Art and Health ~ What Is Your Connection?

Brad Health Guide
  • November marks the first annual Arts and Health Month, promoted as a time “for organizations and individuals worldwide to promote the integration of the arts—including literary, performing, and visual arts and design—into a wide variety of healthcare and community settings for therapeutic, educational, and expressive purposes.” 
    From all I have read, this was a huge success, with primary funding coming from Johnson and Johnson. From dance classes for the elderly in nursing homes to Art classes for children in hospitals, this has been a great way to bring the arts to those who may not, due to environmental or financial factors, be able to enjoy them. While I salute this and thoroughly enjoyed reading about the results at the term Arts and Health Month means more to me than what it was intended to.
    2013 has been a particularly rough medical year for many of us. I have kept in touch with several support groups through out the year, and the theme seems to be the same where ever I may look. Many of us have had a hard time with Flares, a new auto immune diagnosis to deal with or side effects that can derail you for weeks or months. I know many of you on this site have dealt with life changing issues this year, and many have spent time in the hospital, nursing home or even home health care. I have had a tough year as well. Five trips to ICU wards in different hospitals for a total of three months in the hospital, capped by a few weeks in a nursing home to recover some strength.
    So why does this have anything to do with Arts and Health Month? Well, I for one have had to fight depression for most of the year. All the time spent in bed, switching meds back and forth, skirting death on several occasions, soon the things that keep you going, that make the days slip by, that let you escape from the day to day drudgery of RA just don’t mean much to you anymore. You don’t care about those things that meant so very much to you before you were slapped down with the RA reality stick. For me, a lot of those things that mean so much to me are art related. I enjoy woodworking, acrylic painting and pretty much any type of crafts. After my health crisis during the first six months of this year, I was in desperate need of something to pull me out of the funk I was in.
    I tried my woodshop, the old trusted standby. It has been with me for 20+ years and always been my go to island of sanity whether I was working or since I have been on disability. This time it just didn’t work though. I ended up moving tools around, rearranging peg boards, making plans for things that I never started or really had any intention of starting. I was in a funk to say the least. Seemed like the days just flew by and I was wasting one after another, with no way of stopping or even slowing the spiral I was in.
    So what finally helped? Brought me around and got my attention again? Gave me something to look forward to and slowed my days down to the point I was enjoying them again? Simple, I picked up my paint brush again. I am not saying that would help everyone, but it sure was a shock to the system for me. I am sure that everyone has that ONE thing that would pull them out of a funk, maybe it's art related, maybe not. But it IS out there.
    I am not sure that the paint brush itself was the magic wand that helped me. I think WHERE the paint brush takes me is truly what helped. For several years I have been taking painting classes at a local hobby and craft store. I thought I would attend a few classes to knock the rust off my painting skills, I had not painted in 30 years, not since high school, and now wanted to be able to paint the landscaping behind my model rail road. The teacher did help me with the things I asked about, but I found out over the course of the next few weeks that the reason I was enjoying it so much was the class didn’t treat me as anything but another person attending the class. No one asked about my wheelchair, why my hands shake, why I need to use rubber bands to hold the paint brush at times. They just treated me as Brad, another person that came every week and was soon accepted as a member of the class that comes every week! I had a whole new set of friends!

    Early this year, our teacher moved away. We, as a class, tried a new teacher but it just was not the same. We were close to disbanding when the manager of the store offered us use of the classroom, once a week for a mere $5! No teacher is involved, but we teach each other as best we can. To us the important part, and the part that pulled me out of the funk, was just being together as a group and enjoying each others company. It was just the medicine I needed, no doctor could prescribe it, or even suggest it. It is one of those things that clicks in your head, makes you feel like you are not all alone and there are people in the world that care what you are going through.
    So, Art and Health Month certainly was a timely celebration for me this year. The ART in the group and in my paint brush brought my HEALTH back to me, both physically by giving me somewhere to be, and emotionally by giving me a place to feel wanted. I know this was not the exact idea behind the Johnson and Johnson brainstorm. But I am thankful for it!
    Here is hoping you had a great Thanksgiving, and will enjoy a Very Merry Christmas. If you are in a funk, like I was, just not feeling like yourself, not feeling needed, I hope you can look for your paintbrush, your group of friends, a place where you can center yourself again and move on! Don’t let RA keep you from enjoying the Holidays, or anything else for that matter. Find a group to join, a hobby to take up, or just a place to be! It is out there, waiting for you!
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Published On: December 02, 2013