On the Healing Power of Writing

Illustration by Rika Otsuka
By That Anxious Dude
June 26, 2020
· 7 min read
I

’m not super serious about a great many things.

I usually find humour in things other people consider awkward, dark, or straight up taboo. I’m frequently irreverent, cheeky and cynical, often to the point of making even myself uncomfortable – not because I’m striving to be edgy, but because I believe in the sublime power of humour.

But here’s the twist – I’m kinda serious about writing. As a matter of fact, let’s drop the “kinda”.

I am serious about writing.

Which doesn’t mean that I start behaving like a medieval monk as soon as the conversation turns to literature, but that the creative use of language occupies a special place in my heart – a fact I’m defensively proud of precisely because I’m so immune to other sacred cows of society.

My love affair with books began at the end of high school, when I became free of drab, mandatory class readings and suddenly found myself devouring novels like a castaway, frantically trying to feed his starved mind.

At the time, I couldn’t quite explain my explosive thirst, even though I was implicitly aware of the fact that there was something very unique about literature, something that made it stand apart from all the other forms of art. Unlike theatre or movies or even video games, literature went beyond immersing you in a different world – it had the ability to transport you into another person’s mind.

Even if you were reading a detached philosophical essay, the author’s formation of arguments, what she or he decided to omit, their choice of words, all of it betrayed the inner workings of a unique consciousness. This soul revealing quality held so much more true for the works of “pure literature”, for poetry and novels.

My already considerable respect for people who wrote grew exponentially when I started dabbling in writing myself. It quickly dawned on me that trying to put together anything remotely coherent wasn’t nearly as easy as the general public made it out to be. In fact, it was anything but.

And yet to this day most folks still believe that just because they use language every day, writing is a simple act of turning what’s on the inside out, like pouring corn flakes into a breakfast bowl…

The rest of us, those who’ve tried our hand at writing rarely make this blunder. For us it’s obvious that without serious dedication to both reading and writing, there’s little chance of anything valuable ever materializing onto the page...

Thus armed with a love of books and a deep admiration for the skill it takes to produce them, I began to establish the Holy shrine of the church of one true writing, a personal credo that stated that writing should be either done seriously, or not at all. I argued that by adding anything other than the desire to convey meaning or using language in a creative fashion, you were committing the sin of wasting everybody’s goddamn time, most of all your own.

In other words, I strongly believed we should let writing be writing, and that was the end of it.

It’s no wonder then, that if you’d ask me about my opinion on the therapeutic quality of writing back then, I would have exploded into a fit of pure toddler rage. When I encountered the term, I was convinced it was a sordid new age conspiracy designed to bring down writing, as well as therapy. I firmly refused to give this abomination a second thought. If you want to do writing, I thought, then do writing, and if you want to feel better, do therapy, but for the love of God don’t pollute one with the other.

But boy, was I wrong.

Because a few years, and one mental crisis later, here’s good ol’ me doing an outrageous 180, not only publicly acknowledging that I’ve changed my mind, but also outright urging you to write for the sake of better mental health.

Yeah, sorry about that.

Throughout the years I began observing the strange, yet undeniable fact that every time I began writing, I immediately felt better, which always left me mildly confused. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

Wasn’t writing supposed to be at least somewhat jarring, even taxing on your system?

Staring at the intimidating whiteness of a blank page was unquestionably unnerving (and still is), but once my fingers started doing their little keyboard shuffle, the multitude of fears in my mind seemed to retreat like a defeated army.

At first I brushed it off as a byproduct of my ego, which becomes animated every time a task, no matter how small, is undertaken.

But then again, this type of nurturing focus never occurred when I was washing the dishes, cleaning my cat’s toilet, or going for a run.

It emerged exclusively when I began to type… As long as I let myself genuinely engage in the process of writing, even if I was merely scribbling some notes on a utility bill, I began feeling something.

Or should I say I felt an absence, as the weight of the world and it’s problems melted away like a puddle in the morning sun.

As part of my general de-programming efforts which aim to reexamine some of my more toxic beliefs, I began to ponder my attitudes towards writing again, quickly realising the giant discrepancy gaping at the heart of this relationship.

On one side, I still think of writing as a sombre process of bleeding onto the paper, but on the other, I can’t keep ignoring genuine relief every time I pick up the pen.

It doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to figure out that the first one operates from darkness, existing only to produce feelings of inadequacy (“Did you bleed hard enough? Is it even good?”).

The second one doesn’t make any demands, It’s simply there, whenever I choose to write, regardless of the format, or the medium, or the intent. The only condition it requires is my genuine presence.

This act of creation on the page, no matter how tiny or insignificant, proceeds to suck all the neurotic bits out of my mind like a celestial vacuum cleaner, before airing them out and letting them disintegrate in the open space.

In this, giving life to one’s thoughts resembles a proactive form of meditation – even when the words come slow, even when I’m struggling with syntax, even when I’m chasing a deadline and calm is the farthest thing from my mind, writing never fails to administer its medicinal properties onto my jumbled psyche.

Sometimes the biggest favour we can do ourselves is renouncing further analytic drilling, choosing instead to remain pragmatic. Because in the end, it doesn’t really matter how and why writing heals.

The important thing is that it does.

When I was younger, I thought that by “defending” writing from anything I believed impinged on its holy mission, I was protecting it’s most sacred attribute – the creative soul.

Little did I know that writing is powerful enough to accommodate different  modes of being without needing me to foster silly, self-sabotaging beliefs. Whichever adjective I choose to describe it, therapeutic or not, is completely beside the point.

Because I’m finally at a point where I’m capable of brushing off the hubris, and doing what needs to be done.

Which is of course, to write.

H1 Reglar

at least until the cold rears its ugly head again, Berlin is turning itself into a series of endless open air festivals and parties.Our little hangout reflects this festive mood, at least on the outside. If you were just a random person walking by, you would have seen two mates comfortably sharing a bottle, drinking out of paper cups, chatting away and laughing. It would all look like an uplifting scene from a European indie film.

The truth however, is different. Laurie is my friend, yes, and what’s coming out of my mouth is real laughter, but the unpleasant feeling bouncing around my skull is one of deep discomfort. The truth is I’d rather be anywhere else right now. It’s not that anything bad happened between the two of us, like a pissing contest’s gone sour just moments ago… I’ve known Laurie for almost 5 years and during that time we’ve never even had as much as a disagreement.

H2 Capital

at least until the cold rears its ugly head again, Berlin is turning itself into a series of endless open air festivals and parties.

Our little hangout reflects this festive mood, at least on the outside.

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