Artists and Illness < Deep Thought

I’ve had the fortune of nurturing fairly close relationships with artists in the virtual world since 2002.

Because I’ve been at it for so long, I have witnessed too many artists deal with illness – temporary, chronic, and fatal.

I feel hopelessly inept to provide any guidance for artists in these situations. Can you help?

Bright pink peonies

Deep Thought

Is it important to keep up your art when you are ill? I’m particularly interested in hearing from those who have dealt with chronic illness and worse.

How do you think beyond the current suffering?

Where do you find support?

What else do artists in these situations need to know about and understand?

Thank you, in advance, for your help.

UPDATE: As a result of this post, Janice Tanton has created this support group on Facebook:Artists With Illness. If you seek support, please send a request to join. If you know of someone who could benefit from it, please share the link.

 

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73 comments to Artists and Illness

  • I’ve had (several) chronic illnesses for many years.. They teach me not to do scut work for rubbish wages, because the energy I have is too precious to squander. They teach me to make the most of my inspiration and energy, and sod the housework.
    They teach me to look after myself first, my art next, students and Other Interesting Stuff after that, anything else may (will) just have to wait.
    They teach me that travelling is poorly-paid compared with what you do at the other end, so it needs minimising if possible.
    They teach me that the life of the Spirit can be overwhelmingly helpful to art and life
    And then, in September, this happened
    http://doesnotequal.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/last-gasp-of-big-red-car.html
    and I have been unable to work for six weeks, then half-time on the physio’s advice for another 8 weeks.
    Frustration is the most destructive thing about this lay-off. It’s not a “rest” as I am the breadwinner and had no insurance or savings. So this has taught me to have something to fall back on
    Helen Howes

  • I am very open about the fact that I deal 24/7 with severe mental illness. It’s my life so I talk about it, write about it, and it’s even in my Etsy About bio. How do I deal with this? By continuing to push thru the symptoms, the depression, the voices, the everything. Art is my therapy and whether or not I’ll sell anything in my shop one day or another is not my major focus — it’s the creation, it’s the feeling that my life matters (after losing my job because my symptoms were wreaking havoc with my job performance, I felt for a while that my life didn’t matter)and that I can be productive.
    People keep suggesting that I use my art to express how I feel about my illness–I don’t do it because it would seem forced. Maybe that time will come but in the meantime, I set up routines to be able to be productive every in some way, even if it’s only to participate in an Etsy team or to stick pricing labels on something or actually make something.
    I’m fortunate enough to be on SSDI so income (while small) isn’t dependent on my art. Insurance is there also.
    In spite of my illness I am by nature a positive person so I’m always focused on the glass half full. I take what I am learning from dealing with mental illness and apply it to my full life.
    As for support — the internet is a major help, I have been involved with local mental illness/arts groups, and I am involved with regular arts groups. I have very little family that I’m in touch with (a brother and a cousin), so friends are major.
    It is possible to deal with chronic illness and still be an artist. Great artists through the ages have done so. Why can’t we?

  • I suffer from chronic depression, have done all my life. Throughout that time, I’ve had a career in Human Resources and finally have come to full time art making after a serious breakdown, about thirteen years ago, which turned an episodic issue into a full time, permanent illness. In that time,I’ve written three books, made a lot of art and learned lots about myself. I think there are three things we need to remember…actually, possibly four, now that I think about it.
    1. Keep going. Try not to let the way you feel, get in your way. Art making for me is meditative; I know that if I start, I will get into the zone and stay there.
    2. Be kind to yourself. If you try to make art despite it, and can’t get into the zone… accept it. Go do something to ‘fill the well’, instead. Look at a picture, read a book, go for a walk, breathe, meditate, surf the web… all these things are forms of work, though we don’t often think of them that way.
    3. Get enough rest. Working yourself into the ground will not help; if you need to sleep, you need to sleep. Often, it’s a symptom of the illness, and if it is, it won’t go away until you’ve slept.
    4. You are not the only person facing this… people without chronic illnesses have bad days, too. The truth is…this too will pass. You have survived a bad day or bad spell before, you will doubtless do it again. I know it hurts. But that hurt will eventually turn itself into some interesting work. And you will survive.

    • Kathleen Eggert

      I, too, have dealt with anxiety and depression for most of my life, although I never recognized it for what it is until later in life. My artwork is my therapy so it is very important to my entire well-being. Time in the studio, in that “zone”, is being in a state of bliss. The flip side is that the stress of marketing and trying to make a living, often needing a side job I dislike, exacerbates the problem. It’s a constant balancing act.

  • In the late 80s I contracted a disease (scleroderma) that was rapidly turning my body – inside and out – into scar tissue. The doctors prognosis was 6 months to live.
    So much for that outcome!
    My hands – but only my hands – remain severely crippled. During the worst of the disease process, because my hands could not effectively grip anything, I padded my brushes with foam… needless to say, control – which I treasured, my works were tight and detailed – went out the window and to my great surprise I began making art that, for the first time I my life, I loved!
    Because I was in more pain than I’d known was possible to bear, I could only paint for 10 or fifteen minutes at a time, sometimes only once or twice a day. But, much like my yoga, I knew that if I didn’t “use it,” I ran the risk of losing it, so I kept at it. (The yoga I did in my mind.)
    Always a vivid dreamer, I would have dreams that brought me what felt like healing images. To the best of my ability – which was scant – I drew sketches of the dream images. (Brushes are far more forgiving than pencils, LOL.)I used those sketches later to illustrate the book I wrote on healing from the disease.
    Much like Helen, I found the opportunity, in illness, to expand my sense of what I call Divinity. The work – my art – was for me a sacred act, connecting me to my essence. I also used it as a way to “paint myself well,” by creating images of a healthy me. (Guess it worked!)
    This past spring I found myself laid low by a nasty virus that kept me mostly asleep for about two weeks and in bed for a couple more. I “awoke” from that trance-like condition with an inspiration for a painting unlike anything I’ve done, it turned my focus around and is now the only work I am doing.
    At the time I was living with my second husband and one of my brothers and the best thing they did for me was to treat me normally, as if I were as well as I had ever been (within obvious reasonability). They gave me space and helped me When I Asked For Help. And they made me laugh and even though laughing often hurt, it was so worth it!
    Illness brings with it the opportunity for change. If you embrace that change, you are well on your way… literally.

    • I was diagnosed with scleroderma in January, six months into an MFA program. Although it seems I have probably had it for six years since my fingers started aching. The worst part (so far) has been dealing with it emotionally, and for the first months I struggled to get any painting done. I worked on one painting for three months! I started making cyanotypes/photograms and small collages as a way to do something with small moments of time. Making work helps take my mind off things. Now that I’m past all the initial testing and taking a small pharmacy of drugs every day I get more done. But then days like yesterday happen – the muscle pain was unbearable and I just took Aleve and went home.

