Creativity for Wellbeing (Part 1)
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
Welcome to the first part of a new blog series on creativity and why it’s so good for our mental health and wellbeing. I began writing about this topic when the global pandemic hit in 2020, thinking it would one day become a book, however, life took over and it remained on my Google Drive unread. Time to change that!
If you receive my newsletter, you will know that 2021 did not go to plan for us as a family. I am more than familiar with the challenges of anxiety and depression, having struggled with them since childhood, but this time I was on the supporting end of the illnesses. In the spring my 11-year-old daughter's mental health began to spiral, and fast. Suddenly my sole purpose became to support her and keep her safe.
Interestingly, just like I do when the darker places beckon me, my daughter also shut out her creative pursuits. As an innately creative being, it was quite a shock to see her listless – a child who always has ten projects on the go and not enough time in the day – now apathetic and joyless.
It took time and the right help, but I’m pleased to say our little girl is now in a much better place, and I hear her laughter and joy with a newfound appreciation and gratitude.
Having turned a corner, our experience got me going into that Google Drive and bringing the book idea back up on my screen. One of my wishes has been to help people discover or rediscover their creativity in a time of difficulty, so I hope through this blog, that can become a reality.
Here I'll explain my background and how I have used creativity through the darkest times. In part two we will delve into why creativity is so good for us and why we should focus on the process, not the result.
In part three we will talk about how to get started, facing resistances and giving yourself permission to create.
In part four we will look at community and inspiration, lots of creative ideas to try and meet some amazing people who use creativity for their own mental health and wellbeing.
I really hope you find this helpful. If you did, please do share with anybody who might also appreciate it.
Why am I writing this blog? I am neither a doctor nor a scientist, however I am a professional artist and an expert in living day-to-day with mental and physical ill-health. I wanted to find a way to encourage the creative soul in more people, especially those struggling through stress, sadness, ill-health or grief.
I was pretty much born anxious. I have worried and over-thought everything for as long as I can remember. The ‘knot’ in my stomach was such a permanent fixture in my youth, I thought it was normal. Depression reared its ugly head in my teens when I experienced chronic emotional abuse over several years. I have struggled with guilt, grief, PTSD, self-harming and suicidal thoughts which resulted in a month-long stay in a psychiatric hospital in my twenties.
Intertwined with my mental health issues, I have a connective tissue disorder which causes me pain, severe fatigue and a foggy-headedness that often makes me feel like I am not quite in the real world! Thankfully my very bad days are now less common as I have learned to manage my conditions, pace myself and practice self-care as a matter of utmost importance. The bad days are still difficult, but I now know they will pass instead of letting them swallow me whole like they used to.
I have always been a creative soul, choosing the arts and crafts tables over anything else at nursery school and partaking in every artsy hobby I could through childhood. I junk-modeled, wrote and illustrated children’s books, made ‘potions’ in the garden, learnt several instruments (never well!) and learnt to knit, sew and crochet. By far, my most immersive hobby was drawing. Turning to a fresh page in my sketchbook with a sharp pencil in my hand was when I felt most alive and excited. Throughout all the difficult experiences in my childhood, creativity was my escape.
I drew my way through college and feeling profoundly lonely, I wrote my way through an unplanned pregnancy and traumatic birth, I painted my way through post-natal depression and grief. I have distracted myself through graphic design, film making, mural painting and gardening. Creativity has saved me many, many times over.
l have also experienced times of creative drought, when I turned away from it, unable to create anything. I'll talk more about that in Part 3.
In my early thirties, I became involved in a start-up charity called Be Me Project, who had noticed the increasing problems young people are now facing, including low self-esteem, self-harm and eating disorders, negative influences on social media and confusion about their identity. They sought to provide young people with a creative course where they could go and safely talk about their lives, discover their true worth and build their self-esteem through specific craft activities. Be Me noticed that when these young people’s hands were busy, they would talk more openly, divulge feelings and thoughts that would have otherwise been held in and strong bonds were formed quickly through openness and honesty. Lives were changed seemingly overnight, and it does not surprise me that Be Me’s success exploded in a short space of time.
Creativity is a powerful tool that anyone can tap into in countless different ways. You do not have to be artistically ‘talented’ or have a great imagination. It is accessible to everyone and I will show you how!
Join me in part two to discover why creativity is so good for our wellbeing.
Big thanks to the contributors to this post, Paula Bledsoe and Kelly Foster :)