BIOGRAPHY

Female, , birthday 31st March
Joined December 2019

Presently developing Globefox Health, a patient-led healthcare data, innovation and research programme to enable personalised health and wellbeing for rare and complex disorders.

Research areas: critical success factors for the design industry, the roots of 20th C cultural and political movements, inclusivity and diversity, esp. the value of neurodiversity, UX for cognitive impairments, and the interactions between belief systems, the endocrine system and human cognition.

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It's so much easier for the media to portray creative people as self-destructive, rather than as having unmet health needs, but that is changing.

Why are there so many good articles about how to deal with burnout, but not so many that take a good hard look at how it can creep up on us?

Is it really right that burnout and related mental health issues are seen as the inevitable price that we pay for genius, and for doing great, inspired work?

Why is it accepted that creative people ‘think different’ but not understood that we might need to evolve how we relate to our works and ourselves?

Universal music has just published Creative differences, a brilliant guide for neurodiverse people working in the music and creative industry, which is really helpful yet doesn't address health issues that are behind some of the challenges that people face

That’s not surprising as these health problems are very poorly understood - Especially as the stories around creative people are and often distorted and retold as time goes on

Everybody knows that Syd Barrett took too much LSD and fell apart:  but did he?

There was no point where he was taken away by 'the men in white coats'.  instead he chose to withdraw from performing, and while he did seek treatment, was very soon back to painting and playing the guitar for his own pleasure. This must have been seemed like madness to many  - to do this just at the point when it was expected that he would seize fame and fortune.

This is not to say that he was not unbalanced by his psychedelic experiences, but it must be asked, was his real difficulty that moving from small venues to large concert halls was too much because he was autistic and his sensory processing issues made touring and crowds too difficult? His sister has been very public about recognising many of the common austitic traits in him, and many others have echoed this.

It's also assumed that when famous people use and abuse drugs it's because they somehow cannot cope with the negative aspects of the creative process or they are inherently weak willed. 

When Kurt Cobain took his own life, there was nothing in the public narrative about the long term health issues that he had experienced and the debilitating pain and exhaustion that went with it. 

Kurt had a severe gut problem that left him in agony no matter what he ate and though he might have been in a very dark place anyway, having no hope for relief of this may well have been one of the factors that tipped him over the edge.  

It's likely that Janis Joplin suffered from similar problems, which not only affect your digestion but can lead to severe neurological and psychological problems - just the things that many drugs can also make worse.

It's so much easier for the media to portray creative people as self-destructive, rather than as having unmet health needs, but that is changing.

Singer SIA has went public on Twitter last year talking about the challenges that she faces living with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and the chronic pain and exhaustion that goes with it.

Both Lena Dunham who also has EDS, and others like Lady Gaga have also been very open about their health problems and the difficulties that they have had in having them identified - let alone treated.

Sadly we hear very little about what these treatments might be - and whether they are something that anyone without a superstar income might be able to afford and could benefit from.

What if there is more that people with this health conditions could be doing to protect their health and avoid some of the negative impacts?  How could we recognise them early on enough, so that we would know to do this?

Let's look deeper

When we are feeling low, this often happens on many levels, and it’s important to address all of them. The key to happiness does indeed lie within, but it’s not just in our hearts.

Many of us are drawn to yoga and spiritual practice, and yet too much meditation and introspection can make us unbalanced and un-grounded and more vulnerable to negative events.

We can also lose the ability to enjoy the things that usually nurture and feed our creativity and be drained by them instead.

It might then be time to simplify, to go back to chopping wood and carrying water, though how literally we take this is up to us.

We all need have time to reflect and to step away from our main activities, and that can include our routines and our little daily rituals, but does this have to be at the expense of our overall goals?

It’s long been recommended that we recover from feeling low or discouraged by losing ourselves in serving others, but then some of us may not have the opportunity, or might have had to step away from that too.

So, what do we do if we still can’t find the heart to go on? What might we be missing?

Before we embark on a great multi-dimensional personal quest, it is worth considering that it may not be our heart that is lacking, but other parts of our bodies. It turns out that our character, our resilience or even our soul, are actually far more dependent on our physical health than we have been  led to believe.

If we are feeling low, then it’s important to take stock of our emotional lives, but we must also look for any underlying physical cause, or perhaps something missing from our diet, or a hidden allergy or problem with digestion.

Creative people appear to be more vulnerable to these kinds of subtle health problems than others, but much less likely to have them recognised.

When we go to doctors for help or to find out how to better understand our health, many of us have been dismissed as hypochondriacs, or branded the victims of our own work ethic and craving for stressful work, rather than having our health issues taken seriously.

Minor problems may then develop into serious long-term illnesses, or greater vulnerabilities to stress over time. And the kinds of problems that disproportionately affect creative people, become increasingly severe as we age, especially if we can’t work out the right preventative care. Early diagnoses are vital.

But aren’t we just stressed?

Not only are our health care services bad at picking up the early signs of problems, but due to our symptoms being ‘normalised’ as just stress etc, our brains can learn to ignore these health issues over time, to tune them out on a very deep level.

Some of us might be very physical people, but not very good at interoception, sensing what is going on inside our bodies. This can be due to stress, but is also common in those of us who are autistic and/or dyspraxic.

Though we may not be conscious of what is specifically making us unwell, the dis-ease (pun intended) remains, and could even be a root cause of our anxiety or low mood.

It can be challenging, and very sobering to look at our well-being this closely, and we may also have to push past significant cultural and practical barriers to get the help and information we need.

Looking at our physical health in light of this is critical for two reasons, firstly checking in with our bodies and what they need should be a core part of our self-care, and secondly, knowing the health issues we may be facing helps us avoid guilt and anxiety if the self-care, counselling or therapy we depend on aren’t helping as much as we expect.

It is up to us to get to know our bodies and how to manage any health issues that they might be vulnerable to, and to understand how these might relate to our creativity, our mental health and our ability to cope with everyday life.

So what can we do about this?

I'm leading the research and development of people centred health tools and services for a range of complex and under recognised health issues - including the sort that appear to plague us creative types more than others. I will soon be offering personal health coaching and workshops too.

Our health systems really struggle when people have multiple problems, or those that build over time, like depression, burn out, autoimmune issues or environmental pollutant exposure. I discovered this the hard way as I’m one of the 75K in the UK with one of the Ehlers Danlos Syndromes Hypermobility syndromes or a heritable connective tissue disorder such as Marfan

The scale and extent of this problem is enormous but has yet to be fully recognised or mapped, let alone addressed. In order to drive innovation at the scale required, we need evidence, so we are starting by gathering the data.

Over the past year I've built a comprehensive screening questionnaire that helps people explore their health for themselves, along with the in-person support for those who might need it. This means that everyone can not only get to know themselves better. but also contribute their data and their experiences like never before. We are especially interested in what they have done that helps that hasn’t been formally mapped yet.

This new knowledge will drive the creation of new services, products and therapies across all branches of medicine - and everyone will have to work closer together too.

Putting people at the centre of fixing creative health is a huge cultural shift that will not only not bring huge social (economic) benefits to individual and society, but also empower individuals to realise their potential

Let’s start around the campfire!

Parts of this post drawn from this longer article on creative burnout

 

Featured image: Sia, live in Boston 2016. Scott Murry [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

 

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