Expressing Yourself Through Writing Can Be Therapeutic

Expressing Yourself Through Writing Can Be Therapeutic

Remember when people wrote letters? You know, when they sat down with an actual pen and let the ink roll out onto paper. Everyone had their own writing technique and style, their own spin on cursive. It’s a bit of a lost art in today’s technologically advancing world, isn’t it? That’s OK, times change. Pens have been replaced by text on a screen and our sheets of paper are now found in social media and email.

I was thinking about my writing as it relates to Huntington’s disease (HD). I often tell people that I find writing therapeutic, but I didn’t know if there was any research to back that up, or if claims like mine are nothing but an anecdote. I went searching and discovered something called “expressive writing.”

Benefits of expressive writing

Expressive writing is defined as “writing about thoughts and feelings that arise from a traumatic or stressful life experience.” Often, when discussing expressive writing, scholars describe it as being a technique in which a person writes about something without any worry or concern about grammar or sentence structure. Just start writing (or typing) and let it all out.

There is evidence in the scientific literature that demonstrates that writing expressively like this about a traumatic event or illness can be beneficial to a person’s sense of well-being and even health. A study published in 2008 followed cancer patients participating in writing exercises about their diagnoses. The writing exercises improved some patients’ outlook and quality of life. A New Zealand study showed that writing about trauma and emotions could help people’s injured bodies heal more quickly. More data demonstrated that writing a list before bed about things to be grateful for can improve sleep.

My letter

I’m feeling particularly angry with Huntington’s disease this week, so I thought, why not? Let’s give this letter writing a try. I previously wrote a letter to my grandmother and found that it brought out some positive self-reflection, so let’s give it another go.

Dear Huntington’s disease,

I hate you.

I don’t use that word lightly, so I can assure you, it’s true. You’ve taken away so many people in my family: my grandmother, my uncles, and soon, my dad. My kids are at risk for your evilness. So is my nephew. I’m watching you begin to overtake my own life. My symptoms are more apparent. How much more time will I even be able to keep up this writing? This fighting? I don’t know.

I’m not going to give up though. I’m crushed every day I look at my young kids and think I won’t get to see what they grow up to become. I’m absolutely devastated by that. But that also gives me the ammunition and encouragement to fight you more. To fundraise more. To participate in every research study I can. To do everything in my power to ensure there’s an effective Huntington’s disease treatment for them if they need it in the future.

You’re not going to win. We are so close. A treatment is coming. Soon, you’ll be nothing but a footnote in some medical history book. What do you think about that HD? Are you feeling scared yet?

You should be.

Signed,

Steve

Write your own letter

OK, so my letter came out sounding a little like I’m a cowboy in an old Western movie.

I encourage you to embark on your own writing journey. You don’t need to start with writing a book or starting a blog. It could be something as simple as a journal entry every once in a while or a letter to yourself as a teenager. No one else needs to read it. Do it for yourself, for your own well-being. Write with honesty about the topic you choose. Maybe even try picking up an old pen and paper and see where it takes you.

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Note: Huntington’s Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Huntington’s Disease News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Huntington’s disease.

2 comments

  1. Hello Steven,

    My name is Therese and I live in Northern California. I’m a HD advocate, a writer and published a nonfiction book, Watching Their Dance: Three Sisters, a Genetic Disease and Marrying into a Family At Risk for Huntington’s disease.

    I receive Huntington’s Disease News newsletter and repost often. I can relate to your recent post regarding how writing can be therapeutic. After losing my three sisters-in-law to HD complications I was stuck in complicated. I began writing my story to acknowledge my grief and heal. Over seven years, from start to holding a book in my hand, allowed me to heal.
    My career was in healthcare, the last 10 years in hospice. I wrote the book for other reasons: to honor my three s-i-l, heighten HD awareness and generate revenue to be donated to HDSA. 100% of the profits go to HDSA and, my husband, John, and I have donated over $14,000.00 so far.

    Thank you for your column.

    • Steven Beatty says:

      Hi Therese, thanks for the message! I know of you and your book from my involvement in the HD community on social media. Over $14,000 is unbelievable! I donate the proceeds I receive from the sale of my book “In-Between Years: Life after a positive Huntington’s disease test”. I’ve been doing that just over a year and have donated a few thousand dollars to the Huntington Society of Canada so far. You are an inspiration. Thanks for doing what you do and for the comment. – Steve.

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