A Picture of Pain

I’ve been using an iPad to draw with for just over a year. It’s changed my relationship with drawing and made the process much more enjoyable and less stressful for me – mainly because there’s an ‘undo’ button for when my arm tics cause chaos.

Looking through my iPad earlier, I was reflecting on how these drawings tell the story of the last year. I was also struck by all the different ways I’ve tried to visualise and make sense of the chronic pain I experience. While I’m almost always in pain its quality and my relationship with it varies.

I was interested to see how this is reflected in the images I’ve made, and in many ways, I found them more interesting as a collection than on their own. In this post I’ll share some that particularly caught my attention and try to describe what I was feeling at the time.

Early Days

Hand drawn digital image in blues and greys, at the centre is an outline of a figure lying flat. Yellow bursts of pain that look like lightning spring from the body in the middle

The earliest pain drawing I could find was pretty crude. I don’t remember creating it or exactly what I was feeling, but despite that I instantly recognised it as being about pain.

Body of Pain

There is one large central image of Touretteshero in her wheelchair, surrounded by three smaller versions of her. Each individual image is set against a grey background and shows images of pain as shapes and there is a key for the shapes. Solid intense pain is a red cube, high pointy pain is blue pyramid, moderate flat pain is a yellow semi-circle, present frayed paid in a green contained splodge and low level shapeless pain is a purple spread out splodge.

The next drawing is one I wrote about at the time. While I was trying to draw the pain, I was also visualising its impact on my body, and what it looks like from the outside. As time’s gone on, my pain drawings tend to focus more on making sense of the internal sensations.

Pain Puzzle

A digital drawing of brightly coloured cuboid shapes with the title Pain Puzzle in black text at the top. There is a key breaking down all the shapes which make up this image as follows. One is a deep red rectangle called a deep shape solid seed. Two looks like an elongated purple diamond called a flexible aching spear. Three are little green pods called ripping radiating knows. Four are two dark blue oval shapes called frayed buzzing blankets. There are two number fives, the first is a yellow triangular shape called a churning nausea bucket and the last number five is a similar triangular shape but its blue and called light waving sheet. All the other shapes sit inside this one.

The drawings I called Pain Puzzle develop the idea of pain as interlocking shapes. Embarrassingly though, in these drawings my pain looks a lot like a cock and balls!

Untitled

A digital drawing. The central image is of a human shaped figure, roughly drawn with pale blue. Overlaid is a dark thin scribbled and smeared black line covering the head, torso, arms and down into the legs. On top of that is a thin blue scribbled line running down the middle. On top of that is a red webbing, which intensifies around the stomach and has strong red dots in it. At the top on the left is a colour key, showing the different colours used, all with an = sign next to them but the key is incomplete.

 

I drew this quickly, late at night, and I’m fairly sure the different types of line represent different qualities of pain, but I’ve forgotten the detail of what they mean. I started a key but didn’t finish it – which made me laugh when I looked at it just now.

Bodily Objects Sketch

A digital drawing of Touretteshero shown from behind. She is wearing a bluey grey t-shirt and you can see her brown curly hair. The drawing shows location of pain described using objects and there are arrows and descriptive text pointing to each item. In the neck there is a brown neck brick. Below that around the right shoulder is a blue set square of breathing pain. At the bottom of the spine is a black bowling ball of pain with three finger holes in it. Underneath that in the left hip is a tennis ball of movable hip pain. In the thighs are two fire hydrants described as being heavy in legs and going off in legs. In the ankles are cassette tapes, the one on the right has unspooled tape coming out of it and these are described as clunky analogue ankles.

This is the first image where I imagined my pain as a series of everyday objects hanging out in my body. I annotated it, saying a little about its associated sensations or why I chose each object.

Pain Sculptures

A digital drawing of a figure, made up of household objects including binoculars, a set square, a bowling ball, a tennis ball, a fire extinguisher, a cassette tape, and a broomstick.

A digital drawing of an unplugged microwave, sitting atop a brown cardboard box with red and white tape on it. On top of the microwave is a red desk lamp which in turn has a blue bowling ball balancing on it.

 

This is a series of images that developed from the Bodily Objects Sketch. While these are obviously drawings, I think of them as sculptures because creating them feels weirdly like I’m actually balancing objects on top of each other. When I’m struggling with pain there’s something funny and distracting about imagining it as a microwave or a tennis ball.

Through My Eyes

A digital drawing showing the view from Touretteshero’s chair in living room at home in South London. There is a band of bright streaks of colour across the image, fading to duller colours towards the edges. There are two gaps in the colours like lenses in glasses, and through the right lens you can see Leftwing Idiot who is lying on the sofa. He is wearing glasses, a green jumper, black trousers and grey socks with blue toes. Through the left glens you can see the bookcase and TV, with books and nick nacks.

This offers a very different perspective on pain – I wasn’t attempting to describe where in my body the pain was or what the sensations were. Instead, this drawing was about exploring how being in pain impacts on the way I experience my surroundings and how much detail I can take in.

