This is something everyone comes to realize as you get older...and I recognize that being in my late twenties is not what a lot of people consider "old," but still, I feel I've passed a tipping point where random aches, bruises, twinges all have a bit more of a feeling of doom attached to them. The past month or so I've been dealing with the latest such occurrence, a sharp, spreading pain down my wrist from the base of my palm to about halfway down my elbow.
This is 100% caused by my art practice. I've been drawing pretty steadily for the last two years on my iPad, comfortably tucked and propped with pillows on the couch, and been chugging merrily along no problemo. So I was sort of unprepared and...ill equipped as this new ache developed. In general I have a high tolerance for pain, and I tend to just deal with soreness and power through, often enduring rather than reaching for a pain killer or similar. I just forget they're an option, until my husband reminds me as soon as I voice my discomfort. So this wrist pain sort of sneaked it's way in, often intensifying in the evening after I'd been using it all day, and I'd go into the kitchen and painstakingly chop a bunch of hard vegetables for dinner, not wanting to shirk my half of the cooking duties.
Once it got bad enough though that I couldn't really draw through the pain, I stopped and actually thought about what was going on here. I'm an artist, I make my living through my wrist's ability to do the work. I've spent years training a muscle memory and skill level that is inherently attached to that one part of my body. This is not really news to most artists, but it sort of hit me like a ton of bricks. It was the first time I confronted the possibility that this could actually stop my whole planned career trajectory before it was even really off the ground. I'm an idiot. How have I been brushing this off like a minor inconvenience?
I asked for advice from my Instagram followers and was informed about pencil grips, massage techniques, exercises, CBD oils, and tips for keeping my wrist healthy and strong (I made it a highlight on my profile if you'd like to see the list yourself here). I immediately stopped drawing every day and sort of lost purpose, loafed around, baked a bit, but mostly did nothing, with a hacked together brace from one of my husband's boxing wraps. I'm not sure how long that lasted; it felt like a month but in reality it was probably a week and a half at most. Not working on all the projects and ideas I had swirling in my brain was incredibly frustrating, especially when I couldn't seem to replace it with anything fulfilling in the same way. I started drawing again, reminding myself to pay attention to my wrist, stop at the slightest hint of pain or even before that, really limiting my drawing time. But I also started accepting pet portrait commissions again, and started a daily gouache practice to learn a new skill.
I was painting every day, feeling inspired and motivated and excited...but at the back of my head I knew I was lying to myself. When you're an artist, you learn that your creativity and productivity can ebb and flow. It's not a switch that's just turned on all the time. So the idea of having to stop working again, at such a high point in my creative cycle, was even more excruciating than the first time. But this is serious, and I owe it to myself to get my shit together and do the responsible thing. I'm going to finish the portraits I've commissioned but I'm limiting myself to that. I'm also going to stop playing video games, chopping hard vegetables, scrubbing tough dishes. I am going to actually keep up a consistent stretching and strengthening routine every day, and wear a real brace instead of a makeshift one. I am going to commit fully this time to getting my wrist back to 100% before starting anything new. And after this corona nonsense is over I'm going straight to a physiotherapist to get some professional advice. It feels so dramatic to say these things, but this has been a very eye-opening and humbling reality check. I hope if any artists are reading this they know to start healthy wrist habits early, or can relate and reach out to me with their own wrist experiences. It's not an uncommon occurrence in this industry, and tons of others besides! Stay safe everyone and hopefully I'll be sharing new art soon (but not too soon). Here's a cute pic of Greer to end this on a high note...petting her is not on the list of no-wrist activities 😛