Art Therapy Interview with Author/Artist Cameron B. Auxer – Hi Cameron! It’s so nice to meet you and to feature your story and artwork today. I’m looking forward to getting to know you better, so let’s jump right into our interview today.
MSW: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you are doing with Pajama Daze?
CBA: I started the Pajama Daze website in 2012 while I was pretty much housebound with chronic fatigue syndrome and other chronic illnesses. One of my illnesses is fairly rare – Fibromuscular Dysplasia, which is visible in my carotid, vertebral and mesenteric arteries, making them appear like a string of beads, and it is systemic, so it impacts all of my connective tissue. I get subluxations in some joints.
I am 66 and a two-time internal cancer survivor; also have had two surgeries for skin cancers and have suffered 4 mild heart attacks (3 in 2005, 1 in 2008).
I have had two spinal surgeries because of a degenerative condition. When I was working full-time, most of my jobs were in the media, and then I moved into community health education. These days I am a Reiki practitioner for a beautiful day spa. I like to pet sit and officiate weddings, but have yet to turn them into formal businesses (but that’s the plan).
Pajama Daze started out as an outlet for my blogs while I was stuck at home, not well enough to do much else. But through connections I started making on social media, I found so many other Spoonies who had valuable experience to share, wonderful artistic creations, and inspiring stories.
Pajama Daze became a tapestry of diverse contributions by people from around the world.
I regret that I haven’t put as much time into the website for the past few years as I did at the beginning, but fortunately that neglect occurred for two very good reasons.
One, I was working on a book, and two, I was getting some energy back so I spent less time at home. I have updated some blogs to keep them relevant and continue to solicit contributions of material from others as well as writing an occasional blog myself.
I still get messages on social media from people who have just discovered Pajama Daze and not only love it but feel they gained a lot of good information from it.
MSW: Yes, and I’m one of those people! I really enjoyed taking a look around your site and seeing all the creative minds there. I am also happy to hear that you’ve been able to get out more. I know how much time we put into these things when we’re stuck at home. It sure is nice to get a little energy back and start living life a little more fully!
When did you first become interested in art?
CBA: I come from a family of artists but was not encouraged to be artistic. I got more encouragement with my writing.
But in 2018, I moved to a small town in New England that is a vortex of creative energy, full of artists, musicians, authors and even boasts a professional theatre.
I guess I caught the bug. I started learning to play a musical instrument called the bowed psaltery, and since the pandemic started, I have also been teaching myself to play the ukulele. I took a free pastel class at the library, then started attending paint nights at a local church.
The paint nights turned virtual with the pandemic and eventually stopped, but I kept on painting in my “studio” which is actually a shared laundry room.
I also picked up a copy of the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain workbook, which surprised me… I didn’t think I would be able to draw very well, but both the drawing and the painting show progress as the months go by. I will be starting actual art lessons with a local artist this summer."Art lit a spark in me and it has become a great joy." Art Therapy Interview with Author & Artist Cameron B. Auxer Click To Tweet
MSW: How do you use your art to help with chronic illness?
CBA: Art is a great distraction on so many levels, especially now with the stress and isolation of the pandemic.
But the creative process itself becomes meditative and all consuming; I get sucked into my painting and am transported away from the troubles of the world and my life.
And when I’m finished, I have a creation that is all mine. What a thrill!
MSW: I love that feeling of completion when I’ve finished a project. Do you ever create art that describes your pain or your emotional or physical state of being? Would you mind sharing some images with us?
CBA: I haven’t dived deep to create my art at this point. I have been just painting pretty pictures.
But that will change with this art teacher who is taking me on. She believes in art from the heart, expressing myself from deep down to the bone.
When I talked with her, I realized how much emotion I have been suppressing because with all the illnesses, cancer, surgeries, my father’s death and my sister’s suicide, personal losses and huge changes, I have had to deal with or grieve so much in a short time frame so I’ve swallowed much of the emotion; it felt like if I started to cry or talk about it, I would fall apart.
