“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick.” Steve Jobs (1955-2011)
When I say I have a chronic illness, it’s not because I am being purposefully vague, but because an official overarching diagnosis for my health problems eludes me. Doctors have not pulled everything under one umbrella. The umbrella I think I fit under is the spectrum of Mast Cell Disorders – as a relatively new area of research/focus, not much is known about mast cells so one day I may have an answer. I can say that my chronic illness affects what I eat, what I wear, what I do and where I go. Having severe food intolerances, severe chemical sensitivities and severe environmental sensitivities makes navigating the world difficult at times. It has taken me the three years I have lived with this to determine how to manage it, and I am still learning.
In the first year of my illness, I tried very hard to hang on to my life. It wasn’t until the year had passed and I was no better, in fact I was worse, that I realized things may never go back to the way they were. So what then? I did what I always do and started to research. This time my focus was chronic illness. I found a book at my local library: “You Don’t Look Sick” by Joy Selak and Steven Overman, which gave me insight into living with invisible chronic illness, and I realized there were a lot of things I needed to deal with and/or grieve. Because of my severe sensitivities to chemicals and dust of any and all kinds, I had not drawn or done anything art-related in a very long time. At coffee one day my artist friend Kim suggested I look at apps. She had just purchased one and was trying it out for fun. Intrigued I went home and started checking them out. I found a drawing app and began to draw. It was such a great feeling to access that creative part of me again. I also started seeing a psychologist who suggested I try using different outlets to release the emotions engendered by my illness and the changes in my life . I decided to draw, using the apps I had found. The drawings I made were more about the idea and less about the execution. A simple stick figure to highlight what was going on in my head. Later I would start to turn some of the ideas into abstract drawings but in the moment, it was just about getting down on paper (digital paper) my anger, sadness, frustration, loneliness, all of it.
I read stories all the time about artists who say that art helped them overcome or come to terms with obstacles, issues, illness. When we can’t or don’t want to speak about what is going on inside of us, it is a way to put it out there and help all those emotions move on. The more we fight them, the more stress it causes our body. I no longer believe in ignoring and pushing down feelings. You think you it allows you to get through your day, but all it does is cause things to fester, and it will either build until it explodes or erode your health. My body has enough stress dealing with my ongoing allergies, severe sensitivities to a seemingly endless number of things, and food intolerances, it does not need a bunch of negative emotions jumping up and down in there too. (It’s a process though. Do I still do it? Yes, but much less often than I used to. I’m working on letting things go… and now I have the song from Frozen in my head!)
I encourage you just to try something creative: singing, writing, crafting, drawing, painting, knitting, quilting, sculpting, colouring, gardening, whatever! Whether you use it to help release emotions, de-stress or just as a fun pastime, your body will thank you.
Image: ©Deann Stein Hasinoff Weight 2015