The Tsunami of Self-Doubt

I was having major impostor syndrome, my friends.

I was having a conversation with a potential new client for my Camera Confidence one to one and she sounded soooo together. She was telling me about her business and how it’s been flourishing and how she was ready to take it to the next level and she wanted me to help her.

I genuinely felt a cartoon ‘gulp’ when I she asked me what I did and how much I charged. My voice felt squeaky, my palms felt clammy and my heart was pounding. I explained my method and gave her my rate….

There was a small gap of silence then and into that gap tumbled a thousand years of ‘who do you think you are?’

What do you know?

How are you qualified to do this?

Get back in your box, young lady.

What notions of upperosity, my girl!

The cheek!


I have recurring nightmares of tsunamis. I dream I’m in my childhood bedroom, in the house at the top of the hill, and I’m looking out over Dublin Bay and the sea level is rising. It’s not one of those rearing 100 foot waves about to crash down, it’s the even more terrifying water that just keeps coming. I can see Dalkey Island disappearing and Killiney Hill becoming submerged. Then I watch as it inches its way up the promenade at Bray, crawling through the streets and houses and gardens. I dream that I dash down to the kitchen to warn everyone only to find the floor damp and water bubbling in under the utility room door. It’s terrifying.

And this is what that feels like.

A tidal wave of self-doubt and terror that someone will find out that I can’t actually do what I say I’m going to do; that I am not enough.

But do you know the one place I feel like I’m enough?

The one place in the whole world where I relax, feel at ease and know that I’m completely in my comfort zone?

It’s on a set.

It could be a TV show, film, commercial, it doesn’t matter.

When I walk onto a set with the cameras, the lights, the electricians, sound guys and girls, camera operatives, directors, assistant directors, runners, wardrobe and makeup people, I walk on with complete assurance and calm that I am in the right place at the right time. I may feel the butterflies in my tummy that comes from wanting to do a good job, speak the right lines, honour a character, support my fellow actors but I do not feel like I shouldn’t be there.

It’s the one place in the world where I feel enough.

And it strikes me that not everyone has that confidence and calm.

People are being expected to be so shockingly visible these days, so vulnerable. I see people shudder and shake at the thought of going on camera, the thought of showing their face, sharing their work, expressing their heart’s desires through their art, craft and expertise.

Me? Meh!

I can do that standing on my head.

I have 20 years of experience being vulnerable and visible and I learnt how to feel comfortable doing it.

I have more than enough experience to share.

I have walked the path of fear to flourishing, and I’ve drawn a map.

Oh, and that client I mentioned at the beginning?

Yeah, she’s rocking the internet just now sharing the joy of what she loves with the whole wide web.



Mum, Claire and I 2005

13 years. We’re into the teens now. When the 10th one passed I was marvelling at a decade without her.

Now it’s another milestone.

Of a sort.

My mother, Tricia, died this day 13 years ago from cancer. It wasn’t breast cancer. Sadly, the genetic mutation I inherited that put me at such high risk and eventually manifested as breast cancer, came from my father’s side of the family. Tricia had a malignant tumour in her bile duct which was operated in June 2004 on so successfully that she wasn’t even offered chemotherapy or radiation. But just six months later she sat us down as a family and told us the cancer was back and that it had spread to her lungs and bones. It was a terminal prognosis.

She went into hospital just after the May bank holiday weekend 2007 and was hopeful that her anaemia would be managed and she’d come home. The end came quickly. Two weeks after she was admitted, the doctors told us that her body was shutting down, that they could give her steroids to keep her going for a few days so that family could come and say their goodbyes. One sister came from South Africa, another from England and her mother and aunt, both in their 80s arrived the night before she died.

My grandmother, Angela, sister, Claire and Mum, Tricia c. 2003

The thing I feared most in my life, that my mother would die, happened. And bizarrely, I didn’t die with her. I couldn’t imagine how I would do life without her, but I did, and I have done for 13 years. Through three pregnancies, three babies who became toddlers and now children with very strong minds of their own, through depression, anxiety, emotional breakdown and then cancer. Despite not talking to my mother on the phone or seeing her, despite never having her around to see my own children, I have somehow managed to still be here.

