A woman happily playing a viola while music notes surround her.

Lupus Taught Me About Creativity

When I was a child, my brother was the creative one in the family. From a young age, he loved to draw and paint. Over days and weeks, a pencil mark on his sketchpad would morph into the family dog or a beautiful landscape. The birds he drew looked like they might fly off the canvas at any moment.

Despite winning many awards for his artwork, my brother frequently started school and art projects at the very last minute. His room was a menagerie of dirty clothes and pictures tacked to the wall. My parents chalked my brother’s procrastination and disorganization up to his "artistic temperament."

My love for music

Despite playing the viola, a musical instrument, I never considered myself to be a creative person growing up. Seriously studying an instrument requires many hours of practice each day, which didn’t leave me a lot of time to explore other creative outlets. In addition, my personality was very different from my brother’s. Disorganization made me uncomfortable. I liked the structure of having tangible goals and deadlines, and I preferred to have plenty of time to plan when working on a project for school. How could someone who wanted the towels all folded exactly the same be creative?

When I went to college, practicing the viola and learning music history and theory took up most of my time. Most music majors take between 15 and 21 credit hours and practice 3 hours or more a day. I worked as a Resident Assistant to cover my room and board in the evenings. There was no time to explore other creative pursuits, especially since I loved playing the viola so much. Spending hours in a practice room shaping a musical phrase or interpreting what a composer wrote satisfied me creatively.

Lupus took away my creative outlet

It wasn’t until I became seriously ill with lupus in grad school that playing the viola became a struggle. Brain fog followed me for months, making even a simple scale confusing. Many days, my fatigue was so unbearable that I would unpack my viola, only to realize I was too sick to play it. When I lost what I suddenly realized was my only creative outlet, I felt as if I had lost myself as a person. Whenever I looked at my viola or thought about practicing but was too sick to pick up my instrument, I felt a dark cloud of grief so heavy it was as if someone had died.

Lupus taught me I am a creative person

After dragging myself to rehearsals for months, I decided to go on medical leave for a semester even though I was exhausted. The extra rest finally pulled me out of the flare I’d been trapped in for a year. But I learned that I would never really have the energy of a normal person my age and that there would always be days when I wouldn’t have the energy to play the viola.

After all, being diagnosed with lupus taught me that I am a creative person. When I lost my ability to make music whenever I wanted, I learned that creativity was as vital to me as food, water, and rest. Twelve years after my diagnosis, I choose to honor and make time for my creativity, whether it’s playing the viola, writing, or even decorating my home. There are many ways for creativity to manifest in my life–even as a perfectly organized linen closet.

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