Living Differently - Heartpoint (for Catherine)

I'm still getting over my most recent energy crash. It takes a lot of self-discipline to care for myself this much. And I don't mean the physical side of taking enough rest or eating properly but the emotional component. That one I find pretty tough. For every step I take towards self-compassion a voice rears up in my head reminding me, with great authority, how indulgent I'm being to take it this easy and that I should be doing more.  It's an hourly battle not to be crushed by this inner dictatorial voice and I find myself losing the ability to see what I need with any clarity at all. To feel so in the wilderness with nothing but my own punishing thoughts for company can be a pretty lonely place and I begin to wonder if I'll ever find my way back home. Now I've written this down I can see it does sound rather melodramatic. It's also the truth.

Chronic illnesses have wavering symptoms, ranging from just about nearly OK to absolutely bloody awful and if the ghastly period is unrelenting the fear can hold you pretty tightly in its grip. The whole process of going through a crash, relapse, or flare is extremely traumatising. After the metaphorical storm has passed I find myself wincing at even the tiniest drop of rain. I know I'm not alone in this and that the unpredictable nature of long term sickness can be very anxiety producing. This is perhaps why so many of us turn to meditation, buddhism, a spiritual practice or a creative outlet to aid our navigation through these rough seas.

So, it will be no surprise to hear that recently I had given up on magic altogether, even in its most human form. That was until my friend Dina invited me over to her studio for a prolonged session of recuperative yoga. It's not the first time she's done this and I'm always grateful. The session lasted over two hours and Dina put me in a series of prolonged resting postures on mountains of bolsters and blocks, covering me with cosy blankets until I drifted in to that safe and hypnotic space between waking and sleeping. She is an expert at arranging the equipment and I often felt like I was floating in space, momentarily free of the burden of gravity.

One thing that struck me was Dina's attention to detail. Even my skinny wrists were supported by rolled up blankets. We often think of holding on as something we do with our hands but our wrists can also carry a great deal of tension, the support I had enabled me to let go at last, to take flight. I decided to find out what mysteries our often neglected wrists held and discovered the location of Heart Point 7  described as an acupressure point to quell anxiety. It also served as a reminder to me that when we are feeling our most fragile the seemingly smallest things make the greatest difference and hold the key to our emotional sanctuary. I've called this heartpoint to highlight that even in our most difficult times there are clues everywhere, tiny doorways to love and tenderness and it's in the silence and stillness that they are revealed to us.

NB: This post is dedicated to my friend Catherine who is in the middle of a storm right now.

Living Differently - Shallow Focus

I have taken a lot of portraits but very little of myself, until now. Of course there is the odd picture taken on my antiquated mobile phone and sent to a friend but nothing of substance. It all felt a little too exposing and required too much technical expertise (or so I thought). There was another reason. I look quite ragged a lot of the time and make-up and haircuts feel superfluous when your most constant companion is a cat. My vanity was preventing me from exploring that time-honoured medium of artistic expression - the self portrait. I'm not one of those photographers who really plans a shoot. I tend to work with available light and the choice of location is much more about the subject feeling comfortable than it is about a creative concept. I'm not a big fan of gloss. I don't use a tripod. In short I like to get close and see the light in someone's eyes, or how the subtle change of facial musculature speaks of a whole different emotion. The face is a language we all understand.

Recently the M.E related insomnia was getting to me as was the disability benefits process. In addition to this, having only been unwell a year (although it can feel a lot longer at times) I was in the thick of grieving my past life. The tears came and did not stop. I was crushed by my own sadness and could not see an end to my crying. It also meant that connecting to people, especially my good and valued friends who also live with chronic illness, became almost impossible.

I was at a loss. Then I remembered the advice of a good friend who had told me, much earlier in the year when I was again feeling overwhelmed, to just go outside and take photographs which resulted in an entire project 'Still Life'. This time as my anguish increased I picked up my camera, kept the focus shallow and aimed the lens at myself. I could not plan or design the shoot. All I had to do was turn up and reveal myself, in all my desperation, to the camera.

Then something happened. I was both totally in the moment and observing it at the same time. I was able to experience the extent of my terror and not be afraid of it. This photographic process had enabled me to enter in to these feelings without being consumed by them. As a result a friend who also lives with chronic illness posted these brave and unflinching images on her blog. We discussed how self-documentation can lead to self-acceptance.

Then something else happened. The oil-slick mood that had taken over the past few months of my life began to disperse. M.E symptoms are constantly in flux, it's an illness marked by mystery and unanswered questions. Having a good day, week or month and thinking that this may signal the return to physical health is as foolhardy as planning a wedding on a first date. Instead I now have a living archive of this changing state - a brand new photographic project called 'Pretty' and a reminder that the creative process, unlit and unknown as it seems at times, can really save our lives.

Festival of Us

I have been living with CFS/ME since last year. My good friend Mark has arranged a fundraiser, Festival of Us, for me so I can get some essential tests which are not available on the NHS. It would be great if you could come along/spread the word.

Festival of Us - a night of the very best in spoken word plus dancing until late

When: Friday August 17th 7pm Where: Cottons, 70 Exmouth Market EC1 Tickets: £6/5 and £11/10 with food

Artists on the night include: Tshaka Campbell Courttia Newland Dzifa Benson Paul Cree Leila Segal Esther Poyer LyricL Joelle Taylor Jill Abram Dean Atta Agnes Meadows Musa Okwonga Dan Cockrill

Hosted by poet Mark 'Mr T' Thompson and with soul filled tunes from Jazz FM's Chris Philips, this one off event promises to an unmissable night.