I don’t like to talk much about having systemic lupus. Illness is tedious enough living through; talking about it is boring. And if I’m well enough to write, I’d much prefer writing about something else! I’ve got some friends, though, new to dealing with serious health issues. I’ve got a couple of decades experience here, though, so when they ask me for coping mechanisms, I may have something useful to share.
Sometimes my chronic illness keeps me from writing. Or reading. Or, you know, walking. Or moving much at all. Cats and colored pencils are handy for those times when I’m achy and my brain doesn’t want to hold words. Unlike paint, they don’t wreak havoc if you lose energy unexpectedly. A colored pencil might drop and break, but it’s rare for them to damage your surroundings. A cat is likely to curl up companionably and take a nap, a furry heating pad that fends off feelings of isolation.
And for someone with memory issues, unlike writing a novel, stopping in the middle of a colored pencil piece won’t leave you scrambling to remember where you were going with it. In times when I’m physically fragile, I tend to be emotionally fragile, too. Carefully setting myself up to succeed is important. For some reason, my self-esteem is more likely to be tangled up with my writing outcome than my visual art outcome; your own sensitive areas may be different. I suspect that may be part of the reason for the surge in popularity of coloring books for adults: a creative outlet in which the ego is not so involved.
A cat and colored pencils, some kibble and a pencil sharpener handy, and those long challenging hours may turn into quiet creative time. Having a buddy and a simple occupation to engage the hand and mind can go a long way to staving off the mental funk that a chronic illness can carry with it.
And sometimes, you even end up with something you like. I don’t know that I’d have had the patience and commitment of time to make things like the above piece if I weren’t forced to stillness. Years after her passing, this colored pencil portrait of our cat summons warm memories of her, and our hours together with couch, pencil, blanket, pillow, peace.