I’ve added a new service to those I offer: Professional Writing. I wrote up some of the feedback I’ve been given for this Blog over the years and it was… beautiful. Clarifying.

“Your writing is beautiful, evocative and inspiring—thankyou!” -NGO Supervisor

“Your articles… have saved my life. My partner and I cannot thank you enough.” – Peer

“Sarah… has improved my knowledge and understanding enormously… my everyday life with my partner, and my ability to work with people from right across the mental health spectrum.” – Carer

“A brilliant emotional description, clearly showing the possibilities of being in charge of your psychosis, understanding it and working through, real recovery in action” Ron Coleman

“As always, your writing captures the depth of suffering and brilliance of madness” – Transactional Analyst

“It was worth dealing with 20 yrs behaviorism in the UK to (find) your writing.” – Social Worker

I’m actually starting to take some positive feedback on board for the first time since I was a child. I can see clearly what I’ve been doing all these years with this work. I’m ready to launch myself out there in a bigger way, so I’ve been sharing my upcoming talk about Psychosis widely and reaching out to organisations to arrange talks with them. The networks are also growing, I’m not holding back anymore, not bewildered and confused about where I’m going and what I’m doing. It’s all come clear in my mind’s eye and I’m exactly where I should be. I am so full of urgent life right now, I write notes for books while parked at traffic lights, I carry college journals with me to sketch designs in waiting rooms. I am so brimming with life I can’t contain it, there’s a joy in me, a bubbling laugh that just spills over and carries me along with it. Tamlorn has died and yet somehow the world is the most beautiful place. I feel like I went down into death with them and now I’ve been reborn, full of urgency and clarity. I am so proud of my work and so passionate about my future! I drive so carefully because no one else can write these books that are bursting out of me and I’m desperate to get them written before I die. There’s so much to do and learn and experience. And so many amazing projects to grow. I’m so proud of this Blog. It’s a beautiful, intimate account of my life, far beyond the stereotypes of mental illness, poverty, or disability. This is my account, my voice, my own perspective. Pieces of myself I have brought out into the public to say such simple things: that people with multiplicity are still human, that artists have important contributions to conversations about mental health, that psychosis does not have to be only terrifying and destructive. That we are never alone, not even in the deepest experiences of shame or pain. That life is horrific, and it is also beautiful.

So, I’ve tidied up the frame in which I hang these words. It’s pretty and clean and shining and simple. Because I’m finally realising how beautiful this thing I’ve created really is, and how glad I am that, come what may of all my other dreams, these words at least will last.

7 Weeks Pregnant


I’m in bed by 9pm, coax myself through college hour by hour, and spend any spare time on the couch. Pregnancy! Just like a moderate fibro flare but less pain. The little one is currently the size of a raspberry, coffee bean, olive, or brazil nut, depending on which pregnancy book or app you are reading. I know because I downloaded 5 of them recently and enjoy being reminded every few hours of what is growing at the moment. This week it’s little stubs for hands and feet, among other things. The food size comparisons I’m suspicious about considering there’s quite a difference between your average coffee bean and a brazil nut.

I’m hanging in there at college so far, with a few hours on the library each week plus Mondays devoted to home work. I am learning a lot about welding and The Enlightenment.

Apart from that I’m keeping house work happening. Rose and I try to open several boxes from her move on every weekend. If we’re really doing well, we also empty them and sort the contents into our home. Sometimes we just open them and get discouraged and put them back somewhere where we can still get the doors open.

Zoe is going mad because I’m not walking her. If I had a wagon I could just hitch her up and yell ‘mush’.

Bed is crowded. Between Rose, myself, this cat who likes to sleep on my legs or in their spot so I can’t straighten up, and the whole extra cup size of melons going on I’m having trouble getting comfortable and sleeping well. Back pain is a constant issue (fibro) and my new crop tops are my best friends.

