Once a month, I attend a Writing as Healing class at a local hospital. Writing as Healing is a journaling course and part of a popular Wellness program. The growth of Wellness courses, and the philosophy of Wellness in general, is an acknowledgment that, alongside the technical parts in medicine, an approach to patient care should include guidance for a positive approach to living.
Wellness means integrating the mind as well as the body—the whole person—for a healthy lifestyle. Journaling can contribute to that. Writing gives a patient, or a person, the power of expression. Writing out thoughts about a health experience not only allows the patient to address that experience, it creates a record of it. It may be a private record; that is the writer’s decision. When a person is ill or has a disease, it can be difficult to feel in power, to know the right decisions. An ongoing theme in the course is power and control over our health and lives. Writing can be helpful in the search for power when Wellness seems impossible or treatment is overwhelming.
The Writing as Healing course is held in the very large hospital’s very large cancer center, but anyone is welcomed to participate. “Anyone” means you can be someone who is ill, who has recovered from an illness, who is caretaking for someone with an illness, or who lost someone to an illness. Anyone. And everyone.
I fit into the “anyone” category, but I don’t have cancer, and I am not a cancer survivor. Most of the people in the course are. The first thing I learned in this course is, when you take a writing course in a cancer center, you become acutely aware of your status as outsider. Lucky outsider. Very, very lucky outsider. In one of the early sessions, the course leader reminded us that, while we sit in our nice classroom on the 1st floor near the piano and the library and the meditation room, upstairs on the 4th floor are people being told life-changing diagnoses. Some of those diagnoses are positive. Some are not. It is sobering to know that, if I had x-ray vision and could see up through three ceilings above, I could watch someone hear words that changes her life.
See why I feel lucky?
My perspective on many things has changed since this monthly, 2-hour course began, but the course is not about luck, nor is this post. This post is about examining your life.
In the past months, we’ve journaled about joy, fear, anger, and forgiveness. The November theme was gratitude.
What’s shared between participants in the Writing as Healing classroom is private, but the course leader has generously allowed me to post our November exercise. The following comes via Dr. Joan DelFattore, an author and now-retired professor from University of Delaware’s English department. The purpose is to have you think about want—what you want, when you want it, and why you want it.
An aside: When Joan said the exercise was about “want,” my writer ears perked up. How many times have we-as-writers discussed what our protagonist really wants in a story? If you are so inclined, try this exercise on a character. It may be illuminating.
What Do You Want?
Ahead, you will examine yourself at various ages in your life, decade by decade. Begin by recalling yourself as a 10 year old. Picture your home and daily life, friends, family, activities. For each decade, spent a moment placing yourself back in time before answering the questions.
Answer the following, remembering that you are your 10-year-old self:
- Where are you living?
- Who do you live with?
- What is your primary occupation?
- What do you do for fun?
- Who do you hang out with?
- What do you want more than anything else?
Now answer this same set of 6 questions as your 20-year-old self, your 30-year-old self, your 40-year-old self, until you reach your present decade. Answer one more set as your age today.
When you have answered for all decades of your life, plus today, examine your responses. Focus on #6. What do you see? Did you ever get the thing you wanted most when you were 10, or 40? Is there any link between your wants as a child and your wants as an adult? How much do you still want the things you wanted in the past? Did your wants change or stay the same?
What is the thing you want more than anything else, right now, today?
End of exercise.
You’ll notice there is no “how are you going to get it” after the last question. No follow-up action is required. That’s not what this exercise is about. Today, asking the question is what counts.
You might wonder how an exercise about wanting fits in with the monthly theme of gratitude. There are no right or wrong responses in the Writing as Healing course. There is no simple way to feel grateful when you are battling for your life or health—and no requirement to even try. The benefit of Wellness, and of writing, is in asking the questions about our lives. Questioning, and writing about it, gives us a small measure of control. Today, it’s enough to know what you want.