Category Archives: Writing as Therapy

A Lot of Good Punk Rock to Come

The day after the election, a co-worker said, “Well at least there’ll be a lot of good punk rock to come out of this.”

SuicidalTendenciesAlbum

Without Reaganomics, the world would have never had this classic. So maybe everything really does happen for a reason.

It’s true that many artists are inspired by political strife, civic discord, sexism, racism, hatred of the sitting president (one of the first punk songs I heard was “I Shot Reagan” by Suicidal Tendencies circa 1983). At this very moment, certainly there are thousands of musicians, painters, dancers, sculptors, and writers expressing their concerns for the country (and the world) through their art, and I suspect that we will see and hear the fruits of these efforts for a long time to come.

Since the election, it seems like everyone has become a blogger. The Internet is brimming over with people detailing their opinions on…well, everything. My once cute-animal-abundant Facebook feed is overrun with lengthy posts about the president colluding with Russia, pre-existing conditions, the imminent dismantling of the E.P.A., immigrant bans and The Wall, and the attorney general’s call for mandatory maximum sentences, sprinkled in among reposts of articles on these same topics from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Slate, Politico, and so many more.

It seems like everyone has something to say. Except me.

I haven’t written anything – fiction or non – for months. I haven’t been able to find my words. I can’t seem to form a coherent sentence even in my own mind. I simply do not know what to think or how to feel other than terrified. And when I try to sort through my emotions, the thunderstorm of anxiety in my stomach starts up again, and I know there will be no sleep tonight.

So I’ve been spending time with the words of others. I’ve been reading Ann Patchett novels and listening to murder and true crime podcasts. I mowed through Sherlock, Happy Valley, Lava Fields, and Jessica Jones. I finally started watching Mad Men.

I spent ten days in Iceland.

Next week, I am bringing home a twelve-week-old puppy.

I am distracting myself, trying to restrict my intake of daily news to small, digestible bites. Yet I feel sick much of the time.

Of course, writing could be my perfect escape. What better time than now to throw myself into a new project, to create a whole world over which I have total and complete control? But you can’t force these things.

So for now, I’ll take baby steps. Like this one.

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Emotional Word Vomit aka Writing as Therapy

We all have our go-to stories, the ones we love to tell at dinner parties or over drinks with friends. The time you came across porn on a co-worker’s computer. That time in college when you got drunk and passed out in the laundry room. I have several of my own favorite stories, ranging from awkward blind dates to the roommate who routinely ate spoiled food. While these experiences were somewhat horrifying at the time (i.e. the therapist who referred to his clients as “whiners”, the ever-present smell of my roommate’s rotting produce in the refrigerator), they are some of my favorite stories to tell.

But what about the stories we can’t laugh off, even years later?

I recently came across a call for submissions for personal essays on the theme “It Left Me Speechless”. It sounded like a fun challenge and a good introduction to a possible new writing venue, and almost at once, I thought of the perfect story. The problem was that even thinking about delving into the emotional details of this perfect story made my stomach squirm.

For several days, I tried but failed to find inspiration in a series of lighter but much less compelling experiences. By its very definition, a personal essay is, well…personal. It reveals the writer’s innermost thoughts, feelings, vulnerabilities. Sharing our intimate selves with others is part of what makes us human. But it’s also scary as hell. And the requisite self-examination that goes into the effort is often even more terrifying.

So, about that “perfect” story that I am compelled to tell but afraid to face…well, I will say this much: I had a minor nervous breakdown. Not the straightjacket-and-padded-cell kind we usually associate with the term. I remained a generally productive member of society, went to work, fed myself, bathed regularly. But I was broken. Word Vomit

It started off as what should have been a relatively routine break-up. We weren’t a good fit, we wanted different things, etc. But for months afterward, I was plagued by anxiety. I awoke every morning to the crushing realization that I was still alive. My mind was a churning cesspool, and I was afraid of my own toxic thoughts. I didn’t vacuum my apartment for over six weeks because I couldn’t stand to be alone with my brain while the sound of the vacuum drowned out all other external noise. I started smoking again because I needed to do something with my hands. I also started running because I had so much nervous energy, and I couldn’t bear to sit still.

In short, I was a mess.

While I am well over the guy, it seems I am still not quite over the aftermath. And perhaps really digging in to write this piece would help me to resolve that. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence shows that people who write out their feelings tend to be happier, to feel more resolved with their problems. This is of course a form of therapy. Perhaps the best thing I could do for myself is to look my demons in the eyes.

Can you only write about something once you’ve resolved it? Or is writing about it part of the process? And once you’ve written about it, how do you know when to share it with others and when to file it safely away under “Emotional Word Vomit – Do Not Disclose”?

I don’t know the answers. I may discover them by plunging in headfirst, but only if I can find the guts.

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