8: Living a Creative, but Healthy Life
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
Howdy! Before I really get into this topic, full disclosure, I do not lead a healthy lifestyle. My eating habits are those of a very happy seven year old, but certainly not those of a fitness instructor nor health guru. Still, I’m always making small strides towards being more health-conscious. Recognizing the problem is the first step in finding the solution right? Well, the solution is pretty obvious. I’ve just got to do it. And you should too, if you haven’t already.
Whether you think life is a gift bestowed by the deity of your choosing, or a fluke of the universe and you’re gonna poof out of existence when it ends, you owe it to yourself to take care of you while you're here. Either to honor said deity, or to make the most of what existence you have, every difficulty you’ll ever face will be faced with greater ease if you’re physically well.
As for creatives, specifically, I feel like our ailments are pretty standard. When I was going to school for graphic design, carpal tunnel was always on the periphery of what to expect. Some professors had rubber wrist rests to help prevent it. While I haven’t discussed carpal tunnel with writers, I’d assume many of us spend hours in front of a screen as well, typing away. Those wrist rests can help us preserve the mobility and comfort of our wrists and hands.
Most of us Graphic Design students wore glasses and I believe all of the professors did. Eye strain from staring at screens all day does gradually diminish our vision. Blue light filters help, both on the display settings, and as a feature of our glasses. Can’t say how long blue light filters have been an option when buying lenses, but they are now and I’ve got them. The tattoo artists I worked with, who went to doctors, commented on their rapidly diminishing vision as well. One’s optometrist suggested he rest his eyes every time he looked up from the tattoo he was working on. That’s advice I’ve taken to heart. Whenever I was between strokes, tattooing, or needed a second from my drawing, or now, when I need distance from my painting to judge my progress more objectively, I glance up, not focusing on anything, so my eyes can rest.
Every tattoo artist I worked with had back problems, including those barely in the industry for five years. I believe one either traded tattoos for massages or accepted massages as a tip. Another gratefully accepted a massage-backrest as a tip, and used it between tattoo sessions. Likewise, one of the few graphic designers I’ve kept up with, complains frequently of back pain. I can’t remember if it was Joyce Carol Oates or Margaret Atwood on Masterclass who emphasized maintaining a healthy posture while writing, but that’s advice to take to heart. A standing desk might be an investment but it’s an effective way to maintain awareness of posture. That said, whether I’m typing from my desk or the couch, I’m a sloucher through and through. My neck is visibly asymmetrical, if you take a look, and the one chiropractor I casually inquired about it to, suggested that the issue is really in my hips. One is higher than the other, likely due to how I sit for extended periods of time. The cure, according to her, was yoga. Unfortunately, yoga could not be more boring to me. I can meditate without difficulty, but staying aware enough of my surroundings so as to match the pose of another, is a struggle.
Every now and again, I’ll reach for something or twist the wrong way and either my shoulders or neck will react with a fun new knot. Oddly, what fixes my shoulder discomfort 9/10 times is slouching in my chair. Which isn’t indicative of anything good. I should really be doing yoga every day, first thing upon waking up. My spine is way out of whack. When my neck is stiff, I need more specific and less intuitive solutions. Nothing I normally do will fix the issue, short of going back to sleep, which half the time, does not help, and I'm stuck with a stiff neck for days. Meaning, when my neck sticks, I turn to Youtube. There are some chiropractors and physical therapists with tips and tricks for unsticking a neck. I’ll go through several, and then do yoga with Adrienne. She’s an Austinite with a ton of free YouTube videos, many of which are themed for alleviating stiffness in specific parts of the body. If you’re looking to start doing yoga, she’s my go-to guru. While she’s yet to cure my neck-stiffness, I appreciate that she offers a range of targeted exercises.
If I’m not doing yoga everyday, despite knowing I absolutely should, what am I doing to keep active? Well, I walk my pupperinos after their every meal(breakfast, lunch, and dinner), plus they generally get a bonus afternoon or evening walk, and I try to reach 10,000 steps per day. Do I succeed? Generally no. Not unless I have a reason to take a walk without my tiny legged, slow walking, stop-to-sniff-everything pups. I also paint standing up and when the weather is warm, I paint every weekday morning. Every time I step away from the canvas to get a more objective look, I also take a moment to stretch.
