My experience of self harm

Obviously this one is going to be totally unsuitable for some people. I talk about self harm frankly. I do not describe graphic accounts, but some methods are mentioned. There are no images. Please take care. 

I rea‚Äčd an article yesterday, called But Still, by Samantha Van Zveden. It reminded me of my own experiences, the fear, the ambivalence, the sense of compulsion, driving inexplicable need. It’s taken me most of my life, but it no longer has me by the throat. It’s an experience that bewilders people, and into the gap in our understandings pour myths, fears, and a kind of casual brutality that can still bring me screaming to my knees. 

They’re just doing it for attention. Doing it to be cool. Doing it for acceptance by other kids. Doing it to annoy her parents. Doing it because he doesn’t have enough to do. Doing it because it’s ‘in’. 

Falling far down the rabbit hole of trying to prove pain to people who do not believe you. Their belief, their compassion, their acceptance of your sincerity is an unwinnable thing. So many years and so much suffering poured out seeking it. Every day going down, deeper into self destruction, closer to death. I grew up in a world where pain was only real if someone else believed in it. Many people still live in that world. It took me a long time to escape it and reclaim my own mind.

Self harm is complex and full of contradictions. Something I often remind people is that it is common in the animal kingdom. Animals and birds experiencing inescapable pain – loneliness, captivity in an unsuitable cage: too small, too stressful, too close to predator species, overcrowded, or physically ill and suffering, many will head bang, pluck their own feathers, chew or lick off their skin, tear out nails and claws. On one level, self harm is a nearly universal response to certain kinds of suffering. This is the context, the broad picture. We are mammals, part of the world, nervous systems wired this way. 

Zooming right in, we get vast diversity in who, how, and why. Some find a single cause and many more a complex web of reasons, needs, struggles. 

Some harm to punish themselves. Some to break out of dissociation and stop feeling numb. Some to reclaim their own body. To mark important events, the way some cultures ritually scarify children becoming adults. To discharge suicidal distress and make it safely through the night. To trigger numbness when feelings are overwhelming. To push the boundaries of skin and self and rules of what is acceptable. To prove their pain to themselves or someone else who isn’t listening or doesn’t believe. To ease the screaming panic. To mark the empty days. To annihilate, piece by piece, every last bit of themselves. To get revenge on those who think they own us. To be ugly so we will not be desired and harmed. To make ourselves beautiful. To let out the badness. Because it simply, inexplicably, felt right. 

What it is not, and has never been, is the circle I hear so often. They self harm because they are mentally ill: we know they are mentally ill because they self harm. 

We self harm because something is wrong, because of pain, because it is the best way we’ve found to meet a need we don’t understand or accept or can’t express. 

I remember the first day I bought blades with the intention of self harming. I was suffering from severe PTSD and my world had become nightmares and panic and rage in a bed of grey, empty, exhausting apathy. I felt so utterly weak and damaged, all the time. Buying blades I felt powerful, defiant against all those who required that I show no sign of my suffering. That I should not be changed by my experiences. Breaking those rules felt like being true to myself. That link between owning my own pain and harming myself was powerful and took many years to understand and find an alternative for. Because for me, it clicked so strongly self harm immediately became an intense, consuming addiction. 

I experienced such relief from my anguish in self harm it was electric. Physical pain created an intense focus for my thoughts, it shifted me out of the mundane world into a deeply needed altered state and created a powerful sense of ownership over my body and proof of my pain to myself. It eased suicidal despair and sated my constant self loathing. For a short while the internal litany of how stupid, ugly, selfish, pathetic, and what a miserable freakish lonely failure I was would go quiet. It was peace. I felt strong instead of weak. I felt I’d proved something to myself. I felt like I could finally take off my armour and rest for a little while. 

The next morning I was drowning in shame, and the self loathing intensified beyond anything I’d previously experienced. The sight of the wounds would trigger rage at myself. Why was I so weak and pathetic? Such a drama queen. I sided with others brutal assessment of my character and motivation. 

Once the wounds healed and were less visible, I would feel panic. I needed to see them. I would desperately want new wounds. The longer I went without seeing my own blood, the more compelled I felt. I tried to meet this need in other ways, considering I have endometritis and adenomyosis and was bleeding heavily literally half of my life I couldn’t understand why that wasn’t enough blood, why it had to be this, too. 

So the experience, like all addictions, created the conditions to feed itself, becoming its own trigger and containing both the problem (shame, pain, self hate) and the remedy. Once inside the locked room I was trapped. The compulsion felt simultaneously too powerful to fight, and extremely minor, a mere suggestion that I was choosing to indulge. I could snap out of it anytime, stop anytime I wanted to. I felt divided.

When others reacted with intense anger, shaming, and minimising (you’re just copying someone else because you think it makes you interesting), I merely switched from my preferred methods of self harm to things that caused pain and distress but left no marks on my skin. They were a poor substitute for the rituals but not doing anything felt impossible. 

I read books and articles about it, talked to my doctor and shrinks. Nothing made the hunger go away. I tried ‘behavioural extinguishing’ where you simply refuse to engage the behaviour no matter what, and over time the urge will disappear. It did not. In 8 straight years of not harming at all I still struggled with the urge often. Some days it was louder and some quieter but always there. I often dreamed about it in terrifying ways, saw images of it unbidden in my mind when close to blades or while cooking, and when distressed or on seeing wounds or scars on others would intensely yearn for the release. 

I remember a friend confiding in me their teenage child had been self harming. I come home from the conversation to howl in bewildering agony – why do they get blades and not I? As if I was deprived of something essential to my survival. Part of my mind listening in, in absolute confusion and disgust. How could I be this messed up? 

I remember another friend confiding in me that they’d been to see a shrink and shared their awful compulsion to cut with them, and the shrink had brightly and inanely suggested wearing a rubber band on their wrist and flicking it when the urges come, to simulate the pain. It was like comparing a glass of water to a tsunami. I needed to scream so loud it tore my world apart, set the sky on fire, turned the rain to blood. I was drowning in unspeakable suffering, dying in plain sight, and the world of psychology offered a rubber band. My friend and I were mutually speechless at the gulf between our experiences and their understanding. The trivialising of the darkest hours of my life drove me further into darkness and further from understanding myself. What the hell is wrong with me?

