Halloween beats Christmas

Halloween doesn’t come with the weight of expectation or the sense of loss that Christmas does. You can celebrate it for two weeks or just one day. In our immensely dysfunctional family, grown-ups were depressed, absent or intoxicated around the time of Christmas, they always pulled through in terms of getting gifts under the tree but there was an unmistakable diss ease from November until boxing day. Even those who were in attendance weren’t ever fully present.  My birthday is the beginning of December. Around 8 I started asking for a tree instead of Polly Pockets or a candle making set, always a real one, fake trees and tinsel were banned, the appearance deemed too tacky. If I could make it look good, maybe everyone might feel better. The children would decorate the tree together, as I got older I would perfect it when they had gone to bed.

Terms such as ” I just can’t be bothered, do what you want” and “We’re fucked, Christmas is cancelled.” were heard a lot. There wasn’t a sense of hiding struggle, won’t somebody think of the children! The grown-ups were children, unable to cope with the responsibility or understand the impact of their actions or behaviours. I feel like I can say that because I parented in a similar way for 7 years but now I know where they were coming from. Intergenerational trauma is a bitch to sidestep.

Halloween didn’t hold dark secrets like the festive season.

As I got older my tree responsibilities grew, by the time I was 14 I knew that the two white ribbons I had been instructed must always go underneath the vintage angel where in-memory of two pregnancies that didn’t make it to term. Christmas was about holding on until the emotional triggers of the grown-ups raw traumas were no longer all around us.

Spoopy Finley
Dead Mummy Dynoboy 

We weren’t allowed to go trick or treating because it “appeared” to be begging. So by the time, my child was 4 and youngest sibling was 8 we had engineered how to meet our own needs.  We loved dressing up, consuming sweets but didn’t like turning off the lights and hoping the neighbours would think we weren’t in or writing notes to tell them we had no sweets to give. We decorated the front facing part of the house and gave out goodie bags of sweets (American ones to outdo the neighbours). By this time I was the grown up and take control of how big we went with the decoration, costume and dress up. We had to do the decorating and faffing because the other grown-ups wouldn’t. It was easier to pester and be bold at this time of year than it is at Christmas. Halloween is easy to do on the cheap, on the hop with little organisation.

Halloween is our Christmas now because it doesn’t come with a cascade or uneasy feelings or sadness. We wrote this time in for ourselves, to keep making side steps and big leaps away from what hurt us, so we don’t hurt ourselves and others. We eek it out for at least a week, decorating the living room with creepsome treats, made a big night out as a fam squad to go get spooked at primEVIL, an evening of pumpkin carving, scary films and an evening of Spooky City This time of year isn’t all about families getting together, now more than ever we feel the loss of the undead. Those significant relationships, parents, grandparents were so toxic that they are alive, some just around the corner, but are not present in our lives…….and that’s ok.

We always looked after our selves, now we do it without the hope of it looking all John Lewis or caring if Mum’s gone to Iceland.

 

#FAV18 – Finding a Voice

Exhibition and workshops

In short the exhibition is about parenting and mental health from the point of 4 different families, 4 stories. There are two workshops where I use my lived experience and creative practice alongside staff from Compass & The Benjamin Foundation.

–WORKSHOPS–

aimed at Norfolk & Suffolk Health, Social care & Education Practitioners.

Each workshops will begin with a short introduction and an opportunity to be present with the work in the exhibition. Then we will gather in the library room to discuss what came across in the work, unpicking how to cope with human struggle and remain connected and authentic within our professional roles, whilst remaining grounded and safe. The art work can be used to explore specific themes in areas over a spectrum of professional practice; domestic abuse, childhood trauma, attachment and recovery.  It is a place that offers rare insight into the client experience of different professional approaches. In my experience there can be stark parallels between two similar services, in how the service functions and responds to the client and the impact this has.

16th October •“What is it like to be involved with services”

Compass social worker Laura Miles and I discuss the two perspectives, professional and parent when having services involved with your family.

17th October •“Working with Domestic Abuse”   

Dr Nic Yeates and myself boldly and honestly explore  ideas of professional practice using the exhibition as a visual reference.

The workshops are available at 3 times on each day.

