This time next week (6th June) I’ll be speaking at a mentalhealth conference in Norwich.
One of my favourite parts of the day is listening to others stories and how they’re similar to my own. Survival and love stories 💛 there’s something about humans, a little electric ZING, we shine when we get to see one another 🌟
The past week I have done the bare minimum, by which I mean I have washed and eaten regularly enough, seen some faces that I feel comfortable seeing when not at my best and put the majority of my effort into parenting. I have had what I call Poridgeface for over a week. It’s something similar to the feeling your face might get after a heavy session of bawling your eyes out. I used to get it the day after a heavy EMDR session or a particularly taxing parenting test, but only ever for a day. It has been such a long time since my mental health has physically manifested itself, basically, I have had a cold without the snot for a week. Napped and overslept regularly and Wednesday I wept quite a few times. I think I get why and there isn’t much I can do about it. I just have to manage the consequences. Post Nor(Dev):Con I wrote up my experience of the day and did a much-needed brain purge, it’s just taken longer than normal to want to finish and publish it, and that’s OK.
This one was a bit of a struggle, and I know exactly what I would have done differently, that said it wasn’t a total disaster. I had a couple of questions at the end of my talk, which was good. One guy shook my hand after, a Dad asked me how he could help his 14 yo daughter. I had great support from people I’ve met over the last 12 months who were attending, the power of networking is real. I had some awesome feedback from other speakers a bit later on too. There is a lot to resonate with a wide audience in my content, it’s not always comfortable but it’s worth the space it takes up. A wise friend reassured me of this some months ago, I think it’s something to do with “the human struggle”.
Overall I enjoyed the day, my chest only twice nearly exploded out of my chest in a giant doom-filled wave of panic. The awesome team behind Nor(Dev):Con 2019 mixed things up a little by placing people focused speakers on the main stage. There Was a duo that gave an in-depth and poetic account of depression, a total joy fest listening discussion on gendered language. Dom blew me away with his extra honest account on his own coping mechanisms and struggle with oblivion. Jen & Jon totally brought Intersectional Feminist gloriousness to the table. I was encouraged by a few different people to take a spot at the lightning talks later in the day too, a strict 5mins. I wondered what I would talk about, I was asked if I had more images of my work, well it just so happens that I have an online gallery of drawings and paintings!
Stood on stage, the majority of guests at the back of the hall networking during the wine reception, I plugged in the HDMI cable, put my laptop on the podium, this time glad to have the mike in my hand and not the Britney/Madonna style mic( i hated it during the first talk). I think my opening line was “I’m going to show you my vaginas”. Scrolled through paintings, most recent first, not lingering long on the nude self-portrait Give & Take,2018 having not formally exhibited it yet, I wish I had left it up on the big screen longer or took the time to look at it with the captive audience. Instead, I moved down to older paintings, spent a little bit of time with My Mother is A Cunt 2018 discussing how it was my first real serious go with colour which led nicely to a CHEEKY2017 and POLKADOT 2017, the restricted pallet and sharp angry mark making, a place I physically put my anger. I saw the clock in front of counting down, I said that I used this work a lot, in pop-up shows in PHD classrooms, that led so beautifully to my just standing there, I said: “if you ever get a chance to do something different, do it”. Then left the stage feeling quite accomplished.
This is the bit I used to hate when doing Fine Art Masters, group crits and presentations. I had ran out of my ability to blag my way through because the much more mature and critical audience of peers could see how little confidence I had in what I was doing. I was just going through the motions of making, unaware that I was trying to hide and soothe myself, unable to see my own mental health struggle. My final MA piece was a shelter with one blanketed wall, a refuge. I was all critiqued out.
Doing the lightning talk was definitely a little big win, I’m glad I did it because later a bright, powerful intelligent woman told me she had gone and read my blog, that she too had difficult parents and thanked me. I love this bit about what I do, just by turning up and being seen, taking up space and talking, I get to soothe someone else. It’s frickin magic. At dinner, I felt so comfortable with the incredibly interesting folx I shared the day with. The dread of all the things I’d said that day, just little ripples.
Part of me wondered if I should have just gone and done my talk and left, I think it would be totally OK to do that, but I would have missed out on so much, not only the other speakers but all the support and interesting conversations in between. Worth it.
Sort of joking at a Ted x ed talk that i wanted to do a Ted talk. A very kind fellow gave me the platform to do a little more practice, on my own without the comfort of a confrence or seminar with others.
It went really well to be fair. the feed back was possitive and valuable. I met some fantastic people I wouldn’t have ordinarily. I even recived an email saying some one was putting what they had learnt into practice.
Instead of reading having a relaxed conversation with the Tod. I jesticulated more than expected and ended up far more relaxed than I thought I would be, though still nervous, I deliberately don’t see the audience, it’s just a blurry mass of colour until it’s Q&A time, then I can cope with seeing you wonderful people. There just wasn’t enough time to talk to everyone who approached me and run the “My Village” activity. I have a remedy for this next time.
The way people approach me is absolutely my favourite part of the day. It can be subtle and conservative, I knowing smile or it can be giddy excited “oh my goodness thank you I totally get that!” it’s the same as when I show paintings that resonate with mothers or survivors. I love that little space and connection between people with similar stories or circumstances.
The tables were turned on Friday, when I was the giddy one going up to a person having shared their lived experience. There is something beautiful in this knowing, peer support has huge potential but is not widely available safely……..yet.
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,
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
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
My talk @ Shedding the Light Confrence, Lowestoft
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.
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.
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.
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 !
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.
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.