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“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before” – Neil Gaiman

When I became ill, my life as I knew it no longer existed. All the things that defined me and gave me purpose were taken away. I had to give up my career and my love of travel, and I could no longer do the things I enjoyed.

My confidence took a big hit, and let’s face it, living with chronic ill-health can be really boring and monotonous. So how do you regain your confidence and live a fulfilled and happy life after diagnosis?

The main answer for me was finding a way to rediscover and embrace my creativity. Through expressing myself this way I was able to find meaning in my life confined by my pain, by my exhaustion, and by the four walls I live in.

Explore your creative side

Before becoming ill I wasn’t a particularly creative person. Let me rephrase that; I didn’t allow myself time to explore my creative side. Like many of us, I focused all my time and energy on the pursuit of a career that would, hopefully, allow me to be financially secure in my life ahead. It’s what you are supposed to do isn’t it?; Work hard getting the qualifications you need, then work harder to apply your knowledge and progress up the ladder in your chosen career.

But when I became too ill to work I had the opportunity to explore my creativity, and I discovered that engaging in creative activities was a fantastic, and fun, way to add purpose and meaning to my chronic life.

We are all innately creative (even those of us who may think otherwise) and there are so many different ways we can express our creativity; Writing, knitting, sewing, singing, photography, cooking, painting, sculpting, gardening, papercraft, playing with makeup. Activities like these are beneficial for our wellbeing; they bring us into the present moment, boost feel-good chemicals in our brain, and give us a sense of achievement. They can also give us much needed purpose in our life.

My chosen path was to express my creativity through writing. I had never considered writing before becoming ill, and I was scared to try at first. But it’s enhanced my life in so many ways.

“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.Elizabeth Gilbert

I started writing mainly for selfish reasons – I wanted to give myself a voice. I had spent so many years unable to communicate, my mind imprisoned in a broken body. My thoughts would race 24hrs a day, I had so much I wanted to say – so much I wanted others to understand.

When I started writing I could never have imagined where it would take me, I didn’t even know if anyone was listening. But the simple act of putting my thoughts into written word was very cathartic. It allowed me to express my frustrations and put some order and reason to the jumbled mess of thoughts circling in my mind.

And when others read my thoughts and words and utter; “Me too!” or “I could have written that myself” or “Its like you read my mind”, it brought me validation and purpose.

But writing is not the only creative pursuit that can enhance a chronic life. Don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works for you.

10 Benefits of developing a creative outlet

Developing a creative outlet is an essential aspect of our emotional and psychological wellbeing. Having projects or hobbies to consistently work on and dedicate our time to gives us a sense of purpose.

Creative activities not only give us a way to fill out never-ending days, but they also offer many benefits to our health and wellbeing.

1. Elevates Mood

One of the most noticeable benefits of having a creative practice is that it improves our mood. The process of creating can release feel good chemicals in the brain.

“Creativity makes life more fun and more interesting.” – Edward de Bono

2. Gives us something to look forward to

Having something that you enjoy, and dedicating a portion of your time to it, is fulfilling and uplifting. It’s something you can turn to if you’ve had a bad day and use it to release tension, and express yourself. A fun creative outlet can give us something to look forward to in our often challenging lives. When we have to give up work due to chronic ill-health our days can feel never-ending. Scheduling time each day to dedicate to creativity can give much needed structure to our day.

3. Alleviates Anxiety  

Certain creative pursuits can lower stress and anxiety. Research has found that music therapy is a good method for decreasing anxiety. One of the suggested reasons for this is that music calms brain activity, leading to a sense of emotional balance. This leads to a more relaxed, calmer and happier you.

4. Creativity is cathartic

Expressive writing helps us work out our thoughts. Other creative mediums like painting or drawing allow us to use storytelling and imagery as a way to process traumatic events, or negative emotions, when it’s otherwise too hard to put into words.

5. Improves cognitive function

Having a creative outlet has a positive impact on cognitive health – it can boost brain function. And for those of us struggling with brain fog, this is a welcomed benefit.

6. Distraction from negative thoughts or pain

Having a creative activity we enjoy can distract us from the negative impact of our illness: whether that’s a distraction from our pain, or the negative thoughts that often run circles in our mind. Creativity demands our focus and attention – shifting our focus away from pain or stressful thoughts, to activities that are soothing, enjoyable and fun.

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.

“Creativity is what helps me escape a lot of my inner demons.” – Demi Lovato

7. Gives us a sense of achievement

Never underestimate the feeling of achievement when you look at something that you have created and think; I made that! Creating something unique gives you a sense of pleasure and accomplishment.

8. Boosts confidence

When we lose our perceived purpose in life our confidence can take a big knock. The sense of accomplishment that you get from expressing your creativity can work towards renewing your confidence. Creativity can be empowering. Knowing that you have a creative medium that’s yours contributes to building a positive self-identity can also boost confidence.

9. Helps us find meaning in life experiences

This is one of the main benefits I have discovered through my writing. By transferring my thoughts into words, and spending time evaluating my life experiences, I have managed to find meaning.

10. Enables us to form new connections with others

By sharing your creations with like-minded people, you can open up connections. Why not join a few online creative communities, or start your own Facebook page to share your creations?

Embrace your creativity

Over the years following my diagnosis I have found ways to add meaning to my new chronic life – I have rediscovered my purpose and confidence. Just because my life is limited by chronic illness, does not mean that my contribution to society is less important. I have adapted and learnt new skills which have enhanced my life, and I am a happier person because of this.

Embracing my creativity has not just brought joy into my life, it has also let me express my feelings and frustrations through my writing. Writing has opened up a whole new world to me, a world of purpose and reason, a world where I can connect with others and share my passion.

Expressing my creativity has enhanced my life in so many ways, and I encourage you to explore this too.

If you decide to explore your creativity, Be prepared to adapt. Chronic illness can put obstacles in our way when it comes to everyday tasks healthy people take for granted. But spoonies are incredible at adapting to overcome these challenges. The same principle may apply to creative activities – find ways to adapt to make these hobbies easier and more accessible to you.

Whatever creative endeavour you pursue; have fun, please don’t be scared to fail – you don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it. You can still find enjoyment in life whatever restrictions chronic ill-health places in your path.

If you are unsure of what hobbies to try, my next post should give you some inspiration. I will be discussing some low activity creative ideas that can be enjoyed from your bed.

What hobbies and activities do you turn to on your bad health days? What creative pursuits lift your mood?

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