During my time earning a Masters in Counseling Psychology, I had the privilege of researching a topic I titled "Mental Health Outcomes and Resiliency Factors for Eldest Hearing Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs) and their Siblings." This was informed by my lived experience as a CODA and an attempt to understand my own struggles with mental and physical health. At the time, I was attempting to cope with significant chronic pain for which I was embarking on a long frustrating journey of "ruling out" diagnosis after diagnosis. That was in 2019. I had been dealing with autoimmune disease and chronic pain since my adolescence.
In 2020 the world flipped upside down and it wasn't until 2022 that I finally received a diagnosis: Ankylosing Spondylitis. But really, a diagnosis is just the beginning and the possibilities for what it could mean for my long-term mobility terrified me. I felt like I had already lost so much and the thought of losing more caused intense despair. However, 2022 was also the year I started working with AI art and was introduced to the concept of VR art galleries. I began to wonder if there was a way I could use what I was learning to therapeutically support processing my emotional turmoil and increase my own understanding of where it all began and where it might all lead.
There is emerging research on the subject of chronic illness and childhood trauma, something I worked with extensively during my time as a mental health therapist. So, I let my life experiences guide me. I've been pairing the intensely personal and profound imagery I was able to create to articulate what words could not with the prose and poetic verses I had been penning in a braided memoir project. My hope is to inspire others and eventually conduct research on how expressive art projects like this can be used in supporting individuals, couples, and families coping with the impacts of chronic pain and illness.
The Power of Visuals
Using the text-to-image platform Midjourney, I've been creating a series of illustrations capturing the spectrum of my experiences of childhood trauma, chronic illness and pain, as well as answering the important question I have posed to so many of my own therapy clients: "what helps?" It can be difficult to describe sensations, emotions, and the shadowy imprints of young childhood memories - this is where collaborating with AI has opened new doors for me. I can draw a mean stick figure, but with Midjourney, I've discovered a medium that allows my arthritic hands to participate, artistically, in ways I had thought would never be possible. Not only that, but the very process of distilling my experiences into prompts that the AI can interpret, and seeing what has spilled forth from these "simple" words, deeply validates my lived experiences in a way that is difficult to fully articulate. But for those who have struggled, maybe they will understand what I mean when I say being believed is one of the greatest acts of love and healing available to us as human beings... and through AI as well.
Virtual Reality - Concretizing
With improvements in technology accessibility for those outside of traditional computer programming backgrounds, there are more opportunities to engage with the therapeutic concept of "concretization." This concept is used in several therapeutic modalities and in creative arts therapies, concretize means “to change an abstract statement into something more concrete, which can be perceived by looking at a particular situation or by a physical experience of the emotion associated with that situation” (Blatner 1991). As I grappled with the layered complexity of my experiences and how overwhelming they could sometimes be, I looked for ways to concretize my journey.
ArtSteps is a platform that allows users to create VR exhibitions through relatively easy-to-use structuring. I began using ArtSteps to create my own interactive displays of visuals, sounds, and words. In this way, I have externalized and concretized my experience in a way I can actually stand outside of and observe, process, and re-experience in a new way. I can also share this experience with others who may find value in its message.