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Ariela Paulsen
Essex Junction, VT

Drawing, painting, and writing have long been coping mechanisms for my life with multiple chronic illnesses (EDS, POTS, MCAS, Sjogren’s, etc). For the most part, however, the art I’ve created isn’t autobiographical; rather than expressing my experience, my art tends to be a distraction, an escape to things I find more beautiful. Several years ago, when my body crashed enough to finally find diagnoses, this changed. I hit a wall and had to take six months off from work, six blessed months to rest, travel around the country seeking medical care, dive into therapy, and create art. This self-portrait was one of the resulting pieces, following a sleep study to assess for narcolepsy and disrupted sleep from constant pain. The direct gaze, unusual for my work, was an attempt to confront the cacophony of feelings that roiled within me during that time — exhaustion, pain, fear, anger, trauma, grief, resilience, relief, surrender, rest, hope…