Still Ill by Monique Jackson is a powerful visual diary about Covid’s prolonged effects
The London-based illustrator’s depiction provides an honest look at the day-to-day reality of dealing with the debilitating after-effects of the virus.
- Matt Alagiah
- 29 July 2020
Monique Jackson contracted Covid-19 on a train journey with a friend on 15 March, just before the UK lockdown restrictions came into full force. “My first symptoms were headaches and fatigue,” the London-based creative tells It’s Nice That. “I started to look a bit pale. I was sweating, shivering and had a loss of appetite.” The following week, she developed issues with her breathing – “I had a tight chest and it felt like I just couldn’t get oxygen into my lungs,” she explains.
Since then, Monique has experienced a vast array of different symptoms, from a skin rash to extreme chest pains to acid reflux and even tinnitus. Four months on and she is still unwell. “It’s still hard to pinpoint what is going on in my body,” she says. “It is only because my friend and I are both presenting with similar symptoms on a weekly basis that I am aware that this is not unique to my body.”
Having studied Illustration at the University of Brighton, Monique has always enjoyed drawing and says that “keeping a visual diary is how I process experiences”. When she fell ill, she felt it was important that she document her experience and share it. “I know there are community forums online, but I wanted to contribute something different,” she explains. “The Black Lives Matter movement boosted my confidence to share my story. I am a Black woman. I felt frustrated by the lack of answers from the investigation into the death of TFL worker Belly Mujinga. I was also frustrated by the government’s hesitation to investigate why the BIPOC community has been hit so badly.”
The illustrations Monique has made during this time – or her “Corona Diaries”, as she calls them – depict the true reality of suffering with debilitating Covid-19 symptoms. In the series, which she describes as “loosely chronological”, although sometimes she admits she recollects things “out of sequence” – we see a range of different scenes: a fever breaking out across Monique’s face; a visit from friends, who stay distanced outside her window; her sitting in an NHS waiting room; an ambulance pulling up outside the house; and depictions of the books, foods and activities that have helped her get through the ordeal so far.
GalleryMonique Jackson: Still Ill – Corona Diary
Monique’s extreme symptoms have meant she has had to adapt her normal style of drawing. Ordinarily she makes works on paper, often using a “fat permanent marker”, but over the past few months she has taken to her iPad out of necessity. “Using an electronic pencil and an iPad has been fantastic, because I can get the drawings done in bed, or work on them in parts. I can then upload the images to the Instagram page without using too much energy. I have a preference for working on stuff IRL, then scanning and cleaning up digitally, but this process just takes too long and too much energy right now.”
As becomes clear when Monique talks about the series, there is also a deeper, socially conscious undercurrent to the work. “This project aims to show solidarity with the frontline workers of the NHS, homeless outreach programs, the police and others,” she explains. “The project also intends to demand higher standards for publicly funded mental-health services as this is a time that everyone should have access to therapy, not just the middle class.” She points out that the pandemic has highlighted existing health inequalities, explaining that she herself struggled to get to appointments, because you need money for taxis, for instance. “I wonder what it is like for people who have less than me,” she says.
For Monique, there is too little written about what it’s like to live with the after-effects of Covid-19. “It is important not just to pretend the sick do not exist,” she says. “There is rightfully a large focus on the large number of people who have tragically died from this disease. However, there is very little discussion of those who are recovering or feeling the after-effects. There are people like me, who were relatively fit and who now struggle with care on a basic level.”
Asked what she hopes viewers will get from seeing the series, Monique says, “I really hope people who see my drawings feel that they get a sense of the day-to-day reality of being ill with Covid and its after-effects. I understand that there are many people going through similar experiences, but each person has their own story to tell. However, many of these stories just aren’t being told right now.” She admits that her own story may well contradict the mainstream narrative about how the illness is experienced and treated, and says she hopes “that other people going through a similar experience can relate and maybe find a voice”.
GalleryMonique Jackson: Still Ill – Corona Diary
Monique Jackson: Still Ill – Corona Diary