STUMBLING answering the BIG question…

STUMBLING answering the BIG question…

unicorn squirrel wood it's okay to be different
a card from Doreen Virtue’s ‘Magical Unicorns’ Oracle Cards – I get this one a lot!

How to start to establish a community theatre company based in Newport, Shropshire whilst managing the demands of being a new parent and maintaining an income?

Well I’ve been meaning to write this for almost a month, after meeting Mike on the 15th May – the Wednesday of Mental Health Week.  Deliberately chosen as I wanted to touch on my challenges with mental health, honouring my soul’s calling to be open about such things.  I recently came across this quote again (I love quotes you may start noticing!): ‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson).  Hmm. The advice out there can be confusing can’t it. I am regularly needing to go within to find my way, and ask for divine help with releasing that which is not truly mine.

I have A LOT on at the moment so actually prioritising this has been tough.  Organising my family’s washing for the millionth time today, I said to myself there is more to me than washing. And I’ve left it, and the other ‘to do’s’ that are crying out to me.  Order in my son’s sandals, reply to emails, apply to that job.  I’ve put 44 mins on the timer and I’m writing.

So I have just had a horrid winter where behind the scenes I fell into a cycle of anxiety and insomnia which led to burn out by the end of March – triggered by financial uncertainty bringing up ancient wounds of questioning why am I different? Leading into dark feelings around myself and voices of judgement. When you are afraid over one fundamental thing it clouds the rest of your life. I get Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs more now.  For me, going under £500 in my bank account and not knowing where the next bit of money was to come in from triggered my inner child feeling petrified in a way that meant I woke up at night – frequently.  It lasted from January until April.  On Monday 1st April, my son burnt his arm on a cup of camomile tea I had, owing to mind fog caused by the ongoing depletion on my general health, accidentally left on the sofa rather than the side table.  I had already been to see the doctor the week before but this signified the climax of my hell, and also the start of the end.  From May, I have a temporary loan of £500 a month from my father which has helped me regain my balance and strength so I can get out and find long-term solutions to this jigsaw puzzle. 

There are multiple layers to my journey – probably too complex to go into, and I’m still very much learning.  All I can say is it takes huge guts to fully step into your soul’s purpose and look to break free of limiting conditioning I have subconsciously absorbed – conditioning that surrounds money and being a woman and an artist.  When I spoke to Mike about mental health and artists, he says it is a common challenge.  On the baseline trying to fit into the world and finding it difficult has an effect on your mental health, as you just feel like an outsider.  He told me about the artist Bobby Baker who has had bouts in and out of care, who was driven around London shouting to passers by from the back of a van “Pull yourselves together”.  Also about Ashokkumar Mistry writing ‘If you don’t belong anywhere you belong everywhere’ on his experiences of not fitting into society’s ‘boxes’ which resonated with me as I am similar.

I’ve also put this off as it’s hard to find the words, to know quite what to say, and share a part of you that you feel ashamed of.  But then I met a mother last Saturday who shared that her daughter, just graduated with a dance degree, was feeling suicidal this winter, owing to similar challenges to my own, and, by sharing my pain, I feel I can help her and hopefully others.   I had a rough twenties too trying to figure it out. I’m nearly 39 – and this recent bout of mental illness has residues of my struggles in my twenties.  I feel for artists, and any who are ‘different’.    I am feeling good now, but aware I need to take action to stabilize and prepare for next winter.  I am having a smoothie of celery, ginger, apple and banana in the morn, doing stretches more (strengthening my core), attending yoga weekly (don’t give up your weekly yoga practise just when you need it the most!), using the IAPT Silver Cloud online wellbeing platform (you can self-refer as long as you registered with a GP). I’ll also start taking Vitamin D (25mg) from November. I’m keeping up my floradix twice daily (my blood tests did show I had low iron and vitamin D in March). Just sharing in case the practical information helps you.

But really I’m generally fine in Spring, Summer and Autumn. It’s in Winter that the ‘wrong mind’ can take over.  I love the Buddhist parable of the cold birds, basically the message is to do the work in the day while the sun is shining so you aren’t freezing cold at night when it comes around again. The birds in the parable don’t take action and remain stuck in their cyclical suffering.  That’s why I’m writing this blog.  So I don’t brush this recent bout of mental instability under the carpet and instead, face it, thinking proactively how to address it, and encourage others who are challenged like me to do the same. To set up their ‘nest’ in time for next winter.  I’ve set up a compulsory cuddle with my husband every day!  One time he said to me “Hannah there is nothing to forgive as you are ill.”  I’d said sorry many times for asking to go rest yet again and him to look after our son.  The feelings of guilt are horrid when you are struggling with mental health.  That was a moment when I knew I had been seen truthfully. Unfortunately, within my mind I judge harshly – it can become vicious, modelling the lack of understanding or empathy I have experienced in the outside world.  Anyone who knows me I hope sees that I am a fundamentally good person, and I am walking this path out of love.

