Born in Lancashire in the Northwest of England, I emigrated to Australia in 2008 with my husband and two children. I have worked as a specialist Palliative Care nurse since I arrived. Early in 2019 my role within the Palliative Care Team changed and became largely office based. I began to develop feelings of anger, deep sadness, nausea, confusion, poor concentration, anxiety and panic attacks. I confided with my supportive team and managers and sought some counselling. Despite everyone's best efforts I continued to unravel. I reached a point quite quickly where I was unable to function at work and was forced to take leave.
I was diagnosed with major depression in January 2019. I experienced some incredibly dark days and months. I was supported by a psychiatrist and an amazing artist who had also studied art therapy, Simone Linehan and collectively, we began to explore what was happening with my mental health.
I now understand that providing Palliative Care to others served to soothe my own grief and loss. In the absence of regular patient contact due to my role change I was forced to address the trauma from my childhood. My own enormous loss - my parents to suicide and murder at the tender age of 10 and 16 years respectively.
Early connections with art were purely to keep my mind at rest but they very quickly provided me with a purpose and sense of accomplishment. I slowly rejoined society, seeking places of safety. The AGSA was a haven that I frequented. Ben Quilty was exhibiting at the time and I was blown away by how powerful his voice spoke through his art and how he made sense of his world with a brush. I was totally absorbed and spent hours in the gallery. Embracing AGSA suggestions to sit and draw I completed two self portraits which were very unremarkable but I enjoyed the process. I continued with crafts at home to calm my mind but I desperately wanted my creations to be meaningful. Armed with pastels and paints I began to put my thoughts onto paper. I decided to draw my Dad with pastels. It was not a picture you could hang on your wall it was pretty dark. It was an image I have carried with me for way too long but now through my tears I had put it onto paper.
My psychiatrist suggested I contact Simone Linehan who runs an art studio. Another small safe place with an opportunity to explore some new skills. This is when I truly connected with my art in both sculpture and painting form. Three sessions in, Sim organised a class where she provided us with an ugly skull which we were to camouflage on paper and make it look beautiful. I was unhappy with my finished creation but Sim had planted a seed. I had an overwhelming urge to paint like nothing I have EVER experienced before. I wanted to turn my ugly picture of my Dad into something beautiful.
I painted non-stop for three days and titled my canvas 'My Beautiful'. The emotions I experienced whilst creating this piece were incredible and is something I struggle to put into words. I knew this painting was the start of something special. I messaged Ben Quilty for some advice (I know pretty crazy but I did) and he replied!!
Ben Quilty has taken the time to speak with me on numerous occasions despite his incredibly busy schedule. He writes 'there is absolutely no need for you to feel embarrassed to have harnessed a bleak history to empower a brighter future, that's what art is for.' What a great man!
My art has empowered me to find my voice and communicate with others in a way I have never experienced before. I feel very grateful my mental health forced me to stand still and look at this precious life differently.
My art is reframing my past and changing my future in a way I could have never imagined.