“When Life Hurts, Writing Can Help,” is inspired by the many years of research on writing and healing. The personal experience of serious or debilitating illnesses and traumatic or challenging life circumstances can have negative effects on emotions, beliefs, and one’s sense of self. Life may be turned upside down for a time. Writing, when we experience these kinds of events, can help us heal. Inspired by my many years of leading expressive writing groups for many patients and others dealing with the challenges of illness and difficult life chapters, the site content is meant to be a resource to encourage and inspire you to write from your life challenges of illness, loss, or other hardships.
In matters of serious illness, trauma or loss, many common themes arise, particularly for those living with a serious or life threatening illness. The content of my blog is inspired by that commonality of themes in the experience of serious, debilitating illnesses or traumatic or challenging life circumstances, and it’s meant to as a resource to encourage and inspire you to write from your own life challenges of illness, loss, or other hardships.
Why write? A significant number of studies have demonstrated that it can actually be good for your health (Pennebaker et al, 1986-2016). When you repress emotions and silence your stories, you feel worse, and your ability to heal is weakened. Writing offers you the safety to unearth and express all that you think and feel. When you begin to shape those thoughts and feelings into stories or poetry, the process of writing helps you make sense of your struggles and cope more effectively with the emotional roller coaster that any debilitating or painful life event can trigger.
Writing offers a unique form of self-expression. You don’t need an office or special materials. It’s available to anyone who wants to do it. It is entirely confidential, unless you elect to share it with others. Best of all, you can write just about anywhere: at home, on the train, in a waiting room, or even a coffeehouse. All you need is a pen, paper or laptop and giving yourself the freedom to express whatever is in your heart and mind.
About the posts & prompts: Each month, I post a short themed reflection on the experiences of living with serious or progressive illness coupled with relevant writing prompts. The prompts are meant to “help” you get started writing, but the rest is up to you: whatever a prompt triggers, your natural way of self-expression, of the experience of illness or simply, stories from your life. The intent is to encourage and inspire you to write, in whatever way you like–it doesn’t matter. What matters is only that you make the time to write, deeply, honestly, and freely.
Beginning to write: If you’re just starting out, try an approach originally recommended by James Pennebaker, PhD, whose original research on expressive writing ignited decades of studies on many different populations. Begin with a prompt. Set the timer for 15 – 20 minutes. Write continuously and freely until your time is up. Keep the pen moving, whatever comes up. Afterward, take time to read over what you’ve written? What stands out? What phrases or words hold the most power for you? Underline them. These can serve as “doors in” to a writing a longer narrative, story or even a poem. Remember, write freely–keep that internal critic silent.
The monthly prompts featured on this site are informed by my personal experience with serious illness, including cancer and heart failure, research on the health benefits of writing, teaching creative and ‘transformational’ writing, and the many individuals who’ve attended the expressive writing groups I’ve led over the past 20 plus years — men and women whose lives have been touched illnesses, hardship or loss. The prompts are adaptable to any life circumstance and to anyone who wants to write for healing purposes. Your story matters, and if you don’t tell it, who will?
I hope that you’ll find some inspiration and encouragement from the prompts, and that they offer you a gentle nudge to write and discover its healing benefits.
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