How Art Can Help You Cope With Chronic Pain

How Art Can Help You Cope With Chronic Pain

When I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis almost six years ago, I was literally blown away. I went from thinking I had some bug or a muscle strain or a banged up ankle, to hearing what I thought at the time was a life sentence of misery with chronic pain. For those first few years, I trudged through life from one doctor appointment to another, really just going through the motions.

Then a close friend said something that opened my eyes and shook me to my core. She said…

“…why are we fighting so hard to keep living, if we’re not going to LIVE?”

I had merely been existing in some bubble, afraid to do too much, afraid to live, afraid of making myself worse, afraid of getting sicker and experiencing even more chronic pain. I had been spending my days resting and napping and taking life easy. Seemingly all very wise in this chronic pain life, but that shouldn’t be ALL life holds for us.

I started out slowly, of course. How would I find what I was capable of? Another friend suggested I instead decide what I WANTED to do and just try. Maybe it would work out, maybe it wouldn’t, but I’d never know unless I went for it.

So I picked up a cross-stitch kit at the store one day. I had done it as a kid and thought it would be fun to try again. Before I knew it, I was sketching out my own designs! I made gifts for friends and found myself spending entire days surrounded by multiple colors of thread, graph paper, and embroidery hoops. I lost myself in those designs, pushing all thoughts of sickness, illness, and chronic pain to the farthest corners of my mind.

Tia Art Chronic Pain

Then the first two fingers on my right hand started twisting. It started slowly, but within a few months it had become more and more difficult to grasp a needle. Eventually I set aside my projects, packing away all those pretty threads and ideas. I gave up and gave in to a life of chronic pain once more.

I could feel myself slipping back in to depression, my days returned to lying on the couch watching the world pass by.

I knew I couldn’t keep on that path. I had seen a glimmer of life and desperately craved those days I had been able to set the pain aside. I reached out to a new therapist, one who had experience with chronic pain patients. One of the first things she recommended was to get back to creating. And with her help, I have.

These days you can find me making scrapbooks, painting, coloring and sketching, exploring photography with my smartphone, and on days my hands are really cooperative, I still stitch. The key has been to have a few different outlets so I can always find something that works, no matter how I’m feeling.

Chronic life is always going to have ups and downs. There will always be some level of chronic pain or discomfort; there will always be ebbs and flows. We chronic patients must learn how to thrive on the good days, the bad days, and all the days in between.

“We might not have control over our illness(es), but we do have control over how we respond, how we act, how we live this chronic pain life.”

For me, creating gives me a place to focus my mental energy on something other than how I feel physically. Maybe it’s my own form of meditation, but for the minutes or hours I spend surrounded by paper and thread and beautiful colors, I don’t feel quite so bad. Sure, the pain is still there, but it’s pushed to the back burner, drowned out by the sea of pretty things and dreams of future projects.

Maybe you pick up some crayons and color like you’re a kid again or brush the dust off your sewing machine and stitch an awesome cover for your heating pad. Whether it’s paints or pencils, wield your weapons and shove that chronic pain back to the trenches. We might not have control over our illness(es), but we do have control over how we respond, how we act, how we live this chronic life.

Because, after all, “why are we fighting so hard to keep living, if we’re not going to LIVE?”

Oh, and on those really yucky days where resting is all I can manage? You can find me on Pinterest, scrolling for new ideas to try as soon as the flare passes. I hope to see your creations online in the community!

Written by #CureArthritis Contributor Tia Borkowski

Tia Borkowski
Article Author
Tia Borkowski

Tia Borkowski is an RA warrior and Cure Arthritis Crew Member who spends her days writing, crafting, and advocating for awareness and better treatment for autoimmune disorders. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her Lhasa Apso Toddy and her rockstar musician husband, where she dreams of owning a patch of land, a small cabin, and a view of her beloved Pacific Ocean. She writes at and sells her crafts in her Etsy store: Repurposeful Memories.

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    Laura B
    Posted at 11:59h, 08 September Reply

    As a crafter with JA, I thank you! Crafting is how I distract my mind from my troubles. Sometimes those troubles are related to my JA, sometimes they’re not. Regardless, it gives me a way to focus on something else and produce something that brings joy.

    • Tia
      Posted at 16:08h, 08 September Reply

      Laura, I’m so glad you liked my story! Thank you for your kind comment 🙂 What kind of crafts do you like best? For me, I think paper crafts are my favorite. There are just so many possibilities!
      Best wishes to you, hope today is full of light for you!

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    Posted at 07:22h, 14 September Reply

    Awesome story! You just inspired me to try other crafts besides my loom bracelets and drawing. Thank you!

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