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Get your house in order

Get your house in order.

This is the mantra that has been stuck in my head for the past couple of months. It feels like a subconscious message to create more order in my life—my mind, my body, and my surroundings.

My mind needs clarity on where I’m heading and why.

My body needs to heal and strengthen to carry me there.

My home needs to be purged of clutter, lightened with more laughter, and finally updated.

The question, “What am I going to do about it?” sits square in my mind’s eye.

And indeed, what am I doing about it?

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A for Anxiety

A step outside.
And then another.
All eyes are on me, inside I shudder.

Bounce, bounce,
Begin to go faster,
Better not stop, I can’t stand their laughter.

Can I still breathe?
Catch a quick breath.
Can’t let them think I’m out of my depth.

Dare to feel good.
Daren’t make it look easy.
Do it in silence, stop with the wheezing.

Emotions come flooding.
Each nerve-ending tells me,
Even out here, in the clean air, I’m a phoney.

Going up this hill,
Great, the path is clear,
Give me strength, please, don’t stumble here.

Heavy legs.
Heavy heart.
Heaving my body up this inclined start.

I can’t do this.
I can’t, it’s too much.
I have to turn back, I’ve failed, I’m just…

Just what, what am I?
Just some nobody in shoes?
Just some insignificant entity, with nothing to lose?

Kitted out,
Kicking on,
Kind of a blur, was here, now gone.

Living this anxiety.
Letting everything build up.
Lowering my self-belief because my mind says just give up.

Maybe, I can reach the top.
Maybe, it’s not so far.
Maybe, they’re not actually all watching me from afar.

No, I’m weak, look, I’m slowing.
Now I’m a joke, they’re pointing my way.
Nothing has made me feel so pathetic and afraid.

Oh god, why is this happening.
Others don’t struggle like me.
Outside in the sunshine, climb hills, they said, you’ll see

People—I look up, no one around.
Perhaps, they ran off laughing.
Perhaps, they’ve finally realised, I’m the new clown in town.

Quickly, thoughts pour in, so
Quickening my step,
Quieting the din, silencing the storm, is my greatest challenge yet.

Right then, before me, the summit appears.
Running still, I can’t give up now.
Reaching the top takes all I’ve got, but I’ve made it to the clouds.

Serenity rises up from my heart.
Silly thoughts are overcome.
Seeing the beauty around me has helped me conquer this run.

Turning inwards to my thoughts,
Thinking closes my senses.
That’s how anxiety takes hold so strong, it throws up my defences.

Understanding how this happens.
Understanding who I am.
Understanding, it’s only part of me, and there’s more to my master plan.

Views like this are therapy.
Views up close or over hills.
Viewing my world from summits just here creates positive memories, longlasting thrills.

Woods, flowers, birdsong and sunsets.
With these sights come beautiful feelings and thoughts.
What difference could running make to my life, now that I’ve been taught…

Xeriscaping: society can no longer control me,
Yearning to shame all my tears.
Zooming in on my strength and courage, I’m now letting go of my fears.

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I’d like to feel safer whilst road cycling

The road bike came out of the shed for a special appearance: my first commute in quite a while.

Ok, so it was just a couple of miles to my destination, my rucksack full of clothes and notepaper, some snacks and water. I was heading to a workshop taster session with ION Leadership on what mental toughness means.

Without a car and living in the countryside, it’s easy for me to feel restricted to my locality. And getting back on the bike is about more than just getting somewhere—for me it’s about getting over too many traumatic experiences with drivers who have left me with dents in my leg and dents in my confidence.

Starting off from the driveway, picking up the cadence, the wind flowing over my face, my legs like pistons, balancing, moving, I felt FREE!

Just as I did when I ran the West Highland Way in the late evening sunshine.

(It wasn’t all plain sailing/cycling, though. Just one vehicle, just one, not even one of the loud and clunky tractors or lorries, but a small black hatchback with a grotty engine sound reminded me that I’m not invincible as I pedal-powered to the workshop.

Just one mindless driver.

So I naturally responded with a two-fingered salute. But they scarpered.)

