Artistic expression is the at the core of our mission. The Chronically Awesome Foundation believes that when the chronically ill express themselves in artistic ways it helps them to separate emotionally from their illness. Art also helps the chronically ill to manage their symptoms. This includes emotional and physical pain.
“All visions of art and healing emanate from our experience with the creative process”
Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul, by Shaun McNiff
Each of us takes from the artistic process something different. We also will choose a different form of art, whatever it is that
we find enjoyable or that our chronically ill bodies or minds will allow us to undertake. Sometimes we are naturally drawn to something. We begin a project for work, for a party, even for a class and it resonates with us so we continue.
Art therapy is used in hospital settings, in the offices of therapists for both adults and children, and at art therapy centers developed specifically for healing through art. The Chronically Awesome Foundation is a peer collective of chronically ill patients that express themselves through various methods of art. We are not art therapists but we recognize and encourage the use of artistic expression to help the chronically ill become chronically awesome.
What Is Art?
There are many definitions of art. Depending on who you ask, depending on the artist themselves, “What is art” has a very fluid answer. We like this definition:
the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination
Art has form and content. Here are some examples of the form and content of art and how it can help someone who is chronically ill.
There is often some difficulty, when one talks to visual artists, making the argument that writing is art. A visual artist might say that writing is a craft or trade. We take the side that says that writing is art. We like this quote from the site MenWithPens:
If you’re involved in the arts (acting, painting, dance, music, and yes, writing), you’re an artist. You’ve put years of blood, sweat and tears into your art. You deserve to be called an artist. While I don’t agree with everyone’s form of art (like modern art), it’s still art and an artist created it.
The Chronically Awesome Foundation’s roots are in what was the blog mentorship program on the WhatTheJules website that had a monthly “Blogger In Residence”. Jules had a new blogger each month, selected from a list of volunteers, that she helped find their “voice”, and find topics that allowed them to express themselves in ways that made them feel more Chronically Awesome. From there, Jules helped the fledgling blogger open their own blog space on the platform of their choice and then started again with a new blogger.
Why blogging? The chronically ill have a large community of bloggers. Blogging is supported by WEGO Health’s annual “Health Activist’s Writing Month Challenge”, many health communities sponsor “Blog Carnivals” (a single day or multiple-day blogging prompt blogging challenge), as well as Tumblr blogs and websites belonging to the chronically ill that count in the many hundreds. Writing is an excellent way to can move us forward by helping us gain new insights on the challenges in our lives
Writing is an excellent way to “move us forward by helping us gain new insights on the challenges in our lives”. A study by Pennebaker, Glasser and Glasser found that writing not only helped the chronically ill emotionally but that expressive writing for four consecutive days helped to improve the autoimmune system of the test subjects.
Fifty healthy undergraduates were assigned to write about either traumatic experiences or superficial topics for 4 consecutive days. Two measures of cellular immune-system function and health center visits suggested that confronting traumatic experiences was physically beneficial.
Another common activity in the chronic illness community is crafting. Crochet, knitting, needlepoint, quilting and other needlework as well as holiday-related items from wreaths, ornaments, and homemade holiday cards. Visiting the Pinterest boards or Facebook pages of the chronically ill will bring up lists of ideas and photos of many crafting projects. These projects are often given as gifts, used for creating small businesses, or donated to local charities.
A 2012 study of the relationship between quilting and wellbeing performed by Burt and Atkinson at The University of Glasgow discovered that “creative craft hobbies such as quilting can be a meaningful vehicle for enhancing wellbeing”.
When crafting there is measuring, cutting, using problem-solving skills. All of these things help to increase our self-esteem when we complete the craft and know that the effort we put in was considerable and we were successful. When we receive praise for the final piece, we get an increase in that boost.
One study participant stated in her interview, “I like the idea of having something to show for my time…” At Chronically Awesome we believe that those who are chronically ill and no longer able to work want just this, something to show for their time. The chronically ill want to have a product of their time. Creative expression gives a chronically ill patient a creative work product. Finishing a project gives the crafter a sense of pride.
Photography and Photo-Therapy
Photography is an excellent way to get out of the house. A chronically ill person has an opportunity to see new things or to see familiar things with a new perspective. Taking photos, using a camera or your phone, editing them, even publishing them either on Instagram or another site can be very rewarding.
