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CFIDS and the Muse
The Muse is medicine.
I learned this early in my journey towards recovery from
CFIDS. Over these years Iíve come to understand that sustaining our creative
spirit is as important as proper diet, rest and exercise. Developing ways to
maintain our artistic activities is a crucial part of keeping in touch with our
humanity and a vital aspect of any healing process.
Despite the fact that our physical and emotional energy is
diminished, we can still lead creative lives if we match activities to our
situation. We donít have to feel trapped by our illness. In fact, we can use it
as an opportunity to explore new creative outlets we may not have tried
Keeping my own Muse alive despite CFIDS has become a crucial
part of my recovery over these past 11 years. Prior to CFIDS, I enjoyed climbing
high into Coloradoís Rocky Mountains to explore its amazing backcountry and
bring back photographs of my travels to share with others. Although an engineer
by trade, itís my photography that defines a large part of who I am.
Of course you can imagine how CFIDS impacted me. Not only was
I unable to hike, it left me with little energy or will to take photographs at
all. Almost overnight I lost a large part of who I was. After that initial
period of self-pity we all go through, I realized my situation wasnít going to
change soon. I was just going to have to deal with it.
Because art and creativity played such a major role in my life
prior to CFIDS, I knew I had to figure out a way to incorporate them into my
healing. Over time I developed an approach to keeping my Muse alive that I call
the Artistic Pyramid. Each level of this pyramidís three layers describes a
different way of participating in the creative process and the amount of energy
required. Thinking about it this way allows me to match my activities to the
amount of energy I have at any particular time.
My Artistic Pyramidís layers are (bottom to top): Enjoying
Art, Creating Art and Sharing Art.
Enjoying othersí artwork is
the easiest way to sustain your creative spirit. As the base of the Artistic
Pyramid, it forms the majority of the activities we do. Examples include
listening to music, reading a book or watching a movie. Exposure to othersí
works keeps our creative side active without draining away too much energy.
For the first several years of CFIDS, I didnít have the
physical or emotional energy to create my own artwork, so I immersed myself in
other artistsí work. I used it as a time to explore new reading topics, listen
to my increasingly diverse music collection and watch old movie classics. Now I
have more energy for artistic activities, but I still take time to seek
inspiration from the artwork of others.
Some Enjoying Art ideas you might try include:
List a half-dozen books youíve always meant to read and
use this time to read them.
Explore new music genres. Browse local or online music
stores or the library and pick out some CDs that catch your eye. Try out radio
stations youíve never listened to before.
Pick an actor or director and watch five to 10 of his or
her films in chronological order to see how his or her artistic styles have
Enjoying othersí artwork will inspire you to create your own,
which leads to the next layer of the pyramid.
Creating art is the act of
making something for the sheer joy of it. You donít have to worry about showing
it to anyone; youíre simply making art for its own sake. Although it takes more
energy to create art yourself, the pleasure of the act is worth it. This is
especially true if youíre expanding your creative skills or learning a new art
After about five years of CFIDS Iíd recovered enough to begin
photography again. Spending time in a local rental darkroom was out, but I
discovered I could assemble a digital darkroom on my home computer. This allows
me to work on photographs at my own pace. I even began experimenting with
new digital imaging techniques that combine painterly effects with photos,
something I never could have done in the traditional darkroom.
Creating Art examples you might try:
Make a "Day in the Life" book by taking photos over the
course of a day and describing them in your own words.
Learn a new instrument. The recorder or penny whistle are
fun, simple ones to pick up.
If your energy permits, take a short art class at a local
community center or college.
Over time, once youíre creating art freely, you may find
yourself with the interest and energy for the top layer of the pyramid.
This is the most
energy-consuming level of the Artistic Pyramid, but also the most rewarding.
Sharing your art allows others to enjoy the results of your creative activities.
It doesnít matter whether this takes place among family and friends, or in a
more public forum. The key is youíre able to share your creative expressions
with other people, and maybe even inspire them to create works of their own!
With my new digital darkroom, I began sharing my photographs
again with family and friends by incorporating the images into handmade greeting
cards. I expanded into making larger prints and eventually worked up the nerve
to apply for (and win) a one-man show at a local bookstore. This success
inspired me to begin selling my photos through nearby stores, art fairs and
online. The importance to me is not the sales themselves, but the opportunity to
share my favorite images with those who enjoy them.
Sharing Art ideas you can try:
Create and mail out a family newsletter.
Put some of your artwork (stories, photos, drawings, etc.)
up on a Web page.
Make someone a handmade gift.
I find the only danger with the Sharing Art layer of the
pyramid is that it can be extremely addictive, so remember to pace yourself.
The point of all this is that we donít have to let CFIDS kill
our creative spirit. Keeping art in our lives reminds us of our connection with
the rest of humanity, no matter how crummy we might feel at times. There are
easy ways for us to match our artistic activities to our energy levels if we
approach it properly. The Artistic Pyramid is my way of thinking about this, but
you can devise other methods that work in your own situation. You may even
discover, as I did, that youíre heading down new artistic paths you never would
Just remember, the Muse is medicine.
Steve Sorensen is an engineer and photographer living in
Boulder, Colo. You can see his images at
www.bannertree.com. He is now
starting on a book titled Creative Sanity: 101 Ways to Keep Your Muse from