MY ARTISTIC JOURNEY
Auto-immune conditions often run in families. My mother had a rare condition called scleroderma, and my niece also has lupus. My father's mother had rheumatoid arthritis.
This suggests that these diseases have a shared genetic component. Much work is going on to try to find this link, as then better treatment and prevention may be possible.
In the meantime I am keeping active disease at bay by ensuring my stress levels are kept low by painting!
DR TRACY LESTER
Who am I?
Five ago I would not have called myself an artist. I have worked as a Scientist in Genetics for almost 30 years, helping individuals and families with very rare disorders to reach a diagnosis. Drawing from observation in biology practical lessons was about as much art as I did at school - so how did I get to be where I am now?
To cut a long story short, I had a mid-life burn-out. Symptoms started in 2003, following the birth of my second daughter, a house move and job relocation. My face became swollen and I had a fever that needed antibiotic treatment. The following year I developed extremely itchy rashes over my body (hives), and my joints began to ache. Initially I put these symptoms down to allergies. I was constantly tired but thought that wasn't unusual for a working mum with two young children.
When I did seek medical advice, my GP immediately suspected Lupus, also known as SLE (systemic lupus erythrematosis) - an auto-immune condition with sunlight sensitivity. A specialist confirmed the diagnosis, put me on medication and advised me to stay out of the sun. For a while my symptoms were kept at bay, and I continued to over-work myself, taking on a house renovation whilst juggling childcare and work.
After the birth of my third child, the symptoms came back with renewed force. I tried many medications - painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids. My diagnosis was revised to 'rhupus', as I had symptoms of both lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. My immune system was attacking all joints - at it's worst I struggled to get dressed and out of the house. Every small movement hurt, even chewing.
I realised something had to change. My work-life balance was out of whack and the exhaustion and pain from the disease was overwhelming. I signed up for counselling, and slowly my life changed.
I started to take time for myself. I took naps during the day where I could and delegated more. I started yoga and took up Salsa dancing. I meditated. I watched my diet. I separated from my husband of 20 years. I started listening to my body, and slowly I got better.
I realised I missed creativity. As a child I used to draw, knit, making models, sew. I had been channelling my creative energy into house projects, but had a yearning to paint canvases rather than walls. I joined a local art class, and found a wonderful painting teacher on-line, Roisin O'Farrell. I instantly fell in love with oils.
I continue to learn and create, and am now almost totally free of pain and medications. I can even go out in the sun without it triggering a flare-up! Long may it continue.
Painting is my therapy and I hope that my paintings bring you the same joy that I feel when painting them. Thanks for joining me on my artistic journey - please sign up to my mailing list if you would like to keep up-to-date with new works.
I was featured in a local newsletter in June 2021. Check out the article below to find out more about my art journey and inspiration (click to download)