Wellness In the Arts

Ever since she was a little girl, Ingrid Griffith liked to sketch bridal gowns, drifting wherever her imagination took her. In 1981, that passion led Ingrid to open a bridal salon with her mother. By then, Ingrid had graduated from drawing gowns to designing them. Each gown was an original work of art. After eight years though, the stress of juggling the demands of her business with those on the home front were too much. Ingrid sold the salon and for awhile continued designing gowns in her home.

Ingrid was 50 when she had a mini-stroke. It turned out to be a warning. Sitting on her bed one night, she kept toppling over and began speaking unintelligibly to her husband. Ingrid was rushed to the hospital where she remained for three days. When Ingrid got home though, she had a major stroke. “I was coming up from the basement with the laundry basket when I started talking gibberish,” says the Coopersburg resident. “The right side of my face was drooping.”

That was 15 years and countless hours of therapy ago. Priorities, and capabilities, changed as Ingrid worked on her recovery. Deep inside though, her creative side lay dormant and in search of a wakeup call. She ventured to a crafts store and looked at art supplies. “I felt sad,” says Ingrid. “I didn’t know if I could paint. After the stroke, I lost my passion and drive.”

With a little encouragement, Ingrid took an art class at a local art supply store. There she met a woman with multiple sclerosis who told Ingrid about Good Shepherd’s Wellness in the Arts classes. Ingrid looked into it and saw an opportunity to revive her artistic soul. Now 65, Ingrid is reconnecting with that part of her she thought was gone forever. She is creating art again, this time using acrylic paints and mixed media: masking tape, colorful bits of tissue paper, fragments of construction paper, and pieces of old maps.

“I always feel good when I’m at class,” says Ingrid. “It helps me keep my sanity and makes me feel normal. After my stroke I felt sad because I thought I lost my ability to draw and paint. But having the opportunity to paint in the art class, my skill re-emerged and I discovered that I still had it. I just needed to regain my confidence in a supportive environment. Art class gives me something pleasant to look forward to and provides a disciplined focus that I need, especially after my stroke.”

The art class is part of Good Shepherd’s Integrative Wellness Program. It is based on four pillars of recovery for people with a chronic condition: traditional medicine, rehabilitation psychology and wellness coaching, nutrition, and physio therapy.

The Integrative Wellness Program is the brainchild of Dr. Ayanna Kersey-McMullen, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician. “When I initially came up with the idea of doing this program, I wanted to focus on having a multi-dimensional approach to wellness,” she says. “It’s not just about medical or therapeutic interventions to make people well, but feeding both the patient’s body and soul to achieve the highest level of wellness. I felt it was important to include art because that form of expression can be very cathartic while being healing and empowering.”

Dr. Kersey-McMullen intimately understands the healing power of the arts having grown up in a family of artists. Her mother is a mixed media visual artist and other family members are musicians. Dr. Kersey-McMullen also grew up participating in the arts and writing poetry, essays and short stories is something she practices daily to nurture her own wellness. “Writing has always been something that helps me get to

a deeper understanding of myself and how I interact with the world,” she says. “I commit to writing every day, even if it’s just a couple of thoughts. Wellness for me is something I’m not just talking about. I make sure it’s something that I live as well.”

Recognizing the power of art to heal more than the artist, Dr. Kersey-McMullen wanted patients, families and staff to experience the beauty of the art by Ingrid and others in the class. The Rehabilitation 3 unit hallway wall in the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital has become a mini-art gallery. “It not only gives them (artists) a place to display their work and tell their stories, but I also think it’s very healing for every person who walks by the installation,” says Dr. Kersey-McMullen. “I get so much enjoyment standing in the hallway and watching someone taking in the art.

It’s healing for the entire Good Shepherd community.”

Certainly the art class has been healing for Ingrid. After her stroke, her creative desire evaporated. Ingrid’s world view changed too, from one filled with color to black and white. Now, through her art, Ingrid’s outlook on life is colorful and helping her feel connected once again. “I’m happy that

I’m doing this,” says Ingrid. “And it’s helping me reach out. It can be very isolating when you’ve had a stroke. Little successes mean more than they used to. I’m glad to be expressing myself.”