How do you pick yourself up, dust yourself down and look forward to life again when chronic illness changes everything for you?
For busy, gym loving teacher Melissa the answer came through her love for art, her determination to see a brighter future and the support of Grapevine after she was diagnosed with a rare, painful and debilitating illness a couple of years ago.
Many people, unable to work or lead the active lifestyle they once enjoyed, would have given up hope of a brighter future. But not Melissa.
“When I was diagnosed it felt like my life was over – I thought I couldn’t do anything,” she says.
“But one day, sitting on my sofa I realised I had to think differently. Otherwise all I’d be doing was waiting ten weeks for my next consultant’s appointment.”
Grapevine gave Melissa the support and encouragement to get involved in the Good to Go project which is supporting people to lead more active, healthy lives.
“I thought, what can I do? So we came up with Feelgood Friday – it’s a walk in the park. On the first walk we had 33 people and three dogs at our walk in the War Memorial Park. There were 54 on the second. We made paper flowers and handed them out to random people we met on the walk. On the third we made banners, encouraged people to bring things and gave out sweets and dog treats. There were around 60 people on that walk.”
“If you’ve got a chronic illness you can be put off by the idea of walking. So these were disguised, really. And once you change your mindset you can begin to change your health.”
More events and initiatives have been developed over the past year. They range from an evening inspired by the Danish concept of hygge (making everything feel cosy and comforting), swim and tonic sessions that encourage families to have fun at swimming sessions and coming up with new ideas at Ideas Factories, where people gather to think through creative solutions to issues.
And throughout it all Melissa’s art has told her story far more powerfully than any words could.
“I’ve found that passion can take you to a different place,” she says. “Doodling in meetings has given me the confidence to take part in meetings and now I’m even giving talks at the uni and to public health teams.”
“It’s given me a voice and Grapevine has given me a platform to do all this. At Grapevine there’s always someone who knows, who can do the connecting to people you need. They’re willing to take the risk on ideas and people like me.”