Happy 2017, and a personal review of 2016


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!


Changes are good!

I’ve finally done it!

I’ve left teaching to set sail on a new career as a freelance illustrator/artist and whatever else happens along my way.  It’s both exciting and scary.

A lot of things came together at once to get me to start a new path.  Another bout of long-term illness being one, a good look at the amount of work available to me from existing editors/publishers being another.

I think the financial aspect of the change is the biggest scary thing I have to face.  For 28 years I’ve been a teacher with a permanent contract that has a regular monthly salary attached to it.

Now, there’s no regularity in income, which is a tad scary when I stop and think about it in connection to my past.  However, I am doing my best not to do that, to think positively about my future, a future that is so good for me in so many ways.

One excellent thing about it is being able to choose as and when I work.  After 28 years of dancing to a regimented timetable and day the freedom is bliss!  I can make use of when I’m inspired and full of energy and motivation.  The deadlines I have to work to help with the focus, but I know that I do have a lot of flexibility in how I work to meet those deadlines. I also love the ability to have energizing afternoon naps when I need to!

Working from home is another plus.  It’s been my refuge and place of safety and security for so long that it’s nice to be here. My cat really appreciates me being home too; at 14 years of age and a clingy pusscat with some health problems I’m happy to be with him.  He’s good company and makes sure I go to bed at a sensible time; simply because he wants to cwtch up to me for his big nights sleeps.

Of course, the biggest wonderful thing about changing career is that I am doing something that I’m passionate about, that brings me joy and pleasure.

Not that teaching didn’t.  It did, for a long time, but it’s time for me to change.  I’m sure I’ll use my teaching skills in other ways as time goes on, but not in a school environment.  However, for the foreseeable future I’m going to be focusing on my arty pursuits, as well as learning about a lot of things such as accounts and accountants (I have one, I just have to collect together all that she needs from me …) and get into a routine of keeping receipts and a log of journeys made in connection with my business.

My home as had a HUGE clear-out to make space for me to work in comfortably as well as to store all my arty crafty supplies and completed artwork and various forms of paperwork and so on.  Eighteen years of accumulated stuff had to go as well as stuff I no longer need, value or find pleasure in.  My niece helped, rather, did most of the work, and between us we were ruthless! There are still bits and bobs to sort out and do, but deadlines take precedence for the next couple of weeks or so!  The clear out has me behind, eek!  Luckily I have so good and understanding editors who always build wiggle room into contracts for me without telling me what that wiggle room is.

The process is mostly finished, but a deep clean is on the cards for soon, and some repairs need doing so I need to find reliable tradesmen who charge fair price and do a good job, something else I need to learn about!

It is all exciting.

Add to that there’s more colouring books and stamps coming out that I’ve done the designs for.

I’m currently working on a Tropical Rainforest themed colouring book for Skyhorse Publishing and the sixth in the series of the Color Me books along with Lacy Mucklow.  The sixth book is appropriately named ‘Color Me Grateful’, and grateful is something I really am of my new career, my cleared out home, my family and friends who have helped in so many ways, and the many experiences from my past life as a teacher that have helped to get me to this point in my life, both good, indifferent and bad.

Friday last, I met up with a small number of colleagues from the school I taught at for 27 years for high tea in a local country house hotel.  There was lots of laughter as we remembered the good times over those many years, not a lot of mention was made of the not so good times.  All the characters we’ve worked with and known, both staff and students!  It was good to do.  I couldn’t go into the school for the official farewell gathering as my emotional/mental health isn’t strong enough for that yet.  But a quieter gathering away from the school was perfect!

One other thing I do hope to do is to make more frequent blog posts once I find my ‘voice’ for my blog. I’m thinking of adding some tutorials to do with the arty stuff I do, maybe.  Feedback or ideas are always welcome, whether for blog posts or ideas for future books, artwork themes and so on.

Seasons Musings 2011

The end of the Autumn Term is always one filled with very mixed feelings for me, if I allow myself to dwell on things or to notice the differences between myself and others.

I usually am quite different to others in the way I seem to live my life, that’s for sure. At this time of year, with all the messages from the media, retailers and society I feel the separateness even more. The materialistic nature of our society, and at this time of year the materialist selling machine kicks into overdrive.

