Mining creativity to help overcome serious illness

By Cathy McCarthy

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”– Steve Jobs

From my own personal experience I can recommend the road to creativity as a therapeutic healing journey when you have survived serious illness. After many years of knowing in my head that creativity is integral to awakening the right side of our brain, I experienced it in my heart a few years ago when I signed up for a creativity class.  

When you are doing something you have a passion for – gardening, painting, cooking, writing – anxiety is not in the room with you. You are in a state of flow and there is no space for worry. It is a space where you get lost in what you are doing, the time flies, hours have passed and you have no idea what time it is.  

It is a wonderful place to be, lost in the beauty of the present moment. This complete immersion can happen if you are doing something that you love.  

Flow also happens when people are socially engaged. You know when you meet a friend that you have not seen for ages, you get so engrossed in conversation that you lose all sense of time.  

Cathy McCarthy
Cathy McCarthy tapped into her creativity to help overcome serious illness

It also happens when we lose complete awareness of ourselves and have that sense of serenity and feeling whole. Nothing else matters. Sadly, when we become adults we forget the things that we liked to do, the things that made us happy. We have to go back and retrieve these memories.

Some thoughts on creativity by my friend Mairead :

  1. Everyone is creative
  2. Making/crafting/creating is healthy and healing
  3. Stuff gets sorted in your head as you make with your hands.
  4. It’s a lovely feeling (and probably a big surprise) the first time you like something you have created.
  5. Old rules about our creativity have messed with our expression and we need to change the rules.

Blocks to Creativity

According to the Huffington Post, there are five things that block our creativity, namely:

  • You are afraid to fail
  • You are thinking too big
  • You are too busy
  • You are sitting at your desk – you need to shift your energy
  • You are too pessimistic

Why is creativity good for you?

  • It can open your mind
  • It can transform how you view the world
  • It can enhance your life
  • It boosts self confidence
  • It stimulates the brain
  • It can move you – by this, I mean give you a sense of wonder and awe
  • It can stop you in your tracks
  • It can last an eternity
  • It can make you happy
  • It can transport you to another place
  • It can help you live in the moment

In 2010, The American Journal of Public Health published a review titled ‘The Connection between Art, Healing and Public Health‘.  

In that article, researchers analysed more than 100 studies about the impact of art on your health and your ability to heal yourself. The studies included everything from music and writing to dance and the visual arts.

As an example, here are the findings from five visual arts studies referred to in that review – the visual arts include such things as painting, drawing, photography, pottery and textiles.

Each study examined more than 30 patients who were battling chronic illness and cancer. The researchers described the impact that visual arts activities had on the patients as follows:

  • Art filled occupational voids, distracted thoughts of illness
  • Improved well-being by decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones
  • Improved medical outcomes, trends toward reduced depression
  • Reductions in stress, anxiety and negative emotions
  • Improvements in flow and spontaneity, expression of grief, positive identity, and social networks

I don’t know about you, but I think the benefits listed above sound like they would be valuable not just for patients in hospitals but for everyone.

Who wouldn’t want to reduce stress and anxiety, increase positive emotions and reduce the likelihood of depression? Furthermore, the benefits of art aren’t merely ‘in your head’.

Seven Ways to Be Creative

Find your source

Find your source of inspiration. What inspires you?  Become aware, search, open your mind and take note of anything that makes you say, ‘I would like to do that’ or ‘that gives me an idea.’

Surround yourself with excellence

If you like music and musicians who are very talented, do some research on them and see who they admire. Good artists in turn listen to other talented people and observe them. Surround yourself with the best in music, art, writers and other people in the creative field. When you witness artists of a high standard, it moves you to do your best.

 Just create

Edgar Allan Poe said that if you do not use your creativity you will not improve your creativity. Be open minded and try new things. It is only when you explore that you will reveal hidden talent and ideas. You can be sure that for every painting you see in an art gallery, there are many sketches, rough drafts and torn up pieces of paper that you don’t see. Every single artist/creator from Picasso to Van Gogh started off with many failed attempts. What made them great is that they spent hours working tirelessly until their finished product resembled their mental image.   

Cross creative borders

Different types of art run parallel to each other.  They are all connected. If you feel confident in one area apply your ideas and talent to a different area. You will find that your skills and creative ideas are transferable.  

Limit External amusement

Your creative source is known as your ‘muse’. This is an ancient Greek word to mean absorbed and deep in thought or inspired. Amusement is the absence of thought or inspiration. If you want to be amused by television or movies, try to use these channels to expand your imagination.

Be Conscious of Your Surroundings

When you are focused and inspired you will get a lot more work done than when your mind is distracted.  Your environment and surroundings are important. Find a place where you can be in the mind frame of creativity and you can be in the flow.  

Ignore Negativity

When you express yourself and expose your work to others you are open to judgement and criticism. Some people can be critical and have no value on the amount of time you have spent on working creatively. Unfortunately also, more often than not, you yourself are your worst critic. Be open to constructive criticism or useful ideas from those who are encouraging and want the best for you, but refuse to be discouraged by unhelpful people. If people are negative, use this to motivate you to keep going. Continue to create, inspire and be innovative.  

Creativity can include anything from pottery, to knitting, or writing

I know that I had a very limited view, in my own mind, of the broad meaning of creativity. I thought that it was only art, as in painting.  

You may laugh at this but that was my perception. However, I got out of that particular box and now appreciate that creativity can include anything from knitting or making music to writing poetry or caring for your garden. In fact, the list is endless.  

Whatever you find in your life that you have a yearning to make or do that is your creativity.   

It is limitless and very exciting. The world is waiting for you to create. Creativity can carry you through many of life’s challenges.  

It can range from gliding the brush across the canvas to escorting the pen across the page to whatever you wish to embrace.  

Remember, you are a creative person.


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