My 1,500th post on this blog

Woo hoo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My new studio

Today, I am happy, because I feel I am finally beginning to make friends with my new studio.

I have a new studio, in Port Adelaide. She is pretty, and old, and grand, with wonderful light.

I did not want to leave my old studio. He was grungy, forgiving, underground. I felt safe there, outside the ‘real world’. I didn’t have to measure up or earn my place. It was sitting by the campfire on the outskirts of town, running from Bradbury’s war. Simply turning up was enough. I adored the art on the walls and the holes in the floor and the green things growing in the light sink. It was full of romance. My favourite place became the communal art table, close to my spot. If I was lonely or stuck, I could sidle over to it in a pretend nonchalant way and test to see if the other artists seemed welcoming. They always were. Then I could sit and chat and let my mind forget what my hands were doing and stop getting in the way and somehow stumble into the art that was trying to come but all blocked and tangled. I hardly knew most of their names, no one came to my opening, but it was a start of community, belonging, acceptance, home.

I lost that, unexpectedly, at this start of this year with an email explaining the artist’s collective was closing. A storm drenched me inside, and I tumbled end over end in panic, feeling homeless, disembodied, hysterical. I reopened every option and explored them – shed in my backyard, move house and claim a spare room, converted cubby house, caravan, shipping container, mini van, room at a friend’s, back to back residencies, give up on art, shrink to a travel kit and storage facility… Trying to find somewhere else that felt like home, somewhere else my heart would open and let out art and nothing fit.

Even among the artists, I am odd, emotional, strange. The few I spoke to looked at me with kind bewilderment, trying to understand but not understanding while I hunched over too much embarrassing feeling, tears betraying my unwanted vulnerability. The other artists were disrupted, they made arrangements. No one threw themselves from rooftops or into the sea. I flew about the place at midnight like an angry ghost, stung with rejection and gathering my things.

I chose the space in Pt Adelaide, near the water and far from the city. It is full of beautiful studios but few artists present, and no shared table. I am on the second floor, up sweeping staircases and facing a wall of western windows and a balcony that houses my old comfy thinking chair. It is without a doubt beautiful. There is no art scrawled on the walls or graffiti to read in the toilets. It feels like work and real world in a way that terrifies me. It feels like the office of a Professional, perhaps an illustrator, pursuing their craft, one who arrives on time and leaves on time and never paints naked or gripped by psychosis. Wildness and madness retreat further to the edges and dim memories of my life. My heart beats in fear.

The first day after moving I try to come here and I find myself busy with sudden errands and needs for coffee down the street and realise after several hours I’m afraid.

I persist, each week, even if only for an hour, trying to draw the memory of the artists confusion at my distress out of my mind where it is slowly poisoning me, trickling under my thoughts and turning into sticky self loathing. So what if I am overly emotional, intense, strange, freakish? So what if I am the only one who feels this way, reacts like this, needs what I need? I am still okay.

I come to the studio and fuss over arranging things better and feel a little anguish lift.

I come another day and work on artworks I’d already started and some of the block eases.

I come at night and paint alone in the dark and feel a little magic stir and a little rage wash out. I see myself in the black window glass and I think of the terror of homelessness and the strange loneliness that has been gripping me at nights where I find myself scrolling endlessly through Facebook looking for a sense of connection in the crowd, scrolling on without finding it.

I bring extra things with me each time, repair my sewing machine, stash chocolate and sanitary pads in a drawer. Photos of my family, a kettle for tea. Inch by inch it feels more my space. My soul sniffs at the rafters, approves of the empty tower room, the cupboard in the stairs, the cool cellar.

Sometimes I dream of arches of tree branches dripping black fabric for walls and my face paints and music and with the stage set and the props vibrating with otherness, I can feel how I would come here like a supplicant and surrender the outside world. But I am afraid to draw so much attention to myself, to invest so much, to invite inquiry. So the stage stays in my mind and I come here and try to make friends with it, be less intimidated by it, to not need the trappings of poverty to release me from the fear of failing.

Drains used to have a pull on me, any shelter someone homeless might envy would catch my eye and call my name and I would yearn, the way I would yearn for knives, once, or food after a long day. It took years for the yearning to untangle itself in my journals, that I had come to crave a kind of failure that would free me from the possibility of success forever. I felt that at times, living in my caravan. A kind of retirement of hope and pressure. Sometimes I could simply feel alive, and that was sufficient.

I see a psychologist who tells me I’m choosing to be stressed and with practice and the right tools can learn to be calm in any situation. I can’t find the right words to tell her how heartsick that makes me feel, that calm and unmoved by the world are not why I have come to see her. I don’t return.

It’s taken me a long time to tell this story. I was not willing to be public during – I who was public during miscarriage. I’m still smarting with the sting of it, after so many years at art college and not finding my home, my people, a sense of safety or belonging except those rare mornings allowed down in the sculpture studio, I thought I was making progress.

It is entirely possible to be an artist with a minimum of self investment, creativity, or risk. It is possible to paint with no more open heart than a plumber choosing where the pipes are to be laid. There’s nothing magic about paint or charcoal that gives life meaning or bestows gifts upon us. It’s in the personal and symbolic that the magic happens. Deep underground in the soul. You can have that and be a plumber, or paint without a touch of it.

I still feel lost. I don’t have a Call drawing me on, a sense of my heart. I don’t want to create for the sake of it, without heart. I’ve been in the daylight too long and forgotten the sound of my wings unfurling. So I’m turning my face to the side, closing one eye, tuning in. Looking for things that make me feel alive, that move me enough to preserve as memories, saved from the wash of the day to day, the grey rain of the mundane world.

Last weekend we had a campfire, drank gin and ate baked bananas with friends. The weekend before we visited galleries and libraries and I didn’t compare my work to theirs and feel bruised. We stood in the feathers at WOMAD together and I thought “we will never see a sight like this again in our lives” and it etched itself in memory, swirling blue and purple like warm snow or tiny flying birds. Rose and I dreamed of our wedding some day, still went on date days, started to really, really look at each other again, touch fingers softly. Poppy’s hair smells of woodsmoke, of fire from the plum tree we cut down the year before she was born. I am asked in a counseling session what I am willing to do for my girls who are struggling, where the boundaries are, how far I will go. In another I am asked what I will do if they die. I turn the questions over and over in my mind like a river stone or a strange fish, and I don’t know exactly except that I’m not willing to die with anyone, to walk into death alongside anyone. I value my life. I value my art, but more than that the thing the art cloaks that can be under paint or under dishes – creativity, imagination, being present, connecting.

I take days off, to smell Poppy’s hair and sweep the floors and study the history of pigments in paint. I come to my studio with plans and drop them all at the door and do something else instead. I sit in it and blog on my phone, listening to the traffic and learning the smell of the building, of the water nearby and the road and the rain in the clouds. I look for friends to visit and finding none free, stand in the garden tearing out weeds as the roses tear my arms and run tiny smears of blood down my skin.

I am alive. I don’t know what’s next, what I need, where I’m going. But I’m here, and my life is beautiful, and I’m drinking it in. I’m reading books and borrowing ideas from other artists, Growing Gills was wonderful, I’ve just started The Artist’s Way and found the descriptions of god as an artist, and art as a spiritual act, move something in me that has been frozen for a long time, hiding deep in my heart while death and loss ravage the world. Tears are a good sign. I find myself longing for a life lived more creatively. Which isn’t just about my studio but my home days, my family, my 3ams too.

