Growing up surrounded by masked monsters it was inevitable I would unknowingly inherit some of their traits. As I gear up to talking at another mental health conference I have to balance what I write and say publicly to avoid becoming vulnerable to the tempers of abusers that squat at the very edges of my world. I understand why they are frightened and how that makes them dangerous. I’m not here for them. My responsibility is to keep my family little safe and to be happy. Im doing, talking, making, writing for me. I do what I need to do to be happy, which in turn makes my family happy, that is what matters to me. I tried pouring from an empty cup and it almost destroyed me.
I was unaware of my mental health needs, of the significance of my own traumas. I couldn’t see. It’s impossible to be accountable for your mistakes if you’re too busy avoiding or denying them. I was an empty cup that couldn’t protect my son,
that is the monster I became.
An empty void where he needed a containing safe place, emotionally unregulated when he needed stability. You can only parent what you know though, unless shit hits the fan so hard you have to change your approach or lose everything.I had been a reactive intuitive parent. I became depressed and non responsive. That is scary. I understand where my responsibility starts and ends in this story. I do that often by inspecting how I feel, often with an ugly visual. I will continue to talk and visually explore the difficult parts of parenting and mental health, under the domestic abuse umbrella because it helps me to continue to make sense of it. I often draw myself at different ages, through different events, waves are a predominant motif that helps to convey different emotional states. When I talk about emotions it helps to have the sea as a reference. Very early on in my recovery I drew women battling sea monsters. Now I realise the monsters aren’t mythical and I can’t drown them, but I can be safe. What I’m discovering more often is that by being equally
vulnerable and courageous,
helps others do the same. To hear a similar story and see a positive outcome soothes us, makes us feel less isolated in our circumstances and less alone in the world. Feedback Mental Health conference “Shedding the Light on Loneliness and Isolation” is a space that I can use to promote the tools I used to recover after crisis and re build throughout our recovery. I built a village that serves us beautifully, because we are enough to be cared for and loved. Abuse can make you unable to believe you are valuable and worthy. I hope buy showing my ugly others will feel less ashamed and more able to seek help and
#breastfeeding #familymentalhealth My cis experience of having breasts has been a strange one, I’m not alone, in order to help anyone with a similar experience Im sharing mine. I was writing about breastfeeding and some ideas came up that helped me see my experience a little bit clearer. How my body has been used and viewed in ways I hadn’t thought about in great detail. Content warning domestic abuse and not the average narcissistic mother.
I had my baby 12 years ago, shortly after my 21st birthday. I knew I had to breastfeed, I was poor and lacking any self esteem, I was scared of making my baby ill by messing up bottle prep. I never felt like I had a choice not to have my baby, I never felt like I had a choice not to breastfeed. My mother had been a part of the local breastfeeding support group 3 years previous with my youngest sibling. She talked about how an estranged aunt never got over her abortion and it definitely contributed to her mental health problems. Which came across as “ we don’t have abortions, mental illness is weakness” My baby was the one she wanted but was glad I was having. It meant she could do a degree instead of having another baby despite being in(out, in, out) of a ridiculous relationship. I was single and living with my mum, as a live in baby sitter for my younger siblings. Writing that makes me realise why it was easier for my mum for me to have this baby.
Breasts are so weird!
They Are theses lumps of fat and tissue, with nipples like cis men’s but that aren’t aloud out like theirs. They are often named the girls or my puppies or theses babies. Cooed at and fondled by the people who appreciate them most, that’s often not a baby. Boobs are there to feed babies and for the owner of love lumps to enjoy as part of a consensual sexual experience. I never enjoyed mine. I was blinded with delight if anyone enjoyed them or gave them positive attention. They were tiny. I had these puffy 50p size areola and nipples like chapel hat pegs. I was so ashamed I hid them in foam cupped bras so my nipple erections were never seen and loathe swimming because at the time, I didn’t know or couldn’t find swimsuits didn’t have this option. I hated my boobs, one was noticeably bigger than the other and I was mortified, offended when the girl at la senza handed me a bra with one foam filled of padding removed to even out their look. She noticed, she knew, it’s not just in my head, I felt so ashamed.
I heard that breastfeeding would even out my lopsided mini mounds.
