During my illness with Cushing’s my creativity diminished greatly. I assumed it would all come back after my surgery. I figured it was the constant pain, brain chemistry problems, and insomnia stopping the flow. During recovery, I was ready to let in creativity. It didn’t happen.
I came upon a meditation where I was asked, “Why me?” But it wasn’t a question of woe, rather specifically, ‘Why was I chosen?’ ‘What do I have to offer this situation that others could not?’
Still in the very angry phase of my recovery, I was troubled by these questions. I spent hours exploring the amount of loss my illness had taken from me the same way my tongue explored the space left by my missing teeth. The teeth that had crumbled in my mouth as a result of this illness. I couldn’t stop poking and prodding the emptiness until the dentist filled it in with fake teeth. Then I tried to feel the difference between the old and the new, unwilling to let it be.
When I started therapy I wanted to figure out why I couldn’t let in creativity. Yet, in our sessions, I also said that I was not interested in finding the good in my suffering, that I believed that was crap. I liked a saying I once heard, “If a tree blooms while having a blight, never say the blight caused the bloom.” I wanted help moving on, to stop trying to find the holes and the spaces between who I had been and whatever I was now- this fake me disguised as the real thing when the real thing had crumbled and been spat out into the sink piece by piece over the years.
A friend of mine said she understood where I was coming from, but I was early on in the recovery process and might change my mind. Perhaps I would use my experiences in a positive way when I was ready. She had gone through years of unimaginable suffering and had come through it creativity intact. I had to accept her hard-won wisdom and offered a “maybe.”
In my therapist’s office, I told her I wanted no beauty to come from suffering. Nothing useful to be born from pain. She asked me to rephrase the questions from the meditation I mentioned. “Why me?” Make it personal. Why was I chosen to suffer from a little-known illness, survive it, and become healthy once more? What did an overachiever, intensely creative person have to offer this situation that others could not?
The Obvious Answer
The obvious answer made me cross my internal arms in rebellion. I could share my story instead of trying to forget it. But I didn’t want to. Why? she asked. Because it might be good, I answered. I had tried and failed at many creative pursuits in my life, what if the one that came from all my suffering succeeded? What if I managed to create something beautiful from my loss? I hated the idea. It would validate my pain.
“Or help you make peace with it.”
I started to work on a memoir about my illness, but I wasn’t going for beauty. It was strictly informational. I wanted to have the details laid out. What happened? How could this have happened? Who was at fault? But it became so stressful to relive details of the past my therapist advised me to take a break. Put it away until I had the skills to cope. I gladly stopped writing. Maybe I would never finish. I didn’t care. I tried.
Most of my previous self was bits and pieces floating in the ocean by now. I said good-bye and wanted to take steps forward. I tried to create projects other than what I had learned and experienced with my illness. Nothing worked right. Nothing was true. Maybe I would never be able to let creativity in again. I was loved and alive; I wanted it to be enough.
Rebuilding and Adapting
I focused on my body instead. Rebuilding what could be rebuilt, adapting around what could not. I tried to accept limitations while reveling in my resilience. Progress was slow. I tested my new life gingerly at first, one small bite at a time.
My mind needed healing as well. Cushing’s in all-inclusive degradation of self. I practiced meditations, continued therapy, started a gratitude journal. I had the intention to heal, even if I was stubbornly holding on to the anger I knew, I knew, was holding me back.
A song came unbidden. A one-shot, written in a single afternoon. It had been years since I had written a personal song, I thought that part of me was over. But there it was and I couldn’t stop singing it, refining, and editing until it was “done.” The discipline of my craft came back easily. I realized it was a metaphorical version of my illness in four stanzas with a repeated phrase.
I wrote another. For days I had been repeating melody and lyrics as a musical form of encouragement. I hesitated writing it down. It was personal. It was for me. I reasoned that I didn’t have to share it. The burden of performance gone, I enjoyed the process and wrote everything I needed to hear in that moment of my life. And when I was finished I realized how silly it was not to share. Maybe someone else needed those words too? So I did.
Accept What Creativity Flows In
Eventually, I stopped running my tongue over the border between old and new and simply enjoyed my food and my life. The anger had been exhausting. Holding up the wall to my creative self was harder than just letting it fall and accept what flowed in.
I would share my story. I couldn’t create anything else until I did anyway. Once I started allowing all the parts of me to express, many ideas jumped out. It was exciting. I was back to the familiar conundrum of too many ideas, too little time. It was a happy place to be.
As I began to share, I saw how my words, my pain exposed, my lessons learned, did help others. Despite the suffering, I knew that was a beautiful thing.
Why not me?