Once at my destination, safely, I felt elated. I hadn’t fallen off. My tyres were still full of air. I’d survived, and I wasn’t contributing to the environmental pollution either. Instead, I was giving myself another reason to be healthy…so I can cycle further.

I do have more miles to train, I hope more drivers will be considerate that I want to get home to my children at the end of the day. But I also hope that more routes will be created offering cyclists (and pedestrians) an opportunity to commute from town to town as fluidly as drivers are given. From my hometown, no route is safe on a bike.

Ironically, there was a Denbighshire Tourism Forum happening in the opposite direction to my workshop at the same time, with cycle routes on the agenda from Ride North Wales. Perhaps things are rolling towards our health and environmental responsibilities.

Perhaps the future is bright, and safer, for cycling in Denbighshire.

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Mind: how you struggle

Some issues can’t be swept under the carpet, they can’t be consciously disregarded, and it will be testament to your values and character as to where, and for whom, you pitch your battles.

Take a look at this image, two things are occurring:

Boston marathon Kathrine SwitzerFirst, Kathrine Switzer is challenging the status quo, challenging the decision that women cannot run marathons by actually running in a marathon. Secondly, there are others willing to support her. They are not other women, they are men, who are not directly facing the same pitched battle of gender discrimination that Kathrine is battling. Had no one stood up for Kathrine Switzer, would she have been yanked off the course? Would this story be known? Would the women’s marathon have finally been accepted into the Olympics? Would the 261 Fearless campaign have ever existed to support other women into running?

Can the impact of your willingness to support and defend others who are facing a discrimination, prejudice, social belittling, that does not directly affect you, be measured?

When the government proposed changes to the rulings of the Personal Independence Payments (PIP) rulings, I can honestly say I saw my bum.

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Here you can read a reaction from Mind on the proposed changes to personal independence payments.

This one I still battle: the way we treat others at the bottom of the ladder. Not because I receive any support from this government whatsoever, they’ve already made it clear that my being unfunctionable for almost 5 months of every year does not classify me as in need of support in any way. When I say they make it clear, let me explain.

Almost two years ago when this situation came up that I should apply for support, to help lift the pressure off my partner of now becoming an additional dependent (like a child), the very idea of being interrogated in order to show someone—who had no compassion for my existence—that I am worthy of support, was akin to being served a life sentence of shame, rejection and unworthiness. The result being I could not expect to see it through, because I knew I would not be able to leave my house to do so. The anxiety, the paranoia, was a prison sentence.

If it wasn’t for the the fact that I have a very hard-working partner who is skilled with thrift and logical reasoning, as well as caring and compassionate children who have been able to support me when he cannot, it is not too far-fetched to see that in other circumstances—such as others not fortunate to have my Tom—I may well have become homeless, on the streets, consigned to the ditches and the darkness of your peripheral vision.

I cannot see how I would not end up on the streets, I am a pariah. Once you become part of that homeless society, the world shrinks away from seeing you. Councils, agencies, the government, all set about to highlight you as a problem, a blight on the civilised lives that others want to live. You can no longer vote to fight these injustices, because you have no registered address. That isn’t an exaggeration of any kind, it’s a brutal reality of how close we can all be to becoming invisible, and what to expect if you do.

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Keeping up with the current affairs in this household takes on a few simple forms: no newspapers are involved, partly in a bid to reduce paper waste; BBC Radio 4 or Radio 2 is the morning alarm, so, oftentimes, the first I get to hear of any developments come directly from the low frequency tones each morning; Twitter, I admit, is predominantly the most informative news outlet in my environment for diverse content, not by directly engaging with the online newspaper outlets, but by learning through someone else, via someone else’s blog, via someone else’s account, of what’s occurring.

You could almost say that it’s the old fashioned way of sharing current affairs, social and community issues, by one person telling the next, and the next, and so forth. For others, the fact that it’s information gathering via social media will probably discount it as a genuine outlet of worthy information. I disagree.

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Whether I’d heard about the underhand proposals to change Personal Independent Payments to some of our most vulnerable in society via television, radio, paper or internet, is actually irrelevent. The information put out was still the same story from whichever angle I picked it up. And as upsetting.

