I have landed. Four weeks ago today I had my throat reconstruction surgery in London. I feel that I have now come back down to earth, landed solidly back in my world. As I type this I am sat in my lounge, thoughts have turned towards photography and writing. I am ready to get back into my work, still taking it slowly, but ready to get creative.

In this space I have been reflecting on my photographic year to date, looking at the photos I have created this year and wondering about the future. I notice a difference in my photos from previous years. There are less mindful photography practice photos and more work related and leisure photos. It would seem that I have been busier both with work and fun, and have had less time for practice. Hmm.

My immediate plans are to complete my ‘Who Am I Now?’ Photography Project and start work on my new book, ‘Photography for Well-Being. More of the same it would appear. However, the work for the book will initially be mindful photography practices, as I intend to create, write and complete each photography activity for the book over the next few months. Each practice will become a written activity for the book, be beneficial for my recovery and create something meaningful for others.

It’s a plan. But you know what happens to plans – Life. In the meantime I have a list of 23 photography activity titles. Each one has a little bit of life in my mind, but nothing is written down. For each title I need to create the focus for the activity, decide upon the photographic skill being honed, do the activity take notes and obviously create photos.

I have bought a high quality notebook, to use as an ongoing workbook for all thoughts about well-being and how photography can help. Each activity will be developed in this notebook with initial ideas, notes about what happens, the actual practice followed and at least one Fuji Instax (like a Polaroid) to illustrate. I am following this format because I believe that the book needs to be a kind of workbook for you. How I get from my workbook to yours is the challenge.

The 23 activities fall into four categories. These are Green Space, Blue Space, Love and Urban. Reasonably self explanatory? I have looked thought the activities and I reckon that half of them can be completed during the Winter and early Spring, so that is where I’m going to start. Look out for ongoing reports, although anything could change, it is a creative process!

The Photos

The photos accompanying this post are from last Winter, in early January. I went down to Langland to experiment with my ‘big stopper’ lens filter and use Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) to create some slightly abstract photos of the beach. These are my three favourites.

 

 

A couple of days ago I asked you, ‘What contributes to your well-being?’ I have had a great response. Many thanks to Sue, Nicky, Kath, Toby, Inge, Kate, Janet, Priscilla, Noelle, Maz and Caryn. I have collated their responses below. It makes a enriching list. The more of these you bring into your life the more you will thrive!

Gardening, the beach, helping others, having a loving family, good friends, walking, healthy food, wine, fun, excitement, my husband snoring next to me in bed, the wonder of darkness, doing something new, knowing that my family are safe and well, healthy and happy, singing along with favourite songs, listening to the waves roll ashore – dragging pebbles with them (eyes closed), smiles on the faces of loved ones – especially my daughter, mixing colours and splashing paint across a surface, line drawing in a sketchbook, warm sunshine on my skin, the sound of fresh snow being compacted underfoot, the love and greeting from my dog, the smell of fresh bread, enjoying the countryside and caravanning, classical music, glorious food shared with friends and loved ones, contact from old friends, helping someone out, rediscovered favourite music and a spectacular view.

What is Well-Being?

I have done some reading around the topic. There are various viewpoints. Some look at the concept holistically, some focus on the workplace. Some have a psychological focus, others consider its broadest possible definition.

There are however some common themes and every item on the list of things that contribute to your well-being (above) falls into at least one of them. These are the categories I will use to focus and create my Photography Activities for the new book, each activity will fall into at least one of these categories of well-being.

  • Emotional/psychological well-being
  • Physical well-being
  • Social/relationships well-being
  • Work/purpose/finance well-being
  • Societal/community well-being
  • Spiritual well-being

Perhaps each of us has a kind priority list of these categories. Some may not be so important to you. Others maybe essential. What do you think? Is the list of categories comprehensive? Anything missing?

Photographing Well-Being

I thought that I would contribute to this discussion photographically. So here are a few photos – many of which are on my walls at home – that reflect aspects of well-being for me. The header image reflects our role and part we hold within nature, and reminds me of a moment when I connected with unspoken knowing to another creature.

 

The practice of living mindfully is obviously challenging when life is difficult. During these phases when life is not as we would like it be, we can become overwhelmed and imagine that life will always be this way. We may not be able to see a way through the current difficulty. Our fears may swamp all possibility of redemption.

Somehow though, often just after it was darkest, something changes. These deep and unexpected changes may be sparked by an acceptance of how it is, or something external to our control may happen which allows some daylight to filter into our endless night. Then, as the situation softens, we breathe, allow life to move on and our fear slowly dissolves.

However, the ability to remain grounded can also be a challenge when life is fabulous. In those moments, when everything appears to be lit with golden light and we are invincible, we can be deluded into imagining that life will always be this way. We are flooded with happy hormones and life is spectacular.

Not only is this also an impermanent season, it is also one that we might chase, when life is simply bumbling along. We are so attached to the positive vibes and those warming hormones, we may seek to repeat the conditions. Of course life is not like that. As John Lennon reminded us, “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.”

The trick is to develop equanimity with “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. To develop a deep knowing that every condition of life is passing through. Appreciate the golden moments. Breathe gently through the darkest times. Know that they are all ephemeral and everything passes.

Red Van Man

As you know I have just lived through a challenging 3 weeks. Sometimes it was very uncomfortable and I was swamped with fear. Fortunately, I had outlets to help process my fears and feelings; using this blog and my photography allowed me to breathe through each day and soften with the fear coursing through my being.

Now, though I feel pretty damn good. Not only does the operation seem to have gone very well, I am in a quiet and relaxing space to recover. And then to top all that I have taken delivery of my new campervan.

