The last five years haven’t been great. I became very ill, unable to keep any food down, passing blood, chronic diarrhoea and my weight plummeted to 5 stone. I was in constant pain, backwards and forwards to doctors and in and out of hospital.
After 2 years I was eventually diagnosed with severe Pancolitis.
Prior to this I had been happy, healthy and enjoying my work as an actress and photographer with an active social life. Now I was in agony, taking 23 tablets a day and unable to leave the house without a wheelchair.
On my second admission to hospital they couldn’t find a pulse, I only had 60% of my blood remaining and had to have an urgent blood transfusion. I looked skeletal, my self-esteem was at an all-time low, I couldn't bear to look at myself in the mirror and people kept asking if I was on drugs or had an eating disorder.
My marriage broke up as my husband of 10 years no longer wanted me when I became ill and was physically abusive towards me. My life changed forever.
For months I didn’t want to carry on, I became depressed and felt I had nothing to live for. Gradually I regained some weight and strength and didn’t need my wheelchair. I moved out of the marital home and basically had to start my life over. I also developed osteoporosis because of the Colitis.
As part of my recovery I wanted to get some tattoos, something to symbolise a new beginning - ravens. A bird I much admired for its strength and intelligence and always felt a strong connection with (I often photograph the Tower of London ravens).
I sketched my tattoo designs and with the help of an amazing tattoo artist, it all came together. I was delighted with the results. People seem to love them as much as I do and often stop me in the street to ask about them or want to take a photo.
I joined a network to connect with people who understood what I was going through. I didn’t feel so isolated and alone. Two years ago I was made Ambassador for the network and am now in a position to help others, especially those who are suicidal or have suffered from domestic violence. It feels good to be able to give something back.
In January this year I was nominated as one of the Mayor of London’s Unsung Heroic Women. It was a huge honour. I also met a wonderful man who loves me for who I am.
Creating art takes my mind off my pain and helps other people to understand what it’s like to live with an inflammatory bowel disease. My artwork has been well received and called a ‘powerful piece’.
My assemblage art piece is called ‘A Gut Feeling’. The nest represents my bed, comfort from the pain and chronic fatigue, the pills and drips which line it allow me to thrive.The discarded rings allude to the break-up of my marriage and divorce. A torn business card represents my career on hold. A raven feather shows my love of birds, my intestines inflamed and knotted.
It took me around 6 weeks to create from coming up with the initial idea to getting all the materials together and then assembling them. I made a few changes, added and omitted things. Several days later I decided on the wedding rings, otherwise I felt that I would be leaving out a big part of my story and who I am today.
Last month it was exhibited at The Guts and Glory Gala at Sony Studios in Los Angeles. I’m already working on my next, as yet unnamed, piece which incorporates a model of a human rib cage and bird cages (confinement.)
There are many things I can no longer do, but if I waited for a day when I felt well enough, I wouldn’t do anything.
If you are affected by domestic violence, visit Refuge for information on how to get help.