Healing through paint
Ellie Kammer talks to us about her struggles with Endometriosis and how she uses painting to help heal, while also bringing awareness to the disease.
She has become an incredible endo advocate and her paintings show the true pain and grief of Endo & Adenomyosis.
interview by: Fela M'tima
Fela: Hi Ellie! For those who don't know, tell me a bit about yourself, where you're from, and what you do!
Ellie: I'm a contemporary painter from Adelaide, Australia. Currently I'm focussing on creating a collection of works that communicate the internal devastation that Endometriosis causes. I make a considerable effort to raise awareness for Endometriosis through my paintings and my social media platforms because I feel that the root of all the issues surrounding lack of funding and research is the severe lack of awareness.
Fela: How long have you been making art?
Ellie: I've been painting for just over three years and creating with other mediums for as long as I can remember. I've always needed art in my life to keep me balanced.
Fela: How has having Endometriosis affected you as an artist? How has it impacted your art work?
Ellie: When I found out that I had Endometriosis I was devastated and it changed my life and consequently my work changed with it. Not everyone views art this way, but it is my belief that painting is a language and I've never really been one to say something unless I felt it was relevant or important. I decided to use painting to discuss my experience with Endometriosis without much consideration for how the work would be received. It was just something that I naturally felt was necessary. Endometriosis is such a multi-faceted disease and so with one painting alone I didn't feel that I had communicated everything I needed to and this is how my current collection was born.
Fela: Do you think making art has helped you heal from some of the emotional trauma of having Endometriosis?
Ellie: Without a doubt. Endometriosis is troublesome because it's not easy to speak about and burying thoughts and feelings is problematic and unfair. Society's unreadiness to discuss women's issues is not a good enough reason for a person to suppress the emotional turmoil that accompanies a chronic condition. Art has helped me when I haven't felt comfortable or able to verbally express my battles with this disease.
Fela: I've read through some of your blogs on your site and you're very open about your journey which is so important! What inspired you to write about your endo life?
Ellie: It took me a long time to accept that this is the hand I've been dealt and I'm not sure I've fully accepted it still. I've always been highly emotional which I've seen as a weakness for most of my life, but I've recently come to appreciate what powers intense emotion can give me. I immediately felt that being landed with an incurable disease was an injustice, I struggled to understand how a disease this common and this devastating could be universally deemed so unimportant. It was natural for me to speak about it and I noticed that as I became more open about my experiences it inspired others to do the same. So now I just hold no punches and spare no gory details. I want to see a cure for this condition in my lifetime so I feel that speaking out is important.
F: What has been the highest and lowest point of having Endometriosis?
E: The highest point is all of the accolades and opportunities that have presented themselves as a result of the Endo inspired works I've been creating. The lowest point is more difficult to pinpoint. There have been three moments throughout this battle that have shaken me to the core.
Firstly, I spent a few months travelling through Europe in 2014. Near the end of my trip I was walking around the streets of Toulouse and started experiencing incredible pain followed by bleeding and clotting. I ended up having a miscarriage in a hotel toilet which destroyed my relationship with my partner at the time.
Secondly, I have Adenomyosis and suffer from pain and bleeding while I pass urine. A few months ago I got a Urine Tract Infection and the pain and discomfort was so regular for me I didn't realise I had one. It progressed into Sepsis and I nearly died.
Thirdly and most recently, I've been so frustrated with the combined pain and symptoms of Adenomyosis and Endometriosis that I'm considering a hysterectomy. I'm 26 years old with a steady partner who already has a child and I don't know my position on having children yet. I've never felt that it was something I needed to do, but having been with my partner for years and watching his relationship with his child, I feel that it's a truly magical experience and I find it heartbreaking that I may have the choice to reproduce taken from me significantly early in my life.
F: Do you have days when it's hard to make art due to Endo? What do you do to get through days like those?
E: The trick is to accept and respect the limitations that Endo forces upon it's host. Business and art go hand in hand if you're pushing for a career in creating. I'm one of those people with Endo who rarely finds a minute where pain isn't present and I often have bouts of severe, debilitating pain so painting can sometimes be impossible. When this is the case though I have plenty of work to fall back on like accounting, admin work and planning new paintings. It used to frustrate me a lot to be physically held back by pain as I was accustomed to painting for up to 14 hours per day. Now I can probably manage up to about six hours of painting but being forced to take a rest is not something I resent so much anymore as it gives me an opportunity to address the back end of my business, which I think I would neglect if if I was physically able to paint all day every day.
F: What treatments have been most successful for you?
E: I have found that shying away from particular foods is something that helps me a lot. For example, I decided to cut away dairy, gluten and junk food. I had a good stint last year of only eating foods that were dairy free, gluten free, red meat free and mostly sugar free and it really helped. Unfortunately keeping myself dedicated to this limiting diet is something I struggle with and I've lapsed somewhat, but I'm hoping I'll find the strength to fully commit soon.
When I am having cramping that isn't associated with bleeding I've actually found sex to be incredibly soothing, which is surprising because having Adenomyosis means that sex can be quite painful. For me though if I can relax and let the pain pass it seems to settle my cramps and clears my mind like nothing else can.
I'm very excited that medical marijuana is becoming a little more accessible for people with chronic pain in Australia too. I've discussed it with many people who do have access to it and I'm really keen to give it a go.
F: When I think of art and pain, I always think of Frida Kahlo personally. Do you ever think of her as an inspiration as a woman who suffers from pain as an artist? What other artists inspire you?
E: The movie Frida was released in 2002, when I was 11. I watched it then and I've watched it many times since as it really resonated with me. I admired her resilience through health issues as well as her feminist beliefs. She was ballsy and I have always been attracted to women with such tenacity despite circumstances not being in their favour.
I take inspiration from many different artists working in many different styles and mediums. When I was travelling through Europe one of my main missions was to visit every gallery I could in 14 countries in an effort to broaden my knowledge and appreciation for different art forms. At the moment my flavour of the month is Ben Quilty. I think he views art as a means of communication too. His paintings are visceral, important and brave.. all the things I love in an image.
F: I want to thank you so much Ellie! Thank you for sharing awareness as an artist, a woman, and an inspiration. Do you have anything else you'd like to share to other women out there suffering?
E: I would suggest that any woman suffering with Endo should not be fearful of being selfish in order to keep her body happy. Try not to bend to social pressures and only do what your body can handle. Don't make yourself sick for anyone. It took me some time to take on this mentality as someone who doesn't like to disappoint people, but it turned out every time I sacrificed my wellbeing in order to make someone else happy it was never worth it and I found that though I probably don't need to explain myself, if I do extend someone the courtesy of explaining why I may not be able to participate in something the response is usually less scary than you think it will be and you get the opportunity to educate people at the same time.
Check out Ellie's Website Here.