I have gone so completely off some foods I can’t bear to be in the same room. Yogurt is a big one. Even the word makes me nauseous. Apart from that I’m fine though. I crave salads and fruit and eat little else. Rose is incredible at putting together amazing salads after she’s worked all day, left to my own devices I think I would be living on salty crackers and celery. If I don’t start the day with a banana I feel like I’ve been run over all day. If I don’t get enough protein I feel like I’ve been run over all day. Boiled eggs are my friend, as are pickles, and peanut butter with sultanas on celery. Rose is packing me lunches and keeping a steady supply of cherry tomatoes, grapes, and cucumber sticks going on. She’s awesome.

And now I’m going to sleep again! If you’re waiting for replies to messages or emails, I’ll get there, maybe by Friday. Sorry.

I’m not pregnant

So, first cycle over.

I’ve learned a few things.

Like it’s impossible not to hope even when I try.
That wondering if I’m pregnant makes me feel like death is following behind me. It’s a shadow behind every footstep and a chill under all my thoughts. Life in my left hand and death in my right.
That trying not to be affected by it, not to give it meaning, not to feel anything, is the loneliest place. It hurts more when I try to pretend I’m not hurting.
The road other people walk, or pretend to walk, or tell me to walk, is not my road.
Trying to bring a child into the world makes me miss everyone I have ever loved, who they will never get to meet.
That it’s possible to step far enough back from the world that all the ideas that have trapped me, the standards of beauty I’ve hated my body for, the approval I’ve worked for, the trying to find a place to belong are just ideas. I can smile like I’ve seen the joke and it’s a little sad. I can see how I’m consumed by things of no importance. I can see how it’s all just moments, strung together, heartbeats, the song of a bird in flight. (Bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky) This is my life (ending one minute at a time) and it’s brief. (Sometimes I wonder was she ever really here at all?) Joy washes in with one wave and sorrow with the next. This is what it is to be alive, and I’m grateful.

Life is brief.

The Void: dissociation, amnesia, and identity

Dissociative amnesia is not often spoken of. It doesn’t have the fascinating glamour of other forms of dissociation such as ‘multiple personalities’ or fugue states. It seems at times that there’s little to say of the losses of memory, of how frail our sense of the world is when we can’t recall it. It’s subtle but insidious, far more important and powerful than people think.

Some people with multiplicity also have very high levels of amnesia, a form of dissociation in memory. In this case, memories are laid down and stored in the brain, but the dissociation between different parts prevents access to them. So people can live in this surreal twilight world of ‘coming to’ and trying to figure out from context where they are and what has been happening. Life is a bewildering series of changes, something that slips through your hands as fast as you try to grasp it. Other parts live according to their own values, needs, fears, and understanding of the world, and you return to inherit their choices. The world of cause and effect can become brutal when you cannot recall the causes but must live with the consequences. Between skips of memory can pass hours, days, or years. Like Rip Van Winkle, you can wake to find your whole world is unfamiliar.

Other people experience amnesia without multiplicity. Sometimes it gets forgotten that this is very possible. People are told that if they cannot remember great chunks of their day – or their life – that they are probably multiple and other parts must have been living them. It’s actually very common to have amnesia without dissociation in identity, trauma both physical and psychological will often affect our capacity to remember, as can a massive collection of physical illnesses and injuries. Emotion is a key aspect of memory, so dissociation or disconnection in emotions can also affect our capacity to remember. Our ability to remember is also linked to our awareness of the passing of time. Memory is very complex and not particularly well understood.

We’re familiar with the challenges of minor memory loss, the scattered way of life when you’re constantly looking for your shoes, keys, car, phone. It’s not hard to extrapolate that to bigger, but still tangible losses – having found my car at last in the shopping centre car park, I can’t remember where I live. Standing at the checkout desperately trying to remember my PIN number, crying with frustration because I’m 19 but it feels like I have dementia. Trying to fill out welfare forms and having to ask other people what my birth date is. These bigger gaps are like black holes in the world, only in your world. Other people walk over an unbroken path, I fall through, into an emptiness. I float in a void and hope desperately I’ll find the other side of it, pick myself up quickly, dust myself off and keep walking, hoping no one notices my lack of normal functioning.

