I had the fortunate opportunity to interview artist, writer, therapist and personal coach Carol K. Walsh about the launch of her new memoir ~ Painting Life: My Creative Journey Through Trauma. Welcome Carol!
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your new book, Painting Life: My Creative Journey Through Trauma.
The title, Painting Life reflects my life philosophy. I believe that our lives are our most important creation. Each role in my life, as a wife, mother, artist, author and psychotherapist, requires creative thinking and action. The choices I make in every area of life need to reflect who I am, as well as echo my broader vision.
When I wrote Painting Life I wanted to show how I used that philosophy in healing from my personal trauma, with the hope that I would help others. I was once asked if this book had a happy ending. Yes it does. I am happily married and have two lovely daughters and four grandchildren
What was the inspiration behind Painting Life: My Creative Journey Through Trauma?
My inspiration came from two different areas of my life. The first was retrospective. When I was in my mid-forties and engaged to be married, my fiancé died in a nanosecond three months before our wedding. How I dealt with that trauma – both in the moment of his death and during the aftermath — has never left my mind. In writing this memoir I understood more clearly how I was able to not only survive, but thrive. Writing Painting Life felt like putting a period at the end of that sentence.
The second source of inspiration was my work with clients. I noted that clients, who utilized creative thinking and action in their daily lives, were more successful in achieving and then maintaining their mental health.
Will you describe the storyline?
My memoir takes place over during the first 50 years of my life and begins when I discovered that my mother handwrote on my birth certificate that I was male. That was a symbolic beginning of a tumultuous relationship. Mother and I had totally opposite temperaments and for this I am now grateful because it forced me to forge my own path. When I was three years old my father left to serve in WWII, and in order to emotionally survive losing him along with my mother’s temperament, I used creative expression. I have continued to develop creative skills throughout my life, which has brought some rewarding successes.
The driving force of my memoir is my fiancé’s traumatic death and how I used creativity to survive the grief and post-trauma symptoms. The last section of the book describes how I met Bob, and the synchronistic and mystical occurrences that happened during our two years together. Even though it sounds trite, it was such an amazing experience, it felt as though powerful source of Energy, beyond our understanding, had intervened.
How are you defining trauma?
Trauma occurs when we have a life-altering experience forcing us to make major changes in our selves, our circumstances and our vision of the future. Often people don’t realize that trauma can be caused by many things including: accidents, incapacitating illness, death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. The older we are, the more common it is for us to have experienced, not just one, but multiple occurrences. According to The National Center for PTSD, 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one traumatic event during their lifetime.
What did you learn from your traumatic experience and your journey afterwards?
Each phase of my recovery from Bob’s death was a growth experience, during which I learned something new. After the first year anniversary of his death, I learned I could survive a tragic experience and yet rebuild my life. Even though my life would be forever different, I was still me.
After the second or third year, I realized how important it was for me to have a healthy, intimate relationship, so I began searching. Once I met my current husband, Tom, I was determined to bring into my new relationship the skills I had learned from my relationship with Bob.
Now, after writing Painting Life, I developed an even broader understanding of the process I went through to survive and then heal — all influenced by thinking and acting creatively. As I reviewed my creative process, I realized that being creative takes a tremendous amount of energy and that creative energy has many different phases. Ultimately I delineated five steps in this process: Curiosity, Courage, Commitment, Consistency, and Completion.
How does creativity help mend wounds?
When we are wounded emotionally, physically and/or spiritually, it throws us off-center. Much of life, as we have known it, disappears – including losing a connection to our core Self. We feel out of balance, resulting in a feeling of (what I call) being “homesick for the Self.” Creativity helps us find our Self, and in turn regain our balance.
On the surface much about me and my life changed after Bob’s death, but the essence of who I am has not. By using the creative process, I was able to keep in touch with my core Self, and make healthy choices for my new future.
Your title indicates that you are on a creative journey. Can you talk about what that means?
All of life is a creative journey. We age, our life-circumstances change, and we experience ecstatic times, as well as difficult times and traumas. By utilizing the creative process, we can navigate these changes by making healthy choices. We always have choices, except about death.
You seem to use creativity in all aspects of your life. How did you learn the value of creativity?
