Before fibromyalgia, I was very active, as a mother and person in general. I went from working a pharmacy, exercising daily, being spontaneous, to not being able to make plans, not moving more than my eyes on some days, and turning in my go cart races for a wheel chair at times. Art has allowed me to do something not only productive, but rewarding. When I make someone happy with what I created from paint, inspiration, and imagination, it gives me a sense of satisfaction. It's easy to get lost in depression and a sense of hopelessness and loss, but art pulls me out. It takes my hand and says, "You are more than your illness, so share that, smile about that, take the moment and appreciate yourself for that." Art went from being a hobby, to being an escape route, to being my therapy.
"We've pretty well ruled out a brain tumor" isn't the greeting anyone expects to hear on meeting the neurologist you thought you were sent to for a few tests, just as a precaution. And having lost the parent in medicine who used to explain things and put them in proper context made it that much more difficult. The diagnosis of a seizure disorder which followed, and the eventual necessity to stop driving, made my previous media work a challenge. But it was caring for the other parent during her illness and death that ultimately prevented me from doing any "deadline" work, and turned me back toward art. A chance meeting with an area artist when I returned to Saratoga provided me with the first local venue to sell my painted pieces, which are now in stores and homes throughout the region – something I could not have imagined just a few years earlier! Sometimes when one door closes, another (truly unexpected) one really does open.
The arts offer much to grappling with illness – and grace. I have found that the creative process brings the mind to a representative field where the self-in-relation (to God, to one’s purpose, to one’s illness, to other, to self) can be reconfigured—with effort. Patiently, because the work requires focus and action in the world and takes the time it wants. Seeing oneself in the artistic process of meditative action, one can visualize the self in its journey towards acceptance and peaceful union with faith, for example, while hoping to inch closer to it in reality. From all that I have learned from French literary theory, none of the process can fully—or really—be linear.
Art is my way to internalize my relationship with patients I visit as a hospice volunteer. Each patient during my seven-plus years as a volunteer has both emotionally drained and emotionally strengthened me. The image I’ve submitted was created after many visits with R., and I realized the heavy burden his daughter was under in caring for him while she worried about her own heart issues that might make her unable to care for him. During a hospice memorial service, I had a hospital chaplain suggest I do art to externalize my experiences. I replied, “Definitely no.” Each illustration is my inner response to deeply moving experiences that are etched into my memory.
Art Therapy has saved my life. Painting when I am able to helps to distract me from the pain – I can immerse myself in the creative process, find joy in the colors and shapes, and express myself in a way that I otherwise struggle to do. I use art as a form of self-help therapy, and find that it really helps me.
I use art as a form of therapy to move through the anxiety and depression that comes with Multiple Sclerosis. Mixed media is my method of choice as it enables me to go beyond traditional painting and photography to express my emotions and work through trying times. This piece “Through it all” was done over two years as I moved from a state of depression and grief to reclaim my joy. "Through it all" expresses that you can find your way back to joy, even if you are not sure how.
My panic and anxiety come in sporadic but strong waves. I’ve found, as time goes on, what fosters and drives them is less important than how I cope with them. My artistic impulses, while technically honed through study, have at their root always been a means of self-regulation. I try not to think when I paint. I’ve come to learn my autopilot, free of internal scrutiny, does my art and sense of equilibrium wonders. Like a long aimless drive after too much time in one area, the process of art-making helps me change the channel from chaos to calm.
When I received my degree in art in 1980, I never dreamed I would start a struggle just a few short years later. My ability to create has kept my love of life alive through out my greatest trials. You can create anywhere with anything at any time. Even with periods of illness, I now have a working studio and share my knowledge. Art is what helps me get beyond my battle.
From the moment I began learning how to draw and paint sacred geometry from the Vedic traditions of India, I knew I was connecting to something bigger than me. Drawing and painting became a conduit for meditation and gave me a way to connect to myself deeply. It creates spaciousness in moments of stress, compassion in moments of fear, and unconditional love in moments where everything feels so very unknown. Within the matriarch of my family exists the heredity of autoimmune disease, an often misunderstood and incurable diagnosis, with a gamut of symptoms. We have each been affected in different ways. Diving into the infinite world of sacred geometry has taught me to embrace the unknown and enjoy the beauty that’s waiting to reveal itself.
