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How Art Helped Me Heal After Lyme Disease

Art is more than meets the eye.

Art is more than what we see displayed to beautify homes, museums, cathedrals, galleries, and the like. Of course, art allows the artist to represent life as they see it, and their creations make the world a brighter, deeper, more interesting place. However, art is more than meets the eye. Creating art can transform broken lives. That’s what happened to me. I have chronic Lyme.

As the long years of treatment for Lyme disease and co-infections were winding down, I felt a powerful restlessness growing inside. The need to break out of the standstill Lyme had created in my life and do something that had nothing to do with my illness was tugging, then yanking, at my sleeve. Breaking out was easier said than done, however. It was weird and kind of scary. Once I had a little more energy and could move around more, go shopping even, nothing I thought to do felt like anything I wanted to do.

I had not expected to slam head-on into a mental wall of frustration at the realization that even partial Lyme recovery wasn’t at all like getting over the flu or a sinus infection or some other normal ailment. With those, I could go back to work, play a little catch-up, and hop back into the flow. This was not that at all.

A long time had passed since hearing the words, “You do have Lyme disease,” for the first time. Seven years later my satisfying career was gone. My sons had finished middle school, graduated high school, and were stepping into manhood. My body was weakened, and very different from the body that started treatment all those years ago.

I felt lost. Lost, that is, until my sister, who lived in another state, tempted me out into the world from afar with texts and YouTube clips about a vibrant art medium called alcohol ink. This was definitely not in my wheelhouse. I was more of the singer, songwriter, poetry sort of person. She and our mom were the artists in the family. My mom was a watercolor artist, and my sister, a lampwork artist. I strongly resisted trying something like this. Still, she kept sending little bits and pieces of information, and her enthusiasm finally won me over.

From the first time I squeezed alcohol ink onto a smooth ceramic tile, I was hooked. It changed my life forever. Inking took over my days and filled in the spaces insomnia once caused. I read books, joined online inking groups. Over the next year and a half, during my explosive art awakening, it became more and more clear that I needed art. I was obsessed. I needed to create. I needed to play. I needed to manifest whatever was going on inside my heart, my head, and my soul. It was more like a hunger than a hobby and I fed that hunger every chance I got.

An unexpected thing happened along the way out of my overly Lyme-focused life. The more I created and shared my artwork with friends, the less worried I felt about the wild ride of Lyme disease gradually slowing down and maybe, please God, ending for good. Whenever I felt pain or anxiety, loneliness, or fear about the future, I would settle into my art space and start inking and take a mini-vacation from the soreness, sadness, and loss. Creating always eased my discomfort and grief, making everything else easier.

One day about a year and a half into my art journey, I happened to notice my framed graduate school diploma peering out from behind the door of my studio: Master of Education. Another unexpected thing hit me. I didn’t feel like the person on the framed degree anymore. I didn’t ask for or expect anything from my art, yet during this time when I was not even sure who I would be after Lyme treatment, art had been transforming me: I was recreating myself with art every single day. Without even thinking about it I realize that, through art, I was learning to see myself differently. Playing with ink and taking creative risks daily showed me who I was and what I might become. I’m not sure that the answer was “artist,” but I wasn’t counting it out either. There was something bigger going on than figuring out what will I “be” after Lyme.

Art, through alcohol inks, was mending what Lyme disease had broken. The more I created, the more I became the subject — simultaneously a work in progress and an old masterpiece being restored.

Art was fixing me.

Art was putting me back together.

That’s when I knew — I need art like a bird needs the sky.

Over the next three years, my art led me to become the illustrator of a children’s book, “A is for Azure – the Alphabet in Colors,” written by LL Barkat. The art from that book led to an award-winning gallery art show, From Azure to Zaffre. I never dreamed that first bottle of ink would lead to such surprising adventures! In 2020 I published my memoir, “Messages on the Mirror; Lovenotes and Lyme.”

This story originally appeared on Donna’s blog.

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