Happy 2017, and a personal review of 2016

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See the end of the post for the line art version if you’d like to download, print and copy for yourself!

I know, it’s a little early, but I thought I’d post this today, as well as a bit of a personal review of the past year.

2016 has been an interesting year for me, one of some major changes in my life.

It started with me being a science teacher, off again on long-term sickness due to a recurrent bout of intense anxiety and depression.  I was so distressed about having to return to work as a teacher, about what else I could do.  I couldn’t think straight.  My capacity to read and understand what I was reading or remember it was severely impaired.  I had trouble going out of my home.  Anything to do with my job caused me an intensifying of these symptoms and the most distressing nightmares I’ve ever had.

Teaching has changed so much in the 28 years I was a science teacher.  The pressures have increased, both in terms of workload and behaviour/attitudes of the students that is a reflection of how society has changed too. All of this resulted in triggers for my depression/anxiety/low self-esteem/low confidence.being overwhelmed by even little things.  No matter how well people told me I was doing as a teacher (senior teachers, colleagues, inspectors (I never had less than outstanding in the last two inspections I was seen teaching in), I never believed them and thought it was just a fluke.

Because of this, I kind of knew that I’d have to leave teaching, but didn’t know if I could do so financially.  I’m single, responsible for all my bills and so on, so whatever I did I had to make sure I had some kind of financial security.

Eventually, I made the decision to leave teaching and to become a self-employed artist/illustrator based on the success of the adult colouring books I’ve done (of which there are now many – listed on my amazon author page), and that happened in the early part of the summer, officially.

This was, arguably, the best decision I’ve made for a long time.  The difference it is making to my mood/mental health, as well as progress in counselling is quite remarkable.  My only worry at the moment is my first tax return and tax bill in the early part of next year!

I know I have a lot to do to create a portfolio and to come up with projects that will keep contracts coming my way, but I do have some breathing space at the moment, with just one book to be completed asap.

On the back of this decision, my home had a major clear out, again in the early summer.  Though it’s not entirely finished, enough progress has been made for now. I now need to have a major de-stash of art materials to make space for either new, or just easier organisation of the materials i use most often.

I also discovered I have quite strong views politically about how our society should be a lot more caring of those who need help, for whatever reason, and how important the British NHS is and how much more it should be valued by those in power in the country, and not just seen as a cash cow for their buddies and supporters.  It took me a long time, but I finally worked out that my beliefs/views politically mostly aligned themselves with the traditional Labour Party (not ‘new Labour’, which seems to me just a lighter shade of blue than the Conservative Party).  So, I joined the Labour Party.  Yet to make it to my first meeting, but no doubt I will do.

I also have become involved with Time to Change Wales as a Champion.  This is an organisation whose campaign is to end the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental illness.  I’ve yet to tell my story at an event, but that’s on the cards for sometime in the early part of 2017.  Again, this is something I have strong feelings about, especially the self-stigma that prevented me from recognising and accepting I had a mental illness (complex post traumatic stress disorder(cptsd)) and seeking help.

I am really grateful that I did recognise the cptsd, and have made the major change of going self-employed as a way of looking after myself and being happy in how I earn a living, and it doesn’t even seem like work most of the time!

I’m grateful for those who have stuck with me through thick and thin, offering me the support and encouragement that they are able to.

I’m grateful to those who have created difficult circumstances for me, and those circumstances have either shown me how far I’ve come along in healing, or where I need to focus some attention on as my counselling continues.

So, thank you 2016 for moving me forward in my life with the challenging events, for showing me how far I’ve come along in my healing journey, and for the fun and laughter that have helped me keep going.

Thank you to all those who have believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, who have given me amazing opportunities to create and share art with others via the medium of adult colouring books, and I look forward to all the opportunites that come along in 2017 for me to continue to create and share with others.


Here, as promised, is the line art for the image above.  If you’d like to download/print and colour, please do so.  All I ask is you respect my copyright, you use it just for personal use, not for commercial gain, and if you share your coloured image, please link back to my blog.Enjoy, and thank you!

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Calendar change-over eve…

The old to the new

Well, the end of the calendar year, and the astronomical year if the Winter Solstice is seen as the end of one cycle and the start of the next, has come with a pile of revelations from a friend and a series of bangs that have released some inner demons and tears and uncovered an emptiness and knotted-ness in my gut area.

