After a amazing day out with Anna Neubert-Wood who runs Wander Women , I was invited to write a guest blog. Is at down and was struck by how the experience has made me feel and I was inspired to carte a series of illustrations which I have named ‘Raining at Sea‘. It was a wonderful experience a chance to reconnect with nature and myself. I tiled the blog, “Not Just a Wander” ,it is a reflection on the healing powers of nature.
Not just a wander
I look at the window then at all the kit laid out in front of me, its summer and I am heading to North Berwick to go on a afternoon with Wander Women. We are going to walk on the beach, take time to reflect, do some guided visualisations and hopefully finish with a sea swim. In true Scottish style the sky is heavy and the rain is teeming against the window, but this doesn’t dampen my sprits I have been yearning for this time to come round. Amongst the hustle and bustle of daily life, routine, responsibilities I often feel like I am on a merry go round with no way to step off, but this is my chance. My chance to step of, to press pause, take time, listen to my soul and reconnect with my true self.
With swimming costume on, under a base layer, a windproof jacket, a waterproof, big walking socks and leggings I set of with excitement coursing through my body and my soul conducting its own merry dance. As I arrive in North Berwick, the sun is out, I almost run down through the lodge gardens giddy with excitement, feeling like a wee girl skipping along on cloud nine. The sun is shining, the warmth on my skin is a delight and the layers start to shed as well as did all thoughts that weren’t connected to that moment.
I see my friend, Anna and a group of women all stood around. Everyone is smiling, connections are made and stories shared, and then we are on our way. North Berwick is bustling, but I am oblivious, I am struck that beach is so empty and yet filled full of delight as it feels like the beach is ours for the afternoon.
Removing our shoes, grounding our feet on the cool damp sand, Anna invites us to take a card, I am drawn to choose right from the bottom of the pack, one I cannot see, but one I appear to want. As I turn over the card, I have a wee chuckle to myself at the words laid out in front of me. The last words on the card were
“ your goal: by the end of the day, commit to that new step, or identify why you’re choosing to sabotage your healing”
Even as I type this now I am smiling and tears are rising through me, this card spoke the words my soul has been screaming at me.
The word sabotage lays heavily on me, feeling like an invisible weight, as I ponder, “ Am I really sabotaging my healing?”
My healing journey started on May 1st 2017, marking the date that my body decided that it was time to stop. The months prior to this I had been feeling unwell and a new array of symptoms presented themselves on a daily basis, but I had forged on, regardless of the message my body was screaming at me to stop, slow down. On May 1st I got up and like any other day I took Bess my gorgeous old girl out for a walk, my feet felt heavier, I felt like I was wading through treacle, and my head was full of a thick fog, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to piece together what I needed to do at work that day. As I stumbled through the back door, took Bess’s lead off I knew I needed to sit down. As I sat on the sofa, I didn’t realise that my body was saying no more, defying me the ability to stand, to think to walk and to function on any level. In that moment I went from being a very tired, exhausted functioning woman, to a fatigued, lost shell like form of myself. All I know is I managed to ring my manager and say I would not make it in, and then the next few months are a blur. I had to leave my job, I loved to draw and write, but my fatigue denied me this pleasure. Pain seared hot through my joints, my head pounded, my temperature was fierce, light and sound were overwhelming and my memory was shot. I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome also known as ME, told there is a 5% chance of recovery and there is nothing that can be done apart from manage the pain and symptoms with medication. Lost in a fog and bewildered by the words being presented to me I could not believe it, I didn’t want too. I am a runner, a mountain biker, I am fit healthy, how is this happening? But it was happening.
Months passed I changed to a plant based diet, I sat outside as much as could, the sun warm on my skin, the air refreshing me and making me feel connected to something again. Nature was my nectar, my medicine, and food for my soul reconnecting me to the lost parts of self.
So as I stood on the beach barefoot once again, I could hear my body sigh that one again I was tuning back in, I had heard the screams and was making time for me and time to heal.
As we wandered along the beach barefoot in silence I watched my feet as they pressed against the sand, the change in colour, the water being dispersed and the imprint that is my unique identifier, laid there for a moment before the sand came back and it was like I was never there. Thoughts went through my mind, Am I invisible, who sees me, who do I want to see me, what do I want people to see. My mind wandered to projects I have been dreaming up, that are sat on the side lines, I have negated through fear, not feeing good enough and the fear of failing. Looking over I could see the other women in the group, it felt like we were all moving forward with energy and purpose, bringing parts of self to untie as women in nature.
Something stirred within and a energy rose though me, I looked down and felt a strength and a purpose in my stride, I noticed myself, I heard myself and saw myself as I wanted to be seen, and was struck that she had been here all along.
