At first, I called this post Rediscoveringmy Authenticity, but that quickly switched to Recoveringmy Authenticity. To learn how to be myself and to be able to live authentically I had to recovermyself. I had to recover what had been lost.
When I was a young child I knew who I was. I delighted in bluebells, fairies, snapping pea pods, dragonflies, curling up with a book, climbing trees, drawing, swinging as high as I could on the garden swing, but very quickly those simple pleasures faded as I concentrated on fitting in, being conformed, and moulded into what other people wanted me to be.
As an already world and trauma weary seventeen-year-old, I once wrote: ‘I’ll open my heart and show you inside, but don’t let me know what you’ve seen. I want to be everything everyone wants me to be, but I’m not sure I know how. I don’t even know how to be me…’ (Sept 1989)
I spent my childhood being groomed into an overly conscientious teen, bombarded with responsibility and emotional pressure, with a built-in inability to rebel. I spent my twenties trying to be perfect in a world where perfection is unattainable. In my thirties I broke down, but that didn’t stop the internalised and external burdens, and in my forties I began to say no, to question blind obedience, and to realise just how important it is to be exactly who I am. To be who I was born to be.
Now, thirty-two years later, I know exactly how to be me.
It takes great courage to be who you are, to stop masking in a society that wants you to behave in their chosen acceptable ways, to reject conditioning – both social and in a faith setting, to step away from that narrow path and live life, to embrace who you intrinsically always were, are, and want to be.
I could lament many things, and some I will, but, as half a century creeps up on me, I’m learning that life is too short to waste. Life really is about bluebells, dragons, good food, curling up with a book, climbing trees, painting, losing myself in the other worlds that I write, and swinging as high as I can on a park swing! It’s also about stars and the moon, acorns and acorn cups, and dreams. It’s about gems and crystals, mindfulness and crystal grids, magic, and dusky roses. It’s about Coldbackie beach and Greenwich Park, animals, and running with wolves. It’s about walking through forests, splashing through oceans, and standing on mountains. It’s about fighting for equality, for mental health, for loving those you love. And it’s about knowing who you are and being exactly that person, with no apologies, no resentment, and never needing anyone’s permission to be you.
I’ve recovered the little girl who believed in magic, who thought dragonflies were really baby dragons, and who wandered through bluebell woods looking for fairies. Irescued the child who didn’t need to be perfect, who didn’t even think about her flaws, and loved who she was. That child no longer needs perfection; she doesn’t want to conform, she wants to rebel, and she can! She can see the world as it is and be sad, but also hopeful. She can walk through mossy forests and see Mother Nature smiling back at her. She can gaze at the stars and know that she can reach them in so many ways. I can be exactly who I want to be, because I know how to be me.
Three years ago I began the journey of both gracefully and disgracefully aging… making many changes in my life, and one of them was turning grey – adding silver gilt to my hair like fairy dust.
I loved the transformation, but starting the process, getting used to the idea of going grey, is psychologically the most difficult. It throws up emotions and fears of growing older, and makes you confront not only who you are in yourself, but how others see you too. There’s a lot of pressure on standards of beauty and the media’s view on aging can be intimidating. I talk about that and my own worries in my first post: Turning Silver and Going Grey – Embracing your Hair. I said I’d write another post once my process was complete, so here it is.
I loved being brunette, and when I realised I was turning white it was hard to accept the change, but I decided to embrace it and turn silver before I was fifty! I stopped dyeing and watched my grey come through like glittering silver gilt.
Two years later and it’s now 2021 and we’ve been locked in a pandemic for the past eighteen months, and I’ll be fifty in a few months. It’s been a tough time for most of us and Covid19 has collectively affected society profoundly. It seems almost flippant to talk about hair after what we’ve been through, but during lockdownhairdressers and barbers were closed, and hair care became a personal responsibility. Home dyeing was the only way for many to keep the grey at bay, and a fair amount of people decided to lose the obligation and accept the inevitable. Turning silver became much easier for many without access to professional hair care.
