I took my creativity crusade on the road a couple of weeks ago. I was invited to conduct two workshops at The Myositis Association’s annual conference in New Orleans. Myositis takes many forms- Lupus, RA, and severe muscle weakness, to name a few. Art As A Beacon of Hope, the first session I conducted, was designed for patients with autoimmune disorders. Caregivers Living In Color addressed issues facing caregivers of loved ones suffering from these debilitating diseases.
Even though I do not suffer from an autoimmune disorder I wanted to convey my passionate belief that having an illness or caring for someone who does, does not have to doom one to a poor quality of life. Creativity is obviously not a panacea, but it is helpful. A Dose of Creativity, documents the benefits of creative engagement among aging adults- fewer doctors’ visits, the need for less medication, memory enhancement, fewer falls, a sense of belonging, “a second chance at life” according to one of the budding artists in the documentary.
Laura Holson, in a New York Times article entitled “We’re All Artists Now”, wrote:
“Our best selves are merely one doodle away. Where once drawing and other painterly pursuits were the province of starving artists or simply child’s play, unlocking one’s creativity has become the latest mantra of personal growth, career success, and healing”.
This article talked about how creativity has the same holistic benefits as a weekend at the Canyon Ranch Resort and Spa (and much cheaper, I might add). The Mayo Clinic recommends the health benefits of painting and ceramics. A four-year study found that people who took up creative endeavors at middle age suffered less memory loss.
I came to the conference loaded with statistics and suggestions for creative coping techniques. As is often the case, though, I was the one walking away feeling enriched. I carried home stories about acute pain, muscle inflammation and weakness, negative reactions to medications, falls, even death. I listened to the stories of spouses describing their multiple roles and responsibilities and having little to no time left over for their own pursuits. A young husband became emotional describing how he missed physical intimacy with his wife of only two years. The “toys” people have bought to help them function- motorized wheel chairs, bidets, vans with special lifts. But what I was most moved by was the obvious love and devotion between patient and caregiver. I heard a sweet story from one husband who said his own creativity had actually increased since the onset of his wife’s illness. He cuts out fabric for her as she is no longer able to squeeze a pair of scissors. They have become closer than even before her illness due to these shared activities.
I was struck by the bravery. The fact these attendees showed up to the conference was brave. They aren’t settling for a diminished life. As the name indicates, Be Brave. Lose the Beige advocates bravery. Not necessarily the kind of bravery required to climb a mountain or parachute from a plane. It’s the little every day heroics, like choosing to own your own life rather than allowing circumstances or others to own you.
Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat Pray Love fame, has written a new book entitled Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear. Gilbert referenced a poet professor who said the following to his budding writer student:
“Do you have the courage? The courage to bring forth this creative work? The treasures that are inside you are hoping you will say yes!”
Elizabeth Gilbert goes on to write:
“The hunt to uncover these treasures- that’s creative living. The courage to go on the hunt in the first place- that is what separates a mundane existence from an enchanted one. A creative life is a bigger life, an amplified life, one that is more interesting. Creative living is a path for the brave.”
I was honored and happy for the opportunity to meet real heroes this weekend.