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How I Use the Creative Arts to Deal With Lupus and Chronic Illness

Updated on June 7, 2018
Gina Welds-Hulse profile image

Chronic illness warrior and natural health coach and advocate, Gina helps others thrive beyond the challenges of chronic illness.

Art heals when words fail!

Art has been my therapy for as long as I can remember!

My Art Is My Diary!

My art is my diary. Each piece stems from my imagination and expresses a day of happiness, loneliness, sadness, frustration or pain. The viewer is able to take a glimpse into my life by looking at my paintings. Whenever I paint I allow my hand to work with my heart. The canvas or paper is just a means of transferring my thoughts and emotions into brush strokes, color and movement. I can go through a whole range of emotions when I'm painting.

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Background

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to work in the local Detention Center with a group of young people creating art in an "art therapy" setting. At the time the field of Art Therapy was just being developed, but I saw even then just how effective art was in helping these young people to alleviate some of the stress associated with being detained, as well as dealing with their reasons for being detained.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to work in several community settings using the arts as "therapy," both with young people as well as the older generations.

Working with a group of children during the Juneteenth Festival
Working with a group of children during the Juneteenth Festival | Source

I strongly believe that the main purpose of the arts is for healing. They make life a more pleasant experience. Art enriches people in their daily living. My goal is to create paintings that will nourish, delight and fill the mind with a sense of wonder.

Can Creativity Help Us Cope With Chronic Illness?

Yes, I believe so. I know first-hand that creating art helps me cope with my illness. I believe it can help others, too.

Chronic illness (defined as any long-lasting illness that can be controlled but not cured) and chronic pain (persistent pain that lasts weeks to years) can cause devastating feelings of

  • isolation
  • loss of self-esteem
  • constant, unrelieved stress
  • depression

They include such incurable or intractable conditions as

  • cancer
  • rheumatic diseases such as arthritis
  • autoimmune illnesses such as lupus
  • neurological illnesses such as neuropathy
  • complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).

Two of my favorite pieces of work were created by Artists who battled chronic illness:

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Symphony No.5 by Ludwig Van Beethoven

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Along Came Illness

Four years ago I was diagnosed with lupus. I left from that doctor's appointment a different person from the one I went in as...at least I felt that way. That diagnosis changed my life. I had been a teacher for the past 16 years at different locations, the most recent of which was for an eleven year stint. Eventually I had to quit working because fatigue and pain created a body in which I could not function for more than a couple of hours....after which I would go home and crash for the rest of the day.

My self-esteem took a plunge. I eventually started to see a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with clinical depression. It was very dark period in my life, but one that worked to come out of.

My other diagnoses include:

  • Global Sensory-Motor Poly-Neuropathy
  • Super Ventricular Tachycardia
  • Costochondritis
  • Mild Emphysema
  • Spasticity
  • Pernicious Anemia
  • Iron-Deficiency Anemia
  • Depression
  • Vitamin D Deficiency

My creativity became an instrumental part of my healing process.

For those of us who have suffered a sudden accident or illness, coming to terms with the new reality can be difficult.

Source

I am still able to do great work and to achieve a lot. I have, however, figured out how to do it in different ways.

Simple Tasks Are A Challenge With Lupus.

Lupus Makes it Very Difficult to Work.

When my lupus flares up, it can become very difficult for me to be function.

  • I need help getting around the house.
  • I need help with basic things like getting dressed.
  • I need help with laundry and housekeeping.
  • My spine hurts.
  • All joints hurt.
  • My feet get numb and it's hard to walk.
  • I suffer from excruciating migraines.
  • My body twitches uncontrollably.
  • Tachycardia gets worse.
  • It becomes hard to breathe sometimes.
  • My stomach hurts from IBS issues.
  • I experience lupus fog, and so much more....

I have it pretty easy compared to many other lupus patients.

At my best, I seem no different from the next person. I’ve had healthy stretches spanning a few months when I’m able to train in the Martial Arts or do other physical activity.

I Use Video To Provide Tips For Living Well With Chronic Illness.

The Arts Help People Cope With Life's Challenges.

It's well accepted that the arts provide excellent tools to help people cope with life's challenges, including a chronic illness like lupus. You don't have to be trained or particularly skilled in a creative art form to be able to experience the benefits that the arts provide. Expressing yourself through the creative arts gives you the opportunity to tell your story and to express the complex feelings related to living with lupus—feelings like anger, sadness, grief, and frustration. Or you might use the arts to show what the day-to-day realities of having lupus are like—what fatigue looks like or feels like, for example.

Whether you share your work or keep it private is up to you. The act of making art, alone, can be enough.

The lupus community is full of people who have used the arts as ways to cope with the disease and/or raise awareness about what living with lupus is really like.

