100 Day Project – Week Four
As some of your may recall, I lost Dad to Alzheimer’s disease last year. On Thursday he was on my mind. A lot. I wasn’t particularly low, or feeling sorry for myself. Dad was just there, constantly in the background, invading my thoughts.
I had had a challenging start to the week, creatively speaking, trying to get my hare automata to work correctly. If you’ve been following my daily progress then you’ll have seen the photos of him at various stages of development. What you won’t have seen is me taking him apart and rebuilding his back legs so many times that I lost count. I very nearly gave up. It drove me crazy and wasted so many hours as a consequence. Whatever the reason, I ploughed on, refusing to give up.
When I at last succeeded in making my little hare jump fairly consistently, I decided that he was good enough. Far from perfect. To get perfect I’d need to start over and that simply wasn’t going to happen.
Needless to say, on some subconscious level, my inner creative child decided she wanted, or rather needed, a break from the creative intensity. I found myself designing and then getting carried away in a blissful state of embroidery therapy all day Thursday. I became completely absorbed in what I was doing.
This does make me wonder why my brain would choose this moment of bliss to plague me with thoughts of Dad? Although, as I said, the thoughts weren’t necessarily unhappy ones. It goes without saying that thinking about him for too long inevitably becomes emotional. But I was okay, no tears or trauma.
Then in the evening the BBC aired a beautiful programme about a choir of dementia sufferers. It was incredibly moving and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in having tears running down my face throughout. Dad loved music and I know he would have so enjoyed joining in the singing and being an accepted member of such a wonderful group of people.
What really caught my attention was that choir members were being studied by scientists to help them better understand how the brain responds to music. It was fascinating to see scans illustrating how music quite literally lights up and ignites the whole brain.
My head was still full of the programme on Friday and a persistent question developed. My creativity helped me overcome depression and continues to help me to deal with life’s ups and downs, is it possible that creativity has a similar positive effect to music on the brain? I began my own research.
It was immensely satisfying to learn that creativity does indeed have a huge beneficial impact on the brain. It’s amazing power had been scientifically proven. What’s more tapping into our creativity is also good for our overall health. It improves brain function, mental health and our physical health too.
What I had experienced, when getting lost in my embroidery, is known as flow. I’m sure you may have experienced something similar? You become so absorbed into a project that you lose all sense of self and time. This state of flow reduces anxiety, boosts your mood and can even slow your heart rate. Pretty amazing stuff.
But that’s not all. Getting lost in this state of flow, through small repetitive motions that create an end result, floods your brain with dopamine. I’m sure you’ve heard of this? It’s the feel good chemical, our bodies natural anti-depressant. As our brain is flooded with this chemical, we become influenced and motivated to repeat the behaviour that caused us to feel good. Any repetitive creative activity such as knitting, drawing, or writing can have this effect.
I had instinctively turned to my sewing and creative writing when Dad was at the worst stage of his illness. Then subsequently, when he died these same activities, particularly my creative writing and journaling, helped me to cope with losing him too. I’ve never been able to articulate or explain quite how writing helps, I just knew that it did and does. Hence, why I journal every day.
It was therefore hugely gratifying to learn that writing has been proven to help individuals to manage their negative emotions in a productive way. Likewise, painting and drawing can often provide an outlet for individuals to express themselves when the experience or trauma they have suffered is too difficult to put into words.
And finally, I was amazed to learn that being creative can help dementia sufferers to tap back into their personalities and sharpen their senses. I learned this latter revelation with a twinge of sadness. I had worried about the safety aspect of my dad pottering in his tool shed using power tools, so had discouraged it. We even eventually had the power supply to the shed disconnected. Sad to think that I should instead have encouraged him. Within reason of course. I still shudder at the memory that he’d come so very close to buying a new electric cross-saw to chop up the firewood! Scary, but kind of a funny memory too. He was so stubborn to the last!
Was Dad trying to tell me something this week? Perhaps attempting to continue teaching me from beyond the grave? Who knows?
All I know is that, having learned this information, I am more determined than ever to remain as creative as I possibly can, for the rest of my life!
I hope you will too, dear follower.
Until next week
My photographs of this weeks automata progress: