A few things to look forward to

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been announcements of some new documentary releases that could prove really important for my research, as well as raising awareness of chronic conditions.

Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two

Whilst promoting her upcoming documentary for Netflix, Lady Gaga has stated that it will reveal a behind the scenes look into her life, including intimate moments of how she suffers with chronic pain as a result of fibromyalgia. This isn’t entirely shocking news as during November last year, she posted online images of herself and discussing her chronic pain, even including ways she reduces her symptoms.

I was so overwhelmed by the empathy, confessions & personal stories of chronic pain in response to my previous post I thought what the hell. Maybe I should just share some of my personal remedies I've acquired over the past five years. Everyone's body and condition is different U should consult w ure Dr. but what the heck here we go! When my body goes into a spasm one thing I find really helps is infrared sauna. I've invested in one. They come in a large box form as well as a low coffin-like form and even some like electric blankets! You can also look around your community for a infrared sauna parlor or homeopathic center that has one. I combine this treatment with marley silver emergency blankets (seen in the photo) that trap in the heat and are very cheap, reusable and effective for detox as well as weight loss! In order to not overheat my system and cause more inflammation i follow this with either a VERY cold bath, ice bath (if u can stand it, it's worth it) or the most environmentally savvy way is to keep many reusable cold packs in the freezer ( or frozen peas' n carrots'!) and pack them around the body in all areas of pain. Hope this helps some of you, it helps me to keep doing my passion, job and the things I love even on days when I feel like I can't get out of bed. Love you and thank you for all your positive messages.

A post shared by xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga) on

Although it is horrible to hear that such an icon has a chronic illness at a relatively young age, I can’t help but feel kind of excited as to what this means for our community of fellow chronic illness sufferers. Lady Gaga’s status and openness has launched this condition into the general media and people are starting to take notice. Nicole Douglas from OK! magazine described fibromyalgia as “horror chronic illness”, which (without trying to sound melodramatic) I believe it is. It is such a disabling condition, essentially invisible, with no cure. Is this the reaction we want though?

I’m really looking forward to the release of the documentary online and will be watching it next week when it’s available on Netflix. I’m intrigued as to what the reaction will be towards it and how this could affect the public’s perspective on fibromyalgia.



I was watching Jennifer Brea’s TED talk “What happens when you have a disease doctor’s can’t diagnose” and was blown away by her honesty and openness. I really identified with what she was saying and as it’s the highest rated TED talk of 2016, I guess others related to.

Upon further investigation, I saw that she has made a documentary called “Unrest”, investigating her invisible illness as well as communicating with others with the condition. With her background in statistics and social science, she also gives an insight into how invisible illnesses are affecting the population of the US.

I am really eager to see this film once it reaches the UK. I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to see it yet as most of the screenings are in London and I struggle to travel, but am hoping I can work around that. Something I definitely want to see as soon as possible. It will be really interesting to see what people’s reactions are to the film as well. This isn’t as public facing as the Lady Gaga documentary will be, and the people that go to the cinema screenings of Unrest, I would imagine, either are affected by an invisible illness or film enthusiasts.


Can Graphic Design Save your Life?

Illustration of L.E.D. pharmacy signs

“Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?” is a current and free exhibition running at Wellcome Collection at the moment until 14 January 2018, which explores the relationship between health and graphic design. I follow the Wellcome Collection on Instagram, and came across this exhibition being advertised on my feed, and thought it is the perfect exhibition for what I want to look at during my degree. From what it says, its as if it was tailor made for me.

There are also a few events and workshops linked with this exhibition, including “Designing for Health”, which promises to look at how language and images are used to talk about health. It sounds as though there will be a range of talks over the various days, so am hoping to find out nearer the time what that involves. I may be able to go to some of these and squeeze in a viewing of Unrest, we shall see.


Jennifer Brea. 2017. Jennifer Brea. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.jenniferbrea.com/. [Accessed 02 September 2017].


Netflix. (2017). GAGA: FIVE FOOT TWO | Teaser [HD] | Netflix. [Online Video]. 6 September 2017. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxIua1MXhgo. [Accessed: 16 September 2017].


Nicole Douglas. 2017. Lady Gaga rushed to HOSPITAL with horror chronic illness | OK! Magazine. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ok.co.uk/celebrity-news/1179014/lady-gaga-hospital-in-severe-physical-pain-forcing-her-to-cancel-performance. [Accessed 17 September 2017].


