healing powers of expressive writing: James Pennebaker

I’ve been wanting to write about Pennebaker’s “healing powers of expressive writing” ever since Isobel left a tantalizing link in a comment back in April.

Since my energies and brain-power wax and wane, I’ve been waiting to be ready to write an informative post.  Ain’t gonna happen.  The being ready.  Why wait to share?  (As it is, I am struggling here….)

To get started, go read the short article, please, linked in the next paragraph.   For more information, see below at “more info.”

For nearly 20 years, Dr. James W. Pennebaker has been giving people an assignment: write down your deepest feelings about an emotional upheaval in your life for 15 or 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Many of those who followed his simple instructions have found their immune systems strengthened. Others have seen their grades improved. Sometimes entire lives have changed.”

As regular readers know, illness has changed my abilities in reading and comprehension.  The good news is that back in May when I was still mired in bad muck, I could understand the intent and instructions in Pennebaker’s assignment.   No special writing ability is necessary.  Note the wisdom about being ready to write about a particular moment.  Smart.

I printed out the two callouts from that first link to use as my instructions.

callouts

two callouts I used as my instructions
source:  http://www.utexas.edu/features/2005/writing/

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more info

Truly, it is worth wandering through.  (Each link will open in a new tab.)

James Pennebaker’s home page at the University of Texas.  At the bottom, see the links, some of which include online exercises.  A sampling:

Enhanced guidelines for healing writing, still short, but with a little more to think about.

Insight into your own use of language:  http://secretlifeofpronouns.com/exercises.php.

The Online Research Consortium.  University of Texas psych research being conducted online–we’re the guinea pigs.  Questionnaires out the gazoo.  Painless.  Anonymous.  Kinda fun.

The BBC Radio 4 programme introducing Pennebaker’s research.

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I found all those links after I tried the expressive writing.  That’s me anyway–get the gist of something and full steam ahead!

(Here’s a link to the discussion that Isobel and I had.  At the end of the comments.  Thanks, Isobel.)

I’d really like to hear what you think!

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the brain game {la la la!}

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Ed. note:   I wrote this piece several weeks ago, but I must leave this essay where it ended then.   I have no ending.  Only a continuing. 

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8 months (this time for sure)

It’s a rough go right now.  I’ve hit the 8-month mark since the catastrophic hospitalization.  This recovery feels odd to me:  I look just fine on the outside, with the exception of rocky walking, but my insides are the parts that are churning, perhaps in healing throes.  We can hope.

I have very little capacity for being in The World; going to the grocery store twangs the one nerve I have left.  Even as I drive into the parking lot, my eyes search, it feels wildly, for obstacles and dangers.  I search because I have trained myself to do so.  In the new way, in the after-time way.

So much we do automatically and autonomically, for which I am thankful.  And relieved.  Stimulus is everywhere, stimulus that in the before-time entered my power station, and was duly cataloged as Usual, Unusual, or Danger.

Ponder this:  what happens if I don’t know that my brain is not cataloging?  What happens if  there are blanks where there should have been autonomic awareness?

Sad answer:  I fall off a ladder because my inner know-er has lost track of me on the ladder, on those steps, where I am moving deliberately, slowly, like the mountaineer I used to be who knows to always have three points of contact.

sense of space

I have a blunted sense of space, of my relationship to the space I inhabit.  It is as if, momentarily, I cannot see, a long, slow brain-blink, and the danger is upon me:  falling off a ladder, smashing my hands, walking into the edges of walls.

The reason I knew had to train myself to search for obstacles and dangers is that on a day leading up to the ladder-flight, I became aware of brain-blanks, spaces where there should have been none. I was driving and my brain blinked.

I had planned to turn left, had the signal on, was looking both ways (yadda yadda), and when it was clear, I drove straight ahead, tires slightly squealing.  I got lost for a nano-nanosecond and made an error while driving.  Cars are enormous weapons and I made an error.

