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The Healing Effects Of Creativity – Trauma, Bereavement and Developmental Disabilities

by Mandy Nicholson(more info)

listed in healing, originally published in issue 273 - September 2021


Knowing the healing effects of creativity, and actively using them were at odds with me for decades. Having successfully achieved my BA in Fine Art, I thought that I would just walk into a job. That didn’t happen and I ended up in a ‘proper job’ that paid the bills as most creative people do. Since then, my life has been a memoir of trauma, bereavement and dealing with developmental disabilities. I wanted to share the strategies that I have implemented, but equally as importantly, what happens when you don’t tap into your creative genius. I will do this by sharing my story to use as an example because, after all, life can be the greatest teacher.

andy in worksho[

Let Her Rise by Mandy Nicholson from her 'Women & Empowerment' series.

Creativity has the ability to connect us with ourselves in a deep way. The act of being creative forces us to look both inwards and outwards. How we feel about ourselves and the world. Observing and restructuring our surroundings. It can be difficult for those who have chosen to ignore their creativity to understand the benefits. I say those who have chosen to ignore because 98% of children are born creative. The view society takes towards education eradicates this creativity from so many who already possessed it.

When we are expressing creatively, we are communicating with ourselves and others. What I discovered in my proper job was that my creativity set me apart from the hive mind. I had worked in retail for many years at the weekends and in the evenings whilst at university, so it was my backup plan when I couldn’t find that dream job. My epiphany happened when I used my creative thinking in the workplace in the same way as I would when constructing a design for a painting, I was able to create a vision and solve problems at a whole different level. Whilst my peers were following the rules, I was bending them to motivate my team and serve my customers. The effect of this showed on the sales line and soon my store was performing well. Then better. Then best. Within a year the token store that I had been given by my line manager to test me was trading up almost 300% year on year and everyone in the company was visiting me to see what I had done. What I had done was identify the link between creativity and leadership and made connections. I believe that all creatives have the innate ability to lead, however, that ability has usually been minimalised with the words of others. Many creatives suffer from Imposter Syndrome and Comparisonitisdimming their brilliance to fit in and live like a normal person. They forget they are a beacon, shrunk hugely by those around them but still burning bright inside them.

It sounds like I had made a life-changing discovery, doesn’t it? Well, I did, for a full fifteen years. I shone bright like that beacon I mentioned, in retail and because of being connected to who I was at the core, I experienced success after success. I was headhunted by major brands and secured a six-figure career. Then in 2009, a series of unfortunate events took me from a place of abundance to rock bottom. I lost everything. I had a serious car accident and lost my career because of it. My dad died, my marriage broke down, and my son was diagnosed with autism.  I lost my business on the side and ended up bankrupt due to a family member. Relationships broke down and then I was made homeless. All in 12 months. If you are gritting your teeth reading this right now, so was I. Trauma really doesn’t cover what happened in that fateful year. By 2010, I had a choice – stay where I was or re-build. I was a single mum with a 9-year-old and a 5-year-old who was on the spectrum. I had 2 dogs as well, and because they were the family pets, I had to keep them as the kids had been through enough.

Mandy in Workshop

I ended up in social housing with a clapped-out car and only £30 in my bank. Even in that dark place, there was still a part of me that knew rock bottom was where I needed my creativity the most. Creating something from nothing was my superpower and figuring out how to build a brighter future started with a creative vision. Being able to see the way forward. I was able to sketch it, mind map it, add actions, and make a start. I had to be a leader again, this time leading my life. Like any parent or adult, I had several roles in that life, so I defined them and created plans for each. The ability to visualize what is necessary to survive whilst also visualizing a better future is at the heart of creativity. Although it would be several years before I stepped fully into my creative power, I began to use it daily to heal and grow.

