It’s hard to remember a time when writing in some fashion wasn’t part of how I process the world and my place in it. When moving recently, I came across a box full of journals from various points in time and it was fascinating how much my writing and my processing has changed over the years. No, I’m not keeping those journals around for someone else to read them — some things do need to remain mysterious and my inner world should probably stay private to me.
While reading through my journals, I realized and noticed patterns. As a trauma or struggle happened, I wrote much more frequently and at greater length. When life was smoother and there weren’t incidents of crisis, the entries were fewer and slightly less verbose. Instinctively, when life became difficult or a decision needed to be made or there was a major change, I returned to the practice of writing to process and to heal.
It wasn’t long after my Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) diagnosis that I opened a CaringBridge account and then this blog. That instinct that served me well during those previous rough times in my life could stretch to include a terminal diagnosis and all the things that came with it. So many of my other coping skills did not survive the transition, but writing certainly has.
Writing: 1) gives me a practice to put emotions into words; 2) gives me the time and space to put those emotions and reactions into words; 3) is a space that is both private and public to put those emotions and reactions into words; 4) forces me to slow down and examine carefully what I’m feeing and why; and 5) remains available to review later.
As someone who thinks first and feels second, I often neglect the need to examine my emotions and reactions in context. In focusing on project managing the issue, finding solutions and a path forward, etc., I usually don’t remember to give myself the space to process the emotions that flow naturally from the experience. If I don’t process those emotions, they come out sideways (usually on an unsuspecting scheduling person who has violated my boundaries).
At the same time, as the title suggests, this post is not just about how writing is helpful to me in processing and understanding emotions, it is also about how writing produces healing for me.
I’m a champion stuffer. I can stuff and ignore my emotions and the emotions of others to focus on the facts, on the path forward, on the next steps. This “skill” served me well as a lawyer and as I assimilated the necessary information and steps related to living with MBC. I put the quotations around “skill” because I’m not entirely sure that’s the right label, but it was and has been useful at times.
And then it came time to actually live. To actually take each day with all of the struggles and associated burdens that come with MBC. To be in community with others and to share the triumphs as well as tribulations.
Writing about that struggle, writing about how I feel about it and how I carry it, has given me insights that I’ve never connected with before. Insights about myself and insights more outward focused. Writing both gives me the space and time to process my own emotions, but also hits on another core value of mine, that no one else would have to experience those same things without some foreknowledge and tools to handle it. I suspect it is rather obvious that it is important to me to pass along information and coping mechanisms and pathways to healing for others.
And so, I continue to write, I continue to process, I continue to have my heart broken daily as I see my friends suffer and I deal with ongoing debilitating side effects like chronic pain, I continue to struggle with the realties of a disease that will kill me and kills so many of my friends daily and, every day, I continue to show up.