If there was ever a time when we needed to be creative, it’s now. The healing power of creativity is well recognized, particularly among mental health professionals.
And yet, if there was ever a time for our creativity to be stifled, it’s now. It is well documented that trauma can stifle our creative energies.
Thus, it’s like the chicken and the egg. We need to be creative to heal, but we need healing to be creative. How do we handle this?
I’ve watched this play out in our home over the past five weeks of shelter-in-place. As soon as school was canceled, I created a school day checklist for the 12- and 13-year-old kids staying with us. Given my husband and I work full-time, I needed to keep them occupied during work hours. Because of their unstable educational background, I knew they couldn’t really do much school work without 1:1 adult support, so I decided to focus on activities they could do on their own that helped spark their curiosity and promote creativity. Again, my goal was to provide structure while also offering choice.
For that first week of us all being home, the checklist worked pretty well.
But then reality started to sink in that this was going to be our new (ab)normal for awhile… and their trauma-history was triggered. They began rejecting any sort of structure and acting out in increasingly challenging and harmful ways. By the middle of the second week, things were pretty bleak around our house. I wondered how we’d ever survive a weeks (or months!) long shutdown.
We try our best to say “yes” as much as possible while parenting kids from hard places, and this shelter-in-place has felt like one colossal “no” screamed into everyone’s faces.
What I needed was to be able to think creatively about how to make the situation better, but my own trauma in facing this unprecedented situation was blocking that. Even though I am normally someone with tons of ideas about how to solve problems, I felt hopelessness creeping in.
It is your ability as a creative person to envision positive change that will make a difference.”—Patricia Johanson
After verbally processing all of this, I realized we needed to make some significant changes. Everything that didn’t foster creativity went on the back burner. Out went the (optional) assignments from the school district and in came creative innovation, expression, and problem-solving. This has included…
- planting green beans (the only packet of seeds we had)
- trying new recipes (especially with whatever is already in the pantry)
- developing dance routines (and other Tik Tok stuff)
- sewing doll clothes and hair accessories and face masks
- writing stories, poems, and songs
- playing games and puzzles
- starting a journal
- lots of painting and drawing
- making more slime
- coming up with ways to stay connected with family members in other places
- creating obstacle courses outside with sidewalk chalk
- and even cleaning/reorganizing our house when we decided to put it on the market (yes, amidst a pandemic) last week
Within a few days of this shift, we saw a significant improvement in our home. Was there still stress related to the shut-down and being cut off from most of their normal supports? Of course. But we’ve also seen an increase in cooperative play, positive outlooks, laughter, and hopefulness—all of which are welcome signals that some healing is happening.
Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics. It brings healing.”—Julia Cameron
This makes sense because being creative helps us process the world around us. Words we might not be able to speak aloud can be expressed through story, art, or music, for example. Ideas we haven’t fully fleshed out can be tested and revised without the fear of mistakes or failure.
In fact, creative mistakes can actual help us work through tougher feelings in a safe way. And, creativity gives us a tangible way to feel seen and heard, especially when we might otherwise feel lost or invisible.
If you want to hear a first-hand account on how creativity heals, check out Jessica’s four-minute video story:
This week marks the first week of their non-optional schoolwork, all to be completed virtually. I expect us to hit another set of roadblocks, but also feel like the past month has helped prepare us for what’s to come.
I know so many families have had to struggle through these same concepts and emotions recently. If you’re still stuck in a negative cycle while needing to parent and work full-time with a full house, remember this is causing stress and trauma to all of us. Give yourself a ton of grace. Consider how you can encourage and allow for creative expression, on a daily basis, to promote healing.
Just this evening, one of the girls made this Mexican Skillet meal and commented several times how good it felt to be creative in the kitchen.
Yes, creativity is hugely healing… if we can just get over the hurdle of this trauma to make it happen.
P.S. Self-care is super challenging for moms right now. I highly recommend spending some alone time in your car or garage, with chocolate or whatever treat you can find, when the kids are otherwise (safely) engaged. FaceTime a friend and cry/rant/laugh/yell to help process this situation.
P.P.S. I’m not saying all school work isn’t creative, but rather that the type of work initially suggested wasn’t helping the girls process and heal from past or present trauma. As a result, it was more harmful than good. And because it was optional, we had the choice to not complete it.
P.P.S.S. It’s important to note that the shift in our house has also included adding talk therapy via tele-health. Do whatever you can to make sure everyone in the family gets the help needed to work through this situation. Most therapists are providing virtual services right now, and you might even find (as we have) that they are preferred by teens and anyone reluctant to step foot in a physical therapy office.