Creativity and Chronic pain

Its a dreary day out there, drizzling rain, though really mild for the middle of Febuary. It seems to be taking me forever to get my first post  of 2017 written!
Looking back over the last twelve months I am  heartened by all I managed to achieve.  Doing the Pain management program,  which was run by Chronic pain Ireland,  certainly helped me.  For me, meeting people, having goals and a structure to my day, make such a  difference to the quality of my life.  Honestly,  living with chronic pain is always challenging , but sometimes its worth taking a chance and stepping outside  of your comfort zone.  

Unexpectedly, towards the end of 2016,  I got the oppertunity to participate in a very interesting course…..

A creative oppertunity


‘Creativity and Wellness’,  is an Art therepy course  based at the  Rua Red Arts Centre in Tallagh. It is run over ten weeks by  the Creative centre for Arts and  Health, which is based at Tallaght Hospital, and available to people who have chronic pain. I was very excited to get a place as I had heard a lot of positive things about it.  Aimee O ‘Neill is the  Art therapist, whom I found to be  an excellent teacher.

Art therapy by definition is a form of psychotherapy that combines visual art-making and psychotherapy to promote self-exploration and understanding (Canadian Art Therapy Association, 2008).. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy / Vol. 45 No. 2 © 2011 Pages 112–131

Once again I found myself heading over to Tallagh. Its a least five years ago since  I did a  writing course there,  at the local library. At the Rua Red centre we all met up for a coffey and a chat first. I was a little nervous but also looking forward to starting something new. The two hours flew by. To be honest  my over riding memory of that  first day, was of been so shattered, I  could barely walk to the car!

It got easier…..

The course was  very well structured, with different ‘themed’ projects each week. Most weeks Aimee would start the class with a meditation.  This was a  grounding excercise helping us  to get in touch with different sensations in the body along with emotions we were feeling.  Arising from this, we were then given time to create a piece of art.  There were no rules, no judgements.  At the end of the seission we shared our work with each other, and Aimee gave us feedback. It never ceased to amaze me how honest and beautiful everyones work was, and indeed how revealing they were. Initially I did find it hard, as I’m very self critical and find it difficult to relax both physically and mentally.

I feel I am always trying to excavate something, trying to get to the’heart’ of the matter…….extract from my Journal

Gradually over time  I got used to the process ,  and that  critical voice in my head took  more of a back seat! It was good to focus on what was positive and working in my life also, as it is all too easy to get overwhelmed by pain and negativity.

The last class came around all to quick.

There were many days that stood out, in particular the week we did the ‘body map’. This involved  standing against a  large sheet of white paper while  someone  else drew  an outline of your body! That in itself had its  humourous moments! We then drew a second figure or figures  which represenedt our supports  in life. The sheer physicality of this project was challenging but also absorbing and exciting. Thankfully it was spread over two weeks. Everyones approach was different, adding  words and symbols to tell there own stories.  I included  lines from a Leonard Cohen song – Dance me to the End of Love….

“dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in”

Two sides of pain


...More specifically, the process involved in art therapy also “helps people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behaviour, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight” :Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Vol. 45 No. 2 © 2011 Pages 112–131

I came across an interesting book that covers this topic, Mindfullness,  and the Art Therapies, (Rappaport, 2013 )

I always looked forward to Monday afternoons, meeting everyone,  and wondering what  Aimee would have in store for us! It  re-opened my eyes to the richness of the creative process and its power to heal. Thanks to Chronic pain Ireland for giving me the chance to attend this course and I hope it  continues into the future.



A goal realised

Sligo town

It must have been at least  four years ago, when I sat with my physiotherapist  and discussed my goals for the future. They were short, medium and long-term goals. This sticks out in my memory as I signed it, and promised  him I would do all I could to achieve these goals. 

On Friday the first of July I realised one of my long term goals, which was to travel by train to visit my sister in Sligo. From a previous post you would have seen that I went to wexford last year. So I had began to move out of my comfort zone.  My sister Mary moved  to Sligo sixteen  years ago, but since my second back surgery in 2005, I have not been to visit.