Other losses can be profound, harder to imagine. People who recall nothing of their lives before the age of 35, except small scraps. People who find that amnesia follows them, at a distance, like a stray dog, eating recall of all memories older than two years previous. People who wake in the morning next to their partner of 20 years and find they don’t recognise them. People who look in the mirror and are bewildered and surprised by who looks back at them. That moment of panic as a stranger approaches you in the street with an easy smile and greets you by name. For some there’s an overwhelming sense of shame, of being damaged and desperately trying to pass for human. For others the loss takes even the grief of loss, there’s a shrug, or a little wistfulness, or even relief. For some, behind the shield of amnesia, dreams and nightmares and all the things they once felt deeply about lurk in their shadows, haunt their sleep, beat against glass walls in their mind, evoking terror.

Without memory, it is difficult to have a stable sense of self. State-dependent memory cuts off a sense of connection to other parts. Each part has their own memories of life and draws their own conclusions based only on their own experiences. Mood dependent memory is the way we recall with ease our happiest moments when happy, and drown in all our saddest when sad. For people in the grip of intense, flooded emotions, such as some who are given the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, their whole lives and sense of self changes with each feeling. We sparkle when happy, and our whole world is beautiful! We are generous, kind, loving, full of good humour and good will. We bathe in the milk of human kindness, nothing is too big to forgive, too much to ask. When sad, the world is black, bleak, dark, terrifying, choked with misery, full of bad omens and evil portends. We radiate despair and flood everyone near them. We are preoccupied, desperate, overwhelmed by a sense of doom, like prophets who understand the world is ending and shake our warnings at people too blind to stop their partying and take up the ashes and sackcloth. When threatened we are sharp toothed, short of temper, we jump at shadows and see danger everywhere. We bite hands that come too close and nurse the aching wounds of all the wrongs ever done to us. We see the world as violent, unpredictable, deceptive. We look for the trick in every gesture, the hidden meaning in every word. We live with our teeth bared and bite before we’re bitten.

There are a thousand shades of emotion that people don’t even consider, like shades of colours. We are swept from heights to valleys, through quiet contemplation, deep sorrow, burning rage, cheerful spring mornings, restless wild moods, agonising pain, mischievous playfulness. When these states are split off from each other, people’s sense of self changes with each of them. Our sense of the world completely changes, our values and goals change, our expectations of the future changes, our approaches to our relationships change. The thread of consciousness that gives us our sense of stable self is snapped and chopped into bits. What has the potential to be a deeply lived, vivid experience of life becomes fractured, tormenting, and without growth.

For people with parts, fractures along these lines are common – one part will remember all things wonderful in life, another all things painful. When switching and trying to understand the self, multiples get lost in the many versions of self that leave evidence in their lives, the many handwritings in their journals. As a child I sometimes asked other people to describe me, feeling devoid of clarity about myself and seeking to use their eyes as a mirror. There’s an empty feeling beneath shattered memory that can make people feel like they don’t exist. Switching can be like forever walking into a room at the moment someone else walks out.

I once watched a documentary about Clive Wearing, who suffers from chronic severe amnesia due to a virus that damaged his brain. He has almost no recollection of his past (although he has what is called procedural memory, that is he can still do things he once learned to do, such as walk, dress himself, and play music). Clive cannot hold onto to new memories for longer than about 30 seconds. He lives entirely in the moment. He has a diary that moves me deeply. Each previous entry he crosses out, as he cannot recall having written it. Each new entry is achingly similar.

8:31 AM: Now I am really, completely awake.
9:06 AM: Now I am perfectly, overwhelmingly awake.
9:34 AM: Now I am superlatively, actually awake.

