Creating Beauty From a Life of Chronic Pain
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When I sit down to write these blogs each week, my creative self often takes me to surprising places. I’ve discovered last week’s theme of finding beauty is the beginning of a series of three blogs on beauty. It certainly surprised me to find two more blogs lurking in my mind. The more I reflected on the role of this particular quality in my own life, I realized it has many ramifications. For many of us who live with daily pain, creating beauty and participating in something beautiful has been a welcoming open door into a dark room and a way out of the pain.
Naturally, when you create a beautiful photo or picture you are also viewing it. When you paint a project you enjoy, whether it be a fence or a painting, it brings you pleasure. Pleasure creates endorphins along with chocolate, berries, chili peppers, sex, exercise and massage to name only a few of the stimulants. Meditation also releases these pleasing endorphins. Wow. Just to get off subject for a moment but what a thought to imagine a life filled with those things. I guess we need to find a few of them that are possible and go for it. Why not?
Just a brief word on endorphins which are neurotransmitters produced by the brain to transmit signals to the nervous system. They can be found in the pituitary and in other parts of the nervous system and thus far, twenty types have been isolated in humans. They behave somewhat like morphine and opiates to alleviate pain and to basically, protect us. They are responsible for aiding the immune response, create feeling of euphoria, effect appetite and we all have known or read about the release of them during and after exercise.
My eldest sister suffered terribly from psoriatic arthritis and when she could no longer work as a fashion buyer for a large department store, she never had idle hands. They may have hurt often, along with several other joints, but she kept them busy. She drew and painted wonderful pictures of old barns dilapidated and full of pastoral peace. She worked on needle work such as needlepoint and other projects. She made and sold beautiful hand-made jewelry which brought pleasure and purpose to her life and to others.
When I could no longer work as an RN, I subconsciously found myself also filled with the need for diversion and creativity. My body was filled with pain but my mind was still buzzing, especially in the early days when the doses of prednisone were higher. My engine was running but my car was broken down. One day my husband and I were sitting in the living room, talking and I began to cry over the non-direction of my life. I was engrossed in self-pity for all I had lost and worried about our loss of my income in our two income home. My dear man looked at me and said, out of pure frustration, “Sue, I don’t care what you do as long as it’s not chewing on my ass.” Sweet talker, huh?
I began to search my heart for all the things I never had time to do while raising children and working as a nurse. I began to read about quilting and doing it, took up the tedious skill of counted cross stitch with fervor, and returned to writing in a diary I had kept long ago. It has always helped me to be able to express in writing what is going on in my heart and head. During the years after high school I had gone to college and majored in English literature. I always loved poetry and began to write it. I was told by family members that rhymed poetry was out of date and straight prose was in. I wrote both, but it was the rhyming that usually came out. One day I wrote a poem about driving down the main street of town with the top down on my convertible and a carload of boys who honked and began to flirt with me; that is until they pulled up next to me and saw I was middle-aged. I called it Convertible Mama and enjoyed it because it made me laugh. I also found writing filled my mind and gave me pleasure; those faithful old endorphins again. I gussied up some nerve and took the poem into a small local newspaper where we lived at that time and asked the editor if he ever published poems. He said he usually did not but liked my poem so much he decided to publish it. He then asked me if I’d be interested in writing a column for him or being a reporter for him. I told him I had physical limitations and wasn’t really blood thirsty enough to be a reporter but asked if I could write a humorous column about life. He said, “Yes,” and my column which I titled Valley View Askew was born. It was great fun and I wrote it for six years, until we moved to the Northwest to get me out of the blazing California sun. Severe photosensitivity is not much of a problem here in the wettest part of Oregon.
Writing has been the main focus of my creativity although I have tried many other things. For instance, two years ago I thought it would be fun to try watercolors. Since I can’t sit for any length of time a class on the subject was out so I just jumped into it. It was great fun but I have no talent for it. I painted a picture of my daughter’s wedding bouquet which was red baby rosebuds surrounded by lace. She liked it because it was from me and was a gift I framed in an old-fashioned oval frame and keeps it beside her bed. In truth, it looks more like a pepperoni pizza. You see, you don’t have to be good at your creativity. That isn’t really the point. The whole idea to get those endorphins racing is to be creative, produce something and get your mind off of the pain you are experiencing.
There was a wonderful article in the Sept/Oct 2012 edition ofArthritis todayabout artwork and the role it plays in making patients feel better. Written by Esther M. Sternberg, MD, she explains the role of observing beauty for hospital patients. She shares the story of one hospital in Dublin without windows in the bone marrow transplant unit and how Professor Shaun McCann started the “Open Window” project and commissioned murals to be painted on the walls of the windowless rooms. The artist chose bright colors of local events and the patients loved talking about them and the diversion was very effective. The patients were then allowed to choose other images of things they loved. The good feelings brought on by the release of endorphins led to healing, diversion and joy during a difficult time in their lives.
Whether you are creating beauty, enjoying it and observing it, both have an enriching effect on the mind and body. Now that I think of it, my dentist has clouds painted on the ceiling above his exam chairs and since my dentist office faces the Columbia River with its splendid view of the azure blue water and the passing ships, we are twice blessed. It’s difficult to feel beauty in a dental chair.
I urge you, my friends to examine your own lives and search your hearts and minds for areas of your life that are unexplored. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!” You have areas of interest, hidden talents or desires for expression that you have not explored. We all do. Therefore, go forth, just keep it relatively safe, keep it legal and go create. Your body will thank you for it.
Sue now has a Facebook page — check it out and “like” her now!
Video: I Am Not an Inspiration / Chronic Illness Talk/ Digital Speedpaint
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