Since they were first published on social media, in the Autumn of 2022, many people with Long Covid have been touched by Christine Goldschmidt's maps representing the disease. They represent her experience of illness, and the journey of grief, anger, frustration, acceptance, and creative adaptation the disease is taking many of us on.
They are wonderful examples of art as a means to gain a new perspective on illness, processing the experience of a multitude of symptoms, many of which go unacknowledged within healthcare contexts, and plotting them in a relational way.
Everyone with a chronic illness finds they have to create a new map of their life.
In practical terms, they may no longer be able to walk where they once did–the corner shop, the supermarket, the chemist, the GP, the park, a glen, all out of reach. They must also realign their social relationships, as some friends fall away, and connection with the world is frayed.
Christine's map reminds me of the 17th century allegory, Carte du Tendre, a communally composed map of human love.
Maps are at the heart of Day of Access, from the first event, where I made a place-aware map of Meall Tairneachan, with translations of the Gaelic names, to the recent conspectus–visual poem transcribing a view–composed for the event at Taynish, which maps the view of hills and islands from a ridge.
At the recent event held on the West Lothian shale bings we used the sole map as a form suited to mapping the body like contours of the landscape–I first devised the sole map for a walk with Sole Sisters, a community of immigrant women walkers in Kirkcaldy.
Before Long Covid I was a full time freelance illustrator. I graduated from Rhodes University in South Africa in 2002 with a BFA (Graphic Art and History of art) and additional English degree. I then went on to finish my PGCE whilst working in Zimbabwean and South African private schools before coming to the UK in 2004 with my husband. We’ve remained in Newark on Trent, Nottinghamshire, ever since.
After a few years teaching art and studying silversmithing, I finally decided exactly what I wanted to do – art full time. I’d started my business 7 years ago, when my daughter started primary school, and it had flourished, even weathering the harder times of lockdowns.
I have become quite well known in this area for what I do and was often commissioned by the County and Town councils, community and outdoor leisure groups to illustrate features such as lakes, playing grounds, festivals and visualise new council projects such as our new library gardens. My work has been shown on BBC, Sky, I’ve been interviewed on Radio Nottingham and featured in the local press many times.
It was an exciting time and I seemed to have carved a niche for myself with my distinctive ‘maps’. Really, I just enjoyed illustrating anything–maps just seemed to capture people’s attention. And soon I was getting repeat work and didn’t need to go far to find the next commission.
I started to feel generally unwell in March 2021 and what started as fatigue grew into an array of frightening symptoms ranging from horrendous heart arrhythmias (and now a diagnosed heart issue) to brain fog, breathlessness. Life, as I knew it ground to a halt.
The brain fog was so bad that I would sit in front of my screen, or sketchbook, willing myself to work and barely being able to manage opening a new tab or drawing a line. I constantly fought against it, becoming frustrated with my tiredness and inability to focus. Eventually I gave in and put my work on hold while I focussed on recovering and discovering what I’d got.
I often say I went from running up hills to barely being able to walk up a hill– and this happened within a month. I used to be a rower (competitive both on water and at indoor events), runner and cyclist and was mostly in the gym when I could spare the time. It’s fair to say the only time I sat still was to draw.
I went through so many iterations of this cycle of relapse. From feeling a little better so taking on more work, finishing it under tight deadline and then crashing for weeks after and hiding under duvets while I tried to recuperate. Every time I took on more work I promised to pace myself and set my boundaries with clients but every time the same lurch back in my health.
It was probably about 2 months ago I decided to put my illustration on pause and took the brave decision to reject further commissioned work. For now I would only focus on work made by me and for me.
Sometimes even posting on social media or to Etsy is too much for me. I keep what I’ve created for times I feel well enough to post it and weather any emotions that may come my way as a result of sharing it. It’s become a far more introspective way of working. And the type of work I make now is mainly explaining to myself how I feel about this long covid journey. The maps help me and my loved ones understand.
The Long Covid Map actually came about when I caught covid a second time in January 2022. My fevered brain somehow managed to come up with the idea of a map and I started to draw a map of my symptoms as a way of documenting what I was going through at the time. I didn’t have the energy to finish it but I mentioned it in one of the many chats I have with a friend who has Long covid and she encouraged me to finish it and share it.
Christine's maps will be available soon here.