There’s an agony here, an awareness of loss and a claiming of life that turns out to be without permanence or meaning. It’s deeply painful to see his distress and be unable to knit back together the damaged areas of brain that leave him in the void. The process is familiar to me, I recognise echoes of the same voids in myself and others.

For those of us with multiplicity, even when co-conscious, the emotional distance of watching but not living all our lives can create subtle breaks in our sense of self. Disconnection in emotion can fragment our ability to emotionally process our lives. Switching can be our own version of suddenly feeling awake. We sweep aside all the knowledge of other parts, sometimes even of our own previous memories, with this sudden conviction that now, I am truly awake. That now, I am really alive. This time, I understand. That this time, I’ll make it work. We do the same things, with the same tools, from the same values, backed by the same seeping aside of our history, and are horrified, surprised, and devastated when we get the same results. We cut ourselves off from our own wisdom, learn nothing from our history, disregard all previous insights. We make abrupt, unsustainable life changes, that change only the names and places, but repeat the same crisis dynamics over and over. When we are briefly aware of this sense of being trapped in a cycle, we feel so helpless and ashamed that it’s a relief to let amnesia or switching sweep it all aside. It’s like having an internal reset button, we go back to the start of the maze and go looking for the cheese all over again, often with the support of people around us and mental health staff who are pleased we’ve stopped being paralysed by our awareness of our futile cycles and are tackling our lives with vim again.

Health and recovery is sometimes sold to us as stopping this process. Limiting the extremes, preventing the switching, shutting down the states. A single part is chosen to be the ‘real’ one, a single emotional state or small collection of them are selected as the ideal, calmest and most rational. All the knowledge in the rest is discarded, all the wildness that gives life deeper mythic meaning, the wrestling with angels and demons, the being moved by things we can’t name are suppressed instead of connected. The goal becomes staying still instead of learning how to dance through them. Life becomes staid, the suppressed grow wilder and stronger, we find ourselves fighting not only with our weaknesses but also our strengths. We dissociate more and more from ourselves and our experience of life.

These processes are not unique to multiples. We all use dissociation to contain memories and feelings, to compartmentalise our worlds so that we can function. Not enough dissociation, being unable to contain emotions and memories can be just as destructive. It can be very difficult for any of us to step back and see the whole, to watch our own patterns and honour our history. We are all partly dependant on the stories we’ve told through which we understand ourselves and the world, and the perspectives of others. Sometimes they help, something they make us blind or tell stories that do us harm. Step back too far and we become numbed observers. Remain forever utterly in the moment, and we fall into the void. In that place, we run to anything that makes us feel better, calmer, safer, no matter how crazy. We self destruct with passionate, spectacular indifference. We search for a sense of self that the search itself destroys. The experience of the void can induce a sense of absolute panic, a desperate, frantic need to DO something, anything, to feel like you exist. Even blood, agony, the fireworks from your whole world being destroyed can feel better than the void.

For me, my journals – and now this blog, are the trail of breadcrumbs I leave for myself to help me see my selves. I write, and then I read, and re-read, seeing my selves through different eyes, charting my life. I find causes for effects. I learn about those people who have the most profound impact upon my life, but whom I have never really met – my other parts, the rest of ‘Sarah’. I am startled by the complexity of life, all the things I do not see that they do, the vast spectrum of colours I cannot perceive, of feelings I know only as words. There’s a sense of being blind, but learning life and self by its feeling in my hands, its taste in my mouth. Sometimes someone comes out who is missing so many threads of information, so much of what we have learned and how we have changed. Sharing our history connects them back to us, to the present moment, to all the gains and losses of our life.

I reconnect the thread of self by honouring that I am alive now, and that I have always been alive. All the parts are real, all the emotions are meaningful, all the experiences are important. I look for the common ground between all the states and parts, and I also learn to celebrate such wildly diverse ways of experiencing the world. I find the things that stay the same no matter what – a fear, a value, a need, a tiny chip of identity. I look for ways to carry them with me through all the changes, I notice the way that feelings or switching changes a value like kindness, the way different light sources make a gemstone look like it’s a different colour. Ideas are refined. A sense of self is not so much found as created. The void remains, but it no longer consumes everything, and my life is no longer spend running from it in fear and back to it in need.

