Creativity and the Gut-Brain Axis

When I was 20 years old, I wrote a “Today-I-failed-at” column on the Huffington Post. The goal was to destigmatize failure and to turn it into a learning experience. Before this endeavour, I had tried and failed again and again, to find my passion in life. I had a degree in marketing and zero ideas […]

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When I was 20 years old, I wrote a “Today-I-failed-at” column on the Huffington Post. The goal was to destigmatize failure and to turn it into a learning experience. Before this endeavour, I had tried and failed again and again, to find my passion in life. I had a degree in marketing and zero ideas as to where I wanted to go next. 

Through the interaction with readers, I realised that a career in Psychology could be one way to go and so I re-specialised through a graduate program. During my first year in that program I was working as a fashion model to pay for school and because I felt underestimated by my surroundings regarding my intellectual abilities, I decided to set the highest goal I could think of in my field, and apply for PhDs in New York. 

After getting in, I was on a road trip in Amsterdam with my twin brother, suffered intense joint pain and eventually figured out I have celiac disease (an autoimmune triggered by gluten consumption) along with heavy intolerances. Soon after the diagnosis, I cut out gluten, lactose and soy from my diet and noticed a radical shift in my energy levels (after a full decade of intense fatigue). 

Because of my energy upsurge, I decided to look into how diet affects fatigue in relation to psychological disorders that have this as a symptom, including depression and anxiety. I completed a nutritional psychology certification and didn’t know what to do next. 

After covid hit, I was stuck in Greece and needed to find a clinical placement there. Driven by my interest in nutritional psychiatry I was googling ideas and found that neurodegenerative disorders where also linked to gut-health. I emailed a few training directors and got two neuropsychology placements and a spot on a neuroendocrinological research team. 

When it was time to apply for next year’s placements, I decided to keep on going with my interest in gut-brain health, and I got six interviews total, in highly ranked hospitals in New York and Boston. During the interviews and stressed as I was about what was to come, I partook in a creativity workshop ran by Elizabeth Gilbert through an organisation in the Netherlands. 

Gilbert said that creativity doesn’t knock on your door loudly but it approaches you with a whisper, saying “pssst…. psssst…. will you be my mother? will you be my father, and so on”. She also said that one shouldn’t approach life saying that “ugh, I have to do this”, but that they should rather say “I get to do this”. 

Gilbert inspired me to have fun with my gut-brain interest, and to remember why I was going through these intense interviews and training. Just a year before, I had published my first fiction book in Greek, that was quite serious- a little too serious for my current energy levels, but that was still a start. Although inclined to write, I had been avoiding it because I was afraid that anything I’d try would be a repetition of my previously-published tone, that now felt a bit foreign if that makes sense. 

I had also never written a lot in english (my native language is Greek), although I had been writing for english online magazines for over 5 years now. I thought that a different language that the one I’m familiar with could help with the switch in tone that I was hoping for, but then I ended up looking at a blank word document with zero clues as to what I wanted to write about. 

And then this “psssst” happened, and I had one phrase. “Brain’s got the s***s again”. Tired as I was to begin writing a book, I started putting jokes on paper, along with my accumulated knowledge on gut-brain health. After all, it is a very fruitful topic to joke about. A few hours later I had a bunch of pages that I was about to delete as soon as I reopened my laptop the next morning.

The next morning came, and stressed as I was about my “serious” interviews, that thankfully got me two placements at Yale and Harvard for next year (one neuropsych and one as part of a brain-health related clinical and research team), I decided to keep on going with the jokes-and-facts concoction. A couple chapters later, I decided to send it to publishers and then delete it from my laptop and never think of it again. Two days ago I got a publication contract. 

If it is not clear from this storyline, most of my early adulthood was spent in fretful search of my life’s mission and/or passion and that failed miserably. When I then gave up and started following one pssst after another, life showed me the way. I got a lot of texts from friends and people I know, asking about how I have time for clinical training and creative writing and what I keep telling them (because I still have part of that HuffPost life-coaching blogger in me :)), is that I keep throwing spaghetti on the wall and wait to see what sticks. 

My one and only skill is creative thinking. That’s the only label I feel comfortable with, the only title I try to hold onto. As a friend of mine keeps on saying “there is not proof that life is serious”. If you hear a psssst, just go for it. I spent years and years trying to unlock doors and opportunities for myself, thinking that once I get into these coveted spaces, I would become a full, serious adult, and I would stop throwing spaghetti on the wall. Now that I’ve opened a few doors for myself I can say with certainty: life’s in the spaghetti throwing. Yes, I wholeheartedly believe in my gut-brain work and I am fully committed to my clinical training and to learning as much about brain and gut health as I can. At the same time, I acknowledge that without creativity and without continuously throwing spaghetti on the wall after the “pssssts”, no progress would be achieved. 

Fear wants you to go to one place only and that is nowhere. Keep throwing the spaghetti. No matter your field. 

Instagram: @daphnespyropoulos

Email: [email protected]

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