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How the pandemic has changed my life

2020 has been a ridiculous year, unprecedented as so many people have said, and I think it has changed how so many of us feel about ourselves and our lives. And we are no different here in the Cleasby household. I said a couple of months ago that my big news was that I was going to University this year at the grand old age of 39. But also my husband Timm has decided to do it too! He is 48 and will be heading to do a degree in film.

We don’t do things by halves do we?

A series of unfortunate events

Lockdown was a bizarre experience for everyone. For us, it was another trauma in a series of tough events. In December, our beautiful 12 year old dog Lola got cancer and died, just a week before we moved house. So Christmas was two weeks later amidst boxes and the confusion of not quite knowing where everything was. I then ended up leaving my job that I absolutely loved, but had gone totally awry. I was incredibly poorly, awaiting another major surgery which happened at the beginning of February.

The recovery from this surgery was a nightmare, I had complete Ileus where my bowel stopped working for three weeks and ended up with an NG tube (Nasogastric tube) and on Total parenteral nutrition (TPN). My kidneys began to fail and I nearly died. It was a very difficult time for us all as a family. For weeks I was unable to do anything, the muscles in my arms and legs are wasted and I was left weak and exhausted from the kidney issues.

woman with NG tube and a bag of bile

So 7 weeks later as I was just starting to feel a little bit human, it was a total shock to find the whole country going into lockdown! I hadn’t been able to leave the house for a couple of months and then suddenly we weren’t aloud to leave the house and thousands of people in the UK were dying. I was terrified. Due to Covid, I also lost my radio presenting job and our photography business was severely affected as we couldn’t shoot anything. All just as we had taken on a bigger mortgage.

Too much to bear

To be honest, it all just felt too much to bear. It was like everything was going wrong for us and it hit us both hard. My husband is a total workaholic, and all of a sudden, he had no work at all. At first we struggled with knowing what on earth to do with ourselves. We both felt very down and like we had lost part of who we were with the loss of work.

But there was nothing we could do about it and so as we have had to do so many times before, we tried to find the positives in the situation. We were both healthy (ISH!), we had our kids with us safe and well, we had a beautiful new home and though we desperately were grieving the loss of Lola, we had our chihuahua Lemmy to hug and keep us going. We also talked about how many times after surgery, I get back to things too quickly and don’t give myself enough time to heal, so this enforced rest and downtime could be a blessing in disguise.

family stood outside a house during lockdown

We walked a lot in the park, we learnt to bake bread, we bought a blow up hot tub and spent a lot of time chilling in the garden. We played games with the kids, read a lot, watched a lot of movies. There were things that needed sorting in the house that we wouldn’t usually have had time to do, so we decorated and sorted the bathroom and fixed up our camper van. We also started plotting.

If I won the lottery…

One day I said to Timm “If we won the lottery, I would go to university. I never got to go as a youngster and I feel I missed out”. He questioned why I would need a lotto win to do this, and I said that it would mean I couldn’t work full time and study. But as we talked about it, it started to feel more and more possible. I looked into it and saw that as I didn’t have Alevels, the uni would consider my life experience as part of my application.

I began putting together a portfolio which was scary but fun, the worry of others seeing my work nearly got too much. I thought about the experience I had and realised it was more than I had first thought. I knew that I wanted to do art, but I also knew I wanted it to lead somewhere where I could help people. I read up on Art Therapy and just felt that I had found what I was looking for.

During this time, Timm told me how excited he was for me, but that he did feel a little jealous! So I suggested that he do the same! He is a really creative person and has run an arts collective and a photography company for the past ten years. But he wanted to know more about film and have the time to gain new skills. And so he did!

New starts

Next week we both start university at the ages of 39 and 48. Something neither of us ever thought would happen and if I am honest probably wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic.

Often we get so caught up in the daily grind of life, in habits and fall into a groove of just plodding on. And when something happens to blow life apart it can shake you free of those binds to rise up and look at what you actually want from life.

We were happy before. Last year he was running the photography business and ran a music festival in Sheffield and I was working for a charity supporting disabled people as well as having my own radio show on Saturday mornings. Life was good. But that series of events from December through till July just changed everything.

man and woman walking a chihuahua through a field

We have had so many ups and downs, nine surgeries in the past 7 years and so much uncertainty around my health and there were moments where I felt like this pandemic was going to push us over the edge. But in true Cleasby style, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and tried a new path.

We are both nervous about taking on uni later in life and carrying on running businesses and bringing home the bacon but we have always said that we would rather regret the things we have done than regret not doing them. Who knows where our new paths may take us, but I couldn’t be happier to be facing it with my husband together.

