Suleika Jaouad Transforming Self-Determination Into Creative Solitude: Life Kit: NPR

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Suleika Jaouad Transforming Self-Determination Into Creative Solitude: Life Kit: NPR

Suleika Jaouad is a journalist, author and the founder of The Isolation Journals community, and she’s all too familiar with the “in-between” space.

“It was one of those moments that creates an irreparable fracture in your life. There’s the person and the life you had before and everything that comes after,” Jaouad writes of the moment of her diagnosis in her memoir Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir Of A Life Interrupted.

Left: Beowulf Sheehan; Right: Random House

Suleika Jaouad is a journalist, speaker and the author of Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir Of A Life Interrupted. She is also the founder of The Isolation Journals.

Story Highlights

  • It makes sense. We can’t go back to the lives we had before the coronavirus pandemic, but what lies ahead is murky. Many of us feel frozen, caught in a holding pattern — in the liminal space between what was and what will be.

  • At 22, shortly after graduating college, she was diagnosed with leukemia. All of her big plans were put on indefinite hold.

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Left: Beowulf Sheehan; Right: Random House She spent four years going through treatment, much of it in physical isolation because of her weakened immune system. She was told she had a 35% chance of long-term survival.

Today, as a cancer survivor and fellow human enduring the pandemic, she’s dedicated her career to covering those living through interruptions. She spoke with Life Kit about living in limbo, coping with isolation and the power of creative resilience. How journaling can help you regain narrative control

During those four years of facing fear, uncertainty and loneliness, Jaouad developed tools to keep herself afloat, but they didn’t come instantly. “I really struggled to figure out how to stay grounded and anchored within that fear and that sense of all-consuming uncertainty,” she says. “I couldn’t work a 9 to 5 job at a time when most of my friends were starting their careers for the first time. I couldn’t do any of my old hobbies. I couldn’t even leave my hospital room.”

It worked. “Journaling became the place that I was able to find a sense of narrative control at a time when I had to cede so much control to others. It became the place where I began to interrogate my predicament and to try to excavate some meaning from it.” The difference between silver linings and “survival as a creative act”

Jaouad decided to return to something she’s done since she was a kid: journaling. What saved her: a 100-day project, which she took on alongside friends and family. They each chose a creative activity to do every day for 100 days. Jaouad’s mom, an artist, painted a ceramic tile each day, assembling them as a shield over her daughter’s bed.