Jenny McGibbon is a Glasgow-based graphic designer who lives with ME/CFS. In 2017 she started a blog when she was taking a year out from studying at university, just to keep herself busy. It has since grown into a graphic design business and her following on Instagram alone is over 26,000. We caught up with Jenny to find out more about her incredible work.
Jenny was born with gastroschisis and spent the first year of her life in and out of hospital. Following several surgeries as a baby she then led a relatively healthy childhood, until she was 16-years-old and she developed chronic internal bleeding that the many specialists she saw struggled to diagnosis and treat.
Jenny explains: “I never really got a proper answer or a name for what was happening to me, I never got any sort of formal diagnosis, it just happened and it was a mystery. Then it seemed to fix itself, I had iron deficiency anemia while all this was going on and my hematologist described it to me like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom, because I was bleeding from somewhere but they weren’t sure where. So that was reassuring for a 16 year old.”
At 19, Jenny knew something else was wrong. Treatments that previously helped her stopped working, and she knew there was a new problem, despite doctors insisting it was down to her existing health complications. After fighting for more investigation, it turned out Jenny had ME/CFS and this is the chronic illness that impacts her daily life the most.
Jenny went on to study Fashion Branding at university, but took a year out after her second year for her health. In this time she was looking for a hobby that she could do from the comfort of her bed to keep her busy and occupied. This is when her blog was born, This Thing They Call Recovery.
“I had to take my third year out for my health and then that is when I started the blog, just for something to do, a low impact hobby that I could do from my bed. Then I went back to uni after a year, finished that and went to college to do graphic design, still intending to work in fashion. But chronic illness was just becoming more and more a part of my life and by that point I realised it was there to stay. Up until a few years into it I was still under the assumption that once they find out what’s wrong they’ll fix it and that will be that, whereas now it is clear that this is something I am going to live with, manage and deal with. I was learning so much about disability at the time, learning what that means and what that can look like, and that is when I realised that I can identify as disabled myself – that I was disabled enough to use that word for myself!
“I was learning so much, I realised that this is what I am passionate about, this sector. That’s when I totally changed my mind and decided I wanted to work in this area instead, and that is when I set up all the social media stuff. At that point I had no health-related stuff in my portfolio whatsoever, and I wasn’t well enough to do internships while studying so I just had to make my own stuff. No one was meant to look at it, it was just meant to be a sort of online sketchbook. It was something I could do that was low impact, a skillset that I could learn and just do as a hobby really and I really enjoyed doing it and it turns out people resonate with it and I turned it into a job.”
Jenny’s work is filled with honesty, humour and value. Her words resonate with disabled people and the chronic illness community because she focuses on the impact of the symptoms she experiences as someone living with ME/CFS, rather than focusing on the symptoms themselves. This inclusive approach resonates with a wide audience and her messages can sometimes be just the thing a person needs to read in that moment to remind themselves that they are not in this alone.
“The number one comment I get from people is “thank you for making this because I needed to hear it or read it today”. I think people don’t realise how much it helps me to have them say that too, it’s a two-way street, it’s like a nice community.”
“I think it’s nice because I talk about the impact of symptoms on your life and not the symptoms themselves, that then means the people that follow me have a really wide range of different disabilities and conditions. It’s nice that there is this common thread that we all relate to each other with. Your symptoms might be different, even if you have the exact same diagnosis as me, I am different day-to-day, but the impact of what you are dealing with – there is this common thread, we all know what it is like to have it impact friendships, relationships, your work, your hobbies.”
Jenny has recently teamed up with disability charity Scope to contribute some of her products to their online shop to help raise funds for the charity. She has created beautiful mugs, water bottles and aprons for the online shop and she hopes that these products will play a role in raising awareness by being a tool to start up casual conversations around disability and chronic illness, whether in the workplace or out with friends.
“For me products are such a tangible, physical way of bringing my work to people because I want my work to raise awareness of what life with chronic illness and disabilities is like. I know that it can be quite a daunting subject matter for people and it feels like a really big conversation, but I think products are such a nice way to give people an in to that conversation. Say it is a mug on your desk or a water bottle by your bed, or a poster on your wall, whatever it might be, it could be a simple “oh I like your mug” in an office conversation and it just feels like a flippant comment, but actually that’s an in to then raise a bit of awareness. It’s a casual setting, it doesn’t feel overwhelming, and I think that’s really what we need, more of these little conversations dotted in throughout our lives.”
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