A talented young artist, who suddenly lost her sight, has designed a Christmas card to raise funds for local sight loss charity Galloway’s.
Rebecca Jolly, who is registered Severely Sight Impaired, decided to spread festive cheer this Christmas by using her artistic skills to help other blind and partially sighted people.
In 2017 Rebecca, who is from Brinscall, near Chorley, was due to start her art degree when she began to experience health issues related to her Type 1 Diabetes.
She first noticed a problem with her sight when a black dot appeared in her vision. After visiting her optician she was swiftly referred to hospital where a consultant confirmed she had Diabetic Retinopathy.
Following a series of unsuccessful laser treatments she was referred to the Manchester Eye Hospital where a doctor told her he needed to operate on her eye immediately.
The 27-year-old said: “I was really optimistic about the operation. I thought I would be able to see once the bandages came off. But unfortunately, it didn’t work. There was too much scar tissue at the back of my eye.
“I was so upset, I hadn’t anticipated it. Then I was told I needed the same operation on my left eye. I had to go through it all again. When I woke up from that operation I was quite traumatised. Thankfully that operation was successful although my sight in that eye is still quite bad.”
Rebecca is no stranger to medical challenges. She was only two years old when she was first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. The diagnosis meant that she would be particularly vulnerable to infection throughout her life.
Between 2012 and 2019 the brave young woman battled her way back to health after developing the life threatening condition sepsis more than ten times. Her health struggles have resulted in her being placed into intensive care more than a dozen times and on one occasion she was even placed on a ventilator in intensive care.
Despite these challenges Rebecca still feels that it was the loss of her sight that really threatened her hopes of an independent future. The mum of one remembers how she initially believed that she would be unable to continue with her drawing: “I felt like my dreams had been shattered and ruined before I even got to start. I was absolutely heartbroken. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to draw again. I didn’t see how I could. Within weeks I had become dependent on others to link my arm if I wanted to go out. I had to put my art to one side as my life became occupied with eye surgeries that were not effective.
“Adjusting to life as a blind person was frustrating and upsetting. I lost my independence and became confined to the four walls of my house. I quickly grew tired of life. I was always falling over and was left feeling humiliated, embarrassed and depressed. I eventually declined my art degree course offer. The irony of the whole thing is that usually, when I experience negative emotions I would distract myself with my art. But this just didn’t feel like an option anymore. I desperately missed being creative but just couldn’t bring myself to try as I didn’t want to be disappointed in the end result.”
Over time Rebecca slowly started to regain her confidence. She began to go for days out with Galloway’s and took part in social groups with the charity. Eventually she decided to start drawing again.
She said: “I knew I couldn’t go back to drawing in the same way I did before and that I had to find new ways. I also learnt fairly quickly that I had to keep going with it, even if the pictures weren’t turning out the way I wanted them to. Each time I tried I learnt something new. I experimented with different techniques and styles. I slowly rediscovered my love of art. It’s quite an exhausting process because I have to look indirectly at what I want to draw, and draw it from what I see out of the corner of my eye. But even though it’s hard, I love drawing, it gives me a sense of peace and calm, especially when I am trying to deal with my health issues.”
Julie James-Turner, an art teacher who runs classes at Galloway’s who specialises in teaching art to blind and partially sighted people, believes that the arts are an important tool in helping people with sight loss to find confidence.
She said: “The arts can be hugely positive for blind and partially sighted people.Continuing to be creative as a person with sight loss is so important as it gives a valuable opportunity for personal expression as well as instilling and maintaining confidence and a sense of achievement. Being creative as a process is also well known as being therapeutic, cathartic and soothing for those feeling anxious and with low mood.”
For Rebecca, the power of rediscovering her art has helped her to find new direction and meaning through her sight loss journey.
She said: “Finding my way back to my art has shown me just how resilient I am. The one thing I didn’t want people thinking is that I can’t get back on my own feet just because I’m blind. I have done a lot of falling over. I now know I can get back up.
“Galloway’s has been brilliant at giving me advice through all this. They have also given me the confidence to start drawing again, but one of the most important ways I have been helped at Galloway’s is through emotional support and advice. It was so helpful and has helped me to make some positive decisions for the future.”
• To buy a pack of the cards, priced £3 for 10, call Galloway’s on 01772 744 148.
• Galloway’s sight loss charity is based in Penwortham and has sites in Chorley, Morecambe and Southport. For more information about its work see galloways.org.uk