Writing and Healing-Reflections
Putting your deepest feelings on paper or into a journal can be a journey into your own soul and a tool for self-discovery and inner peace. There are also some surprising health benefits. There is research that shows that writing what you feel may be a boost to the immune system and help prevent illness. James W. Pennebaker, a psychology professor, did a study where he asked people from all walks of life-prisoners to medical students to write about traumatic events in their life. The control group was asked to write superficial events of their life. The group that wrote the traumatic events had fewer doctor visits and showed a boosted immune response to hepatitis B Vaccine and the Epstein Barr virus. (Important – it seemed the writers used negative response words in the beginning and showed new incites about the incident by the end).
Another study was done at State University in New York, where 51 people with rheumatoid arthritis were either asked to be part of a group that wrote about traumatic events or a group that wrote about neutral events and again the group that wrote about the traumatic events reported less stiffness, swelling, pain, and fatigue than the group that wrote about neutral events. All of this is showing that in fact, writing your deepest feelings is every good for your health.
I started keeping a daily journal in 1985. My first journals were written on 3×5 cards. Eventually, I kept my journals in actual notebooks, and today, I have two bookshelves full of the writing I have done to record my life. Some days are simply – that -simple-what I did with my kids, how I felt, where I ate, traveled, etc. Other days the writing is deep-maybe a poem or reflections from a book I’m reading or feelings I would not necessarily want the world to read. Sometimes I think, “Who is that crazy person? Me!”
One of my goals is to go back and read my journals. I have begun the process, and it’s sometimes fun to look back and think about those early years as a Mom and an older college student pursuing a degree. Sometimes it’s hard to see how serious I was taking life and how many moments I missed worrying too much about things that today seem trivial. It will also be hard to review a time when my spiritual journey took me away from those day to day moments-maybe too much. Eventually, I had to come back to the middle way.
But regardless of how it feels to go back and self-reflect, I have always found the journaling process to be healing and an excellent tool for gaining inner peace. My journals are often my best friend.
My journal goes with me wherever I go as much as possible. There are days that I don’t take the time to journal, but I always go back to those days and add reflections on what I did or how I felt that day. Lately, I enjoy taping my daily newspaper horoscope in my journal and then write about what that could mean to me.
When I travel, I love to journal the sights, sounds, experiences, food, and people from my trips. At the beginning of the summer, we toured Eastern Europe with our Rabbi and Members of our Synagogue. This trip was structured around the history of Jews before, during, and after WWII. There were both painful and joyful moments filled with reminders of the Holocaust and the effects of the War in Eastern Europe and the Renewal of Jewish life today. I was the only one with a journal in my hands throughout the trip. I am currently transcribing those journals and my reflections and hope to include some of the 2500 photos I took while there. I plan to share some of this writing with you.
If you have ever thought of journaling, it is never too late to start. Just get yourself a notebook or writing journal and a good pen and start writing. Write as if no one will ever see it. It is your private conversation with yourself or a dear friend as in Dear Diary.
There are no rules for journaling. Do it your way-the way that feels most comfortable for you.
Here are a few tips to get started.
Choose your writing tools. The sky is the limit. You can use binders, notebooks, decorative journals, or even 3X5 cards.
Find a quiet place and time for writing. I can journal anywhere-at home, in restaurants, on airplanes, or doctor’s offices. But it is really comforting to journal with a cup of tea or glass of wine. Light a candle for an even sweeter effect.
Let go of obstacles that get in the way. If you are worried about someone reading your journal, find a private place to keep them-your secret place. You can even buy lock and key diaries, but they are bulky. A journal is for you. They can also be used if you are writing a memoir or autobiography and wish to share some of your story with others.
Let go of your inner critic. Most important is to let go of an inner critic and editor. Don’t worry about grammar and punctuation. Just write. Later if you want to share your story, you can worry about editing.
Use prompts to get you started and keep you going. As I said, I sometimes cut out my daily horoscope as a prompt for writing about my day or life.