I was diagnosed with my first chronic illness at age 19, and then only two years later was diagnosed with a second chronic illness. In the beginning, I tried to ignore the realities of my future and just focused on survival: graduating college, getting a job with health insurance, and trying to stay healthy. Reading about my diseases was depressing and made me feel unattractive in a society that prioritizes superficial beauty. Twenty-two years later, I finally embraced my illnesses by making art about them, or rather, making art about my lifelong battle against illness. I realized people which chronic illness cannot persevere over their illnesses, because the illness is permanent. Through making art about my relationship to my illnesses, I was able to recognize that my illnesses made me stronger in spirit, resilient, and powerful. My illnesses have become my superpower.
I exuberantly create vibrantly colored pastels inspired by the natural world. Art is like walking a path through the woods, where I don’t know where I will wind up. But the path is thrilling. It instills within me the confidence to set and push through my own boundaries. As someone suffering from a chronic pain condition, and also cares and manages care for my disabled mother who resides with my family, it isn’t easy to stay energetic or feel nourished. But getting lost and found within color is helpful.
Lenka E. H. Simmons
I was born with Synesthesia. I have many types of Synesthesia but the most known would be Chromestesia. I see music, i see sounds, and i see voices in colors, shapes, and textures. My world is never colorless. I am also dyslexic and have problems with my immune system. I never studied art, never drew or painted before, so everything is very new to me. Mixing colors or using different media is still very foreign. I started to draw last year as a part of therapy for my depression. Painting, drawing, and pouring makes me feel free; lets me come out of my broken body and fly; hide and be open at the same time. I can pour my soul on a paper and not hurt. I can be someone or something else and still be me.
I have always been involved in various art projects throughout my life, but it wasn’t until after my stroke (about 21 years ago) that I really got into it. I use my art to move beyond my battle with language difficulties. I have aphasia, which makes it hard to understand and use language. Sometimes, it’s hard to think of the right words. But with art, I don’t need words. Art helps me forget about my language problems and lets me express myself. It makes me feel good to share what I create with a community of people who find joy in art.
As someone with multiple autoimmune disorders I use my art as a distraction. When my body gets out of control I focus on finding and cutting pieces for my collages. The fine dexterity required helps keep my hands mobile, and the focus keeps my mind off of body aches and pain. The bonus is when finished I have art to display that generally has a piece of my soul in it. Getting to share that experience helps as I enjoy the delight it brings others. Art should make you feel something – if I’ve done that for you then I have overcome my battle.
As the caretaker and eldest daughter of a mother with Parkinson’s disease, this painting is an exploration of her battle with the disease from my perspective. Her birthday is on the first day of Spring — a time of bright colors and rebirth. This painting was my way of expressing beauty, stillness, imbalance, and dyskinesia.
Art has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Long before being diagnosed with a rare eye disease at age 13, I was drawing on everything, going to art camp, and decorating my room with all sorts of creations. It’s ironic that chronic illness is taking my vision and I am such a visual person – both inspired by what I see and compelled to turn it into something to be seen. Today, I use watercolors to remind myself to break away from the rigidness I otherwise place on my life – the inclination to plan everything out that stems from my general anxiety of not knowing what lies ahead with incurable vision loss. Painting forces me drop into a state of pure Being. When I paint, it is as if I am in control, yet out of control; like the Taoist concept of “wei-wu-wei” or action/non-action, a sort of effortless effort creates my favorite pieces.
Art has helped me before I even knew I was disabled. I did not qualify for the regents so art helped me get my high school diploma. I do the art classes at Healing Springs and I am in my own zone when I paint and work on my own piece there. All my troubles melt away! When I am in the community sometimes I feel like an outsider even though I know many people, and feel like I have many friends. I feel like my mind plays tricks on me with my anxiety telling me people don't like me or want me around. it causes me to isolate sometimes and makes me depressed. But with art, I will paint watercolors at home, or at Healing Springs I come out of my shell and do acrylics. I see a picture I like and try to paint it and add my own flair. The whole world melts away and I don't care what anyone thinks.
How I approach my art translates in a way to approach living with my chronic diseases, which can be in varying ways that somehow work together. Painting something realistic with extreme attention to detail can be important because I’m able to (mostly) control how it comes out, while painting something in a looser style also reminds me that things aren’t always in your control.
