Art draws me in, authentically encompassing my body giving me happiness like that found in a child drawing with a big box of colourful Crayola crayons. Within the practice of art there is much patience much like the garden gently ever changing from moment to moment. A place where times slows down and one can simply be. It is in this place where healing happens, often unremarkable but healing nonetheless. Practicing my art has been the truest healing experience during my journey.
Early days in recovery living disabled from a chronic illness like M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), one is overwhelmed with symptoms, pain and suffering. Unrelenting it is never far from top of mind or body, often times if it relents a simple movement will bring it back to top of mind quickly. It wasn’t until I began practicing my art that I was able to focus on anything other than the symptoms overwhelming my days.
For the first time in over two years I was able to focus on what I could do as opposed to what I can’t do that I once did with ease. The acceptance of living with disability is extremely important to moving forward. However, this only happened when I fully explored and accepted my new body and its abilities. Finding something that one is of the ability to do provides purpose to ones life. Art has been my lifelong natural gift, it wasn’t difficult to realize that art was my way forward.
A remarkable event when the constant loop of symptoms and worries is able to rest. Art was my interruption, stopping the loop and injecting something I was passionate and excited about. The want and need to practice my art became my purpose, giving days a few moments of pure authentic joy. This was how it began, unsure if I would ever paint or work in a studio I took my pencil crayons to paper and began loosing myself in colours.
The most wonderful thing about art is that you can use dry materials and paper to begin with. The materials can be kept close to a lounging area, allowing for no movement to begin a session. Simply pick them up when able and begin. Seeing as I love colour I used my pencil crayons on paper when I was first able to practice my art again. My only problem was that I wasn’t able to sharpen my pencil crayons as it caused severe aching in my hands and being too weak to turn the pencil several times in the sharper. I had to have my caregiver do my sharpening. Markers or crayons would solve that problem if without assistance from a caregiver.
Working with dry materials to begin with was supportive of the cognitive dysfunction that was still overwhelming my days. Not being able to function until the afternoons, I would wait for a moment that I had some clearing of the intense brain fog to practice my drawing. What happened was that my art practice stimulated my brain creatively, a natural ability of mine. My brain lit up bright for a few minutes while I drew with colours and form. Over time my art practice became longer by a few minutes allowing for more focused brain activity. This was the beginning of healing through art.
What happened next was remarkable, slowly with the use of my swollen aching hands I began to loosen tight muscles and gain some minor strength back into my grip. Having gone from lifting weighted olympic barbells to not being able to sharpen a pencil was a shocking life altering experience. Slowly, little by little my ligaments, joints and muscles slowly began to unravel. It took two years of perseverance and respect for my conditions but it happened nonetheless.
Eventually I was able to do some art at a table with all supplies in hands reach, not arm reach but hands. My materials adjusted to pre-cut watercolour paper and gouache. Easy to work with and super easy to tidy with very little cleaning. I couldn’t stretch out my arms in the beginning, my neck and shoulders were completely locked leaving range of motion very poor. However, once I began working at a table occasionally, my arms began to slowly unlock as well. The table provided an offloading surface at just the right height taking body weight off my shoulders and upper arms. Offloading body parts with fibromyalgia is very helpful to accomplish tasks without triggering immediate pain. In the beginning I was never without pain, over two long years of continuous ongoing severe pain.
Then one day like a key in the lock, my back unlocked allowing me to be able to sit upright in a highly supportive chair. I can still recall the moments when there was intense pain but an increase in range of motion, opening something forgotten within me. The body unraveling from top to bottom successively, once my hips and legs began to have increased movement and motion I was able to paint at an easel for short periods of time. The ability to stand for short periods of time helped with head to toe circulation which was impeded severely for over two years. This took much of the inflammation out of my legs over a years time which was greatly appreciated allowing me to stand, get up and move once again with greater ease. Not to mention wear non slip on footwear once again. Once I made it to this stage I was dropping inflammation and art was truly showing how it had helped me to heal.
However, what was truly most exciting was that my art supplies evolved once more. I began painting with acrylic paints again on wood panels. This was like a cherry on top of a sundae, something I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to do again. When I paint at my easel I feel alive. A feeling that was highly elusive for years. Everyone deserves the right to feel alive in their daily life. I am happiest when I am mixing bold coloured paint on a palette, it is invigorating.
There is something to focus on through my art daily no matter what kind of a day I am having. On low functioning days I can prep a written piece for my website or social media, edit a photo or write a bit of a blog piece. When I have a bit more energy I can spend time sitting in the garden which is where the allure draws me in to reveal an interesting moment in the garden, these inspiring moments become paintings.
Let me be clear I never have good old normal days, I never have good functioning days they don’t exist and this needs to be made extremely clear. I do however have days when I function better than others. This is when I can paint, these are my happiest colour filled days. It is like I am given my box of crayons, a sheet of plain paper and left to simply be in body and mind. Even a short ten minute session with colour, paint, brushes and a panel in hand provides healing and happiness. This year I have had more ten minute sessions than ever before, without worsening conditions. Painting in return gives me much reward, providing purpose to my days, independence, expression, mindfulness within nature and connection with others. However, healing and happiness are the greatest gifts for me.