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Unlocking the Joy of Creativity in Midlife with Meryl Cook

burnout creativity menopause midlife midlife women self-care self-compassion stress

One reason that midlife can be painted so poorly is that we often arrive here pretty burnt out. It makes sense though- for decades we’ve normalized caring for everyone else, except ourselves. But what if we took a minute to reframe this as an opportunity to rediscover that spark of joy and purpose? One way to do that is through creativity. Now, you don't need to turn your passion into a full-time career, but exploring your creative side is a fantastic means of reconnecting with your feelings and needs.



My guest on this episode-Meryl Cook is a healthcare provider turned cancer survivor and guide for helping others find healing through creativity and self-compassion. Meryl shares all about her incredible creative process that begins with journaling. Not just any journaling, though. It's a blend of writing, sketching, and flipping problems into moments of resolution. It's all about feeling the sensations in your body, especially joy. When we journal, we often focus on stress and anxiety, but how often do we explore those moments of pure pleasure and relaxation? Creativity can help you tap into those too. 

We also talk about one of the biggest gifts you receive as you wade into midlife: being able to ditch the need for other people's approval. It's liberating! You get to explore what truly brings you joy, whether it's art, cooking, or whatever makes your heart sing. That newfound freedom, coupled with your curiosity and playfulness, can open up a world of possibilities. 

And speaking of possibilities, Meryl is launching her webcast, "Renegade Conversations," featuring inspiring women who break barriers in midlife. This webcast will share stories to help you discover pockets of joy, even in the smallest moments, that can make all the difference. 

So, how do you tap into your own creativity during midlife? Let's chat about it, share your thoughts, and maybe even explore Meryl's creativity workbook: One Loop at a Time to kickstart your journey. 

To learn more about Meryl and her work, be sure to check out her website at, or follow her on Instagram @merylcook or on Linkedin @MerylACook.

Be sure to subscribe to Meryl's webcast: Renegade Conversations too! 


Jenn Salib Huber  0:00  

Hi, and welcome to the midlife feast, the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm your host, Dr. Jenn Salib Huber. I'm an intuitive eating dietitian and naturopathic doctor, and I help women manage menopause with old dieting and food rolls. Come to my table. Listen and learn from me. Trusted guest experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you. 

Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife. And if you're looking for more information about menopause, nutrition and intuitive eating, check out the midlife beasts community my monthly membership that combines my no nonsense approach that you all love to nutrition with community so that you can learn from me and others who can relate to the cheers and challenges of midlife.

Jenn Salib Huber  0:49  

Hi, everyone. Welcome to this week's episode of the midlife feast. I'm really excited to introduce you to Merrill Cook, and we're going to be talking about creativity and midlife. We have a really great conversation about the purpose that it serves and why it shows up in midlife, which is something that I've talked about directly and indirectly on the podcast before. and Maryland I actually know each other for many, many, many years ago, we used to work together when I was running a clinic in Dartmouth. 

And over the last few years, as you'll hear about in her story, you know, it's kind of transitioned from being in a kind of health care provider role into her own journey and recovery through breast cancer into discovering a new purpose and passion with rug cooking, which is one of her creative outlets when she was going through breast cancer, and now leading workshops and writing books, and most recently, a new creative outlet, which is a new webcast called renegade conversations. And so this idea of having these renegade conversations in midlife, really, really excited me and I was honored when 

Meryl asked me to be one of the first sponsors of her webcast. And so the webcast launches on Monday, October 16. She has a great guest lineup, which you can find out about and the link in my bio. And I really encourage you to listen to our conversation, obviously, but to listen to this idea of having these renegade conversations because I think that is the it is the anthem for midlife that we all need to have. So have a listen. I hope that you feel inspired to find and nurture that creative spark. And as always, let me know what you think. Welcome Meryl to the midlife feast. Thank

How Creativity Can Spark Joy and Reduce Burnout in Midlife

Meryl Cook  2:48  

you. It's so nice to be here. And so nice to see your face Jen after so long. So

Jenn Salib Huber  2:53  

I know, you know really has been so long. And we've actually known each other now for 1516 years, which is just crazy to think about the time that's gone by that so quickly. But what I'm really excited to talk about is not our friendship and how long we've known each other. But to talk about creativity in midlife menopause beyond. It's something that I really noticed through through my transition was this renewed interest need, you know, craving for creativity. And first I was attributing it to the fact that my kids were a little older, I wasn't so busy. But as I started to have conversations with, with other people in this age and stage seem to be this common thread that we had a really deep need desire, interest, want whatever you want to call it, for creativity. And you have always been, I think, a really creative person. But I think you have a lot to say about creativity.

