On the Healing Power of Writing

Illustration by: Rika Otsuka

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”- E.L. Doctorow

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 at all costs, 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 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, suddenly finding 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, it all betrayed the inner workings of a consciousness. This soul revealing quality held so much more true for the works of “pure literature”, for poetry, novels and biographies.

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, sort of 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.)

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 use 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 all 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, do writing, and if you want to feel better, do therapy, but for the love of Charles Dickens don’t pollute one with the other.

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.

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 the 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 dance, 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 everytime a task, no matter how small, is completed.

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

It emerged exclusively when I began to type away… 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 felt it.

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 lately, I began to ponder my attitudes towards writing again, quickly realizing the giant discrepancy gaping at the heart of this relationship.

On one side, I still think of writing as a somber 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 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, 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 the jumbled psyche.

Sometimes the biggest favour we can do ourselves is renouncing further 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 mission, I was protecting it’s most sacred attribute — the creative soul.

Little did I know that writing is powerful enough to accommodate different qualities 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.

Originally published at https://thatanxiousdude.com on June 26, 2020.

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Just a lad with a shaved head, a 70’s porn flick moustache, and a bigass suitcase full of issues. All stories imported from: https://thatanxiousdude.com/

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That Anxious Dude

That Anxious Dude

Just a lad with a shaved head, a 70’s porn flick moustache, and a bigass suitcase full of issues. All stories imported from: https://thatanxiousdude.com/

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