The "Art" of Chronic Illness

With #NaNoWriMo starting tomorrow, and me undulating between excitement (creation! art! community!) and nervousness (dysautonomia hardly lets me commit to a single day, let alone a month), I thought I'd toss this blog out there. As I edited it, I realized that -- in many ways -- the mental illnesses I struggle with can also apply.


Every one with a chronic illness is a unique and special person; we have to spend every moment of every day rationing out our spoons in order to not only have a shot at doing so again the next day, but also just managing to get through this one.

Chronic illnesses can constitute many things and, often times, they are invisible. Which can make it seem even more confusing to someone on the outside when they see us struggling between whether we’ll have the energy to make a good lunch or take a shower for the first time in weeks, doing the laundry or hanging out with our friends/children/pets, and don’t even get me started on the guilt of house work vs. well... everything.

Rarely do we actually have enough spoons to get us to that dilemma to begin with.

But what about those of us who are also artists? How can we even consider trading in spoons to write, paint, make music, draw, cook a beautiful meal or fix up a car? Especially when there are dishes piled in the sink, the house hasn’t been vacuumed in weeks, and we’re living off whatever’s in the pantry because we haven’t been able to get out of our pajamas let alone make it to the grocery store?

It’s like our own chronic illness hierarchy of needs, and poor Creativity is at the top of it.

But isn’t creativity what keeps us human? Especially for artists but, I would argue, everyone to some degree? And really -- when we’re dealing with an illness that robs us so much of who we are and what we used to be -- what do we need more than creativity? It is all too easy to become only about the struggle instead of feeding who we are as a person; we must keep that part of us alive just as much as our ailing bodies.

We have to create or else there’s little to fight for internally, don’t you think? And it would be awesome to build a community of people who get it. Who get that writing a single sentence or coming up with a perfect brush stroke is even so much more than it already innately is.

Art can be almost anything, I think. And chronic illnesses force a choice between what is most needed and what can "slide". It is a continual fight against endless fatigue and brainfog. It is sacrifice, guilt, determination. It is feeling like we’re failing our family and our duties -- feeling we're just failing. Period.

But chronic illnesses can also create an interesting defiance. An understanding of what really matters to us. We may be sick, we may have sickness, but we choose to feed our souls when we can.

And, most especially, we refuse to forget that art.expression.ourselves are far greater than anything that could try to take them away.