The sky shifted from sun to a glorious light grey, the light dimmed and the rain started to fall as we stood in a circle and each shared why we had chosen to be there. As everyone spoke the energy rose in the circle and the women who I had met just 15 minutes prior, through the gift of silence, connecting to the earth and nature had become focused on themselves and shared their narrative of what had brought them to stand barefoot on the sand.
As I spoke my words came easily and freely, my body was relaxed and brimming with emotion as I shared my experience of being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, my journey back to health and my wanderings about what it is to be feminine.
With the rain falling and the sky darkening with every word spoken, little did I know I was about to share an experience with women with connections to where I am from, to my past and to this very present day.
The sky was alive bustling with rain, powerful clouds, deep shades of greys and blues, reflected in the expanse of the sea. The light glistened of the wet rocks; the beach was empty and ours as we wandered along deep in our own thoughts collecting found objects that our gaze fell upon.
United back in a circle with our found objects at our feet, we were invited to create a joint mandala, witnessing and noticing each other’s findings, sharing stories and dreams of creative processes we each placed our findings down alongside each other’s. Feathers, shells, sea glass, old fragments of pottery stones of various colour’s, sat side by side in the sand, forming a circle, our own unique mandala, 7 women’s findings, dreams and wishes held in this sacred art form, only to be added to by the glorious nature of the rain teeming down upon us.
The rain echoed of my hood, Anna brought out a large shelter and we all huddled underneath it. I was instantly transported to my childhood, having picnics under the kitchen table when the skies darkened and the rain came. Laughter filled the shelter, as we sat around our mandala. Anna shared a guided visualisation with us, the rain offered a steady beat as I thought about myself as a body of water, what would I look like, where would I be, being taken on a journey from source to open expanses of water, through hills, mountains, rivers, brooks, and valleys.
Eyes opening slowly, looking around everyone seemed content, happy to be present with themselves in our own shelter, somehow protected not just by the canvas but also by our joint energies, containing and keeping us safe.
Our souls had been fed, with thoughts and dreams and through the process of creativity; we now fed and nourished ourselves with handcrafted food created by Anna. Hot potato and leek soup warmed my body and again I felt like a little girl, playing outside having the adventure of a lifetime, everything felt possible.
Eager to move on I pulled on my waterproof trousers, pulled my hood back up and set off following Anna’s footsteps. Climbing up and over grassy hills, walking through mud, jumping in puddles, it felt glorious, permission to play and enjoy the delight of the little girl in me that had come out to play. We came to a little bay, the sky was full and energised and I felt much the same, wanting to run a about dive into the water and stay in the wonderful feeling of playfulness.
The sky cracked, light shot through the sky and the clouds above us were thick and dark with intensity. I was conscious that the energy in the group shifted, as we needed to head back as sadly it was no longer safe to swim with lightening brightening the sky. As I climbed back towards where we had come from, I was laughing and giggling, I felt alive and thrilled to be in this moment where mother nature was showing up, being her true self and not being scared to let her strength be witnessed by all.
As we stopped to put our shoes back on and walk back down along the road, rivers of water washed down around us, laughter again started to fill the air, what a adventure we had all just shared, all captured in one beaming selfie of us all. Women who were near strangers brought together by their love for nature, the need to reconnect and mother nature provided a wonderful gift to further untie us and remained us of the power and the force that it is to be a woman.
Its now several days later and that smile I had on my face is just as present the thrill of being out in a thunderstorm, how it awakened my soul and reunited me with the little girl inside me who has been lost in the darkness and engulfed by the CFS.
The women who wandered barefoot alongside me, connected to many stages of my life. My birthplace of Somerset, to my days as art student, my work as an Art Therapist, a painful time in my career where I experienced and witnessed many losses to connections that are new but there is a purpose to our paths coming together. It felt as though I was being handed a mirror to take the time to reflect on where my life has taken me, held in nature, grounded by the coolness of the sand on my feet, and echoed in the power of the storm.
As the storm passed and the rain started to ease, a gentle silence fell around us, the sea continued its steady beat, the wind rustled though the trees and the air was still. In this moment I felt at peace with self and understood that I was sabotaging my healing by letting fear win, by negating what I truly felt I am meant to do. My soul is saying you have weathered the storm it’s now time to dance, embrace your ideas and passion and join your tribe. You are feminine and the feminine is sacred, powerful and rooted in Mother Nature. Breath her in, feel her as you are part of her.