The main message seems to be that you can’t possibly be happy and loved unless you are in a relationship, surrounded by family and friends and have spent a small fortune on gifts and food and drink and decorations, wear a particular brand of clothes or perfume or aftershave or jewellery, look a particular way (impossible unless you are air-brushed and digitally altered or starve yourself silly) or, or or…

Also, let us not forget the pressure to not disappoint others by not getting them the latest gadget or gizmo or designer clothing or accessories, whether you can afford it or not, and this is overwhelming, unless you are aware of the pressures upon you.

Another message is that if you have this or wear this or smell this way then your life will be magical and ecstatic and filled with love and you’ll be irresistible to others portrayed, others portrayed as the ultimate beautiful people.

The main selling point is that of an ideal partner, family, friends and life; a perfection we can’t possibly maintain except for fleeting moments; life is a series of good times and not so good times, even for the incredibly wealthy. Neither money nor fame bring happiness; if they did, we’d never hear of depressed and suicidal wealthy and/or famous people. No matter what things we own or how we dress or what we do or where we go, they cannot bring inner peace and contentment, not for more than a little while.

We’ve become a society, generally, which says I love you by how much we spend on someone, not by on how we treat others.

It is at this time of the year, when businesses whose business is to get you to part with your money, get you to buy into the belief that nothing says I love you more than spending a lot of money on you.

Am I cynical? Probably. Oh, I know that not everyone is like this, that there are people out there who understand what gifting is about, but the majority have been infected with the consumerism/materialism virus.

Being a long-term single person, one who has blood family that she’s not close to (which equates to having no real family) and friends who have their own families, then this time of year can be very difficult. Add to that the bad memories of the past that can surface as various events or pressures are felt related to this season, and a deep tiredness that saps me of my emotional resilience, I can find it very difficult to cope with this particular holiday.

I associate this time of year with huge childhood disappointments. This disappointment wasn’t with what gifts I had or how much money had or hadn’t been spent – I was always appreciative of the gifts given. No, the disappointment was always connected to my hope that Christmas would bring a wonderful change to my life; that there would really be peace and love and goodwill to all, including me.

It never happened.

By mid-morning the magic of waking and finding the house be-decked with fairy lights and decorations overnight by Father Christmas’ fairies that lived in the central heating system and the surprise of the presents at the end of the bed were replaced by arguments and name-calling, destruction and bullying, which only intensified as the day went on and tempers became more and more frayed by tiredness and food and drink.

By Boxing Day everything was back to normal, the only difference were the twinkling lights, tree, tinsel and trimmings.

Christmas became a season of false hopes and false promises.

That never changed as I went through adulthood. Oh the parties could be fun, but generally ended in drunken fights – verbal or physical – between other party-goers always spoiled them

The expectation of sitting and watching Christmas TV with no conversation after dinner was tedious and boring for me. Or the annoyance at the long ago ex-partner turning up drunk and late for the first Christmas dinner in our new home together. I’d spent all morning preparing and cooking the meal, and by the time he got home it was all dry and over-done. I’d nibbled my way through my food waiting for him (and got through half a bottle of very good port). He wolfed it down, dashed upstairs to be sick and then spent the rest of the day in bed sleeping it all off.

Not all have been sad or bad.

I had a good day a few years ago when I volunteered to help the chef at a half-way house run by the Salvation Army. There were lots of laughs that day.

There was also the year where I ‘rescued’ a friend from a long walk home after his fiancée had chucked him out at 10am on Christmas morning because her son had complained that my friend hadn’t shown enough enthusiasm for the son’s gifts. I ended up cooking an Indian banquet before taking him to his lodgings in the evening.

And last year, heavy snow meant it wasn’t possible to go anywhere, and so the pressure was off me. I spent the day engrossed in art and reading and music.

There’s also my acceptance that Christmas, as a religious thing, means nothing to me. It’s allowed me to be happier at this time of year than in the past. I still feel the pressures from outside.

