How Cartooning Healed Me

How Cartooning Healed Me

“Creativity, like life, begins in darkness.” – Julia Cameron

I was down and anxious.

It was only a few months after our move when I started feeling like a shell of my former self.

I had never experienced anything like this.

I had no appetite and no energy.

I was in a dark space devoid of life.

Lethargy met me at every turn. I was circling the drain.

The best I could do was to get my kids off to school and climb back into bed. I had no appetite and could only think simple thoughts. My brain felt fragile.

After a few weeks, I began to wonder what was going on. Being an independent stubborn person, I decided to ride it out on my own. In retrospect, this was probably not the right way to go.

I could see the concern growing on my husband’s face. I convinced him I only needed to get some rest and I would be as good as new. After several weeks, he became skeptical.

One day, he insisted we get some fresh air and go down to the beach. I always loved the ocean but the thought of going on that day was filling me with anxiety.

I was resistant but finally agreed to go.

We packed up the car and the kids and head down to the shore. After trekking down to the water, I was exhausted and could only manage to plop myself in a chair and stare at the ocean. After several weeks in the house, this was a great feat.

While my husband and kids went into the water, I sat in a chair and stared at the ocean. I remember feeling how strange it felt to be out in the world again with all the noises, sights and smells.

I grabbed my daughter’s pencil and pad and started doodling. I started to think about life and the origins of things. As I thought about origins and the ocean, I drew three fish swimming to an egg. It was cute and made me happy. It symbolized conception…the beginning of life. I thought this was ironic since the “alive” feeling had been eluding me for some time.

For the next several weeks, I drew these little fish and eggs in different configurations and noticed that each picture started to represent different concepts in life.

For example, one picture called swimming upstream had a school of fish swimming in one direction with one fish swimming in the opposite direction toward the egg.

swimming upstream

Another one was called speed matters with the fish in a race going towards the egg representing competition.

speed matters

Another called the sound of all creation showed the fish and the egg joining.

the sound of all creation

As I drew each day I began to feel better. My energy and appetite return. The anxiety was at bay. And I returned to my former self.

It was only after a month or so that I realized that the act of creating those little cartoons daily healed me. The creative process was instrumental in creating my new found wellness.

Drawing the cartoons was a way for me to process thoughts, explore life and be in a calming state of creative flow.

This calm state of flow that results in creativity has profound effects on our health. It lowers cortisol, strengthens our immune system and gives us a way to sort through our emotions and connect with our subconscious thoughts.

I continued drawing those cute little cartoons for 3 years. The act of creating something breathed new life into me. To this day when I feel overwhelmed or anxious I pick up my pencil and start to draw.

I have drawn well over 250 fishegg cartoons and they have been used in evolutionary psychology lectures and conferences. They’ve also received positive reviews from professors at Harvard and Oxford and kudos from a Jungian analyst to boot. One fishegg cartoon even made its way onto the CBS Sunday morning show during a documentary on a rare fish.

But all of that pales in comparison to the way the creative process healed me.

To this day whenever I’m feeling down or anxious I grab my pencil and start doodling.

Has creativity, writing or art helped you to heal?

Sheila McCann

Sheila McCann is the creator of the Rainbow Framework. She blogs about creativity and personal development in the context of the Rainbow Framework. One look and you'll get life in a big way. Pop on over and get your free rainbow framework e-book and visual.

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20 Comments

  1. Hi Sheila,

    This is such a beautiful article. Thank you! And I absolutely LOVE your cartoons.

    People need to know of the incredible power of creativity. Several years ago, I started taking singing classes. I was absolutely amazed what an effect it had on my life. It reduced stress, lifted my spirits, and literally improved the overall quality of my life in a way that I could have never imaged.

    I feel it strongest when I can’t sing. For example, right now, I am recovering from a flu, so I lost my voice.. I can really feel how not be able to have this creative outlet, even for a few days, effects my overall being.

    Thanks again! Keep sharing this important message!

