California

Gofundme!

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

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

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Link me up

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

Come along

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

Wounded healers

I enjoyed this article which I came across on Twitter tonight. Wounded healer a qualification without ceremony

I’m ‘out’ broadly about things that make me different and ways I struggle. I certainly don’t judge others who are not, nor do I even recommend one choice over the other because at times the costs have been very high for me. We all live to our own values and all values extract a cost which we must willingly choose to bear. Values only sound pretty and wishy washy if you haven’t tried to live to them. 

I do not believe any system of care for suffering people can be of real use until we genuinely understand that those employed in it are one of the most vulnerable high-risk groups. Until we make it safe for them to struggle, speak up, and need support we are doing harm. Some of our healers start out wounded, many more are wounded by trying to be healers in our destructive systems. In effect, we are wounding our healers and hoping that their silent suffering will somehow lead to the freedom and recovery of the identified patients. 

This cannot work. A system in which half the people can only be wounded and the other half can only be competent is broken by design. All humans are both. Inhuman systems do harm. Either everyone is safe to be human, or no one is safe. Everyone can heal from their wounds, or no one really can. 

Sudden death

My family has been touched by death again recently and it’s complicated and painful. Sudden death is like a punch in the mouth you don’t see coming. Rose’s estranged biological mother has died. It’s the end of a complicated relationship. It’s the end of a cycle of abuse, suffering, love, rejection, corruption and hope. It’s deeply sad, a kind of freedom, a loss, a relief, and a new torment. It’s the end of hopes and efforts for change and ‘one day maybe things will be different’. It’s a lot of secrets taken to the grave. It’s unfathomable by those of us lucky enough to have good relationships with our mothers. Some of us have never listened – or choose not to know – of the darkness that can exist between mother and child, of the grief and rage and bewildered pain of the children where things are so bad at home they end up on the streets or in care. 

Rose wrote a public farewell, feeling the tensions between the untold stories and the assumptions of others, the pressures on those who grieve to do so in the right ways, to justify their choices and fit their painful, complex experiences to our simplistic ideas about the virtue of mothers. Platitudes that hurt. 

Not all children are wanted. Not all children are loved. Not all loved children are well loved. Not all mothers or parents who love have the skills, support, and capacity to meet their children’s needs and protect them from their own demons. Some of us eat our young. 

My precious child.

Tonight as you sleep your mama is feeling lots of things. She feels sad, she feels angry. There is relief and guilt and frustration. Your Mama feels lots of things all at once and then nothing at all… numbness always follows.

This week my darling daughter, your mama recieved a call that she has been expecting her whole life. You see… your Mama’s Mama died on monday baby girl; she died in her home from a heart attack. She was 62. 

Mama hasn’t seen her Mama in a long time… it’s been about 8 years. Mama made that hard choice and mostly doesnt regret it. They have spoken but rarely and not always nicely. Your mama recently shared stories and photos of you and all the wonderful ways you fill up your Mums’ lives. Her Mama was happy to know you were happy and healthy. 

Mama had a complicated relationship with her Mama… it was never easy or particularly healthy. Mama stopped living with her when she was still a kid because she was sick and needed help to be a better Mum. That was tough on her Mama and she didn’t always try her hardest, but she never gave up. My Mama wanted so badly to love and look after me… right until the very end. 

Mama knows that things are gonna be tricky over the next little while. There are hard conversations to have and affairs to attend to. Mama is glad she has her best friend and girls by her side. Mama will be ok; she will cry, she will feel bad. Mama will hug you a little tighter, she will tell you that she promises to do her very best, she will possibly cry while rocking you to sleep. Mama will try to take too many photos as usual.

You have done something amazing baby girl; you have turned a broken, alone, afraid little girl into a proud, strong, brave Mama… and my Mama would be proud of that!

Sleep well my precious daughter… you are so very loved xxx

We’re all wrestling in our own way and finding ourselves out of step with each other. Even sweet, innocent Poppy knows something is wrong. She’s been teary and difficult to comfort this week, biting, scratching and clinging to her safe people. We were busy making the transition to Star in school again, and me at work, and Rose at home and in some work. Suddenly we’ve been adapting to this new reality and the presence of death. I’m glad I saw Cave this year. I cry and I’m scared at times for my hurting love, but I’m not crashing into the black place I did a couple of years back. He’s made death bearable for me again. 

It’s not so much a transition as a transformation. We are all so changed by the events of the past year and there’s no going back. At times I find myself paralysed by terror, rigid with fears of loss. So much to lose and so much self destruction in me and those I love, such deep wounds. With money from my art, I buy a good pen and write, and my terror eases. Fear steals so much from the good years. I see a therapist who reminds me to breathe into my bones. We sleep and are all still here in the morning. The Rose I wake to at dawn is different to the woman who lay down beside me the night before. And so are we. 

Recently we went to the home of this woman Rose has not seen in 8 years. We picked through things, looking for important documents and childhood mementos. Rose shared some of the memories with me. These are the stairs she pushed me down. This is the cupboard I would sleep in when I was afraid. Some of the stories are unspeakably bad. The walls are covered in photos of Rose. The rooms are full memories of pain. There’s shit on the carpet, filth in the corners. The neighbor tells us stories of her kindness and how much she cared for her friends. I never met this women. I feel the complex tangle of who she was to different people in her life. There’s inspirational quotes on the walls, Bible verses in journals. She kept the paperwork where her parental rights were severed. “Lying c*nt” she’s written in the margins of Rose’s testimony. We stack the tins where she kept her street drugs and dirty syringes on the coffee table. Poppy plays with a wooden toy we find for her. We take a few dolls Rose used to love and a little girl’s dress. The place feels like a cage that’s finally empty. 

We leave. We pick Poppy up from the ashy floor and gather our little collection of toxic treasures that will hide in our shed until the right day to look at them. It’s over. 

We lock the door behind us and drive home, to our beautiful home with our tree hanging green over the roof, our clean beds and lovely daughters, garden full of roses and cupboards full of food. There will be time for grief and rage and bitter pain. The wounds that don’t really heal and the fears that linger. Even when you escape the ghosts come with you, in our home it’s only Poppy who hasn’t yet learned this. But alongside so much pain is now so much tender love. None of us grieve alone. None of us dream alone.

End of the working week 

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

Sensory play

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

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

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

Facing death with Nick Cave

My beloved Rose and my siblings teamed up and bought me a ticket to see Nick Cave as an early birthday present. It was beautiful. The night before I woke at 3 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. Full of emotions I couldn’t put words to, I slipped out of bed around 5 and painted. When Poppy woke and cried out I went back to bed and nursed her back to sleep, then curled up under Rose’s arm weeping. “I’m so sad and I don’t know why”, I cried. “I’m full of sadness and grey rain.” 

I’ve been unable to bear death since my decent into anguish at the end of 2015. The consuming black void took over my life for several months, like I’d fallen off the face of the planet. It was a place without meaning or comfort, where everything I once beleived in dissolved. I finally escaped it, but I’ve been running ever since, vulnerable and frightened. Anything to do with death sets off that terror in me. I can feel the void hunting me. It runs and I run before it. 

Cave lost a son recently, to accidental death. It’s a devastating thing. It permeates this album with deep sorrow. I stood by the stage in the darkness while he sang Into My Arms, the song Rose and I sang each other to give us courage during the pregnancy with Poppy. I sobbed, mascara running down my cheeks. He made death bearable to look at again. 

I was reminded of a student in my art class telling me that about my work. “You make such gentle art about such dark things. You make them bearable to look at.” For the first time in over a year I could hold the idea of death in my mind and not start fraying. This is something art can do. 

I realised it was not and never has been death that frightens me, it’s the void; the emptiness of the morning after. The place without the one you lost. “I hear you’ve been looking for someone to love”, he sings. And I think that in all the billion people on this planet, how can I be so afraid of living without someone? Do I really believe that if I lose my beloved people, I won’t find anyone else to love and be loved by? So many of us are so lonely. No one is replaceable, but I don’t have to live forever in the empty spaces.

Story was one of the few things that helped when I was in the void, but it also lost meaning. All our stories, all my hopes and beliefs and values became ‘just stories’ we told in the dark to make it more bearable. Nothing I’d leaned on had substance any more. The story only soothed me in the telling, once the book was shut it had no power. Nhilism devoured me. I felt so alone. 

