There is a cliche that suffering makes one a better artist. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that when I was suffering, I made less art.
I was a struggling artist for years. And, yes, I know that’s also a cliche. But it’s true. I lived paycheck to paycheck, hoping that I wouldn’t get sick, that some great expense didn’t burst into my life and wreck the fragile life I was building. I could not afford health insurance. For a single, self-employed individual in his early thirties, the health plans were all in the $1000-$1500 per month range. That was more than I was paying for rent. So what I did was:
- Run three times a week
- Look both ways twice before crossing the street (yes, this is true)
- Try to eat healthy
- Pray to any deity that would listen for my well-being
I did this because I was terrified. Terrified that I’d get sick and wouldn’t be able to pay for it. And what do you know, I did get sick. I herniated a disc in my neck, C5-C6. If you don’t know, that’s where a major nerve bundle passes and connects to pretty much every point in the body. The result? Excruciating pain, numbness, tingling, and a general sense of constant malaise. I would often take up to twenty Advil and half as many aspirin just to get through a single day. And by “get through” I mean barely squeaking by. I was depressed, angry, and bitter. I couldn’t write when I was in so much pain, which was every day, and I recall one Thanksgiving that I couldn’t even sit at the table with my family and had to go lie on the floor for an hour. Because I couldn’t afford health insurance I had to separate from my family on one of the few times a year I see them. Yeah, it sucked.
I suffered for years. And while I tried to write as much as I could, oftentimes the pain was just too much.
I won’t bore you with the details of how I got better, but it took me years, and I still have to be cautious. And while I’m not sure that if I’d had health insurance I would have healed more quickly, it’s likely that had I visited a doctor and gotten the care I needed I would have been in less pain. Yet, because I feared for my financial well-being over my physical one, my writing suffered. I’m sure there are many thousands of artists, perhaps millions, who have similar stories to mine.
And here’s the thing: the surest way to kill art is to kill the people who make it. I don’t know what the GOP plans to replace the ACA with, if anything, but I do know that if they don’t offer a low-cost, subsidized plan for low-income people, artists all over the U.S. will suffer. And guess what? So too will their art.