Monday, 16 February 2015

Whoops-A-Daisy

I'm having some issues with my blog layout at the moment.  I'm not yet sure why.

Some of my photos have disappeared and been replaced with circles and grey warning signs, and my sidebar format and layout has completely disappeared from the screen even though it is visible in my html.

I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause to you.  Have you experienced any of these issues on Blogger?

I'm resolving these issues as fast as I can, and if you've experienced them too, I'd really appreciate your feedback on how you resolved them.

I hope all is good with you.


Thursday, 29 January 2015

Cat Art

I had a realisation at the end of last week.

I love drawing and painting, and I want to draw and paint more.

You might think that's fairly obvious, but to my poor grief addled head, not so much.

I draw and paint as and when I can when energy allows. And that isn't very often. The mixed-media ladies that I paint take a long time to do. Layered up over time. I realised that I wanted to be able to draw most days, quick sketches, small studies, in order to get better at drawing and to draw more easily without draining my energy.

But most importantly, so that I can feel happy.

Drawing makes me happy, and all things considered over the past few months, I feel like I need some of the happy.

So I ordered myself a moleskine artists sketch journal that I can keep in my pocket, and some coloured pencils. This morning, I woke up and said to myself, Betty and Eric and Ernie (yes, I talk to my cats) "Let the happy begin!"

Dad had saved an insert from a magazine for me ("I saw this and knew you'd love it!"), all about how to draw cats using the grid technique. (my dad knows me very well). It explained how to draw a grid onto a piece of tracing paper and then put it over a photo. Then draw a grid of the same size on your paper and copy, grid square by grid square, the photo onto your paper.

This is the first stage.  You can see the grid, and the drawing I've copied from a photo of a cat.


Using this technique helped me draw the prespective of the cats features fairly accurately. After erasing the grid squares, I was left with my outline.  Bring on the coloured pencils!


The process wasn't always easy with a Betty in the house, but we negotiated a settlement pleasing to both of us (food related on both sides) and things were able to move along.

Here's my finished moggy. 

I thoroughly enjoyed drawing her and am definitely going to be using the grid technique again.



I felt happy while I was drawing.  A little bit of nourishment to heal the heart. I'm going to try and draw more often. Building up a small moleskine journal of sketch pages to help my heart heal. It's what Mum would have wanted.

Have you tried the grid-drawing technique? Did you like it?


Monday, 12 January 2015

Hello 2015

So the anger has gone.

As the clock ticked down to midnight on New Year's Eve, in the happy company of my close friends, and while eating gorgeous food, I felt myself being enveloped in a blanket of sadness. It wrapped around me in a silent attack.  Out of the blue, totally unexpectedly, it slid out from behind the chair I was lounging in and covered me with it's heaviness.

I thought I was dealing with my mum's death fairly well.  We had got through her funeral, had survived the run up to Christmas, had managed to laugh and smile on Christmas day, and had navigated all the happy, family-based traditions that go along with the "holiday season" with minimal damage to body and mind. The anger I'd been feeling about it all was starting to mellow.

And then the countdown to New Year's Eve happened on the TV.

I could see the clock.  Hear the numbers getting smaller, 10... 9... 8...

And all I could think was "NOOOOOOOOOOO!"

I felt pulled towards a new year, away from 2014. How could this be a new year already?  Mum was a part of everything up until October 25th 2014.  If I stepped over into 2015, I was moving away from 2014. The place, in my heart, where my mum was still.

And for the past few days, that deep, lonely sadness has held me tight.



I'm not comfortable with certain emotions.  I find anger extremely uncomfortable and will try and smile my way out of it, sometimes through gritted teeth. I have the bruxism and gum shield to prove it.

I find sadness intolerable, and will do everything (bar stand-up comedy or watching Lenny Henry) to feel something different.

But over the past eleven days there has been nothing to do but feel the sadness. Because I've physically and emotionally not been able to do anything else.

I've lived with M.E for twelve years and understand more than your average person about exhaustion.

I live with constant exhaustion. It never leaves me. But I have learned how best to flow with it. How to minimise the chances of it crippling every minute of every day. When it hits extremely hard, and it hits hard and often, I have to lie down. Often for days at a time. My body isn't able to move or function and I have to wait it out until the extreme exhaustion lifts and releases me. Sleep is all I can do. And often times I'm not able to even do that.