      I haven’t learnt to ask for help yet, I still cannot talk to people about the disease. I know it gives my work more depth and hopefully one day I will be able to tell people what is going on without dissolving in tears for hours on end. I don’t look sick – pain is mostly invisible – and so I feel like a total fake. Some of the reactions I had to the initial news haven’t helped either – people really don’t know what this disease is.

    • I was diagnosed with scleroderma in 2000. I have it in my lungs and heart and esophagus. I like that your fam treats you as normal as possible because that’s what I want. I want nothing special from anyone. I am a very upbeat person so I seldom get depressed over it. The other thing you said that is so true is that you need to rest when the body says rest. I love my art and all forms of creativity and it releases me to be me. Thank you for your post.

  • Greetings Alyson and Artists,
    Like many others, I have had hip problems, after three hip replacements…my best advise is that you MUST ask for help. There are an incredible amount of sources beyond your family to help you. But, You must ask for help.
    I survived living alone in my unheated studio in California after brain surgery, because I lived with a simple mantra on my mind and lips…Know it when you see it, Give it when you’ve got it, Take it when you need it. If you recognize love and you give love, love is there for you when you need it. You must take the love rather than suffer.

  • I am blessed with good health. My heart goes out to these other artists with such health issues.

    A few years ago I found myself in the hospital having an emergency surgery. After 10 days in the hospital, I returned home and went directly to the studio. That’s where I wanted/needed to be. Even though I spent the entire day there, I only got about 15 minutes of painting done. But that was great! Each day got better and better. It took me 4 months to get back to ‘normal’. For me, laying in bed and waiting for my health to improve would have been more stressful than sitting in my studio in front of my easel where I am most comfortable.

  • Hello Everyone -
    I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer about a year ago and have been working through surgery, radiation and chemo for the past year. The radical modified mastectomy was done on my right side – my painting arm. I work some very large canvas pieces in some detail at times, so the physio and pain that I have dealt with trying to rehabilitate has been gruelling to say the least. In two weeks, I face another mastectomy on the left side – purely prophylactic, Angelina Jolie style, which is not to say it won’t be without some extreme challenges given the ravaging effects radiation and chemo have had on my body.
    Throughout my illness, I have continued to blog when I have something to say and use social media to stay connected to my colleagues, industry, friends and family.

    Alyson asks:
    1. Is it important to keep up your art when you are ill? – I wanted more than anything to do that, but was completely frustrated, despondent, sick like a dog and unable to do so. There were days when just making it out of bed to the bathroom was a major accomplishment, never mind mounting the steps to get up to the studio. As things dragged on, I was more despondent about not being able to create. Eventually, I got a very small sketchbook, pen and watercolour set that went with me everywhere and I began to journal/sketch and funnel my creative spirit that way. I completely let go of any hope to create large quality paintings again, which was really, really hard for me. I found that I needed a hobby – my entire life was wrapped up in creating art. So, I found a hobby – we purchased a vintage camper and in the good days, my husband and family and I created a new creative space as a retreat from cancer. Best thing we ever did throughout this horrible year. And so, my answer is – while you may not be able to keep up your art, find ways to funnel your art spirit, let go and give your body as much time to heal as you can. Today, I’m cranking out 6-8 major pieces for a brand new gallery before my next surgery. With the help of physiotherapists, Osteopaths and massage therapists…I’m doing it. Still having lots of pain but heck – that’s what modern medicine is for.

    This could very well be a fatal disease for me and that enters my mind constantly. I have days where it’s overwhelming and days that are great – more great days than bad ones. What cancer has caused me to think about is how to be decisive about where I spend my energy and how I spend it. I’m more acutely aware of the quality of good work, and pulling bad work off the gallery walls. That’s not a legacy I want should the ‘worse’ happen sooner than later. The fact is – we are all dying. Why not make that change in your art right away?

    2. How do you think beyond the current suffering?
    You don’t. Thinking too far ahead is hard – it takes you out of the moment. You take one moment and one day at a time. Today might be bad – you deal with it, get the help you need from physio, medical and homeopath staff, etc…..and tomorrow might be awesome. Paint then.

    3. Where do you find support?
    In Canada, we have a wonderful medical system and my experience with cancer in Alberta has overall been very good. There are medical staff who are so willing to help you and understand you, what you do and how you need to function. My surgeon was exceptional. He modified the surgery as much as he could to give me full mobility in my painting arm. Yes, it’s painful but I can deal with that. The physiotherapist is building my muscles and nerves…osteopath getting me all lined up and my RMT is not replaceable. A good psychologist/social worker is key – someone outside of work and family who can help you and the family all through this as there are many, many psychological pitfalls when you face death. Your pharmacist is also a key member of your team. And …in my case, I’ve found it particularly helpful bonding with other women who are going through the same thing, because no matter of talking to family and others, it’s best when you can connect to someone most like you, going through similar illness.

    4. What else do artists in these situations need to know about?
    Legacy – Look carefully at the work you’ve done. Get rid of anything that is substandard to your liking – don’t listen to others. Make those decisions yourself. Odd things happen if you have a good career and get sick. The market goes crazy and folks speculate. Let them – but make sure your work is what you want to leave behind and your family is taken care of. Do your estate planning NOW, and edit your work like crazy. Only put the good stuff into the world.
    You and Your Family – Are the most important things. Art is what you do. Family is who you are. Make sure you know what is important to you and only spend time and energy on that. Life is very short.
    Others – When others tell you to ‘be positive’ – tell them to stuff it. We’re human and there are times when you feel like crap and need to cry. Don’t let others take away that sadness. It’s what makes you. Good and bad times and feelings – be pragmatic and teach others about how you feel. Be true to yourself. You’ll be amazed at how you can do this kindly, and how people appreciate it. Let’s face it – we don’t deal well with death and serious illnesses in our culture. Teach people how to treat you and what you are going through. Put it all out there.

    Well, I guess that’s me putting it all out there. ;)

    And Alyson – thank you for addressing this difficult topic. It will make us all better artists and human beings if we really examine that which is difficult to address.

  • I do have a suggestion as to how to help. Alyson, it would be awesome if you could provide, somehow – a little peer support forum area to connect those of us struggling with these issues – illness, end of life issues affecting artists, etc.