The book talks of affirmations, which I loathe, gently enough that I realise the mantra I’ve been repeating that’s made the new learning possible (“I can make it with any career or skill I choose to pursue”) is an affirmation, one that’s been easing my overwhelming fear and inferiority and allowing me to learn quickly and with joy, to follow what delights me without my inner critic setting fires. I think about the book I want to publish and I remember the books my Mother once wanted to publish and I realise that her stillborn children impact me too, her broken dreams are part of my world. There’s still few people who’s opinions I care about more, where my heart is so unguarded and yet our dreams are each so tangled by grief and fear.

I know some things, some small guides. I know I cannot live for anyone else, cannot save them, or recover for them, or make them want to live. I know that the heart of caring for another is keeping one eye fixed on my own soul so it doesn’t starve, that starving carers become the cage of the wounded who are neither free to die, nor to heal and be free themselves. I know that loving hurting people takes sacrifice, but that sacrifice in itself does nothing, and sacrificing the wrong things simply kills the children, salts the earth. That remaining alive yourself is the gift you grant those who love you, refusing to grant them or the things eating them the power to destroy you, and yourself walking the hard road of life you are wishing for them. If we suffer endlessly for each other, we force hedonism on those who would find hope, or equal bondage and despair to all. Only in being alive can we inspire life.

I have lost my way, but I have hope. I have been lost many times before. I will make new homes, I will listen and learn and something will emerge. I will feed my soul.

Beautiful Review of Waiting for You Exhibition

The most lovely article about my exhibition has been written up by artist Julia Wakefield for the Weekend Notes. She attended the opening night and has snapped lovely photos of me and guests and the embellished prints. I look very pregnant and fairly exhausted but the art is glowing. 🙂 She describes it as “a courageous, beautiful exhibition about a taboo subject” and writes about the history of how it all came about as well as her impressions. It’s gorgeous to read and so good to see some photos of the night! I brought my good camera but left my SD card home, so I don’t have a lot of pictures to remember it by. I very much appreciate an article like this! ❤

www.weekendnotes.com/waiting-for-you-art-exhibition-about-pregnancy-loss-and-motherhood-at-the-box-factory/

Sarah K Reece, miscarriage, pregnancy, art, art exhibition, mental health, SANDS, loss, grief, mourning

More positive feedback is coming in from people who couldn’t make the opening night but have attended the exhibition, which is very heart warming. Some people from further away or interstate have expressed interest in an exhibition local to them, which I shall look into the logistics of. The embellished prints I currently have on display are continuing to sell too, which is very exciting! If you’re planning to attend do sing out, if I can I’m happy to meet you there. 🙂

My first book in print

I have just collected the prototype/artist’s proof of my first printed book and I am so excited! It looks even better than I expected. This is a printed version of the handmade art book I painted and embroidered last year. I have been working towards this for some time, hoping to create something that evoked the handmade, precious feel of my original, at least a little, but was a much cheaper option for people to purchase.

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There’s some small issues I’m going to sort out in editing before trying another print – particularly the loss of image in the centre as the booklet does not open flat. But I think in fairly short time I will be ready to put it up for sale here on my blog. The first!! Of many more lovely projects like this, I hope. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Finding new dreams

Today was a great day. I was sick for a few hours after eating each time, but that left me a few hours where I was up to sitting at my computer… And I have finished the prototype of my photobook based on my hand made art book: Mourning the Unborn. I’ve ordered the first test copy and it will hopefully be here in a week or so. Eee! Then for tweaking and editing and… I’ll be able to show you a finished photobook that’s lovely and simple and nowhere as costly as the original. 🙂

I am not good at the first time I try to do something. I feel anxious and overwhelmed and want to get it right and don’t like experimenting. If I have a hands on teacher I’m sorted, if I’m teaching myself it can take me a long time to gather the skills and develop the confidence to get my prototype off the ground. This drives me crazy and I really admire people who jump in and learn as they go and don’t worry about making it perfect first time. Once I get the first one out there though, all the brakes come off and I’m away laughing. The second of anything is a breeze for me, at least by comparison.

Soooooo, published books have been on my goal list for years. A photobook and a non-fiction self help book are so different I expect the first of each will be a challenge, but I’m determined to get off the starting block and Rose is keen to help me. I think watching me transform from puddle of sick misery to my familiar vibrant self has inspired her to help me find some project to work on in my better moments.

We had a lovely conversation about goals and plans for this year this morning and I’m a little unsettled but also hopeful and releived. I’m finally starting to be able to step back from my intense distress about not working (for pay) and supporting my family the way I want to. I’m accepting that currently I’m so ill it makes no sense to be applying for jobs. So Rose and I have been talking about projects I feel inspired by, that I can pick up and put down between good and bad hours or days, and that might develop into a small passive income stream that helps me feel I’m contributing.

Books/publications are one part of that, and the others we’ve talked about are an etsy store for art prints and so on, and instead of a birthday party every year (which frankly I’m triggered by and rubbish at anyway), organising a small exhibition of art work.

I wish things were different. But I’ve got to work with what I’ve got and where I am. At the moment, that’s very little health and a powerful need to be involved in some way that meets twin needs to feel I’m financially contributing and making some kind of difference to someone vulnerable or in a rough place. Focusing on that feels scary and liberating, and I’m hoping I can get some more of those bright moments when I light up and forget being sick to energize and inspire me through the projects. 🙂

For everyone who’s been patiently waiting for me find some way back from my misery, who’s supported me or sent me encouragement or let me know that in some way I’ve made a difference – thank you so much. You are brilliant and you help me feel like less of a failure. I so appreciate it. ❤

Happy Fourth Birthday, Blog!

Wow. On August 1st in 2011, I posted “What am I up to at the moment?” sharing my artworks She Blooms in oil and New Growth in ink and talking about my plans. Funnily enough I’ve just started making prints of She Blooms and I’m working on gilding one for sale… Funny how life goes!

Four years on, and 1,151 posts later, here we are. Wow.

I’m really proud of this blog. Like nearly everything I do in life, I started it without having a clue what I was getting myself into, and felt my way along learning and adjusting as I went. Intuitive and process driven. It’s been an amazing experience! I now consider it a massive ongoing work of public art.

I’m often asked if it helps me to write a blog, or costs me to be so public. The answer is yes.

There’s a cost to it, like everything we choose to do in life. I’ve found myself feeling exposed, stretched, confronted, intruded upon, misunderstood, mocked, and way out of my depths at times. I’ve doubted myself and my work, accused myself of narcissism, hated my impulse to expose my vulnerability even when people are telling me to be more professional and only show my polished side. I’ve wrestled with the uncertainly of process driven art – feeling completely at sea at times – what am I doing and why?? I’ve had the occasional nasty comment, confronting discovery, challenging cross over of being out into a space I wasn’t out yet, and so on.

But I’ve also had some amazing experiences. I’ve made a lot of friends, many of whom write blogs I follow too. (I’ve just added a blogs I follow widget which will show up on a pc!) I’ve had people write to tell me something I wrote saved their life, or saved a relationship, or helped them handle something really hard or feel less suicidal, which makes me cry (every time).

