Creating is self-care

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeSometimes life kicks you in the butt. Then it kicks you when you’re down. Then it curb-stomps you into a bloody pulp and leaves you twitching in the gutter.

My mother passed away Saturday morning. The woman who birthed me, loved me, taught me, corrected me, protected me, nurtured me, encouraged me. That woman is gone.

Her passing was not sudden. It was not unexpected. Dementia had stolen most of who she was, so her death wasn’t even a tragedy. It was a mercy.

But it hurts like hell.

That sucks, you say, but first Wednesday is supposed to be the day we IWSG types write words of encouragement to our fellow writers, and getting curb-stomped by life doesn’t sound very encouraging. Fair point. Stick with me. The encouragement is coming.

One of the first things that usually gets cast aside in dark times is self-care. Friday I forgot to eat. Yes, really. Me, the unrepentant glutton, forgot to eat for about 8 hours, till my stomach was digesting itself, and I was too lightheaded to think. And even then, I didn’t really want to eat.

Another thing that gets cast aside is creating. We’re too tired, too hurting, too demoralized to do anything but suck in the next ragged breath. The distance between the metaphorical gutter where we lie, broken and bleeding, and the metaphorical curb is just too damn far. That curb might as well be El Capitan. No way we’re getting up there.

And when we finally drag our broken selves up that impossible height to stand again, we can only find the strength to put one foot in front of the other, to take a few shambling steps, to do the things we absolutely have to do. And writing, creating, making art is not something we have to do.  So we don’t.

And sometimes we keep don’t-ing for days, weeks, months, even years. We sink deeper into the abyss, or we take up new activities, and we leave our art behind. Someday, we say. Someday, when life gets easier. Someday, when things settle down.

But things don’t settle down, do they? Oh, no, they don’t. Stuff happens, some good, some bad, some breathtakingly awful in this cosmic game of Whack-a-Mole. But things never settle down.

So here’s what I have learned over the last decade of watching my mother fade away, of caring for ill family members, of losing one of the best friends I ever had–in other words, of getting kicked around about as much as any other middle-aged, middle-class American. No pity party here.

What I’ve learned is that creating is self-care.

Creating is a way to nurture a broken soul, to take tiny daily steps up out of that gutter.

Oh, look, you say. Here’s another person telling me to suck it up, Buttercup. To pull myself up by my bootstraps and get back to work. Work is good for you. Work builds character. Blah blah self-helpity blah.

No.

What I’m saying is that creating gives me hope. Hope that I’ll get through this. Hope that I can still do what I love. Hope that I can get my life back after the curb-stomping. That there’s something on the other side of this pain besides more pain.

Everyone copes differently. Everyone grieves differently. And that’s OK. What works for me may not work for you. But for me, knowing I can still make a tiny bit of progress toward my dream, can still find the will to create, nourishes me through the dark times. It doesn’t have to be much. Ten minutes a day. 100 words. Five minutes. One sentence. One crappy metaphor about being curb-stomped by life. Something.

And so, fellow writer, my words of encouragement to you on this first Wednesday in October are these: Create. Even when life sucks. Even when it all feels pointless and hopeless. Even when getting out of bed seems like an act of heroism. And may each act of creation, no matter how small, be a tiny bandage, a dab of healing salve on your broken, bleeding soul. May each act of creation bring you hope.

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17 thoughts on “Creating is self-care

  1. I came to realize a few years ago that writing is a form of stress relief for me. I’m not sure why that doesn’t keep me from pushing it aside when I’m under the most stress in my life, but it has always served to cheer me up when I do get back to it.

    I’m so sorry for your loss, and the difficulties that came before it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I have a bit of the same pattern. I can get so overwhelmed that I can’t face my writing, but that doesn’t happen too often. If I can force myself into the chair and in front of the keyboard, I can lose myself in my work for at least a little while, and I almost always feel better afterward.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have noticed a tendency to want to go back and read my writing practice or character interviews when I’m going through really difficult times, so I suppose in a way that’s still my writing helping me through those times. I may not be making new progress, but I’m still immersing myself in my story. I hadn’t thought of it that way before though. I really liked this topic. It made me think a lot!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I journal for my mental health and have since I was a teenager. There’s something about pouring words onto the page that’s cathartic, and as you say, it can help with sorting out problems–especially with seeing patterns. Wow, I’ve been upset about Thing for 2 years now. Maybe I should do something about Thing.

      Keep on writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sending hugs – so sorry for your loss.
    We’re dealing with dementia with mom as well. It’s a nightmare of a disease.
    I went through a long stretch (over a year???) where I couldn’t create, but once I got back doing it, realized how much the act of creating helps.
    One step, one word, one breath at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry. Dementia is such a cruel disease. I still question every decision I made for Mom, even though I know I did the best I could. I hope you can find moments of peace. Some days I had to look pretty hard for them, but they were there.

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  3. I’m so sorry for you loss. It’s such a terrible thing to go through, and I hope you find strength and courage during this difficult time. I love that you’re turning to writing to help you heal. For myself, writing has always been cathartic. I sometimes go back and re-read some things I wrote over 20 years ago when my father was dying, and I can say that it is some of my most mature, most profound writing; things I wrote at 17 years old that sound like something I’d write today at 37.
    So keep writing. Keep creating. And don’t forget to take care of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. And yeah, I do some of my best writing when feeling some strong emotion. If there’s any upside to tragedies, it’s that they are clarifying. They help us make profound connections and see what actually matters in life.

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  4. My heart goes out to you, Janet. Losing a mother is gut-wrenching. My mother died eighteen years ago, and I miss her every day. There is no right way to grieve, only your way. Sending you a big hug. You do move beyond the acute pain, but the missing is always there. I find comfort in my wonderful memories and in the hope that somehow we’ll be reunited. Create like crazy! Wishing you relief through your creating!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. I’ve been missing my mom for about the last 10 years, because dementia took so much of who she was long before it killed her. I’d love to have one last conversation with Mom. I do think there’s something on the other side, and I do think we’ll be reunited with those we love. In the meantime, I’ll keep creating and trying to be the person Mom raised me to be.

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  5. I’m sorry to hear about your mom. My dad died in May after six years of dealing with ALS. Even when you know it’s coming, even when you’ve been pre-grieving for years, it still hurts. It took me a couple months to be able to create again, but it feels good to be back at it. I hope you’re taking care of yourself as much as you can. I know how easy it is for things to fall by the wayside during this time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So sorry for the late response. I missed the notification for your comment. I’m so sorry for the loss of your dad. And you’re right, no matter how much time you have to prepare, it still hurts. I’m glad you’re back to creating, and I hope the good memories of your dad outweigh the pain of losing him.

      Like

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