The Gift Of Limitations

Lately I have been feeling under the weather.  At first I thought I could be coming down with the flu,  but now believe I'm in the throes of a fibromyalgia flare.   Almost as soon as I had written about the generative power of creative practices, I was immediately reminded of my personal point of diminishing returns.

In hindsight I can see the sequence of events that lead to my becoming ill.  Feeling better generally leads to increased activity and spurs an innate drive to "make hay while the sun shines."  Being unwilling to interrupt the flow of creativity can lead to poor self care habits like not eating right, staying up later than usual, and skipping warm epsom salt baths in favor of quick showers. In this mode I tend to ignore housework or other mundane activities which inevitably results in increased stress as I fall further and further behind.  Add to all of this an unusually gloomy, gray and damp month and extra time spent in a cool unfinished basement (a.k.a. my studio) standing on hard concrete floors, and we end up here.

Here is where I'm beset with muscles aches and flu like symptoms, unrelenting fatigue  that is not relieved even after a solid night's sleep, brain fog,  and this feeling of general malaise that, while unmistakable to me, is impossible to describe accurately to others

Fibromyalgia is disabling to some, but I'm grateful that I can lead a fairly normal life - especially if I take really good care of myself.   Which, of course, I'm really bad at doing.   Nevertheless, I've had a pretty good run in the last six months or so, thanks in large part to finally connecting with a great doctor and a holistic nurse practitioner who have helped me find the best drug-free ways of managing my condition. I also attribute my making time and space for creativity to the improvement in my health.  Author and psychologist Brene Brown asserts that "unused creativity is not benign" and I wholeheartedly agree.  Not having time and space for creative practices is simply not an option.

So, until the weather improves, I've moved some of my supplies to the kitchen table and I may suspend painting for a while until conditions are more hospitable in the basement.


There is no cure for fibromyalgia and there are going to be bad periods that could last from a day or two to a couple of weeks depending.   I can descend into despair if I let myself become overwhelmed by the disconnect between what I want to do creatively and what I feel like I'm able to do.  It's hard enough when I'm feeling well, and I'm bumping up against the limitations of my skill set, talents, time and finances. When my physical condition limits me as well, I find it helpful to  contemplate the lives of creatives who manage to work with and around physical and/or mental impediments.

For example, I was recently surprised to learn that Brooke Shaden, a photographer and digital artist whose work I've long admired, also struggles with fibromyaglia and wrote about it here.   Artist Frida Khalo suffered from chronic pain, and possibly fibromyalgia, all of her life.  A quick google search reveals that there are plenty of creatives that use their art to communicate their experiences with pain.

Beyond heroically pushing past pain or using it as creative inspiration, it can also be argued that limitations (natural or imposed) can actually enhance creative work by forcing innovative thinking.  Limited choices and letting go of outcomes can actually free us from creative blocks  and lead to surprising results.  I've found this to be true in my mandala making practices - particularly the natural mandalas.  The limitations of the mandala form has ironically given infinite possibilities of expression.

"Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art or poem."  Rollo May

This reminds me that we must question the stories we tell ourselves - especially when they are negative or discouraging.   Orson Welles asserted that "The enemy of art is the absence of limitations." In this context, I can view my limitations as a gift that invites me to go deeper instead of wider.  Instead of thinking about what I can't do, I can get curious about what my limitations might be showing me about possibilities I'd not considered.  I'm also reminded that even a small amount of time devoted to creativity each day works on me in amazing ways.

Artist Phil Hasen expresses what I'm trying to say here better than I can, so I'll leave you with his inspiring TED talk and hope you will be as encouraged by his story as I was.

"Learning to be creative within the confines of our limitations is the best hope we have to transform ourselves and, collectively, transform our world.' - Phil Hansen