In the past, I've been told by certain doctors who don't understand M.E. that I've been depressed and not physically ill and I've struggled to explain that it isn't my heart or mind that's exhausted, it's my body.

These past eleven days have shown me very clearly the difference between depression and physical exhaustion.

I have felt a weariness with life that just wouldn't leave me. A loneliness and isolation that has whistled around me like a storm wind, emphasising all the empty spaces. A sense of feeling heart-broken, broken-hearted, unable to feel any love, joy or peacefulness.  I have felt broken in two, wounded, bruised, and hurting. With no desire to love life. Too full of darkness to be able to see anything more than the heavy moment I'm living in.

I have felt utterly vulnerable. Red raw. Unable to stop the pain.



For someone who usually sees the world through not just rose-tinted but full-on hot pink glasses, this has been somewhat troubling.

As well as a tad effing frightening.

A friend called me on Saturday and asked "Have you painted any of this?"

"No".

I haven't known how to paint this out.  It has felt too painful to get too close to my heart, the place where I paint from.

But, I listened to my kind friend's words and took out my art journal and pens and I painted what came out onto the page.

It is OK to feel sad.  It's OK to grieve.  I have given myself permission to let the tears fall. To emotionally curl up and lick my wounds. To hibernate for a while until I'm ready to uncurl and carry on.

I know that if I allow myself to feel this sadness, I will move through it to the other side. 

If you're grieving a loss too, I send you huge love through the internet ether. 

Wishing you a beautiful 2015.

P.S. I've just noticed that my signature has disappeared at the bottom of  my blog posts and has been replaced with a scary looking grey circle/dash combo.  I will sort this as soon as I figure out what the dickens has happened and in the meantime send apologies! Em x

  

Monday, 8 December 2014

And Breathe

How are you doing?  I hope you've still got all your limbs intact during this run-up to Christmas?

After witnessing my first ever British Black Friday, (via online videos, I stayed indoors that Friday with a crash helmet on and wrapped in foam, you know, just in case) I am only partly jesting. 



So this is the first Christmas without Mum. 

Back at the beginning of 2014, that wasn't a sentence I thought I'd be writing any time soon.  But if this year has shown me anything, it's that life can turn on a sixpence and big things can change faster than you can say "What the feck just happened?".

It's four months since we got Mum's diagnosis, and two months since she died.  

Navigating the run-up to Christmas has been a new experience. Strangely I've felt closer to Mum. She loved making Christmas flower arrangements, swags of foliage wrapped in ribbon around the banisters and fireplace.  Having Christmas decorations everywhere has reminded me of all my childhood Christmases where Mum made me believe in magic. Sweet, warm memories of my Mum loving us. Laughing. Hugging. Putting my sister and I to bed on Christmas Eve with kisses and pillow cases hooked on the wooden knobs of the chest of drawers.



It's a kind of madness this grieving thing isn't it?

An intensity of emotions that I have felt could possibly somehow break me. 

The depth of my rage and anger has been the most overwhelming aspect of this grief for my Mum.

Rage at how much Cancer hurt her.  Rage at my powerlessness to do anything about that.  Fury at the unfairness of what my mum experienced.  Fury at myself for not knowing how to help Mum.  Anger at Life/God/The Universe for handing this to Mum. 

And relentless anger at my mum for leaving me.

I know.  I feel bad even writing it out and admitting it.

I know logically that my mum didn't want to go anywhere, and had no control over the cancer she was battling.  But in the days leading up to her death and in the days and weeks immediately afterwards, I have been heart-breakingly, eye-poppingly, teeth-clenchingly livid that she could leave me in the world without her.

And I have had to forgive myself over and over again for feeling that way.  

It's grief.  It does strange things to you.



Grief is changing me, and I've had to make some conscious decisions about what I want those changes to be. More brittle, closed, hardened, cynical? Or, open-hearted, softened, more sensitive and flexible, bending into life's challenges?

I think hard things can make us softer and stronger at the same time.  And I think that is beautiful.

I can feel angry, bitter, and resentful, knowing it isn't a permanent state of being to feel those things. I can give myself a break and understand that even though I'm feeling painful things, everything is OK.  I'm OK. They're feelings, not the truth about me.

