CW// chronic illness

I was born in the urban city of Johannesburg, South Africa, where I have stayed all my life but my heart and soul live best in our South African land and seascapes; in the African bush; the desert; the landscapes of rocks and mountains and wild flowers, and in the seas that welcome the Southern Right whales each year.

In these places and spaces I find most inspiration for my personal, spiritual and creative work.

Since childhood I have loved anything art related. Over the years I have dabbled in art making but I was also held back by lack of confidence. 

After high school I chose an academic path and graduated with a Masters Degree in Art History, focusing on the beadwork of the Ndebele people, an indigenous community in South Africa. I loved my studies but it was a choice that buried my creative art-making side; academic work came easier to me and it was more comfortable and safe to work in my head.

In 1983/4, at the age of 24, I spent a year in the USA, where the unraveling started; I had no idea that it would continue and last the rest of my life.

I became mysteriously ill and never recovered.

Nonetheless when I returned home I started a Museum career in South Africa as a children’s art educator and Curator of African Art, which was short lived; I had to give it up when I became too ill to continue working.

Many years of illness later I found out that it was Lyme Disease that stopped me in my tracks and sent me spiraling.

I live daily with a wide range of fluctuating symptoms causing pain, fatigue and general unwellness, all of which have impacted on how I live my life.

Through the years I held on to a tenuous connection to making art.

While not always clear as to what kind of artist I wanted to be, I knew that my creative and personal work would intersect and intertwine with working on illness and healing.

Intuitively I started writing journals when I was a teenager going through rough times. Writing has always helped me process my thoughts and emotions.

I returned to my journals when I became ill, especially as I was inundated with recurring dreams, mainly of snakes, water and other subjects which now make their way into my mandalas.

Before covid I started exploring mandalas and sacred geometry; the appeal was a natural progression in my lifelong interest in all things spiritual and creative.

I knew that this was a format to help me explore so many things both artistic and personal, but I wasn’t sure exactly how this would unfold.

During lockdown Julie’s Mandala Alignment popped up in my FB feed and I was hooked!

I did not complete the cycle but Julie’s way of working, bringing together threads of image, ideas, music, words, and so much more lingered with me until the Mandala Magic School came along, and then I was home!

Mandala making has become a central part of my process in coming to terms with the loss of the person I thought I would be and the things I thought I would do.

Creating mandalas is life-affirming as a counterpoint to the draining of energy that chronic illness often brings.

The fact that I am able to create while being ill is hugely rewarding; it brings me enormous satisfaction which goes a long way to balming the pains of chronic illness and filling some of the holes in my life.

To me the appeal of mandalas is in their paradoxical nature of containment and freedom – the simple circle to the more complex forms give structure but from there the possibilities for design, images, symbols etc. are infinite.

This layered process is what resonates most for me in the Mandala Magic School.

I find that at this stage of my life, everything I have been interested in, my collections, thoughts, dreams, experiences, symbols, my personal work through therapy, come together and are contained in my mandala practice.

Making mandalas is something different each day. It may be close to one of Julies’s prompts or veer off in a different direction; it may be a gift for someone with images personal to them; working through personal issues or simply enjoying the meditative experience of repetition which becomes the meaning itself.

The enjoyment of painting and creating something beautiful or meaningful makes me feel good! Daily symptoms from Chronic Lyme Disease provoke constant physical challenges to making art in a way that does not become too debilitating.

I work mainly in watercolour as it is a gentle, flexible medium and less demanding on my body. Besides being non-toxic, it offers endless possibilities and I love the colours, the feel of the paint on paper and the many techniques I have yet to learn!

I am lucky to have a private studio space which is my sanctuary where I am surrounded by a garden and eclectic collections of anything I find inspirational. I work with candles and music and like to be solitary.

Since immersing myself in the MMS I am working more consistently and with more confidence than I have for a long time; even when feeling ill or stuck this space is a lifeline to feeling connected to being alive.

Thank you to Julie and the warm and supportive MMS community. It inspires me to see everyone’s work in a safe and non-judgmental space.

And the future? To continue to create, to learn, to explore, to enjoy!


  1. Jean Epp-Gauthier

    Your work is inspirational. You are inspirational. I’m grateful to have seen your exceptional mandalas. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Karen

    Your mandalas are beautiful. Your gentleness and radiance shine through in the humble way you tell your story and in your artwork.

  3. Barbara Holland

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. Your mandalas are both graceful and elegant.

    • Diane Hellig

      Dear Barbara thank you for your kind words of support.

  4. Karen Peake

    Beautiful mandalas and so good to hear that your art helps in such a positive way. I’m looking forward to seeing more, best wishes, Karen

    • Diane Hellig

      Dear karen thank your for your response, much appreciaed.

  5. Janice edgar

    Diane, your journey is an inspiration. I loved READING your story and learning how mandala making enables you to feel whole. Your life journey is fascinating and i appreciate how hatd it must be to endure chronic pain and dis-ease. I have a sister, who is an artist, struggling with a recent diagnosis of lupus. It has interrupted her life significantly. It is reassuring to know there ste opportunities to continue living a full and rewarding life when health challenges arise. Sending Love and kindness to you and a heart of gratitude for your sharing.

    • Diane Hellig

      Dear JANICE THANK you so MUCH FOR your affirming response. The challenges are ongoing and i hope your sister is able to find her way through and continue her creative life.i appreciate your kind words.

  6. Judith

    Beautiful and inspiring work Diane, thank you so much for sharing it

    • Diane Hellig

      Thank you so much for your response, much appreciated.

  7. Cielle Backstrom

    Diane, your mandalas are stunning. Each one shown here is full of color, life and symbolism. ANd your life story is touching.

    • Diane Hellig

      Dear cielle thank you so much for your comments, i appreciate your feedback.

  8. Kathleen Steelandt

    Dear Diane, what a touching story of your battles with your health, yet of victories in your creativity. Your mandalas are a tribute to your talent and patience, they are beautiful. The detail in them is delightful as is your colour choice. SO honoured to be sharing this space with you. Blessings, Kathy

    • Diane Hellig


    • Beth Welch

      I love seeing your mandalas, they are intricate, colorful and unique. Thank you for sharing your story.

  9. Penny Lamnek

    Thank you for sharing such a PERSONAL STORY. The creative spirit always comes through in spite o f or because of adversity. Your mandalas are beautiful and inspiring.

    • Diane Hellig


  10. Sarah de Graaf

    Thankyou for sharing your story Diane beautiful mandalas wishing you all the best 💖

    • Diane Hellig



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