People often misunderstand creativity and immediately assume that it means artists, authors, crafters, designers etc. This is a mistake because creativity is an approach, and it starts with a thought. The ability to imagine the possibilities in life. The ability to see how things can improve whilst capturing the moment and living it. How I used my thoughts to shape my recovery from bereavement and trauma during this time set the standard for the rest of my life. If you can see it, you can create it.

I want you to imagine what would happen if you didn’t use your creativity to shape the life you want? I mentioned earlier that many creative people suffer from Imposter Syndrome and compare themselves negatively to others, often thinking they are not good enough. This can become a state of living for so many creatives and serves nobody well. I know from experience what it feels like not to follow your dreams. Although I experienced success in retail as a leader, I was a frustrated creative inside. There was a void. I felt like I was living on the hamster wheel of life rather than living it on my terms. What happens for the creative when they end up living life this way is pent up frustration. It manifests as feeling not worthy, not good enough and less than those around you. This leads to sadness, anxiety and mental illness. The very thing that can help is the thing they are avoiding so that they can fit into social norms. Not expressing yourself creatively can be incredibly detrimental to your health. Dabbling with your creativity as a hobby rather than living a life full of this creative genius can be equally as frustrating. My journey to re-building my life held me in this place for years. Even though I used my creative thinking to move forward, I still ignored my creative genius. Like many, I thought that I wasn’t good enough and that I wouldn’t be able to make money from my talent. Why? Because that is what I was told by the society we live in. “It’s a nice hobby, but you will never make money from it”. Even the statistics back this up with the average income for artists sitting on or around the poverty line. So, I used my creative thoughts but not my talent. I built a cleaning business. Then a financial services business. Both successful, but not what I really wanted to do. I was happy, but not fulfilled. I was going through the motions and enjoying my children and providing, but I wasn’t operating in my zone of genius. Therefore, I wasn’t truly recovering from the trauma.

One of the strangest yet most significant things that happened was that when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and we were told he only had months to live, I automatically reverted to my innate talent. I started to write a diary. I knew immediately that it would be a book, a memoir. I wrote it daily and documented the cancer journey. It was healing. To write down your innermost thoughts and think about how you feel is a creative act. My dad lived only 43 days from his diagnosis, so my book was short but deep. I didn’t even acknowledge this as my creative talent, I just did it. I published the book as my memorial to my dad and to raise money for cancer research. I can’t imagine how I would have coped if I hadn’t taken this step. But I just did it and moved on. However, the healing effect stayed with me, and I attempted to write a book about the year I had experienced in 2009. When it wouldn’t flow, I gave up. I continued to create income and re-build my life but ignored my creative abilities. I did a good job due to my leadership skills and turned my life around. If I sound blasé, it is because I was just doing what I did best but not doing what I was best at.

What I have discovered since I stepped into my creative power is that so many creatives have followed this same pattern. I now work with creative women to teach them how to become entrepreneurs, but I start with healing. I use therapeutic art processes and teach them to use colour to identify with their feelings and colour their past, present and future. When you anchor your feelings and experiences to a piece of art, it can become something that you can let go of or something to inspire you to keep moving forward.

I have also used the art of writing and storytelling in helping my son. Creating a superhero named Super Dan with his sidekicks Super Jet and Super Ozz (my dogs) and using Dan’s superpower of autism I planted possibility into his thoughts through bedtime stories. This and a lot of creative work around his confidence, using art and setting realistic goals with his school has enabled me to keep him in mainstream school. I had to be on point with the school, communicating confidently, and drawing up strategies for his learning. It worked. Dan is now 17 and at college doing a B-Tec level 3 in animation and illustration. This is no accident. When you use art and creativity in healing and growth, children see the benefits and want to explore. Dan is illustrating the series of books I have just written about The Adventures of Super Dan.  It is also no accident that my daughter is about to start a Fine Arts degree at Northumbria University. If you build it with your talent, your children will follow. I did not push or encourage either of my children in a creative direction, it was in them already. In fact, my daughter chose academic subjects and then looped back round to art when she was ready.

