Monday, February 10, 2020


 Hermtised: (urban dictionary) 

... when you are adapted to the hermit life and accepted that is your life style.

Detail of sculpture Aerial  by Corina Duyn, figure sleeping in pod
Detail of ' Aerial, 2014 © Corina Duyn

So much of my day is spend in solitude, in silence. I know of course that I am not alone in this – I am just one in a worldwide community of hermits, a life imposed on us due to chronic illness. In my case M.E.

Most of the time I am utterly comfortable in my own space. I don't need the radio or have ‘white’ noise around me. I am comfortable in the silence of my own breath and the sounds of life around me, like the weather. The birds my fateful companions (as long as the feeders are filled regularly!) On a good day I bask in the sound of birds through the open door, or on an even better day, I am among the birds and soak in the sound of nature. These moments brings joy to my heart.

In my hermit life I have stopped watching television about 18 months ago. I do occasionally watch a movie or documentary on Netflix in the afternoons. If something really touches me, I end up writing down quotes from these film-sessions. Some of these musings end up in some shape or form in my creative work.

Solitude: living like a hermit…

It truly is a ‘funny’ thing. Although I am confortable with this hermit status, the reality is that I can't actually fully live on my own. Be a true hermit. I am in need of basic care to reaming living at home. Two sides of the same coin. Yet at times I wonder would I actually be able to totally retreat from the world? Would I be ok with being a ‘monk’? Or is it more a case that I have adapted to this life, and is not so much by choice…

I am very aware that the way I see the world, who I am, how my creative work and writing has evolved is as a result of this hermitised life. I can mostly see this as a positive.

But yet, I so very much appreciate and enjoy the company of friends and family, in person, on the phone or via video links. I also value the contacts made via social media. However, the other side of having company is, that these wonderful interactions often take more energy than I actually have, so I end up in need of more solitude.
And round the circle goes.
It is all a matter of balance. Of careful planning.

The bit that is most challenging with hermatism is that at times I have a desperate need to escape beyond the walls, which keep me ‘captive’.

A note in my journal reads: 

it remains to fricking hard… It is a most beautiful day. Almost clear sky, a hint of spring after days of heavy rain.
A lovely day for a walk!
I can’t – or can I? Walk, of course, as in spin in my wheelchair. I can’t, as I wouldn't have enough energy to put on a coat, and shoes, and hat, and scarf and take it all off again after an escape of ten minutes…
So the answer is: Nope.

That sunny mid January day I resolved to go out into the garden instead. I put on a jacket hanging by the back door. I was out for all of five minutes, pulling up some dead leaves covering tiny sprigs of new growth. In terms of the garden, the result was most gratifying. My body however was a lot less impressed. I had jelly legs; arms were like lead. I needed to lie down as I was in a lot of pain.

Joy so close to tears.

Later I wrote
“I feel at times my heart is breaking.”

The solution is to do one little thing a day which brings fulfillment. I need to be able to say at the end of the day that I had a lovely day, that I did something that brought me joy. Even if it consist of some very small achievement:  A bit of ‘gardening’; sit out among the birds; sort out ‘stuff’ (my current favourite); or something creative, perhaps colouring, or writing; or catch up with a friend.

Re-evaluate again what I can and cannot do. Then hermitism isn’t such a bad place to be in.

PS ... and as I now have (very few) PA hours in which I can be assisted to go outside my home with support, maybe hermitism is a little more manageable too!

sculpture Aerial by Corina Duyn, figure sleeping in pod, in garden. Ladder into the pod
'Aerial'  © Corina Duyn,
58x20x15cm, 2014

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Strength in fragility

Coming face to face with one’s own fragility is certainly not easy, but maybe there are ways to go beyond this tough reality.

As my health has deteriorated further over the past two years, I have to yet again come to terms with actions I can no longer do. Previously manageable activities, such as going out on my mobility scooter, have not been possible since autumn 2017. Also actions like having a shower independently, getting dressed, preparing meals, and even doing my art, are no longer within my reach.

In the early years of life with M.E. 20 years ago, these were not possible either, but over the years I had seen a slow recovery to the point I could, kind of, look after most of my basic needs. This all changed again from 2012 onwards as a result of another severe viral infection from which I never recovered. To be honest fulfilling a very, very long held dream to attend college one night a week in 2013, and traveling to the UK in 2018 to give talks about puppetry and disability most likely did not do my physical health much favours. Both made me quite ill.

I feel the need to keep living, to not totally succumb to being ill.
I am more than M.E.
I am more than my disability.
I am still me, and find strength in my fragility.


