Anyone who walks into an art class at the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago is encouraged to paint, sculpt, write poetry, or anything in between. No experience necessary. The goal? Self-expression and healing. The workshops are part of Studio E, an art program launched in 2011 designed specifically for people with epilepsy and run by local epilepsy foundations throughout the country. Julie Ludwick, a facilitator and art therapist for Studio E in Chicago, shares details about the program.
What is a typical class like?
We start with a short meditation session before the class to help everyone settle in and get focused. We also do a brief introduction, asking participants to share their names and a fun fact about themselves—this is the icebreaker. Then we launch into an art
project. We often try to tie in poetry or creative writing as well, because the written word can serve as an intentional reflection of the visual art component.
Can you give an example of a recent project?
For Epilepsy Awareness Month last November, we did paintings and creative writings about what participants want others to know about the condition. For example, one person in the class painted what it feels like to have a seizure, creating a visual metaphor of cymbals crashing together. Others focused on demonstrating that epilepsy is only a small part of their identity.
How do these sessions help those with epilepsy?
It really gives them a safe, stress-free environment to express themselves. It helps them build confidence and connect and engage with others. When you are living with epilepsy, you may be the only person in your family or circle of friends with the condition. So you often feel like those close to you just don’t get it, which can be very isolating. But when you are able to come together in a group like this, you don’t have to feel that way—people understand what you’re going through. Of course, everyone has their own life experiences and lives with their own version of epilepsy. But there’s that overall sense of “we get each other.”
Have there been any results from the program?
According to research presented at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, people with epilepsy reported increased self-esteem after participating in Studio E. We are nurturing the artist identity within each participant, and that has a lot of benefits. It helps with communication and builds self-confidence. In the end, it all boils down to the power of creativity.
Originally published in EpilepsyAdvocate Spring 2019.