Friday, July 31, 2009

TO WRITE: Is There a Book in You?
After giving a talk at the recent national NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) conference about the healing aspects of writing in the treatment of mental illness, it happened again:
I was approached by several people who were interested in writing a book to tell the tale of their illness. Boy, do I know that feeling. I think that for some of us it's an innate reaction to the bizarre and hellish symptoms we've lived through and may still be facing. We want the world to understand us, to validate us, to stop stigmatizing us, and we want to process our own tale to make better sense of it for ourselves. I included parts of my own story in my book Writing through the Darkness: Easing Your Depression with Paper and Pen, and I'm now working on a memoir about the spiritual aspects of mental illness. It's healing for me, that's certain.

Whether or not you are inclined to write about yourself, many people feel there is a book in them that they'd like to write before they die. Do you want to record a family history for your grandkids? Detail all you've learned about a hobby or career? Chronicle a historic period you lived through?The following exercise is taken from Writing through the Darkness. Let yourself think big and go deep.

Play with this. . .
Imagine you were to sit down at the kitchen table and start writing or typing your first book. What would it be about? What would you really like to say to the world and leave behind in perpetuity?

Then consider this: What does your book topic tell you about what is important to you? Does your enthusiasm for writing about the ocean suggest you might want to spend more time at the beach? If you felt inclined to write a memoir, what events in your life would you like to get on paper?

Monday, July 20, 2009

TO WRITE: Things Worth Saving
Why do we all get attached to particular physical objects? Whether it's an expensive car or a smooth stone in your pocket, nearly all of us feel a connection with certain items. Some of us even have trouble not "glomming on" to everything that comes our way.

With firestorm season beginning in California (not to mention the ever present threat of an earthquake in these parts), I wonder just what I'd save from my home if only given a couple of minutes. And how would that list expand if I had more warning?

After playing that mental exercise, I wonder how those priorities affect the way I look at my possessions in general. For example, why is it so hard to be ruthless when cleaning out a closet or drawer of old things that I don't use or care about, but which might be useful "someday"?

Play with this. . .
Writing quickly, jot down the items you'd save if you only had a few moments to get out of your home. (Assume that all people and pets are already safe.) Then enlarge your list to what you'd take if you had a couple of hours to pack. Next, write continuously for 10 minutes about what these lists tell you about how you live day-to-day and what you might like to adjust... Could properly backing up your computer leave you calmer? If you really treasure those old family photos, would you enjoy framing and hanging a few? If you discover that a certain book of poetry is very dear to you, do you want to make it a habit to read a page before bed each night?

I realized that I could give old t-shirts I haven't worn for years to Goodwill and that I'd love the empty space they left on the shelf. I also discovered that some of the meaningful greeting cards I've received and saved over the years would look great on my bulletin board and remind me of their kind words. Some things really are worth saving.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

TO WRITE: Going from Bad to Better
I left the blogosphere for a number of weeks recently due to some unexpected health problems, and I'm very, very pleased to be back. I'm also relieved that my problems were not of the mental/brain variety -- not only are those every bit as miserable, in my experience, but they are my personal nemesis, my challenge, my dark hole. No, I had gall bladder problems, including some complications, hospital time, and surgery. And I'm fine now.

All of this got me to thinking. . . what pulls you through when you are ill with mental/brain or other physical illness? I was blessed to have a supportive husband and insurance that covered most of the expenses, and I lucked into good doctors in the hospital and the OR. But I realized too that, despite a lot of pain, I wasn't as flustered as the staff seemed to think I'd be. The thing that left me on an even keel was all the depression, psychosis and suicidal times I've been through. I know what pain feels like. I have gotten through before, and I'll do it again. Mental illness has toughened me.

Play with this. . .

Writing continuously for at least 20 minutes total, describe a time you felt seriously ill in any way. Then describe what treatments, people, creative outlets, past experiences, rituals, mind-sets or other factors helped you through. Did you just need a certain amount of time to heal? Did hope or sheer determination help?

Finally, how can you apply these tools the next time you feel significantly depressed? It may be useful to keep a list of these resources in the back of your notebook or another safe place to refer to later. When you need such a tool, write about it for 10 minutes first to remind yourself how it feels, reengage with it, and plan how to put it to its best use.