I can trust and know that I am bigger than anything I feel, no matter how painful it is.  I can understand that no feeling, no matter how overwhelming, will break me.  And I can allow myself to feel all my feelings, knowing that in feeling them, I allow them to flow through me and subsequently pass.  If I block them, or judge myself for feeling them, I somehow stay stuck in them.

So, I'm not judging myself for my anger at Life right now.  I'm allowing myself to feel it, trusting that I won't always feel this way.



I know too that by choosing to look for the beautiful, the small sweet things of life, while I'm feeling this anger, I stay focussed on what is the real bedrock of my life.

I can feel livid, angry, resentful and furious at Life for the loss of Mum, and still believe in the beauty and magic of life while I'm letting go of these feelings.

And I do. I believe that Life is working for us not against us.  I believe in the tender joy of life, even in the midst of loss and sadness and deep, deep grief. 

It's a strange line to tread.  A wonky, contradictory balancing act.  And, for me, it's these uncomfortable contradictions that grief brings, that makes grief so tricky to experience. 

Here's Elspeth.  A painting I finished just a few days before we got the news that Mum had cancer again. She tells me to  "Look for the Extraodinary and the Fantastic".  

It's very important that we do.



    Sending you (and the people you love) huge love for Christmas and 2015.

Thank you for all your love, support and friendship through 2014.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Beauty of Small Things

Hello.

How are you?  I hope life has been treating you kindly and you're enjoying the sweet things of winter.

Back in July, in the midst of summer, I made a commitment to tell you my truth.  (You can read more about that here.)

So, I'm going to launch right on in...

At the beginning of 2012, completely out of the blue, my beautiful mum was diagnosed with cancer. She was given treatment for it and we were told later that year, that the treatment had been successful.

As you will know if you've been reading my blog for a while, in the summer of 2013, my beautiful sister was diagnosed with cancer. You can read more about that here and here.

Just as life was starting to settle into a gentler flow of warm summery days, after my sister's chemotherapy had finished, my mum was diagnosed with cancer again this August.

My beautiful mum died in October, just over a month ago, ten weeks after her diagnosis in August.

My mum and I were very close.

For the past few months since my mum's diagnosis and her subsequent death, I have been feeling immense grief.

The past couple of years have been an intense journey for my dad, my sister and I. A journey where we have become much more intimately acquainted with cancer and the effects it has on individuals and families. It has been and continues to be extremely challenging.

Grief is a strange thing.  Not one emotion but a combination of many different emotions.  Each taking their turn to be felt.

I have been left with choices about what I do with what has happened.  And I find myself stepping tentatively along a path where the world looks and feels different and strange, and "normal" isn't normal any more.

There are some things that I am learning as I go along.  Things that matter and have become the bedrock on which I am building a new normal in a world without my mum, a world which contains cancer, and loss and messiness, alongside beauty, huge love and immense kindness.

I'd like to share with you those things that The Universe is teaching me. That I'm doing my best to learn.

Lessons From The Universe

1. Emma, above and beyond all other things, it's important to look for the beauty in small things.



When life hurts, and you feel like your heart is breaking, it's important to bring things down to their smallest common denominator.  Look for the beauty in small, simple things. A warm blanket that you can snuggle in, a soft pillow where you can lay your head for a while and rest, a cat to hold while you listen to it purring, a hot bath to ease your tired, stressed muscles.  Grief causes tension and it's important to be especially kind to yourself as you're feeling it.

2. Emma, let yourself be loved by the people in your life who want to love and help you.

Letting someone help you is giving that person an opportunity to show you how much they love you, and even though it can be monumentally difficult to do, be courageous enough to really let people love you.  It's easy to dismiss an offer of help for fear of putting someone out, to deflect a compliment, to reply with "I'm fine" when people ask you how you're doing. Don't.  Tell the truth about how you're feeling, what you need and what you don't need.  Allow the people who love you to show you their love with their actions.  Let people help you.

3. Don't judge what you're feeling or how you're expressing what you're feeling.  

People deal with loss and grief differently.  Some people cry a lot.  Some people don't.  Some people feel angry and frustrated.  Other people feel confused and isolated.

Emma, it's OK to feel what you feel and to let yourself feel it without judging yourself.  Allow yourself to feel what you feel.