  • Over the years I have suffered from Migrane attacks. Even though this is not live threating it has put boundries to my working process, because of the pain and tiredness. For a long time I looked at other artists in envy, who had a much greater output, because they were healthy. I had turned on the wish mode: I wish I had not these attacks, I wish my output would be greater, I would have more success, bla, bla… Then I changed my mindset: I accepted that I can’t be as productive as others artist: So what?
    My working policy:
    Take small steps at a time, they mount up to big results in the end.And this worked well for me. I have gained so much more than I could have ever imagined.
    Work smarter not harder; Art managemnet!!!
    Take care of yourself, make a priority list like Helen Howes said. And yes, my household looks like crap, because on good days I rather paint instead of cleaning up.

    I found a TEDx talk on you tube from the incrediable canadian artist Kal Barteski who is severly ill . So inspiring: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ce-bhqQbjaQ&feature=youtu.be

  • I have battled chronic depression most of my adult life. My creative endeavors are my salvation. I need to create. I’ve found myself in a different battle now, my mother, my brother, my sister and now a niece have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Where does this leave me? Knowing that I may be struck with this disease has left me frantic to create a body of work to leave my children. Also, the need to have a routine of creating my doodles that it will be so ingrained that even when the rest of my mind fails I will, without thought be able to draw/doodle.

    I think Janice Tanton hit the nail on the head with her suggestion for a support forum. Just being able to share our feelings with other creative souls that understand our need to always be creating would be great.

  • This past Feb I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer. I had full abdominal surgery in March. Followed quickly up with 6 sessions of chemotherapy. Ovarian cancer is no longer thought to be fatal. It is now considered a chronic illness even though the mortality statistics are high, the recurrance statistics once you are treated are even higher. Something like 70+ percent will come back in the first 5 years.

    So that is what I was facing this year. My work is traditional B&W photography with the horse as my main subject. Most of my work, I do over the spring, summer and fall. I could not do this work at all. I could not carry my camera bag, on my feet, in the hot sun at horse shows or the race track. But I had to work. I needed the distraction from the constant medical stuff and the worry. And I needed to use my creativity to express my reaction to having cancer and to the journey of treatment that I was on! You need to give voice to your feelings and thoughts. That is what creating artwork is about, isn’t it?

    I took two paths to accomplish this. One, I began to create a book from my past work. I spent the spring and summer designing and reworking this book. I immersed myself in it when I could. It has just been published. And I am thrilled with that accomplishment. I needed distraction, connection to my work and a deadline to focus on. And that helped tremendously. I also began a completely new body of work. Work that I could do with limited energy and right here at home. I set up still life series in my backyard. I worked on it when I had energy and the light I needed, in very limited sessions. And what I created was all about my cancer journey. It was incredibly cathartic to do this work. And to show it now to others so that they can understand. I am continuing to produce the work in this series and expect to for quite some time. So I readjusted my output and my expectations to continue to work in any way that I could.

    For support….I found the best thing to do is to not be private and hidden. Put it out there what you are dealing with. Share it with others. And ask for help when you need it. I had so many offers for help. I was able to go to one horse show because a friend shared her golf cart with me and drove me around for several hours. Another offered the same at the race track. I would never have gotten those if I had not put it out there. I shared my trials and my joys throughout my process. And that I think was good medicine.

    Keep creating. Find new ways to create if you can’t do what you did before. And…..let others in on it.

  • I wanted to comment that I thought that Juliet made a really good point when she said “not be private and hidden.”

    Scleroderma disfigures its victims so severely that most never go out, consequently most people have never heard of the disease. I got myself a pair of old-fashioned white cotton dress gloves, (because I had to wear cut-off gloves to protect my skin from breaking open) painted them in bright colors, fluoresents and metallics and wore them whenever I went out.

    It allowed people to have a reason to be staring at me and allowed me to then engage in conversation with them about the disease. And it had the added benefit of making me feel good!

    And the asking for help thing is huge! Prior to scleroderma I’d never ask for help; I learned! And it made a difference.

  • I spent the first 49 years of my life suffering from chronic severe depression. This was not diagnosed in any way or form until I was in my 40s and not until I was 49 did a Naturepath figure out that the main underlying cause was that my body did not make enough of its own seratonin. I was twice in a MD state mental hospital for suicide.

    Two things kept me from more attempts both before and after. 1. Insatiable curiousity about the universe, and 2. Art (dance and visual). It was only when I couldn’t see any reason for either that suicide was more than a possibility.

    Depression did not always stop me from being creative and did fuel my expressions of art sometimes. Other times art took me away from my depression. All illnesses increase exhaustion and it’s hard to work when one is exhausted. My advice is to revel in any creativity the suffering artist can manage. This is the time when art is therapeutic most of all because this is when the artist should be expressing herself for herself.

    But don’t push so much as to worsen whatever illness is being borne.

    At this point in time, I am also the primary family caregiver for my mother who lives with me. She has advanced Alzheimers.

    Patricia

  • I have endometriosis, a chronic illness without a cure and whose treatment tends to boil down to surgeries every 3ish years.

    While I’ve found my journey with the illness to be a complex one, ultimately I’m not sure how much of a journey I would have made without the help of granting bodies to pay off my medical bills. By that I mean that the financial burden of my illness would have overwhelmed me–psychologically and otherwise. Once the bills were covered though, my healing could actually begin.

    I would recommend these organizations for financial help to artists struggling with illness and associated medical bills:
    - The Haven Foundation
    - Artists’ Fellowship Inc.
    - Change Inc.

  • I have suffered from severe migraines for most of my adult life and for the past 8 years a very rare type of ALS that is hereditary in my family. Because my mother and sister had ALS, I have prepared for the possibility of it my whole life. Now that I am living with the symptoms myself every day and every task is a challenge. How do I cope? First of all, I take a good anti-depressant. 2nd, I have become extremely stingy with my energy. I no longer give my time away or squander it on anything that isn’t about my work. 3rd, I have hired studio assistants that help me make the work I design. That means I have to sell enough work to pay them AND run the studio. It means that my time is spent on design and marketing. I have diversified my work so that I have multiples as well as one of a kind work to sell so that I now have a larger market. The studio assistants make the multiples and I also job some of the work out. The one of kind work is done with an assistant doing the work I direct and sketch on my iPad. No design decision is made without me. Because I taught for many years, I am good at talking my helpers through what I want them to do. Not doing my art work is not an option and while the execution of my work has changed, the ideas haven’t. Thank god for computers! They have become my main tool.

  • Ron

    I think the most important thing is to pay attention to how you feel and what your energy levels and capabilities allow. 2 heart attacks, a cancer, a potasium poisoning, a near internal bleed-out, both hands splinted for a year, 1 had surgery, now a pending hemicolectomy. All in the last 5 years. I’m 55, diabetic and have always been an outdoorsman. they said I survived the heart attacks because of how well I manage the diabetes.

    I was able to keep doing art thru it all except the 3 months of radiation for cancer. Every day for 3 months. No fatigue, no burns. Fatigue: drinking 4 quarts of water a day. No burns: cold rinse every day for an hour after treatment. but I could not paint. I did not force myself.

