Ellen Siegert, from Hopton in Norfolk, developed ME in 2018 at the age of 13. Up until then, she had been a successful artistic roller skater, wining national titles and representing Great Britain in European competitions. She loved the sport, which demanded dedication, commitment and plenty of energy and she rarely missed a training session. This came to a shuddering halt when she developed ME.
As many will know, this sudden change is hard to come to terms with, as she went from a highly active, full-on teenage lifestyle to struggling to carry out daily tasks or attending school at a time she was heading into her GCSE studies.
Ellen was fortunate to have the support of an NHS consultant as well as a very understanding and supportive high school, Ormiston Venture in Gorleston, Norfolk. She was also supported by Action for ME when she faced challenges in pursuing her A-Level studies part-time whilst suffering from the illness. As part of her change in lifestyle, and having been taught to knit by her Granny at a very young age, she decided to pick up a crochet hook in 2019.
She taught herself how to crochet and "it suddenly clicked". "It's very therapeutic. It's how I relax now, as it's something I can still do when I am just lying there, and it takes my mind off things. I found crocheting very different to what I did before, but it helped me relax and I found it very rewarding."
She displayed a few of her early creations on social media and friends and family took a keen interest. During lockdown she decided to make the main characters from the TV series Ugly Betty. That’s when the interest suddenly took off. Actress Becki Newton, who played receptionist Amanda Tanin in the series, reposted them, wrote to Ellen and ended up giving the dolls to some of the cast as Christmas presents. Ellen had the opportunity to explain her situation and Becki was extremely supportive.
That was a massive boost for Ellen as, despite her struggles and challenges, someone had recognised her work. It gave her the incentive to crochet Mini’s of some of her favourite celebrities and she has been fortunate to present a number of them to their real-life counterparts. As we all know, the illness is extremely debilitating and has a significant impact on normal daily activity. Over time Ellen has learnt to manage her symptoms. She used a wheelchair for over 2 years and this enabled her to at least be out and about and visiting places.
Ellen has presented many celebrities with a crochet version of themselves, such as Michael McIntyre, Ed Sheeran and Hamza and Jowita, Strictly Come Dancing 2022 Winners. This pair caught the attention of BBC Look East, who featured Ellen's work, leading to interest from the Norwich Theatre Royal who Ellen has collaborated with to reproduce this year’s Panto stars in Mini form. The dolls are being used to promote the Theatre and are being raffled off in support of enabling those who require support to access the theatre and arts.
There will be more collaborations for shows at the Theatre this year.
Ellen has also created a collection of Mini's inspired by Taylor Swift. Ellen is a massive 'Swiftie' and her dream is to finally see Taylor Swift when her Era's Tour arrives in the UK this year.
As Ellen continued to manage her symptoms, she’s turned her newfound passion into a developing business, Crazy Hippo Crochet, which can be found on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and her own website at crazyhippocrochet.com
With the support of her parents this has enabled her to begin to develop a career but maintain control of her time, commitments and deadlines which are all important in helping to manage her symptoms.
Ellen has faced considerable challenges, missed out on so much during a formative years, had to sacrifice a great deal and fight against discrimination and, although improving, is continuing to have to manage her ME but it’s a strange twist that something that started as a therapy has blossomed so much and is now providing her with such opportunities.