Party time….

As soon as my sister said she was having a party to celebrate her sixith  birthday, and that she would love if I could make it, I made up my mind that I was going.  That was the easy part!

Mary put  a lot of time and effort into planning her birthday.  All the family were invited. Its not often that we all can get together, so everyone was looking foward to it, especially me. We all booked into the same hotel and thankfully, for me it was right beside the  train station.

As it got closer to the date I was getting excited and nervous in equal measure.

At last the day arrived, no more waiting.  I was ready to go. A good friend  of mine  brought myself and my friend Colette to the station. He had literally said goodbye when I realised that something felt wrong.  I was getting a  migraine , which considering my stress levels, was not at all suprising.   Over the following few hours I  was totally zonked. Luckily I had Colette with me, otherewise I dont know how I would have managed.


Arriving at the station I almost had to pince myself. Eleven years seemed to melt away.

Later that evening  I met up with  Frances, whom I  got to know through  Chronic Pain Ireland.  Frances and her husband Tom live in Sligo so it was a great oppertunity to meet  them both.  We had a lovely chat and a few laughs.

Waking up  the following morning I felt so strange and  happy to have made it to Sligo.  Over  breakfast  plans were made for the day. Some of the family called to to my sisters to  help with the finsihing touches for the party.

As for me, well I rested a lot!

As soon as the taxi pulled up outside my sister’s house, I realised how significant this trip really was. Mary was standing at the door waiting.  We hugged each other, and shed a few tears. It was an emotional moment for us both.

still life

The place  looked amazing.  Loads of  her work collegues were there along with  her pals from Dublin. It was a really great night. Everyone was in great form, especially my sister.

I took my leave around eleven. How did I get so sensible! Back in the hotel room I felt contented, if not a little sad, to have had to leave early.

The following day we returned to the scene of the crime! I decided to travel back by car with my brother and sister-in-law.   When it came to leaving a few more tears were shed,  but they were happy tears . Truthfully it took me quite a few days to recover from the tiredness, but it was worth  it. Once again I want to say thanks to my friend Colette who travelled down on the train with me. She was going on to Mayo after the party. Thats a whole other story!

I had put off doing that trip for so long, because I believed I would not be able for it. I had listened, and believed my internal, fearful voice. Maybe  on this occaission, there was a confluence of events that made it possible.  In recent times I have been actively trying to regain  control of my life.  With chronic pain there will always be set backs, but there is nothing more empowering then realising one of your goals. For me it has given me a little bit more confidence and belief in  myself, and  in my own resilience.

I am  planning to  visit Mary again next year!

Beautiful Sligo

In my nature

Invitation 2016

In my nature:

Is an exhibition of paintings and ceramics at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin,  running until Sunday the 29th of May.

There are seven artists taking part. Ceramics: Sinead Glynn, Niamh Synnott, Cathy Burke and Niam Harte. Visual art: Declan Greany Dedge, Colette Edwards and Berni Shine.

views at Exhibition3

views of Exhibition2

views of Exhibition - Copy
Photographs Declan Greany Dedge

The gallery space in the visitors centre complements the work, as you can see from the above photographs.

The invitation  to be part of this show  came  completely out of the blue. Initially I was very reluctant, coming up with lots of excuses. It  was short notice. How would I manage? Will it cause a flare up of pain? Am I good enough?

Eventually with lots of encouragement  from friends and family and a  desire to  be part of a creative project,  I made the commitment to take part. There were  days when  I really struggled, from tiredness and with my old nemisis, lack of confidence.  In time, I  actually began to look foward to setting up my work each morning.

I had to be disiplined, making sure  not to  spend more than two hours  a day painting, but truthfully that was hard to do, and at times I overdid it! Haveing a goal and a deadline is very motivational!

There is no doubt that creativity is a lifeline for me , and I am  so grateful for it.

