by Deborah Ann with Dionetta Hudzinski

Deborah Ann is an artist by profession and my friend of many, many years.  We have traveled our pain journeys together.  We share our frustrations, pain relief ideas and offer each other support and encouragement on our worst days.  One day I suggested that she might use her art to describe her pain.

She created this paper mache’ foot sculpture. It says more than any words can convey.  I asked her to write about the pain and process that led her to use art to express her pain. The following are her words:

It is impossible to explain neuropathy to people.  My feet are numb and I can’t tell where I’m standing but if I step on anything it feels like I’ve stepped on a spike. My feet are numb to the touch if tapped but even the feel of water washing over them hurts. I couldn’t tell that my cat had set her teeth on my foot but unexplainably when I sit or lie down they spark and burn like I’m being tortured. They don’t hurt if I’m standing on them though shoes are painful (I wear sandals). No one can see what it feels like unless you are one of us.

It’s difficult to get doctors to take this seriously. It can’t be seen on an x-ray or CT scan. It doesn’t respond to medications or surgery. It must therefore be in my head. Maybe it isn’t real and I should just let it go but that doesn’t work and the pain changes and disrupts my sleep.

Making a piece of art about this irrational condition served many purposes:

  1. It becomes a way for others to “see” what I feel. The wire and broken glass resonate to people as they know what stepping on that feels like. They understand the redness. Now there is a way for me to show people what the pain is like. It’s not that others don’t have serious pain too and many of them can’t be seen any more than this one. It’s not that I need to let the world know I have pain and am somehow special. It’s when I fall or wobble that I need to explain my actions. I don’t look old and feeble but my balance gets way off. People ask and I can’t explain it.
  2. The second reason is me and my inability to believe this is real. I’ve tried to meditate it away but the pain disrupts it. I’ve tried mind games, medications and surgeries to get it to go away. I doubt my mind constantly. If nothing that the doctors do changes it, it can’t be real. It disrupts my sleep until I have insomnia and I wonder if this is part of the lie my brain tells me. Why do I “need” this pain? How do I own it if I can’t get rid of it?
  3. I made a piece of paper mache’ art to let me own it. Now I have something that is visible and says this is really how I feel and these are my feet. In some ways it has helped me. It’s sort of comforting to have my feet where I can see them. Nope it hasn’t changed the pain at all but now I know it is me.

Deborah Ann submitted a photo of her art piece to a site called and they are going to use her art on the cover of their 2016 issue. Her wish is to help make pain seen and perhaps better understood by others. Have you used your art and creativity to express your pain experience? Has art helped you manage your pain? She and I would love to hear from you.


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