Regular People Healing through Creativity
People discovering the therapeutic value of exploring artistic and creative expression
I feel very privileged to have worked many people who have shared their experiences with me of using creativity to empower, express and heal. Some of these people had never experienced any creative output before, right through to others who are artists and creatives by profession. Regardless of their prior experience, every one of these particular people have had transformative experiences through the use of creating something through some kind of artistic medium, that assisted them in their lives.
I would like to share with you 3 of these short stories as an insight into the power of creativity.
Andrew was a builder who had bouts of depression, who then became a painter.
When Andrew, (who was in his late 30’s), spoke about his youth, he often spoke about times when he thought he might have been depressed, but just didn’t know it. He said he never felt he really chose his occupation, but rather it chose him because of the family building trade.
Andrew was married and had 2 children, and he loved his family, and was concerned that his bouts of diagnosed depression might negatively impact them, and he wanted to do something to help. Andrew started with drawing diagrams of how he felt and the groups of people in his life, initially just to help him focus on the conversation about his perspective so he could identify the needs in his life.
Andrew discovered he enjoyed creating these diagrams, like building drawings at first, which then became fuzzy sketches, and he created a new one each time he felt himself slide into a depressive state. After several episodes he decided he wanted to try painting these abstract-looking diagrams, in no particular style, just whatever he felt at the time.
After several months of designing and then painting, Andrew noticed a shift. His depressive bouts seemed shorter when he started creating. He wasn’t sure if they were actually shorter or if they just seemed shorter to him because he had found a vessel to put his depressive thoughts into…his paintings. He told me it didn’t matter, because either way he was feeling better. He also felt he could now be an example to his children if they ever had to deal with depression. He described his paintings as filling a “void of nothingness” of depression. He said the colours filled the starkness of his feelings, and even though the beginning of each painting was very difficult, part way through the process he would feel a distinct change, “as if a giant concrete block is gradually being taken off my chest”.
Lily was feeling alone and unloved, and then she discovered creating warmth in her life
Lily (25) had a tough and isolated childhood in the country, where it was just her and her mother until her mother recently passed away. Single, with no extended family, and now living and working in a city, Lily shared her feelings of social isolation, impersonal impressions of city life, and a desire to connect to a sense of simplicity.
Sometimes when she would talk to me I would crochet while she would untangle and roll up balls of yarn. She would sit with me and ask me if I had any yarn to wind, and what I was working on. She said this small experience or winding woolen balls made her think fondly of childhood memories of her mother knitting in front of the fire in the winter, while she would play with the scraps of yarn with their cat.
I regularly offered to teach her to crochet, but she said she was content just talking, winding, and watching my project grow. She said it gave her the cosy feeling of being part of something growing like in nature, which eased her sense of grief when we would meet.
Then one day, she came to me bursting with excitement. She had suddenly found herself at home with the urge for yarn, so she bought a selection and a crochet hook, and looked up crochet tutorials on YouTube. She was surprised at how easy she picked up the basics, and for a week had taken her crochet scarf project everywhere she went. She said it gave her so much comfort on the train where she felt the most vulnerable, and sometimes people asked her what she was making, and she didn’t even mind talking to them about how she was only just learning but finding it so much fun.
Soon she was making scarves for work friends, and visiting the library to borrow craft books. She even joined a yarn group, full of older women whom she began to refer to as her “Woolly Aunties”. She found local yarn supply stores and ordered special yarn for her projects, and soon she was making bigger garments, which she said made her feel wrapped in self-love when she wore them.
Lily was astounded that the simplicity of yarn was all she seemed to need. It held so many things for her…love, nurturing, warmth, friendship, connection, pride, belonging, purpose, and self-love. Creating made her feel complete in a way that nothing else had.
Oh, and by the way, she also got herself a cat.
Farmer and Grandpop Trevor, and his poetry evolution
Trevor was just retired when I met him. He had been a sheep and cattle farmer all his life, and loved old poetry. He’d written a few poems over the years, usually as a bit of jocularity to poke harmless fun at whomsoever’s birthday or special occasion it was. His wife wasn’t keen on his poems, often critising him about them, but when he reminisced about the occasions and people’s reactions to his little bit of fun, he would laugh so hard sometimes his face would turn bright red and he could barely speak coherently.
Sometimes I would ask him if he would like to write more regularly as I witnessed so much enjoyment in the stories he shared, but he said it caused more problems at home than it was worth, and left it at that. His relationship was a tough one with his wife, Shelly, being quite cruel at times with constant put-downs, and then taking full credit for a poems idea if it was well received by others. Trevor sometimes tried to keep his poems a secret, but she would always find them and then poke fun at his “hopelessness”.
When Shelly died Trevor seemed lost and frantic, but as his grief settled he picked up his love of poetry and wrote about everything he could think of. No longer did he need to worry about getting caught, which was quite a new thing for him, and he recited his poems to anyone who would listen. “I have ideas”, he would declare with a twinkle in his eye.
He rang me up one day, and as excited as a small boy said “guess what? GUESS WHAT?….I am an ARTIST now,” spilling over with a story of how his poems had been recited as a performance piece in a recent local show. He was giddy with excitement and as proud as punch.
Trevor wrote about everything…the people he knew, strangers, animals he met… but more than anything he wrote about his own memories. He said to me one day that he realised that his poems “could keep the memories of these things alive”. He was now in his 70’s and said he “won’t be around forever”. This, his poetry, he came to understand, was his legacy for the generations to come.
When we look back in ancient history it’s the creativity which survives to tell the story…the ceramics, carvings, jewelry, writing, blacksmiths…all of the creative artifacts which remain.
Creativity is much more important than we as a contemporary society sometimes make it out to be. It’s more than just an elective class at school, or a nice thing for someone to spend some time on, more than simply a hobby, and it’s also not just for the professionals. Creativity can be uplifting, self-empowering, emotionally rewarding and even life-changing. It’s place is in every pocket of our community, not just a spattering here and there.
I wonder what you would do if you gave yourself more opportunities to create…
Tania Rose is a Counsellor, Teaching Artist, Musician, Mother,
and Author of the book MINDFUL NURTURING — Parenting in thoughtful ways