‘Write your feelings down.’ That’s what they say, isn’t it?
But before you start imagining self-indulgent poetry and bad love songs, and prepare to be sick, I would like to put it out there that Writing Stuff Down Really Is A Useful Thing To Do.
A year or so ago, I watched a documentary programme and listened to the author Frieda Hughes (daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes) talk about this very subject. She said that, when we write our experiences down, “… The words remember it for us, so we don’t have to carry it any more …”
I recorded this in my journal – and after it, I wrote: “YES, YES, YESS!”
Writing things down puts thoughts and feelings on record. A record which can be re-read at a later date, when the anger or fear or confusion or self-doubt have died down; when ‘What Was’ can be studied with objectivity and a peaceful mind. Putting our emotions on paper – pausing to find the right words and phrases to describe how we feel, slows down the avalanche of emotion and helps us deal with it in a more measured way. Recording difficult events that made us feel small or self-doubting, validates our experience and gives us an accurate eyewitness account that we can refer to later, when we are less possessed by wild and turbulent thoughts.
And, as Frieda Hughes said, once those deeply personal, affecting events or conversations have been put on paper, they can be put to rest – safe in the knowledge that we no longer have to carry them around with us. Because they are not forgotten, but safely stored away until we need to look at them again. A written record of difficult times enables us to step away for a while and concentrate on the nice things in our lives … until, from a place of safety, we choose to return to it.
And returning to our personal, eye-witness record of a moment or event in our lives might help us understand that, perhaps, on that occasion, we were making a mountain out of a molehill – that, actually, everything was OK and we needn’t have got so flustered – and from that, we can learn to be more resilient and less overwhelmed by the things that bother us.
Or (as Frieda Hughes discovered) we might look back and realise that we did have a valid grievance, we did have a right to feel the way we did – that the little voice inside us that said, ‘This Isn’t Right’, was the RIGHT voice – and the voices that were saying you were being over-sensitive, or had remembered it wrong – or, god forbid, that it hadn’t happened at all – were voices that can now be silenced and replaced with calm and reason and strong sense of self-esteem.
Of course, it’s not always easy to write down things that have hurt us, stressed us out, confused us or caused us to question our own judgement. In fact, it can sometimes feel impossible to get started on the writing, because things feel as if they’re too hard to express – or too confronting to bear. But the words DO come, if we let them. (And if they come out in the form of a poem or a love song, then of course you must allow them to: I was only being rude about them at the start because it made a good tagline!) … And it’s worth telling yourself that, however horrible it feels as your pen hits the paper, or your fingers tap the keys, and you begin to relive those agonies and confusions – the pay-off will be worth it … because it really is like hoicking a big, heavy backpack from your shoulders and leaving it somewhere safe to be opened later.
Yes – the idea of ‘writing your feelings down’ is a tired old notion that conjours up an image of a load of mushy old nonsense.
But it’s also a brilliant, unsung medicine that helps us to look after ourselves.
Try it – in my experience, it really does help.