PTSD… A Love Story – An Artist’s Artist Book

 In About My Work, Artist Books, Journal, Letterpress, Lino Printing, Printmaking

What is love? What is PTSD without Love? What is the terrain between Love and PTSD?

A few years ago I wrote about an artist book idea bubbling inside my head, and heart; and about my role as a Wife, a Carer and a Printmaker. Now I am proud (and nervous) to share with you the haptic realisation of my artist book “PTSD… A Love Story”.

It is my story, living alongside my husband, with PTSD.

I met my husband online … eharmony of all places. On our first date he disclosed, very quickly, that he had been diagnosed with PTSD from military and police service. We went on our second date the very next day.

Our relationship was intense. PTSD is intense. Falling in love is intense. Very quickly, we were living together. We were married within the year. We started to build a life together. And I started my steep learning curve and understanding of PTSD, military culture and medication.

We recently passed our 4th wedding anniversary and 5 years together … and here we are. It hasn’t been easy. Far from it. I know that marriage at the best of times isn’t easy. Add PTSD to the complexities of any marriage or relationship and the terrain gets tougher. Neither of us are perfect. But we are weathering the storm. Some days are easier than others.

I love my husband. And through the roller-coaster highs and lows of living alongside PTSD I have often asked myself the following questions:

They were hard questions. Sometimes they were desperate exclamations. No one else can answer them. But sometimes I just wish someone would.

PTSD… A Love Story – My Artist Book

An artist friend, whose artist book work I admire greatly, shared with me an excerpt from an essay by Johanna Drucker  “The space of a book is intimate and public at the same time; it mediates between private reflection and broad communication in a way that matches many women’s lived experience.

This book is a collection of my personal thoughts, my own, very personal call-and-response. Intimate words that reflect my personal lived experience, fighting and surviving as a partner of a war veteran and first responder diagnosed with PTSD and other mental health conditions. It is a young story, just over 5 years young. I hope my story grows and ages, gracefully, to hold wrinkles and character lines of love and experience. Time will tell.

The book is intentionally simple in its presentation.
The colours are soft.
The imagery subtle.
The subject matter is raw.
The book is awkward in size, orientation and binding. The subject matter is awkward.
The paper is heavy and lightly textured, wanting to be handled. Yet clean and crisp, almost too perfect to touch.
There are thin, translucent papers, interleaved within the book, delicate and fragile.
It is imperfect in its printing and structure. Life is not perfect.

The book is meant to be read; to be touched. Turn the pages, with care, but do not be too precious with it.
Life is precious – but it also to be lived. Life wears and scar and builds character and a history. I expect that this book, too, will carry its own scars and history as it is read.

This book is a part of my story, our love story, living with PTSD.

 

PTSD… A Love Story – an experience shared on paper

Front Cover
LETTERPRESS PRINTED TEXT
PTSD… A Love Story

HANDWRITTEN TEXT
For my husband,
and every loved one
living alongside PTSD

IMAGE
Blind embossed infinity symbol.
For me this symbol represents strength, patience and a will to overcome adversity. Resilience.

What is Love? Have you truly pondered this question? I mean really, really thought about it? What does it look like? What does it feel like … now … in 2 months time, 5 years, 35 years? What does it mean to you?

LETTERPRESS PRINTED TEXT
What is Love?

IMAGE
An inkjet image transfer onto translucent Kozo paper.
This is my favourite photo of my husband and me. We were a rush of hormones and chemicals blissfully falling in love; full of hope and desire for a happy future. When this was taken, there was nothing we couldn’t handle together; and nothing I couldn’t tackle, head-on, as it presented itself.

HANDWRITTEN TEXT
Love is special
and love is many things
       love it patient
       love is action
       love is a force of nature
and love can be really hard
       love is unconditional
       love is conscious
       love is compassionate
and loving someone with PTSD
       can be harder

LETTERPRESS PRINTED TEXT
What is the terrain between love and PTSD?