This is a turning point in the year; Christmas more-or-less coincides with the Winter Solstice which heralds a return of the light and the possibility of growth in the coming months. The Solstice brings change and the opportunities for personal growth. The Sun is at it’s weakest at this time, though its strength is gradually reborn and grows in strength over the coming months. It’s a good time to let go of things that have ‘died’ in our life in order to make space for new things to come into our lives. My attitude towards this time of year is one of those things that needs to change, my resilience to the external pressures needs to be strengthened, and there are some things I need to let go of in order for this change to occur.

Despite all the work I’ve done on myself, on how I view things, becoming comfortable with who I am and my life, I still find this time of year difficult. All the comments like ‘Oh, it must be so lonely for you at this time of year, with no one to spend Christmas with’ (what about the rest of the year?) or the avoidance of the subject (by me as well), and seeing people in large groups eating and drinking and laughing and I’m on the outside looking in, or that’s how it feels.

It’s not the eating or drinking that can get me sad, more the lack of human company. However, that is a feeling that isn’t confined to this time of year – it’s an all year round thing.

I know I tend to keep myself distant from people; I’ve been hurt too often in the past. I do need to learn how to risk a little of myself in order to form connections with others. That is a longer term goal than just for one day of the year, however.

I think that this year I will revel in my solitary time, take the time to rest and recuperate, to do nice things for myself, learn to give to myself for a change and look at where I need to learn to accept from others too. It’s time to remind myself that I am comfortable in my own company, that I’m not lonely, that my life has meaning and purpose and it’s a good time to look at what I do have in my life and to be properly grateful for it. It’s a time to find the strength to avoid noticing what is missing according to the fairytale the media weave for us surrounding what happiness is and what we must have to be happy.

Perhaps, it would be a cathartic exercise to write my own version of A Christmas Carol – past, present and future – maybe calling it a Solstice Carol or a Yule Carol. 

Philosophical thoughts stemming from a chat about tea.

Tea is always good! I always enjoy my first mug of the day, slowly coming around from a night’s sleep, and nothing beats that freshly brewed mug of tea when you get in from a day’s work. That big, relaxing, comforting sigh that accompanies the first sip is a wonderful thing, a switch from stressful times to more relaxed times. We often miss the little wonderful things in life that bring us moments of pleasure throughout the day, instead we focus on the big, important things, good or bad.  We feel that we should only tell others of the big things going on, things that sound important, things that sound hugely interesting.  We believe that much of our day to day lives are unimportant or uninteresting to others.

However, perhaps it is time we all reflected on those moments of peace, of pleasure, of love, of joy, of friendship, of satisfaction, of success, of good news from others or of ourselves, no matter how small or how big,  that pepper our day and shared them with others and with an air of gratitude.  By doing this, maybe we will realise, that no matter how tough life can get, there are still sparkles in the seemingly all pervading darkness that are there to brighten the dark, to help us through the tougher times, and help others to make their way through them too by reminding them to look for their own sparkles.

Perhaps by looking for a few sparkles of goodness, we then start to see more and more and more, and perhaps the darkness we tend to wallow in, believing life has to be a struggle, life has to be difficult, life has to be filled with sadness and troubles and woes, isn’t all that dark after all.  Instead there is a balance between the sparkles and the dark that we can find by not ignoring the darkness, but by shifting our attention to looking for the sparkles and the bright moments in a healthy, balanced manner.

Perhaps it is by finding the balance, or by discovering the the density of the bright sparkles is a little greater than the darkness of the tough times, that we discover that we are truly wealthy; things, possessions, quick-fix addictive behaviours may give a quick burst of brightness that hides the gloom for a while, but the true wealth lies in things that money can’t buy.  The smile and laugh and chatter shared with another human being that we barely notice because we are thinking of what needs to be done and how we are going to do it, the glorious beauty of a glowing sunset that we miss because we are rushing from one thing to the next, the kindnesses received and given and barely noticed because we take it for granted, the compliments and praise given by a friend or co-worker or acquaintance that we usually brush away…

The list is endless, isn’t it?

So, what do you have to be grateful for in your life?  Don’t just look for the big things, the obvious things, look for the little things, the little sparkles that are easy to overlook that happen continually throughout each waking moment of every day.