Pain Constellations

A digital drawing showing a night blue sky and pain as a constellation. It has the words Pain Constellations written in script text across the top. In the centre is a blue sphere with white, black and light blue dots, surrounded by other brightly coloured shapes, linked together with black lines. They have the words point, burn, crunch, ache, twist, sliver, twinge and seed on them. In the background are other white dots and stars.

This drawing is back on familiar ground, imagining my pain as its own universe, and I’ve included words to describe how the pain feels as it connects and moves. I use words like ‘sliver’, ‘twist’, ‘burn’ and ‘crunch’.

Pain Vs Sickness

A digital drawing showing a solid black figure. In the figure are shapes and lines in red and blue. The key at the top denotes that pain is highlighted by the red and that sickness and nausea is highlighted with the blue.

One of the recurring issues I have alongside pain is nausea and sometimes this is exacerbated by the medication I take. When I made this drawing, I had quite a lot of both, and this was an attempt to map the experience.

My Pain – A Logo

A digital drawing showing a black stick figure. Behind the figure is a squiggly red shape, almost like a capital E. Parts of this are coloured in blue and orange. On top of the figure in the middle of the torso is one red circle, with a lighter red centre.

I have no memory of drawing this, but when I looked through the collection it stood out – if my pain was looking for a logo, this would be a good option!

Pain Personality Profile

A digital drawing on a dark blue background with lots of lines, dots and shapes, almost resembling a constellation. At the centre is a sprawling image of interconnecting shapes in different colours. Overlaid on top are words in white which read: Committed, persistent, hustler, reliable, self-directed, punctual, not easily distracted, good at networking, adapts, resourceful, undefinable, good at asserting control, discreet, a breeze block and a breeze.

I made this drawing while imagining what my pain’s CV might look like. The writing’s messy and not that easy to read, but it says:

‘Committed, persistent, hustler
Reliable, self-directed, punctual
Not easily distracted, good at networking
Adapts

Resourceful
Undefinable
Good at asserting control
A breeze-block and a breeze’

Attempting Stillness

A digital drawing showing the view from Touretteshero’s bed. Her legs are visible and You can see artwork on the white wall in frames, the commode, her wheelchair, the bed and the remote control for the bed, the app she uses to track pain is open on her lap and Monkey the black and white cat is curled up asleep by her feet. Through the window you can see the spaceship team who are outside in the garden.

This drawing, predominantly of my torso, legs, and bedroom, might at first glance not look pain-related, but I was really sore when I did it and I remember trying to keep my body still to limit the pain – this isn’t easy given how wiggly my tics are. Visible in the drawing are lots of things related to pain management, like the app I use to track pain, my bed remote control, and my emergency buzzer. It was a sunny day and I felt sad to be sore and indoors (you can see the rest of the spaceship crew sitting in the garden).

Untitled Again

This is a digital drawing of a body from the back. The body is filled with lots of different colours, the arms and legs are yellow and black. The thighs have streaks of light blue and green. The back is red, pink, purple, blue and black, and there are dark green circles around the buttocks.
I made this colourful drawing quickly and it’s very different from lots of the more detailed images I’ve made that relate to pain. Thinking about it as colour that adds to my body, rather than just as a negative presence, has sometimes helped me feel less frustrated when I’ve been struggling or feeling overwhelmed. I often give myself rules when I’m drawing but this image is a free for all.

Pain Levels

This is a digital drawing of a stick figure showing numbers along the outline. The numbers and lines are all different colours. The head is shown as a five, the shoulders are two, the left hand is a six, the right hand is a two. The torso has different numbers ranging from six to nine. The knees are five and the feet are three.

I’ve revisited the idea that my pain has different levels many times before. Sometimes these numbers are a score out of ten (as with this drawing), with ten being the most pain and zero being no pain. Sometimes levels relate to the connections between my pain, body and surroundings, like the drawing I did pre-iPad called From Spine To Sky – Via The Lamp-post

Pain Blocks

This is a digital drawing of a shape constructed by Duplo. The Duplo blocks are a light blue colour and the background looks like a bright daytime sky, with a blue background interrupted by white fluffy clouds.

This is a digital drawing of a shape constructed by Duplo. The Duplo blocks are a deep fuschia pink colour and the background looks like a beach scene, with a golden sandy strip along the bottom, a dark blue sea behind and a light blue sky.

This is a digital drawing of a shape constructed by Duplo. The Duplo blocks are a deep red, and the background looks like a blue night sky with small bright dots in the distance.

These drawings are part of a series that started life as constructions made out of Duplo. For over a week I used Duplo to turn my pain into physical objects. These images are drawings of those creations with a background that allows them to go somewhere beyond my body – whether that’s rocketing into space, hanging out by the sea, or floating through the sky with the clouds.

Drawing’s always been something I’ve done to help me understand the world and my position in it, so it’s not surprising that I’ve drawn my pain a lot. I’ve found it interesting looking back at these and reflecting on my changing relationship with my body and my pain. I’m sure this will continue to evolve, and so will the way I express it.

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