Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Guest Post: Writing Heals

by Diana M. Raab

Diana is the type of person who does everything in a big way. She earned three degrees: an undergraduate degree in Health Administration and Journalism, an RN, and a MFA. She has three wonderful children despite high risk pregnancies. And she wrote eight books and won as many writing awards. Although she spent 25 years focusing on medical and self-help writing, she has also penned memoirs and poetry. Diana’s latest book, Healing With Words: A Writer's Cancer Journey, reflects her experiences battling breast cancer at age 47 and then multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer, when she was 52. The book is part practical advice(she is a nurse, after all) and part inspiration, which takes the form of poems, journal entries, and friendly thoughts. To show readers the effect of healing writing, Diana also includes blank sections and writing prompts so the reader can contribute their own thoughts and writings. Diana describes her daily journal writing as “a daily vitamin-healing, detoxifying and essential for optimal health.”

When life takes an unexpected turn, writing can be a beneficial form of release from stress, due to either emotional or physical factors. Writing gets you grounded and gives you a reality check. It brings you face-to-face with your own truths, and in the end, it is the truth which will set you free from pain.

From a physical standpoint studies have shown that therapeutic writing, such as journaling, can decease anxiety and the incidence of depression and can also increase your immune response.

Journaling has saved my life on many occasions. The first time was at the age of ten when my mother gave me a journal to help me cope with the loss of my grandmother. I poured my grief onto the pages of my journal. Writing then helped me navigate through a difficult adolescence and then years later, a high-risk pregnancy. Eventually that last journal evolved into a self-help book for other women also having difficult pregnancies. The book has recently been updated and is now called, Your High Risk Pregnancy: A Practical and Supportive Guide. And, my most recent book, a self-help memoir, Healing With Words is a self-help memoir which also began on the pages of my journal.

Many famous writers, such as May Sarton and Anaïs Nin used their journals to pull them through difficult times. In her book, Recovering, May Sarton chronicles her battles with depression and cancer. Anaïs Nin used her journals to write to her deranged father who left the family when she was young. In Nin’s case, her journal entries became a springboard for a four-volume collection of her diaries.

Writing provides an opportunity to vent both small and large issues, from problems with your boss to the death of a loved one. It takes a great deal of energy to be angry at someone; it’s much healthier to drop it, as one would a suitcase full of trash. If you must express your feelings, better to do so first on the pages of your journal. My attitude is: “Direct the rage to the page.” Then you can see about talking with someone you are angry with.

By writing down our fears and concerns it forces us to release them. Once we are able to let go, it’s easier to gravitate to the joys in life. In addition, the act of moving the pen across the page can be meditative. At an Associated Writing Conference a few years ago, Dr. James Pennebaker, the author of Writing to Heal said, “Writing dissolves some of the barriers between you and others. If you write, it’s easier to communicate with others.” He does have one rule that he calls, “the flip out rule,” which proclaims that if you get too upset when writing, then simply stop.
Pennebaker believes that there’s a certain type of writing which erupts when we’re faced with loss, death, abuse, depression and trauma.

Learning to open up about issues from your past and present lives doesn’t happen over night, but it’s all a part of the healing process. Author Louise DeSalvo, also advocates writing for healing, began writing her own memoirs, Vertigo and Breathless as a result of coming to grips with her own pain.

Whether you’re affected by change, loss or pain, finding the time to write is critical to your healing process. Some people prefer to journal about their experience, while others may lean toward fiction or poetry to help them escape their own realities. Whatever your choice, once you try it, you’ll see that writing, in any form, can be healthy and empowering.

Good reasons to keep a journal

To discover about yourself
To vent frustrations and express joy
To record and remember events
To fine one’s purpose
To plan for the future
To tap into your intuition
To build self-confidence
To allow self-expression
To uncover secrets
To improve communication skills
To improve mental health

10 Tips on Writing For Healing

Find a quiet uninterrupted time and place to write

Choose an inspiring notebook and pen

Create a centering ritual (light a candle, meditate, play music, stretch)

Breath deeply

Put aside your inner critic

Date your entry

Begin by writing your feelings and sensations

Write nonstop for 15-20 minutes

Save what you have written

Write regularly

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