I have never described myself as a creative person. I’m drawn to creative activities like writing, dancing, and making music. However, I, as a person, struggle with creativity. The left side of my brain is incredibly dominant; I’m analytical, methodical, and I measure things quantitatively, which means that I often impose rules and regulations upon my own creativity. Perhaps this is why I have always excelled more in things like classical music, where there are set rules to follow. This opposed to improvisational music or jazz, where mastery usually comes from bending the rules. I set strict goals for myself when it comes to practice or the quantity and quality of the creative things I produce. These strict goals are not always the most realistic, though – especially now that my body and brain have limitations.
I had the pleasure of sitting in on a talk about Creativity After Brain Injury last night. While I don’t have a brain injury, my health and my medications have affected my brain immensely and I could relate to a lot of what they were saying. I’m not typically the type of person that’s brave enough to speak up and ask questions, but I really wanted to know how they dealt with frustration when it comes to creativity. Since getting sick and having to go on medications that cause such intense brain fog, I find myself becoming really defeated when I’m trying to create. It takes me such a long time to get things done, I can’t have anything going on in the background, I constantly lose my thoughts, I read sentences over and over again, I have to google words that I’ve forgotten, and I zone out all the time. Sometimes it gets to the point that I just stop creating because I associate it with my brain giving me a rough time. Without fail, I get to this place where I tell myself “you’re less intelligent than you were before” and “you’ll always be like this.” Needless to say, I’d like to avoid that thought pattern if I could!
Some of the advice I got was:
- Practice. Think of creativity as a muscle and work it out. Use writing/drawing/music prompts. Go back to the basics if you need to.
- Write down or record creative thoughts as soon as you have them. Bottle up spontaneous creativity if you can’t use it in the moment.
- Work in shorter increments and rest in between. Short sprints instead of a marathon.
- Set realistic goals. Maybe multiple small goals instead of one huge, unattainable goal.
- Be proud of what you do accomplish. Focus on what you’ve done instead of what you haven’t.
Taking all of this advice into mind, I decided to set out and finish the blog I’ve been trying to write for the last week. I’ve been avoiding it and I’ve been avoiding writing in general over the last few months because, as my pain has gotten worse, creativity has become incredibly difficult and frustrating. I didn’t know how to tell you that my pain has been increasing since January. I didn’t know how to tell you that I had a med reaction. I didn’t know how to tell you that I had to go to the hospital last week. I didn’t know how to tell you that it was one of the most traumatic flares I’ve ever had. I didn’t know how to tell you that we had a complication with my port and now it looks like I got kicked in the boob by a donkey. Had I just let myself breathe for one moment, I would’ve realized that I didn’t need to come up with some creative way to tell you all of this and to soften the blow – I could just say it. So, I’m saying it now. It’s been a really shitty couple of months. I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread most days. I’m anxious about my future all of the time. I’m exhausted.
The other day, I wrote this quick little piece to help me process some of my feelings and I think it’s really fitting for this blog.
“I feel like I’m playing Jenga, except the tower is me. I stand there beautiful, tall, and proud, but every month, every week, every day, a piece of me is picked away. It starts with the pieces that don’t matter as much. Maybe it’s my ability to go outside and go on a hike; something I love doing, but something I could give up if I had to. Then, it starts getting more personal and taking away my ability to hang out with friends or fulfill my household responsibilities. When I’m down to my very bare bones – the basics, the fundamentals of my mental health and survival – it takes away my ability to eat and talk. The cruelty and the terror that is watching yourself lose control is horrifying. Before I know it, I’m screaming in an emergency room and I need a medication that burns my veins, makes me vomit, makes me unable to walk by myself, see properly, and talk in complete sentences to give me just enough energy to start building myself back up.
And the only option I feel I have is to play again.
I play again because I know that there is good in life and that I don’t get to experience the good if I don’t take the bad with it. I play again because my people are worth fighting for. I will continue to exercise and build up my strength. I will continue to go to therapy, to work through the grief, and to prepare myself for the next play-through. However, it is exhausting to build yourself back up when you know the inevitable outcome is a fall.”
When I wrote that the other day, I couldn’t stop crying. It came out so easily and so quickly – I didn’t have time to filter it through my brain like I do with most of my writing. It was just pure, unadulterated, raw Kenzie thoughts. I think I spend so much time trying to make my illness more palatable to other people and to soften the blow, that it sometimes surprises me when I see my writing in it’s natural form. It’s dark, it’s ugly, it’s scary, but it’s real. It’s not to say that my usual writing isn’t authentic, but it’s very processed. All of the writing I share with you has had hours and hours of thought put into it. That time allows me to impose all of those creative rules and regulations I have. I don’t want to do that anymore!
I can’t do a lot when it comes to my health or the events of the last few months, but I can continue to use creativity to process everything. I can continue to work on my creativity and to try and avoid putting all these rules on myself and my work. I can continue to try and show my pure, passionate, authentic self and I can continue to try and love that person. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a conventionally creative person, but I do know that I am creative. My creativity has helped me navigate and adapt to this wild health adventure, it’s helped me cope with things that no one should have to go through, and it’s brought me here – to a place where I can share my story and meet some really amazing people.
So, thank you to all of my tried and true people who have always accepted me as I am, thank you to all of the new people that have been so supportive and lovely, and thank you to the brain injury community for welcoming me and letting me join in on these conversations. I am truly grateful and honoured to be included.
Love the heck out of you all!