Overnight chronic pain made me become an almost childish version of myself


CHRONIC PAIN – IT’S so hard to explain in words, but it impacts every aspect of your life and the lives of those around you.

For me, overnight, I went from being a very independent woman, married for less than a year with so many plans for my future – and I became an almost childish version of myself.

I depended on my husband and my mother for everything. Food, clothing, medicine, socialization, rent, income support, doctor’s visits – everything. I started to feel that I was no longer entitled to an opinion in my own world because I was completely dependent on those around me.

The guilt associated with canceling last minute plans and not being able to attend big events was difficult, but watching my husband carry our lives on his shoulder was almost unbearable.

Originally from Carlow, I am an artist and illustrator based in Cork City. My training is in art engraving and graphic design. In 2015, at the age of 32, I had an accident that left me with chronic sciatica and nervous problems in my back and legs.

I knew next to nothing myself about the realities of living with chronic pain before the accident. Of course, I now realize that there are thousands of people living with chronic pain, but it was all a total shock to me.

Art created by Ciara

After my accident, I had the most intense feeling that I had “fallen into a rabbit hole”. My new condition meant that I was often only able to experience the outside world through a filter – indirectly through other people, through television or the Internet.

My situation, of only being able to receive this distorted and filtered experience of the outside world, gave me a connection to Alice in Wonderland.

And then during a particularly lonely time, my husband suggested that we take a pet so that I have company every day. When we got to the pet store, I found the perfect little creature to keep me company. A little white rabbit we called Opie. I knew then that my fate and my connection with Alice were sealed!

Alice fell and so did I.

Open the world

My new reality of living with chronic pain was really hard to communicate to my family and friends, even though they wanted to be helpful and supportive.

They couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting better, so from the bottom of the rabbit hole I began to illustrate my experiences like a chronic pain journal, thinking a picture is worth a thousand words.

I didn’t want to look back painfully like wasted time: I wanted something to show for this experience. And that’s how my chronic pain journal was born, using delicate lines and bright colors to balance heavy themes.

And the newspaper opened up the world to me in a way I never expected. It gave me something to work on and something to work towards. Drawing and creating my journal was a way for me to collect things. I started to see my worth more and more over time. I started to adjust to the way my body was functioning now and started to contribute more in my relationships.

I was so thrilled when my illustrations for My Chronic Pain Diary received a Silver A’design, a commendation from the Institute of Designers in Ireland, and I was shortlisted for the Association of Illustrators, World Design Award . I had the opportunity to work with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals on their Chronic Pain Campaign at the European Pain Awareness Conference in 2019 and the following year I worked with Toyota Mobility on the Going Further campaign. of the Toyota Mobility Foundation.

Take the next step

Last year I realized I had reached 100 illustrated journal entries so I decided to take the next step with this project. I applied for funding through the Arts and Disability Connect program of the Arts Council, managed by Arts & Disability Ireland. I was thrilled to be successful in this app so have now been able to develop a three part project for September of this year – which also happens to be Pain Awareness Month.

The first item is a printed book with over 100 illustrations from My Chronic Pain Diary. The second part of the project is an exhibition at Cork Printmakers of digital prints of this book. Aideen Quirke, Director of Cork Printmakers had a remarkable influence on this project. At times when I lost confidence in myself and my big ideas, Aideen was there to take them forward, help me develop them and see the value of what I was trying to accomplish.

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The third part of my project is an artistic journey of illustrations of the book in 2 and 3D in the windows of shops in Cork City. These windows will be decorated and filled with illustrations from My Chronic Pain Diary, embroidered artwork and origami characters with colorful fabrics and lighting, as well as video footage of short animations of some of the illustrations.


Accessibility is very important to me, so by using the windows a person can walk, cycle, use a wheelchair or stay in the car to move from window to window. With accessibility in mind, each window will have a QR code which, when scanned, will send people to a soundcloud file on www.mychronicpaindiary.com where they can hear an audio description of the contents of each window. There are 15 shops involved in the art journey, and we will be running two-day storefront tours in September, one being Culture Night.

Funding from the Cork City Council Arts Office enabled me to hire a project coordinator, Aoife Claffey, a visual artist based in Cork City. I created the artwork but Aoife helps it come to life. We put all the artwork together at St John’s Central College, then she puts all the artwork in the windows, does all the heavy lifting and coordinates everything. I couldn’t install the artwork without it. She’s not afraid to try, she drives me everywhere and her enthusiasm for the project is so refreshing. I’ve been living with these images for a few years now, so having your new perspective is great.

I was also supported throughout this trip by Cork Chamber, Notes to Cork and Crowley’s Opticians. Support also came from St John’s Central College, The Paint Store in Ballincollig and Sooner Than Later in Dublin who printed the books.

People who matter

Chronic pain is a very polarizing experience, but it especially shows you the people and relationships that really matter to you.

People who walk away you learn to let go – but people who come forward are gifts you probably took for granted before.

To find out more about the My Chronic Pain Diary events taking place in Cork in September, visit Ciara’s website. Ciara Chapman is an award winning artist living in Cork City.


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