Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Writer, Heal Thyself

I've been experimenting with substances to alleviate the periodic symptoms of anxiety I experience.  Since finding out I have PTSD, I've become better at recognizing my own sort of seismic-escape behavior pattern before an impending panic attack.  Now that I'm getting good at predicting an episode, I'm interested in the myriad ways there are to deal with one.  


While researching the herbal supplement kava on my favorite doctor's website, I found this article from Dr. Weil about "therapeutic journaling" or "expressive writing":  


Writing to Ease Stress?


Dr. Weil's big on spontaneous healing but I bet he didn't know his dispassionate, well-researched document could bring about spontaneous crying.  Halfway through, when it got to this part, my cheeks got wet:


"Another study, from the University of Iowa published in the August, 2002, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, found that a group of students assigned to write about their emotions and their attempts to understand and make sense of a traumatic event became more aware of the positive fallout of the event – such as improved relationships, greater personal strength, spiritual development and an increased appreciation for life."


The funny thing about being an emotional basketcase is that tears don't necessarily signal sadness.  I've got happy tears like Bob Ross had happy trees.  These tears that rolled down my cheeks came from relief.


It's been a stressful couple of years.  Ah, why bother putting on my Pollyanna face?  It's been a stressful life.  My brother, who I both adored and abhorred, died last year of alcohol-induced liver failure.  His death triggered a looking-back on our relationship that felt like a shot to my gut.  He abused me and he saved me.  Now he's dead.  I'm alive.  I'm writing.    


To learn ways to cope with Pat's death, a therapist recommended I try dialectical behavior therapy which I found to be effective to some degree, but ultimately I'm not a joiner and I began to feel as if the group therapy was becoming more of a hindrance to my health than a help.  In my urge to empathize with the other therapees, I would often leave group feeling physically sick from having borne so much of other people's burdens.


Or maybe it's not that I'm too empathetic but too narcissistic.  Nah, DBT is about the middle way.  I don't have to make claims on myself that swing from empathetic to narcissistic.  How about this?   Introspective.  


I tried a bit of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing with my therapist, the idea being that recalling traumatic life experiences while having these electrode looking things stuck to your head, forcing you to process your memories on both sides of your brain would bring about healing.  Or something like that.  It didn't seem to do anything for me.  Perhaps because I couldn't stop thinking, "I have a vibrator on my head." And then I'd get paranoid that my therapist could somehow tell I was making jokes inside my head instead of paying attention to the healing process.


After leaving a session, as I walked down the sunny sidewalk with the beautiful blue sky above me whether I cared to pay attention to it or not, this thought came to me:  If processing traumatic memories using both sides of your brain is a healing method for post-traumatic stress disorder, why couldn't typing be?  Writing on a keyboard requires internalizing dialogue, formulating ideas, and expressing them with both hands, stimulating both sides of your brain.  Why couldn't blogging to strangers for free be the mode of transportation rather than paying a stranger a hundred bucks to give my brain a little bilateral tap?  


Writer, heal thyself.