I had a head start, literally, and as we entered lockdown I was mostly silver already. If I’d been getting regular haircuts, I’d have kept my hair shorter and I would have been completely white much faster, but as most people did, I let my hair grow long. I kept my brown/bronze tips for much longer. It was a fascinating year as a lot of people let their hair grow or shaved it off! Suddenly news readers all had longer hair, and several celebrities were advertising dye products by showing their grey as they dyed their roots at home. I was happy to let my hair grow. By October, though, I was fed up as my hair gets heavier as it grows, and thin hair works better with a good cut. I didn’t get a good cut, but I did finally lop the last brown ends off with my own hairdressing scissors! It was the moment the last remnants of dye were cut from my hair and I became completely natural.
Now my hair is longer again, and wanting a cut, but I’m loving the colour. I’m told there’s still some brunette at the back, but I can’t see it and most of it has darkened to steel grey. The rest is a white halo about my face, sparkling silver in the sun.
So, after three years, my journey from brunette to silver has finished, and I’vechanged just as much as my hair if I’m honest. These last few years have been time for change, for authenticity, for counselling, developing the strength to be myself, and emerging as someone I truly love and embrace.
I finished my last turning silver post with this statement: I’m ready to let my silver spirit soar with freedom and abandon.
It was interesting to see that the focus for Mental Health Awareness Week, 10th – 16th May, this year is Nature. Now, I’m not going to put it out there that nature fixes our mental health. It doesn’t.A good health service, access to mental health facilities and services, medication, diagnosis, experts, voting for parties that will increase mental health services and access to the assistance we need, and much more will help our mental health more, but nature does have its place in preserving our emotional and mental health.
There is a lot of scientific and medical evidence that shows that nature improves our mental health and wellbeing. Nature can offer a calming and soothing effect that lowers our stress levels and anxieties. Being outside and bathing in light, sunlight, or just daylight, can improve our production of serotonin and Vitamin D. Exercise increases endorphins, and just walking in woodland, alongside birdsong, or along a beach, listening to waves crashing, can significantly help your general mental health.
As someone who suffers from extreme anxiety and has been crippled by bouts of depression, I know nature is not a cure – it would be patronising to claim it is – but it does enrich my emotional state, and is part of my coping strategy.
It’s been proven that just looking at images of nature can lift moods, and can offer a boost of serotonin. So, to offer support and a moment of lightness I’m going to share some moments of nature that have helped me. I use nature, and pretty things, to keep my anxieties and panic at bay, maybe they can help you.
Please remember we can be there for each other, not just for walks in parks, but for the serious stuff, the times when darkness invades and our mental health is at the bottom of the pit.
Ask for help, seek out counselling (it helps, but believe me I know how long you have to wait for it!), find people who’ll listen and support you, accept help, and accept medication if that’s what you need. Watch out for each other, be kind, offer help when it’s needed, and for goodness sake, vote for the parties that want to help, the ones who want to increase mental health provisions and access to all. That’s how we change things, and that’s how we help. Nature is great, and it’s there for us all, but remember there’s more to fixing mental health than looking at pretty things.
I’ve been incredibly busy with some serious issues, family life, and new business opportunities, so this is really a roundup of where I am right now with my work.
I launched my Crystal Grid prints in my Etsy shop Amaranth Alchemy and had a great response. Many people have asked if I will be stocking cards in the future, so that’s something I’m looking into. I’m very touched by the amount of people showing interest and supporting my new work, I’ve even had commissions and that’s been a lot of fun!
You can find the available prints in Amaranth Alchemy right now, 8×8 inch prints on beautiful high-grade, smooth matte paper. They look amazing!
Amaranth Alchemy also stocks bookpage gifts. I rescue broken, worn and torn, and damaged books and turn them into unique bookmarks, picture frames, and gifts. #BreathingNewLifeIntoOldPages
And my books are all available to buy too. Signed paperback copies which will enchant you.
My first three books the Surviving Hope series are made up of Beneath the Rainbow, Beneath the Old Oak,andBeneath the Distant Star.
Three girls, three lives, three stories composed with the melody of hope. Freya’s death sends ripples through many lives. Meg loses her best friend, and Jasmine, her sister. Lost dreams need to be found, hidden family secrets need to be unearthed, and grief must be embraced before ghosts can be laid to rest. These beautifully composed tales of coming of age, mental health, and the struggles of finding yourself, begin with grief and culminate with hope.
Beneath the Rainbow is currently available for FREE as a Nook eBook with Barnes and Noble, and it’s sequels are available for $0.99 each ‘til the end of April.
