The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Diagnosis with a chronic lung disease can bring feelings of panic and helplessness. Some people may be emotionally better equipped to deal with such emotions than others, but anyone can feel down from time to time. While some seek professional therapy for negative feelings, others prefer to try, at least at first, to work things out themselves. That is where writing as therapy can serve as a compromise between hiring a therapist and sweeping one’s feelings under the rug.
Therapeutic writing is available to anyone of any age, pretty much anywhere, over the counter. There are no side-effects, and it doesn’t react with medications. If a big pharmaceutical company were promoting it, perhaps its benefits would be better known. Some have earned academic degrees studying it, but the only requirements to take advantage of this effective treatment for a range of negative emotions are a pen and paper.
Journal writing is a useful tool—writing down the basic facts of each day to help remember who borrowed a dish or where we had dinner on a certain date. Therapeutic writing is another thing altogether. In therapeutic writing, simple writing exercises help a person almost unconsciously access even the most deeply guarded hurts, shames, and secrets. No one but the writer has to see the results, which means there are no inhibitions except those imposed by the writer. As an added benefit, if the writer decides to seek professional therapy at a later time, therapeutic writing will have provided an accurate source of information to use in therapy sessions.
Kathleen Adams, founder of the Center for Journal Therapy in Colorado and author of Journal to the Self, says in a 2002 article in The Guardian,
“For nearly 30 years I’ve had the same therapist. I’ve called on my therapist at 3 am, on my wedding day, on a cold and lonely Christmas, on a Bora Bora beach, and in the dentist’s reception room. I can tell this therapist absolutely anything.”
“My therapist listens silently to my most sinister darkness, my most bizarre fantasy, my most cherished dream. And I can scream, whimper, thrash, rage, exult, foam, celebrate. I can be funny, snide, introspective, accusatory, sarcastic, helpless, brilliant, sentimental, profound, caustic, inspirational, opinionated or vulgar. My therapist accepts all of this without comment, judgment, or reprisal.” Adams writes in spiral-bound notebooks and calls this exercise “79 cent therapy.”
There are no rules, but a couple guidelines may help to begin. Start with a “mind dump.” That is, simply write for 5 minutes. Write whatever comes to mind. Don’t edit yourself or worry about spelling or grammar, and most importantly, don’t stop writing until the 5 minutes is up. Choose a concrete topic to start with. One example of this is imagining holding a once cherished object from the past and describing it. If you feel ready, choose the thing that’s troubling you as the topic. If not, get used to the process, and the 5-minute exercise, and try tackling the tough stuff later.
When someone has been diagnosed with a progressive lung disease, noting symptoms, treatment problems and other concerns can be helpful. Writing about challenges and their emotional effects can help a person feel as though they’re taking control and overcoming the sense of powerlessness that illness can bring.
Writing about concrete things can have the curious effect of bringing out more difficult, existential themes. The words that flow can begin with frustrations or physical discomfort and naturally progress into deeper thoughts on mortality, relationships and what’s important in life. Therapeutic writing isn’t only effective for the big things. Writing for oneself only can also soothe the minor irritations that conspire to ruin our mood and our outlook on life.
If you have a degenerative lung disease, we urge you to seek help for any emotional distress such a diagnosis may cause. As for the physical realities of from chronic lung disease, there is hope in adult cellular therapy from the Lung Institute.
The Lung Institute cares about your quality of life and offers a blog post most days in an effort to help readers live better. We also want our readers to breathe more easily. If you or someone you care about suffers from chronic lung disease, please contact us online, or reach out to one of our patient coordinators at (800) 729-3065.