I bought the van in October and got it delivered to New Wave Custom Conversions in Pontyclun. It wasn’t due there until November, but it Mike (the owner) kindly agreed to take it early to fit in with my hospital visit. What a delight it was to hear back from them that it would be ready for collection on the same day as I was released from hospital. Two reconstructions completed on one day!

We picked the van up on Monday and it is a delight. Mike and team have done a fabulous job. I recommend them wholeheartedly. But now, of course, I have to stay grounded. To pay attention to the joy coursing through my veins and breathe. It is something new to attend to. I smile and get behind the seat, and then pay attention to the way before me. I know that there may be bumps in the road, unexpected turns and other foolish drivers who may distract me. I just need to feel my hands on the wheel, see the road rising before me, smile and keep seeing all that is there.

 

I have a practice that has lapsed during the hospital days. Every night I share 5 things I am grateful for with my sister, Kim in Canada. I haven’t done this regularly over the last 3 weeks, but starting here I am beginning all my supportive practices again.

In addition to my Gratitude practice I have a morning mindful practice that involves 10 minutes of yoga and 10 minutes of meditation. I returned to this grounding practice this morning. The stand out feature of the experience was that I can get so much breath in. Each breath feels something like a normal breath. I say, ‘feels like’ because it is 14 years since I had normal breath. My memory is vague! But I am breathing quietly and well. What a relief.

Yesterday was my birthday. I had a lovely day thanks to Dinah’s organisation skills and the generosity of friends. Instead of sharing a blow by blow account I thought that I would share my Birthday Grats (as Kim and I call them) with you.

  • The second consecutive night of 10 hours sleep
  • Perfectly poached eggs on Marmite toast
  • A gentle walk, breathing deeply
  • Massive slice of Ginger and Salted Caramel cake
  • Thoughtful presents from friends
  • Love and care of friends
  • Unexpected visit of old Swansea mates
  • A donation from Simon’s young son from his pocket money
  • Lots of lovely FB birthday messages
  • Playing with my new photography toy – Fuji Instax camera
  • Lovely Skype chat with Kim
  • The love, support and care from Dinah

And so on to my 60th year. In 2020 I will be 60. There is much I hope to do and much that will happen. The first part of that is at 4.00pm today, when we pick up my new camper van. Exciting. More on that tomorrow.

 

 

After landing in ‘God’s own country’ (thanks for the line Si), reacquainting myself with fine wine and food, reconnecting and sleeping for 10 hours, I feel that this is the day to reflect back upon what a long, challenging hospital stay is like. Particularly to share some survival ideas and thoughts on the recovery process: the physical and the psychological. Before it all becomes even more blurred than it is already.

My hospital visit had two distinct stages, ones that I imagine are common to all major surgery events. First up is the surgery and its physical impact. No matter what the surgery, being anaesthetised for any length of time is debilitating. It throws your whole system out. Particularly, it leads to food and gas retention. I felt bloated, I looked 6 months pregnant. I was stuffed up for several days and probably did not regain normal bowel function (without intervention) for a week. By which stage I was put under for another op and it all started again – though not for so long.

More than this, the physical shock of the surgery to the body, is exhausting. Rest is essential, obviously. I was not very tuned in to anything for 3 days. This I know because that was when I started the ‘Tales for a hospital bed’, when I first went walkabout with my camera and started the process of daily reflection. Looking back now, without reading my blog posts, I remember very little of the first week. I know I was well cared for physically, my medications helped, the regular monitoring made sure I was stable and I was always asked, ” Are you in any pain?”

The second week was different. By this stage I was physically stable, off the feed tube, eating hospital food and able to walk around Ward 10 and just outside on a regular basis. My pain levels were receding and the main focus was in occupying the time. The support team often used the word ‘boring’ to describe this time. Certainly, that is a potential hazard. Having positive outlets is essential. I can recommend having a daily focus that provides you the opportunity to share how you are feeling and what your day is like.

My regular blog posts and photos both illustrated my thoughts and feelings about each of the two stages of a long hospital visit. By openly discussing and sharing these ideas it allowed me to get out what was in my head and through that process what I was living though. The insight I had during this period, that this was way of being was simply an extension of how I had been working, and that I could continue the process as a mindful blogging/photography practice from then on, seems obvious now. When the penny dropped it was a revelation.

The truth is that caring for our own wellbeing in hospital benefits from an outlet. That could be simply a regular visit from a loved one who can hold your thoughts and feelings with love and compassion. I know that I had this too, but that having the personal written and visual outlet as well, hugely supported my wellbeing.

As I have mentioned, it is this that I am going to continue. Not only with daily blogs (or as close to that as I can manage) but also creating a ‘Photography for Wellbeing’ Workbook for others that will support my own immediate recovery and help others. We all need to talk and sometimes the words cannot be found. Sometimes a photo can say everything we need to say, more profoundly.

I know that some of the thoughts and feelings I have shared in this blog series have been a surprise to some of the medical professionals that have supported me. There are always going to be moments, hours and sometimes days when it all appears too much. The nurses and doctors necessarily focus on the physical difference they can make, and that is essential. However, patient wellbeing includes the psychological as well as the physical. Imagine a situation where there was also that type of support available for patients. How much quicker would recovery and adjustment to the change of life be then?

I feel that it is in this area that my future work will develop. I already have plans for this blog and a book. I have my on going photography project ‘Who Am I Now?’ that complete with an exhibition in 2020. All of that will take 6 months, then I will see where I am and what opportunities have arisen from that work. Most of all though, I like the synthesis between my life and work. They are almost one and the same and that seems like a perfect recipe for patient wellbeing.

