Constance Bourg on Chronic Illness, Poetry, and Healing Through Art

. 3 min read

The following are words by my lovely friend, Constance Bourg. For more of her artwork, or to reach out to this beautiful soul, find her @tender.rebellion.

Growing up I wouldn't say that I excelled at creative activities—I was a slapdash child, and in many ways, I'm still a slapdash adult, although my hand-eye coordination has somewhat improved—but I enjoyed painting and drawing very much. I also loved to read. I was very good at occupying myself. Even if I played with other toys, I'd play with them in ways not intended by the manufacturer, I'd make up stories, and I'd break them; often less than five minutes after receiving them as a gift, to the great chagrin of my grandparents.


When I was fifteen, I changed high schools so I could study art. But I didn't think of myself as an artist yet. In fact, I had no idea what I wanted my future to look like. You can't underestimate the impact of social climate when it comes to a person's development.

Being working class means that you don't have all the information you need to choose anything different than the security of a good menial or service job.

Me choosing art was out the realm of experience of my parents. So, I was on my own. I had to figure things out for myself, and I did a poor job of that. The situation wasn't helped by my severe social anxiety.

It then follows that my early twenties were an unhappy time, where I got stuck in a series of retail jobs. I did, however, take some night classes in graphic design.

A few years later, I met a nice Irish man and I followed him to Ireland, ready to start a new life. I tried to become a freelance web designer there. But it wasn't meant to be.

I became ill with ME/CFS, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, a complex illness that affects almost every system in the body. I couldn't do my job, so I decided to go after something that I regretted not having, a degree.

I studied part-time with The Open University (UK) and one of the courses I took there was creative writing. That's when I fell in love with poetry.


Some years later I found myself alone and back in Belgium. A chronic illness weighs heavy on a relationship. So now I'm in the process of rebuilding my life once again. I started a blog and joined social media to share my writing, and gradually I came to think of myself as a poet. The positive feedback of others in the poetry community played a major role in giving me that confidence.

I found that putting my thoughts, my insecurities, my experiences, into poetry was... Well, therapeutic. I know, it's a cliché! But I also loved playing with language and thinking up original imagery.

My favourite things to do in a poem are to use striking descriptions and juxtaposition, things I learned from writing traditional(-ish) haiku.

It took a couple of years of playing around with many different styles to find my own voice.

But I'm getting to place with my poetry now where I can say that I'm probably not going to be embarrassed with what I'm writing today, when I read it back in a few years time.

So, now, just when I started to identify as a poet, I have gone back to visual art. I was inspired by the collage-art community on Instagram and wanted to try it for myself.

I had actually never done collage in my years studying art. I'm sure they considered it a lesser form of art. But that's total nonsense, of course! I am working on a project in which I'm transforming every page of Tove Jansson's The Summer Book. I'm making erasure poetry illustrated by collages. I'm teasing out themes related to the anxiety of living with a chronic illness.

The project will take a long time to complete, and I hope that the sequence of pages will show a positive development as I'm trying support my own healing, in perhaps less conventional ways.