In song, Cave tells us his story. This is how he lives, how he survives. I can do that. The stories are like guides in the dark. We don’t have to travel alone. They don’t have to be true to be meaningful. (Good writers touch life often – Bradbury) It’s okay to need art to make it bearable to look, stories to follow like paths in the wild. To be a teller of stories is powerful. Many stories were told about me and they had a binding power. Learning to tell my own stories with honesty and self compassion has been liberating. Even in the sense of being trapped, lost, empty, and profound failure there is a story that can be told in a way that still dignifies this as part of life. Any Leonard Cohen fan can tell you that.  These things are simply part of the human experience at times. We’re all more lost and more failures than we want to be. 

Defining Mental Illness

One of the biggest challenges in working with the term ‘mental illness’ is how imprecise it is. Finding other terms and frames of reference is often important to me, because mental illness has so many problems. I’ve written before about my frustration with the way mental illnesses are conceptualised in a couple of posts:

  • I don’t believe in Mental Illness (or, rewriting the DSM) – a critique of the way the DSM groups symptom clusters using a medical paradigm. “Psychological illness, injury, and normal functioning become tangled. Defining abnormal becomes nearly impossible”
  • Mental Health needs better PR – exploring the ‘upsides’ of ‘mental illness’ and the way mental health can be presented as merely the absence of symptoms. “No more soaring mania, no more anguish, no more blood, no more voices. Mental health is silence, clipped wings, drugged stupor, numb blankness.”

Mental illness as an idea is rather like a huge drag net pulled by a fishing boat. It captures a lot more than it should, and it also misses some really important things that fall outside of the net. We use mental illness as a shorthand term for experiences and problems that are actually outside of the scope of the idea. One of these is suffering.

When we talk about preventing mental illness or reducing the incidence of it we are often talking about suffering. We want to reduce the horrific pain people are in, the suffering experienced by their friends and families who are struggling to understand and support them and find them help. The losses of relationships, careers, self esteem. But a great deal of the suffering that happens and needs addressing simply is not captured by the term ‘mental illness’ unless we stretch it so broadly that almost everyone qualifies as mentally ill. Grief is one example of this. The suffering caused by poverty and inequality which can present in ways that fit our categories of mental illnesses but also may not. Racism and discrimination which lock people out of opportunities, resources, connection, and self respect. Addictions. Abuse, bullying, domestic violence, rape culture. Loneliness, that subtle, pervasive, deadly experience buried beneath so many clinical terms for pain. Alienation, where those who are not invited to be part of the good life start setting fires to the lives of the fortunate. Destructive cultural ideas about happiness, optimism, the value of people, what it is to be ‘normal’, what success means, who the ‘nobodies’ are, what it means when bad things happen to us, and how we heal from pain and live meaningful lives. So much of this is critically important to discuss when we are talking about health of people and health of communities. There are threats, risks, and losses that go far outside the net of ‘mental illness’.

Mental illness also captures too much. Like a drag net that brings in fish as well as turtles, octopuses, and dolphins, there are valuable experiences and important aspects of what it is to be human that are currently tangled into the idea of mental illness. One of these is psychological injury where the mind is behaving exactly as it should under the circumstances. Nothing at all is wrong with the person, but they are distressed and need support. Needing support does not mean there is something wrong with you, this is how humans navigate loss, pain, and challenge. When you start to look at the symptoms of mental illnesses a question arises about whether we are describing the problem or instead capturing and focusing upon a healthy response to the problem. To put it another way, if a wound on my arm has clotted into a scab, my blood is doing its job. My blood is not the problem, the car crash I was just in is the problem. If I am suffering severe emotional pain in an abusive relationship, my mind is working the way it is supposed to and telling me that there is danger I should avoid, just the way it would if I put my hand on a hot stove. Feelings, even painful ones, serve important psychological purposes. The pain is meaningful and purposeful and represents a healthy mechanism, not a sick one. If we ‘cure’ people of emotional pain we make them psychological lepers. Leprosy does no harm  to the general body by itself, but those who cannot feel pain struggle to protect themselves from the risks of life and without extra care small injuries cause severe harm. Many of us have seen psychological lepers – people who are not in pain exactly but who seem stripped of some vitality and oddly incapable of caring for themselves. Psychological leprosy is also called institutionalisation.

Mental illness often also captures diversity and eccentricity. There is a natural diversity to the human experience that includes a variety of thresholds for experiences such as psychosis. Under some conditions such as sensory deprivation, everyone will hallucinate. As a community we have a variety of thresholds for these conditions, meaning some people will hallucinate more readily than others. Often this experience causes no harm and in our culture people who experience hallucinations that do not distress or impair them usually keep them secret. There is a massive gap in all our knowledge bases about normal diversity because most of what we know about experiences like this come from people who are too overwhelmed to hide them. Everyone else stays underground.

Idiosyncrasy, that is, the absolutely unique aspect of each of us is a deeply important aspect of living a meaningful life. However it is also in tension with being part of a community in which shared language, beliefs, and ways of doing things are important. We are highly social, as a species, and also highly individual. Creativity and idiosyncrasy have a relationship we are still exploring in research. ‘Normal’ and ‘healthy’ are often defined in such narrow community focused ways that individuality and uniqueness wind up conceptualised as mental illness. The example of a psychologist in a grey pant suit diagnosing a flamboyant black queer man with Histrionic Personality Disorder is a classic example of this. One of my psychology textbooks had a photo of beautiful black man in makeup and fishnets as the illustration of this mental illness. People who fit the conventional culture better often see authentic but less conventional people through the lens of mental illness.

Not only does this lens distort what is normal and healthy about us, it often reframes our greatest strength as a weakness to be overcome. For many of us, the pathway out of the anguish of mental illness is not about becoming more normal (fitting the social norms better) but about becoming more idiosyncratic and then more wisely fitting the social norms we need to. It’s about tuning in to ourselves and learning how strange we really are. What we really need. It’s the reason I don’t tell other people that they should heal their mental illness through art, even though that has been essential for me. One size does not fit all. Only individual approaches genuinely connect with people’s needs. But approaches cannot be individual and people cannot even tune in to what their real needs are when the focus is about restoring ‘abnormal’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to ‘normal’. It is a skill, or at least a capacity, to not fit in. To retain individuality in the presence of a strong collective. We are socialised to navigate our community and there is a tension between the I and the We. When things go wrong in any number of ways, that tension can eat us alive. The push to navigate the We aspect better, to fit in and be less strange, can destroy the process actually needed to ‘recover’, in which being different and connecting to how we actually work is skipped for platitudes about reducing stress and the bland roll out of top ten ways to be less crazy and in less pain (have you tried a cup of tea or snapping a rubber band against your wrist?).

All of these ideas also shape our sense of what mental health means. When we think mental health means ‘not suffering’ we limit it to a badge worn by the privileged who have experienced few of the challenges of life and are now satisfied to take credit for their ‘good mental health’ as if it was a personal attribute rather than good fortune. When we think it means being happy we pathologise the suffering and obliterate the dignity of enduring challenge and loss. Pain is part of a healthy, rich, deeply lived life. Lives with tragedy and less privilege are bound up in navigating pain in ways that are difficult for those who have not shared these experiences to comprehend. Trying to eradicate all pain or teach people to be pain averse can destroy rather than develop mental health. Conceptualising pain as unhealthy sets people at war with their hearts and minds. And yet there is also needless suffering, and pain that absolutely demands a response from a compassionate society. Shame, fear, loneliness, self hate, and self destruction are all real. Some suffering must be navigated and for that we need support and self compassion and an appreciation that mental health can actually look like sobbing face down on the bathroom floor because that is a healthy response to circumstances. Some suffering demands alleviation. No child should be raped. Nobody should be treated as scum by services designed to filter out only the ‘deserving poor’ for resources. Some of us are going to hallucinate sometimes. Maybe we play music on our guitar on those days, or maybe we wind up chasing the idea that making the things that make us different go away will make our lives better. A lot of that is down to how we label it.

I’m visiting America!

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

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

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

This really does feel like my year 😀

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

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

samhc

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

America, here we come!

