Sunday, December 31, 2006

Healing Through Writing

While in my creative writing program in grad school, I picked up a copy of Louise DeSalvo's Writing as a Way of Healing. It's been on my bookshelf as a loyal companion ever since.

I think I've always written as a way to move through the hardships of my life -- to reckon with change, loss, depression, and trauma. DeSalvo's book, though, illuminates the specific psychological implications of writing in the healing process. The key, DeSalvo writes, is to "link feelings to events" in the healing narrative. When writing about our pain, it is important to be specific. She adds, "many researchers have observed that the inability to render pain and trauma explicitly, describing it instead in vague and general terms, signifies that the person has not yet entered the process of healing."

There are times when I am not ready to be specific, when the grief is so big or dense that I can't even see what's in front of me. But, when I am ready to face my pain, I have found specificity is the key. I write every little detail. It is exhausting, but afterwards, I feel an emotional "lift" -- a similar feeling I experience after receiving a Reiki treatment.

If you're at all interested in learning more about the power of writing as a healing modality, I highly recommend DeSalvo's book. For more information, visit Amazon.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is a common issue for many of us in the northwest -- and especially during the fall and winter months.

In her poem, "February: Thinking of Flowers," Jane Kenyon writes:

"A single green sprouting thing / would restore me...."

I have felt this yearning almost every February of my life. Spring feels like it takes so long to arrive, and the tree buds, crocuses, and sunlight cannot come soon enough.

Those of us who do feel adversely affected by the lack of light during these dark months must find ways to compensate--to feel "green" inside.

I'd like to share a few of the ways I have tried to stay afloat during the S.A.D. months in my life:

  • Full-spectrum light therapy.* I have a 10,000 lux light therapy box and sit in front of it for 30-minutes to an hour for a mood "boost."
  • Dawn machine. This light box gives me a 45-minute dawn in the morning: the light gradually gets brighter in the morning, helping to wake my body gently.
  • Fresh foods. While my body craves carbohydrates this time of the year, fresh fruits and vegetables truly help me feel more energetic and vibrant. When I eat a colorful salad I imagine that I am consuming a bit of spring.
  • Walking. A very wise psychiatrist friend of mine advocates walking outside for at least 20-30 minutes every morning. Even when it is cloudy out, we still absorb the necessary light into our eyes.
  • Creativity. Express your S.A.D. through writing or art. One year I did a series of finger paintings depicting my frustration with the incessant cloudy days.
  • Sleep. I tend to want to over-sleep when I am depressed, but it is important to get plenty of uninterrupted sleep. So, I strike a balance. I allow myself a bit more hibernation sleep during the winter months, but if I do sleep in, I make sure to take a good, long walk in the morning.
  • Aromatherapy. I add fresh, vibrant scents to my baths and lotions. I tend to use the citruses -- grapefruit, mandarin orange, lemon, and tangerine. These scents wake me up and make me feel the energy of the sun.
When depressed it can be hard to do any of these things, so I try to be gentle on myself and praise myself for small accomplishments.

What do you do to keep yourself vibrant and healthy during the winter? I'd love to hear about your experiences.

*I now offer full-spectrum light therapy as a regular offering in my practice. For an additional charge, clients may add a 30-minute light therapy session, which includes an aromatherapy foot soak and a warm cup of tea.