Game nights can be a great way to bring people together. It turns out, they’re also a great way to have difficult conversations about chronic illness, says Adrienne Ciskey, a Chicago-based artist who created the board game Bitter Pills to help others understand the complexities of living with chronic invisible illness.

Bitter Pills: A Game About Chronic IllnessAdrienne, who has polycystic ovary syndrome and hypothyroidism, designed the game as the thesis for her MFA from Columbia College Chicago’s Interdisciplinary Arts and Media program in 2015. It features medication cards, side effect dice, time dice, encouragement dice, and fake pills, with cartoon characters representing Adrienne and her medications.

Sounds complicated, right? It’s supposed to be. It’s a complex game that mirrors the complex medication regimen she is on and the lifestyle choices she must make to control her own symptoms.

“My own hobby is playing a lot of board games and it’s something that is a lot more approachable, especially when you’re talking about something as hard to talk about as invisible illness,” says Adrienne. “It’s not something you see. I’m not in a wheelchair, I don’t have my hair fall out or anything. It’s so abstract for a lot of people that making it really accessible was really important.”

Playing the game with her family and friends has served as a way to open up the conversation and foster understanding, she says. Those who have played the game can now empathize with her and understand the frustrations she has because they‘ve spent some time in her shoes, so to speak.

And while she designed the game primarily with her own family in mind, Adrienne believes others with any invisible physical or mental illness could play Bitter Pills as a way to start a conversation about their own symptoms and medications.

“It helps to have this kind of more objective third party thing, in this case a game, that allows us as sufferers to communicate to other people,” she says.

Adrienne hopes to help others communicate the intricacies of their diagnoses with family and friends by working with people to create custom versions of Bitter Pills designed around their medication regimens and health experiences.

To learn more about Bitter Pills and Adrienne, check out her website and sign up to share your experiences with Health Stories Project!

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