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8 Ways Creativity Can Help When Living With Chronic Illness

Creativity has played a profound role throughout my life. It has helped me not only process certain experiences, it has also been a therapeutic tool to know myself more deeply. This was especially true when I developed a chronic illness in my early 20s. I have spent my entire 20s and now my early 30s managing life with a chronic illness. These are the ways creativity has helped me cope and navigate my journey thus far.

1. Creativity is cathartic. After spending weeks recuperating from a kidney infection, one afternoon I pulled out a canvas. I threw red paint, anger and frustration at it. My room looked like a complete disaster when I finished, but I didn’t care. I felt better.

2. Creativity brought forth my voice. Through different creative endeavors, I was able to communicate the experiences I was having. This liberated me from the veil of shame and silence I had been hiding under for a long time. I’ve found creative expression healing on many levels – it’s like medicine for one’s heart.

3. Creativity helped me connect with myself. Every time I immersed myself into a project, it allowed me to forge a divide between my illness and me. The self I was connecting to in order to create was impenetrable to sickness and disease. This self had always been present, and would always be. I needed this reminder often, and this is why creativity helped me through my most difficult days.

4. Creativity is a wonderful distractor. Creativity demands your focus and attention. This has helped keep my mind from worrying about things beyond my control, like my heath and my future. Time flies by when you are having fun too, and it’s helped pass the time in moments when I really needed it to.

5. Creativity can be empowering. For one painting I did, the background was ripped up lab results from the past year. It just felt empowering to not feel measured by abstract numbers on a page that didn’t reflect me. I felt like I was taking back control in some way.

painting of a woman by the author

6. Creativity invites a sense of play and magic back into life. Both are often stifled in illness, and in our society in general. Welcoming a sense of playfulness into your space can feel like a breath of fresh air. It also helps decompressing from the stresses illness and life can bring. A common side effect of inviting play into your life is joy, so proceed with caution.

7. Creativity can be used as activism and a vehicle for change. I use creativity as a tool for resistance against stigma, judgment and the bigger systems of oppression at play in our society. I use it to bring awareness to the health inequality and social injustice that has surrounded the ME/CFS community for decades. I am challenging the ideas people have of my disease and of disability. I am taking back control of my story, and how my story is being told.

8. Creativity unites us. Music, dance, poetry, photography, theatre, books, art — sharing our creativity syncs our hearts and minds to each other. They are a way to feel what each other is feeling, relate and to connect to our vast experiences of what it means to be human. To share this connection helps you remember you aren’t alone, and we’re all in this together.

Creativity looks different for every individual. It can look like having an impromptu dance party in your kitchen, or it could be taking photos of very vulnerable moments in your life. To help find what creative expression works for you, ask yourself the following questions. Do you feel compelled to do it? Do you lose track of time when you are immersed in it? Do you feel better on some level after doing it? I encourage you to connect with your creative self as often as you can, and hope it helps you on your journey as well.

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