The Disability Studies course at UCC (2013) was a logical progression in my intellectual as well as creative development. I loved the studies. I loved being at UCC. I loved the world it opened up for me. My assignments, where remotely possible, were focused on disability arts. I read so many books, then and since by others who found themselves (suddenly) living life as a disabled person. I was very interested in those writers who explored invisible chronic illnesses, like M.E.

Many quotes from the books I read then and subsequently made it into my Artist Book ‘Into the Light’. (See  HERE for author/book list of references used in my book)

The studies also indirectly lead to facilitating the Life Outside the Box Disability Arts Puppet Project with my fellow members at the IWA. This project brought the invite to give talks at the first ever Broken Puppet Symposium on puppetry, disability and health in 2017 in Cork. This in turn led to invites to give talks in the UK the following year. Over a month I met some amazing puppet makers and puppeteers, and others involved or interested in puppetry and disability. Although I had constant support from friends, this journey was physically too much. Way too much. But it was a journey of a lifetime, and I am glad I did it! My creative thought process has evolved as a result of this adventure.

 Budget management

I often make the analogy of having the equivalent of €100 in the (energy) bank per day. Staying within this budget is safe. Spending a bit less, will be a saving, a storing up of a tiny bit of energy. But going over the limit one ends up in overdraft. Overdraft is expensive.
Using only half the allowed budget the following day can pay the overdraft back.
Adding more and more to this overdraft by keeping going, the ‘bill’ becomes so big that it would take months and even years to pay it all back.  Being in a constant overdraft can lead to bankruptcy. Those two big decisions of college and travel lead to my partial bankruptcy.

There is a Big But.

These were conscious, carefully evaluated choices I’ve made. Yes I was aware of the risks, but also looked at the benefits. Taking strength over fragility. Physically it was not beneficial. However, I most definitely benefited from both in terms of my mental wellbeing and my creative development and for assuring contact with the world outside my four walls. 
Unfortunately there are other elements which lead to the most recent decline in health: a stroke like illness a year ago, which affected my speech and swallowing, and further lowered my mobility, and increased the need for care. But the two-year long fight with the HSE (our health system) to obtain support to remain living independently at home, and having the right to leave my home with support had possibly a much bigger impact.

I finally got results, but I am convinced that this senseless battle with the HSE caused further decline, mostly on an emotionally and mental level, but as all our health goes hand in hand, it probably also impacted on my physical health and ability. Every activity takes energy, including mental activity.


This senseless battle showed the absolute fragility of my existence. The fact that the care system is set up in such a way that I, as ‘client’ have no real say over my care: who comes into my home, when and for how long, and what tasks can be performed.
I lost the autonomy over my life.
My health at this point in time makes me pretty much housebound. The reality is that I cannot safely leave my home on my own, or have the ability to do so. I also had to adapt to the fact that I require help with very personal care needs.

After two years fighting the HSE I now have a seven-day a week Home Care package consisting of good hours. A few weeks ago I was finally ‘awarded’ the right to also have support to leave my home with support. 
This story can be read on the ME Advocates Ireland Blog and in short in Irish Examiner  newspaper.

Along the way I have indicated to the care agency (who provides the carers, but is not in charge of the amount of hours) which carers I am comfortable with, and those I would not like to have enter my house ever again. Taking back a little bit of control.

All this fighting for basic care and basic living takes huge resilience to keep speaking up, and standing up for my rights. It took all my writing energy to highlight the ridiculous situation I found myself in.

There is a But again.


Going public with the HSE struggles lead to some amazing comments received from total strangers about my writing ability, for example: 

I find your writing on disability/illness give a really good insight into living with a condition, even relatable for someone who doesn't. Other writers rarely achieve this. They lack compassion for the reader.”

Now the main HSE issues are resolved (few minor things to sort out) I hope to start writing again for fun, and to share the other stories of (my) life with you. I hope I can live up to the kind quote above. 
Today I meant to write about an achievement of a different kind… to sit on a beach… but that will now have to wait till another day.

Thank you for your continued support and friendship


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Portrait of an Artist: Corina Duyn. By Donal Buckley

 Artist Donal Buckley writes a weekly column in the Dungarvan Observer about fellow artists, writers and crafts people living in our area. I had the honour to chat with him last week. 
We talked for a long time about all things creative, and about the challenges and opportunities while ill. He is a pure gentleman.

Donal kindly forwarded the transcript so his words are available to many.
Thank you Donal.

 Portrait of an Artist: Corina Duyn

Corina Duyn is a beautiful lady. From her gentle smiling eyes to the tips of her tapered fingers, honed by years of creativity, she is loveliness personified.  Corina also has Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or ME for short. This is a complex and disabling condition that still isn't fully understood nor is research in to this illness sufficiently funded. In spite of all this, Corina Duyn is not defined by her condition. She considers it to be another path whose obstacles she must try to cope with in life. It is where she has encountered new experiences and met new and interesting people. I went to meet her at her home in Lismore, a cottage overlooking the Blackwater Valley. Over a cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant we chatted about the world and art.  

