This guest post from Lynn Hanford-Day takes us on her journey from breakdown to breakthrough and finding new ways to connect and create a wholehearted life.
This is the sixth guest post in our Wholehearted Stories series on Quiet Writing. I invited readers to consider submitting a guest post on their wholehearted story. You can read more here – and I’m still keen for more contributors!
Quiet Writing celebrates self-leadership in wholehearted living and writing, career and creativity. This community of voices, with each of us telling our own story of what wholehearted living means, is a valuable and central part of this space. In this way, we can all feel connected on our various journeys and not feel so alone. Whilst there will always be unique differences, there are commonalities that we can all learn from and share to support each other.
I am honoured to have Lynn Hanford-Day as a ‘Wholehearted Stories’ contributor. My sincere thanks to Lynn for sharing her story and photographs and stunning artwork. Lynn’s wholehearted story tells of how she moved from burnout and a corporate HR career to working with sacred geometry and the divine feminine and crafting a multi-faceted career as artist, coach, facilitator and therapist working with women in transition and organisations going through change. Read on to find out more!
A heart attack of the soul
“You’re lucky. Some people have an actual heart attack, and some of them die” said a friend. His words really struck a chord in me. I may not have had a cardiac arrest yet I felt dead, lifeless, unable to function physically, psychologically, emotionally. My heart was still beating and that meant I was alive, apparently. I had flirted with burnout many times over previous years and had already read ‘The Joy of Burnout’ by Dina Glouberman three times. I had even done a retreat with her on the Greek island of Skyros for God’s sake!
But this was the big one. It is five years ago this January I woke up unable to move. I’d spent the previous three or four months feeling tired and by the time Christmas arrived, I felt utterly exhausted. I remember telling work colleagues I felt like I had run into a brick wall. I thought I needed a holiday and all would be well again. I never returned to my job as an HR Director, in fact, I didn’t work for another 18 months. During that time I gave up my job and I then had to sell my house because I ran out of money and following that I moved house four times in two years, thanks to the vaguery of the rental market here in the UK.
In January 2013 I was told I had severe clinical depression and chronic stress. I certainly had burnout of epic proportions. I spent three months in denial about this, and, paradoxically I began to recover when I accepted I was ill. Just doing the washing up was a major event. Even now I find it incredible that I didn’t realise I was ill and that I’d been suffering from insomnia for months. That swallowing Nytol tablets by the fistful and glugging chamomile tea at 4am to help me sleep wasn’t normal and didn’t work. I didn’t feel depressed, I felt exhausted and spent. It was my body that made the decision for me to stop working and force me to lay down. Most of the time I didn’t know if I was sinking or floating. Much of the time I felt I was in freefall, falling backwards down a deep, deep well, never knowing when I would land at the bottom. I was being given a lesson in the art of S-L-O-W. And even though I wasn’t busy on the outside I was very busy on the inside.
For me, burnout is about loss of heart. There was no heart attack, but I was turned to ash and I wasn’t even sure whether there were some embers glowing. My internal landscape was like those images after the forest fires in California, an apocalyptic scorched landscape. Both my Doctor and my Counsellor said that this had been coming for many years, and looking back on my life I can see the truth of that. They told me that recovery was possible, yet I wasn’t sure what would rise from those ashes.
Place, space and belonging
Sanctuary arrived in the form of a dear friend who had retired to Dingle on the west coast of Ireland. ’Come and stay’, she said, and so I did, for a week at a time every few weeks. And so began my love affair with Ireland. I discovered the magnificence of the mountains, the sea and the sky and how I loved the sound of the wind from the Atlantic gales. I stood on the clifftops and felt I could breathe. All that spaciousness in the landscape and the seascape gave me peace. And what a joy that no-one knew who I was. To the local folk, I was simply Lynn, and this was such a relief and a liberation as I no longer knew who the hell I was. In my dead and drowning energy I began to feel glimmers of life in Ireland, and I felt a belonging to a place that was missing in my other life. At some level the wildness of the land connected with the wildness in me.
An unlived life
In the slow months of recovery, as I made my way back from the descent into the underworld, I realised that I needed to change my life. I recognised my workaholism for what it was, the numbing of pain and unhappiness, and that for me to continue as before would be a massive act of self-harm, a suicide. I developed a curiosity about the divine feminine and the archetypes that lived in me, about mid-life transition, and what Jung calls the shadow life or the unlived life. I spent a lot of time exploring the transpersonal realm as I connected with my soul. At some point, the following poem arrived in my life and its message became my guiding star.
An unlived life
By Dawna Markova
I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
Of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open me,
To make me less afraid,
To loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing,
A torch, a promise,
I choose to risk my significance,
To live so that which came to me as seed
Goes to the next as blossom,
And that which came to me as blossom,
Goes on as fruit.
The slowing down of life gave space to the whispers of my heart and soul and I began to seek synchronicities and to just say ‘Yes’ to new people and new experiences as they presented themselves to me.