    A week or two after treatment, I did a painting: http://rondini.ca/image/full_library_of_works/on_the_edge_ld_k_ao

    After that I put some yellow shapes on a bunch of pieces of paper and then over the next few weeks forced myself to work them because I knew it was time to get back at it. I’m glad I took the cues and didn’t force myself during treatment. I don’t know what it was about, but I’m glad I did it. And I’m glad I climbed back on that horse right away after treatment.

    21/2 years later, so far so good.

  • I’ve endured many different illnesses and conditions over the years, some chronic, and my friends are amazed that I still go on. What else can you do? I just keep keepin’ on. I am currently trying to reinvent myself and my work as I am losing my eyesight to Macular Degeneration.
    My support comes from my wonderful husband, and my good friends.
    Many others want me to “be optimistic, not tell people as it could ruin my career” etc. They feel sorry for me. I don’t, it is what I have been dealt and I am dealing with it. I have always been up front honest, can’t be any other way. I feel it is better to explain why my work is changing than to have my collectors wonder what on earth is going on with my work.
    1. I listen to my body. If I need extra sleep, I get it. If I feel like painting, I do. I think about my paintings a long time so that when I go to the canvas, it will come quickly.
    2. I learn how to deal with life, taking my conditions into account and I don’t care how it appears to others.
    3. I hire help if I need it.
    4. I am always planning for the future and have “projects” in the works; it keeps me going.

  • kathy

    I originally thought to give advice, but what I found from the comments already posted went far beyond what I could contribute. Thanks to all the brave and suffering artists who responded, and Alyson, this needs to be a quarterly post. While a group for those suffering sounds great, we who are not yet afflicted need the reminder that our time will come. Now is when we need to do the art we may not get the chance for later.
    God bless.
    Kathy

  • timing is everything… this is my blog post for today from a series of work that I did after my first breast cancer diagnosis. Alyson, just getting a heartfelt card from you was wonderful. Everyone gives great advice, the only thing I would add is that I am so grateful that we have our art to work through it all- when we are up for it, and until then- rest, be kind to yourself and let others help you. They want to help, let them in.

    http://nancihersh.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-world-as-it-is-in-my-drawers.html

  • Hi, Alyson,
    For most of my adult life, I’ve dealt with mental illness and extreme shyness. I have always used my art as a way of turning my mind around to something good to think about. My website is full of not only the art, but with writing about the kind of thinking that helps me get back to my own creative grounding and satisfaction; plus, hopefully, to inspire others to do the same.
    Click here to see my “Abundance Quilts”
    http://www.theresemay.com/Pages/AbundanceQuilts.htm

    Here is my blog of daily inspirations and drawings:
    http://theresemay.blogspot.com/

    I enjoy your emails!
    Happy Thanksgiving,
    Therese

  • Self sympathy and dwelling in the illness pave way for more destruction. That exra pushing is needed to look beyond what I am going through and what best I can do under the circumstances. I do feel my art could be better if I was not so sick, but then something is better than nothing. The simple fact that illness is for my body and not for my soul keeps me going. Being able to paint is a blessing and that when ackowledged with gratitude puts the illness away.

  • Elizabeth Corsa

    Four years ago I went through breast cancer resulting in a double mastectomy. As a single parent and full time artist with no outside financial help coming in I was concerned to say the least. I lost a year of productive work. But I got through it because of the fabulous community on the island where I live. An art auction was held with work from every artist here in this tourist area, many I had never met. And my clients donated money to a fund that was set up to help pay my bills. I will never be able to convey my true appreciation so I do what I can and donate whenever possible.
    What kept my head together was concentrating on each day, one at a time, spending hours on the deck, sketching the birds and plants in the yard and my cat. Friends,my sons and nature healed me and comforted me.

  • it is hard to keep up with anything when sick. have had ms since i was 23. i’m 35 now and just had a stem cell transplant. it’s been 6 months and i haven’t created anything. writing yes. painting no. i would love and need to add to my ssdi checks, but don’t really know how. the art i’ve done about my ms is ugly.

    • …I had a very difficult time even holding a brush, Nadine, but when I did, I painted myself as well… it was only one of many very alternative things that I did but something worked and my paintings “came true.”

  • It’s really nice Alyson that you are exploring this, it is a painful and difficult when one’s body doesn’t want to cooperate. I started to lose my hearing in my 30′s and have fairly severe hearing loss, I wear hearing aids but they don’t work so well in noise. It’s really kept me from wanting to socialize very much, ie go to openings talk to Art Dealers ect. I also have tinnitus which makes it even harder to hear sometimes.

    Then I got a chronic sinus infection that gave me death bed headaches. I spent a year where the doctors weren’t any help then decided I had to do something so I went on a strict no sugar no wheat Candida diet. And the headaches went away as long as I stuck to the diet which is not very easy. I still have problems but the doctor said he thought I had migraines and gave me some medicine that seems to help. I still try to follow the diet though. I think there’s always an answer and diet and exercise are critical.

    I always did my artwork if I felt well enough. I’m just feeling well enough to market it again.

    I would say to encourage people to find support groups, the facebook page is a great idea. I think to keep doing the artwork when you feel well enough is critical, even if it’s only a few minutes a day—it keeps that thread going no matter how thin it is.

    And then lastly I think it’s important to try to understand what your illness can teach you and understand that it can give you great empathy towards the human condition.

  • I was asked to be a Beta tester Pioneer for this project, http://www.happify.com …Happify is a program to help people to feel happier…It worked & still does for me…I recommend it…

    My book, is free for friends to read on my website http://www.grovecanada.ca …I have attempted to present a new way of understanding the body parts & how to fix imbalances…

    I am so sad from reading all these stories, & offer my help or fellowship to anyone who needs an empath(I’m not sure even what that means but I think it means me) to talk to…

  • Jaquelinet

    With two debilitating auto-immune diseases, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Hypothyroidism, I found a lot of help and guidance in accepting rather than fighting what is through the books/FB/Blog of Toni Bernard, http://www.tonibernhard.com/

    • Jaquelinet

      Not sure what happened here, but I know I did not write Hypothyroidism… it is Thyroiditis, an inflammation of the Thyroid

  • Catherine Parkinson

    I have had depression on and off for years. I have been in ‘remission’ for about 6 years. During this time I got the swine flu which left me with chronic fatigue syndrome. I try so hard to make art because it fulfills and enriches my soul but I find my mind wanting to make art and my body doing it is 2 different things. I have 5 children so my energy I do have is spent looking after and caring for them. Even if I make art I never have the energy to market art because every bit of energy I had is gone. I also find when I do have the energy to work I burn out so fast. I find I have had to learn to really pace myself and to just let things go sometimes. I do get frustrated but I have had to learn take life for what it is and to work with it. I have really appreciated this blog. It is so nice to know I am not alone.

