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Portrait of a Patient by Sinead Lawless

Date posted: 20 September 2018

Image shown: Anxiety © Sinead Lawless.

Visual artist Sinead Lawless was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2006, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. During the course of her disease, she has kept drawing and writing to illustrate and reflect how the disease has impacted on her, both physically and mentally. Sinead was awarded the 2018 Provost Fund for The Visual and Performing Arts by Trinity College Dublin to paint four of these images on canvas to be hung in the common areas of the Trinity Centre for Health Sciences (St. James’s Hospital Campus, Dublin).

Cillin Condon is a physiotherapy educator at Trinity College Dublin who approached Sinead to share her story so that the images could be used as a teaching tool for students to illustrate the various emotions that patients with chronic physical disease experience. He will use the VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) approach to explore the paintings with students.

As novice health care professionals, the students may have limited experience of chronic conditions. This project aims to nudge them towards a broader undertaking of the patient while they develop a medical knowledge base. Secondly, as students, they must learn to work in a team and be cognisant of differing views. Through structured VTS discussions, the artworks encourage students to consider the views of others who might have different perspectives on the images and to recognise their own biases, thereby building better teams.

The images will be near common areas used by all healthcare students and staff. Members of the public also access these common areas.

Portrait of a Patient 

‘Portrait of a Patient’ is my ongoing project. It permeates through everything else that I do. For most of my life I have found myself held ransom to illness and disorder in one form or another. It is not something we choose but can get in the way of our career, our goals and our relationships. It makes us vulnerable and dependent, makes us question who we are, and our role in society. 

In an information-ready, self-help society, the guilt of being ill belongs to the patient. Taking responsibility for yourself is the modern day mantra. Although there is merit in this, it can also lead to a lack of empathy. Some illnesses can’t be ‘fixed’. Being a long-term patient has taken its toll on my self-esteem. 

At the beginning I used to think I needed to wait until I felt better before I could continue with my life. Now I realise that illness is something that I need to adapt to and factor in. We can’t spend our whole lives waiting. Illness and disorders are forever present and they affect us all in different ways.

About the Artist

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2006. What followed was 10+ years of pain, anxiety, depression, hospitalisation, medication, surgery, and almost death. What also followed was awakening, awareness, gratitude and survival. In 2015, after 14+ years of working in graphic design, illness and frequent hospitalisation forced me to take time out. At this time I hadn’t painted since school and had no formal training. I began to attend life drawing sessions and workshops at Schoolhouse for Art when my health allowed.

As I lay in hospital or at home in bed I would often open my phone to write down how I was feeling. The words would flow out, sometimes rhyming, sometimes not, but I would always feel better afterwards. I would rarely revisit these notes or try to perfect them once the moment had passed.
After another major surgery in 2016 my health improved dramatically and I opened up my collection of notes/words/poems and curated them to best represent my cyclical journey of illness and health, and work on a visual representation.

Further information 

Website: www.sineadlawless.com/portrait-of-a-patient/
Twitter: twitter.com/lawlesssinead
#portraitofapatient

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