Mum, Claire and I on top of the Sugarloaf in Wicklow, 1986

Which I guess means that she did her job well. She mothered me well enough to enable to me to stand, albeit like a wobbly baby giraffe, on my own two feet. She mothered me well enough to know that I could trust my own instinct when it comes to parenting my own children. She mothered me well enough to follow my Spirit into the wilderness and find out that God was bigger than we ever knew.

Anne, Tricia, Katherine, Helen and Angie – the 5 Clark sisters 1992

She did not want to die. She didn’t want to leave her family. She wanted to see my children. She wanted to see the two grandchildren she knew grow up. She wanted to know more of God, and she wanted others to know more of God. She believed wholeheartedly that there was nothing to fear in death. It wasn’t death she was afraid of. If anything, she believed that death would see her finally face to face with her Beloved, Jesus. She just wasn’t ready to let go of the beauty of life here yet. And we weren’t ready to let her go. None of us would have been ready, ever.

Mum and Claire with Claire’s two eldest, the only 2 grandchildren she knew out of 7.

But the path I’ve walked since her death, while treacherous, frightening and downright confusing at times, has been a path I feel she has walked along side. I’ve taken steps, broken cords, been brave in areas that I might have shied away from, preferring to hide behind my mother had she been alive, using some idea of her approval or disapproval as an excuse not to take the riskier way.

I’m brave, resilient and courageous and that is what she instilled in me and what I had to draw on when she died. She gave me those gifts, she led by example and I’m grateful to her for this.

There are two things that Tricia taught me that I thought I’d share here as they could be helpful at this disorienting time when we are in the twilight zone of leaving one way of life behind and making our way, like baby giraffes, into new territory.

1. Go with how you’re feeling – Tricia understood grief, she was well acquainted with disappointment and heartache and she believed that the cleanest way to make it through the fog of strong emotion is to just go with it. When you feel like crying, just cry. When you feel angry, express it in as healthy a way as you can. Don’t shove it down, don’t suppress it. It’ll come out somewhere anyway and not in a good way either. Feel your feelings. It’s healthy and good and important.

2. When you feel crap, put your face on – Now understand, this isn’t about putting on a brave face or a false smile and lying that ‘you’re fine!’ It’s about choosing to take small steps that make you feel good about yourself. Tricia was always well put together and prided herself in looking well. She and I clashed many times in my lack of concern for my appearance growing up. It’s weird but she was right. Having a shower, painting your nails, moisturising, putting on a bright shade of lipstick, these little things do help to make me feel a bit more human when the dark clouds gather. It’s an intentional decision to walk towards life and love.

Tricia in South Africa 1998

So today, much as I’d like to stay under my duvet and pick at my face (in fairness, I’ve done a bit of that this morning), I’ve booked my photographer friend Janine Boyd to come over and do one of her Doorstep Portraits of us as a family. I’ll get dressed. I’ll sort my hair out (seriously, having no hair last year was way easier than having hair that is just growing vertically out of your head with no obvious style or shape!). I’ll put on some make up – I’ll conceal the hell out of my facial scars. I’ll pick a bright lipstick, a nice outfit and I will grab my crazy family and we’ll have a photo taken on our doorstep to mark the day. They will probably all be in their feral state of unwashed hair and pyjamas and if Mum was here she’d be mortified, but it’ll be my little wink at my childhood rebellion and I know she’d laugh.

I’d love to hear her laugh again. I miss her. I always will.

Rest in peace, Mum.

Tricia Pullen 01.01.48 – 23.05.07

Patricia Clark c.1963

An excerpt from Sound the Depths….

As part of Women Aloud NI’s online festival of literature over the weekend of the 24th and 25th of April 2020, I had the great privilege to do a reading of an excerpt from my novel Sound the Depths.

