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How the Arts Can Help With Chronic Pain

The pandemic was isolating. As a single gal with an autoimmune disorder, there were elements of working from home that were a dream come true. But the loneliness, isolation, and stress were powerful components that threatened to pull us apart from within and without. As we each emerged from our pandemic cocoon, a common thought seemed to be, “When will things ‘go back to normal?’”

"My Fair Lady" (See if you can spot Kelli and I!"

It didn’t take long for me to realize that was not to transpire as I expected. Musical theater had been professionally decimated, and I found myself in discussion to pursue major surgery in 2023 for a partial hysterectomy. These events led to a grand impetus to rediscover the benefits of art therapy. Although I am not a certified therapist, I have a Master's in Music and have enjoyed art's professional and recreational benefits for decades. I feel a renewed passion to discover the healing properties of art from a physical, emotional and spiritual standpoint and to share those discoveries with others.


An expression of art through patchwork

Beginning my research, I came upon a free collegiate class regarding “Art Therapy,” as offered by the University of Florida via the free online resource Coursera. I invite you to check it out at your leisure, as I will reference the five components they recommend focusing on. I’m also including a video link and book recommendations for anyone interested. I remind us in this discussion that most individuals do not immediately consider themselves artistic. But I believe every human was ‘created to create.’ You are a well-spring of ideas, and that will manifest itself in so many unique ways. I can only hope some of these ideas might spark your creative journey, whether in the quiet of your heart or showcased for all to see.


Some methods may not be achievable for specific individuals, and our limitations may be profound when we find ourselves in a heightened state of pain. Some of these exercises could be preventative or established before ‘flare-ups.’ In addition, I found these techniques helpful as I process the memory of pain and its potential utilization as fuel for the fire.

I offer a final addendum regarding the “Inner Critic,” as this voice will immediately spring into view, critiquing our attempts and derailing us from pure enjoyment. Some of these exercises may feel silly, and I encourage everyone to pursue them individually. I highly recommend the book “Art and Fear” by Bayles and Orland as you parry with your own “Inner Critic.”


SPIRITUAL EXPRESSION:

I believe that art is a conduit to the Divine, but I also recognize that some individuals may disagree. If you find yourself in this mindset, I would encourage you to pursue the concept of the greater self as it relates to your community or humanity in general. Pain can be very isolating, and we seek to connect through art. From a Judeo-Christian perspective, I could interpret some of the Coursera suggestions through the lens of my pre-existing beliefs in a comfortable way. Activities might include meditations, prayer cards, podcasts, sermons, worship, creating a sacred space and pursuing charity opportunities. I even had the chance to explore unfamiliar motifs like the medicine wheel, spirit animals and guided imagery. Regardless of your unique background and beliefs, our ability to connect with someone larger than ourselves can provide tremendous comfort and purpose in otherwise painful and helpless moments.


MUSIC

Strangely enough, as a professional musician, I found this component the most challenging. For anyone with a technical background in the arts, this is not an opportunity for us to unleash our greatest personal self-criticism. This can be an exploration of the silly, the nonsensical, the recreational, the new or the old. It might involve composing, drums, chanting, instruments, singing, humming, primal screaming, creating song lists on YouTube/Spotify, or utilizing singing bowls. Many individuals feel insecure when it comes to their self-perceived singing voice. But this is the most applicable way I can find to speak our desires into existence and express what was previously ‘unvoiced.’


A collage of positive things that I loved that week!

VISUAL ART:

I found this component to be the most liberating without any established academic knowledge about visual arts. Opportunities to paint, sculpt, color, collage, sew, knit, and photograph are abundant. Many art forms are not immediately identified as such, but crafts, floral arrangements, jewelry production, fashion and make-up application are all creative ways to express ideas that might be difficult to voice. One of the greatest tools of art is the ability to realize self-expression, particularly in the face of a debilitating disease that may threaten to subvert it. For our next “Reading Rainbow” moment, I highly recommend the book “Make Your Creative Dreams Real” by SARK.


MOVEMENT/SOMATIC AWARENESS:

One of the most challenging components of artistic expression amid physical or emotional pain is movement and somatic awareness, and I continue to explore this daily concept. I often feel betrayed by my own body or choose to disassociate in times of emotional survival physically. However, I believe the best long-term benefits can be found with a nuanced understanding of the greatest instrument we will ever possess: ourselves. Some activities to be explored are dance, ASL, exercise, walking, experiencing nature, massage, travel, mindfulness and yoga. Even creatively functional activities such as cooking can be a wonderful aesthetic expression utilized for the benefit of others. I highly recommend the book “Breath” by James Nestor. In that vein, the smallest daily activity can often have the most useful benefits.


Having a hard pain day, I drew loving words and poetry on my body!

WORDS:

Spoken Word Poetry; When Love Arrives

Our final artistic component in this module is the exploration of words. This might relate to journaling, devotionals, blogging, poetry, plays, reading, list-making or spoken word. Pain often feels out of control and intangible, and words can give our meaning a more concrete expression or sense of structure. My recent surgery inspired me to self-publish the upcoming book “The One With the Hysterectomy,” which should be available on Amazon at the end of this year and includes some of my own artistic expressions and questions. Whether for public consumption or personal enjoyment, the power of our own words can bring healing and connection. I highly recommend the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron.


Finally, it is very easy for individuals to associate the idea of ‘creativity’ with an exclusively artistic one. While this is understandable, I think exercising that privilege can only contribute to our lifelong ability to ‘think outside of the box.’ This is applicable whether painting a picture or researching new medical opportunities for your condition. There is no end to the benefits that creativity has to bring. Participating in this free online symposium with “More Than Lupus” was a privilege; I hope you will check out our online discussion for ideas in your creative journey. Also, don’t hesitate to combine activities in the interdisciplinary union. I hope you will connect with my artistic studio “Music4Me” to enjoy our yearly free activities and pursue art lessons in voice, acting, ukulele or piano! Good luck in your continued healing; I can’t wait to see the artistic development of your journey and how the arts have positively benefited you and your community! Be the art.


FINAL BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS:

(“BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT” #LEVARBURTON)


Written By:

Jennifer Wilcove


Jennifer is a professional actress, voice-over artist, singer, and musician. She has a Master's in Music and enjoys teaching students through her company, Music4MeStudios! She has lived with autoimmune and chronic pain issues throughout her life and is thrilled to be able to share her thoughts with the More Than Lupus community!


Scan here to learn more about Music4MeStudios!

*All resources provided by this blog are for informational purposes only, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. MTL encourage you to always contact your medical provider with any specific questions or concerns regarding your illness. All intellectual property and content on this site are owned by morethanlupus.com. This includes materials protected by copyright, trademark, or patent laws. Copyright, More Than Lupus 2023.


**The author has protection under these copyrights; however, the words belong to the author and can be used for other creative purposes or for personal archives.


September 2023






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