Which artist do you admire and who inspires you the most?

Emma Fisher is a theatre set and costume designer who also has a Doctorate in Puppetry and Disability from Mary Immaculate College in Limerick. She designs and makes puppets as well as creating animation. As a puppeteer she has produced and performed in many theatres being nominated and winning awards in several categories. Emma set up "Beyond the Bark" puppet and installation theatre in 2007. Much of her work is centred around the Limerick area with Limerick Youth Theatre, The Belltable Arts Centre, Saint Mary's Cathedral and Bottom Dog Theatre Company among others.

What are your reading habits?

A book which made a big impact on me and learning to live well with illness is by American author Julia Cameron who collected various tips and hints from artists and writers to help other artists with artistic block, disability or recovery. She put these tips and hints into book form and tried to have it published. She was turned down. She decided to publish the book herself by typing and xeroxing several copies and selling them at the local bookstore. It became so popular that a publisher, who would eventually become Penguin Books gave her a contract and sold millions of copies worldwide. The Book was originally called "Healing the Artist Within" but was re-titled "The Artists Way" in 1992 before it went global. It has helped many people, including myself, with self confidence and harnessing creative talents and skills.

Are there any particular colours you like to work with?

I have a great love and appreciation for nature, which is the inspiration in my life and often features in my creative work. I prefer all the colours that occur in nature. Whether its the blue of the sky, the greens and browns of foliage or the silver of seas and rivers, they are best seen in their natural state. 

Do you like listening to any particular music?

Any kind of gentle meditative music sounds good to me, at this particular time in my life. If I had to pick just one specific piece of music it would be the classical "Stabat Mater" by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. He wrote it in the final days of his life in 1736 and the manuscript in his hand writing is preserved to this day. He wrote the final notes before he died of tuberculosis at a Franciscan monastery in Italy. 

Where is your favourite place?

If you go to the Beara Peninsula in West Cork and carry on past Castletown-Bearhaven towards Lambs Head, you will see a group of buildings high on a cliff. This is called Dzogchen Beara and is a tranquil retreat created byPeter Cornish which follows the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He wrote about it in his book "Dazzled by Daylight". It is set in a beautiful natural environment with stunning views. It also has a Spiritual Care Centre that offers support to those suffering grief, life limiting illness, coping with disability or burnout though it is open to anyone. Its a pretty, positive and peaceful.(and that's just the letter"P"). There is an energy here combined with the magnificent scenery that is conducive to the healing process.


     Its difficult to pin Corina Duyn to a particular creative genre. She is an artist, a designer, a writer, a puppet maker, a lecturer in puppetry and disability. Her latest diversification is in to the field of shadow puppets. It is a very accessible art form which gives her the scope to explore and share the experiences of ilness Her education gives no indication of her vocation as she studied Nursing and Social Care.      

       Corina was born between Amsterdam and the coast of the Netherlands(she won't tell me when). From an early age she showed a flair for creativity by making her own rag doll at the age of ten. She arrived in our midst in 1990 when she made her home in Lismore. Before, during and after her diagnosis with M.E., Corina was and is a leading light in our arts community. She has featured  on tv and radio with such notables as Padraig Naughton, Sister Stan and Sean O'Rourke. She also featured on the Nationwide programme which can be seen on YouTube along with a video on the launching of her book "Into the Light" among others. Other books in her repertoire are "Hatched", "Cirrus Chronicles" and "Flying on Little Wings". In 1996 Corina was commissioned by Waterford Crystal to create a miniature representation of their factory floor. She has given talks on puppetry and disability to students in the UK and Irelnd, as well as Brazil and Chile via Skype. Corina Duyn hasn't succumbed to her disability but increased her capabilities.

         Should you wish to view any of Corina's video's, buy her books or find links to other aspects of her creative life, you can go to where you will find all the information you need and contact options. Because she is saddened and frustrated by the lack of care for M.E., Corina is one of seven women advocates for M.E. sufferers in Ireland . The M.E.A.I. is a national advocacy group that lobbies for better facilities and conditions for the many people with this illness in the country. 

        I could so easily fill many more pages on the extraordinary life of this exceptional woman, but for now I will rest my case for the beautiful lady with the beautiful mind. 
I will leave you with her favourite quote, from American Singer/Songwriter Kris Delmhorst, "I don't want to rip the skies wide open, I just want my song to be heard". Corina Duyn, I hear you, and I thank you. 

© Donal Buckley, published in the Dungarvan Observer, 17 January 2020, page 46
 (although newspaper comes out on Wednesday's, this week 15th January.)