Epilepsy is a chronic brain disorder that can occurs at any age. More than 50 million people worldwide suffer from epilepsy, making this neurological disease the most common globally.
Seizures that can occur just once a year, or up to several times a day, manifest as short-term involuntary seizures in any part of the body or throughout the body. They can take the form of either minor memory lapses or muscle spasms, or severe, prolonged convulsions, and are sometimes accompanied by loss of consciousness and loss of control over bowel or bladder functions.
For centuries, epilepsy has been surrounded by fear, misunderstanding, discrimination, and social stigma. The development of epilepsy can cause the patient a sense of insecurity, shame, communication difficulties, as well as serious physical, psychological and social problems. People who have seizures, as a rule, more often have other physical problems (fractures, bruises) associated with seizures. They are also predisposed to mental disorders – from anxiety to depression.
Art at Heart, a charity organization based in Vaughan, has dedicated one of its art therapy programs to children with incurable epilepsy. “I suffered from epilepsy at a younger age,” says Yulia Ivanisova, the founder and executive director of Art at Heart. “I know well the condition when the body and the brain are paralyzed by a fit. That is why, when I learned that there is a class of epilepsy at the SickKids hospital, I immediately decided to present art therapy courses there.
We have been working with SickKids for over 2 years, where we have weekly drawing lessons for chronic inpatients. In 2018, our program was officially added to the epilepsy class. Epilepsy class is a school at the hospital for children aged 8 to 12 who suffer from uncontrolled seizures.
Art lessons do wonders. Children, who were previously completely unsocial, first begin to observe how the teacher draws or makes a sculpture, and then rather soon they are ready to create. There was one boy who wore a helmet all the time and never spoke to anyone. Gradually, he began to ask questions then he took some drawing lessons, and at the end of the school year he even painted a portrait of our teacher Valeria Kuznetsova. It was a pleasant surprise for us and even for doctors. Children are happy because they are not alone. ”
Art therapy appeared in the middle of the last century and is a relatively young science; it combines visual arts and psychology. Except epilepsy, art therapy is used to help people with other chronic diseases and conditions. Art therapy enables the patient to express the difficulties that he experiences during his adaptation to life with a chronic disease and, through creativity, describe painful personal experiences related to his state of health that the patient cannot describe in words. So heavy they are. Other benefits of art therapy include behavior management, the development of both interpersonal skills and independency, and a reduction of stress level.
The charity organization Art at Heart was created in 2016 and has been successfully developing since then. Currently, Art at Heart offers art therapy programs for patients in need of long-term care at SickKids, Mackenzie Health Hospital, and also at the nursing homes.
“We wanted the program participants to have the opportunity to communicate with each other, develop their self-esteem, and gain skills in dealing with the disease through artistic creativity,” says Yulia Ivanisova. “Every time a patient creates a piece of art, it feels like a small victory, because it is another step towards improving his psychological well-being, which is crucial for dealing with any disease.”
The symbol of Art at Heart program is a heart of wildflowers. It is very poetic and meaningful. Who did not admire how a thin stem of daisies grows through the pavement where there would seem to be no place to survive. Like wildflowers, creativity states life, gives hope and light, and this is its unique healing power. The purpose of Art at Heart is to give the opportunity to create, and therefore help healing those who need it the most. You do not need huge money investments for this, it is enough to unite kind-hearted people. For more information and donations, visit www.artatheart.ca.