A healthy passion

Mary MacKay
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Charlottetown artist Sarah Lacy, who has chronic fatigue syndrome, uses her art as a positive force in her life

Art has been an energizing force for Sarah Lacy.

This Charlottetown artist uses her passion for art as a sustaining entity in her life as she lives with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

And now she's energetically preparing for an extensive art study from May to August in a small town in France to expand her classical figure drawing and painting horizons.

"I've always drawn and I think that was kind of the thing that kept me sane, especially when I was younger and learning how to cope with feeling sick all the time," says this self-taught painter.

"It was an escape for me. It was a way for me to get through the nights (because) when I'm in the zone, the pain thing, the exhaustion thing (withdraws) and I just focus entirely on that piece of art"

Life changed instantly and dramatically for Lacy when she was 12 years of age and living in St. Catharine's, Ont.

"I went to bed one night - it was January 14 - and I woke up three hours later feeling horrible, like I had the flu or something really bad," she says.

"There are two different kinds of onset (for CFS) that you can have. There's a long-term one where gradually you feel more sick and then there's the acute one. And I had the acute onset."

Lacy's symptoms worsened with time. She was experiencing joint and muscle pain and was beyond exhausted.

"It's fatigue but not 'I missed a couple of nights sleep' fatigue. (It's more like) when you have the flu and you just feel really weak and it's hard to focus? You just have no umph left. And that's what it feels like so my stamina levels aren't as high," she says.

Fortunately for Lacy, her physician suspected CFS and sent her to a top pediatrician who conducted a battery of tests to exclude various other ailments.

"Then he diagnosed me with post-infectious neuromyasthenia, which is what you get diagnosed with before you hit the six-month mark (following the onset of symptoms). After six months it's chronic fatigue syndrome because it's (become) chronic," she says.

Over the years, Lacy visited specialist after specialist in the hopes of finding something that would improve her quality of life.

But by the age of 18 her condition had deteriorated even more where she was experiencing double vision, slurring her words and sometimes even losing consciousness.

"That was the worst that I'd ever been and after that I said, 'OK, I'm going to dedicate my life to art and I'm going to turn everything around' because I had hit rock bottom . . . ," Lacy says.

She also had a major change in her attitude.

"At the same time I'd be going from doctor to doctor to doctor trying to figure something out and nothing was working," she adds.

"And so I finally said, 'I'm not going to spend any more of life in doctor's office. I have the rest of my life to get on with now.' And I just started being really careful. I learned how to pace myself. . . . I've learned to spend my energy doing things that I love . . . ."

Now at the age of 23 and living in Charlottetown, Lacy is on the cusp of a new adventure with a partial scholarship from Studio Escalier in a small town two hours south of Paris.

She will be one of just 12 students enrolled in the intensive three-month program in classical figure drawing and painting under the direction of Timothy Stotz and N. Michelle Tully, who are two of the foremost artists in classical realism today.

To build on that, she has applied for a spot in the autumn course.

Lacy is now focused on raising the money to pay for her travel, housing and art supplies she will need while in France. The cost for the two back-to-back programs will be about $20,000.

She will be also be sharing her paintings from her studies when she returns to P.E.I. She plans to hold a Parisian-themed gala night around Christmas to display the paintings, as well as share photos and tales from her trip.

"Not many people get the chance to live in a small, medieval French town for five months," she says

"I really want to share this experience with others."

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At a glance

Fast facts

- Sarah Lacy is an artist living in Charlottetown.

- She focuses primarily on landscapes and figurative painting.

- She recently received a partial scholarship for art study from Studio Escalier, which is in a small town to hours south of Paris.

- She is raising money to fund the remaining costs through selling her artwork, which is represented by Pilar Shephard Art Gallery in Charlottetown and is available online at www.smlacyart.com. To date, she has raised more than $3,500 and another $185 for an organization that provides studio and gallery space for artists with disabilities in Halifax, N.S., and Toronto, Ont.

 

Geographic location: Charlottetown, France, Paris P.E.I. Halifax Toronto, Ont

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Recent comments

  • Bobbie Ward
    April 05, 2011 - 21:14

    Sarah's story is inspiring to me. Chronic fatigue syndrome has stolen a large part of my life for 35 years now. I am still trying to learn to mangage my lifestyle/energy/pain and have some days that I am able to do some things, I am encouraged too to put my art work a greater priority. I apreciate her attitude. It would be good to hear of Sarah's progress in her artwork and see some of it.

  • Jane Steel
    April 05, 2011 - 11:31

    Sarah is a very talented girl .all her family and friends are very proud of what she has achieved in her exploration of art. She is an inspiration to us all and shows us that it is possible to learn how to pace ourselves even when faced with such difficult health issues. You are amazing! Hope you have a wonderful time in France and look forward to updates on your work.

  • corrupt
    April 05, 2011 - 07:26

    Great story Guardian. Finally a story involving a real artist in the Arts section.

  • Jarrod
    April 04, 2011 - 21:28

    Talented, inspiring and cute to boot.

  • Diane Whiddon
    April 04, 2011 - 16:30

    This is a beautiful article. She's handled this debilitating disease with grace and strength, and it's wonderful that she's still pursuing her passion of getting her art out into the world. Such an inspiring story of bravery and moving on with the business of life. Beautiful!

  • Emily
    April 04, 2011 - 16:09

    Yea for Sarah! I've been following her story for a couple of years now and am so astounded by her drive, passion, and determination. I, too, suffer from chronic illness (OA and other undiagnosed issues) and it is Sarah who has been a major inspiration in my life; she has shown me that even with limitations, you CAN follow your dreams. I am so happy for her!

  • Charles Foster
    Charles Foster
    April 04, 2011 - 15:02

    The Island sure is blessed with many talented artists.

  • Dr John H Greensmith
    April 04, 2011 - 12:31

    The positive news story about Sarah Lacy (A healthy passion, Charlottetown Guardian, Prince Edward Island, Canada 4 April 2011) is one of a number about people who have done well after having endured the dreadfully disabling illness M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), as we call it in the UK. It does, however beg these questions: Firstly, would they have succeeded without having to go through this awful illness? Answer: Possibly. Secondly, how many more are there with M.E. who didn't do well at all but lost their careers, relationships, homes, or whole lives, as a result of it? Answer: We shall probably never know, since they are mostly invisible, housebound or bedridden, due to its devastating effects but it is almost certainly many, many times more than the ones we hear about. Good luck and best wishes to Sarah and all those who have made it. But thanks to M.E.? No thanks, say hundreds of thousands in the UK, millions around the World, including this veteran sufferer of 23 years, who have lost so much that is irreplaceable. Dr John H Greensmith ME Free For All.org Bristol, UK

    • Mary MacKay
      April 04, 2011 - 15:51

      Dear Dr Greensmith (if that is indeed who and what you are), At no point does Sarah credit CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) as a wonderful before-effect for her artistic outporing. She deals with this chronic disorder every day. She just made a decision as a young teen where her energy would go and since then has decided where it is best focused. I think that is very clear in the story. Mary MacKay