Nature’s Oratory


I’ll admit I was nervous arriving at the exhibition  on the night of  the opening, seeing my work for the  first time in situ.  It  was a surreal moment. The sun beamed through the windows, casting a  beautiful light. I met some of the other artists for the first time. There work is very professional and beautiful.  It was  particularly  lovely for me to be exhibiting alongside my good friend Colette, something we had always wanted to do.

Me with my pal Colette
Me with my pal Colette

colette paintings

There were old friends and work  collegues there, some of whom  I haven’t  seen  for a long time.  Even though  I was shattered at the end of the evening, I have no regrets and am glad I made the effort.

I’d like  to thank the rest of the group , who did all the preparation and setting up.

Finally I would  encourage everyone who can,  to visit  the National Botanic Gardens, and of course while your there take a look at this very special Exhibition. (well I would say that!)

  And suddenly you know its time to start something new

and trust the magic of beginings

                                                                            Meister Eckhart.

Stronger than Yesterday

Stronger than yesterdayliving your life beyond adversity…..

is  Author Cathy McCarthy’s latest book, which was  launched on Tuesday the first of March in Dublin. Her first book Not the year you had planned… her story about been diagnosed with  breast cancer, but is much more besides.  Its full of practical and supportive information for anyone going through and recovering from cancer. 

The proceeds from Stronger than yesterday  will go to two charities..the Waterford High Hopes Choir and the Jack Kavanagh foundation. 

Stronger Than Yesterday-AI

I remember clearly the day I got an email from Cathy…it was one of those days when I was feeling ‘flat’ and needed motivation. Cathy had got my name from Hilary Moss, Director of  the National Centre for Arts  and  Health , (AMNCH) based at Tallagh hospital. I met Hilary when I did a creative writing course in 2011, one of the outreach programs they run.

Cathy McCarthy

Cathy was now embarking on her second book ,  giving a voice to  people who were dealing with or been through traumatic events in their lives.  After meeting Cathy I felt no hesitation, if not a little trepidation, about writing my story  for her book, about living with chronic pain. There are nine other stories, all dealing with life changing events, including cancer, and MS.

Cathy with the Waterford High Hopes Choir

The book is a veritable treasure trove of helpful and inspiring stories.There are chapters about creativity, exercise, gratitude, compassion  and much  much more.You will just have to buy the book to find out ! There are also lovely quotations and poems dotted throughout.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can” Arthur Ashe

What has happened to you doesn’t define you,the truth of who you are  is discovered anew with every breath”. Mary Nurrrie Stearns

The Launch turned out to be a  lovely evening and to be honest,  it was not until lunch time of that day  that I made up my mind to go. I had been ill with a chest infection for weeks, but something shifted in my mind, and I knew I would go, no matter what. It was a very  up lifting  evening, and I felt proud that I had made some small contribution to this  honest, heartfelt book.

The   Waterford High Hopes Choir provided great entertainment and were joined by David Brophy, conductor, musician, and the man who   was responsible for setting it up.  There is an RTE  series telling the story of how it came into existence.

Jack Kavanagh was also there and said a few words, which were both a mixture of humor and honesty. He is  a young guy who has gone through a very real life changing event.

I am so thankful to my friends and family who came along and  supported me and a  special thanks to Anita for  all her help with editing my story.

In conclusion I would like to include a few lines from Cathy’s moving  speech on the night and to thank her  for writing her book which I know will provide support to so  many people .

“Find what you want to do with your life, ask yourself what makes you come alive, then go and do it. We all have our special place in the world, use your unique gifts, shine your light Dare to be all you can be. Do more of what makes you happy. Life is found in the dance between your greatest fears and your unlived dreams.” Cathy McCarthy


Wherever you go there you are

“A full life is painted with broad brush strokes. Many parts can lead to understanding and wisdom. Each of us has different needs to address and things worth pursuing over a lifetime. Each of us has to chart our own course, and it has to fit what we are ready for.” John Kabat-Zinn

I love the above quotation  taken from  John Kabat-Zinn’s  book, Wherever you go there  you are.  Reading it provides a  perfect antidote to the cauldron that built  up over Christmas. I try my best to keep a lid on things,but invariably I get ridiculously stressed.  This year seemed really challenging which was in part due to an increase in migraines, which were probably caused by increased stress! Its a difficult time of the year when expectations are high. Maybe next year………….