I stayed away from medical care, aware that other’s responses fed the need on me, their callousness filled me with violent rage against myself, their compassion made me want to do it again to be treated with warmth and gentleness again. I listened to a young peer who turned up at ER one day, wild with pain and afraid she would self harm. They told her they would not admit her unless she had current wounds. So she walked out of the hospital and gave herself some, then walked back in. Then they admitted her. In that context, it was simply the admission fee for ‘care’. I noticed you often had to increase the dose over time to get a similar response from mental health staff. I called this ‘the language of symptoms’ and I fought not to speak it. With some peers, self harm was treated as the ultimate proof of your pain. It bypassed skepticism and got you into the club of people who had done it tough. I fought not to internalise this either. I read frightening books that made suicide seem the ultimate way to show other people you were genuinely hurting, and make them regret their indifference. I fought that framework too. 

I learned that for me, self harm was often about proving my pain, not only to other people in my world who were minimising my distress, but also to myself. It was a way of proving the suffering of the night before to whoever woke up the next morning. A kind of memo, written on my skin, that said: pay attention, we are hurting. Something that I could not ignore, could not find a positive light for or put a good spin on. Something animal and savage the intellectual part couldn’t explain away, something dark and forbidden the rule abiding part couldn’t condone or ignore. 

On bad days I spent hours in the bath, in self imposed quarenteen until I felt safe to walk past the knives in the kitchen. The longest bath like this I’ve taken was 9 hours. Letting out the cold water and adding more hot as my fingers and toes wrinkle. Waiting until the need reduces to manageable or the dissociation numbs it.

Substituting the need was my best approach. Less instant and complete, I learned to be patient with the alternatives and put up with partly met needs. It was by far the best relief I’d found. I developed Ink not Blood and discovered in a strange way that I was equally ashamed of simulated self harm as I was of actual wounds. The shame was more about the visibility of my pain than it was about the taboo of self harm. I felt deeply embarrassed I needed such a thing. Wrist poems continued to weave their way through my life as an alternative too. Talking to myself on my skin.

Psychosis resolved through body painting, full body art with simulated blood. Gold drips from my mouth, splashes of red across my hip. Simulated self harm and altered state on a massive scale with not a blade in sight. A wound in me heals, the need weakens. 

I read about the Bloggess, she discusses her self harm frankly, with neither pity not rage, simply that she ‘fell off the self harm wagon’. She dusts herself off and climbs back on. No one screams at her or takes her kids away. I can’t see anyone forcing her hands over to show mutilated wrists and dropping them with a lip curl of revulsion. I envy her. Self harm as a bad night, not a moral failing.

Then I’m pregnant and the proximity of children quietens the need. Star and Poppy arrive and it continues to fade away. The self hate stays, a near constant companion, the daily voice “I hate myself”. The nightmares of graphic self harm; dismemberment, self immolation, degloving, stop and don’t come back. The triggers lose their power, evoke a pang rather than a desperate thirst. I watch it drain out of my life with relief and confusion. I take less baths, wear less gloves and wrist cuffs, write fewer wrist poems. 

I still don’t entirely know why it’s gone, or if it’s ever coming back. Has it gone with some wild part of me I’m losing touch with? Is it a good thing that it’s eased? Has it been replaced by the depression, the sense of choking failure that haunts me? Health is not merely the absence of a symptom. Why didn’t it take the self loathing with it? What does it all mean? 

I don’t know. I’m glad not to be struggling with it, it was a many headed hydra that seemed to grow stronger the more heads I lopped off. Most days I’m glad my scars are so invisible. Some days I regret my restraint a little. I’m glad to have found that the symbol of harm, the imitation of it, has so much power for me, and learned that self harm is in itself a symbol of something else, a word in language you don’t yet speak but must learn to decipher. 

I don’t hurt like I used to hurt, stuffed full of secrets and bewildered by my pain. It’s in the open now and I have names for it (queer, trauma, multiple, altered state, creative). I’ve got other ways to scream and I don’t ignore myself so much. 

It’s such a victory, and yet, while the self hate remains it seems in many ways a hollow one. However far I go, it’s not enough. Have I won the war, or just stopped caring enough to bother fighting? Is it still a blessing if the screaming stops but the pain remains? I don’t know. I’m still working on it, feeling into it, trying to understand it. I’m glad to be out of the shame spiral, the snake vomiting its own tail. I’m glad my girls don’t live with it as a daily reality for their parent. I’m under no illusions though, I know exactly what it feels like to live with people who hate themselves and I try to be mindful of that, to decode it when I must and protect them as I can. 

I’ve come a long way. I’m not done yet. Self harm, for me, met a need. It also fuelled that need. Finding other powerful ways to meet it broke the spiral. (you don’t break addictions, you replace them) It’s nothing to do with the drug of choice, and everything to do with the environment. I had to make very hard, very painful choices to change my environment. In some ways much more painful than merely cutting myself. It was a substitute, a symbol, a signal of how trapped I felt in that life. 

I left. I severed relationships and found new ones. Came out as multiple, then again as bisexual, and again as genderqueer. Made art. Nurtured others. Found self compassion. Stopped trying to find my salvation in my own blood. Learned to live with the scars and the places where there aren’t scars. Go home and scream when people tell me self harm is attention seeking, but in the moment try to validate their bewilderment and anxiety, gently correct attention seeking to connection seeking. Try to bridge the gap and make the incomprehensible make some kind of sense, engender some kind of compassion. Try to make people rethink their instinctive revulsion, to question their belief self harm is always fundamentally wrong, that it deserves involuntary disgust of the kind usually reserved for rapists.

Our skin, like our bodies and our lives, is our own. It’s shame that kills us. Loneliness that destroys our lives. Love that saves us, that makes the pain bearable and heals the screaming wounds. It’s not always enough, but is always necessary for life. 

Darling Poppy

Her unblemished newborn skin is now a tapestry of grazes as she explores her world. She’s cheerful, fearless, and affectionate. Currently she loves throw things, climb heights, push a small trolley around the house, and swim short distances unaided. She has a terrifying habit of climbing up furniture then hurtling herself off it to be caught by unsuspecting people who walk past. She likes to try to stand on the handlebars of her little bike, and can climb a ladder with rungs spaced over a foot apart. 