Beneath the Rainbow has also been chosen as one of the titles for BHCPress’s curated list celebrating National School Library Month in the US. Find it here and check out the other recommended books here.
You can find A Symphony Of Dragons and Human 76 in my Etsyshop, and at lisashambrook.com. If you love dragons then Symphony is for you, and if you crave post-apocalyptic fiction then Human 76 is something quite unique which will blow you away! All books are available at online bookshops and Amazon in both eBook and Paperback.
I’m busy working through everything I learned while in counselling, creating new things, crystal grids, learning about Chakras, editing The Seren Stone Chronicles, and supporting my daughter’s new art business, please read about her work here. She’s struggling greatly with autism and tourettes right now, and art is one of the things that’s keeping her going, so please support her if you possibly can. Check out her website Bekah Rain Art and her page on Facebook. Look her up on Instagram and Tik Tok too.
Thank you for all your support! You are all amazing!
Three weeks ago I asked you which of my Crystal Grids you liked the most, this was to work out which grids to order prints to stock in my Etsy shop. I had a lot of lovely responses and votes, and some of the choices matched mine and some surprised me, but the results are in and I’ve made my choices.
Two were runaway successes, drawing in the most votes respectively, Numbers 3 and 13 – Samhain, Fire and Light, and Black Moon. Coming in close behind were 6, 8, and 12 – Intuition, Imbolc, Winter Healing, and Wolf Moon Snowflake. 18 and 19 – Holly and Berry, and Valentine Love brought up the rear in votes. Many more were as popular but instead of fighting between them, the eighth grid I chose was my newest, Amethyst Spiral, created for February, as it got a huge amount of love across my social media pages when I posted it.
So, I will be ordering a number of prints of each of these grids to place in Amaranth Alchemy. Once I see how these sell, I will consider expanding the range.
Thank you all so much for voting and sharing your favourites with me, it was lovely to read some of your reasons too.
I also held a draw for one voter to receive a free print from these once they become available. I drew Eilís Phillips’ name and she will be able to choose a print to enjoy. Congratulations Eilís and thank you!
Whilst you were voting I send off for sampleprints using four different papers so I could choose my favourite to show off the crystals. I tried two photographic pearl papers, and two matte rag papers. The prints of Samhain, Fire and Light came out beautifully and I immediately fell in love with the Canson Infinity Rag Photographique 310gsm. This matte 100% cotton paper creates a smooth, sensual backing to my crystals which makes them feel more like an art print than a photograph, and I love it!
I’ll be getting 8×8 inch prints to begin with, and seeing where we go from there.
I can’t wait to see these Crystal Grid prints in my shop and ready to be shipped to homes where the stones and intentions can enhance your life!
Art is important, adding to society in many ways. It provides decoration, talking points, culture, expression, creativity, inspiration and so much more. My daughter’s art at Bekah Rain Art embraces all of this.
Yesterday, Bekah opened her first online shop to offer her art to the world – Bekah Rain Art. Please pop over and take a look and see what inspires you. Their initial pieces work with Body Positivity, Diversity, People, and Nature. Working with watercolour as her main medium, she has also used acrylics, pen, and is currently working on a large oil painting.
Their ultimate goal with their art is to inspire others to see the beauty in everything around us.
I asked them a few questions to celebrate their launch:
Have you always loved to draw and paint?
I have, it’s been one of the few things in my life that has been a constant love of mine. I’ve been drawing since I can remember and in school if you asked me my favourite subject it was always Art. To the point that when I studied art for my A Levels I lost focus on any other subject I was studying and put everything into my art.
What made you want to focus on body positivity?
I see a lot of nude art that focuses on one body type: skinny, abled, primarily white. I wanted to bring something new to people, every body is beautiful and they deserve to see that in art. I have painted people with different body types, perceived flaws, disabilities. I only have five pieces in my Strength Within collection available right now but I have many more in the works. This collection is about empowering people to love their bodies.
Do you have a favourite medium to work in?
Watercolour, if I had to pick one medium to use for the rest of my life, it would be watercolour. I love how unpredictable it can be depending on the surface I paint on. I love the loose flow it offers me, I find watercolour inspires me while I am in the process of painting.
I love to experiment with other mediums though, I’m currently working on an Oil on Canvas piece which is slow but it’s turning out beautifully. I’ve learned a lot working on that piece.
What does art mean to you?