Here is the video of the event and for more of the wonderful writers of Northern Ireland be sure to head over to the Facebook page where all of the videos are available to view.

Nancy Falkow McBride RIP


I’m writing this in the wee small hours the night before I go to hospital to have surgery. I’m going to have a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction and also have my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. It’s almost a year to the day that I was diagnosed with Grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma. I’ve had two surgeries, 6 rounds of chemotherapy, 15 sessions of radiotherapy and been tested for the pathogenic mutation of the BRCA2 gene, which was positive. This puts me at high risk for breast cancer developing in my other breast and for ovarian cancer.

To say I’m freaking out is an understatement. I’ve spent the year in this weird twilight zone where I’ve been disassociated from my body but now the trauma and anxiety is hitting me full on and, I’m not going to lie, it’s really tough.

I’ve had a lovely evening with my Dark and Twisty Lover, eating icecream and watching a romcom and just as we were heading to bed, I checked my phone and there was a message that the artist and singer Nancy Falkow McBride has passed away at 49, from ovarian cancer.

I found Nancy a number of years ago when I was looking for local crafts to gift as teacher presents when we lived in Co. Wicklow. I’d seen her gorgeous sea glass pictures online and decided to buy some of her gorgeous book marks. I arranged to go down and see what I could choose from her work so I arranged to call into her house in Kilcoole with my then 3 year old toddler.

Nancy was warm, funny, immediately welcoming and kind. She hailed from Pennsylvania in the USA and I discovered through the course of the conversation that she was a musician as well. We had a ton to talk about and I wished I could have bought a whole lot of her beautiful work. I liked her a lot and I wanted her work to have a wide audience. We talked about getting her on my emerging podcast which we never quite sorted and for that I’m full of regret.

Over the years, I went to her for special gifts. I bought one of her stunning sea glass necklaces for a dear friend in France who had moved inland and missed the sea terribly. And for Father’s Day two years ago, after we’d moved up north, I bought a gorgeous little picture of a family of five little sea glass birds for my Dark and Twisty Lover. He loved it.

When I was diagnosed last year, Nancy was one of the first to reach out and cheer me on, sharing that she had also been on a cancer journey but she was pushing on and moving forward. She was hugely involved in her local community, supporting and facilitating women business owners to support local charities and campaigning for broader educational opportunities in Wicklow.

Our daughters are the same age and I can only imagine the devastation her girl feels losing her mum.

I’m so grateful to Nancy for her beautiful art , her effervescent personality  and her love of the sea. 

I’m so sad at her passing. I send my love and best wishes at this time to her family.

To read more about this wonderful woman, you can read here

On Pain and Love

Many years ago when I lived in London I was fortunate enough to meet the artist Charlie Mackesy and get to know him a little bit. I had the great privilege of spending day with him at his studio in south London while I was nursing a broken heart. He was painting one of his iconic Prodigal Daughter paintings and I could sense a Holy Presence in the room as he worked. 

He’s an extraordinary, slightly feral and big hearted man and I have always loved his work. At the time, I was working in television and earning far too much money for a young woman in her early 20s but one of the things I’m most proud of is that I bought one of his original cartoons. I remember standing in the art gallery and seeing in the distance the simple outline of a naked woman sashaying away from a nerdy, bespectacled man who was complaining ‘Daphne, you can’t take redemption of Eden too literally.’ I walked up close to it and just chuckled to myself. Charlie came to stand beside me.

‘I love this,’ I said.

‘Thanks,’ he shrugged, in his self deprecating style.

‘And I have to have it!’ I declared without even looking how much it cost. He burst out laughing. But it now hangs proudly on my landing near the bathroom. And it tickles me to think that he may have many celebrity collectors (Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Curtis, Sting!) but in a little house in North County Down, there hangs a treasure.