She’s intensely social and becomes distressed and destructive if stuck home or with not enough people for too long. Awake at 10pm at a friend’s wedding she’s still exploring with excitement and charming the guests. 

She’s discovered she can scream and shriek so car trips can be interesting and we’re all suffering some degree of hearing loss when she’s unhappy. She frets when people cry and comes over to pat them on an arm. When she needs contact she follows us around the house tugging on clothes and asking for a ‘tuddle?’ or brings us a favourite board book to be read to her. 

She adores music and often sings to herself or us. The Pussycat song, a medly of mews, is very popular. Dancing is also her thing. 

The three of us, myself, Rose, and Star, are all tuned in to different things and care for her in different ways. Star still has the magic touch and can often help her to sleep within a few minutes. Star will pick up on a particular wiggle that means she needs a nappy change. Rose is so aware of her capacities with swimming and able to judge so well the limits of what she can do physically. I pick up on her sense of cabin fever, when she’s reached the limits of amusing herself and needs something new. 

Mornings in bed together are still my favourite time. She is very busy little person and mornings are quiet and content and precious. 

She is magic and I adore her. 

Poppy and Art

How jolly our Christmas has been. Good people, lovely food, thoughtful gifts. Poppy has some awesome new musical instruments.

I’m disconnected from work and being present. Playing games, making puzzles, cooking meals. Setting up my reading list for next year on my phone apps… One day I’ll read paper books again regularly but mostly I read one handed while nursing so ebooks are so convenient. 

Currently I’m half way through Growing Gills which has been full of excellent advice for a creative business person. It’s extremely interesting to see where other people get stuck and how they get unstuck, or less overwhelmed. 

I’m also still making art in little snatches here and there, using my travel kit. My recent addition to it was black ink filled water pens and I’m loving playing with my watercolour set. This is Poppy in the bath with her amber necklace. ūüôā 

Hope you’re having a lovely break too.

Hanging out with my girls

Our gruelling Christmas preparations include walks to the park and episodes of Trollhunter on Netflix. 

A few weeks ago I asked everyone in my family to name one thing they find really special about Christmas so we could make sure it happened. I wanted to bake something that made the house smell nice. Star wanted to see Christmas lights, and Rose wanted to decorate a gingerbread house. 

Last night we roamed the lights of Lobethal and came home with fresh cherries, delicious baked goods and pot-plants. Today is baking and gingerbread decorating, and wrapping the last of the gifts while watching The Nightmare Before Xmas. It’s all very low key and low stress and I’m having a ball. Yesterday everyone in the house had an afternoon nap! 

We have no decorations up this year because Poppy would just tear a tree apart at this age, but we had some last minute pay come through so we could buy a bit more food and plump up the gifts, so there’s loads of Christmas cheer and we’re looking forward to some lovely shared meals with friends, bio family, and extended family over the next few days. It doesn’t get better than this, really. ‚̧

See my little art gallery at SHINE SA

One of my business development tasks recently was to decorate my office space to help me feel more comfortable in it. There was a little glitch with the audio during recording but it’s still a nice walk through. ūüôā

My Artist residency at Shine is going incredibly well. I’m thrilled to be here, and having such wonderful people around for a chat over lunch or to collaborate on a project with is a delight. I’ve been spending my hours so far (I exchange hours towards SHINE projects to say thankyou for the venue and resources) mainly in a collaborative project going into local prisons and facilitating art workshops and conversations about sexual health. I have enjoyed every minute of it, and I’m very excited about next year.

My torn heart

Oh my heart. Yesterday I borrowed a memoir of Judith Wright, wonderful Australian poet. This morning Poppy slept fitfully and woke me at 6. So I’ve been exploring the world on my phone, looking at artist’s books and reading about illuminated manuscripts. I looked up Wright on Wikipedia, hoping she might still be alive so I could write to her about how much her poems have ment to me. But we’ve already lost her. 

A line stands out to me, how she explored the relationship between inner experience and objective reality. Yes, that she did so well, spoke with such a clear voice I feel I know her. Like all my favourite artists, you can see her in her work, and she was a balm to the loneliness I suffered for so much of my life. 

It’s nearly the end of the year. I stand upon a precipice. 2017 has been kind, harsh, strange, sad, wonderful. A coming out of the desert and into communities of work. My online groups of freelancers are a treasure of wisdom and practical advice. I’ve wrangled with clients and invoicing and admin, read books, contracted mentors and support. Earned money and invested it carefully. I stand some days in my dining room – which is now a hub for my family, with chairs and a dining table where homework gets made and meals eaten and lately, Christmas gifts wrapped. I look at how small the space was I used to sit and paint and think about how frustrated I was with myself that I couldn’t do more, when it’s amazing that I accomplished what I did in such a tiny spot with so few resources. 

Now I have a studio and my heart, which was torn into several pieces when I pulled apart my home earlier this year, is putting down roots and growing strong. My home, my studio, and my office gallery. I adore being among the other artists at the studio. Even when I’m alone there, there’s a sense of recently departed company in their empty spaces I find companionable and comforting. I can create there, freely, and play with my supplies. I’ve never had enough resources to play, paper and paint have been much too expensive to experiment with. I’ve recently moved my beading supplies there, and taken trimings of silk and velvet. I want to make another Art book. 

It’s not the wilds but it is on the edge of them. Close enough to create. The wilds themselves, that inner place of experience, those are elusive to me. I don’t often go there, rarely write from that place now. Children and family and my work fill the hours. They don’t come to the wilds with me and I have never much liked going alone, feeling exiled. But I speak the name of it, Narnia, and I remember it exists. I sneak into it a moment, under the stars, putting out the bins. I touch it in my artbook. I step in and out of the world. 

I talked to a new therapist this week (she writes, sharing more than is wise for a professional. Working people, especially women, must split their lives and show no human weakness in their working world. How will clients trust me? How will they meet my eyes when they’ve seen me naked? One must respect the divisions of the role. The stripper’s stage name. Don’t blend the worlds. Don’t remind them you’re human.) The new therapist offered me ways to be always calm, assuming that was my goal. Ways to meet the world with equanimity, come what may. We argued and she smiled at me in a way that was possibly intended to be disarming but felt merely humiliating. The props may be cardboard and gold paint, but the magic was never in the stage. It was never about what’s real. 