Amanda Palmer and Poppy

Rose, Poppy and I all went off to see Amanda Palmer’s concert last night with our friend and her 8 week old baby. It was amazing and both little ones were brilliant. They nursed, slept, and played in almost total silence (we had baby earphones for both during the louder songs). Towards the end Poppy was really keen to watch Amanda performing and started to ‘sing’ along to the songs. We were in the second row so during a quiet moment Amanda heard her and she and Rose had a brief conversation about her. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to be listening to her stories and songs about her little boy and life as a Mum with my own deeply loved baby on my lap, nursing at my breast, or standing on my knees to watch.

It was a stunning and bittersweet evening. Amanda was feeling sick so she didn’t stay for signing and meeting like she usually does. I was inspired by her and her beautiful strange friends as I am always am – Amanda treats her fans with the respect of fellow artists which is something I love and try to emulate in my own small way. She is deeply and undeniably human, constantly pulling back the glamour of fame to show the pores of her life. Maybe because I’ve just finished her book it didn’t feel like meeting someone famous, more like touching base with a very successful friend I don’t see very often. That’s part of her magic though, her ability and willingness to be authentic and personal. She’s a huge inspiration for my own art and writing. She’s worked incredibly hard and taken a lot of risks to build her career. I also felt a little sad that my life has moved me away from such wildness and strangeness in my own art. She seemed so free and unconstrained, while my fears and my inclination to adapt mean I’m always trapping myself in small boxes then breaking out again. There was such beauty in the evening and an odd kind of grief. Family. Children. Distance. Art. Love. Regret.

Walking back to our car we happened upon Amanda pulling away in hers with a couple of friends. We waved goodbye and she realised we were the fans in the concert with the baby. She hopped out and gave Poppy a cuddle. There’s a kind of ache I’ve known my whole adult life, a hunger for the weight of a child in your arms. It’s precious beyond measure to have Poppy here at last – Facebook is reminding me that this time 2 years ago we were head over heels in love with unborn Tamlorn. Over the next few weeks the status updates in memory will change to grief and anguish. When we’re apart from our babies we miss them in a physical way, miss the smell of their skin, the silk of their hair, their weight against our chest. It’s beautiful to be reunited with them and precious to be allowed to hold someone else’s for a little while. We all had a tired hug and went on our ways into the evening. It was a beautiful night.

A week of firsts!

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

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

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

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

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

Multiplicity Interview at Radio Adelaide

Today I was in at Radio Adelaide with Suzanne, being interviewed for a half hour conversation that’s going to be aired tonight alongside her beautiful documentary I the Many, We the One. 

You can listen online at 6pm Adelaide time to hear Sue and I discuss multiplicity, and the delicate and skilled process of sharing people’s personal experiences safely in a way that finds common ground while honouring diversity. The documentary is not just an interesting topic but a really beautiful and nuanced storytelling with poetry, voices woven together, and music written specifically for the piece. It’s stunning, and she won a major award for it!

If you miss this interview you will be able to catch it for the next 4 weeks on their website under the Listen Again option on Story Chaser, just select Thurs 16th Feb. Sorry for the late notice, I didn’t realise it was airing tonight!

You can also listen to just the documentary I the Many, We the One over at CBAA.

We have been discussing holding an event later this year to celebrate the documentary and the lives and work of people with multiplicity. If you would like be involved or can contribute a venue or opportunity, please get in touch. 🙂 sarah@di.org.au Visibility is important.

 

Enjoying my work

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


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

6 months raising a baby with Rose

Poppy is six months old today and I’m blown away. My whole life has changed so much in such a short time! Not so long ago Rose and I were childless. Now we are navigating the daily intense splendor of parenting in full swing! Star is learning to drive and Poppy is learning to crawl. Life is a cycle of feeling overwhelmed, confused and afraid, then finding our feet again and enjoying a sense of calm, contentment and competency. It’s like the tide, some days we are in touch with our expertise, others most painfully not. We are learning not to panic on the days we feel out of our depth, to just do our best and hold on. We are in a constant unfolding process of creating together what kind of family we are. It’s such a joy and a privilege. 


My relationship with Rose, my beautiful, dedicated partner in crime, goes through a huge change. We are a team highly focused on the needs of our girls and finding the safe space we’ve created for each other gets stretched out to include our kids. There’s less time to be young ourselves, less energy for our own needs. The role of parent dominates and we adjust, joyfully. In quiet moments we remember to change form, days where we have barely touched as we tag teamed life, we reach out and remember each other. 

Watching Rose be a Mother is a joy I wasn’t sure I’d get to see. I’ve learned so much from her. She is a joyful parent, she naturally gears towards play. She shows Poppy the rain, paddles her toes in the ocean, lets her smear yogurt on her face and squeeze watermelon through her fingers. She sings and Poppy dances. She knows all her ticklish spots, knows her tired cry, her pain cry, her sleepy face. She is highly attuned, watching for the edge where fun turns into fear and pulling back from it. Everything else may be a disaster but Poppy is clean, fed, groomed, in a fresh nappy and dressed immaculately, always. 

I have learned so much from her and still look to her first in matters of children. As a child and youth worker her experience is much broader than mine. We’re a good team. There’s a lot of complimentary skills. I’m able to speak to the anxiety about every spot, to help set up the rhythms and routines that keep the household running, to help hold the space when emotions drown someone. I’m chief spider catcher, milk maker, and debriefer. Rose cooks beautiful meals, folds the nappies, cuddles Poppy to sleep. Reads me Harry Potter. Suggests nights down the beach. Reminds me to stop working and soak it all in.

Through 6 months she’s had my back with breastfeeding, which has been a joy sometimes and a hell others. When I’ve told her she needs to change her ideas about being supportive and support me if I need to stop nursing too, she’s wrapped her brain around that. Yesterday she gave me a beautiful gift bag to say thankyou for 6 months of breastfeeding. It had peanut butter cookie dough ice cream, milk bottle lollies, and a three strand milky pearl bracelet from her, Star, and Poppy. I am so touched. She gets it. She gets me. 

We are in the thick of some unexpected work opportunities that are some of the most exciting and inspiring I’ve ever had. I’m doing several projects with the SA Mental Health Commission. Rose is also involved with their youth projects. So we’re having a lot of deep conversations about work and parenting and money and vulnerability and mental health, figuring out what we need and how to look after each other and our family and set things up so we can be shiny. It’s a whole new level of partnership where we are both deeply aware of each other’s struggles. We’ve supported each other through all our work ups and downs over the years and we’ve learned a lot. Rose is intimately familiar with the kind of madness I have around money and ethics where being broke and exploited feels safer to me and negotiating pay melts me into panic attacks. This time I’m surrendering a lot of power to her and my other trusted people to help me navigate this area. Exporting the skills I lack. I’ve seen other people with deep wounds or difficulty seeing straight in a key area do this (one brilliant couple I know, she keeps an eye out for his signs of burnout. He is honest and open about his voices and she has the power and right to call veto if the warning signs of overload are present). It’s a very big change from trying to up skill myself in every area, it’s vulnerable and strange to use my best judgement to rely on trusted others instead of continue to try and navigate when I know my compass is very faulty. It’s kind of terrifying and liberating. 

Twice since I picked my advocacy work back up, Rose has found language to say ‘my gut is worried about this plan’. Not easy conversations to have or language to create but we’ve muddled through. Muddling through is an approach Rose brought to our relationship and frankly I think it’s our superpower. Imperfect, messy, inelegant, nevertheless we get there. We muddle together. I’ve taken the unprecedented steps of backing away from something that she identified as too high risk, focusing my energy on lower risk ventures for now. Together we are becoming more skilled at dealing with the impacts of my advocacy (both good and bad) on our whole family, now that we have one! Two heads are better than one, it seems. 

Rose and I are both brilliant and vulnerable. It’s hard to see both aspects at times, but in our years together I’ve learned they are two sides of the same coin. All those years of suffering, all the skills we lack and blocks we hit and struggles we have are the place where the insights, the deeply tuned empathy, and the sparks of brilliance are. They are a package deal, intricately linked to each other. When things work well we can buffer the lacks and losses and create a setting for the skills to shine. But there’s no way possible to gain all this insight without some scars, and even healed you don’t run like someone who hasn’t been wounded. You don’t love like someone who doesn’t know loss. Our absolute joy in Poppy comes with a thread of terror, a dark numbing loss, memories of death and sadness and fears of being inadequate, incompetent, and alone. 