I’ve had people I don’t know come up to me in public or at face painting gigs and tell me how much they love this blog, which is surreal but wonderful. A couple of years ago the lovely Amanda came up to me at Feast and said you don’t know me, but I love your blog, and took a photo of herself with me. I wish I had a copy of that photo. We became friends. When she killed herself a year later I was heartbroken. I’m so damn glad I got to meet her, she was amazing.

I’ve had people reach out across the cyberspace and be with me, in some of the hardest and darkest times. People sending me back the same message I send out – I’m here. You’re not alone. You’re not the only one. You’re okay.

I’ve had people send me money. Recently someone has contacted me to let me know they value my work and are funding me monthly for the next 9 months. I went to bed and cried hysterically for a couple of hours, Rose rubbing my back. I ran out of money for fuel at a mental health conference out rural and asked for help and people rallied around me and I was breathless and wordless with gratitude. People are helping me with marketing, mental health research, higher education options, information and emotional support. I give and my tribe gives back to me.

Since writing this blog, a tribe has formed around me. Not some homogeneous unit, but a huge, varied, organically grown network of people in diverse overlapping communities, affiliations, passions, identities. They range from the closest of friends to someone who sent me a tweet sometime, or answered my question as a friend of a friend on Facebook. They connect with me, teach me, support me, need me, love me, learn from me, argue with me, and witness my life. I have come from a place of bitter isolation and loss, running from a world that was killing me and burning all the bridges behind me. I’ve endured and everything is different now. This blog has been an essential part of that.

So yes, I benefit from blogging. I used this blog to out myself, in stages as I felt able to. About having a mental illness, about being multiple, being bisexual, being genderqueer, being psychotic, being pregnant and our baby dying in my womb. About being ‘high functioning’ but still having bad days. About having physical illnesses, gynaecological disorders, invisible disabilities. Being out and public helps my mental health. It connects me to communities, it helps people understand me better and treat me better. It helps me find people like me.

I use this blog as a place to reflect. I use it as a place to be relentlessly human. I use it as a place to help other people feel less intimidated by the polished versions of self we present to each other in our lives, the imitations of intimacy and chronic dishonesty that characterise so many of our interactions with other people – online and in real life, with the burden of constant ‘professionalism’ and chronically degrading ideas about what it is to grow up and be an adult, with the misery of loneliness in crowded places, feeling broken and unseen and unknown, like the only one of your species. I write here because I need these things too, because they kill me too, and in creating spaces that are more authentic and connected, I thrive too. In making the private public, with care and sensitivity and attention to how and why, I am able to see and be seen, to see myself, to be present woth less anxious disguise and less unthinking obedience to cultures of taboo that keep the complacent comfortable and silence the different and the suffering among us.

Happy Fourth Birthday, Holding my childhood to ransom. You’ve been special. I love you. Thankyou too, all those of you who read here, even if we never cross paths or talk. Hope it’s been good for you too.

Services with Heart: Mental Health System Reform

So, at the recent Service Integration Conference in Pt Lincoln, I was explaining what I do and finding that there was great enthusiasm for my networks. Someone asked me if I had written my model down yet. That night I woke after 2 hours sleep with a lot of the model in my head wanting to be written. About 8 hours of writing later I had the first draft. This is not exactly what I was expecting to come from the conference with! I’ve shown it to a few people and received a really warm, and also valuably critical response. I also have a friend and mentor on board who thinks ‘bigger picture’ like me and is keen to develop the model with me. So that’s becoming a new key project I’m working on. Here’s a little more about it:

Services with Heart

I’m developing a model of service design, delivery, and export, with a particular emphasis upon mental health system reform but broader applicability to business structures. The focus is on creating systems that are ethical, humane, and sustainable. It’s informed by various areas of learning including Systems Theory, Fundamental Human Needs, The Peter Principle/Pyramid, the WHO model of mental health service delivery, Human Rights, Healthy Multiplicity/Pluralism, and Culture as a primary means of idea transmission. It is intended to be scalable, adaptive, self-exporting, capable of being dismantled to smaller components, and testable. I’ve written the first draft which is Phase 1.

I’m currently in Phase 2: the research and development phase, gathering data on the value and issues with existing models, with a particular focus on causes of the common declines of useful and heartfelt services – we are good at starting valuable services but there’s a significant issue in the way they grow and key areas of common entropy that threaten the continued existence of the service, or their continued usefulness and quality of service. I use my existing networks as living organisms that both test and inform the model in practice. I’m currently gathering support for a stretch of Qualitative research through interviews with people who use or work (or have used or have worked) in services.

Phase 3

  • making sense of this data and building draft 2 of the written model.

Phase 4

  • constructing several pilot programs in different high needs areas to research and evaluate the model in action.

Phase 5

  • reflecting on this evaluation and using it to adapt the model.

Phase 6

  • developing at least two programs in consultation with independent, existing organisations, one in development and one at re-evaluation of the existing service.

Phase 7

  • researching and evaluating the model’s exporting capacity in these projects.

Phase 8

  • publication.

I expect this plan will also change and adapt through the model development! 🙂 I’m hoping the end result will be a useful way of creating systems and organisations that function as much healthier organisms with much more intelligent feedback structures, and far better cultures in which people can learn, work, and receive support.

How you can help:

  • Support Me emotionally, practically, or via donations
  • Respond to Call-outs when I am looking for people to interview
  • Help me develop qualitative interview skills
  • Look for funding or study opportunities – this could be a Masters or PhD project in Public Health but I have few contacts in the academic world
  • Take on a role in any of my Networks to free up my time

Wrist poem – This is not my hand

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The texts read:

This is not my hand.
Hamlet knows it not. Hamlet denies it.

You’re a hopeless romantic, Faber said.
It would be funny were it not serious.

You’re intuitively right, and that’s what counts.
Denham’s dentrifice… Consider the lilies, they toil not, neither do they spin.

Introducing Mary O’Hagan

Mary O’Hagan is a brilliant woman I’ve been fortunate to hear speak on several occasions now. She has had an incredible personal journey from her experiences of ‘madness’ as a young woman in a psych ward, through her to role as the New Zealand Mental Health Commissioner. Her insight into the Recovery Model and commitment to better services is inspiring. She’s also behind the fantastic Peer Zone project. You can learn more about her work here:

I wanted to share about her now because her book Madness Made Me: A Memoir has recently won an award! It placed Silver in the 2015 Independent Publisher Regional and Ebook Awards!

Mary O'Hagan

On this blog, I’m extremely careful to be aware of that intersection between my stories and other people’s stories. I own my own stories but I have to be very mindful of when telling mine starts to tell other peoples. So while this blog is all about me – my thoughts, my poems, my experiences – because that is what I know and own to share, it can create an odd kind of impression that I exist in isolation, without reference to others and their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have learned so much from so many other people in my life. It delights me when someone like Mary has her work recognised publicly like this, not only because that’s always a wonderful thing to celebrate, but because it gives me a public platform to share about them.

I first met Mary at a conference in Melbourne many years ago. She stood in front of the room and spoke openly about “being mad” with such honesty and simple acceptance I was deeply moved. She was the inspiration behind me standing up in front of rooms of people and making jokes that I might have multiple personalities, but don’t worry! Not a single one of them is an axe murderer! And the room would laugh with that relief that I could be so bold and comfortable, and that slight nervousness you often get when you use humour in mental health that means “are we allowed to laugh about that? Are you sure?” I borrowed that frankness from Mary.

