The majority of people don’t think twice about getting in a car, or on a train. For me it has been a battle I have been facing for the last 15 years. Or more likely, NOT facing.
Preferring to avoid the panic attacks I have just at the though of travelling, my world has been very small, trapped at the tip of an island. The only exceptions have been when I have got paintings into a couple of major exhibitions, both in Chichester, and then only with big effort and great support from my Uncle driving me there.
So when I found out, earlier this year, that I had been shortlisted for the Outside In: National exhibition at Pallant House Gallery, I knew that I had to get to Chichester again. However, this time I didn’t want it to be another of my occasional excursions, I wanted it to be the start of the new Me that is okay to travel anywhere, by any means.
Over the last few years I have had hypnotherapy to help me overcome my agoraphobia, which has helped me to be more confident. So I went back to my hypnotist, Mac, to help get me travelling. After the first hypnosis session Mac said we would go for a short car ride. I got in his car and my anxiety grew, as did my heavy breathing. We made it down to, and along the sea front then back home. I did it, but not as easily as I hoped, and I beat myself up mentally for not doing better.
A week later I had another session. Expecting to be hypnotised first, Mac said that we would go straight out in the car, at which point I started to panic and broke down in tears. Mac calmed me down, talking me through the panics and talking positively to me. We got in the car and I managed to do the same route again with less anxious times.
Between then and ‘The Journey’ Natalie, a kind studio friend, helped me by offering to take me for short drives in her car. The first time I said to just go around the block, however, once we got going I had my panics under control and we managed to go around quite a few blocks. Natalie and I did 2 more trips, going further each time, and she even got me hitting my left shoulder with a Daffy Duck puppet – long story!
Then D-day came. I had asked Mac if he would drive me in his Range Rover (LPG fuelled for the environmentalist!). I calmed myself down as much as I could before going, but as soon as we set off the panics started again and the tears flooded out. I managed to get the panics under control and after a slight detour, to avoid the motorway, I settled down more. When we got onto the bypass dual-carriageway it was as if my negative subconscious wanted to take me over again. It felt like someone had forced their hand into my tummy, grabbed my intestines and twisted. The pain was excruciating, but Mac talked me through it and slowly I relaxed and calmed my breathing. After a minute or so, my legs tensed up in pain and then slowly faded. Mac asked me what I was thinking before and during these times. I replied that there was nothing there, they just happened. Next, my left hand clenched into a fist that was so tight that it really hurt. For minutes it was like this. Mac said to talk to my fingers which I did, just like the Little Piggies nursery rhyme. Slowly I managed to open them one by one, I just hoped I didn’t go wee wee all the way home! Before I knew it we were in Chichester and in a car park. I had made it.
We got to Pallant House Gallery and there was my artwork hanging behind the reception desk. I had heard the night before that mine, and 6 other artists, hadn’t made it into the final exhibition. We then had the award ceremony and artists preview, looking around the exhibition of some truly amazing artwork by outsider and marginalised artists. The journey home, apart from some picking at finger nails was fine.
Of course I am disappointed that my work is not on show with all the others, but I did make the final 80 from over 2,300 artworks from around 1,500 artists, a huge achievement in itself. If I was curating the exhibition I would probably have done the same as my work was ‘too strong’ to fit in with the others in the space available.
However, that was not the most important thing to me. My prize was to give me a reason to make myself get in a car and start on the road to travel more. It wont be easy, my subconscious needs a good talking to to stop it taking me over. That’s for the next session.
The next main journey will be to get back to Pallant House Gallery, November 9th-11th, when I have another piece of work in the Tight Modern touring exhibition. How many people can say they have pieces of work in 2 different exhibitions on at the same time in a prestigious gallery of Modern British art?
Thank you to all the people who have helped me get this far with gentle words of encouragement and those who were more forceful, but polite and supportive with it!