I utilize art as a way to understand the world around me and to communicate experiences and emotions that otherwise remain completely internalized.
My interest in pain communication began through being a chronic pain patient myself. As I tried to understand my own complex pain, I became increasingly fascinated by the field in its entirety.
To construct this piece, I hand-drew an initial sketch to map out the general layout of the design in pencil. Once I was happy with the rough sketch, I traced over the graphite lines with a black fineliner pen.
Next, I scanned in the image to my computer and uploaded it to a Krita, which is a free digital drawing software. From there, I drew over the original sketch and refined the details.
Side note: Now, I use programs from the Adobe suite (such as Photoshop and Illustrator) to create digital art, but Krita was a fantastic starter program. If you are interested into getting into digital art, but do not want to commit to a paid program right off the bat, I highly suggest checking out Krita. It is free, has everything you need, and is extremely user friendly.
Digital Painting: Chaos from Within, by SarahSynapses
The background was designed to seem like neurons emerging in a petri dish. I wanted to juxtapose the conventional sterile collection of neurons cultured in a lab with the intricacy of neural networks going haywire within an individual’s brain. The exact neural mechanisms behind what causes chronic pain remains elusive to pain scientists, and this image shows how devastating tiny irregularities at the neural level can be to the entire biological system.
Some of my independent research has involved exploring possible causations for the low translational success rates in pain research, where just 2% of new pain therapeutics from phase one trials end up making it to clinical approval, compared to 10% for other conditions.
In the United States, a staggering one out of every ten suicide victims also suffered chronic pain (according to a study from the US pain foundation). So clearly, pain patients are in desperate need of better support systems, more treatment options, and stronger education in coping with their illnesses.
Having an unseen illness, whether mental or physical, can be isolating for a person, and this artwork depicts the internal chaos that wreaks havoc from within.
Pain is frequently dismissed as “all in your head,” which is incredibly invalidating and quite aggravating for the patient who is likely already experiencing an extreme amount of inner turmoil.
Researching Chronic Pain:
What’s the problem?
The subjective nature of pain makes it difficult for researchers and practitioners alike to objectively quantify it.
Assessing Pain in Animals: Since animals are unable to verbally tell you how much pain they are in, we need more ways to assess their levels of nociception (ie the perception of potential tissue damage in response to a harmful stimuli) within preclinical research.
Assessing Pain in Humans: The current clinical methods of assessing pain in patients solely with the classic pain scale going from one being the least amount of pain to ten being the greatest amount is outdated, because it allows for too much room for error and bias from both the clinician and patients.
Bringing visual awareness to an invisible condition helps to validate the patient’s experience. Making science more accessible is an integral driving force to why I am continuously experimenting with various graphical representations and illustrations of pain-related topics to help peers and patients understand complex topics within the field.-SarahSynapses
Rogers ML, Joiner TE, Shahar G. Suicidality in Chronic Illness: An Overview of Cognitive-Affective and Interpersonal Factors. J Clin Psychol Med Settings. 2021 Mar;28(1):137-148.