In sorting out these brain blinks with the help of Big Mister, we discovered that in that week of thrashing myself to the mat getting my studio mucked out, I really did push myself way too far.  I couldn’t hear the brain-voice that told me I was done.   I soldiered on, as is my wont anyway, right to brain exhaustion.  The exhaustion created spaces in mah haid [“haid” with a drawn-out Scottish brogue]….

shapes of my world

Words have given me power, power unrecognized to me until now.  Words have shapes, made up of the letters that belong.  Too often now, I do not recognize the shape of a word, so cannot spell it, cannot even work out how to spell it.  Tides of heavy grief wash through me and I sob with sorrow so deep I cannot find bottom.

The essence of Me has shifted and I have not caught up.  I don’t even know if I should bother to try to catch up.  Maybe this is all temporary, a horrible life lesson, and my facility with language will return.

If words are shifting shape, then I cannot form memories with them.  As an editor, one of joys was the puzzle-icious nature of inviting a whole document into my head while I looked at its parts.

That is to say:  Reading on page 296 and the author has used a synonym for a term or concept introduced much earlier.  I must puzzle out whether this will be startling to the intended audience, so I pause and search in my head for the first mention of that term.  Ah, yes, it was on page 34, first paragraph, 3rd line.

My assumptions about immediate comprehension and synthesizing appear.  The in-the-background brain-work that happens, the cataloging, the remembering.

I started playing Bookworm sometime in the last few months.  For about a month now I have been unable to play because I cannot see the words, and if I try, it is entirely too much effort inside mah haid.  Now, I play a Mahjong game, a matching game, and that feels like a rehab exercise.

fun?

Big Mister will leave within an hour or so for the campering vacation I requested but am unable to go on.  He asked what kind of fun would I have on my stay-cation.  I didn’t mean to be a downer or to be negative, but the truth was that it would be business as usual for me:  staying close to home (driving = bad), being very quiet, obeying the cats, reading….  I guess it isn’t time for easy Fun yet.

Though today there was supposed to be Fun for me–My Peeps were coming to pick me up for a lunchtime hang-around.  We have not been together in way over a year, maybe 1-1/2 years?! But, ooops, sickness in our midst and we’ll have to reschedule.

Mrs. Ploppy of The Peeps, endured chemo for the last half of last year, only finishing this past January.  (She is now 14 months cancer-free!  May we have a hallelujah from the audience?!)  She has been an incredibly stable part of my recovery; she has been my friend.

Our Third is regular ole, regular ole, healthy and happy.  Her husband mused one day if perhaps Mrs Ploppy and I were keeping Third around for spare body parts.

power of the word

Apparently, my heart has transported itself to my right side, protected under the clavicle bone.  How do I know that?  Because when the masseuse told me to allow a word to surface from my inner self and then to store it under my heart, I felt the word being stored in my heart on the right side of me.

It wasn’t that weird dyslexic confusion that has been magnified lately.  With calm certainty, I knew that’s where my heart was.

Recovery-time is huge right now, the changes to my brain right smack in my face, like a crack across the cheekbone outta nowhere.  Repeatedly.  Daily.  Hanging on…

To lose my facility with words has been an ego-bashing.  Is this what the Buddhists mean by, to rephrase, flattening the ego?  I dunno.  Don’t care right now.

My words have been a source of power to me, a power that has fueled the Me for half a century, back to the moment as a toddler where I wailed that I couldn’t read.   Even then I knew that words were a power source, that words open worlds.  “Bushels and acres and stars and worlds….”

If I describe this time only as “disconcerting,” I leave out the internal, lonely horrors.   But “disconcerting” suggests a cacophony, a lack of organization, a lack of a unified whole.

Indeed, this moment is disconcerting.

“Ciao, Professore!” (movie); Io speriamo che me la cavo (the book)

“Ciao, Professore!” is a charming, laugh-out-loud movie, by Lina Wertmüller, released in 1993.  Next to the title in parentheses were these words:  Io speriamo che me la cavo.  Here’s the Netflix blurb:

In director Lina Wertmüller’s upbeat comedy, Marco Sperelli (Paolo Villaggio) — a priggish upper-class teacher from northern Italy — is mistakenly assigned to a tumbledown school in an impoverished village near Naples. But upon arriving, he finds most of his students hustling on the streets to earn money for their families — and before you can say “school of hard knocks,” Sperelli becomes the pupil as the kids tutor him about life’s realities.

