Creativity: an outlet for my chronic pain

Trigger warning: mention of anxiety, depression & chronic pain

This feature has been written by Tripat Riyait, founder of Inspire Calm (@inspire.calm on Instagram). In the feature, Tripat opens up about her chronic pain conditions (fibromyalgia, hypermobility & hypersensitivity) and the negative impact they have had upon her mental health in the past. However, since discovering her creative side and using it as a healing outlet, Tripat has completely changed her outlook on life and now works to help others do the same!

I was told that I had an incurable, chronic condition that would only get worse over time

I’ve suffered with pain in my back and legs since being a toddler. The pain was constant throughout my childhood and – despite my Doctor telling me they were growing pains – remained even after I stopped growing.

Although I was diagnosed with insomnia and clinical depression and anxiety when I was 20 years old, I wasn’t told why I was in constant, widespread pain until years later.

The diagnosis came when I was living in London and working as an andrologist (a male fertility scientist) whilst studying through the Open University. The pain became so severe and widespread, to the point that I was suffering from constant headaches, spinal pain and costochondritis, which is inflammation of the muscles surrounding the rib cage.

I thought that finally having a diagnosis would mean I’d be able to fix it all and stop feeling pain all the time. Instead, I was told that I had an incurable, chronic condition that would only get worse over time – I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, hypermobility and hypersensitivity. I was put on a lot of different medications to try to “manage” the symptoms.

Depressed and incurable, I spiralled.

“Whenever I did anything creative, it would become like a mindfulness session”

I tried to stay working in London for as long as possible, but eventually I left and moved back home with my parents. This felt like a leap backwards, as I could see everyone moving forward with their lives whilst I just felt more depressed, lonely and self-pitying.

Although I left London so that I could get better, the pain didn’t improve – nor did my mental health. I was convinced that I would never be rid of the pain, yet I continued to try to find treatments.

I continued having monthly massages (which I’ve had for most of my adult life) and started to use Bowen and Perrin treatment, DoTerra essential oils and crystals – as well as trying to practice mindfulness. However, having the belief that my health would only get worse and that nothing could cure me decreased any chance of the treatments working.

As my job back in London had been so niche, I struggled to get back into the field. I began working as a tutor to pass the time and afford all of my treatments, which did not make me happy at all. I found the pain would get so much worse when I had to work because I was so miserable and negative, talking to myself in such horrible ways: “I have an old lady body”, “My body hates me”, “I want a new nervous system, mine’s sh*t!” and “I am a waste of space”.

The only time I would feel positive towards myself would be when I was knitting, drawing, baking, writing poetry and anything else creative I could find to do. After I moved back in with my parents, I started going to a Botanical Illustrations class with my mum, where I discovered my knack for it.

I thoroughly enjoyed drawing and connecting with nature, and I would lose myself in it. This would happen whenever I did anything creative, it would become like a mindfulness session. I would forget all about the pain and negative thoughts, I would also feel so proud of myself and see that there was so much I could do, that I am capable of many great things.

However, during a flare I would find it so difficult to do anything creative, I felt so unworthy of anything fun or positive. But these were the times that I would have benefited from these hobbies, when I most needed my focus to change. I now know how much of an impact these hobbies had – when I didn’t do anything creative, my pain levels and mood would worsen.

I found connecting with [people] so fundamental to my healing journey

When lockdown started, I finally realised I couldn’t go on without someone to talk to and so found a counsellor. She helped me become receptive to the idea that I can actually heal, and that my moods and the negative self-talk were only increasing the pain I was feeling.

I also started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for depression caused by perfectionism during this time; I had to wait for over two years for this, but it was definitely worth it. I can see how trying to be so perfect was affecting every area of my life, including the creativity within me.

It is so liberating to be able to walk away from a task when I start to feel overwhelmed or tired, instead of forcing myself to complete it and it still not being good enough, then flaring up and being bedridden for days after.

During lockdown I also made much more of an effort to exercise gently, as I couldn’t receive any treatment. I came across Sarah Harvey on YouTube, who has created yoga videos for people with fibromyalgia and related conditions. The Self Healers’ Society is the group she created for healing women, as part of which she ran a 21-day meditation course. I found connecting with everyone in the group so fundamental to my healing journey. There was a lot of positivity and I instantly felt comfortable sharing with them. I shared my poetry for the first time ever and felt immense joy when I was told how my words helped people.

“I have a voice that people want to hear

My thoughts on healing started to change and – even though at the end of lockdown I was unable to put any weight on my feet for almost 6 weeks – I began to believe that healing is possible.

I started believing that I can get rid of the pain I have suffered from for the entirety of my life. I can live a normal life again, have a job I love, socialise and move forward instead of being stagnant. I’ve learned to meditate properly, journal and use positive affirmations and intentions. I’ve found my purpose, which is to help people suffering from mental health and chronic conditions to use creativity as a way of helping them heal – just as I had done.

Finding my purpose was a big piece of my healing puzzle. I started my business, Inspire Calm, to help teach people how to utilise their creativity to facilitate healing and organise their homes without stress and perfection! I felt motivated for the first time in years.

However, I also realised that over time my confidence had all but disappeared. In starting my business, I have been forced to overcome a lot of fears, kicking the healing up several notches in a very short time span. Through this process, I started to gain a better understand my worth – I have so much to share that can actually help others: I have a voice that people want to hear and knowledge from my own life experiences.

More recently, I have been running an 8-week course (called “Inspire Calm: a Scarf for the Soul”) – during which I teach the benefits of knitting on chronic and mental health. I really let my creativity run wild for this, and even designed a scarf pattern especially for the course. I want people to be able to make the informed choice to get creative when they flare and have bad days and facilitate their own healing journey.

I am now much happier and was recently informed that I have healed clinical depression in 6 months! I am no longer angry and irritable all the time. I exercise, meditate and use affirmations daily. I also make sure to do something creative everyday.

I feel like I am finally becoming the person I was always meant to be.

Thank you Tripat, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@inspire.calm) and by visiting her website.

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