This Thing They Call Recovery: Being A Chronically Ill Graphic Designer With Jenny McGibbon

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In today’s post, I’m interviewing my lovely pal Jenny McGibbon of This Thing They Call Recovery about how she’s developing a career as a freelance graphic designer from home around her chronic illness. I’ve been a huge fan of Jenny’s work since I first stumbled across her Instagram: she has such a clear aesthetic and fantastic way of visualising messages about so many issues that impact people living with chronic illness, and it’s been really exciting seeing her grow and develop over the last year. I’ve been commissioning images from Jenny for my Instagram since April (bloody hell, time flies!) and I couldn’t be happier to be working with her…and we have some super exciting projects slowly coming together for next year too! But enough of that – on to the interview! Hi Jenny! Can you introduce yourself for people who don’t know you and your work? Sure! I’m a chronically-ill graphic designer in my mid-twenties, and I run This Thing They Call Recovery. It started as a personal blog, and has turned into the brand behind my freelance design work. I want to raise awareness of how chronic illness affects your life, and not just your body. This Thing is my way of doing that. I like creating content that educates but in a personal and approachable manner. I don’t believe all health content has to be daunting or solemn – there’s enough of that out there already. I want This Thing to be different, and so I like to include colour, illustration and handlettering to speak to the human side of ill health. Just because I’m discussing something serious, who’s to say I can’t have a bit of fun with it too? What is your background, and why did you decide to start This Thing They Call Recovery? I studied International Fashion Branding at university, and after getting my BA I decided to add on to it with a college Diploma in Visual Communication, which I graduated from this year. My chronic illnesses really hit when I was starting my last year of high school, so I’ve had to constantly take my poor health into consideration while engaging in further education. I’ve been full time, taken a year out, back to full time, and then dropped down to part time study. It’s not been your “typical” journey with it but everyone’s different. Health has to come first, even if it is frustrating! I started This Thing They Call Recovery as a side project while at college. I started it for myself, but as I built on it I realized it was also helping others. That fuelled me to keep going with it, and it’s turned into my freelance business now that I’ve finished with education. Can you talk me through your experience while studying and what adjustments would have made it more inclusive for you? I’ve found myself to be very lucky with the lecturers I’ve had over the years, and I know I’ve been in a privileged position. I’m straight, white, cis, and am fortunate enough to have family that could help me financially throughout my studies. These components mean that I likely have had easier access to services than some other disabled students. I also have confirmed diagnoses which can sometimes make it easier to get staff to believe you about your needs. This absolutely should not be the case, but I recognise that as the system stands there are many others that are having different experiences to me. Even though I know I’ve had it easy compared to some, it’s still been a struggle and there are definite things that made it easier, and definite things that made it worse. My college provided me with a pass to park in a disabled spot at the front of the building, since I was physically unable to walk from the main car park to my classroom. Without this I absolutely wouldn’t have managed. There was also a well-maintained lift in the building that allowed me to make it to my class. The staff were understanding of my limitations and the fact that I often had to work from home. I found college to be much more understanding of this compared to university, perhaps because the classes were far smaller and staff knew who I was. One thing I would have really appreciated is having access to lectures online. This would have meant I could go through them easily at home, but my university didn’t have this system in place. I know many do, so maybe mine was the exception. And who knows, maybe they do now. Even though my lecturers over the years were often very kind, there was also often a mix up in communication. Many times I travelled into college to find my attendance wasn’t necessary, or I was only in for ten minutes or so. Getting up, getting ready, and travelling there and back were all massive tasks for me. I wish there was more understanding of how truly difficult that sort of stuff is to the chronically sick. Is isn’t just doing the work, it’s everything that goes along with it. One thing that really angered me (and it’s worth noting here that this is nothing to do with my particular college, and simply the system) is that I ended up having to pay more when I dropped down to part time compared to my full time fees. This is even though I was doing the exact same classes, getting the same credits, just over a longer time. I don’t think that’s fair considering it wasn’t my choice, and it was medically necessary that I dropped down. It was either that or leave, and if I hadn’t had my parents help there’s no way I could have stayed. I would have been exempt from paying if I was receiving benefits, but alas, our government doesn’t think I’m deserving of them. It’s a twisted system that unfortunately leaves many deserving students high and […]

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