I have come away with a great sense of passion to continue to work on a project that has been in the making for several years, to try new things in the studio and to take the leap into the unknown, trusting that by connecting to nature, reuniting with my soul and allowing myself to play, that feeling that everything is possible is alive and burning brightly inside me.
To draw and to create is to play, and as the inner child rose up inside me there felt no better way to capture this, then step into the studio and give myself permission to play. Taking the time to stop and tap back in the feeling of the joy and playfulness from that day, the feeling and the energy of the storm was really strong. The illustrations are a reflection of the energy of the storm, the power of Mother Nature and the sense I have that within darkness there is real beauty.
I find myself all kitted out, layer upon layer of tops, covered in a jumper, wrapped in a jacket, covered with a waterproof jacket, a scarf hugging my neck and nicely topped off with a bobble hat, much like the cherry on the cake.
Around my neck hangs my camera, my heart is full of joy for stepping out of the norm and stepping into some time for me and for finally after years finding the confidence to pick up my camera once again to hopefully capture some moments.
I am aware my body has not been on its finest form of late so the decision to not join the other women in the sea swim is one that feels true to me and one I am proud of as I have heard my body, listened and respected its needs.
We gather on the sand, the waves are crashing against the sand, the moon hangs heavy in the daylight sky, full to bursting, commanding the sea closer and closer to the shore.
As we walk in silence, I start to look through the viewfinder, remembering that everything looks different, feels different if you just shift the focus. The camera was mirroring the silent walking, shifting the attention to ourselves, to our bodies, tuning in to what our minds and bodies need to ear in that moment.
As we came together in a circle, the sea played like a quite melody in the background, as our tones danced over the top as we introduced ourselves and became united as a tribe of women stood on the sandy shore.
As the swim approaches, the energy shifts, the tones become louder, more audible and the sea appears to echo, with the waves crashing in a constant rhythmic tone.
As the women step into the sea, the air is filled with laughter, chattering, and hollers of delight and shock as the sea rolls onto them. Within minutes they all turn, faces alight with joy, cheeks glowing a subtle pink and smiles as wide as you can imagine.
The energy is one of calm and peace, as they go through the ritual of drying and getting warm by the fire.
The tent awaits, we climb in and are held safe by the canvas and the energy of being together.
Gentle chatter commences as we think about our vision boards, the scissors cut, the pages tare, the glue glides it away across the paper. The 2 hours feels like 2 minutes as we all work to get our images and words onto the blank sheet before us.
The sound of the sea filters through the canvas, the moon is inviting the sea to dance, and to join us on the beach.
My vision board fills, and fills, my eyes are drawn to structure, buildings, nature and textures, a inherent want is using for below. What I felt I would carte has long left my. ind, my process has been taken over by a stronger will of my subconscious to create a vision of a idea myself and my partner have been playing with for a long time.
As I stick the final bits down, I sit back and marvel at the power of the mind, able to pull together what I need to see and to bring clarity to what has been a achingly hard decision for a long while.
The last few minutes felt like a blur, I was suddenly aware of where I was and the conversation sarong me. Together we shred and reflected on what we had carted, and it was clear in allowing that time for ourselves that all had found some time to explore our thoughts and bring them together in one place, allowing a light to shine our wants, needs and dreams.
As we step out of the tent, the lights and the air feels different, the fire is burning bright, and the sea has found its way to join with us, close to lapping at our ankles as we gather once again together on the sand.
The light starts to fade as we share our thoughts and bring the day to a close.
Buyoed by the day I set off home and know that the day has been the catalyst for new things to come, new friendships, new projects have been brought into being, new plans for my partner and I and a new exciting plan awaits on the horizon.
As for the photography, I captured some shots, renewed my love for photography and enjoyed being able to be creative in a way that has long felt lost.
July arrived and so did the sun, rain and wind, but no weather could deter from the enthusiasm and talent of the children I had the delight of sharing the Dyslexia worksop with.
As the children stepped through the door of The Barefoot Sanctuary into the workshop the energy rose up and excitement and nerves all started to bubble to the surface for the children and for myself.
The workshop was designed to explore what Dyslexia meant to each individual child and to look at the positives in being identified as Dyslexic.
Each day we started off with a high energy game, followed with a check in and then onto the art making process. The workshop closed with another high energy game, a check out, where one positive was shared from each child on how their Dyslexia had helped them that day and then a game of wink murder. The structure was to allow containment for the children’s feelings and for them to feel safe to explore and express their emotions in relation to their Dyslexia.
Dyslexia was our main focus, so where better to start then the word itself, identifying that it is just a word and it does not need to define us. Each child chose a letter and designed it how they wanted it to look, with the idea it could be anything they wished. As pens moved across the paper voices started to become louder and stories were being shared about how each child had come to be in the group. United by their Dyslexia voices that were once quite became louder, offering stories, suggestions and ideas of how they wished to use their time in the workshops.
