How Creativity Heals Grief

I hate when I realize I’ve been a hypocrite.

I was talking to a friend recently about her grief. (DISCLAIMER: I don’t go around only talking about this all the time- I promise grief doesn’t rule my life, nor am I obsessed! But I am honored that I’ve become someone people can go to for honest and open discussion about what it means to have lost. I consider it to a privilege to be approached so often by my loved ones. Anyhow, moving on!)

We were talking about her grief and, more specifically, what happens to our creative processes when we experience loss. She admitted that she had turned away from her creative pursuits- things that used to bring her joy and comfort. She loved to paint.

When she told me, I was so sad she had made that choice. I was almost disappointed that she had seemed to have just given up on it. She thought that it simply wasn’t a possibility for her. I encouraged her to try getting back into it.

And then I realized that I had done the exact. same. thing.

I just came back from an absolutely incredible trip back home. I got to see my family and friends, and I raced around the state of Montana for two weeks, basking in its untamed, powerful, awe inspiring beauty. It was freaking awesome. I soaked up as much of that awesomeness as I could.

And then I came back to Nashville. And I sat on my couch. And I watched a whole hell of a lot of tv. And I ate a lot of junk food. And I sat there in my guilt that I wasn’t doing more work on my blog and my body and my spirit. I spiralled a little bit- it’s so easy to do when you’re coming off such an emotional high.

When I am feeling weak and depleted, it’s SO easy to make lazy choices and turn away from the activities that challenge my mind and soul.

This is something I don’t go around telling people, because it cuts to the depth of my insecurities… but here goes nothin’.  

When I lost my mom, I completely lost my voice. It physically hurt my throat to do anything more than sing Happy Birthday. I couldn’t do it. Isn’t that crazy? I used to tie my entire identity to the fact that I was a singer- and then I couldn’t sing anymore.

While I’m sure that has a lot to do with some science behind the physical effects of stress and emotion, which I can’t wait to dive into at a later time, I think it’s important to note that after a while, I fought to get it back. Within a year I was working diligently to rehabilitate by vocal chords, and once I was ready I got myself back into voice lessons. But it still doesn’t have a fraction of the presence in my life that it used to have. I don’t spend each and every day working on new material. I hardly write music anymore. I don’t work on learning instruments to accompany myself because-

I haven’t sung in front of an audience since my mom died.

And yet another thing had fallen by the wayside-

I stopped dancing. I danced nearly every single day of my life between the ages of 12 and 22. I danced until I couldn’t get out of bed the next morning because I was so sore, I danced until my feet bled. Ten whole years of an art that I was practically married to- and since that time, I have set foot in a dance studio a grand total of three times. Three years of losing that side of me has taken its toll.

I haven’t completely abandoned my creative pursuits- I still write as much as I can, of course. But I’m sure you’ve even noticed that slipping lately, too.

So how could I possibly have the nerve to tell this dear friend that she had to start painting again?

Because I know that she HAS to. Because I HAVE to. Experiencing the loss of not only my mom, but also the things that give my heart, brain, and soul expression and release? It’s been a torturous two and a half years.

And I know exactly how this has all happened. I see the pattern. Creative pursuit is always what makes me feel better. But creating is hard.

The act of creating and the act of grieving are so similar. Both pursuits require immense mental and emotional energy. And the process is much the same- you are striving towards a seemingly unattainable destination, and you’re not even quite sure how you’ll get there or what it will look like when you do. All you have to go off of is your instinct and a feeling that you have some work to do.

If you’re reading this and thinking that your experience is entirely different because you don’t identify as a “creative”, then I beg to differ.

Do you have to come up with solutions at work? Do you love to decorate your house? Do you enjoy putting together a wardrobe and a sense of style that makes you feel like the best version of yourself? Do you aim to make the most ingenious Fantasy Football lineup anyone has ever come up with? Do you go outdoors and discover places it feels like no one else has ever explored? Do you play around in the kitchen with recipe ideas that make you feel like Top Chef? Do you hit the gym to create the best physical version of yourself you can dream up? Hell. Do you like editing photos on your instagram? Do you write? Do you draw? Do you read? Do you exercise your mind? Do you play video games?

Do you paint?

Humans are innately creative. It’s in our DNA to tinker until we make something out of nothing.

The more that grief ebbs and flows, the easier it gets to think that I am far enough away from my emotional pain- that I don’t have to be so careful about guarding my mental health, that I don’t have to work as hard. So I stop doing the things I know will make me feel better- because they are challenging. And they take a lot of work and energy. So begins the cycle.

In time, I realize once more that I’m not doing well, so I work really hard to get better. Once I reach that point, I think I’m all good again and that the job is finished, and I stop trying so hard. Therein lies the key. The moment I stop, the hard times come back around.

Lately, I have stopped. Like… point blank just stopped. On the couch. In my pjs. With a beer and a pizza on the coffee table and some binge-worthy Netflix.

Being healthy, mentally and physically, is hard. It’s work. It’s a full time job. It doesn’t stop, and the work will never be done. This is just a fact of adulthood. And while some people our age can manage to put off that realization for a little while longer, if you’re dealing with some heavy shit… you’ve got to figure that out now and start realizing that health is going to be a lifelong marathon, and it starts now. You can take breaks, but you don’t get to stop.

I think the best way to jog ourselves out of some of the lower points in our lives is to engage that human creativity we have inside all of us. It’s the ultimate act of engagement. It isn’t just your mind having to do the work, it isn’t just your body, it isn’t just your heart. It’s having to harness all three in order to make something out of nothing.

Don’t turn on that tv. Unless you’re turning it on to watch something that’s going to teach you something or seriously tug at your heartstrings, it is such a passive way to spend your time. The key here is to get active.

I sat down at my piano last night because I knew something had to change. I knew I had to take a step forward and turn this week into something worth remembering. It was so worth it.

If you find yourself at a time when you need to start engaging again, I hope this helps. How do you create? And how has creating helped you be a more engaged, motivated, and healthy person?

One thought on “How Creativity Heals Grief

  1. […] In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic she talks about showing up to her creativity with purpose and respect for the work. Like a date. Specifically, she makes sure to put in earrings. I freaking love that. And the spiritual nature of creativity and grief are much the same- intangible moments of emotion and clarity tied to the very essence of our being. I even wrote an earlier post on the connection between the two. […]

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