Write the good, the bad, the ugly. Write when you’re happy and when you’re sad. Write when your grateful. Get it all out in your journals. Just Write.
Florida Artist Rita Schwab is holding her beautiful glass mosaic that reflects journey, path, heart 🙂
This is a long post with a long story that begins with just a catch up on our travels including our experience with the flu, and then my cardiology journey and resistance to doctor’s orders. If you have ever felt you and your doctor were not communicating-read this post. Enjoy!!
This year we have done a lot of traveling-California in January, Nevada and Arizona in February, Florida in March and early April, and in May I went on a wonderful and writer changing retreat in beautiful and peaceful Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each of these trips have their own story and lots more to share.
It’s been both fun and exhausting and Steve has set his own boundaries around travel. “I can’t unpack and repack a suitcase without an at home for a while break. “It’s too much!” I, on the other hand have a hard time saying no to life and opportunities to travel, explore and experience everything. Steve reached his limit when after completing a delightful family Caribbean cruise, we embarked for a 10-day vacation to be with friends in Cape Coral, Florida and the second day there he was diagnosed with Influenza B. Poor Steve. For the first week of that trip he was either outside on their beautiful lanai or in the house wearing a mask. Although our friends were wonderful, “like family”, and we did enjoy many great conversations in between rest time, this did take a toll on all of us. Our dear friends hung in there with us and we all went on Tamiflu. I was the only one who did not have at least a day of the flu.
At the Urgent Care, it was noted that my blood pressure had climbed to 160/90 — yikes! I was stressed. I managed my stress by writing daily out in the Tiki Hut down on their deck and canal landing. It is a beautiful and serene place to reflect and write. Some days I would just rest in the hammock or sit and meditate and listen to the many sounds of nature. It helped that the weather was beautiful. I also enjoyed an evening glass of wine, which I noticed did lower my blood pressure. Toward the end of our stay we were able to go out and enjoy the last few days of our trip. One of our outings was an art fair in Cape Coral where I met and photographed the artist, Rita Schwab and her glass piece used with her permission as my photo for this post.
By the time we got home and to our own beds, Steve was exhausted and I was concerned about my heart. I purchased a new OMRON B/P monitor and made an appt with a cardiologist.I continued to monitor my blood pressure and it varied-sometimes high and other times normal. I really focused on my breathing and although I did not sit in formal meditation every day, I attempted to stay mindful of my thoughts and pace of living.
As I sat in the cardiologist’s waiting room, I felt a bit out of place. The room was filled with elderly people, some in wheelchairs, and the younger patients were very overweight. I “pride” myself in being as healthy as I can “the middle way” through exercise, a plant-based diet, and meditation, yet here I was. I have to admit I have a strong family history of heart disease—Mom, Dad, and siblings. But I thought I was different and was on top of controlling the risk factors, at least that’s what I thought. Yet now I realize how hard it is to control the biggest risk factor-underlying tension and anxiety.
My cholesterol is high but so is my good cholesterol. I used to smoke but quit 36 years ago, and I have not been overweight since nursing school. Why was I there? My primary care physician was okay with me going although he has never seen my blood pressure over 120/70. He takes my blood pressure every time I see him, and he carefully monitors my lipid profile every year.
Long story short, the cardiologist was not quick to put me on any medication (I liked that!) until I had some tests to determine if I, indeed, showed signs of heart disease. He ordered an echocardiogram and coronary calcium scan (CAT Scan of the heart and its major blood vessels). I was game. The heart scan took about 20 minutes and the echocardiogram took almost an hour.
The next day I got a call from the nurse who gave me the results of my tests—the echo was normal and the heart scan showed minimal heart disease, better than most for my age so the doctor would like me to take a daily 81 mg of Aspirin and 40 mg of Lipitor. Noooooooooooooo.You would have thought she told me the doctor wanted to do open heart surgery. I totally reacted with surprise, anger, sadness, and disappointment and asked that she have the doctor call me.
