Medical research has indicated that people with HIV are continuing to live longer, more productive, and healthier lives. Today, people with HIV can feel a sense of control over their lives by creating a structure that works for them based on medical and psychological research. One can choose to take medication consistently, eat the correct food choices, exercise in moderation, work at their employment site at a productive pace, receive a restful sleep, and then direct their unused energy toward a creative project. However, for most people creativity is not as valued as the other daily components, and it becomes a forgotten health need.
Creativity for the person with HIV can be a powerful additional pathway to gain control over one's mind and body. Research has continued to verify that all the creative arts seem to have great curative power to help not only persons with HIV but those who are often in physical pain, emotionally troubled, or unfocused in life. It may be correlated to the fact that it gives many people in need the opportunity for great self-expression. A person with HIV attaining a creative component in his or her life can help to express inner feeling, thus lessening daily stress, which then can help to reaffirm, "I am in control." By having a sense of control over one's life, the HIV-positive person can feel a sense of strength that can then be directed to build on other strengths which all continue to contribute to one's own health.
This concept of creativity is not new. This theory goes all the way back to why cavemen drew animals on their cave walls. Art can allow the individual to express an understanding of the world and his or her relation to it. Long before there was the miracle of modern medication or the early beginnings of psychoanalysis, people who were labeled "troubled" due either to physical or mental illness were often directed to channel their energies into artistic expression. This concept of having the patient transfer this ailment from body or mind and then project it onto artwork is one of the oldest staples of sound medical advice. Art was then looked at as a "tool" to guide the person independently into a structured task that hopefully would pave the way for an emotional release allowing the individual some inner peace, a sense of accomplishment and a greater sense of control over their illness. Today, creativity tends to get lost among all our other modern medical and psychological distractions. However, as long as man has been around, he has been creating and creative.
Certainly if we were to look at the connection between HIV and creativity over the last 20 years we would see how artwork has helped to raise awareness of the disease. It has not only provided persons with HIV a powerful way to gain attention for the disease, but also helped them to release their thoughts and concerns out in a healthy, productive manner. Most forms of creative expression are socially acceptable to the general population and this in itself can provide the HIV-positive person with a great deal of personal positive attention when work is displayed. In this way, not only are people doing something for their own mental and physical health, but they are giving back to society by sharing their personal expression with the public. It can be a total payoff!
Here are two suggestions to get started:
Look at other people's creative work! Give yourself some time to visualize all the creative forms of expression you have viewed from people who were or are sharing their feeling on HIV in the form of creativity. Try to remember all the different areas of creativity you have seen that have affected you in the last year. Find and seek creativity to build you own sense of self. Allow the work to affect you, allow it to please or displease you, and then question your reasons why. First and foremost, allow it to help you see what you would like to create in order to help your own self-expression.
Remember everything always starts with a thought, and that thought can be channeled from meaningless and unproductive anger to an emotional outpouring that then has the ability not only to influence other people's emotions, but also to give you, the creator, a sense of accomplishment and pride. Creative thoughts are powerful and free! Everything creative humans have produced, both good and bad, all began with a thought. The amount of time, passion, and physical activity varies from creative project to project; sometimes it only takes seconds, sometimes years, sometimes the creative thought must be passed from generation to generation, but in time they come to be. In most situations, allowing yourself the structured time produces them. Give yourself a piece of structured time away from your busy life just for creative expression.
Spend some quality time walking in an art store. Not to buy anything, but to explore the endless art materials. When you walk into the art store, please leave the adult part of you outside. Tell yourself you are now a child, begin to think like a child and regain the thoughts from your childhood creativity. Try to imagine what wet clay or finger paint would feel like again on your hands. Try to consider what you would do with a large jar of gold leaf or blue glitter or colored glass or black sand. The main point is to have fun with your forgotten creative self. Whatever creative activity you've always wanted to do -- do it now. It doesn't matter that you don't know how to do it "perfectly." It doesn't matter how "good" you are. The important issues are: does it give you a sense of satisfaction? Is it fun? Does it help you to release stress? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then do it and structure it into your life.
Aside from being a therapeutic tool, creativity is needed to exercise your mind. As we continue to age, creativity is one of the few areas of the mind that according to research continues to grow and excel as we age. However, only if the person continues to use it and keep it exercised just like anything else! So give yourself plenty of creative time and plenty of opportunities to create.
J. Buzz von Ornsteiner, Ph.D., is a psychologist and behavioral consultant in New York City and will periodically write the "Psychologically Speaking" column.
Back to the April 2001
Issue of Body Positive