That’s a huge question! It’s expression in its purest form, it’s inspiration and beauty. I think people don’t always value it, they consider it to be frivolous, but everything involves art. Look at architecture, television, books, cars and so on, art surrounds us all everyday and I think that is a beautiful thing. Look what we as humans can create! A world without art would be such a flat existence.
Bekah is currently offering a discount of 15%off on all sales until midnight 14th March, use code: LAUNCH15 at the checkout on her website.
I have been enchanted by crystals for many years. I’ve been studying and learning about them, writing and painting them, and for the last year I’ve been making crystal grids.
I make crystal grids for several reasons: to manifest intentions, to make art, and to practise meditation and mindfulness. I’ve had some lovely responses and comments when I’ve posted them online, and also been asked if they are available to purchase. I’m really happy to announce that I’m planning to get prints made so they can be available in my Etsy shop Amaranth Alchemy.
I want to choose the ones that you love the most! I hope you will relate to their meanings so they will mean something to you too. Each print will be on premium paper, hand signed, and on the reverse will be the original meaning and an explanation of each stone used and why.
To help me know which crystal grids to stock, please comment below with the numbers of your Five Favourite grids. Feel free to either just leave their numbers, or to add any explanation as to why you love them.
WIN A FREE PRINT – If you comment here on my blog or on the original Facebook, or Instagram, post I will make a note of your name and include you in a draw when the prints become available and one person will win a free print of their choice of the available range.
If you win I will contact you via your FB, Insta, or Blog profile. This draw will remain open for comment until the 10th of March 2021, when I will be then preparing my range of prints. Prints should be available before Summer at Amaranth Alchemy on Etsy, price still to be decided.
I can’t wait to see which grids are your favourites!
“Do you think it was ever real?” Jeff shifted his face towards me.
“What was?” I replied absently, staring into the distance.
“The horse, the Pegasus?” He lifted off his elbows, rolling onto his side. “That one?”
My eyes refocused, taking in the golden bronze sculpture not far from our blanket.
The lowering evening light glinted like magic and I could almost imagine the creature lifting into the sky, its precision pistons and hydraulics whirring smooth and silent. It would soar on glorious wings, skimming clouds and the far off mountain tops. Then Jeff nudged me.
“Wow, you’re just lost today!” He sniggered.
I tore my eyes away from the monument. I flushed under his gaze. His ice-blue eyes softened and the corners of his mouth curled into a grin. My hair slipped across my face and he stretched out his hand to lift it away. His hand brushed my cheek and my heart quickened.
Embarrassed, or shy – I couldn’t decide which – I broke eye contact and dipped my head, hiding a heady smile. I heard Jeff move closer to me. His arms wrapped themselves about me and I let my body mould itself against his.
“I’ve never met anyone like you, Tansy,” he whispered, his words moving like velvet across my skin and into my ear.
I smiled and his mouth met mine. For a moment I froze, wondering if my inexperience would register with him, but I had nothing to worry about and melted into the kiss, my lips moving gently against his. It wasn’t just our mouths that responded and I let my hands rove, my fingers ending up entwined in his hair and stroking the nape of his neck.
Soft kisses rained down, and his lips explored my shoulder. My back lightly arched and my head dropped to the side as his touch sent tiny fizzing explosions through my body. I opened my eyes and the late sun bathed me in golden rays, and I caught a glimpse of the gleaming Pegasus in the corner of my eye. Its cogs and gears and wheels shone, and the light flowed through its mane and tail, and I almost believed it alive.
Jeff’s mouth sought mine again and then he reluctantly moved aside grinning at me as we untangled. I giggled and he laughed. “You do things to me!” He threw himself down onto his back and stared up into the sky.
I shuffled closer and looked at him, his face rosy with desire, untidy hair, and creased shirt. I smoothed my hand across his chest, slipping it between an unbuttoned gap to caress his skin. He closed his eyes and groaned.
I laughed and sat up, tucking my legs beneath me. Jeff rolled over and leaned against me, propping himself back up on his elbows again. The horse glowed in front of us as the sun disappeared behind the mountain. It became a shadowy figure as pale moonlight took over from the sun, ghostly even.
“So,” he broke the silence. “Do you think it was real?”
I didn’t answer.
