The Arthritis Newsletter

Fall 2011

Endings and Beginnings: The ART in Arthritis


What does a diagnosis of arthritis mean to the millions of Canadians who have the disease?  It means change!  Change in expectations, career path, hours of work, family planning, friendships, social activities, and sometimes hobbies.   Most people scale back their routines usually at the expense of their hobbies to accommodate the problems associated with chronic disease, particularly a disease as painful and debilitating as arthritis.


“That’s a mistake,” says Otto Kemensek.  “It is often hobbies that make life sweet and help us get through the tough times.”


Lianne Gulka agrees.  She says that arthritis compels many people to abandon physically demanding hobbies.  Replacing them with those that are easier on the muscles, ligaments and joints of the body makes sense.  “It’s not an option; it’s a requisite for well-being,” she says.


Otto and Lianne are artists exploring the mediums of clay and acrylic painting respectively, and enjoying the journey of self-expression.  They agree that art is important to them and to healing and coping with their arthritis.  “It’s an antidote,” they claim.  “Creating objects of art gives one a lift, especially when the mind and the body are weighed down and working against the spirit.”


Otto discovered his aptitude for clay approximately 10 years ago creating masks at the Port Moody Art Centre.  But his love for three-dimensional images began in his teens building model airplanes.  In his twenties, he entered the workforce and put all his energy into his job.  He regrets it.  “If you put all your eggs in the same basket and that basket is work, when a disease strikes and it causes you to leave your job, life produces a new void.  I’ve been there and I don’t like the feeling,” he says.  People should try to create balance in everything they do. “


Otto does live a balanced life now.  He works part-time, he volunteers, he has an active social life and he’s back in the clay studio creating, learning, and helping others.


Lianne, an avid skier, took up acrylics after breaking her ankle in a skiing accident.  Being forced off the slopes she found that painting gave her the control she was seeking – the control and responsibility she didn’t have over other aspects of her life including her disease.


“Art provides a diversion from being ill – it’s a healthy distraction,” she says with a laugh.   “I am continually making choices about palette, texture, medium and subject matter – choices that I don’t always have with arthritis treatments.”


Lianne believes that there are multiple therapeutic benefits to hobbies.  “The social aspects alone are a huge benefit for people coping with the isolation that many chronic diseases bring.  They don’t feel alone anymore,” she contends.


Change is often difficult; not many people like it especially those who are required to say goodbye to the familiar and embrace or find something new to fill the void.  “It’s important to remember that it’s a journey of discovery and it’s what you choose to do with what you find that matters,” they say.


Arthritis forced Otto and Lianne to make changes; they chose to create works of art.

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