Despite all that it was really lovely to have a few days with family, as its the one time in he year we all get together, and long may it continue.

Now its a new year……

winter sky


Historically   for me, and many others,  January  is not an easy   month.  It  can be bleak and cold and I find my self dreading it.

So far this year I feel like moving out of my comfort zone…..easier said than done.  Its important for me  to have some goals and plans no matter how small.  One thing that helps  with  all of this  is meditation, for others it could be something else. It takes time and patience  to find what works for you, but its worth it if it helps to alleviate some of the challenges of living with Chronic pain.

” Meditaion means learning how to get out of the current, sit by its bank and listen to it, learn from it and than use its lessons to guide us rather than to tyrannize us” JKZ

One of my plans  for the start of the  year is   to design and print my cards, thus easing the stress that comes later in the year in preparation for Christmas, there I go mentioning the C word already! Even though it might seem  an obvious thing to do , for me finding the energy and motivation can at times  be  difficult.   I don’t  think I could do this without the  support and knowledge I’ve gained from pain management programs I have done  over the years, including the Self Management Program, run by Chronic pain Ireland,   which I have just completed.

card johnny arthurbelldrawing


We had our first follow up meeting  of  the program a week ago. Phil Zizer gave us a very interesting talk on managing chronic pain, with emphasis on relationships and pacing.  Phil,who is a tutor with the Scottish Pain Association,  is a regular contributor to Chronic pain Ireland, giving self management talks around the country.  Pacing is a very individual thing – no one size fits all.  According to Phil it is more “Art than Science”.

I like the analogy he uses of a ‘fuel tank’ and how it is important to keep it topped up, to  always have something in reserve. There are  ‘filers’ and ‘drainers’ of the fuel tank. Drainers  include things like worry, tiredness, stress, isolation and anger. Filers can include, meditation, company, fresh air, and rest. I’ve no doubt Phil explained it better but I hope you get the point!

I’d  also like to mention a  particularly interesting talk from  a women representing  the National Learning Network.  Its a great organisation with amazing courses  and  facilities. I really recommend checking out their  website. It may not be possible for me to do any of their full time courses but there are many other options which I intend to check out.

National Learning Network provides a range of flexible training programmes and support services for people who need specialist support (job seekers, unemployed, people with an illness or disability) in 50 centres around the country. The SOLAS & HSE training programmes, all of which include work experience, offer nationally recognised qualifications including QQI, ECDL, and City and Guilds ensuring that students are ready to get a job or go on to further education.


Finally I would like to mention another useful website Princess in the tower. See what you think.




Starting something new

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower” Albert Camus


Autumn leaves
The colours of Autumn


I like  this time of the year, the  fresh crisp mornings, changing light and those beautiful rich  Autumnal colours ….

When I was younger  Autumn signaled the start of evening courses and I would look forward to checking out what was on offer. I was enthusiastic in those days and tried out a myriad of classes  from car maintenance ( though I didn’t even have a car!) to spanish  to  computer programming. Later as a mature student I went to Art college to study Fine Art, which sadly was cut short by  my ongoing problems with chronic pain.

This Autumn I am  back doing a course –  in  Pain management run by Chronic pain Ireland , which is   on Saturday mornings for nine weeks.  I am apprehensive about it, but  am also ready give it my best shot . Getting  to and from the venue  will be an achievement in itself.

After our first session I  was truly exhausted but  happy to have done it. There was a great sense of solidarity   between us all , knowing we all have so much in common.  I am looking forward to hearing how others cope and also sharing my own story.