I work and I live as lover, partner, mother, and that gap between inner experience and outer reality opens wide and closes tighter. I make art and people buy it. I write a blog and people send me money to thank me for sharing and changing a story in their mind that was harming them. I help projects happen and get paid. The world doesn’t end. I leave behind the cult of activists who claim that only unpaid work is holy. I walk away from the communities where anyone who is paid to help another person is an oppressor. I begin to understand that intentional ignorance, financial illiteracy, programmed shame when I ask to look, is part of poverty and welfare and it binds me to a broken, abused machinery that was intended to protect me, but instead hurts me and then blames me for it. I am in recovery.

My experiences transition to a shadow of a different kind. I stop writing, sharing, being naked in public. New categories force themselves into my life, change the shape of things. Is being at the studio work? What is work? I can’t share personal things on a business website. What is personal? What is business? My world shifts to family. My writing shifts. If I write about sitting in the dark with an infant at my breast and the other nipple weeping a sad milky blood trail over my body, have I transitioned from a mental health blog to a ‘mommy blog’? Are they the same readers? Does that matter? Is loathing the term ‘mommy blog’ mysogynist, or is rejecting the implied derision feminist? 

I’m looking behind the scenes of career paths and it’s becoming less abstracted more concrete. My anxiety reduces. I’m beginning to understand that spreading myself – ourselves – so thin (despite our sense of sacrifices and comprimise) has slowed everything, that building the skills and networks and becoming literate with the industry of each profession is time consuming and requires dedication. That the skills to make the thing or do the work are only half or less than half the job. The rest are the skills to be employed or freelance, the skills to get hired or contracted, to navigate bosses or clients, to spot and take on opportunities, to walk away from bad situations, to deal with uncertainly, to create a career. I’ve had no useful training in those things. This year I’ve done so many things; facilitation, illustration, copywriting, service design; I’ve worked with people at the very top of heirarchy and prisoners at the very bottom. I’ve watched the Pursuit of Happiness and other stories of breaking out of poverty and noticed the same message reoccurring – don’t show behind the scenes. Don’t let them know you’re not one of them (yet). 

I’ve thought about being homeless and letting the fun colours grow out of my hair because I learned those in the services only look out for their own. I’ve thought about what it might be like to be black and unable to meet that requirement, of the affection of relatives who wish I was more like them, less queer. Identity and public identity. Who we are and how we present ourselves. The dictates of professional identity in various industries. Corporate identity with reduced individuality, rooms where the windows can’t be opened. Task focused spaces. In another world entirely, the farmer who lives in the land with his labor. No personal and professional divide. The copywriter who rarely meets her clients, working from a stone house in the hills and doing video meetings over the internet. Such different lives! Such different ways of working, networks, business skills, industry norms and challenges. Different worlds. 

Have I learned enough yet to thrive? Not yet. But I know vastly more than I did at the start of it, and I’ve begun to build professional networks, not in a slick, manipulative, or abusive way, but simply the community of people engaged in work to learn from, share with, and take part. Clients, companions, competitors, mentors. Many questions remain. I love and need to make art, do I really want to keep selling it? I love to write, can I keep sharing personally or will that cause problems with my work? Can I earn any income for my writing? I can make resources for vulnerable people, can I show they are valuable to those with money to fund them? Can I help people care enough about multiples or prisoners or voice hearers or homeless queer kids to fund projects? Can I learn who and how to ask? Can I put down some of the big lingering projects I’ve not been able to fund, grieve them, and move on? Or let go of work I’m good at and love but that doesn’t fit well with my life anymore? Can I figure out the easy path for me instead of proving myself by doing the hardest things and taking the biggest risks? Can I get through a year without being diagnosed with exhaustion? Can I make my work sustainable? 

We’ll find out. Here’s to the next year, friends and readers. It’s been one hell of a ride.

Tree spirit- the moon in her arms, gilded

I gilded my print today with 24k gold and I’m so pleased with it. She looks amazing. This one is being collected tomorrow. I’ve been selling a lot of art this past few weeks for gifts. 

If you’re still short a gift for someone, get in touch with me quickly, I can meet you at my office in SHINE SA Woodville and giftwrap an artwork for you on the spot. ‚̧



Winding up 2017

My household is asleep. I’m snuggled between Rose and Poppy. Poppy is a little cold but hates blankets, so she’s snuggled into my side, arm wrapped over my chest and leg over my tummy. Half of the bedroom has become storage for bags and boxes of Christmas gifts. The other half is full of baskets of clean washed clothes we can’t get into the cupboard to put away any more. It’s like sleeping at Santa’s, a kind of cheerful, organised chaos.

I’ve started winding down work for the year. Poppy and I have been painting and making art. I’ve been setting myself up with a little transportable art folder so that when inspiration strikes and I can’t go to my studio, I can still capture ideas or play. Last night I saw a photo of a beautiful tattoo I loved and recreated it in watercolour.

Poppy has been having fun with textas. She’s so full of life.

It’s been an intense and amazing week. I’ve finished my business development course and ticked a huge number of goals off for the year.

We’ve just finished a pilot of the Multiplicity Project. Three other folk, one a journalist and two multiples came to Adelaide for interviews. It was very precious. At one point I was sitting in the lounge of a little unit, watching someone lay out huge artwork portraits of their system and explain the people and their roles. The stories were amazing. I showed them my partly written guidebook and we explored a number of other possible book models. My introductory guide keeps trying to turn into some kind of definitive guidebook which is panic inducingly impossible to finish. It might not be the best place to start. I’m starting make contact with others in the writing industry which is helpful. We’ll see what happens next.

Winding down now to the end of the year, and my panic and sense of failure are easing. There’s no Christmas tree at home, or decorations, or baking, Poppy tears things apart and food is tricky and money is tight and all the things we usually have to work around are in play. But it doesn’t feel lacking in specialness. I’m glad to be here, glad our girls are with us, and we have family to spend time with, and friends who love to decorate with Christmas things, and the sense of festiveness is there anyway.

