Well, 2020. A year that will surely leave scars for literally every person on this planet.
As a recap of the end of 2019… well, I wasn’t in a very good place. Whilst cycling I had been hit from behind by a car, which resulted in me having a broken back and psychological trauma. It’s still tough to talk about even now, so I may gloss over a lot of that…
- This was a month of healing. From January, I was to start weaning myself off my back brace and try and get back to doing ‘stuff’. This was difficult as a) it really hurt to hold myself up with a brace on, let alone without, and b) I was terrified of roads, and loud bangs, cars, and the sounds of cars. I would not have done even a fraction of what I achieved without the support of my partner, family, friends and organisations.
- I got really into Pokemon Go – I found it an invaluable distraction when travelling in a car/cab (especially with headphones on) and gave me motivation to walk ‘a little further’, little and often. It was such a brilliant tool for physio (physio-go?)
- With an incredible amount of accessibility support and courage, and by some miracle of God, I managed to get to the final UNION 5 residency. I was in a lot of pain and was a bag of nerves (more than normal!) but seeing people who I care a lot about and talking about the future did so much for my sense of mental and spiritual wellbeing. It was really emotional though, because it was the ‘last one’ of our programme, and so there were lots of tears!! We went around the group and discussed what we wanted to do with our year. I said I wanted to firstly heal, but also slow down. I was at that time going through both an existential crisis and realising what was actually important… and that running myself ragged to ‘achieve’ wasn’t doing me much good.
- I had some work (that I made during the print course) on show down Humber Street at the Feral Reveal show. I wasn’t there long, but it was nice to catch up with the ‘art crowd’.
- I did some other bits and bobs… it was all so tiring though, and I had my partner practically with me everywhere I went, and hired out the occasional mobility scooter, but it was nice to finally get out the house and reengage with the parts of myself that I felt I lost following the collision
- Not an awful lot happened in February. I think in January I was simply seeing through the pre-booked things out of stubbornness, where February I actually rested up. It was a month of healing, taking more steps forward, challenging myself. I was due to go to India in May with my mum, to celebrate my 30th birthday, and so I was determined to get myself in tip-top shape again before traipsing around India for 10 days.
- There was a lot of problems with regard to where we were living. In our building, neighbours had had windows smashed in as a threat of violence, another neighbour was letting randos into the hallways, another neighbour stole my new passport from the shared letterbox… it was awful. We knew we had to get out of there as soon as possible, so we began packing (well, I mostly directed!) even before we found a place to live. We ended up finding a HOUSE (first house ever) with a GARDEN in a much safer, family-and-cat-friendly area in Hull. I could not wait to escape this precarious, unsafe housing.
- I clearly remember February was when I began paying more attention to this virus that was going around… I remember reading about it earlier on in January, but in February it had gone from China to Italy… I was told to ‘calm down, don’t worry, it’s just like SARS or MERS, it won’t come here’ as my panic increased over the months.
- I began obsessing over COVID-19 by early March, as were a lot of people. I was absolutely the first in my social circle to recognise it for what it was. I remember being sat in his mum’s house and feeling like a canary in a coal mine, except noone was heeding my warnings! I literally couldn’t sleep some nights, and at one point, became fixated on getting hold of some handgel, especially as we were trying to build my confidence on buses at the time. We could not get any for ages. Luckily, my other half is quite chemistry-minded, and suggested we get some surgical spirit (more savage towards germs than your usual antibac too) and mix it in with some hand cream or gel. I found a load of aloe body gel in Home Bargains, and using the surgical spirit, we made over a litre of it. We’ve still got some. That immediate sense of relief is going to be a clear memory for life, I think.
- With a lot of accessibility support, I took part in a workshop for creative magazine editors, which was really helpful and really valuable for the developing of Fish. It helped us to recognise our role, what we wanted for Fish and how we wanted to operate. It also helped us recognise how ‘outside of’ we are, and how radical our approach was (which was nice to realise!)
- We also continued packing, getting ready for our move at the end of the month. Cut a long story short, I sensed that there’d be issues coming, so blagged the keys to the new house a week early (just in case) – good job too, as that day BoJo ordered our lockdown! We ended up doing a midnight flit that night (literally, stopped eating our dinner and mobilized) in the back of a pickup truck, moving our core essentials before the police moved into action, afraid of having to lockdown in our unsafe flat.