He did, and it did not go well. The American College of Cardiology recommends the aspirin and Lipitor for a patient picture like mine. Actually there are many cardiologists that feel we should all be on a statin. But that’s it! This doctor really does not know me and I am not a typical patient. I had only seen him one time, and we need to go beyond one size fits all medicine. My primary care physician is an MD with years of alternative medicine experience and for over 25 years has followed my health and prescribed the daily supplements I take. I take no prescription medicine and don’t want to start. On the other hand, I also don’t want to have a heart attack or stroke and would welcome a plan to prevent further heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.
When the cardiologist called, I let him know how disappointed I was that the nurse called and that we did not talk before I was given a prescribed plan that included a statin drug without more discussion on its benefits and its risks. Statin drugs do lower cholesterol and prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, but they also come with an array of side effects—muscle aches and weakness, GI symptoms, and more. There is a ton of research that is now questioning the cost/benefit of statins.
I have to admit, I did not give the doctor a chance to explain how we would proceed or how he would follow up with me. When I got off the phone, I felt sad that the conversation did not go well and I wished I had sat in a 30-minute meditation prior to speaking with this doctor. This doctor has an excellent reputation as a cardiologist, is very kind and personable and I am sure he has saved many lives. I wish I could have expressed myself in a better way to be heard by the doctor. I also wish his office would have scheduled a follow up appointment so that he could go over the results with me in his office. Most of all I have used this experience to reflect on my own defensiveness and fear and also trust that there is a blanket of universal forgiveness between both of us.
Doctor patient communication can be difficult. There is fear on all sides. I have a deep respect for the medical profession. I am a Registered Nurse and know how difficult it is to navigate around a system that is frustrating to the patient and the doctor. And I also know that in today’s world of alternative, integrative and functional medicine, there is much that medical schools and nursing schools have failed to teach. The research is often driven by pharmaceutical companies who have a vested interest in us taking drugs when there are so many alternatives to healing. I will not take a long-term prescription without research and that is my current mission about statin drugs and heart disease prevention and treatment in general.
Dr. Danielle Ofri’s book What Patients Say. What Doctors Hear, states it well:
Patients, anxious to convey their symptoms, feel an urgency to “make their case” to their doctors. Doctors, under pressure to be efficient, multitask while patients speak and often miss the key elements. Add in stereotypes, unconscious bias, conflicting agendas, and the fear of lawsuits and the risk of misdiagnosis and medical errors multiplies dangerously.
A week later, I went to my primary care physician. He agreed that going on a statin drug was premature, but also agreed that we needed to take the tests serious and take a closer look at my cardiac risks and current status. He was grateful to have the test results for additional information about my health. He recommended beets and cayenne pepper as nutritional support for the heart. He also recommended 1000 mg of Niacinamide (Vit B3 derivative-not as much research on its affect on cholesterol like Niacin). He also said he may want me on a low dose of of Zocor, which is a statin. I might add that my physician knows me well and suggested I relax and balance my chakras.
My lifestyle supports health but there is more I can do. I exercise (making sure I get 10,000 steps a day) but could increase the intensity of my walks and add more strength training. My diet is plant based; no red meat and I avoid saturated fat- but I am far from perfect and need to be more aware of salt and sugar. I do meditate, but I am a hyper personality and need to focus on breath awareness and slowing down in between life’s adventures. But more important than all of that is that I often feel I live in two worlds. On one hand I teach and coach a very deep spiritual path of love and forgiveness and on the other hand I have the same fears of illness and death as everyone else. Our fears fuel our defenses and often cause us to separate rather than join.
In two months we will repeat all of the blood tests that aid in determining my current heart disease risk. Since being more mindful of my diet, exercise and meditation as well as forgiving myself and the doctor, (Forgiveness is a powerful medicine for the heart), I have noticed my blood pressure has been staying within the normal range and I am hoping my blood tests show that I can reduce my heart disease risks without taking medicine.
In the meantime, I will continue my research, be mindful of my lifestyle, and stay “open hearted”. I have a follow up appointment with the cardiologist in 6 months. I’m not sure if he is the right fit for me, but it would be nice if we could meet again. I will go prepared to listen to him and hopefully he can also listen to my concerns and we can join in a much more productive manner.