My reaction, in any event, would still have been that of disgust, betrayal, not shocked at all, though, because I’ve learnt that this is the true face of our government. But, shocked at the timing—bringing this legislation into existence just a short while after Mental Health Awarenesss Week really does feel like a sucker punch to the face. It’s a stark reminder that one week of campaigning is not enough to change the tide.

The current Prime Minister was already directly involved in my decision to resign from my policing career. Her zero policing experience and belligerent contempt for police officers wanting to simply do their job and get home safe so that they can see their families, culminating in her decision to sanction officers and make the working place harder than it was already to manage, brought me towards a debilitating breakdown, and a quest to end my life.

To see her now as Prime Minister feels like your abuser being welcomed into the family as your step-mother, more controlling over more aspects of your life, and there’s nothing you can do to stop her because nobody else sees her for what she is.

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This is an important battle to fight. You cannot say you have done all you can for your society, for your country, if you allow the most vulnerable to be abused before you. The PIP system is already set up to discriminate. Tell me one Support Worker, GP, Psychiatrist, Pshychologist who would disagree that you are already facing a gigantic uphill battle to receive support for the darkest hours of your life, simply because it is invisible to someone else’s eyes. Although, if they wanted to look closer, they would see the anguish, the hell, the struggle, if they actually looked into your soul and not at you as a number on a statistics sheet.

Despite these recent developments, I still feel that there is an undeniably strong wave of compassion and support for the indignity that most people face in this situation, and that this will change things for the better, though I do not believe that this government will be around to see it. It will change things because we are teaching our children about mental health, about mental illnesses, about the importance of looking after your mind in tandem with your body. That a mental illness is not a weakness, it is a testament of absolute strength to battle the demons in your head and to function socially, when others may only experience such wars on the big screen.

This will change, because I know that I am not the only one in the gene pool with the fire of enthiusiasm, social justice and determination in my belly to see that the value of human life is considered above all things business and profit and spreadsheets and bonuses. And that’s before I’ve even started on the environment and the current global climate condition…but that’s another blog for another day.

Denbigh Castle

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Fierce Bright Star

What I understood about my journey to diagnosis and beyond, after running 1800 miles across the UK, came out (unexpectedly, I must add) in the form of a poem.

I meant to say this poem during my TEDx Holyhead talk in April, but I was too nervous and overly worried that I’d stumble over my own words. So I let it hang there in the back of my thoughts.

StarsArtboard 28@2xNow, six months later, I’m just getting on my feet again, and re-reading the words remind me that my journey is as it should be. Tough. Because that’s what I am. And that’s what you are too.

 

Fierce Bright StarArtboard 8

 

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5 Life Lessons from the Womens Adventure Expo

Many of us have probably been there already: it’s the morning after, you’re quite sore all over, a few cuts and scrapes, a pulsing headache, you’re nursing your third coffee (at least of the morning) and make an attempt to pick out, in order to share, just a few non-blurred images out of the hundreds of photos of your wild weekend away. Whilst also getting back into the swing of reality and the week ahead.

2017-10-10_13.39.27And you’re not sorry one bit, because your wild weekend was spent in the company of hundreds of positive folk who have ramped up your confidence, inspired you with fresh ideas, stimulated your synapses, and even got your butt moving a bit more to get your endorphins flooding your overworked brain and swamping the system with joy and laughter.

That, is exactly what happens when you head to Bristol for the Womens Adventure Expo weekend.

I can now say weekend, because, on its third event since inauguration it is decidedly a weekender, with opportunities to not only indulge in workshops, talks and networking on the Saturday, but also take on active fitness sessions such as TrailFit with Keen, Packrafting with the Secret Compass, and Indoor Climbing at The Climbing Academy with Anoushé Husain. Throw in some opportunities to explore a little more of Bristol on the Friday, and I’ve quite a collection of colourful and creative imagery and ideas to go forward with.

So, I’m here on a Monday morning nursing what is effecively an over-stimulation hangover, the next job will be to process all the information, make contact with those I’ve been chatting to, hooked up with, been inspired by, and to also explore what I can make of this new and wonderful data for the year ahead, and beyond.