Later on I was lucky to get into talks she gave locally. Local services have been very generous at times to broke peer workers. Her Recovery Approach to Risk workshop in particular was memorable. Workshopping creative and compassionate solutions for people caught between their own complex needs and the madness and limitations of the services here to support them, I could see another way of working in mental health. She put a lot of my thoughts and feelings into words, and that’s always a cherished experience. I know I do the same at times for some people and how appreciated that is.

Mary has been generous with her time. I’m often isolated and struggling to get projects off the ground here in SA. In fact I’m pretty certain my international reputation at conferences and such is very much informed by my tendency to cry at the back of the room in talks, partly because I’m so lonely and broke and struggling to bring my values into the mental health sector here, and partly because it’s so overwhelmingly moving to hear from so many other people – almost all more networked, older, wiser, more experienced, perhaps at times too a little more battered, world weary and disillusioned. The recent ISPS conference in Melbourne? Cried then too. Sat at the back, listening to a German psychiatrist discuss the critical importance of peer experience in their roll out of Open Dialogue, and the way they drew upon Systems Theory to inform their adaptation of the model and I l wept, because I’ve only recently heard of systems theory in art class and it immediately seemed totally relevant for mental health to me but it sounds crazy when I say that because I’m just a mad artist – and here was this psychiatrist saying that and showing how the team he was part of had implemented it…

And suddenly I’m not alone. I’m not the Greek prophet doomed to know the future but not be believed. I’m part of something great. An international community of people who are incredibly skilled, incredibly diverse, all reaching towards humanity, seeking to understand, alleviate suffering, bring hope. Even my most original ideas have probably been thought of by someone else and are being hard fought for to develop. I’m not alone, I’m not the only one, and I don’t bear the sole weight of responsibility for that hope.

To hear these voices confidently share what I’ve thought or felt privately, to be able to talk to others who take as given assumptions I have to fight so hard for everywhere else (like the value of peer work), it’s a precious thing. And to have them give me a voice, respect my thoughts and experience too – well in mental health, that’s almost impossible for me usually.

Mary has made time for me, shared lunch with me, let me bounce my grand mad ideas off her. She’s played a small part, I don’t mean to suggest that we’re best mates, but she’s an important member of my community. I’ve learned a lot from her and been blessed by her acceptance of my knowledge and the value of what I’m trying to do too.

This is my tribe too – all these people moved by pain. Sharing deep truths of their own experience, or fighting for better quality research, or struggling to translate values into policies, or volunteering on a Monday to sit with frightened and lonely people in hospitals. I am part of a great whole, valuable but not, thankfully, essential. My knowledge is built on the back of a great history of those who have come before me, their legacy of successes and failures, their deeply personal experiences, their hopes and imperfections and own moments of being moved to tears. People like Mary are generous with their knowledge and their passion and experience, and because of that it lives on in me and in the next generation beyond me.

So, go read her book. Get to know her. Attend a talk if you get the chance. Learn from her, argue with her, honour the gift that honest telling of personal stories in public settings always is. Honour the value of it and the cost of it. She’s brilliant, go learn something.

The Power of Art

Today I read a beautiful book called Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech. It made me weep, it was so beautiful.

We, the 30 or so of us who make up Sarah, do not share our personal names. Now, we’re pretty relaxed about the whole multiplicity thing. Open and out! But, we never give a fixed number for how many parts there are in my system, because I never assume that our system map is completely accurate and finished, and I’m comfortable with that.

We have never been happy about openly identifying as individuals – on many blogs by multiples there will be a page where you can read about their system members – and I’ve always admired that, but it makes me feel incredibly exposed. Because we are highly co-conscious and switch many times a day, there’s a degree of fluidity, of somewhat ‘integrated’ functioning. In arguments a whole bunch of us may switch through, speak our piece, finish each other’s sentences, drop back inside. There’s a sort of unconscious dance between us, a façade of unity, and a lot of largely unconscious and instinctive effort to prevent anyone from noticing switching or the differences between parts.

Some of us would love to identify ourselves openly and use our real names, but for others this is an unthinkable violation. The degree of exposure stress is intense – far worse than stripping in public, for some of us this is more akin to taking off clothes, then skin and bone, pulling out organs and uncurling brain matter for people to play with. It violates a deeply held need to pretend not to be multiple. Because multiplicity has worked brilliantly for us as a way of navigating horrible situations, but revealed it can actually make you more vulnerable rather than less. Every time someone not incredibly close to me has noticed or had their attention drawn to an obvious switch, very bad things have resulted. People are positively phobic about switching, and scared people do not react well.

For us, our names are also triggers that often cue a switch. Talking about a part and using their truename will frequently bring them out – or at least to the surface to hear what is being said about them!

Names and identifying ourselves individually are highly personal, private, intimate things. Only my lover, my very closest people, at this point are granted that information. I do not even permit my shrinks to know this or know me like this. This may change later, it may not.

Our feelings on this matter are almost certainly informed by our background in sci/fi and fantasy. Anyone who has loved works such as the Chronicles of Morgan, Prince of Hed, or the Earthsea cycle will recognise the idea that names have power, and that truenames are intimate. Does this mean I’ve imagined my multiplicity to fit with wild fantasy ideas? Snort. It means that my experience of my self and the world has been informed in many ways, by many people, and for me writers have often been better guides than shrinks. I’m grateful to have books like these in my life. I’m grateful to be a writer. And it’s not just writers – theatre, songwriters, painters – all the arts. They tell us so much about what it is so be human. They are so real and so raw and so essential to my life. Without Cave, or Bradbury, I would not be here. I would have broken, broken far beyond repair. I needed others who saw the world the way I saw it, who hurt, or hoped, or learned, and shared in such ways that I felt what they felt, lived their lives with them. I have written often about my love of the arts, how much they have given, how they are the foundation of my ‘mental health’.

Before language about multiplicity, there was just the noise inside. Just the kaleidoscope shifting as switching changed everything about the world. We wrote to each other. We wrote hate. We wrote terror. We wrote love poems. We wrote to see ourselves, and re-read what we had written, and slowly learned about ourselves.

Hate that Cat is a book in poems. It reminded me of that process – instinctive, inarticulate, confused, driven, full of pain and bewilderment. Not done as a ‘therapy’ as ‘obedience’ to some grant recovery plan. Done, in fact, in opposition to those who accused me of wallowing. But somehow my lifeline to my self, my mirror of the world. I understand understanding yourself and your world through poems. They are our first language, our first connection, our home. Other people have other first languages.

How blessed I have been in this. We who write ourselves into being at the edge of the night, how fortunate we are. There is so much richness in the works of those I love. They have been my friends, mentors, parents, companions, ghosts. They have held my heart when it was too broken to live in my body any more. They have kept alive a dream that one day I would have a place in the world, a tribe, a sense of connection. That one day there would be love, there would be intimacy, closeness, people who could hear my soul, those who knew how to listen. Or at least – that there had been others like me, even if they were now long dead. I might be the last of my species, ruined and broken and hopeless, but I had a species. Other people also had breakable hearts, had bled in poems. I might be alone but I was not alone through all time and space. Not the only one ever.