All this to say, Charlie’s recent venture is a series of gorgeous cartoons featuring a boy, a mole, a fox and a horse and such darling nuggets of gentleness and wisdom. They will soon be published in a book by Penguin, and I can’t wait! I can no longer afford an original painting, but I’ll be first in line for a book!

This past two months have been a journey of love and pain, pain and love. I had surgery to remove a tumour in my breast and 14 lymph nodes under my arm. I had a drain in for 5 days, during which the pain was manageable and movement was relatively easy which was a relief because my husband came down with a horrible stomach bug and was knocked flat for the few days after I came out of hospital. 

I returned to have the drain removed and noticed some sensation return which I had thought would be gone for good. Turns out, the drain had been pressing on a nerve which had numbed the area and once gone, all sensation returned and with it all the pain. 

I told my surgeon on a recent visit that I would rather go through 3 more natural births than deal with the consistent soreness that I had in the ensuing weeks. I was ill prepared for it and the fatigue that persistent pain causes. I have known friends who suffer from chronic pain and I have not really appreciated their fortitude in dealing with it. 

So life became a cycle of counting down the hours till I could take more medication that only actually took the edge off and trying to manage my expectations on what I’m capable of. It has also been a time of ugly self pity, impatience and shortness of temper with those closest to me, self comfort over self care and shame that I’m not handling things with more grace. 

I’ve since had a second surgery to remove more breast tissue and have recently been told that I will have now undergo a mastectomy as the cancer is still present in the breast tissue. So I’ll be starting chemotherapy treatment in a few weeks after which I’ll have a further surgery. The treatment plan is necessary but it doesn’t make it any less daunting and in some ways, I feel it’s like sending a SWAT team in to take out a tiny bunny. But the bunny is Snowball from The Secret Life of Pets, so, yeah, the SWAT team might even get their asses kicked.

In the midst of this tumult, I can quite honestly say, though, that I have never been more aware of how loved and cherished I am. I’ve had messages from friends far and near. Neighbours have dropped around food, overseas friends have sent flowers and other gifts. 

Jen Hatmaker, the American writer once told a story of how in elephant herds, which have a matriarchal structure, if one of the herd is vulnerable for some reason, for example when giving birth, her sisters will form a circle around her and kick dust up to deter potential predators who might take advantage of her fraility.

I have seen this triumphant, protective energy in action. I have felt a fierce hedge of love and support from my women friends and family that has lifted my spirits and given me such comfort at times when this feels like the loneliest place in the world. 

While I’m hugely grateful that I have a supportive and practically able husband and father in law, there’s something about the fact that this is a female cancer, that has drawn in a feminine energy that I’ve needed. 

As Charlie Mackesy points out in his lovely cartoon, the greatest freedom we have is how we react to things and I’ll be honest and say that my reaction to my pain levels, my newly restricted arm movement, the restriction to my plans for this year, the prospect of more invasive surgery has not always been pretty.

I do take comfort though that the ‘ugly cry’ way of dealing with hard times has precedent and that the most elevated souls have struggled with pain. And that precedent comes from my own faith tradition.

So much was made of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when I was growing up and how he said ‘Not my will, but Yours, O God’ the night of his betrayal, arrest and trial for blasphemy. But can we just back up for a moment and remember that this man sweated blood in his resistance to what he was facing. Let’s not be naive and forget that Jesus didn’t want to go through with what he knew in all probability would be certain torture and a painful death.

And where were his boys, his twelve male disciples?


And then scarpering when the authorities came for their beloved teacher.

(Where were the women? They hung around till the bitter, ugly end. And were also the first to witness the Risen Christ. Just saying.)

The reaction of the women in my life though has been to get in formation, whether virtually and or practically where they’ve been able. They have used their freedom with compassion, power and grace and I will be eternally grateful. 

The Year of the Wolf

Hello and happy new year!

As you may know, I’m following yoga teacher and Celtic spirituality guide Mari Kennedy on an online journey through the Celtic Calendar over the next 12 months.