The timer’s just gone. 

I’d like to end on two points: if you are afraid, don’t push it away.  Feel the fear.  Honour the fear.  I am now quicker to just stop and accept I am afraid and send love to the petrified inner child / ego – I’ve started to imagine really giving her attention, she often shuns me, but if I steadily give her attention she’ll let me in and just hold her in my imagination, giving her the unconditional love and acceptance she desperately craves just as she is, in that moment, in all her complexity.  All of us need our own love.  Resist the judgments we feel others place on us; they are often mirrors of our own inner critic hidden in our subconscious.  The truth is you have always been doing your best and always deserve love and acceptance and, actually, your own praise and admiration through thick and thin. 

My last point is another quote, this time from Dr. Dain Heer: ‘What if your difference is your gift to the world?’  He said it in a you tube clip I watched last January.  It encourages me to keep going in accepting and fully being ALL of me out there in the world.  Find the space to ask yourself the same question. It feels good to strive to answer that question. It feels freeing.

image of pink flowers, self-love instructions
A card from ‘The Wild Offering Oracle’ by Tosha Silver, artwork by Katie Daisy

Starting to answer the BIG question…

Starting to answer the BIG question…

How to start to establish a community theatre company based in Newport, Shropshire whilst managing the demands of being a new parent and maintaining an income?

To answer or at least beat about the bush around this mammoth question (!) and ideally help me continue to take action, Stage Directors UK have provided funding for me to be mentored this year.  I have luckily found not one but two mentors who feel right. Both working in the arts in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. They are Maggie Love, the Artistic Director of Shrewsbury Youth Theatre and Mike Layward, Artistic Director of DASH (Disability Arts in Shropshire).

As part of the remit of the SD-UK funding, I am to record my learning and engage in regular self-reflection ‘of whatever kind is going to be most helpful to me’.  I felt starting to write a blog would be the best way of diarising my thoughts, and making them accessible and visible to those who can help the theatre company grow and also be helped by its’ growth.

I’ve made up a rule that I’m to blog after I meet with either mentor – if I’ve not got much time, I’ll still get something up!

So I had my first meeting with Mike Layward last Thursday.  I opened up and shared a lot about me.  He’s a great guy who I feel I can be open with and not be judged, in any way really, just held and listened to compassionately – that’s a superior skill not many have in my experience.  

It’s been coming to a head that I’d sort of forgotten I’m slightly dyspraxic.  I was diagnosed late – when I was 30, studying for my drama teaching PGCE at Goldsmiths.  And this part of me has been ‘playing up’ ever since I left Concord College in 2017 to pursue the dream of setting up the theatre company and being a fully present mum.  It’s been a bit of a mystery maze and, as I’m so out of my comfort zone, in pretty much all areas of my life (and my energy has been seriously zapped by all this change), I’ve felt overwhelmed regularly and my dyspraxia has played up.  I sort of zone out and my brain melts and I feel panicked when my system overloads with too much new stuff.  As you can imagine, I’ve not really known what to do with having being diagnosed slightly dyspraxic and I really had just forgotten about it completely and got on with being a drama teacher just accepting I have to work hard behind the scenes.  I hadn’t told any of my schools I worked for I was slightly dyspraxic.  And I’ve survived this long without needing any help with it. 

However, now, with feeling on a mission to birth this theatre company and hopefully help many, I need to admit I really do need help first!  I am too much at sea with the dyspraxia side of me playing up much more often. Boy I’d be relieved if I didn’t feel so isolated with this mission and found people who compliment my skill set who can equally see how awesome this theatre company will be for Newport and its’ neighbours.

I never set out to be a one man/woman band.  I’ve always felt the right people would appear at the right time.  In allignment with this quote: ‘A woman who walks in purpose doesn’t have to chase people or opportunities.  Her light causes people and opportunities to pursue her.’ (Dr. Farrah Gray) . I still have to walk though. And get better at meditation so I’m ‘in purpose’ every day! Last year my original plans fell apart (get an arts council grant!) and I’m in that vacuum post plans and really just needing to accept more time is needed. And to take a much wider view.  I feel the right people will emerge if we do a project together but I’m not yet in a position to do a full-blown project… and I’m also still balancing my son’s delicate needs. He’s nearly 3, and there’s no way I want to let him down by disappearing into theatre director / project management distant mum just yet.  I did leave Concord partly to be there for him at this crucial early time in his life, and I hoped my quest with the theatre company would entwine nicely with my quest to be a great mum.

And then there’s the maintaining an income bit which I’ve so not yet resolved, although I’ve managed til now (with a huge slice of support from the ‘universe’ around me shall we say). Hunches are coming up as to the next stage of rolling out the green financial carpet beneath and I will take action. It’s very much an intuitive journey.

