How Art Helps Me Express Myself on My Journey With Lyme Disease

Imagine for a moment that one day you woke up and realized you couldn’t think of the words for common, everyday objects. Imagine having trouble remembering the names of people with whom you have daily contact. Envision being in the middle of a sentence and completely forgetting what it was you were saying…not just once, but over and over again. Now think about the terror of being able to decode the words you see in a book but not being able to make sense of the meaning.

This might seem like a nightmare to many, but for me, it was a disheartening and isolating reality. For many of us, one of the most frustrating, embarrassing and frightening symptoms of Lyme disease is expressive aphasia, the loss of ability to recall the words needed to express one’s thoughts.


When words failed me, I fell back on art to help me express what it felt like to have chronic Lyme disease. I began using my knowledge of photography, Photoshop and mobile art apps to create a series of self-portraits. My goal was to communicate to the world, in a nonverbal way, how it felt to have a chronic illness.

After displaying many pieces of art in this series in galleries, my website and art publications, fellow chronic illness patients began reaching out to me to say how they could relate to the self-portraits, how they saw themselves in the art. That was the biggest compliment to me. These self-portraits are not created to be a literal replica of me. They are created to portray the psychological and physical manifestations of illness.

I am so very grateful for this artistic outlet as it has helped me feel less isolated and cut off from the world. My art has been a conversation starter to discuss Lyme disease with those who otherwise wouldn’t know about it and art has connected me to others who similarly struggle with chronic illness.

tracey grumbach's collection of self-portraits

If you are one of the many people affected by aphasia due to chronic illness, why not give art a chance to help you reconnect with the world? Art is therapeutic, mindful, relaxing, healthy and you can do it almost anywhere. No matter what medium you use or what subject matter you prefer, art can give you an expressive outlet when the language part of your brain shuts down.

When aphasia has you frustrated, bring out your art supplies, even if it is just a pencil and paper and allow yourself to try a new form of communication. When you can’t find the words, let your art speak.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Lyme Disease

Shania Twain Opened Up About Grieving a Side Effect of Her Chronic Illness

Shania Twain talks about the grief she felt when she lost her ability to sing after contracting Lyme disease. if(typeof(jQuery)=="function"){(function($){$.fn.fitVids=function(){}})(jQuery)}; jwplayer('jwplayer_Lf7DtSap_F962XJnx_div').setup( {"playlist":"https:\/\/\/feeds\/Lf7DtSap.json","ph":2} ); Read the full version of Shania Twain Opens Up About Grieving a Side Effect of Her Chronic Illness. Read the full transcript: Shania Twain Opened Up About Grieving a Side Effect of Her [...]
woman wearing flower crown and sitting cross-legged in a field

How My Journey With Lyme Disease Has Taught Me to Be 'Happy Here'

Eight years is too long. I wasn’t expecting something as small as a tick bite to change my entire life, but it has. Ingrained into every decision is the fact I am still sick, and likely will be for the rest of my life. I don’t like to say those words, because they hurt. And [...]
celebrity couple being interviewed on the red carpet

Why It's Important for Celebrities to Share Their Health Struggles

Remember in high school when one of the popular people would wear a band t-shirt or do something cool and it was all you heard about for weeks? Even now, I can look back at some of the popular kids and remember the things they did. It kind of lives in my mind like a [...]
A mom doing dishes, stressed out with children in the background.

To the Chronically Ill Parent Who Feels Like a Failure

Parenting – it is the most important job on earth. Even for the healthiest person, parenting is not for the faint of heart. Add a chronic illness into the mix and a difficult job can seem impossible. That’s why when I, the mother of four, became ill with chronic Lyme disease and co-infections, starting intensive [...]