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How creativity and connection carried me through grief

I’m no stranger to the power of creativity, especially when it comes to writing. But in the last year, my world was rocked with a family death and I felt like I was drowning in grief. Rock bottom became my new home.

I lost myself and felt like my mind couldn’t and wouldn’t work how it once did. I needed time to process the loss and get back to feeling like me again, and eventually I did. So, this is my account of how creativity and connection carried me through grief.

Swipe right for friendship

I was yearning for new faces, conversations and connections, beyond what I already had in my life. Maybe I needed something that didn’t exist in my life when my nan was here. I felt disconnected from my life because of the heavy sadness present in it, and I needed something different.

Bumble bizz

As a single woman I’ve used the Bumble app to meet prospective love interests, to some degree of success. Alongside the dating version, Bumble provides a function to meet new friends (Bumble BFF) and make business connections (Bumble Bizz). I wanted to connect with other ambitious women, so I switched to Bumble Bizz and began to scroll.

I connected with finance whizz Krystle McGilvery, who was an immediate breath of fresh air. We had a Zoom chat, got excited about our shared goals, and became new friends. She may not know it, but we met at a time when I was still drowning in grief. I was so grateful for our conversations and developing friendship, and she continues to be a source of inspiration to this day.

Connection and creativity

The first time I met Krystle in real life was at an event for creatives. She’d booked herself a ticket and invited me to join her. I loved the sound of it so booked my place and made my way to Coventry on the day. I didn’t know much of what to expect, but I was so glad I went.

Around 10 people sat around a table colouring in doodles and it was like medicine. We introduced ourselves and spoke a little bit about our creativity, and went round the table in conversation. I was surrounded by artists of all levels and experience, with interests ranging from painting to writing to design and more. The session was led by the incredible artist Donna Preece, who spoke openly about having a mental breakdown and returning to herself through creativity. It was inspirational listening to her journey and much of it I could relate to too.

I felt like I found my people, or at least a safe space that I could express myself while I was still piecing myself back together. I felt like I didn’t need to show up as the super strong, confident and vibrant character I was before my nan died. My broken pieces and sad soul were welcome in this space, and the creative version of me was held.

My experience of DPA’s Connect event confirmed for me that the best way to heal was to throw myself into my writing. To return to creative expression to soothe myself, to revisit my imagination and let myself dream again. I’m so grateful for that space and the experience that came with it.

Inspired to write

In the spirit of returning to my writing, I trawled social media for inspiration. I’m a big fan of spiritual aritst Alexis Rakun, and one day in her IG stories she referred to Instagram account @inspiredtowrite. Curiousity led me to a page with encouraging quotes and posts for artists. I felt instantly like I’d found my people, a community that I could indulge in and find solidarity in.

Run by Amie McNee, the account gave me hope and stimulation in a different way. I felt alive, like the Universe had guided me back to who I was at my core – a writer. When I saw they had a membership that included masterclasses and a private community, I knew I had to sign up.

The Inspired Collective was a breath of fresh air. The masterclasses gave me focus on weekends when I had no plans, and didn’t want to sit spiraling deeper into my grief. I listened intently to the topics of conversation, especially around imposter syndrome and valuing our art. I resonated with the other creatives in the comments, and felt seen and supported in ways I hadn’t before. It felt like I was making my creative world a little bigger, at least online.

Being part of the collective gave me confidence in my craft. I was writing more, experimenting more, and dreaming again. It finally felt safe enough to do that, and in a weird way like I was coming home to my creative self. It was like I was becoming Annika again.

Book club

Annika holds a book called Attached by  Dr Amire Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller.

In the spirit of using the arts to cope with grief, I began reading much more than I had in years.

My friend and I decided to start a book club, one for just the two of us. The way it works is that we read a book at the same time, and after every chapter we send our main takeaways to each other using voicenotes. One book could take us around 4-6 weeks to read, as we only do this Monday to Thursdays. We’ve had a heavy focus on personal development and psychology, so the books we’ve read have helped us both to dig deeper into the people we are.

Books I’ve read for book club are Atomic Habits, How to do the work and Attached. I highly recommend them all and in that order.

Returning to therapy

On Christmas day 2022, I sat in my living room alone and cried for hours.

My nan loved Christmas, and when we were little she used to decorate her house with handmade decorations and crafts. When my mum died, it was hard to sit in a room with my family without noticing how empty it felt without her there. When I had my children, I was grateful my nan was here to make it magical for them. But without her in the world, I felt lost and like I might never feel the magic again.

So, after crying for a few hours on Christmas day, I searched the internet for a local therapist. It was important that I’d have someone who could work with grief, who I could see in person, and who was affordable. I found one that I liked the sound of, entered my details into a contact form, and then waited.

Louise Lalley offered me an appointment within a few days. I sat in her room and felt myself exhale. I cried and spoke about the heartbreak of losing my nan. It felt like finally I had a space to fall apart, to let my tears flow, for my grief to be witnessed. It was incredible, in a way, because I hadn’t realised how much it hurt to hold everything in. I felt like I could breathe again.

In August I had my last counselling session – for now. I felt like I was coping much better than I was at the start of the year. I felt like I’d had time to explore the early feelings of grief and I was no longer drowning in it. So, I decided it was time to step away and see if I could swim alone.

And I’m still here.

Where I am now with creativity

As I write this, it is three weeks away from my 37th birthday and I’m loving life again. I’ve struggled with my emotional wellbeing for a good chunk of 2023, but with the support of amazing people in my life I’ve gotten through it.

I’ve leant into my creativity and fallen in love with writing again. I’ve delivered writing workshops, returned to Instagram lives, and I’m finally smiling again. I’ve journalled most days, brainstormed new ideas, and started writing two new books. I’ve dived back into my creative writing – and it feels so good.

I’m not under any illusion that my feelings of grief are gone for good, after losing my mum to cancer in 2005 I know how this works.

But right now, my head is above water and I’m glad I finally learned how to swim.

Thanks so much for reading.

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