The following is an incredible guest post by a fellow mama with chronic pain. This is the must-read post to get you thinking about your own self-care, especially if you are a writer. I often neglected my writing until recently when I, too, realized that for me, writing is self-care. I require it on many levels. Creativity allows those of us who suffer in silence to express ourselves. It gives us purpose. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did! You can check out more of Kat’s words over at her blog! Thank you for sharing this, Kat!
Writing as Self-Care
Self-care. It’s a term I had never really heard of until graduate school, and then, suddenly, I was hearing it a lot. You see, I have a Masters in Divinity from a school that trained ministers, counselors, and social justice workers, and it seems that people in all three of those fields are really, really bad at taking care of themselves.
We were often asked what we did to take care of ourselves. For some of us, it was difficult to come up with an answer, while others had long lists of hobbies. I fell somewhere in the middle. While I don’t have a long list of many hobbies, I do have several things that work consistently to provide solid self-care, and one of these is, and has been for many years, writing. Specifically, it has long been fiction writing. Almost as long as I could read, I have disappeared into my own little world to write stories of my own. I wrote my first novel in the second grade, and though I bet it wasn’t any good, I have been a regular CS Lewis (although, admittedly, probably decidedly worse) ever since.
And then, I got sick. Admittedly, I’ve never really been healthy. I don’t think a year went by in any grade of school where I didn’t miss the maximum days of school for illness. But there was never a time I didn’t write. Even at my busiest, I always took time to have a novel brewing on that back-burner. It was always my favorite hobby, and I may not have learned the words “self care” yet, but it was. It was my sustainer. It helped me stay sane, helped keep my anxiety in check. When the real world got stressful, I could retreat into writing a novel.
But then, I was almost done with my master’s degree, and about to be (incorrectly, I would learn later that year) diagnosed with fibromyalgia (a misstep: but an important misstep!, on my long chronic illness journey), I had a two year old daughter, I was working, and I just.didn’t.have.time. to write. And that was a mistake, I would quickly learn. Because writing wasn’t just a hobby. It is how I take care of myself. And if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t best take care of those I love, either.
The Mighty, one of my favorite websites that focuses on facing “disability, disease, and mental illness together,” is aspiring to make 2017 the year of self-care, and they’re doing so by promoting 12 30-day challenges. I thought it was super-fitting that the first was to journal for 30 days, since writing, at least to me, is such a powerful and natural form of self-care.
However, for me, journaling has never really been the kind of writing in which I have best expressed myself, and I think that’s OK. I’ve dabbled in a number of forms of writing—blogs, lists, social media posts, posting in groups, free form scribbling (which is kind of like journaling, I guess…but just feels looser to me!), poetry, and, my favorite, creative writing, which, for me, usually takes the form of extended pieces, like novels, but could be shorter stories too, of course. Writing of any kind is a wonderful tool to express oneself, so find the type that works best for you, and it’s OK to go back and forth between in the meantime.
No matter what kind of writing you do, here are a few of the most elemental ways that I find writing to be an incredible way—one of the best, in my personal opinions—of self-care:
Writing for thankfulness: Writing can be an excellent way to tangibly express one’s thankfulness. Often if I force myself to sit down and write things I am thankful for, I am a lot happier, and able to think of a lot more things, than if I let these thoughts quickly and idly pass me by without taking the time to actually write them. The habit of actually writing them, whether on a piece of paper or typing them onto a phone or computer, is very powerful! I also find expressing my thankfulness to others a surprisingly wonderful way to care for myself. I’ve often experienced this—when we take time to take care of others and express our gratefulness to them, we end up feeling good ourselves. When I take time to pause from obligations, stresses, and “to-dos” and write out a thank you card that I don’t have to write, but simply want to, it’s a wonderful way to not only bring joy to someone else, but to care for my own soul, too.
Writing as a form of escapism: One of the reasons fiction writing is one of my favorite forms of writing is because for a while, I don’t have to be me, in my hurting, sore body, reconciling my chronic pain with having to work and parent and live my life. I can go live in another world, moving around as characters I know as deeply as myself. The feeling people get from diving into books and escaping into another world I get from writing, but since I can keep making it up, the story never has to end. I can keep writing new adventures for my characters. If I want to, I can write side short stories for characters I particularly like that don’t have to be part of my novel, just for fun. They’re my characters and my stories—I can write them however I want. I know my characters deeper than I know myself, and unlike my life and my chronic pain sometimes, my writing is something I have complete and utter control over. It’s such an intensely freeing and powerful feeling!
Writing as a way to find your voice: The flip side to escapism is that writing fiction is also extremely real to me. I have been able to write about issues that I had no idea how to tackle in my life by having my characters go through things before I knew how to process them myself. Having fictional characters deal with things we don’t know how to process in our own lives can be an incredible processing tool and self-help. Can’t make a decision? What would your fictional doppelganger do? How do they deal with a chronic illness, challenge, obstacle, or conflict? Writing other than fiction, of course, is a way to speak out, too. There are so many venues for one’s voice to be heard, especially online. Discovering chronic illness blogs was an incredible way for me to discover that I wasn’t alone and to learn that there were people like me, facing the same hurdles I was with incredible bravery, hope, and perseverance.
Writing to tell your own story: I believe most importantly, the thing that brings all of these elements together is that all forms of writing are ways that big and small we tell bits, pieces, snippets, chapters, of our story. Even fiction writing contains pieces of ourselves. I see my characters as pieces of myself—oftentimes they are based on myself, my friends, things I experience or see in the world, or feelings I have or places I’ve been. One of the greatest things about stories is that when you’re writing your own, you can control how it’s going to end. And if things aren’t going well, you can say: this isn’t the ending to my story. You can say: it’s going to be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end. I’m going to keep fighting. I’m going to reframe this into something positive. Writing your own story gives you power. I find tremendous power in writing, in storytelling of all forms, be it journaling or blogging or fiction or listmaking or thank you cards, and I hope you can find the form of expression through writing that gives you power, too.
No matter who you are, how much pain you feel, or how hard things are, you are important, and you have a story to tell. Find your voice, word by word, page by page.