That was, and is, deeply precious to me. Isn’t this what we all need? Isn’t being human finding a way to sing the song I’ve sung to Tamlorn, and finding people who will sing it back to us? To be loved that deeply. What does that have to do with art? Everything. What does art have to do with pain, madness, grief, suffering, mental illness? Absolutely everything.

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.

Grief and the book

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I’ve been very sad today. It’s three weeks after the miscarriage surgery today. I feel heavy and tired and dazed. Plodding along in my own little world at my own tired pace while life moves on around me.

There’s been a lot of things to manage and arranging Tamlorn’s cremation keeps getting pushed back. I have a folder of beautiful and touching contributions by other people. I’m still wordless myself. I turn towards it and look at it and there’s just nothing in me. No poetry, no artwork, no words at all. Just a sadness, unfathomably deep.

I seem to have spent today weeping in cars after very nice visits with lovely people. As soon as I walk away there’s a terrible emptiness, a loneliness in me.

I keep working on the book. It’s something I can do. It’s an anchor when I feel lost. I don’t know that it will be worth anything, useful to anyone, worth all this time and love. I don’t know that anyone will read something so obscure by someone so unknown with so few credentials. Self published at that. I feel very small. There’s a weight of self hate like a blanket over me. I need to be doing homework, chasing up money issues because departments that were supposed to call me haven’t. But the words are flowing. My mind is teasing out the knots and puzzles of multiplicity and my life and my approach, constantly. Between emptiness, nightmares, moments of connection with others like candles being lit in a windy place, there’s the riddle to be solved. There’s just grief and the book at the moment for me.

A Guide to Multiplicity: rough draft

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I bought my book with me on holiday and I’ve been developing it some more while my companions had afternoon naps. It’s at rough draft stage now, and comes in at around 23,000 words. I still have question marks over particular topics I’m not sure whether to include or exclude. There’s a big editing job to be done. But it’s taking shape! I plan to have it published this year.

I’m exploring the questions so infrequently touched on, or so often dogmatically responded to in the other books on Dissociative Identity Disorder I’ve read, as I find ways to communicate my own, diversity friendly, take on the topic:

What is multiplicity? What is a singular sense of self? What is consciousness? Where does identity come from? Where do parts come from? Where do voices come from? Where do dreams and psychoses come from? How does identity develop? Why don’t some people have one? What about people who lose theirs? What causes multiplicity? Is there such a thing as healthy multiplicity? What does multiplicity tell us about being human? What about being human is important to keep in mind when engaging with the topic of multiplicity?

Being an introductory guide this booklet will not answer all of these questions, but it will at least acknowledge their existence and how problematic it is to declare simple absolutes in this field. It will be as inclusive and useful as I can make it. Somewhere between the rigid dogma and the bewildering lack of certainty are paths, guides, tools, and principles that help people find their own way.

My book is back

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Yesterday I woke up with a book in my brain and my heart light. I sat out in the backyard all day and worked on how to put this massive amount of information together in a useful way. After some lovely conversations with perceptive friends I have decided on a new structure for my book. I am constantly overwhelmed by my own inane desire to write a comprehensive treatise, a PhD thesis on the entire history and cross cultural perspectives on multiplicity, a summary of everything I’ve ever experienced, heard, read, encountered, or wondered. Obviously, for people who need information in a simple, manageable form, this would be about as useful as a free aardvark. For anyone in crisis, it would be about as useful as a free colony of rabid bats delivered to your living room. I know this, but it’s hard to let go of anyway.

So, I am not writing a book any more. I am writing a series of booklets. Smaller, simpler, more accessible, on a very specific topic, and as I publish them I can if I wish and there seems to be interest, group a relevant collection into a master volume. Otherwise tentatively called a book.

A friend kindly pointed out to me yesterday that it’s interesting that a book about multiplicity, written by a multiple, is constantly changing structure. Many of us are working on this and clearly we all have different ideas about structure. Obvious when you think about it! So far this new approach is working, partly because it makes room for a number of different approaches to be part of this series, distinct but connected, such as collections of diverse stories from other people, poems and artwork, workbooks with exercises and tools, crisis resources, and so on.

The first is going to be a summary of my understanding of the experience of Multiplicity – the inevitable “So what is it?” component of every talk I give and the necessary link in the opening paragraph of every blog post on the topic. (when I’m being conscientious) It seems like a good place to start. I’m happy to be working on it actively again.

Today was harder, I had a rough night and feel sick again with nausea and crampy pain. Rose and I took a drive through the hills, admiring the autumn leaves. We bought a few plants for the garden and had teary conversations. I’ve been reading the emails that people have been sending in to grieve with us out loud to her, and we are both so deeply touched by them and feel so glad to have made a small space for others to grieve their own losses too. Much love to all of you. xx

Things without name

Appreciate darling Rose who had packed of lunch box of food unlikely to make me sick. I’m feeling nauseated a lot of the time, very tired, mad dreams. Pretty much like fibro really, being pregnant. I’m unsettled and feeling strange things that are hard to name. Oddly lonely.

Yesterday I was reading Idylls of the King by Tennyson for art homework. I also read a bunch of sites about starting Not for Profit orgs and setting up committees and so on, until the sense of displacement and anxiety crawled so high up my throat I couldn’t breathe anymore. Reading about Arthur, the ordained king and his knights in which he had such faith, their overturning of the old world and their bright hopes, all ashes by end, felt so fitting I cried. Of the original DI board, most are not speaking to someone else who was on it. We start things with such hope and end them in such ruin. And the ones that persist seem to lose all the glow of kindness and passion that brought them into life, becoming mechanical, unwieldy, inefficient, consuming. I have such hope but so very little faith. “Everything anyone has ever thought is true… I’ll be alright, and I’m going to die. Both of those are true too.” Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Phillip K Dick

Here I sit between classes, feeling the slight stretch and pull of my womb growing, eating these small tokens of devotion like a sacrament, feeling blessed, feeling humbled, feeling out of step with the world. In a place where things are not themselves, not as they seem, names that do not fit. Like you, little nameless one inside me.

Rose and I hold each other in the soft hours, away from the critics and the judgement, feeling the faint terror under all our days, the burning love. Do you think we will feel less afraid when the baby is here safely? No, never again, it is to live with your heart outside of your chest. I’ve been here, waking from nightmares where my family are slaughtered, or sitting by the bed of someone beloved who is dying, saying goodbye and trying to fix the details in my mind. I’ve been here, feeling alone and exquisitly vulnerable in the vast darkness and fragility of life.

“The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.”
Dover Beach,  Matthew Arnold

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful life, if you can find it.” Nick Cave

Book is happening

2014-12-13 20.59.20-1It’s consuming. But it’s happening. A book about multiplicity. It comes in spurts, days where it’s writing itself in my head constantly and flowing, then depressing blocks where nothing makes sense or connected with anything else. I think I may have finally found a structure that works more closely with the way I write this blog – which I should find a lot easier to work with. I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

Holding my childhood to ransom turns 3!

