This month has probably been the hardest one for many . A combination of patience stretched to breaking point, limited services and life and the universe in a hug-less void spinning us in our strange little bubbles. Unless you are a guinea pig and then life has continued pretty much as before..
How cold it has also been !. And alas, the joys of a lovely conversation over coffee in the warmth of a cosy café with a friend, or a winter’s sale to treat the soul, cheering the grey and bitter days with pockets of colour, seem like forbidden fruits to be savoured and dreamed about on repeat, lest we forget entirely the joy of the ordinary day..
It was such a looooong month… Ironically after the last post being so upbeat and productive, mobility and health took a detour for a few weeks and I was grateful for the comforts of home and the nursing superpowers of my wonder child.
Not only did the body decide to send an almighty great big flare up, which ended up in an A and E emergency road trip , a week in bed , a covid test , two lots of very strong anti biotics , all the daily routine was in the hands of my young carer extraordinaire. ( who took great delight in this task being in charge of the kitchen cupboards and concocting numerous chocolate snacks for us.. (for lunch. )
Like all of us, dealing with chronic conditions in a pandemic; we are doing it without the popping in of friends and the best medicine of company and laughter. Even the car gave up the ghost and needed a jump start to get moving. Thankyou to the Simmons family who were just amazing as tablet collectors, dog walkers, dog sitters and taxi drivers, and also to the monkey’s sleepover hosts, Steve and Jennifer. For a few weeks life ground to a halt a little bit. Although the basics just about got done in the Ark when the weather lashed against the windows and the studio was switched to the duvet. Thankyou too to Louisa for the book and chocolates in the post. Bear says ‘Could you just read the last two pages from your copy, as they were delicious.’
Snow and Covid grounded the decking and pergola building plans to a halt too, leaving a skeleton of four posts like a sculpture amongst the granny chic of the garden. Unfortunately, with very little to do in a small village, an unidentifiable wooden object became the overpowering curiosity of those with too much time on their hands.
In times of illness, we are weakened in more ways than just our symptoms. It frustrates us to be in need of help, to be pitied, or seen as weak. Often we make a point of doing more than we should to override these assumptions . Losing health can feel like losing power. And bullies know this. Degenerative illness is complicated and different all the time. Supportive friends know the good and bad days or weeks, and can see the danger signs, when you say you are ok, but you really aren’t.
When those around you are behaving in a less than supportive manner, or worse chipping away at your peripheral vision like wearing dirty glasses with squashed mosquitos stuck to the lenses , the easiest feeling is to give up. Or become bitter, and sad, lonely, angry, bite back like a dog with a flea constantly biting its ear..
But that’s not an option to preserve your future sanity and energy.
Especially if we keep ourselves open to possibilities and looking at more than our shoes..
One of the benefits of this time has been the ability for many of us to ground ourselves with aspects of life which had become consigned to the attic . Forced indoors with our belongings, and face to face with bits of ourselves we hadn’t seen in a while, has perhaps been cathartic, or freeing, perhaps complicated, but I imagine some of you have had an interesting time looking at old photographs, diaries, listening to music from personal years gone by.
No matter how unwell we become, our physical bodies may grow week, we may go through chapters where one aspect of our life challenges us, but it absolutely does not topple every other domino in the game.
If negative self talk, from our past, familial conditioning, those that we see and hear on a daily basis seep a drip drip affect into our minds which is left to fester, it not only poisons our joy, it physically weakens us, and our immunity. If you have illness already, this stuff can really cripple you. Allowing your mental energy to slump too is like handing your life support machine over to the enemy. It is difficult to override voices whose aim is to halt your progress, and curtail your mission in life.
Finding a way to come home to yourself in the toughest times in this world is fundamental to your sanity. As crucial as breathing. Today after repeating myself to a 12 yr old about the importance of maths and geography schoolwork three hundred times , and the obligatory ‘DONT go on your phone mantra… I hid in my shed and looked through more lovely things. It helped. It was just a few minutes but the blood pressure gauge literally crept back down before my eyes!
