Writing for Healing: How Creativity Benefits Our Mental Health
When I was invited to offer a workshop on a yoga retreat, I had no idea what kind of writing I would offer to these students that would be open and simplistic enough to casually do on a week-long trip. I started brainstorming ideas, titles, and concepts that would, in my eyes, open the students up to the creativity and healing powers of writing. I also started thinking back on my own experiences with writing, and why I do it so frequently. I realized that writing for me has been incredibly cathartic and healing, which is what I wanted to focus on in the workshop. Hence, “Writing for Healing” was born. I presented my workshop to a circle of incredible women. We each pulled a card from a tarot deck and journaled about what we saw and how that image made us feel. It was a powerful exercise in using words to convey something we may have consciously filtered by using speech only. I realized that within my presentation and discussion, a wave of emotional outpouring emerged: women sharing their deepest fears, secrets, and words that made them feel super exposed and vulnerable. They later told me that this interaction was different from what they would feel in a group setting that was verbal in nature. Writing had opened up something deeper! That experience with them inspired me to dive deeper into how our creativity benefits our mental health.
It allows us to see and use our words, unfiltered
One of the biggest takeaways from our writing workshop was the question of journaling and then scratching out what you wrote down. I empathized with this question, because I had done the same in my own writing: scratching something out because it didn’t sound good enough, wordy enough, deep enough. When we begin the practice of writing down our feelings, we almost bypass our conscious mind! I invited the women to start to think of their writing process as something that comes from the heart, and the words that we write down (sometimes too quick for our brain to catch onto) are truly the words that we needed to hear, write, see, and give power to. This is what I mean when I say that writing allows us to see and use our words, unfiltered. If you need an experiential way of understanding this, sit down with a pen and paper, and write about a difficult time in your life that you’re still working through. As you write, notice the words that you write down, and continue this stream of writing without editing, stopping, or thinking of a different word. Just continue writing down what comes up naturally! Later, go back and re-read what you wrote, and begin the practice of seeing your words in a new light: perhaps they’re different than what you thought you would write; perhaps they’re bold, honest, and new! Embrace them as they are. That’s the goal here.
It holds space for our raw and authentic truth
Writing unfiltered allows us to give our truth an expression. When we journal about topics that are emotionally laden, we open up to how we’re truly feeling. There’s a great heap of healing to be found there! It’s almost like a personal therapy session that you can have with yourself. The idea that writing and creativity can hold space for you is something I wanted to share very deeply in this workshop, because I believe that in that space lies our raw and authentic truth. Just like in a therapy session that intends to peel back the layers of fear and anger and denial to get to the real truth at the core, writing proposes the same direction and strategy. Through writing and digging deeper into a topic we’ve struggled with, we can peel back those same layers to get to our own truth at the center. For mental health, this is immensely cathartic. So much of what we see in depression, anxiety, and addiction are the blocked exits to process the truth at the core of our being. Like laundry, we pile on emotions and unprocessed grief, until we’re suffocating in layers. Writing has a way of beginning the journey of pulling us out of that abyss, in a space that is safe, sacred, and personal.
It records our journey for years to come
Unless you’re writing it in sand at the beach, our writing tends to stand the test of time. In journals, notebooks, and on scraps of paper, we write down our deepest truth and tuck the contents between books, shelves, and pages. One of the gifts of writing and journaling is the idea that we’re creating something that will become a story, even if it will be for our eyes only. This is my favorite part of the writing process — creating a story! No matter what we write about, but especially if it’s about overcoming an obstacle or recording our journey from suffering to honoring, we create! What was once our burden becomes an inspiration, and a piece of art that we can always return to for guidance and remembrance. This is really where creativity shines. It allows us to not only put our thoughts and feelings down on paper, but it also gives us a record of how we felt at that time — a trail of emotional breadcrumbs, if you will. I’ve always believed that any kind of healing is never linear. In fact, it’s all over the place! Some days are peaks, some days are valleys. Everything in-between are ebbs and flows of how we flow through life. Writing gives us the chance to record these movements, so that we can go back and read our story whenever we want.
It inspires us to share our story with the world
I’ve taken my journals out into the world, and I’ve shared them with friends, family, and perfect strangers. When I brought up this idea in the workshop, I was confronted with some push-backs. Naturally, sharing your deepest writing with others is scary. I don’t know of anything else that may be more vulnerable, other than standing stark naked in a room full of people. But this is its own kind of naked! It is always our choice to leave our words in the private cocoon of what we’ve created. If we do decide to venture out and share them, we learn how similar we are to others. We create a thread of connection that allows us to hold out our hands to others who may be suffering, allowing them to take our hand in turn, only when they’re ready. So much of what propels mental disconnect and dis-ease is this idea that we need to be isolated and disconnected, until we’ve figured it out. I’ve struggled with this for years. But when we share our story, we meet people who are writing the same one; with them and from them, we learn, grow, and evolve. As humans should.
The next time you’re in the swoons of creativity — whether it’s exercising, painting, crafting, playing poker, or just conversing with a group of friends — think about the words that lie just below the surface of your heart center. There is a sea of sound there, rising and falling like waves out on water; and it’s never running out. It’s plentiful and patient, waiting for you to pick up a pen and paper and write your story, if for nothing else than to simply recognize your own artist within.