Re-discovering the power of the pen to alleviate PTSD

#veterans #PTSD #journaling #stress #depression #therapy

Creative.  Biographical.  Experiential.  Philosophical.  Therapeutic-al.  Putting pen to paper or tapping on a keyboard is expressive.  Writing as a form of therapy is to dig out those feelings you don’t want to share more openly and to express them, essentially projecting them in front of your own eyes, in written form.  Being able to see those thoughts, those words, leads to an analysis of those thoughts.  The goal of this therapy is to enhance self-awareness and to be able to ease the intensity of certain harsh feelings.

As a kid, I always had an interest in writing.  I used to make up stories, write ’em down on loose-leaf paper with a “fancy pen” (like that was gonna improve the content), staple them and consider them “published.”  Then a few hours or days later I’d look at them again, think they were shit, then grab my dad’s lighter and go out back and light them up.  Had to burn them, God forbid somebody else were to read them – the embarrassment would have been unbearable.  Not sure how many times I’d torched my stories, but looking back some 30-something years later, I regret it.  Even if they were poorly written and constructed, it would have been nice to look back at those.  Most of the stories were my version of the horror or science fiction genres, but I think the value would have been in reading between the lines a bit and seeing my head space in those times.

When I reached high school, I took newspaper classes and writing classes.  Did pretty well, too.  Luckily for me, my mom saved a few of those newspapers.  After she died, we found those among her personal effects – I’ve had them ever since, neatly tucked away in a box in the garage.  I took them out a couple of times over the years – partially to reconnect with those times, but also to give my kids a chance to “clown” this kid growing up in the Eighties.  Without getting too existential, I think it was helpful to have that evidence around to help me explore the journey from there to here.

I was never really encouraged to pursue the writing thing by my parents or friends.  Teachers always praised – but that’s kinda what they’re supposed to do, even when you suck.  I let it be.  For years.

Years later, right around the mid-point of my career, interest re-ignited.  An old boss of mine gave me a going away present: a fancy-ass Persian-style notebook.  We shared work and literary interests, and I think the guy saw something in me and meant to encourage it.  His remarks at that time were something to the effect of, “Someday when you’re old and gray and the government has no desire to jail an old man.  Maybe then you can tell some of our stories and of your stories.”  It was a thoughtful gift and the suggestion to write was not lost upon me – but it was put on the shelf a while longer.

I ran into a colleague returning from a deployment around the same time I was coming back from my own.  We crossed paths at a deployment re-integration course.  The “course” was a mandatory three-day headshrink, to make sure that certain service members’ deployment experiences didn’t totally fry their brains.  I’ll probably write more about deployments, “re-integration” and other things in other posts, but to stay on track here, I can recall that this guy suggested journaling as a form of therapy, if I ever needed something like that in the future.  This guy that was “journaling” was not somebody I would ever expect to use writing as a therapy to calm inner-demons.  I could see maybe booze, women, fights – but not writing.  That surprising and encouraging interaction re-ignited my interest in writing – and maybe looking into therapy.

Returning home, apparently sane, not an immediate threat to myself or anyone else, and equipped with a few new coping skills, I tried to get back in-sync with the “real world.”  I dusted off that Persian notebook and began writing.  Over the course of the next 3-4 years, I filled its’ pages with thoughts and quotes and self-encrypted bits of experiences I had over the years.  The “self-encrypted” description is just my way of saying that I changed the names of the guilty (or innocent) players, locations, and indicators of dates/times, to avoid inadvertently leaking something that might be considered sensitive or more grave.  I ran out of room, after writing sideways, in margins, wherever I could find space, in order to capture this stuff that would largely seem random and incoherent to any else.

Found another notebook, something I found myself in a bookstore, something that – to me – seemed “worthy enough” to capture and preserve these musings.  Began to fill that one, this time less experiential and more “touchy-feely.”  I finished that one at a rapid pace (for some reason).  I’ve started a couple more since then, rambling about various things, but most delving into the depths of my internal Shit Show.

A good friend reached out a couple of years ago to ask for help on a writing project.  He and his wife were working with a renowned Hollywood writer on a “treatment” for a potential television show.  He asked if I could help to fill-in some details for them by providing observations of certain archetypes I’ve encountered during my career, and by providing some of my own experiences to help them flesh-out their project.  I revealed that I had been “journaling,” to which my friend was surprised and delighted.  I agreed to dig out some anecdotes from the journal and properly “mask” details for his project.  Time will tell if that ever goes anywhere.

I joked with my friend that his request, out-of-nowhere, was sort of an epiphany for me.  I was cautiously encouraged, and that meant a lot (with his caution being: don’t do this if it interferes with my ability to pay the bills and take care of my family).

I shared this interaction with my therapist the next time I saw her.  Coincidentally (or maybe fatefully) she remarked that she and her colleagues were just discussing the introduction of writing therapy for certain patients (me included).  Synchronicity?

We started down that path in my next session.  I’ll probably write more about writing therapy, PTSD stuff, and therapy in general in future posts, but for now, lets just say that this writing thing is calling again, and I can’t ignore it anymore.

You’ll probably do your own web-searching if this topic struck you, but if you want me to save you as step or two, click on this link below (one of the sites I found during my own search):

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s