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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.

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