It was a loving push from my husband Gary, who I met in 2013, that encouraged me to step into my creative power. He believed in me which encouraged me to really believe in myself. I launched my creative business on boxing day 2019 and have never looked back. In fact, I keep looking forward. I have produced a body of work about women and empowerment, written the book about 'that year', and became a mentor to creative women. It took courage, but mostly it took me being willing to let go of what society and life had taught me and just do it. We can process things through art and creativity, they allow us to work in both shadow and light.

You Raise Me Up

You Raise Me Up by Mandy Nicholson from her 'Women & Empowerment' series.

In April 2020 my husband Gary died, the worst level of grief I have had to experience so far. Bereavement is personal, it takes time. However, I had a toolkit, given to me by my life experiences and I have used it. Acceptance that I was now on my own and asking the question ‘What is your ultimate dream?’ led me to create my biggest vision ever. I decided I wanted to help as many women as possible to step into their creative power and learn how to make money from their area of genius. The techniques I would teach them would help them to heal and then teach them how to do business. I would do it in my own creative way and be bold enough to be different. I decided I wanted to buy a castle in Scotland and run creative retreats. I registered with an estate agent in Edinburgh who sell castles and created a vision board and action plan. What fell into my path was a steppingstone property and as I write this, I have moved to Scotland, and I am about to renovate a 7 bedroomed house. I will be offering those creative retreats by 2022. My vision and my belief are where they are now due to the healing power of creativity woven through my life.

Here are my top tips based on all the lessons life has gifted me, to get you started on the right path.

  1. Forgiveness – You need to forgive yourself and others for every little thing. Holding onto grudges only holds you back. Colour your way to forgiveness by colouring your past and then letting it go;
  2. Gratitude – Being grateful for what you have including your talent and embracing every opportunity is a game-changer. When you live in gratitude, you can let go of the past and the ‘what if's. Colour your present and give it meaning;
  3. Health – Look after yourself mentally and physically. Eat well, exercise, walk in nature and include self-care and meditation in your life. Creativity is amplified when you can see and feel the real you;
  4. Love – Look after relationships in your life. Not just romantic ones, ALL relationships. Choose the people you really resonate with and work hard to build loving communication levels that feel good. Choose the colourful people who make you happy;
  5. Wealth – Money is important and not a dirty word. Decide how much you want to earn and build your life around it. If you can’t do that alone invest in help. You deserve to be wealthy and there is enough for all of us;
  6. Self-Expression – When you don’t include your self-expression in your life plans, it is like there is a piece missing. Find your thing. It may be art, writing, dancing, acting, crafting it doesn’t matter, finding it, doing it, and feeling the bliss in it is what matters.

My experience has shown me that learning to use creative methods to help you to deal with trauma, bereavement, and developmental disabilities can be completely life changing. When you embrace your creativity and apply it to your life, it allows you to see it clearly for what it is and what it can be. The most important thing to do is to start. To clear out the baggage and beliefs which are holding you back. To allow the creativity to flood over you and flow out of you. Creative expression, no matter how you do it is a magical way to deal with life. Adversity happens to all of us – trauma is going to show up, people in our lives are going to die, and you may have to deal with developmental problems in your children. I am a testament to how much power there is in creativity. We were all born with it – it's still there in you. Open yourself up to this power again, and you will experience something truly transformative.



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About Mandy Nicholson

Mandy Nicholson BA is a Creative Genius Consultant, Artist and Author who helps creative female entrepreneurs to launch, grow and scale their business and make more money. Mandy is on a mission to influence change in the creative space by teaching business and marketing skills to women who tend to remain in a place of low income and inconsistent cash flow. Mandy’s clients are transforming their businesses using the new skills they learn on her signature program. The Creative Business Academy houses all of Mandy’s programs and teaching. She shares free introductory pieces of training via her website: (look for the FREEBIES tab under courses).

For free access to two pieces of training about nailing your niche and her 8-step creative change blueprint, click here:


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