“How art saved my life” – Jennifer’s story

Jennifer Steadman, a St Clare Hospice Day Therapy patient, describes how taking part in creative, therapeutic workshops changed her life for the better
Published on: Friday 09 Feb 2018 at 11:17
by Jennifer Steadman, St Clare Hospice Day Therapy patient

Taking part in creative, therapeutic workshops gave me permission to open up about my feelings and emotions. I found a part of myself that had been locked away.

 My name is Jennifer, and I was diagnosed with lung disease in 2015. Although it’s not classed as ‘terminal’, they call it ‘life-limiting’ – because it is going to shorten my life, but by how much, nobody knows.

People think you have to have a terminal illness to go to a hospice, but that’s not true. You have to have an illness that affects your life, and the social aspect of your life.

Coming to St Clare Hospice

I came to St Clare Hospice to attend their Day Therapy groups, and the support I received was absolutely incredible. I looked forward to the group every week; meeting the other ladies in the group was just such a support. You can say anything you like, and you know nobody will speak of it outside of the group. We can share our problems, and fears and worries – and the group will offer practical, physical, and emotional support.

Nobody knows what is wrong with anybody in the group. What is wrong with you does not matter. Most of all, what matters is that everybody feels the same. The emotional impact of finding out that you have a condition that cannot be cured is the same for everybody. The sheer horror – the loneliness and the feeling that you are on your own – is the same.

The difference St Clare made to me

At St Clare, everything you need is in one place. And also everything they do is centred around you, and your needs. It’s the sense of belonging that is so special, and just knowing that their support is always going to be there. I really feel, and I can say this with all honesty, that if I hadn’t have been picked up by St Clare when I was, I wouldn’t be alive now. I was so low – I could see no future. It felt like I could see nothing, nothing ahead at all. All I could feel was fear and loneliness. St Clare really did save my life. It really is true.

Taking part in the creative sessions

One of the best parts about Day Therapy are the creative sessions that I take part in – doing both art and creative writing.

In the creative sessions you literally forget why you are at the Hospice. You just know that you are having fun, and getting messy with the paints! For those two hours you just completely forget everything else. We are all just in the art room enjoying ourselves, exchanging views and ideas in fun surroundings – completely forgetting everything else that is going on in our lives for that moment.

When I am at home, I know I have my trouble and strife – and for the entire day I am reminded that I am not well. Just getting up to make a cup of tea is a reminder that I can’t breathe very well, I can’t move very well. But at St Clare, I am pampered! For the two hours I spend at St Clare, I just completely forget about it all. It is just so nice to switch off and relax – which is not easy to do.

I go to the creative classes and I can just sit there and create! I may not be able to make a work of art – but I thoroughly enjoy making it. It’s the process that matters. It is about mentally switching off from your illness. And I think that is what’s important.

Creative writing gave me permission to open up

Through the creative writing group I became able to write down a lot of my thoughts, and fears – to put pen to paper. I find myself writing at home as well. I actually ended up writing a few poems about how angry I felt, about my lot in life, and just writing it down was very therapeutic. Eventually you get a flow of writing going, but it was only because of coming to the creative writing group that I was able to sit and write down my thoughts.

It was like coming to the creative writing group had given me permission, personal permission, to be creative in my writing and to use it to open up about my feelings and emotions.

It has actually started me off writing stories for my grandchildren about my parents, my Dad and Mum, and Nan’s life. It’s like it has opened the door for me – and helped me to think that it is ok to write like that.

Coming to the creative sessions opens up a portion of you that you didn’t know was there.

I have always been creative, and I have always loved art, and although I’m not good at drawing, that really doesn’t matter. It’s like it gives you the permission to have a bash at it, to have a go. Whereas I didn’t feel that I could do that before. It doesn’t matter that my spelling isn’t great, or my grammar, as long as I am getting out on to the paper, what I feel. And that might be in writing, or typing, or painting, or drawing.

I found that part of myself again, that had been locked away because of the illness.

Living with a life-limiting illness

Sometimes when you are ill, you feel like you are not able to be yourself. All you are able to be is your illness. You become consumed with being ‘an illness’ and you stop being ‘a person’.

Illness takes away your independence. You become the illness that you have. And you start to think that is all you’re capable of. However, St Clare has shown me that I am still me. Now I think I can do this.

I have always been a very positive person, but I will admit, when I was diagnosed, I wallowed in my own self-pity. At the time, I just couldn’t care less about myself. I also couldn’t see the point in anything, because I just thought, ‘You’re dying’.

Now, I don’t feel like that at all. Now, I feel like there is every point.

Jennifer Steadman is a Day Therapy patient at St Clare Hospice. Diagnosed with lung disease in 2015, Jennifer found support in her local hospice where she regularly attends creative, therapeutic workshops. 

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