  • Well, I wasn’t going to mention this, but seeing as so many others who’ve learned from their illnesses have brought it up, I have a book also, although mine is designed for anyone, not just those struggling with illness but those struggling with life in general.
    It took me 15 years to grasp fully what had transpired to release me from the grips of a fatal, incurable disease but when I did, I knew that I had to make the information available at an affordable price and a book seemed the best way to go.
    It was published last year by Ozark Mountain Publishing and is called Sleep Magic, Surrender to Success. It is available on Amazon and at B&N in both paperback and electronically (really affordable!)
    I wouldn’t be creating the art I’m making today were it not for the changes I’ve made in my life (and being alive at all! LOL)thanks to Sleep Magic. I wish everyone such wonder!

  • nancy

    I have Lyme and resulting fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. It has been truly hellish but has become more stable. I now work “small” and “lightweight.” I’d like to post my work online and have some kind of art pursuit the way I used to, even very part-time, but doing that would risk losing my disability benefits and accompanying health insurance, as they can say if I can do that I can work. Even changing my first name here, as writing this makes me feel like I have to look over my shoulder (nah, I’m not paranoid, but they HAVE followed me and even gave me the photos). It’s an odd life.

    Lyme is everywhere, in every state, so please take precautions. The medical system isn’t set up for this disease.

  • The issue with chronic [long-term] illness is that you are never going to be as good or as well as you are today. If you are lucky you slip from one plateau to another lower plateau and those plateaus may be long or they may be short.

    For me those dietary challenges of Coeliac Disease only get in the way of travel and exploration but only on a bad day [wheat flour in the sauce]…

    The digital camera makes up for my declining vision…the Glaucoma thing…

    The joints and the spine mean that art can only now be made in decreasingly very short bursts…the Osteoarthritis thing…

    In retirement life goes on doing what you can, if you can, when you can…you just can’t give-up & give-in.

    That’s why is studio based art for me..perhaps read “About me” on my website for more?

  • I think the best advice I can give is to just paint. It keeps you occupied. It sometimes feels odd or out of place but just keep painting. Delegate as much as you can but paint.

    I have a rather aggressive recurrent bio chemical failure prostate cancer. This is either a terminal disease or will create another side effect disease that can be terminal. This means I am on medications that make me a bit crazy now and again (I am being kind with these words) and certain chemicals manufactured in the body have been decreased which has affected my drive and desire to paint. But, as odd as it feels at times, I still paint. Maybe not as prolific as in the past but none the less I paint. I consider painting as a major player in my therapy and know that it is beneficial to put my thoughts, feelings and fears on paper. Painting is the language I know best and is my preferred language.

    Sometimes the images are dark and frightening while at other times it is full of hope. Whatever it is, be honest with yourself and express all you fear as well as your joys.

    Howard Cowdrick

  • Thanks to everyone for the great comments, suggestions and input on this topic. At Alyson’s suggestion, I’ve started a Facebook Group for ongoing support if you would like to join us there. The link is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/artistswithillness/members/

    I’d also like to have a co-administrator or two to help with it, as I might be sick or not able to add the members in as we go – just good sense to have a few folks to be able to volunteer to do that if you’re willing.

    Many thanks
    Janice

  • Even though we don’ t like to think about it:: The Engish blogger Katherine Tyrell has set up a whole Squidoo page concerning the topic Art after death – Resources for Artists & Art Collectors. It has all different kind of links:
    http://makingamark.squidoo.com/artist-death

  • I’ve been living with ME/CFS for more than a decade and in the last few years it has been seriously impacting my art making. It’s very erratic: I can be reasonably OK one day but floored and bed-ridden the next. It makes it difficult to plan and commit to things.

    How I deal:

    I try to focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t (not always easy!)

    If I must compare myself to others, which I try not to do, I compare myself to all the people I know who no longer make art instead of comparing myself to healthy professional artists who are merrily whizzing past me. If I focus on the fact that it’s amazing that I’m still making instead of fretting over how much more I could be doing if I wasn’t ill, then I don’t feel so bad.

    Take inspiration from the large number of famous artists who didn’t let illness or disability stop them.

    Work in small bursts – my work has evolved to fit with this and I favour ‘little and often’ approach, although I don’t always manage the often part.

    I have a home studio so I don’t have the expense of a paid-for studio, the guilt about not getting there often enough or the exhaustion from traveling there. My studio is in my bedroom: I can walk a couple of steps and be working.

    Some of my work is studio based but much of it can be done in bed. I also have a laptop, so I can blog and answer email from bed on the days when sitting at my desk is too painful.

    I prioritise my art over things like housework although tbh, I would probably do that even if I wasn’t ill!

    Limit the number of opportunities I commit to & try to schedule things with big gaps in between.

    Accept that there will be a cost to pay whenever I do commit to something. So I allocate extra lead-in time before exhibitions and clear my schedule for recovery time afterwards.

    I practice gratitude for what I’ve got – my vision; my hands (even if they are a bit shaky sometimes); a safe, comfortable home; financial security; friends, fans and a supportive & loving husband who does a lot of the cooking. Of course I’d rather not be ill but overall, my life is still pretty damn wonderful and I honestly do feel that I’m lucky.

  • For the last 13 years I have become more and more disabled from a cluster of Lyme induced autoimmune diseases that has spiraled into MSIDS (Multiple Systemic Infectious Disease Syndrome). I have neurological involvement that causes incomprehensible fatigue, pain and mental confusion (Lyme brain fog) that at times makes reading, writing and conversation extremely difficult. I was in a wheelchair at one point but have managed to control inflammation with intensive medical protocols and dietary restrictions so I don’t need that now. I still can’t drive and rarely get out of the house for socializing because of the fatigue/pain. For over a decade this illness slowly robbed me of my ability to create and exhibit my work in the 12 galleries, that at one point represented my work full time. The illness finally forced me to stop creating my fine art paintings on silk and I went through an intense “Dark Night of the Soul” that spiraled into a very deep depression.

    Despite pretty intense disability I realized that I still needed to find a way to keep the creativity flowing as part of my healing process. I became inspired, originally by Jude Hill, to stitch these little bits of Eco dyed cloth together which I could do from bed or a recliner and I found it very meditative. My Dr kept telling me to walk on days that I could so I started bringing my little stitched pieces into the woods with me and started photographing them there. So at age 50 I lost my decades long art career, that I thought totally defined who I was, but in its place I found an incredibly meditative and healing practice to fill the void. That was the beginning of my “Fiber in the Forest” series.

