With just two weeks to go until the first of several planes carries me into the first leg of my Winston Churchill travel scholarship. I will be away for almost two months, travelling to the USA and Japan looking at Outsider Art practice. It really is the chance of a lifetime to bring both my work in mental health and in the arts together.
Currently, I’m swinging wildly between excitement and fear, although I’m not as frightened as I might have once been.
Once I probably would have been paralysed by the thought of being away from everyone and everything for such a long time, but actually the fear I feel now is good fear, if that makes sense? It’s the same feeling that I experience every time I step onto a stage or in front of a camera. It’s a motivating fear that allows me to do things and speak to people in a way that I might not have been able to do before the life changing event that effected us in 2003.
After Mark, my partner and the father of my two children unexpectedly took his life 14-years-ago, I couldn’t see anything even remotely, even slightly positive that might come from such a tragic loss. Anyone who’s experienced bereavement by suicide knows only too well that the early days, and sometimes the not so early days, are about functioning, putting one foot in front of the other and trying to make sure you hold together.
Now, over a decade later, I’ve realised that I’ve changed. The worst has happened and that’s given me the courage to embrace opportunity that I don’t think I had before. I never saw it happening. I think it’s something that just creeps up on you over time. You have a different perspective than most people. Your context is different. You know life can change in a minute and I think for me, the thought of not taking opportunities and embracing the fear that comes with that, is worse than the thought of opportunity passing by.
I was a widow at 32 with two children. That was hard. Getting on a plane to the adventure of a lifetime isn’t hard compared to that. Of course I’m naturally apprehensive and nervous, but I think that comes from the thought of being given this amazing opportunity and not making the very most of the opportunity, bringing everything I will learn back for the benefit of the arts and mental health community the UK.
Reflecting on how I’m feeling with just a couple of weeks to go before I leave has been really useful in helping me to not feel completely overwhelmed! But, what has also been lovely is the reaction of the boys to me not being here for almost eight weeks.
One of my biggest fears after Mark died was how the boys would develop emotionally. Would losing their Dad at just three and 13-years-old mean that they would have attachment and relationship issues? How can I help my children to successfully navigate their way through a landscape that none of us recognised or had a map for?
They’re 17 and 28 now and if their reaction when I told them that I’d been given the scholarship is anything to go by, hopefully they’ve made their way through the first 14 years pretty intact. Both boys were delighted and promised to look after each other while I’m away. Never once was there worry or stress or a second thought that I shouldn’t accept such an incredible chance.
So, even before the plane has left the tarmac, my scholarship has taught me a lot!