TED Talks. 2017.¬†Jennifer Brea: What happens when you have a disease doctors can’t diagnose | TED Talk. [ONLINE] Available at:¬†https://www.ted.com/talks/jen_brea_what_happens_when_you_have_a_disease_doctors_can_t_diagnose. [Accessed 02 September 2017].

Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? | Wellcome Collection РWellcome Trust. 2017. Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? | Wellcome Collection РWellcome Trust. [ONLINE] Available at: https://wellcomecollection.org/graphicdesign. [Accessed 12 September 2017].


Designing for Health: A pop-up studio | Wellcome Collection РWellcome Trust. 2017. Designing for Health: A pop-up studio | Wellcome Collection РWellcome Trust. [ONLINE] Available at: https://wellcomecollection.org/events/designing-health-pop-studio. [Accessed 12 September 2017].


xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga) ‚ÄĘ Instagram photos and videos . 2017.¬†xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga) ‚ÄĘ Instagram photos and videos¬†. [ONLINE] Available at:¬†https://www.instagram.com/ladygaga/. [Accessed 17 September 2017].


What is Fibromyalgia?

Image result for fibromyalgia

Common tender points of Fibromyalgia

It has come to my attention that I have been talking about fibromyalgia and haven’t actually explained what it is. In this post, I will explain what it is, how it is caused, symptoms, treatments etc.

Fibromyalgia, also known as Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS),is a condidtion which causes widespread pain. It is not progressive or life threatening, but it can greatly affect the person’s quality of life. It is said that 1 in 25 people suffer with FMS and is more common in women, between the ages of 25 and 60.

There are numerous symptoms to the condition, and each patient suffers with them differently. The most common is of course wide spread pain, which is made worse by activity. Other symptoms include:

  • Fatigue, lack of energy
  • Issues with sleep, insomnia, over sleeping, not getting enough restorative sleep
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Low moods, mood swings and depression
  • Poor concentration, forgetfulness, also called “fibro fog” or “brain fog”
  • More sensitive to: changes in temperature, sound, light and tender to touch
  • Increased stress levels

When multiple symptoms are experienced, it can become a vicious cycle, for example, pain can create sleep disturbance, which means lack of restorative sleep, which can then mean fatigue and brain fog, which then contribute to sleep disturbance again.

FMS is often associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), previously known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), as the symptoms are very similar. It isn’t yet clear that the conditions are related, but often patients with CFS feel their condition stems from a viral infection, and may experience less pain.

The causes of FMS are difficult to pin point as it is different for each case. Pain we feel is often affected by mood, so increased stress is one cause. For example, a stressful period at work or at home. It can also be caused after an injury or illness e.g after having glandular fever. It can also be brought on by depression, or brought on by illness or unhappy events.

Fibromyalgia is where chemical changes occur in the body’s pain pathways and is not caused by inflammation. As a result, it is very difficult to detect in medical tests such as x-rays or blood tests. The diagnosis method is often quite lengthy, as doctors have to rule out any other conditions such as depression or arthritis.

There is not yet a cure for fibromyalgia, but there are numerous ways of easing the symptoms and managing the condition. There are physical therapies such as:

  • Physiotherapy – can help improve posture and advise on relaxation techniques
  • Hydrotherapy – gentle exercise in a heated pool that helps increase the range of different muscles
  • Pain management – helps with developing coping methods
  • Occupational therapy – helps manage everyday activities, suggests different approaches to tasks

There are also psychological methods to treating the condition. As Haines’ says in “Pain is Really Strange”, pain is like a bad habit, so understanding the emotional aspects of pain can really help relieve the symptoms. There are numerous psychological approaches, all largely covered under Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This form of treatment quite often separates out the issues to manageable chunks and deals with each individually. What is common, and also apparent from my experience, is that other medical professionals that help with pain will have some knowledge of the psychological approaches and feed it into their physical treatment.

There are also numerous drugs that can ease the symptoms. There is no “fibro pill” that will fix it all until you’re due to take the next one. Its a case of talking to a doctor about which symptoms are difficult to cope with, and they’ll prescribe according to that. For example, if a patient is particularly suffering with low moods and some pain, they may prescribe duloxetine, a drug which can tackle both. There are also numerous different painkillers that can be taken such as paracetamol.

I must admit, my personal experience with drug treatments is limited. I don’t feel like I need many drugs to ease my symptoms, as I want to give physical treatments a fair try before hand. This has also been advised to me by many medical professionals. Because I am quite young to have the condition, if I keep raising doses and adding more drugs to my treatment plan, I am at risk of not feeling any effects on numerous drugs, which will not help in the long term.

