Art of GI – Inspiration from the Heart of Patients

Living with a chronic illness can often lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection from the world around us. Symptoms can be challenging to articulate and may interfere with daily activities, all while remaining invisible to others.

It can be difficult for people who have never experienced the physical and emotional challenges to understand. Fortunately, many artists have found a way to express their emotions, challenges, and symptoms.  Read their stories and view their inspirational art below. 

If you are interested in IFFGD featuring your artwork, contact us.

Meet the Artists

Kayla Griffin

Kayla Griffin is a remarkable artist who utilizes her creative talents to portray the emotions experienced by individuals with chronic illnesses. Kayla suffers from Gastroparesis, a GI condition where the muscles in the stomach do not contract normally, affecting the overall motility of food. 

I remember sitting on my Contracts Law course when I first really realized something was wrong. I had taken a drink of coffee and instantly my stomach felt bloated and tight, and I felt dizzy. I figured it was just stress because law school is extremely stressful.

Within a week I had begun losing weight and experiencing feeling full immediately after eating anything. I started visiting my family doctor to figure it out. First, they told me it was likely anxiety and stress. I continued pushing through the discomfort for another month before I couldn’t handle the pain.

My husband had taken my family and me out to breakfast. At the table, I ended up with an extremely sharp pain and severe dizziness. I panicked and was rushed to the emergency room. After a bunch of tests, it turned out that my gallbladder had failed and needed to be removed asap.

The surgery went fine, and I thought all my problems were going to be fixed. Little did I know this was just the start of my troubles.

Another month went by of I not being able to eat without pain. Eating fresh veggies or fruits felt like my organs were in a blender. Drinking water gave me acid reflux. Everything bloated me. I was fatigued and anxious all the time.

It took six months of doctor visits before they finally believed me. I had been going in almost every week. Rapidly losing weight, and I kept being told it was anxiety. After doing my own research, meeting someone with gastroparesis, and having a near-death experience, I finally got a stomach-draining test. Revealing I had gastroparesis, partial paralysis of my stomach, and permanent ileus, partial paralysis of my intestines.

At one point my body was literally all bone and skin. I was so malnourished and dehydrated that I couldn’t walk. I remember calling my dad to say goodbye and telling my husband how scared I was to die. We tried all sorts of things. Including Reglan, a hard drug that stimulates your stomach, but caused me major hallucinations, tremors, and panic attacks.

It wasn’t until my husband said he wasn’t going to let me die and force-fed me a full bowl of baby food that we discovered I could handle the pain that comes with pureed foods that have been processed out. For three months I strictly ate baby foods and was able to gain my ability to walk.

I had to leave my job because of illness. My life was the bathroom and the bed. I developed a fear of food because of the pain and lost a ton of relationships because I couldn’t socialize.

However, I am here today because of my amazing husband and my grandma who took care of me and pushed me to choose the pain.

I am more fortunate than most people who have chronic digestive issues. I hold a full-time job and am back to being able to enjoy a lot of solid foods. I still struggle with weight, pain management, and bathroom issues. My life still centers around knowing when I am capable of functioning and when I need a bed day.

But it wasn’t until my grandma was also diagnosed with Gastroparesis that I started noticing how common digestive issues are, how much pain they cause, and how much embarrassment is centered around them. I also noticed how many people were hiding their emotions and struggles because they are afraid of losing their jobs, losing relationships, or being embarrassed about how much of this tied us to the restroom.

My grandma is the strongest person I know and has survived massive life-altering things. To see gastroparesis confine her to her home and bed hit me hard. If it can take her down, it can take anyone down. She is a very reserved person and never shares her emotions. This is what sparked the series of paintings you are looking at.

Each piece is an emotive exploration of the pain and silent suffering of gastroparesis patients. You don’t need chronic illness to understand the emotions of this work – all I ask is you allow the work to be carried wherever the art is asking you to go, to build empathy for those struggling with digestive issues, and support those you know who suffer from any kind of digestive issue.

Our social lives center around food and physical activity – ask yourself how you can include those who cannot eat “normally” and/or cannot be physical.

Carole Weitz

Carole Weitz is a remarkable artist who utilizes her creative talents to portray the emotions experienced by individuals with chronic illnesses. Carol suffers from Crohn’s Disease, a disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, also referred to as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Carole Weitz
Carole Weitz

Having struggled with Crohns Disease for over thirty years now, which has included three resections of the small bowl, 15 years of Remicade infusions and constant concern, awaiting the next obstruction, Crohns has been been at the forefront of my life. As a way to escape the stress and desperation of this unrelenting illness, I’ve turned my energy and art training towards creating visual escapes to deal with the stress of Crohns. After 25 years as a creative director in advertising, the difficult birth of two sons, where I did obstruct and the ultimate survival of an unfortunate divorce, only recently have i begun exploring my talents as a means of expressing what I consider an escape away from this disease.

Carolyn Watson

Carolyn EJ Watson is an interdisciplinary artist, who is drawn to the useless and unusual. She takes what she can find to tell a story, using a mixture of unconventional materials. Through her art, Watson strives to advocate and educate, particularly focusing on concepts such as identity, trauma, abstraction, chaos and conservation.

Headshot Carolyn Watson
Carolyn Watson
I am no stranger to abdominal pain and spending a days lying on the bathroom floor. In 2016, I was diagnosed with Eosinophilc Gastritis, after many scopes and unknowns. I was also more recently diagnosed with Severe Ulcerative Colitis, and am still fighting to find a treatment that works for me.

