No Longer Separating the Strands

For a long time, I felt the only thing I should comment on in my art blog was drawing, painting and printmaking. It even felt strange to write about vacations, though these were often the inspiration for my wilderness-themed artwork so that seemed like an okay stretch. However, I am not very good at compartmentalizing my life into separate fragments. I view it more like a piece of fabric with everything intricately woven together. As I set out to start writing again post-Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and surgery, it feels very weird to hardly mention something that has been such a big part of my life lately, and to breeze through it in my last couple of posts in a sentence or two. After all, the whole experience has completely altered the lens through which I view life… and create art.

Though I had UC for years and managed to deal with it, this fall I finally saw it jeopardize the activities I am most passionate about and at the core of my life: outdoor adventure and art. I had never let the disease stop me from doing what I loved before. I often went climbing, skiing and hiking in the midst of flare-ups and just made do the best I could. Most of my friends and family didn’t even know I was sick. I was a master at covering it up. However it was on a 3-day backpack trip last September that I noticed my latest UC flare seemed to be entering a new level of severity. The last day of the trip we were going to take a fairly easy hike up a nearby peak. I, for the first time ever in my history with the disease, felt too ill to make the ascent. It really didn’t bother me at the time. I still had my other favorite thing to do: sketch. I sat on a boulder while Doug summited and recorded the landscape around camp in my journal, happy to be outside and immersed in the beauty of nature. That bliss was short-lived. As we hiked out to the car that afternoon, I started to really worry about how sick I was feeling and that this was not going to be my average UC flare. Ten days later, I was hospitalized for two weeks as my illness worsened and my health rapidly declined. I lost 25 pounds and could barely stand due to weakness. However, at that time my spirits remained fairly positive– at least I was still able do my art. I had Doug bring my watercolors to my hospital room so I could paint from some of my wilderness photos on the internet, but my supplies never made it out of my bag. I was just too tired to be creative.

Eventually I got out of the hospital and regained strength with the help of a powerful drug. I was so excited to have my energy back. However, that same drug gave me excruciating joint pain, and I soon found I could no longer walk very well or hold a pencil. I stopped the medication, but the pain lingered. I spent a lot of time those weeks crying, wondering if I would ever be able to hike or draw again. I realized that having surgery to remove my colon was the best chance I had at regaining my life. I counted down the days until my consultation with a surgeon, hoping that I would be a good candidate.

Fortunately I was. Now, at almost five months post-op, I am simply amazed at how good I feel. All the side effects of medications are gone, I am back to hiking and sketching, and best yet, am cured of UC. Every day I make a new discovery of how life is better after surgery. I am filled with immense gratitude… for the support of my friends and family, for my incredible surgeon and for the opportunity to get a second chance to live my dreams.

My selection of photos for today’s blog post may not have made sense before: a journal entry from my backpack trip last September, some sketches I did in the park across the street while I was at home healing and a close-up of carving lines on my block print that I worked on this morning. But today it seems to fit. Art, my love of the outdoors, my illness and recovery– it is all tightly woven together. And I am no longer attempting to separate the strands. Instead, I am going to take this new strong and beautiful fabric and create something amazing.


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2 Responses to No Longer Separating the Strands

  1. Amy says:

    Heidi, what a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing. Your art is gorgeous, too. I wish I could put some in my house!
    Take care,

  2. Sherrie Y says:

    Oh my! You've been on quite a journey, and I am so happy to hear that your recovery and return to the things you love is at hand. Your sketches are wonderful, I'm glad you're back to sharing them.

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