“Write it out,” he said, while clasping and unclasping his hands for what seemed like the hundredth time.
“Write out how you feel. Put your anxiety to words. Talk about your experience.” He leaned forward and looked me in the eyes. “I want you to start journaling daily. Even when you don’t have much to say and even if you don’t feel like it. Write it out.”
I was in therapy after leaving an abusive relationship I had been in for eight years. I had recently been diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and generalized anxiety, and I was not coping well.
When I got home I sat down to my desk to write. Starting the process was difficult and I found my thoughts were all over the place. To keep everything readable, I started from the beginning and wrote it out.
I didn’t feel any better.
I walked into my next appointment and flopped down in the chair. I didn’t want to make eye contact. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t feel like I was being helped.
“How did it go?” he asked.
I shrugged. “It didn’t help. In fact, it hurt to write.”
“Sometimes the healing process hurts, but I’m curious to know why you don’t think it helped.”
I shrugged again. “Maybe if you read it? Cause I don’t know.” I opened my bag and pulled out a single sheet of paper. His face became skeptical.
“One sheet?” He began reading and his face remained puzzled.
“You didn’t write your story. You wrote a police report.”
“You gave me names, places, events. Facts. But this isn’t your story. You didn’t get to the heart of the matter. You didn’t write about yourself.”
I never wrote about myself. That kind of navel-gazing wasn’t yet in my wheelhouse. My writing up to that point consisted of facts, figures, places. Things that happened and were easily verifiable. I didn’t write about “stuff.” I wrinkled my nose involuntarily.
“But that’s now how I write,” I said dismissively. “I wrote down what happened.”
“Just try it my way. If it doesn’t work, we’ll explore another avenue.”
Sighing, I picked up my backpack and left. I soon found myself once again staring at paper, pen in hand, and no idea what to say. I started, stopped, started again, and it was just as before.
“One Saturday I was berated for two hours because the dog got into the trash.”
“There was that time at a party….”
“….and I never planned another vacation.”
Lost, I turned to the internet. I started searching for memoirs. How did people write about themselves? What did they even say that didn’t make them look egotistical?
It took me three days to write a sentence.
But once I did, it’s like a dam burst inside me. I couldn’t *not* write about myself. I couldn’t stop sharing.
I got it.
The next session was completely different. I bounced into the room and gleefully handed my therapist my journal. He assured me that he didn’t expect me to show him what I had written, but that he was happy to review it if I wanted him to.
After that, it became easier to heal. Yes, I still have PSTD, depression, and generalized anxiety. I imagine I always will, but the amazing thing is that they no longer dominate my life. I can navigate my life with relative ease these days, which is not something I thought I’d ever be able to do again. After nearly a decade of being broken down, torn apart, and stomped on, you lose yourself. Your “normal” is a nightmare, but you can’t see it until you’re on the other side.
That next quarter I took a class called Feminist Memoirs. At the end of the class, our final project was to write our own memoir pieces. I was stoked. I was ready. When we sat in a circle and shared, I could not believe how many stories were the same, how many of us suffered violence in some form or another. Emotional, psychological, sexual, physical. It was hard to listen to, but we all bared witness to each other’s pain. And it was the most healing, amazing, and significant day in my entire academic career.
That is not to say that memoir writing is the only art form that heals. You can paint your depression. Sculpt your fears. Draw your sadness.
And when you’re ready, crochet your love into a sweater. Stir your joy into an amazing stew. Sing out your excitement.
Keep making art. Heal yourself. Heal others.