For me, being able to color, paint, sculpt or draw has been a means of escaping my chronic pain. Loading a paintbrush with a visually stimulating blend of colors and smearing it onto canvas or paper, savoring the ways the colors blend and interact with one another, transports me to another stratosphere, one that denies access to the physical pain echoing in my legs or hips.
Having had chronic pain since childhood, I learned at a young age that if I involved myself in something pleasurable I could alter my sensation of pain. Being able to work with color, whether it was planting flowers, designing with fabric or working with paint, paper or clay, I was able to engage my senses, brain and imagination and take pleasure in what I was creating and escape the confines of pain.
As a child I did not consciously know this but hindsight has shown me that there may have been several factors at work when I was engaged artistically. Firstly the sheer sensory pleasure derived from working with materials. The earthy smell of clay, the visual vibrancy of bottles of paint, the rough-hewn texture of wood, and the sound of pieces of metal clinking together were all things that captivated me. Secondly, considering the possibilities of how I might do such things as bend colored wire into shapes or carve a solid surface were mentally challenging and required my full attention. Thirdly, my imagination was sparked when I began to envision and see something taking shape. It was like reading a good story, you weren’t sure where it was going to take you, but you knew you wanted to go along for the ride.
An additional benefit of art endeavors was that it gave me a sense of confidence that I could do things. Walking was often painful and it was isolating and hard to accept that something others did seemingly without effort was such a challenge for me. But working creatively was what I could do effortlessly and it helped me regain confidence in myself that pain had stripped away.
Being able to enhance my surroundings with artwork helped to diminish the ugly environment of pain. Leaving that ‘place of pain’ let me feel that I could exercise some control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation. I may not feel beautiful but I could gaze on beautiful things and lift my mood.
I have been asked, “Do you use your artwork to visually describe your pain?” I have only done this occasionally and for personal work, not work that I intend others to view. Pain can be ugly and brutal, and it is what I wish to escape. I do believe there is great therapeutic value in being able to give pain a face and address it head on. But by focusing on other subjects of interest I can travel to other places and take my mind off of what I am feeling and replace negative feelings with positive.