If a patient is unable to take the photo project on the road, a patient can use tremendous creativity around their own home to take photos of ordinary household items in out of the ordinary ways. Our #ChronicallyAwesome tag has thousands of photos on Instagram.
Photos of medical experiences are common. Patients are able to show their shared patient experiences with photos of infusion centers, emergency rooms, volunteer efforts and other chronic illness experiences.
Photo-Therapy, using photos to recall memories and feelings from the times the photos were taken can be difficult but it can also be rewarding. Using the photographs with mixed media, creating shadow boxes, collages, memory boards, or one of the many electronic options available online for combining photos with clipart and text allows the chronically ill patient to create items for personal use, for gifts, or as art to be displayed.
Art Therapy with photography or Photo-Therapy can be used in a therapeutic environment with any trained therapist. For a chronically ill individual to take on a photo-therapy project or art project using photography can be a time when memories of life before illness come rushing back. This is a time when bringing in other forms of expression like writing to augment the photo project.
We use photos to strengthen bonds with our community and family, we bring our social circle together with shared social media tags, we find others like us, we use photos for advocating for our illness or for chronic illness as a whole.
Chronically Awesome encourages using the #ChronicallyAwesome tag on Instagram and the sharing of photos and photo related projects on our Chronically Awesome Art community page.
You don’t have to write the songs that make the whole world sing. You don’t have to be a Grammy award-winning recording star. Music has long been known to be a healing force by professional therapists to carpool karaoke fans everywhere. Music therapy is a highly effective area amongst art therapies. Music therapy can be helpful with pain management, for physical therapy, cancer treatment, surgical recovery, and much more. Music is known to reduce stress and anxiety which in turn decreases time spent recovering from procedures and helps to lessen pain both chronic and acute.You can play music,
Do you play piano, guitar, or drums? Do you like to listen to the simple rhythm of drums as you breathe deeply? Do you remember the song your mother sang to you every night when you were going to bed? Do you ever cut loose in the car or the shower to sing your heart out?
The music of your youth can bring back good memories, the drums can help your respiration, that belting out of your favorite song or the comforting song of your childhood can distract you from pain or anxiety.
Playing an instrument can help with dexterity, and can be great physical therapy.
Music is a common, worldwide healer.
According to Professor Suzanne Hanser, EdD, MT-BC, Berklee College of Music, the music therapy protocol is designed to perform several functions:
To direct attention away from pain or anxiety, distracting the listener with comforting music.
To provide a musical stimulus for rhythmic breathing.
To offer a rhythmic structure for systematic release of body tension.
To cue positive visual imagery.
To condition a deep relaxation response.
To change mood.
To focus on positive thoughts and feelings and to celebrate life.
Painting and Drawing
You don’t have to be one of the great masters to pick up a brush and paint. The efficacy of painting in art therapy has been long known. While we, at Chronically Awesome are not trained art therapists, we do encourage drawing and painting as a form of artistic expression.
Using the brush and canvas, or the pen or pencils and paper have been known to reduce anxiety, express emotion, and allow you to process your feelings in a creative manner.
People have reported finding an excitement in the process of painting or drawing. By working with colors, experimenting with shapes, and finding their emotions, suddenly, in front of them as art, they feel that they can leave that moment on the canvas or paper and move on. Or to look at what they have expressed and process what it means or how it feels.
“As I worked, it started to look like something—it looked like my pain, how I felt. I forgot about how I felt and instead looked at how I felt. I got excited about the making of the painting.” Mary Rockwood Lane, PhD
From painting to sculpture, music to scrapbooking, there are so many ways that someone who is chronically ill can use artistic expression to become chronically awesome. It can be as easy as starting a journal and writing whatever comes to one’s mind for just twenty minutes a day.
We are committed to encouraging this expression in the chronically ill patients we find online and in using our power as a community to helping others to find their artistic “voice”.
Each year the foundation chooses a philanthropic mission. All fundraising efforts for the year are used to provide the tools necessary for our selected group to use artistic expression so that they too can swap illness for awesome.
We hope that you will join us. Grab markers, glue, paint or a journal and begin your journey to awesome. All you have to do is say it once, say “Chronically Awesome” and we promise you will not only smile, but you will think about us every time you say “awesome”.
*The findings closely correlate with theoretical wellbeing models such as Ryff’s six-dimensional impression of psychological wellbeing,19 Ryan and Deci’s20 self-determination theory and Seligman’s21 description of a full life.
*The Utne Reader “Art Therapy, Painting to Heal”