What a difficult but amazing year it has been. I’m still haunted by frustration that I can’t seem to grasp everything I’ve tried to, but I’m also dazzled by the wonderful opportunities, new relationships, amazing projects, and beautiful growth I’ve been part of. I’m proud of my work this year and so proud of my family, coming through some huge challenges and still here. A bit bruised or scarred, and scuffed around the edges maybe, but learning and loving and navigating life with courage. I am so in love with them, so grateful to be wrapped up in them when once I lived alone. There’s so much life here, messy, confusing, complicated, painful, imperfect, beautiful, heartfelt. I have seized the day, I suck the marrow, I give myself to it wholly. It hurts and it heals.

Come and visit me at SHINE SA

I’m having a little office opening so you can visit. 

 Mon, December 18, 5:00 PM ‚Äď 6:30 PM

There’s a lot of beautiful art and gorgeous gold embellished prints on display in my office at the moment. You’re welcome to come and see them in person, have a chat over coffee, see an oil painting in progress, or grab a print for Christmas. It’s all very low key and relaxed, I’ll put out a plate of lamingtons or something, drop by if you have a minute. ūüôā

Grab a free ticket here so I can cater.

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Amazing Other People using my Artwork

I’m delighted to share a recent project with you – not mine this time! Danielle Pomeroy is a PhD scholar at the University of South Australia studying stillbirth stigma. She approached me because she felt my artwork “The Gap” perfectly captured her subject and would help her poster about her research really stand out. I originally painted it to illustrate this blog post about understanding the way trauma and adversity can disconnect you from others. The print is available in my Etsy Shop here.

Her timing was impeccable because that’s something I’ve been working on this year – learning how to edit and clean up high res scans of my artwork for use in other settings such as websites, and how to licence my images for others to use. I’m still figuring out the process for it so I don’t do it very often at this stage.

So Danielle bought a licence from me, and printed her gorgeous poster about a very important topic, which was presented at the International Stillbirth Alliance conference in Ireland. To learn more about the research, her supervisor Jane Warland was an author on the poster and writes a blog here.

Here is Danielle with her poster: A Pilot Study Exploring Stillbirth Stigma Experiences in Australia and Adapting and Validating a Stigma Scale.

Danielle Pomeroy Still Stigma Poster F

I’m honoured to be a tiny part of this work, and excited to see my art exploring new ways of being in the world.

I’m hoping to be able to display Danielle’s poster when I next exhibit Waiting for You . I’m currently working on setting up the template to be able to take the exhibition to rural and interstate locations, looking for a good community venues, and sponsorship to help with travel costs for those further from home.

SaY Your History – Join in on a local project

Childcare in aged care, uni students living with residential care folks, I love a good project that gets the generations connecting with each other, and I’ve been invited into a great local opportunity.

Calling Adelaide young people and seniors – we’d love to involve you in this excellent project about capturing people’s stories in video! This fantastic opportunity is a collaborative effort between a number of different organisations, and I’ll be supporting it with some training/facilitating. You don’t need any experience, I’m really happy to help you learn some new skills and get to play with some documentary techniques on simple equipment you probably already have access to at home or school. This can be very useful for school homework or your own creative projects.

For young person aged 13 – 25yrs we are running a FREE workshop on interviewing and filming techniques!

Wed Dec 6th
6-8pm
Free
Onkaparinga Youth Enterprise Hub, Colonnades Shopping Centre

For more info or to book in contact Alice on alice.sheppard@onkaparinga.sa.gov.au or 0400 279 328.

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If you are a senior, the young people would love to interview you and hear some of your stories and life experiences. We are hoping to run a couple of filming days to get everyone together and give the young people a chance to try out their interviewing skills. The first is this Saturday, and it would be fantastic if you could help us out! (your family and friends are also welcome)

Saturday 9th December
Between 11am‚ÄĒ4pm
Refreshments provided
Free – of course!
McKinna Road, Christie downs

Questions or RSVP to Jules on 81860048 or email juliferguson@internode.on.net

The fantastic people behind this initiative are from:

  1. Healthy Cites Onkaparinga is a non-government community based organisation
    advocating for better health in the Onkaparinga region.
  2. Fleurieu Cancer Network is a non-government community organisation advocating for better services for people with cancer their family and friends.
  3. City of Onkaparinga Youth Committee is a group of young people aged 15 ‚Äď 25 who are¬†dedicated to representing views of young people in Onkaparinga and are involved in¬†various leadership opportunities.
  4. Seaford Rotary was newly chartered on November 26, 2016. This new club is doing
    things differently to many traditional Rotary clubs with less focus on meetings and more focus on community projects and partnerships.

Taking my business seriously

It’s taken some years but I’m finally beginning to understand marketing. It’s simply communication, nothing more or less. It’s not the slick, deceptive sales pitch I used to think of, any more than talking is always lying. It’s simply communicating with people who don’t know you yet. You can be genuine or deceptive but that’s up to who you are. 

Looking back at the development of this site, I’ve always written with a particular person in mind. A treasured, highly vulnerable friend. Or myself, 10 years back, and fighting to survive. And I wanted to help that person to feel safe, so I showcase my own vulnerability – see, we are not so different. I wrote and shared with honesty, and always with the intention to help rather than harm. 

I’m beginning to see that in some contexts, this person is what’s called an end user rather than a client. If I want to do something to help people who are homeless, or dealing with poverty, or chronically suicidal, then I can make that happen by liaising with someone who also care about them and has some money to put towards that project. The people in need shouldn’t have to pay for it themselves, they should access it and benefit from it simply because they are people in need. That makes them my end user and the people with the funds – a business, government, or not for profit, my client. I am good at helping my end users feel comfortable and safe with me. Part of the process of helping my business become sustainable is about making sure my clients also feel safe and comfortable. 

Their needs and language are different. They care about authenticity and sincerity too, but they also need to see competence, endorsement, professionalism. Will I turn up on time? Fake my information? Make their staff feel intimidated or incompetent? Can they trust me to do my work to a high standard of quality, communicate well, keep their best interests in mind? 

So I am wrapping a new layer of professionalism around the heart I wear on my sleeve. Polishing up how I share my work with the world. It’s good work and it’s worth people’s time and money. I absolutely believe this.

