Chronic Pain Art: What does a flare feel like?

I have been in a terrible chronic pain flare this week. I’ve had neuropathic pain for 8 years now and over that time, as my pain has worsened gradually, my pain threshold has kept increasing. What I now consider a ‘better day’ would have been a bad flare up day a few years ago. No matter how high that threshold gets there’s always a limit to how much pain a person can manage. When it gets this bad, the pain completely takes over and there isn’t much I can do to bring it down to a manageable level again. No medications come close to touching it, it’s a waiting game. I just have to focus on rest, coping, staying calm and getting through each hour of every day at a time. Little things like trying to distract yourself by watching your favourite TV programme, meditation, taking to a friend/loved one and hot water bottles can make it a tiny bit more bearable.
Flare up pain is the sort of pain that most ‘normal’ people who don’t experience pain every day, would go to A&E in screaming thinking there was something drastically wrong with them. I feel like I want to cry and scream when it’s like this but I know that that isn’t going to help and the stress will only exacerbate it. I really cannot describe how bad it feels so I often scroll the internet trying to find images I can perhaps use to best express how I’m feeling. I wrote a post about how powerful art can be to communicate chronic pain here if you’d like to read more about it. I recently came across PainExhibit.org; an online art exhibit from artists with chronic pain who use art to express their pain experience. I chose a small selection of pieces to share with you that really struck me – those I can currently relate to whilst in the midst of a flare. I hope to one day do some art myself when I am up to it to show my unique experience.

My Pain by Janet Voss 

Chronic pain art

“My pain began almost six years back as a spot in my lower back. It has now spread down the entire lower right half of my body. Where I used to walk with no problem, I may now need to use a scooter as it has become quite painful to walk. No clear diagnosis has ever been given and I’ve been through numerous injections, procedures, tests, two back surgeries and have had a spinal cord stimulator put in and later taken out. There has been no relief except at night when I lay down – then the pain completely subsides. It remains a mystery to the doctors I’ve encountered and I now know I’ll just have to live with it. It has completely changed me and my life and I continue now as a different person than I was seven years ago. Pain has that effect – for better or for worse.” Janet Voss. 

CP II by Mark Collen 

Chronic pain art

“The sculpture represents suffering from chronic pain.” Mark Collen.

Today’s Forecast by Cynthia Yolland

Chronic pain art

“This is an expression of the two worlds that is pain, especially in hidden syndromes and chronic pain. There is the outer world that is normal. “You look wonderful.” Then the turmoil that is going on inside. I wanted to take the pain out of the hidden box and shake it, then show it to my doctors, and my family and friends.” Cynthia Yolland.

Self-managing pain by Susanne Main

chronic pain artNo caption.
Have you ever used art to communicate your symptoms? What helps you to get through flare ups?

3 Comments

  1. Rosemary Eagle July 16, 2016 / 12:45 pm

    Hi Sophie,
    I just found your website blog post and this explanation of what a pain flare feels like is spot on. I have lived with chronic pain for over 8 years now and have been using my art to describe my pain and the lived pain experience for some time now. I wrote and published my website about Complex Regional Pain Syndrome @ 4 years ago, you might be interested in the section called Art About Pain – http://www.crps247.com/art-about-pain.html I look forward to reading your other posts and following the links in various replies etc.

    • Sophia July 21, 2016 / 10:07 am

      Hi Rosemary!
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and that I managed to portray a flare up accurately. Sorry to hear about your struggles with pain :( I have just had a look at your page and I love how you’ve used art to express your thoughts and emotions. It sounds like you’ve had quite the journey of the years, but I was happy to read you’ve made some progress! I hope with all my heart that it continues for you <3 x

      • Rosemary Eagle July 22, 2016 / 1:56 am

        Thanks Sophie for making the time to check out my website and your good wishes. I hope things improve for you too, meanwhile keep writing, it resonates with a lot of people and your energy and positive attitude also shine through. xx

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