Reflecting on a long hospital stay

 

 

The training wheels are off. An almost completely normal nights sleep, only a dressing change over my neck hole required at 4.40am. Otherwise a full night’s sleep. What a novelty. In fact when I was woken up for my breakfast order I thought it was 6.45am, it was only 15 mins later when the Doctors appeared that I realised it was 8am.

I haven’t talked much about the donor sections of my body that have contributed to my throat reconstruction. A small section of skin (half of its full thickness) was removed from my thigh. This was used to cover a small section of rib cartilage that was inserted to widen my airway. Pretty amazing huh?

The donor sites are healing well. As you can see above, most of the thigh donor site has healed over and I have a trendy patch. This will take about 18 months to fade and may remain slightly darker in colour than my normal pale skin tone. The scar on my chest has healed and looks neat. Press ups are still a little out of bounds, but otherwise it feels good.

Rib Cartilage Donor Site

Whilst I am on the subject of scars I would be remiss not to give you a sight of the main work. Look away now if you are squeamish. This was the look of the trachi hole and the main operation scar this morning. It is healing OK. Obviously there is still a hole for a while, and during the closing phase it will need a dressing on it. I have to press on this when I wish to talk, sneeze or cough. You can guess what happens when I forget.

Trachi hole and operation scar just above

My overall feeling, now I am out of the medication and post op fog, is one of gratitude. I am grateful for the skilled surgeons who developed and delivered this operation. I am grateful for the skilled and caring support I have received from Doctors, Nurses, Student Nurses and HCAs on Ward 10 South and beyond. They have also been supported by great catering and cleaning staff. Many of these staff go the extra mile to check on me and provide whatever it is I need. They know who they are. Thank you.

I am also grateful for the support I have received from you. My very wide circle of friends who read this blog. Thank you for your fabulous comments and kind words. They all mean so much to me. Then of course huge thanks to my nearest and dearest. For the food snacks, the messages, the Skype ‘chats’, the live chats, and the company. All of these have kept me going through the darker days and nights.

Most of all thanks to my lover, my girlfriend and partner (that’s just one person!) Thanks for your smile, your attentiveness, thoughtfulness, foodie treats, scrabble and love. You have made this challenging period pass quickly and gently. I couldn’t have done it without you.

And so onto the second day of my probationary period. A little trip out! Today is the first day I have put shoes on and walked outside for 17 days. It’s cold out huh? Because I have been confined for over two weeks, everything outside took on a novel gleam. It all looked fascinating, the people, the traffic, the buildings and the general busy-ness.

I’m back out later for a late lunch with the lovely Dinah at our favourite local caff. They do provide the best Eggs Benedict, and I haven’t had an egg for a long time! Yum. In the meantime here are a few of my favourite street photos from this morning. Freedom tomorrow!

 

The Probation Edition. When I awoke this morning at 6 I just laid there for a while coming to. After a while I noticed a warm glow coming from beneath the blind. I slid out of bed, raised the blind and revealed the day. It felt like a positive omen for the day to come and so it has been proved.

Spectacular Start

Great news, the trachi is out, swallow test is all OK (although beer may be a couple of days yet) cannula is out and I will be out Friday morning. Hoo-bloody-ray. So in preparation for release I’m calling this my probationary period. A couple of days where I initially escape the confines of Ward 10 and explore more of the hospital, building stamina back up and reminding myself there’s a big old world out there.

I am relieved and a little elated, not only to have the trachi out and be healing well, but also to feel some normal energy returning. My excitement and high adrenaline actually meant that it wasn’t until after 12 that I fell asleep last night. But boy did I sleep. The great nurse on duty kindly agreed to minimise the medical checks and I slept deeply for 6 hours, horizontally. The first time for 2 weeks.

The way out

This morning I have had the trachi removed, seen all the Doctors, had a temporary dressing put in place and tested out my new voice. Breathing is much improved. It feels easier than it has for years. The voice is croaky and whispery at present, but this will improve over the next 3 weeks as the swelling goes down and my new throat get used to it all.

During the swallow test we were discussing how swallowing water requires greater concentration than anything else with more viscosity. I was advised that I needed to take this attentive approach to every swallow. Mindful eating is required. Oh, the irony. This is because the gap between my vocal chords is now wider, meaning that it is easier for food to slip into my windpipe. Paying attention to every swallow, means that food is carried over this risk. That implies that eating, drinking and talking need to be separate activities. A second or two is enough. Each swallow needs to be consciously attended to.

I should also mention the trachi and talking. Now the tube is out there is a hole. I have been told that this heals quite quickly internally, but the hole in the skin takes up to 2 weeks to close up. In the meantime I have a dressing on with a button I can press on to close the hole when I need to talk. It’s all a little strange at present, but will soon be but a distant memory!

Morning release

Eventually, after all the tests, removal of medical interventions and more tests I was allowed out. I initially headed for the staircase to walk down a few flights of the staircase I shot earlier in my stay. My idea was to create a shot looking up. The only way is up. Here it is.

Upwards

I got as far as this and then remembered that in this modern world means of payment is required for purchases. I’ve been in a protected bubble. So back to the lift, the ward and collection of cards. I returned again, this time to the ground floor and went on a wander to see what I could see. Here are a few of my favourites. Tea and cookie followed. What will follow tomorrow?

Lovebirds

Reflecting on Charing Cross Hospital

Winter is here

Art Break

Great Exhibition

Happy Probationer

 

 

 

A low key edition. To reflect my mood. I am dog tired and, of course, that affects mood. Sleep has been episodic for a while now and the cumulative effect of several nights with little deep sleep is insidious. I am usually a good sleeper. 8 hours a night no problem. It’s time to get out of here.

