. . . and I consider that a good thing.
I’m not always the greatest at being in touch with my emotions, which usually comes back to bite me. I went for a period of about five years in my life when nothing could make me cry, no matter how sad I felt. When I was in therapy, my therapist sometimes gave me the homework of writing letters — to myself and to others. Right away, I started noticing something: writing the letters made me cry.
But I had been writing unsent letters and journal entries forever. Why was this different? For one thing, writing “on assignment” forced me to delve deeply into issues and feelings I might have avoided otherwise. It also pushed me to go further with those issues than I would have on my own.
Most writers take a little while to “warm up” to their writing, and this is just as true in informal writing like letters, emails, or journal entries. Usually, my journal writing at the end of the day remains short, perfunctory, capturing a few thoughts or images or memories. But it usually stays in the “safe” zone — where what I’m writing was more-or-less preplanned and stays within those safe bounds.
Despite my own habits, I heartily recommend going outside those safe bounds. If you’re writing about an emotionally charged experience and you’re not feeling much, you’re probably not going deep enough (unless you feel certain that you’ve totally resolved something, in which case, congratulations!). To take advantage of writing’s cathartic benefits to the utmost, we need to stop being ashamed to write what we REALLY think, stop being afraid someone might read it. This leads to new levels of honesty, to new depths of feeling. So as I continued to feel a little numb about my upcoming move away from Duluth, I knew what I had to do. I took my journal to Chester Park, hid behind some trees, and wrote a “goodbye” letter to Duluth. I noticed that I didn’t feel much for the first page and a half — the length of a usual entry for me. It wasn’t until I went past the “clearing my throat” and got to the meat of the matter — the way Duluth had and hadn’t let me down in seven years — that the tears I needed to shed finally started making their way out of my system. There are probably more where those came from, but it’s good to at least know the plumbing’s still working.
When I was in college, I did research on the benefits of journaling and discovered that
- journalers sleep better at night
- journalers get sick less often
- in some cases, journaling can be as beneficial as traditional “talk therapy” for your mental health.
For some fascinating reading on the subject, check out Dr. James W. Pennebaker’s work, from which I gleaned most of the above facts. If your own writing ever brings you to tears, trust in the process and keep going. You’re probably doing something right.