Baby Steps

Oh gosh, today I have actually been well enough to eat breakfast in my garden, and do some work on my computer! Which is incredibly fortunate, as I’m booked into two long gigs tomorrow for work. I’ve been updating my website, sending out invoices, sending in homework for college, and catching up on emails. I’m so excited! I know it sounds crazy to everyone who hates their job and being stuck in 9-5, but I’m so, so excited to be well enough even to get a little bit back into work! 🙂

Learning the business language

So, I’m knee deep in study again, and falling horribly behind as my sinuses continue to prove the upcoming surgery is sorely needed… I’m working really hard on being able to undo the blocks in my mind and understand the terms. I’m not stupid but wow I’ve found this hard. I hate so much about the corporate and bureaucratic worlds, and feel so out of my depth in them that my mind just shuts down. I’m trying to figure out what I need to be able to engage with it all. So far one little useful shift has been to see it all as a new language that I’m learning. It really is in so many ways – a whole bunch of new words, or new meanings for words, and a whole underlying world-view and series of assumptions that I find subtle and often very distasteful, such as the idea that everyone wants to make massive amounts of money. I’m coping better if I think of it as a new language and culture – I need to learn it to be effective in my freelance work, to navigate the complex world of organisations and legislature. But learning another language doesn’t mean I have to go ‘native’. I can choose to retain my own values and frameworks. It’s a huge challenge for a mad artist to venture into this world and try to find things of value when my overarching response falls somewhere between suspicion and terror. But there are others who’ve walked this path before me, and often humour is the way they’ve coped with the hypocrisy, inefficiency, and dehumanisation that are so often part of these processes. That is a comfort to me!

To all mothers and not-mothers

I wrote a poem a long time ago about the loss of a child, and the new not-mother. Sometimes our language falls far short. We have a term for husband or wife bereaved, but so many other states of longing or loss or love that go nameless. I have wanted to be a mother for a long, long time. I have dreamed of it, over and over, of carrying a child, birthing, raising. Of dead children, lost children, no children. On Mother’s Day each year I now find myself at a strange crossroads between honoring my own mother, mourning Rose’s pregnancy losses, and acknowledging my own history of longing and grief. I’m struck by the thoughtlessness of a day that is supposed to be about sensitivity and love. There’s a lot of pain beneath all those pink cards and tides of flowers. A lot of people hiding out at home hoping the day will pass quickly, or attending events and concealing raw feelings. For some of us this a day of grieving. We mourn for mother’s we have loved and lost. We mourn for love we hoped to get from mothers who were absent, or abusive, or overwhelmed. We mourn for children who would not come, or did not stay. We mourn as outsiders of little families who build walls around the lights that are their children, who bestow blessings – you may come and kiss – and withhold them – you may not. We mourn as those who tangle in the bonds of family, half nurtured but half strangled by loves’ obsessions and dominance. We mourn with those who did not wish to be consumed by the word mother, who were visited with life too early or too late, at the wrong time, with the wrong person, and unstuck the hook that snagged and tore a hole. For all the blessings and the sorrows that do not have a day, that walk today instead, unwelcome, barely spoken, breathing under our breath. Beneath the sweetness is blood, is rage and darkness and confusion and terror and love.

I spent my years weeping in the baby things aisles of supermarkets. Reading a biography of Mother Theresa, I decided to myself biology was only one way to be a mother. The pain eased a little then. Each year now I give Rose a gift on this day, we light a candle, we talk about her 6 babies who could not stay. ‘They are always with us’ I tell her. ‘They are part of our family, and they don’t have to only be remembered with sorrow’. I recall with rage the lack of care with which she has been treated on this day, bereft and uncalled on, having to stand, identified as a not-mother. That is not how she is treated here, in our family. This year I lost my friend Leanne, who died in her sleep with her face cupped in her hand. She was a mother, of a kind, to me. We all need more than one person who loves us deeply, who tries to guide us, and falls short, and watches us try to fly and fall and fly again. I remember her too today. Today I’ll give a gift to my own mother, whom I love. I’m blessed that she is still here, children grown, flying and falling and flying herself through the strange, complex, sad, beautiful experience of life. Love, to all mothers and not-mothers.