I’m working on a new template flyer for all my Training which will feature an image from the artworks in that specific talk. I’m going to start with a few of my many talks and create the rest in time. 

Still a work in progress, hence the sarcastic copy. ūüėČ 

The new format for my business is four suites: arts, writing, training, and community development consulting. Each of these require specific administrative structures, templates, marketing, licences, insurance, and so on. I have been very scattered this year and I appreciate the clarity of this approach. I am also feeling very mindful of my exhaustion and how much I’m missing my family. I’m currently in two community development projects which are wonderful, but considering closing that option down for awhile after they finish. Giving myself good stretches of time, say a good week or two to develop each suite of services, would be a real treat to see more rapid progress. Moving a hundred rocks up a hill an inch at a time is far more draining then getting five rocks to the top of the hill every week. 

I’m also having to give serious thought to my networks. Can I really afford to keep running them, unpaid? There’s only so much I can do, so many hours in the week. The psychological weight of them is significant. The hearing voices network remains scattered here in SA, I’ve been unable to gather a united community. Perhaps it’s time to let it go for now. The DI remains so dear to my heart, but I also feel so tired. Public advocacy work is draining and devastating, it closes so many doors. I just want to earn a living and enjoy my family. I don’t know, I don’t have answers yet. Sustainable work means less balls in the air, lower personal cost, less unpaid projects. So much love, still, but less sacrifice. I don’t know where this goes next. I’m so glad for the supports I have, and the two beautiful places I’ve found a home in at SHINE SA and Tooth and Nail Studio. I feel very fortunate to be in places where I’m with good people and feel valued and safe while I figure this out. 

In the meantime, still building, and still painting. ūüôā From the chaos, things are emerging. 

My sweet loves

We have been so lucky with our family. Mornings are still my favourite time, curled in bed together, pale milky light coming through the big bedroom windows. Poppy sleeps beside us, legs resting on mine, cheeks flushed pink after nursing. Lately I’ve been waking early and wanting to go to bed early. Twenty years ago this was my sleeping pattern, I don’t know why it’s returned now. But lying here in the dark beside her, she smells of sweet rain in my arms. Her hair is a mop of thistledown, her breath smells of milk. I love her so much my heart aches. I’ve waited my whole life to be a parent, and now I am it’s such a comfortable fit. It’s incredibly hard work, but there’s an anguish and emptiness I used to just live with that’s full of contentment now. Both my girls are beautiful and perplexing, brilliant and challenging and so very loved. 

Life as a working parent is exhausting, delightful, sad, and a wonderful privilege. Driving away from Poppy in tears is a sorrow that’s hard to let myself feel. Coming home to a bundle of excitement who wraps around my legs and shrieks “tuddle!” While I try to unload my arms to cuddle her is sheer inconvenient, ebullient joy. Earlier this week I went to several meetings with orange marker scrawled down one leg from where she had decorated me the night before. I was delighted. 

I have new clients, new projects, and good prospects for my business. The business development course continues to be an intense rollercoaster of emotions, as I unpick the mess and touch on deep connections – identity, place in the world, worth, and old traumas. From stuckness confusion and overwhelm a new model is emerging with a new clarity. The clarity is wonderful and painful in equal measure, opening some doors and closing others. My system is in upheaval, each of us mourning the compromises we make, that none of us can be entirely who we are on this world, but share our work between us. We mourn the days not spent in the studio, the days not available for collaborating on projects, the time we don’t have for further study, the hours spend away from our children. The clarity heals and hurts. We find new languages: you are a community development consultant, she tells us. And we feel whole. And we feel sad. Oh, this is who I am in the world. I’ll never be a psychologist now, or a doula, or a manager, or an art historian. I’ll never run a clinical mental health service or be part of the army or work as a naturopath. I won’t finish my arts degree or go for that curating doctorate or join that post graduate group. So much sadness and it’s hard to let go. Wrenching. 

But also a system coming into joy. Yes, we are community developers. We are a community! It’s in the bones of us; multiplicity, plurality, duality, polyphony. We are artists. We are writers. We are educators. This we do, paid or unpaid, thanked or unrecognised, on display or hidden. This is who and how we are in the world, gravitating to the meaningful, creative, authentic, and communal. Seeking to ease suffering and loneliness, to promote compassion and diversity. 

There’s no guide for me for multiples and work. No mentor, few peers anywhere in the world. It’s lonely at times. We explore, trying to figure out who thrives where. Learning different outfits are needed at studio and office, for grounding the best parts and being able to function. Meltdowns, behind the scenes, are frequent. Overwhelm and exhaustion are constant questions to self: do you have a viable model yet? Do you know how to thrive? 

The Dissociative Initiative was our baby before Poppy and Star. The business has been my love, my great passion, since Rose. Trying to find a place in the world. Learning to unpick the traps I got stuck in along the way. An alternative mental health community full of brilliance and rage who attack as exploiters those who make money from their work. Clients who think you work only for the money. A welfare system that hides how it works and treats you as a cheat, a thief, and scammer if you ask for details and try to understand or predict the money. How am I supposed to develop literacy? It’s still almost unbearably shameful to set up a budget to track spending. Years of grinding poverty have left me toxic with needless shame and afraid to look, unable to control what I do not believe I deserve. The triggers and feelings mimic eating disorder stress. Just as invisible to the outside, just as deceptively simple to solve (‘just eat a steak, you’ll be fine’), and just as paralysing and destructive. 

It’s okay to look at it. It’s okay to understand exactly what I’m earning, how it impacts welfare, how my rent is recalculated based on income, how much I would need for a house deposit and how many years that would take. It’s okay to look at what my art costs me to make, how long it takes, at how many unpaid hours I spend on the road to do training and workshops. It’s okay to rejig an approach that was about charity and covering costs to be about income and supporting a family. It’s not predatory or manipulative. I feel like a young adult who has known only rape trying to believe in the idea of sex. Kissing my first lover and then shaking and howling as my body panics with dark memories and shame. And yet holding them. Seizing them. 