Helen Keen

Originally an acclaimed ceramic artist, Helen Keen’s painting techniques have emerged from this foundation. Now, over three decades of creative arts practice has culminated in her contemporary and immersive paintings. Exploring abstraction, colour, gestures and mark making, Helen manipulates many mediums and creates layers and textures using mixed media: encaustic wax, acrylic, oils and 24k gold.
Helen Keen
Helen Keen
With the knowledge that the gut is an intelligence – a third brain if you will – and, recognising that the human body is made up of around 120 trillion cells – more of which are bacteria, parasites, fungi (and their waste) – than human cells… is it not surprising that gastrointestinal issues are not affecting – in some way – all of humankind – and have done for millenium! These portraits pay homage to the artists as well as the potential historical power that has been tendered. Holding in reverence – Clean air, Clean water, Clean food, Clean prayer, Clean thoughts …. these are our sovereign rites… and the power to heal is within each of us… myself included!

Pedro Navarro Laflin

Pedro Navarro Laflin, self-taught artist in a journey from scribbling to painting
Pedro Navarro
Pedro Navarro Laflin
While researching about colon cancer, when I was diagnosed two years ago, I became aware of the importance and the role that microbiota has in this and other similar conditions. Once the painting was finished, the word microbiota came out spontaneously. I guess that sometimes, picturing (in this case painting), your thoughts can help imagine our “insides”.

Kristyn Bell

Kristyn Bell is a 30 year old artist residing in Kentucky. Her cat, Echo, and dog, Dominick, are her world. She has been suffering from gastrointestinal disorders for many years. She has been diagnosed with Gastroparesis, IBS, and GERD. Art has been a large part of her life and now it helps combat the depression of dealing with gastrointestinal disorders, especially her Gastroparesis. Along with art, she also enjoys listening to music, history, and cuddling her animals.
Kristyn Bell self portrait
Kristyn Bell
Gastrointestinal disorders impact my life every day. Some of my symptoms include nausea, dehydration, malabsorption, constipation, sometimes diarrhea, and vomiting. My daily life is filled with symptomatic days that affect so many parts of my life. Just for my Gastroparesis I have medication, a port for IV fluids, and a feeding tube for medication because of malabsorption. Due to the severity of my gastrointestinal issues and the effects it has on my body I can only work part-time and have trouble doing normal tasks, especially eating. I can only eat and drink certain foods that do not cause consequences physically. I deal with the grief of who I was before my gastrointestinal diagnoses, depression of dealing with the disorders, and fear of the future of living with them. I advocate especially for Gastroparesis due to the lack of medication/treatment options and hopefully one day a cure.

Jenny Eräsaari

Based in Toronto, Canada, Jenny Eräsaari is an artist with a diverse range of mediums and techniques, including woodcut, illustration, mixed media painting, and digital drawing. Her work is inspired by themes of people, routes and migration, reflecting her recent relocation from Finland, Europe to Toronto, where she finds inspiration in both urban and natural landscapes. With work experience as an occupational therapist and an artist, Jenny’s understanding of diverse individuals and great interest in the human experience enrich her artistic expression. Her achievements include numerous solo and group exhibitions in Finland and published illustrations.
Jenny Erasaari
Jenny Eräsaari
I have IBS myself, and through both my own experience plus working with people with many health issues, including gastrointestinal disorders, I know how exhausting it can be to be to be limited by something that doesn’t necessarily show, and that is also too embarrassing to be mentioned. My animated GIF is about that experience.

Megan Howard

Megan Howard is an artist who prefers working with glass, chalk pastels, markers, and paint markers. Her artwork provides an opportunity to distract herself from her chronic pain, express what she’s going through, and to have a sense of purpose despite being unable to work. Her curiosity and appetite for learning new techniques and methods of making continues to grow to this day. She does a lot of drawing from the comfort of her bed, as she is often too unwell to get up. When she is feeling well enough to spend time out of bed, she likes to make fused glass art. Art provides respite and a therapeutic escape, but is also a motivating force for her to spend time out bed when she is able to.

Megan Image
Megan Howard

I have multiple rare diseases, including Behcet’s Disease (which amongst other symptoms, causes ulcers in my stomach and intestines), and Autonomic Neuropathy (which has caused me to have Gastroparesis and has l led to me needing a feeding tube and a colostomy). I put the colostomy procedure off for years due to fear of the surgery and of what life with a bag would be like. I imagined my life getting worse with a colostomy, but in reality it has helped me gain hours of my life back from the bathroom every day. My life was already minimized to daily tasks of functioning (and I was struggling to do these tasks which were done without thought in the past, such as eating, sleeping, and have bowel movements). Having my colostomy, I still struggle with back and abdominal pain when I need to pass stool, but it is short lived, and compared with what I faced prior to colostomy surgery, I am definitely better off. I have had numerous surgeries to treat complications of my gastrointestinal issues, such as hemorrhoids, fisures, fustulas, and anemia from blood loss. I am mostly bedbound and live with severe, chronic pain and fatigue.

Want IFFGD to Feature Your Artwork?

If you are interested in IFFGD featuring your artwork, or want additional information, contact us.

It is with great anticipation that we await your own personal expression or work submitted on your behalf. Thank you.

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