As I sat and witnessed the children work with their strengths, I was in awe of their ability to share their truth about their Dyslexia openly and honestly in the group. As they drew they discussed what was hard about being Dyslexic, the challenges they face in school, at home with siblings, with friends and parents. Amongst all the challenges there was clear strength and perseverance presence in the room as they continued to share ways of learning that worked for them and find the positives in being identified as being Dyslexic.
The children worked together to design new games, utilising problem solving skills and creative out of the box thinking to ensure everyone could take part. They worked together demonstrating listening skills, great communication, respect for one another as they created and drew ideas and designs for the last day expressing how they wished to bring everyone in the group together.
In one closing circle the questions was “what is the positive in having Dyslexia?” the child stated
“If I did not have Dyslexia I would not be in this group and met everyone here and had fun”
Parents noted in response to the question ‘Do you feel working in a small group of children also identified at Dyslexic supported your child with their understanding of her own Dyslexia?
“Yes, she is proud of herself. She sees her abilities differently now and looks to problem solving rather than despondency. “
“We all really think it helped him to understand Dyslexia more and he enjoyed talking about it with other’s as its not something he would necessarily talk about with his friends.”
I feel the children grew in confidence and their understanding of their Dyslexia. Through the art making process they were able to come together and share their narratives of their Dyslexia and to be heard, witnessed and understood by one other.
I believe my Dyslexia is a gift and with all the challenges it can present I wouldn’t be without it. To be able to share a space with children who are trying to understand their Dyslexia is a privilege. To be able create a space where they can start to explore the postives and look to their Dyslexia as a gift and not something which will hold them back.
Dyslexia is amazing and I hope through further workshops I can continue to share this with children and help them to feel empowered by their Dyslexia.
It’s been busy in the studio, juggling projects and tying up loose ends before my holiday starts on Saturday. In the busyness I decided to enter a competition for artworks for a zine focusing on chronic illnesses.
I decided to create a piece about my personal experience with chronic fatigue syndrome. Working in a different manner, I wished to create a more simple way of working, fast and effective and potentially be developed further into a animation.
I am delighted that I won a place in the zine which will be produced in September.
I am now working on individual stills for creating it into a animation, which I will share once complete.
I was invited by Dyslexia Scotland to contribute to their online blog “a life less ordinary”, and today it went live.
Through the process of thinking about what to illustrate and write I noted that it was taking me time to think of a good concept and one the what accessible to those with Dyslexia and those without. The biggest challenge I have with my Dyslexia is the act of processing information, I can do it no problem, it just takes me a little while longer, and this is across the board, whether its in conversation, answering questions, or devising a idea or new concept for my work. The best way for me to explain it is for you to imagine you come to the edge of a field, and you can see a path that clearly cuts through the middle getting you to your required destination, naturally you would take this path, as for me taking this path would not be as natural, I would walk the perimeter of the field or make up my own route wandering across the field, deciding a way that works for me.
It will just taking me longer, but this does not equate to me being slow or stupid. It is a proven scientific finding, that those with Dyslexia process information over three sectors of the brain whereas those without dyslexia process information over 2 ares of the brain.
So the final concept for the Dyslexia Scotland blog was called Bear with me, and so tank you for bearing what me as I have explained the process of the ,making of the concept, I hope you will like the illustration and take the time to read the poem that I created to go with it!
Bear with me
Bear with me as I fumble for words,
it takes time, which may seem absurd
Bear with me as I doodle and draw,
I have the feeling I just can’t write anymore
Bear with me as I go for a walk to clear my head,
to try and lift this feeling of dread
Bear with as I get myself back on track,
to meet this deadline which I know I can crack
Bear with me as I doodle and draw, my head is full,
I can’t think straight anymore
Bear with me as I take my time,
find a pace that suits me fine
Bear with me as I pick up the pace,
I feel I can win this deadline race
Bear with me as the words transpire
Woohooo look at me I am on fire
Bear with me as my fingers tap away,
I am nearly done it’s the end of the day,
For this little rhyme,
it took a huge amount of time,
Bear with me as bring this to a close,
Scraping through by the skin of my nose,
As I sigh with relief,
I will keep this brief
Bear with me is my mantra in life,
its kept me out of certain strife,
Knowing I need that extra time
letting people know I am Dyslexic is fine
Dyslexia is part of me
so please bear with me and let me be me
Follow this link below to Vimeo and watch how I built the Isle of May illustration.