I’m pleased for my friend, don’t get me wrong.  At last they are taking the little yet huge step they need to take to release them from a situation that is untenable for them and into a new phase of their life’s journey.  I wish them happiness and joy and love.  I worry that they are chasing a rainbow, a dream that will not live up to reality, they’ll find the grass isn’t greener, but I know that they’ll find themselves progressing forward in a way they couldn’t where the currently are at.

Their excitement, fear, trepidation, hope and all the other things their going through has stirred up some ‘stuff’ within me that needs to be worked on and examined, which are, in no particular order:

  • Job and Career – Teaching is no longer healthy for me and though I find pleasure and satisfaction in some areas of the job, increasingly I’m finding it harder and harder to cope with other aspects of it.  I need to look at myself and what I can offer in terms of being an employee and what I need from a workplace in order to feel appreciated, valued, successful and that I am achieving good and truly helping people.  What kind of career I want, I don’t know.  Maybe training as a hypnotherapist will lead me along the way.  However, I do know I need to identify what I’d like to do, and that starts with what I can do and so on.
  • Relationships – I’ve been single for, gosh, thirteen and a half years now.  Along the way I’ve had many experiences placed along the spectrum of good to absolutely goddam awful.  I’ve felt time and time again the hurt of rejection and the blow it delivers to my self-esteem, self-respect and so on, and of course I realise that I expected nothing else.  Well, it’s about time that changed and it’s time for me to learn about relationships…big step for me.  How I do this, I don’t know, but it will start with me looking at myself honestly at the qualities I have, good and not so good, and come to accept and care about myself.
  • Friendships – I have a small number of very good friends, but learning to ask for help and accepting it when it is given is … a big hurdle for me.  I’ve had to be strong and independent for so long, to prove I can do it, that admitting I can’t is a big thing.
  • Creativity – I do not do enough to develop my writing skills and to weave stories.  I doubt my ability to do this.  I fear plagiarising, being unoriginal, being boring or trite.  I fear failure (damn that ultra-perfectionist part of me that doesn’t recognise when something is good enough).  I feel a sense of being overwhelmed when I think about telling a tale.  The result is I do nothing.  I also am lacking inspiration in art, finding myself doing the same kind of thing over and over and over …

The common threads running through all of this involve me learning to love myself by knowing who I am and to accept myself for this, warts and all.  I need to raise my self-esteem, my confidence, to be brave enough to start something.  Above all else, I need to find the courage to be brave enough to share something of myself with others.

To follow tradition or not?

This year, more than at any other time, I’ve found the traditions and the significance of events more puzzling and confusing.

The rational scientist in me recognises that time is a continuous flow, the only markers on time are the ones we place there so that we can agree on when we are talking about and the meaning we attach to those markers is manufactured to satisfy a need for predictable events in our lives, to bring some kind of order to what appears to be an otherwise random and chaotic existence.

Then the more spiritual aspect of me kicks in and says that it’s OK to do this, to mark the various points on the wheel of the year, the various events that we celebrate, the things we give meaning to.  They connect us together, for we are all connected, not just to all other human beings, not just to all life on Earth, but to the very stuff the Earth and, indeed, the Universe is made out of, the energy that constantly flows round and round.

We are not disconnected from the cycles that we can observe on this planet.  We may rationalise that they are caused by scientific laws, that they have no meaning.

However, I’m coming to realise that they do have meaning.  They bring us together and remind us that we are not separate, that what one of us does impacts on the whole, to a greater or lesser degree.  By honouring the traditions we connect to the patterns that are stored in the universal consciousness for humans have been honouring the same observed patterns and events over many, many generations.  It’s a way of honouring our forebears, of connecting to the present day, and of speaking to the future too.

It’s important, however, to decide if the particular traditions or observances fit in with your own philosophy, why you celebrate in the way you do, and to recognise that it is perfectly acceptable to change them as you grow and develop as a person, and not to just follow them blindly because you have always done them.  It is, of course, perfectly acceptable to create traditions of  your own too.

It may be that because I lead a very solitary existence, traditions celebrated by oneself have not really had any particular meaning, or have changed as my spiritual philosophy has grown and developed over the years.  Perhaps it is important that I find which traditions, which celebrations have meaning to me, and develop ways of observing them that lets me understand where they have come from, the meaning they have for me at this time, and how they will impact on the future.

Of course, I’m not sure if all of that made any sense at all!  Sometimes I need to get it out of me by writing and mithering and wittering on.