Thinking of others

I know I am super lucky to be in this position, I don’t take it for granted that I have this opportunity when so many do not. It is easy to say we should all look for the bright side, seeking out a positive even when everything is shit but not so easy to do. But what a life with chronic illness has taught me is that nothing is guaranteed, we never know when this life we have could be taken away from us. I have learnt that I need to say yes, to be brave, to try the things I dream of even if I may fail.

The pandemic is simply awful and my heart goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one, has been ill themselves and everyone who has missed time with family and friends, who has had their care cut, who is lonely and struggling.

There is a quote that I often use and it feels apt today.

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.

Albus Dumbledore

I hope you can find the light switch, peace and love,

Sam xx

Aiming high

My husband is one of those bloody annoying people who always seem to be a high achiever, you know those gits who just do well in everything they try? When we met he was working in the music industry as a sound engineer, he went on to work for some amazing bands and then to be the tour manager for Arctic Monkeys, he won Tour Manager of the Year before having a change of career.  He then became a photographer and now is renowned for his amazing talent and runs (with his pretty awesome wife) The Picture Foundry.

He wanted to ‘keep his hand in’ the music industry and so years ago became involved with Tramlines, he is now the production director and helps to run Sheffield’s biggest festival.

timm and sam cleasby sheffield

One night he went to the pub with his mate James and together they came up with an idea for an arts group that was about nature, play and upcycled fun… Five years later, their company Responsible Fishing UK just got their SECOND year’s contract at the UK’s biggest holiday camp taking the brilliant project Camp Cardboard to inspire young people to be creative and families to spend time together and play.

Do you hate him yet? Only kidding!

The reality is that he deserves every triumph he gets.  He does all this with a kind hearted energy, fun and a great attitude.  He does all this because he sets goals, aims high and goes for it.  He is without doubt, the hardest working person I know and has the most self belief I have ever seen in a person!

My lighthearted dig at Timm is a joke, but it does show the side of humanity that seem to want to hate on the people who achieve in life and that’s what todays post is about.

When I got really ill in 2013 and had the surgery to remove my colon, I felt like my life was over.  I couldn’t see how the path I thought I was going to take could be an option to me now.  I was scared, anxious and fed up.  After having a massive cry and slowly learning to adapt, I did what we Cleasbys do best.  I sat down, thought of what I wanted and set my mind to making it happen.

We are by nature ‘doers’, Timm calls me itchy feet as I am always looking for the next move, the next adventure.   We always have a plan for the next year and then a long term plan, sometimes these change and move, but it makes me feel better to have an idea of where we want to go and also keeps us, as a couple, on the same page.

timm and sam cleasby wedding

Because of my illness, I have been better with the planning than the action for the past few years, and before that my plans were raising three young children whilst Timm was away on tour.  We had three kids in four and a half years and he was touring for nine months of the year and so you can probably imagine that my planning revolved around the whirlwind of semi single parenting!

But now things are starting to look up for me health wise (let’s not talk about my surgery on Saturday, eh?!) and my bambinos are getting that little bit older.  I know they still need us an awful lot but at 10, 12 and 14 they are so much more independent.  This is giving me more time to think about what I want.

I know what I want.  But voicing it is where I falter.  I worry that people will mock me, laugh at me or think I am too big for my boots.  We British love an underdog and don’t tend to like the confident, outspoken extroverts that shout about their goals, which is funny as Americans sometimes seem to be the opposite.  The american dream makes it ok to say ‘I want to be the best’ whilst the Brits look you up and down and wonder who you think you are!

But I am going to take a leaf out of my husband’s book.  He believes in setting goals and aiming high, then getting that shit done.  This isn’t about being a bitch or a hard faced business man, it isn’t about The Apprentice who show high achievers as being pretty much the worst people on Earth.  It is about remembering that life is short and we are only here once.

sam cleasby blogger writer sheffield

Not everyone wants to be a CEO, a brain surgeon, a millionaire… success isn’t about money.  But we should all be thinking about what do we really, really want in life.  Whether that is to spend more quality time with family, to travel the world, to go back to university, to learn to tango, to speak another language…

Or to write a book…

Since I was a child, I have loved to write.  I always wanted to be a writer but not going to college or University felt like a huge barrier to me becoming a writer.  Having babies at 19, 21 and 23 didn’t help my confidence either.  I’m always scared some super clever academic type will laugh me down if I speak the words ‘I want to write’, yet here I am writing this blog that is read all over the world.

And so I am aiming high.  I am writing a book, it is a continuation of this blog with parts of my story, the lessons I have learnt and a self help element for people to conquer their difficulties and be happier, more confident and more fulfilled.