However, first I have to get through the second operation. Later today it will be clear how successful the reconstruction has been. Hopefully, I will be breathing through my throat without the aid of the precautionary small trachi. I may even be able to talk. Eating and swallowing may be restricted for 24 hours – which is a pain as the nil by mouth has me hungry now – because there may be granulomas that have been removed during surgery.

I am optimistic, even in my heavy, boneless state. Recovery has gone well since the first surgery two weeks ago. I just have to wait and see. All being well after a quiet day tomorrow the trachi will be removed on Thursday and I’ll be out on Friday. There is a background hum of fear, of things that could not happen or go wrong. I know that these thoughts are inevitable, but as a positive character I do believe that all will be OK, and the fear can just piss right off.

The two photos today kind of reflect my mood. The header image was created when I was awake after early meds run this morning. I used the self timer and forgot to put my ever present nebuliser back on for the shot, as I was moving around the bed to get back in within 10 seconds.

The second photo was the view that greeted me when I opened the blind. A sliver of golden possibility under heavy doubt.

 

Morning all. Last day of being a patient patient before the second stage tomorrow. Meanwhile, some better sleep last night, although the bar has been set pretty low recently. I feel more balanced today, keen for the next stage to come and go and then to be outta here on Friday.

Tomorrow is the removal of the trachi and stent. That means that my airway will be clear and I will have first indications of my breathing capacity and voice. However, it is early days. There may still be some residual swelling from the first operation, and of course the reconstructed area is all very new.

This time the operation is through my mouth. The last one was an incision in the neck. It is also a shorter operation, hopefully less than an hour, which is always better from a recovery point of view. After they take the stent out, they will assess the airway, possibly do some laser work and balloon dilation, and then replace the trachi with another smaller one. This one will have a cap on it. If my airway is OK, the cap will stay on. If I struggle, it is there to keep me breathing.

My tenth post in this series is garnished with photos from Floor 10, where I am based. I have been creating and collecting these over my stay here, just because they were there. Now, they turn out to be useful.

Yesterday, Dinah and I were spotted not on Floor 10. This is a problem. I am not supposed to leave Floor 10 in case something unexpected should occur and I have a breathing difficulty. I understand, but I am accompanied and I am in a hospital and I have got a little stir crazy. Anyway, my punishment is to be confined to the ward until the op Tuesday. I wasn’t best pleased. No rambling around creating photos today. Fortunately though, this is my tenth post and I have photos ready.

Considering that the development of the ‘Tales’ post series was an accident, in that I had not thought about doing anything like this, it has grown to be a key part of my mornings and a beneficial contributor to my wellbeing. The activity has been a central plank of each morning; going out and about creating photos and then writing about how the day is passing, how I feel and illustrating all of this with creative photos.

It has only just struck me that this is how the blog needs to continue – in a daily manner. Incorporating mindfulness into my world means that life is the practice. Keeping a daily record, with accompanying photos, gives me the space to reflect on how this is, to be grounded and to process whatever is going on. Paying attention to my day and illustrating it with creative photos. There we are, its settled. How long do you think I will keep it up?

 

 

Sleep. It’s an essential element of our wellbeing. When it is disrupted or inadequate we do not function as well – physically, emotionally and psychologically. Sleeping in hospital can be a challenge. Here’s a sleepy tale shaped by recent nocturnal events.

Immediately after surgery and in the following few days, sleep came quite easily. No doubt my body was partly in shock, partly exhausted and wholly medicated. Gradually in the second week of recovery my general health and wellbeing has stabilised. I have had less drugs (in fact, no painkillers for 12 hours) and I feel balance is returning.

Alongside of these improvements has come a discomfort with sleeping in an upright position. I have to sleep with my head higher than my body, to help breathing. This means I sleep on my back, spreadeagled on the bed, facing the far wall. In the early exhausted, drugged nights I didn’t notice any discomfort. Now, with greater clarity, things are changing.

Before last night I had experienced two consecutive nights where I had awoken at 2ish and not been able to get back to sleep for several hours. As you can imagine I was pretty tired last night approaching 10pm. But I was also restless and agitated, once I turned the light off and tried to sleep, I got progressively more agitated.

My t-shirt irritated me, so I changed it. My legs were restless, so I got up and walked a little. I tossed and turned. The upright position got right on my nerves. I just wanted to turn over onto my side and lie flat. So, I tried that. Very uncomfortable. My legs twitched. I felt awash with fidgety, frayed energy.

After discussing my frustrations with the nurse on duty I final fell into a deep, deep sleep. So deep that when they did the usual observation tests I didn’t stir. I know this because  I was dragged from the depths by a voice saying, ” Lee, Lee, Lee.” I struggled to the surface, looked at the mocking clock (2.40pm) and heard, “Your blood sugar is 4.2, you need something to eat or drink.”

Diabetes is just one more complication. Keeping a balanced sugar level is more challenging because of all the meds and the varying recovery rates. But anything below 4 is a risk. So food and drink is required. I drank the offered apple juice, then remembered Dinah’s earlier foodie gifts, got up again and consumed two cheese straws and a biscuit. That done I laid back down.

Still heavy with deep sleep I hoped for a swift return. At 4.30 I felt like I hadn’t slept, but time had passed in a snap. Eventually, deeper, dream filled sleep returned and I slept through til 6.45. Yep, they gave me a lie in from the 6am observations.

Now, I feel my weight in the day. Solid as a blancmange. Heady and heavy. The photos with this post were created feeling and sharing this experience. It’s a fabulous gift, to not only write about how I feel, but also to create photos that attempt to share those feelings visually. Because sometimes words are not enough. Sometimes they are too much. Photography can share it all, in a moment.

