There’s A Reason Hard Moments Push You Towards Creativity

Vivian Nunez
4 min readFeb 11, 2021

Psychologist Dorothy P. Holinger explains the connection

The bright green cover of Dorothy P. Holinger’s book stared at me as soon as I walked into Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. Through COVID, the only outing I afford myself is to stop by my local bookstore once every few weeks. The Anatomy of Grief hadn’t been on my radar, but one look at the cover and title made me beeline right to it.

The inside cover promises that “Holinger describes what happens in the brain, the heart, and the body of the bereaved.”

I was intrigued.

Over the last 18 years living with grief, I’ve read all the books and heard all the stories. I find immense comfort in knowing I’m not alone in missing my people, but rarely, if ever, do I learn something new about what grief literally does to me.

Once home, I dived in headfirst. Did you know that iguanas stand vigil besides the body of their iguana friend after they’ve passed? I sure didn’t. According to Holinger, grief isn’t only a human experience, it transcends species.

What makes human grief, well, human is what happens after the fact. There’s a time when our bodies, hearts, and particularly our brains are clued in that something is different, which is what changes everything. As Holinger writes, “as grief unfolds in the ensuing months, the brain will develop new neuronal connections — creating the new patterns, the new habits, of a life that is happening without the missing loved one.”

When we hold this fact as our truth it’s easier then to make the connection between the primal changes that happen to us internally when we grieve and the external ways we choose to have our grief manifest.

“Death for the dying ends a life,” writes Holinger. “Death for the bereaved begins a new life — without the loved one.”

For some that new life and new relationship with grief manifests as artwork.

Holinger points to Freud and his explanation of the primary and secondary processes to start describing why we trip into creativity when living through hard moments. For context, we can think of primary process as our internal knee-jerk impulse to create something out of nothing, while…

Vivian Nunez

Your creativity + mental wellness accountability partner.