Introducing Atara Schimmel – Artist, Advocate, Pelvic Pain Patient
(The purpose of the “Remarkable Patients” series is to highlight patients who have done remarkable things in spite of, or perhaps because of, their bladder and/or pelvic pain. We want to feature patients who are artisans, writers, athletes, small business owners to give them the opportunity to share and promote their work. This month, we feature Atara Schimmel, a creative arts therapist who is the founder of Project Angel, a grass roots movement that is currently lobbying the American Congress of OB/Gyn to create curricula for all pelvic pain conditions. Her work is gorgeous, inspiring and joyful. I hope you will join me in celebrating her artwork! Learn more about her at: http://www.ataraschimmel.com)
(By Atara Schimmel) I am a creative and expressive arts therapist and a survivor of Pudendal Neuralgia, a brutal and devastating pelvic/genital nerve pain condition. I injured my pudendal nerve by participating in aerobic and aerobic kick-boxing classes. Prolonged sitting on a hard chair while working at the potters wheel might have taken a toll on my pudendal nerve as well. For two years, my symptoms were minor albeit disturbing. I felt a pinching sensation deep inside of my vagina as though my cervix was being pulled with a tweezer. After two long plane rides from Israel to the US, my pudendal nerve was further damaged and within six months, my body became my torture chamber.
The months of pain that I endured left my sense of identity shattered. I was stabbed, electrocuted, wrenched apart, burnt alive and all of this was happening inside of my most feminine, most sacred and vulnerable body part – my vagina. I felt that I had become the pain. My life had lost all coherence and meaning. I was staying alive, forcing myself to swallow the food that my parents brought to my room. I was jealous of those who were dying from an illness. At the time, death looked like a luxury. I survived a suicide attempt. I’m here to tell my story and to offer hope to others who are suffering. Art has, and continues to, save my life daily. I cannot imagine being alive without it. My dedication and commitment to my art, my expression and my creativity have much to do with my healing.
After new medication helped to control my pain, I was able to concentrate and focus on other things. In the hospital, I was able to focus on art, including the creation of paper mache puppets and watercolor. The repetitive motion of gluing small pieces of paper onto each other helped me gain control of the nauseating anxiety levels that left me feeling that I was made of marbles, spilling all over the place. The focus and concentration that making art demanded of me brought me relief.
Working with the broken pieces and putting them together to create something beautiful was a metaphor for my life.
When I returned home, I started creating mosaics. Working with the broken pieces and putting them together to create something beautiful was a metaphor for my life. Every newly created pot was a victory of my sense of uselessness and devastation. I was proving to myself that I could still create beauty and meaning. I was fighting for my life through my art.
I spent months on the the floor of my room creating jewelry from gemstones. Focusing on the gemstones took my mind away from focusing on the pain. Concentrating on twisting the wire took my thoughts away from the fear, the trauma and the grief. If I could create beauty, then, for a moment, I could believe that I was still of value to this world. Deep within me, I knew that my value was intrinsic, but I had to work hard to access this sense of connection to my higher self. My art helped me reconstruct a sense of coherence and a sense of identity.
When I healed enough to be able to take painting classes, a whole new world of expression opened itself before me. I began to dream. To dream that one day my art would tell my story. I began to dream that my art would tell the story of millions of people who are suffering from chronic nerve and, in particular, genital pain. I was learning that my paintings could speak to the gut and I knew that one day they would pave the way to a greater healing, to a collective healing.
I believe in my art with all of my heart and soul. It has saved my life. It continues to save me on a daily basis from overwhelming anxiety and trauma. My sense of self has strengthened. My sense of purpose and my mission are crystal clear. I am still suffering from PNE but, alongside the trauma, there is beauty, hope and tremendous faith in our ability to heal ourselves and to inspire healing in each other.
A Note About Pudendal Neuralgia
Pudendal neuralgia is one of the suggested subtypes for IC proposed by Dr. Christopher Payne in 2015. It occurs when pelvic floor muscles are so tight that they squeeze, press or impair nearby nerves. Symptoms are often positional in nature, often occurring when sitting, bending over and/or squatting. This nerve pain is often sharp, electrical or burning in nature. Learn more about the five proposed subtypes here!