P.S. For those of you interested in these things. I used my travelling camera set. A first generation Fuji XT-10 with a 27mm pancake lens. I set it to manual focus, defocussed the lens and looked at what I could see. Whilst I created the photos in colour, I had black and white in mind as I created them. Editing was done in Lightroom.

I am very tired. Two nights of poor sleep have left me a little low in most ways and I am watching my moaning mind escalate and embroider. It’s not as pretty as the end of that sentence sounds.

I won’t throw any of those whinges your way, for they are but passing bleak thoughts that will soon enough evaporate. However, my general mood and recent experience led me to my theme for today. Having finally given up on sleep around 6 I slipped into browsing the online pages of a national newspaper. Probably not my wisest choice. This is what followed.

The Corridors of Power

Our pre Christmas treat for the first time in very nearly a century is a General Election. You know that. I know that. Apparently though we need hourly reminders. Reminders that generously offer us the very gifts we need for Christmas and beyond. Perhaps it would be more accurate (I don’t know why should I be accurate when they aren’t but hey, someone has to hold the line) to call them promises of gifts. Tax breaks, more money spent on the NHS, roads, education, free broadband, and 60m trees (not Christmas ones – missed a trick there). On and on the Christmas list runs.

How many of these presents will be sitting under your newly planted Christmas tree come the big day (25th not 12th)? After three years of broken Brexit promises do you believe your Uncle and Aunty Politician will actually put something in those beautifully wrapped colourful boxes? Or will they turn out to contain unwanted presents or maybe just an empty box? You know the answer.

As you probably know I have channelled some of my Brexit frustrations into art. Next weekend I’ll be submitting my two Brexit photos into the Swansea Open Art Exhibition, for consideration. This is a developing interest and one I will be continuing into the next troubled period. For you know that whatever the outcome of the General Election, Brexit will still rumble on. All sorted by 31st January? I think it’s more likely I’ll get my tax return in on time than we will leave in an orderly manner. I’m looking forward to at least two more photographic creations – another six months or so?

Empty Corridors

I am limited by my environment but I have realised that these empty corridor photos are the perfect riposte to the unseemly scramble for power we are immersed in. Enough said.

 

 

Thanks to those of you who contributed photo themes to keep me creatively occupied and in mischief. I’ve had staff faces, tension, equipment as art, textures, hospital hustle and bustle, and probably my favourite – slippers! More on that lower down. But before I show you today’s creations I need to have a little ramble on about boredom. I know, how exciting.

Sometimes we just have to sit and await the world’s unfolding. These moments are quite rare in our striving, can do world. We have become quite used to doing something all the time; to taking action, making decisions, wresting control – doing anything except just wait and watch the world unfurl. Moments when we don’t have access to distraction or entertainment are very rare. So when we are in one of those slower, bland moments, just sitting a waiting is beyond our habit, even with access to online distractions, and we may describe this time as boring.

Perhaps a trigger for the boredom is when choice has been removed, when we have to just sit and wait. The week that I am now in has been called by many of my caring team as a ‘boring’ week. When compared to the first week – with its catalogue of medical interventions, monitoring, drugs, recalcitrant bodily functions, ongoing discomfort, poking and prodding – it is certainly less eventful.

This is the kind of boring I can cope with, maybe even thrive in. For it is also an opportunity. A time where sitting and observing this unfolding is a little like a retreat. I can watch my thoughts, reflect upon where I am and where I might be going. I have time for seeing and creating and for sharing how this is for me.

At least this is the shape of most of my days. However, there are still swathes of time where it all passes me by. Where it is just about escaping the humdrum. And amongst the paying attention and watching the world’s unfolding, escaping has a place. I believe that it may provide an opportunity for rest and fun, for my subconscious to have a holiday. I can just imagine my subconscious on a sun lounger, in the shade of a tropical beach, watching the waves and reading his favourite book.

And bang, I am back in the room. More meds are being doled out. Routine and boredom are OK. Balance between the watching, paying attention and escaping is the key for me. And then there is always a firework moment to look forward to. This morning’s first bowel movement for over a week is certainly one of those! Who would have thought I would ever have blogged that sentence. See, certainly not boring.

Equipment as Art

This is the theme I went with today (thanks Sis). I did talk to several nurses about photographing them, but there was a strong reluctance to get involved. So equipment as art today. Here are a few of my favourites.

Regular visitor, the ‘Obvs Machine’

 

Yin and Yang

 

Keeping us going

 

Wipes for every occasion

 

Fortunately, a rare visitor

 

Yes, that is my throat on the screen

 

I sense that the slowing of change and the adjustment to my new scenario may influence the content of these blog posts. It’s a challenge in the relentless routine and unchanging sensations to find interesting creative output. But then that’s why I’m doing it! So here goes.

Medically all is going as well as possible. There is not much change. Less painkillers is good. Eating is happening, but is not inspiring. The main item of entertainment is, “Have your bowels moved today Lee?” The common answer is unfortunately negative. However, I have stopped needing the codeine which allegedly doesn’t help and started taking a probiotic, which will help my gut return to some normality. I could certainly do without the enemas!

The highlight today – unless my bowels move(!) – will be the visit of my lovely valley girl. Dinah is travelling up today and should be here this afternoon, possibly picking up a bacon sandwich on route. Yum.

Meanwhile, I have been out for my morning wander, creating a few photos within my confines. I have chosen a few to share below. But I fear that my creative juices are being a bit drained. I’ll have to have a re-think tomorrow. Or maybe you could set me a challenge? Send me a photography task that would entertain and stretch me. Go on, you know you want to. Just add it into the comments below or use the contact page.