    I also practice Random Acts of Art. Since I am in Dr offices 2-3 days a week I take little bits of art I create and gift wrap them with a label that says “Finders Keepers! A small gift for you. Yes you!” and I leave them in the Dr’s offices, grocery stores and other places for people to find. It is a real heart opener.

    I had to rediscover a deeper value in myself other than the dollar value galleries put on my work and the income I brought in. Letting go of the pressure of painting commercially opened a huge space of healing for me by eliminating the intense stress that went with that career.

    I had to practice gratitude no matter how bad things seemed I had to find things I was grateful for and repeat them constantly throughout the day. I also used mantras and chants to keep my mind focused away from the pain.

    I had to let many old friendships go, as friends went off to shows and won awards while I stayed home in bed struggling with illness. Instead I looked for new role models to inspire me. People that had overcome great challenges and turned to lend a helping hand to others.

    There are so many things that I had to change, just like all of the people that commented before me here. Living well and creating with chronic illness is a full time job, but it is possible.

    Be Well & Create Joy,
    Linda

    • Can’t even begin to tell you how much I love the Finders Keepers thing!!! So excellent.

      • Thanks Victoria. It is so much fun. At one point one of my Dr.s found one first thing in the morning that I had placed there the afternoon before. It was a stitched piece I made that said “Gratitude”. She had surgery for breast cancer a few months ago and she found the Random Act of Art I left in the waiting room a couple of days after finding out she was cancer free at a follow up. I really believe these little gifts are guided into the right hands by a Divine hand. <3

        • No question that they are guided! (Or that part of your being here is to create them!)

          I’ve done a similar thing off and on throughout the years… though nothing involving as much work and love as your creations. I love the idea that someone might be tickled, moved, intrigued, validated, whatever by something I’ve ‘planted.’

          I wish you so much love!

    • What a lovely thing to do, Linda. It reminds me of the 365 Jars”> project that I did in 2011. Almost every day for a year, I made an art jar and released it into the wild for people to find and then documented it and the resulting stories on the jar blog. It was an ambitious undertaking and was often a huge challenge with my illness but sending my work out into the world felt like a very positive thing to do.

      I think that gifting art in this way can be especially powerful for those of us who are ill because it’s so easy to feel that we don’t have anything to offer the world.

  • I’ve been coping with chronic migraines due to environment (pollution and weather) and have moved 9 times in the last 5 years in an effort to find the right place for me to live that minimizes the intensity and frequency. In addition, I had additional health problems intensifying over the last year and half that required me to have surgery this past October.

    Now that I’m finally feeling better, I’m ready to get going in my art again. But, I’m, so…. rusty. I’ve stopped blogging, I’ve stopped doing social media. My art has been suspended because of all the moves. I feel vulnerable from this experience. The very tiny following I had developed and limited success in my art endeavors really just evaporated so quickly. I’m grateful for a day job. Insurance is a nice thing.

    • Is it important to keep up your art when you’re ill? When I was experiencing the intensifying chronic migraines while living in Hong Kong, I would create polymer clay beads. I found this to be a welcome distraction to the pain in my head. On the other hand, this year I worked on and off on my new art e-zine, and recently went through surgery/operation. I didn’t work on any art during the past two months. In short – I find working on art in some aspect, even if it isn’t what I really want to be working on, is a good distraction.
    • How do you think beyond the current suffering? This is where losing myself in my art proves to be the best “therapy” for me.
    • Where do you find support? Family is a big support. I have very good friends. I have also reached out to online artists who have shared their similar struggles (migraines).
    • What else do artists in these situations need to know about and understand? Don’t assume you know how others feel. Everyone is an individual. I had some friends who (with a very good heart) kept trying to offer “solutions” for me. But, as someone who suffers chronically, has seen many doctors, I’m familiar with most of the “solutions.” I found it more comforting to have friends who simply listened and understood.

    Thanks for posting this subject. It was cathartic for me as I’m just coming out of the chronic illness and trying to get restarted again.

  • I had breast cancer in my 30s in 2007 and now have neck issues that will likely require surgery. Things that have helped me:
    1. Make art. I know, it’s obvious, but it helps. I make some art just as therapy for myself. That’s actually how I got into spreading my wings as an artist: I used art as a visualization help during my bout with cancer and then later thought about selling some of my art. You can see a video I made about the illness and art connection here.
    2. Create in small sessions. I set a timer to limit my time in any one position. It is harder for me to work like this, but it’s a discipline that is necessary.
    3. Find creative ways to create. So if sitting at a computer is painful, then see if you can draw in bed.
    4. Keep creative outlets with you when you’re going to appointments. Often I’ll take a tablet computer or paper with me to doctor appointments. Sometimes just sitting in waiting rooms for long gives me pain, so I often ask what the wait time currently is and then leave my phone number with them while I go to a cafe or other place where I can change positions as well as pull out materials that support my creativity.
    5. Keep balance as much as possible. Too much time spent on any one thing means I’ll pay for it later (usually with pain), so it’s important to never do a marathon session of anything art-related or not.

    These are just a few things I do. I hope this helps!

  • I am late chiming in here, but wanted you all to know how much I appreciate 1) your sharing your experiences and 2) helping one another out. I hope you’ll join Janice’s Facebook group and get as much support as you need. You are brave.

  • I don’t know if this is the right place or if it should go on the blog…i think it is my answer to #4 though:

    I have had health issues over the years and find that illness is often related to our state of mind…I sometimes wonder if our artistic personalities are not a significant part of the issue….after all, we see, hear and feel things with intense impact….Minimizing my “life stressors” has become essential for me. Eliminate the nonessential. If there is something you “have” to do which you find upsetting find a way to make it pleasant or easier…have supportive contacts you can count on and not being afraid to contact them, your work itself may be stressing you….The style you work in may be doing it…or lack of appreciation, or financial returns or just the hustle and bustle it takes to put on a show with out loosing your mind! And of course all of the above. Stay conscious of those and when you can find something that will allow you to experience release and create changes…and celebrate those changes….Most of all, know that you are vulnerable to negativity, and stress so learn to say no when you need to!

  • I was ill most of 2012, had two surgeries in January. During my illness, which doctors really couldn’t diagnose but told me the side effects I now experience are permanent (which I now accept and live with), I had to focus on my health above all. I focused on doing what I could to eat well (gave up anything that was not homemade, gluten, pretty much my list of what I could eat was narrowed down to about 5 items), and did things that could help me feel better.

    I couldn’t work at all but when I could, I did my art as I found it very therapeutic. Sometimes I created art that I normally didn’t, some abstracts that were really strange and colors I normally wouldn’t use. Only a few have seen it, but I took it as an expression of how I was feeling and keeping it for now, in hopes I may someday understand their message.

