One Picture So Many Stories – Guest Blog Post By Kay Underdown
The other day I went for my first socially distanced walk, having been shielding for many weeks. It felt so wonderful walking along by the sea with my family yet the picture I am drawn to share with you today is one taken of a bench that looks out over the sea. It was a special memorial bench that caught my attention and tugged at my heart with the flowers that had been attached on one side and on the other. This simple child’s creation that conveyed a real sense of love and connection with the person they had lost.
Over a year ago, I had just published my first book “Life Happens Live Happy” and then started running my first course on Life Story Writing. A special social way of writing that I have been developing which combines a life coaching approach with writing, drawing, and sharing stories about life. Coincidentally, the four women who made up my special group had all lost their husbands within the past year. On the first day of the course, I somehow felt destined to be there. Little did I realize that we would all become special friends, continuing to meet up on a weekly basis until lockdown happened. We really miss our meetings, especially the homemade shortcake biscuits that we had every week at the hotel that had become our regular haunt.
So, this blog post is a kind of journey around my life of writing. And a writing journey around my life. I find it difficult to tell a story in chronological order because my life just doesn’t seem to run in a straight line, so I will dip back and forth and hope you will stay with me. It’s really a story about what I believe in, what has really made a difference to my life, and in short, this is about simple things which, when brought together, are somewhat magical.
Having suffered on and off with depression, stress, and anxiety over the years, I was drawn to self-help books and went on a journey of self-development. I discovered life coaching and then used a range of self-coaching books to improve my life. One that stands out to me as the first book that really had me exploring my life was Take time for Your Life by Cheryl Richardson.
It was only yesterday, while giving an online talk to a networking group, that I discovered that my journey into life story writing started then, in the year 2000, with an exercise that suggested separating your life into decades and completing different sentences in relation to that decade eg “the significant events during this part of my life were …”, “the one event I remember most is …” and “the person who influenced me most was …”. There are many exercises in this book that must have been the start of me really writing about life.
I then discovered Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and in particular what she refers to as Morning Pages. This is a way of writing that involves taking a large notebook and just writing whatever comes out on the page for three whole pages of writing. If you don’t know what to write, you just keep writing “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write” until words somehow slip onto the page. It is important to find somewhere really comfortable to sit on your own and write undisturbed, either first thing in the morning or last thing at night is best. The first time I did this was in 2004 and during my writing, on that day I ended up writing a poem about my daughter. It just seemed to come out of nowhere. The first verse was:-
How wonderful you are the smile on your face it lights up a million tears wherever you go you bring joy and laughter a treasure to have a beauty to keep
It was around this time that I started my training as a life coach and as a result of that training, instead of starting to practice as a life coach, I ended up gaining a wonderful new job as a result of using my new life coaching tools. So, for eight years I set up and managed a community mediation service, a job I absolutely loved for so many reasons but that is definitely another story. For now, I will stick with my journey through writing.
In 2012, I was made redundant due to a lack of funding for small charities like ours. After a few months, I started working as a Home Help, which often involved listening to my clients’ reminiscent stories. Around the same time, I was looking for something creative to do, either painting or writing. I ended up discovering a creative writing course that was free. It was an amazing course with a very special teacher, and our group really got on well. I hadn’t realized at first that it was part of an access to a university course. I made many friends and four of us ended up going on to study Social Sciences at the local University.
It felt like a dream come true, as going to university had been on my wish list but something that I never thought I could afford to do. So, things really turned around and I absolutely loved being at university and learning new things. I never realized before that there was such a course as Social Sciences and that it would involve so many things that I was interested in.
2014 was a great year, I did so many different things. I reconnected with an old school friend and visited her after not having seen her for over forty years. Then I gained a community scholarship and put on a creative Family Uniday and became a student ambassador. I really loved student life, despite being so much older than most of the students but it never bothered me, perhaps because I have been an older mother twice over!!
Suddenly My Life Changed
Then my life was to change. In 2015, at the beginning of January, I was urgently admitted to hospital and diagnosed with a serious life-threatening form of leukemia and told I had a very long journey ahead and that I would get to know them very well. This is why the lockdown has taken me back to that time. First, I was admitted to hospital, then I was restricted to the hospital grounds, then the ward, then my room and then my bed, spending three weeks in the high dependency unit and having to learn to walk again. When I was able to return home, I was in and out of hospital across the year, undergoing treatment and overcoming infections.