In the end, its not about any of this. It’s always about all the lessons we learn along the way and as I continue the journey, I enjoy bringing you along.
I’ve Been Busy with Retirement
“A well planned retirement does not give you more time, but allows you to use the time you’re given to do what you truly want to be doing without a lot of planning.” Me
First, I want to extend my sincere appreciation to all of my readers who look forward to my writing and blogs. Second I want to apologize for the long wait between musings. Third, I want to tell you how busy retirement can be.
I have so many things I could write about and ideas come to me throughout the day –When I am watering my flowers. My potted flowers look quite colorful and beautiful, and my beds still wait for the pansies to completely dry up and be replaced with something more interesting.
When I work out. I am great about getting my 10,000 steps and still love walking with my friends, but found walking does not do much for the flab under my arms that shakes when I talk with my hands. Nor does walking flatten the belly, which seems to extend a bit over my belt line these days. I now go regularly to the Mason Community Center to take advantage of my Silver Sneakers membership of 13.00/month and unlimited fitness classes. At first, I was a little too aggressive and lacked the humility that would wisely guide me to build up to the harder workouts.
I got right into a TRX class, not having any idea what it was. I walked in and asked what class was going on next, and the kind ladies at the front desk said, “TRX.” “Oh, where is the class?” I asked. “Over by the apparatus that looks like swings.” the front desk lady pointed. “That sounds good to me.” I naively stated. TRX is a workout done with straps that you adjust according to the exercise for a whole body workout –upper and then lower body. I was okay with the arm routine, but when I was instructed to place my feet into the straps, I got all twisted, my feet fell out of the straps, and when I finally got my feet positioned correctly, my leg started cramping. I think I was a big distraction for the group, of much younger women, I might add. I finally said, “Well, is anyone else here a Grandma? I am Silver Sneakers.” They laughed and continued with the workout. I did too! However, I did the work without the straps and decided I best try something else next time.
After three weeks of attending five classes a week including several yoga classes, I woke up one morning and while shaving my legs, put my back out of alignment. I had to back off the workouts and upon returning work out at a more “senior” or “silver” pace. Nevertheless, my body does seem to be transforming.
I get ideas when I am painting. Yes-I am now unleashing the creative artist in me. I had never tried my hand at painting or drawing except for a couple of those classes where everyone paints the same picture with step by step instructions from a teacher. My art always came out as a bit more original. I did enjoy allowing myself to play with the colors and use my intuition to guide the brush on the canvas.
Having no idea how to get started, I looked for some used art supplies and was able to purchase all of the supplies from a fine arts graduate who no longer had time to paint. For $100 I bought all of her supplies that included acrylics, water colors, charcoals, pastels, canvases, sketch pads, pencils, art cases, paint boxes and more. All I had to do was get some good brushes and some books on art instruction, and I was ready. I now attend an art class through the Community Center, free with my Silver Sneakers membership.
When I Travel -Travel is great for unleashing ideas for my next blog post, but I seldom bring my computer, preferring my paper journals and pen to digital writing. Since retirement, Steve and I have traveled to Chicago several times; spent two weeks throughout the state of Florida, and just returned from a two-week road trip through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, and West Virginia. We love staying with friends but also are regular Air B and B users. It’s been fun to be able to go away without having to get back to a working schedule.
On these trips we have enjoyed family and friends, two weddings and historical visits to Montpelier, James Madison’s home and Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.
Ideas often come when I am with my grandchildren. They are inspiring and love to be inspired. Having my grandchildren close and being retired affords us lots of time to be together.
And when I am visiting my Godmother, who is now in a nursing home in Centerville, Ohio, a long way away from her Chicago roots. She and I have had inspiring conversations about aging, dreams, spirituality and more.
So you can see that while I would like to sit at my computer and compose an inspiring blog or even share excerpts from the memoir I wish I had more time to write, I am busy-good busy. I love letting the universe plan my days and allowing for spontaneity.