    I let everything else fall, and was lucky to get help from friends when it came to hospital rides, housework, food shopping, etc. One really learns to value those true friendships and how important it is to nurture them.

    Most importantly I learned to ask for help and leave behind the self-sufficiency nonsense. Probably my biggest lesson, letting go of the pride and I alone can do it attitude. To realize that we are interconnect and we all need each other in one way or another. While I had no problem giving, even when I had no business giving, I had to learn to receive and how it humbled me, but grateful that I could open up to others.

    My insurance didn’t cover all my expenses so financially it was detrimental, but when you are feeling horrible, it doesn’t really matter. Even now, there was nothing I could have done differently, my illness showed up without warning, life sometimes does that.

    I had to keep reminding myself that though I was in pain, that suffering was optional. My attitude did matter, but on days where you feel you can’t take it anymore, crying was helpful. Eventually, after the anger subsides, you realize there is nothing else you can do. You end up surrendering. You realize there is a higher purpose, though you may never understand it, that while you are still breathing, there is a reason for you to be alive. For me, it’s to continue to bring through my artwork beauty, healing and love.

  • I was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension in Jan 2005. It is a rare heart lung condition that significantly shortens one’s life. The initial numbers I heard were 3-8 yrs. Fortunately that was old information. I have met people who are 20 yrs post diagnosed. I was very sick when I was diagnosed but have responded well to treatment.

    Due to my illness I was able to focus on art again. What I have learned as my health has improved on treatment is that time is precious and to live life to the fullest. So my art is an important part of that. As I child making art was my bliss. I try to channel that now. Since August I have been in the hospital ICU 4 times for line infections. What art gives me: a different way of looking at things. I appreciate the photographs in the ICU. All of them are of nature-areas around the state of Arizona where I live. When in the ICU I do laps around and take in each photo on the wall. They transport me to another place outside the walls of the hospital. It reminds me that my art does that for me and others too. Making art gives me something to look forward to. I think that maintaining a positive mental attitude while facing illness, especially life threatening or chronic, is crucial. Having goals, something to move towards or look forward to helps keep one going mentally.

    When I am suffering, whether it be pain or the frustration of my disease, I find thinking beyond myself is the best medicine. It can be as simple as helping someone else. This can be hard sometimes because as the “sick person” people are reluctant to take help from you thinking that you are the one needing help. I also find teaching art classes is very therapeutic for me. It takes me out of myself. The most important strategy when coping with illness is to get out of your own mind. Don’t wallow. Making art is a way to do that but don’t forget that doing little acts of kindness for others is powerful medicine. It can be as simple as giving someone a smile or listening to their struggles. I have even found that I can offer kindness to others when in the hospital. Whether it is my roommate or another patient, showing compassion and kindness is good for both me and the recipient. Even if I am feeling down or in pain, I try to always greet everyone who comes into my hospital room with a smile and try to find something nice to say to them. I ask about their lives and listen to their stories. It takes me away from my immediate suffering and gives me insights into the miraculous people who care for me. During my last 4 forays in the ICU I found out that: one nurse is now parents to her drug addict brother’s three young children (she’s my hero and she gives me updates on how they are doing each time I see her), another nurse is trained in Reiki and does meditation (he gave me a quick Reiki session and came and meditated with me in my room), a young GI resident (only 24) is a bundle of positive energy and delightful (she’s looking for a nice engineer nerd to date. I am looking for her since my spouse is an engineer who works at Honeywell. We will be doing some matchmaking), I have gotten to know all the nurses and Drs. in Interventional Radiology who put in my PICC and central lines (they are wonderful. One Dr. has 2 sweet little boys. She chose to go to IR instead of general surgery so she could spend more time with them), and on and on. These stories come back to me when I am working in my studio. Because I take time to connect with my caregivers, I am also able to trust them. The nurses in ICU have been my rocks. They have helped me cope with the mental game of juggling my caustic medicine through 3 IVs. (After 12hrs it starts to painfully “burn through my veins” so I need to keep rotating.) I am a giant pincushion when I am in the hospital. They have trouble getting IVs in sometimes. Now I have a group of nurses who can get a line first time. I usually have 4 IVs in at a time. 2 to 3 each forearm. I usually need to make it a week before I can get a new PICC and then I won’t be in pain. So I find support from the nursing staff, my friends, and family.

    Having illnesses is an opportunity to grow emotionally. I have found that I am better at letting people help me, about living in the moment, and honoring my dreams. It is also getting older. I am saying no more to things. I am also say no to negative people. I am making the choice to spend my time with only people who are positive forces in my life and letting others move to the periphery.

    My best advice to someone facing illness, even terminal, is to be positive (even if you have to fake it some days or minutes), find ways to give back to others (even a kind word is a tremendous treasure to someone), and to have something to look forward to (it could be working in your studio, a trip, even a walk outside). Your art doesn’t have to be a way to process your pain but can be an escape. It can transport you to another world. If it is helpful to work through your illness through your art by all means do so. But as someone else posted, that doesn’t have to be what your work is about. I don’t like to be defined by my disease so I certainly don’t want my artwork to be. I like to think that my ceramics is about connection. My functional work is about personal connection. My pieces are meant to be pleasing to touch, hold and use. The surfaces and decoration enhance this. My sculptural work is sometimes whimsical and other times contemplative-like me.

    I don’t wish illness on anyone but we each have a choice on how we approach it. It can define us, derail us, or transform us for the better. We can’t choose what happens to us but we can choose how we respond to it.

  • One more thought in line with what Gladys said. It comes from the Buddhist tradition. We all have pain. Life is full of pain. But suffering is a choice. We can’t avoid the pain but we can avoid dwelling on it and the suffering that we mentally can create.

  • Caroline Roberts… I cannot find the post you put up, about scleroderma to reply to… I posted earlier about my experience with progressive systemic sclerosis… but feel free to contact me if you want to talk… been there, done that.
    You can reach me via my website: http://www.victoriapendragon.com.
    On the ‘books’ page there’s a free pdf on my journey through the process called My Three Years as a Tree that might be of some use to you.

  • Alyson-I think this is a brave topic to put out there. The topic is near and dear to my heart as I watched my mother, who is an amazing painter suffer for many years from a rare illness for which she was told there is no cure…All of her energy went to her health and she stopped painting for a long time. However, sometimes doctors are wrong. My mother started flying across the country to see my doctor in Los Angeles who also helped me also heal from conditions for which I was told there was no cure. I am healthy as is my mother. I will always vote to believe in miracles and the human potential to heal because that is so much more fun than the alternative. So this message goes out to all of you who are hurting…NO MATTER what anyone tells you–keep believing there is a way to heal. My mother is painting again. She has her life back and is healthy. I have my mother back.

