As a disabled artist, I can spend a lot of my day hunched over a sketchbook at a table, sitting in all sorts of awkward positions to get the best angle or to feel the comfiest, or standing for hours on end gazing at my options in the craft store. All of these things, while enjoyable, can and do have an impact on my pain levels to varying degrees. Here are a few ways I deal with the pain that comes from my work and its impact too!
Heat packs, hot water bottles, ice packs, hot baths, cold baths - you name it, I've tried it. There are pros and cons to all of these, but the thing I usually aim for is portability (although I won’t lie, I have had pain days so bad I’ve laid in the bath with CBD bath salts and my iPad because I was too stubborn to stop working - I was on a roll!). Hot water bottles may spring to mind as the obvious next best thing, right? Well, no, not really. There have been so many cases where, in my pain-fueled haze, I haven’t put the stopper in all the way and have burnt myself, or where I've put the hot water bottle in my bed, only to sit down and it bursts, leading to - you guessed it - burning myself. Hot water bottles also have a best-before date, which until recently I had NO idea about! They also provide something called dry heat, or surface level heat, meaning it doesn’t give you that sweet relief in your very bones that a hot steaming bath does (which is known as wet heat or moist heat). Luckily, Selki Store heat packs are both portable, with a long strap that I can use to tie the pack around my stomach or either the top and bottom of my back. They also provide wet/moist heat, giving me more of that deep, muscle relaxing warmth that really allows me to relax enough that I'm not focusing all my energy on my pain, and instead allows me to actually use my brain to create something wonderful!
When I talk about resting, I’m not talking about getting an early night or a 20 minute sit down, I’m talking about taking a significant amount of time on bad pain days to dedicate to myself and helping with controlling my pain as best I can. It’s incredibly easy to forget or underestimate how much rest really can do for your pain levels and overall health and wellbeing. Even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, your body is hard at work repairing itself (as best it can!) and it’s much easier and quicker for this to happen while you are resting.
Rest is also super important in the sense of letting myself relax when I’m struggling with things like art block or lack of inspiration and motivation. Forcing myself to sit at my desk when there is nothing coming to me and I feel like all the creativity in my whole body has abandoned me tends to have the opposite effect, and giving myself the space to breathe, regroup my thoughts and most importantly rest my body makes me feel so much better. And let’s face it - there’s NOTHING wrong with sitting on the sofa scrolling Pinterest for a few hours. It counts towards rest!
There are some truly amazing aids and supports available to us nowadays. A lot of them can be invaluable to me as an artist, including splint jewellery that stops joints from overextending, wrist braces that keep my wrists stable while drawing for long hours and prevents injuries caused by hyper-flexing or seizing up of my wrist or hand. Another support that I find useful is KT tape or sports tape, which comes in fun colours and often feels less medical or clinical than a brace, and still allows me to still have a wider range of movement to make creating art easier than the sturdiness of a brace (and feel cute at the same time!).
I also use walking aids for my hours of wandering around craft and hobby stores. I currently use a NeoWalk walking stick which is the cutest aid I think I’ve EVER had! Usually walking sticks really scream ‘granny’ or ‘hospital’, so it makes it much easier to accept needing to use it when it’s so stinking cute!
Remembering to take my pain medication regularly and on time can make a huge difference in my pain levels, and therefore the quality of my work. Pain medication - especially medications like Codeine, Morphine or any other opioids - can be highly stigmatised, often by the very people who prescribe them. It can also be stigmatised by people who don’t suffer from intense pain regularly, and therefore don’t understand the impact that having the correct medication can have on not just the physical wellbeing of someone but also the positive mental impact of not being constantly in pain. This medication is a completely necessary and important step in controlling chronic conditions like, for example, my fibromyalgia! For me, making sure to take my medication on time is the difference between having low levels of pain that allow me to spend longer on my art or having high, uncontrolled levels of pain and not being able to work at all - which is always frustrating!
Personally I have to make sure I take my pain medication (gabapentin - a standard pain medication used for treating fibromyalgia) three times a day, which can be difficult to do with the brain fog that I often suffer with due to the pain itself. To help me remember to take my meds on time, I do things like ask the people around me to remind me during the day, use pill organisers and set alarms!
Overall, my disabilities and pain can really affect how I operate as a small art business and an artist in general, but using my coping skills that I’ve talked about in this blog post can really help with not only my pain levels, but my energy levels, my mental health and my overall wellbeing, and I hope they can help you too!
Moss Bone (@littlejaybird_ on Instagram)