Saturday, December 29, 2012

Still writing to heal

I've written about writing to heal, I've talked about it in front of groups, and I must say, I'm still doing it. I journal, I write pieces for other websites and here about writing to heal from our tragedies, and I'm still reaping its benefits. I suggest, even if you've never written a word in your life, start journaling. You don't have to show what you write to anyone, so you're free to write down anything you want any way you want. And then you may be surprised. You may want to go public with your writing. Sharing our stories can be very healing to others.

Writing has been part of my life since I was in grade school. However, when my son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and after his suicide I needed to write down my feelings daily. Writing in my journal became an obsession and a balm. It gave me a way to organize my fears, pain, and thoughts. I had used journaling during an earlier stressful period of my life to rant. So I felt that writing would help me again during what turned out to be the most stressful time of my life.

Early on during my son’s illness I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992), and her suggestion to write morning pages resonated with me. Because I was employed full-time then, my writing didn’t always take place in the morning, but I always finished my three pages before the end of the day.

Right after Paul died I received a gift of Anne Brener’s book, Mourning & Mitzvah – A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993). It was the only self-help book I even opened, and I was compelled to write an answer to every prompt in the book.

Writing was healing because it helped me put my pain on the page. Instead of carrying it with me every moment of the day and night, I found a place where I could have a little relief. There was so much I couldn’t say out loud to anyone. My husband worried I was having a breakdown even if I cried too much. And since there was so much anger and grief in me, I needed a place to put it.  Writing in those days was like repeating a mantra. I just kept moving my pen across the page. And I wouldn’t let anything get in my way.

I recommend writing or another creative outlet to anyone who is looking for ways to heal. My husband and I also found many diversions – working out, work, movies, plays, opera, reading, traveling – that helped. I also recommend that we take good care of themselves and not let others tell us how long it should take to heal. Everyone needs to express their grief and take time to heal in their own way and own time.

I finally decided to take my journals and other writing and turn them into a book when one of my writing instructors kept telling me to get my story out. And the more he said it and the more the rest of the class agreed, the more empowered I felt. 

However, I didn’t have clue what to do next. Fortunately I met a former literary agent who read my poetry manuscript and suggested I organize my book in the order of the poems. She also gave me writing prompts that helped me round out my material.  

Throughout the writing, the querying, the revising, and even now during the marketing, I have had a village of qualified professionals who have been a huge support. These people have made my writing life so much easier. That was a true gift and the most unexpected result of all.

It is dedicated to my son Paul who died on September 23, 1999. We especially remember him on his December 31st birthday. This year would be his 41st.


kathleen pooler said...

Such a beautiful testimony, Madeline to the healing power of writing. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you face Paul's birthday. Blessings and Hugs, Kathy

madeline40 said...

Thank you again, Kathy. A very happy new year to you. Hope we'll get a chance to "hangout" in 2013. Hugs, Madeline

sadgirl said...

Hi Madeline, Your story is quite similar to mine. I lost my immediate family, including my brother to suicide who was a paranoid schizophrenic. I also lost my baby at 12 months old. I have an 11 year old son who means the world to me. I would like to write a book about my life story for him. It would be a legacy so he could make sense of this family. I know the topic was up my alley. I am still healing. It has been 3 years since I lost my whole family. I could use your support since you have walked in my shoes. We could walk together. Be Kind to yourself. Amy.

madeline40 said...

Dear Amy,
Thank you so much for reaching out. I'm so sorry for all the loss in your life, especially now that is so raw and new. I think writing your story is a great way to leave a legacy for your son and to help you heal.

Have you read my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On? It tells how I brought writing into my life when my son was first diagnosed and how I continued and created my memoir after his death. It was a long journey but well worth the time it took. I'd be pleased to walk with you on your journey.

Also if you are on Facebook, I suggest you join the Putting A Face on Suicide page, sharing about your brother. I volunteer there every week. My mission is to erase the stigma of mental illness and suicide in hopes of saving lives.

I wish you all the best. Please keep in touch.