When I hear 'festive cheer' I can't help but rhyme it with 'Festive fear', are you terrified at this time of year? Festivities call us to get out of the safe daily zone, step into marathon entertaining, baking, wrapping, socialising, a time to move away from our therapists and their treatments (Lord knows they need a break!) and jump! It's impossible not to wonder, how will this end for my pelvis?
Tell us about your history and how you ended up in the position of being an amazing woman advocating for chronic pain? “I was working in our graphic design studio, Origin of Image (ooi.com.au) in March 2007. I was always health conscious so aside from my yoga ritual 4 mornings a week and walking everywhere, I would often sit on a fitball. It was great until the antiburst fitball burst and I fell to the concrete floor. It really was the split second that changed my life. I was 37. I think what tipped me into advocacy was the 4.5 years it took to find a diagnosis and the near miss I had with living out the rest of my life in horrific pain levels if I’d not investigated further. My chronic pelvic pain is more specifically known as Pudendal Neuralgia (PN) or Pudendal Nerve Entrapment (PNE). This is more simply put as Carpal Tunnel in the pelvis. Where Carpal Tunnel affects the hand signals and hand movements, Pudendal Neuralgia affects our biggest pelvic nerve which controls toilet and sexual signals and functions. The pudendal nerve runs under pelvic ligaments and muscles and is attached to nerve roots in the lumbosacral spine so it can be disabling. It feels like that core part of my body has a toothache or as if I have my finger stuck in a powerpoint. BUT, I’m happy to say I’m in a much better place now and that’s why I want to share my story. I believe if I was diagnosed within 6 months of my injury, I would not have this issue now and that makes me want to reach everyone with undiagnosed pain that may be suffering from PN. I’ve also been drawn to advocacy for injured workers since I’ve now had first hand experience with the WorkCover system and its limitations for understanding, assessing and treating chronic pain. In fact my chronic pain issue was not assessable for compensation. Its score was rated at 0% impairment. I’ve also submitted many complaints and questions to WorkSafe and associated organisations, I’m making a heap of noise on social media and gathering a great group of people in the hope of making a change. A network exists now, encouraging other injured workers to speak up, forming communities for support where there were none previously. Injured workers can now vent, speak up, be heard. Social media has provided a voice and is our legs (even when we physically can’t move). So in the process of advocating for PN/PNE the biggest tasks are to change the judgment and misunderstanding of ‘pain’, and misconceptions of the term ‘injured worker’.”
Yes, I've found another medium to express my pain and you can own your own copy of it! I didn't see the point of creating a long description of my living with pain, sharing my tips, turning journal entries into a pain story. I am, first and foremost, before the pain life, an artist... so my book had to contain many pictures and few words, just 32 pages in fact, but I believe it's a complete story. It doesn't hold the solution for PN but it'll allow you to explain it to someone else, leave it on the coffee table, and it will be light enough to carry around. Above all I created it to express my experience so far and so that it is a bit of a companion to another PN family member. The idea was for the reader to feel empathy in a world where no one seems to understand, and to ease the pain as you look through it.
Communicating pain... Absolutely gobsmacked at this achievement, and incredibly confused at the same time. Who would have thought a horrifying life changing event could bring so much reward. Nevertheless, I’m going with it and am stoked to be considered for [...]
I was preparing for my second solo exhibition, Winter Light, consisting of oil paintings and prints of Parisian facades when my fitball went pop and I entered the PN world. The exhibition was moved to the end of the year [...]
Excerpt from soula.com.au/blog September 22nd, 2013I’m having a great and most satisfying time with this self-portrait. From scouring for different pieces of paper, to painting my own, to writing on the portrait, every experimental and contributing part has hit my [...]
(Article from Desktop Magazine’s feature article: Creative Practice and Pain Management)Written by Soula MantalvanosOrigin of Image is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Collingwood that is managed by professional and personal partners, Soula and Theo Mantalvanos. Soula has a rare [...]
...I'll clarify now, this post is a very positive one. It's about standing up, facing the world which requires courage, strength, being understood, supported, alot of struggle, and a damn load of management skills. ... not only did Lucy Feagins share our creativity on her brilliant blog, but her address and understanding of our space and lives couldn't have been more spot on or more supportive of PN. It puzzled me that Lucy could understand it when others struggle so much. ... I want judgement to stop. People in pain shouldn't have to say more than 'I suffer chronic pain'. It's harmful and prevents people in pain from going out when they're feeling ok, or rather when they can withstand their pain. If their houses are really tidy, that means they have help. If you see them socialising in one place, doesn't mean they can make it to the next. We are able to smile, we can move, we can walk, we can stand, just not alot. We don't hunch, in fact our practitioners teach us to have great posture, we might sit funny, walk slow, not carry much, and stare as you may you won't see our pain. If we appear somewhere and look great, we planned for that and it took alot of sacrifice and help. If you have doubts, keep them to yourself please because there's no doubt in our mind we're in pain.
We don't usually love media, but a little attention after some lengthy hibernation from work was bound to be very valuable for our (Theo's and my) 12 or so year old business, Origin of Image. The lovely Sunday Style (Herald Sun) offered an interview in their 'My_Space' feature... hmmm, quite funny for us as there's nothing 'my' about 'our' life. We share work, living, we even share Pudendal Neuralgia (PN). However this media attention and the snap of me in Sunday's weekend paper had me staring at my portrait (thank you Marija Ivkovic) with curiousity at that captured second of my able life. I looked incredibly independent, active, like I was working full-time and like the issue I confessed to was clearly easy to live with. We are all judged on our facade... and although it was stated in the article that I have PN, I often wonder: can it (or any other invisible issue) ever be understood by my friends, family or community at a glance? The answer is obviously 'no'. I myself battle to understand this conflicting issue with its high sensitivity, on/off maddening, screaming and confusing signals and failing functions, and that's no surprise because even I can't see it! Theo puts it well, "I can't understand Pudendal Neuralgia but I believe Soula".
I had tried to paint myself in pain but it was deeply upsetting. It would have also been concrete documentation - forever - and that's the last thing I wanted to do with this pain. Immortalise it. The pain wasn't staying. It wasn't forever, and there was no way I was going to make it mine. My artwork takes me to happy places, but of course I couldn't ignore these years of my life.