Billie is offering readers of Mummy’s Little Monkey the chance to order a signed copy of I Am Your Friend – A Book of Hope, or one with a personalised message. Order from the I Am Your Friend website by emailing [email protected]
Sometimes I look back on my life and it still takes me by surprise how much it has changed, and how little I was expecting it.
In 2014 we were a family of five – my husband and me, and our three children, two girls, aged 4 and 11, and our son, 15. We were one of those families who genuinely loved being together, and my memories back then are overwhelmingly ones of fun and laughter.
Then, everything changed. My charismatic, magnetic husband – the man I’d loved for 24 years – died suddenly, and unexpectedly. Overnight life as we knew it changed, utterly and irrevocably.
Not only was I struggling under the weight of my own devastating loss, but I also had to be the emotional anchor – the unwavering constant – for my children, who’d lost their adored dad.
I busied myself with the day-to-day mundanities – taking the kids to school, preparing meals – but inside I was sinking. Everything I thought I knew about life had been turned on its head, and I questioned everything.
I knew I had to rebuild, but where – how – did I start?
For a long time, we simply put one foot in front of the other. Slowly, we began to navigate a way up and out of our sadness. We hadn’t been ‘healed’ by time, as I don’t think the loss ever goes away, instead, we’d made a conscious decision not to let it crush us completely and forever.
Over the months we each found our own way to exist more easily alongside those feelings of grief: by the summer of 2015, it felt like we were finally coming up for air.
Then I noticed it – a discomfort in my pelvis I intuitively knew I shouldn’t ignore. I bypassed the doctor and booked myself in for a scan. Although I was worried it was something serious, I still wasn’t ready for the diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
My first thoughts were of the children. They’d already been through so much – this was going to devastate them all over again.
Within two weeks of my diagnosis I underwent surgery, then began chemotherapy. There were days when I wondered how I was going to get out of bed in the morning, but I did; because my children needed me and because I had no choice – there was no ‘back-up parent’ to step in and take over because I was having a rough day.
As determined as I was to get through this, my thoughts still went to dark places. But I quickly realised I had to face my fears head-on, with pragmatism and positivity. I came to understand that life had a light side and a dark side to life; the point wasn’t to avoid all the bad times, it was to find your way through them and come out the other side with hope and happiness.
I knew I didn’t just want to just survive, I wanted to have a great, joyous life.
To distract myself during the chemo sessions I’d take a blank pad and start drawing. Sometimes it was raw thoughts and emotions, other times sketches and inspirational words to cheer myself up.
I thought it was just a jumble of consciousness until I laid a few of them out and saw them alongside each other.
They look really good! I thought to myself, and that’s when I had my lightbulb moment; maybe the words and thoughts that had helped me could help someone else too…
My chemo ended, and six months later I travelled to India. Inspired by my surroundings and the gorgeous ocean view from my room I busied myself with my drawing; by the time I arrived home, I had enough art to compile a very special project.
Two years later, with the encouragement of my children, I self-published ‘I Am Your Friend: A Book of Hope’, a carefully selected collection of the words and drawings that helped get me through one of the darkest times of my life. The 100 pages of quotes and sketches appeared just as they’d tumbled out of my thoughts – I wanted them to reflect the real, raw emotions I was feeling at the time.
In this ‘Instagram-age’ it’s more important than ever to protect and nurture our mental health. Figures from the World Health Organisation show that 300 million people around the globe are living with depression, making it the leading cause of disability in the world.
By using simple but striking colours (black, yellow and red) and impactful imagery, ‘I Am Your Friend’ is designed to instantly engage the reader and give them something positive and uplifting to take away.
My greatest wish is that people will read the book and understand they’re not alone in what they’re feeling – whether it’s loss, anxiety, panic, sadness, or they’re simply having a bad day – and that they’ll find the little spark of hope or that extra push of inspiration they need in that moment.
The book has received incredible feedback so far, and already has the support of a couple charities. I’ve also had some heart-warming emails from readers who’ve found inspiration in my pages. It helps me too, to knowing my story is giving hope others and that something dark has given way to something amazing.
Grief, depression and tough times can change and reshape you, but that’s OK.
What I’ve gone through in the past few years has crystallised what is truly important to me, and I find that incredibly liberating. I don’t get bogged down by the silly details anymore; instead, I embrace EVERY moment of life – the great and the not-so-great and all the bits in between.
I live hard and I love hard, and I find joy in every single day.
‘I Am Your Friend – A Book of Hope’ costs £14.99 for the A5 hardback edition (including the full collection of 100 drawings) or £6.99 for the smaller pocketbook (a selection of 30 images).
Billie is donating 20% of the overall profits to the Future Dreams charity, which funds the Breast Cancer Haven in London. The centre provides free holistic therapies to women affected by cancer and their families, as well as one-to-one emotional and physical support.