Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Truth in a Box

Life's journey can have ups and downs and almost 7 years ago I was very, very down, with a nasty case of clinical depression bordering on suicide.  Many people who've met me since cannot imagine how the happy, giggly person they know could possibly have been in such a dark place; even fresh snow, that fills me with a child-like joy and excitement, couldn't raise a smile back then.

So when Heather Von St.James contacted me to ask if I'd help her celebrate her ten year cancer-free anniversary I immediately said YeS because although, thankfully,  I've not had to battle cancer, I have experienced dreadful fear, and Heather's mission, alongside raising awareness of the impact of asbestos, is to build HoPe.

3 months after giving birth to her baby girl Lily, Heather discovered she had a cancer that, without treatment gave her another 15 months (see for info on prognosis), and with it, the likelihood of another 5 years. She had a malignant pleural mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos.

10 years on she is celebrating her life and reflecting on her journey with a special blog.  You can follow her brilliantly written story here:

Thinking back, what got me through was a combination of medication, space to just 'be' and get on one minute at a time, the love and support of friends, a great therapist and my faith; not that I consciously 'did' much about it (I didn't go to church for months, but do you know, that's ok!), once I stopped sleeping all the time I still couldn't face going out of the house and meeting people!

People came to me though, and tiny step, by tiny step, I built up from sleeping less, through to getting dressed through to going out, conquering each fear one at a time, slowly, but with an "I can do this".   For me, my biggest battle was with my thoughts, and actually trying to catch the negative thoughts I was listening to was even trickier.  What CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy)  teaches is that these negative thoughts are usually exaggerated, highly imagined and sometimes improbable, often based on 'but what if..?'  They are
                                                     False  Evidence  Appearing  Real

and need tackling with a good dose of reality and truth.

I sometimes still have to fight those negative thoughts when I feel my mood sinking a touch.  One thing that brings me real peace though is playing with paint, paper, ink, stamps, colouring pencils.... There's a freedom in this kind of play; I realised that my thoughts get caught up in the play and stop my dwelling on the worries and fears... and the fear of the blank page?  Well, it's just a piece of paper and there's plenty more, so I just choose the colours I'm liking that moment and off I go!!

For this project I started with my Brusho pigments on a glass worktop saver and decided to try and write down some of my thoughts as I worked (which is how I realised how caught up in the play I get!)

"pink?  Is there a pink?  There's a white..I'll make it.  Hmm, is Gamboge another red?  Yellowy orange!  I'll use Brilliant Scarlet"

Now to my comfort colour of turquoise, except my eye falls on Prussian Blue, unopened, so I try it :) My colours start to run so I hunt out my heat gun and notice my typewriter - might type some words in later!

I decide on some yellow and after making some beautiful shades of green change my technique and sprinkle the pigment directly onto the paper and spritz with water.

I've been wanting to make a little matchbox book for a while so decide that's what my project will be, and I'll fill it with positive words.  There's a patch of muddy-ish colour in there but I know from experience that by the time I've trimmed the paper and/or added more layers it'll look different - I'll either love it or hate it and at the end of the day, it's just paper!

There are particular sections I like already - the contrast of the yellow and purple; the area where the pink fades to nothing...

And then I get so caught up in the choices of stamps, marks to be made with a coloured pencil and collage bits n bobs,  that I forget to record any more steps or note down my thoughts and become immersed in the project....and so my little book nestles in it's box.

Thank for staying with me in this extra long post, and thank you Heather for inviting me to celebrate with you!!


  1. what a very inspiring post.. I had only been thinking the other day Id' not seen one from you for a while (summer holidays, I get that!) so it's doubly good to see you back. I was indeed surprised to read your post - you are very much the last person (even only having met you personally once) to have suffered depression - but that just goes to show how it can hit, who knows why or when. Your book is fabulous and so dinky in it's matchbox - and congratulations to Heather on her survival too! xx

  2. Thoughtful post Sarah & a gorgeous outcome.

  3. Thankyou for sharing your experience so honestly, I'm sure it will bring hope where it's needed. And what a beautiful project! Best wishes to Heather too x

  4. A really lovely post Sarah. Your little book is a delight and the perfect way to celebrate with Heather. Best wishes to you both! x Jo

  5. a celebration of achievement and hope Sarah. congrats to you both xx

  6. Beautiful post, Sarah. Amazing miracle to celebrate and beautiful art, too. Miss playing xxx

  7. Bringing back memories - I am so pleased we met as you helped me understand more about what someone else went through!! You are just the person to celebrate with Heather….may you both go from strength to strength! I love your celebration box, which not only shows your love of colour and experimenting but also confirms your positive attitude! Hugs, Chris!


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