Imagine the morning after a snowstorm. The sky is a cloudless blue. The sun sparkles and you are the first to leave footprints as you walk out the front door. That’s what a blank canvas does for me. It is an expanse waiting for my colorful brush strokes. It is the blank page waiting for the story to unfold. When I paint I step away from the caretaker role. I leave behind the things to do, calls to make, information to gather, decisions, doctors and daily demands. I stand at the open door and feel excited by possibilities. When the painting is done, I return the tasks at hand feeling refreshed and renewed.
A year into my now three-year journey with chronic Lyme disease, I was really struggling to feel useful and alive. So many of my other outlets to express myself, like running or sightseeing in my spare time, became so burdensome and overwhelming. I wanted a hobby that would not require me to exert much energy but would allow me to really express my frustrations, dreams, fears, heartaches and passions. Painting, at first with watercolors and later with alcohol inks, became the perfect creative outlet I needed. When I am having a bad week and am not able to physically or even mentally handle much (brain fog is a thing) painting is the perfect go-to activity that allows me to process and create something beautiful. It sounds cliche, but creating something tangible and colorful really does bring healing and energy to keep fighting this battle with chronic Lyme disease.
The practice of writing and creating art has allowed me to process my experiences and translate them to something that I can see and sense, rather it living inside me as a unseeable force. It allows me to turn my pain into something tangible so I can better understand it, hopefully learn from it, and ultimately let it go. It's always an ongoing process and some days it can feel like I'm going backwards instead of forwards but art allows me to make sense of things when before I felt like I was in the dark. Additionally, I'm so humbled to know that it has also resonated with other people and that it's also helping them in their journeys. It all helps us to feel a little less lonely. Art connects us and gives us a language that we all can understand.
Art is what I turn to when I am feeling sick, sad or discouraged. It helps take my mind off of things. I especially love painting and singing. When I’m focusing on the colors in a painting or the strokes of my paintbrush I’m not focusing on my sickness or health. It’s like entering another world. Being able to have something you created with your own hands and heart is so empowering. It makes me realize that I’m a lot stronger than what I’m battling, and there is way more to me than just being the “sick girl”.
If you are a parent of a child diagnosed with a special need, you may have found yourself wondering, “How will I raise this child to become as independent as possible and where will I find answers?” When my son Colden was born, I asked these questions and continue to search for a resolution. Today, I watch my son inspire others with his strength. Colden, otherwise known as Super C, is a 13-year-old boy with complicated special needs. He is developmentally delayed with Epilepsy, Cerebral Palsy, Digestive Birth Defects, Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism, resulting in his non-verbal communication. I often feel isolated from the “normal” world due to his handicap and the responsibility of being his sole caregiver. I write about the hard truth and rawness of parenting a child with disabilities. Writing provides me with an emotional release. It allows me to grieve, heal, and feel peace. I share my writings in hope of comforting those who face a similar experience as my own.
I suffer from kidney disease. When I become anxious about my future, I pull a pen from my pocket, scrounge up a piece of paper, and start drawing. I never know what image will emerge from this spontaneous act. But I do know the act of sketching will calm me. Sometimes I need a total mental and emotional (mini) vacation. That's when I turn to block prints. They require planning and undivided attention. This process helps me escape from my fears for quite a while. About the block print in the collage: The ship silhouette is from a photo my grandfather took in Gloucester in 1914. The musical notes make up the folk tune "Shenandoah."
In times of stress and trouble, I find my connection with my family, my friends, and my community helps me to battle life’s problems. With the painting “Circle of Life,” I have used color and the human figures to remind the viewer that we are more than ourselves...we are all part of the human condition. We have the perspectives of generations to rely on and this gives us strength and fortitude. Art is human. Art is ancient. Art is essential. My hope is that the “Circle of Life” engages the viewer..
Tracy E. Meyer
As someone living with Multiple Sclerosis, as well as migraine headaches, my artwork provides a mechanism for comfort and healing. Through my collages, I am able to express and channel my emotions, including those related to my physical health, in a way that is positive and freeing. I have good days and bad days, but no matter how I am feeling I always know that I have my art, which gives me constant hope and a reason to keep persevering.
Instead of defining my life by my disability and chronic illnesses, I choose to live in Gratitude. This simple choice alters my perspective on everything, including time. Living in the moment is a natural response to appreciation, and being creative results in fully experiencing any moment. One avenue for such mindfulness is photography, which requires stillness, attention, aesthetics, which requires stillness, attention, aesthetics, imagination, respect and regard for the subject. This lens allows my daily joy to blossom, even though my physical restrictions could easily have been allowed to constrict it.