Where’d April go? I think I know.

Hi again. Whoosh! April came and went, though I seem to remember it feeling like an eternity when experiencing it. My solo exhibition nearly doubled in size at the last minute and if I hadn’t been spending months organising things, the offer to suddenly take on the second gallery room space due to a cancellation would have floored me. As it was, I was able to tell the venue yes, no problem, easy-peasy and I went home and chose another 15 paintings to display, began updating inventory sheets, labels, pricing, etc.

I’m not typically good with curve balls in life; I derail, I get flustered, panic, get anxious. I had been planning my exhibition since November 2014 and so this time, I was ok. Granted, my planning was somewhat excessive, and not full-time, but nonetheless, I had promotional materials ordered way back then and the rest of the ducks forming an orderly queue from there. I’ve learned that despite my ADHD and depression issues, give me enough warning and – crucially – it must be a thing/task/job/whatever that I WANT to do, and I can plan and deliver with military levels of professionalism. Catch me off guard or trap me into saying yes to a thing I don’t want to do, and I’m back to last minute, procrastination blitz mode.

This exhibition of mine is still going for another handful of days and I’m pleased it’s nearly over. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and people are really loving my work. I’ve sold a few paintings, dozens of postcards, and a couple drawings. (Perhaps even more now, I can’t be certain, but I’ll check figures again tomorrow.) Saying that, I’m ready for the next thing. I’ll have a couple weeks between the close of the exhibition and the opening of my home studio to the public for Cornwall Open Studios 2015. OS will last for nine days straight and it’s going to be its own set of challenges. I have been casually planning it alongside the exhibition since last year.

April also saw a few deep, dark and desperate mood crashes. My housemate and I both suffer depression and attention issues. We’re both working through professional and personal frustrations grinding us down, and it’s been tough keeping on top of surviving, let alone the thriving in normal life. We’re both picking up our pieces and doing our best to be supportive to one another.

I’m several months late with a rebuild and launch of an online shop for my art. There is a simple reason for this: I can’t do it all, at least not all at the same time. I’m picking it up again now after too long away and I mean to have it live soon. I’ll be soft-launching with a range of works and adding to that catalogue regularly. I’m past the point of beating myself up over getting behind on things because it does me no good. I have had my first ever solo exhibition in a reputable venue and it has been a roaring success, however, it has been a fairly all-consuming event, despite one rather exciting distraction…

The Big Easel. I needed a project alongside the exhibition beast and I needed a personal win. I also needed a bigger easel for the work I want to do as an artist. Crowdfunding is a strange and wonderful thing and I managed to whip together an engaging campaign that people cared about and ultimately, I got funded for the purchase of a huge, new easel which will last my lifetime and then some. Grateful is too mild a word for what I feel. I’m astonished, humbled, and – if I were religious I’d say ‘blessed’ – that people supported me in my quest to get the right tool for my job. The Big Easel project became the success that helped keep me buoyant during the lead-up to the exhibition launch. It kept me sane. It helped me to remember that there is life – and CRUCIALLY – more art to make after the exhibition finishes. The psychological impact of the experience is still something I’m processing.

So, I’ve got until Thursday afternoon before the exhibition finishes and the prep for Open Studios gets its into full gear. I’m overlapping the new shop site into this time and will continue it during the OS, I’m sure. I’m not going to announce launch dates because of the volatile nature of my time and mood lately, but it’s coming. April in particular was about learning new ways to work with myself, not against, and overall it was a very positive month. Professional respect and acceptance is higher than ever for me as a self-employed artist and it feels genuinely possible that I can be successful at it.
Guess that’s a good place to end this post.

You have to keep moving forward

I’m writing this with dirt under my nails. Metaphorical dirt, but it’s there. Crawling out of the deep hole of depression is a tough thing, but as soon as you notice the dirt under your nails, I think it’s the start of the healing.

Typically, I’m upbeat, optimistic, and have smiles to spare, but I’ve been struggling hard – harder than usual – over the past week or so. As a depressed person, I’m a fairly quick cycler, meaning I suffer my highs and lows rapidly but can be under the radar as depressed for long stretches where you’d swear nothing is wrong. My survival instincts and brave face are sharp and well-rehearsed. I’ve not managed that kind of control over the last bunch of days. I have spent a lot of time in tears, in bed, and generally helpless with crippling anxiety. I hit the bottom yesterday, recovered over this morning, and am now feeling like there is a way up.

I’m reading a book and there’s an interesting connection between yoga philosophy and the Stop Thinking, Start Living way. The past is done and any time we analyse it (which I can do TO DEATH) we make a kind of false reality in our minds. The past is done, and you need to know it, let it be the past, and move forward. Every time you revisit a negative past experience, you breathe new life into a kind of film in your mind that serves one purpose: to make you miserable. Does replaying the past ever make the outcome different? No. Does it always cause stress and pain? Yes. Let it go.

The future is also a dangerous beast to mental health. You can construct as much fiction as you want about the future, get all worked up about it, and be miserable, or you can just let it happen. I’m not saying you can’t make plans, but unhealthy obsessing, lists of what-ifs, do no good. Energy wasted, misery created.

What you can do is keep moving forward. I decided earlier today – whilst talking Pete through his own mood crash – that inside me (and inside everyone) there is an anchor that we choose to drop in the past by dwelling on it. Pull up the anchor. You have a choice and the power to do it, even when you feel trapped and helpless. Sometimes you have to wait it out awhile, till you hit bottom and start crawling out, but you can move forward.

I realise I’m mixing metaphors with my dirty nails and anchors, but nothing about depression makes sense, so let’s just go with it, ok?
Right. The important thing is that even though you may not be able to fix your brain chemistry and wiring, you can make more positive choices with your thinking. Be here now. Let the past go. Let the future happen when it happens. Be here now and keep moving forward. And be really proud of the dirt under your nails.

We clean our beach

Photo by Pete Cooper
Photo by Pete Cooper

The seed was planted in our brains a few years ago after seeing The Wrecking Season documentary on Nick Darke. Stuff from all over the world washes up on our beaches, and so after spending a few years gathering lengths of rope, pallets, net, and driftwood, the logical shift to beach cleaning litter happened.

There’s a campaign called #2minutebeachclean headed by beach advocate extraordinaire, Martin Dorey. The idea being that if everyone who visits a beach takes just two minutes to pick up some junk that doesn’t belong there, the world will be a better place. It couldn’t be easier, really.

Pete and I started doing beach cleans – rain or shine – as an excuse to get out of the house, get fresh air and lift our spirits in a depression-heavy winter. Our first two minutes lasted closer to forty, and every clean since is pretty much the same. We recycle the tough, plastic bags our wood stove fuel arrives in, head to the beach, and walk all over scanning for bits of rubbish. It’s good for our health, good for our beach, and very good for a couple of people with well-known Attention Deficit issues.

You needn’t spend forty minutes combing the beaches as we do, but next time you do visit the shore, take two minutes and put a few bits in a bin. It makes a difference. Thank you.

sharing too much since 2003