Looking Inward to Stave Off Artistic Blues
If you know me personally or read my recent post, The Case for Christmas, you know I’m a diehard holiday fan. But even we tinsel-crazed, holly-loving, Santa-praisers can fall prey to craft-itis—a psychiatric condition characterized by sadness, loneliness, self pity, foggy thinking, insomnia, heartache and/or frustration. (Not exactly a cup of Christma-Chanu-Kwanza-dan tea…)
Others ask, “What’s wrong?” You say, “Nothing.”
But something is. Craft-itis symptoms rarely feel “right,” even if we rationalize or expect them. I’ve been spending time with loved ones, we think. I should feel GREAT! Instead we feel hollow, misunderstood, guilty for feeling anything but joyful and exhausted by our attempts to hide it.
As important as it is to take breaks from our craft—in my case, writing—such respite can bring a basel level of turmoil. Left untreated, our symptoms can deepen and proliferate, making us feel more suited to a psych ward than holiday gatherings.
So what can we do??? Fortunately, a lot.
I like to use the acronym H.A.L.T., which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. It’s conventionally used as an addiction management and self-care technique. The idea is this: Hunger, anger, loneliness and exhaustion often go ignored. If we continue to ignore them, we’re bound for trouble. When you feel you’ve hit a wall of sorts but don’t know why, you simply pause (halt) and look inward. Ask yourself whether you’ve been eating and sleeping enough, if you’re resisting anger or feel alone.
We can take H.A.L.T. a step further by applying it directly to our craft:
Are you HUNGRY for creativity? ANGRY that you haven’t been expressing it? LONELY for companionship only the page (or canvas, piano, etc.) can bring? TIRED of socializing and wearing a happy face when inside you’re aching?
You’ve HALTed, so now what?
Awareness is much of the battle. (As soon as I realize that I’m not crazy or selfish, I often feel loads better…) If you’re truly hungry, eat. Balanced meals and snacks at regular time intervals helps ensure positive blood sugar balance, energy and moods. Staying well hydrated is also important. If anger is your issue, address it. Mad at your spouse? Talk it out. Angry at the world? Try exercise, meditation or therapy. If you long for companionship, seek community. Join Twitter conversations, such as #MyWANA or #amwriting. Share lunch, coffee or quality phone chats with friends. If exhaustion has you down, do something restful, such as napping, reading poetry or listening to soothing music. Aim for earlier bedtimes if you can.
If your symptoms stem solely from craft-itis, try the following:
- Drop everything and get creative. Longing to write? Write. Feel like singing? Sing. Whatever it is, make it your top priority and do it. If your schedule doesn’t allow for creative time pronto, make a plan for the near future.
- Schedule creative time into your every day. Even ten to twenty minutes per day can make a tremendous difference.
- Go to bed and/or wake up a half hour early. Dedicate the time to thinking about, doodling about or partaking in your craft.
- Talk to others about your craft. Even if your loved ones aren’t creative types, they probably want to support you and learn about your work. “Hey, haven’t I told you what I’ve been working on?” is a great way to start. (Not everyone knows how to broach artistic subjects, but trust me—most are interested.)
- Read a great book or watch a great movie. Captivating stories are what led many of us to our creative paths. Reap the benefits we hope our work with provide to others: a medicinal escape. (For more on this topic, read Jessica O’Neal’s insightful guest post on Myndi Schafer’s blog: The Power of A Good Story.)
- Focus on others. This may sound contrary, seeing as I just alluded to the fact that tending to our creativity or isn’t selfish. But once you know what the root problem is, fixating on it in a woe-is-me way is. Make a plan to fuel your creativity, be thankful that you have something to ache for (many people wish they had such passion…) then get over yourself. Doing something thoughtful for others can help us do so.
- If your symptoms are severe or you simply want professional support, see a trusted therapist. Occasional “emotional” checkups are at least as important as physical exams, IMHO.
What about you? Are you prone to craft-itis? Have you nipped it in the bud? I’d love to hear your thoughts.