Last summer I painted this mandala that was inspired by all of my friends who suffer from chronic, debilitating auto-immune diseases. I have severe Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and have met many, many amazing people in my journey with this illness. They face debilitating pain, limited mobility, malformed joints, severe fatigue, and rampant inflammation & stiffness — all of which makes performing basic daily functions very difficult. Yet, they do it with the strength of spirit that keeps them fighting back against this disease, day in & day out. The fighting spirit these folks demonstrate every day in getting up and doing what needs to be done, even when their bodies won’t move, really inspires me. Their strength of spirit is gigantic!
A group of my amazing friends with arthritis are heading to Washington DC to talk to legislators as patient advocates for the American College of Rheumatology. They are going to share their personal stories of how rheumatoid arthritis and other severe auto-immune diseases impacts their daily life, their financial life, their work life, and their long-term health. Their stories are my story. They speak for so many of us who struggle to button our jeans or hold the bar of soap or turn the ignition keys on our cars or lift our arms to comb our hair. They speak for those of us who witness our joints deteriorate and twist into zig-zag shapes called z-deformities. They speak of how this disease is the number one cause for long-term disability and how many of us who want to work can no longer work due to the joint damage and pain and fatigue. They speak of the immense difficulty in getting health insurance for medical coverage and how far too many people have to file medical bankruptcy due to the overwhelming costs of treating these auto-immune diseases. They speak of the damage caused by the side-effects of the powerful immune-modifying medications used to treat these diseases. They speak of the progressively debilitating nature of auto-immune diseases and how researchers still don’t know what causes the immune system to go haywire, and therefore, there is no cure for the millions of people who suffer greatly at the hand of these diseases.
This mandala is dedicated to all those people who speak loudly against or live quietly with auto-immune diseases. Every single one of them fight the daily fight with grace and grit. Every single one of them has the incredible strength of spirit that pushes them forward, even if they can’t get out of bed one day. They will get out of bed the next day or the next day. They will get up for the next battle.
When I painted this mandala, it revealed itself to me slowly. I first saw this nice, soft wash of color so I wet the watercolor paper and let all the colors blend into each other. Then I painted the center with the swirl lines bursting out from the center. Next came the lines that split the mandala into eight slices. The most difficult part of this mandala was painting the Japanese Kanji symbols for strength (looks like an open box) and spirit (looks like a cross). I had to practice over and over again on another sheet of paper before I felt comfortable that I could paint each symbol correctly on the mandala. But, just like dealing with a challenge with my rheumatoid arthritis, I kept working at it until I was able to paint those beautiful and meaningful symbols with my crooked arthritic fingers. Now, this is one of my most special mandalas because it means so much to me. It is a pleasure to share it with you all.
I wish the best of luck to all my friends in their journey to Washington DC. May the legislators listen to you with open minds and open hearts!!