Jess James, a young carer, is graduating this week with from University of South Wales (USW) with BA (Hons) Creative and Therapeutic Arts.
Living in Trefelin in Aberdare, Jess looks after her mum who has respiratory problems since repeatedly contracting pneumonia. It has been a challenge for her to juggle her responsibilities at home with her studies, but her passion for art and consideration for others gave her the motivation she needed.
“In 2014, my father died suddenly, and soon after my grandfather and grandmother died too. I used art as a coping mechanism, as a way of processing my feelings,” she said.
“I always enjoyed art in school and then when I learnt about art therapy, and that it can be used to help people, I was immediately interested.”
“I went to an Open Day at USW and I was inspired by one of the lecturers, who was demonstrating working with clay as a mindful activity, and this just drew me in as I’m really interested in mental health and well-being.”
Whilst Jess was studying at USW, she was diagnosed with dyslexia. She said: “As I struggle with writing, I was so happy to find this course where I am can use my creative skills to support people.
“I have had a diagnosis for dyslexia, and I am being considered for dyspraxia and autism. Unfortunately, these were not picked up in school. I was classed as the lazy student who couldn’t be bothered to learn to spell, or I was labelled a ‘cry baby’ when I became overwhelmed.
“Though I loved art, I found art restricted in school – there were rules to follow. When I started the degree at USW, I had no idea that there were so many artistic avenues. The course allowed me to explore my ideas as an artist and as a practitioner.”
Jess uses traditional methods but creating artwork digitally is her favourite. She has written and illustrated a health and wellbeing book that she plans to publish.
She said: “There has been a lot of interest in my book. It is about ‘well-being monsters’ – strange creatures who are drawn to positive emotions from humans doing their favourite activities. The idea is to raise awareness, about using joyful activities for self-care and boosting mental health, in a light-hearted way.
“Some people struggle to understand the concept of self-care. It’s about the importance of carving out time to do activities that are for you. In my case, that would be playing video games or journaling.”
When Jess walks across the stage to collect her degree, it will be a proud moment for her and her family.
“After the Open Day at USW, we got back in the car, I turned to my big brother and asked him ‘do you think I am good enough to do be on this course?’. He said, ‘of course you are!’.
“And now I have done it and I want to do more. I want to study for a masters degree next.”