Thresholds: Illness and Growth

A threshold is the point where something new begins. Studies show that passing through a doorway can affect memory. You easily forget what you meant to do – look for keys? retrieve a phone? – simply by passing through the doorway. And if an unexpected major life event creates that threshold, forgetting your keys is the least of it. The upheaval can feel like an earthquake.

20 years ago, I developed a chronic, multi-system, medical illness. My previous life ended abruptly and no new life seemed possible. Somehow, I managed to do the right things to help me cope with this huge life transition and open the door to healing:

medical ilness, mental illness, healing by writing

Healing by telling your story

  • I sought good medical advice.
  • I found supportive psychological counseling.
  • I learned techniques of self-care.

My other form of therapy was the written word. Initially, my health permitted only reading. I sought solace and understanding in the works of Jane Austen and A. A. Milne. They created magical worlds different from my own – they took me away from my day-to-day challenges.

Over time, my strength and “brain fog” improved bit-by-bit, allowing me to sit at a keyboard for short periods. I then expanded my written-word therapy into my own words and thoughts. I wrote fiction. Soon, I added the nonfiction/fiction hybrid of therapeutic stories that I write with neuropsychologist Dr. Diane Engelman. This writing process helped my healing in ways that I am only now starting to understand. It helped me to grow my story.

If you are facing your own threshold – medical illness, depression, anxiety, etc. – or if you know someone who is, writing can be a rich tool. Some people write journals as a process of self-examination, healing, and growth. James Pennebaker’s 2004 book Writing to Heal provides a template for writing your way through emotional upheaval.

If journaling isn’t your cup of tea, consider any form of writing that digs deep into your thoughts and emotions – about your challenges, your world, and your experience of them. You might try writing personal essays or even poetry. Whatever the form, putting experience into words can be powerful medicine.

* For a fuller description of my journey through illness, read the full article

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