Wow, three years of blogging. I love it. Writing used to be private and solitary. I adore the interaction of a blog (admittedly, most of my interactions still happen over at facebook or via email, but it’s still awesome to get feedback, critiques, or opinions straight away for something I’ve written or shared). I follow a many other blogs and enjoy the sense of connection and sharing of information. I continue to try and make the leap from blog writing to book writing, but I struggle with the impulse to share my thoughts straight away, with the concern that someone somewhere might be looking for help, and with the change in format from posts to chapters… I think in blog posts now! It’s been a year now since I moved from blogger to wordpress and I’m still happy with that change. I still don’t make any money from my writing, which is a little sad considering how passionate I am about it, and how much time I devote it… and that it’s one of my few skills that doesn’t generate joint pain for me. I still haven’t figured out how to get google analytics to work on here so I’m only guessing about my site stats.

My top 5 most popular posts of all time are:

The most popular search terms that bring people to this blog are about psychosis, empathy, bulling, chronic illness, trauma, multiplicity, dissociation, feeling suicidal, and face painting. I have published 894 posts in 19 categories. As usual for me, it’s been a busy year. I saw Amanda Palmer in concert, then got onto twitter for the first time, talked to Amanda Palmer, and tweeted short poems. I grieved for two lovely friends, Amanda, and Leanne. I celebrated a year with my gorgeous girlfriend Rose. I wrestled with challenges facilitating various groups, delivered a talk at the World Hearing Voices Congress in Melbourne, discovered our cat Tonks is a she, not a he, navigated life and my relationships, and other people’s reactions, when you have chronic illnesses. I had rough nights and used ink on my skin. I had my second experience of psychosis. I graduated and won an award! I figured out to use routines to my advantage. I wrote a lot about triggers, love, dissociation, stigma, recovery, growing up, sex, mindfulness, and crisis. I nailed down my philosophy of multiplicity in a nutshell. I set up my first art studio! I turned 31. I hung out with my goddaughter, Sophie, and shared a lot of art from my bachelor degree. We spent more time getting to know our trans guy parts. I was sick a lot, managed a lot of pain, and did a lot of system work. Rose and I moved into preconception care as we plan for children of our own. It’s been a pretty wild ride!

It all started with this post, on Aug 1st, 2011 – What am I up to at the moment? If you’d like a summary of the blog in development, check out my yearly updates on Holding my childhood to ransom turns One, and Two.

Thankyou to everyone who has visited, read, shared, commented, or emailed me. Your kindness, insights, and willingness to share are a blessing. I’m thrilled to have journeyed with you through the last three years. I hope you’ve learned as much as I have.

I’m not sure how long I’ll keep blogging for. I can see that book writing and blogging may not both fit in my life and I’m sad and unsure about that. On one level I love being here and being so open and I am anticipating sharing the joys and sadness of starting a family. But I’m not wedded to the idea either, it’s been a huge project and I may need my time and passion to go elsewhere. For now though, you’ll be hearing from me soon. 🙂

Sleepless

I cannot sleep. I had a quiet day, doing a little housework and resting much. The sublime experiences of the previous night settle, as I knew they would, but in peaceful domesticity there is a peace, moments of contemplation to ponder and connect with the memory of transcendence. I spent the evening with Rose, then read in a warm bath to try and ease pain, and came to bed. I’ve since read two books, written a considerable amount on my own book, and find myself exhausted but not sleepy. My mind will not let go and fall into sleep. It’s so peaceful here that I understand and cannot admonish it. After weeks of screaming pain, and no certainty about who will wake from slumber, it’s easier to claw back the small hours and breathe into the peace than surrender to oblivion. They are hours stolen from tomorrow though, which I will certainly regret if we wake early in pain.

So I’m back to bed again with a mug of warm milk, a piece of chocolate, and some more books. Poems by Judith Wright. Jekyll and Hyde, because I want to see if my version has an introduction that was mentioned in a another book I’ve just finished. And Death is a Lonely Business, by Ray Bradbury, because it perfectly matches my mood and it’s been a long time since I last ran on the beaches with Constance. I might not be sleeping, but I am certainly in good company.

Poisoned

I’m sick. Rose has been sick with her cold, the ear infections, and a fun tummy bug as a little gift at the end. She’s on the mend. Zoe has been sick with a terrible ear infection. It’s improving but only slowly. She’s on steroids which make her eat and drink more and need to pee during the night so she currently sleeps in the laundry overnight so she doesn’t wet her bedding. I’m a mess. I’m extremely depressed and spend several hours a day crying. My fibro is bad and my pain levels have been too high for too long. I’m good at managing chronic pain but when the base line climbs too much I find that it effects my mood and thinking. My brain gets noisy, my mood crashes, and I find myself getting angry at everything and hating myself. I’m lonely and miserable and awful company. I have a bad sinus infection again, I’m now prone to these since my first severe one a couple of years ago which was caused by a rotten tooth developing an abscess that travelled into my sinuses. I’m beyond frustrated by my inability to stay well, and into a place of despair. How can I work when random months of the year my immune system crashes and I develop such terrible illnesses? Last time the sinuses wiped me badly enough that I also developed tonsillitis, laryngitis, bronchitis, fluid in my ears and a kidney infection. I was beyond miserable and in a private hell.

I can’t bear cheerfulness, it hurts, and it makes me angry. I feel so frustrated and enraged, so hopelessly inadequate. I get windows when the pain relief is working when it all goes away like a cloud blowing past. I come back, and I feel whole, and I can smile. There’s a playfulness, a gentleness in me, a sense of quiet hope. When the clouds come back there’s rage, and a self loathing so intense and overwhelming that I feel poisoned by it, impaled upon it and all efforts to lift myself off only drive the blade deeper into my belly.

Tell me you don’t want me to hate myself I sob to Rose. I feel like I’m trying to give you this gift, that I know I’m useless and pathetic and not trying hard enough, but don’t worry, I’m punishing myself. You don’t have to hate me, I’m doing it. She brings me tulips and watches TV with me. Of course I don’t, she tells me. I love you. I’m like a badly wounded dog, biting at everything. I’m scared I’m going to bite someone else so I’m gnawing on my own limbs and there’s blood in my mouth and up my nose and it’s only making it worse but I can’t stop.

My skin is blistering and my eyes hurt. Admin is a pit of terror, my own failure and inadequacy. Every day I’m a step closer to finding out how badly I have stuffed this up and put a number to the amount I will owe. I try to be stoic.

I have a big assignment due on Monday. I’m starting to fall badly behind in my studies. I listened to the tutor talk about so many artists I’ve never heard of, with such envy. That world is slipping away from me. I try to get the basic process of experimentation through my head, that is okay to ‘waste’ paper trying something out. It’s the simplest idea, but my brain is molded to years of poverty and lack, I can’t replicate it at home. So many dreams that feel as fragile as glass. I need to get better.