Seizing this beautiful thing and holding onto it while feelings shake me from ecstacy to despair. Just holding on. From all the wounds and grief and tangled sorrow, I believe something amazing will emerge. So many have midwived this with me, believed in me, held hope for me, paid bills for me, fed me. Piece by piece I have crawled away from a life and a belief system utterly destructive to me. And I’ve dragged with me courage, and joy, and honesty. The kind of wisdom you get from screaming yourself hoarse at 3am. The poverty and my own wedding to it, is just as self destructive as taking a knife to my skin. The way it became safe, a haven from fears of my own greed, of exploitation, manipulation, slick deception. Self preservation until I could see a different way and believe in a different path, just like the knife was. 

All things want to grow. It is their nature. 6 years ago I was offered this beautiful home, and I slept in it alone. Now it overflows. Now I sleep sideways in the space between my lover and my child, tangled in sleepy limbs and writing about life in the sleepless early morning. It’s beautiful.

New embellished print- garnets

The latest in my print embellishment experiments, this ink painting was from a suite I painted to illustrate my talk Peer workers; a consumer perspective”. I was invited to give this talk by the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia, the national body for what is now called Skylight in SA. It was my first interstate talk, delivered at a conference of peer workers. This a illustrated my personal experience that not having any services was less harmful than being caught in bad services.

I’ve embellished it with watercolour paint made from extremely finely ground garnets. They are a softer pinky brown tone and work very well for the boat on fire and a red moon. 

Marriage equality vote: yes

Australia has returned a majority vote of yes to marriage equality! It doesn’t mean the legislation has changed, it doesn’t currently mean anything for our family. But the cultural change is clear. One day my daughters will live in a world where it is normal that their mothers can be married. We danced and cried and celebrated in the rain in the city after the announcement yesterday.¬†

Then we spoke with a reporter about how hard this has been and the road yet to come. It was published at InDaily as A bittersweet victory, after months of heartbreak.

 

Art about loss

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

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

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

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

New Embellished Prints!

I love to embellish my giclee prints, it breathes a life into them, makes each one unique and hand touched again. Adding precious materials also changes the prints in a curious way. They have layers to them. One of us might have created the original image, another digitally cleaned it up, and a third embellished the print. The original might have been created under terrible stress, or in an altered state, in the back of my van in a storm down the beach or at 3am while my baby slept. But the print would be embellished during the day, under good lights, and with attentive care and precision. There’s depth and interesting collaborations and juxtapositions.

I’ve worked a lot on perfecting my gilded prints and I’m thrilled with how they have been received. I’ve been exploring a few other techniques for embellishments and I’m pretty excited about them too. 

Here’s one of my gilded prints with 24 karat gold on a rounded German size. It’s called Tangled in Dreams, and I sold this one a few days ago. 

This next style I’m really taken with. It’s very new and I haven’t offered it for sale yet. It’s impossible to show the lovely sparkle in a photograph, just as the real gold doesn’t show its shine. But it’s actually genuine, very finely ground amethyst.

Lastly today I wanted to explore using an interference pigment on a black ground. I created my own watercolour paint using pigment and gum arabic.

Again, the sheen is difficult to capture in a photo, but film shows it a little better. 


It’s rather like moonstone, appearing milky white from one angle and flashing intense blue from another. Against a white background it’s almost invisible until it flashes blue, which reminds me of the artworks I’ve created with invisible UV reactive ink. It may even work as a way to embellish prints made from originals with UV inks, I’ll have to trial it and see.

My work now is to keep exploring grounds and varnishes so I understand what works best in creating and protecting these artworks. I expect there will be another exhibition of embellished prints coming up.

Rose is recovering

The news is good for Rose. Our doctor considers that she has merely been unlucky lately with multiple illnesses and infections, rather than suffering from an underlying problem we haven’t found yet. Irritatingly there was no discharge summary or even a record that she had been in the ER, much less any test results. But she is recovering and rebuilding her strength. 

I am thrilled. I was so worried I nearly threw up in the waiting room before we saw her doctor. She is deeply precious to me, utterly irreplaceable and unique. 

I had a wonderful day in the studio this afternoon, just playing. Then I bought Rose some little gifts and flowers from the city and came home on the bus feeling like I could fly. We recently celebrated 5 years together. She is my home, my family, my safe place. I love her to bits.


My lovely oil painting is progressing and I have begun to work on the colour layer. Some tones such as the pink in her cheeks and yellow in the dress will be added in glazes over the paint. I’ve been learning so much, it’s such a novelty to have instruction, as I’m mostly self taught in my preferred mediums. This class is the first oil painting tution I’ve had and it’s been very enjoyable. Mixing all those skin tones! There’s a great many hours left in this one yet. 

Ink sample booklets

Today was pretty rough, I’m run down and overloaded after a really intense week. Friends were kind and after a miserable morning I ran away to my studio and felt a lot better. I decided to do a small project that kept me busy without taxing my mind too much, and create swatches of all my ink samples. This is handy for future projects to choose colours without having to open every bottle and try it. I’ve been collecting ink samples for a long time now, from local and overseas retailers and they are an amazing way to sample a range before choosing which colours you need a whole bottle of.
I’d bought these little booklets from YouFirstBinding on Etsy, and spent a happy afternoon filling them with nib and brush samples according to my code system for identifying the little bottles when they’re in the storage racks. 


So, not a wasted day. These little jobs are often difficult to find time for. They help studio work flow more smoothly and soothe a troubled heart. 

Rose is home

She’s stopped bleeding, which is wonderful, but we had an abrupt exit from hospital, before most test results had come in and we still don’t know what happened. We’re booked to follow up with our GP. 

I’m eyeball deep in the post talk slump. Amplified by arguments with the hospital staff, trying to get a handle on my business admin, long nights awake with Poppy, and a very stressed Star. 

Head down, teeth gritted, as much sleep and self care as possible. Lower expectations, lots of grace, be in the present moment and find calm when you can. Try not to run out of money, meds, patience, or humour. Don’t just react, reflect first. Make a decision and feel it out. Fall over and get up again. Hug someone. Eat something. Get out of your head and into a book or film. Stand in the night and watch the moon. Cry about it. Laugh about it. Write about it. Forget about it. 

