Art Eases Pain for Veteran
Unemployed, debilitated by pain, and nearly homeless. This is how Army Veteran Michael Jones described his life just a few years ago. Today he is an artist, a teacher, and operations director and curator for the Marilyn Rose Center, an art gallery and venue in Indianapolis.
As an Army combat and helicopter flight medic, Jones’ body saw a lot of action, but he had no pain until one day in 2017, standing in a store, he coughed. “And I blew out my L5-SI [disc],” Jones said. The excruciating pain rendered him disabled.
His pain escalated after a spinal fusion, and doctors told Jones it would never go away. “It was pretty rough, realizing that this [pain] was going to be forever…I was a pretty angry guy,” he said. “I lost my job. I lost my insurance. I got divorced. I had nothing.” Jones packed up and moved home to Indianapolis.
When his mother suggested the Indianapolis VA Medical Center, Jones wasn’t sure he qualified. He recalled, “They said, ‘yes, we’ll help you,’ and from that day on, it’s been the most amazing journey.”
At the Indianapolis YMCA VA, Jones received a pain management plan that included Whole Health services such as tai chi and meditation. He also joined a creative arts therapy group, although he had no art experience beyond doodling.
“One day, somebody brought in alcohol inks, and we had tiles. So we just started painting on them. That day I posted pictures of my paintings [online], and people were asking if they could buy them,” he said.
Jones was surprised at that response but even more at how he physically felt while painting. “I began to notice that as I painted, I became focused into the piece…it allowed my body to ease up the pain,” he explained. In fact, when he paints, “It’s the least pain I ever have.”
Looking back, Jones is now grateful for his back injury because it led to his new vocation as an artist. This year, he judged the annual Veterans Creative Arts Show in Indianapolis, the same show he won in 2019. “I’ve come full circle. This is unreal that I get to do this,” Jones said.
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