I walked into the exhibition not knowing what to expect.  I got a little lost in the building and because I had drank too much coffee whilst in a state of exhaustion, my anxiety was through the roof and asking someone for directions would mean having to sift through the layers of paranoia and fragility to find my voice to ask the simplest of questions: “Where is gallery 2?”

I was struggling to hold on to the present and my mind was in several dimensions at once, the past and the future.  I was thinking of my upcoming birthday and the weight that it carries.  Will this be the year that my Dad sends me a birthday card?  It’s my 30th after all and the prime opportunity for him to reach out.  I was asked “What do I do?” at the weekend by someone that doesn’t know me that well, and it had triggered my anxiety. Luckily I had managed to navigate my answer fairly well so as not to give too much away about the flux of my mind, but it had left me questioning where I was at in my life and brought up feelings of inadequacy for not being in paid employment, despite the many other things I do that keep me alive.  I think it’s safe to say that I was containing an abundance of mixed emotions and feelings while standing in a corner of the stairwell googling the exact details of the exhibition.

I made it to the right place and was greeted by a volunteer for the exhibition.  My mouth produced words that I wasn’t completely aware were pouring out.  Something along the lines of, “I’m here – what do I do with the balloons?”, whilst pointing to balloons that visitors were asked to take off the blu tack the ribbon was stuck to and release it to symbolise letting go of any emotions we were feeling and to be present with the art, the artist, and our feelings about the pieces. There was a little scroll attached to the balloon and I awkwardly looked at the volunteer and he assured me that it was okay for me to take and read. My head was still zooming about like a cat trying to catch a red dot. I quickly read the message and scurried to the first piece to avoid having to make any more conversation.

I quickly felt at ease as I read the blurb about the piece.  The artist had described openly and honestly their experience of the loss of love. I felt connected to what they were saying and could somehow understand the piece more. As I made my way round the small exhibition, reading about people’s inner lives and seeing the diversity of their creativity (mixed media, illustration, photography, music, animation, intricate embroidery, poetry and more), I became more and more relaxed and the barrage of voices in my head had eased off.  I felt comfortable being in this space.  The honesty and true feelings brought me back to earth and I felt human again.  I could relate to all these pieces in some way or another, or knew someone who had experienced something similar.  The four walls that these pieces were contained in suddenly felt alive.  The heartbeat of humanity was resonating through each piece into the air and the people that entered the space.  I had gained insight and felt like I was being held as I made my way round the room.  I wasn’t alone.  Very rarely did any diagnosis get mentioned; it was raw descriptions of how people felt. 

One piece in particular had reached out and touched my heart.  The illustrative piece was entitled ‘From the Seeds of Sadness’ by artist Monika Stachowiak.  The piece depicted a woman crying while watering plants that were blooming in all shapes, colours and textures around her.  The story behind the artwork read:

I believe that every one of us has the inner superpower to overcome bad moments in our lives.  Sometimes depends on the people around us or surrounding.  Everyone is different and beautiful in their own way.  There are moments in life when we must allow ourselves to be sad to become stronger later.

It resonated so deeply with me as it took me back to when I was beginning my journey of healing my deep inner wounds.  I had met my inner child and cried like I had never cried before.  It was pure and it was beautiful.  My little Nic had endured so much hurt and pain that she had gone into hiding.  When I met her in my adult form, she was terrified.  She was the most beautiful little light I had ever seen that it physically pained me to see her afraid and so alone.  The hot tears streamed down my face and I held her in my arms and vowed to protect her.  It was the first time I had cried healing tears.  It was a sadness that was real and wasn’t tainted by The Grey.  A weight had been lifted from me and I felt like I had found something within me that had been missing for decades.  My tears were relieving and I found strength through them.  The moment I met little Nic was the moment I experienced unconditional love for the first time and anyone who has felt love knows the power and beauty it holds.

The theme of the festival this year is Connected.  I believe that this exhibition embodies this theme completely.  I entered the space consumed with anxiety and self-consciousness and left feeling inspired, comforted and connected.  I had felt like I had come home and didn’t want to leave.

As I write this, the scroll that was attached to the balloon is laid on the table next to my tip-tapping fingers.  It reads:

“You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously.”

– Sophia Bush

I agree, Sophia.  I agree.

by Nic Saunders

Nic is a creative and curious human who shares her life in Edinburgh with her cat, Kaya. She is passionate about sharing her realities of living with complex trauma, be it through writing, storytelling, and art or through peer support. Follow her on Twitter @UnavoidHuman and visit her website at unavoidablyhuman.com.

FEELS is on at Edinburgh Palette at St Margaret’s House until Thursday 30 May, culminating in a Closing Ceremony which starts at 4pm. 

The Talking Heads project, in partnership with See Me, brings together a team of volunteer journalists to produce written articles and other creative responses to festival events. Click here to find out more.