I came away  with ideas and plans to put in place.   Setting goals is one important aspect of pain management.  It takes time to organize yourself and your thoughts around doing this.

The acronym SMART is used as a criteria for  setting goals and stands for:

S = specific activity (something active and enjoyable)

M = measureable (how far you or how long or how often you have done the activity)

A = achievable (can do it everyday at chosen time)

R = realistic (possible to do in time and place where you are)

T = time bound (set time for length of activity to reduce unhelpful overdoing or underdoing the activity)

One of my goals  for this week is to work on this blog, and hopefully have a new post  by the end of the week.  I enjoy doing it, and once I make sure to plan how long I will be on the computer and not over-do it I think it is a realistic goal.  Of course I often find myself getting absorbed  and forget about the time!

Goals can be short term, medium term and long term.  For example a medium term goal I have is to go to the local pool once a week and a  long term goals is to go away for a holiday, and I mean a  real holiday, one that entails  getting on a plane! I will achieve this goal, no matter how long it takes me!

'Arthur Bell' flowering outside my window
‘Arthur Bell’ flowering outside my window


Coincidentally  our Pain management program started on the same day as  the  international day against pain. The campaign was called “100 cities against pain” The project was initiated by the ISAL foundation in 2009, and  aims at establishing a strong assistance network for pain sufferers. As part of the campaign people with chronic pain  worldwide were asked to post selfies supporting the cause. Check out #zeropain15


Support for chronic pain

It looks like I will get this finished before next weeks class. Well done Berni.



Pace Yourself

“Remember, pacing is taking a break before you need it. That’s the key to maintaining mindfulness & interrupting the over activity/under activity cycle.” “The Art of Mindfulness: Mindfulness of Daily Life”, Vidyamala Burch

A week ago I got an offer of a weeks respite in a  nearby nursing home.  I was more than happy to avail of this as I have been both mentally and physically drained for quite a while, which is one of the reasons I have not been posting.

I know the change of scenery will be good for me.


Last time  I said I would write about pacing. Writing this blog for instance – it is  so easy to get absorbed and forget about  time. Wen that happens  my muscles go into spasm making the pain worse, which in turn leads to resting more, which in turn causes more pain. Honestly  it takes discipline , but is worth it and  there is lots of  evidence that suggests that  time based  pacing helps when it comes to managing chronic pain. So now I set the timer on my phone.  Time based means literally that, working out the amount of time you can stay doing something e.g  –  writing, walking , before the pain gets worse or as Vidyamala  Burch says  to remember  to stop before you need to.

I found  that I had more energy in the  mornings and  tended to overdo things,  now I divide  activities over the whole  day. Its not an exact science but its good to have   definite goals for  each day. I feel a sense of achievement at the end of a day that I get a few things done.

Another  thing that is helping me  which I know I have already mentioned is meditation. I am  really  interested in how it can release tension and  can have a positive impact on pain and stress. There is an app which I like – Insight timer.  This app has all its meditations timed so once set, you have no need  to worry about switching off your device. I also listen to Vidyamala Burch  and John Kabet-Zinn .  I find doing a body scan and listening to  hypnosis tapes  regularly, helps me to deal with the ongoing pain.

Have a look at this  PDF on pacing .

Pacing is an active self-management strategy whereby individuals develop self-efficacy through learning to balance time spent on activity and rest for the purpose of achieving increased function. Pacing: A concept analysis of a chronic pain intervention:Pain Research & Management. 2013 Jul-Aug; 18(4): 207–213.

I am  now midway through my week. It has been a lovely break. Unfortunately I didn’t heed my own advice and overdid it on a few occasions .  Then I found myself in the over active/under active cycle. It is so frustrating and the increased pain has been a real  set back.  Still I did  get to experience been outside in a beautiful garden, breathing in the fresh air.

Once again  it brought into sharp  focus the realities of living with chronic pain and how important it is to manage it well.