Competence and vulnerability tend to get split off as we try to show one side in our work and our public lives and the other keep hidden for 3am or maybe the shrink. The reality is, that heart is so big because of its scars, and the flaws in the diamond are part of what makes it precious. None of us are invulnerable or competent at everything and dangerous things happen when we try to be or get put under pressure to pretend to be. I’m learning that professionalism is not actually supposed to be a brittle facade of perfection, where you conceal every sign of pain, insecurity, confusion, doubt, or failure. It’s not a superhuman inhuman cardboard cut out of yourself you hide behind and can’t have any realconnection through. 

Professionalism is a place where you have a good sense of who you are, your skills and vulnerabilities, and you can talk about them, negotiate around them, set up what you need to be brilliant, and nurture and protect the vulnerabilities. Human and connected. That’s a pretty radical departure from what I was taught, and what most of us experience. (Thinking of my lovely friend in a management position on excellent pay who used to lock herself in the toilet at work to cry, and send me miserable emails from her phone) Spaces it’s not safe to be human do dangerous things to people. Dehumanised roles and workplaces have brutal, predictable impacts on people. It’s only the psychopaths who thrive in them, slick, charming, and invulnerable. People like me tend to simply self destruct without really knowing why. It’s my nature to not fit into boxes I’m pressed into. Most people are able to adapt but find the cost is both more subtle and more profound than they at first realised. 

It takes skill to keep the needs of work (be shiny at this time in this way) set up in such a way that they fit with human needs, with the way our energy ebbs and flows, our needs for human contact and for retreat from it, for a sense of meaning in our work. It’s the nature of all industry to wrestle with the line between productivity and exploitation, to look for cheaper, quicker ways to get results, to fall for slick charm and treat people as faceless cogs in a machine. And if resources were limitless and there were no consequences for abuse, that process of chewing up and spitting out people, animals, and our environment would work just fine and be highly profitable. It wouldn’t matter if we all worked like machines, but we ate living organisms and fit together not like cogs but like parts an ecosystem. So kids die in sweatshops overseas making cheap clothes, and middle-class workers with horrible bosses suffer chronic depression, migraines, and the kind of miserable self destructive behavioral ticks we used to see in caged, bored, lonely zoo animals. No resource is limitless. Industry that abuses creates wealth for a few at a high price for everyone else. Ethical, sustainable industry does not exploit but instead invests. Like good relationships. Like good families. 

So my beloved Rose and I are gearing less towards self improvement and more towards what discovering what environment we need in our family for each of us to be our shiny best somewhere. What does Star need? What safe place to fall, what resources, love expressed in what way? What do I need to be brilliant and keep my finger off the self destruct button? What does Rose need to allow her painful past to be a source of invaluable insight rather than a millstone of inertia and defeat? Not how can we be less vulnerable, but how can we be more human? Work with how we work. Muddling through. Imperfect but good enough. 

This is a love letter to Rose, really, in its own way. She is the heart of our home, the one who reminds us to be in the moment, to soak each other up. She’s here through it all, even when it’s overwhelming. 1 year of loving a teen together. 6 months of loving a baby. She changes nappies, pack lunches, teaches baby sign, wipes tears, gives cuddles. She buys pearls. She is my love. ❤

A big day starting new projects

Rose, Poppy and I are all home from a big day out in very, very hot weather. We have turned on the air conditioner and collapsed on a mattress on the floor of the lounge room in our underwear, like a big pile of puppies. Rose is napping and Poppy is nursing and I’m checking Twitter and accepting new friend requests on Facebook. 

Not a lot could have persuaded us to venture out in 42C, but today was something special. Rose let me sleep in until 15 minutes before we had to leave because I am fighting a sinus infection and was feeling so rubbish I cried when the alarm went off an hour earlier. Today was the first meeting of the Community Advisory Committee put together by the brand new SA Mental Health Commission. We were both successful applicants which is very exciting, and brought Poppy along as it was an all day event and she still won’t take milk from cups or bottles. I was anxious about that but it went incredibly smoothly. She’s such a social little baby and the folks there are so friendly. She had a wonderful day cuddling everyone and singing. 

It was a special day. They’ve assembled an amazing group of people and I feel very honored to be included. My headspace was rough to begin with and I felt very small – boardroom type meetings are so very out of my culture still and my sense of failure is very attuned and intense at times. But I drew my distress (as i do) and my sense of dislocation calmed and as it eased I could see how I fit here and what I could bring to it.

“I’m here representing self loathing, insecurity, failure, bewilderment, inadequacy, poverty etc etc etc.

So here we are, helping hold a space to make something new! Other brilliant, vulnerable people with their own communities and experiences of failure and success. People who have heard of pluralism and open dialogue approaches to communication and diversity! Doubt and vulnerability are also valuable to bring to such spaces. I am very excited and hopeful.

Value

I’m back into reading real paper books. Today I’ve been down sick and slept half of it away. I’m currently nursing on a mattress on the lounge room floor while Poppy and Rose nap next to me. I’m reading about how Amanda Palmer makes her art and feeling equal parts inspired and intimidated. What am I doing? Will I be able to pull together another solo exhibition this year? 

Right now I’m sick and I feel scared and broken and small. Rose is the one who sits with me on nights like this and strokes my back and reminds me that there is no real place I can reach where I will be safe from feeling not good enough. They are echoes of childhood bullies, they are the voice of imposter syndrome, what Amanda calls her Fraud Police. 

The Art of Asking – sometimes it feels like trying to describe the Arctic to a desert dweller. I wrestle with asking. I struggle to see myself and my skills as valuable. When my neurotic fears are contradicted I go on an emotional high for days or even weeks where anxiety has no hold over me and I can do everything I’ve been trying to do with grace and confidence. At some point the opposite reaction often accompanies it – the first time someone donated money to me for writing this blog I took to bed and cried for half a day. Just putting up the ‘support me’ button left me reeling for a week, fighting every thing in me that said not good enough and not okay. 

So I read and I try to learn. I’ve been running my networks for years now, unpaid, paying for printing and paint and domain names and spending hours on emails and support. Every now and then I spitball fundraising ideas with friends, talk about putting the board back together… but the asking is too much. I have to make my own way through this. Amanda has a confidence and a broad appeal I’ll never know. But I have learned that to some, like my beloved Rose, what I do matters and has worth and means something. You give my work – my art, my writing, my advocacy, value. And you just hold the space for me, when I’m being shiny and dazzling, or quiet and thoughtful, or wounded and hurting. Some days I speak to your pain with gentleness. Others I radiate fear and you send back to me love and support. It’s all very human and rather beautiful in its way. We muddle through. 

Kindness

Nursing my glorious baby in bed by candlelight (electric so I don’t set the bed on fire) and reading a book my beloved traded something to get for me. I’m milk stained from nursing, and tear washed from a counseling appointment earlier today. I went to a cranial sacral therapy session this morning, miserable with the flu and chronic back pain from breastfeeding. I don’t really understand how it works or if there’s any science behind it, but a woman held me while I cried, and looked at me with kindness while I talked about shame. That might be all the magic is, but it’s still magic of a kind. I came home and journalled and sketched and read and felt more myself and connected to my roots. It’s enough. 

Some days you win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love my Fountain pen

I am very happy. I use a fountain pen to write poems and create my ink paintings. I bought my first when I won some prize money for a short story. It was a silver Parker and I loved it. Sadly I lost it a few years ago and bought this blue Lamy. When I decided it was time to create my ink paintings on better quality archival paper I set myself up with sheets and pads but I’ve been frustrated by the scratchiness of the pen ever since. I’ve cleaned it and tried a few different inks known for lasting down a wet line to no avail. I’ve researched other pens, more expensive pens, and fancier nibs. Everything says Lamy lays down a wet line, even on the papers I’m using. So I’ve persisted and wrestled with a slow pace to lay down an unbroken line. 

Today it occurred to me that Lamy allow for nibs to be exchanged. So I took mine off and cleaned throughly beneath it. When I put it back together I had exactly what I’ve been wanting, a good wet line even at speed. What a joy it is to use. Good tools are a wonderful thing. I couldn’t sleep recently and began the artwork on the left. I don’t know that I’ll ever understand why art is so impossible some days and so easy others. It’s a cycle I ride. I’m looking forward to seeing what I create with this next. 