09:30-11:30 * 12:00-14:00 * 14:30-16:30

We are asking £5-£10 donation to raise funds for work done with The benjamin foundation. Please feel free to ask any questions and book a slot by emailing findingavoice@yahoo.com If you know any practitioners that would find these workshops valuable please pass on this.

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#FAV18 events page

FAV18 professionals Workshops Flyer PDF

#FAV18

FINDING A VOICE poster

FINDING A VOICE (1) creative workshop

Public Speaking & Mental Health

120 people. I spoke some of my truths in order to lessen the feeling of isolation and loneliness to 120 people.

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 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.

 

 

Me, My work, Trauma & EMDR Therapy

Today, World Suicide Prevention Day, The Guardian Printed An article to which I gladly contributed. Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy allowed me to understand why I struggled with my mental health and how deeply trauma had effected how I process information and how little authentic confidence I had.  While doing EMDR I drew and painted to further process the nightmares and violent thoughts that occurred during recovery. This was my Eyes, Teeth and Vagina’s phaase. I was understandably very angry, and needed to put it somewhere safely. By this point I had a working studio, where I could paint, then walk away. Ensuring my bile didn’t spill out at home. This was during one of the worst times of my life, except now not only was I dealing with what I was living through I was FEELING as it happened. I moved out of dissociation and started feeling and learning to name it. I was most disgruntled to be honest. Dissociation is has its perks.

Doing EMDR allowed me to turn and face my truth, to own that mess. It allowed me to feel confident and incontrol, of myself and life but as a parent, allowing my child to feel confident that he was contained and safe. It was during this period that I also used my voice to ask for help. It gave me the confidence to lean into the feeling that I was enough,to be cared for and supported. This is when and how I grew #MyVillage, because I was able to be honest and present. I learnt to say out loud some of the most vulnerable sentences that I thought I would never be able to say. By saying them I was able to understand how very wrong the “normal” I had been born into was. EMDR is how I found my voice, The Compass Outreach is how I learnt to use it. Which is why I create Finding a Voice exhibitions, a cellebration and a platform for these voices. The #FAV17 Finding A Voice 2017 was about my celebration of having done the work in therapy and no longer needing intensive involvement of services. This year #FAV18 is about celebrating those voices that “get it” and other “service users” who happen to mothers and artists too. Sometimes a voice isn’t verbal.

When I become a philanthropist ( we all need a dream) I would back and fund The Compass approach, because it works, and what I learnt has stopped the behavioural loop of intergenerational trauma, priceless.  

Read the full atticle here theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/sep/10/mel-b-is-watching-flashing-lights-to-help-with-trauma-but-does-emdr-therapy-really-work?

 

WHY LOVE OCTOBER?

During half term the show I have been planning all year will be on here in Norwich #FAV18 a small group show by some incredible women. The show comes at parenting and mental health in a very forward approach, this year we have focused on maternal and children’s mental health and the intricacy of this is powerfully represented. Alongside the show is a set of family art workshops and Practitioners seminars, including a The psychology of Domestic abuse and a service user experience seminar.

First up 1stOctober is Anti-Bullying Day, bullying at school, work or from a narcissist has a huge impact on a persons wellbeing and can be a stepping stone to different mental health struggles.  I have been a bully, a narcs flying monkey, I was bullied at various schools, older boys than girls my age. In our house, we pick apart bullying behaviour and wonder in what way that person is hurting, and discuss how what they are doing is shitty and how to avoid it or not engage. Finding ways to bolster self-esteem, and not let the bullies words be a script for your inner dialogue. Bullying can be incredibly powerful if your family culture has no emotional vocabulary which is where I was until about 3 years ago.

Emotional Intelligence Month & Dyslexia Month share October. which I find beautiful because I was bullied by my first school teachers getting called “slow coach” and “lazy bones” when age 7. Many schools later, in uni, I had full dyslexia diagnostic, turns out, I have a really poor working memory. I was stunned when asked to read a few short paragraphs and asked questions after each, how little I had retained.  One of the fun bits is writing back to front when typing and writing I’ll start a word with its last letter first. or sometimes I swap the first and last letters around and don’t even notice.

