When you’re in constant pain, it’s very easy to focus on it. It can become all-consuming, and the more you think about it – the worse it feels. Someone once suggested to me that I try crafting as a means of distraction. I have to be honest, I was a little annoyed – how would painting a pretty picture take my crippling pain away? It seemed a little dismissive. Plus there was also the fact I’d never thought of myself as a particularly creative or artistic person. At school even my doodled stick figures ran screaming in terror, and my art teacher made it clear it wasn’t my forte, but I thought I’d give card-making a try.
I enjoyed making them, but they weren’t that great. I’d look online at all the beautiful designs people were creating, and it just didn’t feel quite like me. After I’d spent a fortune on card-making supplies, I decided to try my hand at jewellery instead, and in doing so found a new passion.
The early days of making jewellery weren’t easy – my hands cramped up terribly, and I was left with blisters all over my skin. In time my dexterity improved and it helped strengthen some of my muscles in my hands. And it was true – when I’m busy concentrating on making a new item, my brain is focused elsewhere. It doesn’t make the pain go away, it just redirects my attention so I’m not thinking about it, which is really helpful.
Once I joined the world of crafting – I found more and more other people with disabilities were also there, and finding an outlet in art – by painting, woodwork, ceramics, photography or anything in-between. For example a friend of mine makes ‘pain monsters’ from felt when she’s having a bad day, which helps her create a visual representation of what she’s feeling.
It took me quite a long time to find out what was wrong with me. Many years of fighting and pleading with the medical community to stop shrugging their shoulders, and to do something. When I was told I had Fibromyalgia, it came as something of a relief. I felt like I wasn’t alone – there were other people with this stupidly long list of symptoms out there. I wanted to commemorate the end of that fight, that also informed people about the condition. I made my first Fibromyalgia awareness bracelet not long after, and then began to receive requests to create ones for other conditions – including some I’d never heard of before. People liked the more personalised feel to the more generic rubber bands that are usually sold. My biggest seller was for Marie Charcot Tooth Disease, and eventually the national charity began to order from me so they could sell them on their website.
I also auctioned lots of my bracelets off for the Fibromyalgia Association UK, and also for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome related charities when I was diagnosed, a genetic multi-systemic connective tissue disorder. It made me feel like I was helping, even in one tiny way.
It’s very common to walk into a shop and see a row of pink coloured items for Breast Cancer awareness. Yet there are so many other conditions that people often haven’t even heard of before, let alone understand what they entail and what it’s like to live with them. People have often told me when wearing one of my awareness bracelets it has sparked conversations with friends and family who had never asked about their health before.
The colours of the bracelets are usually picked by the existing awareness ribbon colour, and if there isn’t one, then by the colours of the national organisation/charity for the condition. Sometimes there are obvious symbols that can be included as charms. Fibromyalgia often has an association with butterflies, Autism with jigsaw pieces, Charcot Marie Tooth Disease with hands and feet. Sometimes a spoon charm is added from the fantastic analogy “The Spoon Theory” by Christine Miserandino, to which many people with chronic illness resonated with. My most commonly used charm is simply a silver ribbon with the word hope written on it – as I believe that’s something we all need in some form or another.
In April this year I had to stop working due to my health continuing to get worse. Being able to make jewellery – even if it’s for twenty minutes in the middle of the night when I’m struggling to sleep, has helped keep my spirits up and creativity flowing.
If you’re interested in seeing more of my jewellery and awareness items you can find me under Sparkly Place Jewellery on Facebook.