“I mean, years ago, centuries ago, before they were banned?” When I still didn’t speak, he continued. “Not just horses, but people, you know – the mechanical ones. They got really advanced, then when they thought we’d not be able to tell the difference, they banned them. Do you believe that? I never saw one I couldn’t tell was robotic.” His voice trailed off as he stared at the sculpture. “If they were real, they sure were beautiful.”
My skin prickled, goosebumps spread across my arms, and my scalp tingled.
“I’d know if I met one. Not that I could, they don’t exist anymore.” He turned to smile at me. “That one, the Pegasus, it enchants me. That’s why I like coming here, and with you –” His fingers trailed across my bare arm. “With you, it’s even better.”
I linked my fingers with his. His hand was warm, sweaty, and real. He gazed into my eyes with such intensity, such adoration, that I knew his naivety was genuine.
I leaned down and touched my lips to his. He pulled me into his embrace and his hand moved slowly down my neck, across my collarbone, and down to the soft cotton décolletage of my dress. Not far beneath the cotton, beneath my silky organic skin, beneath the network of miniscule tubes and hydraulics, beneath the silent whir of cogs and gears, beat my heart, my clockwork heart.
Really needed to write something for this photo provided by Miranda’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge prompt. A sculpture by Hasan Novorozi. The steampunk Pegasus just spoke to me, as do most things steampunk!
Write up to 750 words inspired by the prompt photograph.
Life is not easy, and even with all the support and love in the world sometimes you need extra help. Counselling can be a great place to start, and this is my journey.
I was a shy child, but the word shy was a misnomer for severe anxiety, panic, trauma, and low self-confidence. By fourteen, I also had an eating disorder and was self-harming. At eighteen, undergoing a breakdown, I finally asked for help, approaching the first female GP I’d had and sharing historic information which my mother hadn’t been able to cope with. My doctor was compassionate and sent me to a psychiatrist. He failed to ask or listen to anything, prescribed the antidepressant, Fluvoxamine, and sent me to a group counselling program.
Group counselling for an eighteen-year-old with huge social anxiety was a bad move. I sat among drug addicts and people with serious mental illnesses and made myself as small as I could. I did not say a word and didn’t return after two sessions. Nine months of antidepressants numbed me through the breakdown. I limped through my twenties, married and raised children, had a bout of post-natal depression, and pushed through with little recognition and without any attempt to ask for help.
I was thirty-three (2004) when I was sexually assaulted and the earlier undealtwithassault resurfaced. During this breakdown my husband, desperate to help, intervened and I saw another psychiatrist, but this one was a family friend and he listened. I took Escitalopram, and was referred to a private sexual health and abuse counsellor. She was amazing and took me back through my childhood and relationships. Through talking we worked through the assaults and I began to see myself differently, and to take back control of my life and who I was. She showed me that I was more than the sum of what had happened to me, that I deserved more, and that I was safe. I began to learn my own worth and how to overcome my demons. She helped me to conquer them by turning the perpetrators into sad pathetic creatures. After six months of counselling I felt much more in control and much happier. I wish I’d been able to find counselling on the NHS but it had taken private counselling and financial aid through my church to help.
Life moved easily with the heaviness lifted for several years then overwhelm and anxiety kicked in again, and in 2010 and 2011 I took six month courses of antidepressants, Cipralex and Citalopram, and in 2014, Amitriptyline, which was to combat anxiety and panic rather than depression, and I was sent on an Anxiety/Depression CBT course by my GP, who told me I’d need to do that before any one-to-one counselling could be offered on the NHS.
It turned out to be a group course, six or eight sessions, watching two hours of slides teaching about depression and anxiety. The two mental health nurses lecturing were lovely, and I can’t fault the information, but for me, someone who’d intensively researched both subjects, it was information I was already fully aware of. I used it as a reminder and tried to put it into action, but without one-to-one mentoring let’s say, I found it difficult. I knew all about anxiety and depression but was unable to put basics into action on my own. It was over ten years since my successful counselling and I now struggled to be able to put ideas and theories into action without dealing again with core issues and triggers.
In 2016, after a lovely day but a brutal year, I found myself at 2am standing on a local bridge wanting to finish everything. I’d been battling suicidal ideation for years and years, along with self-harm, panic, and anxiety. I was prescribed Sertraline, yet another antidepressant, by my GP and put on a counselling waiting list.
