Health and Wellness: Express Your Feelings
Find therapeutic benefits, enjoyment, and even profit through writing!
By Maryann B. Hunsberger
I started journaling before the term was even coined. In those days, I called it writing in a diary. My diary wasn’t a floral fabric covered hardback empty book that was purchased in a greeting card store. It was a marble composition book, a spiral notebook, a stenography pad, or any other type of bound paper that I could write on. My early diaries were written with the kind of pen we used at school back then: a fountain pen (the kind that contained an ink cartridge, not the kind that Ben Franklin dipped into an inkwell). That reveals two things about me: (1) I’m too old for high school, but younger than Betsy Ross; and (2) I’ve been writing for a really long time.
I wrote in my diary every day from the time I was 8 years old, whether I was happy or sad. As a child, I wrote when my grandmother died, when math stumped me, and when my favorite singer (Davy Jones) married someone other than me. As an adult, I wrote when I met my husband, when we bought a house, and when we had children. Journaling was more than a hobby. Opening that book and pouring out my deepest feelings became a habit that bolstered my spirit through even the roughest times. When I became disabled, my diary was one of the first sources of comfort that I turned to.
For people with physical disabilities, including MS, it’s tough to deal with such potential issues as losing mobility and skills, possibly giving up a career, and perhaps even losing friends or romantic partners. Sometimes, people with MS find it tough to talk about the way their symptoms affect their lives. A journal can be the sanctuary that people with MS need – no matter what a person admits to his or her journal, the journal won’t respond with pat answers or be judgmental. Journaling often helps people to clarify their jumbled thoughts, and in the process, allows them to understand their feelings. Often, writing about one’s feelings can be enough to make one realize that everything isn’t as bleak as it seems.
Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology and a founder of social cognitive neuroscience states, “This is ancient wisdom. Putting our feelings into words helps us heal better.” According to MedicineWeb (at www.medicineweb.com), writing our thoughts and feelings to further psychological healing and personal growth is known as “therapeutic writing.” They list five benefits of such writing:
- Better coping with stress
- Reduced physical symptoms of certain diseases
- Fostering self-awareness
- Reducing anxiety
- Developing self-esteem
People often want to know how to get started with journaling. These ideas might be helpful:
Write every day so it will become a habit.
Start with ten minutes each day. If you’re not ready to write about your feelings, write about how your day went or how you hope the day will go.Write about your job, your significant other, your children, your landlord, your mother-in-law, your current symptoms, or whatever comes to mind. Can’t move your left leg? Write about it. Feeling drained after being in the sun? Jot it down. Have a special prayer request? Record it in your journal. Eventually, you’ll be able to write about the fear or anger your symptoms cause and which parts of your life you’d like to change.
Don’t worry about laughing or crying while you write, since expressing emotions is therapeutic.Whether you’re feeling silly, angry, or worrisome, it’s okay to let those feelings show in your writing.
Don’t worry about how your words sound – journaling is meant to help express feelings, not to be graded by an English professor. If fear about inadequate grammar is holding you back, turn to online dictionaries and the grammar checkers in wordprocessing software.
Choose your favorite pen and write with flair! Journal writers can forget about the fountain pens I once used. If you prefer to write by hand, a wide assortment of pens and markers are available, including colored and/or scented gel pens and calligraphy markers.
Paper or plastic is your next choice! Today’s journal keepers can choose from writing in plain composition books, decorative fabric-lined empty books, or on a computer screen. For people with MS who have difficulty with hand skills, it’s often easier to type than to write by hand. Easier yet is using voice-to-text recognition software, such as “Dragon Naturally Speaking.” Use whichever method is the easiest and most affordable for you!
If you like poetry, try your hand at writing some poems in your journal. You can find lots of tips on writing poetry at www.creative-writing-now.com. It’s up to you whether you want your poems to rhyme. Online rhyming dictionaries, such as the one at Rhyme Zone, www.rhymezone.com, can be helpful. Merriam-Webster’s Rhyming Dictionary can be purchased at www.amazon.com or at your local bookstore.
