Teen uses art to overcome crippling pain of rare condition

CHICAGO -- Behind the front doors of the Chicago Academy for the Arts you'll find a haven for creative expression. For some the instrument is a dance floor, for others a piano. For Elise Robinson, her instrument is a piece of charcoal.

"I drew very angry across the page and made really dark marks. It makes the work I make personal to me because I know exactly how it feels", Elise said.

People used to comment on Elise's stern demeanor, unaware that she was battling a rare medical condition that affects anything touching her skin.

"It could get to the extent where it felt like knives were going through my skin all the time," she remembers.

After years of pain from just putting on clothes, Elise was diagnosed with tactile defensiveness. Her wardrobe consisted of the only thing she could tolerate: fleece sweaters and pants worn inside-out, so the seams wouldn't touch her skin.

Nothing seemed to help, until Elise began to draw. Abstract lines seeping into patterns of what she calls, "structured chaos," it's a direct reflection of what she was feeling inside.

With each piece of artwork Elise completed, something unexpected happened: the physical pain that crippled her for so many years began to subside.

Her work moved from paper to sculpture and form pieces. Jason Patera, Head of School at the Chicago Academy for the Arts, says it's a phenomenon he sees with countless students.

"This is a place where if you have a calling, if you have a sense of purpose in the art you make, this feels like home," he said.

Elise's source of pain is now a source of inspiration. Her artwork covers half a room at the academy, and she's happy to be pain-free, and known for her work instead of her condition.