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.

 

Different strokes for different folks: Art Therapy and IBD

Coloring books aren’t just for kids, they can be a helpful calming tool for those who battle chronic illness. The simple act of coloring intricate shapes and patterns allows us to enter a meditative mental space. IMG_1060Once you enter this state of calm amongst the stress surrounding your life, you can take in the positive messages of a coloring book.

I recently connected with an artist named Alia who created a coloring book specifically geared toward those who battle inflammatory bowel disease. It’s called “Crohn’s and Colitis: Color to Cope.” After watching her sister battle Crohn’s disease for more than 20 years, she was inspired to use her talents to make a difference.

Alia says, “Seeing how much my sister suffered, physically and emotionally with Crohn’s inspired me to create a coloring book. The psychological aspect of coming to terms with IBD is very underestimated, especially for young women. I wanted to create something to make her feel better. I noticed there was a limited number of informational books available. Adult coloring is a proven stress reliever and engages the limbic (emotional) brain. It helps you enter a ‘flow’ like state. I thought pairing inspiring/supportive quotes with images would help anyone suffering with IBD process what they are feeling.”IMG_1058

See the support in the palm of your hands

The coloring book is a visual representation of support that many of us in the IBD community yearn for. It validates and honors our experiences—no matter what age you are. Flipping through the pages, you’ll see quotes and images for times of stress, sadness and laughter. The coloring book provides an accessible way to release stress and get motivated to take on the day.

Since the coloring book launched, Alia has received amazing feedback from the IBD community. Here’s an example shared on Instagram:

“Thank you for creating this coloring book. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 17 and am now 33. After four surgeries and two ostomies, as well as a lifetime of stories that no one would truly understand unless you were in my shoes, I think this book is very therapeutic and I appreciate your empathy and support.  Thinking of you & your sister.  Much love.”

The inspiration behind the art

IMG_9039As someone with a creative mind whose passion lies in art, Alia did research within the IBD community to see what types of images might resonate, along with key messages and emotions. Safe to say, the girl did her homework!

Alia went on to explain that coloring calms the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that controls the fight or flight response. This part of the brain is often on high alert during periods of stress or illness. When we’re fatigued, and our energy is low, coloring isn’t taxing, it can take us back to our childhood. A time of life that was most likely more carefree. Whether you’re at home or in a hospital bed, the coloring book can serve as a helpful tool in your day-to-day management of your illness.

How to get your hands on a copy

The coloring book is available on Amazon in the United States, the UK and Europe. Click here to purchase “Crohn’s and Colitis: Color to Cope.” The coloring book is published under Alia’s author name: “MeMoments Creative”.

Follow Alia on Instagram: @crohns.colitis.color2cope

Along with IBD, Alia has also created coloring books geared towards infertility. Her most recent book targets mental health—depression and anxiety. She plans to create more coloring books in the future that can serve as a support tool for other patient communities as well.