Photography

I discovered that I was a pretty decent photographer when I became ill. Taking pictures of Nature was very therapeutic for me. Others also seemed to enjoy the images that I shared and the story behind them.

If your fatigue has forced you to give up on some of your favorite outdoor hobbies, photography might help you inject some regular, gentle activity into your day. A good eye for composition and a bit of practice can help you explore your photographic talent without having to expend too much energy.

A program called Lupus through the Lens, allows participants to take powerful photos and pair them with captions to help explain what lupus looks like—not just its symptoms, but the daily reality of living with lupus. These photos not only help raise awareness, but the process of taking them and sharing them gave participants a voice and empowered them to tell their stories.

Source

Video

Before, it was all about blogging. Now many have moved over to vlogging...video blogging. Practically anyone can now utilize video to reach out to a wide audience of viewers who share your interests.

All you need are:

  • good camera
  • microphone
  • a computer

The main factors here are

  • work
  • resilience
  • patience
  • have fun

I started a YouTube Channel several years ago, but it was not until very recently that I really began to utilize the impact that vlogging can have on helping with coping and healing throughout chronic illness. I've even written hubs to complement videos that I had made such as:

A Tribute To A Beautiful Lupus Warrior

Poetry

Words, lines, and images in poems can spark a feeling or memory, one that we can relate to, including the lived experience of having lupus.

For many lupus patients, the rain can cause issues.

I have found the Hubpages platform to be the perfect place to write about my experiences with lupus and chronic illness, and much of my poetry, about lupus and other topics, are published here.

Visual Art Such As Painting Or Sculpting

Of course, visual art like drawing and painting can help people cope with lupus, too. You may even feel inspired to draw a picture to accompany a poem that has meaning to you. This is particularly helpful for people who preferred to express themselves through drawing or visual images rather than words.

Painting, drawing, and participating in the arts:

  • serves as a positive distraction from the physical and emotional pain of illness
  • helps distract me from my physical and emotional discomfort.
  • is an outlet that helps me cope with illness
  • helps me to express what I am feeling in that particular moment or day.
  • helps me to explore my connection or lack thereof with the disease.
  • is a way to escape the pain or frustration or any emotion that I may be experiencing that day in connection with the illness
  • helps me take control of my life
  • helps me to explore my feelings, crystallize my thoughts and celebrate my abilities.

At the beginning of 2017 I set myself a challenge called 101 Days Of Creativity, in which I will create 101 paintings. At the end of the challenge I plan to create a book which I hope will help to encourage others who are battling chronic illness.

Creating Art Can Minimize Anxiety and Lift Mood

Days 1-25 of 101 Days Of Creativity

Days 26-50 of 101 Days Of Creativity

Textile Art

A couple of years ago, while I was very ill, I received an email, which I nearly discarded. After reviewing the contents and doing some research, I realized that this was a fantastic opportunity for me to expand my art into another venue....clothing and accessories. I jumped at the opportunity, and before I knew it, I was a Fashion Designer.

Not only was this a way to cope with illness by designing pieces that were inspired by my chronic illness experiences, but it was also an income-producing opportunity, with the potential to develop a meaningful lifestyle.

Source
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Cast members' hands taken just before the first show opening.
Cast members' hands taken just before the first show opening. | Source

Theater

When it comes to escaping the pressures and stresses of daily life, acting is certainly at the top of the list. Assuming a different character not only helps you step out of your life for a bit, but your fellow actors and the audience will see you for your role and talent rather than treat you like a patient.

I am so glad I decided to pursue the audition for the Vagina Monologues.

At the end of each year I set goals for myself for the following year. One of those goals was to audition for the VERY NEXT production that the Henegar Center was putting on.

I had no clue what it was going to be, so it was no surprise that I almost did not audition when I found out it was the Vagina Monologues. I refused to let fear win. I auditioned.

I got the part and it has been a blast ever since.

Have you set goals? Pursue them. Don't let fear overtake you. Rather let it feed your desire to achieve those goals. Make the time to achieve those goals. I had someone ask me today where I find the time to do these things. My response? If it is important to you, make the time.

There were many times during the audition and the actual shows when I was gong through a flare, but I pushed through with the support of my fellow cast members. I think the experience of the flare even helped me with my performance.

Acting Helped Me Cope With Chronic Illness

Photo taken during rehearsals for the Vagina Monologues
Photo taken during rehearsals for the Vagina Monologues | Source

Movies

Watching movies can be a magical experience and a fun way to briefly escape reality.

Movies can also be powerful documentary films that help raise awareness about a particular story, social issue, disease or disability, and so on.

There are Oscar-nominated films, such as The Theory Of Everything, about disease and disability, and some of them do a good job with their depictions. Then there are the real stories, from the source, directed and created and starring people with chronic illness.

