Chronic Illness and the Determined Creative Artist
Creators who suffer from chronic illness, especially those whose illness isn’t obvious at first sight, experience the double stigma of being in a creative profession many people don’t respect and having their health issues dismissed as malingering.
The other day, I had a discussion with an artist who is very unhappy to have to carry a day job while trying to create. He suggested that artists who aren’t producing good work should chuck art, get day jobs, and not clog the racks with mediocre work. I don’t think bad art will go away if all the bad artists got day jobs: most probably already have them.
I am a big believer in the day job solution to creative life problems, but I don’t think people consider the many creators who struggle with chronic illness: lupus, chronic fatigue, Lyme Disease, Multiple Sclerosis. A stay-at-home profession is a necessity for many of these creators.
A good ten years of my career as a full time artist was made possible only because I was able to stay home and work. In the years I struggled with chronic fatigue, brain fog, and chronic migraines (and I still get the migraines, though not as often,) there is simply no way I could have held down a job at the Piggly Wiggly.
I’m sure many would be happy to have a day job when freelance times are not going so well, but some people don’t have that choice.
“Unbroken”, the new film directed by Angelina Jolie, is based on a book by journalist Laura Hillenbrand, a writer who has not been able to leave her house to work for years. Yet she wrote one of the most moving, carefully researched, and best-selling non-fiction books of the last decade. Her works have sold more than 10 million copies.
What’s startling to consider is that Hillenbrand has done this with little access to the outside world. She is cut off not only from basic tools of reporting, like going places and seeing things, but also from all the promotional machinery of modern book selling. Because of the illness, she is forced to remain as secluded from the public as the great hermetic novelists. She cannot attend literary festivals, deliver bookstore readings or give library talks and signings. Even the physical act of writing can occasionally stymie her, as the room spins and her brain swims to find words in a cognitive haze. There have been weeks and months — indeed, sometimes years — when the mere effort to lift her hands and write has been all that she can muster.
Here is a moving and informative article at “The New York Times” which I hope will be inspiring to all those of you who suffer from chronic illness.
Your art is a gift you give to yourself as well as to others.