Healing through creativity

Now that’s the kind of epidemic I would be glad to help spread!

Creation can mean salvation. Whether it’s visual or verbal, having an outlet to process thoughts, emotions, and personal struggles is a life-giving force. Translating those experiences into words, pictures, or some other tangible form heals on a fundamental and spiritual level in a way few things can.

In my job as a nurse, I often meet people with nothing that motivates them. Nothing seems to make getting up out of bed or getting better worthwhile. Granted, in many instances they are hindered by health-related issues, some of them much more debilitating than others. But at the same time, when you look deeper into a person’s life, you often find that what precipitated an illness or injury was a spiritual or emotional crisis; an issue that the body or mind simply could not deal with except by expressing it in the form of a physical disturbance.

I can also speak from my own experience. When I was working full-time in the hospital, I rarely had time or energy for myself and my creative projects. My health suffered, and my spirit suffered. Helping people can be a very rewarding experience in so many ways, but when you give too much – which is the case with many nurses and other caring souls I’ve met – you end up getting drained dry. An empty glass does no one any good; it needs to be filled.

Taking care of yourself first sounds like such a selfish statement. Particularly for women, I believe putting our own needs first is one of the most difficult choices to make. Children, chores, jobs, husbands, partners, family, friends, even pets – everyone always seems to need something. And of course, we want to take care of those of we love. Often they get so used to it, however, that no one ever stops to ask if you are taking care of yourself, too. But we need to make it a priority. Having a creative outlet in any form can be one of the best things a person ever does to keep themselves healthy.

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” – Sophia Loren

When illness or injury lays a person low, they lose a job, or a significant relationship ends, it can be devastating. One of the best ways to process loss and suffering, to make it mean something, is to take all of that energy and emotion and create something good out of it. Like Sophia Loren says in the quote above, creativity has seemingly magical powers of regeneration.

I try to talk to patients about this, about using the time they have while laid up or homebound to write a journal, make collages, take up a beloved hobby – find some way to express for themselves all that they are going through. Maybe it will even help other people someday, I tell them, if they are ever inclined to share their experiences. Honestly, most of the time I don’t get through to people with my creativity speech. But every now and then I catch a glimmer of hope.

Take Janet (not her real name, of course, for privacy reasons), a woman who took her physically disabling hip injury as an opportunity to create a home scrapbooking business with a good friend. Even though she rarely left her house, she had surrounded herself there with shelves and cabinets full of beautiful stationary, stickers, and other colorful scrapbooking supplies. Her friend ran the external part of the business, marketing and traveling to parties, while Janet got to participate in the part of the work she liked best, and take care of herself at the same time. She was one of the most positive and motivated patients I have worked with, and is still an inspiration for me today.

“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.” – Yo-Yo Ma

What I’ve learned, then, is this: Don’t wait for illness or injury to happen, don’t allow a stifled creative impulse to starve or fester or cause you permanent harm. Whatever your passion is, don’t discount it. Give it life, give it time, give it room in any way you can. If you don’t have anything you are passionate about, make it a mission to find something – make a passion out of finding a passion. And always remember that whatever you end up producing doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to save the world – it only has to save you. But it just may end up helping someone else one day, too.