Music as Therapy

Scientific studies have shown the value of music therapy on the body, mind, and spirit of children and adults. Researchers have found that music therapy, when used with anti-nausea drugs for patients receiving high-dose chemotherapy, can help ease nausea and vomiting. Some clinical trials have shown the benefit of music therapy for short-term pain, including pain from cancer. Some studies have suggested that music may help decrease the overall intensity of the patient’s experience of pain.

Music Therapy For Chronic Illness

Comedy

Recently I have been falling down more than unusual due to the neuropathy in my feet. I have learnt to make it a very creative descent from standing to when my knees or body reach the floor.

Or when I try to get a sentence out and I make stuttering noises rather than speech that is understood....I just laugh it off or blow a raspberry and start again. I've learned to laugh at myself.

They do say that laughter is the best medicine!

Who does not enjoy a good comedy?

Recently I watched Jeff Dunham and his "puppets." I also enjoy watching Richard Pryor. Of course, some of my readers may not know him, and he may not necessarily be the type that most would watch, but I enjoyed watching him.

Here is a great list of 8 Comedians for you to choose from.

Source

Writing

I find the act of writing to be healing.

I started writing seriously because I was looking for something different to do, and I wanted to get back into my writing which I had put aside for so long. I was also using it as an outlet for my chronic illness journey. I turned to blogging, and then I found Hubpages.

I enjoyed writing as a child and it was easier on my hands than painting, although I had not given up on my painting. I write about chronic illness, healing from chronic illness using alternative remedies, about my homeschooling experiences while being chronically-ill, as well as how to live life to the fullest, even with chronic illness.

Life as an author can add tremendous pressure to life, but writing for me is an important part of me and a way to express myself.

What I glean from my challenges with chronic illness in general, is God’s flexibility, creativity and adaptability, to turn broken dreams into new stories, to refine talents and competencies for new purposes, to waste nothing, absolutely nothing in our lives, not even the times when it may seem that breathing is all we have.

— Gina Welds Hulse

Be Your Art. Not Your Condition.

Creativity Has No Limits!

Making art will not cure my chronic pain and illness.

I am sure I will continue to feel pain, struggle with discouragement, and wish I were healthy. But creativity has certainly

  • allowed me to focus on the positive
  • provided a healthy indoor hobby
  • enhanced my overall quality of life
  • increase my understanding of myself
  • help me realize my potential for growth and change
  • provided a renewed sense of control
  • brought me great joy in the process

The arts are not limited to art, photography, music, film, and poetry.

Arts like jewelry making, knitting, even spending time with coloring books made for adults are all wonderfully creative and stress relieving practices. By definition, creativity has no limits.

Try something you've never tried before and see what happens! It's not about how good you are at something but channeling all of your thoughts and emotions into something, a process of expressing yourself that leads you to producing something powerful and authentic to your personal experience with lupus.

What's your "mud?" This video was recorded about 2 years ago, but the message still applies today. It basically depicts my attraction to the Lotus flower and

© 2017 Gina Welds Hulse

Comments

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    • Gina Welds-Hulse profile imageAUTHOR

      Gina Welds Hulse 

      6 months ago from Rockledge, Florida

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Ms. Cathy. I appreciate you visiting and reading my hubs. Have a blessed day!

    • creativetouchart profile image

      Cathy Fidelibus - Creative Touch Art 

      6 months ago from New Jersey

      Wow! You are an amazing lady! Thank you for sharing and I wish the best for you. - Cathy

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      19 months ago from USA

      This has good recommendations for anyone struggling with chronic illness. It's so important not to give up but instead trying to keep growing. You're a talented artist.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      19 months ago from Central Florida

      Gina, you are an amazing woman. You see the silver lining in every dark cloud and turn negatives into positives. You are a true inspiration, not to mention phenomenally talented.

      I think I saw something about Vagina Monologues in the Orlando Sentinel not too long ago. I'll have to Google it and see what comes up.

      Oh - I know Richard Pryor all too well. He's a riot. Frankly, I was surprised to learn you enjoy listening to him - he's pretty foul-mouthed, but funny as hell nonetheless.

      Great article, Gina!

    • profile image

      Gail Penry 

      19 months ago

      What am amazing woman you are! Thank you to Nellieanna who shared your story with me.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      20 months ago from The Caribbean

      Gina, what a beautiful spirit you exude! You inspire me with all the positive results which flow out of a negative health diagnosis. God's blessings on you and your efforts going forward!

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      20 months ago from TEXAS

      Oh, Gina! How beautiful and informative! Your creativity and talent are unequalled! I will linger over this more!

      I will forward it to my friend who has lupus.

      Hugs - Nellieanna

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