I know that living with chronic un-wellness is really hard. I've been living with severe PMT and other menstruation-related conditions for many years. It's been a long journey, and I'm grateful to have come across some practices and frameworks that have offered support.
When I was studying pastoral care (spiritual care) at La Trobe University, I learned about illness narratives as described by Arthur Frank in his book, ‘The Wounded Storyteller’.
In our culture, the dominant illness narrative is the 'restitution' narrative. In this story, we are healthy, then we become unwell, we seek treatment, and we are restored to our previous state of health.
But we know that illnesses don't always follow this pattern. Sometimes we get sick, and we seek treatments, and none of the treatments restore us to health. There is no sense of control, and we become lost, overwhelmed and lose hope. There are no solutions to the problem, no ways to fix it. This is a 'chaos' narrative.
Sometimes we move between the 'restitution' and 'chaos' narratives. Something works for a while, then it doesn’t. Or suddenly another condition emerges.
And sometimes, we get sick and we seek treatment; we go to the doctor, the shaman, the healer, read self-help books and the latest research, attend workshops, and finally come to realise that this thing isn’t going to get ‘fixed’ as we hope. We need to learn to live with it.
And we also realise that the journey we’re on, triggered by the illness, has lead us to come to know ourselves better, to develop a new relationship with our body, emotions, thoughts, and soul. We weave new threads of connection in our communities, find rituals and connect with something bigger than ourselves. The illness is a spiritual journey.
This narrative is the 'quest' narrative.
The 'quest' narrative, is where we make meaning of our lived experience. The 'quest' narrative, where our illness offers us opportunities to grow and to heal – not necessarily the physical body, but into wholeness – can be supported and cultivated through skilled companioning, such as that art therapy offers.
In my own ongoing journey with PMT and Endometriosis, I've moved from 'restitution', to 'chaos', to 'quest' narratives, and sometimes back and forward between them. I've been able to dive into the experience that is presenting day to day, express difficult emotions and find meaning through personal creative arts practices including visual art, cartoons, journaling, sculpture, dancing and blogging.
Art therapy sessions with skilled practitioners have helped me to recognise when I needed additional support, like enlisting the support of an integrative GP, and to connect with inner resources to get through periods of intense negative thoughts and depression. Having a witness in the journey has been profoundly supportive.
I’ve come to learn that my illness actually supports my growth as a human being. My illness has led me to self-compassion practices, to deeply value rest, to work through trauma with a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, to anger work, and to studying to become an arts therapist, to name a few.
My illness continues to challenge me to grow. It’s taken many years, but I can actually say I’m grateful for its gifts.
If you’re living with menstrual disorder(s), and want assistance to tell your story through the creative arts and to explore your quest narrative, please get in touch.
I’d love to offer you support in your journey .
A Universe Inside Her Womb. 17/8/15
This image is part way through a creative process when I was pre-menstrual and grieving that another opportunity to birth a child had passed.
"Last Saturday I was weepy. I just couldn't get out of bed. Weepiness rolled into waves and cascades of tears. Sobbing. Thoughts of despair fed the tears and the tears fed the thoughts. At some point, still early in the day, an image arose in my being.
My universe. My womb a universe...
I fingerpainted, throwing colour across the page. Casting in the tears, that blood-full space, cradled by tender hands, encompassing arms.
She sheds the tears for me. This universe inside that will never be born."
Chelle is a practicing art therapist, researcher, and multi-modal creative. She regularly dives into the unknown to discover what is ready to be born, deepening her trust in the abundantly creative source. For Chelle, art is a means to inquire, express, and transform. If offers the capacity to soothe, making space for new perspectives and ways of being.