Which leads me to saying at the heart of all this brave transitioning I’m doing lies my spiritual side I’ve been developing for a long, long time.  I now believe in Angels, Fairies, Unicorns, Dragons, the Universe, Source energy, my sixth sense. You name it. I’m very open and curious about the invisible; however, I stay much on the side of the light and what I deem to be a good influence.  And I’m totally aware I need to be grounded too which I can struggle with. I hugely believe in nature.  Connecting with trees is becoming paramount to my health.  And the words: surrender, trust (ok, this one p**s me off at times as it’s tough when you can’t see land yet) and hope.

So, back to what I learnt from Mike, he’s shared with me practical advice that I can get free ‘access support’ with my next Arts Council application (my last three attempts failed) and it may be worth my while looking into the new ACE ‘developing your creative practice’ fund.  Something about ‘Access to Work’ being a government initiative that can support someone like myself.  Loads of people he thought of who sound interesting (but yes I got wholly overloaded by email links after and can’t take on board at the mo!).  Oh yes the neurodivergent movement which sounds very cutting edge and, although I’ve heard the term bandied about, in actuality I know nothing about… I sense I am neurodivergent but then. wouldn’t we all be?  Perhaps some are simply more ‘off the beaten path’ than others?!

I did share with him a dream is to co-create a spectacular community event like the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony in Chetwynd Deer Park one day.  “Nothing big then” he said.  Yup.  I’m aware that’s years away.  For today I’m learning how to write a blog, and I sincerely hope I haven’t bored you – I’m learning you see.  Think perhaps I’ve written too much… but I’ve started 😊

With Mike Layward, Artistic Director of DASH (Disability Arts In Shropshire); photo taken after my students’ LAMDA sharing at Trinity Church on the 19 March.
The BIG question…

The BIG question…

How to start to establish a community theatre company based in Newport, Shropshire whilst managing the demands of being a new parent and maintaining an income?

Such a big question, it’s where I’m at starting 2019.   I see it as walking an invisible tightrope to the moon most others don’t really see or ‘get’.  An invisible path.  On the surface, I am just another mother with a toddler having a tantrum I don’t know how to calm, except wait.  And witness.  And offer. And hope he stops soon as my inner child can’t take it for over 5 minutes.  Deep breaths.

Also deep breaths with swimming through this time of my life.  I am changing identity.  Every level of my life is changing.  I am no longer in a well-paid salaried job at the pinacle of my drama teaching career.  I have become a mother.  An entrepreuner, a spiritual one. A splurgy person no longer treading the conventional line, but walking the invisible line at the edge. Brave oh so brave.  As well as scared, excited, vulnerable, content, grateful, free, terrified all rolled into one.

A stray cat, a unicorn, a foolish dreamer.  Who knows.  I am listening to the call though.  Having seen my mother die, I go deeper than most.  The gift is to know I’d far rather swim in this mess than regret my choices on my deathbed.  The visceral truth of knowing how the end will look, my last breath mirrored in my dear mother’s, gives me sterling unbending courage underneath it all.  This dream of a theatre company that unites thousands has been inside me for over 10 years since the words ‘Moonstruck Astronaut’ landed with definition walking home alone in London looking up at the moon.  There was no going back. There is still no going back.

I’ve already leapt, I’m 2 years into this muddy messy heroic strange path.  How to move forward?  What to do next?

Need to keep my head above water in terms of maintaining an income of sorts

Need to be there for my son or else why did I jump?

Need to do the washing and the food shopping.

Need to make contacts, get to know the theatre landscape.

Need to eat that frog and do an actual business plan.

How is this CIC going to make money?

Does it matter?  First just dream of uniting many people.

And be a mum. 

Oh it’s a splurge.

My brain just goes dead.  Murky.  Still breastfeeding you see.  Yes he’s nearly 3.  Blurry boundaries everywhere.  I look at the River Severn from the Theatre Severn.  It just keeps flowing.  Let go like the water.  Just let go with the mind.

You are meant to be walking this path.

That’s all there is to know.  

Maggie feels right.  I’m pleased Stage Directors-UK gave me the opportunity to parcel my dilemma in a question that sums it all up.  And I don’t how to answer.  The universe does.  It wants to make this easier than I’m making it.  

Trust.  Let go.  Enjoy.

You are alive and this path is entirely possible – you’re already walking it – you’ve managed so far.

Let go and Rest.

Give yourself permission to rest, fried brain.

written 13/03/19 – after meeting Maggie Love, Artistic Director of Shrewsbury Youth Theatre for the first time in the Foundry restaurant, Theatre Severn – Maggie is to be one of my mentors funded by the Stage Directors – UK Mentoring Scheme 2019.