Art therapy has been known to reduce a broad spectrum of symptoms related to pain and anxiety. A study conducted by the Journal of Pain & Symptom Management found those suffering from chronic pain conditions reported significant reductions in eight out of nine symptoms measured after spending an hour working on art projects of their choice.
Some famous artists have used art to express physical and psychological pain. At school I was fascinated by Frida Kahlo’s work. Frida suffered from pain for a great deal of her life due to having a horrendous traffic accident as a teenager. An iron handrail ripped through her abdomen affecting her skeleton, spine and possibly even her uterus. Art was Frida’s medicine. She was an unwitting Art Therapist; both client and therapist. Psychoanalyst of her own demons, she confronted them with the paintbrush. Unforgiving and raw as her wounds, she depicted in oils what lay beneath her skin; as though she has literally pulled back her flesh and let us in.
Art for me, has been life-enhancing. It provides a distraction that allows me to focus on something positive instead of my pain for a short time, and it also gives me something I can control when everything seems so uncertain. Art allows me to temporarily forget the stresses of my illness and to enjoy a few moments of inner peace.
At school I always loved art. It was my favourite subject and it was the one I got the best grades in. I took it at A level and always thought I would go on to study fine art at university. However I found A level art frustrating and stressful – we were given set topics e.g. Transport – and we would have to come up with a piece of work related to that theme. There was no flexibility, and I couldn’t do what I loved the most … Portraiture. In the end, I went on to do something completely different at uni; Speech & Language Therapy which I thorourily enjoyed but I always regretted not continuing with art. I didn’t do much art at all throughout uni – I’d pretty much given it up. But, in December last year (2013), a flare up began that has continued up to this very day. I had been off work for about a month when I decided up pick up a pencil and a pad and start drawing. I sketched Angelina Jolie. I didn’t put the pencil down for about three hours. FINALY … I’d found something, after six years of having this illness, that actually distracts me somewhat from the pain and the stress that comes with it. From that day on, I’ve been drawing almost everyday. I am hooked! Even though I can only draw for about an hour a day at the moment due to dizziness and difficulty concentrating/foggy head, that hour is well spent, it’s the only time of the day it am not focussing on all of my symptoms and my worries. Below are some of my drawings. I use graphite and charcoal.
I genuinely don’t know what I would have done without art the past few months. I haven’t been at work since December so I spend many hours alone in the house while Paddy is at work. Art has helped pass time, elevate my mood, and helped me find peace from anger and sadness about living with a chronic illness. Art has helped me re-author the dominant narrative of my illness – in other words, art has given me a new sense of self – I’ve developed a new identity… I’m no longer Sophia, the girl with the illness, I’m Sophia the artist! I have done a few commissions since I started, and I am currently setting up a website so I can do lots more and start a little business! It is work in progress but here is the link www.true-likeness.co.uk. Let me know what you think :)!