I have been a blogger for many, many years and I also write fantasy fiction. To me, there is something very powerful about creative writing when it comes to chronic pain management. Both when it comes to writing about my pain and when it comes to engaging in creative writing, which is fundamentally a passion and a distraction from pain.
“The fundamental tenet of NBM [narrative based medicine] is that meaning is derived from the stories that we tell….Patients tell a story about a symptom or concern, its context, how it is affecting them, and why they came to the doctor. This is a story with infinite variations in content, the person telling it, the language used, and how it is told. It reflects the uniqueness of the patient and his or her experience. ”
“Those who have been objects of others’ reports are now telling their own stories. As they do so, they define the ethic of our times: an ethic of voice, affording each a right to speak her own truth, in her own words.”
Often I think about our stories. That is our pain story. The story we tell ourselves about our pain, our beliefs about pain, it’s meaning in our lives, how we cope, how we don’t cope and what impact it has had over the course of our lives. And of course, this changes over time. As does our self-identity. Many times how I reflect on pain and my relation to it, I do so in writing in order to collect my thoughts. Outside of the impact and emotional toll… what exactly is my relation to this pain I am in? What belief system have I developed around it? (See: Chronic pain story Part III)
And there is a lot of power in writing out our chronic pain truths. The sort of truths that many people are not willing to let us talk about. It is the sort of thing people are not comfortable hearing. But writing it out and laying it out; the actual impact of pain, the entire emotional toll, what suffering means to you, what compromises you have had to make, what you have had to do to cope… are all parts of your pain story that matter and mean something.
individuals who have written about their own traumatic experiences exhibit statistically significant improvements in various measures of physical health, reductions in visits to physicians,81 and better immune system functioningStudy
Why journalling and writing leads to positive results is sort of debatable though:
“expressive writing occurs on multiple levels—cognitive, emotional, social and biological—making a single explanatory theory unlikely.”88(p138) However, there is little doubt that writing has positive consequences, and self-report studies suggest that writing about upsetting experiences produces long-term improvements in mood and health.Study
Numerous studies have replicated the results that writing can influence(across cultures, age groups, and diverse groups):
- frequency of physician visits
- immune function
- stress hormones
- blood pressure
- and social, academic, and cognitive factors
Also, there has been research to show that writing can help with control over pain and pain severity as well as depressed mood. Specifically when we can express our emotions and when it helps us develop meaning. Which makes a lot of sense because humans are meaning makers. And chronic pain makes no real sense. But we do create meaning and beliefs around it unconsciously and when we think about it we can unravel that and create new ways of thinking and coping.
Journal writing is a form of self-exploration that can really help us explore our relation to chronic illness and pain. As well as explore how we are really coping.
Journal writing has been linked to creativity, spiritual awareness, and expansion of the self. In 2 qualitative studies, journal writing helped participants identify and work though feelings, improve relationships, and learn new things about themselves.Study
There is a lot of introspection in journal writing. In one way it is cathartic to work through our emotions. In another way by thinking about this process, our coping, dealing with the pain, we explore our beliefs and relationship to pain. It can help with acceptance and it can help us develop new ways to cope.
Poetry is also a very useful form of writing for us to help express ourselves when normal forms of writing fail us.
poetry to help people find their voice and gain access to the wisdom they already have but cannot experience because they cannot find the words in ordinary language.Study
I find poetry does help me express emotions about chronic pain in a different way than just explaining it.
My writing takes all sorts of forms. Each form benefits me in different ways. All of which help me with coping with chronic pain in their own way. Even writing fiction because I find a hobby or passion I can engage in that distracts me in some way is quite valuable for pain management. And certainly writing in a journal helps me work through the emotional toll of pain as well as work through how I cope and deal with pain.