If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I believe creativity is helpful in supporting us to work through the grief process. Which is one reason I’m pleased to share Sue Bulmer’s story with you today, as she found her way to ‘the person I was meant to be’ via creativity.
She tells a familiar story of not knowing she was grieving & although she didn’t realise it at the time, ‘began to work through my grief by journaling and making art.’ Isn’t it interesting that sometimes, intuitively we do things which helps us? Sue took this combination further & trained as an art therapist (which you can read more about below).
I also share her sentiment that ‘I wouldn’t be where I am in my life if it wasn’t for my journey’. And although she doesn’t say it, my guess is that she’s got to a place where she & her life are not shaped by childlessness but by becoming the person she was meant to be.
There’s a lot of inspiration in Sue’s story & if you take one thing it is this, that no matter what’s gone before ‘It is possible to live a happy, creative and fulfilled life.
Now, over to Sue,
1. Where are you on your journey now?
I went through many years of trying to conceive, followed by many years of trying to come to terms with it. I have now come to a place of acceptance and happiness, and I very much enjoy living the life I have. I feel gratitude every day and wouldn’t be where I am in my life if it wasn’t for my journey.
2. What’s your story?
We started trying to have a baby back in my 30s and when it became clear it wasn’t happening we sought help. Several years of fertility treatments followed. I would say this was probably the most stressful time of my life to date. It had a huge impact on my self-esteem, confidence, relationships with family and friends. It impacted every area of my life. I felt like a failure, like I was worthless and I questioned my own identity as a woman. I lost ‘my point’, my reason to be, my purpose.
It was during this time that one of my sisters suggested that I pursue my long-held dream of starting to draw again. I had always loved art and being creative but this had gone by the wayside during my 20s and early 30s as I concentrated on my career. I took a few local courses and enrolled on a Foundation Course in Art and Design and eventually set up my own business selling my art.
Through this journey I met a business coach, Rebecca Kirk who was starting up as a life coach. She asked if I would like to work with her and I said yes. I had never considered working with a life coach before and I was so pleased that I did. It has completely changed my life. Through the process of working together Rebecca helped me to examine my life, the things I liked and the things I wanted to change. We distilled down my passions, interests and skills and it all came down to Creativity and Health. I discovered the profession of Art Therapy and decided in my 40s to go back to university and retrain. I qualified as an Art Therapist in 2019 gaining a Distinction and winning the Donna Betts prize for academic achievement. Rebecca helped me to break down the barriers and helped me to see it really was possible.
3. What helped you to heal/how did you deal with your grief?
I began to work through my grief by journaling and making art, although I didn’t realise this at the time and I didn’t even realise I was grieving. I think the act of going back to creativity and making something from nothing was profoundly healing. It gave me a purpose again and it helped me to begin to unconsciously process the grief. It wasn’t until I began my Art Therapy studies and I was working with bereavement that I was able to name my feelings as ‘grief’. It was lightbulb moment, a big realisation, that I had in fact been grieving for many years. The more I researched it, the more it all began to make sense.
Going to personal psychotherapy, which is one of the conditions of studying to be an art therapist, also helped me to express and talk about the grief and all of these feelings I had kept locked away for many years. I was able to form a ritual around the loss which was so helpful in my healing. I also explored the issues more deeply in my Masters thesis, Metaphorically Maternal. In this piece of arts-based research I explored the grief and loss of infertility. My work was published in a therapeutic arts book in 2020. This is when I began to tell my story more publicly.
Since then I have gone on to talk to groups of women about how creativity can help to heal from the grief of childlessness and I took part in World Childless Week in 2021 to talk about my creative journey and how it led me to where I am now. My aim is to build my therapy practice to help others who want to work through their own grief, helping people to facilitate change through creativity.
4. Previous story tellers have found working on one or more of these areas to be helpful. If one or more of these helped you to work through your grief, please explain how?
