Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Using a hobby as a healing tool

Frozen, an image from the "Roots + Wings" exhibit at the Margaret Hennigar Public Library during February 2018
"Sometimes I cry so hard I think the tears will never stop. Sometimes I feel so tired I want to lay my head down and sleep forever. Sometimes I feel absolutely nothing and wonder if I will ever feel happy again."
I wrote those words several months ago in my workbook when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and vulnerable. But let me back up a bit...
My last article under the by-line "In Focus" was many months ago, six months in fact. Sometimes life throws you a hard ball, and knocks you off your feet. Last June, my husband had a major stroke and our lives took a dramatic turn. We are very fortunate that our situation has improved, but it has been quite a journey of trauma and drama interspersed with moments of joy.

We don't all have to deal with having a stroke, but we all face challenges in life. Whether it's a health crisis, the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or any other unpleasant surprise, we all have things we need to cope with that stretch us beyond what we think we can bear. And if you haven't faced a serious problem yet, you will. Because life is like that.

When my husband had his stroke, his health crisis became my health story as well. As his life partner and sole caregiver, I experienced a roller coaster of feelings throughout his months of hospitalization and rehabilitation.

Despite the fact that I write and publish some of my thoughts, I am an introvert at heart. I am not one to talk about my innermost thoughts with other people. But during those terrible weeks immediately after my husband's stroke, I needed an outlet to deal with my emotions. My "go to" hobby is photography, but I had no time or inclination to head out with my camera after a long day at the hospital.

However, my hobby did become a healing tool. I used my library of photographs to create a series of composited images to portray various feelings and emotions. Many people have heard of the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. My stages were not quite so well defined. A word would occur to me, and I would then work on figuring out how to create an image to portray that.

Focusing on this project helped me in different ways. First, I acknowledged my own "stages" and I had a way to express them without having to put them into words. Second, concentrating on learning a new skill forced my mind to become occupied with something other than feeling completely helpless and overwhelmed.
February is National Heart Month, so it seemed fitting that I try to share our story. Let me be clear. I am not a person who shares my feelings with others. I have spent over five decades keeping my feelings to myself and dealing with things by compartmentalizing and mentally closing the door. Somehow, using images and words to express myself seems a little easier.

Choices, one of five images included in the Picturing Health Exhibit at Viewpoint Gallery in Halifax during the month of February 2018
I created two series with my photographs over the past six months. "Stroke of Emotions" is a series of thirteen composited self portraits. Five of these images were selected for the Picturing Health Exhibit at Viewpoint Gallery in Halifax for the month of February. The exhibit uses photographic imagery to explore the relationship between wellness and creativity. The Picturing Health project is funded by the Robert Pope Foundation. Robert Pope (1956-1992) was a dedicated Nova Scotia artist who died at the age of 36 after a ten year battle with cancer.

"Roots + Wings" is my solo exhibit during the month of February at the Margaret Hennigar Public Library in Bridgewater. In this exhibit, I combine my writing with my images using trees and birds to symbolize different emotions. I believe trees represent growth and strength, with roots to ground us in our traditions. I see birds in flight as symbols of freedom, with the power of dreams and life renewed. I believe that together, Roots + Wings create powerful images of inspiration and tools to heal the soul. Remember your roots, trust your wings.

As part of this exhibit, I will be giving an artist's talk at the library on Sunday February 4th at 2pm. The presentation is free, and I would love to see you there. Seating is limited so, if you are interested, please register at the library or call them at 902-543-9222.

published in the South Shore Breaker January 24, 2018

Sunday, December 24, 2017

a little update

Merry Christmas! 

You haven't heard from me for a while, and I thought it was time for a little update.
December 25th will be exactly six months since my husband had a major stroke. 

It has been a difficult and challenging time, but we are very lucky. John spent two months in the hospital and rehabilitation centre, and he had two goals. He wanted to walk the beaches again with me and our dogs. And he wanted to be able to walk the dogs on leash by himself. He achieved both those goals!

There will be more challenges to overcome, but things are looking a lot brighter these days.

No matter how you celebrate the season, I hope there are moments of joy and happiness for you. 

Here's to wishes coming true in 2018!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

In the blink of an eye

A photograph taken on an outing to Miners Marsh in Kentville shows how one minute youre swimming along enjoying life, and in a split second catastrophe can strike.
There are moments in our lives when everything changes. No matter who we are, or what we do, we all have experiences that change our lives in a heartbeat. One moment everything is normal, and in the blink of an eye our world has been turned upside down.

I was photographing some birds at the Miner's Marsh in Kentville a while back, and had my camera trained on a black bird walking along the water's edge. In a flash that must have been just a split second, the bird reached into the water and grabbed a small fish. It happened so quickly that I missed the action while looking through my camera lens, and only captured the result - the bird with the fish in it's beak. One minute you're swimming along enjoying life, and in a split second catastrophe can strike.

