Finally the Shape of Words gets its first physical exhibition. Yesterday we drove down to Carmarthen to deliver the work to the Oriel Bevan Jones Gallery in readiness for opening next Thursday, on April 15th. Due to Covid restrictions, the gallery will be open Thursday to Saturdays initially. As another artist had an exhibition booked in from May (my exhibition was originally scheduled from 26th Jan-31st March), the gallery are kindly keeping my work on site, where it will move into the main window until later in the year, when I'll be bringing it to the Autism Hub in Caerphilly.
I've also completed filming with Chris Lloyd, and will post when the short film Chris has made on the project is finished. Chris is a fascinating human and made a process that I was highly anxious about a total joy, I'm very much looking forward to sharing it with you.
The tail end of this project is naturally reflective. I can categorically state I'm not the same person coming out as I was going in. I'll be able to reopen my studio to customers this coming week and seeing people in person will be a delight. Creatively, I've rediscovered the child-like joy of making and my upcoming work is more experimental and exciting than any I've done in many years. My bench is currently home to taxidermied beetles, watch glasses, antique tins and some incredible natural stones that will all have a place in jewellery I'm working on. A little more difficult to talk about is the tremendously personal changes that have happened. I debated not mentioning this, but given that this whole project was only feasible due to Covid, and it is absolutely related to Covid, I felt it important.
Trigger warning; the rest of this concerns mental health problems and talk of suicidal thoughts.
Like many people, lockdowns took their toll on me. We're a neuro diverse family, and being under each other's feet constantly as well as increasing anxieties made things tough. Worries from everything from how would we pay the rent to how our kids were coping with isolation and exam changes started stacking up. I've been fortunate enough to have robust mental health all my life, but during Winter, I knew my anxiety and depressive states were worsening. Referrals to the local Mental Health team were fruitless, everything was closed due to Covid. I had completed a 6 week self-referral course with the wonderful MIND charity, but knew it was weeks before a subsequent course started. No face to face support was available, so they suggested I consider a mild antidepressant until it was. I had decided to take the following week off work for my eldest's 16th and my birthday the following day, so figured that was a good time to trial it, figuring it might make me snoozy initially. [Insert hollow laugh here.]
Unfortunately I had an adverse reaction to the medication. I had read it could increase anxiety initially, so perservered in taking it, which resulted in me being fully awake and unable to eat for a week. During that time, I couldn't stand any sensory input, no music, tv, reading, conversation, anything. Birthdays came and went with me unable to talk or interact with my family. A few days in and daily phonecalls were happening with the GP surgery. I became terrified to take any medication. Every minute seemed to be lasting hours, and I was in an absolutely hellish place mentally, my anxieties cycling rapidly with no respite from distraction or sleep. Finally after a week, I walked downstairs and calmly told my husband I wanted to take all the medication we had in the house and for it to just be over. He finally got me to agree (with the help of a very patient triage nurse on the phone) to go to A&E to see the mental health team. It took two beta blockers and a valium for me to be in a state to get in the car. If you're having a break with reality (which this most definitely was), I do not recommend waiting for hours in A&E during a pandemic. I'd been dropped into a new, dystopian sci-fi circle of hell. What I found interesting, retrospectively, is that I always thought suicidal thoughts must be an active process. A wanting to actively end your life. What I know now is that it (for me) was a dreadful, flat lacking. I didn't have a desire to die, I just wanted it all to stop by any means. It wasn't because I didn't appreciate or love my beautiful family, what I do and everything I enjoy. I just wanted the horrific treadmill of my thoughts to stop.
To cut a long story short, the mental health nurses were wonderful. They emailed my GP, who called me not long after we got home. I was then basically sedated for 2 weeks. Sleeping pills, beta blockers, benzos. I slept. Beautiful, magical, under-rated sleep. I am now talking to MIND again once a week, and on a waiting list for group therapy via the NHS. MIND has been incredible and transformative (and yes, I'll be looking to raise them some money soon). I'm also on a new medication that has helped hugely. I know some people dislike pharmaceutical intervention, but it can literally be a life-saver whilst you learn to navigate your way back to being yourself. It's also surprising how much hard work it's taking/taken to change how I deal (or don't deal) with things, but I've found it like giving up smoking. It's all to the greater good.
So now recovery is well underway, I'm obviosuly still 'me', although currently a slightly more fragile version. I'm definitely a gentler version. I'm definitely improving at not taking on board things that don't matter, or trying to maintain control over things I can't. My creativity has come back in floods, and is helping me enormously. I'm tremendously fortunate to have my husband and kids. They were (and are) absolutely amazing during the whole time. I absolutely wouldn't be here without them, and they're magic. I owe one a birthday.
It's bonkers that this all happened just after I put up the online exhibition of the Shape Of Words, and yesterday, driving down to the gallery, my husband said how amazing it was that I was able to be well enough that the project could be completed. I realise I'm very lucky to have come out the other side. I could have not mentioned this whole period, given that it existed in the quiet between the online gallery being completed, and the project's culmination. I hope that in choosing to talk about it, someone else may take a tiny bit of comfort knowing they're not the only one to experience something similar.
I'll be making one final post in relation to The Shape of Words, once the doors have opened on a post-lockdown gallery, and the short film is up. I'm looking forward. :)