We are passionate here at The Hills about supporting small businesses, growing a connected community of wonderful people, championing rural enterprise and promoting sustainable living. But sustainable living doesn’t need to only mean ‘eco-friendly’ as it does to many. For many of us, the choices we make in how we live and work need to be sustainable so that we continue to live a happy life here in the countryside.
According to official figures, there were 4.7 million self-employed workers in the first quarter of 2016, the latest period for which we have data (The Telegraph), and we know that most of these brilliant business owners have chosen to be their own boss so that they can have a more flexible and creative work-life balance. Something many of us consider an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Continuing our exploration of the reasons for choosing the self-employed lifestyle, today we are delving deeper into our blog post on the link between shopping small and managing chronic illnesses, through an interview with the main inspiration of the topic - my daughter Mary. As many of you already know, Mary lives with M.E. and it has meant dramatic changes to her lifestyle. Throughout the past years of her illness there has also been worry for her future, will she be able to get a job, run her own home and live a truly independent life when at times her M.E. is so debilitating? She is chatting to me today about her art, her experiences with M.E. and what she feels this means for her future life. I’d like to thank her deeply for opening up to the blog with this, as I’m sure it is not always a comfortable topic to discuss.
When did you first realise you had a talent in art?
I discovered my passion whilst in sixth form, at the age of 17. Before then I hated it when my teacher would ask me to paint because I had no confidence in my abilities - I was previously only used to drawing. However the more I painted and practised, something in me just clicked. I think I only realised I had a talent when other people started to notice and tell me!
Which medium is your favourite?
I definitely prefer oil paints, there is so much more freedom when working with them on the canvas.
Is there another art form you would like to try?
I would love to try sculpture - I have no experience in sculpture but I would like to give it a go, when you work with your hands it allows you to almost become part of the work itself.
What does art mean to you?
It means everything - it was my saviour and my escape during my worst periods of illness and even now it still can be. I feel calm and forget about my anxieties when I paint. I draw inspiration from my surroundings so it allows me to look at the world differently. Art makes you question things and stirs your emotions. Also, art history is very important to me because the progression through time is so fascinating. Art is so personal too, when I create something that’s mine and in my style and my ideas I know it is totally unique.
What does M.E. feel like?
It feels like you're not fully alive, you are so limited in every area of your life. I still struggle with feeling like my life has been taken away. It's so debilitating and frustrating and I feel like I will never achieve what I could have done without suffering from M.E.. I'm running on empty every single day with no break from it, so finding the motivation to make food/get dressed etc is often extremely difficult, never mind creating artwork
How does it affect your daily life?
I don't have much of a life, I don't mean that in a depressing way but M.E. has changed everything. If I do the things I want to do, my body punishes me for days afterwards. It's often easier to give in and sleep 16 hours a day!
Have you been able to access any support?
Medically no but my family, especially my mum, is my whole support. They are my life, I just wouldn't be able to cope with M.E. alone and I sincerely feel for those who don't have a choice but to cope on their own.
What changes have you had to make to your lifestyle because of your illness?
I have given up all my sports so I'm no longer physically active at all. I used to ride my horses and play a lot of tennis which I loved. I had to leave school in the lower sixth and be tutored for my A levels, over 4 years not the usual 2. I can't usually do things in the day time unless I really plan for it because I need to sleep until the afternoon.
What career would you like to have when you leave uni?
I want to paint! If I could make a living selling my work that would be my dream, I am also very interested in teaching at primary school, I love small children and I feel a lot less anxious around them. If I could combine both of these passions I would be very happy.
Is your chosen career going to be possible given the symptoms of your illness?
At the moment, teaching would not be possible because of having to get up early and be on the go all day, but art is absolutely a possibility! I am hearing more and more positive and encouraging stories about those who are successful despite having a chronic illness, and as long as I work hard when my body allows me to I think I can achieve it.
Will art always play a part in your career/life?
I want it to be my whole career! If it turns out not to be it will always be part of my life as a creative person, I can express myself fully and powerfully when words have always been a struggle. Art is a universal language.
What would you say to other people who suffer from illnesses such as M.E. who are worried about how they will work to earn money?
I often think about other people my age who suffer from M.E. who might not have the support that I have from my parents. I have been lucky enough to be able to take several years longer to do my studies, but this has meant a great deal of generosity and extra financial support from family. Not everyone has this opportunity. It is so tough for them.
*Note* - If you would like more information on M.E. and the support available, we recommend using the M.E. association and their related resources.