Before Dynoboy was born reading occasionally to my siblings was fine, reading out loud at  school filled me with dread, sweaty palms and racing pulse, unable to make sense of the word “the” it was uncomfortable for everyone when a temp teacher asked me to read aloud. However, Dynoboy loved books, as soon as he could sit up on his own he was all over them. Enjoying the interaction of being read to. The local libraries are brilliant in Norfolk, it’s there that I got over my inability to read aloud. The repetitive nature of young childrens needs meant I could read some with my eyes closed and did. There did hit a point years later when he learnt to be patient and kind, exhausted bedtime stories with smaller text and longer chapters, that sneaky word THE knotting my tongue again.

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In those times I wouldn’t have been able to describe how it felt or why reading to and with loved ones was important.  There was very little emotional intelligence radiating from the adults around me growing up. Difficult things where discussed by what someone had done to you, not how it or they made you feel.  Events and scripts where verbalised but never emotions. WHICH is really scary come to think about it. so glad I escaped that nightmare!

31st HALOWEEEEEEN! Halloween is like Christmas for me and my siblings, we get more excited and the house is more decorated, we do more things together than we do any other time of year. My theory on why it turned out this way is pretty dark. If I  feel up to it I’ll make a video telling a spooky story about a creepy little family that found happy in the strangest places.  #ThisIsHalloween most likely in my insta stories. @findingavoice

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Swede smells & smells the best!

 

Mum Mode

#MumMode I’d love to be brutally honest but I’ll tone it down, to keep me and my little family safe. I don’t blog or use social media anonymously. My family isn’t nerotypical & our struggle isn’t a secret, but the details are masked. There is a picture of Dynoboy and I alongside the mention of difficulty in an interviewby the NSFT about FAV17 with the local paper a year ago. My mum mode is fully acctivated, were almost half way through the summer holidays, in a few weeks I will be running on reserves.

I’m still reluctant to share his image on posts freely, I have a strict internal venn diagram about when it feels right to and when it’s not appropriate, the caption alongside makes a huge impact too. The context of my painting and activist work and the audience I’m sharing it with bring huge connotations that could be miss read because I haven’t strictly underlined where we sit on the domestic abuse and mental health map (there is no such map that I’m aware of) Recently networking a hypnotherapist asked “What’s your background?” my flippant reply was “all trauma”. I have since learnt to say “Artist and Family Mental Health Activist”. I’ve been incredibly angry and frustrated recently because I know our truth. It’s so full and loaded but I have to be contented that I KNOW.

It makes me uncomfortable, parents sharing their children’s unwanted behaviour online, it comedy relief, sure or is it – help I’m a victim if my child! When it’s negative behaviour, there is a vulnerability that’s so frickin obvious it makes me sad. Sometimes it’s comical and how we get through it, parents being in the same boat, I get that. Maybe it’s about balance, maybe I’m just hypersensitive or maybe not down with the times. I’d be heckin pissed if my childhood deviance was chronologically laid out and my struggle shared without my creative input.

I’m sure I used to do it too, I know I’ve thought about it, I know there are images of me fed up with him in the back ground  but I’ve never openly shared the bigger natative. What makes me uncomfortable now is the line that gets crossed where the parent is advocating for their child with overexposure of the struggle. It’s totally different when it’s in private groups, for example parenting social media groups have strict guidance on what to share within the group, in order to keep the families safe. These spaces often hold those who are in crisis, which is often messy af. I see it a lot from autism speaks type parents, the autism community is fighting back with it’s own voice, Kirsten Schultz wrote a compelling open letter to The Mighty about it.

Being a neurodivergent young person isn’t easy, being their parents is tough too. Sometimes it’s like having a much younger child. Sometimes it’s like living with a much more mature person in an adolescent shell. Yes having teenagers brings its own struggle but if someone is off loading to you, DO NOT SAY “oh that’s just normal for their age.”  Any way I’m just here to say that parenting is hard.

Parenting Extra is HARD.  

School holidays means the responsibility of laying out structure and routine is primarily on the one person who stays home.That’s me, it means the times I get to be just me, to meet friends for life giving coffee and chats is less. More planning has to be done to keep my own routine of weekly therapy and support in place. To get in the studio and leave when I’m ready doesn’t happen. An appropriate child care situation literally doesn’t exist. It’s all about containment. My identity has to hold on for a while, I have to just hold on in there and keep on keeping on, and that’s OK, because this is so much better than it ever has been.

