therapeutic writing

Writing, Wellbeing and Research- A call for participants.

I’m doing an MSc. In Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes.

Sounds fancy, right?

It’s actually just the science and research based around the assumption that writing can be good for you, and can make you feel good. The same is accepted of Art Therapy, Drama Therapy, Dance, Crafts, anything. Anything that involves creativity and expression is usually quite powerful for your mental state.

I’ve loved studying about this. Learning about the psychology of it, trying different techniques and consistently writing and playing, in order to learn and experience.

But here’s the hard part: I’m doing my own research. And it’s hard.

I’m studying the response from women who are in recovery from eating disorders when they take part in a therapeutic creative writing class.

Which sounds really intense and a lot of work. And when you work through the hundreds of (very necessary) ethics forms, work out how you’re going to be self aware, keep everyone safe, allow everyone to be authentic, avoid triggers and still let people actually do the writing, well…it’s exhausting.

But the workshops will be fun! We’ll be looking at poems and playing with metaphors and writing letters. The whole thing is designed to be positive, and engaging and to encourage self love and self respect, as well as even creating bonds with the people who take part.

But when you try to advertise things like this, well, they are serious, and they do have to be safe. So no-one signs up because it sounds like a drag. It’s a catch 22.

So here, in a basic way is what I’m asking:

-Are the things in the creative writing sessions ‘useful’ or ‘helpful’ in eating disorder recovery?

-How do you define ‘useful’ and ‘helpful’?

 

That’s pretty much it! I’m asking  women in recovery from eating disorders if they want to do some creative writing sessions with me and then talk about them. If they’re fun, if they’re exciting, stressful, relaxing. That’s all!

The aim is to find out what is ‘useful’ and ‘helpful’ and one day design workshops for people in recovery that can really benefit them. It already exists for other types of recovery from other illnesses, and I think it’s time it existed for those dealing with EDs too.

So, IF you know anyone who might be interested in taking part (and can get to London for the three sessions in the Spring) please do share this or ask them to get in touch at:

writingtonourish@gmail.com

Even if they can’t come to sessions, or they’re abroad, but they want to share their ED story, have some recommendations, or have used journalling before…anyone who wants to talk to me, I’m happy to listen/read an email.

It’s hard to talk about serious things like this, and it’s hard to make it sound like an engaging and positive experience, especially when it can be scary to ‘own’ an ED so publicly, but I really think the work I’m doing could benefit people (and if it can’t, it’s best I find out now!)

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therapeutic writing

Writing to Reach You: What does your blogging style say about you?

Most of you know that I’ve been focusing on my studies in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, and it’s something I’m passionate about. It feels like there’s a variety of things I’m passionate about within writing, and even as I write this, I know that I should be getting started on my next novel, or maybe starting a presentation, or a dissertation write-up. And yet I’m here, blogging.

People have asked ‘why blog’ for a long while now. Is it about connection, reaching people you wouldn’t normally find? Is it simply the fact that as writers and professionals in the modern world, we are expected to have a landing pad, a sense of who we are in the internet universe? Or is it cathartic, regenerative expression that allows us to get on with our day? A little of all of these, I believe.

I’ve been exploring for a while now how blogging can make people feel better. Certainly, quite a few bloggers I know are dealing with ill health, stress, anxiety, and writing their feelings down (and the connections that follow from those blogs via twitter and comments) not only feels cathartic, but powerful in being recognised in the big wide world as ‘normal’ feelings. Somewhere, on the internet, you will find someone who is feeling how you’re feeling, who has been where you’ve been. And that’s a powerful thing. Even if you don’t need anyone to read your blog, if you just want to shout into the darkness, that’s okay too.

Catharsis means cleansing. It means release. Catharsis can come in small waves or overwhelming tides. I always think of it a little like cleaning my internal space- if I do a little dusting on a regular basis, it’s unlikely I’m going to need a big overhaul. I think there’s a difference between catharsis and purging, and it’s that one is natural, and the other is forced. To purge yourself of something is to force it from you, and that’s why we negatively associate it with some very intense religious views, and body dysmorphia. Those are the only times I’ve heard the words, anyway. Purging your demons.

I would gently encourage you, with all the experience of someone who has made continued mistakes on the internet, to think about what you want your blogging to achieve. So many wonderful blogs are about overcoming adversity, and in truth, those are the stories that others want to hear. They want you to offer a nugget of who you are, what you’re dealing with, so they don’t feel so alone. But they also want to make you their hero, they want to root for you, to find out if you’ve got a way of dealing with your stuff, so they might deal with theirs. Be a pioneer in your issues, don’t become them.

