It all started when...
I would like to share my personal journey with art and the illness experience, living with a rare inflammatory condition.
I developed vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels), which affects my hand function and mobility. I was also diagnosed with postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTs), an abnormality of the functioning of the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system. This was life altering. Simply standing up and walking a few yards became a challenge. I have used Art o cope with pain, my illness experience and adjust to living with a long-term condition.
In my second year of specialist training in Rheumatology, I took a detour into uncharted waters by becoming a patient in my own specialty. What a transformative experience it was, both professionally and personally. The guise of everyday struggles of a patient seemed somewhat different when sitting on the opposite side for the first time. To health providers diseases are a black and white reality where as the experience of illness is the reality with many shades of grey to the patient.
Feeling powerless most of the time becomes ingrained with the variability in symptoms, the unpredictable course of the condition, the disruption of previous routine and functional independence. Every aspect of my life is suddenly over shadowed with a new constant looming in the background – the condition/diagnosis/illness whatever you choose to name it. Feeling isolated and losing sight of self-identity slowly creeps up. Creativity gives something to take control of and construct a positive identity. A reservoir of healing.
I have symptoms in my hands, arms and legs which come on with function. As this can be rather limiting I used both my hands to do digital art creations. I found the use of artistic expression a means of self-exploration to convey how I was feeling. This really helped me to keep the fun side alive and regain a degree of control.
Art is a tool to explore and develop, considering its use in the multidisciplinary approaches to self-management of long-term illnesses. A wealth of studies illustrates its potential therapeutic benefits. If we can improve the living experience to a more pleasant degree through creative processes - Why not explore our creative side to meet every day challenges posed by a long-term condition. It creates a reflective space to practice mindfulness and living in the moment.