Free Hugs

This is my week deserved Chai latte at the end of a long and full few days. Parenting continues to be wonderful, amazing, consuming, and overwhelming at times. Balancing everyone’s needs and the available resources is a process that requires constant attention and fine tuning. I learn things all the time. There’s a kind of cycle like the seasons. Periods of blissful happiness, times of crisis that require intense focus and effort, breakthroughs that ease the storms into calm, sunny days. 

This week’s discovery has been that Poppy relaxes in a pool. A relaxed Poppy nurses better. I am now 5 days into no serious bites while nursing, following three long swims together this week. I’m ecstatic. 

I’m also working on various art projects and thinking deeply about some amazing (paid!) contract work I’m doing in the mental health field. Trying to understand my role in the grand scheme of things; how to be of the most use, and make the greatest difference, and ethically engage with the opportunities. I feel so honored, excited and sobered at the same time. It’s a rare joy to be using my skills like this. 

I’m starting that dance of motherhood between self and other. Between the boundaries of my roles and relationships, trying to find that elusive balance – what I need to recharge and my responsibilities and joy in being there for and with my family. Who am I now? How much adult functioning can I do before I need to rest and be a child again? If I can turn myself into what everyone around me needs, how do I find my way back to self? 

I miss writing here. Sometimes it is easy to share, others I am too swamped in doing to reflect. There’s no time and no words yet, and when I try the words are wrong. The stories are someone else’s and don’t fit. Or too raw yet for words. Stories that are not entirely mine to share. And worse – I lose sight of you, who I am writing for. Why I am sharing. My reader goes from friend to stranger in my mind. This sharing becomes exposing. The extraordinary act of being human in public overwhelms rather than liberates me. I am tongue tied and mute.

Small moments remind me, like my lovely new mug from close friends. Free hugs! I have always written to people like me – struggling to be more alive. Vulnerable. To myself, 15 years ago. My friends and fellow artists and dreamers and madmen. We the brave and bewildered and afraid and amazing. I’ve so much to tell you and no time in which to say it. Life is beautiful and painful and I’m wrapped up in the daily intensity of it, exactly where I wanted to be. 

I hope you are traveling well too, in the thick of things or the quiet reflection, in grief or hope or bold new adventures. Going boldly. Being human. Wrestling with the night. Thankyou for what you do. Thankyou for being part of my story. Free hugs for you. 

I’m Multiple and I Don’t Kill People

I did my first interview recently speaking out against the horrific stigma and discrimination so many people have to deal with as multiple. I’ve teamed up with SANE Australia to bust myths and show a human face to multiplicity. Yesterday they published the article: Nine things you need to know before watching Split. It’s beautifully concise and to the point, a much briefer explanation of the issues than this post. I’ve written here to elaborate on the key points and explain in more detail what is going on, why it matters, and what we can do about it.

The new movie Split has put people like me back in the public eye for all the wrong reasons. This movie speaks directly to a popular myth – that multiples like me are dangerous.

This is crap. It’s lazy writing. It’s been done a million times. And always having the multiple be the bad guy harms people who are already afraid of the huge impact being out about multiplicity can have in their relationships, jobs, housing, education, and custody arrangements. Multiples are an incredibly diverse and highly discriminated against community, so why are we still telling the serial killer story? It’s not okay to constantly present us this way. How dare people make money by exploiting the vulnerable.

I’m multiple and I’m a compassionate, hard working, animal loving poet with a very silly sense of humour. I do not murder hitchhikers. I do not kidnap people. I do not terrorise children. I take injured seagulls to the vet. I provide a safe home for friends in trouble. I weed my elderly neighbour’s garden.

You do not need to be afraid of me switching. Switching is just like someone leaving a room and another person coming in. One of us catches the seagull and figures out how to keep it safe, we switch and someone else comforts the distressed child who saw the bird get hit by a car. We tag team our life. It’s actually completely lacking in drama. In my world multiplicity and switching is just normal.

Have multiples ever been killers? Yes. It’s rare but possible. Are some multiples violent or abusive or frightening? Of course. And so are some people who eat fish. Some Mexicans. Some psychiatrists. Multiples run the full gamut of human expression from demons to angels not because of our multiplicity but because we are human. Statistically, you are far more likely to be a threat to us than we are to you.

Why does it matter?

It’s just entertainment though, right? Don’t make a big deal of it. Don’t take it seriously. No one takes this stuff seriously. It’s not real. It doesn’t make any difference in the real world.

If ‘serial killer’ or ‘violent psychopath’ were the only roles we cast people with freckles in, how would you feel about dating a freckled person? Having a child with freckles? A co-worker? How would you feel about discovering you had freckles you didn’t know about?

 

I’ve watched a lot of the movies or episodes and read the books that depict multiplicity. Some of them I think are great, and that includes some that are brutal or in which the person with multiplicity is scary or the bad guy. (Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Fight Club, Lord of the Rings)

As an artist myself I’m not wild about censorship. I’m not saying we should police our creative content and never allow a negative portrayal. What I am saying is that stories are powerful. Stories are part of culture. It’s far past time we started telling some different ones about multiplicity because the culture that surrounds multiplicity is deeply toxic and destructive. We are aware of this culture and the impact of stories enough that we should be responsible in how we tell the ‘negative’ ones.

Just in case Split was responsible, I’ve been holding off on sharing my reaction until I could read reviews and synopsis. I still had a small hope the famous Shyamalan twist might save it, or that perhaps there were cues in the film to distance this depiction from other people with multiplicity. There were not. It would take very little to do this either in the exposition (‘he’s fundamentally different from other people with DID’) or simply by briefly depicting a different person with multiplicity who is clearly not dangerous. Or even the hero for a change. I have a similar criticism of United States of Tara.

Because we so rarely see multiplicity depicted, every time we do that example is taken to be representative. People don’t come away thinking ‘that’s one example of a diverse experience’, they come away with a vague feeling ‘that’s what multiplicity is like’. This is true of all minority or hidden experiences – as a queer person if I’m the only one someone is friends with, who I am strongly shapes how they feel about all queer people. I’m very aware of this in my advocacy work around multiplicity and I always work hard to stop my own experiences being treated as representative. I see it as my responsibility to be honest and to bring the diversity of my community with me in all my work. A lot of my work is busting myths about multiplicity that are absolutes.

I’m particularly angry about Split because they have gone to a lot of effort to use current clinical terminology and mix a lot of real information and myths together in a way that makes it hard to figure out which is which unless you are knowledgeable about the experience. So the villain has been diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder and is in therapy, real instances of major changes in function such as blindness between identities have been distorted to suggest this change is physical. The Facebook page for Split uses taglines such as “He’s not well“. I’m not personally impressed with the mental ‘illness’ framework for multiplicity or any other form of suffering or difference, but to see the language people use to try to explain their struggles co-opted to engender fear is disgusting. The people behind Split have done enough research to know better.

The website splitmoviehurts.com has a full run down of the movie (behind trigger warnings) and criticism from the perspectives of people with multiplicity, I highly recommend having a look.

Culture

The impact of these stories and issues is called culture. It’s ‘the water in which we swim’ – difficult to see or quantify, but ever present and extremely powerful. We keep telling the serial killer multiplicity story precisely because it is part of our culture and we recognise it. It has a pull. Each time we tell it we re-enforce the links between danger and multiplicity.

Multiplicity is surprisingly common but mostly kept hidden. Activists and advocates like me are certainly out making noise, but comparatively we are rare. There are a lot of reasons for this lack of advocacy and visibility. Culture is one of the powerful ones.

In all the time I have been working and living in this field, I have only just encountered my first instance of someone who is publicly out as being multiple being employed in a non-mental health setting. The culture is that negative, and acceptance is that rare. 

Not something we tend to mention to mental health peer workers who out themselves as multiple.

The Toxic Triad

The ‘multiples are dangerous’ stories feed the toxic triad of fear, fascination, and disbelief. These are extremely common reactions to multiplicity. They are profoundly dehumanising and destructive. They do us great harm both when we receive them from others and when we internalise them and express them towards ourselves and each other. These are the foundations of the toxic culture around multiplicity that causes so much harm.