I’m writing. I can do that. It’s messy and the threads are hard to follow, but that can be fixed. I lose myself in it, I focus and fall into it and my mind is clear in that place, no noise, no biting. It doesn’t hurt. My wrist is braced while the tendons heal but the writing doesn’t hurt. I write in bed, in the garden, at my computer, in the bath, by the fire at my local pub. It feels tenuous, like a last ditch effort to have a toe hold in the world. It feels liberating. For so long I’ve been diplomatic with services in mental health who have broken my heart by becoming everything we don’t need more of. There’s a kind of freedom, a sadness, a gladness, a despair in nailing my colours to the mast and saying No! You are not lighting the way. You are part of the problem. (how am I supposed to get work, ever? This is hopeless) I can hear the critics in my head. The mainstream saying I’m far too harsh and the things I’m criticising them for are old problems, they don’t happen anymore (they do). And I can hear the outsiders saying I’m far too soft and give too much ground and people are never helped by the mainstream (they are). That’s a familiar place to be, in the middle of the war with everyone upset that I’m not on their side. That’s probably about the right place to be. I know who I’m writing for, it’s people like me 6 years ago, frightened and unsupported and trying to navigate the world as a newly diagnosed ‘freak’. Maybe something will come of it.

Riding it out

Things are starting to settle down again. Rose and I both dosed ourselves with some phenergan last night and got the first decent sleep of the week. I’ll probably do the same tonight, then this weekend is the wonderful, long awaited Medieval Fair again – and I’m camping out there for the whole weekend. Camping always helps me to sleep so I that should be a big boost forwards too. Not to mention that a whole bunch of friends are going to be there and I’m feeling really excited and relieved that I’ll be able to float around a little spacey in the happy hubbub of it all.

Today started well. I’m still so tired, heartsick. In recovery. I decided that this week was a write off, I’ve been doing whatever I feel like (mostly staying home in my dressing gown and working on my book/s) and doing just enough admin to keep life ticking along. It’s getting easier, finally, the admin. I print everything, I do my best to work around issues I know are tough, like phone phobia, and I keep lists and tackle small portions with time limits. I went to see my shrink recently and we discussed my exhaustion and pain levels and how unmanageable the business plans feel now that Rose is working nearly full time in a different job. She laid on the line that it was time for a major restructure to make things manageable before I do a major crash – which is where I was up to but it’s helpful sometimes to have that from a person in some kind of authority. There are things I’ve been able to do with Rose being available to support me so much – like face paint up at Monarto Zoo because she handles the drive there and home, that without her I simply can’t do. There isn’t a choice not to change things, it’s merely one of timing. I change them now and just have a period of adjustment, or I wait until I crash and wipe out my health as well as my old business format. The biggest issue I’m having is chronic pain, which is particularly from the dreadlock work, and also the face painting. I do have a bunch of other possible business ventures that cause me a lot less pain, which it looks like I will have to figure out and move into. I am hoping to get back into my studio next week and start setting them up and rewriting my website. I also have an appointment booked for my accountant to get all the work I’ve been doing assessed and make sure I’m on the right track to get all the over due reporting finished. I have to move a bit slowly, with all the stress both my physical and psychological health are rather vulnerable at the moment.

I don’t have a clue what to do about my degree finishing before I can finish it yet. Still mulling that one over. I missed classes on Monday due to crisis and chaos and being back in hospital with Rose. This Monday I’ll start up my photography class and get back into drawing. I’m hoping to find my favourite Sculpture tutor and ask some advice. I also have some frightening appointments with Centrelink (welfare) coming up which I hope I’m ready to deal with. It’s all a little scary and unstable. One step at a time.

2014-05-01 12.20.03-1So, this was the start of my day. Actually having food is a step forwards. The research one of us who is starting the book layout work tends to work obsessively and rarely eats. So much of this is about riding out the processes and gently steering them away from the rocks.

Talisman

It’s funny, I’ve started carrying the first draft of my book outline with me everywhere. I went to bed last night and couldn’t sleep, so I wrote ideas in it into the small hours. I slept beside it in the bed, and when I woke up, I took it with me into the garden with the first cup of tea of the day.

A lot of the day was hard. Bad pain, not enough sleep… Whenever I wake up, the memory of losses floods me and my adrenaline spikes. I’m alert and feeling ill and unable to get back to sleep. It will pass. Whenever I touch the book notes, something in me calms. They are some kind of talisman for the easing of my heart.

It sparks a memory, of being a student at school, caring with me at all times my huge blue folder of poems. It was my lifeline, my shield against that world. I don’t write in my journals as often these days. I have Rose, and other people to talk to, there’s less quiet moments in my day that lend themselves to poetry, and I write this blog. I don’t know how long this passion will last, if the spell of calming will wear off. For now, I’m grateful.

I’ve been speaking a lot lately with people about crisis and multiplicity and being a carer and recovering from trauma and grieving. It’s really crystallised for me that I do have some unusual ideas and approaches that can be helpful for other people at times. I have come through a lot, learned a lot, been able to put good ideas and good advice from others to use. There’s a sense of purpose and meaning in this work that is keeping me going at the moment. Perhaps the best part of it is that it doesn’t cause me pain. I can write on bed, at my desk, in the bath, in the garden, but it doesn’t hurt the way almost all the rest of my working life does currently. That’s a blessing indeed.

I’m writing

I woke up this morning with a book in my brain. I’m sad and short of sleep (read, not able to sleep much), and there’s a sense of sorrow that I’m carrying around, a kind of tiredness of spirit. Writing at the moment feels like lighting a candle and warming my hands at it, or a small fire. I can sit and stare into it and all the things that are aching recede. I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately about where to start and which book to work on first, and I’d settled on the plan of a small collection of poems, paintings, and essays about suicide. This morning I woke up with my whole alternative framework for understanding and working with multiplicity in my mind instead. A friend had expressed encouragement for that one a few days ago and it seems that’s the fire that wanted to light. Maybe there’s a little too much grief going on for me at the moment to work on the other.

So I’ve been putting together a framework, drawing partly upon things I’ve already written here on this blog, and talks I’ve given, but sewing it all together into something coherent and sequenced. I think people are going to find it much easier to follow than skipping from blog post to post. I’m still debating about whether to include a section on multiplicity crisis support, or keep this for more general principles and stories about engaging multiplicity. I don’t want to make it ridiculously long and detailed, but I do like to read things that are thorough and well thought out. Hard calls. I have a bunch of people keen to read a draft which is very exciting, and I’ve got an appointment booked on Friday with a friend to review the planned structure.

I had to interrupt the flow this afternoon to head off to be part of a reference group, supporting the development of sexual health training for mental health workers. Unfortunately in that time another 3 books turned up in my head and tried to write themselves. o.O True multiple style, sigh! So I’ve drafted some notes about them to put to one side for now. The timing is a little frustrating, I want to get my studio running and the last of my paperwork sorted. But I’m not about to argue, the impulse is there, the joy, that hint of obsession, my brain writing and re writing things while I’m trying to concentrate on other tasks. Might as well run with it.

Now I’m off to cook dinner for Rose who has done a stellar job at her first day at work. I’m making creamy lemon chicken pasta and there’s leftover peach cobbler from the other night. Life goes on.

How to rebuild

I learn so much from books I love. I gave a talk again about Mental health and recovery to some students at Tafe the other day. Each time I do this I love it more. It’s such a treat to have the floor for a little while, to talk about freedom and loneliness and love – all the things we so rarely talk about in mental health, all those things so critical to our lives. I draw upon such a wide collection of information, psych textbooks, biographies, my own experiences and those of other people I’ve met or supported, and so often, fiction. Good writers understand life deeply and they write about it in ways that are just as useful in helping to answer questions about life and people.

