I had a beautiful message last week from a friend who had joined me for the Creative Focus Challenge and it really got me thinking. She said that opening up to possibilities and exploring a new creative project, being encouraged to make a start on something she'd wanted to do for a while (being given permission, almost), had been incredibly freeing for her. And that by me holding a safe space and facilitating her experimentation through the ideas and suggestions in the challenge, she's been able to begin a path towards healing things that she'd been holding onto, because she now has a new and different outlet for them, a unique and creative way of expressing herself.
Firstly I was incredibly flattered, and grateful to receive such amazing feedback about something that I'd put so much work and energy into creating and offering, and then I felt so full of excitement for my friend that this work she'd begun with my support and encouragement was having such a profound impact.
Championing, cheerleading, supporting, encouraging, facilitating, space-holding, mentoring - whatever word you want to call it - is something I absolutely love to do, and get so much fulfilment from, especially when the people I'm supporting are engaged in something that taps into their creativity, their unique way of seeing the world and expressing their experiences of it, and helps them towards feeling more confident, courageous, and more fully themselves. More on this later.
But what this lovely message got me thinking about more was my own journey of healing, and how big a part creativity has played in it.
I've written before about some of my mental health struggles, and the emotional overwhelm I've felt at times, but it's only with the clarity of hindsight (isn't it a wonderful thing?!) that I realised how nearly devoid of creative expression my life became in those worst times, and how much I can now credit rediscovering my creativity with beginning to heal, and now continuing to have ways to express myself, and simply play.
Looking back, and now being able to recognise it, music was one of the biggest things that disappeared. I'd always been involved in music - playing in school and university orchestras, singing in choirs, and using the six hour car journeys to and from university in Wales to listen to some of my favourite CDs and lose my voice from singing along at top volume. But once I was back home again and immersed in the stresses of full time work, the demands of my job, and the growing combination of family circumstances that piled on more pressure, I didn't listen to music any more. I drove to work and home again in silence, my whirring thoughts a more than loud enough soundtrack. Certain songs, if I did happen to listen to them, would bring me to tears because of the memories associated with them, and by the time Christmas songs had been playing in the shops where I worked for several weeks (before we were anywhere near December!) I was just about ready to tear my hair out.
I will be forever grateful to the incredible counsellor, who having listened for months to me pouring my heart out, asked if joining a choir again would be something that would interest me. She had just joined and knew that there was a group starting up near me. So I looked up the details and signed up to go along to my first session to try it out. And despite the utter terror of walking into a room full of strangers that first time, I'm still a member of that choir now, seven years later. It was definitely one of the bravest steps I took at that time, but definitely one of the best decisions I ever made. Now I sing with a group of like-minded friends every week, and get so much enjoyment from the songs we learn, as well as the mental stimulation of learning new harmonies. But perhaps more than that, is the emotional catharsis I feel when a song really resonates with me, or we're so in tune and in time with each other the effect is magical. If you've never experienced a room of 100 people all with their eyes closed and breathing in time with one another, it really is quite something.
But music clearly isn't the only creative activity I enjoy now - in fact the list of things I'd like to try keeps growing and growing. So how did I get from being terrified of walking into that first rehearsal and opening my mouth to sing for the first time, to where I am now?
Ultimately, the answer is simple. I just tried.
Tried whatever took my fancy. Tried what I was curious about, or interested in, or wanted to see if I could do too.
Of course there have been anxieties and fears, and I've had to really pull on my brave girl pants on occasions to break through resistance, but what I've gained from just giving things a go has been immeasurable.
I saw a motif of an owl created in cable knitting in a magazine and wanted to see if I could recreate it, despite never having knitted more than some pretty dodgy garter stitch scarves before, because my Mum and Nan had despaired of trying to teach me because I'm left handed. But I got myself some needles and yarn, carefully followed the instructions and the pictures, and ended up with a cable knitted owl that looked like the photo!
I enjoyed watching The Great British Sewing Bee on television and got the accompanying pattern book because I wanted to try making one of the tops that I liked the look of. I dragged out Mum's 1960s sewing machine, some fabric and thread, and ended up with a top that I could actually wear.
My Nan had always made Christmas puddings for the family, but after she passed away I wanted to carry on the tradition, so I got the recipe and all the ingredients, set to it, and after most of a day with the puddings steaming away on the hob, they were declared almost as good as Nan's. Nothing is ever as good as your Nan's, so I'll take that.
I've grown plants and vegetables from seed, bought a 'proper' camera and more or less figured out how to use most of the functions on it, taken a course to learn pottery skills, learned some Italian so I could at least order from restaurants on holiday, built my own website from scratch with the guidance of a fantastic online course, designed business cards and ebooks, figured out how to complete my tax return and keep profit and loss records for my business, know how to change a wheel on my car...
You get the idea. Having made the choice to try at the beginning, I now have a whole arsenal at my disposal of creative interests and skills. Some I've been content to play with for a little while and then step away from again once I felt like I'd learned what I wanted to from them. Some I've stuck with and developed, so that I've hardly ever without a knitting project on the go, and an increasing percentage of my wardrobe is handmade. And I know that there will always be more things to learn and try, and I'm excited about giving them a go.
I've learned so much about myself from the things I've tried over the years. The things that energise and excite me, the things that help me relax and de-stress, the things I'm curious about and want to learn, and the things I'm happy to leave to others. But I honestly don't think I would be where I am today without having discovered the different ways I love to use my creativity. I know that I'm unlikely to be able to concentrate on intricate lace knitting if I'm especially worked up over something, but a good long walk with my camera might be just what I need to help me focus on details outside of my head.
I know that there are no wrong answers when it comes to creativity - every person is unique and can find ways to express themselves that feel good to them in the moment, even if the next day needs a different approach. I know that unlocking the gates for creative inspiration to flow can release so much more than just a desire to play, and can have a huge impact on our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and our sense of Self.
I also know that I want to help, support and encourage more people like my friend and the other people who participated in the recent challenge.
I want to offer you the space and freedom, the safety and courage, to explore your creative instincts and see what they uncover for you.
I want people to understand that creativity isn't a one size fits all solution, but that there are infinite possibilities - and when you find the unique combination that works for you, that's when the magic happens.
I'm not an expert in all things, and there are plenty of things I haven't tried, or have little aptitude for, but I still believe I can be there with you as you test out things for yourself and find the path towards healing parts of your journey with creativity.
I'd love to talk to you about what you'd like support with, and how I can help.
If you're interested in a one hour Creative Guidance call via Skype, with me, to chat about what creativity means to you and how you can work with it in your life, send me a message below. These calls cost £45 and can be arranged for a mutually convenient time.
Creative Guidance is a new string in my business bow, and I'm excited about being able to work with you in this way - I'm also going to be developing other offerings and opportunities to work with me over the longer term, so drop me a message if you're interested to hear more about these, or look out for more details on my website soon.
Complete the form if you'd like some support on your creative journey, or have questions about how we can work together: