I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how fortunate I am. Life hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve had some pretty down times and my share of close calls. But all in all, I have to say, I have been extraordinarily blessed along the way.
One of the key ingredients in my good fortune, I believe, has been an inner compass and an inner orientation that has guided me through many challenging and taxing situations. I have had my share of sorrows, and I’ve had my share of issues. But through it all, I have kept myself relatively upright in the stormy seas of life. And one of the ways I’ve done that has been with writing.
Barbara Stahura’s website Journal After Brain Injury, has some interesting ideas about how you can use journaling to deal with a brain injury you or someone you love has experienced. I have to admit, I have not spent a ton of time there, but I have spent a ton of time doing the sorts of things she talks about. And I have to say, it truly has helped.
What do I write about? Well, when I first realized I was dealing with the long-term effects of multiple traumatic brain injuries, I did a lot of journaling about my past experiences — childhood experiences that formerly made no sense to me… adult experiences, I could never quite explain. I wrote pages and pages and pages of journal entries, till it started to make sense to me. And I also started this blog, where I have the chance to share my experiences with others.
Even before that, though, I was writing. In my basement and spare bedroom and study are many, many journals that I’ve kept over the years. Lots of them are full of circular thinking, ruminations, obsessive-compulsive attention to minute details that mean nothing — to the rest of the world, and even to me. I have filled more notebooks than I care to think about with the ramblings of my brain. My neuropsych cringes when I show them my notebooks — to them, they are a sign of consuming attention to minutiae that has no redeeming value. But to me, on a certain level, they were exercises in trying to find out who I was and what I was about and what was going on with me.
Interestingly, I didn’t really start to figure out what was up with me, until I put down the pen and stepped away from my hours and hours of writing. It wasn’t until I looked up from the notebooks I was filling with extensive notes, and explored the world and the real people around me, that I became able to actually interact with the world. But at the same time, writing — the act of sitting down and having time with myself — gave me much-needed pause to check in with myself and find out where I was at.
My writing habits have changed a great deal, since I started down this path of active recovery from my TBI-colored history. Now I write within limited timeframes, and I set limits on the topics I cover. There’s no more rambling from one topic to another (if you think I’m bad now, you should have seen me 10years ago!), and I don’t just disappear off the face of the earth for days at a time, in order to write. Also, the writing I do is much more public, so I edit myself more and watch what I say. Before, I would just let it all hang out.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I do think that there is room for letting it all hang out. But for 20 years? And to the point where you’re filling a 3-subject notebook every two weeks with the same things you said last month? That’s a bit excessive. Not to mention counterproductive. All those hours I spent writing the same things over and over and over and over and over… Well, those hours, those days, those months, are not coming back.
And yet, they helped. In some way they did. While my head was spinning with everything that was going on around me, I could step back and take some room for myself to figure out what the heck was up with me.
So long as I came out of that room… Which I didn’t for many years. I was absolutely intent on figuring out what was wrong with me — but the place where that was happening was a place with precious few answers. And although it was a relief for me to spend the time by myself, ultimately, it worked against me, as I concocted a number of explanations — many of them flat-out wrong — for why I was having such a hard time in life.
I still do write, as you can see in this blog. But now my writing is different. It’s focused. It’s deliberate. It’s topical. It’s not a wandering ramble through the uncharted territories of my inner self. It’s much more about how my inner self deals with the world outside me. And it’s good. It makes sense. It moves me forward, rather than holding me back.
Which is the whole point. Moving forward is good.