Fear

The story of Split might not be real, but the fear definitely is. When I was diagnosed with DID in 2007 I was terrified of both other people’s reactions, and of myself. I was so afraid that no one would ever trust me again, that I would not be allowed to work with children or finish my psychology degree and support vulnerable people. I was also terrified of my other selves, afraid they might have totally different values from me and be outside of my control. Afraid I might not be safe. Afraid I might hurt someone. I had never seen or heard of multiplicity portrayed in a positive way, as a regular person, or as a moral, safe, and caring person. These are not the stories we are told. I felt bottomless fear that I might be dangerous and not even know it. On bad days I wondered if it would be better to kill myself than risk that possibility.

This terror made examining the possibility I was multiple a year long nightmare in therapy where I attempted to convince the psychologist I might have borderline personality disorder instead – because I perceived that the stigma about that was lesser. Anyone who knows the intense stigma surrounding BPD should shudder at that. This terror made accepting my multiplicity feel like leaping from a cliff into the unknown. It took courage and desperation and it made me feel alone and afraid for my life. It should not be this way and it doesn’t have to be. I did not know then that I had already been switching all my life and actually had a sense of who we were and our values. I did not know that the dynamic between us was like any group or family with its own values and personality. I didn’t know that a system could self regulate and change who was out if something bad was about to happen, or that some identities could override others for safety. I hadn’t yet read that violence is difficult to predict but one of the few useful indicators is past behaviour – which was good news for my system as we have never been the instigators of violence. I hadn’t yet got to know the rest of us and realised they are just like me.

Other people also expect us to be similar to the stories of multiplicity they have seen. I’ve had a psychiatrist tell me to switch in my first session with them to prove my multiplicity, and support workers tell me in disappointment they couldn’t tell I had switched. I’ve also had a PHaMs worker report they did  not feel safe with me when I was open that they were meeting a different part that day – and I didn’t even switch in front of them. At the time this absolutely devastated me. To be considered unsafe touched profound fears in me. I cried like the world had ended. I never went back to the PHaMs program. I was heartbroken.

Fascination

There’s an obsession with fakers and fraud, caused by the very limited ideas of what is ‘real multiplicity’ and the perceived gain available to those of us who are public – to be treated as rare and interesting. When I outed myself as having DID to the Disability Worker at Tafe she told me I was fascinating. I told her “those are just my problems. You haven’t seen my art yet”. This is not what I wanted to be known for.

People like me are accused of narcissism and attention seeking. We just want to be ‘special’. Perhaps to have money opportunities or fame- how often are people with plain old garden variety anxiety asked to go on Oprah or given book deals? What other experience is described as ‘the holy grail of psychiatry’? Are we building an insanity defence to get away with murder?

When basic resources and access needs are seen as favours or special treatment we are treated with deep suspicion. Competition for the limited roles of ‘real multiplicity’ is steep and harsh. Instead of supporting self awareness, compassion for uncertainty, and equality we struggle in a toxic environment that lavishes limited resources on a special few and withholds basic opportunities for support, employment, and dignity from everyone. If you can’t get a job then an Oprah presentation or a book deal are essential for income. We get stuck in the culture of sensationalism for the same reasons people with physical deformities used to join freak shows – because it’s the only role we are given and the only way to survive.

When I talk about fascination I don’t mean curiosity. Fascination has an ‘othering’ aspect where the subject is treated as less human. There’s a voyeuristic element to it. It’s intrusive, sensational, and hungry for the bizarre, tragic, or humiliating. Curiosity or interest are respectful and compassionate. Questions are only asked if invited, and from a basis of shared humanity. I love curiosity and I’m intensely curious about multiplicity myself. Fascination is repellent.

Disbelief

Sensational, creepy, dramatic portrayals of multiplicity also feeds the idea that multiplicity isn’t real. That it’s just a plot device used in Hollywood. So people like me are deluded or faking. There’s a lot of disbelief about multiplicity in the general community and the mental health sector. Ironically, I didn’t used to believe in it myself.

I turned myself into pretzel shapes trying to figure out if multiplicity was real or caused by doctors, if maybe I just wanted to be special, if I really was multiple, and if I should be afraid of myself. I doubted everything and examined my feelings and motivations ruthlessly. I was relentless and brutal in my attempt to be sure that I was considering this possibility for the ‘right’ reasons. At a point in my life when I felt so alone and so afraid, the toxic culture about multiplicity was making me treat myself with suspicion and disbelief instead of acceptance and self compassion. This was for me, life threatening. I might not have made it through the process of becoming aware I was multiple. It’s often a time of extreme vulnerability for people.

Films like Split also feed the idea that this is what multiplicity usually looks like: florid obvious switches between dramatically different identities who always change clothing and are completely separate and unrelated. For some people this is pretty accurate. But for most it’s far from our reality. Switches that are subtle, blurring or blending between parts with unclear divisions from each other and a lot of overlap in characteristics, even close friends only noticing what seem to be changes in mood rather than different identities – these are common experiences of multiplicity.

There’s an idea that multiplicity must be obvious to be real. There’s another one that it must be subtle and hidden to be real. Like most of these myths we are stuck whatever we do. Someone will try to take credibility from us.

What other process of diagnosis or identity develops this way? It’s incredibly common for people with multiplicity to doubt themselves and fear the diagnosis in ways I do not encounter anywhere else. It’s common for people to be terrified they are multiple and also terrified they are not. We did not create this culture. It is not our fault. But we inherit it and are pinned by the contradictions and trapped between the myths. We pay a steep price for it. Fear, denial, isolation, years of secrecy, torment and suffering. It costs us years, dreams, relationships, and consumes our energy and resources just to survive. Sometimes we pay with our lives.

We need a profound culture shift!

That’s what I’m trying to be part of with my art, this blog, and my creation of the Dissociative Initiative. I work from values of diversity, acceptance, respect, safety, and dignity. These are the key changes we need:

  • Diversity is a normal part of the human experience across a great many domains. People with multiplicity are not special, or at least not more special than anyone else. We are people. We do not deserve to be vilified or idolised.
  • A large aspect of the suffering and anguish around multiplicity is to do with the toxic culture and experiences of trauma. We deserve access to resources and information to help us with these experiences.
  • People with multiplicity run the usual gamut of decent to awful. We are not a homogeneous group but a highly diverse one. Having multiplicity in itself tells you nothing about whether we are safe, trustworthy, or good parents. It only tells you we have more than one self. We are no more likely to be dangerous, deceptive, or unfit parents than anyone else.
  • It is normal for multiplicity to be expressed, experienced and understood by those with it and our friends and family in a wide variety of ways. This doesn’t make some more real, valid, or worthy of acceptance or support than others. DID is not ‘more real’ than experiences of multiplicity as part of OSDD (Other Specified Dissociative Disorder), for example. ‘Healthy multiplicity’ is not more or less valid than people who suffer from multiplicity as a mental illness. It’s also normal for people’s experiences and understandings to change over time. We should not be pitted at war with each other to fight for credibility.
  • Diversity in responses to multiplicity is also normal. Some people hate it and want to integrate. Some people celebrate it. Many of us have complex mixed feelings. People have the right to engage it however they wish and do what works best for them. There is no one path to recovery from distress and no single recipe for an authentic life. 

We can do this together. We can support diversity, speak out against myths, and work to get stories of multiplicity where we don’t kill people out there. Change is possible when we treat each other with respect. We need to campaign for resources for those who are vulnerable and to care for and hold to account those who share the stories (creative or personal) and shape the culture. Things are changing and we are all part of that.

For more information see a list of my other articles in Multiplicity Links, scroll through posts in the category of Multiplicity, or explore my Network The Dissociative Initiative.

Breastfeeding is much harder than I thought it would be 

Out of nowhere breastfeeding recently became incredibly difficult and painful again. Poppy has two bottom teeth now and everything changed overnight. She is biting me, nursing badly and grazing my nipples, and having bad feeds where she growls, thrashes, bites, and claws me as she comes on and off my breast repeatedly, giving me ‘niplash’ in the process.

