White Coat, Black Art

How art and community service help an Ontario woman battle pandemic loneliness

When Jennifer Eastham’s social life was taken away from her because of pandemic restrictions, she turned to the seniors she works with for company — and to her art for a sense of delight.

'I put everything I have in my brain in them. I’m very eclectic,' says Jennifer Eastham

When Jennifer Eastham’s social life was taken away from her because of pandemic restrictions, she turned to the seniors she works with for company — and to her art — for a sense of delight. (Submitted by Jennifer Eastham)

This is a story from White Coat, Black Art's series called Prescription for Resilience: Coping with COVID on the many challenges people are facing during the pandemic, and what they're doing to find resilience.

Jennifer Eastham had a busy social life before COVID-19 restrictions forced her to start keeping a distance. So she's turned to her work and to her art to reduce the stress of living through a pandemic, and to keep balance in her life.

A resident of Richmond Village, Ont., Eastham, 62, has been working the last four years at an assisted living home in nearby Carleton Place, which gives her the pleasure of getting to know the seniors who live there. 

"I just love them," she said. "I work in the kitchen, I serve them, I do a little bit of everything. It keeps me busy, keeps my mental health good."

'It would have been very lonely if I hadn't had the seniors' home,' says Eastham. (Submitted by Jennifer Eastham)

That's been especially important because her job requires her to socially isolate in order to protect the vulnerable people she works with.

As well, many of the groups Eastham is involved with, including the Ottawa Independent Living Resource Centre, which supports people with disabilities, her going-out club and the Richmond Village Arts Club, which she founded, have ceased in-person activities because of COVID-19. 

Eastham also has learning disabilities, including dyslexia, as well as a personality disorder.

"It would have been very lonely if I hadn't had the seniors' home," she said.

Delight in doodle art

When she gets home from work, though, Eastham gets to pursue her true passion: making art.

She's developed a style of doodle art, including a method called zentangle, which allows her to build elaborate brightly coloured artworks from simpler shapes and patterns. 

'I put everything I have in my brain in them.... The more wild the colour, the better I like it,' says Eastham of her art. (Submitted by Jennifer Eastham)

"I put everything I have in my brain in them. I'm very eclectic. The more wild the colour, the better I like it," said Eastham.

Other people like it, too. Her work hangs in the offices of several people who work at the seniors' home.

For Eastham, her art is as much about the feelings she gets from creating it as the end result.

"If I hadn't had something to fall back on, I don't know whether I'd have the spunkiness I have now, because I'm pretty spunky. I lose myself in it. I totally lose myself. If I lost myself anymore you probably wouldn't see me," laughs Eastham.

Eastham developed a style of doodle art, which allows her to build elaborate coloured artworks from simpler shapes and patterns. (Submitted by Jennifer Eastham)

Though Eastham says she's not resilient "all of the time," she's made sure she has people in her life who she can call when she needs help, including five people she considers mentors. She likes to research things thoroughly before making decisions and has developed a solid daily routine.

"I enjoy life now. If I don't go back to regular life, I don't think it would bother me now, because I'm used to it," she says.


Written by Paul Gallant. Produced by Rachel Sanders.
 

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