Chronic Warrior: Abi Stevens expands her pin range to empower people living with chronic illness

If you're someone who suffers from chronic pain or illness, then Cambridge artist Abi Stevens has launched a project to help empower you.

The illustrator has created a collection of enamel pins to help raise awareness and enable open dialogue about the experiences of long-term illness for the 15 million people in the UK who live with one.

Inspired by her own experiences of chronic migraines, she launched the first collection in 2019 with Chronic Warrior and Migraine Warrior pins; now Abi has launched a Kickstarter campaign to expand the range.

"This project has always been about support and love for my sister, who helped me through my struggles with chronic migraine while dealing with her own life-altering chronic illnesses," Abi says. "Seeing how she has taken the most difficult experiences in her life and used them as fuel to help others has inspired me to do the same and use my artwork for something meaningful."

This year, she is expanding the series to cover a broader range of chronic health issues to spread the message of strength and support to as many people as possible. The proposed pins include designs saying Spoonie Sisterhood, Fatigued and Fabulous, Fibromyalgia Fighter and Autoimmune Warrior.

'Spoonie' is a term established by the chronically ill to explain what it's like when they run out of energy for the day. Spoon theory explores how every activity takes a single spoon and, for the chronically ill, those spoons can run out far too quickly to be able to function on any given day effectively.

"The first design, Spoonie Sisterhood, was inspired by the bond I have with my sister, who is also a Spoonie, as well as the many supportive and encouraging Spoonie women who have helped me feel less alone," Abi continues. "I've also included other new designs for those dealing with autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia.

"Over time, I plan to continue expanding my range of pins to include as many people as possible, including mental health, ADHD, autism, and physical disabilities."

Growing up with both parents enduring migraines, Abi was aware of their viciousness. However, her own experience with them did not reach boiling point until 2018, while she was working in a special needs school. "My migraine attacks gradually became more frequent when I was in my 20s, interfering with my ability to hold down a job and work on my illustration aspirations. One spring day, I experienced a sudden and severe migraine attack which blew all my previous experiences out of the water.

"It remains one of the scariest experiences I've had: unbearable sound sensitivity, light sensitivity, not being able to think clearly and unable to answer questions from concerned colleagues who wanted to help. I was so distressed I ended up banging my head on the table in front of me to distract myself from the pain. It was the start of a months-long period where I was mostly bedridden with migraine attacks and daily debilitating symptoms."

Previously, Abi's artwork was rarely inspired by personal experiences, but her worsening migraines encouraged her to explore the symptoms in her work. This began with a series on the classic symptoms of migraines, including light and sound sensitivity, chronic pain, and fatigue.

Having found immense support online from the Spoonie community, she decided to use her artistic skills to help others feel heard. "It was a cathartic and healing experience, and I have found a new purpose in creating art that can help spoonies from all walks of life feel connected and inspired.

"The pins advocate for chronic illness by increasing the visibility of these issues and visually describing them to able-bodied people."

People who have previously used the pins say that they have helped them start conversations around chronic illness. One reviewer uses her Migraine Warrior pin to help medical professionals understand her condition when she is experiencing stroke-like symptoms.

To support Abi's campaign visit: Kickstarter.com.