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Art, health and healing

There's a lot said about art therapy and how it helps those in mental and/or physical pain, but what about those who already create, the artists of this world who feel like their passion is deserting them, that the Muse has downed tools in the face of chronic pain and fled to the hills?!

I seldom talk about this from a personal perspective, but just the other day a fellow artist posted a plea for help on this very subject, and I felt I had to take a deep breath and spill the beans.

Deep breath, here we go...

I've been living and working with chronic pain for over twenty years now.

This started after a prolonged period of overworking, not just the lifting and shifting involved with the bohemian lifestyle that is being an artist, but with decorating a house at the same time. Repetitive overuse of certain muscles, without proper relaxation, was a contributory factor in my body reacting with a major muscle spasm in my right trapezius.

I saw an osteopath within days, but the damage had been done. Fast forward ten years, lots of acupuncture and osteopathy in between, also counselling for depression, and I banged my head on a kitchen cupboard and developed Trigeminal Neuralgia as a result. Which I still have, my body hasn't figured out how to shut down the signals, but I'm working on it.

My homeopath and cranial osteopath, have helped enormously, my body needs the very subtle under the carpet approach, everything is very gentle. After twenty years on pain medication, I finally came off the hard drugs over new year. I'm not pain free, but it is manageable and there is light at the end of the tunnel.


Please note I am not a medical practitioner and this is simply stating what I have found works for me, and that I hope will help others.

Firstly, get a proper diagnosis and if you need pain medication take it, however be very aware that most pain medication is addictive and that you don't have to take it for the rest of your life.

I was on some pretty heavy stuff and have weened myself off of it all, under medical supervision. Always ask your Doctor for advice before doing this, it may not be the right time you. For example, don't embark on it if you are stressed, for any reason, stress makes discomfort worse and you'll need that help.


Remember you are not alone!

There are other artists who have found, and are finding, their way through whatever life has thrown at us. Michelangelo quite likely had osteoarthritis, Matisse was wheelchair bound, they found a way to work and inspire, so can we.

Notes on discomfort and pain:

The big thing to remember is that pain levels are not static, they go up and down, and it is different for every single entity on the planet, from one minute to the next, it's how your brain processes those signals. You will have off days, periods when it seems insurmountable, but, and here's the good news: there will be good days too!


Drink plenty of water:

A hydrated body hurts less, and it helps to flush out any toxins from medication too, win, win, in my opinion.

I'm a great believer in "the body asks for what the body needs", I love ginger and have found that it really helps with both pain and nausea. Ginger biscuits, parkin, stem ginger, ginger tea, basically anything containing ginger. Ginger has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer properties, so what's not to love?!

Supplements such as Flaxseed, and echium oil, can also reduce inflammation.

Turmeric can aid digestion – medication and stress caused by pain, can really mess with your stomach – and help the body get the best out for the good stuff.

I personally recommend taking a probiotic regularly for the same reason.

A quick note on food intolerance:

If you suspect that something you are eating or drinking isn't helping, get tested or just cut it out for a week or two then try it again, if you feel worse cross it off your shopping list. Culprits can include: sugar, dairy, gluten, tannin, caffeine (and yes it is in some painkillers, but it doesn't agree with everybody, me included), and citric acid gives me mahoosive headaches.

Alcohol doesn't help either, I've never drunk to excess, but have discovered that alcohol makes my allergies, and intolerances, worse and makes pain medication less effective. That's not to say the odd glass of something once in a while will do you irreparable harm. Everything in moderation.

Moving on:

Exercise, releases endorphins and basically keeps you moving, it oils your body.

I find a daily exercise routine - fifteen to twenty minutes of qigong or yoga each day.

Little and often is the key, no catching up with a two hour session because you haven't done it all week. The proof of this is that I regularly see a cranial osteopath, and a Somatics practitioner, and both can tell the difference as soon as they see/get their hands on me. In March 2020, when the world went crazy, my regular tai chi and yoga classes were put on hold. My partner and I decided we'd do a short yoga or qigong practice each morning at 10.30, we're still doing it, and it's noticeably more beneficial than the three longer sessions a week.

I highly recommend this YoQi Qigong Daily Practice:

I also do a short set of somatic exercises, recommended by my Somatic teacher. Here is a link to the Essential Somatics website, which opens with a link to download an introductory set of exercises. Arch and flatten is brilliant for pain practically anywhere in the body, get that spine moving freely. If you can find a local practitioner and see them, please do, it really can make a huge difference having a one to one session.

Zoning out, in a good way:

Meditation, taking the emphasis off the discomfort, quiet mind, calm body.

Each afternoon I plug myself into a meditation, lying down, knees supported with a pillow to lessen any lower back discomfort. Quite often I will zone out completely and nod off, but as the Dalai Lama says "sleep is the best form of meditation", so don't beat yourself up for it, besides which if you do fall asleep your body needs it.

YouTube is a great resource for healing meditations, I recommend Sarah Raymond's Mindful Movement meditations:

Clear the clutter of the over thinking mind:

I use this when my brain won't stop whirring!

Healing Chronic pain:

A fellow creative has also recommended an app called Ten Percent Happier, for the beginner to the experienced meditator. Some of the meditations specifically talk about dealing with pain, most are more about getting comfortable with discomfort.


Please note I am not a medical practitioner and this is simply stating what I have found works for me, and that I hope will help others.

Art and keeping your creativity alive:

Some of the most painful episodes of my life have been the most productive!

Creative pursuits really help, not just for those who do not regularly create, but for those of us who do, and when the going gets tough the trick is not to despair, but to find ways of making it more accessible. You may need to find a more comfortable position to work in, a more ergonomic office or studio set up.

You might also want to take a break, but still think creatively, watch some YouTube videos, about types of art you want to try, and vlogs by creatives. Take some courses, they don't need to be paid ones, if they are I suggest you pick the ones with prolonged access, so you can dip in when you feel up to it.

Online courses to fuel your Muse:

Esté Macleod

Short and very affordable wee art courses.

I've taken Zest! with Esté, gave me a real boost when I needed it.

Courses start at £20.

Make Art That Sells

These are illustration based courses run by Lilla Rogers, and in the main are about the serious business of being an illustrator. Many of the courses are self paced, do them in your own time, the briefs are industry briefs and perfect for anyone who wants to make a living as an illustrator or surface pattern designer.

I personally love the Assignment Bootcamp at £129, which is in the spring, for four months of super cool art assignments. There are also two Hot Markets for your Art part A, and part B, at £259 each, that are self paced.

Make It In Design

These are run by Rachael Taylor and are geared more towards surface pattern design.

I thoroughly recommend the Summer and Winter Schools, as I have taken both and always get a lot out of them. They start at a very affordable £22 per track (Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced) and you can download all the briefs, and trend boards to work on at your own pace should you need some time out.

The Good Ship Illustration

I also love Art club run weekly, on a Friday, by Helen Stephens, Katie Chappell and Tania Willis, on their Instagram feed The Good Ship Illustration.

They also run an excellent course called Fly your freak flag!

I'm sure there are many, many more!

Finally, I wish you all good health and healing,

Be well,




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