Cancer. Quiet yet cantankerous emotions all consuming. Tears of fear, tears of questions, tears of shock, tears of waiting. Tears suppressed. Writing is a release. Writing is a hobby. Writing as therapy engulfed me early. My voice within would spill my feelings of despair, sadness, loneliness, and even gratitude onto the pages. Raw, uncensored snapshots of time would transform into words that flowed sometimes as I wept onto the white blank space.
I started my writing therapy the day after my double mastectomy (not “a” double mastectomy but “my” double mastectomy, this was happening to me.) I was recovering, supported by my parents and sister who knew the news that was coming. I had more cancer in my lymph nodes. I would be undergoing aggressive treatment including chemotherapy and radiation. Boom! My Caringbridge site would become my emotional writing therapy outlet, one day at a time. Here is an excerpt from my Caringbridge dated April 9, 2013.
Truth – April 9, 2013 (slightly edited)
The truth is I am sick. I am tired and I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. My writing tonight is coming from a sad, darker place than normal and I decided it was necessary for me. I have been in and out of bed for 4 days now. I have been wrestling all the sickness and fatigue that comes with this darn condition and I am depressed.
I don’t want my eyes to continue to develop “gunk” that makes it feel like they are stuck shut. I don’t want an infection in my nose that is bleeding and won’t heal. I hate feeling tired even trying to take a shower. I was winded today doing the most mundane things and that is the truth of the past several days and it has almost always been the truth.
Because the sadness that caught up with me today in my bed seemed to overwhelm me I decided to turn on the iPad and just purge how I am feeling. I know I am almost half way there. I know everyone wants me to feel well, be well, fight and be optimistic. But the truth is – today I just sobbed in my bed while my 2 cats went about their business comforting me without any knowledge that anything has changed. Do you think they know when you are sick? That they need to give you some extra special loving? I certainly don’t know but I do know that if they were not here it would be a heck of a lot darker in my room.
I rarely cry over this life event that seems to dominate my being, however when I do it is deeply private and silent and frankly ok to share. Perhaps expressing my anger is somewhat cathartic along with sharing my sadness as the 2 emotions co-exist within minutes of each other. I want to get out of bed…..I want to feel normal……but I just don’t!
No one can prepare you for the ups and downs physically or emotionally and sometimes it just all collides and here I am. I am writing angrily with tears dripping down my face trying to make sense of how I got here and when it is ever going to end. One day I have beautiful smiles on my face captured through film and the next I am desperate in the darkness. I know I should have expected the extremes and I am certainly more familiar than ever with them but it still does not get any easier.
Isolation, withdrawing, sickness – it makes for a perfect storm of grieving. I am grieving how things were before 12/21/2012. I don’t know how to share with others how much I am grieving and how frowning feels more natural than smiling. The world has too many people who are frowners and I know I do not want to be that – but sometimes as the days creep into each other and I am still awaiting wellness – I need to share my truth of this terrible thing called cancer. I continue to root from the sidelines for all of those struggling with illness that sets them back emotionally and physically – and thanks again for letting me wipe my tears on this welcoming white canvas.
How do you get started on your own writing for healing journey? After interviewing Wendy Brown-Baez who leads a class called Writing for Healing at Pathways in Minneapolis, here are some tips from her on how to begin (in no particular order.)
- Check out some books and/or articles on writing for healing. Some authors to consider are: Louise DeSalvo – “Writing as a way of Healing” or James Pennebaker – “Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval”
- Get started on paper with pen and just keep the pen moving. Don’t evaluate or edit the writing. Just keep the pen moving in a free form way.
- Keep practicing. Give yourself permission to keep doing it regardless and in spite of the context. (example: re-reading initial free form writing and saying “it is crappy.”) This is where permission to keep writing can be so powerful.
- Find a favorite poem – pick a word or a few words from the poem as prompts and begin free-form writing from what you selected.
- Use open-ended phrases to help you begin such as: What I yearn for? What did I notice today?
- End the writing session with self-affirming positivity such as: What gives me joy? What am I grateful for?
- Take a writing for healing class
Other Healing Through Hobbies Blogs/Podcasts in this series:
- Healing Through Hobbies: Art
- Healing Through Hobbies: Gardening
- Healing Through Yoga: a Podcast
- Healing Through Hobbies: Volunteering
- Healing Through Hobbies Blog Resources and Reflection
Written by Susan Pettit. A hobbyist writer, breast cancer survivor, and on-line vintage shop proprietor living with two intuitive loving fur balls, Coco Chanel and Baby Bella. Breast cancer awakened my writing (I call it lifestyle therapy) in the pursuit of a re-purposed life. Thank you Firefly Sisterhood for letting me share some of my raw truth-telling stories.