Here’s my quick-ish Top 5 learnings of this weekend’s experiences:

  1. Fotor_150779809389235Go cleaner

    • I’m based in North Wales, and getting to Bristol any which way will be at least a 4-hour trek. Naturally, in the spirit of adventure, I opted for the train. I used trainline (other companies are also available) as I have done for a number of years, always the off-peak open return option to get a good deal. I use their app too so I don’t have to lose my ticket en route, it’s stored on my app. If I have to move because someone’s seat was booked, I am ready to do that, but it hasn’t yet happened.
    • Using the train also meant I’m keeping what I take with me to a minimum, I have a nasty habit of planning for the apocalypse on every journey, but if I have to carry it around myself then it’s likely to be the slimmed-down apocalyptic package.
    • I get to people-watch (people are funny, weird, interesting, different, and so similar). This trip I overheard a conversation between a southern-Irish woman with a thick accent, and an elderly gent from Somerset with an equally broad West Country drawl. He thought she was from Liverpool. She thought he was from Newcastle. And the pair were singing folk songs to each other from their respective parts of the world. It was marvellous to bear witness to.
    • I can take photographs of the journey, read my book, and feel like I’m somehow helping the environment by not contributing to the fuel pollution era.
  2. Fotor_150779569063089Support the YHA

    • The needs of anyone on a city break with a convention and networking event, multiple activities, whilst travelling on foot and spending very little time in your room, is the same. So why go for the £100 hotel suite, when the YHA dorm with either ensuite bathroom or a bathroom next door is perfectly adequate?
    • YHA have great food, comfortable beds, a better shower than I have at home, and there’s as much chance of having a good/disturbed nights’ sleep as there is at home or in a hotel.
    • What the YHA stands for is something I would rather support than for the extra mod-cons of having a tele or a fluffy pillow in my room. They do also offer single-occupancy rooms for those who do need that extra degree of separation.
    • You are likely to meet other convention folk, and equally-interesting people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds, by sharing some brief conversations around bedtime. Doing this opens up your world just a little more. Surely that’s the spirit of the Womens Adventure Expo too?
  3. Fotor_150779767342711It’s an endurance, not a sprint

    • This is my third event at WAExpo, and I can honestly say it gets better every year. What I have noticed is that year-on-year I have spent more time in Bristol either side of the main event to soak up the atmosphere of such a creative and versatile city, in attempt to reduce the high-impact over-stimulation effect of drop in-drop out, bish bash bosh. Doing just that (my first year’s experience) left me primed for a manic episode, I felt jet-lagged and giddy with inspiration and excitement, and it took me several weeks to calm down.
    • I’ve now learnt to make this event a marathon, not a sprint—because it is high-exhilaration, fuelled with positivity, and the emotional barometer is likely to be swinging from talk to talk, anxiety-flooding to confidence-building drama.
  4. PSX_20171010_151518Learn from someone new

    • WAExpo, held at we the curious, has a plethora of wonderful main event speakers lined up, as well as workshops that take place alongside the main stage. Now, this might sound counter-intuitive because, surely, the mainstage is the prime event, but as a regular, or even someone who is already interested in, and an avid supporter of, many of the ladies giving the main stage talks, I’m also looking to hear from someone I didn’t know of before, or even a new strategy that I could learn from:
    • Having to choose between equally great speakers will likely help you dig deeper into what you’re personally searching for from the event itself.
    • Now here’s the thing, I also stayed on for the Love Her Wild networking event  at the Mud Dock Cafe after the Expo had finished, then I went on to the fundraising Gala Dinner at M-Shed where Mollie Hughes gave her impassioned talk on her second Everest summit attempt. At these two additional events I had the opportunity to speak to more of these very same line-up speakers over food and drinks, so in effect, doubling my opportunity to make the most of the experience and representation from the day’s schedule. Did I mention that the YHA is slap bang in the middle of the we the curious, Mud Dock Cafe and M-Shed sites?
  5. PSX_20171011_144800Pay it Forward

    • The messages that resonated over the weekend were simple to understand, but profound in their meaning: support, encouragement, learning and giving, self-belief, rooting for good causes, and generally being a force for a positive change in the world. Knowing how to do that isn’t straightforward at first glance, but some quotes, specifically from the Adventure with Purpose Panel, might help to start some conversations and thought streams:

“Don’t look at the big picture, look at what you can do (to keep it positive).”