In studying expressive writing, it’s become clear that for limited periods of time, writing about trauma, or upset, or strong, difficult feelings in detail, truly exploring and expressing, can be helpful in long term health. Repressing feelings makes us ill, there’s no doubt about that. But writing continually about painful, depressing feelings doesn’t help us. In fact, it makes us worse. It reinstates our depressed feelings. If I feel overwhelmed by an issue, and I spend a couple of days writing about it, really exploring it, and then I read it through, feel settled and put the piece away/destroy it, the likelihood is that I have addressed and dealt with it. At least as much as I am able to at the moment. If you are continually returning to the same issue, if you have nothing positive to say, nothing happy, or inspiring to share, then you are reinstating your own unhappiness: you are giving it breathing space. Air it, accept it, and find a way forward.

I read a lot of blogs, and I see so many that are authentic, and jagged, and breathy and funny. The writers are dealing with pain, and learning, and laughter and confusion, and they are reaching out. Remember that feelings are temporary, but words we share are often taken up by someone. There’s a reason we so often encounter trigger warnings in the online world now- people know that their stories affect each other.

Take responsibility for your story today. Tell it to yourself first, in a soft, quiet voice. Find out what your story is, explore how you feel. Decide if you want to share it. If putting it out in the world will make one person feel less alone, or show someone how to deal with issues you’ve dealt with, if it will make someone smile or laugh or feel proud: share that with them. If your story is unchanging after months, if you are still writing about how much hatred and anger and bitterness you have, if you are searching for silence instead of voices in unison, then write in private. Or even better, switch focus and try a different tactic. In a literal way, this means try writing your feelings in third person, try writing about what an object in your room might hear, try writing from the perspective of someone you know. Feelings are contagious, and the internet doesn’t need any help in spreading misery.

Am I saying to shy away from important, difficult writing? Am I saying you’re not allowed to be happy? No. Difficult writing is important. But I am starting to see blogs where the writers are stuck in loops- nothing is improving, nothing is shaking free or changing, and every bad thing reinforces the last. Change your perspective, search for the positive, and share your story and your lessons in a way that others can benefit from.

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Motifs of Life: Writing your own story

If you’ve studied English Literature, you’ll find motifs came up quite often. It’s a musical term, meaning a small repeated collection of notes/image. The more I write, the more I start to notice these little motifs and symbols reoccurring in my own life and my own writing. 

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It’s subtle, but you’ll start to notice the same images popping up- for a while, I kept using trees. Trees grow tall and strong, and up into the clouds, so they symbolise freedom, but they’re also rooted and heavy, so they’re grounded. The more I wrote, the more I found trees came to symbolise a whole bunch of things that I felt.

It might not even be a symbol, but a certain phrase that reappears. This phrase becomes a mantra, and the minute you recognise it from your other work, realise that it’s a repetition, it opens up doors for you.

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Writers often talk about the themes that interest them, or what they like to write about. But what about what they end up writing about, when they’re not setting out to do so? That unconscious leaning is what fascinates me, and what can give us an insight into how we’re feeling.

 

A few months ago, I kept writing about apples. Apples are seedlings, they symbolise growth, spring, Englishness. You can link them to the Garden of Eden myth, conveying innocence. I was writing about apples in response to children, to having children, to problems with childbirth, to the possibility of never having children, to responding to family members who ask these questions lightly. Are apples the best literary symbol for any of these things? No, probably not. But they became my personal marker. Every time I found an apple symbol creeping into my work, I could think ‘Ah, so I’m thinking about that again. Why is that bugging me today?’ and I could get to the root of what was worrying me. Often it’s just something that needs to be expressed, but if you’re being haunted by an image, and you don’t know why, then it has power over you, instead of you using it in a powerful healing way.

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There are no particular writing exercises for this- it’s just about being aware of the space that you’re writing from, and what it means for you. Have a look back through some of your old journals/stories/poems, and see if a particular time or event created a motif for your life at that time. It’s always fascinating, and can be useful.

 

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Giving Yourself Permission to Write

Even as a professional writer, taking the time to write feels a bit selfish. Yes, I’ve got a deadline, and yes, it’s a business, but still. I get to sit here and make up stories, and it feels a little self indulgent. I could be doing my laundry, or cleaning the house, or advertising the book. We often take the stance that this is procrastination, and sometimes it is. But other times, it can come from the idea that what we’re doing isn’t worthy of the time we’re spending on it.

