Easing chronic pain with a daily dose of creativity

Post by
Marisa Young
Easing chronic pain with a daily dose of creativity

What would you do if you could only get out of bed for an hour a day? Dutch creator Ellen uses this time to produce exuberant and joyful artwork for her Instagram account @mycolorfulsquares.

Creating these uplifting artworks is an expressive and therapeutic process while Ellen copes with her debilitating chronic disease. What started as a flu in 2001 turned into Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Fibromyalgia, Orthostatic Intolerance and PEM amongst other things, and she now lives a constant battle everyday.

Ellen does not let her illness hold her back from chasing her dreams and spreading awareness for causes she is passionate about. Ellen’s story shows that a little creativity each day can go a long way. With precious little mobility and time she has taught herself to draw, paint, collage and to create beautiful flatlay compositions.

Ellen's passion for creativity shines through the dark days and lights up her colourful squares spreading joy and educating her community as she goes.

All about Ellen

The last couple of years my health has declined a lot. I am house and bed-bound. I am only able to do something for about an hour each day and this includes taking care of myself. I’m always exhausted, often in so much pain I want to scream, can barely focus, get dizzy when I stand up, talking is hard and I’m catching my breath while sitting up. Learning how to draw while lying down is one of the best things I’ve taught myself since I’m on my sofa or in bed most of the time.

If I can draw for 30 minutes and not be able to draw at all for a week as a result I enjoy those 30 minutes even more. Choosing quality over quantity is what makes my life amazing.

Sharing my story through creativity

Before I started the Instagram hashtag #mysicklifebyellen I had already shared some things about my health and found many people dealing with the same issues. This gave me the idea of starting the hashtag and creating the highlight in my stories so people can easily find what I write. Raising awareness was never my goal, I just wanted to share my story. The good and the bad part of my sick life.

Art is the best therapy

I’ve always been creative and used my creativity to deal with whatever I was going through at that moment. One day I was sitting at home, still recovering from a treatment program I followed (read: lots of medical trauma) I wanted to draw but didn’t know what.

I looked at a photo of an uncle of mine who passed away and suddenly thought ‘Why not draw him but with tiny circles in different colors. This was the beginning of my circle art technique and also the beginning of my 365 day project. I finished a drawing every week and posted them on facebook. When the year ended I continued to draw, I found my way back to myself and knew being creative was what I wanted to focus on.

Surrounded by art supplies

Being creative is my life. I’m always surrounded with art, my pens are on my sofa right next to me. There’s a collection of paintings ready to draw next to them. The table in my dining room is taken over by brushes, paper and alcohol ink and I have a studio filled with art supplies. I enjoy learning new techniques, maybe a bit too much since this also means I don’t have the energy to finish old projects (and I have a lot of unfinished projects!)

I use my iPad to take my photos and edit them with Rookie Cam, Adobe Sketch, A Design Kit and Instagram. I’m pretty basic with my editing, I like my photos to be bright and colorful.

Being creative has given my life purpose again. I can’t work and on good days I can hardly take care of myself, I needed a goal again in life and being able to create something has brought me so much joy.

Having my own business was a dream of mine before my health got worse and I thought I had to let go of this dream. Not long after I realized I could make cards with the photos I take and sell them. And people actually buy them, which is amazing. I recently added prints as well and I’m always thinking about new designs.

My favourite creative work

This photo brings me so much joy, it's so simple and so me. The circles, the monstera leaf and pink tiles. I saw these tiles on my way to the hospital and immediately wanted to use it as a backdrop. I love how my brain makes the connection from what I see to what I can create.

‘Girl with a pearl earring’ is my fave painting! I made this one for one of the Weekend Hashtag Projects from Instagram and I’m still loving it.

Since last year I’ve been posting about racism and specifically when it comes to voluntourism (the merging of volunteering and tourism) and white saviors. It’s important for me to not only talk about racism with the people around me, both online and offline, but also use what I’ve learned to raise awareness. With sharing what I know I also got new information from the people who read my posts and continue to learn and educate myself. Making a Black Lives Matter post was the least I can do to show my support.

Through the Creatively Squared community I’ve met so many wonderful friends and I’m so thankful for this. I’ve also been able to push my creativity even further through all the challenges. Thank you so much for all of this!

Thank you Ellen for sharing your story and being so open about your journey. You are a wonderful member of the Creatively Squared community. You can follow Ellen and her colourful ways at @mycolorfulsquares on Instagram.

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