From James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. Dignity and self hate and pain and mental illness… The self loathing that comes from being treated without dignity, and the lack of dignity that comes from making choices fuelled by self loathing. It’s a perfect spiral. Anyone with a diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder is probably intimately familiar with it.


Rose and I are in training all week, learning all about Dreadlocks. This is one of the new services we’ll be offering through our studio soon, so we’re currently reading, making, thinking, and even dreaming all things related to dreads. O.o It’s a little mind boggling.

We’re both in a twilight zone of sleep deprivation, decongestant meds, and lingering chest infections. The last day of training is Saturday, then we start the big house move. The studio has been built and needs painting and furnishing. I’m still behind on admin, which gets worse every day. And we have a new business with website, email, phone, signage, and marketing to sort out. Hitting the ground running. Sometimes just hitting it. Sometimes landing face first. It’s very much one hour at a time here.

But hopefully, we’re setting up something viable for us both to work in and make a living, that will fit our family and help us reach other goals like having children. 🙂

Christmas wishes 2013

The Dissociative Initiative

A final word from those of us involved with the DI this year – thankyou for everyone who has been involved in our community! It is a privilege to share your journey, learn from your wisdom, and celebrate with you the joy and sadness of what it is to be human.

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it! May you find or create meaning and love in your life, and built your own traditions of self care and connection. I (Sarah) wanted to give some gifts to you and in your name, especially for anyone who is struggling financially or emotionally over this season, but also to celebrate our community and what we can share and bring to the lives of others. This year I have given gifts of Toys, Blankets, School Pencils, and Fast Growing Seeds, to try and meet a little of each important need –…

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Photos: from butterflies to dragons

Sarah K Reece

Summer is a very busy time for most face painters but I’ve been able to grab a few photos from recent events to share. Starting with my favourite kind of fellow madman, this guy in Woolworths who wanted a butterfly on the back on his neck.


Painted jewellery is gorgeous, always comfortable and fits perfectly.


The slightly tired artist at A Christmas breakup party.

I love this one, what a gorgeous pair! Roses, and Minnie Mouse, and a little princess in pink.


Okay, so it’s not the best Night Fury around, but I had 5 minutes, no reference picture, and I hadn’t seen the movie in a couple of years. Actually it took me a while to realise what the kid wanted, as he didn’t ask for it by name, but for a black dragon, with four legs, two wings, lots of sharp white teeth, a really long tail… and…

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Summer painting in the park

Sarah K Reece


It was a beautiful day to be painting at a birthday party in a park today. 🙂 I took a couple of photos to share with you. If you’re planning your own events at this time of year it’s worth being mindful of the weather. Today reached about 30 degrees which was still okay for the paints although one or two people found that getting warm means a little sweat, and sweat and face paint are a difficult combination! This particularly applies for any poor cooks on BBQ duties. Shade is essential as even with sunblock, little kids burn so fast, as do face painters! It’s worth considering holding your outdoor event in the morning or evening rather than over lunchtime. If the weather gets especially hot I would strongly advise swapping from paint to glitter tattoos as these are waterproof and thus not bothered by sweat. The tattoos are…

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Free Talk – Supporting someone in a Dissociative Crisis, 19th & 20th Dec

Back up and running – sorry for the inconvenience of cancelling the previous date. On the plus side – there’s now two of them!

The Dissociative Initiative

New dates have been set! Both are free, one is within school/work hours, one outside of them. The same talk will presented at each time.

