March is National Women’s History Month, and FAH is grateful for the support of many remarkable women, who are making great strides in promoting creative engagement as integral to the optimal physical, mental, and social health of individuals and communities. Here, we recognize three women who exhibit and embody exceptional vision, character, and commitment to our mission, and learn from them, how creative arts expression is an essential element to coping with life’s physical and emotional challenges.


 

Blog-Pic-e1397129947359Charlotte Yeh, MD
Chief Medical Officer, AARP Services, Inc.

An early supporter of FAH, Dr. Charlotte Yeh appeared in our video, Can Art Be Medicine? With over 30 years’ experience in the areas of both emergency medicine and healthcare management for older Americans, Dr. Yeh possesses a unique understanding of the physical and emotional needs of individuals stricken abruptly by trauma, or beset by the gradual decline of age-related illness and memory loss. While she is passionate about her role in connecting underserved communities with better healthcare, she also recognizes that feeling connected to others – through activities like creative engagement – may boost the healing process.

1) What is it about creative expression that you feel allows it to offer something of unique and timely value to individuals dealing with various challenges?

Over the decades with the strong emphasis on science and data in medical care, we are regaining understanding that true health requires the integration of the physical, emotional and spiritual well being for successful living. Having a sense of purpose and connectivity to others are the values that carry us through life’s journey. Creative expression allows us to enhance our emotional, spiritual sides that bring purpose and connectivity to others.

2) How have your own work and interests related to creative expression, and what has that meant to you?

Interestingly enough, I never thought of myself as creative or artistic. I started out in medicine believing I would be a bench researcher, a scientist. Yet I have seen the power of creative expression, the importance of personal expression, whether a picture frame at the bedside of a hospital patient, or the use of storytelling in a nursing home… But perhaps I learned the power most surprisingly through my own experience.

Over two years ago, I was struck by a car, crossing the street. In the past two years I have struggled from not walking at all, to using a walker for six months, and now being cane- dependent. In the last year, when outdoors, thrilled that I am walking on my own, I noticed, others looking at me with pity and empathy, seeming so sorrowful to see someone struggling to walk with a cane.

Blog-Canes

Dr. Yeh’s creative canes change with the seasons. This month’s cane, complete with shamrocks, appears in the large photo. Click on image for larger version.

One day, on impulse, I created a bouquet of flowers, ribbons and lights on the handle of my cane. My daughters were mortified….but when I went out and about on the streets, the reaction from strangers was so totally different. There were still the offers of help, but now instead of downcast eyes, I was met with huge grins…joy…and “what a great idea!”

Instead of pity, total strangers began telling me the story of themselves, their parents, asking how to create something for their own family members, and a celebration of overcoming adversity. It was now about can-do….if you have a cane, why not turn a disability into a celebration? A delightful accessory like eyeglasses! Suddenly, it was not about what I “can’t do” but what I “can do’!

I was struck by a colleague when talking about my cane, decorated for each change of the seasons or holidays, when he said, “of course, Charlotte, it’s an expression of who you are!” We don’t have to be “artists” to tap into the creativity, to give us hope, resilience, and connection….the essence of health and successful living.

3) What advice or guidance might you have for others who seek to explore creative expression as a path toward health?

Creativity doesn’t have to be limited to the ill or injured patient for healing. Even as friends or families, use of art to give meaning can be powerful indeed. I am reminded of a marvelous AARP Board member, Barbara O’Connor, who also never saw herself as creative. She was a techie, after all. However, she started a monthly group of anyone who wanted to come to make beaded jewelry for friends and family who were diagnosed with cancer and needing an uplift. There was something healing for both the giver and the recipient to have a handmade personal, unique piece of jewelry with the colors, the shapes, and the design that matters to the individual. The power of healing through connecting with others with purpose and caring is extraordinary.


 

Moira-Maguire-Blog-e1396018663519Commander Moira McGuire, NC, USPHS
Program Manager, Warrior Clinic, and Director, Creative Arts Program
Walter Reed National Military Center

As the daughter of music and art educators, Commander Moira McGuire grew up immersed in the arts. Her creative upbringing and love of the arts continued to inform her perspective as she entered medicine, when she began to envision clear possibilities for arts-based solutions in helping people heal. As a partner at Walter Reed National Military Center working with service members dealing with post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and other lifelong challenges, and having worked with FAH to initiate creative therapeutic solutions for victims of Hurricane Sandy, Commander McGuire embodies our mission to empower individuals and communities to make creative engagement a tool to help them cope with trauma.


1) What is it about creative expression that you feel allows it to offer something of unique and timely value to individuals dealing with various challenges?

Creative expression offers something to everyone who engages in it, whether they are experiencing challenges or not. In a world where many events occur in a single direction (e.g. from the outside in), creative expression provides an opportunity for inside out experiences. These experiences are essential to maintaining emotional, intellectual and physical balance which, when present, is an indicator of health. Whether someone chooses to share the results of their expressive activities, or not, does not detract from their benefit.
That is the good news!

2) How have your own work and interests related to creative expression, and what has that meant to you?

Like everyone else, I am a work in progress. I would like to tell you that I stop every day and spend time reflecting, identifying and expressing my current physical, emotional and intellectual state and how it is impacting me on a day to day basis. I could tell you that I am constantly engaged in the process; however it would not be true. What I do know, however, is that the more these activities become part of our daily routine, the easier and more predictable they become and the healthier we become. I am working on it.

3) What advice or guidance might you have for others who seek to explore creative expression as a path toward health?

Just do it!! Take a pen, get some paint, sing a song, dance to music, throw a pot; whichever method you choose you are actually making a decision to be healthier. This is not about being the best poet, the greatest painter, the most graceful dancer or the most fabulous singer; this is about getting what is inside of you out. Don’t become paralyzed by how crooked your pot is, or how your poem doesn’t rhyme, how you can’t sew a straight seam or you squeak when playing the clarinet. Get out there and express yourself!


 

Erinn-White-Sullivan-Blog-Pic-e1396021198664Erinn White Sullivan
President, HealthStar Public Relations

Erinn has been in the communications industry for 23 years, working in product marketing for some of the largest providers of therapeutic health solutions in the world. As Media Counsel to FAH, and a former health and science reporter, Erinn’s creative abilities, knowledge in numerous therapeutic areas, and experience in international market launches have been instrumental to expanding our reach, connecting us with ways to explore creativity as a means to better health, and empowering others to discover their own creative healing potential.

1) What is it about creative expression that you feel allows it to offer something of unique and timely value to individuals dealing with various challenges?

It’s simple: creative expression, in general, makes people feel better. And more connected, more human, less bogged down with the routine and the overwhelming problems each and every individual experiences. The uniqueness of it is the fact that everyone does their creative expression in a different way — writing, painting – yet we all seem to get the same result: we smile, we feel lighter, [and] suddenly we notice that, yes, there are clouds in the sky, but the sun is peeking through.

2) How do your own work and interests relate to creative expression, and what has that meant to you?

The fundamentals of what I love and have always loved – writing – are the basis for what I do on a daily basis. I make sure people understand things and deliver basic information. I believe that this foundation is the part of my job that motivates me the most.

3) Do you have any advice or guidance for others who seek to explore creative expression as a path toward health?

The great thing about being creative is nothing is right or wrong, it’s just you. Sometimes the process of how our minds turn something over and over just gets so exhausting … Stop the over-thinking and just do something creative that you enjoy. It will make you feel better no matter what your health issue might be.

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