Embracing Creative Expression in Midlife

Meryl Cook  3:56  

Well, it is kind of my thing for sure. Yeah. So creativity, I guess first of all, we should just say what it is. So creativity is really the ability to think outside the box and take action. Right. And and I think that midlife is a perfect time to start thinking outside the box and taking action because generally we're in some sort of transition, whether it's our health, whether we are changing careers, whether we've had a big illness. 

Often if we've had a family, our kids are getting to a stage where they don't need us so more or we're retiring or, you know, midlife is kind of a wide span of time, right? So, for me, creativity had always been a part of my life. But as I was raising my kids, and trying to get ahead of my career as a homeopath, I didn't spend as much time doing my creative process. And then for me, the way that I got into it was I had a health crisis in 2015 and I was 58 and I was diagnosed with breast

Meryl Cook  5:00  

Cancer. And the year before that, I had crashed my son's motorcycle on on a windy road. And it was totally my fault. But it was a real wake up call for me. And at that point, I decided that I would, I would close my practice as a homeopath, as you know, I've been had been a homeopath for 20 years, and because I knew that cancer was an illness at a really deep level, right. And so I, I knew that I needed to take the time and the space to really figure out how to move forward. And creativity came into to play in that I started to write in a journal, and I started to I'd already already been around hooker, but I decided I would hold space for myself, and hook every day who can write every day. And so that was so fabulous.

Meryl Cook  5:52  

I mean, I, I loved my patients, and I was sorry to leave but but in another way, it was incredibly freeing to just take this step and have no idea what I was going to do. And, and I think that creativity, because it involves thinking outside the box and doing something about it, in my case, creativity was creating this space for myself, where I could figure things out. And I think that's what having a creative practice can do it, it takes us out of our busy life.

Meryl Cook  6:23  

And even if it's for 10 minutes a day, you know, it takes you outside of that and you're doing something that isn't a should, you know, it isn't a duty, it isn't a responsibility, it's something you're doing for the the joy of it, right. And so, by engaging in my creative practice that gave me the space to base basically figure out how I wanted my life going forward. And for what what ended up happening for me is is, is that my journals became my first book. And my rugs became part of the book. And and that led to sort of teaching and, and talking to other people about creative journaling. And yeah, so it's one thing has kind of led to another. So I think that

Jenn Salib Huber  7:11  

it's been quite the over the last, you know, few years, like watching it evolve from the sidelines and just thinking like, wow, you know, that is, like, it feels like so much has happened, you know, through this process that it and at the same time, it feels like it's always been part of who you are. Like, as I was seeing this happening. I'm like, Oh, of course, this is marrow, right. Like, I've always thought of you as a creative person. But it was, it seemed like a completely different expression of your creativity really

Using Creativity to Reconnect with Yourself & Your Needs

Meryl Cook  7:40  

has been. And I think that that's where midlife comes into play here is that part of of being a woman in midlife is is feeling that I want to get back to who I am, who I really am, because I think as we're going through early adulthood, when we're maybe raising a family or building a career, we are doing a lot of things. Because we have responsibilities to other people. And we can easily lose sight of who we are as as a person and who maybe we were, before life got in the way, or people's expectations got in the way. 

So for me, my creative process is is very much tied to figuring out who I am as a person. And what does what makes my heart sing really is kind of where I would lead again. So for example, my rug hooking, before I started this process, my rug hooking would be about something I saw that I loved or, you know, just playing with color. And after I had my, my treatment, and I started hooking in this new way and journaling in this new way, I started making rugs that were about what do I need next? What do I need in my life? 

And so my art and my creativity became an expression of who do I really want to be? And what does that look like? And what does that feel like? And, you know, so it's it's really about connecting with your inner self really is how creativity can can really help. I mean, there's all creativity is great and sort of making things and but but when you make things with the intention of really expressing what's inside and finding what's inside. It has that whole other power, which is really exciting and fun.

Jenn Salib Huber  9:37  

So I'm going to speak for all of the type a people in the world I am declaring myself, the representative of my people. And one of the biggest challenges for me was that you know when I was in perimenopause, which was in my late 30s So on the early side I had, I was still very much in, you know, the productive years of my life and very much rolled up in productivity culture, in that my time needed to be spent doing something that was productive by objective measures for myself or for someone else. And of course, being in kind of, you know, one of the helping professions. 