IMAGE
Blind embossed roller coaster.
Sometimes I feel that my life is like a rollercoaster ride of biblical proportions. With all the climbing highs and falling lows, love can provide a structure and framework of support to ride through the adrenaline fueled ecstasy and sheer fear of the fall.
That love can come from me toward my husband, supporting him.
It can come from family and friends toward me, to support me through the blinding fear of the unknown and not knowing how long until the next rise or fall of the carriage along the tracks.
The solid structures may not prevent a crash, but they provide support through the next turbulent upswing or downswing as I roll along the rails.

Does the rollercoaster ever end? Or slow down? Blind corners and sharp curves sneak up, sometimes at the most unexpected times; other times I am braced, ready.

IMAGE
An inkjet transfer onto translucent Kozo paper.
My husband was photographed for the Solomon Islands local paper. He was carrying weapons handed in as part of a gun amnesty program during his deployment in 2003. He doesn’t have many photos of himself from that period in his life. He burnt them.

LETTERPRESS PRINTED TEXT
PTSD is the unwelcome 3rd person in our marriage.

HANDWRITTEN TEXT
I am a wife
I am a carer
I am the wife of a war veteran with PTSD

LETTERPRESS PRINTED TEXT
We live a different kind of normal

HANDWRITTEN TEXT
Some days he is with me
Some days he is a universe away
Some days he fights just to make it through the day
Some days he tap dances on the clouds of silver linings
Some days I am his wife
Some days I am his carer
Some days I just want my husband back
But all days I love him as best I can

IMAGE
Blind embossed embrace and debossed scream.
A man and a woman embrace. Behind the man, PTSD screams it’s pain, blinded, bound and gagged. It screams but no one can hear. It is bound and gagged, trapped. It can’t run. It is paralysed.

I referenced the screaming man image from an image on the internet, but I can’t find the source to reference it. I felt it was the perfect visual metaphor.

He, we, can not escape the gagged ghost that loiters in the shadows of our lives. How does he manage it? How do we manage it?
What are the words that describe PTSD? His experience of PTSD? These are the experiences and emotions that I see and feel, almost every day, in varying degrees of intensity.

HANDWRITTEN TEXT
Translucent Kozo paper
PTSD dances around us inside his head

LETTERPRESS PRINTED TEXT
Anxiety. Despair. Trauma. Anger. Paranoia. Stigma. Complex PTSD. Fight. Flight. Freeze. Hypervigilance. Depression. Sleep. Voices. Denial. Make it stop. Psychosis. Triggers. Lost. Medication. Suicide. Guilt. Isolation. Addiction. Fear. Abandonment. Sadness. Nightmares. Lost Boy. Hope. Denial. Manipulation. Loathing. Insomnia. Survival. Hopelessness. Delusions. Gunfire. Failure. Burning Bodies. Escape. Loathing. Sadness. Determination. Love. Yearning.
I couldn’t fit all the words on the printed page. But I could include them here.

This is one of the biggest questions I continue to ask myself. I hate that I have to even consider this question, that I am even in the position where the consideration is life and death. I respect my husband’s right to make choices about his health, but it isn’t always clear and obvious that those choices are safe, and that some sort of intervention is or is not needed.
As a fellow human being I have an obligation to respect his right to dignity of risk.
As a fellow human being and his wife and his carer, I have a duty of care to him, and to me, to ensure he is safe. That I am safe.
The challenge of the question is exhausting.
And when living with degrees and variations of self harm, suicide, willful defiance and addiction … what is the difference between the behaviour and the individual?

LETTERPRESS PRINTED TEXT
What is the line between dignity of risk and duty of care?

BLIND EMBOSSED TEXT
Self Harm. Suicide. Wilful Defiance. Addiction.

HANDWRITTEN TEXT
Self-awareness. Risk assessment.
A carer’s role. My carers role.
Re-assess. Re-evaluate.

Respect and space. Emotional intelligence.
Self love. Self care. Personal responsibility.

What happens when behaviours are repeated? When you can identify patterns? When ‘sorry’ becomes a hollow word and you’re not sure what and when to trust? Is the best predictor of future behaviour past behaviour? I am hypervigilent to signs of self harm, wilful defiance, passive suicidal behaviour, addiction tendancies. It is exhausting. The glimmer of hope lingers. Sometimes shrunken to a sliver, but it is still there.

HANDWRITTEN TEXT
Translucent Kozo paper
What does it do to me?