- That first week or two of lockdown – well, that knocked us all for six didn’t it? It was an incredibly stressful time, but we were distracted – I felt so happy being in this lovely safe house. I think I actually cried with joy at times.
- I did a Day in the Life Of piece for Disability Arts Online, which although was published in May, kinda sums up what the typical day in April was like. Essentially, moving to unpack, getting distracted, getting miserable, frustrated and afraid after the daily COVID briefings!
- I also celebrated my 30th birthday. The original plan was to throw a massive 30th-come-housewarming celebration… obviously that didn’t happen! However, my friend and coach Vikkie (and her son) baked me a beautiful chocolate cake, and my old boss came over with some presents 🙂 Plus, of course, some presents in the post from friends and family. It was very heartwarming.
- My cat went missing. I find myself missing a heartbeat even thinking of it, but my boy went missing two days after my birthday. Those 12 days were the worst. We didn’t know if he knew where he lived yet, or, seeing as he had always been an indoor cat, if he knew how to keep himself safe. I can’t even talk about it. He came home 12 days later though, filthy and skinny, and I cried and cried and cried…
- April was also the time I got the strength to start the legal/civil journey with a solicitor regarding my collision.
- I engaged in a virtual residency with ONE Project – reading John Bergers ‘Ways of Seeing’ over the course of a weekend with a handful of other creatives. I write about it here. I thought this was a great idea, and something that might be really interesting to adapt as a Critical Fish thing?
- I began my phased return back into work. I was returning to a job that looked nothing like the one I left when I went off sick. We had a new boss, and a new boss boss, were part of a new directorate, and were working towards a new online Recovery College. There was a lot of change, and readapting, and readjusting to a new daily structure. Working from home was an absolute godsend. I didn’t have to face roads/commuting to get to work, which was a massive anxiety of mine back at the start of the year, and instead could work laying on the floor, on the sofa, at a desk, whatever was most comfortable for my back.
- I began taking part in the Wellcome Trust’s ‘Ideas Hub’, (virtually) meeting others who were involved in the activity. In all honestly, I don’t particularly remember this specific meeting!
- I was also loosely involved in the early stages of developing a Hull Renters Union in May, which I continued to be involved with for a few months.
- June was mostly getting back into the flow of work – it was exhausting!
- Continued with doing some Hull Renters Union bits
- Was nominated by my Trust’s Patient and Carer Experience Team to take part in NHS Improvement initiative around Digital Storytelling. I learnt a lot, and, unexpectedly, I’ve got a lot of praise from my involvement with it since.
- I was enjoying my new tiny front garden and even smaller rear patio garden, learning the ropes and experimenting with plants.
- I developed and proposed ‘Postbooks‘, a Fish participatory postal project, and received a modest sum from Heads Together/UNION to make it happen.
- I was generally really stressed at this time, don’t want to go into it, but my mental health was taking a bit of a toll. Moreover, a valued and close family member, my Aunt Lil, got very ill and was in hospital, and it was pretty touch and go.
- I was invited to be a part of/support the development of an Artschain campaign, highlighting the importance of Participatory Arts to the Arts Council. It’s something I felt passionately about of course, but admittedly flaked out because I was just not dealing very well with the stress I felt.
- An exhibition that I was part of, which was meant to kick off back in April (?), was about to begin. It was the Practice in Place exhibition at Humber Street Gallery. It was a bit of a nightmare, to be honest. My original plan was to have this big participatory, table, artwork-come-structure that people could engage with and draw all over, but because of the COVID situation this couldn’t happen. However, I proposed a plan that would make this original idea covid-safe back in April and believed this was what was going to happen moving forwards. And then two or three weeks before the exhibition launch, was told that it would have to change. WHAT. So I created an alternative, pulling it out of my arse, and developed ‘Roots‘, and experimentation into participation in a pandemic.