There are also things that FMS sufferers can do themselves to help manage the condition. Some are:

  • Exercise – gentle exercises such as walking, cycling and swimming are often recommended. The intensity and frequency of these exercises can ¬†built up over time.
  • Diet – there isn’t a particular diet that helps but a balanced healthy diet is recommended, with plenty of fruit and vegetables and plenty of water. For me, caffeine and sugar are to be avoided
  • Sleep – trying to develop a sleep pattern and routine can ease sleep issues as well as the other symptoms.
  • Rest – I have often been told to “listen to my body”. If I feel like I need to sit down or go for a nap, it’s better to do just that, or I may suffer later.



Arthritis Research UK. (2016). Fibromyalgia. [Booklet.]


Arthritis Research UK. 2017. What is hydrotherapy? | Arthritis Research UK. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/therapies/hydrotherapy/what-is-hydrotherapy.aspx. [Accessed 12 September 2017].


Drugs.com. 2017. Duloxetine: Indications, Side Effects, Warnings РDrugs.com. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.drugs.com/cdi/duloxetine.html. [Accessed 12 September 2017].


Haines, S., 2015. Pain is Really Strange. 1st ed. London: Singing Dragon.


WebMD. 2017. Fibromyalgia Pictures: Where Trigger Points Are, Symptoms, Pain, and More. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/ss/slideshow-fibromyalgia-overview. [Accessed 09 September 2017].

A History of Looking at Health

Varoom Issue 34 – “Well, Well, Well”- A History of Looking at Health

Catherine Draycott from Wellcome Images writes in Varoom Issue 34 on the history of how health has been depicted. She states that since the Renaissance, the knowledge of the human body and its diseases and illnesses were driven by images, largely with what can be seen by the eye. Images of the body were also stylised and based on assumptions. With Anton Van Leeuwenhoek’s pioneering breakthroughs in microbiology, it allowed scientists and artists to reveal the secrets of the invisible. With a thirst for knowledge, this led to practitioners creating images that were dark yet beautiful.

Gautier d'Agoty, mezzotint ecorche female torso, back, 1746

Muscles of the back: partial dissection of a seated woman, showing the bones and muscles of the back and shoulder. Colour mezzotint by J. F. Gautier d’Agoty, 1745/1746.

An example of this is in Gautier d’Agoty’s image of a woman’s spine, using a colour mezzotint print process. With its yellow and red tones muted with black, this plate gives a large amount of detail into the woman’s spine, whilst still being aesthetically pleasing as a decorative painting, evoking darkness and morbidity. The principle purpose for this image was for the study of anatomy, not just for scientists but also for anyone interested in the subject, including artists, sculptors and students. Could it be that the images he created were done in such a manner that they were more accessible?


The Flea (1665) Robert Hooke

The invention of the microscope gave way to illustrating microbes, cells and microorganisms . This led to artworks that served as informative. An example of this is Robert Hooke’s flea. This study of such a tiny creature scaled up with great detail creates a beautiful image that induces intrigue as well as fear. The purpose of this image was to incite and inform, demonstrating a flea’s anatomy and how although it is very different to that of a reptile, bird or mammal, it is still constructed on a basic animal model. This creature has a head, a body and limbs like creatures we were already familiar with.

An woman dropping her tea-cup in horror upon discovering the

Monster Soup (1828) William Heath

Images like this did also generate fear as the world became more aware and informed on illnesses and potential health risks. This led to illustrations acting as a health warning, such as William Heath’s Monster Soup. This illustration depicts a sophisticated woman in London, about to sip her tea when she drops it after seeing what is in the water. Next to her in the image, a drop of the water is magnified to reveal this scary looking creatures, representing the filth of London’s drinking water. The method of visualizing germs and bacteria as monsters is still used to this day, you just have to watch any toilet cleaner advert.

In contrast, more contemporary illustrations of viruses depict them as beautiful. One of the best examples of this is Goodsell’s work, in particular the Ebola Virus, which was the overall winner of Wellcome Image Awards in 2016. This piece is a cross section of Ebola, a virus that at the time was greatly feared and widespread. This beautiful watercolour and ink illustration is scientifically accurate to the greatest detail; Goodsell’s background in microbiology makes sure of this. As cells are colourless, he uses a bright colour palette, highlighting the different elements within the structure. The reason he chose to depict Ebola was that he wanted to show the direct scientific application as well as demonstrate to people that this virus is being researched and scientists are actively looking for ways to battle it. His work not only has a scientific application for research purposes, but they are individual works of art that are visually captivating; a very different reaction to that of the works of Hooke.

