Half a Person

Half a woman.

Nameless, hairless, she floats in my bedroom. Blue fade of sea or sky and a yellow ark of thought and hope.This was a piece I made after an angry body (FAV17) of work and alongside a body of work I can’t face( yet to unwrap it, document it or write about it, it will take up so much energy I have been avoiding it for 2 years) This passive half figure is painted on a piece of marine ply, left over from a degree show, it sat outside for 5 years before I decided to prime it and paint on it. Circles are symbolic of many things, planets, moons, cycles, revolutions, behavioural loops. There is something comforting in their roundness, symmetry and completion.

Oil on board 2016, Katherine Gilmartin

My first attempt at painting figures was in a pink and blue phase, I restricted my pallet for a while because it felt comforting. Colour is weird, in all my art school education I never sat with a colour wheel and tubes of paint or ink to see how it worked. I have this overwhelming feeling of someone saying “Those colours don’t go. Flesh isn’t pink. You’re not a artist, why are you painting? You have no taste, your opinion is invalid, you’re wrong, you don’t belong.” Painting in colour has the weight of social anxiety, patriarchy, victim status and classism all rolled into one. The weight of my lack of confidence and a dick. I think I’ll feel that way until “the greats” and the “masters” are viewed through a lens of authentic accountability. Where we are taught about dismantling oppression and rape culture alongside the behaviour or actions of artists and their practice. It feels like it’s happening in cinema.

💛Just.

My upbringing is gritty, uncomfortable. After 5 different high schools I learnt I was safer as a social butterfly, being in art school taught me further how to quietly slink into situations and camouflage myself, heritage, lived experience, to become palatable. An accent that cannot be pinned down to a county and an uncanny ability to make others at ease, desirable, to fluff their ego gave me the power to be non threatening.  Leaving the relative comfort of the institution left me with little to camouflage or slink into, I no longer had a framework. For countless other reasons, the final straw in a lifetime of abusive relationships, I fell down and it took an team professionals and my strong willingness to work it out to get back up.

 

So who the fuck am I?

It doesn’t matter because in a year I won’t be her anymore. It doesn’t matter what I am to you because I have to do me, I’m accountable to no one professionally which is scary, but it means I’m determined to make my actions match my intentions. Stepping out of behavioural loops to become a new kind of other, the evolution of post 30 magic. Using my super powers for good. Yeah fuck you ACEs!  I’m writing because I’m in positions of powerlessness and that is something I find wholly disturbing. Summer holidays are frustrating, for many that’s true, the extra parenting alongside self regulation and containment without the usual vents and space to purge the sludge that builds up, it’s dangerous. Mum Mode can get ugly. The anxiety that grows isn’t dispelled so easily and I get that “lust to get shit faced” a yerning for escapism that I no longer use.

 

One of  the places I love to go is currently out of bounds because the building work has caused a smell that I have to work through. The thing about PTSD is that, it’s brain damage, even now I’m totally on top and in control, I know how to stay safe but something that I haven’t touched, smelt, or seen since before having EMDR therapy can totally derail me for a moment. Someone can use a phrase that sends repulsion through my body but smells and textures are something else. So the distinctive smell of plasterboard and warm pine dust in the confined space of a loft in summer isn’t something I have encountered  for a long time and I have to do a hell of a lot to stay grounded. To calm the 10 year old in me thats utterly alone and powerless.

 

There is a plant, I haven’t seen for perhaps 20 years, it’s delicate fussy tendrils thumped me right in the chest a few weeks ago, damn my love of house plants! I don’t stop to gets its name, it’s out there in the delightfully modern trendy places and I know it’s attached to a bad experience so long ago that all I can put my finger on is it felt like a whole lot of nope. But this is it. This is life after. This is the future. I recovered enough to responsibly push my own boundaries and stay in control. My recovery was learning to safely feel emotions, having left them for the comfort of dissociation reconnecting was tough but I had some good help. Finding I had a voice to speak about them, acknowledging my super powers, those delightful gifts left over from living in fight or flight, means I have to authority to brush aside the imposter syndrome and kick the ass of those doubtful feelings because what I’m doing now matters.

 

I recently got to listen to a seemingly kind man about how he felt design was more worthy than art, painting for oneself, about emotional response is selfish he thought, to take someone else’s idea and make something useful was far more virtuous and worthy of space in the world. Psht, yeah well in a capitalist, patriarchal, privilege kinda way I see why you might think that. By being hugely self indulgent and quite courageous I can tell my stories, voice my experience and make someone else a little less scared to talk, a little bolder in ideas of breaking behaviour loops, changing my family culture and coming forward post abyss, post abuse, saying words out loud is just good practice.

 

Why bother? Why bother being in a world that is full of boys clubs, full of cis white male depictions of female form? Why paint and exhibit? What’s the point? It’s very selfish, it’s my self care, my way to stay in control, I paint to talk and talk to paint. Exhibiting gives me a unique soap box to shout from. I have begun to talk without my work, describing recovery as a Family Mental Health Activist at conferences, but Im still focused on using the space I used to slink into to remove my camouflage and talk about the ugly, to use the art space to educate the professionals from government agencies alongside the public about domestic abuse and mental health recovery, BUT WHY? I’m not alone, unfortunately my experience isn’t unique, if I talk about my experience in order to educate those working in preventative or recovery fields, maybe it will shift the trajectory of other 10 year olds experiences. The more I talk the more I see I’m not alone, we start to band together to to support one another #survivorculture

Colour still feels weird though.

Who The fuck am I? Ask my paintings in 10 years, they might know.

 

Advertisements

Me & Her in the studio

#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.

Oil on Canvas, Work in Progress

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.

(It didn’t.)

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!

Pain comes in waves.

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.

Keep On Keeping On

#Trauma #depression #anxiety

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.

You are worth the hard work.

You are enough.

Hold on.

A Great Get Together.

When is the last time you got had a get together?

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.

facewave
You can be someone else’s life line too.

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!

www.norfolk.gov.uk//have-your-say/compliments-and-complaints

20180612_202726_001.jpg

Carers Week

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 IMAG2878my 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

www.carersweek.org

www.carersuk.org

www.greatgettogether.org

* carers.org/press-release/new-figures-reveal-life-chances-uks-young-carers-are-under-threat