Not my body, not my mind

Imagine waking up one day and everything you thought you knew about yourself had changed….. 

Going through the menopause recently was a frightening experience, nothing worked like it used to, my tastes changed, my mind changed, my body changed, everything was alien and to make things worse, I now also felt invisible to the wider world.  ‘Not my body, not my mind’  is an ongoing series that explores of the terror of waking up changed and the opportunities this brought.

 Menopause is not a medical condition, it is an earthquake, shaking us to our deepest foundations, wiping out the edifices we’ve so carefully constructed on what we once imagined to be the solid ground of our life. Menopause hacks us open; it is the cleaving to end all cleaving.” Sharon Blackie. If Women Rose Rooted, 2016.  

I remember clearly one day sitting on the kitchen floor just wondering who I was, there was nothing left I recognised.

Heat Shield 458, 2018, mixed media

Menopause shock

I thought, truly believed, that I would sail through menopause unscathed, I was totally unprepared. I have now learnt that only 10-20% of women have the severe symptoms I experienced and perhaps there is nothing I could have done about that, but it came as a massive shock.

“I was a stranger to myself” Tori Amos

Out of such massive catastrophic change comes opportunities. I realised that I could start again – be who I want to be, let go of the past. I have read a lot, experienced a lot of pain (some of which is expressed in my art) and grown immensely. Consequently, as I approach 55, I am stronger, more confident and calmer than I have ever been. I am sure of my talents and skills, confident that I am who I am. I have slowed down, become more mindful and become aware of what it is I want out of life. I am content. 

My practice is focused on realising the somatic feelings and experiences of being a professional woman over 50. Due to the diverse nature of these feelings, I work intuitively with different media or genre depending on what I need to convey.

Liminal space

In the past I have explored the voids and liminal spaces in our minds that may feel uncomfortable. Liminal spaces, such as the menopause, are those that are neither one thing nor another, they are marginal, on the edge, and can be insecure and unstable. It can be uncomfortable and a dangerous place we are scared to cross, but crossing is transformative, we leave something behind and have a new start.

I feel strongly that as a society we do not talk about menopause or understand the effect it has on the women going through it. This affects half the population and everyone can benefit from a clearer understanding of this time in a women’s life. During the preparation for this show I realised that I had never even discussed menopause with my own daughters! Our society seems to expect women to ‘suffer in silence’ and ‘be strong and carry on’ – and this thought perpetuates.

Not my body, not my mind exhibition

My work for a show at Jack House Gallery in 2018, came from real life events:

•‘Heat Shield – 458’ 2018 – An armour-plated tunic made from the wrappers of HRT patches over the last two years, which took several weeks to sew. This represents every single patch I have used. HRT was a life saver for me, the hot flushes I experienced were intolerable.
•‘Yellow’ 2017 – Mixed media. I worked on this piece for many weeks before settling on this presentation. I started it the day I found out I had not even been given an interview for a job I was well qualified and able to do. The rejection was extremely painful (and came after other similar rejections) and so I felt completely invisible to the world of work once I turned 50.
•‘Red’ 2016 – Mixed media – making this work was therapeutic when I was experiencing some extreme symptoms of the menopause.
•‘Blue’ 2018 – Watercolour – I wrote this poem on a day in 2015 when I felt I had finally lost my mind.

Yellow (yesterdays news) 2017 - mixed media
Red, 2016, mixed media
Blue 2018, watercolour

Midnight Blue.

Today I don’t know what
I don’t know why
I don’t know who
Not knowing feels heavy
Midnight blue.

Ailsa Brims 2015