I was full of tears, panic, and overwhelm, unable to vocalise or help myself. I paid and saw a private counsellor (through my church) who listened to what I’d been going through over many years. She showed a desire to help and validated the pain and overwhelm that I felt. I’d tried asking my church for financial aid to get counselling, but been turned down, however the attempt on my life changed that, and we got financial aid to see another private counsellor closer to home through church social services.
Seeing a counsellor whilst on antidepressants is always weird for me. It feels difficult to be authentic because medication balances and numbs, so I was worried she wouldn’t see the real me through the deception of meds. I felt I would look too normal, undeserving of counselling, and she wouldn’t see my inner turmoil. However, I felt really comfortable with her, she made me feel understood and validated, and it felt like spending time with a friend. I looked forward to my weekly sessions.
We talked about my trauma, family, the difficulties life threw at us, and I learned ways to ground myself, to cope with my sensory issues, and ways to try and deal with my self-harm. I talked a lot about my family and how deeply my emotions were interwoven with their needs, more so than my own. We looked at anxiety and how to deal with it, we used mindfulness, meditation, ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and she helped me talk about my fears, concerns, and anxieties. After six months I felt much more secure within myself and we stopped counselling, but have become friends.
This period had been positive and taught me a lot. I used grounding and sensorytools to help cope with anxiety and had an ACT textbook which I could work through. This began a much happier time in my life.
I was offered counselling through the NHS whilst receiving private counselling, but I had to turn it down due to a conflict of interest, it would be unethical to see two therapists at the same time, and I felt I was doing well with my counsellor.
Two years later, and due to a resurfacing of trauma, I was struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm, and intrusive thoughts again. My doctor prescribed Duloxetine, trying a SNRI antidepressant rather than the usual SRRI, as I wanted to avoid feeling like a zombie. Duloxetine wasn’t for me after I’d spent two days vomiting. I tried Propranolol, a beta-blocker, to deal with anxiety attacks, which worked in the moment. I turned down antidepressants, this time I didn’t want to stop feeling, I didn’t want to be numb anymore, I wanted counselling, something concrete, something to continue to teach me how to deal with my anxiety and issues. I wanted to learn rather than just cope or mask. I was offered another self-referral to my local NHS counselling service.
As I tried to cope with huge anxieties and panic, overwhelm and sensory issues, my daughter who was on the ASD waiting list (She was later diagnosed with ASD) asked whether I thought I might have Autism too. Another visit to my GP and he placed me on the assessment waiting list after agreeing that it was a likely possibility.
Whilst waiting for referrals I began going to a local pottery class for carers and those with mental and emotional health problems. Art therapy offered relief that inspired, calmed me, and spoke to my inner creative. It was a huge release each week, somewhere I could go and not be disturbed, and lose myself in creativity.
Finally, after nine months of numerous panic attacks and anxiety, at the end of 2018, I got six weeks of counselling through the NHS. My counsellor was nice, quiet, calm, relaxed, and friendly, but the weekly sessions held in a hospital room were clinical and one way. I talked and shared, but the counsellor didn’t respond much. It was ambiguous. She asked about me, what I’d done in the week, and how I felt, but didn’t offer much in the way of advice – or counsel. I felt very frustrated that again the answers were things I already knew, but didn’t know how to initiate in my life. I left feeling more frustrated than before counselling.
I got more help from friends online who shared their experiences with me, and I learned that I was catastrophising, and their encouragement pushed me to ask for further help. I knew from my counsellor that I needed to reprogram my brain, to create new neural pathways, but I had no idea how to do it, and she wasn’t forthcoming.
I asked my GP to refer me for CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, because I had no idea how to change my problems with sensory issues, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and catastrophising. Three months later I saw a Primary Mental Health Care Worker/Assessor who listened intently and agreed that CBT might be a good fit for me. She referred me on.
October, four months later, I had an assessment at Psychological Integrated Therapies Services and saw a Mental Health Provider. He listened but kept correcting me, telling me I wasn’t having realpanic attacks, I was only having anxiety attacks, and downplayed my intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideation saying it was perfectly normal… a part of life for the average person. He told me I had Generalised Anxiety Disorder, something I’d been painfully aware of for about thirty years. I felt embarrassed and small after the assessment, but none of that measured how bad I felt when one week later I got a letter informing me Psychological Therapies couldn’t offer me anything because I did not have a diagnosed mental health illness. It felt like a kick in the teeth from somewhere that I’d felt was my last port of call. I actually phoned the department and they apologised, but told me I’d be fine, and that they had no funding to treat anyone without a mental health diagnosis. I wondered if depression, generalised anxiety disorder, self-harm, etc were just not counted as mental health disorders? I felt invalidated and despairing.
