From the Archives: Summer 2004 Issue of Lupus Now Magazine
The Healing Arts: For some people with lupus, the Muse is saving the day
By Emily Wojcik
From the age of 6, when she took her first drawing lesson, Jude Clarke knew she wanted to be an artist. Since then, the Canadian painter has exhibited her work throughout the world and has taught both children and adults. But art proved to be more than a career for Clarke, 49, who was diagnosed with lupus at 21.
“When I paint, I go into another world where lupus doesn’t exist,” she says. In fact, this process proved so therapeutic that she wrote a book about using art to deal with lupus, titled The Language of Water.
Clarke is one of a growing number of people who have discovered creative therapy, using art, music and dance for rehabilitation. “It’s the use of creative and expressive activities to effect change,” says Ginny Campbell, an art therapist and disability-rights worker in Winston-Salem, NC. “In creative therapy, you can use color or sound or movement to express an abstraction and free your brain to process feelings in a new way.”
Such treatments can be especially helpful for people with lupus, who can feel helpless in the face of physical symptoms, depression or fear. “Creative expression helps objectify feelings by getting them outside your brain,” Campbell explains. “You can step back and gain some insight into the emotion.”
If visiting a therapist seems overwhelming, consider this: Some people feel better by simply engaging in an artistic endeavor in a disciplined way. “I suggest taking an art class—or, if you’re too ill, finding a tutor to work with you one-on-one,” Clarke says. “Aside from the benefit of learning a new craft, the socialization is so important, since those of us with lupus can feel so isolated.”
Stephanie Lanier, of Plano, TX, 28, agrees: after her diagnosis at age 12, making art and music helped her have a “regular” adolescence. “When you’re a teenager, you have a lot going on with hormones. And when you add steroids and treatment, it can be hard to feel normal,” she says.
Her symptoms kept her out of gym class, so she took up the flute and joined the school band. Lanier not only gained a social life, but she experienced physical improvements as well. “Lupus had damaged my diaphragm and left me with one-third lung capacity,” she says. “Playing forced me to breathe deeper, which strengthened my lungs, while the finger movements helped my tendonitis and arthritis.”
For people who need to talk out their feelings, creative therapy can be an alternative to traditional psychotherapy—provided you choose an experienced practitioner. “Art therapy is not very well-known in this country,” Campbell says. “Try to find a certified and registered specialist who can help you work through serious issues.” She recommends contacting the American Association of Art Therapists (see resource box). Sessions generally include a period of expression—be it painting, drumming or dancing—followed by analysis of the results.
MaryAnn Hernandez, a substitute teacher in San Antonio, TX, never thought that the cha-cha could help with her lupus symptoms. But in 2001, after a lupus flare and a year of chemotherapy, she discovered a class called “Dance Your Depression Away.”
“I was exhausted from treatment and, in addition to the lupus, I had just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes,” Hernandez says. The class combines merengue, salsa and cha-cha with discussion. Now Hernandez feels miraculously close to her old self.
“My protein levels have dropped from 1,700 to 700, my muscles and joints feel stronger and less arthritic and I’m in control of my body again,” she says. “My doctors say they don’t know what I’m doing, but it’s working great.”
VSArts, designated by the United States Congress, offers arts-based programs in creative writing, dance, drama, music and the visual arts. Go to www.vsarts.org to find the affiliate nearest you.
To find creative arts therapists, contact the American Music Therapy Association (www.musictherapy.org), the American Art Therapist Association (www.arttherapy.org) or the American Dance Therapy Association (www.adta.org).