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Creative writing can be a powerful tool for stress relief. Here’s how it works:
Write about what bugs you, either in journal entry form or as poetry.
There have been scientific studies on this that showed that it really works. You’re taking the stuff that’s festering deep inside you and bringing it out in the open. It’s a “mind dump”. First of all, it has a whole lot less power over you once it’s on a piece of paper. You can even rip the paper into shreds and so physically destroy what has been bugging you.
Shaping your thoughts and feelings into poetry takes this process one step further. In fact, turning misery into poetry can be very self-empowering.
I’m a poet now, among other things, complete with a very cool published book of poetry (with a “real” publisher!): Average C-Cup. But I wasn’t always a poet — or even a particularly good writer. I didn’t start writing poetry in earnest until I had breast cancer.
At that time, writing helped me cope with the treatments and my fears. Journaling and then turning some of the results into poetry helped me transcend the pain and reclaim a sense of control. I could take my experience and shape it at will. What power!
Here’s one of the poems about that time:
I’m Here Now
and the anti-emetic Ondansetron –
every first and second Thursday
they drip into my vein as I lie
in a Barcalounger, feet up,
reading New Yorker cartoons
and Reader’s Digest’s Campus Comedy.
I liked the Barcalounger so much
I bought one.
How are you feeling? Everybody asks,
but they don’t want to know.
They want me to say I’m okay
but I don’t, so they stop.
The scalpel cutting into my breast
sliced it like roast chicken,
taking out the offending portion
with a margin of error.
When the nurses talked about it,
they called it CA, like California.
Did they do that for my sake
Seventy percent five-year survival rate
means five years after the diagnosis,
thirty percent are dead.
Then I tell myself it doesn’t matter
for today. I could be crushed
by a falling airplane
on my evening walk tomorrow.
I might live three months,
or three years, or thirty,
and there are two hot cups of coffee
on my breakfast table.
You too may want to try writing poems about whatever it is that makes you feel down (they don’t have to be “good” in the traditional sense). Still, sometimes it helps to aim for a more challenging form, a sonnet for example, because one of the benefits of writing poetry lies in taking that aggravating life experience and taking control of it, shaping it any way you want and reclaiming your power.
Here’s another poem, a villanelle, with very strict rules on repeating lines and rhyme schemes. Working to shape the experience to fit into the form really helped me get out of the self-pity zone.
I go to war, a needle in my vein
for chemo drugs to find and kill the cells
out to destroy me. I won’t let them gain
an inch. Twice monthly, I show up and feign
bravado as I lie, eyes closed, the smells
of war around me, needle in my vein.
I clear my chemo days of all that’s inane.
Basking in Wagner’s operas quells
my impulse to give up, let cancer gain
on me. Singing Valkyres keep me sane,
remind me I have power to defeat hell’s
cells – those needles won’t have been in vain.
Warm showers later wash away the pain
with scents of lilacs and gardenia bath gels,
breakfast on my balcony helps me regain
strength as I breathe freely after the morning rain;
croissants, hot Mocha Java, all that tells
me why I fight and sacrifice my vein
to kill the cancer: There’s too much to gain.
Haiku, probably the easiest form for a newbie poet, can be a good place to start if you’d like to experiment with turning your experiences and feelings into poetry:
Can help you survive tough times,
And come out thriving.
Okay, this isn’t a terribly good haiku, and it wasn’t particularly meant to be, though it does fit into the simple 5-7-5 syllable form. The key is to have fun with it. Why don’t you try to write one yourself? How about right now?