Can writing keep you healthy?
I heard somewhere recently how good it is for the health to write. I guess it very much depends on the temperament of the writer, if you stress out, are prone to lashing the laptop across the room, eating lots of chocolate and stress about paying bills … then maybe not. But it seems that being able to connect to your feelings and sit and write is, for the most part, health-promoting. I suppose this is also discounted if you sit there in your PJs (never leave the house or exercise) with a fag in one hand and a glass of Merlot in the other that might not be the case. And no this isn’t me (only at weekends … kidding!).
I certainly know that keeping a journal is health-promoting because it allows you to keep in touch with your inner feelings. This is one of the things Bernie Siegel says, who wrote Love, Medicine and Miracles and later Peace, Love and Healing, an oncologist who founded ECAP — the exceptional cancer patients group. He looked at who survived against the odds and posed the question why? What attributes allowed that and more importantly, could those attributes be learned? And the answer is YES. Yes they can. It’s about changing the way we think. And that’s simpler than you think. He certainly showed that cancer patients who were in touch with their feelings through journals had better survival rates. This I think is mostly down to attitude. But writing somehow allowed them to see how their subconscious viewed their illness (even if they were saying positive things there can be a mismatch) and this then allowed them to change their thinking to give the body LIVE messages rather than DIE messages. Really. In fact I truly think we would all benefit from reading these books, ill or not, as they teach you that attitude saves life and even prevents serious illness. I always remember how he said ‘disease’ literally means ‘ill at ease’ and if you’re not happy you are far more likely to set sick. He also said ‘there isn’t a disease that someone somewhere hasn’t survived, even from the brink of death.’ His book changed my whole attitude to life and health 🙂 I will even go as far as saying he saved my life … and I often dip into that book to remind myself how much the way we think keeps us healthy. On a personal side I wrote to him when Lee was ill from his bedside on a new laptop in desperation. He sent me the most wonderful personal reply. I still have it.
But what else about writing is helping us stay healthy? I am guessing mental health can be promoted by writing and certainly after Lee died, when I was finally able to get writing again, it was cathartic on many levels. I did, oddly, find myself writing poems for a while — deep and dark and odd and no one will ever see them, but I think it was a way of expressing my despair. They say grief is a form of madness and so keeping in touch with my emotions stopped it becoming clinical.
But more than that. When I started again on the novel (the very first one which was almost finished when he died) I had a wonderful way to escape. I was immersed in someone else’s life — I was distracted. And I do believe that when we spend too long thinking about something, obsessing over it — whatever it is, including health issues, we give them too much credence, we allow them to control us. Who here hasn’t felt really ill but lost a couple of hours reading a good book or watching a film and for that time not thought about how they feel? And since everything in life is about perception, then the more time in the day you don’t have an awareness of feeling ill — you’re not ill. And when grieving, you’re not grieving. And this gives positive messages to your body and allows it to heal. Really. Smile when you feel sad and you release endorphins (it works in reverse — so try it!).
Writing somehow unlocked some of the pain when I was missing Lee and it helped — but I do know of groups for mental health that use writing and these can be a great way to keep in touch with your emotions, but word of warning — these can also be self-indulgent and not allow people to look up and see the world — you can become too ‘involved’ — so write yes — but also go out into the world. Deal with the issue. If writing helps unlock it — then all the better.
I know a few people sadly who have lost partners over the years since I lost Lee and I saw a change in what they were writing, as I did in my own writing. I think I have written very sad stories and while I am a great lover of pathos, I have to say death did rather appear more than usual. That said it was some of these stories that won competitions — so maybe we can do some of our best work that way. I now find that while my writing often has a deep darker message I use humour a whole lot more. I feel healed 🙂 But what I think the writing did for me, was unlock emotions I wasn’t able to say or show ‘out loud.’
Now I think my writing just keeps me healthy for the most part because I’m doing what I love. I have a great life and I’m happy. And if there is something troubling me, which isn’t often I am happy to say, I get myself so lost in the zone I am not thinking about it — I am with my characters. And that must be good for the mind which makes it good for the body.
What do you think? I am very interested in this.
Here’s a link to the book that I think we should all read. You’ll thank me. And if you know anyone coping with a serious illness, don’t be afraid you might offend them — you might save them! So just give them this book.
Have a healthy happy weekend everyone!