On becoming an Artist
Very early in my illness, I found a class in meditative art, which I had never heard of, but it contained the word meditation so that meant it was good for me! In class, I kept drawing circles. Another source of peace that quietened the incessant chatter in my head were colouring books, long before they became so popular. I would colour mandalas and kaleidoscopic patterns for hours and my monkey mind would sleep, much like it did when standing on the cliffs at the edge of the world at Dunquin in Ireland. As I made peace with my body I became curious about sacred geometry and mandalas and looked for a class. I couldn’t find any so in 2014 I bought a book on sacred geometry and a pair of compasses and began to teach myself. This interest became a passion and drawing mandalas became my meditation.
Later in 2013, my creativity called for more nourishment so I looked for an art holiday in Ireland and what I found was an art therapy summer school at the Cork Institute which included a module on Carl Jung and mandalas. This really appealed as I had qualified as a psychotherapist in 2008 (I did my 4-year training whilst being a single mum and in a full-time job as an HR Director). Then, on a visit to my local art shop, I saw a poster for the Central St Martins Summer School in London. I found a one week course in Expressive Art, which sounded like you didn’t need to have any experience as I was seeking art for non-artists.
When I got there I wondered what on earth I had done! I was the second eldest in the room, the one person older than me was the teacher who was 72. The young woman next to me was 18 and waiting to get her exam results. I had never used an easel and had no idea how to set it up, much like doing battle with a deck chair. And then in September 2013, I heard of an online course by Flora Bowley in a ‘thing’ called intuitive art. A whole new world opened up as I was astonished to discover the quality of art courses that are available online.
Art was my salvation and brought me connection with my creativity and my intuition. Little did I know that these were my first steps towards becoming an artist. If someone had told me in 2013 that in 2015 I would be exhibiting and selling art, would have a website and take commissions I would have laughed. I hadn’t held a paintbrush since school and that was nearly 40 years ago. As for geometry, I hated that at school! Now my protractor is my friend. And during 2016 I took a 10-month teacher training with Chris Zydel in California in expressive and intuitive art, which I completed in February 2017.
Stepping into a new way of being
Art has sustained me through a transition into a very different life. As much as I tried to return to a full-time job in the corporate world, the universe was having none of it! Reluctantly, I formed my company and became self-employed and then, out of the blue, two weeks later, an old work colleague contacted me to ask what I was doing workwise. Within two weeks I was facilitating a team development programme which turned into an 18-month coaching assignment with eight people. I began taking personal clients for coaching and mentoring and using my training and experience as a psychotherapist and as a coach. I trained others in facilitation skills and group processes. And I took on consultancy contracts in Human Resources and change management.
This sounds easier than it was. As my health recovered I also suffered a significant deterioration in another direction. The sibling to depression is anxiety and during 2014 my declining bank account and constant uncertainty of the house rental market threw me into panic attacks. In an attempt to escape the anxiety I became desperate to get a permanent job in order to give myself a sense of security and safety. The constant stream of rejections made me feel even worse.
From breakdown to breakthrough
My body closed down, my heart turned to ash and catapulted me into a new life and a new way of being. I don’t recommend a catastrophic breakdown. Yet it is also true that for me breakdown was ultimately a breakthrough and I discovered I had an unknown talent and that turned out to be something I love. Claiming the title *artist* was a tricky one! As was wrestling with notions of identity and who I am in the world, letting go of an old self and an old identity. You know, it was a couple of years ago I stopped myself from buying yet another self-help book about how to change your life when I realized I have done that.
My life is radically different to how it was in 2012. I earn my living doing the type of work I want to do. I make a difference in the world by helping people change their lives. I have a hobby that keeps me sane and brings me enormous pleasure, and much to my delight people want to buy my art.
My wholehearted life
For me, the wholehearted life is the opposite of an unlived life. A wholehearted life brings fulfilment and contentment, an inner peace and when anxiety arises I know I am being given a message that I am out of alignment. I now pay attention to my physical, mental and emotional energy and I follow my heart in saying Yes and saying No. I have learned that saying Yes to the unexpected that shows up in life can bring the most amazing experiences, such as offering to write this guest blog post, which is another first for me. A wholehearted life isn’t necessarily easy and I have to beware old habits. In many ways it is about living a simple life, pleasure comes from being with friends and family, love is what really matters, and learning the art and act of self-compassion is a work in progress for me.
What next? As we enter 2018 I have chosen my word of the year to be Nourish. My mum died of pancreatic cancer on 2 November and death brings a renewed focus on life in the way that it always does. Grief and loss bring me to another transition and another opportunity to care for and nourish myself whilst I continue to shape my wholehearted life. I want to develop my mindfulness practice and train as a teacher of self-compassion. I want to be more consistent with my creative pursuits, to write and to paint, to hold more classes and workshops. I want to host my Renaissance Woman retreat which I couldn’t do as mum was dying. I want to develop my coaching practice and run more women’s groups. I want to feel the sun on my face and the warm water and soft sand on my toes.
About Lynn Hanford-Day
Lynn Hanford-Day is an artist, coach, facilitator and therapist working with women in transition and organisations going through change. She is especially interested in creativity and intuition, positive psychology and strengths, helping people to access and express their inner wisdom. She helps women discover clarity and confidence, path and purpose. Her art and more about her as a coach can be found at www.sacredintuitiveart.com
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