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Creative Craigavon woman coordinates art classes giving hope to those living with M.E. and Fibromyalgia

'For me, without art I wouldn't have got through as much as I have. I've been through a lot. It saved my life so many times, it really has'

Claire with a collaboration of everyone's work marking the 55 year anniversary of M.E.'s recognition as a neurological illness by the World Health Organisation.

A Craigavon woman living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) and Fibromyalgia is inspiring others with similar conditions to tap into their creative side by using art as a means of therapy.

Since receiving her diagnoses seven years ago, 39-year-old Claire Kennedy had struggled to reconcile her brain’s wants and needs with her body’s wants and needs.

ME – a chronic and fluctuating neurological disease – has caused Claire to experience various debilitating symptoms including, but not limited to, fatigue, brain-fog and cognitive difficulties, nerve pain, loss of balance, difficulty walking and sleeping and sensory processing difficulties.

Learning to live with the chronic condition has taken its emotional toll and Claire knew she had to find a way to adapt.

Speaking to Armagh I, Claire said: “I used to be quite a social person but now I have to be selective because my energy is so low. There’s times I can’t communicate at all and need help.

“The fatigue and sensory processing, sound can be overwhelming for me, using my brain cognitively. It would really affect me. I have to have silence I can’t bear any noise.

“I think that’s one of the hardest things. Your brain wants to do so much but your body can’t and it’s learning to adapt to a new life.”

But, the former school technician knew she had the skills to create a better today for herself and others. Through volunteer work with charity Hope 4 ME and Fibro NI, Claire soon became coordinator for a Zoom-based craft club aimed at providing members with focus, community and therapy.

“It took a couple of years to get my head around the illness,” said Claire. “I have a degree in Creative Imaging with Graphic Design and Art and I thought it would be good to bring that to the charity [Hope 4 ME and Fibro NI] and to try and encourage other people to see that there’s good things out there in life as well.

“That’s where I found art helped me. I use it in a very therapeutic way. A lot of stuff I do can be quite dark, it’s not always distraction. Sometimes it can be used to release those emotions and feelings.”

Around 35 members of Hope 4 ME and Fibro NI with varying levels of artistic experience have since signed-up for Claire’s crafty classes.

Once they have received their materials and supply packs in the post, those who attend are invited to express themselves, release emotion onto paper, do as little or as much as they are able to but – most importantly – have fun.

“I think it’s really important that people can find an outlet for what they are going through in their lives because life is hard for us, there is no doubt about that,” said Claire. “For me, without art I wouldn’t have got through as much as I have. I’ve been through a lot. It saved my life so many times, it really has.

“It doesn’t matter how it looks or what it is. It can just be scribbles on a page to help get your emotions out. It’s just showing up and having some fun.

“It’s so important to have fun and a laugh in a safe space where people get it and understand. Such brilliant friendships have been made through the group.”

The sessions are all completed via Zoom so that they remain as accessible as possible to participants experiencing difficult days, flare-ups or relapse.

In addition, the artwork can be completed in stages. There are no hard and fast rules. And Claire herself is no exception.

She explains: “I don’t do as much art as I want to do and I have to split it up. I do bits on different days or it could sit there for a week.

“It amazes me how amazing they [participants] are and a lot of them have never done art before. Some of them are doing something even for a few minutes each day and it helps distract them from their pain sometimes or if they are struggling to sleep it can help.”

You can find more information about the Art Therapy classes via Hope 4 ME and Fibro NI’s website here

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