Within the mental health art group I support, we talk a lot about the value of sharing, that life and its ups and downs can overwhelm and overpower us to the point of stasis. And why having someone you can really talk to is so important. Today I talked to two people about things that were troubling me. It is usually me that does the listening. A huge weight felt like it was lifted by the simple gift of being heard. And not judged. Imagine , if we could all do this early on for every child. Or more importantly that every child grew up feeling it was safe to really say what hurt. Studies show that childhood trauma affects not only the mental wellbeing of that person as an adult but it can chemically affect and change their immunity levels and the likelihood of a serious life threatening condition. The irony is, those who have the least support as children, given the right circumstances, can turn into damaged adults who hurt others.
Getting what is in, out of ourselves is a crucial step at any point on our journey to health. Keeping your head healthy by blitzing stagnant bits, is sometimes a bit unpleasant, like cleaning out the fridge, but always makes you ultimately walk that bit lighter. And in these cooler months, before our wellbeing gets extra oomph of vitamin D from being outdoors, learning more about ourselves, by clearing , reading, discovering again, who we were, who we still are is quite a productive way to spend these groundhog days.
When I was young I had no concept of myself through other people’s eyes. I was never very sure of where I fitted in. Ours was a family who didn’t do much of this talking business, like most in the 70’s and 80’s and for me, it was a fairly lonely place. Being so creative, I threw myself into the arts, not really understanding how good I was or what my options in life truly were. It makes sense when I see these pictures now, that I probably wasn’t armed with the defences needed against imminent danger . The monster looming on the horizon. But looking back could it have changed anything? Would I have listened? Probably not! My head was full of all the things it was meant to be…mostly glitter, music and too much Taboo and lemonade… And when I think back, I was happiest then. Because there was everything to play for, and I hadn’t yet known true pain.
Looking back over a previous period of time is sometimes a reminder that we have still existed in another dimension But sometimes it lets us know that there are aspects of who we once were which are just as alive now as when they were stuffed in a box in the attic. For many years these pictures and many other parts of my early adult life were boxed away. Some, I was even told by my ex to burn in case I presented the wrong impression to my Stepsons. After the monkey and I escaped, as survival took over, life was condensed into a different kind of sense of self, as Mum, ex wife, the single woman who was a little too dangerous to invite to dinner parties alone, just in case she stole a husband. The one with an illness nobody understood. And a new set of labels got plonked on. As they do, to all of us, all the time, wherever we go in life. Please don’t read this as a sad story. We share these stories in groups too because they are a universal experience. They have opened doors to conversations and new paths. Ours became the making of us, and we developed skills through experience which placed us better to help others.
It was too hard to look at these pictures for a long time . For the fear that this girl was gone . I remembered being on a journey , being so excited about what life was about, starry eyed and with a heart fit to burst. But the crucial missing piece was self worth. The thing you take for granted that you tell your children without thinking about it. In my case, the dragon swept in , in disguise and I believed his version of what the future would like like. I think my nurturing instinct took over too and made it harder to walk away . I remember feeling parts of my spark fading.. but also trying to tell myself to be brave. There is always a way to survive.
I became moulded into a version of myself. A scared one . Friends I had at this time started to fade away. I didn’t understand why, but now I know they had been warned off. One or two clung on though, and trusted I was in there still, and one day would find the way home. They could see the 18, 21, 30, year old girl as clearly as the 49 year old I am now, and nothing in my life experience could block her. What I missed most was creating. I did Art, but it was hidden in sketchbooks and journals. Heavily judged and criticised at home, most of my energy for making and inspiring was fed into my pupils in my classroom. When After 15 years, I met up with one of my best friends Mark ( having not been allowed Male friends during my marriage) he was shocked. How did you survive not drawing or painting? Art for you is like breathing? He was right. I had pushed it so far under the highly vacuumed carpet I couldn’t feel it’s absence any more.