It’s been horrible. She bit me badly enough to make me bleed on Christmas, and that nipple swelled and became extremely painful. My headspace rapidly crashed as each feed was more difficult and more painful. Within a couple of days I was crying frequently, my head was overloaded with ‘I hate myself’, and I couldn’t reach out for help because I was swamped by the conviction that my friends all loathed me. Reaching out at that point takes a hell of a lot of ‘brave’. I asked for suggestions online and called our Breastfeeding helpline, but all the suggestions were things I have already been trying. Unfortunately as it’s Christmas/New Years, the other resources I trust (lactation consultant and physio) are away. So there’s no easy answers.

Someone suggested Poppy’s moderate posterior tongue tie, which we elected not to revise, may be causing troubles. Thinking back, Rose and I recall that we were warned by our lactation consultant that troubles can return around 4-6 months as her face grows.

So, in between crying I’ve been reading a lot. I read my way through a couple of tongue tie groups on facebook – the good, bad, and ugly of ties and revisions. I read through Pinky McKay’s blog. I came across a thought provoking article about tongue ties, which mentioned functional lactose overload in an offhand way, and planted the seed of an idea about synchronicity between mother and baby during feeds. Tongues Tied about Tongue-Tie So I did some more hunting and found a couple of useful articles about Lactose Overload and Lactose Intolerance.

I’ve trialled block feeding (the solution for lactose overload) and Poppy has reduced vomiting to less than 1/3rd of her usual amount over the past 48 hrs. I was going to try this earlier to help manage strong letdown, but I’ve been anxious about reducing supply and the oversupply seemed to settle down on its own. But now I think I’m on to something. She is less fussy, less windy, and her nappies are now normal for breastfeeding instead of green, acidic, and frothy. I’m thrilled! How has no one else mentioned this possibility? 

As for biting – what I’ve been trying for Poppy before feeds:

  • teething gel to numb gums
  • cold wet frozen face-washer to chew
  • various other fridge cold baby chew toys
  • rubbing her gums with my fingers
  • letting her chew on my knuckles
  • yelping when she bites
  • taking her off the breast when she bites and making her wait before nursing again
  • ignoring bites and continuing to nurse

For my damaged nipples I’ve been using:

  • cold wet face washer
  • multi-mams bio gel
  • breast milk and air drying
  • thrush treatment gel
  • antifungal and antibacterial cream
  • resting from nursing and pumping only while very damaged

They are finally healing. It seems some kind of infection was going on because it wasn’t until I pulled out the antifungal/antibacterials that things improved, and fortunately they then improved quickly. So I’m doing 3 hourly block feeds (feeding only on one side for 3 hours then switching to the other for the next 3). 

Biting is being caused by 2 things, I think… Frustration, caused by slow milk flow when breast is running out, or by pain of teething, or gas pain etc. She often warns me by growling, wriggling, squeezing my hand in her hand and so on – now I’ve tuned in more I’m picking that up and taking her off the breast before she bites.

The second thing is when she is startled. Her startle reflex has dramatically increased the past few weeks, she’s also having nightmares. Gone is my little baby who would sleep through the dog barking. I’m wondering if that’s partly developmental (increased awareness), partly related to being in pain because of the teething… And partly because my nervous system is in fight/flight due to how stressful it is to be bitten. I think we are setting each other off with stress – she bites and scares me, I yelp and scare her. Feeds become scary for both of us. Muscle tension makes feeds more difficult physically for her – the movement of tongue and mouth are impeded. High frustration increases biting…

So my current theory is that we are in a negative spiral of distress as both our nervous systems kick into sympathetic arousal for feeds. I am the Mum here, my nervous system has to the be the one that calms hers down, she can’t lead mine to feeling safer. 

So I am grounding and settling myself before nursing, paying close attention again to her position, freedom of head and neck, good body contact between us, allowing her to wrap her arms around my breast to control her latch, and we are doing much better. Sometimes I need help from others like Rose to help me calm so this is possible, but I think we’re on the right track and hopefully given some extra care, nursing will once again become easy. 

Christmas with Kids 

… is shaping up to be everything we hoped it would be. My heart has been  doing somersaults with glee all week. I always treat this time of year as a season rather than a day, which takes a lot of the pressure off. We do several catch ups with different friends and families. A couple of weeks ago we sat down as a family and each shared something that makes it feel like Christmas for us. I wanted to bake something with cinnamon in it, Rose wanted cute clothes for Poppy, and Star wanted to see some Christmas lights. So those things we made happen and everything else was flexible. I’m learning that being a parent means letting things go and embracing what is. The goal has been to enjoy ourselves, and every time we’ve got stressed and frazzled we’ve re-jigged things to get back to that goal. It’s been wonderful. 

Poppy has finally cut her second tooth and just come out of a wonder week into a sunny few days. What delightful timing to have my happy little girl back again! 

All the new traditions! All the wonderful memories. There’s been lots of anxiety for everyone lately so we’re all in gentle mode with each other. My home is full of cuddles. Just now we’re off to our traditional Christmas Eve, games and treats with friends in front of Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Life is beautiful. ❤

Multiplicity and visibility 

Sometimes I hate my advocacy work. I resent being out – or worse, having to come out over and over again. I count the costs and look back at my decision to be open about multiplicity back in 2010 and ask myself if I would do it again, knowing what I know now?

Some days the answer is no. It’s no through tears, through gritted teeth, through anger and a sense of betrayal at every opportunity once open to me that didn’t work out.

Becoming a Mum brings me into contact with a whole new world. I out myself as queer. I out myself as many things. But mental health? Difference, disability? Back in my first public talk about multiplicity, I sat behind a table to deliver it because I was trembling too much to stand. After a lot of thought, I came out on this blog in 2012 with my post I am not Sarah. How the hell can it actually get harder over time?

Because now I have so much to lose.

The most challenging delivery of my Psychosis without Destruction talk so far was one I did for a room full of GP’s while I was pregnant. I was so stuck leading up to it, so blocked trying to rework the talk into the much shorter time slot. Frustrated beyond belief that I was struggling so much, I finally realised that I was simply scared. Our culture is not always kind to mothers who are different. We judge, shame, and fear diversity in mothers. In the back of my mind was the fear that admitting to psychosis in a medical setting might end with being bundled into an ambulance and sectioned.

Multiplicity? It’s the kind of thing people can lose custody of their kids over, and I have a kid now. It’s a conversation I don’t want to have with new mum friends every time. Because drumming up the courage and the ability to set the tone as comfortable and normal instead of strange or frightening takes spoons I don’t always have. Some days I’m all out of brave. I can hide this so well, why not simply walk away from that part of my life and start to blend in for a change?

And then.

And then last night, I get a phone call from an old friend telling me they think they have child parts. And I say – congratulations. Parts can be the most wonderful thing in the world, the closest and most beautiful relationship. Congratulations on discovering this, on being ready to know. Do you want me to send you a welcome pack? Two – one for you, one for your counsellor. No worries. You got this.

I think who else are people going to call to hear that? Some days I love my advocacy work. I love that people know they can reach out to me. I love that less people feel totally alone and strange and freakish. I love meeting others and learning from them. I love hearing the stories and I cherish the diversity.

When people email me to say they are not sure if there’s a place in the world for them – how can my answer be oh maybe there is, but only if you are good enough at hiding it. How can that be the only hope for people like us? When they say to me I make them feel that maybe there is place in the world for someone like us… All the costs are worth it. They seem so small, even petty. Peoples lives are made better by honest sharing.

I have more to lose, sure. And I’ve paid a price anyway, steeper then I hoped to. But beware of greener grass. A life hidden, secret, and isolated extracts a cost also, sometimes more subtle and harder to count, but there all the same. I’ve been lucky. Look at my beautiful life, my wonderful partner, gorgeous children, my tribe of strange, beautiful, good hearted people. I have been so blessed. If I’m not strong enough to have these conversations, if I’m not willing to hold this space, the burden falls to those who can’t hide it. Those with systems that are struggling, those where the loneliness is killing them, where the pain is like a bloodstain on their shirt everyone tries not to stare at. If they are not the first multiple people have met, not the first contradiction of the serial killer trope, then I have helped ease a little of their burden. It’s not much, but sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a difference.

I have known so many multiples over the past few years. We are so diverse, and so normal. We have pets. We have rent to pay, careers we’re figuring out. We get sick, we care for others who get sick. We watch the news and worry about the world. We fight with our neighbours. We stream movies and eat ice cream and get behind on our laundry. We switch and get stuck or  lose parts or  battle with nightmares or have complicated relationships with our partners. We navigate disclosure in a million ways.

