MONTEGO BAY, St James - A fter receiving devastating news of her lupus diagnosis in 2018, Olivia Williams knew that her life would be changed forever.
But, what the Montegonian woman didn't realise is that the diagnosis would force her to embrace her true passion for art and craft.
At the age of 22, with what she believed was the entire world in front of her, the Anchovy High School past student's life took a drastic turn.
“I was first diagnosed on a Wednesday and I never admitted it to myself until the Friday [after]. I just found myself crying and I was like no, this is not real. I just couldn't believe that I was really diagnosed with something that is not going to go away,” the now 25-year-old Williams told the Jamaica Observer West.
With her new diagnosis, Williams said, it was extremely challenging to maintain a job as she experienced severe joint pains and swelling— two major symptoms of the autoimmune disease.
“I tried working, but it didn't really work out. Between the joint pains and the swelling, my body was just not having it at all. The last time I got a job was in November of 2019, but the standing wasn't working out, so I had to stop,” she said.
So, with her back against the wall and a need for an escape, Williams turned to art and craft.
“In 2020 I started crafting. I started out by making keychains and then I turned to making ashtrays as well as the vase that has become very popular,” she told the Observer West.
But, the young woman was no stranger to the arts having attained a grade one in the visual arts at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level.
“It is something that I've always done since high school. It's like a talent that I've had for the longest while, so it's something that I've always been interested in. I actually did [visual arts] in CSEC and I got a [grade] one,” Williams noted.
“After leaving high school I started working, so I didn't really follow it up.”
As she learned to accept her illness and embraced the changes in her life, Williams decided to monetise her love for the arts by selling her handmade products.
This, she told the Observer West, has become a great source of joy as she aims to focus on all the positives in her life.
“So far, it has been very exciting. What keeps me going is the reaction of my customers when they receive their pieces from me. They usually send video reactions especially when they give my pieces to somebody and I am always so excited like I am the one getting the gift,” Williams said while giggling.
“Their facial expression is something that really holds me up.”
Living with an autoimmune disease hasn't been a walk in the park, Williams told the Observer West while sharing that her kidneys are currently being monitored by doctors due to risks of compromise.
“Having lupus hasn't been all that wonderful. In August of last year I was actually in the hospital because my body started to retain water and my legs were swelling, so they have me on kidney watch right now where they are observing if my kidneys are going bad. That is what I really don't want to hear because that is not really a good direction to head into. You know that once your kidneys are not functioning, your body is not getting the care that it needs, so they have to be watching carefully,” Williams explained.
Not deterred by this news, the 25-year-old decided to take a “bold step” by promoting her pieces on the popular social media platform Instagram.
“Last year, I created an Instagram page and I came up with a name that I wanted to put my crafts under, Livia's Creative Collection. But, I didn't post anything on it because I was wondering if I would be able to keep up the pace. There are times when I really don't have much energy, so I pondered on if I'll be able to keep up orders…and I was so afraid,” she said.
“After coming out of the hospital and getting back on my feet, I decided that it was time to brave up and take that bold step of putting my work out there, so I started to post my crafts on social media.”
Though it may seem trivial to others, for Williams, crafting has allowed her to remain positive despite her health condition.
“Art is something that I really love and by doing it I keep a calm mind. It also allows me to not be bothered by a lot of stuff and I just try to keep going,” she said.
While crediting herself to be a “positive person”, she maintained that it is this mindset that allows her to keep trying every day.
“I have always tried to be a positive person, so it is something that has always been in me. Even when I am sick I always tell myself that this is not going to be the downfall of me. It is not going to take the best of me.”
“By thinking positive my body actually feels healthier. I cannot dwell on it and think of the fact that I cannot be like everybody else and have a regular job, I had to find something to make me feel comfortable. When I think like that, I actually do not feel sick.”