Artist and author Emily Suñez has been living with multiple rare conditions for over a decade, including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), in addition to more common conditions such as POTS and undifferentiated connective tissue disease. It was a long road for Emily to get her symptoms diagnosed accurately and properly treated. She spent several years mostly homebound with debilitating symptoms, but has been fortunate to have her illness fairly well-managed more recently. In her search for ways to cope with symptoms, Emily discovered the therapeutic benefits of painting and writing. She is an oil and watercolor painter and has found peace and reduction in symptoms through her creative process.
In 2020, Emily began writing and illustrating The Healing Journal: Guided Prompts & Inspiration for Life with Illness, a guided journal to help others cope and adjust to living with a chronic illness. The book stems from her own personal experiences – from her struggles to her triumphs – as well as from her years of facilitating a POTS support group.
“Through talking with many other people who also live with chronic illness,” Emily explained, “I realized there were common issues that all of us battling daily illness encounter, such as needing to redefine success and make adjustments to work or school, or overcoming shame, negative thinking, or fears of becoming a burden on others.”
The Healing Journal is designed to confront these common challenges and empower the reader to cultivate self-compassion, develop effective self-care strategies, and learn ways to best advocate for their health.
The idea came about for The Healing Journal because Emily was searching for a guided journal that relates to the experience of living with illness and disability, but she couldn’t find one. “There aren’t enough resources out there for people with disabilities. I hope other people with chronic illnesses can feel seen by this book and find the exercises in the book validating and relatable.”
The book contains 50 positive affirmations, such as, “My illness does not define me” and over 100 related writing prompts such as, “What would you say to your illness if you could talk to it?” The prompts and affirmations are meant to evoke inner reflection, spark personal growth, and help the reader develop hope and optimism. However, the book also allows space for the reader to explore and work through the realities of the negative emotions often brought about by living with an illness.
Because Emily has used art as a tool for healing, it was important to her to illustrate The Healing Journal herself. It’s full of her colorful watercolor botanical paintings, which include a variety of healing plants such as echinacea and aloe vera. There is even a glossary of all the plant names in the back of the book. “The artwork in the journal is intended to be soothing and calming to the reader. And it’s also a way to bring nature indoors to patients who might have some difficulties getting outside.”
It’s brought Emily a lot of joy to be able to turn her struggles with chronic illness into a resource to help other people manage and adjust to their own illnesses. The Healing Journal was published in February 2022 and is now available everywhere books are sold.