Basically, all I did was give to others, right, I was giving to my patients, I was giving to the people that worked with me at the clinic, I was giving to my family, and any kind of thought of doing something creative. Felt frivolous, right? It kind of took on that, like, it's a hobby, it's a, it would be a nice thing to do. Like, it was very difficult for me to prioritize it in productivity culture as a type A person, because it felt like it served no purpose. And it's not, it wasn't tangible, right, because I can't, I can't paint I can't, you know, like, I can't even draw like a stick figure with that, that's worth hanging on a wall. 

So it wasn't like I had a natural born talent to make something that would be objectively beautiful. So that was, that was a really hard thing. But I just felt this like, really strong urge to just create something. And what I realized at some point in the last few years was that so much of that was fulfilled with food for me. So creating new recipes, and having the the process of like, what flavor do I want? What do I want to make? What do I want it to look like? How do I want it to feel, and just really being able to realize, like, that's my creative process is around food and making food. And once I could see that, it became meditative. 

So like, you know, there's a joke in my family that when I'm stressed, I'm either making soup, like it became this, you know, it became this process that was creative, but was also meditative. And because I'm a typing person, it served a purpose. And that also felt good and like, but I could really see the value in it. And so now I, I welcome opportunities to try on creativity, just for the sake of being creative, even if it's not, you know, fulfilling in that way. I'm sure that in your workshops and the conversations you have with people, you've heard of other people, please tell me.

Meryl Cook  12:27  

And I would say I was in that boat as well, you know, that, that I would never sit down to do my creative process until every everything else was done. You know, like, I'd have to have all my chores done, have all this stuff done. I, you know, if I had a patient that was worrying me, you know, I'd have to work on their case a little bit before. And so I found that I had very little time to do do my creative process. And, and I think, for me, getting so sick, made me wake up and say, hey, my health and my, what's important to me is, is to be well, and and and if if I just keep driving myself the way that I was, I wasn't going to get better. I mean, as a homeopath, and I'm sure as a naturopath, you saw the same that people would have health crises. And then they would pack themselves up as quickly as they could and get back to their same old shit. Right? 

And so, it just, I was determined that that wasn't going to happen to me. And so I think, in my workshops, I talk a lot about self compassion, and really thinking about, what what do I need in this situation? Because I think particularly as women, we're not used to thinking about what do I need? You know, it's, it's what does everybody else needed? If there's time left over, I'll look after myself, or, you know, that kind of thing. And so I realized pretty early on the creative process was something that I totally needed. You know, I feel so much better when I'm creating. So part of my, my work way, the way I'm working my work now is that I have to spend at least part of every day making, because making is what does it for me. 

And when I get really busy and I stopped making, that's when I start to fall apart, like I start to not do my best job when I'm facilitating it and things like that. So it's it's part of, I think, valuing yourself in midlife and saying, Okay, what do I need, you know, what do I need to really rock this next stage in my life?

Recognizing the Role of Emotional Hunger in Midlife

Jenn Salib Huber  14:30  

Well, in that question of like, what do I need that comes up in every conversation that I have with people about food, especially when we're talking about emotional hunger? You know, when people are experiencing a lot of strong cravings, you know, it really comes back to what needs aren't being met. Because in that moment of having emotional hunger and emotional eating, you it is practicing self care, because it is a need that you have to respond to. 

And when we can started to I think, flip the script and saying like, okay, what are the needs that I have and to maybe recognize that, like creativity, really is, is a need, we have a need to create, through process through practice through exploration through you know, play, and that, you know, what we get to may not be objectively anything, but there's still a process that is happening that is, you know, has huge value to how we feel.

Meryl Cook  15:28  

Absolutely. And I think that many, many people, by time they reach midlife are somewhat burnt out, I know I was, I was burnt out of caring for other people. And in my practice, even though I loved it. And so it is about finding that joy again. And that sense of purpose and creativity can give you that not that you're creative. Whatever you do, your cooking or my hooking has to become your career. But it starts to get you in touch with how you're feeling, right? And how what you need. And then that can help help with figuring out what to how to move forward. 

