How this Bamber Bridge mum uses adult colouring to cope with trauma, bereavement and chronic fatigue syndrome
Sat in a cosy Bamber Bridge coffee shop, a mum-of-four has just revealed the simple hobby that helps her cope with a potent mix of trauma, bereavement and chronic illness.
Esther Scholes caught on to the 2015 adult colouring book craze, which encouraged people world-wide to rediscover their childhood love of doodling, when she fell chronically unwell following the death of her husband.
Inspired to share its gentle healing powers with others, she set up community group Doodles & Coffee in June last year.
"I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome four months later, which was probably linked to post-traumatic stress after losing my husband to cancer a few years ago," she said.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a long-term illness with a wide range of symptoms. The most common is extreme tiredness but others include: sleep problems; muscle or joint pain; headaches; sore throat or sore glands that are not swollen; problems thinking, remembering or concentrating; flu-like symptoms; feeling dizzy or sick; and heart palpitations.
The 40-year-old added: "I had also moved with my children from Morecambe back to Bamber Bridge to be nearer to family and Valley Church because of the fantastic community there.
"After moving, I felt my body had imploded.
"I was feeling exhausted and sometimes needed to sleep for up to 16 hours a day for several days in a row. I'd do the school run and go home to sleep."
Her diagnosis came after numerous tests and she's been unable to take on paid work ever since.
But Esther was determined to escape a life chained to her bed and knew she needed a long-term interest that would re-ignite her passion for life without leaving her shattered.
That's when she turned to doodling.
"I was struggling for energy and it was hit-and-miss if I could turn up to an evening class," the former Prestonian said.
"Whenever I had brain fog, I couldn't focus, so I needed something to do that wasn't too demanding or tiring.
"Adult colouring is ideal for me as it's a form of creativity at the simplest level. It slows me down, gives me focus and provides enjoyment.
"In the group we share ideas and inspire each other, which helps build up your confidence. If I'm tired or have a migraine, just sitting with other people and doing something creative makes a huge difference."
Colouring can be particularly soothing for people with mental health issues, according to Esther, with one new mum using the group to tackle her postnatal depression.
"You can become stuck in a negative situation and that's all you end up thinking about. So instead of spiralling into a pattern of negative thoughts, you can come here and find relief from anxiety," she said.
"I think creativity can help people heal from a breakdown as it stimulates your brain in a healthy way."
The group also adopts a gentle approach to socialisation, making it "an antidote to loneliness" that allows people who have become isolated to work their way back into the community slowly, added Esther, who is now a Valley Church volunteer supporting people’s spiritual and emotional well-being.
"It allows you to connect with people on the lowest level and I think that's really important. One girl uses the group to deal with her mental health problems and she might say three or four lines but she's happy to simply sit and listen to other people," she said.
"When I've struggled with my health my default in the past has been to stay inside because I'm fatigued. I think a lot of introverts are the same.
"I felt I couldn't cope with anything, even getting dressed was overwhelming, but this has been a doorway into community life."
Doodles & Coffee, Wednesdays, 10am to noon, at Valley Coffee in Fourfields, Bamber Bridge. No level of skill is required.