Are your words full of clarity, brevity, and authenticity?
This is most possible, for me, through a journal. I have written in blank books since I was eight years old and now have shelves filled with journals. Papers and pens have always been there for me like a friend, listened to me, reflected like a mirror for me, held my pain and projections, shared my joys and my insights. They have been my most intimate companions on my life’s journey.
Soon after the diagnosis of highly aggressive end-stage cancer, my siblings and I met with Michael Fisch, MD, who worked in the integrative medicine program at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I don’t recall much from the meeting because I was still reeling in shock after the diagnosis. The one thing I remembered him saying though was, that cancer patients who wrote about their feelings experienced better outcomes. That sounded easy enough.
Yet I found writing about my emotions more challenging than I expected. I was used to writing down my nightly dreams as well as insights about them; recording events and my thoughts about them; and including ideas and things that I was learning. But what exactly was I feeling? Often, nothing. At least nothing of which I was aware. Sure, I’d vented in my journal many times, but I didn’t write about my feelings on a daily basis.
I had to learn in psychotherapy that, an emotion could be experienced simply as a sensation in my body. It could be a tightened abdomen, a heavy feeling around my heart, or a wrinkled brow. I didn’t need to know what the emotion was; I simply needed to give the sensation a little attention without giving it any thought.
My psychotherapist, Sheryl Cohen, encouraged me to start every journal entry with, “Right now I’m feeling…” This was hard for me. In fact, I rarely ever remembered to do it, which demonstrated how resistant I was. When I did remember, I usually had nothing to write.
This practice got harder as chemotherapy progressed. My interest in writing dimmed, and became especially dull during my final regimen in 2011. My mind had become flighty, foggy, and unstable. Neuropathy made holding a pen difficult and painful after writing only a sentence or two.
Gradually, over the years, I did learn to stop and take stock of sensations in my body, and later I frequently wrote about them in my journal. I began having dreams about melting snows and rushing rivers, symbols of thawing and moving emotions. I made progress, and felt grateful for it. I dug deeper and deeper, excavating my feelings, moving toward the level of my bones.
My journal writing now has more added dimension of a feeling tone, which gives it extra richness and depth. I have gotten better about writing down truthful words. One thing I love about writing in my journal is that I can be authentic, sincere, and completely myself. It frees me to explore exactly what is going on for me, to get it out of my head, and later to have access to my experiences for reference.