I was reading an academic journal about expressive writing therapy in passing a few months back and ever since then, this one quote has stuck with me:
“Something happens when I write that doesn’t happen when I only think or feel or talk. I come home to myself. I listen to myself with the same care and attention you would a loved one.”
This resonated deeply within me. It forced me to remember that in the most challenging times of my life, I’ve always turned to a diary to express how I feel. I’m twenty-four years old, so to some people I’ve probably never experienced a real challenge but in times of change where I’ve felt worried or scared or anxious, writing things down has always helped.
Keeping a diary
This is a major throwback, but making the move to University was something that troubled me for a long time before the day arrived; I’ve never enjoyed the awkwardness of meeting new people and I was moving into a housing block with nine other people. And not to mention I was leaving my mum after having lived with her my whole life. It reached the point where I almost contemplated not going to uni because I couldn’t handle the possibility of bad what ifs.
I picked up a pen and one of my many unused notebooks (anyone else addicted to buying cute notebooks?) and let the words flow. It was like taking a breath of fresh air instead of breathing in all the water I was drowning in. It didn’t just help me get everything out and feel calmer in the moment, it was also a useful aid to my story writing (I studied creative writing). I could read back over it for ideas and insights into how I communicated what I was feeling.
What I didn’t know was that this is actually an effective form of therapy used by people who suffer from illnesses; both physical and mental.
What is expressive writing therapy?
Kathleen Adams, the founder of the Centre for Journal Therapy in Colorado, sums up the therapy beautifully:
“For nearly 30 years I’ve had the same therapist. I’ve called on my therapist at 3am, on my wedding day, on a cold and lonely Christmas, on a Bora Bora beach, and in the dentist’s reception room. I can tell this therapist absolutely anything.
“My therapist listens silently to my most sinister darkness, my most bizarre fantasy, my most cherished dream. And I can scream, whimper, thrash, rage, exult, foam, celebrate. I can be funny, snide, introspective, accusatory, sarcastic, helpless, brilliant, sentimental, profound, caustic, inspirational, opinionated or vulgar. My therapist accepts all of this without comment, judgment, or reprisal.”
Her therapist is a 79p spiral-bound notebook and she swears by the healing effects it has. You don’t have to worry about staring eyes or judging thoughts. You just talk honestly to yourself, hearing your own problems and thoughts and it helps. And once you put it out there, you don’t even have to share it. You can burn it or rip it up or bury it. There’s a kind of trust you can put into a piece of paper that you can’t put into another person. In this way, you’re in control of your own issues and not being goaded by a therapist.
What are the benefits?
Part of the benefit lies with the fact you can go over something until it finally makes sense. Jill Dawson kept a journal since she was nine-years-old and she claims that not only did it help her personally but it also made her a better writer. She wrote everything down: her bad days, her good days, relationships, dreams etc. Things become clearer with time and when you can look back over things you’ve written down in the past, you can draw from them for a story or a poem which is exactly what I’ve done in my three years as a creative writing student.
Last week, I uploaded a post about what it’s like to blog as an over-thinker. I wrote the post on a day where it seemed everything was getting to me and I was contemplating whether blogging was even still for me. After I’d released all my thoughts into the draft post I instantly felt better! Once I could see the things I was over-thinking written down, I could see that I was being silly. Not every day as a blogger is going to be a roaring success. You’re not going to break 100 daily views all the time, or have everyone comment on a post.
I don’t keep a diary anymore, but I suppose you could say my blog is the equivalent. It’s just a bit more public.