I like this one for its simplicity, colour and humorous juxtaposition

 

When in doubt hunt out colour and throw in a diagonal

 

Multiple exposure in camera. What is he thinking?

 

Who cannot fail to get well with support from these two?

 

This second week of recovery is a slow moving beast. How I can remain sane, positive and support my well-being is at its heart. Today, I thought I would ramble on about how art is helping, not that I am not engrossed in reading, Netflix and podcasts. But every morning I crack out my camera, challenge myself to create some new photos of the same place and write this blog. Both art ventures are rooted in unchanging routine, with medical highlights true, but generally the landscape is unchanging. I know that as the days progress this will become more relentless, so the art comes into its own. Well-being can be supported by art. Here’s how I am doing it.

I had no intention of writing this blog, nor that it would become a daily activity. However, its emergence has been quite natural and matches my usual blogging. Writing about what is present in my life and creating photos to accompany it has been my way for several years. Usually this has been related to my work, but it is always rooted in my daily activity. So these ‘Tales from my hospital bed’ are a natural consequence.

How they can continue to be entertaining for you and supportive for me is the challenge. Particularly as this next week is quieter medically. And so I return to my intention, to write about what is happening. Today that is the challenge of creating new and interesting photos in the same environment. I have just my room, the ward, and the lift area and stairwell outside the ward to play with.

Multiple Exposure

As I mentioned yesterday I have the facility to combine two photos in camera. This is interesting as a technical skill, but the art still has to be purposeful. Here’s an example.

Keeping my feet on the ground

This uses the same background as yesterday’s header image. It’s looking down the 10th floor stairwell, a view that suggests a huge climb has been achieved, but that also a big fall is possible. By then situating my feet where I did, I am suggesting that however I feel each day I have to stay grounded, stay rooted to my current standing. Another words, pay attention – be mindful. I liked the fortunate location of the light, in that one foot is lit with bright sunlight, the other is darker. A nod to the light and dark that passes through my day, as events bring both contentment and difficulty.

A lot of my art is about how I am in the present moment. So quite often I feature in some form. I regularly look for different ways of producing selfies that could reflect differing mental states. Not that I am always experiencing them at that moment. More that I have or will. Here are a couple of examples. What mood or emotion does each one convey for you?

Shadow man ascends

 

Inverted lift man

And then I also look for interesting photo opportunities. The view from my window is a constant draw. This diptych of images was created as an intentional pair, simply to show night and day of the same view. Tricky to get them exactly the same without a tripod and marker pen! But you get the idea. The intention of the pair is not only to create interest in the view, but to remind us of light and dark, sun and shade. For every state there is an opposite.

 

A Final Thought

It appears that creativity is endless, like numbers or the universe. Having released everything I had thought of with relation to Mindful Photography it came as a surprise when considering what I would do next photography wise that I had more to give. I have the working title for my next book – ‘Photography for Well-Being’. Not only that but when I started thinking about format, it immediately became clear that this must be an experiential learning book. Primarily it will contain photography activities – I have 21 new activities so far – each one will teach a photography skill, but more importantly each will be designed in such a way as to enhance your well-being. I am going to spend a few months completing the activities myself – to create accompanying photos – and write the text as I complete each activity. Kind of art for well-being in action. At least that is the plan from the hospital bed. I recognise that this all could change!

 

There is a risk that these medical missives could turn into a moan fest. During the middle of last night’s drug dispensing (not as dangerous or exciting in hospital as on the mean streets) I composed today’s tale in my head and it was a catalogue of whingeing, mainly about those who are caring for me who always leave the damn light on when they finish with me. I could rattle on about this type of person, but they are in the minority. Instead I will salute the caring, the patient, the funny and the wonderful nurses and doctors who go the extra mile.

The dreaded feed, brown sludge

If you have spent anytime with NHS recently you will know that services are stretched beyond breaking. The only thing that keeps it barely hanging together is the goodwill and hard work of the staff. I have had fabulous considerate care from many, many staff. Particularly a shout out for all the nurses – of every grade. Long hours and changing shift patterns is just the top layer of their commitment. They are compassionate, conscientious, caring and calm, especially when I am at my least well and can barely communicate what I need because I don’t know and can’t talk.

As a minimum all these staff do their job with kindness and good grace. Some go the extra mile, checking in to see how you are doing when they are based elsewhere. All have a smile and reassurance that things will improve. They are essential to my well-being and without straying too far into the election mire I would like to shout out from this 10th floor bed that the next government needs to invest heavily in the NHS, not continue its death by 1000 cuts.

No more politics, promise.

Alternate window view

Health-wise I’m doing OK. Recovery is on track. All the drugs for this, that and the other are exhausting, but I am sleeping through all the noise, disruption and discomfort and that is key to my ongoing improvement. It is a joy to receive messages of support and love from friends and family.

These will be even more helpful in the coming week or so. You know how it is. After a while routine takes over and that old friend, fighting off boredom with his laptop, books and camera, may slip from your thoughts. Don’t let it happen! Be alert. Send me something to make me smile, laugh, cry, whatever. Keep ’em coming! Your support keeps me going through all the crap. Oh yeah, and please turn the light off when you go. Ta

Photographer bed view

I’m feeling a bit rubbish today. For the first hour or so I was nauseous, dazed, dizzy and tired. Anti- sickness meds were consumed immediately – I can have pretty much anti-everything drugs it appears. Though the unnatural balance achieved can’t be ideal, it is better than puking with a stent and trachi in place. This unnatural balancing also extends to my bowels – the usual (non) reaction to anaesthetic – tho it hasn’t worked for a couple of days now. Probably explains the sickness.