    – Maya

    Reply
  2. Thank you Maya, your comment made my day! I’m fascinated by the power of creativity and music in particular is an extremely effective way of connecting us to a sense of joy and wellness. It’s almost like exercise, you really miss the restorative effects when you don’t do it. I’m glad you’re on the road to recovery from the flu so you can get back to singing : )

    ~Sheila

    Reply
  3. Hi Sheila,
    I really liked this article and the fish and egg cartoons. I can completely identify with the healing the creative process provides. Thanks for reminding me that when I am at my lowest, all I need to do is to get a ball of yarn and some crochet needles, open up my paint box, snap pictures with my camera or get back to jewelry and soap making. I am so glad I have such a variety of ways to lighten my mood through creativity. :-)

    Reply
    • Thank you Lisa! It sounds like you are quite experienced with the creative process and its ability to healing. What a great creative repertoire you have! Soap making, now that’s something I would love to try : )

      Reply
  4. Thank you Sheila for sharing such a beautiful and personal story with us. I’m glad that you found a creative outlet for healing. I think I’ve finally found my own creative escape and it is through writing. I didn’t realize how passionate I am when I’m not forced to do something. Instead, I am writing because I want to.

    I now journal on a daily basis after purchasing a brand new Moleskine (so it still has that new factor), as well as blog. I surprise myself with how good my content is sometimes because I never thought of myself as a writer.

    I can’t really compare my experience with yours though because without a doubt you’ve gone through much more than I have. We do, however, share a common ground. We each have a creative way to heal our souls and reset. We both have our own gifts that don’t rely on anyone else. Have a great day, Sheila.

    Reply
    • A common ground I’m glad to share Vincent. It always amazes me how creativity allows us to tap into that deep well of knowledge we all have within. It sounds like that is what you’re experiencing via writing.I think daily or weekly practice is key and sometimes one form of creativity will lead to another. Passion is a bubbly source of energy that springs forth and makes us feel alive because it is an internal source.
      Thank you for your kind words and write on : )

      Reply
  5. This is good to read it. It is simple and clear that creativity always cure us mentally as well as physically. We all must have some ‘me time’ in a day t discover our inner self.

    Reply
    • Thanks Clara! I couldn’t agree more and there are studies coming out every day as to the role creativity plays in our lives especially in regards to mental and physical wellness. Even if it you only have 10 minutes for creative “me time” it will enable you to tap into your inner self. Cheers!

      Reply
  6. Creativity is a gift. Writing has been a healing force for me. I was the child victim of a cult, and dealt with anxiety and paranoia as a young adult. I started writing songs, and eventually stories. It’s been a healing process and now I”m working on releasing my second book. Learn more about my writing at http://www.danerickson.net. Thanks for sharing your story. I believe that creative journeys are gifts that can save lives.

    Reply
  7. I’m sorry to hear about your experience Dan and I’m so happy that your writing led you through the healing process. One of the cool things about the creative process is that your writing has evolved from songs to stories to books and no doubt mirrors the evolution of your healing. I agree creative journeys do save lives and if you look through history you will see many examples of that. Keep creating : )

    Reply
  8. Hi Sheila;
    I think drawing in general can decrease anxiety, I used to draw when I finish something important in my life and it was really useful :)

    Reply
  9. I agree Abyooda, it doesn’t matter what form it takes. The process itself is helpful. Thanks!

    Reply
  10. Marvy! Guess I’ll keep composing and blogging. I suppose it does help me heal. Perhaps at this point though, it helps me maintain rather than heal. When a time arises where I do need healing, I’ll be happy to have composing and writing to help me get back to living.

    Reply
    • I agree CJ, blogging is a great form of self expression and the daily practice of it will have a positive impact on you health : )

      Reply
      • It sure does and it is doubly potent since my wife and I run the blog together. It’s a source of every day excitement ant contentment, together.

        Reply
    • Thanks Brian! I think spark is the key word. We just light up when we create!

      Reply
  11. Thanks for snapping me out of thinking negatively that I’d trapped myself in unconsciously.

    I agree that creativity helps in expressing oneself in a different way and I’m still improving this skill and habit.

    The feeling of being in the zone is great!

    Reply
    • Being in the zone is very powerful and one can experience a deep connection to something larger. Good luck on your creative journey YK!

      Reply
  12. I agree with some of the responses here that creativity sometimes acts as a soothing balm to the stressful lives we are living. From my own experience, I believe it diverts your mind into something that is more productive. The negative energy is channelized into something more positive. For someone like me, who can go on and on, thinking on something that is troubling me … writing those things down acts as a big vent to those feelings, and makes me feel light. And trying to write them down in a creative way brings in the challenge and fun aspect to the exercise.

    Reply

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