“Don’t do it overnight, make small changes.”

“Just run with it.”

“When one person does it at a time…”

“Rain drops into the sea together.”

“A gentle hug instead of aggressive campaign tactics.”

“Don’t underestimate the impact of grass-roots activism.”

    • By attending the event you never know who you are inspiring over that break-time coffee chat, who will inspire you, what you can learn about yourself and even what you can understand about others. Getting to the event is only one part of the journey, it’s what you take away from it and implement into our only world to make it better for each of us, that is the true power of the Women’s Adventure Expo.

Da iawn Tania, Rebecca, the wonderful volunteers, exhibitors and speakers who made the day special in every, single, way.

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World Mental Health Day 2017

Spreading the word on the Mental Health Media Charter

The tweet for mental health champions was put out only last week, and I answered the call. Not because I consider myself a champion of anything (except perhaps a champion of calamity and chaos), but because I am passionate about improving our input/output around all that is mental health, and mental illness.
Note, the two are distinctly separate.
As written in her own words, for World Mental Health Day 2017, Natasha Devon MBE…
…launched the Mental Health Media Charter. This is a set of 7 simple guidelines for ensuring imagery and language used in mental health reporting is responsible, genuinely educational and stigma-reducing.
So…what we’re saying is, to-date some of us are a bit pants at the way we discuss and report on mental wellness matters. Yes, but that in itself isn’t something to feel any shame about. We are all learning together how to navigate these new waters of sensitive and responsible reporting, and it’s still a relatively modern concept that the mind is something we can openly talk about without shame.
No, the only true issues are when we continue to write and discuss the mind in ways which influence and promote negative thinking patterns and behaviours. When we overlook the sensitivity of the topic and continue to berate others for not just getting with the programme. And when we defensively cause enduring levels of discrimination and stigma that perpetuate our society because changing our ways is too hard/unimportant.
Here’s more…
The Charter was put together with the help of the Samaritans, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England and Beat. It has been endorsed by Girguiding, the Coalition for Men & Boys & the Labour Campaign for Mental Health.
I think it’s safe to say we’re in good hands, but woudn’t you like to see more organisations added to this list? I would.
On 10th October 2017, Natasha issued a written invitation to the editor of every major publication in the UK, inviting them to sign the charter. She keeps an ongoing log of who has responded and what they have said using the Twitter account @MHMediaCharter.
Personally, I’m not a journalist, a media guru, an organisation or a high-ranking official with swathes of influence over the public. But I am a blogger, and as I’ve learnt just this weekend, “rain drops into the ocean together“. My actions are a part of the whole, and I want to do my part to reduce the stigma, to improve the conversation, and to also help shape the future of our relationship with our minds in a positive and inclusive way.
The charter can be signed by individuals or organisations, including bloggers, youtubers and presenters. Those who sign up will receive a specially designed ‘stamp of approval’ drawn by Rubyetc for their website and social media.
Read on for Natasha’s delightfully illustrated broadcast, and then check out the bottom of my page to see the awesome stamp of approval that I’ve been awarded.
Honoured, well and truly.
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To request your copy of the charter, or to support the campaign please email [email protected]
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Inktober

Greetings and welcome to October!

(n): The month of magical changes in nature, when greens turn to reds, oranges and yellow. Ghosts, witches and ghouls come out to trick us for treats. Clocks are altered, pumpkins flourish, and skies darken more quickly than we’d like.

It’s also the month of the daily pen and ink sketch, hence, #Inktober!

The idea behind Inktober is a daily sketch in pen and ink, sometimes on a provided theme, or in my case, on any topic you come across. So far I’ve been inspired to illustrate an image of the day based on what’s happening around the world.

