“I write because
I don’t know what I think
until I read what I say.
This observation by author Flannery O’Connor rings true to anyone who harbors a vague feeling of anxiety for no identifiable reason.
“Worrying is like
walking around with an umbrella
waiting for it to rain.”
Even though they are living in a comfortable rut—let’s say, they are financially secure, their health is good, their family is intact—they can’t deny the knot in their gut or the dull ache in their chest that suggests something is wrong. Or, maybe they wake up every day with a sense of dread, exhaustion, sadness, or withdrawal that screams “depression”, even though, as people tend to remind them, they have nothing to be depressed about. After all, they have a steady job and a nice home, their children are doing well, and their bills are paid. They should be happy.
Still, the feeling is always there…uncertainty, fear, emptiness, hopelessness. They just don’t know why.
“These mountains you
you were only supposed to climb.”
This is where storytelling comes in. Writing enables us to seek out and sort through memories, and to locate them in time and space. It encourages us to name the gremlins that stalk us, to label our fears, acknowledge our wounds, and reimagine our lives. We are no longer the victims of some obscure fear or unacknowledged sorrow. We can claim it and conquer it.
“The act of putting pen to paper
encourages pause for thought.
This, in turn, makes us think
more deeply about life…”
Physicians do this for every illness—from diabetes to heart disease to cancer. We ask about symptoms. We search for causes and encourage our patients to do what they can to avoid or eliminate them. We name the disease and suggest a course of treatment. If we have done our work well, we alter the course of the illness. We take control of it. We change the patient’s narrative.
This is storytelling at its finest. It is also the goal in clinical practice and in narrative medicine. When we write about illness, we revisit the initial injury. Perhaps it was a childhood rape, or a tragic accident, or the loss of a friend or family member we couldn’t face. By naming it, we confront it. The road to recovery leads us to a new perspective or understanding of it. Then, when we read what we’ve written, we finally know what we think.
Storytelling is the very process by which we revisit, revise, and recover.
Revisit. Revise. Recover.