Age 18 or 19 I’d got one nipple pierced in an attempt to be cool and distract anyone who saw them of their odd ness. Turns out that was a lot of people when I got drunk and flashed them and again when I got a back tattoo tried going braless by necessity. My boobs were never mine for me. While braving a maternity swim, in the changing room I hear a woman refer to her boobs as spaniels ears, small flaps of skin where tiny pert boobies used to be before she breast fed, thats what was going to happen to me. They will fill up with milk and deflate when it’s all dried up. I would become even less desirable, someone would make off my bra and be disappointed. There was this nagging feeling in my head as soon as I knew I had to use these to feed a baby. It was going to be gross.They had only ever been in someone else’s mouth as part of sex. Boobs were sex things. My boobs were there to hopefully entertain and occupy someone during sex. My body was for sex. For others. Primarily for adult men, often without consent and never for my pleasure.
So I had a baby, I was “off my tits”
and out of it, he latched on, fed, we went home. My milk came in, never had I known size and tenderness like it. My areola were stretched tight like canvas over doughnuts of full firm nutrience. The skin was tingly, itchy but I had boobs that looked how I was taught boobs should look. Everything hurt for 2 weeks so I don’t remember much. I remember getting a cream for my nipples because they were so chapped. Every time he latched on I had to do breathing exercises to breathe through the pain. The visiting midwife confirmed it was a good latch, I wasn’t doing it wrong. She looked at my blonde ginger hair and said it’s probably just sensitive skin and they’ll tough up. My tough tits did ok, my baby got fat and grew, I was congratulated on making good milk. I felt useful. There was a feeling of accomplishment and I think I felt thankful of my one breasts. I got one out any time, any where this little bundle of need needed. I wore ugly comfy bras and washable leak protection ( one turned up in my washing machine filter when he was 18 months, bag your small washables! ) and smelt of sweet, sour milk a lot. I often had a bra on, slept in it, but when I didn’t all it took was a cry from him and they would tingle & leak. I often got drenched as he fed from one side the other side made a fountain until I learnt to practically stick my finger in my boob through the nipple to stop it. Turns out I loved breastfeeding. Something I was good at, I fed him till he was one and I went back to uni.
Over a decade later
I have learnt a lot about my body, my relationship with it and where I have had difficulties and why. Learning how to put them right, to feel worthy, to appreciate my mind and the meat sack that it inhabits. I’m learning to have and understand autonomy. This year I have focused more on a single breast in my painting, rather than a pair or set, I’m mindful of their appearance, a boob with stretch marks and nipple hair, why lie? It’s real, normalise bodies and it takes the power away from self loathing and bullying. I’m bored of looking at other women’s bodies painted, captured or airbrushed be cis men, so I make my own, my way, I look for those who are doing the same. Im enjoying my boob and wave phase, but will probably go back to vaginas, teeth and eyeballs at some point because I did a lot of healing doing the last phase I had.
The thing about recovery and therapy is that you talk or work on a thing till you are board of it. Im a long way into recovery, I have healed so much, some things are still tricky. My work and concepts deal with taboo subjects like motherectomys, Mental health, domestic abuse, child abuse, and CSE/E (yep Im still uncomfortable with writing those wordswhole). I’ve learnt to talk not just draw, so now I do both.
Confrence talks and workshops booked aroud Norfolk August, September & October.
I’ll share events when there’s pubilcations to share. Free the nipple already!
I have anger, it is rarely seen or heard but it’s there and valid.
Often my anger comes from pain, it comes in waves. Just like watching the sea roll onto the shore, periodically there is a bigger wave that rolls in and if you’re not aware, you don’t know till you’re feet are wet.
I sit watching my life sometimes, I’m so greatful. Sometimes it’s shitty and unfair, but I can only control what I can control and I love how freeing that is.
I can’t hold an ocean.
I tried to hold a wave.
The only thing I can contain is myself and my babe.
That’s all, that’s enough.
Work in progress, oil on canvas, pretty big, 1×1.5m playing with layers.It will be finished by October because I want to put it in a pop up solo show.
It sounds totally selfish and egotistical but I think I love talking.
Which is the new branch of thinking and I’m not totally convinced. Having been a mumbler with no authentic confidence to talk about or even think about what I believed in for years, talking feels really new. I’m in the position where I get to talk about quite intimate concepts, talking about loneliness and isolation, family mental health, about trauma, domestic abuse and adding the kind of shenanigans I get up to in the studio, I have this growing world of speaking and listening. Though often I have an overwhelming sense sometimes that I’m going to get into trouble for talking and one day I might.