I don’t want sympathy or applause. I just want to share because I know I’m not alone and I know you probably know a family in a similar situation. So go have a cuppa, send a message of solidarity, let them rant. Forgive them and reschedule plans if everything went wrong or plans where broken.  Don’t judge what you can see, because you can’t see it all. It can be chronically lonely for parents and support is hard to come by, if it isn’t a burden on you go see them, bring dinner, go to the park with them. This stuff is priceless.

Repairing damage from previous relationships for us both and assisting the growth of a wholesome young person is my responsibility, it’s a privilege I share with a trusted few.

We are nothing without our village.

 

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.

My Village: Shedding the light

Hosted by FeedBack Mental Health Service users forum, 22nd June Lowestoft Leisure center. 

FB live by Feedback

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.

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Tod asking poinient questions that I forgot mid answer. smooth.

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

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pom poms AND stickers!

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.

Super powers

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.

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Speakers of the Day

Clicking into place

Re Hearing.

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 !

twitter @Findinga_Voice

instagram @findingavoice

 

 

 

Without Waves

This painting is incredibly private, its one of the first where I was trying out full figures, and flesh with oils, I was attempting to stay true to some of my pencil and ink drawings. It hangs im my bedroom, unseen by the world but reflects back to me every day. A full circle of paired down concepts.

Last week I saw a brilliant woman courageously show her vulnerability and she rocked it 🖤 Lowestoft babe @kelllyannbrooks you are a massive source of awesome & I will never forget the strength and kindness you have given me.
Just last week ideas telling some one that you gave me your mum’s advice “just hug him, every day, just keep hugging him” And I do & always will as long as he’s happy for me to🖤🖤🖤 Mumming done right.

What ever you are sitting in or running from #youarenotalone there is some one who has seen it and felt it to, maybe not exactly the same but enough to share common ground and authentic empathy. You may only ever read about it, but some times thats enough.
This week Im spending time thinking how to best utilise my time and words when Stepping way out of my comfort zone, on my way to making big waves 🌊 Speaking at Shedding The Light conference in Lowestoft. 22ndJune

I’ll be telling parts of my own lived experience of struggles and how I over came them, with a little #creative breakout too. Looking forward to it.

https://www.facebook.com/event

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/shedding-the-light-on-loneliness-and-isolation-tickets

⬆️ follow the links or search Facebook and eventbrite.

What Finding a Voice is…

Finding a Voice 18 is a follow on from FAV17, I put on the exhibition to celebrate “discharge” from services. Having explored vigorously with paint I wanted to share the space with another maker, Jan Goldsworthy, an art psychotherapist at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT). This collaboration was a dialogue, The Good, Bad & Ugly or parenting and mental health.

The next project is under way, I’m looking for other parent makers to platform along side my ongoing practice. This year’s exhibition focus is on education. Since doing FAV17 I have taken my work from the show to a conference  ‘Creativity in co-production’ at the King’s Centre in Norwich and to the UEA to teach part of the Domestic Abuse unit for the 3rd Year Clinical Psychology Students.

It is my goal to change how family mental health is viewed by professionals before they work with families, by exposing them to their own emotional reactions.

I will be holding bespoke workshops similar to this type of teaching along side FAV18 for different areas of services and education.   The Compass Outreach Team  approach kept me and my son together, when I hit a crisis point we leaned into it in a way that is impossible with children’s services and linear behaviour programmes. Our difficult days and hard work was met with robust therapeutic support that enabled lasting change for the good.

The exhibition is an space I would like to open up to the regions therapists to use to explore themes raised by the work with their own “clients”. Plus offer the space for professional reflective practices & exploitive sessions for NFST service staff.

For more information on workshops & bookings please contact findingavoice@yahoo.com

The exhibition will be open

Tuesday 16th -Saturday 27th October, 9 – 5pm

Anteros Gallery, 11-15 Fye Bridge St, Norwich NR3 1LJ

We are trying the funding lottery,though if you would like to contribute please do so here gofundme.com/findingavoice-18