Reading this article and further looking into how illnesses have been depicted has left me to question how I want my own illness to be displayed. Fibromyalgia is invisible. You can’t look at it under the microscope. There’s no visual inflammation when I am in pain. An x-ray could not pick up the affect it’s having on my body. This is the case for so many other illnesses, which is more than likely the reason for why these conditions are so misunderstood. Personally, I am a very visual person and find it hard to get my head around things until they are presented to me visually. I feel that the best way for me to present this illness’ effects is through metaphors, which I plan to work on over the next few months.

I then have to decide how I want the images to perceive. What reaction do I want to invoke? There is no doubt that Fibromyalgia is horrible. It means for a complete lifestyle change, limits what you can physically do in a space of time, changes the way you think and is emotionally draining. I suffer with this condition but I am doing my best to not let the condition own me. I am also quite grateful that I have it. I feel like I can be so much more empathetic to people, a lot more understanding of individual struggles, so much more open minded and far less judgmental of others. I feel like I have become a better person for it. I want non-sufferers to understand the affects of fibro, but I want sufferers to know that there are plus sides to having this. It’s not all doom and gloom.


BBC РHistory РHistoric Figures: Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632 Р1723). 2017. BBC РHistory РHistoric Figures: Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632 Р1723). [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/van_leeuwenhoek_antonie.shtml. [Accessed 02 September 2017].


British Museum. 2017. British Museum РMonster soup commonly called Thames water, being a correct representation of that precious stuff doled out to us!!! . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?partId=1&objectId=3020223. [Accessed 08 September 2017].


Draycott, C, 2016. A History of Looking at Health. Varoom, Issue 34, 18-25.


Juxtapoz Magazine – David S. Goodsell’s Biomolecular Art. 2017.¬†Juxtapoz Magazine – David S. Goodsell’s Biomolecular Art. [ONLINE] Available at:¬†https://www.juxtapoz.com/news/illustration/david-s-goodsells-biomolecular-art/. [Accessed 09 September 2017].


The Independent. 2017. The Flea (1665), Robert Hooke | The Independent. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/great-works/the-flea-1665-robert-hooke-1819454.html. [Accessed 08 September 2017].


Wellcome Library /Entire. 2017. Wellcome Library /Entire. [ONLINE] Available at: http://catalogue.wellcomelibrary.org/record=b1572024. [Accessed 02 September 2017].


Wellcome Images. 2017. Wellcome Images. [ONLINE] Available at: https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0011218.html. [Accessed 08 September 2017].


Wellcome Image Awards | Ebola virus . 2017. Wellcome Image Awards | Ebola virus . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.wellcomeimageawards.org/2016/ebola-virus. [Accessed 09 September 2017].


Wellcome Collection. (2016). Illustrating Ebola РDavid S Goodsell. [Online Video]. 15 March 2016. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=245&v=f0rPXTJzpLE. [Accessed: 9 September 2017].


“Pain is Really Strange”

Whilst browsing Plymouth Central Library’s health and lifestyle section, I came across “Pain is Really Strange” written by Steve Haines and illustrated by Sophie Standing. The blurb describes the book as being able to answer what pain is, how nerves work and how we can change our pain experience, as well as exploring our ability to retrain the brain. Highly illustrative, this book offers some complex information about the experience of pain. This format is something I have never come across whilst researching fibromyalgia and its symptoms, so I was eager to explore.

Despite the book’s graphic novel aesthetic, I was surprised at the intensity of the information it was giving. It felt like a juxtaposition, aesthetically could be mistaken for a children’s book but with contents that are very complex. It starts by explaining different types of pain and how they present themselves. As I am a sufferer of chronic pain as part of fibromyalgia, I focused on studying Haine’s words on chronic pain specifically.

He describes chronic pain as being defined or diagnosed as lasting for longer than 3-6 months, including whilst its being treated. He states that pain is a reflex of emotion and memory and chronic pain has no real use to the human body; it’s like a bad habit. Pain is “your brain telling you it think’s something is dangerous”.

The book goes on to explore the nervous system and the science behind why we suffer with pain. From what I understand, the nervous system is made up of neurotags and if you pull on one element, pain is triggered. Chronic pain is a fault in the alarm system, as if the alarm levels are always turned up.

“Pain is Really Strange” goes on to give advice on how to deal with pain and its symptoms. Examples include being creative and paying more attention to the subtle movements your body makes, understanding your body and building a better map of it in your mind. Visualising body movements will also help. ¬†Haines also advises to be more curious to different sensations, as opposed to being fearful. This, coupled with using more positive descriptive terms and fitting metaphors, will help build a more positive outlook on your condition, as well as providing a language that provides potential for change.