The journey began at Samhain (end of October) which is the Celtic new year and which impresses upon us that the new always starts in the dark that is also indicative of the dark feminine energy of rest and receptivity.

The early Christian missionaries who encountered the Celtic world recognised the power of this period of sacred waiting and introduced the concept of Advent, which contrary to popular understanding is not the waiting for Christmas but for the Return of Christ and the renewal of all things.

And so each year, I’ve wanted to embrace the dark in some way; acknowledge both the dark of the Celtic new year and the immanence of the Divine at Advent. And yet, the peace and rest has always illuded me. I always succumb to the rush and hectic energy of the consumerist holiday season.

This year was no different and added to an already busy calendar with children’s Christmas activities, I took it upon myself to sell Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map Planners to UK/EU people who were keen to buy them but who had found the shipping costs from the USA prohibitive.

I got such a lot of joy from the experience and the interaction with people who loved Danielle’s products as much as I do was so beautiful. However, the Planners themselves didn’t arrive until the 19th of December, only one box from the order arrived and the other arrived later, damaged. So it was a bit of a crazy dash to invoice, repackage and ship to try and get them to people before Christmas. Generally, the endeavour was a success and as far as I’m aware there was only one that hasn’t made it to its owner.

All this to say, by the time the 25th of December rolled round, I was beat. Happy but tired, joyful but kind of slightly disappointed that the cool, calm advent I’d envisioned for myself hadn’t exactly come about the way I’d hoped.

Reflecting around this time, I did have to admit that there was a large part of me that in fact resisted rest and slowness. I resisted the void. I didn’t really know who I was outside of a relentless obsession with productivity and activity. I ran myself into the ground on a frequent basis and definitely decided that the next thing I would do would be to figure out this whole ‘rest and receptivity’ thing.

My word for 2019, I decided before Christmas would be SURRENDER.

Then, on 26th of December, I discovered a lump in my breast.

On the 10th of January, I had the full compliment of tests and it was determined that I did indeed have cancer and that surgery and further treatment would be needed.

It pained me to have to cancel my plans for the Desire Map Workshops I’d scheduled and indeed launched at a lovely evening in Bangor. I’m disappointed that I will be missing out on the first schedule of plans from our She-Wolf Theatre Collective.

But I am choosing to accept that this is a unique opportunity to explore who I am when I’m not productive because by all accounts, cancer treatment can knock the stuffing out of a person. I admit that I spent the first few days after the diagnosis on an adrenaline rush of attempting to ‘stage – manage’ what my encounter with the disease would look like. I was outwardly brave, determined, strong and defiant. I DID a lot of ‘fighting talk’ and story spinning. I wouldn’t be a cancer victim, I wouldn’t start a cancer blog. Then the inevitable crash; the fear, the anger, the disappointment, the disempowerment.

Now I’m at numb.

There’s a story about how an experiment to introduce a pack of wolves into Yellowstone National Park,  brought about surprising changes that no one had expected. Far from the pack wreaking havoc on the environment and devastating flora, fauna and animal populations, their introduction enhanced the park, rebalancing the eco-system and allowing it to flourish in beautiful ways. The beaver population increased and vegetation improved.

It’s amazing that something as fearsome as a pack of wolves could exponentially increase the beauty and wellbeing of a national park.

So here it is.

The Year of the Wolf.

An opportunity to go into the dark, to run with the wolves and see what beauty will come from the journey. Beauty that may not necessarily have a product, may be something intangible and so subtle it will only be perceptible to me and God.

And so may it be.

Tonight is the night of the Wolf Moon, a Blood moon, a lunar eclipse, the like of which we won’t see again for another few years. We only ever have this moment and so my focus, as best it can be, will be on this moment until the next arrives.

Strut and Bellow is on hiatus until I figure out what I’m capable of in the midst of treatment. It’ll be difficult to do nothing, but it might be neccessary. I’m going to try to listen to my body, quieten my mind and follow the guidance of my soul.

Thanks for journeying with me thus far and hopefully, we’ll meet up again virtually in the not too distant future.

