From chronic pain to canvas: Halifax artist’s personal experience helps put spotlight on ‘invisible illness’

"Muse" oil painting on canvas

“Do what you can when you can do it.” 

These are wise words from 18-year-old Danielle Robitaille of Halifax.

At the age of 14, Robitaille was diagnosed with chronic pain as a result of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that causes chronic pain, joint dislocation, and a myriad of other symptoms. 

She also has dysautonomia (a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system that affects heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and temperature control); adrenal insufficiency (a potentially life-threatening condition in which the adrenal glands do not produce adequate amounts of steroid hormones); asthma, and a suspected immune disorder.

Since then she has spent a lot of time in the medical world – a world unfamiliar to many.

This is the concept behind Robitaille’s recent art exhibit on display at the pain clinic in the Dickson building at the Victoria General site of the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. she describes her art as a way to show people how she is feeling and how her life is intertwined with the medical world.

From watercolours to sculptures, oils to metals, Robitaille uses her creative talents to distract from her symptoms and analyze what is happening in her body. Although her artwork is therapeutic for her, she hopes it will help generate awareness about living with chronic pain and that others will be able to relate to her expression of the experience. 

Muse is the title of a canvas painting that has caught the eye of many. However, behind this beautiful piece is a strong message.

“The piece speaks to those experiences unique to chronic illness – the good, the bad, the indifferent – and the impact they have on us,” Robitaille explains. 

“Perhaps we are given certain opportunities with the effects of invisible illness, and perhaps the illness itself takes those away. Regardless, this shapes us into who we are. Having such a burden, such an ongoing battle – one that lasts a lifetime, in fact –grants immediate and broad perspective throughout life. There is sadness for the loss, but acknowledgement of the experience.”

She’s already received feedback from other patients that have passed through the pain clinic’s doors that they can connect to the messages in her artwork.

When asked what her future plans are, Robitaille says she wants to turn her focus to the psychological aspect of chronic pain with positivity and healing.

“There is no cure with chronic pain. I have my good days and then I crash,” Robitaille says.  “After each crash, the healing begins again.”

Beyond her artwork, Robitaille is an applied media and communications arts student at Nova Scotia Community College. She enjoys writing, live action role play and is a former opera singer. 

Wise beyond her years, Robitaille follows her advice and doesn’t let her challenges limit her.

Learn more about her artwork at www.daniellerobitailleart.com