How art helps Kate take on her Crohn’s: Tips for unleashing your inner IBD artist

When 32-year-old Kate Schwarting of New York was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in June 2009 she was less than surprised. The symptoms that had insidiously weaved their way into her life had finally reached a point where their impact on her daily life was undeniable. A colonoscopy confirmed it. headshot_schwartingAt the time she was diagnosed, Kate was immersed in her undergraduate studies that were divided between Geoscience and Studio Art and took on the role of caregiver for her mother. This week Kate shares how art has benefited her patient journey and offers up helpful ways you can incorporate art into your life, even if all you can draw are stick figures (like me!):

While in college, I was focused on understanding my passion for science and art. I was passionate about discovering the possibility for art to express the unseen, and build an emotional bridge for relating to complex scientific problems. But all of this was set against a backdrop of Crohn’s flares, fistulas, strictures, hospitalizations (for both myself and my mother), and doctor appointments.

These constant disruptions often left me feeling like I was struggling to move towards my goals, preserving my identity when it’s so easy for illness to be all consuming, and caused me to frequently reflect and reevaluate my relationship with the art and science that I studied.

How Crohn’s brought me closer to understanding the benefits of art

As a student involved with the arts, it was common for me to have a few spare art materials. Over the course of 10 years of dealing with Crohn’s, I had several flares that resulted in extended hospitalizations, periods where I was at home recovering, or as a caregiver for a parent that made me aware of how important it was to have spare materials with me.

Being sick and in the hospital, or even stuck at home away from your daily routine, is stressful and isolating at best. Having these tools allowed me to cope, escape, and create meaning. It gave me a sense of accomplishing something positive and tangible in a setting where a significant amount of time is spent anxiously waiting for results, procedures and to feel better. IMG_5852

Not only have I noticed how much it helps me to have this diversion, I have also noticed the impact it has on those around me. In situations that are emotionally heavy with the burden of illness, a brief conversation with another patient, nurse or doctor about art seems to uplift everyone’s mood and passing along this joy had an exponentially good effect on my own outlook.

How a flare inspired meaningful artwork 

During a flare in 2016 I began to investigate how to create meaningful artwork relating to both the microbiology and to my experiences with my own body. I was drawn to the microbiome. Trillions of bacteria exist in everyone through a symbiotic relationship in the digestive system. detail1 - Kate SchwartingThe microbiome is a hot spring of unanswered questions in relation to its role in IBD, as well as many other conditions. Applying the methods I have used in other projects, I researched the different types of bacteria and their shapes and used them to create a series of abstract drawings that relate to the digestive system and allow people to develop a sense of the complexity of the human body.

5 tips for incorporating art into your life

Create a pack of art supplies. Get a small sketch book, a pouch including a woodless pencil, travel sized watercolor palette and brush, assorted pens, and a ruler. Add to this whatever materials you prefer. 

Start simple. Use mindfulness to find inspiration around you, whether it’s a color, a pattern, or texture

Be mindful of self criticism! As put best by Bob Ross, Let happy accidents happen!

Experiment! Art at its core relies on the very basic act of creating and requires no prior artistic training to get started. It is a place to abandon judgement and focus on an exclusively human experience.

Share! I found it helped hold me to my goal of setting aside time to relax and create art by making an art related post once a day or every other day depending on how I felt to Instagram and also helped me find a supportive community during times where I was feeling the most isolated. I’d love to see what you create! Feel free to use the hashtag #chronicallycreative when sharing your work!

You can follow Kate on Instagram and Twitter at: @microbioscapes.


What’s hope got to do with IBD? Everything!

It’s the season of gratitude, which can often be difficult to come to grips with when you’re dealing with a chronic illness like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. But, hope—hope is a vital part of each of our patient journeys. Hope for brighter days. Hope for feeling symptom-free. Hope for a year without a hospital visit. Hope for figuring out a way to manage our disease. Hope for a cure one day. The list goes on. This week—a guest post from a resilient mom whose son, Jake, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2014, at the age of six. image0 Sharon Pevsner of California shares how reflection, renewal, and readjustment helps her take on the unpredictability and the challenges IBD brings to her family. I’ll let her take it away…

In 2014, my 6-year-old son, Jake, had just started kindergarten and joined his 9-year-old sister at the same school. To say he was excited would be an understatement. He took to kindergarten like a fish to water. He loved school; his friends, recess and more recess. This Mom finally had one drop off and several uninterrupted hours alone!