6.30 -8pm, Thursday 19th Dec


11.30am – 1pm, Friday 20th Dec

Mental Illness Fellowship of SA, 5 Cooke Terrace, Wayville

This is the presentation I (Sarah) recently delivered at the World Hearing Voices Congress in Melbourne. It will run for an hour with an opportunity to ask questions. The talk was developed to help close a gap in the Mental Health First Aid training, which does not mention dissociative crisis. Principles of crisis work are covered, as well as recognising and usefully responding to severe general dissociation, and common crisis points for people with parts (Dissociative Identity Disorder, or ‘multiple personalities’). Sarah is a peer worker with lived experience of severe dissociation and DID, and many years experience in supporting other people in crisis.


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Avoiding responsibilities

I have a lot of admin that’s getting urgent, some business planning that needs doing, websites that need updating and housework that’s overdue for attention. About 50 blog posts are waiting to be written up. To make life extra fun my application of drain cleaner to the shower drain has turned it from show draining to not draining at all (cannot even fathom what’s going on there) and the bath drains using the same drains so I can’t shower or bath at my house…

Therefore I’m ignoring all of it and going up into the hills today to watch a belly dance concert then having family over for dinner.

On the plus side it’s raining so staying clean won’t be too challenging today. 😉

I’ve always been a creative person… Lady Gaga

Irregardless of your musical tastes, I find this inspiring. She’s not the first artist of whom I’ve thought – if they had turned up in the mental health system at 16, we would have lost them. They found art instead, where it’s okay to be mad! It’s not just okay – it’s perfectly acceptable to not only suffer from madness, but also to use it to every advantage you possibly can. These are the stories I think of as a peer worker when I feel that the script I’ve been given is “Don’t be afraid, reach out for help, get a diagnosis, learn about your condition, you can recover” – and what I actually want to say is “RUN. Never walk into a room you are not sure you’ll be able to walk out of. Learn, but do it secretly, in libraries, online. Don’t let anyone tell you what’s wrong with you, and don’t let anyone save you. Find your tribe.”

recovery network: Toronto

Lady Gaga talking on The Graham Norton Show about how she harnesses her voices to inspire her creativity…

lady gaga

Short Clip [45sec]

Full episode [37min]

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Art at the beach

I’m frantically working, trying to catch up from being sick all week. Managed to pull off my gig yesterday painting for 5 hours at the beach, then put in another 6 hours of work on a poster for the Hearing Voices Congress. I’m tired and a bit frazzled and still not brilliantly well. Tomorrow is going to be hot and my car air conditioning isn’t fixed yet, so I’m looking at driving over with Rose tonight instead in the cool. I’m wired and hyped and not sleeping anyway, so as long as I get someone chilled and level headed out to drive (which means ice coffee and good music and boots) that should work. In the meantime I’m working on my talk and packing and fixing up the DI website. So here, have some photos of art. 🙂

Sarah K Reece

Today I was offering free at at Henley Beach, provided by the Dept of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure who were asking people’s thoughts about some new ideas for trams and bike lanes and the such. It was a stunning day, sunny but not hot, water flat, blue, and perfect. My office was under sails directly looking out on the ocean. Days like today I’m the luckiest artist in the world. 🙂 On the downside I’m slightly sun burned, but it was worth it!

Here’s a couple of photos from today, I was offering face or arm paint, and glitter tattoos.





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Working on my talk about dissociative crisis

I’ve got 20 minutes to talk at the World Hearing Voices Congress about supporting someone through a dissociative crisis. It’s happening in a couple of weeks so I’ve been working on it recently. I met up with Bridges co-facilitator Ben, and we nutted through some ideas until it coalesced into a coherent framework. I love that process. I tend to need to bounce off someone else to think clearly and plan something like this. There’s such a sense of satisfaction about taking the amorphous and ephemeral and being able to find some kind of underlying theme or order to them.