Maybe it's a cancer diagnosis, or a car accident, or a death in the family. There are endless situations that can pack a wallop that drops us to our knees when we least expect it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on the swing of our backyard deck and thinking about how lucky I was. I often think about how lucky I am, so that's no big surprise. However, that particular week was not one of my best. I was alone on the swing with only my dogs for company while my husband was in the hospital after surviving a major stroke. At that particular moment, I was feeling lucky and blessed because just a few days before he was completely paralyzed on the left side of his body. But a couple of days can make a huge difference, and after his brain recovered from the shock he became more and more mobile. 

While I was sitting on that swing and trying to process all the changes, I was contemplating life with some new challenges instead of facing a future with a completely dependent person. And that's why I felt fortunate instead of filled with despair.

I am no stranger to strokes and the devastation they can cause. My father had a severe stroke when I was just 21. He was told he would never walk again, but he worked hard and was released from the hospital after one year. He lived a fulfilled life for another 16 years and accomplished many wonderful things.

In a very broad generalization that I am prone to concluding now and then, I have noticed that there tends to be two types of people. We've all heard of the "glass half full" versus "glass half empty" example of how different people can be presented with the same situation and come away with totally a different perception of things. I truly believe that attitude can make a huge difference. 

Don't get me wrong. Since that awful day in late June, I have had times of terrible grief and feelings of complete helplessness. There have been moments when my sadness has been so great that it was a physical thing, squeezing my heart and stealing my breath. I have had periods of self doubt so overwhelming that I didn't think I could cope with the future ahead. I didn't think I would have the patience or ability to do what I needed to do, or be who I needed to be.

But I continue to give thanks for the blessings in my life. I am thankful that we were in the emergency department when the stroke occurred, and my husband received the absolute best and quickest care possible. I am thankful for the doctors and nursing staff, the therapists and team of people working hard every day to ensure whatever possible progress is made. I am thankful for our family and friends who have made my time at home alone more possible to bear. I am thankful for the strength of my husband, who has been determined to prove he can do whatever he is told is not possible.

So in these post-stroke weeks, I have given a lot of thought to the priorities in my life. Some of the dreams that seemed important to me before, now become a lot less significant. Some of my "to do's" have dropped by the wayside. Now, some of the "major accomplishments" I wanted to achieve don't seem to matter anymore. At this moment, somehow it seems more important to be kind, to be generous, and to enjoy friends and family, rather than achieving goals that really dont matter in the grand scheme of things.

I am thankful for this chance to continue to share my life with the most important person in my world. It will be a different life than we had planned, but I have a partner to travel that path with me, and things might have been very, very different.

During our weeks at the hospital, a nurse asked my husband "Is this your wife?", he replied "She's not just my wife. She's my everything." And that is truly something wonderful to focus on during our challenges ahead.

published in the South Shore Breaker - July 19, 2017

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Church Going of a Different Variety

A recent trip to St. Matthew's United Church in Halifax to listen to the Lunch Bunch community choir sent me down the memory lane of visits to various church conversions.
I was in downtown Halifax listening to a lovely choir singing a couple of weeks ago. As I sat there, I gazed around enjoying the sights as well as the sounds. There is something lovely about century old churches, almost as if they absorb the feelings of generations of people and then pass them on to every visitor.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

South Shore Stories

a cozy corner from inside The Port Grocer in Port Medway
Being involved with a hobby, any hobby, can be a fulfilling pastime. Sometimes frustrating, when we're trying to learn a new technique. And very rewarding, when something we are trying to create comes to fruition. Whether you sketch, paint, hook, knit, crochet, garden, sail, show cars,or whatever, it all takes patience to learn a craft and a willingness to try new things in order to succeed.

And there comes a time when it's important to share our skills with other people.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pond-ering Several Homes

Backyard ponds are a benefit to frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, and birds, to name a few, and also create opportunities to improve photography skills.
I spent a few days last week harvesting one of Nova Scotias best crops, a never ending supply of rocks. I was digging a hole for a small backyard pond and Mother Nature threw me a challenge or two. Admittedly, it would have taken me a lot less time to dig a few years ago. It's amazing how age seems to creep up on you and then hit you with a wallop.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A variety of hermits

I created this water mosaic with photos from our walk on Stoney Island Beach. These were taken with my point and shoot, an experiment to see if it's worth taking the time to create a larger mosaic with higher quality photos.
It is my belief that even non birder people can appreciate a lovely bird song. Last year, I often heard tweeting of a non technological variety coming from the forest behind our house, but I wasnt familiar with the song and I could never spot the bird. I recorded it one evening and then posted the sound on facebook, receiving immediate responses that the mysterious crooner was a hermit thrush.