The presentation was what drew me to this material. I have been handed numerous pamphlets and print outs since being diagnosed, and for me personally, I have found them to be very overwhelming to read. As part of my condition, I struggle to concentrate to a huge amount of text, often having to ask for assistance with reading and interpreting what is being said. With the use of illustrations and metaphors, I could digest the information and advice a lot easier, without assistance. It was really nice to be able to learn without help from someone else, making me feel more independent in controlling and understanding my condition. This in itself is unique and something I would like to adopt in my future work.

A page from “Pain is Really Strange” by Steve Haines

The use of full pages and multiple images on one page not only creates a pace (the same as a graphic novel or comic) it also allows information to be presented in more suitable ways, depending on its complexity. Full pages tend to have larger and more complex illustrative metaphors to accompany the text, where as multiple panels on one page offer examples or  bite size information. This helped me further to make sense of what was being said.

A majority of pages also provided a small amount of text on the bottom, expanding on an idea or providing a quote from Haine’s research, as well as offering suggestions for further reading. This text is not essential to read, but gives further depth into the topic as well as providing an insight into Haine’s research materials

I read this book cover to cover in about an hour, whilst taking notes to help me digest the contents. I did have to re-read some pages but that was mainly because they offered more complicated material. I have looked at some reviews on this book to see how other people felt about it. With a 4.5 star review score on Amazon, numerous customers agree with me that it is an easier to digest format for a complicated subject matter. I feel this format is really approachable and can involve people who suffer with brain fog like myself, as well as people who struggle to read a lot of text, in learning about pain. ¬†Haines and Standing ¬†have collaborated on a second book called “Trauma is Really Strange”, which I plan to purchase and review soon, as this is a subject that is equally important to understand in regards to fibromyalgia.

A number of consumers of “Pain is Really Strange” also suggested that a book like this may be more suitable as a pamphlet available in a medical environment, such as hospitals or local GPs. I agree that this is something that is really missing from information we are given in a medical setting. I found this book in a library. Not all pain sufferers have the ability to go out and actively look for material like I am. I also never came across this whilst looking for books about chronic pain online, on sites such as Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmiths.

Overall, I feel that “Pain is Really Strange” is incredibly successful in conveying the message in an easy to digest manner, whilst also being aesthetically beautiful and intriguing. This has inspired me to be open to the idea of creating something with a more medical take on chronic fatigue and chronic pain.



Amazon. 2017. Pain is Really Strange. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pain-Really-Strange-Steve-Haines/dp/1848192649/ref=pd_sbs_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=WH842GJ2SC4AX1WVZQC3. [Accessed 29 August 2017].

Haines, S, 2015. Pain is Really Strange. 1st ed. London: Singing Dragon.



Initial Proposal

Over the past year, after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I have been educating myself in how to cope with it and minimise symptoms. With limited assistance from medical practitioners and resorting to my own research, online resources have revealed to me a plethora of false and exaggerated material written by non sufferers. I have been lucky to find local online social media groups that have provided me with what has helped me the most; people who understand the suffering. But not everyone is as fortunate.

I have been been following the work of Lize Meddings with The Sad Ghost Club, Hannah Daisy’s Boring Self Care and musician Daniel Johnston’s illustrations, all of which have inspired me greatly whilst developing my idea.

During the course of the next year, I want to develop an expression of invisible illness and communicate these situations through imagery, in the hope that this could generate an understanding and empathy for non-sufferers and something sufferers can identify with, find comfort in and share.

On the course, I would like to make the most of the opportunities a university environment would give me. I want to network with other makers and build on contacts, soak in the feedback on my work and collaborate with others, as well as make use of the facilities I wouldn’t normally have access to. I would like to move my idea forward and explore different channels as well as how to potentially market this as a business.

This is the proposal I wrote when applying for MA Illustration at PCA. During my interview, we discussed my proposal and agreed that there needs to be a lot of work done before going into the course. I need to determine a more detailed project proposal, which involves doing some more research into my condition, explore methods of self care and how illustration can be incorporated.

Over the next few weeks, before I start the course, I intend to:

  • Do some general research into Fibromyalgia and similar conditions
  • Look at examples of how illustration is incorporated into presenting mental and physical health
  • Keep and play around with a visual diary of these findings as well as first hand experiences
  • Read the recommendations made to me during my interview

I am aware this is a lot to do in a small space of time, but after having so much time away from work and education, I think working towards these goals will help me get back into the swing of working. Hopefully, this will ease my nerves and anxiety about starting a new course in a new place.