Fluid Ink

Genesis: To cut a very long story short, Smudj was born from a very dark period in my life. So dark that not a pin prick of light could be seen. I was on the knife edge of suicidal, wanting to be sliced into oblivion.

Close to a year before Smudj smeared its way on my page, my body had developed an autoimmune syndrome called Fibromyalgia. It fell upon me over a two week period. One day I was a healthy 30 year old, the next day my body was being torn apart by pain so severe and barbaric that no words have the courage to encapsulate the true horror of it.

Smudj Phantom Scribbler

The pain was uncompromising, merciless and relentless. It was primordial, raw and naked. Never had I felt this depth of physical pain before. It sliced through my neck, shoulders, back legs, arms. Everywhere. I could not walk for 4 months. I could not dress myself. I could not hold a book or even a pencil. My mother had to spoon feed me because it was too painful to hold eating utensils.

My central nervous system was so over active that the slightest touch would send electrical signals screaming throughout my body. I could only bear to have a shower once a week: each droplet of water was akin to a needle piercing my skin. There was no rest anywhere, at anytime. Due to the pain I could not sleep more than a couple of hours a night. Without sleep the body cannot dream and to compensate the brain will dream while one is awake. My brain was drenched in images that tried to make sense of a body that had become a torture chamber. While awake I could see termites burrowing into my skin and eating my muscles. I knew I was hallucinating, but it did not stop me from surrounding my bed with crackers and frozen chops in the hope that the “termites” would eat these offerings instead of me.

Smudj Phantom Scribbler

For three years this severe pain went on, but by the end of the first year, all I could think about was escaping the pain. I lost my career, my relationship and the majority of my friends abandoned me: even my beloved dog had to be put down because of cancer. No one in my family could stand being in the room with me for long periods because they felt too impotent to do anything. Time evaporated not into weeks, or days, or hours, or minutes. I was only existing from one eternal moment to the next. My body felt as if it was being mutilated by an invisible madman and all I could do was lie in bed trying not to move for fear that my body would be jolted with burning, electric shocks: nerve pain was rampaging through every fibre of self. No one in the medical profession knew what was wrong with me and no one could stop what was happening. I came to intimately know there are worse things then death and I was being hollowed out by it physically, mentally and spiritually. In order to leech these toxic thoughts coursing through me, I instinctively began to draw them out.

Smudj was born. Smudj was me.

Smudj Phantom Scribbler

I was being smudged out of the world. My will to live blurred. Reality as I knew it disappeared and it would never be the same again. And in this crack of knowing, the dark, inky shadow of pain and depression began to swallow me whole.

I would like to say part of my recovery included a montage of me in slow motion with inspirational music overlayed on my images. But, in reality, it was (is) slow, frustrating, painful, and at times, just plain scary. It was (is) day in, day out of physio, stretching, massages, initiated by never ending cycles of pain and sleeplessness. I researched, trialed and screwed up different techniques and dietary frameworks until I got it right for my body. It is physically, psychologically, socially and financially draining.

People with chronic pain do not just go through one stage of grief, we go through multiple deaths coming, without reprieve, from all directions, as relationships with dreams, people, self and the world around us change and explode. The person I knew as “me” was altered, bucked from her self controlled trajectory in both minute and monumental ways. My psychology contracted, stagnated and then started to expand, metamorphosing into another of which I am still trying to understand. I had undergone a psychic death and continue a psychic rebirth, and, as with all births, the labor pains are hard and arduous.

To those who are dealing with chronic pain, I know you are struggling. I know at times you feel hopeless. I know you feel deserted and betrayed by body, the medical community, people you know and circumstance in general. Like you, I have been in the darkest and most painful of places, both physically and psychological. I was told that there was no hope, no cure, to just get use to this being your inverted life, and for awhile, I excepted their words as my reality until my own voice started to internally object and remind me of what I was capable of, of what I had already achieved. Very angrily it started saying:

Get up. Get researching. Get moving. Get asking questions. Stop accepting an outcome by people who have no freaking clue what they are talking about and who have not the freaking idea of who you are.

