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How An Artist Faces Her Facial Pain

 Suneet Sethi is an artist, illustrator, performance artist, and art educator.  She grew up in a Sikh family residing in New York.

She began drawing profusely as a quiet and curious child as a way to make sense of the world and the people around her. She later studied Communications at Boston University, and after receiving her BFA continued her studies as a graduate student at NYU.  During this time she depicted multicultural and identity issues within her artwork. She created art installations and performed in various galleries and public spaces across New York. Her “Dress of a Thousand Secrets” performance was featured in the print magazine, “Bitch”.Suneet began her career as an art educator introducing questions of social, cultural, gender and political identities using multimedia including recycled materials, puppets(making), and video. She believes in the living, breathing, classroom-always evolving and changing and dependent on the lives and collaboration of its constituents- She often immerses in the learning process with her students by engaging them on contemporary art and issues meaningful to her students.  While teaching at Country Day School at Marin County, she became inspired by a colleague to pursue animation.  She taught herself various 2d/3d animation techniques before being accepted to the reputable Calarts Experimental MFA Program.While in graduate school, and following a routine dental extraction, Suneet began to suffer a dull ache in her gums that never seemed to abate but only worsened to a stabbing pain that extended to other parts of her face.  The pain became so unbearable that she was forced to take a Medical Leave from her studies and put her life on hold.

In the beginning, many baffled health professionals including dentists found the pain to be mysterious, psychological, and idiopathic in nature. After a year of various testing, doctor office and ER visits, she was officially diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia. Her next years were spent coping with and understanding the excruciating pain patterns of the condition.  She was prescribed many of the anti-epileptic and neuropathic pain medicines but their many adverse and dangerous side effects only further reduced her quality of life, without reducing much of the pain.  After two years of struggling with pain, simply daily activities such as eating, brushing her teeth, washing her hair, and talking became too challenging.  After losing a significant amount of weight and dropping down to a dangerous 94 lbs., Suneet decided to undergo multiple Microvascular Decompression brain surgeries.  The second one was successful enough to allow her the ability to not only survive with the pain, but to truly live again despite the pain.  She began to examine what brought her most meaning in life and spent more time connecting with loved ones.  She changed her lifestyle through diet, acupuncture, meditation, mindfulness, inner work, and began to accept the pain instead of fighting it.The pain gradually decreased and Suneet now aspires to spread awareness of the disease through her work.  She still hopes for a cure everyday. Suneet is extremely grateful to the people she met during her journey including those who volunteer at the foundation to find a cure, neurosurgeons including Dr. Mark Linskey, and Dr. Jeffrey Brown, doctors, nurses, hospital staff, her family, friends, other survivors, who through their brilliance, profound empathy and unwavering love, save lives and spirits and carry them when they have fallen and can’t stand on their own.  Without these brave people, she would not be alive today. During moments when severe breakthrough pain would last for days with no relief in sight and thoughts of giving up began to infiltrate her mind, the hope of her family and friends carried her.  These people are her heroes. She survived and there are now hours and even some days without much pain.  She thinks of herself as one of the lucky ones.  


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