Leaving Corona Ville: The Importance of Creativity
Posted on 20th May 2020 at 21:39
In the first blog of this Corona Ville series, I mentioned how the COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ provided an opportunity for us to experience life creatively. The paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott made a distinction between creative living and being artistically creative.  In creative living, everything we do strengthens the feeling we are alive and are ourselves. This may be as simple as focusing on our breathing or observing the spectacle of how a beautiful plant or tree is captured by the sunlight. From this we can understand that we do not need a special talent to live creatively. To be artistically creative on the other hand, we all may have the capacity but not all will have the talent to be professionally successful. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a space where we can experience life creatively, by enjoying our landscape, reading a story or poem or relating in the company of other people in our home.
During ‘lockdown,’ we have witnessed on social media, the products of artistically creative experiences across art, music, writing, photography and benevolent deeds. There are gardens around the country that are now works of art and homes and community areas that have enjoyed creative facelifts. All of this has been good in allowing us to cope with the severe stress of living in a pandemic. We have [re] discovered an intrinsic joy in creating and being playful. Music, art, writing and dance are often integrated into trauma therapy as a medium of expression, but also as a ‘play space’ (Winnicott again) to help connect the inner and outer worlds, reintegrating the body and showing what it can do. In addition, the ‘flow state’ we are in when we are focused, engaged and lost in doing something we love, activates the ‘feel-good’ chemical dopamine in the brain. This enables us to cope better with everyday stress and anxiety, not to mention boosting energy levels and the immune system. 
Freud regarded forms of human imaginative activity as manifestations of the pleasure principle, in which we accumulate pleasure by rearranging current reality into new and more acceptable forms.  The biggest threat to living creatively is compliance, which has the power to represses our creative capacity. The busy, frantic pre-COVID existence, was very much focused on striving and compliance. It created a world in which happiness had almost become a duty rather than a pleasure. Creativity refocuses us on ‘being’ rather than ‘striving’ and hopefully, it is something we can take with us as we phase out of ‘lockdown’ and back to some semblance of life as we knew it.
As I mentioned before, one of the biggest mental health issues to emerge from this pandemic is trauma, experienced individually and collectively. Existing trauma has been exacerbated for victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and so on. When trauma happens, the message goes straight to the amygdala, an area deep inside our brains in the primitive limbic system. Here, the memory is not stored in ‘story’ form but as a fragmented experience comprising of images, sounds, smells and other bodily senses. This makes it difficult for trauma victims to recall what happened or relay it through speech. Yet their body and mind remember the event(s) through flashbacks, terrors, feeling numb or void and experiencing stress-mediated physical illness.  A departure from the body can occur, as it has become a dangerous place to be. There may be unconscious attempts to return to the scene of the trauma by veering towards dangerous situations or re-enacting certain behaviours. Finding expression in a repetition of the same experience is one purpose of what Freud described as repetition compulsion.  We strive to experience a better outcome this time, to do what we wish we could have done the first time, in order to save ourselves or others. This type of trauma re-mastery may be an inherent default in our paramedics and frontline healthcare workers ordinarily, but the daily repetition of witnessing and experiencing the suffering and death as a result of COVID-19 or any pandemic, is a level up again. There is a limit to what the mind and body can sustain. There is a danger, that old traumas will end up reinforced or, as Van Dernoot Lipsky points out, expectations can be set up for ourselves and others that are “untenable and destructive.” It is imperative that there is psychological and psychotherapeutic support as much as possible during the worst of what is being experienced, but also after things ease. In time off, it is important to ‘be,’ to breathe and feel alive, to be creative and allow that mind body integration after the surges of neurochemicals from the flight, fight or freeze reactions to relentless trauma.
There is no doubt that ‘lockdown’ forced us to stop, step out of the rat race and hopefully, reflect on what is important in ourselves, in our personal worlds and in the world at large. As we exit ‘lockdown,’ let us take with us our creative experiences and our play spaces as an integral part of our everyday lives. They are valuable tools in maintaining balance in life, boosting true resilience and as defences against ‘burn out.’ It is also an opportunity to take back control and to trust in our ability to bring about change in our lives.
If you feel you can identify with any of the issues raised in this article and need some support, or if you would like to explore bringing about change in your life, get in touch here.
1. Winnicott, D.W. Living Creatively In: Home is Where We Start From. Harmondsworth. Penguin Books 1986 (p. 39-54)
2. Tiwari, N. quoted in https://www.standard.co.uk/futurelondon/skills/learning-digital-skill-mental-wellbeing-a4378626.html
3. Freud, Sigmund, Beyond the Pleasure Principle S.E. Volume 18. p.7-64
4. Van Der Kolk, B. The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Penguin Books, 2014
5. Van Dernoot Lipsky, L. Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009.
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