Creating Art with Chronic Illness



Can a chronic condition make you a better artist? James Wooley dwells into practising as an artist while navigating through IBS and Dyslexia

As a 14 year old I achieved a level 6 and two merits on my ‘Watchet Marina’ geography project, This was not because I was a particularly accomplished geographer but because the project, like much of my homework, had been completed by my mum, a geography teacher. Most of my school years were spent trying to avoid being made an example of by the teacher and scraping through exams. It wasn’t until my second year ofArt uni, at the age of 20, I was diagnosed with specific learning difficulties.

Rather than being diagnosed with Dyslexia or one of the other disabilities my label was kept broad as I showed signs of some, but not all symptoms. The particular challenges I face are reading slowly and having to re-read text upto three to four times. This makes research and most reading a task to be avoided, at the cost of my dissertation. Other symptoms I experience are difficulty structuring written work and an exceptionally poor memory. Although this is common in dyslexia, text doesn’t move or appear distorted and my mental arithmetic is an average level.

 Its important to understand when your diagnosed that specific learning difficulties is only a difference in the way you learn and process information, it is not a fault or dysfunction. I have skills which enhance my artistic and professional career. I process images extremely affectively. In my dyslexia assessment my examiner quoted me as completing one of the tasks in the quickest time and most complete manor. This is also reflected in my professional experiences in remembering upto two thousand objects monthly and who they belong to, to successfully run an auction house.  Since being diagnosed I have learnt to control but also embrace the way I learn and understand that the most effective way of learning is to embrace what works best for you and be confident in your abilities. 

Don’t feel like theres anything wrong with being dyslexic, its an alternative learning style.  Learn what works for you, I only write in capitals as I find it the easiest and most effective way to process written information. I love books, I I have a large collection of art books and although I have read few of them they are are pleasure to own and they don’t have to be read from cover to cover, try reading sections, I give myself achievable tasks such as reading a paragraph or page. I don’t keep a diary, I should keep a diary but I cant remember to write in it or where I put it. Instead of a diary I use my phone. I know I look at my phone on a regular basis so im more likely to enter dates or notes and read them at a later date.  Hopefully these few tips will help to understand how other cope with dyslexic issues, do it if it works for you.

Parallel to my explorations into Dyslexia and learning styles I have been combating Irritable Bowl Syndrome. For most of my life ive been the trumpy one, which at times is hillariuos, providing its only trumping. Its when your having diarhea by the side of the road that it stops being funny. At the age of 17 I was diagnosed with IBS, I underwent countless test, cut out gluten and lactose on several occasions but still the crippling cramps, frequent diarhea and lack of bowl control continued. After a year of hassling the local doctor I gave up trying to get better. I felt embarrassed I had these problems but equally, if not more so, embarrassed that I kept returning to the doctor and kept being told there was nothing to be done. I stopped taking any medication and decided that I had to put up with it and learn to manage. This was who I was now, and it was miserable. Then came the uni years and I was still pooing by the side of the road, admittedly it was only twice in three years but it cost me an ipod and some skinny jeans. I remember passing the next day on the bus and looking for the offending mess, grim. I received help from the uni with both the learning difficulties and my IBS which was great. The real problem was not the studying but the socialising; the important part of uni. I couldn’t drink more than a couple of beers without at very least producing an unpleasant smell. Friends got used to it and it became a running joke but I still couldn’t participate in lots of the stuff my mates were doing. It wasn’t just drink either, unusual or processed food and stress also triggered the symptoms. Around third year I started to get the symptoms under control, the cramps and uncontolloble toileting all but stopped. I still had the occasional flair up but I was learning to control it and not letting it control me. When I got the cramps I started interacting with the pain and the situation I was going through, repeatedly using the C word. This technique of fighting it works for me, the cramps only last 5-10 minutes and I've learnt that they eventually ease, no matter how painfull. The phrase ‘Nothing lasts forever’ has become a recurring motto for me. It sounds negative but I use it for when I'm feeling low or in a situation I wish I wasn’t in. It reminds me that no matter how bad the situation is it will eventually heal or improve, even if its just with time. It also helps me to appreciate what I have and to try and not take it for granted, which is easier said than done as we all get used to our situations, good and bad. 

<-------- Go Back to Chronically Driven Stories