I'm going to write a bit about my idea behind my Visual Essay in Illustration. This post will get pretty personal, but I feel it's necessary to explain my intended results, and gather all of the information I have accumulated in my experience with the disease.
My proposal is as follows: I am trying to convey the effects of having Rheumatoid Arthritis on daily life. I'm taking specific moments that resonate in my life so far that have particularly been cumbersome, and turning them into Illustrations that try and show that dispute between what is natural, what is not, and the pain/despair/hopelessness encountered with it.
One thing that needs to be known about the disease is that it is pretty much a lifelong thing. It is a strange condition where a person's immune system begins attacking itself, causing the joints (and organs) to inflame and start to possibly deteriorate if not kept in check.
It is not treatable, only manageable, and another natural/unnatural element behind it (besides something as natural as the immune system acting in an unnatural manner) is the fact one has to be heavily medicated to appear/feel remotely normal. This can also cause many more side effects creating discomfort.
On a personal level, I am taking up to 5 650 mg Darvocet tablets a day for pain, 2 5mg Prednisone (steroid) tablets a day to keep the inflammation at a manageable level to where I can function/move around, and 8 2.5mg (or so, I don't have the bottle on me) tablets of Methotrexate, which is intended to be the drug that (once a proper dosage is figured out) will put my Rheumatoid Arthritis under control to a point where I won't have to take the first two drugs to feel normal.
Another problem with this is that the Methotrexate isn't working, and the first drug I took, Hydroxychloroquine did not work either. Instead, the first one caused me to drop about 40 pounds in the period of less than a month due to how sick it made me. The Methotrexate seems to be doing the same, causing me to sleep up to 20 hours Friday night, Saturday night and sometimes even Sunday night due to the fact my body gets extremely exhausted from processing the medication. If these 8 tablets (already increased from 2 to 6 to 8 from lack of success) do not work, I may possibly have to start giving myself weekly injections to help it along, as my Rheumatologist doesn't want me to try another drug yet (since the side effects of the other two available drugs are even worse than the previous two I have tried).
Aside from the struggle with pain and general function that is evident by simply clicking the first wikipedia link, it is also just hard to function mentally with this some days. I have, for the most part, gotten over the unfairness of this diagnosis and the fact that I will inevitably live with it for the rest of my life (pending some "miracle"). It is still a problem, however, that this extremely negative part of my life can overtake all of the positive things going on. Sometimes, when I can't turn a doorknob or open a bottle, I get extremely depressed and feel helpless and dependent on those around me.
I'm hoping that I can remain positive and keep working on my artwork, and that the negativity of this experience doesn't drag me down. I've been doing well so far. I tend to schedule my work schedule around when I know I will be in pain (mornings, half the days on weekends) and I continue to get my work done on time, and well. I've even risked applying for a job on the weekends.
This all leads up to the big problem of having this disease: having to limit what I'm doing. I'm not able to exercise, walk long distances, stand for long periods of time, or even stay in one position (be it sitting, laying down a certain way, etc) for a long time without experiencing pain or swelling. I have had to learn to regulate my day. A good explanation of this experience is located here. It is a lengthy story by a woman who has Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, which is a similar disease to Rheumatoid Arthritis in how it effects the body and how the pain experienced is not always visible to those around a person diagnosed with it. She tells about how she has to schedule her day around the disease by relating it to having a handful of spoons, and how each activity chosen to participate in requires one (or several, depending) spoons to accomplish, and when you run out your day is done and your body is exhausted/unable to perform.
Overall, I'm hoping to use the previous method of displaying a human form disfigured in subtle ways intertwined with natural imagery to show this duality of the interplay of the natural becoming unnatural and the unnatural being natural to certain people, as well as the overall struggle of dealing with this disease.
I'm hoping to accomplish these images traditionally on illustration board in a similar manner to my previous "What's Missing" illustration. These need to be detailed, engaging, and filled with subtle hints to the body falling apart. The viewer needs to be able to interact with the body and search for these irregularities to convey how it is not an obvious disease, but more of a silent constant in a person's life.