Yeti

Yeti character concept illustration

Day 1 was an introduction to a project I’m working on personally, it’s a character called Yeti (my nickname from school days) who is displaying attributes associated with a variety of mental illnesses or neurodivergent disorders. As a character I’m still figuring out how she can best discuss these issues through the medium of black and white ink, perhaps some colour thrown in Shyamalan-style. What this project will do is help me to practice my craft whilst also learning more about the issues that are pertinent to my immediate world. So here’s Yeti, but more about her later…

Paz

Day 2 was pretty newsworthy to say the least. Only the day before, the world watched as military and civil police showed how not act like police during the Catalonia Referendum. The thing is, whether or not the referendum is illegal is almost background muffle compared to the scenes broadcast. Had it not been for the shocking number of injuries and baton-twirling demonstrations, I’m not sure I would have paid much attention to this little corner of the world.

But my eyes and ears are certainly alert to people being attacked for who they are, and what they believe in. Being in Wales, feeling a strong Welsh affection, I can empathise with the struggles of Catalonians. How else can their voices be heard? Take out the Referendum, replace it with another vote of any kind, and the police still acted outside of their duties. I’ve been face to face with raging crowds, it never occurred to me to just start hitting people with my baton. In fact, I never once had to use my baton in my career…my words were my weapon of choice. Actually, I did use my baton once, to open a locked gate at a football pitch.

Despite the horrendous display of anti-Catalonian sentiment by certain forces of the law, there was a counter-protest of paz. Messages littered the floor to remind folk that we’re dealing with humans here, not savages, not raging bulls, not monsters from the depths of our nightmares. People, who have a desire for a life outside of what is being handed them, and to achieve it peacefully. So, huge kudos to those who raised their hands in the air, even whilst the batons were swinging towards them—honestly, could you do that without peeing yourself just a bit?

Bipolar Awareness Day

Day 3 coincided with Bipolar Awareness Day. Naturally, this was my topic—I say naturally, to recap, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2015 and am still learning what it’s all about—but how do I get across what bipolar disorder is without attending to clichés. I made a stab at using matryoshka dolls to illustrate the many faces of this condition. I’d like to have gone further with this idea (perhaps I still can) by showing them at their different sizes and how they all fit inside each other. This is what my bipolar disorder feels like to me: not something that has gone wrong in my system, but in fact a part of me and how multifaceted my being is. I’m still battling with the conundrum of taking medicine in order to placate society of my extreme expressions, though it’s a sacrifice of myself I am willing to make if it means my family are better able to live with me. The medicine doesn’t remove my condition, it simply flattens it out, so imagine yourself squished inside a flat box—pretty uncomfortable, and every now and then its fairly frustrating to not have ample wiggle room to stretch out and reach for the stars..or hell, as the case may be.

World Animal Day

Day 4 allowed me to revisit a previous illustration I’d created on some wooden plaques a few years ago, and give it some extra detail and an additional little bug and title. I wholly admit that I find drawing animals—whether to scale or anthropomorphically (heck of a mouthful that one)—much more fun/easier/natural than drawing humans. I might have a reason for that. When I draw humans it doesn’t feel right to not draw them as life-like as possible. If there’s one thing I purposefully fixated on whilst studying art at school, it was my ability to draw people as they appear, not as I sort of imagine them looking as if through a kaleidoscope or a fishing net. The perfectionism is uncomfortable and stressful, so I have to remove it. Therefore, I am likely to replace the majority of what I illustrate with animal characters. Some entirely made up.

Super Thursday Mix Up

And that brings us to Day 5, simultaneously Super Thursday, World Teachers Day and World Ballet Day. My mind jumped at the possibilities of amalgamating these three in one image, but for some reason settled on dancing sheep in a classroom where the teacher is drowning in new books. Technically the books element is more relevant to bookshops, but adding that would be overkill.

This weekend I’m heading off to Bristol for the third annual Womens Adventure Expo, so only a miniature sketchbook will be travelling with me, and only a short amount of time will be put into each sketch as I’m likely to be busy listening to stories, running, chatting or wandering about Bristol by twilight.

If you’d like to follow my inktober challenge, check out my Instagram feed (for more of a description on each sketch), or my twitter feed for a brief snippet.

How’s your Inktober challenge coming along?

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haiku ii

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What I wish my illness could do in my absence