N.G. “Out of the blue”
I had done very well for myself but four years ago I was made redundant. I phoned my wife in tears and she reassured me we’ll manage. The job had been very stressful for a long time but I just hadn’t expected the company to fold. Suddenly I was too young to retire and too old for a new job. Then my mother became really ill and I became her carer. Whilst I was retraining myself in accountancy and exams were coming up my mum became very sick, and all of a sudden the pressure was too much.
My mother passed away a few months after losing my job. After just a few weeks, one day on my daily walk, I started to feel pins and needles in my legs, it felt like my legs were going to give way. I rested but the next day it happened again and I wasn’t able to walk. My GP referred me to a specialist and eventually I was diagnosed with Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO), a very rare form of illness. This physical illness just came on out of the blue.
It felt my whole world had already fallen apart and on top of that I had to face possible blindness and paralysis. I sank into a dark depression, questioning why this was happening to me and why everything at the same time. I lost faith in the future; all the plans I had with my wife to travel and retire vanished. I felt useless, surplus to requirement, and I felt a burden to my family. I fell silent. Life had been squeezed out of me and there was no energy left to do anything. I stayed in my room and didn’t feel like going out.
The specialist at the hospital recognised what was happening to my mental health and referred me to counselling and CBT where I started to talk about how I was feeling. They also referred me to Arty-Folks. I remember how low I felt at the time. When I look back now I feel sad about how I felt and I can still remember how terribly destroyed I felt.
At Arty-Folks I wasn’t able to take part in conversations firstly because of hearing problems but also because my voice was so faint. I had no energy to speak up and other people just couldn’t hear me. At first it was a tremendous effort just to get there and to concentrate for 2 hours but I attended every week and the group became my anchoring point. I think when we were painting I realised that I was learning new skills and that I was producing good art work. I thought, actually there are still a lot of things that I can do and that I can do well.
I moved quite quickly through the groups and I found the projects with Making Way group are really interesting. Most of them are about expressing and dealing with your feelings whether it be using clay work or drawing. We did a project around Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the carving in foam board helped me to deal with things and release negative emotions. I was able to give those bad feelings a voice, to express my pain visually. This piece of work made me realise what I’m going through rather than blanking out my pain, and it helped me to think and communicate things rationally.
I have been battling with this condition now for 4 years and because I have to take steroids my muscles have weakened and I’m on the waiting list for another operation to help me swallow properly. It has really taken over my life but since my diagnosis there’s been a lot of research into the condition. My treatment has started to improve and I’m dealing with it. In Oxford I met other people with a similar condition which really helped as I could see some people coping well and looking positive.
This illness did signify the end of the world for me at the beginning but I’ve been able to re-evaluate and discover that my health is more important than anything else, and that I need to do the best I can with what I’ve got. This acceptance of facts has opened doors for me. More than ever before do I value that I have a supportive family and with my wife and daughters supporting and encouraging me, I am able to do things again, I can cope with stresses and it feels like things have balanced out a bit now. I have even stepped on the ladder to do some DIY around the house and I go to Pilates and practice relaxation. Coming to Arty-Folks and meeting people and doing normal things has helped me to be more outspoken. Of course I’m still dealing with the pain and I have moments of depression but I’ve discovered how not to let it take over.
I have attended Arty-Folks for 2 ½ years and I think it would be very easy to remain within my comfort zone. But I do think it is important to take a next step, to challenge yourself and ask what else can I do? I know now that it is important for me to be in contact with people and keep busy enjoying my social life. I am ready now to move on from Arty-Folks and I will be volunteering in a maths class for adults. I will miss everyone in the group, they’ve been like family to me. I will keep up to date looking on the website and Facebook and tick ‘like’ on people’s artwork.