Mental Illness and Creativity

There are various ways that creativity can be used for healing. As someone who has suffered from bi-polar disorder I can say, without a doubt, that creativity has helped me see through the chaos to a clearer place.  What is of more interest now, is how creativity has helped me connect to the world again.

Bi-polar disorder can be a dark and isolating place. Yet I can also remember times of great happiness.  I would have spent time walking around the garden and writing poetry.  The stillness of my parent’s home and the beauty of words became a refuge for me.  I also enjoyed renovating small pieces of furniture and decorating a table.  The creativity gave me the chance to feel free and the power to realise that I could still make beauty possible.  The excitement, the mystery and the clearing of the mind was inwardly felt.

As life began to get darker and darker, someone advised me to buy an art pad and paints. I started to use colours and words to express my feelings and my pain, working through the darkness in a way I could never have done with a therapist.  Symbols came up in my drawings which expressed hurts that I wasn’t ready to express in words.  The art can work in this way giving the mind a way to express emotions and to expiate them.  As Barbara Gamin reflects:

“When we use words to talk about our feelings what we get is the left brain’s judgemental interpretation. But when we use the right brain’s language of imagery, we get the truth of our experiences and feelings, because judgement is not a right-brain function.”

It has been said that creativity can give us something that a therapist cannot. Creativity can help us take the lead in our own healing and to express what we maybe can’t find words for.  Although this is the case I do not think it is a good idea to use this as a replacement for a therapist.  Louise De Salvo talks about this in her book “Writing as a Way of Healing”:

“I personally believe that a strong, highly qualified support system is essential for writers with histories of extreme trauma and writers with port-traumatic stress”.

When writing for healing, it is important that there is a link between feelings and the events in a person’s life. It is this link between the writer and the world that ensures that the writer is focused towards the world, rather than just inwardly.  In this way a writer can cultivate an openness and attentiveness to the world around them.

Personally I have found that writing has helped me to develop a sense of myself and has lessened the fear of solitude. I am not afraid of myself because I have made the link between my feelings and the world around me.  The traumas of my life have been written about and I have changed them in my words.  I have found a hobby and a gift that I can turn to anytime.  There is now also an outlet to put my mind to use.  In this way the illness does not own me.  I own my own life and have been able to take this gift into the world by publishing ad directing a play.

To those who have mental health problems I would like to say don’t be afraid to be creative. Do take the time, even if it seen like you are busy.  There are of course many different ways to be creative.  I have talked mostly of creative writing and painting.  One aspect I have not mentioned is that of cooking.  This is one that can be open to many people and can give us a skill that we can use.  Cooking is also something that gives the mind a clear link to outer experience and the world.  While I was ill I decided to become a cook and to make parties for my family.  The cooking helped me to focus my mind and to use my gifts to engage with life.  Sometimes instead of thinking dark thoughts I would begin to think about recipes and how I enjoyed creativity to spend time with others.

If you have a mental health problem try and think of something creative you would like to do. Try and do this in a way that involves interacting in the world.  If you want to be a writer join a writer’s group.  If you want to use art therapeutically find a good registered art therapist.  If you want to cook, bake buns for your friends.  Whatever you do, enjoy being creative and don’t be afraid of your feelings.

By Ruth Kennedy

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