I‘ve been an actor/writer/producer for over 30 years. Taught Comedy for over 20 years, but until recently I never fully realized the power of Creativity and the Arts for healing and bringing joy.
6 years ago I had a Stroke. I almost died.
I lost the use of my right hand, right arm, my face twisted up and (Voice affected) “I talked like this”. They said I would never drive a car, or play tennis, or be able to sing again.
Well, they were wrong! They were so, so, so, so Wrong!!! Do you know why? Art and creativity!
After the stroke, I was rushed to what I like to call “The Room of Death” There were three other patients in the room whose average age was about 275, and they all breathed like this: (Two agonizing breaths) Before I went to sleep the Nurse said: “I hope you have your affairs in order.” Not what you want to hear from your Nurse at one in the morning! I was convinced I was going to die that night. I had the most horrible nightmares filled with blood, gore and Samurai’s riding motorcycles firing submachine guns. I might have taken too much medication.
The next morning I was transferred from THE ROOM OF DEATH to a different room…the room of FAINT HOPE. There were three other stroke survivors. Much younger than the room of death. Like WOOLY MAMMOTHS. They were in as bad, or worse shape than I was. This only increased my dread. I knew the stats: My Blood Pressure was spiking over 200. I knew that 1 in 6 Stroke victims die. Endless Doctors came in and out of my room with test after test, driving me into a high state of anxiety, and deep depression. I was worried I might have another stroke. I looked at the people around me, Moaning. Lifeless.
I looked out the window at the Mountains. I saw a bird fly by. And that’s when the idea hit me. I was going to turn my experience into a play. A comedy, actually. I’d call it STROKE OF LUCK.
As soon as I had the thought something changed in me. The entire narrative flipped. It was like I suddenly had developed a whole different perspective and was seeing things through a new set of eyes. I looked at the other stroke survivors. They were no longer victims. Now they were powerful characters in my play. They were the heroes. And I had become a hero in my own story. Resilient, unstoppable. I would survive this so I could be an inspiration to others.
From that moment I started working on the play. With my left hand. A thought crossed my mind. It was my Mother’s voice. It was something she always said: “No matter how rough life gets, do something you Love every day”. So I put it in the play.
A week later they sent me home. I could barely move my fingers at all, and I could only move my arm a little bit. I was visited by three therapists every day. The first thing we did was walk for 30 minutes every day. On top of improving my immune system and heart, my physical therapist said it would dramatically improve my overall quality of life. Wow.
Who woulda thought? The next exercise we did was to test PINCER strength. It’s when you bring your index finger to your thumb. It’s one of the moves that separates us from the other animals or monkeys. It also means “That’s a tasty meata- ball” in Italian. I tried so hard. I squeezed and I squeezed. “How much?” I asked. Zero. My score was Zero. So I thought: Nowhere to go but up!!!
About a week later we did another test. To see how many small objects I could pick up and put in a cup in 2 and a half minutes. They were things like coins, buttons, paper clips… A healthy hand could do all 15 in about twenty seconds. How many did I do? TWO. I did TWO. And you know what I thought? That’s way better than Zero!!! But who was I kidding? it was really, really depressing. For half a second.
But because I was a hero in my own play, I was able to turn it around. With my creative juices flowing, I was able to see things differently. New eyes again. I started doing something I loved every day. Sometimes I’d dance. Sometimes I’d sing. But I’d do something! And I started believing I’d get better.
This is the power of Creativity and the Arts. They make the impossible seem possible. The American Journal of Health published a review called THE CONNECTION BETWEEN ART, HEALING AND PUBLIC HEALTH which found creative activity:
-Has a positive impact on our sense of hope, self-worth and well-being.
-Decreases depression and anxiety, reduces stress, improves cell function and boosts your memory.
-It also releases the neurotransmitter dopamine which is an anti-depressant. It actually makes you feel happy. It’s like chocolate without the calories.
15 months later my play was is a huge success. My recovery – is remarkable.
Despite what many had said…I drive my car. I play tennis. And I’ve sung solo in front of hundreds of people; (SINGING) THIS MORNING WHEN I ROSE, YEAH, I DIDN’T HAVE NO DOUBT! I’m actually not too bad. I started performing my play for Stroke Survivors and in hospitals where I would sing for patients. I have seen some amazing things.
I have seen people who CAN NOT speak at all, who seem like zombies with zero energy suddenly light up once the piano gets going. And then, when I start singing they begin to sing with me. People who could not SPEAK. I have experienced how Painting and drawing give people hope and helps with their recovery. This is not Magic. It is Science. Music, Art, Dancing…. they can help people heal and bring them incredible joy. Make the impossible seem possible.
I started talking to people. Sharing ideas. I spoke to a friend of mine who designs Video games. I discovered we share a vision. Of using Video games to help promote positive social change. Cuz there’s a lot of Art and Creativity in video games. It’s tricky to get people to volunteer for stuff but it’s easy to get people to play video games!
The day after I spoke with her I was fixing a washing machine as part of my job as a building manager and I share what we were discussing with the guy who is waiting to do his laundry. He tells me about an organization called Games for Change. They have hundreds of games online that do exactly what we were talking about the night before. They even have games that help with genetic research!
I get so excited just thinking about the power of Art and Creativity. The power of sharing our stories and inviting others to become heroes in our journeys.
Remember my Mom? I wrote another play about her called The Unbreakable Popsicle Stick gang. In 1965 my father left and she was left a single Mother. We were two boys and two girls. She believed in inequality.
She called us together and gave us each a popsicle stick. She said to try to break it. So we did. Easily. Then she said to put five popsicle sticks together. One for each of us. Now try. We tried. We couldn’t. You could be the incredible hulk and you couldn’t do it.
See, by using creativity she had taken something potentially devastating for our family and turned it into a story that would inspire us to be there for each other.
Art is about passion. Commitment. Problem-solving. Working together to make something beautiful. Meaningful. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all begin doing something creative every day? 30 minutes. Even just 15. Whatever it is. But do it every day. Sign up for a cooking class. Take dance lessons. Get in your garden and get dirty. Or start writing a play!
Your mood will improve. Your brain will function better, You’ll be kinder to those around you. Imagine that. Trust me. It works. It worked for me. And remember what my Mom said: “Do something you Love everyday.” ◆
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