Journaling: Meryl’s Unique Approach to Discovering Creativity

So I'll say a little bit more about my creative process, because it really, yes, please, I think it's unique and, and it's something that I share it in all of my workshops, and my creative process begins with my journal. And it begins with writing in different ways than most people think of when they think of journaling. So my journal is filled with sketches. It's filled with, in the past, when I journaled as a as a teenager and a young woman, I would journal only in times of crisis, and I'd write out all the crap that was going on. And then it became not a very encouraging place to go to this journal. So one of the things that I do in my journaling is, is that I, I write out a little bit about what's going on, say it's a problem. 

Because I think it's not, it's important not to just push down anything, and I'm not a, I'm not a big only gratitude journal type of person, because I feel like you're kind of ignoring the elephant in the room if you're not not doing that. But anyway, that's my opinion. And, and so I write a little bit about the problem, but then I always flip it into in terms of, how would it feel if this was resolved? And how would my body feel? So we're really used to thinking about how does our body feel when we're stressed? or anxious? Like we, you know, I asked people where, you know, where do you feel your stress, and they know exactly where they feel it, but they don't always know, how does your body feel when you feel pleasure? 

Or when you feel relaxed or calm, you know, our joy? Where what does Joy feel like and look like in your life? And, and so that's part of my journaling is is that I, I write in my journal, big wild dreams, like, well, what if I could be interviewed by Sheila Rogers on the next chapter like that, that's been one of my while, for a long time, she's since retired. So you know, I have to find another way. I'm going to try to get her on my program. But anyhow, and then I then I also write about, what would it feel like if that came true?

And how would my body feels so it's about being present, really, and, and, and tapping into you know, if I had a wild dream, what would it feel like so with my creative process that begins with my journal, and then what happens is all of my rows begin with my journal. And I, I then take phrases from the journal and it informs my, my, my design process and, and so I actually take the words from the journal and write them around the edges of the mat. They become kind of like a meditation while I'm cooking.

And then when I finish it, they're there on the back of the of the mat. But so basically, it's about I think, creativity in midlife is about checking in with yourself, learning what it feels like to dream wildly to think about what's next, because it is a transition, and we're always our roles are changing. No matter who we are. 

We're changing in midlife, and there's always just wonderful opportunity to sort of try something new and try something different. I think that's one of the real bonuses of midlife is, you know, hopefully were somewhat settled in our life or our career or our family. And we can start to think about, Okay, what's next? And what do I want to do for the next 30 years? You know, that stuff? It's kind of fun and exciting. Once you get over the wall. I have to let go of a few things in order to do that. So yeah.

The Freedom to Stop Caring About Everyone Else’s Opinions 

Jenn Salib Huber  19:50  

I had a guest on the podcast a couple months ago, Kate Codrington. She's written a lovely book, and she really talks about menopause and perimenopause. As the seasons, and we're talking specifically about how it becomes very difficult to do the things that you don't want to do in menopause, which I think is one of the gifts of midlife, right? You know, and it's like this, this season, this this fall, and then the second spring comes up. 

And it's like, we've, you know, emerged from these reproductive years into this completely new land, essentially. And the opportunity to be creative in that new place. And space is limitless, you know, think of all of the people that we know, who have had, who have followed that creative, you know, inclination, that inkling of creativity, and it has turned into an opportunity that has become incredibly fulfilling for them in their second season of life, you know, I really, really think that we need to encourage women and to give women the opportunity to listen to that, you know, to listen and act on. Yes, you do have this this desire, and it's coming from a really, you know, curious place, like follow, 

Meryl Cook  21:16  

think something just you're talking about is so true. It's this curiosity and this sense of play, that maybe we had as kids that we kind of forgot about for a decade, or two or three. And so it's an opportunity to play creativity can just by using our curiosity, we can find things that are creative to do. Yeah, it's wonderful.

Jenn Salib Huber  21:43  

And also, because we shed so much of our self consciousness, you know, when we no longer really have any fucks to give about other people's opinions, right? And so if I want to do it, and I enjoy it,

Meryl Cook  21:57  

I don't need anybody else's approval to to take the time to do what I want to do.

Jenn Salib Huber  22:02  

I don't need anyone's approval. I don't need anyone's, you know, endorsement. It is purely driven by like, do I want it? Do I enjoy it? And can I do it. And when you pair that with opportunity for creativity, I think it just opens so many doors. It's amazing.

Meryl Cook  22:20  

I do too, and I don't have them all at the tip of my head. But there are many, many people, particularly women who have gone on to do amazing things in their 50s and 60s. And, you know, I when I was a young mom, one of my friends mothers had gone back to school to art school when they were all teenagers. 