What do you see?
Nobody knows when they will become unwell, what the future will hold, or when we will need to search deep within ourselves for extra strength. If we knew what was ahead of us we might never leave our beds. But it is the not knowing that gives us the ability to hope, and dream, and keep making escape plans. The future is still waiting for us. All plans begin with a spark of fear or excitement and then reality hits. Whether good or bad the fulfilling of a mission is frightening and overwhelming, especially on your own. But little by little, even through illness we can do anything we set our minds on. Those sketches in journals are still being used in paintings now, and in the inspiration given to groups every week. And I know now that I was never on my own.
Even in these tough months, like a stick of rock, you have printed your strength at your core . Sharing with one another in any way you feel able until you can physically get back together will really help get through any tough patches.
We can plan one route in life and another opens up, or a path that was only supposed to be temporary becomes permanent because of a relationship, a job or money . We move through life because of love or fear. And they can be so closely intertwined that one becomes mistaken for another. I have certainly learned through experience that this is true, but am grateful for who and what has happened along the way too.
What is essential is to hold onto a dream that you deserve and will live a life of utter completeness . A sense of peace that goes beyond what is happening now, in this pandemic and deeper. The life that was what you told the stars at night when you were six.
The way you live your life, move through the world in your own perpetual motion, swinging in the trees, singing in the car, planting things in wellie boots, painting your garden path, sharing your food with neighbours and friends, blasting out lovely music, surrounding yourself with animals, only wearing blue, only wearing rainbow, only going out on Tuesdays, never going out on Tuesdays… IT IS YOURS. It affects nobody. If the flow of individuals is stopped at every junction by parents, teachers, neighbourhood bullies or your partner ; the affect is deeper than just one more miserable human in the world. All the people you could usually bring joy to, they suffer too..
Our life is paint-box and happy and we love it. And all the human and furry friends that join us.
It has been lovely to remember a few of the art projects, and positivity our days are normally filled with.
Life will slowly come back in whatever form it can take. The outside decking space at Skye blue House will become somewhere to host one to one art classes for wheelchair users and socially distant coffee writers mornings.
The house has squeezed every use out of every room this year…. Restaurant, hospital ward, schoolroom, art room, multiplex cinema room, zoo park, even pet surgery for sad guinea pigs in need of cuddles.
One day our rooms will breathe again, a sigh of relief that they will regain their one and only use, but also perhaps be slightly sad that they will never be quite so loved, quite so needed as now..
This little house has seen a lot.
This was the house that we bought in 2015
Skye Blue House Now
Normally our days would be filled with the zooming off to arty business here there and everywhere.. I miss teaching and people and faces and our community !!
It has been difficult even in winter to remember what Summer looked like here! and what the garden looked like in full bloom! A reminder that a little patience will see the garden bloom once more….
When we are scared we freeze. We lose things that are so vital to our wellbeing that we don’t know we need them until they are gone. I have enjoyed finding the things that have always been there and never changed as well as letting go of what no longer fits.
This is a scary time. But it isn’t going to be forever and the things we love in our worlds are still there, waiting. We are still here . Having an opportunity to shed what doesn’t mentally fit any more is a healthy process . The universe will love that, an opportunity to open a door long since closed or finally get you to finish that symphony you were writing at 16. When we look at our past we can revisit chapters still left unwritten, and discover a fabulous version of the new old self we haven’t yet met. Please do share your wonderful new old selves with us on here.
What I do know, is even if the posts are cut down, there is a fabulous forest of marvellous magic waiting to grow in their place. With a giant bear at the gate
One of these mornings we will open the back door a keep it wide open….And even better, pop our bubbles and welcome home our tribes once more.
To all your chapters thus far and the ones yet to come , this has tested us all in ways some of which we could never have imagined, but so too you have found hidden strengths and superpowers, maybe even a few funny photos. I can’t wait to see what you’ve been up to,
I love you.
Liz And the zoo xx