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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
Tomorrow
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. Wow, I love this idea. This is also why I started to blog. People in my everyday life were a bit tired of hearing my woes, but I needed to work through my feelings and thoughts somehow. I am going to try this, for sure. Thank you for the idea!

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  2. I used to dispise that namby pamby, cheery, sunny, sort of fake, pretend positiveness. However, I’m into now. I KNOW the power of positiveness in my life, my own positiveness. It’s nice to hear about someone elses days…Now I’m a gratitude junky…..a gratitude crack head!

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  3. I can totally relate. Heavy spirits run amuck what with volcano eruptions and earthquakes in diverse places. I am completely persuaded that Jesus Christ is on His way back like literally right now. And btw,, what is a sysyphean task?

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  4. TooShae. Sometimes I have to just let my heart romp and keep the sake off to the side for future and most probably later analysis, if at all. I enjoy tickling the keystrokes of my keyboard, which I will probably someday break, rather than paper probably because I do not know how to play the piano. However, I do sometimes simply loose the best of my thoughts as I have to look up to capture them. I have recently acquired a small notebook that seems to work wonderfully well for throwing some in on a piece of paper. Most notably for later rehearsal of a sometimes sorrily sarcastic event.

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  5. I rub the lemon in the wounds. But that hurts much that I end up trying to lick it off. So I guess I end up with a half-assed lemonade? 😛 I have a secret bitching and moaning blog for stuff that makes me really mull over, and for all oatmeal ocurrences, I use other strategies. Great post!

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  6. Not sure what happened but the background footer banner is light yellow and blasts out the white font text widgets. It’s like um…a sunny whiteout. Needs correction.

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  7. I concur. I find writing both therapeutic and fulfilling. Whose life is perfect anyway? When I write, I escape the daily grind and find myself in a magical world far from my current conditions. Yeah. It’s a life lifter! 💖 🙂

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  8. I think more people need to take to heart the Margaret Mitchell quote [“Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect”]. Sadly we’ve become a nature with too many entitled people who whine endlessly about perceived shortcomings.

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  9. Great idea with the alarm clock. I try to set my self-awareness clock to be triggered by all kind of things – the angle of my head, my breathing. The length of my stride. I tend to ‘push on’, so it’s good to step back and break stride and smile.

    Sisyphus must be really strong by now.

    And – the colour scheme on this blog is lovely.

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  10. I love this exercise. I’m starting to become one of those write-out-all-the-feelings type people, because previously I was absolutely one of those “dark and twisty” girls a la Meredith Grey and it was miserable. Not only do I feel better, but at the end of it I’ve discovered I’m not as bad a writer as I thought AND writing isn’t a struggle so much anymore.

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  11. P.S. This theme is driving me crazy. Small white type on a pale yellow background is impossible to read, and the decorative quotation marks in the pull quotes are backwards.

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  12. I can relate. I often set my timer for fifteen minute writing sessions. The only thing is that I keep writing, for about three or four different writing sessions in a row. I find it hard to stop, sometimes. I guess that is what happens when a enjoyable habit is formed.

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  13. Definitely going to try this. Writing seems to a great medicine for me. “Those thoughts that I’m embarrassed to share with other human beings?” That is the line of the day! I have those thoughts all day long.

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  14. Funny I should read this today as I start yet another journal filled with similar “rants” against the mundane and irritating aspects of life. My handwritten journal is for my eyes alone and who knows who it will inspire after I’m gone. Thanks for the post that gives me the feeling I’m not alone in this world and my efforts may not be as insane as I first imagined. Now if I could only go back in time and give myself the idea to start this kind of journaling earlier!

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  15. I will give this a try. My husband says I automatically look at things negatively, perhaps this will untrain that side of me and help me see things quickly in a more positive light.

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