Creativity at All Cost: The Art of Working with Illness
It's been a rough couple of weeks for creativity and me. I'm tired. I'm anxious. I'm having a hard time sitting down and focusing long enough to write the blog posts I'd like to. In fact, it's nearly impossible to give you advice on "how to take shit," something I'm usually pretty good at, when I feel like shit myself, a majority of the time.
But creativity doesn't rest, even when you do.
Last night, I was reminded of this article I wrote the last time I felt like this. It was something I wrote for my artist's blog - something I've been working to relaunch for the last few months - and while I was up into the wee hours last night (this morning, ugh...) I thought, instead of lamenting over my lack of posting, or giving you advice on taking criticism that I'm not yet ready to give, I should give my own advice a re-read.
And then I thought, maybe you'd like to read it to. Because everybody has their off days - but your creativity doesn't have to.
Creativity at All Costs: The Art of Working with Illness
It is nearly impossible in the traditional work environment we’ve created to let go and nurture ourselves during sickness. We’ve been conditioned to see illness as a block: something to work around, climb over, and run past, in order to return to our highest performing self.
In the process, however, we often pay our bodies, and our minds, a deep disrespect, and consequently, a real disservice. Feeling sick is not a hurdle to jump, nor is it a reason to panic and cease to move. As an immunodeficient person, but also an artist, I’ve learned to approach even my sickest moments with a sense of creativity. Even more so now that my work schedule and allotted “sick days” are my own to manage.
I know not all are blessed with the ability to call in sick when you should (and yes, you should), but we can all promise to take a little better care of ourselves.
With that in mind, here are a few ways I’ve learned not only to cope with illness, but to actually maximize its appearance in my work life.
Give in to fatigue and let the body rest. This is the hardest step and the necessary first one. When you feel you should be doing other things, letting yourself sleep during the day can be an immense source of guilt. Instead, take comfort in the dreams you may stumble upon in the process; unconscious research for the work you will take on when bad feelings and illness have passed.
Sleep is restorative, and the dream state is gestation for every ounce of creativity within your brain, so this is the perfect opportunity to get even more of it than usual. And remember: getting well is a project requiring ALL of your available attention.
Can’t create? Get inspired. In your waking hours, absorb what’s around you. This doesn’t require a single move from the couch. Flip through magazines, play on Pinterest, read books, watch movies (watch SO many movies).
Use your mandated rest time to quietly immerse yourself in all the wonderful, inspiring, pre-existing art already around you. Most of all, do not take for granted this time your body has set aside for you to expand and collect your thoughts. Appreciate your limitations, and use them to your advantage. The best of your creativity grows organically from the things you already know - here is the perfect opportunity to lean back and learn more.
Meditation can sound like a pressure cooker situation wherein you must sit perfectly still, clear your brain of any and all thoughts, and somehow stifle the sneeze that’s been building up in your sinuses for the last two hours. It doesn’t have to be this way. When I meditate, I focus on my breath, my work, my ideas, and my dreams. So long as it isn’t a source of stress, it’s dynamite to meditate on. Choosing an appropriate mantra can help you stay calm and – BONUS – encourage your immune system to get working again. Whatever it is – “I am an artist,” “I need rest,” “I allow myself to let go and get better,” – repeat it out loud, in your head, over and over and, as my YouTube Yoga buddy Adriene likes to say, consider it already done.
It might seem like I’ve got this letting-myself-be-sick thing down, but it’s taken me many years, and much assistance to get here. And I guarantee you, right now, I'm reviewing this list and taking it all the way back to step one. Therefore, I have a bevy of helpful links and apps (yes! there are SO many apps for that) to get you on your way to feeling good about feeling sick. Or at the very least, spark a bit of creativity when you're low.
Explore and use at your leisure
Mr. Mood – The most basic, wonderful, blissful little digital buddy in the world. Let Mr. Mood check in on you once a day, and let yourself keep track of how you’re feeling. A seriously awesome thing to do for yourself.
Stop, Breathe & Think – Mr. Mood’s more interactive brother. An amazing app for those just starting (or thinking about starting) a meditation practice.
The Wild Unknown Tarot – I turn to my old-fashioned Tarot cards whenever I need to turn a little bit inward. But for those of you on Android phones, my favorite illustrated pack now has a digital counterpart. Check it out for a healing mini-practice when you’re down.
Yoga with Adriene – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this chick is the best there is in online Yoga classes – maybe even trumping going to a class in person. She’ll teach you in a few quick minutes a day how to create and stick to your own home practice. And BONUS – she has specific routines for when you’re sick, stressed, and even suffering a headache.
*Originally published on May 20, 2015 on outtatheplayhouse.com