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How Chronic Migraine Transformed My Approach to Art

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I have struggled with migraines since I was a teenager and both my parents have had problems with it too. My own migraine attacks gradually became more frequent when I was in my 20s, particularly during summer, interfering with my ability to hold down a job and work on my illustration aspirations.

When the migraines became even more severe, I was working as a TA in a school for children with disabilities and had just been through an especially stressful year on the job. One spring day, I experienced a sudden and severe migraine attack, which blew all my previous experiences out of the water.

It remains one of the scariest experiences I’ve had: unbearable sound sensitivity, light sensitivity, not being able to think clearly and unable to answer questions from concerned colleagues who wanted to help. I was so distressed I ended up banging my head on the table in front of me to distract myself from the pain.

It was the start of a months-long period where I was mostly bedridden with migraine attacks and daily debilitating symptoms.

Eventually I decided to leave my full-time job as it was having a major impact on my health. As working from home was now my only real option I decided to use this as an opportunity to focus on illustration.

Prior to developing chronic migraine, my work was never inspired by personal experience and primarily focused on mythology and history. The sudden change in the severity of my migraine transformed my approach to illustration.


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A post shared by Abi Stevens (@abistevens_art)

I started by creating self-portrait illustrations representing symptoms of chronic migraine and was surprised and touched by the response I got to the work online from people who said my art made them feel seen and understood. I found myself tuning into an online network of other spoonies on Instagram and found support, understanding and strength in return from them.

It was a cathartic and healing experience and I found new purpose in creating art that can help spoonies from all walks of life feel connected and inspired.

The artwork also serves as advocacy for chronic illness by increasing the visibility of these issues. Illustrating what chronic migraines feel like was also a great way to properly explain to able-bodied people what chronic symptoms are really like.

This new direction in my artwork was also inspired by the close relationship I have with my sister, who is also a spoonie.

Now, I have expanded on this new inspiration by creating a series of pins for the chronically ill, so that they can feel empowered and connected to our community, and to enable open dialogue with able-bodied people.


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A post shared by Abi Stevens (@abistevens_art)

They include designs saying “Fibromyalgia Fighter,” “Spoonie Sisterhood”, “Fatigued and Fabulous,” “Autoimmune Warrior,” “Chronic Warrior” and “Migraine Warrior.”

To see more of my artwork visit my website.

Follow Abi on Instagram here

Image credit via Abi Stevens

Originally published: February 17, 2021
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