How to stay positive with a chronic illness: How an artist finds her flow

By Flow Admin

How to stay positive with a chronic illness: How an artist finds her flow

In positive psychology, flow refers to the feeling of being totally in the zone. It’s when you are so deeply involved in an activity of enjoyment and creativity that you lose track of time. Our #BeintheFlow blog series explores how real and inspiring people overcome adversity to find their flow – and this week, artist Liane Charbonneau fits the bill. Read her inspiring story below.


My name is Liane Charbonneau and I’m 28 years old. When I was four, I was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis (NF1), which causes tumors to grow on my nerve endings. As a result, I have multiple tumors on my back and my spine, as well as on my head and closer to my hips.

I had to make sacrifices early on as the tumors grew with me. I loved playing soccer as a kid, but I had to stop because the tumors were affecting my spinal cord, and any impact could be dangerous. Eventually, I was forced to give up sports altogether. The doctors informed my parents that I’d be paralyzed by the time I hit puberty and I wouldn’t finish high school.

But I wasn’t raised to be a victim. I made the best out of my situation. I believe in making the best of what you have, and I think my illness has made me more grateful and aware of all the things around me.

That’s when I first turned to art as an outlet. I started jotting down little drawings here and there when I was younger, and I continued doing art throughout high school — even though I was in pain and had to be on medication. At one point, I became temporarily paralyzed and had to be homeschooled for three months.

I learned how to walk again. I finished high school, which my doctors said I never would. And I graduated with honors.

“When I’m painting, everything around me gets quiet.”

The next surgery changed everything for me. I had further symptoms of paralysis, so I spent 18 hours on the operating table, where they removed tumors on my spinal cord and inserted metal rods and screws in to support my vertebrae.

When you’re faced with a surgery like that and you come out the other side, you start to understand what matters versus what is trivial. After the surgery, I re-evaluated what really made me feel happy and inspired. I realized that I wasn’t focusing on those things to my full potential.

So I made some major changes in my life. I started doing things that brought me joy, like being in nature. I would go hiking, kayaking, and enjoy being in the sun with my friends. I believe you can make yourself feel happy, but joy is an organic feeling that only comes when you’re really living in the present.

I also started drawing again. It had been about seven or eight years since I’d done any art at that point, so I began painting on barnwood. And it was fun! It was a new thing for me, and it brought me to my first art exhibition.

“I can choose how I see the world, and I choose to be positive.”

When I’m painting, everything around me gets quiet. It’s just me and what I’m doing. There’s something magical about that — the perfect combination of challenge and reward. It feels like I’m wrapped in a harmonious bubble of creativity. It’s almost meditative. The more I do it, the more I want to do it, and I continue to be inspired every day. Art has been a huge positive change in my life.

I’m human, and like everyone, I get sad sometimes — but I also feel empowered by all the challenges I’ve faced. I can choose how I see the world, and I choose to be positive. It’s really as simple as that.

When you’re faced with a huge change or challenge, you’re thrown into chaos. You’re not really sure what to do or how to act. You’re scared. But it’s in those times that you grow. You have to discover who you are and what it really matters to you. It’s in those moments of stress, despair, or hurt that we become wiser— and hopefully, stronger and more positive in the future.

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