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Purple Rain
Patricia Flanagan 

 

Hello, my name is Patricia Flanagan and I am a mature student, currently coming to the end of my 3rd year of study at Atlantic Technological University, Galway.

 

I just want to tell you a short story about my journey through college while suffering from a chronic illness, that illness being Fibromyalgia. I read an article recently, titled 'Too young to feel this old'. It kind of resonated with me because there are days that I feel 20 years older than I am, trying to meander through the different symptoms that affect me from one day to the next. 

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Fig.1, ‘Invisible’, print transfer on aluminium, W41cm x H51cm.

So firstly, let me explain a little bit about Fibromyalgia. The official version is that Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that Fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain and spinal cord process painful and non-painful signals. But fibromyalgia has other symptoms, vision problems, stomach and bowel issues, hypersensitivity to light and sound, anxiety and depression, and sensitivity to the cold. A flare up of fibro could go from lasting a day to weeks or more. Stress, of course, is one of the main factors that can lead to a flare-up, but life comes with all sorts of ups and downs for everyone, so it is impossible to avoid.

But that is just one part of whom I am. I am also a very creative person. I love to take old things and recycle them into something new. I’ll get an idea into my head about something that I’d like to make, and my brain will just not stop until, I figure out a way of getting the finished product sitting in front of me. 

Fig.2. ‘Caged’, mixed media, H62cm x W26cm.

So, in 2019 I applied to GMIT, now ATU, to do an Honours Degree in Contemporary Art. Now let me tell you, that’s when all the fear and worry set in. My mind was racing back and forth constantly. Questions like, what have I done? Will I be able to do this? What if I’m not good enough? What if I get too sick and end up dropping out? When I had visited the main campus for the official open day, I picked up lots of application forms for various grants and bursaries. I filled them all in and sent them off. To my great surprise, I was awarded the ‘1916 Bursary’ which provided me with an extra income to help with any overheads I would face over the next four years. That gave me the lift I needed and confirmed for me that I was on the right track. I was given a terrific opportunity and I was going to make the most of it.

 

Starting your first year of college can be very daunting for all students. It’s a whole new experience. You walk in there all alone, hope to fit in and make friends. Lots of students leave home and move to a whole new environment in a different town or city and may have to look for a new job or a first job. Very overwhelming to say the least.

The first thing I did was register with the Student Support Officer. I let all the tutors and fellow classmates know about my disability. I faced major difficulties with the computer systems there and don’t get me started on photoshop and animation. But the good news was that the college had systems in place to help students with all of that. There are support networks in place to help with essay writing and all that goes with it. They have a massive library with all the books anyone would need, and the library staff are fully trained to help with anything you might need. The college provides services to help students with both physical and mental disabilities. They provide laptops on loan to students who need them and have even provided financial support through the Student Assistance Fund for those that are struggling. No matter what problem I faced throughout my journey in college I always found the help I needed. Even from the tutors and other students themselves. Over time I found that there were a lot more students with hidden disabilities like me, facing the same problems.

Given the fact I might have missed a lot of days through illness I would never have taken a day off for any other reason, I was afraid of falling behind. The guilt I felt, more so in the earlier years, when I’d miss days or miss a lecture was huge and I would try to work twice as hard on my good days to make up for it. I’ve kind of gotten over that lately, I think it was only causing me more stress. There were and still are times when I am moody and just a right-out miserable git and I would constantly feel the need to apologize for it, or if there was something I couldn’t do physically for whatever reason at that time, again I felt terrible guilt. 

But the thing is, just like many others before me, I’m getting there. I love every minute that I spend in college. The good feeling you get when results day comes, and you’ve done well. There is no better feeling in the world. It’s not always easy, but it’s something worth fighting for.  I’ve faced some tough challenges and surpassed them. I’ve met some great people, had some great laughs and some great times.

 

The theme of my artwork, for the moment, centres around fibromyalgia and its affect on my body as a whole and my life in general. I work with both acrylic and oil paint, but also use mix media to create my artwork. 

Fig.3. ‘Muddled’, acrylic on canvas, W72cm x H92cm.

If anyone is reading this and considering starting out on a college journey, I hope you DECIDE TO GO FOR IT. It is something you do for yourself, it’s your journey, and the great feeling you get when you reach the finish line well that’s just the best feeling in the world. These days I try not to see myself as a victim of this crappy illness. I’m a survivor not a sufferer. 

I, my friends, am a Fibro Warrior.

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