Taking a chance

Last week myself and my  good friend Colette  took the train to the south east for a  few days break in a hotel in wexford. This may not seem unusual , but for me it really was. It is  over ten years since I’ve traveled on a train and to be honest, as the years have gone by it seemed less likely that I ever would.


Chronic pain and travelling are not good bedfellows. I have Nuropathic pain (nerve pain) which is aggravated by any kind of movement. The idea of sitting on a train for over two hours was daunting.  I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I really  wanted to have a  proper break, a real holiday,  the first in a very long time.

Without the patience and encouragement of Colette I’d never of done it . The train  journey was better than I expected.  Although I did have a nerve racking trip to the loo, which had a faulty lock. It felt like an outer body experience as I tried to negotiate my way there and back. The sound of a female voice over the intercom repeatedly  advising me to “please close the door for my own privacy” only added to the  madness!   I brought my rollator with me, a whole new experience, but without it I’d never have managed. I haven’t got it that long so it took a bit of getting used to.

We were away for three nights. It was a lovely hotel with friendly helpful staff. On the second day  I met up with an old friend whom I haven’t seen for ages. He joined us for lunch at a lovely little place close to the hotel. It was a glorious day and we were able to sit outside in the sunny courtyard. I almost had to pinch myself………

dining en plein air!
dining en plein air!

When the pain  got too much I retreated to my room, closed the curtains, did my meditation, rested and by the following morning would feel  better.  I  always enjoyed breakfast as  my energy was better and who could resist all that lovely food!

View from the station by Colette
View from the station by Colette

Before we knew it  we were on our return trip. I found it a bit  more painful, but managed to relax and enjoy the countryside whizzing by.

Since I’ve been back I have had a  flare up of pain .  Its hardly surprising as I pushed myself well outside my comfort zone.  Pacing is very important in the management of chronic pain.  More about that in another post.

I took the chance, faced my  fears and have no regrets


Time for a little healing

“The intimacy that arises in listening and speaking truth is only possible if we can open to the vulnerability of our own hearts. Breathing in, contacting the life that is right here, is our first step. Once we have held ourselves with kindness, we can touch others in a vital and healing way.”
Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart



A friend introduced me to Tara Brach recently. I  listened to one of her utube videos and found her voice and her words very soothing. There are times when nothing helps with pain and at those times people like John Kabat-Zinn , Thich Nhat Hanh,  Pema Chodron and others are  the only source of respite.  Sometimes I find it difficult to get into the right frame of mind to meditate, but when I  eventually do , then I  feel better and even the pain eases somewhat.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with pain. I spent so many years trying different treatments and procedures none of them take  away the pain. Today I accept that, but still struggle with the ongoing issues, both mental and physical. Thankfully I have found through other people with chronic pain and the internet, that there are many resources out there.

Finding support for chronic pain both  nationally and locally is another story, one for another day!


Looking for meaning

My Mothers Vase
My Mothers Vase


Looking for   the title of a poem my sister wrote about my Mum the year before she died(my Mum that is).   I came across it recently when I was doing some sorting. The poem refers to a little poetry  book my sister gave to my Mum in which she had “marked significant pages” in the  “final stages of her last sojourn“. The poem is poignant and brings to mind how we are all trying to find meaning in our lives especially when faced with difficult times.

I am not a natural writer but have written journals all my life and that has helped me to find my voice. I don’t have a talent for poetry but really love reading it.

A few years ago I got an opportunity to do a creative writing course in Tallagh library. The National center for Arts and health ,(AMNCH) based at Tallaght Hospital organised it.  Chronic pain Ireland were also involved and through them I got a place. I was quite apprehensive about it on many levels, the main one been the physical challenge. It was hard but  very rewarding and after ten weeks I was proud of myself. We even had our stories published in a Newsletter based at  Tallaght hospital. Check them out as they do a lot of interesting collaborations.

I digressed away from the initial question. I reckon through writing, in whatever forum , I am trying to find some kind of rhyme or reason to this mysterious life of ours!