Smudj Phantom Scribbler

I have improved radically since the first few years of fibro. I can walk, dress, feed myself, I can hold a book, wield a pencil, put my thoughts on paper and clothe them in ink and colour. My goal of becoming a renowned cartoonist still spins with fever in my veins. I have wrestled my legs back and for the most part look “healthy”, but I still deal with the sensation of burning, numbing, aching pain, but nothing in comparison to the hell hole I endured. I have crawled, dragged, screamed and raged my self into Life again, and although I am still wanting for further healing, I no longer see a tunnel without end.

There is Light. There is Belief.  And Hope, that most fundamental strength of all human emotions, stands up anew, shakes off the cobwebs and walks through my world once more.

Written by Rainer Galea

Rainer Galea is the cartoonist for Fluid Ink. Please check the site out and join to see more of Rainer’s cartoons that take a unique view on the human psyche and support human right issues. Cartoons are available to organisations that assist in human rights issues and educational programs. Please contact Rainer for further information.



  1. Kellie Phillips says

    This brought me to tears, such a wonderful description of what I and many other Fibro and chronic pain sufferers go through, but I could never have explained it like this. I have given it to my family to look at because it is exactly how I felt, still feel, but I like you can see a light and a future now, I think! Wonderful artwork and description!!


  2. A great piece. It sounds so similar to mine how it ‘fell upon you over two-weeks’. Although you use dramatic language I know that you’re not actually being dramatic, it’s just the fact that it ‘is’ a subjective thing. That’s how these things ‘feel’ to us. And the symptoms have a very close link with our mental health and our ability to ‘cope’.

  3. Congrats on making such huge progress with your pain. I can totally relate to the torture you write about. Chronic pain is so much more than just dealing with the pain. All those other factors play a part. It’s almost like we have to redefine who we are and find a new way to be happy. My friends and I often describe life with chronic pain as a roller coaster ride, there’s the ups and downs and then the sudden twists into a new direction. And being able to go with the flow of it sure helps.
    Thank you for finding a positive way to share your pain experiences.

  4. Thank you Rainer for sharing this. Well done for seeking to master rather than be mastered by such a hideous experience. Few of us I think can understand, other than in a very abstract way, just how debilitating this kind of thing is.

    May you continue to find a way through the maze.



  5. Fabulously written, perfect description of fibro /CFS. wonderful art , I find it impossible to explain to people the symptoms. My best wishes for you. Gini.

  6. Jos Steinmann says

    As a Physio I firmly believe that all pain, fatigue and distress can be influenced and improved – for any health professional to say something has “no cure” or “no hope” is irresponsible and untrue – it does take time to change misbehaving physiology and psychology – sometimes a long time – but there is so much we don’t understand yet – and so much for each of us to discover about what works best for us – what the health professional should be saying is ” this is the limit of my knowledge and skills – we don’t have a clear way ahead based on the testing we currently have available – but I will work with you to try some things that might help – but you must be the person to lead with what you think might help – you must become your own expert to work alongside our expertise”

    Thanks for a moving account that highlights that sometimes life is a b*tch – and shame on those who don’t hang on in there with you – both personally and professionally – life is never the same – but lets be there together.

  7. The sketches are really powerful and real connected to your journey. you gave as a taste of what is like living with chronic pain. thank you

  8. Annette Finch says

    Im so sorry for what you are going through, but, as a chronic pain sufferer for the past 26 years, it is great to hear someone mention the grief we go through. We grieve for the loss of friends, relationships, and, most of all, the body we had trusted not to let us down. This grief goes through many stages, and whilst we may accept something today. doesnt mean we able to accept it tomorrow, or the day after. Thankyou for putting into words what it is like to suffer chronic pain

  9. thank you all for your kind comments. i hope anyone who is going through pain, in any form, finds their way through to more peaceful lands. just keep on putting one foot forward, regardless of the smallness of the step.

  10. Anonymous says

    May Divine Healing embrace and engulf you.

  11. Thank you. As I type this, the “2nd degree sunburn” pain rips through my back and shoulders. I found a cocktail of medicine, exercise and stretching that allows me to work, play and live again! You are very inspiring!

  12. What a powerful description of a horrifying experience. I sincerely hope you are well and truly on the road to recovery. Thanks for sharing.