I’m not looking or asking for trouble but I realise that my initial plan wasn’t a good plan. My initial plan gave me no responsibility. I started drawing how I felt when I was about ten and got bruttally ignored. Mostly durnig crisis, throughout my teens and 20s avidly when I hit 30 I ranted and splurged. I wrote and drew but no one ever saw it, no one knew it existed because my idea, my initial plan was I would give it to somebody else. Either when I died (yes, I planned this one several differnet ways over the years) or when anyone who would be cross with me was no longer around.
Neither of those things have happened and yet I’m talking, Im out of the secret note books and off the canvas.
The first talks and conference I did I had my work to back me up and a colleague I trusted. We didn’t plan for it we just showed the work and we talked about it and ask the audience questions and it worked.
The second time I did it I didn’t have my work to back me up, no visual distraction, there was no power Point, there was no pop-up exhibition it was just me and the microphone and I was way out of my comfort zone. You can listen to that in the link above, also I’ve got a few more dates pencilled in for upcoming conferences too.
So I might get in trouble for talking, I suspect it won’t be the trouble that I’m anticipating
I deal with a few taboos and my lived experience runs parallel to those who I grew up around it’s important that I bear in mind. I don’t have a right to tell other stories. Right now I give contexts but no details which is interesting when talking about family mental health. I realised a couple years ago that no one will ever understand my entire story which is kind of freeing.
Sometimes I say the context of relationships for example parent and child relationships have expected dialogue and then there’s the unexpected truth of those experiences.
Part of my experience is my son’s mental health and that can be very tricky, it’s part of a loop, I want to hold all of the responsibility for that. There’s learnt behaviours there that I’m just not responsible for and it’s unpicking that and showcasing the outcomes of behaviour and behavioral loops as examples of intergenerational trauma that I feel I can talk about safely and responsibly without overstepping, oversharing and disrespecting my son and our relationship.
I still feel like I’m right at the beginning of something huge and I don’t know what it’s going to look like but I like how it looking right now. I just know that I want to keep talking so that I can help all the versions of me that ot me here, the voiceless, lonely, unsafe child, the unregulated recless teen, a young single mum and the woman that had a mother ectomy. Somehow I can empower some one enough not to get into crisis, or to get back on their feet, I can empower change in how they access care, how care is accessible, pushing for a successful recovery model.
There there isn’t a cure, there isn’t one pill, there isn’t one method to make the ongoing struggle of trauma disappear. It’s not fair but I is what it is. It looks like anxiety and depression but it’s different.
For quite a while I found it tricky to stay present in an authentic way. Trying to stay connected to the things that I wanted to be connected to, rather than connected to everything in a hypervigilant kind of way. After becoming aware I had been numb completely because I had been hypervigilant in a way that didn’t seem to bother me, I had to re-adjust to cope.
Anxiety wasn’t a thing for me except it really, really was. The short tempered, hot, anger explosions when leaving the house have now turned to just crying.
And that’s ok because I’m aware and I’m engaged with it. Sometimes I might cry because there’s too much and I can’t do it anymore and I have to stop. Then I realign myself and start again, I’m 4 years on becoming aware, from understanding where my difficulties came from and understood why I was stuck there. 4 years and I’m still working things out.
Trauma sticks and it sticks to your kids and it takes a lot of growing and peeling and gentle, meticulous, agitation to wash away the bits of crud that you can. There are parts of me that I will never be able to change some reactions, wires crossed or unplugged. I’m staying engaged with it, I’m not done yet. Finding my new normal is exhausting but I’d rather this than the than lust for escape.
That’s what I think it’s difficult for people to understand that it’s a process that it takes long time that once you start un peeling this stuff there’s more. There’s no cure and it just takes time, courage, acceptance and a bloody good village.
This is more than mindfulness and good wellbeing practice, it’s a bigger more complex project for you to take on.
If you’re looking for care or therapy keep trying, you might have to pay for it, all the more reason to work hard at it.
My Village is the thing that holds me together, it is my chosen family, community, places and all the different support that’s needed for me and Dynoboy to be ok. I first plotted it out when we really weren’t ok. I talked indepth about finding it and leaning into it, as an example of recovery. I took this forward as a simple workshop task.
Work Shop – Your Village
Post talk, in the pre lunch break out session I had a table that I filled with paper, glue, stickers, pompoms, crayons and markerpens. I had invited those who listened to the talk to plot out there village.
The audience was brave(though one of their other options was scaling a climbing wall, which takes a different kind of braveness) The interaction among the group was really interesting and valuable. There was lots of bravery and sharing
at the table and advice was given on where to access support in the area for different points I had covered.