It was during this time that I started my blog Waves and Pebbles, random stories about life, creativity, and memories. I wanted something to focus on. Blogging gave me something that enabled me to do some writing, and when I was well enough, to go out and take my own photos – something I love doing – and then tell a story about them when I returned. It gave me a sense of purpose and it also gave me a sense of connection. When I returned to university in 2016, I decided to do my dissertation on a sense of belonging in relation to people, places, memories, and nature. I realize now that I gained a sense of belonging through my blog, even though I connected with few people. The number wasn’t important, I felt a part of a community. It opened up a whole new world to me and I was talking to people from across the world.
I have dipped in and out of my blog over the years since that time, with the aim of building it up and posting regularly. It is very important to me and I feel it is a part of my journey. I revisit it occasionally myself and sporadically post now and again. It has helped me to realize that writing is in so many different ways therapeutic and that is why I decided to write my book “Life Happens Live Happy”.
Life Happens Live Happy
It is a little book and it is based around dealing with my illness but it is mainly to inspire people to use writing, creativity, and positivity to help overcome their own challenges in life. So many people never use writing or drawing in creative ways after leaving school, maybe having had bad experiences and not believing that they could be any good at it.
For me, I believe that writing or drawing is for all. It opens up new ways of connecting with both ourselves and others. And most especially, it is about being able to share our stories and our memories with others, and the memories that these then trigger in others. With my life story writing group, we never know where our conversations are going to end up. We cover such a diverse range of topics in just a few hours, and there is never any critiquing. There is no right or wrong way of writing, just what feels right for us in telling our story and having respect for others.
So, what I would say to anyone who may be reading this, what stories do you have that you could tell? It is the little stories that are special and unique to us that are important and often get missed along the way. By sharing these with others, you help inspire them to not only try out different things themselves but to share their own stories.
Well as I finish here, may I suggest that you get hold of a notebook, put on a timer for five minutes, and just have a go at writing whatever comes to you. You can take the first photo I have shared as a starting point or the one that follows (a picture of the bay opposite the bench), or use your own – any photo, object, or title will do. Maybe you might like to share your story with Suzanne so that she can share it in this special space.
Enjoy your week and happy writing!
My next book currently being written is “Writing back to happiness” which is being written to help explain my own unique way of working with writing and life coaching, in collaboration with my first special life story writing group. I am intending to offer my life story writing workshops online very soon so if you might be interested please let me know. My website is www.kayunderdown.com or you can find me on Facebook. If you would like further information or contact me direct my new email is firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please mention Suzanne’s name if you contact me.)
In addition to my website and blog (www.wavesandpebbles.blog), I also have a couple of Facebook Pages and groups that you may wish to “like” and join. The Waves and Pebbles page has a Friends of Waves and Pebbles private group where people can share their own stories about random things. The Drawn by the Sea page has arisen in relation to art book projects I have collaborated on with Scottish artist Stewart Morrison who I met back in 2017 whilst on a road trip around the UK with my daughter. There is a private group attached to the Drawn by the Sea page, of the same name, where people who feel a sense of belonging in relation to the sea are able to share their own photos and stories.
Thank You, Kay!
Thank you so much Kay for your lovely blog post. I met Kay at a party held by Sue Stone earlier on in the year. It was a time I was still trying to decide on my own life direction.
I had gone along by myself and happened to start chatting to Kay and her friend Mary. Kay was a Life Coach and Mary was a Counsellor. Ironically two career options I had been contemplating. As I am a better ‘listener’ than a ‘talker’ and still getting my own ‘mess’ in order I decided to pump Mary about the counselling route. They both loved their work and had both gone into their chosen fields later in on in life. I am grateful to have met both of them that evening.
I have just read Kay’s book ‘Life Happens Live Happy‘, and I can say it was a little book that I couldn’t put down until I had reached the end. Kay talks us through her journey of life’s unexpected twists and turns. She does this with warm emotion and a positive outlook.
A truly inspiring read and one that will pull you in as you turn each page, absorbing her strength, courage, and matter of fact attitude to life’s tricks.
Definitely worth a read!