Several months into the new school year, Jake’s teacher found him doubled over on the playground. We didn’t make much of it at home until the day I noticed blood in the toilet. The blood set off alarm bells and a run to the pediatrician whom in turn sent us to the GI. He was confident that it was a case of internal hemorrhoids and Jake would be fine after a colonoscopy. After the procedure, the doctor came out and nonchalantly said “it’s not hemorrhoids, I think he has ulcerative colitis.” I had never heard of that before and was stunned. What exactly is that? What does this mean? A quick search of Google and my head was imploding. I had more questions than answers and my heart raced. The doctor was convinced that a course of sulfazaline would put him into remission and never mentioned diet, complications or anything else. Life went on for six months like usual. Until Jake started to bleed again.

Six years later

Since diagnosis, Jake has been hospitalized six times for a total of 60-plus days. As his mom, I have learned so much about IBD, diet, medications, extra manifestations of IBD, persistence, patience, gut feeling, anger, despair, love, faith and most of all, hope. image1 (12)

We have come a long way in six years. I clearly recall one day when my son was so ill and we were in the ER of our local Children’s Hospital. He was doubled over in pain and the doctors didn’t have a diagnosis for what was wrong. Jake looked me square in the eyes and said, “Mom, don’t you know I’m just trying to stay alive.” He was eight-years-old. I felt the wind leave me and held onto everything I had. The diagnosis? C.diff.  Another piece of the IBD puzzle I knew nothing about. That hospital stay left me emotionally broken.

How do you hold onto hope when everything feels like it’s falling apart?

When I look back on our journey, several things come to mind. For me, hope and faith have gone hand in hand. I believe there are better days coming and that there is a cure on the horizon. Like faith, I believe hope comes in a variety of ways. Just as the sun rises each day, I take that as a moment to work my three R’s: reflect, renew and readjust.

Reflection: I need to see how far we have come. Each day that my son makes it to school, is a small victory. Slept through the night? Another victory. There was a period of months that our lives were thrown upside down. My son started suffering seizures two years after his IBD diagnosis. While we are not in remission today, we are far from those frenzied ER days and even if we were to encounter that again, the knowledge we have gained will keep us steady as we navigate rough waters.

Renew: You must take care of yourself in whatever means possible. This journey doesn’t just affect the sick child, it effects the entire family unit. image0 (1)Therapy, exercise, massage, friends, a night away. The reason airlines tell you to put on your own air mask before helping your child is because if you aren’t stable, your child won’t be either. I have bad days. Labs that are horrible can throw me into despair. I go back to faith. In Hebrews 11.1 “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I allow myself a day to be sad and angry and then I rise again. My son is a warrior and I will be too.

Readjust: I have joined countless Facebook groups on IBD, epilepsy, diet and other therapies. I need to make sure that what I get out of the group meets or exceeds my expectations. Early in our journey I was in a group that gave me anxiety every time I read a new post. I realized that that particular group wasn’t for me and I exited it and found others that fit our philosophies and experiences. I have had to adjust my expectations of friends (they mean well, don’t they?) and even have had to take a step back from some friendships that don’t nurture me. My goal is to get my son into remission and give him as normal a childhood as possible. Celebrating the “moments’ that happen in a day rather than waiting for the perfect day or the perfect lab report. Adjusting your attitude to celebrate individual moments brings everything into perspective.

IBD is a marathon, not a sprint hopephoto

Hope arises in new advances that are being researched every day in the cure and treatment of IBD. Hope is in the latest clinical trial that posted that includes children. Hope is watching my son with a fecal calprotectin of 2700 hit the ball to the outfield for a double.

Hope is in the simple things. As long as I have hope, I have the ability to change tomorrow for my son and for myself. We all do. You are not alone in this journey. I wish each and every IBD family peace, love, faith, and hope on their journeys.