Visibility and activism are such a challenge for so many of us. Think about it this way – there are many gay/lesbian/bi activists because visibility and recognition are key needs – to have our identity, or relationships, and our children recognised as real and legitimate. We don’t want to hide, we want to be identified as gay/lesbian /bi etc. There are far fewer trans activists because most trans people do not want to be identified. We want to live out our lives safely and unobtrusivly. Being identified as trans for some of us is stressful – it may increase the likelihood of discrimination, cruelty, and violence. We want to be identified as our real gender, not necessarily as trans.

For multiples, most of us have learned that imitating non-multiples is the key to success and safety. Our systems are hard-wired for secrecy and hiddenness. Our systems may be vibrant and diverse inside but outside parts cannot be distinguished from each other and switches may be merely subtle shifts in mood or demeanour. For some of us we have learned bitterly that others realising we are multiple can bypass most of the protections it offers and make us deeply vulnerable.

The challenges with visibility go deeper though. As a child I recall watching myself switch in the mirror and having no words to express the way my face was suddenly no longer my own. It was terrifying. For awhile I was convinced I was possessed by the devil. I also developed a deep fear of mirrors. Being confronted with the other inhabitants of my mind and body was intensely disturbing. Imagine coming upon a stranger in your home, in your room, wearing your clothes, your deodorant, your grandmothers necklace. Imagine them wearing your face, using your hands, eating your dinner, kissing your partner.

It’s taken me years to be okay with mirrors. Being photographed. Being video recorded. Having my voice recorded. After diagnosis I had to avoid all of them. Mirrors and reflective surfaces would trigger switches. I could start to identify who was in photographs, I could hear different voices and speech patterns, identify switches between us. For someone who was terrified this wasn’t ‘real’ you might think this would be comforting evidence. It was simply terrifying, falling down a black hole where my identity and existence dissolved and nothing was certain. On bad days I would avoid all these things. On good days I might, when feeling strong, stand in the bathroom for a moment and stare at our face, watching the eyes flickering. Here we are. Slowly getting used to it. Exposure therapy. The unbearable fear becomes over time simply a daily reality. Here I am, brushing my teeth, switching. Mirrors hold no terror for me anymore.

I’ve been out since 2010 and we still don’t share individual names with anyone other than Rose. We don’t sign blog posts or artworks, we don’t identify photographs. We use our group identity as a shield and protect us all behind it. We are so open and so hidden at the same time. We are slowly coming to bear being recorded. Visibility of a different kind. It’s still very disturbing to see ourselves on video. Voice recordings are okay on good days when I have some brave left. I cope pretty well these days with having writing and art on display, and photos of us.

All of these used to be impossible. People would do things like tell me that a piece of writing didn’t sound like me, or that they really preferred one of my artwork types over another (and inside someone curls up in shame that their art isn’t good enough, inside the fear of being found out sounds like an alarm, the impulse suddenly reawakens to police who ‘Sarah’ is, who we present to the world, to try and curate our public self for an impression of consistency). People would tell me that they preferred my clothing style one day over another and we would freeze inside, as embarrassed as when a friend’s mother used to compare me with her daughter as we stood in front of her as kids.

Loathing the ‘specialness’ of the sensationalism – ‘the holy grail of psychiatry’, the media full of terror (even an old teacher of mine was once planning a book where the investigator gradually discovers he is the killer), and the dehumanising of talking about us as if we share nothing in common with other people. We are human. We are people.

The opposite impulse is also present for us. Walking up to the podium to talk about multiplicity at the World Hearing Voices Congress a couple of years ago, a 10 year old part offering to switch out and identify herself ‘so then they’ll see that switching and child parts aren’t scary’ while the wounded one vulnerable to self harm screams with terror at being so exposed. ‘Thankyou, my love, but no, please don’t. You would be wonderful but we mustn’t scare the others (inside).’

I’m not the only multiple being visible, of course. Being visible about something people want to hide means keeping a lot of people’s secrets. It means flying a flag so those who have fallen down the rabbit hole of self have a person to reach out to – even better if it’s someone safe, who will balance sympathy and optimism. Someone not embedded in ideas of multiplicity as a crippling disorder, but not gung-ho about pushing an agenda or assuming their path will be everyone’s path. That’s what I hope to be, what I try to be. A safe starting point in that journey of self discovery. There are a lot of us out there, mostly hidden in plain sight. It’s far from safe to be visibly multiple for many of us. But it’s so important that some of us are.

Growing 

I have had a wonderful, brilliant, exhausting day. I was up until the early hours finishing an art project I can’t wait to share with you all. I’m now home with Poppy sleeping peacefully in my lap, chatting with friends online and winding down. I’m still blinking with surprise at how beautiful my life is, my precious family, my lovely home. My kitchen is full of delightful pastries and my fingers have ink on them – all is right with my world.

Today we drove up to the hills and I saw a new therapist and talked about last year and my experiences of profound connection and then profound loss. We both wept a little, the therapist and I, talking about those experiences. That’s a good start and a hopeful sign the conversations will be productive. I’m working on a great many things at the moment, my severe anxiety among them, and I feel that things are changing and growing and getting unstuck. I have been very brave this past few weeks, many times, and I feel like a plant that cannot help but turn its face to the sun and reach upwards.

Having rested from advocacy work for a good stretch following the devastation of last year, I have found myself cautiously taking up the role again and feeling that passion and hope stir within me again. I am afraid of flying too close to the sun, of too much stress, too little wildness, too much unpaid work and containing other people’s sad stories. So I’ve set up two guardians and asked them to watch me and warn me when I’m wearing thin. Rose is one, she has always championed my work and art and watched me both fly and fall. I’ve also reached back out to my old supervisor and booked in regular contact. And now finding a regular space for my own struggles too – I’m hoping I’m setting up the care I need to protect me so I can take risks and do useful things, and manage the anxiety that comes along with putting myself out there.

Then we drove quickly back down the hill to the city. The highlight of today was being invited to the SA Mental Health Commission  for afternoon tea alongside the other 11 artists who’s work were selected for display in the office. We all brought our art in today and it was a joy to see it all together. The work of mine they selected was a beautiful large gilded print of She Blooms. I feel very honoured! It was wonderful to meet the other artists and I wish I could have spoken with them all. I don’t often get to hang out with other artists with a lived experience of mental illness and I know they will have amazing stories. It was also lovely to spend a little time with the staff and meet the people who chose these works and hear why and what they mean to them. It’s wonderful to be standing in a mental health space again but this time with my identity as an artist front and centre. One foot in mental health and the other in art, it’s always been what has worked best for me.

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Myself with Mental Health Commissioner Chris Burns

New art in my Etsy Shop

etsy-shop

I have updated with my Etsy shop with three new artworks – The Gap, Rainbow Baby, and Feeding the Monster. It’s taken a lot of work to organise! I’ve had to sort out the prints, photograph everything, work out all the weights and postage costs for domestic and international, and so on. It’s a bit frustrating but I’m happy to have good, clear descriptions and lovely professionally presented artwork. 🙂

It’s been a tough couple of days here – Rose had her wallet stolen a couple of days ago and unfortunately the thief used all her cards to empty the accounts before we realised and blocked them. It’s been a huge rigmarole since to try and replace all the ID and other cards. Sadly the cash, gift cards for Christmas gifts, swimming multipasses and so on are gone for good, we are still hoping we might get some of our money from our accounts back once the banks have investigated. It’s horrible and demoralising.

On the lovely spirit of Christmas side of things of course we are always so lucky with our tribe who have helped out with food, loans, or gifts. I feel sad and embarrassed to think of all the people who aren’t fortunate enough to know so many kind, generous, lovely people – I’ve been there before and I know how lonely and difficult hard times can be when there’s no one to lend a hand. But I also know that being part of community means giving and receiving, and that when we set ourselves apart from other’s kindness there’s a kind of snub to it. Star was trying to pay for things from her savings and after rejecting her offer several times I realised she was hurt and frustrated, so she paid the $17 fee to get Rose’s license re-issued. We are all stronger together. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped us out with practical or emotional support, my anxiety has been pretty high this week but we’ve all hung in there and we’re doing okay.