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  • Kirstea

Working Through it

The design process is rarely straightforward or easy. Artists come up against problems and issues that we have to work around all the time - it's what makes the process interesting. We'd probably get bored if everything went to plan all the time.

An oldie but goldie. My Grandad snapped this photo of me in action when I was in the first year of my degree...

There are hundreds of things we could come up against, from something as little as running out of paper or something as big as spilling paint on something you've been working on for weeks.

My biggest problem isn't materials or spillages. I have a condition called Fibromyalgia. In English, that means I experience wide spread pain across my body and chronic fatigue. There are lots of symptoms that accompany the pain and fatigue, too many to list. There is also no cure, it has to be managed with medication and exercise (usually, everyone is different so they find what works for them), and it's cause is unknown. The theory is that we're born with it and then it is triggered by some kind of trauma (illness, bereavement, injury, etc.). Mine was most likely triggered when I contracted Glandular Fever at 16, which sent me into Toxic shock. I was hospitalised for a week and it took months to recover from. When I wasn't recovering as expected we realised something else was wrong and began investigating until we reached a diagnosis when I was 19, a few months before I started uni.

I'm very lucky, as the condition usually doesn't have an impact on my everyday life; whereas others with the condition are incredibly ill and struggle every day. I experience some pain on a daily basis, usually aches and pains; or my joints give way (often my hips or elbows). The condition is prone to 'flare ups', which means it can suddenly get worse for a while and then calm down again; this can last from an hour to weeks. As you get to know your condition you can understand what causes your flare ups, what to avoid and what to do when they happen.

My flare ups are usually caused by too much exercise, stress, cold atmospheres and from a lack of movement. The lack of movement as a trigger means it can sometimes be difficult for me to carry on working on arty things. For example, in my third year at uni, I found I had to set myself a timetable to do my embroidery. If I sat sewing for too long my fingers would seize, and when they finally un-seized my hands were too painful to move for a few hours. The timetable I set for myself because of this limited me to half an hour sewing, then an hour doing other things before I could start again. This made sure my hands weren't stuck in one position for long periods of time and worked well to prevent further flare ups. Sometimes flare ups happen for no apparent reason, no matter how much I work around the triggers. Sometimes I just have to take a few days off until my body decides to go back to normal.

I do my best to work through it and around it, but I do have to take care to listen to my body so I don't make myself worse. It makes the design process more challenging, but not impossible. So if you ever spot me on Instagram or Facebook saying 'it's a bad day so I'm doing something else', now you know why. I'll get back to it when I can.

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