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How Art Helped Me With My Knee Pain and Depression

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When Carolyn Eardley’s chronic knee pain grew so excruciating that she had to use a wheelchair, she fell into a deep despair… until she found a simple therapy that eased her suffering and filled her life with beauty again.

“Your knees are the worst I’ve ever seen… they both need to be replaced,” Carolyn Eardley’s doctor stated, explaining that her recent fall had further damaged her badly deteriorated joints. But then he gently told the 60-year-old that she was too overweight to have the surgery and suggested she consider gastric bypass. “I’m sorry, but until you get your weight down, you’re going to have to use a wheelchair.” 

Tears filled Carolyn’s eyes as she saw the things she loved — gardening, outings with her husband, playing with her grandkids — slipping away. 

As a clinical social worker in Nampa, Idaho, Carolyn helped people heal from all sorts of life traumas. But as she struggled to digest her own life-altering news, she reflected back to a 6-year-old girl she’d once treated. When Carolyn had asked her to draw a picture of her feelings, the child colored the page black with just a speck of yellow in the corner. 

That’s exactly how I feel, Carolyn thought, as overwhelming despair washed over her… with only the smallest ray of hope shining through. 

Even in a wheelchair, the pain in Carolyn’s knees was almost unbearable. Her doctor prescribed pain medication, but Carolyn didn’t like the side effects. In constant agony, there was no way she could exercise to lose weight, yet she wasn’t ready to have gastric bypass. And as weeks passed, Carolyn grew more isolated. Unable to focus at work, she retired, which made her even more depressed.

I have to find a way back, she thought, when suddenly, the girl’s drawing came to mind. Carolyn had often used art therapy to help her clients work through their feelings. Maybe art can help me!

Excited, Carolyn started a painting journal. She wouldn’t think about what she was going to draw; instead, she lost herself in the flow of creating. And to her amazement, the pages filled with flowers, butterflies, and trees. Carolyn marveled that despite her sadness, deep inside, she still saw beauty in the world. 

With each brush stroke, she released negative feelings, replacing them with peace, hope, and joy. And as her outlook brightened, she noticed something else astonishing: Her knees didn’t hurt as much. 

Hoping to help others, Carolyn shared her story on Facebook. And when she posted her artwork, people asked to buy it! Carolyn had never thought of herself as an artist. But with her self-esteem boosted, she started showing her work on a Facebook page, Carolyn Eardley Art, and in local exhibitions. 

Today at 63, Carolyn continues to paint and feels happy and hopeful. She’s even working with a physical therapist, who’s helped her lose 22 pounds, and she is determined to shed another 30, which will allow her to finally have her knee surgery. 

“I’m proof that doing something creative — like painting, coloring, writing or whatever you enjoy — is a powerful tool for healing the mind and body,” Carolyn says. “If you’re hurting and overwhelmed, get your creative juices flowing and enjoy the journey back to joy!”

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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