How to Keep Your Creativity Alive When You Have a Chronic Illness

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Whether you’re creative as part of a little hobby, a way of life, or somewhere in between, you probably consider creativity to be a force for good in your life. But when you also live with chronic illness, it’s not always easy to draw, write, cook, knit, build, or participate in whatever expressive outlet you love.

That’s not to say creativity and chronic illness are totally incompatible. Plenty of people see their passions and hobbies as essential to their self-care routine, and others use their condition to inspire their work. At the same time, a lot of the symptoms and practicalities associated with managing an illness don’t exactly vibe with making things. Brain fog, pain flare-ups, mobility issues, fatigue, medication side effects—whatever you deal with, you’re not alone if you find that navigating a mix of mental and physical obstacles can get in the way of your creative efforts.

To help you bring more creativity to your life, I asked people for their best advice for others in similar boats and even tossed in a few tips from my own experience. Since both chronic illnesses and creative practices vary far and wide, not everything will apply to everyone, so take what you like and leave the rest. Whatever’s blocking your flow, here are a few ways to stay inspired.

1. Follow artists and other sources of inspiration on social media.

“I follow a lot of poets, artists, and crafters via social media, blogs, and newsletters,” Siobhan Moore, 39, tells SELF. “At times it can be hard not to make comparisons about how much they’re doing when I feel useless, but most of the time I’m able to keep a mindset of learning and inspiration when I look at their processes and results.”

Moore also recommends following museums, art centers, and accounts related to architecture, nature, music, and dance. “All art, I believe, is interconnected and everything can and should be inspiration for your creative mind regardless of the medium,” she says.

2. Journal through all the feelings.

“I do a lot of journaling that overflows into my work, especially when I have bad flare-ups,” Jana, 27, tells SELF. “When I start working on things, a lot of the inspiration is taken from that.” If the idea of starting a whole ~journaling practice~ just stresses you out more, consider options you may find less physically and mentally taxing. These guided journals are full of prompts to get you going, and plenty of journaling apps and other alternatives let you log voice memos and photos instead of written entries.

3. And scribble down all the ideas.

Moore recommends lists. Lots and lots of lists. “Even when I can’t make art, I can jot down ideas, I can bookmark websites, poetry, articles to go back to for research later,” she says. “I can try and take a pile of disjointed thoughts jotted down and organize it slowly.”

4. Get creative (lol) about finding a new creative outlet.

After developing lasting symptoms following a COVID infection two years ago, Emma, 34, realized that concentrating on the intricate work of cross-stitching triggered her fatigue. Around the same time, she got into watching paint-pouring videos and decided to try it for herself—only to find it was a much better match for her needs.

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