At the tail end of 2019 I wept with my doctor and she agreed to refer me again for counselling after seeing if there were options beyond the NHS six week sessions. I waited. Then in 2020Covid19 hit us and we all went into lockdown. It was October, almost a year after referral, that I got an assessment for New Pathways, a charity run counselling service, via the NHS, and they offered me three options: one-to-one counselling, a support worker, or group therapy. I chose one-to-one counselling and asked for it to include help dealing with sexual assault, anxiety, and methods to cope. Two weeks later I began counselling via Zoom.
I began this new course with trepidation caused mainly by having to use Zoom, but my new counsellor was proactive and friendly, beginning by getting to know me and finding out what my worries were. I was agitated, tearful, nervous, shaky, and scared to be myself, but I was also keen to make the most of whatever I was offered. You don’t wait for years and years and then sit back and expect counselling to work without putting in the effort.
It was emotionally overwhelming to talk about my feelings of trauma, responsibility, feeling neglected and consequently overcompensating with my own family. We discussed my avoidance tactic, something I’d never recognised before, and I realised that when she asked me pointed questions I always deflected. I suddenly started to see myself differently as my counsellor gently coaxed me into talking about myself and not everyone but myself. It was uncomfortable to talk about me, and slowly I opened up. It was a symptom of putting myself last for almost my entire life while I checked that everyone else was okay.
This was emotional and frightening. Pushing myself forward was something I wasn’t used to and talking about what I felt was overwhelming. Instead of talking about how I thought everyone else felt, I talked about how I felt. Then we dug into my past. I’d dealt with these issues way back when I was thirty-three and I thought I’d put them in a box and sealed it up, now at forty-nine these demons had risen again. We worked with art and word association, talked about grounding and techniques for my anxiety toolbox.
We concentrated more on my overcompensating with my children, and how feeling that my needs hadn’t been met as a child meant I felt an urge to fulfil every need and whim to an unhealthy extent. We also talked about how mine and my children’s emotional and mental health needs had been let down by the health service and schools, and how that had framed my anxiety and panic responses. I realised that the trauma and neglect had become an anchor to me, a metaphor I understood and was able to work with. I felt constantly burdened with responsibility to take care of everyone’s emotional state and an inability to let go, care for myself, and do my own thing. My counsellor asked me to go away and make a piece of art representing the anchor, to be as free as I wanted with the idea and see what happened.
Art is my thing and I don’t go into it lightly… It had been a difficult week and I shut myself away with my watercolours. I sketched and used masking fluid (experimenting for the first time) and allowed myself to disappear into the ocean, creating a wash of sea blue, and pooling and flicking blues, indigo, green, pink, and purple across the wet paper. The next day after it dried, I rubbed off the masking fluid and painted the anchor and its chain. I coated it with peridot algae and flicked white bubbles.
Using art is a way to break through barriers and walls, and it showed me much about myself. I’ve been anchored in trauma and anxiety and the weight is heavy, and that weight has held me back. I have a tendency toward the aesthetic and beauty, even if it’s painful to bear, maybe that’s a martyr response? I’ve tried to lift the anchor in the painting to give a sense of movement, which could be a positive step, but the chains are still heavy and oversized for the anchor they carry. I called it Let It Go, and I hope I can.
I emailed the painting to my counsellor and I think she was surprised at the piece, the work that had gone into it, the new technique I’d used when I hate change, and the free flow and movement, and the colours that echoed hope and positivity. I shared it online with my friends and got a mass of interpretations, all of which were insightful and emotional to me. Art is very therapeutic and can translate what you feel so well, allowing you not only a catharsis but a way to try and analyse your feelings.
I concentrated hard on trying to channel what I’d learned in therapy, I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting the very resources I’d waited so long to use. New Pathways relies on charity and government grants. I’d waited a year for my twelve sessions and I was going to do damn near everything I could to appreciate and respect the time and words shared with me by my counsellor, and to transfer what I learned to my life.
