Transcending Chronic Illness

the healing powers of writing your story

write it down and find you have lifted your spirits

It may seem to us that we should just take our chronic illness in stride. After all most chronic illnesses aren't immediately life threatening. But we need to realize that our illness has still been a blow, a trauma. It's important that we address this in order to sort it all out the best we can. Otherwise it nags at us and keeps us from adjusting to our condition.

One effective way to clear our mind is to write about our experience. Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo offers a way of helping us put our pain down on paper in a deep, creative way. Writing our story helps us process our frustrations and anxieties about our chronic illness.

DeSalvo tells us that, "Writing that describes traumatic or distressing events in detail and how we felt about these events then and feel about then now is the only kind of writing about trauma that clinically has been associated with health." The author also points out that. "A healing narrative is a balanced narrative. It uses negative words to describe emotions and feeling in moderation; but uses positive words too"

I used this book as a guide to write about my own chronic illness triggered by a bout of viral meningitis a few years ago. Although I thought I'd come to terms with my health problems I still found myself anxious about writing my story. After a few days of struggling with the process I discovered I could distance myself by writing in the third person. From this new perspective I could see myself with compassion.

The whole task still felt overwhelming and I couldn't come up with a plan about where to start and end my story. It seemed impossible to put it in chronological order so I decided to just do little sections at a time and decide on how I would sequence them later. I told myself it didn't matter how much time it took; each little chunk could be a mini-story of it's own. I reminded myself these were just rough drafts, freeing myself to write whatever came to mind.

Eventually I went over all I'd written and did some rewriting to make things clearer. I especially had to go back and look for ways I could bring more positive thoughts into my stories. I discovered that there were good moments and I did have some loving support. It was gratifying to see that I had come a long way in adjusting to my physical limitations.

Writing my story was a long and difficult process and in the end I wondered if it had really helped me at all. Initially I was just relieved to have it finished. Gradually I realized that since writing my story I had a new sense of well-being. Before I wrote about my experience I was plagued by regrets, a sense of inadequacy and guilt that I had failed by not being able to continue to work. Now I have been able to put those negative feelings aside and go on with my life. Of course I still have my ups and down but a big weight has been lifted.

Consider writing your own story. If it seems too overwhelming just write of one experience. Don't worry about your writing ability; no one else has to read it. Perhaps doing some drawings or making a collage from magazine pictures will help you get started. Anything that guides you in understanding your chronic illness experience will lift your spirits and help you move on with your life.

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