I’m a writer. I’ve always written. I’ve written all kinds of stuff – stories, advertising copy, commentary, sermons, songs, you name it. I’ve never had any trouble writing – oh, except for that time I found I couldn’t write, no matter how much I wanted to.
When I had cancer.
So much to write about, and yet, when it came to writing it all down, I was dry as old bones. It was like that part of my brain went into chemical hibernation. I simply couldn’t access the part where beautiful, sensible words came from. So I went about it another way. Instead of trying to write lines and verses, I wrote single words. One after the other. It was all I could do, so I did it.
Here’s a poem I wrote from that time about the way I was feeling during chemotherapy –
Dying dreaming drifting
Speaking shouting screaming
Whispering praying wishing
Holding slipping falling
Spinning sliding sleeping
Thinking doing walking
Waking reaching knowing
Growing feeling flowing
Flailing gripping gritting
Bruising bleeding crying
Resting smiling sailing
Blowing breezing waving
Diving deepening drifting
It was a particularly difficult time.
Despite the fact I struggled to write anything back then, I now pore over those scribblings looking for cues as to my state of mind, my thoughts and my emotions. I wasn’t giving much away. I do remember feeling it was somehow wrong to whine and be scared, to admit I wasn’t getting any answers to the questions I asked of God. I felt art should be positive and filled with happy meanings. I wish I hadn’t bothered worrying about that. I wish I’d just let myself pour it all out and permitted myself to go to those depths, to tell the truth about how I was thinking and feeling.
Clearly, I’m making up for it now.
I know how hard it can be to express yourself emotionally and creatively when you’re going through something like cancer. You can feel like everything you write or think is rubbish, literally to be thrown away and forgotten. But everything we think and feel in the midst of experiences like cancer is valid, and significant. I look back on those scraps of writing I made and I see something I rarely saw before in my writing before I had cancer – I see the real me, the me that came through it, the authentic, vulnerable, tough me – the me that once lived on the inside, but lives on the outside now. Treatments like chemo are designed to kill off every newborn cell in your body in the hope of interrupting the growth of cancer cells too – and it can feel like a soul death as well as a cell death at times. It can feel like a spiritual and artistic suffocation. But sometimes all it takes is a little prompting, a little permission, a little puff of fresh air for the smothering pall of death to be blown away and inspiration to come back into your soul again.
And there are very good reasons why you might want to try some artistic and creative ventures, even if you’ve never been particularly arty or crafty before.
Come on back to life, sweetheart. Let’s start making things again.
Here are some ways you can wake up your soul and help your body and spirit start to sprout some new growth:
Begin a journal. Resolve not to try and make it pretty or make sense, just tell it like it is.
Have a go at writing poetry. If you find you struggle, try writing just one word at a time, like I did with my poem. You may be surprised how powerful this is.
Try cryptic crosswords, or other kinds of puzzles. Creativity isn’t just about art. Creative thinking involves finding new ways of doing things. Teach your brain to seek a different route to a solution by taking it places it’s never had to go before. Challenge your mind and it will rewards you by building new synapses and bridging new connections in your brain. Teach yourself to see problems differently and to respond to them in new, creative ways.
Pick up an instrument and play around. Don’t go for excellence. Just let each sound the instrument makes vibrate through you. A guitar is great, because you have to hold it against your body. It’s like a massage for your cells. Playing even simple music also teaches your brain it’s safe for you to have adventures and take risks, and you can trust in your ability to improve your skills and master new things.
Attend a concert or performance. Your body and mind will just love it.
Begin a quilt. Tell others you’re stitching and want some beautiful, good quality fabrics to get you started. Find a group in your area and join.
Sing. Sing along to the radio, or your favourite CD. Join an accapella singing group. Again, the vibration of the singing – yours, and others – is great for your cells. It will encourage new cell growth and stimulate endorphins, making you feel better all over.
Paint, draw, sketch. All you need is paper or canvas and inexpensive paints. If you don’t know what you’re doing, just put colour down and swirl it around. Sign on for a class. Stretch yourself.
Make a collage of images which inspire you from magazines or the internet. Create an account on Pinterest and go crazy with it. Spend time every day intentionally looking at images which evoke a sense of hope, wonder, joy and optimism. Conversely, you could find images which represent your perception of cancer or the way you’re feeling as a way of acknowledging your feelings and mindsets. Don’t judge your thoughts as good or bad – just know that cancer has no power to create, or to define or express how it feels about you, and that makes you the more wonderful one.
Remember – cancer cannot make anything new. It can only mindlessly replicate itself over and over. But you are an amazing, creative being. You can make something which never existed before from your imagination, from your hands and with your voice. Make it your intention to bring something into the world today which wasn’t here yesterday, something original and new, even if it’s simple, small or not made with a great deal of skill. It doesn’t matter. We talk about cancer as if it were stronger and more powerful than we are, but cancer can’t make anything original or beautiful. Anything you birth into reality through your creativity, no matter how humble or small, is going to be a whole world more awesome than anything cancer can ever do.
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