Writing is something just for you. In many ways it’s a completely solo activity. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, people write in a group, and share stories, create together, but usually, the process of drawing out a story from within you to on the page, is a personal journey. Learning that the stories you have to tell are relevant and important is necessary to work well. If you think about it in terms of your feelings, regardless of how the work will be received or what others will say- you have a story within you, and you need to get it out. If the story stays untold, unacknowledged, it’s not going to be good for you. It’ll sit forgotten, itching at you. Like many things that reoccur and pop into our heads, nudging us for attention, it’s important to listen to them.

To ignore your artistry is to ignore how you work, and how you feel about it all. I run Writing for Wellbeing Workshops, and these are a fairly new and holistic way of using creativity. It’s thinking about the process and not about the outcome. Obviously, the writing you produced has a part to play, and often you’ll create some beautiful and meaningful work. The reason people come to these workshops is because they feel they need permission to spend the time on their writing, to take a break from their lives for the day, and focus solely on them and their creativity. It’s a brilliant atmosphere, and the hope is that when you finish the day, you’ll take away the sense that writing is good for you, and it’s not selfish to do it, but necessary and helpful to you.

There’s more details on the workshop here, but always try to remember that anything you do has purpose, and you can’t feel guilty about that.

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Writing for Wellbeing: Using Metaphor

 

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Images are powerful things. The best writing is imagistic, powerful, visual. Since starting this course in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, it seems like I can’t express how I feel without turning to metaphor. There are some emotions that would take pages to untangle and analyse, but when associated with an image, can suddenly make our feelings clear. 

Like standing on an unsteady ladder. We feel worried, we feel nervous, we know we’re in danger, we’re continuing anyway. But that feeling? That specific feeling when you’re on the edge and you can feel yourself falling? Well, we may not have all been on a rickety ladder, but we can all understand what that means.

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Images are the best way to succinctly and clearly explain how you feel. There is a place for writing reams and reams in a journal or diary, exploring feelings and specific instances, but the use of metaphor explains just how powerful poetry can be when we’re trying to emotionally connect something.

 

Metaphors can’t really be forced. To push them is to somehow make them less encompassing. But next time you’re trying to explain a difficult emotion, see if you automatically use a metaphor. We use them so often now, without even thinking. And next time you do use one, write it down, explore it, continue it. 

 

Just as in English class our job was to identify those images and tear them apart, I am asking you to build them up. Embellish them. If you feel like a caged bird, what is the cage made of? What colour is your plume? What song do you sing? Where does the bird wish to go? Explore your image, because metaphors are a path to deeper understanding. We use them because it’s an easy connection- something in us identifies with that image, but by exploring it, we can reveal so much more!

 

 

A Reminder that my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in Barnet is now up and running. You can find details HERE and HERE. It’s a full day of writing tasks and discussion, guaranteed to leave you feeling thoughtful and uplifted, and hopefully with a collection of writing work you can feel proud of! Please do get in touch if you’re interested by emailing andrealmichael@aol.com

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Wellbeing at the Weekend: Week 1

Hi all,

 

I’m going to try and offer a writing exercise every Sunday that will be gently creative, something for you to try out and explore for your wellbeing at the weekend.

This week we’re going to start with narrative. What is the story and structure of your life? What has been achieved? Where have your plot points and tailspins and adventures been?

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Imagine you are writing your autobiography. Choosing what to include and not include in the story of your life is defining for you- what makes your story? What was the making of you?

Think about what the title would be, consider how you would arrange your chapters, what those chapter titles would be. Where would you start and end your story? Is it a star chart, jumping from point to point, getting higher and higher? Did you have a dip? Have you risen again from the ashes?

 

Don’t feel you have to force a plotline to form. Our lives, day to day, are about plodding. They’re about slow and quiet realisations that look little but mean much. Looks for the simples and re-occurring themes in your life. This can be as simple as noticing the bluebells in the garden every year, and recognising the passage of time. The tune that recalls a certain memory when you hear it. These realisations and moments of contemplation matter, they are the fabric that binds us.

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Think about the stages in your life. Where are you now? Are you at the beginning of your journey? We are always discovering, always changing and growing. Do you think you can recognise the stages and phrases of those changes?

 

You do not have to write your biography, just plan our the chapters. Give them titles, decide what would be involved. Perhaps you would like to try to write a bit about some of those moments that you feel are defining. Try to get as close and as within the moment as you can- look for the sensory memories, the strange details. As you envelope yourself in your own memories you will often find these details appear. The taste of school dinners, the journey to your first job, the feelings and sounds and blur of having children. Look through photos, talk to people, try and regain the wholeness of these moments. To truly own your history is a beautiful thing, and to find the narrative is to feel like the journey carries on, open for exploration and new beginnings.

 

Don’t forget about my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in April!

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