Thursday, August 03, 2006

My class -- and how you can participate on your own

"There is NO doubt in my mind that being in your writing class has been one of -- if not THE -- most significant parts of my recovery." -- one of my students

The class
It's Tuesday afternoon. Around a conference room table in Stanford University's Psychiatry Building sit 10 people -- an attorney, two teachers, a physician, a saleswoman, a hairdresser, a graphic artist, two engineers and a college student -- all coping with profound depression. Most are on disability from their jobs. Women and men from across Northern California, they range in age from their 20s to their 60s. This creative writing group is "the most important part of my week," declares one student, with a smile.

I offer a writing prompt: What would you like to say to a trustworthy friend about your depression? Heads bow over notebooks and pens scratch away for 20 minutes. Then, with kindness, empathy and non-judgment, the group listens as each writer in turn reads aloud.

We laugh a lot in this group, and we cry sometimes too. This is a place where it's safe to share everything from daily frustrations to the traumas of abuse or a suicide attempt with people who've "been there." Students report that this kind of writing and sharing helps them modulate their moods, develop greater insight, and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Proof
Fascinating scientific studies also clearly demonstrate that some kinds of writing can change your emotions and thoughts -- and even your body. For example, in numerous experiments, writing about a trauma can lead to decreased blood pressure, improved immune function, fewer doctor's visits and decreased depressive symptoms. There's powerful evidence for what my students, as well as other writers and poets through the centuries, have experienced: Writing really can help ease depression.

Write on your own
You don't need to have a group to do the writing exercises I'll offer in this blog. Write just for yourself. You may decide later to share some of it with a friend, family member, doctor or therapist, but for now let yourself dig deeply into your writing without feeling concerned about what a reader or listener might think later.

Is this just like journaling? No, not the type of journaling or diary-keeping most people seem to do. That kind of writing tends to be very inwardly focused. While this is important, it's not everything. "Freewriting," as we'll often do here, is also about how you connect with the world outside yourself. In fact, some of the writing I'll propose is about things other than mental health issues.

So how do you do this writing to ease depression? To start, just write -- or type -- continuously for at set period of time (say, 10 minutes) on the suggested topic. Don't worry about grammar, spelling or puctuation. If you don't know what to say at some point, just repeat what you've written. Don't think too much; just have fun.

Play with this...
Let's start by writing about a simple, concrete topic, just to get your writing mind and hand in gear: Describe your childhood bedroom. Really think back. How did the room look? Did you share it? What stories do you recall about it? What happened to it? Write for 10 minutes.

Let me know how this feels!

Beth

3 comments:

Elizabeth Maynard Schaefer, Ph.D. said...

Test, test, test.

Diane said...

Elizabeth,
Just wanted to let you know I came across your blog the other day and am enjoying reading your posts. I particularly like your description of this class and the prompt you offered--what you would like to say about your depression to a trustworthy friend. I have taught similar workshops and groups here in North Carolina--both to people with depression and people with cancer--and have just recently started my own weblog about such----

Hope you'll continue

Diane said...

Elizabeth,
Just wanted to let you know I came across your blog the other day and am enjoying reading your posts. I particularly like your description of this class and the prompt you offered--what you would like to say about your depression to a trustworthy friend. I have taught similar workshops and groups here in North Carolina--both to people with depression and people with cancer--and have just recently started my own weblog about such----

Hope you'll continue