Well done if you’ve got through the first paragraph of medical moaning. It’s better out than in! The operation does appear to have gone well, so I need to stop the moaning huh? But I have to wait until 19th November before we know the extent of its effectiveness, so there’s sure to be some more moaning before then. Until then I’ll just vomit my pain, agony, uncomfortableness and impatience all over this blog.

So how goes the average day? Hospitals like their routine and this one is much like all others, the routine being structured by drug dispensing, medical monitoring, doctors’ inspections and staff patterns. Of all of these, the morning dispense of medications is probably the most annoying, particularly if you have finally drifted into a deep sleep and then are gently but insistently prodded (verbally) awake at 6.00am.

Generally though, all moaning aside, I am coping well. I have been able to sleep intermittently through all the noise and light and in an upright position – don’t want to drown in my own phlegm do I now? This is my first weekend and it’s different from Monday to Friday. Quieter, less staff and action. Perhaps we’re not allowed to be any more ill at the weekend, “Just keep ’em ticking over nurse” is the staff briefing for the weekend crew.

My routine, which is developing because of their’s, involves getting out of bed before 8 (tho that was a struggle this morning), opening the blind, turning on the fan – to move the warm, stale hospital air – and going for a short and exciting lap or 3 around the ward. There I am, still attached to the feeding mobile, shambling along, occasionally waving or smiling at any patient who is not immersed in their own distraction therapy.

As I walk I try to remember to do my breathing exercises, several deep breaths held for 5+ seconds. This helps to loosen to phlegm that is an ongoing pain. I did a record 5 laps this morning, with no noticeable problem. This afternoon, my lovely Dinah will be visiting, and we will escape the confines of Ward 10 for a while, touring exciting places like the lifts area outside Ward 10. I won’t be able to sleep later.

All of the out-of-ward experience is only possible when I get my 4 hours off the feeding station. This is a crucial stage for dissolving the developing stir-crazy feeling. Perhaps it should be an essential step of the surviving a long hospital stay guide?

Anyways that’s enough of my whingeing for a while. I’ll finish with a few photos, again photography is being used to support my well being. I can recommend it!

First night on the ward

 

The patient patient

 

Day 4 Post Op

Three days after my major op I’m alert (well I am right now, it comes and goes) and healing. The process all went as expected and now I have a couple of weeks in the hospital where patience will be my watch word.

That’s easy to say, but I have to sit around the ward for almost two weeks until I have the trach removed, hopefully. There is daily testing, poking, cleaning, drugs and more drugs to colour the day.

Fortunately the lovely Dinah comes to keep me entertained, and I fall asleep. Ah yes sleep. It’s been intermittent. The pain and testing disturbs any long rest, and so I fall asleep when visitors come.

So if you’re at a loose end drop me a line, you will help the day pass with a little more flavour and boy does it need that. I have all forms of communication here, but no voice of course. Hopefully that’ll be back in a short while. Until then I can entertain with these dazed messages. Do write back!

I have throat reconstruction surgery planned for November. I have recently had the date officially confirmed and have begun to consider how this major change sits in my life path. My current feeling is that I am at the edge of a significant new period of my life and the surgery is a flag that is alerting me to this fact.

The throat reconstruction will affect my airway, voice and swallow function. Hopefully, the final one of those effects will be a temporary difficulty, but the other two will shape the rest of my life. I hope that improved breathing ability will increase my capacity for physical exercise. At the moment I can do gentle exercise, including walking gently undulating paths and walking football. I am hoping that I will be able to manage hills more easily in the future and possibly vigorous cycling!

The way the surgery affects my voice will be fundamental to future communication. I imagine that this will affect how I work and socialise. My voice is already quiet, the possible reduction in that volume will influence how and where I can communicate. I am sure that my social life will adjust, but the impact it has upon my working life will be interesting. I have already pulled back from offering and workshops or courses in the near future, until it becomes clear if I can still teach live. I do love doing that, so this will be a loss that is felt.

This impending change has been one of the reasons I have finally got around to publishing my eBooks. Knowing that public speaking may not be possible in the future has motivated me to share the work I love to teach in written form. Understanding how to prepare the books for publication, including the world of eBooks and Amazon, has been a steep but enjoyable learning curve, and maybe something that I do more of in the future.

In fact publishing the eBooks has been the thing that has alerted me to how I am on the edge of great change. Releasing the eBooks is a clearing of the decks. I know that when you let go of something other things turn up to fill the space. What emerges into this new chapter of my life will be intriguing. I believe there may be more books and certainly more photos. Perhaps more art photography? From here on life will be different. Next year I am hoping to move house and location, buy a new house with my partner and I turn 60. That is a lot of change but the world is rich with possibility and I am ready (I think) for the new opportunities and of course, I will be using my Mindful Photography practices to support my adjustment to the changes.

“Photography is putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis”
Henri Cartier Bresson

I do love this quote. Not only does it summarise my view of photography beautifully, it has also been an inspiration for my development of a mindful approach to photography.

Henri Cartier Bresson was a French photographer who is generally regarded as the father of photojournalism. He was an early user of 35mm, which with his rangefinder Leica and 50mm lens attached allowed him to develop his candid style of street photography. He is perhaps most famous for coining the phrase ‘the decisive moment’, to describe the optimum time to press the shutter.

This quote neatly encapsulates the key aspects of outstanding photography and is worthy of a brief analysis.

The Eye

What we see through our eyes is light and colour. Our eyes do not know what it is that they see. In that way they are very much like the camera, they record the light. They do not label what they see.

Our eyes also see like a combination of two lenses. They have a focal length similar to a 50mm lens, but with far wider angle of view. Our peripheral vision gives us the view similar to a fish eye lens – but without the severe distortion.