LETTERPRESS PRINTED TEXT
Anxiety. Sadness. Despair. Comfort Food. Hope. Depression. Medication. Survival. Grief. Fear. Unconditional Love. Run. Pain. Triggers. Self care. Don’t tell me to leave. Risk Assessment. Re assess. Hope. Determination. Empathy. Some days are so much harder than others. Weight gain. Community. Resilience. Purpose. I need to vent. Loss. Sorrow. I don’t want to hide. Stop. Turn Toward. We will not be a statistic. A promise. A vow. Purpose. Love. Strength. Anticipation. I’ve got this. I want my husband back. Fatigue. Compassion. We’ve got this. Exhausted. Worry. This will not beat us. Can I do this. Fight or flight. He asked me if I thought we were a normal couple. Heavy. I am doing my best with no instruction manual. Suicide. What is the worst that can happen? He could die? Yes. Some days I retreat. Some days I fight. Some days I just don’t have it in me to fight. Today is like that. We are a team. I feel like a single mother. I am as strong as concrete. Why? Here it comes again. Sometimes I want to run. Other times I can fight. When does it get better? Against the odds. I will not abandon him. Will he abandon me? I tried. I just want normal. What is normal?
I couldn’t fit all the words on the printed page. But I could include them here.

LETTERPRESS PRINTED TEXT
What is PTSD without love?

IMAGE
Blind embossed razor wire.
Tensile curves.  Twisted around each other. Love can exist in the most difficult and complex of places.

The sharp edge of PTSD twists and curves its way in to so many aspects of our life.

HANDWRITTEN TEXT
Translucent Kozo paper
PTSD makes him no less worthy of love.

LETTERPRESS PRINTED TEXT
PTSD can not be loved away.

HANDWRITTEN TEXT
I can not fix it. I can not love PTSD away.
The ultimate responsibility for his health rests with him.
My love is not enough.
But I will support and love him as best I can.
For him to be the best man he can.

I read a Thomas Hardy poem in high school, and for whatever reason I committed to memory the lines
“The paths of love are rougher
Than thoroughfares of stones.”
In our first year together I translated it to my own version …

LETTERPRESS PRINTED TEXT
The paths of loving someone with PTSD

HANDWRITTEN TEXT
are like walking a razorwire tightrope suspended above a sea of eggshells hoping not to cut yourself.

IMAGE
Blind embossed/debossed tiptoeing along razorwire

Despite the tiptoeing tapdance along the razorwire, this is our life. Some days are easy, fun. Other days are hard and exhausting.

HANDWRITTEN TEXT
this is life in all its muck and glory
this is not a dress rehearsal
this is us

HANDWRITTEN TEXT
Translucent Kozo paper
I knew it would be hard and I knew that I didn’t know how hard it would get.
Do not pity us, do not pity me. Do not turn away. Instead
Support us All
Share our story
Turn toward the pain with love
And help love heal invisible wounds.

LETTERPRESS PRINTED TEXT
A life lived with scars with love

Kim Herringe married Nicholas Hodge December 2015.
Nick served with the Australian Army 1995-2004.
Followed by service with the Australian Federal Police 2004-2013.
I am proud of my husband.
Proud of his service.
And proud to be his wife.

COLOPHON

Papers
Cover – Magnani Etrusca 600gsm
Text – Tiepolo Bianco 290gsm
Interleaving Kozo pages – Awagami Tengucho 9gsm

Printed
Letterpress printed using my Showcard Proof Press with wood and lead type (fonts unknown)

Imagery
Hand printed blind embossing with carved linocut plates

Binding
Hand-stitched, coptic binding

Casing
The book is stored in a custom-made clear acrylic slipcase

Edition Size – 4

Behind the Scenes

The original idea of the book came to me 3 or 4 years ago. It sat with me for some time before I felt brave enough to put my thoughts and feelings on paper. The letterpress printed text were the easy words to articulate. They are statements and questions that bounced around my head through all the highs and lows of living alongside PTSD; they still do. The handwritten sentiments, however, were a little harder … and deeply personal.

