When the going gets tough, the tough start writing

Articulating your thoughts and feelings on a page can be the bravest thing you ever do in your life. It takes guts to be honest with yourself, let alone others, about what is really bugging you, frightening you and holding you back. When your mind feels muddy or your thoughts are flying around like butterflies on speed, it is often a sign of avoidance. Your subconscious knows full well what’s wrong and your conscious mind is desperately trying to shield you from it, whatever this ‘it’ may be. It’s a protective mechanism that helps us from becoming overwhelmed by difficult emotions. But those things you avoid dealing with will build a prickly nest right in the centre of your chest and keep poking your mind at regular intervals to make sure you remember that it’s still there. Unresolved.

I get it. We avoid doing difficult things that we know will upset us. I am guilty of this too. But writing can release some of the tension around issues and ruffle that annoying feeling in your chest. All it takes is to be brave enough to give it a try and trust the process. So when the going gets tough, the pen can be your weapon to fight back and keeping strong.

My own experience of how helpful writing can be started when I was going through cancer treatment a few years ago. Getting cancer was not on my agenda, or anywhere in my universe, living a reasonably healthy life and being a busy mum to two young children. But sometimes life pelts lemons at you and you better duck or get bitter.

The experience of cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatment was nothing like I would have imagined it. It was pretty shitty, that goes without saying, but the things that concerned me most was not the prospect of being defeated by a life-threating illness. No, I was more distraught about losing my hair due to the chemotherapy treatment. I am a reasonably intelligent person and consciously I knew this was silly but it was bugging me to no end and I could not understand why. Until I sat down to write about it.

Ten minutes of free-flow writing was all it took to get to the bottom of why hair loss was such a traumatic thought for me. It had nothing to do with going bald. Instead, it was the fact that it was a visible sign of my illness and everyone could take one look at me and know I had cancer. The hair would grow back and I could deal with wearing hats for a few months. But the realisation that I couldn’t keep my illness private was causing anxiety because I don’t do self-pity and I didn’t want pity from others either. However, realising that this was the root of my anxiety enabled me to find a way to deal with it. Understanding myself and my feelings made it easier to cope with my circumstances. I pulled that anxiety nest right out of my chest and put a pretty chemo hat on it.

Sometimes you don’t know how tough you are until you look a bit closer. Then it’s time to get going, and start writing.

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