Yesterday while we waited endlessly for a doctor to give us some information about Rose, I had to go and move our car so we didn’t get a ticket. The hospital is new, large, and extremely confusing to navigate. I wound up stuck in the underground staff carpark and ran the length of it out onto the nearby main road before I could find my way back to our car and then up to Rose again. I arrived exhausted just as the doctor left, and burst into tears. The staff looked at us indifferently while I sobbed in the corridor, because just a few hours before I had been holding Rose as she vomited so violently she passed out and fitted, and now she was being sent home with no answers and I was scared. 

Then I finished crying and ate some carrot sticks and we got out of there. Life is weird. Hospitals are weird. People are weird. 

I am restraining myself from setting fire to my business, particularly all the admin, the email backlog, the confusing filing system, and the memory of my own excitement and enthusiasm. 

Stupid post talk slump. 

On the upside I sold some art today, which is always nice. Rose is tired but still here and we’re okay. 

Rose is sick

Some days are rough. Rose woke up feeling very depressed and under the weather today. I took a slow morning and decided on a half day at work. The recent high winds blew a nest of two fledgling willy wag tails off a high wall and I found one dead and crushed on the driveway. Poppy was distraught when I left for work. Work was stressful admin and I felt very frustrated that I wasn’t able to get more done. 

Star had a rough day and called in for a lift home. I checked in with Rose who was now vomiting and down with what looks like gastro. I collected Poppy and drove into town to collect Star. Took the girls for ice cream to give Rose time to nap. Get a distressed call from Rose to say she’s vomiting blood. Call Mum. Run home, leave the girls to wait for Mum and take Rose to the ER. 

They took her straight through with her bag of blood for an X-ray and made me wait in the main room. It was scary. I started texting my people, looking for company to stop me crying. 

They let back in with her and managed to get a drip in on the fourth attempt. Meds start to calm her distress. They’re keeping her in overnight for an endoscopy and to get the rest of the test results back. She’s miserable but calmer. I’m tired and stressed. They are hoping it is a small tear in her esophagus – painful but not dangerous and most heal quickly. We should know more tomorrow. 

In a minute I’m going home to my lovely girls, to feel the empty space in my bed and hope again this is nothing. It’s been hard being here so often lately, we feel a bit cursed. I hope there are better days ahead and many many more of them. Some days just suck. 

Post TEDx and life is good!

TEDx was amazing. One of the most challenging experiences, akin to giving birth (but much quicker and with more laughing). I’d only managed to finalise my script a week beforehand and I knew in my bones that I was too rusty to have a 14 minute monologue memorised in that time. I did my best, but still had embarrassing blanks on the red dot. Fortunately it still went well!

The rehearsal was terrifying. My first time standing on the red dot I spoke the first page of my script until I blanked, then I had to sit down right there because I was about to faint and/or vomit. I felt like a needy, insecure diva, which was not particularly nice. I’m more used to being the person holding things together than the ‘talent’ in the middle and I was very conscious of that different role and found it a bit awkward. 

But it was also wonderful. I gave myself permission to soak up all that extra care and nurturing. I felt like a star! So much love came my way. Friends attending on the day, gift bags and flowers, my family putting up with the talk consuming everything else for the week. It felt extremely special to be in the middle of it all, and I realised that it’s not wrong or bad to be in the spotlight like that, is merely that everyone should get it some of the time. We are all the talent in some way, all experts in something. So I soaked it up and hope to share it around. 

On the night itself, complicated arrangements happened to look after Poppy, and I changed into my new dress, pinned the top shut, ran my lines one more time, got fitted with the mic, and went on stage. 

There’s a moment where you flip from terror to connection, and standing in front of nearly 1,000 people I could feel them all, like a warmth, the weight of their attention and the questions they are asking of me. Can you be trusted? Will you hurt us? Can you show us what you mean? Will you take us somewhere we haven’t been before? Can you bring us home again? And I say to them with word and hand and smile and joke, yes. Come into my world for a little while. And so we did. I talked about sex and being human, and I lost my place and blanked so badly Rose had to rescue me and call my lines out from the audience. We lived what I was sharing about: that it’s possible to be imperfect with grace and humour, that a great partnership can navigate tricky situations. That a sensitive discussion can feel safe. People seemed to really connect with it, nodding and paying close attention. I muddled through and made it safe to muddle.

I had a heckler, which I did not expect! I heard later the people seated around him were angry with him and shut him up quickly. Apparently someone told him people like him where why I was doing a talk like this. I feel so honoured to hear that, there was such a sense of unity, of common ground. 

The messages afterwards from people there or over email have been very affirming. All the way through I’ve done my best to hold tightly to my reasons for doing something so extraordinarily difficult – that it is meaningful and needed. I watched a lot of TED and TEDx talks about sex while preparing and most were what we are used to about this topic- clinical or research based. That’s valuable for sure, but when I’m sitting in a bed in my underpants there’s a big gap between that knowledge base and the conversation and experience I’m about to have. I could have written that talk and it’s a lot more removed and protected, a lot less intimate and exposing. But I have found there’s value in sharing and talking about this on a personal level, and it seems I’m not alone in that.

Poppy and I went off on a bus adventure yesterday! Here we are nibbling on plum leather from Grandma’s garden, and life is good.

I haven’t yet hit my anticipated post performance crash. I’m not sure why, I have some guesses…

  • It’s on its way but I’m still too excited currently. Maybe after the videos go up online? It doesn’t really feel over for me yet. 
  • I outsourced it. Rose had a couple of intense tired anxious feel awful days afterwards.
  • I did it before the performance. That sounds ridiculous, but to be honest the lead up was so difficult and since doing it my overwhelming emotion is relief. Intense, delightful relief! I did not enjoy the preparation much, but having gone through it I’m extremely glad and happy to have done it. I feel very fortunate and privileged. 

    We’ll have to wait and see what happens next! My awesome Office Manager suggested that I write down all the projects I could do next so I can start exploring my options, and it’s making my heart incredibly happy. I’ve had so many dreams for so many years and they all feel suddenly tangible and possible.

    I’ve so enjoyed taking the last few days off completely and absolutely soaking up my lovely family. Extra support and scheduling are making so much difference to my life. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the next projects. And I can’t wait to share the TEDx video with you all.