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Morgan Harper Nichols and Jamie Grace on Using Creativity to Stay Mentally Healthy

Morgan Harper Nichols and Jamie Grace on Using Creativity to Stay Mentally Healthy

Everyone’s mental health journey looks different. Talking with a therapist is some people’s version of self-care, while others need regular moments of quiet bliss. Some even turn to creative outlets to help process their journey, like artists Morgan Harper Nichols and Jamie Grace.

Jamie is a two-time Grammy nominated singer, songwriter and actress. Diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, OCD, ADHD and anxiety at a young age, Jamie advocates for joy, wellness and mental health through the lens of music, film and faith. Her sister, Morgan, is an artist and poet whose work is inspired by real life interactions and stories.

This article is part of our new series, sponsored by Unite Health Share Ministries.

The creative sisters recently spoke with Brittney Moses, a mental health advocate and speaker whose goal is to partner the Church with public health for youth and young adults, about how they rely on creative outlets to process life and how to not get burned out as a creative artist.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Brittney Moses: How has the art of music, writing, creativity played a role in your mental health journey?

Jamie Grace: For me, it’s essential. We’re a musical family — you know Morgan and I are sisters — and growing up, music was always a part of our lives, but the drums became very important to my physical health when I was like 13 years old because I had Tourette syndrome. Well, I have Tourette syndrome. My ticks were really bad and so playing the drums was just essential for me. But now, I literally consider it just as important as going to therapy. Whether it’s listening to music or singing a song or drawing right after therapy once I get home, art and creative expression is so crucial to my mental wellbeing. So I’m really grateful that I have it.

Morgan Harper Nichols: I feel the same exact way. I’ve found that for me Jamie, we both go to therapy and we’re very open about that. And I know for me, going to therapy is just like a way of letting it all out. It’s not even always a matter of like, “okay, we need to walk away with a point A point B solution.” It’s just a safe space to let out whatever is on the inside. And kind of similar to what Jamie was saying is art is similar to that. Especially, if you could allow yourself to detach from “I need to make a hit song” or “I need to make the most beautiful masterpiece ever.” If you could just allow yourself to just let loose, like a little kid would and just move to the music however you want to or play the instrument however you want to, draw some doodles, even if you’re not good at drawing.

That’s a part of my life every single day. I was literally doodling right before this. So yeah, it really does help me regulate. Art and music is a huge part of my mental health journey.

I love everything that you’re saying so much because especially with social media and being content creators or what have you, you constantly feel this need to create for a product, to create for a result, for an outcome. And this idea of having a space in your life that is for creativity, for expression, and not just to have a certain outcome with other people, I think is incredibly freeing and definitely therapeutic. Another common part of creativity or just hard work in general is kind of this slippery slope of burnout. As someone who is producing a lot of content for both of you and art and continuously pouring out to others, also in such a genuine and wholehearted way, what helps you stay grounded and prevent burnout so you can continue the flow of what you’re doing?

MHN: That’s such a good question. It’s interesting because there’s a part of myself that I didn’t embrace for the longest time and now I’m starting to embrace. And that is the fact that… I used to think, I’m like, am I lazy? But I actually found that I’m a pretty low energy person and there’s actually some medical reasons as to why I’m like that too. And I’ve learned how to use that as my advantage when it comes to engaging on the internet and sharing online and making art and producing things. It’s like when I’m tired, I just stop. If I wake up in the morning and I’ve got nothing then that day it’s going to be a repost, if it’s a repost. So I feel like that’s actually become a strength of mine.

That’s something I actively work to cultivate is pushing against that myth of like you’ve always got to be producing and making something new. So yeah, one practical thing is like I literally took all social media off my phone and only had it on my iPad for about six months. And I just put it back on and it’s probably about to go off again because it’s just a lot. I think it’s important to do practical things that actually make you remove yourself from it sometimes. Because if not, it’s just going to keep… All the different notifications and different invitations to do things and make things like it’s never going to stop. Just getting really clear about, yeah, I just don’t have the energy for that. I don’t have time for that or I just don’t feel like doing it. That’s a part of me that I’m learning how to embrace and that’s totally okay. And I don’t have to have any shame in that.

JG: On that note of just like absolute practicality — for me, it’s a lot less of social media and more just digital communication as a whole. I used to feel so guilty when people would text me back or text me and then I didn’t respond for a long time. And then they’d be like, oh, well you take forever to text back or is it because you’re on tour? Like all this stuff. I started telling people only in the last like year and a half, I don’t like texting. I don’t. And a lot of times, it used to make me feel like, oh my gosh, I’m not a good millennial.

Like I’m not… But what context? Where does it say… We’re going to go there. Where does it say in the Bible, “thou must text your friends back within 48 hours or you have to apologize?” And so I just try telling people, “hey, if you want me, if you need me, my front porch is always open.” I’ve probably given away my address to people that don’t need to have it. I’m like, if you’re on my front porch, you will get all of my attention. But my phone, it’s not a safe place for me because I’ll go to text you and I’ll end up writing a plan for a private school that I want to start next year. That I’m never going to start, but I have ADHD and I’ve convinced myself, I need to start a private school.

That’s been a huge boundary for me to prevent burnout is just asking “what is something that overwhelms me? Oh, communicating with people through a device that I pay too much for.” So I’m going to start being honest with people and being like, I can’t do it, bro. But if I see you in Target, I will talk to you for 40 minutes.

MHN: That’s very true. I actually made a new friend not too long ago and that was a very first time I let her know right away. I was like, “Hey, just so you know, texting is just not a strength of mine and it takes me much longer than some other people to respond.” And there’s so much freedom in that. Some people may feel that way about phone calls or emails or whatever it is and say, “yeah, it just takes me longer to work with that.” And yeah, it can feel awkward, but there at the same time, there’s just so much freedom in learning how to just put that out there.

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