The book really came together toward the middle of last year, 2019. And it was the best of timing, and the worst of timing. 2019 had proven to be very difficult navigating the PTSD rollercoaster. There were times that the last thing I wanted to do or think about was the progress of the book and love and PTSD. On the other hand, a looming exhibition deadline was what I needed to get it finished – and really process, consider and articulate how I was feeling.

It turned out to be the best thing I needed at the best time … cathartic during a very difficult time for ‘us’.

I made a few different mockups of the book. Many pieces of paper with thoughts and ideas, each handwritten piece of text a little braver than the previous.

And the letterpress printing! I have been collecting letterpress type and equipment for a few years. This book was the first project I printed with my type and my proofing press. It was a challenge, and I loved it! I’m looking forward to my next project.

A Special Thank You

Richard Muldoon from Vivid Photography photographed my book. This book is a very personal and precious piece, and the respect afforded by Richard was greatly appreciated. Thank you Richard!!

ADDENDUM 2 May 2020:

Libris Awards 2020, Artspace Mackay

I’m so very excited to share that last week my ‘PTSD … A Love Story’ artist book was announced as a shortlist entry for the Libris Awards 2020. The Libris Awards play a significant role in showcasing the very latest and best in contemporary artists’ book practice in Australia.

As terrifyingly vulnerable it felt to release this book in to the big wide world of the interweb, I feel it is a story that needed to be told. I know I am not the only person loving someone with PTSD, getting through each day as it comes. On one hand, as an artist who held a desire to be shortlisted in this award, I am thrilled! On the other hand, as a person who laid her heart on her sleeve and shared her story wholehearted, I am nervous, but I feel proud and honoured that it will be seen.

Artspace Mackay has published their illustrated catalogue of the 2020 Libris Awards finalists which you can downloaded here. There is such fabulous work in the catalogue, and I feel honoured to sit alongside such talented company.

Fingers crossed that CV19 restrictions lift soon and the exhibition opening can be announced. The exhibition was due to open early-June. I’m hoping to get up to Mackay to see it.

ADDENDUM 22 July 2020:

Libris Awards 2020 Winners Announced

Lat Monday, 14 July, Artspace Mackay announced the Libris Awards 2020 winners … I’ll be honest, I am a little disappointed that I didn’t win, but heck, to say I am honoured to have made the Finalists is an understatement.

Dianne Fogwell’s majestic  ‘Inferno’ artist book earned the winner’s trophy, with Lyn Ashby’s ‘The Light Down There’ placing second.

Both books look like astounding works of art. All work is on show at Artspace Mackay until 13 September. I’m hoping to get up there to see the work before them.

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Showing 28 comments
  • Tania Small
    Reply

    This is beautiful and deeply moving.
    Visually stunning and emotionally raw.
    Congratulations Kim on the artistry, bravery and delivery of this heartfelt memoir.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thank you Tania x I’m feeling humbled by the response to my book, and proud of what I created. Thank you for your comment x

  • Noela Mills
    Reply

    Wow, Kim, so powerful and poignant.
    You have articulated the joy and despair of love in a ‘ difficult’ relationship so well, thank you ❤️

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thank you Noela x I really appreciate your comment xx

  • Naomi
    Reply

    You are an amazing woman Kim – very special ❤️

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thanks Naomi x and thank you for reading 🙂

  • Caroline Hughes-King
    Reply

    Raw, honest, thought provoking, brave, inspiring – a statement of love and hope – a question for which there may never be an answer. Paper is your mirror and print your heart and soul, together a powerful force and a gentle whisper as one. The leaves 🍁 of the maple fall to the autumn storm, But the spring brings rebirth and shelter for the butterfly 🦋

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thank you Caroline xx beautiful words. I think you’re right – paper and print are a part of who I am xx

  • Joanne Kalvaitis
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing this most heartfelt book. I recognize some of the feelings (for different reasons).
    No one can live your experience, but your book brings it closer. Beautifully done.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thank you Joanne. You’re right, no one can live someones else’s experience, but sharing it makes it a bit more real, and human, and hopefully understanding and more love. And hopefully lets others know that they’re not alone in their pain, or decisions, or position in life. Thank you for reading 🙂

