How Writing and Art Help Me Cope with My Endo
Last updated: October 2018
I am a longtime writer. Whether it be poetry, essays, journalism or fiction- I love putting pen to paper and coming up with new and interesting ways to word things. I love conjuring compelling metaphors and strange similes when describing the flaws and idiosyncrasies of my mortal body. And whenever I have dealt with anything major or upsetting in my life, writing has been my go-to way to vent and express myself.
The healing powers of expressive writing
A few years ago, I started a small non-profit project in which I offered writing workshops and one-on-one writing mentoring and coaching to at-risk youth. I became inspired to do this after I read a series of studies that found that engaging in expressive writing actually contributed to more positive health outcomes (both physically and mentally) for those suffering from trauma than traditional talk therapy- and in some cases, even performed better.
In particular, social psychologist James Pennebaker was one of the first researchers to bring attention to this.1 Specifically, in his experiments, he allowed college students to write for 15 minutes for four consecutive days about traumatic and life-changing events in their lives and the feelings associated with these events. Though the experiment led to the students experiencing a short-term rise in blood pressure, it contributed to an overall improved sense of well-being in the longer term. As an extension of this study, Pennebaker developed a hypothesis known as “Inhibition Theory”- the belief that writing expressively helps disclose thoughts and feelings that have been repressed, thereby liberating the writer of long-term stressors that can contribute to or worsen health issues and decrease overall cognitive functioning.1 Pennebaker also coined the term “Cognitive Processing Theory,” which posits that expressive writing helps an individual confront events that are life-changing and/or traumatic, gaining insight and clarity that can foster healthier development. Another researcher who conducted a meta-analysis in 2005 of 13 studies in expressive writing, found participants benefited from significant improvements in both physical and psychological health.2
Writing & chronic illness
For me, writing about my endometriosis frankly, creatively, without pulling any punches regarding the pain and heartache is has caused me throughout the years, has been nothing short of cathartic. While writing about my endo and other health issues have not cured them, it has helped me develop better coping skills and even contributed to better management of my symptoms (and I could argue, at times helps decrease my symptoms, or at least distracts me from them and the attendant pain). It is with this in mind, that I have recently begun offering writing workshops/coaching to fellow spoonies on writing about their pain and chronic illness- as a way to both cope with their diagnoses and experience a similar catharsis, or at the least, validate themselves. I even offered one workshop to my own chronic pain support group because I wanted to share these benefits with my peers and friends. This was similar to a workshop another participant in the group held two years before that focused on painting/visual art expressions of pain.
Peace through art
While I am mainly a writer, and find it most natural to express myself with words, I do dabble in painting as well. One of my favorite paintings I've created (and admittedly again, I am an amateur) is of a distorted (in my mind, from adenomyosis and fibroids) uterus shaped like the Pi symbol. I chose the Pi symbol as a metaphor for the uterus, which not only is the first host/home of all human life, but also is fluid and complex like the symbol itself.
As a Live Science article from 2012 notes, Pi symbolizes an irrational number, one that stretches on into infinity, which resonates with my feelings of the irrationality of dealing with this disease and the arbitrary nature of whom it affects and how. The article also mentions how Pi shows up in nature, wherever there is a circle and "in the physics that describes waves, such as ripples of light and sound".3 Pi also appears in chaos theory as used by Einstein to show how rivers attempt to bend into loops: "The slightest curve in a river will generate faster currents on the outer side of the curve, which will cause erosion and a sharper bend. This process will gradually tighten the loop, until chaos causes the river to suddenly double back on itself, at which point it will begin forming a loop in the other direction"3
This reminds me of the interesting (and frustrating) things about endo/adeno, and so I incorporated it into my painting. Doing so, made me feel better about it all somehow, if not at peace with it, at least more accepting and understanding of it.3
Could writing or art help you?
If you have not tried writing or other kinds of expressive art forms as a way to cope with or better understand your endo and your feelings about it, I highly recommend you try it. If you have (or do), I'd love to hear about your experiences and how it has helped you.
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