With every best wish for your year,

Melanie Clark Pullen

Giving the finger to New Year’s Resolutions

It’s December 31st and I woke up this morning with a vague feeling of panic that I haven’t made any resolutions, or properly plotted out my intentions for the new year or done a vision board, or cleaned the grout on my bathroom tiles.

It was that impending sense of doom that I am unprepared for the onslaught of positivity that 2019 is supposed to usher in. New Year, New Me – as if the old me was somewhat falling short of some invisible set of standards.

Needless to say, I’m not going partying tonight. I’ll be at home, the kids will probably still be up, DarkandTwisty will make his signature Gibsons, we’ll watch the fireworks on telly and with any luck I’ll be in bed by 12:30. Happy New Year!

If I resolve to do anything for 2019 it’s to stop feeling bad about myself. I’m giving the finger to resolutions. I refuse to set myself up for failure.

2019 will be all about feeling good.

I want to feel at ease, joyful, delighted, sexy, comfortable, sparkly, light, expansive, powerful.

And I will let how I want to feel guide my decisions about my health, work, family and spirituality.

No one knows what 2019 will bring or the impact it will have but I want to be in a responsive mode to everything it chucks at me, not reacting to curve balls out of fear and trembling.

If you’d like to join me on the journey, then check out some of my Desire Map workshops that are happening in the first quarter of this year.  Some are in person, some are on line so wherever you are in the world you can come along for the ride!


Women’s Christmas


Yes, it’s a thing.

Nollaig na mBan is the day when, in rural Irish communities, the men take on the household duties as a way of honouring all the work the women have done to make Christmas happen (and everything else all through out the year but who’s keeping score, eh?).

I’m writing this at the tipping point of the crazy season and I have to say that each year, I really look forward to marking Women’s Christmas on the 6th of January. I’ve gathered with some friends and we’ve enjoyed a last hurrah before the kids go back to school and the new year resolutions are completely annihilated.

This year, I’m bringing the tradition north of the border. I’m hosting an intimate gathering at the gorgeous The Drawing Room in Bangor, Co. Down to celebrate the sisters and introduce them to The Desire Map.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I can’t bear the potential (inevitable) failure that comes when my lofty ideals aren’t met.

So now I spend some time figuring out how I want to feel, rather than what I want to achieve.

Bye, bye, diets, fads, unattainable goals, impossible to meet expectations!

Hello, soulful intentions based on my deepest desires and most pleasurable joys.


Tickets are £10 and can be bought at this link.


A conversation with Lucy Pearce

I will be forever grateful to my friend Robyn who emailed me from France one day when I was in the thick of life with little littles and struggling to reconcile my creative desires with early motherhood. She told me about a book called the Rainbow Way which dealt head on with the very issues I was grappling with. I bought the book and felt like I had found a soul sister who knew exactly how I was feeling and was ready with a giant permission slip to be just who I needed to be as a mother and an artist.

I have followed Lucy’s journey and that of her publishing company Womancraft Publishing closely over the years and was eagerly awaiting her latest title Medicine Woman since reading its companion Burning Woman.

I’m admitting here that I have not yet finished reading Medicine Woman. It is intense and I find myself getting so agitated and moved by it that I need to take it slowly. Before we hit record on today’s conversation, I confessed this to Lucy who reassured me that this was normal. She’s had feedback from other readers saying similar things. She’s written about her very personal journey of health issues but has also made a very studied critique of the Western medical system and how women are not being served by it. She’s lifting the lid on all that is unsaid about women’s health and women’s position in the health system. It feels like an important work at a significant time.

You can find Medicine Woman at Womancraft Publishing as well as Amazon, Book Depository and other major bookshops. It’s worth checking out theother titles she’s published by other writers as well as some lovely items she sells in the online shop – check out the Goddesses by Brigid’s Grove which make lovely little gifts.

As always, you can listen to the podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud or click below to start listening straight away.