- Lil was getting worse, and she had now been moved from hospital and into a carehome. She was in a really a bad way, but she’s a tough old cookie so we still in the mindset of ‘she can get through this’. However, her needs were now as such where she was unlikely to be able to go back home should she recover. So I went down to London with my mum to help my dad sensitively sort out her flat and belongings out, organise her affairs and so on. It was so interesting sorting through her things – I learnt so much about her, and found really interesting trinkets from the 1940s/50s/60s. We weren’t technically allowed to see her in the care home though, because of the restrictions… but me and mum tried our luck and managed to blag our way in to see her for ‘half an hour’. Lil was unresponsive to our calls, but I think she knew we were there. And an hour and a half later, of talking to her, reminiscing, holding her hands… and then seeing her ‘in the process’… she died. I’m glad we was there for her passing, serving as loving human psychopomps. I am grateful to the universe that despite the the odds – COVID, care home restrictions, my dad unable to stay with her for long (he really struggled to see her like this), no other visitors – she wasn’t alone that evening. That night was a tough one.
- Lots of grieving this month, as expected. Her funeral was brilliant (as far as funerals go) and I met lots of family from my dads side who I had never met. It was restricted of course (up to 30 people) and we couldn’t have a wake (I think somewhere was booked but BoJo changed some rules that week, I think). But conviniently, there was an outdoor cafe on site at the Cremetorium… so we all gate crashed that, keeping as socially distanced and masked up as possible. It was good.
- I was talking to East Yorkshire Council regarding a bid for money regarding the Living Lines project that I’ve had in development for over a year. Spent a lot of time in September planning, refining, proposing, collaborating in preperation for this pocket of money… we weren’t successful though! BAH!
- In October, I helped out with the Thinking Through Drawing online Conference. It was interesting, but wasn’t as helpful or insightful to my practice as I was hoping it was. I couldn’t afford a ticket and they were very accomodating and invited me to help out facilitate the event. I was going to write something up for Critical Fish afterwards, as a kind of reflection on the event, but I never got around to finishing it!
- I launched Postbooks this month, after months of preperation and planning.
- I splurged on a tenor saxophone! I have always wanted to learn the sax and just treat myself to one. YOLO.
- I finally began EMDR therapy to help me work through the anxieties/PTSD experience that came about from my bike crash. This felt pretty significant as this was the first time that I was able to get any clinical support for what I was going through.
- A secondment job came up at work for a Recovery Lead, essentially project managing the development of the Trust’s revised Recovery Strategy (a strategic framework outlining how the Trust plans to do mental health Recovery better). I interviewed for it, and got it!
- Me and my partner started trying to take more care of our health – better food, more exercise and so on.
- Not too much happened in December, to be honest… just trying to live a bit healthier!
- I started the Recovery Lead job (whilst sort of finishing up my Recovery College workload).
- We had the Fish AGM, which was alright. It felt good to have this constitution sorted as now it all feels more like a proper community organisation!
- I made the decision to apply for my MA, to begin next Autumn. The biggest thing that’s been bothering me this year is how much the bike crash and the subsequent PTSD-like experience has totally destroyed my ability and confidence in making art. It’s really shaken me to my core. Art is a key part of my identity, and if that’s gone then… who am I? I decided to go for HSADs Creative Practice MA to
forcemotivate me to get back into the swing of art-ing, and to give me a scaffold in which to rebuild my practice. It’s terrifying. But it gives me a deadline to work towards, both for art and actually having to get myself there on roads and whatever.
- Christmas in our new home! Such a lovely chill day, though of course it would have been better to have family over – especially as we’ve now got the space!
All in all, it wasn’t a very artistic or creative year, but 2020 – despite all the stress we all faced – was definately one of healing, reassessment and of personal growth.
And what about 2021?
What am I hoping for? Well, it all depends on what happens with COVID-19, doesn’t it?
- I want to see my mum more, my sister more, my dad more. Hopefully it’s going to be safer to travel around on public transport soon.
- I’ve got this Recovery Lead job to see through – working towards making one hell of a coproduced Recovery Strategy.
- I’m looking forward to expanding upon my garden again, growing things, nurturing the Earth.
- Keep recovering from the bike crash… I’m still super anxious crossing roads and doing anything, and I still struggle physically to walk any meaningful distance. Need to build myself up more physically and mentally. And see how this EMDR goes. And the court case goes…
- Start my MA! That will be September/October though – long way off yet. But knowing I’m going gives me time to mentally prepare and try and get my ducks in a row so it’s not so anxiety inducing!
- Keep moving forwards with my health (and keep supporting my partner with his) – we’ve both done so well so far – got to keep it up!
- Got the Ideas Hub starting up again soon in Janaury – that will be so interesting. I’m really looking forward to meeting people and making new research around mental health!
And there we are – that was my ‘unprecedented’ year!