I don’t speak Italian, so the English subtitles could be accurate that translated the very, very rude language of the 3rd graders.  Somehow it worked, those little children hollering some terrible language.  It probably worked because it was coming out of the mouths of little children.  Laughed and laughed till I couldn’t breathe!

The parenthetical title in Netflix was in little tiny letters and got me curious.  (Thank you Google.)  The movie is based on the book, released in 1990, Io speriamo che me la cavo (I did not know there was a book!).

Apparently, the book is a collection of the real essays written by children going to school in Arzano near Naples.  At that link there is a sample of the humor and is well worth reading.  I remember this passage well in the film and it was hilarious!  Still funny!  Now I want to read the essays…. !!  Better get studying!

The real reason I started this post was to quote a particular piece of wisdom in the movie.  But I digressed. (gasp!)  I’ll tell anyway:

Q:  Why is LIFE like chicken coop stairs?

A:  Because it’s short and shitty.

recuperation: bubble theory

Today I am here. Today I am limited. Today, I am not the same as I was on February 12, 2012, the day before my brain and body exploded with heat and pain, and my body’s processes dropped toward zero.

For the last month-plus, I have observed myself coming out of the fog of death-defying illness. The first two months are only a fuzzy blur where I went through the motions of taking care of myself, taking meds on a regimented schedule, staying at home, using every bit of energy to just be, so there were no observations and very little awareness beyond my skin.

When I first came home from the hospital, with its tubes and hard-hitting, life-saving drugs, I did attempt to fall into my daily routine, subconsciously allowing muscle memory to guide me.

In the before-time, part of my morning habit was turning on the CD player and sitting in the living room, drinking coffee, checking email and reading the funnies online, plus checking the (awful) news, both domestic and foreign sources.

In the time after, it became thus:

There was no planning, just doing: arise after dreamless sleep, go to the CD player to have music for my morning as was habit for years, but quickly turn it off. Then, shower, and dress, boil water for herbal tea, fix the same bland breakfast, and read in the bedroom for hours.

The music of my mornings before my descent toward zero was usually Baroque chorale music, or one of my favorite happy guys, Henry Purcell.  In those new mornings, as soon as I turned the music on, I had to turn it off because it immediately used up all my brain cells.  The music evoked a constant sonar pinging against every More

Crossed brain wires

I sometimes see things that aren’t there.

No, not like that.

Reading signs has become entertainment instead of edification:

Passing a church with one of those scrolling electronic reader boards, I saw:

“A mighty mattress is our God.”

Passing a horse ranch, there was a hand-lettered sign advertising a logical product for sale:

“Cowspot”

I can’t see what’s happening with the brain pathways for my optic nerves (no pun intended, but accepted!), but it sure makes life fun with unexpected ways to think about things.

Think about those two mis-reads up there.  Maybe I read those signs correctly?

I am special and getting the subliminal and secret messages!

© No Stealing!  That’s what the little c in the circle means!
© lahgitana and Rockin’ the Purple, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to lahgitana and Rockin’ the Purple with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Rockin’ the Purple

Playing with concrete creations, learning garden design, puttin’ purple in my hair, and that’s just this year.

I’ve had an interesting life so far and have had a richness that I appreciate only now, at 54.

I want to tell how it feels to remove myself from chronic injury, pain, and illness as I work with concrete.  How mixing the concrete reminds me that I understand it a little because I’ve been a baker most of my life.  It helps to be fearless and to have a constant How hard could it be? attitude.

There’s a reason I studied Chinese in college and excelled at it.  It plays directly into garden design–the Chinese characters have life and meaning, rules, and art.  Garden design is like that–understand the language of design, be artful, work within prescribed limits, and take joy in the expression of the intricacies.

©  No Stealing!  That’s what the little c in the circle means!
© lahgitana and Rockin’ the Purple, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to lahgitana and Rockin’ the Purple with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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