I feel like a bit of a dick writing this down but sod it.  I want to write a best seller, I want to travel the world and maybe live for a while in Sydney near by big sis, I want to earn enough money to support Timm for a while, as his goals include playing more in the woods with James and sexing up motorbikes, I want to make a difference to people worldwide, I want to leave a legacy that will outlive my rotten bowels and chronic illness.  I want to be on Oprah FFS!

Are these goals too high? Yeah, probably.  But my retched colon nearly took my life and so why shouldn’t I aim for the stars?  What is the worst that can happen?  Timm and I have a motto that we would rather regret the things we have done, than the things we have not.  I would rather put myself out there and try to write a book and it fail miserably than to spend my life thinking ‘what if’.

setting goals

Aiming low and expecting little is a terrible option.  If you never strive for more, how will you achieve?  Again, this isn’t about money, it is about assessing your priorities and thinking about what you want.  We all have to work and so shouldn’t we aim to work in a job that makes us happy?  We all want to spend more time with the great people in our lives, yet often end up putting it off due to other commitments.  But if you make that a priority and voice it as your aim, you are more likely to do it.

I’d like to ask you a question… If I was your fairy godmother and could wave a magic wand right now and you could have one personal wish granted, what would it be?  I’m not talking about world peace, end to hunger or those things that we all would like to happen.  But if I could put you in a different situation, what would that look like?

Would it be a change of career, a change of destination, a better relationship with someone in your life?

Whatever that something is, ask yourself, what is stopping you from striving for that?

Make lists, set goals, aim high, think big.

You have one life and only you can make it what you want it to be.

Five years ago Timm and I set a goal for him to stop touring and to start a photography business, it was terrifying walking away from a good wage packet but we knew that his touring was making us all unhappy.  We made plans, worked hard, had some EPIC struggles but we managed it and we are now happier than ever.  Eighteen months ago, after a chat with the marvellous Faye at Keep Your Fork, I set a goal to start writing a blog about my experiences, it was a great way for me to start writing, today I sit here with a worldwide audience and well over 2 million views.

Some days, my illness and fatigue means that my plans are much smaller, I plan to shower, to do a couple of hours work, to watch a film with my kids.  These days aren’t failures, they are my tiny triumphs on a longer path to what I want in the future.

I am right at the start of my journey with this book and want to thank everyone who has sent their love and support.  It is pretty scary but knowing how much good I have done with my blog pushes me forward and makes me want to write something amazing that can make a real difference.

So this week, think about want you want from life.

Think big, aim high and be happy.

 

Sam xxx

Make your What Ifs happen every day

Im revisiting some old posts from my old blog, updating them and reblogging – so don’t think you are going mad if you think you’ve seen some posts or photos before!!

My other life is running a business with my amazingly talented photographer husband Timm Cleasby.  In December we took a huge leap and moved into a 15th century mill and started The Picture Foundry – our photography studio and arts hub in South Yorkshire.  As you can imagine, this takes up just a little bit of my time!!

At The Picture Foundry we have a kick ass photography studio as well as gardens, woods and a stream that we are filling with awesome sets and play areas… tree houses, a stage, a ridiculously amazing chaise longue…. We also run Responsible Fishing from the mill – an arts group set up by Timm and our friend James.  They come up with the most fantastical ideas and then put them into place, there is the stone balancing workshops that go out to festivals all over the UK, there is Camp Cardboard, which involves taking a huge pile of cardboard boxes into schools and encouraging the children to transform the school hall into a massive cardboard den.  They currently are working on a frankly bizarre yet exciting idea of building a life size version of the childrens game, Mouse Trap…

The thinking behind our move was to have a better work/life balance and to initiate a creative hub.  Life is short and you never know what time you have here so we wanted to fulfil our dreams, to make the things we have talked about for years actually happen.  A saying often heard nowadays in our home is “whats the worst that can happen?”

We knew that for us, the worst that could happen is to have regrets.  I want to regret the things I have done, not the things I haven’t!  We didn’t want to get old and to look back and think ‘what if’ – so we make our what ifs happen every day.

positivity life change bravery

Its not easy, we have three children, a dog, two cats and five chickens.  We have to think about money and schools and children and we have panics that perhaps we should take an easier route.  But the majority of the time, we feel blessed.  We feel proud for taking a leap and lucky that we have each other.  We wake up every morning and think ‘FUCK ME!!! LOOK WHERE WE LIVE!!!”

Since my surgery it feels even more important to live each day to the maximum, to take risks, live your dreams and make choices that bring you closer to your goals.  Life is very short.  None of us know what time we have on this planet or when life will throw us a massive curveball that will change your life forever.  I knoooooowwwww I blab on about positivity but I truly believe that with the right attitude, a big lump of courage and a bit of luck we can achieve anything.

Love Sam xx