  • Em Johnstone
    Reply

    Your words delineate the loneliness and deep love that can be experienced within a relationship whilst navigating the needs and stress introduced by the constantly changing issues related to PTSD.
    The words and images show the joy, uncertainty, painful moments and how deep the struggle to love and support ones partner, but still cushion and protect oneself.
    It is an incredibly insightful and educational work and a also a beautiful piece of creative art.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thank you Em 🙏 thank you for reading and thank you for your comments 😊 I feel honoured that my books is connecting with people x

  • Julie Gardner
    Reply

    Oh! Kim, very moved by this. You are an artist of Rare Inner Beauty. Bravo!!! Beautifully Presented work, Much Respect.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thank you Julie 🙏 I really appreciate the comment, and you reading. Thank you x

  • Anne
    Reply

    Stunning and so moving and raw and honest and inspiring and couragous. And I love it and your courage for taking the steps to do the work and finish the work and keep working. Ax

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thank you Anne x I admit it was hard to finish the book. But I also feel like I matured as a person in completing it. It forced to to look and dig deep, trying to evaluate what is really important. Who knows what the future holds, but at the moment the tracks are intact, and (despite the coronavirus lockdown), the ride isn’t too bumpy at the moment. Thank you for your comments x

  • Andrina Hoddinott
    Reply

    I am in awe of the beauty, the intimacy, and the honesty in the words, the image and the selection of textures chosen to express the ebb and flow of your love, and commitment of being a wife, a friend and carer to a sufferer of PTSD.
    A beautiful work which evokes deep thoughts of relationships. Thank you.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thank you Andrina xx I am a overwhelmed by the feedback my book has received. Thank you for taking the time to read my book, and to share your thoughts. I learned a lot about myself while making this book, it challenged me, and I think it still does. That said, it works as a good reminder when the going gets tough. x

  • Nicholas
    Reply

    You are wonderful. You have surgically analysed and interperated what PTSD is like especially being married to me with it. Last year was exceptionally hard for the both of us, I was in a hole for a long time. This year is a lot more pssitive and as long as I do continuous work on myself and ask for help when needed then PTSD should take a back seat for a while. I love you.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Right back at you xx last year was hard, and hopefully for both of us we have learned lessons and grown to be stronger and better able to manage and weather the storms ss

  • Bron Evans
    Reply

    I’ve been waiting for a time to sit down and give this post the attention it deserves. Wow Kim! What a beautiful, clever, raw and poignant work.
    You have been so brave to share the complexities of your relationship and emotions, and so generous to share every step of the process in making this book.
    A true labour of love.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Bron, thank you 🙏 . Thank you for taking the time to read, and thank you for taking the time to comment. It is a very vulnerable feeling to open the book to a public audience, but I think its a story worth telling. Partners have needs as much as their loved ones with any number of mental health conditions. We all fight the fight. xx

  • Annaxue Yang
    Reply

    Truly inspirational – a moving combination of beautiful artwork and storytelling! Thank you Kim, for sharing your journey through creativity and life – living it with love, courage, and generosity. Love and best wishes to you and Nicholas – may the path forward have much less razor wire.

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Annaxue, thank you 🙏 Thank you for taking the time to comment, and thank you for your kind words. Kim x

  • Christine
    Reply

    Kim
    This beautiful piece of work you have cleverly and thoughtfully created from your whole being is so raw deep honest and brave. It’s a deep treasure beautifully crafted full of the jewels of your love. You are extraordinary and your book is a masterpiece. I have lived this experience too and brought to tears when I read your words and you nailed it. Having done all of this too you do it because it’s deep love.xx

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Such beautiful words. Thank you x And I appreciate that your relationship with the book is unique given your own lived experience. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate that. I admit that I held the book back from public display for a little while (excluding the exhibition in Townsville), but I wanted it to have a life of its own, so its now ‘out there’. Thank you again for your kind and beautiful words. Kim x

  • Bronte W Peake
    Reply

    A deeply personal story executed beautifully. So glad I took the time to read through it and well done on the Libris Awards. You are very inspiring Kim! Cheers, Bron

    • Kim Herringe
      Reply

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read, Bronte. Thank you. Its a bit of a time investment that one. I’m so chuffed to be shortlisted for the Libris Awards. Something I had on my bucketlist. I’m hoping to get up to see the show. cheers, Kim

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