My counsellor noticed the change in me as we met each week, and my family have too. My confidence and happiness have grown. My understanding of myself, my trauma, and my life became clearer to me, and my desire to change and embrace it got stronger every week. After a two week break at Christmas I worried I felt reliant on my sessions, but I quickly realised that changes I hadn’t noticed in myself, had actually happened. I knew that I could finally give myself permission to be myself. The blog posts I’ve written in the past show the importance I place on being yourself, being authentically you, but giving myself permission to practise what I preached had never been easy. It will still be a work in progress, but it’s one I’m now actively living.
I have a healthier outlook, more coping strategies and tools, I am overcoming my insecurities and learned behaviours to be able to see my own worth. I am leaving the unconscious behind and moving forward with conscious decisions for the future.
My message is this. Keep on. Don’t give up. Sometimes you won’t be offered what you need, and you’ll plough through help that doesn’t help, but sometimes you’ll find what you need and it can change your life. I have had three amazing counsellors in my life, who have been there when I needed them and they’ve each helped me change my life for the better.
I am under no illusion, I know I will continue to suffer anxiety and many issues, but I am better equipped to deal with it now, and for that I am grateful to my family (who learn with me) and to every professional counsellor who has given me their valuable time and expertise.
When you pick up a book and lose yourself inside its pages, you are creating your very own unique experience. The way we see a book, its characters, its places, and its plot, as we read, is exclusive to you.
Books are emotive, controversial, grounding, escapist, factual, fiction, and so much more. Books often mean different things to different people, and that’s fine. Some people have never picked up a book in their life since leaving school, some can’t live without them. I’m in the latter group. Books were everything to me as a child, and have remained a major part of my life. I was a loner, quiet and introverted, and books helped me survive the tough times. If you couldn’t find me, I’d be curled up somewhere with a book in my hand escaping into another world. I read, I drew, and I wrote.
Books became more than just reading material – they became what I wrote, and how I try to earn a living. I love creating characters, and worlds, and a tale people can escape to.
I recently said I have had trouble reading this year, and I have, it’s been an unsettled year, and the ability to curl up, untroubled, and read hasn’t been an easy place to find. The same could be said about my writing too, but I have opened a few books and lost myself in them. Twenty Twenty has been about finding comfort, and that’s been in both television and books. I rewatched all of Star Trek, currently rewatching Doctor Who, and I’ve been reading a Star Trek Enterprise book, and am rereading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. The best bit is that I’m rereading (The Amber Spyglass) right now in tandem with Cait, who hasn’t read it before.
His Dark Materials, with its provocative and polemic ideas, is one of my favourite books, and alongside the books the current television series is also enchanting and enthralling me. I rarely look forward to a show as much as I do this one, we (daughter and I) literally squeal at the screen when it comes on each week, and both the casting and the adaptation’s writing has been superb. Every nuance and detail delights me.
It’s the epitome of escapism and fantasy and offers me a completely new world to live in. Cait and I were talking the other day about books and about how each book we read is different, each book is a different story to whoever reads it. When we read His Dark Materials together, what’s amazing is that inside our heads we are each seeing the story unfold in a unique way. Even alongside the television adaptation and the actors we see each week, it’s still different inside our minds. I first read the books fifteen or so years ago and the characters were unique to what I saw in my head as I read. The places, the developing narrative, everything that played out in my mind became my own interpretation. We talked about how the mulefa will be played out in the series on tv… (no spoilers please) and it’s a fascinating thought that every single person, including Philip Pullman who wrote the books, will have seen them differently. And that’s the magic of books!
I commented that maybe the writers of the current series will have to go to Pullman to decide exactly how to portray them, I mean, who better than the author – who imagined them up in the firstplace – to go to for advice? But it reminded me of a recent tweet Pullman posted saying: ‘I can join in discussions about my books, because I too have read them, but my opinions have no greater authority than anyone else’s just because I wrote them.’
I love this!
Books are magic, they create worlds in your head, and if it’s different to someone else’s interpretation that’s okay. Your reading experience is yours, it belongs to you. And every book out there is a new world for whoever picks it up! What beauty there lies in that!
So, if you’re inclined, go and pick up a book and lose yourself in the story, the description, the characters, and disappear into a new world for a bit. We all need a bit of escapism.
Do you have a favourite book? What do you read when you need to live somewhere else for a while?