‘How wonderful to express your pain through writing,’ people often enthuse. ‘It must be so cathartic!’
On the one hand, I find it helpful to get my feelings onto paper or screen. Seeing things in black and white can give me clarity about my problems, not to mention perspective. Sometimes, when I write things down, a solution presents itself. That’s definitely helpful.
The act of sheer expression can be useful too. All of us need a release valve for the pressure that lies within. Without some form of healthy release, those uncomfortable feelings can fester and turn toxic. That would not be helpful. So writing, as with talking, can help us feel like we’ve been heard and bring a sense of relief.
Writing can help us feel like we’ve been heard.
However, to say that writing is always cathartic would be untrue. Sometimes writing unearths emotions you didn’t know you had. Sometimes it brings hidden memories to the surface, giving rise to the pain we might have suppressed or buried. Sometimes it’s confronting to look trauma in the face.
Sometimes, when we write, we feel worse instead of better.
When I wrote a song to the daughter I never had, Angel at my Keyboard, I was quite emotional at the time. I remember crying and feeling a physical ache in my chest, the void where my child was supposed to live. I didn’t know what to do, so I sat at my keyboard and gave vent to my feelings. Angel was the result.
But that wasn’t the end of the pain. I continued to work on the song, because I wanted to publish it and share it with others, and every time I worked on it the tears came. It was part of the process. I needed to take regular breaks away from that song, so that I could feel the grief in stages rather than all at once. I was trying to not go crazy.
Every time I worked on the song the tears came.
And it was worth it. Because now the song is out in the world, helping others with similar experiences of grief and loss. I have received positive feedback about this song, not about how well I sang or how great the recording was, but how much the lyrics have spoken to them about their own child-related dreams.
That feedback has been cathartic for me—even more than the process of writing.
So I will continue to put my pain into words, even when it’s hard. The process does benefit me, but even better, it benefits others, which makes it all worthwhile. And I’ll take care of myself along the way, knowing that grief is often digested better in small meals rather than one large marathon feast.
Grief is often digested better in small meals than one marathon feast.
I hope this inspires you to write or express yourself in some way that is truly cathartic for you.
Do you use writing or another creative medium to express your feelings? Has it been helpful for you? How do you look after yourself when your creations take on a painful quality? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.
Listen to Angel at my Keyboard: https://youtu.be/HLJ-Q5Fetkw?si=wNMmQPPgqlSpwPzN