Rx: Writing as Medicine

When life gives you lemons, do you make lemonade, or do you rub the fruit in your wounds?

There are days when life just feels hard, and even simple, day-to-day tasks weigh me down.

Case in point: this morning, making breakfast for my household felt like a Sisyphean task. Instead of being punished by the Greek gods to infinitely fulfill the futile task of rolling a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down the other side, I made what felt like the millionth bowl of oatmeal in my lifetime. Like Sisyphus, ruefully watching that giant rock speed back down the hill, as breakfast was gobbled, I knew full-well that there will be no end to the bowls of oatmeal I’ll cook in the future.

Keep an eye on your inboxes folks, invitations to my pity party will be sent out soon.

“Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.”
― Margaret Mitchell

“It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.”
― George Eliot

Since trying to “think” myself out of uncomfortable, dark feelings is an invitation to fall further down the rabbit-hole, I’ve invested myself in a mood-altering writing exercise.

I set the timer for seven minutes and let my pencil fly. That’s right, I said pencil. I’m old school. I let myself bellyache and feel sorry for myself. I allow myself the indulgence of pointing fingers, and railing at the universe. Those thoughts that I’m embarrassed to share with other human beings? They go down on paper.

When the alarm goes off, I put down my pencil, and take a few deep breaths. Then, I reset the timer for fifteen minutes. When the clock starts ticking, I force myself to see the situation from another angle…from a more positive and hopeful POV. Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth. Often, I have to fake it till I make it. No matter what my mood is when I begin to look for the silver lining, I find I am always able to “write my way into right thinking” to borrow (and clumsily adapt) a phrase.

Sure, I might cook breakfast every day, but stirring oatmeal on the stovetop is easier on the lower back than pushing a massive piece of granite up a hill. Sisyphus had to do the same exact action every single day, over and over again, ad nauseum. I have options! I can make toast, or better yet, toss a box of cold cereal on the table and call it a day. I help keep my family healthy by choosing the meal with which they start their day. I am lucky enough to start the day with the people I love.

This example is a bit trite, I know. Making breakfast is, of course, a surmountable hurdle. But I’ve found the exercise has also helped me through much more complicated challenges as well. It’s improved my outlook during moments of generalized ennui, and also throughout major life crises. There are definitely occasions when I have to repeat the exercise many days in a row until the pain eases, and other times, in just one run-through, my sense of humor re-appears and I see a light at the end of the tunnel.

“But you will admit that it is a very good thing to be alive.”
― L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

I’m no Polyanna, and finding the silver lining isn’t naturally my first thought when faced with adversity. In fact, when I’m down in the dumps, I’d much rather pour myself into the negative writing, and I’m resistant to admitting there may be an upside. However, the proof is in the pudding* — the simple exercise I described gives me a rosier outlook, and injects my day with a much needed dose of optimism.

Give it a go. You can set your alarm for whatever amount of time works for you. A short, concise period suits me best, but you’ll find your own balance. Would you rather tell your story in photos? In poetry or song? The possibilities are truly endless.

Please let me know if and how you adapt the exercise, and how it impacts you.

The sun’ll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There’ll be sun!

–“Tomorrow” from ANNIE, by Charles Strouse & Martin Charnin

*Or, more appropriately than pudding in this situation, the proof is in the oatmeal with blueberries and almonds.

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  1. Writing often cures what ails me. Today is such a day. The Sisyphean task is often one of rote living – the same old routine every single day. Writing sometimes seems like an EKG spike during a flat line. Oh good, I’m still alive.

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  2. This post has definitely caught my attention and is very interesting i am going to make sure i read more of your content. I also agree with this post as when i write down bad feelings it sure helps me get over them.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Yes! This is so true- and very relatable! I love to refer to this blog. As a newbie, I’m still figuring things out, so this is a good confidence booster! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is extremely useful for me and an exercise I will definitely try and fit into my writing routine. It has come at a great time for me as I am almost half way through my first novel and sometimes I need that short writing exercise to kick start my day. Thanks for the post!

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  5. Thanks a lot for the inspiration, I’m sure a lot of people (including me), have felt that way you described. Great exercise. Great post.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Nicely put (and done). It took me about a zillion years to return to my hopeful, optimistic youth. As Shakespeare suggested, nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Good job.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Right or is that write? One does need to sit on the Throne of Pity for a bit in order to better hold to what you have been given. Both are needed. So when I climb down I also take a minute or two to practice gratitude.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I love that I can write a post exactly as I want it – with all my feelings and thoughts as they come – and save it as a draft.

    Then I come back a day later to edit and change it. I amazed at how in just a day or even a few hours my whole outlook can change!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I totally experienced the rejuvenating power of writing yesterday! I just focused on writing my book… but I love the idea of doing of kind of resetting your day by letting the negativity out and writing down the positives. AWESOME!

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  10. Writing is the best therapy. I’ve worked through many an impasse just by throwing it at my characters and watching how they solve it.

    When I’m angry at a family member, I spend time working and re-working the email by reading it to myself via a text reader. It’s like listening to the other person giving the argument and watching as the answer to solving the problem presents itself over and over again.

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  11. Well said and very accurate. I hadn’t blogged in years. However, after my mom passed away several weeks ago I found that writing about her was the most healthy way I could find to deal with the loss.

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  12. I have written my negative feelings on my blog. Reading them after some time felt silly. Especially after realising that they were such small issues.

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      1. Truly the best healer… I liked your approach though… Am going to try it next time I feel the need to vent…

        Liked by 1 person

  13. This is a lovely post, and is very inspiring. Simple tasks can become so difficult so this was a very relatable post. Good job on opening up about this and acknowledging what your normal patterns and behaviours are and trying to overcome personal challenges.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Recently, we did the “Victim Idol” game. Based on Pop Idol, you tell others your woes and the one who gets the biggest Awwww wins. The great thing of this is to laugh at it- “Oh! I suffer so much!” Or even enjoy it.

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  15. Writing of any vector, positive, negative, or otherwise, can be very medicinal. Get out all the horrible things you are thinking so they aren’t clogging up the harmony, evict the evil, nurture the nutritious. I’ve used writing as mental medicine since I could pick up a pen. when I don’t get to exercise a daily dose, I feel the difference.

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  16. I love this idea! I will definitely try it especially on Monday mornings when I fight with myself not to stay in bed.

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  17. Hi everyone! I am new to the blogging scene, and it would be so lovely if someone would take a look at my blog! Feedback is optional, but would be greatly appreciated!

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