Writing, therapy and positive outcomes by Jane Ayres

photo by Jane Ayres
photo by Jane Ayres

When I was younger, writing poetry which described and explored my state of mind during major depression may have saved me from a nervous breakdown.  Artists and writers can, and do,  use their art as a form of self-therapy. Reflective writing with a purpose, intentional or otherwise.

Writing is how I express myself.  I can struggle with words when I speak.  Writing everything down first provides the chance to ensure clarity.  I’ve been doing it all my life.  Fiction, non-fiction, copy-writing, blogging, emails, to do lists……So why am denying myself this proven therapeutic tool now? When I am still coming to terms with losing both my parents to pancreatic cancer in the space of 6 months. Burying the grief, the profound, deep sadness. The anger.  Why do I feel uncomfortable writing about it?

I don’t have children of my own.  Years ago, my maternal instincts found an outlet through caring for a special, adored young cat and when I lost him, I channelled my grief and helplessness into volunteering and fundraising for the Cats Protection League.  Eventually I was able to write about it. Over the past year, I’ve raised funds and tried to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer.  When I lose loved ones, I have a desperate need to find a positive outcome from all the tragedy.  It’s a useful way of focussing creative energy.

There is currently a high profile media campaign running which promotes the importance of cancer research.  What it doesn’t say is that not all cancers are equal.  To quote from the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund:

“Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all cancers – just 3% of those diagnosed survive for five years. It is also the only cancer that has seen no improvement in this figure over the last 40 years.

Overall, half of all those diagnosed with a cancer now survive for five years or more. For many cancers, five year survival rates have increased hugely since the 1970s. For breast cancer – where large amounts have been spent on research – five year survival rates have increased from 50% to 80%.

Yet despite its high death rate and lack of improvement in chances of survival, pancreatic cancer attracts little research funding in comparison with many other cancers.”

Although I’m not yet ready to write about my feelings,   I’m glad that I can use what I write as a tool to raise awareness of issues that concern me which relate to my bereavement.  So if this results in even one reader making a donation to, or getting involved with, these charities, then the words have done their job.

Links:  http://pancreaticcanceraction.org/    http://www.pcrf.org.uk/

On therapeutic writing:  http://www.lapidus.org.uk/about.php

Jane’s recent e-book, Coming Home, is available from Amazon, with all author royalties going to the charity Cats Protection.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00AGZV9WM

www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Stories we tell ourselves – by Jane Ayres

Writers think instinctively in terms of narrative, of story.  It’s how we make sense of the world.  The brain, our computer, processes what we see, feel, hear and looks for meaning in this input, based on our internal database of past experiences, of what has already been recorded and stored.

“Our brain casts us as ‘the protagonist’ and then edits our experience with cinema-like precision, creating logical interrelations, mapping connections between memories, ideas, and events for future reference.  Story is the language of experience.”

(Quote from Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron, Ten Speed Press.)

A story isn’t just about an event, a drama, a character.  It’s about how what happens affects that character and changes them, however subtle or enormous that change.  At the end of the story, things will never be the same.  A story is life.  Life is a story.

We learn from stories and engaging with characters, real or imagined, teaches us about ourselves.

Many people have a profound need to seek solutions and resolutions, to solve the puzzle that is our life, and I wonder if this need is enhanced in those driven to create.  We can explore this desire and feed this compulsion through our work, our stories.  Our therapy and remedy. Imagination is both a blessing and a curse. Reading other people’s stories, whether through fiction, painting, photography, film, music, is just as vital in helping us understand our own stories.

Maybe it explains the human instinct to document, record and collect.  By compiling evidence of your existence, you are assembling your story, or stories, proving that these things happened.  It is saying to yourself and the world; I am, I was.

The phenomenal success of Facebook testifies the depth of this need.  Author Jonathan Franzen is quoted as saying,

“We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery….. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us.”

The revolution that is the internet has changed the world, presenting us with a dazzling array of creative tools and distribution channels.  We all have a story to tell, to share with the world.  And now all of us can.

By Jane Ayres

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