One awesome lady said thanks for sharing my recent coping method to avoid PTSD dream hangover all day, hitting voice record and sending them to a trusted friend in order to avoid a full blown, debilitating PTSD replay loop.
There were people who were engaging in services,some that were no longer in need of services,private therapists, mothers with children like Dynoboy and a couple of young people who I thought were brilliant for being there, lots of talk about SEND education, how to navigate a Mother-ectomy. It was so good to see other people use an idea that helped me workout where I was in the world and a concept that keeps me going today.
Being in her part of the map the lovely Lizzy (seen herein the middle) a very talented artist and friend came to give me a bit of suport and went away with more to think about. Mz Cowell will also be exhibiting in Finding a Voice18, Anteros, Norwich, October 2018.
Two women separately asked how I got into the position to do what i’m doing. Which was tricky to answer, as it’s been one big strange new step after the other. I think a lot of why I got to the point where I’m invited to speak at events has a lot to do with how passionately I believe in the Compass approach, it was within that that I found my voice and was willing to do things like go to anawards bid and do a short presentation on my experience with The Compass Outreach Team. Once I had a film crew in my living room recording an interview about our experience with Compass to help promote with in the wider team how their work made a difference. Having a arts background and putting on an exhibition to celebrate no longer needing the full support of the service in 2017 meant I had a focus and somewhere to find out where to go next. Which right now is here, learning how to use my cruddy experiences to promote good practice with in services and make people feel less alone with their struggle.
Nicky Murnin & Tod Sullivan about the effect on the body that ACEs have and how they affect our behaviour and our bodies. It was so interesting to dig further into a subject I find fascinating anyway because my score is high and it’s the kind of stuff that helped me process my experiences through therapy. What struck me most is acknowledging the community responsibility to stay connected. I was nodding and smiling a lot throughout Nickys talk.
I joined in discussion later as the event was quieting down, which I wouldn’t have done a few years ago. Thankfully Nicky can talk for days about his subject of the day but the thing that hit me, full on in the gut, was when he turned his example of a real “hello, How are you?” with eye contact. It totally freaked me out. I shuddered and stated that it did and we continued in depth all kinds of human behaviour, autonomic and parasympathetic nervous system, we were literally chatting shit. Very enjoyable all in all.
Clicking into place
In the lead up to my 2015 crisis I was speaking more than I ever had before, I had one friend from my teens that would know when I wasn’t ok and she would ask me till I broke and talked. She was traveling the world and I hated skype, so I had to learn to talk to other people. I started to hear myself answer questions I never asked myself before, stuff was spilling out of my head with no correlation to my feelings until I heard the words. I had planned and read aloud my talk a few times, but saying it all out loud to an audience changed my bigger perspective on some things. Linking that to what I was hearing throughout the day I realised and understood in more depth the part of my family relationships that made it easy for intimate relationships to become abusive even down to being primed to be financially manipulated and dominated. Not all things can be verbalised, sometimes it’s not safe to in some moments, but it’s definatly part of what I’ve needed to take big recovery steps.
Keep an ear and an eye out for more to come from me and the FeedBack Team !
There is no hiding, anyone can get lonely. New parents, children, cared for young people, older people, retired, self employed, bereaved or carers can become chronically lonely and it’s one sure way to become enveloped by a wave of depression. I have had bouts of loneliness while being a new mum, being a childminder and after a fantastically, spectacular bout of depression.
The isolation that comes with having a baby can knock a persons life totally off kilter www.huffingtonpost.mums-feel-lonely Loneliness hits the eldery it really hits hard on health www.campaigntoendloneliness.org However, Young adults are more likely to feel lonely than older age groups, says a study from the Office for National Statistics. The research found that almost 10% of people aged 16 to 24 were “always or often” lonely – the highest proportion of any age group.bbc.co.uk/news/education
This isn’t “Just Pull Your Sock’s up”
I have sustained myself and avoid loneliness only because I have learnt how. It takes a bit of courage to ask for help and wait. It started small, a cuppa with neighbours who offered, asking those I trusted for dinner, one a week at least. I joined online groups and forums and found I wasn’t alone in many of my struggles. I found places to go where I felt safe, these are often libraries and coffee shops. I found where routine had often made me feel bored and hemmed as a teen I now found it comforting, Even micro moments with people I pass on the street has become predictable, tiny connections with others, proving I am visible and not alone. Slowly I felt better because I was more confident that I am enough.