My eating habits, like I implied, are ridiculously irresponsible. Or used to be, I guess is more accurate. I don’t like vegetables nor most fruits. I love meats, carbs, and most dairy(with the exception of milk itself) and being a grown-ass-adult, it’s up to me to regulate my diet. While I’m not on full blown keto, having done keto a few times, I’m very conscious of my carb intake. No-carb isn’t practical, especially considering I hate cooking and barely eat veggies, but low-carb is do-able. The vegetables that are integrated into my lifestyle are onions and tomatoes. Onions, I cut thin and stir-fry with nearly every meat dish I cook. I probably eat a quarter of a white onion every other day, just as a side with my meals. Tomatoes are a mainstay thanks to my fiancé's love of pasta. When he isn’t cooking and I’m forced to fend for myself, I make a lot of soup and ramen, wherein I’ll include sautéed carrots or spinach. I’d be lying if I said I ate many or a wide variety of vegetables, but I am getting some. Normally, I eat almost no fruit. Unless I’m on a juice-cleanse(those are pretty drastic diets and I don’t recommend them), I don’t drink a ton of juice. However, my fiancé makes us cocktails one or two nights a week and those tend to include some fruit. Lately I throw frozen strawberries into my lunch slim fast shakes. When I remember, I take a multivitamin. The problem is I have to take it with a fatty meal or it’ll make me nauseous.
While I do drink, and I’ve tried some drugs in my youth (weed, shrooms), I wouldn’t encourage doing either too often. I’ve heard the quote, “Write drunk, edit sober,” which I believe is attributed to Ernest Hemingway, and while that might work on occasion, tying one’s creative work to the literal poisoning of our bodies can only lead to an early death. It’s better to practice painting or writing or what have you, in the state of being you’d like to maintain. Hopefully none of us want to be drunk all of the time. Hopefully none of us would rely on our drunkenness for regular inspiration or writing motivation, because then we’ve tied the one to the other and sobriety might begin to feel like a career killer, when really, it should be our base state of being. The sober liver lives longer.
Then there is sleep. This is the facet of a healthy life I neglected to the greatest extent and the one I feel strongest about. When I was in high school, I swapped one aunt’s house for another, and that other was dealing with her own demons at the time. She would go to bed at five AM and living with her for the final few months of my senior year of high school, so did I. Then, naturally, I’d finally crash, miss the bus to school, miss first period, and show up in the middle of second period after hitching a ride on the middle-school bus. I missed so many first period classes, I almost didn’t graduate on time, despite being an A student. Aside from work and lessons missed, I was also making poor choices. Boring-not-story-worthy choices, sure, but not those I’d have made were I sleeping anywhere near enough. My conscious decision to place literally every priority over maintaining a healthy sleep schedule persisted throughout the entire four years of college, during which some professors asked if I had narcolepsy, because I suffered bouts of microsleep while standing during lessons. Often, this led to me missing essential instructions for how to do my assignments, what aspects I’d be graded on and so on. I got into ill-thought-out fights with friends over qualms that wouldn’t even have been on my radar had I simply taken time to take care of myself. Our brains, and emotions, need sleep to function well. We need rest to be our best selves. I was not my best self the entire time I was enrolled at the College of Saint Rose and I have a lot of regrets from that time. The biggest lesson I’ve taken from my college experience is that sleep is crucial. Time management is a skill we need a handle on earlier rather than later in life if we’re going to balance work, whether creative or otherwise, social endeavors, eating, and sleeping. Balance is achievable for most of us. We just need to figure out the best means of organizing our time for ourselves.
Oh, and drink water. All day, every day, even just having a glass of water at your side is helpful. I limit my tea to 1-3 cups a day. Even aside from the bathroom problems too much coffee can cause(diarrhea if that was too subtle), jitters are distracting, and excess caffeine can also lead to an unsightly eye twitch, all while exacerbating anxiety/stress. Plus, too much caffeine can interrupt that all-important sleep schedule.
Those are the big problems I’m aware of, the best ways to prevent succumbing to such pains, and what small ways I’m working to take care of myself. Thanks for stopping by! I put out a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!
TL;DR Advice: We need to take conscious action to maintain hand/wrist, eye, & posture health, to eat a balanced varied nutritional diet, & to sleep about eight hours every night. Rest your eyes between tasks. Use a wrist rest while typing. If you wear glasses, get lenses with blue light filters included. Also use blue light filters on every PC or smartphone screen you regularly deal with. Stand or sit up straight while working. Standing desks are a good investment. Do yoga every morning. Stretch frequently. Take a multivitamin on top of eating well. Don’t rely on alcohol or drugs to maintain creativity. Having good time management skills is super important for making sure these needs are met.