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The Power of Writing and Sketching About Chronic Pain and Illness

I have been writing poetry for years. It all started when some of my medical conditions became serious and intense. I was so frustrated, angry and sad. I started having all these thoughts and phrases enter my mind. Getting it out on paper was so helpful for coping with chronic pain and illness. I began to see patterns and ideas taking shape, so I decided to start writing poetry and creating sketches.

My first poem, “Death to Noisy Eyeballs,” is about my rare ear disorder superior canal dehiscence syndrome. Among other symptoms, I can hear my eyes moving. It is one of the more bizarre symptoms of the disorder. While the sounds felt like torture, this provided some great lyrics, and I was proud of my poem when it was finished.

I began to feel a sense of relief, like a weight had been lifted off me. By putting words on paper, I was taking them off myself. The heavy load I was carrying suddenly became a little lighter. I began to write poems about everything related to my medical conditions, doctors, medical tests and personal life struggles. There was just so much I was experiencing at once and getting them out on paper was a way to sort things out and cope with what was happening to my body and mind. I was battling disabling symptoms like dizziness and balance problems. More conditions were being diagnosed. I was dealing with rude doctors who just did not know how to help me and acted like I was a complicated puzzle. My social life was going down the drain, one concert and friend at a time. I was dealing with family issues, depression and anxiety. It all seemed like too much.

One night while isolated from the world and investigating the sounds in my apartment that were making me dizzy (and frustrated), I decided to write “Death to Noisy Eyeballs,” a dark but humorous poem. Not only did I create a lyrical adventure, but I created an ink sketch of a self-portrait to accompany the piece. This sketch was dark with black ink and expressed my anger and frustration at everything that was happening to me. In the following days, I would share this sketch with a small number of close friends and recite my poem. I received such positive feedback and support that I was encouraged to keep on writing and sketching.

Over the last eight years, I have done just that. Every time I experienced something that was difficult to deal with, I would put my frustrations down in phrases that would later become full poems. I would create sketches that may never be museum-quality artwork, but it was a therapeutic activity and more about the process and not necessarily the final product.

Anyone can create a poem or sketch to help them deal with complicated and frustrating situations that seem like a heavy weight. While my poems all rhyme, not all poems have to follow that. What are your innermost thoughts about what you are experiencing? Do you ever want to say something out loud but hold back for fear of misunderstanding? Or judgment? Do you ever get little phrases in your head, like song lyrics? You can start recording these thoughts in a simple notebook. Carry it with you and add to it anytime something comes to you. This is a judgment-free zone and no one has to see these poems if you don’t want to share them. You are writing for you, first and foremost. Poems can be long or short and serious or silly.

You can also sketch or doodle anything that comes to mind. You do not have to have fancy artist training or be a phenomenal sketch artist. The goal is just to put something, anything on paper that will help you feel a little lighter. Again, no one must see this if you do not want to share.

Keeping a sketchbook, notebook or journal for these entries will provide you with a safe space to explore and experiment. If you think it will help you process what is happening, feel free to share these with your trusted support network.

I decided to publish a book of my poems and sketches to help others realize they are not alone in their struggles. I thought other people could get a good laugh out of some of my poems and possibly apply some humor to their own situations. Even when dealing with serious health issues, humor can be healing and a great way to cope. Writing poetry and creating sketches can be a therapeutic way to process everything, and I encourage anyone who is dealing with chronic pain or illness to give it a try.

Follow Susan on her website and buy her book, “Ink Sketches for Wellness – Poems on My Life with Invisible Disabilities” on Amazon.