A really good way to get out and be amongst things happening around you this time of year is The Great Get Together
What’s the problem?
There are pockets of excellence , perhaps these skew the average across the UK’s services, but it’s the foundation of these that need to be looked at and formulated into what is basically a product to share between and across services to enable communities to thrive. I suspect it is where there is good linkedin care, carers passports, communication between social services, NHS and education within county, between cases, within timelines that don’t impede the health and success of the “service user”.
Where the services have been able to collect honest feedback and been able to improve one area without neglecting others. That can happen right? It’s not just an imaginary ideal where the lived experience isn’t totally alien to the professionals. Where the professional is supported within a safety net of their own, a sensible workload given and job security, enabling an amount of professional vulnerability and ability to have prolonged human contact in their role with honest dialogue and co production of care. Imagine that.
I honestly think if the services worked better together and more for the people within them than for targets, the communities needed to help lessen the load of loneliness would form naturally with less need for funding.
Have your Say!
If you have had a naff time or an awesome experience, it could make a difference to how the service is run in the future, which would be great, like not taking people off WellBeing waiting lists if they haven’t responded to a call or email!
How many people that I know, know that I’m a carer? Probably not many, I didn’t know I could be for a long time and really struggled for different systems cogs to get in the right gear.
I’m a parent, of a young man who we like to say is a bit EXTRA, non full time table, non mainstream school and a few other things in the mix. Business in Art and illustration will come second for a few years longer, I’m doing what I need to do all in my own pace, it’s my choice. Some Carers don’t get that choice.
A carer is someone who is thrown in at the deep end. Often it’s a spouse, often it’s grown ups. It can also be young people too. There are an estimated 700,000 children and young people across the UK, some as young as five-years-old, who are caring for family members. Research* shows this is a conservative figure as many are hidden from view. Which I almost didn’t mention because it’s sad, but for me that’s what is important this week, pointing out that it’s not fair and it’s not pretty but there are good things that can be done.
The Benjamin Foundation runs regular young carers’ groups around the Norfolk. Young people need to be able to hang out and have a laugh in a safe place with out their extra adult responsibilities. These groups are people who really understand what they are going through, it allows young carers to share their concerns with and to seek help for any problems they may be having. To just be themselves.
A while ago I took part in a closed group webinar focused on adult carers tools for well being, Through the NHS wellbeing service. There are webinars to introduce Learning, Work and Wellbeing Toolkit for young adult carers like this one www.learningandwork.org.uk/events/webinar-positive-career-choices/ To help support them to achieve the same level of success in education and employment as their peers.
Have become a carer? Know you aren’t alone, you don’t have to be lonely, you can still be you. If you think you might be eligible to be a carer but no ones pointed it out, get a cuppa and look at gov.uk/carers-allowance
If you want to get involved with helping to support The Benjamin Foundation they have a verity of fund raisers, volunteer placements, or absolutely brilliant pre loved furniture stores! Or perhaps The Butterfly Treasure hunt, A fun trail around Norwich to support The Benjamin Foundation, finishing with a gourmet BBQ in the beautiful Rooftop Gardens. @benjaminfoundation.co.uk
Here are some other useful links to learn about and get involved with Carers week
‘Shedding the Light’ on Loneliness & Isolation. Lowestoft
Throughout this event we will be hearing from a range of speakers on the subject of loneliness and isolation, we know that mental health is made worse and can be caused by isolation. Including my self, giving a talk on my varied lived experience of loneliness, with my own brand of gritty and playful break out session too.
ON MY OWN!
I have once before spoken at a conference, I had my work to back me up, Making a pop up Exhibition from work from Finding a Voice 2017 I wasn’t speaking alone on stage either. READ further thepsychologist.bps.org.uk This time it’s just me and Im jumping in with two feet.
I could continue only exhibiting my work in an ordinary but vibrant standard exhibition format, it would be valid and worth while. However I found this voice, a way of speaking and making that playfully gets uncomfortable truths out in the open.
The concept of What Finding a Voice is… is tricky because of the raw nature of its content and my unwillingness to let it just be an art exhibition. Meshing together art and services in a gallery setting has its sticky points, but I honestly feel it is part of a dynamic way to make changes with in services is to shift stigma about mental health, collaboration and perhaps about “stuffy artsy fartys” exhibitions.
To get the most out of FAV18 Im being bold and talking more. Exhilarating and exhausting but totally worth it.