I’ve just finished re-reading The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia A. McKillip, one of my favourite authors. There’s a beautiful passage in it that resonated with me. I’ve heard a few people lately struggling with how to rebuild lives that have been taken apart by grief or illness. This is a gentle place to start:

I do not know anymore… I cannot care. It seems I have heard a dream, except that – no dream could hurt so deeply or be so endless. Maelga, I am like weary earth after the killing, hardening winter… I do not know if anything green and living will grow from me again.
Be gentle with yourself…Come with me tomorrow through the forest; we will gather black mushrooms and herbs that, crushed against the fingers, give a magic smell. You will feel the sun on your hair and the rich earth beneath your feet, and the fresh winds scented with the spice of snow…Be patient, as you must always be patient with new pale seeds buried in the dark ground. When you are stronger, you can begin to think again. But now is the time to feel.

 

Considering publishing a book

I’ve just calculated that in the past three months, I’ve written, edited, and published 40,000 words on this blog.

I’m finding that rather mind boggling! Wow. It’s been very good for my writing, in learning to write more frequently, clearly, to edit quickly and make it all happen. Last year I was writing the talk on Supporting someone in a dissociative crisis and I found that it was quickly turning into a synthesis of a lot of my thinking and reading over the past 8 years. I put up a page on the DI website with links to articles I’d written so that people could further explore topics I could only touch on briefly in the talk itself. I wondered if this was the bones of the structure of a book.

If I can write a first draft of 80,000 words in under a year, that seems surprisingly within reach, and I’m excited by that. I’m mulling over different ideas – how broad the topic to work with, how to structure it, how on earth to get it to people who actually might find it useful, or get paid for any of my time on it, if it can be worked on alongside a blog, or if I need to pause the blog for awhile, if self publishing is still the best format, who I could recruit as support people – encouragement, editing, marketing, if it would be best to start with a small project where all the learning and mistakes will be cheaper and easier to manage…

40,000 words. Blimey. It makes me feel like a real writer, helps me to really grasp just how important this craft is to me. That’s a lot of hours. And at the moment, since the Hearing Voices Congress, my brain is alight with ideas. I’m drafting blog posts in my head while driving to the shops, while lying in bed trying to sleep, while watching movies. I’m writing them on my phone while waiting for appointments. There’s a lot of inspiration and drive. It may collapse at some point, or some other project may demand more time, but things written once, remain written. I’m giving serious thought to this.

I took a while day off this week to write on this blog, preparing a series of posts ahead of time. It was thrilling! I headed off to friends for dinner and card games, then cane home brimming with inspiration and wrote into the small hours as well. I was in that place where I’m so happy my heart is thrumming, where I feel like I’m going to burst with joy.

I’ve been debating setting my time up differently this year, and trialling a system where each day of the week is overtly given over to something specific, such as art, college work, writing, admin, the face painting business, and time off. Yesterday was an admin day, and my house proud part came out and cleaned and bought things and organised to her hearts content. The problem was trying to make her stop! At 3.30 am we finally managed to switch her out while she was cleaning and rearranging the pantry. She was the happiest critter in the world. The best part was that Rose did an admin day too, so there was no sense of being rushed or taking away from our time together. It was great! I may be onto something with this system!

In high school my English teacher had set aside Fridays to work on his novel. I always envied him this idea. Now I think I might embrace it.

Bringing me back to myself

Last night, Rose was sick and I was coming down with another sinus infection – oh joy! So instead of roaming around Pride March with most of our friends, we stayed home and walked TV. Rose admitted to being a captive audience so I put on one of my favourite movies, Cyrano de Bergerac – the version with Gerard Depardieu. I love it so much, it’s been a couple of years since I watched it. It’s part of my ‘cannon’ of books, films, and poetry that I usually revisit about annually. I wept and wept through it. I know parts of it by heart and yet it still moved me deeply.

It got me thinking about this ‘cannon’ collection and what they mean to me. After Cyrano, I couldn’t help but take up my pen and write a poem about it, about remembering that for me, poetry is the meaning of life. It is how I live and feel and breathe and experience the world! I don’t mean the act of writing, or the ability to turn a pretty phrase. I mean something else – passion, frailty, beauty, something more bohemian. It’s about speaking from your heart, living life large, stargazing, nakedness, joy, grief. I’ve gone too far away from these values. I kept trying to fit myself into a world I will never fit. I miss my pen, my ink, my heart.

So I wrote and remembered what it was to write, I thought about the philosophy of Cyrano that so speaks to me – him admonishing a character who won by secrecy and deception – that he had not won but rather “gave up the honor of being a target”. His pride, his enthusiasm for struggle, his understanding of the emptiness of success and the great courage it takes to love. “Winning’s not the point. The fight is better when it is in vain!” These ideas I cherish. They strengthen me. They bring me back to my own heart, my own ideals. I weep and am restored. I remember what I have been fighting for and why.

This is what my canon of art does for me: it brings me back to myself. I spend my life in a world that does not think or believe or desire what I do. I am small, I lose my way. I imbibe, like poison, ideas that would kill me, would grind me into the dust. Ideas about life and poverty and value. My canon are my defense, they restore me to my own beliefs. They wake passion and courage within me. They remind me that all the ideas of the world are only that, ideas. Little prisons made by the small thoughts of little people. Whereas my dreams, they open up my world. They inoculate me, rejuvenate me, restore my heart to the place where it soars.

This is the difference between believing I am ‘white trash’ when living in a caravan park, and feeling lucky for my gypsy life. I open up my heart and all the world floods in, all life blows through my soul, with such pain and such untempered joy.

So I come back to them, over and over, to heal myself from the wounds of a world that does not live like this or understand it. It is about being deeply alive. It is a way of living that I treasure.

Beautiful Cyrano, who failed in so many ways, and was yet true to himself, lived gloriously. To live a life like his I would be doing well indeed. We measure our lives by standards that mean less than nothing to me. Worse – we get only so little time, so few Autumns, which are eaten by lethal ideas like – death is something that happens to other people, like – I’ll have time to do that next year, like – I must achieve to have worth. We get so little time and it is so easily devoured by the philosophies of the empty and deranged.

In poetry I find my meaning and my hope. It is a philosophy I cherish and must nurture more. It takes me beyond the pain of failure, the prison of sickness, the wounds of deep loss. Beyond nightmares and despair, the pit, the black sea, the place where all the world becomes blood. It is breathing far under that water, it is staring into the face of the nightmare, it is a scream that becomes a song. It is joy at the edge of death. A flower worn close to my heart. Sunlight on my skin, rain on my mouth, lover in my arms. All things, embraced, the cup drunk deeply from. Authenticity over positivity. Honesty over comfort. Passion over an easy life. I have not failed, I have lived. For someone fractured by dissociation, who once walked as the living dead, left numb, deaf, blind by it – this belief in life, this desire to be alive and to experience it is the antidote to my private hell. Learning how to protect it, how to run from buildings on fire, from lovers who carry cages, from hands that trap and bind, that is my task. Burning brightly, I walk in shadow unconcerned. I speak of hope to other hearts. I can remind people that pain does not destroy life, it is a dark thread in a tapestry. That even our tears have beauty.

Always coming home, then, a dance – back out into the world, home again to these keepers of my heart – Cyrano, Bradbury, McKillip. The artists who whisper truths in my ear and keep my heart from cages. How I love them. Bless them all.