And so she was my hero, you know, and she's, she's now I think, close to 80. And, you know, she's not making art anymore. But she's just one of these people that she just blossomed at. She would have probably been late 40s When she went back to university, and became this amazing artist. So.

Renegade Conversations: A New Webcast for Women in Midlife

Jenn Salib Huber  23:03  

So you've been you've been rug hooking and writing books and doing all these, you know, workshops and things like that. But you have a new creative outlet that is just about to be born. So What's all that about?

Meryl Cook  23:18  

Well, I mean, speaking of heroes and mentors, I've I'm starting a webcast this fall called renegade conversations. I realized when I was speaking with my creative space, creating space, some membership community, anytime I mentioned the word Renegade, everybody's faces lit up, and, and we were all pretty excited about it. So I decided that that I would start a webcast and interview women who were really kind of breaking barriers as midlife women, women who were standing up for our right to age and to do the work we love. And to let her hair go gray if we want to or not, right. 

And so, I have this webcast that I'm starting this fall. And Jen is one of my sponsors, which is really exciting. But my first guest is Lisa Laflamme, who is a really well known media personality in Canada. And she became kind of even more well known by she let her hair go white during the pandemic, and she has beautiful silver, silver gray hair. And it's it's really not common for women in the media to do this. So anyway, she and I struck up a little bit of a conversation because I was doing a series of rugs called out to Lisa Laflamme that were women with gray hair and lots of attitude. And I ended up making her a custom piece for her and then she agreed to be my first guest. So she's my first guest.

And then I have Martha Chavez, who's a comedian in Canada who As she says she broke the she decolonize, the Canadian comedy stand up community on her own. So she's she's a Latin American woman who is very much an advocate for feminists and feminist feminism, and, and also for LGBTQ rights. And so she's, she's fabulous, she's so funny. And I have one other guests lined up that I think is, is going to be really exciting. So the best part is doing this, I've had so much fun, because it's a chance for me to connect with people that I really admire, and to share them with other people. And hopefully that will inspire other people who maybe are on the fence about becoming a renegade, that might inspire them to take some steps towards, you know, becoming their own inner world. So

Meryl’s Missing Ingredient in Midlife

Jenn Salib Huber  25:52  

I love it, I'm really looking forward to and I'm really honored to be, you know, supporting you in this way. Because of course, renegade conversations around diets and diet culture, you know, are my jam. And so I think that, I think that there's a lot in common. So I always ask my guests, what do you think is the missing ingredient in midlife?

Meryl Cook  26:15  

For me, the missing ingredient was joy. And once I started to look for moments of joy, the I, the practice I teach in my, my workshops is joy doesn't have to be a huge state that you can look around and say, okay, that gives me joy. You know, maybe it's a flower, or a bird on the harbor when you're walking. And then think about how does your body feel when you feel that moment of joy so, so Joy, I think that since I started this process, since I finished my treatment, and sort of changed my life, I've never felt so much joy in my life. So I think that ingredient is very attainable. For us all to feel, even if it's moments of joy, during a difficult time. It's it's very, it's

Jenn Salib Huber  27:03  

why I love food joy, right? You know, food is a regular source of pleasure that we all have access to. We just have to welcome a pleasurable relationship with food into our life. Amazing, so.

Meryl Cook  27:18  

And food comes with so many things, too. You know, you get to share with your friends and people you love that. Yeah, it's a wonderful.

Jenn Salib Huber  27:26  

So we will have all of the links in the show notes for people. Is there anything in particular that you wanted to share as a resource for people if they're interested in exploring creativity?

Meryl Cook  27:38  

Yes, I have. A sampler of my workbook I have my second book is called one loop at a time, the creativity workbook, and in there, I give people a chance to get started in in creative journaling and sort of how to open up your life. So what I've done is I've put together a sampler of this book, so that you can really get a feel for it. And actually, there's a few exercises in there that you can that people can use. So that will be available for 

Jenn Salib Huber  28:04  

your thank you so much Meryl I know that this is going to be an episode that sparked lots of discussion, and I can't wait to see how these renegade conversations on your end start to take shape as well. Thanks for joining me.

Meryl Cook  28:19  

Thank you so much. Oh, thank you, Jen.

Jenn Salib Huber  28:23  

Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of the midlife beast. For more non diet health hormone and general midlife support. Click the link in the show notes to learn how you can work and learn from me. And if you enjoyed this episode and found it helpful, please consider leaving a review or subscribing because it helps other women just like you find us and feel supported in midlife.


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