Submitted by Allison Allen
Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the intersection of mind and body. We really need a word that includes what we mean when we say “mind” and what we mean when we say “body” because there is really only one thing, most ways you look at it, and we have created a lot of difficulty and confusion for ourselves by seeing them as separate. What kind of trouble, you ask? I think the easiest way to answer that question is to consider this – we humans are somaticizers. Big time! By which I mean, an awful lot of the emotional strain we experience (mind) get expressed in our bodies (body). We get scared and our chest squeezes up on us or our head hurts or our throat gets dry and tight. We get really scared and we are trotting to the bathroom. Our jaw clenches and hurts when we’re mad. Water falls out of our face when we’re sad. Etc. Etc. And often we have these or a range of other physical reactions when we aren’t even aware of a difficult emotion. We have the physical reaction instead of the emotion because somewhere along the line we learned that this was preferable to feeling anger, or sadness, or whatever feeling we have learned is in the no-go zone for us. Sometimes (ok, maybe surprisingly often) this can even translate into chronic, problematic, physical symptoms that seem quite unrelated to our emotional life.
What I am finding particularly interesting of late is the intersection of one intervention often used to help with emotional issues to also help us when we somaticize. Writing. And not just any writing, but exactly the kind you might expect a therapist to recommend. Raw, rude, irrational writing! Writing you get on paper, or the computer screen and then immediately tear up or delete. Writing which you would think was written by a freaked out five year old who knows a surprising number of cuss words. Often negative, messy, but real stuff. Stuff we think we are not allowed to say, like “I hate being a parent!” Or “screw our mission and values. Life sucks and so do our patients!” Or “I’m so sad I want to curl up in a ball and cry til I die.”
As terrible, and messy, and ugly as it sounds, writing like this, for ten to twenty minutes at a time, then throwing it all away, can be the most freeing, healing, healthy thing a person can do. Because the fact is, we all DO have a freaked out five year old inside, and just because we polish over their less acceptable feelings with nice words (“don’t say hate!”) they are still there, and those feelings go rocketing around our nervous systems whether we acknowledge them or not. Also, no need to be scared. As soon as we declare, on paper, that we hate, hate, hate our (partner, children, job, fill in the blank) we move on from there actually feeling much less hateful than we had been before allowing those feelings to surface. Same with what scares us. Same with our grief. Expressing it strongly, deeply and clearly does not make it worse. It helps move it through. Which means we don’t have it clogging our minds (endless rumination and crappy moods) and bodies (all sorts of nagging, energy draining symptoms depending on the person.)
So, consider giving this a try. If you want it to make a noticeable difference, commit to writing fiercely, openly and with your ugly on in a consistent way for a few weeks at least, and see what kind of a difference it makes in how you feel, body and mind.
Allison Allen is NorthLakes Chief Behavioral Health Officer