Recovering and Reconnecting: Finding Our Creativity After the Pandemic
"We believe a creative life is for everyone." -- Suleika Jaouad
It is often interesting to me how the same themes and topics seem to pop up in different places. Recently, I have been having a lot of conversations with people about the difficulty of connecting to creative pursuits both during the early days of the pandemic and even now, over two years later. Initially, there were so many changes to adjust to, we simply did not have the mental space to devote to new projects in art, music, or writing as we usually did. As the pandemic wore on, we felt exhausted and depleted all the time. Even now that we are getting back into new routines, our own thoughts may be getting in the way, inner dialogue such as, “Should I really be doing this when I have dinner to prepare for the kids, work emails to respond to, bills to pay.” You name it. And now, after two years of this continued lack of practice and engagement, it seems to be harder than ever for some people to reconnect to the artistic endeavors they once loved.
This all makes so much sense when we explore the profound effects of prolonged stress on the mind. When experiencing an extreme threat like the pandemic, our stress response kicks into overdrive. The problem solving part of the mind goes offline, all because the body wants you to react as fast as possible to stay safe. Our vision literally narrows to ensure we focus our full attention on the threat right in front of us, and the judging mind takes over to constantly assess for safety, leaving us with an incredibly negative outlook as a result. When we experience these effects on the mind long-term, this way of operating becomes the default, and this limited perspective leaves us with little to no space to think about alternative possibilities. With all of this going on, it is no wonder people are having a hard time getting back to the canvas.
At the same time I am noticing this trend in conversation, I am also seeing multiple resources arise around this topic of reconnecting with our innate and renewable resource of creativity. Maybe because it is top of mind for me at the moment, I am more attentive to the articles and posts on the subject when I see them. Or maybe there is a collective response happening centered around the need to reclaim and savor the things we enjoy and love after such a long period of loss and suffering. Either way, I am happy to know about the following supports and to share them with you here.
Resources for Reconnecting to Creativity
The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad
When the pandemic hit, Suleika Jaouad was no stranger to the experience of isolation. In her twenties, she was diagnosed with leukemia, and her treatments prevented her from going out with friends, traveling, even going outside for a walk. As her website describes, when feeling “unmoored and uninspired,” she decided to turn isolation into an opportunity for “creative solitude and connection,” using this time to create something, no matter how small, almost everyday. Her commitment to staying creative turned into an online community of people seeking the same sense of connection and inspiration. Through The Isolation Journals, writers, artists, and community leaders share a journal prompt each Sunday, and individuals connect through forums and virtual classes on tips for getting started, common obstacles, and different resources. In her own words, Suleika describes the space:
“Here, we learn how to use creativity as a tool for survival."
“Here, we learn how to use creativity as a tool for survival. Here, small acts of creativity accrue into something much bigger. Here, stories of vulnerability become stories of resilience and strength, and they unite us as a community. We believe a creative life is for everyone."
The Artists’ Grief Deck
Once we make it through to the other side of the initial traumas that needed our survival response, we often feel intense emotional reactions. This is completely normal and to be expected. Once we are physically safe, the mind and body start to process all the emotions they could not in the moment of stress. It may seem counter-intuitive, but feeling your feelings is a sign that you are healing. To keep from being overwhelmed by these strong emotions, we need healthy ways to express them, to honor and release them.
To keep from being overwhelmed by these strong emotions, we need healthy ways to express them, to honor and release them.
The Artists’ Grief Deck is a beautifully rendered resource for just that—an outlet for processing, honoring, and releasing the experience of grief. A collaborative effort in response to the pandemic, The Artists’ Grief Deck consists of 60 flashcards independently designed by artists with an original work of art on one side and a “grieving prompt” on the other. The artwork provides both inspiration as well as a reminder that we are not alone in our grief. Others have experienced this too. The prompts give individuals something to do, "a gesture, a tiny performance, a movement, an act of mindfulness—in memoriam for someone or something whose loss they are grieving.” Through the website, physical decks of these cards can be purchased and examples of the artwork and prompts can be seen along with how-to guides and other resources for working with the presence of grief.
Morgan Harper Nichols
Morgan Harper Nichols is a counselor turned musician turned visual artist and poet who has developed a practice of turning everyday experience, both her own and others, into beautiful works of art and writing. She has authored multiple books—How Far You Have Come, All Along You Were Blooming, and Peace is a Practice—that explore universal themes of struggle, courage, and hope all through illustrated poetry and prose. Many of her creations can be seen on her instagram @morganharpernichols and provide daily encouragement to over a million followers.
Her words go beyond the idea of mere positive affirmation and show us a path to both validating the difficulties while also honoring the gifts of being human in this world. Whenever I see a post of hers or a work of art she has created, it somehow always seems to be exactly what I needed to see and hear in the moment at hand. And seeing how other artists use their talents to find ways of turning hardship into beauty always inspires me to continue finding my own ways of doing the same.
Seeing how other artists use their talents to find ways of turning hardship into beauty always inspires me to continue finding my own ways of doing the same.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
A tried and true classic. First published in 1992, The Artist’s Way is a book that has inspired many creatives, including Elizabeth Gilbert who credits the book for giving her the idea and the courage to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia—creating the basis for her book Eat, Pray, Love. Julia Cameron’s work is more than a book. It is a structured yet gentle guide to reconnecting to the artist within. The Artist’s Way takes its readers through 12 weeks of writing exercises with each week focusing on a different topic. Throughout the entire three months, Julia stresses the importance of a daily practice through what she calls morning pages—writing three pages first thing in the morning—and a weekly practice she calls artist dates—setting aside longer sections of time to create. Through this process, individuals can compassionately uncover the thorny obstacles blocking creativity and ultimately find a new pathway forward. While Julia’s instructions focus on the art of writing, her framework for what she calls “creative recovery” is well suited for any medium.
Individuals can compassionately uncover the thorny obstacles blocking creativity and ultimately find a new pathway forward.
Key Take Aways
From The Artist’s Way: The Importance of Creating Structure and Routine
Like anything we are learning, or relearning, it takes practice and patience. Scheduling time for both small, daily rituals as well as longer, weekly “dates” with our creative pursuits where we can more fully immerse ourselves in these interests helps us both prioritize this reconnection to creativity and commit to the attention it needs to grow.
From Morgan Harper Nichols: The Power of Perspective
Morgan’s artwork shows a kind, encouraging way to work with guilt, self-doubt, and the inner critic. When it seems impossible to find our own compassionate voice, it is more than ok, and sometimes necessary, to borrow these affirmations from others.
From The Artists’ Grief Deck: It is OK To Grieve
This is an expected and necessary response to experiencing a prolonged stressor like the pandemic. As such, building a community of support is essential. Whether this comes in the form of daily creative practices, understanding friends, professional mental health providers, or all of the above, surround yourself with a network of compassion and care.
From The Isolation Journals: Give Yourself Grace
We do not have to do it all today. Some days, we may just not be feeling it, and that is ok. In those moments, we can shop for a new art material or set up our space for the next day. As Suleika wisely suggests, “Leave a gift on the canvas for tomorrow’s self.” This goes beyond setting realistic expectations to the idea of giving yourself a gift for the future through small and simple gestures.
I hope you enjoy these resources for reconnecting with your creative self. I know I have.
You can find more info on the benefits of art and creativity in previous blog posts, “The Benefits of Mindfulness, Art Making, & Art Therapy” and “Is Art Therapy for Me?”
Feel like you need more support on your journey?
Contact me for an initial consultation, and we can discuss how art therapy can help.
Schedule a Consult: https://catherine-harris.clientsecure.me/
** Original cover artwork created by Brianne Burgoon