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We are all coping in different ways with the drastic life changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. One beautiful way some CreakyJoints and Global Healthy Living Foundation patients are spending some of their quarantine time is creating artwork. Of course, Jennifer Walker, a GHLF and CJ member who has been sharing her artwork for years with our community, is among them.
Jennifer, who lives with rheumatoid arthritis, axial spondyloarthritis, fibromyalgia, asthma, and osteoarthritis — among other chronic conditions — was advocating from the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic for more attention to be paid to the unique needs of immunocompromised and chronically ill. Jennifer has been using her art throughout this crisis to help her address the many emotional ups and downs she’s experiencing. We asked her to share pieces that symbolize them.
Here, a Q & A about Jennifer’s work in general and her above piece titled ‘Trapped.’
Q: How is creating art helping you cope with your coronavirus pandemic emotions?
A: Art is helping me cope with quarantine and the coronavirus pandemic by giving me a tangible outlet to process the shock, dismay, pain — and more — that I am feeling right now. I very often have an image to express long before I have the words. So this helps me get to those words.
Q: Do you find your approach to art has changed at all during this crisis compared to what you normally create?
A: Yes, it has. When I get overwhelmed emotionally and/or mentally I shut down. I won’t create and have no desire to do so. This is common with creative types. Since I know this about myself, I have entered into an art challenge with a fellow patient advocate and we take turns giving each other prompts. This has kept me fresh and our topics have been fun. So it has become a great, easy and fun way to destress. I get to focus on what I am creating and shut it all out. And the prompts are interesting, funny, light topics. We don’t do anything serious. It has kept me creative.
Q: Is there anything else about your art in the time of coronavirus you’d like us to know about?
A: My art allows me to touch others when we are social distancing. It allows me to get close when I can’t do that with anyone outside of my quarantined space. And since so many folks are tuned in to social media, it gives me the chance to shout even louder and further about the patient experience in such a precarious and uncertain time.
All pieces are digital art. Charis Hill, a fellow patient advocate, is my model/inspiration as usual.
Q: What emotion is this piece depicting?
A: The feeling of being trapped.
Q: Can you describe what’s happening and why you chose to depict trapped in this way?
A: This person is stuck inside and can only look out the window. They cannot go outside or rescue themselves. There is no door in this piece for a reason. It shows how stuck, how trapped I feel by this virus. The extreme contagiousness, asymptomatic carriers, how it can so quickly turn to bilateral pneumonia in a person who is high risk, are all factors that make me feel trapped.
The virus is all over the world and has killed hundreds of thousands of people so far. We haven’t contained it or found a cure. It has hedged us into a new and deadly reality.
Even after more than four months of this, I continue to feel trapped because of selfish people who act like the pandemic is over and are not social distancing or wearing face masks, which in turn makes the world less safe for disabled and sick people like me.
Q: How are you personally coping with feeling trapped right now?
A: I am trying to be outside as much as I can, when I can be safely away from others. But that’s not always easy where I live in Texas. There are times when even at a park, I don’t feel safe because people are getting too close to me and not wearing masks, which rachets up my anxiety. I have built a sort of cocoon around me by following CDC guidelines, not allowing others inside my home, putting up a sign alerting delivery drivers to knock and leave the package because I have a weakened immune system. I haven’t seen anyone but my boyfriend and my dog close up for over a month. And it’s all I can do.
Q: What do you wish this piece to convey to others who do not live with chronic illness?
A: I want them to see how scared and desperate we are to have them listen and do what’s right in terms of social distancing and wearing masks and not creating unsafe situations that can spread the virus, like going to bars or having big parties. We rely on everyone around us to keep us safe and we need them to be kind and cautious. Our lives depend on it.
Stay in touch with Jennifer and other patient advocates through our GHLF Patient Support Program for the Coronavirus Pandemic for chronic illness patients and their families. We will be providing updated information, community support, and other resources tailored specifically to your health and safety. Join now.