When I asked other people about what they find helpful or not helpful when they have been in a dissociative crisis, I got exactly the answers I was expecting – which is to say, a very high level of contradictory responses. At first this seems hopeless – it’s so much easier to be able to give a straightforward answer – if A, do B. This is the medical model – if infection, give antibiotics. The nature of what helps with dissociative crisis is highly individual, so much so that what will be of great help to one person will make another drastically worse.

But it isn’t hopeless. Many people who have these kinds of experiences are able to be very articulate about what will and won’t work for them. One of the simplest things you can do is just to ask and invite information. If the person is a stranger to you and not able to give you any of that information, there are still many things you can try, within a framework of useful principles such as those of Trauma Informed Care. Having a broad understanding of the kinds of things that people may find useful gives you a bit of focus for a trial-and-error approach with someone in crisis, so I’ll be going into those.

I’m giving this talk free here in SA next week for everyone who can’t attend the conference. Here’s a link to the flyer with all the details. Feel free to share it around, it’s aimed at everyone, staff, people with dissociation, family and friends. You’re welcome to come along. 🙂

Edit: Update, this talk has been postponed due to illness – new dates will be provided soon.

Photos of Henna at the Blackwood Uniting Church Fair

I’m offering another form of body art now…

Sarah K Reece

In very exciting news, I am now offering henna to the public as part of my temporary body art collection! I recently created henna art for people at the Blackwood Uniting Church Fair to support the local community services work, which was very well received. I’m not the best henna artist around, if you’re looking for henna for your traditional Indian wedding, I’m happy to refer you! But for festivals and parties I can certainly deliver. I’ve been trained in henna application and I mix my own henna so I have a good understanding of safety and how it all works.

Unlike every other form of temporary body art I offer, henna cannot easily be removed before it naturally wears off over 1-3 weeks. This means you need to give a little more thought about what and where you choose to have your henna, particularly if school, work, or an…

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Cupcakes with chocolate ganache

Tonight was the third of four cupcake classes I’ve been holding at the local Women’s Community Centre. I’ve really enjoyed this work, it’s very different from face painting, but the process of helping people build skills is one I find very rewarding. Today we covered making and whipping chocolate ganache, filling cupcakes (we used raspberry jam or nutella), and make edible sugared decorations. They turned out really well.

It was too hot a day for me though, I’m tired, have a tummy ache, not looking forward to even hotter weather tomorrow. 😦 The car is going in to the mechanic this week, hopefully I will soon have air conditioning working in it again! 🙂


Gather everything you need


Make the cupcakes and let them cool


Make chocolate ganache by pouring hot cream over chocolate bits, and whisking until smooth. Allow to cool and then whip.


Cut cones into cupcakes and fill them with something yum 🙂


Pipe on whipped ganache and add something pretty to top.


Sugared rose petals


Sugared pansies


Sugared mint leaves





I haven’t written in ages, I’m so busy at work at the moment. Today is my weekend, my mid week off day that will still have errands and housework stuffed into it. But, that starts with delicious sleep, in a tangle of blankets and cats. Sarsaparilla went missing for over a week, after a big storm and I become very teary and convinced he must have died. Last night he turned back up home, crying at the door with his little scratchy mew, a bit thin but otherwise fine. He’s sleeping on my knee. Tonks is thrilled he’s back and shadows him everywhere. Rose stayed over last night and slipped out this morning to go and do housework at her place. I’m going to sleep until my doctors appointment this afternoon.

Zoe has taken to her new dog crate like a duck to water and sleeps happily in it every night and during dinner. Tonks is almost due to be desexed. Zoe has only eaten one shoe lately. My little family is going well. I’m enjoying living in my home a whole lot more since I came to the realisation that it wasn’t going to be permanent. I’m determined to enjoy the time I have here as much as I can before moves and life changes so me along somewhere else. It’s a beautiful place. I’m busy with face painting and workshops and trying to make sure I’m still getting enough sleep, some decent food and exercise (Rose and I are on a health kick at the memento and eating a whole lot of salads which I’m loving), and time to catch up with friends.