Title of Work

Facets of Pain

Description of Work

Facets of Pain

By Samantha Shepard

This painting is a depiction of the emotions evoked by my journey with chronic pain. In the fall of 2009, I experienced an injury leaving me disabled for four years, I lost many things that day including my so-called identity as a young able bodied person. Though my journey with chronic pain was arduous, and at times, seemed endless, I continued to walk along my path to recovery, and today I am a successful premedical student at the University of New England working to pursue an education in osteopathy.

I often describe chronic pain to others as multifaceted, or as being consuming, grueling, and oppressive. Though I have learned to manage my signs and symptoms through years of therapies and various interventions, during the first few years of my injury, I couldn’t have fathomed that I would be where I am today.

This piece was presented to the US Pain Foundation on August 5, 2016 after a call for art was circulated targeting students with chronic pain. This piece was made five years after I was injured and finished two years after I started it. It is the first piece of post-injury artwork I have produced and will not be the last.

This painting depicts not only the path I have chosen to travel with my pain, but also the journey of my recovery and transformation. The black areas, paint and oil pastel, show the sharpness and pervasiveness of my pain. They penetrate the painting, and in some ways dominate it, weaving with sharp or jagged edges, like the spikes or daggers I feel in my back. These figures show that no matter how hard I try to ignore my pain, it will always be there trying to overpower me, so I need to always remain cognizant, listening to my body, while focusing on self-care. I need to remain present.

The shades of yellow and red elucidate feelings of love and happiness, which at times were overpowered by the severity and intensity of my pain. Though these emotions were often repudiated by my pain, they were still there, covered in a fiery sheath, waiting to be uncovered, recognized, and nurtured. There was a perfect storm of sorts, which caught me and forced me to face my reality. I met providers who invested interest in teaching me what my physiological dysfunction was, I felt empowered, and cared for. Using this empowerment, I took control of my care and I got better quicker. I chose to shed, or transform the negative aspects of my life, and began an expedition of positive thinking, a path I will never abandon, and one of the best trips I have taken in my life.

I chose to highlight sadness and loss with colors of purple and blue. The emotion of anger stems from sadness and fear. Four years ago, while tossing around the idea of returning to college, my therapist wrote down a quote and handed it to me. Since that day, no matter where I am, this quote remains in the driver side mirror compartment of my car, as a constant unrelenting reminder. It reads “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,” The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. This quote has always resonated with me and taught me that despite my challenges, I am still “good enough,” I was never—and will never be—“broken,” I have nothing to be scared or ashamed of. Today, I no longer use the word disabled to describe my condition, and have chosen to focus on the power of positivity, resiliency and the transformation I experienced as a human being. This transformation stems from these themes of blue and purple.

The green and mint areas signify growth and resiliency. They do not dominate the painting, as I still have a lot of work and self-care to do, but, they are there, and I continue to grow a little bit each day, no matter what. I reflect often about my journey with pain and transformation, and think of the gains I have made in just a matter of seven years, I can only imagine where I will be in seven more, or even forty more years. In a life where I once trained myself to no longer dream, I am grateful, and have chosen to make my dreams my reality.

Some describe the sensation of living with chronic pain every day, all of the time as “stealing your soul.” Innocence, love, laughter, dreams of the future and the false promises which society teaches us we are entitled to, can be stolen. I no longer feel this way, my life has changed dramatically, I have chosen to use my pain as a learning and transformative experience, where I find myself smiling at the simplistic beauty of the world, always daring myself to dream. These are some of my Facets of Pain.

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