4. Stay in the moment.

It's normal to feel overwhelmed when you experience a loss like this. To feel disorientated and confused. Try not to project  into the future and grow frightened of what's around the next corner.  Live in the present moment, which is ultimately all anyone ever has, and make that moment matter by doing the "next right thing".

Even if doing the next right thing is climbing into bed, pulling the duvet over your tired head and sleeping.

All you have to do, Emma, is listen to your heart and gut, and you will know what you need to do in this moment to take care of yourself and be kind to yourself.

All of those small moments of being kind to yourself and following your heart will add up to hours, then a day, then days, then weeks, of doing all the things you need to do to take care of yourself, and move through this grief.

All you need to do is listen, in this moment, to what you need to do next, and then gently do it, without pushing yourself, or judging yourself.

Always remembering that, sometimes, the next right thing to do is "nothing".

5. Trust that you will not always feel like this.

Emma, when you're in the midst of feeling such immense sadness and loss, it can feel all-consuming.  The world can feel a little bit broken and life can feel as if it's lost it's sparkle.

Trust me when I tell you that you won't always feel like this.  Your heart will heal and you will laugh huge great belly laughs again.  Sooner than you think.

6. Life is made up of contrasts.

You appreciate warmth, Emma, because you have experienced cold. You soar with joy because you've had times where you've been metaphorically face down in the mud. You are experiencing huge grief at the moment, and there will be a time where you feel huge happiness and connection, and will appreciate it with a new intensity, because you have felt the depth of grief you are feeling now. Life is full of contrasts, and part of living life to the full is experiencing all of those contrasts.

7. You are not broken.

Losing your mum hurts deeply, but you are not broken. If you can allow yourself to feel the full weight of your grief with your heart wide open, you will know what it means to be present.

As Leonard Cohen said "There's a crack, a crack in everything, it's how the light gets in."

8. You're doing better than you think.

Emma, you're doing brilliantly. Be gentle with yourself.  You are enough.



So, these are the things I'm learning. That the Universe is teaching me.

I know none of us get through life without experiencing huge grief and loss.  If you are experiencing great loss right now, I'm sending you huge love.

Bonkers Betty is doing everything she can to make sure I know I'm loved (including sitting on my shoulder and shouting in my ear.  For a small cat, she can make a lot of noise.)

The painting "Embrace the Beauty of Small Things" is one I did a while ago and didn't get round to posting.  I'll put it in the "Free Glitter" section for you.  A small gift from me to you, with love.



P.S. We raised £535 for Cancer Research UK.  The winners of the prize draw were Rashell, Liza and Annie, who have all been notified that they were the winners.  Thank you so  much for all your support.  It has an added importance and poignancy for me now.  Em x


Thursday, 7 August 2014

All About Betty

Betty, aka Miss Betty, or Her Royal Stroppiness, came storming into my life at the beginning of May this year.

I was in the kitchen when I thought I saw a kitten in my garden.  Then two more.  Being of an age where "readers" have become something I wear, not listen to, I got my glasses and squinted out into the evening gloom.

This is what I saw...


A week later they were back again...


According to neighbours, Mum-cat had belonged to people who lived a couple of streets away, but they had moved away and left her behind.  And she'd been living in my shed for a couple of years.

I had no idea.

Two thoughts went through my head when I found out she'd been living in my shed.

1. I'd be rubbish on Crimewatch.

2. How had she survived through the winters?

Each day, I put food out for mum and her kittens.

With the help of the RSPCA and a local animal welfare charity, homes were found for all three kittens.

No-one wanted Mum.

So now I have an extra cat.

A Betty.

Here she is...


She is small, feisty, chatty, thinks woolly blankets are the best invention ever, and loves pink.

Kind of like me, but in miniature.


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Art of Living a Glittery Life: Telling My Truth

Hello.  How are you?

I've missed you.

I'm sat at my computer desk, with a little cat called Betty, who is walking over the keyboard and head-butting my hands, making it very tricky to type.

This is Betty...


I know.  She's a doll.

Betty and I got acquainted in May, when she decided to take up residence in my shed and have her three kittens in there.

We got further acquainted when I managed to bring her and the kittens safely into my home (with the help of the RSPCA and a very supportive local animal welfare society).