When I was about three years old my mother would put a sheet over a card table and I would crawl under it with crayons and paper and make colorful marks. The action of making marks on paper was soothing and made me feel safe, and peaceful. It became the perfect defense mechanism against my very controlling and intrusive mother, who was happy when I was occupied with my artwork, because it kept me out from under her feet. My love of drawing stayed with me throughout my life, and I eventually received a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University. I have continued to pursue artistic expression throughout my life.
What would you say to parents about raising children to be creative?
All children are innately creative, and yet they tend to lose their creativity as they get older. According to the World Economic Forum, by the time my grandchildren reach the job market, creativity will be the third most important required job skill.
I wish all parents would encourage their children to regularly engage in some form of creativity. We’ve all heard it said, there is far too much screen time, which numbs the brain and stifles creativity.
How do you express your creativity now?
Most important to me is expressing my creativity by how I live my life and the choices I make. I also use my creativity in different art-forms. Historically I’ve used many different mediums, but currently I am working on mixed-media large drawings, and artistic photography. I have a large studio on the top floor of our townhouse where I spend at least four hours, beginning every morning of the week in my studio.
What does your average work/creative day look like, how do you manage to find a balance?
Because creative expression is so important to me, I always make sure I have studio space. Once I had children, I worked in my studio while they were in school and was present for them when they came home. In my mid-forties I needed a way to earn money, so I went to graduate school to get an MSW degree (master’s in social work) to become a therapist in private practice. To do that I had to close up my rented studio, but I made a commitment to myself that after I graduated I would open up another studio and work part time as a therapist, part time as an artist and still leave quality time for my children and home. I am fortunate that my career choices have allowed me to do this.
I begin each day by exercising for a half hour, to gets my creative juices flowing. I enter my studio around 9 o’clock, take a break until about 11 o’clock, and go back to work for another two hours. By that time I am creatively spent, yet emotionally energized.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a creative and how do you overcome them?
Two things come to mind. First, I am a strong introvert, so letting people see my work is hard for me, because I feel exposed and vulnerable. Writing and publishing Painting Life is a huge emotional risk for me. Second, I fight that inner critic. Not only do I try to keep that critical voice out of my head, but I try not to worry about why I am creating something. Sometimes I just wonder if making art is a meaningless activity. Ultimately I decide it is not.
What message do you hope your readers walk away with after reading your book?
I would love them to believe that with creative thought and action, there is always hope. No matter what the circumstances, it is possible to make choices that will help you feel connected to your inner Self, and empowered. If I was successful in re-creating my future, anyone can be.
Can you tell us what is coming up for you and where can we find you online?
The biggest event is my book launch party on December 2nd, at the Writers Center in Bethesda, Maryland and I am in the process of scheduling other book signings. Beyond that I am continuously blogging, and writing articles about the power of creativity. I am also on Twitter @carolkwalsh, and Facebook as Carol K. Walsh. Now that Painting Life is out, I am looking forward to spending more time with my artwork. To see some of my art and to read my blogs, check out www.ckwalsh.com
About Carol K. Walsh:
Carol Walsh’s life was turned upside down in seconds when she pulled her dead fiancé from the bottom of a diving well, after he had a sudden, massive heart attack. Even though she was a psychotherapist working with clients suffering from trauma, this personal shock felt unbearable. Nonetheless, she had to heal herself while working with clients and, as a single mother, supporting her two children. Using the creative interests she developed during childhood while emotionally saving herself from a difficult mother, she fully recovered from her grief and PTSD symptoms. More importantly Carol thrived by recreating her personal, artistic, and professional life.
Carol Walsh graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a BFA. As a serious artist she wrote and illustrated a hard cover book for fiber artists, Design for Weaving, published by Hastings House of New York and reprinted in paperback by Interweave Press. Carol was a part of numerous exhibits, won international prizes and lectured nationally.
Later Carol graduated from Catholic University of America with an MSW and opened a private practice, where she has worked for thirty-two years. As a therapist she wrote and self-published The Art of Awakening Spirit. In addition, she wrote and illustrated forty, 3000-4000 word articles for Pathways a Washington D.C, metropolitan publication and subsequently consolidated her articles into a paperback book, Break Through: Coping Skills for Chaotic Times.
Carol lives in Maryland where she has a large studio. She has been happily married for 22 years and is the proud mother of two daughters and four grandchildren.
Find Carol’s books on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Carol-K.-Walsh/e/B01D1PI16U