Try writing personal essays to focus on a particular circumstance that you want to expound on. Begin by making an outline with an opening statement that briefly summarizes your main ideas and your point of view. State three points of interest without explaining them. Write a closing statement by rephrasing your introduction. Then, go back and fill in each main point. Let your feelings flow as you write and don’t think about grammar until you’re finished.
Fatigue is a common symptom of MS, so you might not always have the energy to write all of the time. On those days, the most you might be able to write is, “I’m too tired to write.” That’s okay. Just write that sentence, but don’t let your illness stop you altogether.
Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit and Unbroken, has dealt with debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome since 1987. She typed Seabiscuit with her laptop perched on a stack of books when too dizzy to look down. When too weak from her illness to sit up, she typed lying in bed. Hillenbrand was homebound and largely bedridden for two years while writing Unbroken as she dealt with overwhelming exhaustion, weakness, muscle and joint pain, memory problems, and vertigo.
Knowing Hillenbrand’s background makes it possible to see her own struggle in the stories she writes about other people who face obstacles. Not everyone with a disability will write bestselling novels, but everyone who wants to write can use writing as a way to get through the hardest parts of having a disability.
People who journal sometimes want to learn more about the craft. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White and The Associated Press Stylebook are great reference books to purchase. An online writing class, or one at the local college, can also help expand writing knowledge.
Some journal keepers might want others to see their writing. A search for “free blogs” brings up several sites where journal writers can share their thoughts with others through online blogs. (The term “blog” can be used as a noun or a verb, but in general, refers to a website typically containing brief blurbs with comments and personal opinions from one or more individuals.) Another way to showcase your blossoming writing skills is through penning letters to editors of local newspapers.
When you feel strongly about a particular topic or an article in the newspaper, pen a letter to the editor. If you do this once a month, people will begin to recognize your name. Clip and save each of your published letters.
To develop more published pieces, volunteer to compose newsletters for your church, your child’s Scout troop, or your classic-car club. Scan and send copies of your published letters and newsletters to your favorite online sites with ideas for articles you’d like to write. Sites such as www.about.com offer information about a vast variety of topics and allow aspiring writers to become recognized lay experts in the areas they choose to write about. Print and save any articles that you publish online. Soon, you will have a fulfilling hobby that helps you express yourself and that familiarizes online editors with your writing.
If you want to take your writing a step further to earn some income, send your published articles and letters to community newspapers, local magazines, and nearby businesses with a resume and a cover letter offering your writing services for a fee. Nearby businesses might use your talents to write content on their website. Local magazines could possibly use an article about any number of things – such as couponing, car repair, or the best fishing spots in your county. Community newspapers, for example, might want you to write a column on parenting with a disability. Another option is to purchase a copy of Writer’s Market to find publications that might publish your work.
Last but not least, for individuals who are truly inspired, options such as writing and publishing a how-to book, a memoir, a fictional novel, or even a screenplay, are all within the realm of possibilities! Of course, this requires a tremendous amount of work and dedication, but the end product can be greatly rewarding. For anyone without formal training, instructional books and computer software are available to assist you through the process. These may be found by going to your favorite book retailer or online bookstore. Adult-school classes at your local high school or community college are sometimes offered as well. A recent addition to MSAA’s Lending Library is the book, Writing Books for Fun, Fame & Fortune, which may help you to get started.
Remember, it’s up to you as to how far you want to go. Most journal keepers don’t seek an audience for their writings – they simply want a safe place to free their emotions – and doing so can often help individuals to feel better. Others may desire to put their written works out to the public, maybe as a blog entry or a letter to the editor. And for the most ambitious…magazine articles, novels, and even screenplays may be in your future! Whatever you choose to do will no doubt give you pleasure and promote personal growth.Writing is a therapeutic, fun, and sometimes profitable way to express yourself…so pick up your favorite pen and paper, or turn on the computer, and start writing!