I became this tough warrior, and much of the time used humor as a coping mechanism, which isn’t a totally bad thing. But there’s a price to pay for suppressing so much.
I did and do cry now and then, but there is an ocean of tears and pain that I haven’t dealt with. I feel that my art classes with this teacher are going to end up being more therapy than anything!
MSW: I think it’s important to be able to cry and release or let go when we need to. Having lost my younger brother, I know how heartbreaking it is to deal with grief for loved one on top of coping with life with chronic illness.
How do you think art could be used for treatment in chronic illness? What benefits could art have to a patient? Do you think art could help health practitioners understand their patients better?
CBA: And yes, I think art could help health practitioners understand their patients better… if they can take time to do that. So often these days you get rushed through your doctor appointments; they barely look at you or the charts, you’re just in and out.
It would be wonderful if they could take time and learn to look at the emotions being expressed in their patients’ art.
MSW: What kind of art supplies do you need on hand all the time?
CBA: After my mother died, I kept some of her art supplies and have been buying more over time, so I have heaps of media to work with, but just don’t know how to use some of them yet. I have pencils, charcoal, pastels, watercolor, acrylic and oil paints. I have numerous kinds of paper and an easel, too.
MSW: It sounds like your art supply collection looks like mine! What is your favorite art medium? Which colors do you like to work with the most?
CBA: I’ve been using acrylics mostly, so I can’t say yet what will be my favorite. I use a big variety of colors. A photographer has let me use his photos of a local mountain at sunset to inspire many of my paintings.
I started selling some of them and have given away a few; I let people choose what colors they would like in the sunset, either because it goes with their décor or they are their favorite colors.
I have also reincarnated my interest in photography, using my cell phone camera, mostly, but I’m hoping to buy a new camera this summer and get more serious about it. I live in such a beautiful part of the world; you really can’t take a bad picture around here!
MSW: True! I adore photography and have dabbled in it for years. I got my first DSLR in 2007.
What kind of tips would you offer to readers who are interested in starting art as a therapy treatment to chronic illness?
CBA: Dive into it with out fear or judgement. Take advantage of paint nights and videos – there are so many free art classes online. Buy lots of supplies and use them. Have fun and make a mess.
It’s all good therapy, no matter what the final product looks like.
MSW: What advice would you give to aspiring new artists who are looking for something new to do to help them cope with chronic illness?
CBA: If you think you’d like to go further with your art, find an artist whose work and medium resonate with you and ask if you can get guidance from them. Even if you don’t think that being an artist is in your future, do something creative.
Start with Playdough and fingerpainting, just like a kid. Just the act of doing it and getting your hands into it, all covered in goop or paint – you’ll have fun. Do it for the joy.
MSW: I love that! Yes, do it for the joy!
Finally, my favorite topic: I see that you’re a published author and I’m so intrigued by your book. I’m hoping to read it soon. Could you please tell us about your book? And of course, please leave some purchase links for my readers.
When Bodies Break: How We Survive and Thrive with Illness and Disability was a 3-year long labor of love that involved gathering and editing the personal stories and essays of 32 chronically-ill people, including myself.
The stories are diverse and quite profound; feedback from readers reflect that the stories resonate with their own experiences and feelings. The essays are full of helpful insight and information about navigating the world of chronic illness.
Not only is the book helpful for those who have chronic illness, especially the newly diagnosed, but it is helpful for medical professionals and loved ones who need help in understanding how their patient or family member sees life through the lens of illness, day in and day out.
The book can be purchased in paperback, ebook and audiobook on Amazon.
Otherwise, just Google the title and Amazon for other countries. If you would like to support a wonderful small business, you can order the book from Toadstool Bookstore.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Cameron. It’s been great learning more about you. I wish you the best of luck. I hope you sell lots of books and I’ll be taking another tour around Pajama Daze soon. I love your FB updates!
Take good care of yourself!