I had finally graduated from college. I was an art teacher. I liked to create my own art. I saw my friends frequently. I dated. I was energetic. I was always busy. There was nothing I couldn’t do. I was Super Susan. Then it all fell apart in a perfect storm of illnesses.

In 2013 I was diagnosed with a number of conditions including fibromyalgia, chronic migraine, anxiety, and depression. I also had a rare ear condition. I had signs of some of them surfacing years earlier but I had no idea it would end up costing me so many things.

I had to hang up my teaching hat. I lost my job. I lost friends. I lost my energy. I lost any tolerance for pain I had. I had frequent panic attacks. I was in and out of the hospital. I lost my family for awhile. I even struggled through a few months of homelessness.

In the midst of everything I came up with the name SupEARior Susan, based on my ear condition, Superior Canal Dehiscence. I needed a new super hero name since I suddenly had a super power. I could hear my eyes moving in their sockets! It was complete torture then and I still hear them today. My superhero name reminded me I could indeed fight these battles against my challenges. And win!

Today I keep that superhero identity in mind as I deal with all of my conditions. But at the same time, I know my illnesses do not define me. They are a part of me now. But they are not the only thing about me. I have been working on taking back some of what I lost and adjusting to my new self. I have a home again. I have learned to pace myself. I have learned I need recovery time after events and outings. I have learned I need to do to be kind to myself. I have started creating art again. I have been connecting with friends and even making new friends. I have reconnected with family. I am strengthening my relationship with God. I have learned to appreciate the simple things in life. I have learned that just like illness does not define a person, neither does a job or career. There is so much more.

I like to journal and create art to cope with the effects of my chronic pain and mental health conditions. Sometimes it’s “pretty art” and sometimes it’s “dark, angry, noisy eyeball art”. I have always been interested in art therapy and have been focusing on that recently. I have always loved storytelling as well so I hope this becomes a place where I can write about my experiences, share the ups and downs of life, share my art, and raise awareness for living well with chronic pain conditions and mental illness. I have good days and bad days but I want to let others know they are not alone in their struggles and that there is hope. Recovery is a process but it is possible! Progress, not perfection…