Some sort of body work, such as yoga, dancing, walking, CST, pilates etc, Those tricky concepts beginning with ‘self,’ such as acceptance, love & kindness, a writing practice or agratitude practice
I found creativity, artmaking, writing, yoga, being outside in nature and personal therapy have all helped me to find myself, process the pain and grief and to live a life full of joy, helping others as well as looking after myself.
5. What positives (gifts) have come into your life now?
Becoming a therapist and being able to help others is the gift I don’t think I ever would have had if I had become a mother. It has given me the potential space in my life to reflect on my journey and has helped me to realise that while I’m not a mother, I am still maternal and I can use this nurturing side of myself to help others. I also think that my training has helped me to become a better person. I am certainly more self-compassionate and more grateful every day for the life I now have.
As a result of my training and my healing journey through my grief, my art has also taken a very different path. It has moved from detailed, monochrome illustrations to colourful, bold and expressive landscapes. I think this is also a metaphor for and a reflection of my life. I describe it as going from black and white to ‘all the colours’. I am building my art business back up and am fully immersed in the living a fully authentic creative life.
6. What is possible in your life now?
What is possible? Wow, that’s a big question! I think a lot more is possible that I would have thought ten years ago. I believe change, healing and recovery are all possible and I believe we can shape our own destiny and futures and use our experience to help others. It is possible to live a happy, creative and fulfilled life.
I also have space and time in my life to devote to my practice as an Art Therapist. I work part-time at a charitable organization in Nottingham working with children and young people affected by sexual abuse and spend the rest of my time working with individuals and organisations.
Art Therapy is a kind of psychotherapy that uses art materials as the primary method of communication. It is particularly useful for individuals who feel words are not enough or may struggle to express their feelings and emotions in words. Working with the creative process is a powerful tool to help us to work through our own life struggles and difficulties. It can be used in the treatment of many issues such as infertility and pregnancy loss, bereavement, depression, low self-esteem, substance dependency, stress, trauma, major life transitions and many more.
You don’t have to be ‘good at art’ to undergo Art Therapy, you just need to be able to remain open-minded and curious and willing to give it a try. Having witnessed, and also experienced personally, the profound transformations that can occur through the use of creativity I would highly recommend it to anyone who is experiencing difficulties in their lives. If you were considering this as a way forward to help you I would recommend an initial conversation with a therapist to see whether you will be a good fit. You have options of working face to face and since the pandemic, a lot of therapists, myself included, now offer sessions online.
7. Is there anything missing in your life? (and what do you plan to do about it?)
No, I don’t feel that anything is missing in my life now. I have a fantastic supportive husband, a career I love, a happy and healthy family and a lovely circle of friends. What more could I ask for?
8. How are you different now (who are you now)?
I am the person I was meant to be. I’m more confident, more reflective, more understanding, more balanced. My experience makes me who I am now. I’m living life fully, I practice gratitude every day and I love it.
9. What advice would you give to those who are in the midst of their grief?
The advice I would give is to be kind to yourself. There is light at the end of the tunnel and there is an end to the tunnel. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I have a wobble and feel sad, that part never goes away fully, but life grows around the hurt and the pain. It will get better.
10. What brings you joy/what makes you happy?
Spending time with my family and friends, making my art, reading a book, looking at the autumn leaves, walking my dog. Many small things
11. What’s your 6 word memoir?
(From Smith Magazine’s Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure. http://www.sixwordmemoirs.com/)
Leap and the net will appear
And if you like the bold expressive landscapes in Sue’s studio and you would like to find out more about her art practice please take a look on her Art website
Do you think your story could inspire others?
I started publishing Inspirational Stories so that women who are struggling can be inspired. The purpose is:
- To show that it’s possible to have a positive life,
- To explain what’s positive about being childless and
- To explore what helped healing & how to make it happen.
So if you think your Inspirational Story could help other women this is how it works.
I’ll send you a list of questions, and you choose and answer a minimum of 6. I’ll post your story in your real name or any other that you chose to give me. If you have a website or blog I’d be happy to link to it so I’ll need the details and a short bio.
If you think you could inspire others please contact me or leave a comment below.
Over to you
Has reading Sue’s s Inspirational Story helped you? If so please add your comment below.