The Calendar

Time to change your calendars and diaries over!  Happy new calendar day for MMXI!

The Sun and the Year

It takes the Earth 365.24219 mean solar days to orbit the Sun once.  This is slightly more than our nominal 365 day long year, so every four days we have a leap year, with 29 days in February instead of the usual 28.  This still isn’t quite right, so the last year of every century is not a leap year unless the year is divisible by 400, which is why 2000 was a leap year but 1900 wasn’t.

There are four key points in the Earth’s yearly journey around the Sun.

The Solstices are where the Sun appears to stand still at solar noon for a few days, this means that it is in the same position in the sky at solar noon.  Solstice comes from the Latin sol for Sun and sistere which means to stand still.  Around the 21st December each year, the Sun is the furthest south from the equator in the sky and we in the northern hemisphere experience the Winter Solstice, the shortest day in the year.  Around the 21st June, the northern hemisphere’s Summer Solstice occurs, with the Sun being at it’s most northerly from the equator.  This is the longest day of the year for us.

The Equinoxes occur in between these points.  The Vernal Equinox occurs around the 21st March and the Autumnal Equinox around the 21st September each year.  On these days, the Sun is directly over the equator.  These are days where the hours of daylight and night are approximately equal, and the word equinox comes from the Latin equi meaning equal and nox meaning night.

To our modern eyes, the cycles of the Sun are important in terms of determining the seasons, the weather, agricultural practices and so on.  But that wasn’t always so.

The Moon and the Year

To early man, it was the Moon, with its cyclical waxing and waning that was the more obvious object to use to measure time and all the earliest known calendars are lunar, based on the phases of the Moon.  Indeed, the word month comes from the use of the phases of the Moon to split the year up into segments.

It takes long and complicated sums to link the cycles of the Moon to those of the Sun.  A lunar month is 29.5306 days long, so a twelve month lunar year would last just over 354 days and so is around 11 days out of step with the Solar year.  If we were to follow a lunar calendar, it would take just about 16 years for the seasons to be completely reversed.

Julius Caesar and the 1st January

Whatever the religious reasons may have been to keep to a lunar calendar, it must have been obvious that it was the cycles of the Sun that had the biggest effect upon human activity.  It was the turning of the seasons that determined when crops were to be sown, when they were due to be harvested, when the weather would be good enough to set sail, and for so many other things too, yet the lunar calendar was still in use, with all the problems of errors and corrections that needed to be made until the Julian calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 45BC.

Caesar learned of this calendar from the Egyptians.  Legend has it it was at a party thrown by Cleopatra in his honour.  The Julian calendar was based on a 365 day year, with an extra day thrown in every 4 years.  Each year had twelve months with thirty or thirty-one days, except February, and the 1st January was set as the beginning of the year.

The calendar as we know it today was now more or less in place.  It was regular, secular and based on the real movements of the Sun.

Dark Times

Emperor Constantine (d. AD377) imposed Christianity as the major religion of the Roman Empire and he placed the design of the calendar back in the hands of religious groups who were still wedded to the traditional lunar movements for their major festivals.  After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Christian church was the nearest thing to an international controlling committee and the West entered a long, dark time where scientific enquiry was frowned upon at best and considered heresy at worst.

The Gregorian Calendar

By the C16th, the western world was stable enough to attempt to reform the calendar.  The small errors from the Julian calendar had now become noticeable and annoying.  In 1582 Pope Gregory finally announced changes in the calendar to correct these faults and prevent them from happening again, including the 400 year rule for leap years mentioned previously.

He introduced what became known as the Gregorian Calendar, and ordained that 5th October should become 15th October to bring the calendar back in line with the physical world.  This was a much needed and a sensible solution to the problem of the calendar.

However, the changes were not universally accepted, especially in Protestant countries such as Britain.  The changes were declared to be a ‘Popish plot’ designed to undermine their credibility.  For more than a century following this Papal decree, half of Europe was 10 days ahead of the other half!

It took Britain until 1752 to adopt the changes, by which time it had to correct the calendar by 11 days to bring it back into line with Gregorian calendar.   Philip Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield, initiated this move by introducing a Bill to correct the ‘inconvenient and disgraceful errors of our present calendar’.  This Bill was signed into law by George II on 22nd May 1752.  Chesterfield’s Act  decreed that Wednesday 2 September 1752 be followed immediately by 14 September 1752 and also that the New Year was to start officially on 1st January.