I have started to talk a bit about mental health on social media and I have held back from going into too much detail. So here is some background into where I am today, how I practice self care and what led me here.
I began my career as a freelance set and costume designer in the year 2000, I'm not going to talk about that too much but I've been lucky enough to do it full time, just about get by financially and on the whole it's been great. It does come with a lot of stress and anxiety however, very tight deadlines, loads of pressure and in the past I have spent many sleepless nights worrying about where the next job would come from and why a director who said they loved working with me, didn't employ me again.
In 2015, I had a very bad year. I had what I thought was a dream job with a very well known company who I had admired for years and I had just signed up with a well known theatrical agent in London and I was feeling really positive. Then suddenly, with the financial and contractual elements out of my hands I had no idea when I was getting the money I needed up front to get the scenic elements made in time. It just wasn't happening. No-one seemed to understand that I couldn't cover the huge costs required to pull off a large scale, high profile installation and I finally got the money with 2 weeks to go before the install. Needless to say, it was practically impossible to pull it off to the high standard I normally deliver and by that point I barely had the emotional energy to even attempt it.
That period between getting the job and getting the money was an intensely stressful time, I was constantly worrying and planning and re-planning everything I had to do and barely sleeping. In the middle of it all we had a break and went to stay at a beautiful off grid hut in Sussex. I had to pull over when driving on the way there as I felt so ill. I had the feeling that my skin peeling off my scalp. It was extreme anxiety, I felt dizzy and nauseous all the time.
The hut had no running water, no electricity, an outside toilet and shower and I had never stayed anywhere like it before (apart from camping). Despite catching hand, foot and mouth from Eric whilst we were there (I mean, seriously), it was the most incredible experience and literally changed my life. I felt so relaxed, so close to nature, so calm. It helped that all we could do was read, play chess and talk, no phone, no email, just candle light and an old stove to cook our food and heat the hut. I remember waking up, looking at the construction of the building and just thinking "I could build this". Eric and I had always talked about building an eco house one day but I thought we would do it later in life. I decided that we needed to do it sooner rather than later and would rather have a simple life with my basic needs covered and not have to take this shit from work anymore which was causing so much damage.
This decision changed everything, it actually made work easier as I wasn't taking on jobs that would be "great for my career" which basically meant really low paid and stressful and they never led to anything. And if work was really hard and stressful, which of course, all jobs can be, I had my end goal in sight.
However, my dizziness and anxiety did not change overnight, and I was still waiting for the money to finish this nightmare job. I made an appointment for the doctor, thinking I could get a prescription to help me out in the short term. I wasn't feeling great about this however and decided to look for some alternatives. I found Sarah Marie Nagel on YouTube and she talked about how she combated her extreme OCD, anxiety and stress and I decided to take her advice on a few things. One of things she connects with is crystal healing which I was pretty sceptical about at first but they were one of the things that really helped me in those early days of trying to heal myself. I had a handful of carefully chosen stones which were associated with particular aspects I needed help with. I would then pick one or two to take with me and just holding onto them in my pocket and repeating to myself the positive associations they had calmed me down and gave me perspective, reminding me to take care of myself. They worked in the sense that they made me pause, breathe and reflect which is good enough for me. I also liked having something natural and beautiful to help me.
I also bought The Fragrant Pharmacy around this time and starting making the oil blends for stress and anxiety and kept them in my bag for when I needed them. I started doing Yoga with Adrienne every day and then moved onto Yoga TX. I started to feel better very quickly, I cancelled the appointment with the doctor and deepened my relationship with herbal medicine, growing my own food, eating a wholefood diet and drinking herbal teas.
We found out fairly soon that Wales had a new planning scheme which would allow us to build an off grid house on land which wouldn't normally get planning permission if we could prove that it could provide our basic needs, which was exactly what we wanted to do, live a simple life, growing and creating what we needed from the land. So out of this terrible time came the decision to do what we are doing now and loads of habits and daily routines that I still do now to keep me healthy and happy.
I want to say that I 100% support the use of prescription drugs for depression. I know a few people for whom they have literally been a life-saver. I am extremely fortunate that I was able to recover with alternatives but that will not work for everyone.
It's worth saying that creating my own work for The Moon and the Furrow, having control over the content, materials and message has been part of this shift and has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on my mental health and wellbeing.
This blog post is already a lot longer than I had planned so I'll just list the things I do now which help me now:
1. Connect with nature. A walk ALWAYS helps.
3. Journaling with tarot and oracle cards. I was hugely into tarot cards and runes when I was around 15 and would do people's readings. Now I use them to help me frame questions, solve problems, focus on what I need to be doing and give me guidance. They are so useful in helping me get to the root of what is going on in my head and what I can do next. My current favourite is The Weavers Oracle by Carolyn Hillyer and I also love The Enchanted Tarot and The Wildwood Tarot.
4. Early nights with a book. My ideal bed time is 9 p.m. so I can read for an hour. I usually manage between 9.30 and 10. I like to read novels mostly, I'm currently reading The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a lot of Thomas Hardy, nature writing and often a beautiful book that I can get lost in like The Unwinding by Jackie Morris or The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell.
5. Early mornings. I pretty much always get up at 6 a.m. now. When I realised that I would get an extra MONTH of time every year if I just got up one hour earlier, I decided to try and get up early every day. I get so much done and I feel worse if I don't do it. Plus an intentional lie-in now feels like an indulgent treat.
6. Aromatherapy. I still use and love The Fragrant Pharmacy
7. Connecting with the moon. Tracking the lunar cycles and setting my intentions really helps me feel more connected to the universe. Monthly Moon Circles with a group of women local to me have also been really uplifting and inspiring.
8. Meditation and sound baths. I'm not a daily meditator but I'm trying. I see yoga as meditation which I do every day but I need to cultivate this practice as well. I do a sound bath most Monday mornings which have been an incredible way to start the week.
9. Limit screen time. I am trying to just check my emails and Instagram three times a day, first thing in the morning, around lunchtime and at around 5/6ish in the evening and then turn my phone off. I don't always manage it but when I do it has a huge effect on my headspace.
10. Knitting, embroidery, weaving, felting and generally making things is hugely relaxing and empowering. I knit almost every day and it always soothes and calms me.
I still can get stressed with work and very wound up and upset about politics and the climate crisis, but I am now much better equipped to deal with it.
Let me know your rituals and self care routines! I would love to hear about them.
This blog post is illustrated with photos from our life changing trip to the off-grid hut in Sussex in 2015.