    Here is the link to the team of doctors led by Dr. Sai-ling Michael who saved my life and my mothers: http://www.healthquesthq.com
    It is difficult to explain exactly what they do because it is not traditional, but if you are ready to believe in miracles…go there.

    I also healed a lot with the help of Neurolinguistic Programming and highly recommend Pam Castillo. She is sought after in her profession and has clients that fly across the country to work with her aswell. http://www.nlpclarity.com

    I have countless healing stories about both of these places…but what matters most is if you who are reading this is ready to keep healing and can use these contacts or find someone similar to help you. I believe in you! May you find joy in whatever your current state and keep faith in the potential of that which none of us can understand.

    Wishes for your health & highest good,
    Brooke

  • Anita Morris

    I’ve had non verbal learning disabilities my whole life. I can’t read facial expressions – portrature was never going to be for me.

    I never expected to be an artist. As an adult I have damaged my back and cfs. 2010 I developed rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. I rediscovered creativity as I was slowly discovering that I would never hold a coventional job. Most of the time I need my art to cope with my life but I’ve spent several months moving which has cut my time for my art right down. I’m having a sleep study in the New Year. If we find sleep apnea, which is higly treatable, my quality of life should improve.

    • Chuck Close is Face Blind…He has done very well with portraiture…In fact, he went down that path in order to work on it…You never know…

      Myself, even in high school, I had a block on faces…But in my line it was a religious block passed down…There is a fierce history in religion that realistic facial depiction is a no-no…I inherited that…Had a girl friend cartoonist school chum who filled in the face for me on a full size portrait of another school mate…Not all blocks are diseases!

  • Laurie

    I experienced crippling mental illness as a result of becoming too submerged in art that brought out my unhappiness with life as it was. Sadly, I stepped away from doing art for years as I dealt with the issues through therapy and initiating life changes. I learned that when darkness comes, it might be best to avoid doing anything dark in your art, because it can feed the illness. Allow yourself to reflect on something that brings joy and puts a smile on your face. If your art can be a healthy therapeutic outlet, do continue, but if it’s feeding the monster, it’s time to take a different turn. Be careful about who is advising you, and how much stock you put in their opinions. For art students, professors that feed on ‘The Great Art of the Traumatized Artist’ can be incredibly dangerous. This was my experience. Allow yourself to put value in painting something that is ‘light’ and puts a smile on your face. If I’d allowed myself to embrace a change in my art, perhaps it could have been a comfort as I seeked help instead of a ‘bad place to go.’

  • Just for the sake of balance for Laurie’s post, I used my art as well,to explore the remarkable darkness that lay within my mind after the return of many traumatic memories and did so with excellent result. I was in therapy at the time but did the art on my own, reporting the results to my therapist whenever it threw me into a trance-like state.

    Working with the art, both from the standpoint of re-creating sensations and experiences, was at times so overwhelming that it threw me out of my body, but then that was exactly what the abuse had done, so it was no surprise. It was a potent and powerful experience and I one I wouldn’t recommend without professional support, but with it… it did wonders.

    After quite a few years, I gathered up the dark work and, in a ritual I devised, burned them ceremonially. In retrospect, I’m kind of sorry that I did. I couldn’t have known at the time that I’d get to a place where I was a spiritual counselor/self-help author or I’d have used some of them for my website. I have found that sometimes, for some people, facing the darkness head on is the only way to get to the light.

  • In an earlier post where I introduced myself, I mentioned that I deal 24/7 with severe mental illness. And I hear constant noise, not quite voices, but noise. I am currently dealing with (and hopefully coming out of) a severe depression that, while it didn’t inhibit my ability to do things (because I’ve trained myself to keep going) it affected EVERYTHING in one way or another.
    I am very comfortable with darkness just as I’m comfortable with light. My problem has been that I lived excessively in POSITIVITY. My insistence on everything being ‘fine’ kept me from seeking treatment for over 30 years. My ignoring my mental illness kept me from having a full and good life. Sure, I accomplished much – I got a master’s degree, had a good job, but my relationships were, well, abnormal. I lived in an abusive situation, blah blah blah.
    Contrary to what some people in my life think, I don’t dwell on darkness but I live with it. It’s part of my life. It’s part of who I am. Yes, I was traumatized, yes, I suffered. And I don’t and WILL NOT avoid it. I work with it, more in writing than in art. The art that I’ve made in an effort to deal with darkness seems too contrived and stereotypical. Maybe someday I’ll be able to make art that deals with the darkness around me that is truthful.
    The work that I do make and publish is, I admit, very positive and happy. But I don’t do it to avoid dealing with that which ails me.

    My attitude is that whatever works for you is great. If being relentlessly positive and only focusing on what makes you smile works, fabulous. If dealing with darkness and facing it head on works, that’s fabulous too. Telling people to avoid things because it can be dangerous – I question that. Sticking my head in the sand never worked for me but got me into more trouble. But that’s only my opinion and not a prescription for how someone should live their life. For me, facing my demons head on and having a conversation with them works.
    And that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

  • Laurie

    My heart aches to find that one might think my words need balancing, or might be dangerous. I’m sorry. I rarely make contributions to discussions online, but I stumbled upon this one and I wanted to give my advice because I’ve been through the trenches, and I know that when someone feels alone in mental illness, they need all the support and encouragement they can find. I’m always glad to find another person who has overcome the same monsters that I have, or at least learned how to live with them! I tried to find a way to delete my contribution, but unfortunately once you post something, it’s stuck there.

  • I did not say, Laurie, that your words were dangerous. What I said was “Telling people to avoid things because it can be dangerous – I question that.” This was in answer to your words “For art students, professors that feed on ‘The Great Art of the Traumatized Artist’ can be incredibly dangerous. This was my experience.” My reading was that you were advising people to avoid such professors – and I extrapolated it to mean avoiding anything that might be dangerous. Even avoiding anything that might provoke depression.
    I will apologize in advance for saying, simply, this is BS. EVERYTHING can trigger someone to experience a relapse in symptoms. I had a major PTSD incident 18 months ago because I heard a very innocent song on the radio which brought me back to a bad time. Does that mean listening to the radio or music is dangerous and should be avoided?
    Everyone’s experience is different and you and I are no different. In YOUR life, your experiences have taught you that you can only create that which makes you happy, and that’s fine.
    My experience, and that of others, is that I have to live a life that combines both light and dark in order for ME to be healthier. Would that life be right for YOU? Probably not.
    But I did not say your words were dangerous – only that I questioned them. And I am sorry you chose to read into them something other than what I actually said.
    As for the person who felt your words needed to be balanced – that was what she needed to do.