All of this sensory information is passed instantaneously to the brain, and that is where the trouble starts!

The Head

By head, we mean the role of the mind in photography. Its primary purpose is to interpret all of the visual information provided by the eyes. This is to keep us safe, identifying potential threats and potential sources of food. Except when we train to be photographers all of that identification and labeling can get in the way of seeing what is really in front of us.

The features before us are the light, colours, shapes, forms, lines, space, patterns and textures. Our mind receives this visual information and in a snap compares this to known similar visual data and labels the object(s). All very useful on the Serengeti Plains when out hunting, but as a photographer creating a great photo it is the features that we need to see before the label. For it is this that will guide our artistic creation through compositional choice.

So how can we learn to forget the names of what we see and truly see everything, and every possibility? Practice. In the books I have available I share practices that can help to develop this ability.

The Heart

The heart is used here to signify the emotion of a photograph. If we are to create photographs that rise above the ‘good’ to be ‘great’ we need to engage the heart. Both ours and the viewers. How can we do that? Guess what? I share some of the foundations of how photographers first attempted to do this, and some useful mindful practices to support your development as photographers in my books.

If you are intrigued why not download the free eBook below and then you’ll get some great information, and 9 Mindful Photography Practices. These will help you to develop mindful attitudes: Patience, Beginner’s mind, Non striving, Trust, Letting Go, Acceptance, Non Judging, generosity and Gratitude. It’s a win-win!

Over the last few years I have slowly come to the realisation that it is life that is the practice. Every aspect, every element, every event, every difficulty provides opportunity to be with how it is and respond skillfully. That is for me, the heart of mindfulness. It is not just a practice, but a way of life. The practice is life. Life is the practice.

It is helpful to reflect on a current definition of mindfulness.

“Mindfulness isn’t just about knowing that you’re hearing something, seeing something, or even observing that you’re having a particular feeling. It’s about doing so in a certain way – with balance and equanimity, and without judgement. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.” Sharon Saltzburg

Sharon Saltzburg perfectly distils it down in that final sentence. ‘Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.’ The ability to do this, to be this way, is born from daily meditation practice and a commitment to pay attention to each moment of the day. It is the paying attention that is difficult to maintain. Meditation is the training ground. We sit and we pay attention to our mind leaping about. We use an anchor (breath, sound, sight) to come back to ourselves in the moment.

Modern scientific understanding of the brain’s functioning helps us to understand how meditation creates neural pathways which we can then use throughout our day to support our intention to pay attention. If you’re interested in this concept take a look at this simple explanation of neural plasticity

My own experience of meditation and mindfulness echoes this. I have had a daily practice for several years. Only in the last couple of years have I started to notice it infiltrating the rest of my life, as I have slowly developed the ability to pay attention more often in the rest of my life. Of course, I regularly fail. I fall back into old behaviours, habits and ways of thinking. I know why; those neural pathways have been around longer. I often liken them to motorways. I’m used to using them and they get me places quickly. Or so I imagine.

The intention to practice paying attention throughout my life has a simple goal. Sharon Salzburg called it creating space for insight. Another Mindfulness guru, Jon Kabat-Zinn, talks about us developing the ability to respond skillfully, rather than reacting habitually. I intend to continue to develop my ability to be with each moment, fully accepting how it is and responding skillfully. That is the life practice!

So if that is the intention how can a Mindful Photography Practice help?

Mindful Photography Practice

I meditate daily, walk mindfully occasionally and intend to follow a mindful photography practice once a week. Any activity can be an opportunity to practice mindfulness, to practice and develop the habit of paying attention. As Mr Kabat-Zinn says, “Applying mindfulness to any activity turns it into a kind of meditation.”

I generally keep my practice simple and I’ll explain what I do and how below.

Camera and lens choice

Firstly, I always use the same camera and lens set up. I favour a prime lens that echoes how we normally see. A 50mm focal length or equivalent is the way to go. My current camera, the Fuji XT2, has a crop factor of 1.5. so a 35mm lens is equivalent to 52.5mm on a full frame sensor. (Confused? get a simple explanation here….and then check out your camera a lens combination here. Warning: you’ll need to know your sensor size.)

If you use a zoom lens that’s fine. You can carry on using it as is, or you could tape it up at the 50mm equivalent and just use one focal length. Why do this you ask? If you use just one lens regularly and it is similar to how you see, it will support your ability to create photographs that are similar to what you see. Wide angle and telephoto lenses distort the photo. For me the essence of the mindful photography practice is to represent what I see and how I see it.

Camera set up

My regular set up is Aperture Priority with a mid range aperture as my walk about position and ISO appropriate for the light. The basic intention is to choose a simple set up from which I can create photo that represents what I see, that is exposed correctly and with a good depth of field. If I want to make creative choices about depth of field, focus, white balance etc I can do so mindfully from this position. After creating the photo I then return to the original camera set up.

Four Stage Seeing Practice

My own Four Stage Seeing Practice is the anchor for a mindful photography practice. This involves coming back to what I see every time I notice my mind has gone elsewhere, much in the same way as you return to the breath when meditating. The four stages are Anchor, Seeing, Resting and Creating. I explain them fully in my book – Mindful Photography: How to use photography to develop mindfulness

Time

I generally practice for an hour, choosing to walk around a location and just notice what I see. The heart of the practice is to not look for a photo opportunity. That may sound contrary. After all I do expect to create some photos. My suggestion to you is, don’t look for a photo, just observe what you see. The photo will come to you.

If you practice this regularly one day this simple instruction will become part of how you photograph and you will have established a mindful photography practice as part of your intention to live a mindful life. Until then keep practicing!