Steve just turned 70 after I turned 65 and we are both seniors and retired. Those words are sometimes hard to say, but we are embracing our time together and the time for new adventures.
In the meantime, I continue to teach A Course in Miracles, and I have been open to offer my service of wellness and life coaching for those who are ready for a change.
Life is good! Retirement is good! Hope all is well with you!
I'm feeling so resistant
Yet my mind is so persistent
I need a virtual assistant
My head’s at peace-No it really isn’t.
Should I sit or should I write
Should I journal or have a bite
Should I wake an hour earlier?
Or stay up late at night
Welcome to my blog. This is my first post and only a beginning. My purpose for this blog is to share my thoughts and my life with you and you with me.
I am a writer and have been for years. When I was younger, I loved writing letters to my Aunt and friends. I also had pen pals-remember those days? It was exciting to sit and write a letter, unleash thoughts on pretty paper, and send it out in a stamped envelope. I loved getting letters in the mail. What a delight! I couldn’t wait until the mailman came and had mail for “me.” I would write long letters, and I know my Aunt enjoyed reading them, but I wonder if she enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Then I began a diary when I was in third grade. Remember those- the ones we would write in and then lock with a little key? Well, that’s the kind of diary I had-so that we could write secret thoughts. All I remember writing was, “I kissed a boy today.” That was the boy I met on the Santa Fe train when I went with my grandmother to California. It took us three days to get there, and it was one of my most exciting memories. My diary could have been so exciting if I wasn’t so intimidated by the pages. I didn’t let the words flow like you do when writing a letter. Instead, I wrote the part about kissing a boy. Then the next day, we kissed again. It was nothing. He was in his seat, and I sat in the back of him. He would climb up, we would kiss, and then laugh and giggle as we were told to sit down. So I entered, ” I kissed a boy today.” Then the next day, it said, “I kissed him again.” After that, I think I wrote what I did in California, but since I don’t have the diary anymore, I am not sure what it said. I only remember the kissing part.
As I got older, I continued to like to write, except when it was an assigned paper. Then I was paralyzed. It took forever to get the words down. Research papers made me so nervous, and any writing assignment caused anxiety. But, once I got started, I enjoyed writing and continued to write. I had many opportunities as I went on to college and eventually completed a Master of Education degree. Later as a professor myself, I always assigned papers and presentations. I think everyone should develop writing and speaking skills. But my favorite writing was and still is when I am all alone and want to write. I can make up poems and write about life and my days with no trouble. I liked to write, and I still do.
Today I have over 50 journals. I began my adult journals when I was about 33 years old. That was over 20 years ago. A journal is always in my purse, and I write almost daily. I don’t edit or worry about what I am writing, so it comes without anxiety. My journal feels like my best friend- no judgment and utterly open to my every word. So I write and write and sometimes draw pictures and excerpts from books or tell what my day was like or jot down a poem or the title for one of the many books inside me.
My journals are handwritten, but I have also enjoyed correspondence via e-mail. I have many documents written on my various topics of interest. I still enjoy writing letters on pretty paper in a stamped envelope, but I also enjoy this new technology, although I am overwhelmed by its many possibilities.
I have wanted to write a book for a long time. I have thousands of words written for a memoir. I have written several poems and essays on health and wellness. I want to write a book that you can read, but again I have that same anxiety like it is an assignment, and thus I lose my creativity. Now it has to be organized and look like something that has a linear train of thought. My mind doesn’t work that way. My thoughts often feel like flash photography at high speed. Meditation and yoga are necessary practices for me to slow down and focus and balance.
So I started this blog to write and perhaps hear from you. What do you like or not like about what I have to say? What do you want more or less of?
My writing has a consistent theme – deep health and wellness going beyond just how we stay fit and trim and live forever, but how we enjoy our existence, realizing we are forever.
Maybe you will share your stories.
That’s all for this post. I feel myself editing my words now, which stops me from flowing. I will write more. This is just the beginning.
Thank you for visiting.