Seriously? That’s a thing.
Yes, this is a thing. Apparently, smart people working at Harvard have in fact studied the health benefits of expressive writing with surprising results. In fact, one such study found that students who wrote about trauma and traumatic events in their daily journal used less pain reliever than those who kept diaries of inconsequential events.
Most studies have evaluated the impact of expressive writing on people with physical health conditions such as sleep apnea, asthma, migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, and cancer. Likewise, most of the outcomes measured are physical, and the findings — such as blood pressure and heart rate — suggest that expressive writing initially may upset people but eventually helps them to relax.Source Harvard Health cited in text above.
It’s all about processing
Processing trauma allows us to be able to express it better. This is a truth that resonates with most writers. Each of us has a story we could tell. Mine isn’t much different from anyone else’s, but I did at one time write my way out of trauma.
PTSD is contagious. I got mine from my husband. He got his from his abusive family and later from war. I like to call it the gift that keeps on giving.
Back in 2011, I found myself back home, broke and the single mother of three. My panic attacks were less debilitating at this point, but they were there. The job I’d found was stressful, and my children were dealing with their own traumas and a life of severe disability for one of them. There were so many ways this was going wrong that I could barely keep up, and I was uninsured.
What did I do? Well, I turned to books. Books had always saved me.
This book opened me up and allowed me to begin processing everything I’d been through. It allowed me to work through the pain and gave me strategies like exposition to help me cope long term with my life.
Today, I have barely any panic attacks. I do not disassociate at all, even in stressful situations, and I’m much more together even though I still have PTSD. It is minimized. Something I’m excessively grateful for.
Disclaimer: Not every book you find adds something useful to your life. Always use reputable sources when seeking help for mental health.
Authors and Mental Illness
There seems to be an awful lot of us who struggle with these kinds of problems. Making one wonder which came first, the writing or the mental illness. The Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Virginia Woolf ( one of my favorites); all had significant issues with mental illness. For more on their struggles, you can check out Librarypoint.org and this article from 2018 about them.
My theory is that people naturally need to process trauma and pain, and all art becomes a venue for that need which is why it appears that most artists suffer for their art. But, in fact, they use their art to treat their suffering which is a big difference. They aren’t actually victims of their conditions. They are survivors leaving the rest of us road signs as they go.
Picasso’s blue period is another example of art imitating life.
Or at least, reflecting it. When my kids were diagnosed with Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome (named for Louis Carroll one of its sufferers), we were told that this condition is thought to be the reason Picasso had a blue period at all. He was painting his migraine headaches in order to cope with them.
With his fragile mental health, a migraine condition that caused hallucination would be devastating to him, I believe. These paintings allowed him to paint the pain that condition caused him.
Art allows all of us to express the things we can’t say out loud, and, in turn, we can eventually process that pain or trauma.