I fell in love with her when she developed a severe case of peritonitis after being neutered, and I very nearly lost her.

Here she is this week.


Yes, that is an inflatable rubber ring around her neck.  No, I don't have ambitions for her to become the next Esther Williams. (Carmen Miranda, maybe, with a little hat made of mini fruit.)

Ernie the cat has a big ole crush on her.  Eric the cat is 15lbs of wibbling mess in her presence. Terrified. Of. Her. She weighs 6lbs. You do the maths.

I will tell you Betty's full story in my next post.  Today, I wanted to tell you about something else.

A few days ago, a very dear friend of mine came to visit me.  It was the first time I had seen her in 19 years.  As soon as she stepped through my front door, we hugged and cried.  It was so amazing to see her.  The years fell away and we talked about all the things we had experienced over the past 19 years.

I told her my truth, she told me her truth, and it was beautiful.

As we talked she said to me, "Why don't you write about all of this on your blog?"

I told her that I struggled to walk the line between being open on my blog and giving way too much information. She responded with...

"Emma, people want to know your story."

So, as scary as this is, I think it may be time to go deeper and tell you my truth here on my blog.  Not because I lack a healthy set of boundaries (OK. sometimes I do. I can't help it.  Rude jokes are funny.) but because, in all honesty, living with several long-term illnesses that all trigger into each other and cause a lot of physical complications, limitations and pain has taught me some things about how to be happy.

I know that sounds odd, but you read me right.

I have learned some things about how to be happy because of the pain of living with illness.

If you're ok with it, I'd like to start sharing that sh*t with you.

Above all things in my life, I want to be honest and authentic.  It feels scary to take off the mask and go deeper with you, but, if you'll be patient with me, and excuse my clumsiness as I get used to doing it, I'd like to tell you my truth.  The reality of life living with illness, and what I've learned about how to live a glittery life even when it doesn't look exactly how you expected it to look.

There will be swearing.  I will make inappropriate jokes.  Sometimes things will get a bit dark.  And I will probably get giddy and over-excited without meaning to. But I promise, above all else, to be absolutely honest with you, in the hope that you will be able to read something that touches you.

So, here is the first piece of my telling my truth.  My sister has finished her chemotherapy and is recovering from the strenuous nature of that.  She is doing amazingly.  She's actually doing the Race For Life in a couple of weeks (walking not running) to mark her claiming back her life.

I am so proud to be her sister.

I went to the Family History Unit at the hospital today.  Due to the history of different cancers in my family, I have an increased chance of getting breast cancer. I will be having annual screening for breast cancer from now on. I will also be referred to the genetic testing unit to see if I need to be tested for the breast cancer gene.

This is good news.

I am being given the opportunity to get intimately acquainted with my boobs, and to share with you how important that is. I now know what I need to know. There is no mystery for me.  Today, I was shown how to check my breasts for lumps and was shown exactly what a milk duct feels like in my breasts and how different that feels to a lump. I now understand fully how important it is to get to know my own breasts and what's normal and abnormal for them.

I was pretty much close to hyperventilating on my way in to the hospital.  I have studiously avoided having anything to do with my own breasts ever since my sister got her diagnosis. That's quite impressive considering my breasts are pretty much, you know, right under my nose. But going into the hospital today and being given very clear, open, supportive information about what I needed to know, took the fear away for me.

I know what I need to know.

When we have all the information, we know what we're dealing with and can make good, safe, loving choices for ourselves about what we want to do.

So, stepping off the deep end in my first post digging deeper into honesty and authenticity, I'm talking about boobs, touching myself, personal lumps and bumps.

You lucky, lucky people. I am on fire...

Is there something you've been putting off doing or checking out health-wise because you're nervous of knowing what it might mean?

Have you never checked your breasts because you're not quite sure what to feel for?

Could you feel OK about taking a deep breath and doing it anyway?

Wishing you the courage to do what you need to do health-wise to take care of yourself.

You are important.  You matter.

With huge love,
  

  P.S.  We've hit £350 on my Cancer Research UK fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/Emma-Saunders6 and have only £150 to go before reaching our target of £500.  Thank you for all your donations. There is still time to donate and enter the fine art raffle to win a signed and framed print of my painting of Ella.  Please donate if you can. Em


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